Thursday, December 29, 2011

Things I've Noticed: 2011 was a good year for genre

Happy New Years Everyone (a little early, but my next post would be a little late).

As we move towards the end of 2011, rather than looking forward to the new genre films and stories of 2012, I want to take a quick moment and look back at my favourite stuff from 2011.

In Fantasy, 2011 was definitely the year of Game of Thrones, from those with the cash to get HBO I heard a lot of great things about the series, but I'll have to wait until it's available on DVD to make a judgement of my own. Personally I'll always think of 2011 Fantasy as the year of Thor, whether in the comic series I read in the spring, or in the motion picture. In addition, a special mention for Bill Willingham's Peter & Max, a tie-in novel to his comic book series Fables which I loved, and surprisingly a nod to the Gallager Pub trilogy of romance novels by Nora Roberts that I read for one of my book clubs (romance is definitely not a genre of choice for me) and totally fell in love with.

In Horror, 2011 was my year to understand the remimagining of slasher films that has kept horror in the cinema for the last decade. Looking at the books I most enjoyed, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash, and a number of non-fiction works about the genre definitely stood out, and in movies my favourite two were both horror comedies, Fright Night and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

Finally in Science Fiction I found a lot in comic book series that totally amazed me; Starman by James Robinson may perhaps sit as my favourite superhero comic to date, and a series I just started in December Elephantmen by Richard Starkings was a stand out as a wonderfully drawn and intriguing look at a future in which human-animal hybrids are raised to be warriors. Although they came out earlier, 2011 was the year I read The Hunger Games series and out of new stories, Stephen King's 11/22/63 was a personal favourite as well. Also Dead Space gives me hopes for the sub-genre of Zombies in Space.

So there you go, my 2011 in genre stories, television and film. Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog and I'll see you all next year.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gene Character of the Week: Dr. John Watson

On Christmas Day my family and I continued our yearly tradition of seeing a matinee showing at our local theatre of whatever tickles our fancy. In years past we've seen Sherlock Holmes, Gulliver's Travel's, and Yes Man (Which involved a pretty awkward scene to sit through with my two teenaged daughters). This year we saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and that brings me to this week's genre character, Dr. John Watson.

Although not my favourite Watson (that would be Martin Freeman in the BBC series Sherlock), the Watson in these two most recent motion pictures based on the character is a lot of fun. Yes, he does punch, kick, and shoot much more than any other version of Watson I've come across, but at the same time, actor Jude Law does a wonderful job of showing us a character trying desperately to be a responsible doctor and husband who just can't shake his BFF Sherlock (like a fungus, Sherlock kind of grows on you).

The film was full of action and some pretty spectacular effects, and I would be remiss not to mention Jared Harris as Moriarty in a particularly chilling performance. The film was fun, impressed both my wife and my teenaged daughters and did a great job of mixing action, thrills and laughs.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What did you get in your stocking?

Merry Christmas everyone from all of us at Wisdom of Bookmonkey (and by us I mean me - and my lovely wife for giving me a few minutes to bang out a quick Christmas post).

As a kid there were three basic staples when it came to my Christmas Stocking - Mandarin Orange, Socks and Underwear. As I've gotten older and more genre enthused however, the contents of my stocking has changed.

This year I got an expansion set for the Zombies! board game (a fun little zombie themed party game that works quite well if you are looking for something horror themed that lasts about an hour), as well as a Zombie desk calendar. Past that I got the standard mandarin orange, as well as a Terry's Chocolate Orange and some underwear (some things never change).

Anyway, as that is about all I have time for, just a quick question - What did you get in your stocking this year?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things I’ve Noticed: Video games really want you to stay out of the water

For the last couple weeks I’ve been playing the PS3 game Infamous, wherein you play a bicycle courier who was granted super-powers after being at the epicenter of a huge explosion. Given powers over electricity, you can either run around the city as a good guy or as an infamous force of terror. I decided to play it good, but I’ll probably revisit the game in a few months and let my inner baddie out.

One thing the game did get me thinking about however, was just how common it is for games to deny the player access to the ocean. Some games (Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and God of War all come to mind) have many underwater levels, but for the most part the ocean is off limits for the player to explore. Put simply, if the game doesn’t allow water exploration, there is a lot less you have to design.

A lot of games have no reason for this at all (When Altaiir in the first Assassins Creed game falls into the ocean he simply dies (amazing assassin –yes, as good a swimmer as a five-year-old -no, or when Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City hits the ocean it’s also lights out – which makes me wonder why he moved to a city with an ocean on three sides of it) but there are a few games that are actually pretty clever in explaining why you just can’t take a dip.

Bookmonkey’s Top Three excuses for why your character can’t go in the water.

#3 Electrocution (Infamous)
Sometimes your strength can also be your weakness; in Infamous Cole MacGrath has the ability to manipulate electricity to do all sorts of things: hurl lightning, throw objects around, even heal the sick, but the downside of having electricity-based powers is that when electricity touches water – you’re gonna hurt.

#2 Ancient Family Curse (The Castlevania Series)
All right, I’ll admit that this ridiculous reasons for vampire hunter Simon Belmont (who is cursed so that he can’t touch water) – would obviously leaving him dead of dehydration in a matter of days) but honestly, while playing the games I’m so focused on killing vampires and other creatures of the night that the idea of an ancient family curse works just fine for me.

#1 CHOMP! (Spore)
A few years ago I got my wife the game Spore; a kind of super civilization-style game. You start by playing a micro-organism, then evolve into a creature, then control the creatures tribe, then it’s nation, it’s civilization and eventually travel through space. As a creature in the second stage of the game, you wander around on an island (or continent) dealing with other creatures and getting more evolved, but if you go out into the ocean, a giant sea-creature will simply come out of the water and eat you. In the end, you can’t get much simpler than that.

P.S. A quick side note, one of my newer favourite blogs, Renaissance Dork posted this link to the new trailer for The Hobbit, now if it could only shoot me forward a year so I could see the movie!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Corin

Last weekend I watched the newest version of Conan the Barbarian, and although I'm still definitely a classic Conan fan, I was happy to find my next genre character of the week, Conan's father; Corin.

Played by one of my favourite actors, Ron Perlman, who I've loved in everything from Hellboy to Cronos and am currently in awe of in Sons of Anarchy, Corin is a small role, but basically gives the audience the understanding of where Conan comes from. Personally, I found the newer film to be a little lacking in story and character arc as compared to the original but I will say that the early scenes with Corin were some of my favourites. Living in a brutal world, Corin does his best to be fair to all members of his tribe as well as show his son his love. Honestly, it was better than I was expecting from the film.

Although I wouldn't necessarily own the movie, I would definitely recommend it for a fun afternoon (and also my teenaged daughters were quite fond of Jason Momoa (the actor playing Conan), but I'm not really sure if it was for his acting.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Hack/Slash Omnibus volume 1

Have you ever had a book that you always seem to be passing in the book stores and never get around to checking out? Month after month you keep passing by the same shelf and keep thinking, “That book looks kind of cool, If only I had more time and cash I might pick it up.”
For me, that title was Tim Seeley’s Hack / Slash Omnibus Vol. 1. Looking at the cover (Pictured Right), and the book itself, here was everything I knew; our main character was a girl, the comic promised a significant amount of violence (Although the beheaded clown on the cover is a bit of a bait and switch) and, according to the back cover it was optioned as a movie, had The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman as a fan (and doing a cameo), and seemed to be based on the slasher movies I grew up with (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.).

It actually wasn’t until my BFF Mike let me borrow his copy of Lovebunny & Mr. Hell (an excellent, if uneven comic book itself), that I decided to give this book a try. Lovebunny & Mr. Hell is a basic super-hero buddy story, between a sidekick who wants to go out on her own (after she was dumped by her boyfriend/super hero partner) and a horrible Cthulhu-inspired demon as they fight crime, create a reputation for themselves and quickly become best friends. Although the art was sometimes a little too exploitive for me (you see a lot of underwear), the sense of humour was a lot of fun and led me to see what else the author had in store for me.

The Hack/Slash Omnibus volume 1, introduces you a world wherein slasher killers run rampant have their own mythology and also have two Dexter-esque slasher-slashers hunting them down one by one. Cassandra Hack and Vlad are the daughter of a slasher and a deformed Sloth (from The Goonies)-like giant who travel across the country trapping slasher killers and stopping them, for good. The series works sort of like an ongoing series of the film Scream, wherein the characters are aware of the rules and are also trapped in a slasher-style story. Broke most of the time, Cassie and Vlad travel all over the place and get the job done in fight sequences that are both action-packed and gruesome (or sometimes funny). The artwork is a little up and down in places and the pacing definitely gets better as you go along. My personal favourite two stories?

Trailers – a series of movie-trailers involving potential adventures for Cassie and Vlad (I love the one set in space), and

Hack/Slash vs. Chucky – wherein Cassie is forced to partner up with the killer from theChild’s Play franchise to save Vlad. The artwork is great, they did an amazing job of getting the right “voice” for Chucky and the story definitely left me wanting more.

This series will definitely end up in my collection.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Things I've Noticed: The Hold Queue can be a good thing

Although it was only a few weeks ago that I was complaining about how my public library sent me too many of my holds, I’m now sitting in a large number of hold queues; basically I will be lucky if any of the 23 items I am waiting for will be available before January.

So with a whole bunch of time on my hands (the next three books I’ve scheduled myself to read are all loaners from friends who I won’t be seeing for a few days) I’ve decided to dig into my comic books. Having read Starman last month, and reading Justice Society of America for this month, it’s time for me to check out a few titles I’ve been meaning to get around to reading.

Over this week I’ve read Joe Hill’s Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, Things Undone by Shane White, Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash Omnibus #1 (I’ll have a book review of it up on Monday), a bunch of Hellboy titles and some Astro City as well. The best part is I can read a couple a day and get a nice dose of great genre fiction.

In the end, I’m always looking forward to my library holds, but spacing like this allows me to check into a lot of my own stuff, so it works out for everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Jennifer Corvino

Last week my friend Dr. Teeth leant me some pretty cool comics (so far) and a movie starring a 13-year-old Jennifer Connelly called Phenomena. The movie actually kind of has to be seen to be believed, but I’ve got to say that after watching it I was easily able to find my next genre character of the week, Jennifer Corvino.

Jennifer (played by Jennifer Connelly) is the teen daughter of a film celebrity who has just been sent to a private school for girls in Switzerland. Unfortunately for Jennifer, this is happening in a film written, directed and produced by Dario Argento; the guy who ten years earlier created the film Suspiria, about a young girl sent to a private school in Switzerland, and all sorts of horrible things occur throughout.

Like the heroes of many genre stories, Jennifer has both a talent and a bit of a handicap; she can empathically communicate with insects and she’s a sleepwalker (I didn’t say the two things had to be balanced out). Jennifer is also perhaps the only person who may be able to solve a rash of serial killings going on in the area. (As a father of two teenage daughters myself, I think I might ask any potential school about serial killers in the area who are attacking their students BEFOREI enrolled my kids, but hey, I’m crazy that way).

The movie has all sorts of concepts and ideas running through it, a sort of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach” that I quite appreciated. My favourite five (with only mild spoilers)

1) A Narrator who only speaks once, for about 30 seconds and is then never used again in the entire film.
2) A girl who can communicate with insects
3) A Chimpanzee plays a significant role in the film
4) The soundtrack is actually pretty good – I found myself bopping to the music throughout
5) The kindly old man helping Jennifer through the film is played by Donald Pleasance, who I first saw in Prince of Darkness and loved in Halloween.

If you can get a hold of the film, it is pretty fun (although it is horror, so be aware there is some graphic violence). Is it my favourite Jennifer Connelly film? No, that’s still a toss-up betweenLabyrinth and Dark City, but it is definitely worth the watch.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: A Stir of Echoes

Like most people, I’ve seen a lot of movies based on books well before I ever got around to the novel, if at all. Often the film ruins any exciting plot twists you might have found in the book so there is even less of a reason to pick up the original work. But sometimes…

A few years back while in Germany I read Robert Bloch’s Psycho, a book that has become one of the most famous films ever made. Yes there is a secret ending, yes it is incredible, no I will not spoil it for the six or seven people out there who don’t know (it is that cool), so you would think that the original novel would have little to offer a reader who is “in the know.” To my surprise, that book was fantastic, scaring me almost all the way through, and surprising me in story elements that would not have translated well into the medium of film.

Two years ago I read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and the same thing occurred; even though I had seen the Polanski film at least five times, the book brought a wicked sense of humour to the material that I was not expecting and totally enjoyed.

This brings me to my current book, A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson. Like most people, I saw the 1999 Kevin Bacon film first (and yes I’ve won more than a few games of six degree of Kevin Bacon using this film or Tremors as a link; interesting note, Serious SDoKB players consider it a cheat to connect through star-studded films like JFK or Apollo 13). It’s kind of funny actually, as at the time the film came out there was a sort of backlash against it, saying it was basically a rip-off of The Sixth Sense, which is funny, because the book is based off of a novel published forty years earlier in 1958.

The book is actually a lot of fun, definitely helped by the fact that I saw the movie more than a dozen years ago so the story seems a little fresher. Add to that the fact that the victim and the killer are different in the novel than in the movie, and you end up with a story even someone who just saw the movie could still enjoy today.

This is the six Richard Matheson novel I’ve read in the last half year (the others were Someone is Bleeding, Fury on Sunday, Woman, I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) and I love reading any authors work in order of publication because I get to see them grow as an artist. The book is quite good, and makes me want to go back and check out the movie again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes backstory is overrated

Right now I’m reading the Justice Society of America comic book series, which started in 2006 under James Robinson (Starman) and David Goyer (Batman Begins, and also The Crow: City of Angels, which was the movie my wife and I saw on our first date) and after Robinson left would be written by Geoff Johns.

The thing is, the Justice Society was pretty much one of the first major super-hero teams, with stories published as far back as the 1940s, so there is a lot of continuity going on here. I’m reading the series for one of my book clubs, and before I started reading it, I read the 80 issues of James Robinson’s Starman (which I wrote about here) and was then told it might be worth my while to read the 50 issue run of Infinity Inc., as there were many crossovers and story arcs which start in the earlier series and play out in the JSA I’m currently reading.

I did end up reading Starman, as I owned the entire series and was looking for an opportunity to read them, but I decided against Infinity Inc. before starting the JSA. Mostly it came down to a lack of time – I was both finishing my first course for my Masters of Library Studies degree and was enthralled with the PS3 game Dead Space (the ending by the way – very cool!). So I figured I’d just try to read JSA on its own and see how much of it made sense.

Twenty issues in and so far I’m doing pretty good. I’m glad I read Starman before I started this, as the earliest issues were written by the same author so I recognized many characters and settings that might have slipped past me, but otherwise I’m doing pretty good. I may not necessarily know who all these heroes are, but there is enough description in the series to allow me to understand the story and invest in the characters.

A few years back I wrote about how I was nervous any time I tried a new series that I would require a lot of back story to appreciate the stuff I had access to, but you know what.

Sometimes you don’t really need that much back story, just trust that the story you’re reading will get you through.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Genre Character of the Week:Colonel Mack Tavernor

Over the last few days I’ve been reading the 1969 novel The Palace of Eternity by Bob Shaw, a science fiction novel taking place on the planet Mnemosyne (an artist’s colony) and taking place during a war with a strange alien race called the Syccans. Our main character (and our genre character of the week) is Colonel Mack Tavernor.

Tavernor is introduced to the reader as a repair man living in a colony of artists, musicians, and poets. He is 49 years old, and keeps many of the planets indigenous creatures in his home as pets. Throughout the novel we learn of his childhood (he was a lone survivor of a planet-wide Syccan attack at age eight) and his military career, as well as the events leading to his current situation.

The novel has a lot of obvious parallels with later SF books, namely Ender’s Game, and Falling Free (from my point of view), and Tavernor is definitely one of my personal favourite kind of genre characters; the working-Joe just trying to mind his own business and live a quiet life who gets swept up in something huge.

I don’t want to go into too many spoilers of the novel, but trust me, Mack’s journey is a pretty major one, and it had me intrigued, excited and honestly shocked at various points throughout. Although the book may require you to make a trip to your local used-book store, it is definitely worth the trip.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: Sixkill

Author Robert B. Parker passed away in January of 2010 (which I wrote about here) and since then I’ve slowly but surely been working my way through the remaining books he wrote during his lifetime. On Friday I finished Sixkill, his final novel and honestly, it was a little bitter-sweet.

The story features his main protagonist (Spenser – a Boston Private Investigator) attempting to solve the murder of a young girl who was found dead in a hotel with a movie star named Jumbo Nelson. Like all of his books, I found it engaging, full of action and great one-liners. For me, these novels work best as a character study of the main character. Spenser sits for me as one of my favourite detectives in fiction (the others include Brother Cadfael, Sherlock Holmes, and Miles Vorkosigan) as he comes across as a bit of thug, but at the same time has one of the most straight-forward views I’ve ever come across in fiction. If there is a problem, he works to solve it, if he can’t solve it directly; he sits around and makes trouble until there is something he can do.
It’s funny, but as I was heading through the last few chapters of the book I kept taking pauses (I was reading on the bus and would wait until the bus made its next stop), I was really enjoying the story, but knowing that this would be my last first-time reading a Parker novel, I really wanted to savor it, and you know what.

That guy could really write.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things I've Noticed: My Next few months are filling up with Non-Fiction

As we move towards the end of the year I can honestly say I've had a great 11 months in genre reading and am looking foward to a little non-fiction over my Christmas holiday!

What titles will I be reading? Why I'm glad you asked.

Here are my top five non-fiction books I plan on getting around to in the next three months:

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester
A bit of a cheat here, as I'm almost finished the book (it's for a book club), but the idea of reading the story of how the most comprehensive dictionary I've ever come across came about has a lot of appeal to me. (Side note: the most common reaction I get from people who see me reading the book? Hey Bookmonkey - you could just ask me you know! Honourable runner up: 42!)

Here comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, by Clay Shirky
This one comes as a strong recomendation from my wife, who after spending nearly a decade listening to me go on and on about communication theory and popular culture says that she has found a book right up my alley and if I don't take the time to read it after spending a whole month last year focusing on Twilight she's going to buy me a Team Edward shirt and make me wear it as the new image for this blog!

The Net Delusion: The Dark SIde of Internet Freedom, by Evgeny Morozov
A book that talks about how much damage the Internet does without focusing on Adult Content? As a blogger myself, I've got to say the title alone has me pretty interested.

The Swerve: How the World became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
The book focuses on one of the most influential poems in history, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius and how its rediscovery helped usher in the Renaissance. As a big fan of Ancient Rome, and lately of the Showcase series The Borgias, I'm starting to get pretty interested in this period of history.

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, by James Gleick
The idea of a book looking at the history of Information as a concept, and how it has basically become the currency of our current era sounds pretty cool to me, so yeah, I'll definitely be checking it out!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: The Dragon Sebeth

Hi folks, just like on Monday I'll be having a shorter post today as I'm pretty heavy into school work right now (and a tiny bit of Dead Space but honestly, it's mostly a school thing!) so let's dive right into this week's character: the dragon Sebeth.

Last week I read Jo Walton's novel Tooth and Claw, which features dragons as it's main characters who are living out a drama of society, manners and the law in the style of Victorian author Anthony Trollope.

The backbone of the entire novel focuses on a lawsuit between two members of a family over the inheritance offered by a dying father at the beginning of the novel. Sebeth is the mistress of the young dragon pressing the suit against the other and unlike the rest of the characters in the book, comes across as quite mysterious, as she lives well outside the social norms of the dragons world.

The novel is a lot of fun, and after a few chapters where I was struggling to understand this strange new world, the struggles of each of the characters began to work for me and by the end of the novel I was very inversted in what would happen to all the members of the family .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: 11/22/763

A quick one this week as I've had a lot of school work (all right and Dead Space work (SORRY!)) on my plate.

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is a pretty cool book - rather than his usual horror fare, this is more of a time travel fantasy story, like Richard Matheson's Somewhere in Time, or Replay by Ken Grimwood (both of which are also excellent time travel stories). In a way, it reminded me most of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, in that the time travel aspect isn't science-driven and the story focuses more on romance and character than on concept.

The story in a nutshell, High School English teacher Jake Epping is introduced to a hole in time where he can travel to 1958, allowing him to change history. The catch, every trip resets the history changed from the previous trip, and it always begins in 1958 - so when Jake decides to save Kennedy in Dallas he has to live for five years in the late fifties and early sixties to get his shot.

The story is fun, clever and was a huge demmand on my time (well, the book and some space zombies). The book is relatively new, so it may be a while before you can get it from your libraries or in paperback, but it is a lot of fun and definitely worth the read.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things I've noticed: How my PVR saves my time

For the last few years I've had a PVR, or Personal Video Recorder, hooked up to my television - like TiVo for you folks in the States, and the thing is, for a device I purchased due to all its time saving abilities, I am sure devoting a lot of time to watchig stuff on it.
Here is what my PVR offered me when my wife and I decided to get it:

1) No more commericals (unless I wanted to watch them)

2) We could record two things at the same time, while watching a third thing (as long as it was a thing already waiting in our PVR)

3) The machine could hold hours and hours of television for us

4) We could tell the machine which shows we like, and it would tape them at whichever weird hours they aired.

A few years later and my machine is just short of 90% full for the fifth or sixth time and I'm looking at my weekend and thinking, how many of these shows can I watch before new stuff starts airing on Monday?

You know, back in the '70s, before PVRs or even VCRs, the choices for a nights entertainment were pretty simple: Was there anyting you wanted to watch airing on television? If not, go make your own fun.

Then came the '80s and the ability to both tape a show to watch whenever you liked as well as however many times you liked. In theory this meant more freedom, but suddenly people started getting a back log of tapes, which soon included movies and even television shows. DVD and Blu-Ray have given us more options, but suddently the day doesn't seem to have enough hours.
And now, as I look at the freedom offered to me by my PVR, I start to wonder, would I be better off without TV for a while?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Genre Character of the week: Isaac Clarke

For the last few weeks I’ve been playing the 2008 PS3 game Dead Space. My wife got it for me as an Anniversary gift (our 14th! which means if our marriage was a kid it could apply for a Learner’s permit!) and I’ve been playing it on the weekends ever since.

The game in three simple words?

Zombies. In. Space.

Seriously, it’s like back in 2007 someone at Electronic Arts went “Hey I think we should make a videogame for that Bookmonkey guy, and I’ve got just the right idea, Zombies in Space! Who is this Bookmonkey? Well let me tell you, next year this upstart Canadian Dad is going to jump onto the blogging bandwagon and a few months after that over a dozen people will be publicly following him on blogger – seriously! Now, it’s important to remember that he won’t be getting a PS3 until late 2010, and won’t even be touching this game until after Halloween in 2011, but we might get lucky and strike a chord with some other players between now and then, who knows, maybe more than one guy likes the idea of fighting space zombies!”

Anyway, my theories of game design (delusional as they may be) aside, the game follows an engineer named Isaac Clarke, named after Science Fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke (neither of which wrote about space zombies) who spends the entire game fixing a massive mining ship in deep space while fighting off zombies and also happens to be our genre character of the week.

Isaac doesn’t actually speak, but he is resourceful, brave and willing to fight his way through some of the nastiest zombies I’ve ever come across – seriously the game has some pretty nasty visuals, so make sure your kids are in bed before you start playing.

I guess what I like best about Isaac is the fact that he’s not a soldier, but instead a guy who goes around fixing things and making his world a better, zombie-less place.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor

Long time readers of my blog will be pretty familiar with this, but for those of you visiting The Wisdom of Bookmonkey for the first time, I'm a pretty big fan of zombie stories; yup, whether comedic, terrifying, or post-apocalyptic, I have always been a pretty big fan of stories involving the walking dead.

Currently The Walking Dead is both my favourite comic book series and my favourite television series, so when a novel came along focusing on one of the comic-book series biggest villains I had to take a look.

The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, written by original series creator Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga follows a small group of friends and family just after the initial zombie outbreak and shows us a much darker view of the world normally inhabited by Rick Grimes and crew. The story moved quickly, answered more than a few questions about the main character and even had a couple tie-ins for the fan of the comic book series.

The novel was a lot of fun, and I believe that even if you haven't read the original series or seen the show, it still stands quite well on its own. It was originally conceived as the first in a series of novels focusing on characters from the comics and if that is the case, I am definitely looking forward to more of these in the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things I've Noticed: The More Anticipated the book, the less time to read it

Over the last couple days I've been working on the novel The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga. I ordered the book from my local comic book store a few months back and shifted things around so I could read it as soon as I got it added to my collection.

The thing is, it seems that the more I anticipate reading a title, the less time I actually have for reading it. Considering I read more than half a dozen books a month, it always seems that whichever book I look most forward to reading, the more busy my life tends to get.

Case in point, over the last few weeks I read the Starman Omnibus six volume collection by James Robinson (now don't get me wrong, I totally enjoyed that series and strongly recommend it here, but the books sat on my shelf for months - or in some cases years while I waited to own the entire collection), and overall things were going pretty smooth; I was on top of my assignment for my course, things were going good at both home and work and I moved through that series at a pretty good clip (roughly ninety comic issues in about five days).

Since I started this newest book, I've had a massive workload increase (both at my job and at school), people continue to walk up and chat with me every time I crack open the book (and yes, of course I stop reading to chat with people - I passed out of my moody, "Leave me alone I'm READING!!!" phase a few years back), and a pretty terrible snow storm added to a crowded bus ride home mean that I've had no time to read on my commute for the last couple days.

People often talk about a work/life balance, but for me there is a work/life/reading balance that requires extra work, and until I have that balance perfected, I will just have to resign myself to the fact that the books I'm most interested in reading will end up taking me three or four times the amount of time to read that all of my other books do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Starman

Often when writing these character reviews, I’ll say something like “this week’s genre character is definitely not someone I’d want to have over for dinner…” or “not someone I’d want to hang out with my kids” so I thought I would try for something different this week. This guy is actually someone I would happily have dinner with, and would be very interested in doing a used-book-store run with as well; the hero of Opal City, Starman, aka Jack Knight.

Written by James Robinson from 1994-2001, the comic series Starman follows Jack Knight, son of Ted Knight, who spent the majority of his life as protector of Opal City, Starman. The comic opens on Jack's brother David, the current Starman of Opal city, about a minute before he is (mild, 19-year-old spoiler) killed, and about a day before Jack decides to take up the name Starman for himself, for a limited time.

The series focuses on a type of superhero called a legacy hero, which is where different people over different generations act as the same hero, like the Nite Owl character in Watchmen. We see Jack, his father, others who took up the mantle and yes, even David all acting as Starman and while this is happening we see something happen in comics that I absolutely love:

Character development.

Jack starts out the series as a bit of a screw-up, having a strained relationship with his father and focused on his personal passion, collecting. Its funny, but with all the collectors who spend time reading comics, I think this is the first time I've ever come across a comic book character who is himself, a collector. Over the eighty issues of the series, Jack grows into a guy I really connected with, and honestly, a guy who sits right up at the top of my favourite comic book characters list, with Swamp Thing, Sandman, and Hellboy (my three personal favourite comic book characters).

If you've never given the series a shot, try it. I absolutely loved it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

Last week I finally got around to seeing the film Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones, who made one of my favourite Science Fiction films of recent years, Moon.

The premise of the film follows a man named Colter Stevens who awakens on a train without remembering how he got there and quickly discovers that everyone on the train sees him as someone else. Then eight minutes later he and everyone else on the train die in a horrible explosion.

Stevens then awakens in a chair and is told he is on a mission where he must figure out who set the bomb in a repeating eight minute chunk of time - being the last eight minutes of another mans life.

The story moves quickly and I liked the acting of all the leads, but it wasn't quite as fun a movie as Moon (which I talked about here). The movie is a lot of fun, an although I probably won't end up owning it, it is definitely worth the watch.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Things I've Noticed: My library keeps sending me batches

It’s not really a complaint, per se. I mean, I enjoy getting new movies from my local library like everyone else, the problem is, I’ll put a who bunch of holds on items listed as “On Order” and although my position in the hold queue varies from #1 of 15 copies to #284 of 29 copies, everything seems to show up on the same weekend.

Last weekend I got the following films: Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Rio, Unknown, Tabloid, and Source Code (which will get its own post soon).

This week I’ve got the following films: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, The Conspirator, Limitless, and The Lincoln Lawyer.The problem is that as all of these films (excluding Dracula – a title I got recommended to me from the very enjoyable Scotch & Comics podcast) have a very small window in which I can watch them and they keep showing up in these big batches. At my local library you can only keep DVDs for a week (which is pretty standard) and you can’t renew the DVDs you have out if someone else has a hold on the title (which is also pretty standard). This tends to leave me with about a week to fit in a half dozen new release films (90 minutes to 2 hours in length) with my own television watching, family time and schoolwork.

So I guess my problem with my local library comes down to the fact that they are too efficient and have many films I am quite interested in sitting in their current collection.

Ummmm…. I guess that isn’t really a problem so much as yet another reason I like my library a lot.
Never mind.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Edward Mallory

Ahh, Science Fiction. After a month of focusing on Horror reimaginings, taking the time to read a book focused on the “What if?” rather than the “Who goes there?” is a great treat. One of the book club selections I read this month (I’m in two) was The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The novel is an alternate history in which Victorian England has been transformed by the creation of Charles Babbages success in ushering in an era of working mechanical computers (in real life he did create many devices, but none that could work on the scale used in the novel). Although the book has three main character, the one I’ll be examining for this week is Edward “Leviathan” Mallory.

Why I really liked Ned Mallory in five words or less:

Ned Mallory, Paleontologist of Action

The novel itself begins by following a woman named Sylvia and ends following a spy/mystic named Laurence Oliphant, each of which get about ten percent of the story to themselves (Sylvia at the beginning at Laurence at the end). The majority of the book follows the adventures of Ned Mallory through the strange mechanical-computer based world of Victorian England. If I had to describe the style of writing, I would say the story works more as a series of vignettes than it does as a single narrative.

Mallory is a straight-forward man of action, who spends the majority of the novel caught up in dealings involving the highest levels of government and a number of cloak and dagger adventures. Although not quite a Steampunk-style Sherlock Holmes, I would say he was a Steampunk-style Alan Grant (even with the dinosaurs – sort of), in that he is a man of science required to be a man of action.

The book itself had a lot of references to Victorian England that simply went over my head (I was constantly using Wikipedia to see who all the supporting characters were in our timeline) but overall was a lot of fun, and like Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula (which was definitely more my cup of tea) introduced me to an alternate version of the era in a fun and unique fashion.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: A Dark Matter

The 2010 winner of the Bram Stoker Award for best novel was A Dark Matter, by Peter Straub. Having been a huge fan of the author from my first exposure to his works (The Talisman, which he co-authored with Stephen King in 1984) I can’t promise you an unbiased review, but hopefully a good one.

The book is kind of a mix of Rashamon (a Japanese film where an event was told and re-told from various points of view) and a faustian tale where someone makes a deal and ends up getting much more than they initially hoped.

The narrator is a novelist named Lee Hayward, who has been affected by an event he didn’t participate in from his childhood that involved each of his best friends (including the girl who would end up being his wife). The novel follows Lee as he attempts to put together exactly what happened on a day in 1966 when four of his friends accompanied some college kids and a sort of cult leader-type to try and perform some sort of ritual which ended up causing the death of one of the college kids and the disappearance of another.

The story works by describing the events from the point of views of each of the people involved and although they all describe the same event, there are some significantly telling differences between the versions we read. In the end the novel definitely spooked me, gave me some chills and then actually left me with a strange sense of hope. Totally worth the read.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Review: Tower Heist

Last month I checked out an advanced screening of Tower Heist, which opens tomorrow, and although it isn’t actually Horror or SF, there is more than a little fantasy involved in the film.

My wife described the premise as “an everyman’s Ocean’s Eleven” and honestly that may be the best description I can give. The film focuses on the staff of a fancy-shmancy apartment building in New York who find out one day that the financial genius living in the penthouse was a scam artist and has bankrupted the entire staff’s pension plan. So, lead by the building manager, four of the staff members get together to rob from the rich and give to the poor – the poor being the rest of the staff at the tower.

The film was directed by Brett Ratner, who directed the Rush Hour series with Jackie Chan and Red Dragon, a really good remake of the 1986 film Manhunter, so I figured the movie would probably be a pretty fun evening.

Honestly – the movie was great. Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy play off each other really well, and it’s nice to see Eddie moving away from the Disney films he’s been putting out for the last few years – honestly, the more foul-mouthed and less family friendly he can be, the funnier he gets.

The movie has a great sense of humour and honestly, as November and December tend to fill up with drama’s contending for the Oscar, a nice comedy would be a great palate cleanser. A really fun film.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Genre Character(s) of the week: Tucker and Dale

Part of what I love about horror movies is that every year I come across a horror movie that goes far beyond what I usually expect from the genre. Three years ago it was Let the Right One In, Two years ago it was Thirst, and last year it was I Saw the Devil. On Sunday I went with my BFF Mike, my youngest daughter and one of her friends to see the film Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. The movie was incredibly fun, made locally (I’m from Alberta) and introduced me to this week’s genre characters, Tucker and Dale.

Tucker and Dale, two long-time friends, are heading off to their very own vacation home, a place where they hope to do some fishing, drinking and bonding, when they happen to drive past a group of college kids. Their first meeting does not go as well as can be expected and although they go out of their way to be friendly and even rescue one of the college kids when she falls into a lake, certain misunderstandings begin to occur.

Unfortuantely, these misunderstandings mostly mean that these two incredibly nice guys (played wonderfully by Tyler Labine and Adam Tudyk) get to watch as a group of really, really stupid college kids start killing themselves in an attempt to rescue their friend. Also, as the bodies begin piling up, it starts to look more and more like these two friends must have something to do with all these murders, after all, they are hillbillies, and these are a bunch of college kids.

The movie is great, the friendship between the two leads comes across as honest and well meaning and this may be the goriest, funniest film I’ve seen in a long time. With homages to the likes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and even The Blair Witch Project this film seems like a perfect way to remind me what is great about horror films after spending a month in the world of reimaginings.

An original story, a lot of fun, and a definite must for both my DVD collection and my future Halloween parties, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a great film.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wrapping up the Reimagining

So here we are, one month and ten horror reimaginings later and what have we learned? In the simplest of statements:

Most of these films are not worth your time, I watched them so you don't have to.

I guess if I had to rank then in order of watchability it would go as follows

Reimaginings that I would consider good movies
1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
2. Fright Night (2011)
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Reimaginings that may appeal to horror fans
4. Halloween (2007)
5. Last House on the Left (2009)
6. The Thing (2011)
7. Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Reimaginings that are not worth your time
8. Prom Night (2008)
9. Friday the 13th (2009)
10. Halloween II (2009)

In the end, can I say watching these films was worth my time? I guess. It gave me lots to talk to all of you about, and now when I hear a thirteen-year-old explain to me how awesome that new Friday the 13th film was, I can shake my head and smile.

Happy Halloween Everyone!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween II (2009)

So we end this month returning to the series where we began, Halloween. I saw the sequel to the original Halloween on the same night, kind of a marathon and let me tell you, Halloween II (1981) was shocking, brutal, cringe-worthy and a satisfying ending to the story of Michael Myers. The story takes place in a hospital on the same evening as the original and once again Michael is after young Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis) only this time most of the action takes place in a hospital, rather that in a suburban neighbourhood.

The 2009 reimagined sequel, is sort of both a sequel to a reimagining of the 1978 classic as well as a partial reimagining of the 1981 original sequel. The first twenty minutes of the film play out just like the original sequel; Laurie is taken to a hospital, Michael isn’t nearly as dead as we thought he was and some pretty horrific deaths occur (for those who don’t appreciate gross-out killings, stay with the 1978 classic, as the ’81 sequel gets pretty gruesome). Then it all turns out to be a dream sequence and we find that two years have gone by since the original film.

This is pretty much where the film starts to slide into really bad movie territory.

All right, here are the two good things about the film:
1) Brad Dourif plays Sheriff Lee Brackett in a performance that is far too good for this film – seriously, the character is a great dad in a horrible situation and the acting is some of the best I’ve seen in horror films of the last few years.
2) The strange imagery of Michael’s mother and a white horse (while terribly over-played) is pretty striking and an interesting contrast to the violence of the murder scenes.

Rather than do a list of the bad (and believe me, it would be quite a list), I’ll just try to stick with the broad strokes. First of all Laurie is pretty much entirely unsympathetic in the film – I understand that she has been through a traumatic experience but she spends the entire film being a jerk to the kind family who has taken her in and pretty whiny and annoying to everyone else. She is damaged, but honestly, if she doesn’t have anything else going for her it’s hard for the audience to invest in her emotionally. Next, we are once again following Michael about as he goes on a killing spree and we spend a lot of time hearing him grunt as he stabs people, really animalistic grunts which did a fine job of reminding me exactly how creepy the original Michael Myers was due to the fact that he didn’t make a sound. Finally Dr. Loomis (played again by Malcolm MacDowell) is entirely unsympathetic, having made a fast buck on the pain Michael’s original rampage caused by writing a true crime book about the killings and getting some fame out of the deal (he does appear on a late night show with Weird Al Yankovic, who plays himself, in one of the stranger cameos I’ve come across in horror) but basically they have taken one of the most kind-hearted characters in slasher history and made him a total jerk, and I can’t even say why, he ends up doing the same thing the original character would have, and his sub-plot involving his book seems like unnecessary padding.

This film, although not my least favourite (hello Prom Night) was definitely one of the weakest of the last month and a bit of a taint on the franchise.