Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Yesterday my wife and I went to see the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, and you know what - it was a lot of fun. The premise of the film (for those of you who haven't seen the trailer), is pretty simple; four friends accidentally travel through time while in a hot tub, back to the year 1986. They appear as their 16-year-old selves to everyone there (except for one of them who hadn't been born in 1986 - he simply looks like himself), and believing that if they change time it may cause some sort of butterfly effect, they attempt to relive the weekend in the same way they did originally. Think of it as a sort of cross between Quantum Leap and Back to the Future.

Without going into spoilers, I'll try to focus on the things I really liked about this movie: 1) The cast is freaking hilarious, like a lot of comedies since There's Something About Mary, there is a lot of gross out humour, but also like that film, the story invests you in the characters, so you can empathize with them throughout. The real stand out for my was Rob Corddry - as the most obnoxious of the four, his character was either going to be loved or hated - no middle ground. I loved him. 2) The story is internally consistent, this is really a key point for me in Time Travel movies - in fact that's one of the reasons I love the Back to the Future trilogy, they made the internal logic consistent. As a genre fan I'm willing to buy any outrageous concept, but you have to play by the rules if you want the story to work.

In the end, would I recommend this to friends - absolutely (the film is definitely worth it's 18A rating - so no kids), would I watch it again - yes, but on DVD, and finally would I buy my own copy on DVD? Absolutely.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Scott Pilgrim Trailer is online

This weekend as I was doing my weekly genre news update (There's actually a process I use to attempt to keep up to date - but that's the kind of neurosis that deserves a post of its own), I saw that the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is online.

As long-time (and by that I mean since last August) readers of my blog are probably aware, I'm a huge fan of the comic series - it's awesome, it's Canadian, and it's references to my particular slice of pop culture are off the scale. At the same time, the movie could let me down, after all I was pretty excited when I heard that they were making a big screen version of The Spirit.

So lets take a brief glimpse at the pros and cons of this big screen adaption.

Pros: The fact that the film was made in Canada and has a Canadian star (Michael Cera). The fact that it's directed by Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shawn of the Dead, Spaced). The fact that I really love the source material.

Cons: Actually only one - I really love the source material. I think that this actually makes it a little harder for me to warm up to the story, as I've got such a special fondness for the comics.

In the end, I have to say I'm pretty excited - but don't let me keep all the excitement to myself, check out the trailer here for yourself.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Five Cool Genre things my youngest daughter has shown me

Today is my 97th post, and back in 1997, my youngest daughter was born (quick boast - I delivered her; she was born in our house, no doctor, no midwife, just my wife, my five-year-old, and myself, also there was a snow storm). Like her older sister, Kaia has shared with me a number of genre treats I may not have come across without her. So here we go:

Bookmonkey's five cool genre things his Youngest daughter has shown him.

5. Robin Hood
Growing up I came across Robin Hood three times - first as the Disney Film, second in the Bugs Bunny Short, and Third (during Junior High) as The Prince of Thieves. The story was kind of cool, but as I'm more into Horror, I didn't bother looking for more. Over the last two years, after borrowing the 1938 film, The Adventures of Robin Hood, from the Library, Kaia has checked out pretty much every version there is, and brought us along for the ride. My personal favourite, the 2006 BBC series staring Jonas Armstrong and Richard Armitage.

I've already done a book review on the first of this series as well as a movie review of the film last month, but it is fair to state that I would never have come across this amazing series if my daughter hadn't been reading them first. The next book series I'm planning to check out is also one she's already read - it's called GONE, and I've heard nothing but good stuff about from her and from online reviews.

Sometimes you come across a book series that has been around for a long time, a series you would totally have loved as a kid, but for whatever reason never noticed. Then your kid finds it and it is just awesome. This series of books can basically be considered nightmare batter - read a story, go to sleep and it'll be waiting. The worst (coolest?) thing about the series is that it is aimed at kids, so all the horror is implied, rather than in your face.

I've been a fan of Batman since I was reading comics as a kid, I loved the Tim Burton film back in '89, and even played the video game for the classic NES (That was my very first Japanese import game). I always stayed away from the cartoon, as I figured that a character as cool as Batman could not be handled properly if he was dumbed down for kids. Growing up, this show was probably Kaia's favourite until the third grade when she moved on to Teen Titans. We actually got notes sent home by her teachers saying they were concerned about her love of Batman (he is a psychologically damaged person after all) - which was ridiculous as from Kaia's point of view he was a good guy who never used guns and always caught the villains - never killing them and took them to a safe place (Arkham Asylum). I started watching the cartoon with her and man - it is really, REALLY good.

1. Universal Classic Monsters
I've always loved horror, from as far back as I can remember I think stories about monsters and ghosts, demons and aliens have resonated well with me. But growing up, I simply worked my way through the horror section at my local video store. This led me to see all sorts of B-Grade Horror, and I had seen all the Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween films before I was in Junior High, but it did leave some big holes in my Horror film viewing. Case in point - I had never seen any of the classic Universal Monster Movies until about 6 years ago. Kaia was getting pretty psyched to see the film Van Helsing, but I figured if she wanted to watch the new flashy flick, she should check out the originals - and that's exactly what we did. For the few of you out there who don't know - these films are awesome, and I would still be ignorant of this fact if it wasn't for my youngest daughter.

Thanks Kaia!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Neil

Last week we looked at Captain S, the Video Land Defender. That guy was well meaning, friendly, and exactly who you wish you could be if you were ever sucked into a video game. This week, I'm taking a look at pretty much the polar opposite to Captain S; Neil, from the web series The Legend of Neil.

A quick warning, The Legend of Neil is entirely Not Safe For Work - it is incredibly funny, but not the kind of thing that is even a little work or kid friendly.

The premise of the show is simple, What if you were sucked into the original NES game, The Legend of Zeldda? What if everyone there thought you were Link (the main character in the game)? and what would you do if you were pretty much the total opposite of the brave and honest Link and instead were a lying, cheating slacker?

The show itself pokes a lot of fun at the original game, including many of its characters and concepts, but for me the main appeal of the show is definitely Neil himself (played by Tony Janning - pictured above), a man who has fallen into this crazy world and is willing to do almost anything to get out of it.

Much like Jim Profit, Neil is not the sort of Character of the week I would want to invite into my own life, but I can definitely admire him from afar - very very afar. If you haven't seen the show yet, check it out. It is totally worth the watch.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Odd and the Frost Giants

For readers of this blog, it's pretty obvious that I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman - take a look over at my librarything page and you'll see that there are very few books of his I don't have. Usually I read his books almost as soon as they come out (within two months at the latest), but I've made an exception with this week's book, Odd and the Frost Giants.

I actually got this book for Christmas 2008, but as it is under 100 pages, I figured that I would save it for a special occasion. About a month ago, my oldest daughter got accepted into University, so I figured - that's pretty special, and here we are.

The story itself, which I would define as just this side of a Norse mythology/fairy tale, like something out of the Brothers Grimm but with a Young Adult focus, is a pretty basic tale. Odd is a crippled teen who feels ignored by his family (his father drowned and his mother remarried) and as the winter seems neverending, he leaves his home to try and make it on his own. Along the way he finds some new friends, some difficult challenges, and some terrifying giants.

The story involves the Norse Gods, Frost Giants, and a lot of adventure. Again, like the main character of a fairy tale, Odd is tested early in the book, by having to decide whether or not to help some trapped animals, and his life often depends on how quickly he can think his way through very dangerous situations.

The book is very fun, definitely a one-day read, and if you haven't checked it out yet, a new edition was just released - it would make a great Christmas present for a 9-13 year old, if you're looking.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Series Review: The Colony

A couple months ago I mentioned in a post that I would be watching the Discovery Channel series The Colony - a reality show wherein ten strangers would attempt to survive in a frightening post-apocalyptic world. Last night my wife and I finished the show and here's what I have to say.

The premise: A group of ten people were put into a full immersion experiment, where they spent ten weeks living in an old factory in Los Angeles, under the premise that a viral outbreak had destroyed most of the worlds population. Scavenging to survive, the colonists attempted to build machines for basic survival and learned to deal with the threat of various marauders trying to take over their factory.

The good: There were a number of things about the series that impressed me: The colonists themselves were pretty amazing, working through a very difficult situation with only a few hiccups, the fact that the curve-balls thrown in - marauders, religious groups, and even a shocking pair of visitors, felt like reasonable occurrences in this scenario. The most impressive thing for me personally was the fact that the series crew was able to create a mini-world where the colonists could exsist, including the factory itself and nearby buildings (including an abandoned hospital and a not-quite abandoned trailer park) which allowed the series to appear very realistic for the colonists.

The Bad: This is just my personal taste, but a lot of the show depended on the colonists creating various machines, from the simple (a water filtration system) to the complex (vehicles, a wood gassifier, and a radio signal), which would definitely be a major problem for me in this type of scenario. The colonists themselves included medical personnel, contractors, engineers and scientists, which unfortunately made me feel that unless I could whip together a Tesla coil, my chances in this kind of future would be limited.

Improvements I would make: My favourite examples of a full immersion television series are either the Canadian series Pioneer Quest (wherein two couples live alone on the Canadian prairie for a year) or the British series The 1900 House (where a family lives in a house retrofitted to function as it would have in 1900). Both of these series began with an episode focusing on how the crew put these worlds together - something I really would have been interested to see with The Colony. In addition, both of the other shows followed up with their subjects a month or so later to see how they felt about their time in the experiment - I would have enjoyed that as well. Perhaps these features would be made available on the DVD, if so - I'll be sure to let you know.

In the end I liked the show - it was impressive to see the kinds of things that could be put together in a disaster scenario, both mechanically and the random group of strangers that became a family. If you are into post-apocalyptic stories, it is definitely worth a watch.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Captain S

I can still remember playing old NES games like Mega Man and Legend of Zelda and wondering - what would I do if I could get into the game? Would I be as cool as Mega Man or Link? Television shows like Reboot (yay Canada!) and Captain N the Game Master look at this concept as well, but my personal favourite example of this idea comes from the web series The New Adventures of Captain S, from PBC Productions. This week we'll take a look at Chad Belmont, aka Captain S, Video-Land defender (pictured above).

Chad is a pretty simple guy, he's good matured, loves milk shakes, is a Junior in High School and a huge SEGA fan. He's got two best friends, Lunk and Becky, and a major crush on a girl named Stacey. Everything changes for him one day when he receives a magic SEGA game cartridge and is called to be the prophesied Video-Land defender, Captain S.

As super powered Captain S, Chad needs to balance his day to day life with his adventures in video land, which is under attack by a villain named the Game Genie and Chad's nemesis at School - Nigel Edmond Silverman, aka NES. Chad stands out as a genre character of the week due to his ability to learn valuable sitcom-style lessons each week, defeating the bad guy, helping his friends, and going out for delicious milk shakes afterwards - the stories are simple but very effective.

The show is incredibly clever in its references to '80s era sitcoms, and the catalogue of SEGA Genesis games, which I played a lot of when I was in elementary, but not so much since then. If you haven't seen it yet, go and check it out, the webisodes tend to run about 5 minutes and the entire series is only 10 episodes. I love that they have a lot of behind the scenes videos on the website as well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Top Five Cool Genre things my oldest daughter has shown me

Today I'm writing my 92nd post, and as my oldest daughter Lori was born in 1992, I thought I would take a moment and look at five of the coolest genre things she introduced to me or shared with me.

Like most parents of kids who were born in the '90s, we hit a point where suddenly Lori was talking all about giants and muggles and The Boy who Lived. Thankfully, as my oldest daughter is a reader - this was well before the movies came out. That way, when people started talking about these new movies, I was totally in the know, heightening my cool dad factor. The fact that the books are really, really fun as well, was a huge bonus.

4. Checking out the Opening Day Matinee
I think it started with The Phantom Menace, where we first called Lori in sick from school and took her out to the first matinee showing of the movie instead. I know that a lot of movies have midnight openings, but the matinee tends to be a little less crowded, and I think my kids have more fun at it - we've taken gone to see everything from the Lord of the Rings movies to the Matrix Trilogy, to various super-hero films. In the end we're probably talking about one or two movies a year, and we make sure our kids have no homework due that day, but the sheer fun of skipping out on a day to see a new movie is a gift I have loved sharing with my kids - and I hope one day they share it with theirs.

Lori first played this game with friends at a birthday party, and when she got home she couldn't stop talking about it. It was a board game that didn't work like any other board game she had ever tried and it sounded almost like something she might have made up. Luckily I found a copy at our local board game store, picked it up for her birthday and the rest is history. Not exactly a genre game, Settlers of Cataan is a german-style board game which is a lot of fun and very addictive, we now have most of the expansions and still have a lot of fun when we bring this game out.

Years ago I started reading the Bram Stoker award winners for best Horror novel, as I'm a big fan, and my daughter would overhear me talking about how much fun it was to read a series of award winning horror books. Although Lori is not into horror, she did seem to like the idea of reading award winners, so she asked me to find her some award with books more suited to her. I found the World Fantasy Awards pretty soon after that and she's been working her way through them steadily ever since. The thing is, as I was the one getting her these books at first (she didn't have her own library card yet), I would take the time to read the back of the book on the way home and as a lot of these books had great stories, I started reading them myself. I've always been bigger into Horror and Science Fiction than Fantasy, so without her interest, I might never have found these really great books.

As a kid I watched a lot of Anime: Astro Boy, Robotech, and Vampire Hunter D were big favourites. Moving into parenthood however I started focusing on other things. Sure I still saw some great stuff (Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most heartbreaking films I have ever seen, period.), but anime largely fell by the wayside. Like a lot of other kids however, my daughter got very big into Pokemon, and as I was dragged to Pokemon movie after Pokemon movie, I eventually figured she needed to broaden her horizon. Stop #1 - according to a very frinedly video store clerk, was Hayao Miyazaki. So we started renting his movies, and wow, these were great. We actually own pretty much every one of his films now, and I don't honestly know if I would have come across him without Lori's interest.

So there you go, five of my favourite genre things I pretty much owe to my daughter.

Thanks Lori!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Movie Review: She's Out of My League

Last night my wife and I went to an advanced screening of She's Out of My League. I know that the film isn't technically a genre pick - although I suppose you could argue it's a Fantasy film. The main reason I'm reviewing it today is the fact that it stars a fellow Canadian, Jay Baruchel, and us Northerners like to look out for each other.

The premise of the film, in case you haven't seen the trailer, can be summed up as follows - boy meets girl, girl likes boy, boy is suspicious of her due to his own self esteem issues and the fact that all of his friends clearly believe she is out of his league.

Jay Baruchel has been impressing me since the television series Undeclared and I really liked his character in this movie, he came off as a nice guy going through a rough patch. Alice Eve, who had the job of being "The Perfect Girl" gave the character a lot more depth than I was expecting in a romantic comedy.

These kind of films always depend strongly on the supporting cast and the cast in this film is great. The guy's three buddy characters (played by Mike Vogel, T.J. Miller, and Nate Torrence, pictured below) were very funny, each one of them standing out at least once during the film. The girl's BFF (played by Krysten Ritter) was a bit of a witch, so she got a lot of great one-liner's. Personally, I loved the fact that the movie had Lindsay Sloane (who played one of the nicest people I've seen on TV in the series Grosse Pointe) playing the main character's horrible ex-girlfriend.

The movie was about what I expected, it had me laughing out loud, cringing with awkwardness and glad that I could share it with my wife. For a fun date night movie, it is totally worth your time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Dorothy Gale from Return to Oz

Last weekend I saw the new Alice in Wonderland movie and while I had a lot of great things to say about it, in my review I compared it in concept to the film Hook. The thing is, when I think back to movies about people returning to magical lands they visited as kids, my favourite has got to be Return to Oz, and in no small part because of its main character Dorothy Gale.

For those of you who looked at the title of my post, yes, I am specifically talking about the Dorothy from Return to Oz, and not the one from The Wizard of Oz - that movie was fun with lots of singing and dancing, but Dorothy doesn't really do very much in it: she meets a lot of friends, gets knocked out, gets kidnapped, and defeats the wicked witch by dumb luck.

Dorothy in Return to Oz (played wonderfully by Fairuza Balk) however, is full of pluck and bravery, she meets challenges, solves puzzles, takes risks, and in possibly the scariest scene I have ever seen in a Disney movie, walks down a hallway filled with 31 sleeping human heads on display (pictured right) to steal a magical powder from a case containing the original head of Queen Mombi (which is still alive, just sleeping) and ends up accidentally waking them up - seriously, writing about it right now freaks me out a little.

In a lot of ways, I view this movies Dorothy Gale as a predecessor to Neil Gaiman's Coraline, another little girl trapped in a frightening world who decides to do something about it. So to wrap up - Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, great singer. Dorothy from Return to Oz - Genre Character of the Week.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

Yesterday I went to see Alice in Wonderland with my twelve-year-old daughter, a friend of hers, my mother and my younger brother. As with many twelve-year-olds, she decided that her Dad could sit in another part of the theatre. Oh well, my Mom still thinks I'm cool enough to sit with.

Anyway, regarding the movie itself - I had a pretty good time. First of all - yes, it is worth it to see the movie in 3D - the colour would be more brilliant in 2D, but the eye-popping visuals really helped make the film stand out for me.

The movie itself had a similar structure to the film Hook - wherein a popular story character returns to their magical realm after years in the real world and has to re-learn their way around the place they once knew.

I really enjoyed the actors in the film, Mia Wasikowska was great, but if you are actually interested in seeing her acting chops, check out the HBO series In Treatment - her performance in season one was fantastic. I liked the back story given for the Mad Hatter, and thought Johnny Depp had a stand out performance as well. My personal favourite casting was Matt Lucas as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, being a fan of Little Britain, I loved seeing him every time he appeared on screen.

As a film, I actually liked this one a bit more than the Disney version, as the story made a little more sense, and had both direction and a moral. Kudoos to Tim Burton - I was a little nervous about this one when I heard about it, but in the end it was a lot of fun.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Real World Benefits of Genre Reading

Over the last seven months I've written a lot about my love of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, and due to the fact that I read a lot of the stuff, I will be going on about it for a long time. Today, however, I thought I would take a look at how my favourite genres actually benefit me in the real world.

If there is one thing in my life I can say the Fantasy genre has directly helped me in, it is a love of the outdoors. I've loved camping since I was a kid, when I could go on a hike and pretend I was Hansel, trying to find my way back home, or a knight of the round table searching for the Holy Grail. In my teen years it was more likely to be scenes from Dragonlance or Lord of the Rings that played in my mind while camping, and now as a parent, I can honestly camping has become one of my favourite activites, I like the quiet, the time with my wife and kids, and the view (seen above - Jasper, AB, Canada).
-Thanks Fantasy.

From a very early age, Horror helped define my as a boy. I was the only boy in a house of girls, so I naturally gravitated towards books that I felt were especially for boys (I don't think this any more, but come on, I was under 12 and looking for something I could call my own). In my mind, horror has lead the to the theory of breaking down any problem into its component parts and attempting to solve it - Horrible ghost steals your kid? Get a teeny tiny lady to help out - Horrible god from another dimension (pictured above) taking over your city and unleashing an army of ghosts? Get some friends together and take her down (but don't cross the streams). I've always enjoyed finding the solutions to problems, and the horror genre consistently shows me that even the most terrible things can be stopped - for now.
- Thanks Horror.

Science Fictiion
In my mind, one of the best real life uses for Science Fiction is its ability to prepare you for change. As virtually every story involves a cultural, scientific, or location change, a keen reader can pick up skills and strategies for change in their own life. The key aspect I've latched onto from my favourite characters in SF is the way they are always in a state of learning or exploration about their world - it's a big part of why I'm taking part time university courses in my world, helping me develop and grow - and also, if I want to become some sort of space-librarian (the view from my potential space-office, pictured above), I'm going to need more fancy initials after my name. In the end, the best SF is about exploration, and I think it has inspired me to explore my own life.
-Thanks Science Fiction.

There are tonnes of other real-world benefits from reading genre fiction (for example, preparing for a possible zombie apocalypse means doing a lot of cardio which is good for the heart, lungs, and whichever part of you the zombies would try to eat first), I've just listed the ones that most easily come to mind for me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Matthew the Raven

It had to happen at some point, I've been doing genre characters of the week since I focused on Miles Vorkosigan last October, and even with my very large list of favourite characters I knew someday I would have to tackle some of the major genre works out there.

Today I'm taking a look at Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. Not the title character himself (wow, would that be tricky), and not the Golden Age Sandman (he'll get a post eventually). Nope, I've always had a pretty special spot in my heart for one of the minor characters of the Sandman series: Matthew the Raven (pictured left).

Matthew first caught my attention in The Doll's House storyline. Morpheus was using Matthew to keep an eye on Rose Walker, a human of some interest (I'm going to try to stay away from major spoilers about the Sandman storyline for those of you who haven't read it yet). One of the first things Matthew describes is feeling Morpheus in the back of his head while he is watching the girl, and confesses he still hasn't got used to that feeling.

This, for me, was the first time I realized Matthew was new to The Dreaming (The realm ruled over by Morpheus, a.k.a. The Sandman, a personification of Dreams), and as he seemed, strangely, to be the most human denizen of the Dreaming, he quickly became a favourite character of mine.

Matthew has got a lot of heart, and a lot of baggage, for a raven. He does what Morpheus asks of him, but is often confused at Morpheus' actions and decisions, as they don't line up with what Matthew sees as right and wrong - in a lot of ways Matthew speaks for the audience, not unlike the character of Hugo "Hurley" Reyes in Lost.

I first read Sandman as it came out - which back in the '90s meant there was no Wikipedia, only BBSs which offerred conjecture but no definite answers as to the backgrounds of characters. I had a lot of theories about Matthew as he developed over the 75 issue run of The Sandman, but I had to wait until issue 72 before my theories were confirmed (pictured right). Although I won't tell you exactly who Matthew is, I will say his character arc in The Sandman is an arc of redemption and you can begin reading his back story here.

In the end Matthew is a very human character, and sits very high on my list of personal favourites. Although there are tonnes of reasons to read The Sandman, watching the character of Matthew grow and develop is definitely one of mine.