Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Cpl. Joe Bauers

As I’ve said in many of my previous posts I’m a fan of the characters who step up when called upon, usually those characters however, tend to be go-getters from the beginning. Our genre character this week actually made a career out of not stepping up, until circumstances demanded him to save the world. This week we’ll look at Cpl. Joe Bauers (pictured left), from the 2006 film Idiocracy.

At the beginning of the film, Joe is shown to be a librarian on a military base, somewhere in the United States (as someone who is working towards being a librarian, Masters Degree and all, I like films about librarians.) His job mostly appears to be sitting around doing very little. He comments to his superior that throughout his military career whenever offered the choice of Leading, Following, or getting the hell out of the way, Joe has always gone for option number three, which he is informed isn’t actually an option. The military has a new suspended animation project it needs a guinea pig for and Joe is volun-told to take part. Joe is supposed to be put in suspended animation for a year, but due to general incompetence, his project is forgotten and he awakens after 500 years in a dystopian America which rivals those of 1984, Mad Max and others. Due to a lack of natural predators and unmonitored breeding, humanity has become really, REALLY stupid. Society functions (?) mostly with the help of computers which tell the citizens what to do, and with an average modern intelligence, Joe turns out to be the smartest man in this future world.

In this crazy world, Joe finally meets his potential, and quickly (after getting arrested and imprisoned) becomes a world leader. The film is really funny and with its limited theatrical release a lot of people who would have liked it probably missed out. What I like best about Joe is that even though he is put in a terrible situation, and spends a significant amount of the film trying to escape it, he actually comes into his own there, becoming a pretty great (if somewhat clueless) guy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen

1926 - 2010

At the Age of 84 Leslie Neilsen passed away today. What can I say? He was Canadian, he was funny, and thinking about him makes me smile.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I've noticed: My kids don't watch TV the way I did at their age

Lately I've noticed that my daughters watch a healthy variety of television shows (although as one of them is in University she watches a lot less than the other). Favourite shows of my thirteen-year-old in 2010 include Lost (she's watching it on DVD), Merlin (a BBC series about the wizard during his teen years), Doctor Who (the entire current franchise including Sarah Jane and Torchwood), H2O: Just Add Water, a show about (according to our PVR) three crime-fighting teenaged mermaids, produced in Australia, and Doogie Howser, M.D.

A lot of the shows she watches are available through specialty channels like Space and Nickelodeon (H20 airs at about 2:00 in the morning), or aren't currently airing anywhere, but she watches them on DVD at her own pace. Today I was thinking exactly how different this is from the shows I was watching at the age of thirteen.

In 1989, I was in grade eight and had relocated to Sherwood Park (a hamlet just outside of Edmonton, where I had lived until then), and so my television watching was a little frazzled. Every morning I watched The Super Mario Brothers Super Show on YTV at about 6:00am. I watched this show because my other options at 6:00 were the local news, various exercise shows, and perhaps the cartoon Teddy Ruxpin. At night I hung out with friends and didn't actually watch a lot of TV except for Friday nights where I watched 2 hours of comedies on ABC (Perfect Strangers, Full House, Mr. Belvedere and Just the Ten of Us), but past that I mostly read and watched horror movies (coincidentally most of the female leads on Just the Ten of Us had been in Nightmare on Elm Street films).

We had a VCR, and on weekends I would watch Saturday morning cartoons, and classic Star Trek on CBC, but otherwise that was about it - a total of maybe 12 hours of TV a week. My daughters watch closer to 20, and as an adult I watch about 25. I'm not actually saying that this is too much, as I believe that people use television as a way to connect (instead of saying "How bout those Mets, we'll say, "Did you see The Office last night?"), and without seeing a bunch of the shows their friends do, my kids would be left out in the cold.

Its funny to think that just a decade before I was thirteen, in 1979, most people didn't have VCRs, so if there wasn't anything good on television or in the theatres you literally had to make your own fun.

In the end it makes me wonder what my potential grandkids viewing habits will be, will my daughter's 20 hour a week habit seem quaint to them?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Martha Vines

One of my favourite parts of reading a book is when the story genuinely surprises me, where something happens that feels like it came out of nowhere, but with 20/20 hindsight is the only way things could have gone. Case in point, last week I read the novel The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce, which started out being about a girl in post-WWII England, then appeared to be about her son, and eventually turned out to be about her mother and this week's Genre Character of the Week, Martha Vines.

Martha is a mother of eight girls who at the beginning of the novel, after her daughter Cassie decides not to give up her baby for adoption, decides that her grandchild will be raised by all of his aunts in turns, as his mother is a little crazy.

The thing is, Martha, Cassie and Frank all have the sight, wherein they know things they shouldn't, Martha can see ghosts and has premonitions, Cassie has an incredibly amount of power when she wants to use it and Frank, well, Frank is full of potential but spends the majority of the novel as a young boy, so we just get hints of what he might be able to do.

The thing I really admire about Martha is that even with these strange and bizarre powers she has, her focus is still on being a good mother and grandmother. Honestly, I don't think people give enough credit to folks who just do what it is we're all supposed to do, be decent and try to help out. Martha has both of these qualities in spades, so this week she gets a nod from old Bookmonkey.

The book, by the way, is pretty great - the magic within it is subtle, but powerful. I heartily recommend it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Movie Review: Megamind

Yesterday my BFF Mike and I went to a matinee showing of Megamind, the (relatively) new animated super-hero film from Dreamworks, and I've got to say I had a pretty good time.

Although the movie did cover a lot of the same ground as Despicable Me, it went in it's own direction, and I had a lot of fun.

From a Super-Hero fan point of view, there were a number of nods towards Superman (included a Marlon Brando as Jor-El inspired bit of costuming) and I guess megamind would be closest to the character Brainiac from DC comics.

All the voice acting was great and the animation looked a lot like Monsters vs. Aliens (which I enjoyed a lot last year).

Next up for me in the theatre front will probably be The Tempest as I really loved the director's previous Shakespeare adaptation Titus and I'm always on the lookout for new fantasy films.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things I've noticed: Sometimes Less is More

Last Sunday my wife and I watched the second and third episodes of The Walking Dead, and in the preview of the next episode our narrator began by stating “With only three more episodes left...” which means season one will be six episodes in total.

Although I’ve always been a fan of having lots of things I like (Star Trek, Coffee, Novelty Mugs - or all three, pictured right), I have to admit that I like the idea of the season only being six episodes.

As I’m working my way through the backlog of TV Seasons on DVD I own, I have to admit that the Showtime/HBO/FX series, which all tend to have 8 – 12 episode seasons, are far simply to watch and tend to be higher quality per episode than the 26 episode seasons of mainstream network television. I’m still happy to watch a good 26 episode season (I’m still working towards Millennium season 3), but the concise, tightly packed seasons of say True Blood or Dexter tend to have a bigger wow-factor for me.

As a quick note – I am LOVING The Walking Dead at the moment, it is both really good drama and really, really freaky. Just thinking about poor Merle Dixon up on that roof gives me the heebie jeebies (and for the series to make me feel anything for such a horrible character – played amazingly by Michael Rooker – just goes to show how well they are doing at telling me a captivating story.)

In the end, although I love big, sprawling epics, there is definitely something to be said for a tightly packed, well-paced series that keeps it to a dozen episodes or less per season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Dr. David Keel

Last week my friend Ron leant me a massive DVD box set – The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset. The boxed set collects every episode of The Avengers starring Diana Rigg as Emma Peel (even a ’77 episode of The New Avengers where she appears in a cameo). As I am definitely a completionist, I started with the three lost episodes from season one included in the bonus disc, and thank goodness I did as it allowed me to see the only three surviving episodes of the first season, starring Ian Hendry as our Genre Character of the Week, Dr. David Keel (Pictured left with Patrick Macnee as John Steed).

As far as pilot’s go, The Avenger’s starts out with a bang. We are introduced to Dr. David Keel, a man happily looking foward to wedded bliss with his secretary/fiancĂ© Peggy (don't worry kids, getting married to your secretary was acceptable in the '60s, just check out any season of Mad Men to see what I mean). Anyway, Peggy may have seen a criminal mistakenly dropping off a package of cocaine to her boss's office, so obviously she had to die. After seeing her gunned down in the street in front of him, Dr. Keel was out for revenge – unfortunately, only the first 15 minutes of the pilot still exist, so that’s all I know. It is fair to assume that he and Agent John Steed solve the crime and decide to partner up. Next we see Dr. Keel solving a crime with the help of his new receptionist Cathy (and without Steed at all) at a Russian circus and in his final remaining appearance we actually get to see him and Steed work together in the partnership that started this classic television series.

Unfortunately for people who want to see more of the earliest episodes, most are missing or were broadcast live, so there are no recordings, and there never will be. Dr. Keel comes across as a man with a strong moral compass, working to do the right, and is often in over his head, but with the help of agent John Steed, he did a lot of good in the 25 episdoes in which he appeared.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Series Review: Dead Set

On Friday I watched the 2008 Zombie/Big Brother mini-series, Dead Set with my wife and our friend Ron. As Ron had seen both series 10 and 11 of BIg Brother UK, and I've seen a whole lot of zombie apocalypse films it seemed like a good idea.

The set up is pretty simple, during a fictional season of the british version of Big Brother (a reality show in which contestants are forced to live in a house without outside contact for a few months wherein every move they make can be viewed by the home audience) a zombie outbreak occurs and as the house is set up to keep the outside world away from the contestants, that is exactly what happens - they continue to live their reality-tv life completely unaware that the world beyond them has effectively ended.

The series played with the cultural fascination with these types of shows and did a very effective job of keeping true to both its reality TV and zombie roots (I'll have to take Ron's word for the Big Brother stuff, as I've never seen the series before). The show mostly focues on a production assistant (played by Jaime Winstone, pictured right) and her boyfriend (who was away from the house when the s#*t hit the fan, but does feature many of the contestants in strong supporting roles.

In the end the series was fun - I'm not sure if I'd purchase it (although right now I can't as it's not available in Region One format), and I would definitely warn people against the gore (it was significantly more than I was expecting on regular television.) For fans of Reality TV and Zombie flicks, however, it would definitely be right up your alley.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things I've noticed: Remembrance Day

Taking a quick break from my various reviews of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge Remembrance Day.

Lest we forget.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Jim Powell

After watching the first four episodes of the ABC series No Ordinary Family with my family, I've got to say that it is definitely pulling into a strong second place* this year for my favourite new genre show of the fall 2010 year. A big part of why this show is working so well for me is the lead, and the genre character of the week, Jim Powell.

Here's what I like about Jim - his first characteristic, good dad. Even before he and his family get all super powered, he is clearly invested in his kids, which as a dad, is important to me. Next, he loves his wife (I know that's pretty much a given on a family show), which definitely comes through in both the stories and the acting (hats off to Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz), and finally, even though his big change involves gaining super powers, as a guy who went through a pretty big change myself a few months back (I left my previous job of 10 years for something new), I can really relate.

Now Jim isn't perfect - he does tend to get carried away with his new hobby, being a super hero, and sometime to the cost of more important things, but he is working at it, and in the end working at it is the whole point.

Overall the show is cobbled together from various other sources (Heroes, The Incredibles and The Fantastic Four come to mind), but by focusing on the family throughout the series, it is showing a lot of heart.
*Sorry No Ordinary Family, but when a show pairs my love of zombies and apocalypses, what can I do?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: The Fall

A little over a year ago I reviewed the Guillermo Del Toro / Chuck Hogan novel The Strain. It followed the beginnings of a modern-day vampire apocalypse through the eyes of two doctors, a child, a pest exterminator and a vampire slayer. Last week I finished reading the Sequel, The Fall.

First off - this book was really good, it moved up the pace of the first book and basically follows the first three weeks of the outbreak from the centre, New York City. We are still following the same characters from the first novel and as the set up already occurred in the first novel, the book jumps right into the thrills of the story.

My only issues with the book come from its placement as the second in a trilogy - basically you know everything is going to go bad, because that is how the second story in a trilogy works. Other than that, the novel was a lot of fun and has me definitely looking forward to the last book in the series The Night Eternal.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things I've Noticed: My Loyalty to Genre TV has a limit

Yesterday I watched the sixth episode of the TV series The Event, and I think I’m done. Back when the show first appeared I wrote about how much I dug the pilot and especially the everyman quality of lead actor Jason Ritter. The thing is, after half a dozen hour-long episodes, even a cool concept and a great lead actor can’t get me to watch the next episode.

My problem with the show basically came down to pacing – for a show that promised me a world shattering event so awesome that the whole series would be named after it, I needed something more spectacular than a plane disappearing mid-flight.

As a genre fan I love the weird and the amazing, and had the plane appeared on another world or in another dimension, I really think I could have gotten behind the show. What actually happened was that the “event” in question was immediately hushed up by the government and didn’t change much of anything for the man on the street (quick side note – amazing “man on the street story” Marvels by Kurt Busiek). Basically I’ve spent the last six hours of this show watching people work to cover up a thing that was covered up in the pilot – oh but wait, they were also covering up aliens and a viral outbreak, but you know what, The X-Files kind of topped me up for shows about cover-ups, aliens and viral outbreaks – also it worked on an episodic format (where a mini-story occurred every episode, and the overall arc of the series occurred in the background), and they did it much, much better.

In the end I still really like most of the actors in the show, I just couldn’t keep waiting around for the premise to show itself. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m loosing patience with new shows but am simply becoming more discerning.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Father Sang-Hyeon

During my month exiled to the world of Twilight, I made a few excursions into mainstream horror to keep my spirits up. One of the most surprising of these was the Korean horror film Thirst (I’m not sure why I was surprised, it was made by the guy who directed Oldboy and starred the guy from my favourite giant monster film of the decade, The Host). The film focuses on a good man (a priest) who after volunteering for an experimental drug, is transformed into a vampire. This week we’ll look at at this priest, Father Sang-Hyeon.

The genius of the film comes from the first half hour, in which we are shown just how good a guy our protagonist is, we follow him through his duties of ministering to the sick in a hospital, taking confessions and basically being a decent human being who is becoming overwhelmed by all the real-life horror and death in the world. After volunteering for an experimental drug study, he is infected by a terrible disease (he writes comforting letters to his parishioners so they won’t worry about him), and dies. Then, due to a tainted blood donation he receives, he comes back as a vampire.

The rest of the film follows this simple man as his moral compass is spun, twisted and virtually destroyed by his new-found condition. He falls in love with a girl being abused by her family and their relationship starts sweetly, then becomes incredibly intense and eventually turns very dark.

As I said in one of my posts on the Twilight Saga, this film has, in my opinion one of the more logical outcomes of a romance between a human and a vampire, it is intriguing, amazing, frightening, and ultimately tragic, as the best stories about vampires are.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First Impressions: The Walking Dead

Last night my wife and I watched the pilot of the new AMC series The Walking Dead, and I've got to say it was pretty awesome. Here are my key impressions of the show:

1) The show works as horror! Having just spent a month reading and viewing a "horror" series involving both vampires and werewolves, I was ready for something that might actually scare me and The Walking Dead delivered. From the opening sequence to the escape from the hospital and the exploration of Atlanta, this show had me pretty freaked out.

2) The acting was great, Andrew Lincoln stars as Rick Grimes, a deputy Sheriff and a man who has woken up into a terrifying new world. I bought the portrayal completely and I am a pretty big fan of both the comic series that inspired the show and the character specifically.

3) The zombie effects were amazing - feature film quality stuff. I was consistently impressed by just how good everything looked, from the abandoned cities to the creatures themselves.

Overall the show was pretty amazing and yes, I will watching the entire series.