Friday, April 29, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Final Courses can be a lot of fun

Since 2004 I’ve been slowly but steadily working towards a Bachelors Degree in Professional Arts, majoring in Communications Studies. Last Thursday I handed in my final assignment of my final course, so now all I’ve got to do is sit and wait for it to get marked and then I will be in possession of a University degree.

My final course was called CMNS 425: Film & Genre, and my final three papers were on the following topics: 1) A Critical Review and discussion of the cultural influence of the film Night of the Living Dead, 2) A look at the development and evolution of the Horror genre based on the films Dracula (1931), The Curse of Frankenstein (1958), and Halloween (1978), and 3) A look at the concept of re-imagining in the horror genre, specifically focusing on the recent re-imaginings of Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Here’s what I can say about the course – it was a whole lot of fun, it gave me a good idea for my next October-thon blog post thingy (I’ll be looking at a lot of horror re-imaginings), and I do feel that I learned a little bit more about my personal favourite genre.

Now I’m looking at Grad School, and as more than a few of my choices are in the States, I’ve got to take the GRE test (Graduate Record Examinations) before I can apply – I’m pretty sure the test won’t be as fun as my last course, but what the heck, I like taking standardized tests as much as the next guy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Genre Character of the Week:President Coriolanus Snow

It's tricky to do a write up of a charater that involves major spoilers for a currently popular series, but you know what? I'm going to give it a shot. This week's genre character is also one of my current contendors for YA villain of the '00s, President Coriolanus Snow.

I started reading the Hunger Games series this month for two reasons: 1)Both my wife and younger daughter had read them and said that the series was right up my alley, and 2) It was a selection for one of my book clubs. Part of why I chose the character is that he only has a brief appearance in my book club selection (The Hunger Games), so while I speak about him, I'm not going to end up exhausting everything I want to say about the first book.

President Snow is in charge of a future North American nation called Panem. He rules from the Capital over twelve disctricts that provide the nation with food and resources. Also every year he oversees a contest/punishment called The Hunger Games, wherein two kids from each district (ages 12 - 18) are chosen to particiate in a tournament where they fight eachother to the death.

Not having a speaking role until the second book in the series, President Snow is evil in a way that brings obvious comparisons to Star Wars' Emperor Palpetine - a thirst for power and an overall creepy guy.

Just to be clear, the President is an incredibly effective villain for the series, but not the kind of genre character I'd like to visit with. If you haven't checked out this series yet I strongly recommend it. My review of the first book will be up next Monday.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: Thor by J. Michael Straczynski

As we are getting closer to summer movie season, I'm continuing my prep-work on movies I'd like to see. Basically my thinking goes like this - if I take the time to read whatever book the story was originally adapted from, I am a little more justified in paying theatre costs to see the movie when it first comes out, rather than having to wait for it to be released on DVD.

Case in point - Thor. Last month I read my local library's entire collection of the Walter Simonson run from the '80s - to be clear, this wasn't the entire run, just what my library had (volumes 1-3 of 5), remember the point is that I invest time, not $$$ into research to justify to myself whether or not I should see something in theatres.

Anyway, this month I read my library's collection of the J. Michael Straczynski run on Thor (and yes, this was the entire run).

So here we go - a quick caveat: my only background is the various trailers for the new film, the first three volumes of the Walter Simonson run, and whatever I gleaned from that little Thor-crazed kid in Adventures in Babysitting.

Apparently sometime between the Simonson run and now (Straczynski's storyline was published from July 2007 to November 2009) Thor has died, also there was some sort of Civil War between Super heroes - I actually tried to understand what the heck was going on with Civil War as I was reading Peter David's Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man at the time and the only thing this massive plot seemed to do was wreck the story line I was currently interested in.

Back to Thor: after having a chat with his past alter-ego, Dr. Donald Blake (who disappeared during the Simonson run), Thor returns to an Asgard-less earth and goes about re-creating his godlike home in the middle of the Oklahoma plains. This gives us a lot of culture-clash story lines as the good folks who already live there begin to make nice with the new neighbours Thor keeps showing up with (Thor is magically restoring the other Asgardians around the globe). The early issues include a quick denouncement of the Civil War storyline (Thor beats up a much-deserving Tony Stark) and a wonderful romantic sub-plot involving an Asgardian and a short-order cook named Bill.

These comics were a lot of fun, and although I have very little context for them, I felt the story moved at a nice pace and kept me interested. The artwork, by the way, was fantastic across the board, this was some of the most incredible comic art I've seen this year (the only better I can think of is the stuff in Batwoman: Elegy).

If you have time to check these issues out, definitely go for it. The series was a lot of fun and continues to get me excited for the upcoming film.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bookmonkey's Top 5 Films to see in Summer 2011

Superheroes. This summer sure can’t seem to get enough of them and I’ve got to admit I’m feeling in the mood for some super-heroic films myself, hopefully I’ll try not to limit myself to only one sub-genre, but let’s see what’s coming out.

As with previous lists I’m trying to avoid listing the films I’ll probably see due to my kids, like the final Harry Potter Film or possibly Spy Kids 4 (oh, who am I kidding, I’m a big Robert Rodriguez fan at heart) or my BFF Mike (I think if I skipped Green Lantern it may irreparably damage our friendship) or the ones I’ll see but only if they are playing nearby (like August’s Don’t be afraid of the Dark, co-written and produced by Guillermo Del Toro).

Here they are, in order of release, my top five must list for theatre viewing this summer:

Thor: Here’s the thing about Thor, I started out wanting to see this movie simply because it’s directed by Kenneth Brannagh. Then I actually checked out some Thor comics (the ‘80s stuff by Simonson and the more recent run by Straczynski), and you know what, this movie just looks really fun. I’m hoping I won’t have to eat my words in a couple weeks, but for right now, I’m really excited about this movie.

Super 8: After seeing the first actual trailer, this movie looks like a nice throw-back to Close Encounters, but made by the guy who did the recent Star Trek reboot I liked so much. It looks like exactly the kind of alien-related fun I’m into.

X-Men: First Class: Here’s the thing, I just spent my last few months watching The Avengers, and one of the things that The Avengers helped influence was the Hellfire Club and specifically Emma Frost in the X-Men universe, both things that are going to be in the next film, add to that the movie has Nicolas Hoult, who I liked a lot in About a Boy and was really impressed by in Skins, and you’ve got a movie I’m going to be checking out.

Captain America: The First Avenger: I love the idea of setting a superhero movie in the Second World War. One of my favourite sub-genres of speculative fiction is alternate histories, so the idea of adding superheroes to a war movie seems like a really great cross-genre idea for me.

Fright Night: I loved the original of this, and in a way that makes me both excited and in fear for how this movie is going to go down. The original was both funny and scary, and the fact that this film will have previous Doctor Who David Tennant in it (doing the Roddy McDowall role from the original) has got me pretty intrigued into what this film will end up looking like.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Ray, the Imagineer

Last weekend I finally got around to watching a movie my BFF Mike had been telling me to check out called Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel. I had seen the trailer a few years back and although I had been looking forward to the movie, it still isn’t available in region one format – luckily it does play on HBO so I was able to watch it.

Short story – excellent film, quite funny and uses most of the tropes you can expect from a time-travel story. Also it introduced me to my next genre character of the week, Ray played by Chris O'Dowd (pictured left, with Cassie, played by Anna Farris)

Ray is a nerd (sorry, imagineer) that is, a huge fan of Science (or Speculative) fiction. He’s also a pretty swell guy who gets in over his head when a time leak occurs in his local pub.

As Ray is a well known SF (sorry again, Science/Speculative Fiction fan) his friends automatically assume he will know what to do in such a situation.

PETE: Well what do we do? I mean, this is your s**t...
RAY: This isn’t my s**t. My s**t is sitting on my arse reading this s**t...

Anyway, as Ray and his friends Pete and Toby get thrown back and forth across timelines and their own pasts, the film does an excellent job of mixing the last act of Back to the Future II with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. If you have the opportunity to check it out, I definitely recommend it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie Review: Hanna

So far this year I've listed my must see movies as a collection of Fantasy, Horror and SF, (and yes, I still stand behind Your Highness - if you're in the mood for something crude, fantasy-themed and kinda stupid, it's a lot of fun), but after this weekend I have my current top film of the year (at least until Thor comes out in a couple weeks), Hanna.

The movie is a revenge/espionage story focusing around a strong female lead - in concept its not unlike Salt (which I reviewed here), but this movie works on an entirely different level.

Here's why you should see it. 1) If you like high action/compelling character stories (like the Bourne trilogy), it will be right up your alley. 2) The lead, Saoirse Ronin (who I've liked in pretty much everything I've seen her in) is really really good in this movie, seriously, I cannot stress enough how good she is in this film, and 3) Cate Blanchett makes one hell of a villain.

I don't want to get any further into the plot than the trailer does, as this type of movie works best with only a little knowledge going in. I figured I was in for some fun action when I went into the theatre, I was blown away by how good this movie was as I left.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Where are all the robots on TV?

When I was a kid there were a bunch of robots on TV, Rosie from the Jetsons, The Six Million Dollar Man, heck, even all those lady-robots from the Star Trek episode "I, Mudd"

(A Quick side note - I'm not actually old enough to have seen any of these live - except the Six Million Dollar Man, I'm just Canadian and therefore grew up on American re-runs and episodes of The Littlest Hobo)

As a younger kid in the '80s there was KITT, Chip Carson, The Transformers, Data and Astroboy.

In the '90s as a young parent, at least I had the Noo Noo from Teletubbies, and for a large chunk of the last ten years I've had the comfort of the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica.

A week ago while talking to my BFF Mike about this very problem the only current robot we could come up with was DJ Roomba from Parks and Recreation (who is awesome by the way and one of the only TV robots I've ever seen as a ghost).

If television was to be belived I thought that we'd all have robot butlers by now but the closest thing I have is my daughter's old Tekno sitting in a box somewhere in our basement.

All I'm saying here is, where are all of my robots on TV?!?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Captain Etienne Navarre

One of the things I’m often asked by one of my friends is to justify why I like dramas and tragedies. From his point of view, escapist fiction and film should be light-hearted as there is already enough misery in the real world. From my point of view I think that scenes of loss and heartbreak can be stunningly beautiful and without their existence the human experience simply becomes flavourless mush.

Case in point: Thinking of how I could match a genre character I liked with sadness, I closed my eyes and tried to think of some of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in fantasy films (why fantasy – my last two genre characters were out of horror and Science Fiction), and then it struck me: Captain Etienne Navarre.

Initially coming across as a heartless jerk, openly claiming that he is only using our protagonist to aid his own murderous ends, Navarre eventually changes throughout the film into one of those “Still Waters Run Deep” male romantic leads that I like so much. I first saw Ladyhawke when it came out in theatres, and although I was actually there to see the wisecracking kid from Wargames fight with swords, the love story between the films two romantic leads, Navarre and Isabeau (played wonderfully by Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer) eventually won me over entirely (and as I was a nine-year-old boy at the time, the romance was the thing I was least interested in).

For me the film basically came down to one scene (spoiler warning) as the two leads had been cursed to be “always together, eternally apart,” specifically, he became a wolf at night and she a hawk at dawn, so although they each spent half the day in human form it was never with the other. Anyway, the comic relief of the film attempts to find a way to cheat the curse and the sequence wherein they actually see each other for the first time in year is probably one of the most beautiful/sad film memories from my childhood – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, I love the fact that a collaboration of cast, crew, production company, local theatre and my mom willing to take me to the theatre could affect me so emotionally.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Movie Review: Never Sleep Again - the Elm Street Legacy

One of my favourite parts of my latest (and last) undergraduate University course is the subject matter. It's called Communications Studies 425: Film & Genre, and genre movies are exactly the focus. They have units devoted to Horror, Science Fiction, Comedy, and Suspense and I'm having a blast taking the course. My homework this weekend? In preparation for a paper I'm writing next week on the evolution of Horror in film is a documentary called Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.

If I had to describe the film in one word it would be this: Comprehensive. Having 20 to 50 minute segments on every film in the series, the short-lived television series and the cultural influence overall, this movie goes behind the scenes on every film, talking to producers, writers, effects guys, actors, and anyone else involved in the series to give you a picture of how this franchise originated and grew.

Honestly, I was kind of expecting an hour or so of people being self-congratulatory, and in the end I got a four hour look at exactly how these movies came to be, the ideas behind the films and a look back at some of the scariest films of my childhood.

If you can find this movie - give it a look, seriously I can't think of a better examination of a film franchise than this one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Movie Review: Your Highness

Yesterday my wife and I went to an advanced screening of the film Your Highness starring Danny McBride and James Franco, with our friends Mike and Ron. The movie was pretty great. We got to the theatre about an hour before the film started and ended up waaaaay back in line, so our seating options were limited, luckily we found four pretty good seats together and got to enjoy the movie.

First off – the movie is to Fantasy as Paul is to SF – meaning the better versed you are in Fantasy films and the Fantasy genre overall the better time you will have at the film, as you will get more of the in-jokes. Secondly, McBride, Franco and David Gordon Green (the director) had previously starred together in Pineapple Express, so if you’ve seen that one, you’ll have a pretty good idea at the sense of humour in the film.

Secondly – this movie is not for kids – not only are the references likely to go over their heads, but there is a lot of violence, nudity and references to various bodily fluids.

Finally – this movie is a lot of fun. Knowing I was going into a crude, rude send-up of the Fantasy genre, I can say I was totally impressed, and more than a few times a little surprised, and once shocked at what some people will do if you let them have a muppet in their film.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Ben

Last weekend my daughter Kaia and I watched the original Night of the Living Dead, you see, she's become a pretty big fan of horror comedies, and as she has her eye on Shaun of the Dead, I figured that she should actually see some of the movies that those guys were parodying.

Anyway, as we watched the movie I realized that I hadn't done many classic horror characters as genre characters so I thought I would look at the one I liked best from that film, Ben.

Here's the thing about the characters in the film, with the exception of Ben (who's last name we never learn) everyone is pretty much ruled by their emotions or in a state of shock. Understandable, yes, but useful in a zombie apocalypse scenario - not really. Ben shows up about 20 minutes into the movie and up to this point we've just had Barbara freaking out by all the zombies chasing her. Taking shelter in an old house, she meets Ben, who begins to systematically set up the place for a siege.

What I like about Ben, he's pretty no nonsense, he's clearly the best guy to put in charge and he's working to save everyone's life. Also I'm fairly certain that he was the inspiration for the character Greg Preston (my personal favourite character in the reboot of Survivors - also a pretty no-nonsense guy who makes sure his first stop after the end times come is a camping store).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review: Infected

How far would you be willing to go to stop an alien invasion? What would you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? Before I read this book, I assumed I would do a lot - that when it came to a truly horrible situation, I would go farther than most people.

Then I read this book. The main character, Perry Dawes put me to shame. This guy does everything he can to stop an alien takeover, and I mean everything.

The book was a podcast originally - and to be fair, I wonder if I had experienced it radio-play-style, if it would have worked better for me.

The gist of the story is, alien microbes attack Earth, making the infected sick and strange triangle-shaped growths begin to cover their bodies. The majority of the story follows one infected man in his apartment dealing with this strange, horrific condition.

Although the book didn't work out great for me (I found the majority of secondary characters to be very two-dimensional), the core story, of Perry in his apartment, was visceral and effective.

In the end I don't feel I can recommend the book, but I would definitely give the podcast a try.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Things I've Noticed: See It Twice and it's twice as nice

Last night I went to the encore performance of the National Live Theatre's production of Frankenstein at my local theatre. Having seen this play two weeks ago and loving it (my review is here), I wasn't exactly sure how much of a difference having the two leads switch roles would bring to the production.

Put simply - it was a pretty big difference. The first time I saw the play, I was impressed by the level of intensity brought to the performance. This time, it was the level of sympathy that surprised me - even knowing everything the creature was going to get up to I found myself nervous about how exactly this creature would do things.

From a critical standpoint this time I got to watch how they did things rather than just what they did. The set was pretty incredible and the overall acting was superb.

If a DVD of this play comes out, I would love to purchase it, but even if the only way I get to experience this show was the way I did, I'm glad I saw it both times. It was a really, really great show.