Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Tyrant

Valerio Massimo Manfredi's Tyrant (2005) moves away from mainland Greece and into the Greek colonies in Sicily.  Following the life of Dionysius I of Syracuse the novel follows both the rise and fall of the character, as told from the point of view of journals and private papers he left for his son.

The novel follows Dionysis through his early frustrations as poor leadership causes a number of Sicilian cities to be destroyed by Carthage, and then follows his own rise to power, which starts, as is all too often the case, with the best of intentions, but ends in pure corruption.

A really interesting, readable novel, that showcases a part of the ancient world I was less familiar with.

Well worth a look!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle Creation

Last night my friend Mike and I were able to catch an advanced screening of the horror Prequel prequel Annabelle Creation, and it was pretty great!

So a few years back I saw, and really enjoyed, James Wan's The Conjuring, a neat little ghost story set in the seventies and featuring Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple who made hunting these things down their business for years (including the Amnityville Horror and the Enfeld Poltergeist).  The movie had some pretty great scares, and I was quick to talk my friend Mike into checking out the sequel with me a few years later.

The Conjuring begins with a story about a demonic doll called Annabelle, as a way to quickly show the audience the types of things the Warren's would deal with, and as the doll had a distinct look and the story was creepy, a spin off was soon to follow.  I never saw Annabelle (2014) as the reviews were terrible and I wasn't sure if the character had enough interesting things to sustain a movie (it didn't).

But, when Annabelle Creation was announced I got pretty excited.  Not so much for the doll, but for the director.  David F. Sandberg has been putting horror shorts on YouTube for a few years now, and one of his first was even adapted into a feature (check out the short here), so when I heard this was the fellow who would be directing the film, my interest was definitely peaked.

In the end the movie is pretty fun, the scares set up nicely and although it has to connect to the first prequel, it has enough other interesting things going on I found it was well worth my time.  Interesting note about The Conjuring and it's spin-offs, this horror series is the most successful franchise since the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with six films done, one more coming next year and a further two in development, and all of them have been profitable.

Well worth the look!


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Movie Review: The Dark Tower

So let's begin with the fact that I'm a pretty big fan of The Dark Tower series.

1) I referred to the series in one of my very first posts on this blog
2) I've read my way through the series and its connected books twice
3) I've led my wife, my kids, and my sci-fi loving best friend to read their own ways through the series
4) I read my way through Peter David's excellent adaptation for Marvel Comics and get overly excited every time the Dark Tower is referred to in any of Stephen King's other books.
5) Even though the first book was basically a modified Western and I hated westerns as a kid (because my Mom liked them - read more here) I could not stop reading it and HAD to see what happened in the sequel.

So yeah, I think it's fair to say I was looking forward to the movie every time I head it was going to be made and especially this year when it finally got a release date.

I saw the film yesterday with my wife and kids and here are my first impressions:

1) Why did they make this film version a YA adaptation of the source material?
2) Why is one of the secondary characters now the main character?
3) Why did they have to front load a ton of exposition for a story that really needs to build slowly?
4) Why have you taken two talented actors and given them such a muddled script to work with?
5) Why, having given up on the idea of a faithful adaptation, did you have to slip in the first line of the first book both in the middle of the film and with no connection in any way to the narrative?
6) a;ds lkfj;aldf (sorry, I just face-planted into my keyboard)...

Okay - I liked the performances by both leads, the production values was pretty great and the Easter Eggs were a fun diversion, but in the end - why? Why did they take such an interesting story and turn it into a 95 minute shoot-em-up which ignored almost every aspect of the first three books in the series?

In conclusion the film doesn't make me less of a fan of The Dark Tower series, but will likely make it much harder for me to sell others on this great book series in future.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The Ten Thousand

So here's an interesting treat; Michael Curtis Ford's The Ten Thousand takes a look at one of my favourite films of the '70s, (Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979)) and tells the story that inspired the novel that the film was adapted from. This is the story of Xenophon's The Ten Thousand.

Taking place in the chaos following the Peloponnesian War and beginning in 401 BC, the novel follows Xenophon and is narrated by his servant and companion Themostigenes (nicknamed Theo), as they join an army of Greek soldiers who decide to fight as mercenaries under Cyrus the Younger in Persia, only to discover the point of their work was a lie and that they have been hired to help Cyrus kill his older brother. Things do not work out well and ten thousand Greek mercenaries quickly find themselves deep behind enemy lines with no support, little food, and most of their leaders betrayed and killed.

The novel follows the story of how (sorry for the 2500+-year-spoiler) this group made their way home. The novel begins as a war story and quickly turns into a story of survival over overwhelming obstacles. The action was fast, the story epic and I was quite happy to have purchased, rather than borrowed my own copy.

In the end, an excellent read, and an even more excellent reason to check out The Warriors again soon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Book Review: 2001 A Space Odyssey

So here's the thing about perspective. For so many people Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey is pretty much the paragon of what a Science Fiction film should be, for me however, first watching it at about the age of twelve when Science Fiction meant Star Trek, Star Wars and Aliens, 2001 was a really hard film to get through. The story moved incredibly slowly, the character with the most intrigue wasn't even human and the humans are largely forgettable.

At the time, I just didn't see what the big deal was, but as a completionist, I decided to give the companion novel by Arthur C. Clarke a try.

Reading it at the age of twelve, the novel moved along quickly enough, and suddenly a number of the images from the film started to make sense to me. It still wasn't my favourite science fiction novel (at the age of twelve that probably would have been Vonda N. McIntyre's novelization of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, but I was able to acknowledge it as a big part of the genre.

As part of my recent read through of the various Penguin Galaxy imprint, I reread 2001 last month, and I've got to say from the point of a forty-year-old father and avid genre reader, the story was much more compelling. The narrative moves along through three separate sections (the monkeys, the scientist, and the astronauts), and I thought it all held together rather well.

I guess it's time I take another look at the film, because, with a little perspective, this story got a heck of a lot more interesting.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review: The Mystery of Grace

Charles de Lint's 2009 novel The Mystery of Grace starts with what appears to be a short story; a young man goes to a party, finds an amazing woman, they immediately connect, and then after one night together she simply disappears; not just out of his life, but out of his apartment's washroom, which has no windows and only one door.   Soon after he finds a story of the girl's untimely death, two weeks before the party even happened.

One of the things I like best about de Lint's writing however, is how instead of simply concluding this as a somewhat creepy short story, he works to figure out what might happen next.

One of the things I love about de Lint's writing is that he does it in a way I wasn't expecting, as instead of finding out what happens next to the young man, we follow the recently deceased woman, Altagracia "Grace" Quintero.  

Grace awakens after her death to find herself in a small neighborhood, one with even greater secrets than she imagined, and that is as far as I'll go with a plot summary.

The novel is a lot of fun, self contained (sorry Newford fans), and takes a pretty interesting look at the hereafter.

Well worth the read.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Revisiting Dune

One of the first posts I ever made for this blog focused on Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction epic Dune, which in many ways is the Science Fiction equivalent to fantasy's The Lord of the Rings or Horror's The Stand - basically it's a big-old book packed with story and intriguing concepts that kept the author coming back and helped to grow a large number of fans for the genre.

Of course, my complaint at the time was that the book was simply too darn big, and that if the author couldn't get his point across in a shorter format he needed to get a new editor.

Last Christmas I received all six of the books included in the recent Penguin Galaxy imprint and as I hadn't read the first two before (The Once and Future King and Stranger in a Strange Land) I felt this year might be a good one to read these titles and revisit some classic SF (also taking a quick side-trip into Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as well).

Reading Dune for the third time, and revisiting it after watching the movie, the SyFy channel miniseries and listening to the original film's soundtrack over and over again, I wasn't sure if there would be much for me this time around, but man was I wrong.

For starters (sorry for the fifty-plus-year spoilers) I had somehow completed ignored the environmentalism focus of the novel (also the fact that Lady Jessica was Baron Harkonnen's daughter - which is stated clearly, multiple times), and furthermore the darker aspects of Paul's rise to glory. For years I had heard from friends and others not to read the rest of the series as each book got worse and worse, but now I have to say I'm pretty interested - maybe not all of the fourteen novels that were written after Herbert's death, but the first five may be added to my science fiction reading list.

A really neat read, and in many ways a great introduction to the genre for newcomers.