Thursday, December 30, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes it's easy to forget the books you want to read

As we begin counting down the hours left of 2010, I started thinking of the books that came out this year I haven't got around to reading yet, the ones I mean to read but simply haven't had the time to check out.

Here are the four books of 2010 I haven't got around to yet, and am really looking forward to reading.

Blue-Eyed Devil and Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker
I came to Parker late, reading his first novel in August of 2006, but from that point on, I read one of his books a month until 2009, when I caught up with his current books. Basically they are detective stories, featuring either Spenser (the basis for Spenser for Hire), Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall. All of his books are a fun read and as he passed away earlier this year, I've both been looking forward to, and dreading reading his last few works. I know I'll like them, but I'll be sad when there won't be any more new ones for me.

I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett
I started reading Terry Pratchett books in June of 2005, again at the rate of one a month and if you've never tried any of his books, definitely give them a shot - they are just the perfect mix of comedy and fantasy, and they also happened to inspire my online name, Bookmonkey00k. This book is the fourth in a series focusing on a young witch called Tiffany and her varied adventures.

The Last Run, by Greg Rucka
Over the last few years, my tastes in non-genre works have moved into the spy genre. Earlier this year my wife and I watched possibly the coolest spy series I've ever seen; The Sandbaggers, a gritty '70s era show out of the UK focusing on the people who send out the people on the missions that help keep the world safe (if you haven't seen it, the series is definitely worth a viewing). Comic book wise, I took the time this year to read Greg Rucka's Queen & Country series, which, after telling a story through four large graphic novels, moved into a couple of prose novels to wrap things up. In October, the latest book in his series has come out, and I'll definitely be checking it out in January.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Genre Character of the week: Leo Graf

One kind of character I don’t see enough of in genre fiction is the problem solver. There are a lot of leaders and fighters out there, but not so many guys who are just working to get the job done. I guess the most famous one is Montgomery Scott from Star Trek, as he tended to be the guy focused on getting the ship to go, but there aren’t a lot of others like him out there, especially as main characters; which bring me to this week’s genre character, Leo Graf.

The main character of the novel Falling Free, by Lois McMaster-Bujold, is a welder. He’s been hired to go out to a remote space station and train a bunch of people of the techniques of welding in zero gravity, and upon arrival finds the students are actually a bunch of genetically modified humans called quaddies (they’ve got two sets of arms and no legs), who in addition to being his students are also all under the age of twenty.

Leo gets himself busy training these kids and even though he’s incredibly focused on getting the job done, he can’t help but notice some nasty trends going on – like for starters, these kids are genetic property of a company (considered "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures" for legal reasons) and therefore don’t actually have any rights, which makes them pretty disposable if anything bad were to happen.

Inevitably something does, and then Leo Graf makes a desicion, basically he does what needs to be done and he becomes one of my favourite characters in Science Fiction. If you've never read Falling Free, I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Movie Review: Gulliver's Travels

Happy Boxing Day everyone!

Last night my family continued our Christmas day tradition of going out to see a movie in the evening. The audience is virtually non-existent (there were less than a dozen people in the theatre), the walk outside is nice and it's a fun thing to do as a family. We saw the film Gulliver's Travels and It got me thinking of movie adaptations.

I read the original novel last year and other than the idea of a giant man visiting with tiny people and later giant people, there isn't a lot in there for kids. The novel is a satire and pokes a lot of fun at various forms of government, then the question of ancient versus modern knowledge and finally a question of whether man in inherently corrupt or corruptible. Also (mild spoiler) the end is not a happy one for Lemuel Gulliver.

The movie, on the other hand, is definitely aimed at kids, is a re-imagining of the story, taking place in modern-day and has a focus on the importance of self-confidence. It focuses largely on the first section of the novel (the second, wherein Gulliver meets people who are as big to him as he was to the Lilliputians, is touched on briefly), and overall was a lot of fun. I enjoyed how the Lilliputians were played as kind of silly and living their lives as they assumed people should live (a kidnapping scene early in the film was pretty hilarious). Although the film had a few dark points (an apparent on-screen death and a chilling off-screen one), the family had a lot of fun.

In the end I wouldn't necessarily change much of the film, adapting a satire for kids is pretty tricky and the later parts of the novel only really work if the audience has a lot of world knowledge (being knowledge of the world in the 1700s when the book was written), so I imagine there wouldn't be a lot there for kids. As a Christmas movie, it was fun, and that's about all I can say.

A quick side-note, for people taking their kids to see the movie, it might be good if the kids have seen The Empire Strikes Back and (if they're old enough, Titanic) as the movie gives spoilers to both.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Things I've noticed: Countdowns can be fun!

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!

As we are approaching the end of 2010 (eight days and counting), I am happily working through the various things I’ve borrowed from friends to try and return them for the New Year.

Currently my list of borrowed materials is a simple three items, and I’ll do my best to return them before the year is out.

1. Dorian Gray - the 2009 gothic horror adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel, starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth, this film has sat on my gotta see it for almost a year now. Luckily my good friend the Edmonton Public Library (or if you prefer my wife’s name, my girlfriend – as in “Your Girlfriend called!” referring to the automatic messaging system which lets me know when one of my hold items is available), had a copy on hand and for the next week it belongs to me. Now, is the story of an immoral immortal a pre- or post-Christmas story?

2.The Avengers - The Emma Peel DVD megaset, featureing every episode of the Avengers featuring Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. This was loaned to me by my friend Ron and so far it’s been one of my surprise favourites of 2010. I’ve got a few discs into the colour episodes and so far they are pretty great.

3. Super Mario Galaxy 2, leant to me by my younger brother a few months back, I’ve finished the game, but am now collecting Green Stars for the second, secret ending (and yes I know I could just watch it on Youtube, but what’s the point if you haven’t earned it yourself?).

In the end no one will be annoyed at me if I run a little late – except for the library, which will charge me a dollar a day for overdue DVDs, but my hope is to finish everything up in the next week and a half!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Genre Character of the Week:Quorra

Last Saturday I went to see the film Tron Legacy with my younger daughter and a friend of hers, as well as my BFF Mike. Although the movie was a little short on story, it was big on wish fulfillment (as to why Sam hasn’t seen his father in 20 years) and action, also the effects were pretty cool. The standout character for me, however was the love interest for Sam, Quorra (pictured above).

When we first meet her, Quorra (played by Olivia Wilde) is saving Sam’s life (a pretty awesome introduction in any action film). She is quickly introduced as Kevin Flynn’s (Sam’s father and the main character of the movie Tron) assistant.

Now the tricky thing for me is to explain why I liked the character without going into spoilers. Basically she’s loyal and pretty much an innocent – although she is a creation of the grid, she is willing to back Sam’s father even into exile, not something I would necessarily do in her shoes. Past that, all I can say is that the concept behind her character was my second favourite thing about the movie (right after the score, which was amazing).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review: Stand on Zanzibar

Last week I took some time to read Stand on Zanzibar, a 1969 science fiction novel by John Brunner, dealing with a dystopian future and issues of overpopulation.

The book had a lot of really interesting features: first the structure, each chapter fell into one of four categories, either focusing on the main narrative, supporting characters who show up later in the book, conversations had either by the main characters or other denizens of the world and finally chapters made up of slogans, news clippings, speech excerpts, etc. In the end the effect is to create an incredibly dense world where the reader gets a pretty comprehensive view of the state of the world in this setting.

The main characters are two roommates, one a VP for a major company and the other a trust fund layabout who is a lot more than he seems. Almost the first two thirds of the book is set up, but when you move into the last act of the book everything starts moving very quickly.

My favourite bits (not to be misunderstood as things I would necessarily like in our world), include 1) a television adaptation wherein the audience can have their own images/voices imprinted over the main characters in television series, news stories, films, etc., called Mr. And Mrs. Everywhere, 2) the concept of Muckers – being people who have gone Amok and basically start killing everyone around them, and how these psychotics are becoming a problem the world over, and finally 3) the fact that one of the supporting characters, Chad C. Mulligan seems to be a pre-curser to one of my favourite comic book characters Spider Jerusalem.

The book took me about a week and a half to read, but in the end was definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Good things come to those who wait

For years now I've been holding off some of my favourite Holiday films from my kids - mostly due to age. A few years ago I got to show my oldest daughter my favourite Christmas movie of all time, and this year I get to show it to my youngest.

Waiting for my kids to be age appropriate has been pretty rough, as many of my favourite holiday films are not for kids, but this year I can finally show them all of my favourite (except for Bad Santa - I love that movie but my kids will only be allowed to watch it when I'm no longer in a position to stop them.)

So this year we get to see three of my favourites, and for your reading pleasure here they are:

1. Die Hard - best Christmas movie ever, seriously, I cannot think of a better film to get the holiday cheer rolling. You have holiday songs, explosions, and machine guns.

2. Gremlins - second favourite Christmas movie, gifts, mogwai, references to The Time Machine, and a young Corey Feldman! Man, Horror mixes well with every season.

3. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - I don't even know where to start with this one, Grizwalds, the best sledding scene ever and one heck of a Turkey.

Honestly one of the best parts of my kids growing up is no matter what age they are, I've got all sorts of genre stuff I get to show them!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Chandler Jarrell

I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly that talked about the most iconic role of actor Eddie Murphy (they chose Axel Foley), and it got me thinking about my own favourite role of his, a social worker named Chandler Jarrell in the 1986 fantasy film The Golden Child.

To be fair I will state that this movie was one of the only two films I can remember my father taking me out to see (the other was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), and I had the movie poster (pictured left) up on my wall from the age of eleven to twelve so I may have my own personal bias when I think back on this film, but hey, it’s my blog so you’ll have to live with my point of view.

Here’s what I’ve got to say about Chandler, we first see him in the film doing a television interview about the disappearance of a young girl to the annoyance of the journalist interviewing him. The majority of the film follows him as he attempts to first locate the girl, and then a young Tibetan boy; the Golden Child.

What I like best about the character is that he is willing to go to incredible lengths to help these kids. The film involves demons, mystical trials and all sorts of adventure and through it all I totally bought the character as a guy out of his depth, simply trying to do his best.

For some Eddie Murphy will by Axel, for my kids he’s Donkey, but for me, he will alway be connected to The Golden Child.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review: A Christmas Carol

Everyone has them, a book or movie you feel you know so well that you don't really need to check out the original story. There are a lot of stories out there that I'll probably never read simply because I'm already familiar with the story and don't necessarily see the benefit to reading something that holds no surprises for me.

A couple years ago I happened to pick up a paperback version of Robert Bloch's Psycho, the one that was made into one of the most famous horror films every made. Having seen the movie during my teenaged years I assumed that the book didn't have any extra to offer me... until I read it. Stepping away from my main point for a second, the novel Psycho is seriously one of the most scary pieces of fiction I've ever read, and I knew what was going to happen before I turned to page one.

Since my reading-related epiphany 4 years ago, I've tried to work my way through a classic every couple of months to see what all the fuss is about. Last week I decided to check out Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, and you know what? It's really good. From a horror fans point of view, the sequence with Marley's ghost in the beginning is really creepy, and the floating clouds of ghosts Scrooge sees in the skies above London? I don't remember any of those in the movie versions.

The story itself is pretty short, not even 200 pages, and yes you almost definitely know the entire story going in to it, but you know what. It really got to me, as a fan of Horror and Fantasy, I loved all the bizarre and strange concepts that the author had come up with and I really felt a lot of sympathy for Scrooge as he is forced to examine his own life.

Would I own the book? Yes, but only if I were to read more of Mr. Dickens work and decide to purchase it all. Will I read any more of his works? You betcha.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bookmonkey's top 5 Genre Films of 2010

After a year of watching new genre films and blogging about them, I think it’s about time to look back at my favourite genre flicks I saw this year. And yes, if you’re like my BFF Mike, you wouldn’t even make this listing until after next week when Tron Legacy comes out, but regardless of how good that film might be it is not going to beat my current top five.

*Quick side note – I have linked each of these to my full reviews, today’s list simply states why these films are on my year-end favourites list.

Because it had the most disgusting explanation of the butterfly effect (or if you will the vomit-covered squirrel effect) I’ve ever seen.

Because ever since Dreamscape, I’ve been a huge fan of the film within a dream film (within a dream?)

Because darn it, I like my classic mythology being used in film. Although I enjoyed the Clash of the Titans reboot as well, this one stood out because it figured out how to mix product placement with defeating the Medusa.

Because in a whole lot of ways, I felt this movie was made specifically for me. The fact that the rest of you like it is just a bonus.

Because it shows that Horror + Canada = Awesome

Next year’s crop of films looks pretty good from where I’m sitting, with X-Men: First Class, The First Avenger: Captain America, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern and Thor already topping my must-see list.

Special Mentions: The A-Team, The Book of Eli, and Machete for sheer awesomeness. Also the best film I saw on DVD this year, Black Dynamite.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: George Sands

One of my favourite things about any genre (western, romance, detective, etc.) is that once a fan gets to know how the stories tend to work, they can begin to appreciate when characters start to play against type. A great example of this is our genre character of the week; George Sands, from the BBC Television series, Being Human.

George (played by Russell Tovey) is a great example of someone trying desperately to make the most out of a bad situation – his situation being that once a month he goes through an extremely painful transformation and becomes a werewolf. Rather than simply going mad or bringing his curse upon his family (like Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man), George uproots entirely, moves to a large city, gets a job as an orderly and attempts to live as close to a human life as possible. His roommates are a ghost and a vampire however, so his life plan is complicated to say the least.

What I like best about George is simple; he doesn’t give up on his friends. Although sorely tested throughout the first season (I’m currently taping season two so SHHH – no spoilers!), George comes through again and again in trying to help his friends. Also as a werewolf, he is pretty freaking cool.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Series Review: The Walking Dead

My wife and I finished watching the first season finale of The Walking Dead about fifteen minutes ago and as a huge fan of the comic series I have to say, This show is awesome!

I love the fact that the television adaptation goes in its own way, making this surprising for fans of the comics but stays true to the key relationships in the original story, that of Rick's immediate family (his wife and son) and then his extended family of fellow survivors outside of Atlanta in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.

This series was definitely horror, giving me both tension and gore, as well as great characters and some very haunting visuals. Trying to give only mild spoilers is a little difficult, but I love how much story they packed into these six episodes. We watched the pilot, then took two weeks off and watched episodes two and three back to back and tonight we watched the final three, I like watching a lot of shows on a weekly basis, but the tension was so effective with this show I needed to pack the episodes a little closer for my own well being.

Do I want to own this show - heck yes! Do I recommend it to anyone who likes horror (or my favourite horror sub-genre post-apocalyptic horror)? Absolutely. Considering how graphic the source material is, I wasn't sure a television adaptation would do it justice, but just a few minutes into the pilot and I was blown away by how true to the source material the show was.

This show was great, my only problem is that I'm going to have a long wait until season two.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Things I've noticed: Christmas shopping can be tricky

I enjoy Christmas shopping as much as the next person, and as I have many friends who, like me enjoy the weird and wonderful worlds of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, I find each year that shopping for my friends specialized gifts can take up a lot of my time.

I thought that today I would talk a little bit about my Christmas shopping habits without necessarily going into too many specifics as a number of my friends read this blog. If I can help other genre fans simplify their own shopping, I feel I'll have done a good job.

Bookmonkey's Top Five Shopping Tips for the Genre Fan
1) Realize that you should be done by December 1st
Here's the thing, Genre stuff is pretty specialized and unless you want to relive the plot of Jingle All The Way (and why, on God's green earth would you want to do that?), it should be pretty obvious - if you want the good stuff, you have to buy it early. In my opinion only the stuff picked over by everyone else is still sitting on the shelves in December.

1a) Chocolate can be purchased until the last minute - also I love Turtles.

2) Your local comic book store is your best friend
These are the guys who actually have all the cool stuff your friends want - Zombie-themed energy drinks? Doctor Who memorabilia? Scott Pilgrim plushies? They have them all - simplify your life and start here - also your genre-loving friends shop here as well so the staff might be able to help give you great suggestions.

3) is your second-best friend
Mostly because they sell hard to find stuff and if you are willing to pay a little bit more you won't have to go further than your living room to get the great genre stuff your friends want.

4) Call Dibs
...and yes, by that I mean enact the ancient school yard rule of declaring that you and only you are allowed to purchase a specific item for someone. I cannot count the number of times I've found the perfect Star Wars related gift for someone only to find out that I'm the fourth or even fifth person bearing that gift.

5) Talk to your friends
Simple enough, but in a perfect world you should do it in July and actually ask questions like, "What kind of things would you rather get as gifts, and what things would you rather get yourself?" Your friends will happily answer and you (if you can remember until Christmas Shopping Season) will be getting them the best gifts of the season.

In the end I like doing Christmas shopping, I just like doing it in the simplest way possible, which for me involves a few lists and some preparation, and perhaps some Turtles.