Sunday, January 30, 2011

Series Review: Todd and the Book of Pure Evil

Ever since I read my BFF Mike's review of this Canadian-made Horror-Comedy series, I've been meaning to give it a try, and as the entire series aired in a marathon format on January 3, I recorded it and then checked it out.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil follows the adventures of young Todd Smith, who one day discovers the book of Pure Evil, unleashes its horrors upon his school, and spend the next thirteen episodes attempting to stop the book from killing most of the students and more than a few of the teachers in any number of disgusting ways (a quick word to the wise, the deaths range from funny to stomach churning - you have been warned). To do this he enlists the aid of his best friend Curtis, his crush Jenny and the girl crushing on him, Hannah. Finally, filling the Giles role of this Scooby-Squad is Guidance Counsellor Atticus Murphy, Jr., who definitely has some secrets (and an increasingly terrifying back story) of his own.

When I first started watching the series, I was confused about the lack of language - everyone appeared to be swearing but they were all using grade-school versions of swears. After complaining about this to Mike, I was promptly given his copy of the show, which includes all the original language.

In the end the show is kind of a low-budget, foul mouthed, disgustingly bloody version of Buffy the Vampire slayer, but with significantly more Heavy Metal influence. It really appealed to my inner-fourteen-year-old. I hope it comes back for a second season.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Best Picture category at the Oscars 2011

Although I’m still not a big fan of the Academy doubling the number of Best Picture nominees (I think it’s mostly so people like me will go out and see more movies), I am happy to see that genre films are definitely being represented again this year.

Black Swan: I actually went and saw this movie last Sunday, and believe me, it is definitely a psychological horror film. It’s kind of funny, because on the surface, it’s just a story about a ballet dancer who may be in over her head with her next role. The thing is, this movie moves pretty quickly into some pretty messed-up visuals. Considering I’ve only seen a few ballet films (The Red Shoes was my favourite until this one), I’ve got to say I was impressed that it both kept and transcended the style of the traditional ballet film.

Inception: Having already reviewed this SF mind-bender of a film, all I can say now is that the nomination gives me a good reason to rewatch the movie. Although I’m pretty sure this year will either go to Black Swan or The King’s Speech, I am really happy to see that this amazing film was nominated.

Toy Story 3: Honestly – I haven’t seen this one yet, and the fact that it is also nominated for best animated feature effectively kills any chance it has in the major category. I will say that considering the second of these films was originally going to be a direct-to-DVD release, this series has done exceptionally well for itself. I do have a copy on hold at the library, but as I’m number 57 in the hold queue, I’m not entirely sure I’ll see it before the big night.

So there you go, my final impression, Black Swan has the best chance of the genre pics nominated to win, but we'll see in March.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Dr. Abraham Van Helsing

Every Genre has its heavy hitters, the characters that you have to eventually get around to if you’re talking about the best ones. This week we are looking at one my personal favourites, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing.

Although played well by Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Jackman, and others, for me, Van Helsing (in film) will always be Peter Cushing in the various Vampire films from Hammer in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

As a character, we know he’s probably of Dutch descent, but his language is peppered with German phrases. He is described by John Seward (a former pupil of his in the novel Dracula) as

“... a seemingly arbitrary man, this is because he knows what he is talking about better than any one else. He is a philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day, and he has, I believe, an absolutely open mind. This, with an iron nerve, a temper of the ice-brook, and indomitable resolution, self-command, and toleration exalted from virtues to blessings, and the kindliest and truest heart that beats, these form his equipment for the noble work that he is doing for mankind, work both in theory and practice, for his views are as wide as his all-embracing sympathy"

Throughout the Hammer Horror films, Van Helsing is shown to be both terribly driven to defeat evil (his destruction of the vampire in The Brides of Dracula is possibly my favourite vampire kill on screen) as well as kind hearted.

In the end he is exactly the kind of person I would want between myself and anything the horror genre can throw at me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: Track of the Cat

As I've spent the last few years working my way through a lot of horror novels, I've had to start branching out of the strait horror genre and into crossover books. Sometimes these work well, other times the author has some trouble. Last week I read the 1949 western novel The Track of the Cat, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and I've got to say it was pretty effective.

The story follows a trio of brothers living on a ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California in the year 1900 - an early snow storm has hit the region and their herd of cattle has been attacked by what appears to be a large black mountain cat. Two of the brothers head out into the storm to catch it and one ends up dead.

The meat of the novel follows the other brother, alone and lost in the blizzard, tracking this cat which he may or may not be seeing as the environment starts to drive him more than a little crazy. The novel is really at it's best as it describes how quickly you can become lost in the mountains and how easy it is to start to fall apart, even for a mountain man like our protagonist, Curt.

The other section of the novel focuses on the family back at the ranch, and although it is interesting, it definitely pales in comparison to the cat and mouse game going on between Curt and The Cat.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Things I've noticed: Blu-Ray Discs are a slippery slope

Like many of my friends, I got into purchasing movies in the ‘90s. VHS tapes were pretty cool, they let me watch and re-watch my favourite films and as the price came down I got to get a pretty sizable collection. The problem came in the late ‘00s as my family switched from VHS tapes to DVDs.

Basically we have spent the last five years re-purchasing the films we had on VHS and adding a few more to our collection. As I purchased a PS3 last year, I have suddenly gotten access to Blu-Ray discs and have already begun purchasing movies in the new format. I currently have six – Black Dynamite, Big Trouble in Little China, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Gremlins, The Goonies and The Back to the Future Trilogy (yes I know that last one is actually three movies, but bear with me). Currently all of these films can be described in one way – awesome. I suppose the best way to describe them is that they are the movies I would always happily watch with friends and list as some of my favourite films. The problem is, where do I stop?

I got Big Trouble in Little China as it was one of the few films I purchased in VHS and never got in DVD format – mostly to see what the big deal was with a Blu-Ray disc (the difference is very noticeable), Then I got Black Dynamite out of a remainder bin at my local grocery store for $6 (the movie is awesome, and I would have eventually bought it on DVD, but the price was so nice), and the other four films were Christmas presents.

My question is now, where do I draw the line? Do I simply switch from DVD to Blu-Ray purchases now? Do I attempt to keep my Blu-Ray collection as one that can only be described as awesome? If I do that, shouldn’t I look at weeding less-than-awesome titles out of my DVD collection? I’m just not sure – I do like that the cases for Blu-Ray discs are smaller, but for a lot of films the fancy high-def quality doesn’t make a lot of difference. So I’m now kind of stuck at a crossroads – which movies will get the Blu-Ray treatment and which will be exiled into DVD-land? My PS3 does still play DVDs, so there’s no current problem with backwards compatibility, but I’m still not sure what to do?

How about the rest of you? Any Blu-Ray solutions out there that might help me?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: The Prince

For Christmas this year I got the PS3 game Katamari Forever, which has both an incredibly simple concept and a lot of back story. It also has our Genre Character of the Week: The Prince (pictured left).

The goal of the game is pretty simple, you (the little green guy), push a ball around the screen and everything you touch that is roughly half the size of the ball or less sticks to it, as the ball gets bigger, you can pick up more stuff, and eventually stuff can include animals, people, buildings, weather systems, you name it.

The story of the game (the fifth in the series) is as follows. While learning to jump his Katamari (a skill that cannot be underestimated in this game), the young prince's father, The King of All Cosmos displays a massive jump (he's kind of a jerk to his son - actually it might be better to replace "kind of" with always and "Jerk" with whatever NSFW expression you would prefer), and although he gets very high, he is also hit by a passing meteor, and immediately loses his memory.

Realizing that The Cosmos needs a King, The Prince and all of his cousins work together to create a Robotic King of All Cosmos; The Roboking, which turns evil and nearly destroys the universe (although to be fair, it does feel bad about it afterwards). From this point on The Prince must work to roll bigger and bigger Katamari balls which which to eventually replace all the lost stars throughout the Cosmos.

Honestly, what I like about the little guy is his willingness to try. He's got a pretty terrible dad (even the Robot version is pretty mean to the little guy), but that doesn't stop him from doing his job - rolling stuff up (see below). If you've never tried the game before, it is definitely worth a look.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bookmonkey's Top Five Episodes of The Avengers

So a few months back my friend Ron lent me the DVD boxed set, The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Mega-set, which contained 54 episodes of the classic '60s series, including three lost episodes of the Ian Keel years (season one) and an Emma Peel cameo episode of The New Avengers (I'm pretty sure they just used archival footage and another actress to do the voice). Anyway, after finishing this thoughouly fun show (and I recommend the entire series to anyone who is interested, I thought I would give my top five personal favourite episodes.

For a brief taste of what to expect from The Avengers, I recommend you head to YouTube and check out The Case of the Missing Corpse Basically this three minute short was created to advertise the fact that the show would now be in colour, and in those three minutes it explains the plot of pretty much any episode of the series.

5. The Man Eater of Surrey Green - Ages before Mulder and Scully took years to stop an alien invasion plot in The X-Files, Steed and Peel faced down a mind controlling plant from outer space with plans of world domination in one episode. This episode features monsters from outer space, a terrifying conspiracy and a race against the extinction of mankind.

4. The Gravediggers - This episode has everything I’ve grown to love about The Avengers, eccentric millionaires, the promise of an invading army and one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen. To save Mrs. Peel, who has been tied to a train track, Steed must fight off three brutes and stop the train, which, by the way is one of those mini trains for little kids you find at amusement parks.

3. Too Many Christmas Trees - Possibly the creepiest Christmas themed episode of anything I’ve ever seen, it has a happy shout out to Steed’s previous partner, Cathy Gale, a very Dickensian Christmas party and the creepiest Santa I’ve seen since The Nightmare Before Christmas.

2. The House that Jack Built - An Emma Peel-focused episode, this one involves her inheriting a house from an aunt and finding out that the house is a lot deadlier than she thinks. This episode finally gave some back story to the character and had a really interesting concept.

1. The Girl From Auntie - My hands-down, favourite episode of the series, this John Steed-focused episode has an Emma Peel impostor, and rather than simply arresting her or what have you, Steed simply partners up with this girl and gets her help to find the real Mrs. Peel. The entire episode was hilarious, involving Russian agents, a knitting circle and an auction house that can get you anything you desire.

I'm really glad I got the opportunity to check out this series as I was vaguely familiar with it before hand, but can now say I've seen a lot of really great '60s television, as well as an introduction to a sub-genre of Science Fiction I had never heard of before; Spy-Fi, wherein espionage stories are told which involve science-fiction technology or concepts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Waiting a week for the new movie can be cool

So this weekend I’m not going to be seeing the film The Green Hornet in theatres. I’ll be checking it out next week as either a date night movie with my lovely bride or as a buddy movie with my BFF Mike (Sorry Mr. Guy, but you know the old saying - wives before... uh... you).

Anyway, there are a couple reasons why I’ll be waiting a week to see the year’s first superhero flick and here they are.

1) The theatres are always pretty crowded opening weekend (pictured above). I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years separated from friends, forced to sit in either the extreme front (Dracula 1992) or the extreme back (The Lion King 1994) so as I’ve gotten a little older and wiser, I sometimes wait a week before seeing a popular movie.

2) Oscar season is ramping up, and as I’m one of those folks who like to see all the nominees if possible, I may check out either Black Swan, The King’s Speech, or True Grit, which are all playing at my local theatre instead.

3) My kids are both seeing it this weekend, and they have reached an age where Dad isn’t necessarily a cool movie buddy anymore (not for every movie, but definitely for ones they would like to see with friends).

In the end I’m happy to wait a week, as my waiting has protected me from seeing many films that were downright awful (I waited a week after Transformers came out, and in the end decided to take a pass – best movie-related decision of 2007).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Kenzi

Having just finished watching the new first season of the Showcase series Lost Girl, I thought it would be fun this week to look at my favourite character in the show, the title character’s side-kick Kenzi.

Unlike everyone else on the show (who are all members of a race called the Fae – think different types of faeries), Kenzie is delightfully human. She’s street smart, wise cracking thief, and after being saved by the main character, Bo, in the pilot (which I reviewed here), she is the main characters best friend and often the voice of the audience.

Kenzi (played wonderfully by Ksenia Solo), comes across at first as a sort of grifter, looking for any way to make a quick buck and get on with her day, but throughout the series it becomes more and more apparent that as she becomes involved with the world of the Fae and Bo in particular, she is a decent person at heart and is willing to do the right thing when the chips are down.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for the loud mouth characters, also she tends to get the best lines in each episode.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Review: Fear

About a month ago I was talking about great books with a few friends, and one of them suggested I check out the book Fear by L Ron Hubbard. Here is what I knew about the author until that point.

1) Creator of Scientology (I knew this because I almost joined at one point in my twenties, for cash - also I saw a pretty awesome orientation video showing god petting a monkey, which is still one of my favourite images to this day)

2) He wrote the book that became the movie Battlefield Earth, which single-handedly ruined my interest in checking out new Science Fiction films for about a year.

3) He wrote that book with the volcano on the cover.

So bearing that in mind I checked out his 1940 novel Fear, considered a classic of horror by the likes of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. Now I've read a lot of horror in my time so when I hear a lot of folks saying "classic" I get a little nervous. But you know, what?

The book was pretty cool. It followed a university teacher named James Lowry as his world begins to dissolve around him one day. There are no monsters, haunted houses or aliens, and it does get pretty freaky in some parts. My only problem was that as the idea was pretty clever, I've seen it redone more than a few times in other horror stories.

In the end, a fun book that I recommend to fans of horror, it's not quite a keeper for me (having a copy availabe at my local library is enough) but I had a pretty good time reading it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Midseason 2011 is here!

Yesterday I was happy to see that my PVR is finally starting to get emptied, as over the Christmas holidays we can finally catch up on the shows we’ve been saving for a while now. What did I watch? Rubicon (very underrated, I liked it a lot), and the Showcase Series Lost Girl (which will probably get a genre character post next week). What do I still have, Season 2 of Being Human and the first season of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.

Problem is, with mid-season replacements showing up right away, I’ve got to decide which new shows I’ll add to my already busy schedule. In the end I’ve picked three (and one pilot), so, for your reading pleasure, here we go!

1. The Cape
The new Superhero show from NBC – it looks a little more Batman than Superman, but what the heck, I liked No Ordinary Family over on ABC, and as it’s a superhero show and therefore its chances of success are pretty slim to none, I’m going to give the first few episodes a shot.

Put simply enough – Kathy Bates. Ever since she scared the crap out of me in Misery I’ve watched pretty much everything she’s been in. I already have a lot of legal shows I’m watching, but this one will get a fair shake due to its star power.

3. Off The Map
Following a bunch of Doctors in a remote South American village. I dunno, I followed a bunch of airline passengers to Hawaii for Lost and I was happy with how that worked out.

Finally, they are doing a North American Remake of the BBC series Being Human. I tend to find remakes of shows I already like hit or miss, so I’ll give it the pilot, but that’s it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Matthew Corbett

Following a favourite author through their works in publishing order is an interesting experience. Robert R. McCammon, writer of many of my favourite horror stories actually put his first four novels out of print and it is only due to a lot of used-bookstore shopping that I came across them. The writer of fifteen novels, I’ve definitely placed Mr. McCammon in my top ten horror writers. His latest three novels, however, move away from the horror genre into historical fiction. There is a complete lack of monsters, demons, vampires, etc., and although the first of these novels does focus on a witch trial, it is his characters, namely this week’s genre character, Matthew Corbett, who keep me interested.

Speaks the Nightbird takes place in the Carolinas in 1699, and focuses on the clerk of a travelling magistrate as its main character. Matthew is exactly the kind of character I really enjoy in my fiction, stubborn, curious, and wanting to understand the reasons behind everything. Unfortunately, the trial he is working on in the novel, a witch trial for a woman named Rachel Howarth, has a lot going on behind it, and the people involved will do anything to remain hidden.

Matthew is described by his employer as seeing everything in front of him, “if you show him a picture, he notes the work, the frame, the nail and the wall it is driven into,” so Matthew, although still quite young (he is 20 as the novel begins), is a very astute observer, a trait that really impresses me.

Although I’ve only read the first of the three books focusing on Matthew, I’m definitely going back for more, and if you are interested in a really interesting Mystery/Thriller in a historical setting, Speaks the Nightbird is a really good one.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bookmonkey's Top 5 films to see before summer 2011

This summer has got a lot of genre picks I'm going to see, and it starts in May with the release of Thor. Although I'm not a big fan of the Marvel Character, I am a big fan of director Kenneth Branagh and I've enjoyed the Marvel films over the last few years. The four months between now and Thor, however are filled with a lot of Genre films I'd like to see, so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Although I never saw the classic '60s series, my interest in the film comes from two distinct factors: a) Canadian Actor Seth Rogen, who I've loved since his days back in Freaks & Geeks, b) Director Michael Gondry, whose film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may be a strong contender for my favourite SF film of the last ten years.

A send-up of fantasy films starring Danny McBride (who I've loved in everything I've ever seen him in, from Land of the Lost to Up in the Air), and James Franco (another actor I've been following since Freaks & Geeks), this movie looks like it may do for heroic fantasy what Hot Tub Time Machine did for time travel SF.

Starring Bradley Cooper, this film looks at a miracle drug that can open all of mans potential, I wonder if there will be a horrible downside? Regardless I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Much like Scott Pilgrim last year, Paul mixes some of my favourite things (Shawn of the Dead stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and again (wow!) Freaks & Geeks alum Seth Rogen in a buddy film involving a tour of the great alien contact sites throughout America and the chance to help out a real live (and disgusting) alien called Paul.

From the Director of my favourite SF film of 2009, Moon, comes this film about a man using technology that allows him to live the last 8 minutes of someone elses life over and over in an attempt to discover who killed him, only problem, he doesn't just want info, he wants to change history.