Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: The Swamp Thing

Here’s the thing about The Swamp Thing – my first introduction to the character came from the Wes Craven film; the film follows Doctor Alec Holland, a man who is (like many classic comic book characters) about to make a scientific break-through when he is attacked, doused in chemicals, set on fire and runs off into the swamp (okay, maybe not that many comic book characters).

The thing is, it was only in my teen years that I discovered how incredible this character was – following the comics written by Alan Moore, the reader starts a journey following the transformed doctor and end up seeing the entire series dramatically change shape and form. I can’t quite stress enough how influential this character has been on my love of horror in general and comics in particular.

Seriously, if you haven’t taken the time to read this series yet – go out and do so; it ranks highly in my favourite comic series of all time.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Game Review - Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Today I thought I would take a quick look at my latest game for the PS3, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I know that this game is almost five years old now, but as I've only had my console for about a year, I'm just getting around to these classics.

A quick note - the game has twenty-three chapters and I'm only on Chapter twenty, so although I've played the majority of the game, I haven't finished it yet.

The three points I want to make about the game are as follows:

1) The game is pretty similar to the Tomb Raider series, basically you enter an environment, kill whatever is running around there and then move things about to find the exit.

2) That said, the graphics are pretty darn amazing and the fight scenes demand any number of creative solutions - going in and shooting Rambo-style will work for a few of these fights but most of them require some sort of strategy.

3) This game (and I say this as a hard-core Zombie fan), really doesn't need the (mild spoiler) Zombies in the final act. Seriously, the entire game up to the last few chapters has done a pretty good job of being an Indiana Jones-style game wherein a treasure hunter is fighting off other treasure hunters - why exactly does the game need to go all Resident Evil in the end? Also, for a game with such incredible graphics it is a little annoying to spend the last few chapters chasing (and running from) zombies in dark cement hallways.

In the end I'm enjoying the game, but I'll probably trade it away after I've beaten it - a fun play, but the sudden switch of genres at the end seems kind of forced and ends up taking the game out of my library of games.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things I've Noticed: It is easy to fall behind with my Internet Content

I’m a big believer in lists, stacks and boxes. I try to keep running tallies of the books, shows, comics, movies and various other mediums of entertainment in my life that I’d like to be enjoying, and although generally I’m pretty good at this, there is one specific area in which I fall desperately behind – Online Content.

Some of my favourite shows of the last few years have been online ones; The Guild, The Nostalgia Critic (and Chic), The Angry Video Game Nerd and The Legend of Neil consistently keep me amused, and often when my BFF Mike comes over to hang out I inflict many of these shows on him.

Over the last month I’ve been watching the various Monster Madness Reviews on Cinemassacre.com – basically a series of 3-10 minute reviews of horror classics that have been going up for the last few Octobers, and after finishing the latest one I decided to catch up with the last few Nostalgia Critic episodes I’ve missed – it turns out there are 37 of them!

A quick side-note – I’m a pretty big fan of this online reviewer and have had very few bad experiences watching his reviews, and he generally only puts out a new one each week. This means that while I was spending time with my family or working on my University Degree, I’ve let just over three dozen episodes slip by.

I wish that I could find an online site that lets me keep track of these shows, that gives me a place to remind me which episode was the last one I viewed and perhaps even lets me make notes about the videos (whether I liked them or not, and interesting notes I want to keep) – so if such a site exists, and you know about it – quit keeping all the info to yourself and share with a frustrated bookmonkey!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Peter Piper

Like many readers, I have a pretty big back-log of books I honestly mean to read, but end up sitting on my shelves month after month (and sometimes, I am sad to say, year after year) waiting for the guy who purchased them in the first place to fulfill his end of the bargain and read them. This year I’ve been pretty good, making sure that I hit at least one a month, and for May that book was Peter & Max: A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham. The main character of the book is none other than Peter Piper, who indeed picks a peck of peppers early on in the story.

One of my favourite parts of Fables is the conceit that these storybook characters who live in a modern, real world setting, can be more than one character from old stories, nursery rhymes etc., so Jack is Jack Frost, a giant killer, beanstalk climber, and fellow to Jill. Prince Charming is a serial monogamist, having married, and in turned divorced himself from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.

The main character in Peter & Max is not just a pepper picker, but also the same Peter from Peter and the Wolf and is also something of a Pumpkin Eater. His brother Max is also a Piper, and one who has a dark destiny with the folks of Hamelin Town.

What I love about Peter in this book is his bravery, his willingness to accept challenges, and his love for his wife, Bo Peep (sorry Woody, but Peter and Bo have a much stronger relationship than you ever did).

If you’ve never read any Fables before, I strongly recommend checking out the comic series first, but the book is great as a stand-alone novel as well.

In the end, I can definitely say this book was worth the wait.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Review: Marvel Zombies

Having been a huge fan of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead for years now, I thought it was time to check out some of his other material. Rather than start with Invincible (which my BFF Mike says is amazing) or The Astounding Wolf-Man (which sounds pretty cool as well), I started with his five-issue mini series, Marvel Zombies.

First of all - a quick note, although you don't technically need to read it, the back story for the comic starts in Ultimate Fantastic Four 21-23, written by Mark Millar. Basically the story involves zombie versions of the Fantastic Four from another dimension attempting to break into the mainstream Marvel Universe. The are stopped by the regular Fantastic Four and the Zombie universe's version of Magneto (who is not yet a zombie) and permanently close the door on a possible zombie invasion.

Marvel Zombies starts here - with Magneto having a short-lived success on the Zombie-side of the dimensional portal. After that we get a very interesting zombie story - one from the point of view of the infected. We see how the heroes of this universe have already killed almost all of the remaining food in their world and are beginning to starve. Each comic has at least one idea that creeps me out (Spider-man ate his wife and aunt), and those ideas get progressively creepier as the story moves on.

The story was so popular when it came out that a series quickly followed (much of it written by Kirkman), and although I haven't read it, I sure would like to - this was some scary stuff, and if you always wanted to know what would happen if all the Marvel super-heroes were turned into zombies, look no further.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Things I've Noticed: It's My Daughter's Birthday tomorrow!

...and for me that means getting to take the day off today.

Here's how it goes - just before my oldest daughter (currently in Nova Scotia learning French the Immersion way), turned ten I decided I wanted to spend a day with my daughter while she was still nine. So on the Day before her birthday we went to West Edmonton Mall (as a local Edmontonian I tend to visit The Mall just this side of never - it's a tourist place) and hung out at the water-park. This went over so well, it became a tradition.

So today I'm taking my youngest daughter out for the last day of her thirteenth year - we'll eat tasty, yet terrible food, hit a couple book stores, a chocolate shop, maybe take in a movie, and I won't be messing up her actual birthday plans with friends.

Anyway, this entirely new tradition (not that new actually as I've been doing it for a decade now) is one of the highlights of my year - I'm out of work - she gets pulled out of school and we just have a pretty awesome day.

Happy Day before your birthday Kaia!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Sam Tyler

Having recently watched Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel, I got into a Time-travel mood and realized that I had missed one of my favourite Time Travelling characters in Science Fiction. So this week we’ll be looking at Sam Tyler (pictured left) from the BBC Series, Life on Mars.

As a teen I thought a lot about time travel, whether backwards or forwards, the idea always intrigued me – I wondered how well I would do in such a situation and thought pretty highly of my own abilities. Unfortunately for Sam, he isn’t in any way prepared for the event when it occurs. A Police detective for the city of Manchester, Sam is hit by a car in 2006, then awakes in 1973 (when he would have been just under five years of age), and is as assumed to be a replacement detective in the same precinct and is given pretty much his original job.

The series plays with Sam’s attempts to understand his own situation, which he describes in the opening sequence as either dead, in a coma, or actually back in time. His search for a way home is the overall theme of the series, but each episode focuses on a standard police case, which Sam helps in solving.

What I love about the character is his ability to balance working with these old school officers while attempting to use modern police techniques which have no merit or precident in his new time. His character’s continued fish-out-of-water existence makes for some incredibly entertaining viewing, as his new co-workers are pretty crude by any standard.

If you’ve never given the show a try – give it a look. Just keep an eye out for the Test Card Girl, one of the images Sam keeps seeing over and over again and a strong contender on my list of creepiest girls in genre television.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Episode Review: Doctor Who - The Doctor's Wife

Since I started reading Sandman comics in the '90s, I could then say that Neil Gaiman was one of my favourite authors, after years of books like American Gods, Anansi Boys, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book, I can honestly now say he's in my top three. Saturday night I watched the latest episode of Doctor Who and sat spellbound for an hour as I watched an episode written by Mr. Gaiman.

First of all, I don't want to give a lot of spoilers, so I'm going to have to limit myself on praise for the episode. Here goes:

1) This is probably my current favourite episode of the new season

2) The episode is full of nods to previous Doctors

3) The major idea behind the episode was such a great, simple idea, I can't believe I had never seen it in an episode before.

Honestly, if you're not currently watching Doctor Who, give it a shot - up here in Canada its on my local Science Fiction station, and I can honestly say it's probably the best currently airing SF show out there - also your kids will love it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Things I've noticed: The Sheer Genius of Jeeves and Wooster

*sorry I didn't get this out earlier, apparently Blogger was down all day.

Last year at one of my two book clubs we were given the book Life with Jeeves, a collection of the majority of the early short stories of the Jeeves and Wooster cannon. Until this point I had never heard of either character, except perhaps Jeeves in terms of the search engine. From the first story forward I could not stop smiling, chuckling, and guffawing (and I am not the sort to use the “G” word loosely) as I moved through the 30 short stories and eleven novels that make up the series.

Written by English author P.G. Wodehouse between 1914 and 1974, the series chronicles the adventures of Betram (Bertie) Wilberforce Wooster, professional bachelor and his personal valet, Jeeves. What amazes me about these six decades worth of stories is their simplicity. Every story basically works as follows:

1) Bertie has recently acquired some sort of horrible fashion accessory (hat, boots, disturbing moustache, etc.), Jeeves does not approve
2) An acquaintance of Bertie (aunt, friend, random person off the street) shows up, assumes Bertie will help with some sort of plan to help them in their personal, financial, or romantic lives
3) Bertie attempts to help and makes everything worse

4) Things get even worse than previously described, often with Bertie becoming engaged to some sort of horrible woman who wants to “make something” of Bertie

5) Seeing how terrible Bertie has made things, Jeeves solves every problem, from the romantic to the political, often in a simple word given to the right person.
6) Completely grateful for Jeeves’ help, Bertie promises to remove/destroy the offending accessory he acquired in step one.

It is incredibly important to mention here that although the structure of each of these stories is almost identical, each one quickly moved up my personal list of funniest stuff I’ve ever read. These books had me laughing at dinner, work, and bus stops and in all honesty, also have me laughing right now while I’m blogging about them.

In addition to a great collection of short stories and novels, there was a television series that ran for four seasons in the ‘90s starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (pictured right), that quite perfectly capture the spirit and wit of the original work.

This series is quite simply, some of the funniest stuff I have ever read, and although I can’t consider it Horror, SF, or Fantasy, I still recommend it with the highest recommendation I have – the newly invented Bookmonkey Stamp of Approval (image forthcoming).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Owen

Last weekend I got in a copy of Let Me In from the public library, and as a big fan of both the original Swedish film and novel, I was interested to see how an American re-make would look. Short story – I was pleasantly surprised and pretty creeped out; Long story – let me introduce you to this week’s genre character, Owen.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, the story follows a twelve-year-old boy who meets, and falls in love with, a twelve-year-old vampire. Think of it like Twilight, but focusing instead on two younger children (although the vampire is much older than she appears), and significantly bloodier than the Stephanie Meyer supernatural romance series.

Set in 1983 in New Mexico, the film follows Owen (pictured left), a child of divorce with a big bully problem as he meets his new next door neighbour, Abby, a strange girl who walks through the snow covered streets barefoot and sometimes, in Owen’s words, smells weird.

The thing I like best about Owen is how heart-breakingly relatable he is to me, who as a twelve-year old in 1988, also dealt with my share of bullies (although not nearly as vicious as the ones in the film) and knew well the power of a sympathetic ear. Owen, played by Kodi Smith-McPhee (who I also really liked in The Road), comes across as a kid desperate for attention, and when Abby shows up, even being as stand-offish as she is, he finds in her a best friend.

The film does a remarkable job of showing Abby through Owen’s eyes, and by the end of the film I was definitely able to understand why they became such good friends.

If you’re in the mood for a more grown-up look at vampirism, this film is a remarkable watch.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

So my family just got back from taking my wife out to her Mother's Day film pic - Thor, directed by Kenneth Brannagh.

First of all, let me state that my wife is pretty awesome for wanting to go see this movie, although to be fair I'm sure it was for the eye candy more than it was to see the Mighty Thor in action.

The movie itself was a lot of fun, think of a lot of high action and drama - like a soap opera of the Gods mixed with some good old fashion fight sequences. I was also impressed by all of the fish-out-of-water humour reflecting Thor's interaction with regular folk on Earth.

I was also pretty happy with the cameo by an upcoming Avenger and thought the music (by Patrick Doyle) was outstanding. In the end the film was well-acted (especially by Chris Hemsworth as the lead), had a nice story and was a lot of fun. Also it used many ideas and concepts I enjoyed in both the Simonson and Straczynski (who co-wrote the story) runs.

I heartily recommend it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Things I’ve Noticed: Horror Sequels can be tricky

I watched Paranormal Activity about half a year ago, and earlier this week checked out the sequel from my local library. For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, the premise is that the audience is being presented with actual footage of paranormal events surrounding a woman in the first film and a toddler in the second. The first movie is made almost exclusively from the point of view of the new camera purchased by the haunted woman’s boyfriend and the second film is made almost exclusively from the security cameras installed throughout the home of the toddler.

The first film was a lot of fun in a sort of Blair Witch Project vein, and there were more than a few scares throughout – without going into spoilers I will say that the movie is worth a watch, but maybe only if you can watch it on TV or get it cheap.

The sequel was pretty interesting to me for a couple of reasons: 1) rather than an actual sequel it is almost 90% Prequel – featuring events that happen a few months before the first film and having a two minute chunk taking place after the first film, and 2) The movie does a great job of building suspense and getting you genuinely nervous for the family. My only complaint about the sequel was in the casting – and this is tricky, the lead, played by Sprague Grayden (who I liked in Jericho and loved in Sons of Anarchy), does an incredible job playing the toddlers mother, but as she was an actress I recognized from other films, her casting placed a barrier between me and total immersion in the experience. The first film was cast with unknowns, so I could suspend my disbelief and pretend that this might have happened, but my familiarity with the lead in the second just kept reminding me that this was a movie.

In the end, both films are fun, and I was happy to see a sequel that played with chonological order as well as overall concept, actually adding an interesting layer to the franchise.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Mrs. Frisby

Less than a week before Mother's Day and I can finally use one of the first ideas for a blog post I came up with - looking at the various moms in genre fiction and film who really affected me as a child. This year, Mrs. Frisby (pictured left), from the film The Secret of NIMH.

Here's the thing about Mrs. Frisby - this mouse is a pretty amazing mom, when her kids and home are in danger she goes way, way beyond the call of duty to save her family.

I've never read the book, but the movie had a huge impact on me as a child, I still own the soundtrack and am currently listening to it on my iPod.

Happy Early Mother's Day, Mom.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games

For one of my book clubs last month I read the novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the reason being threefold: 1) Both my wife and younger daughter had read it and said it was up my alley, 2) Dystopian fiction is on of my favourite sub-genres of Science Fiction, and 3) I didn't want to be as far behind in pop culture as I was when I got around to reading Twilight.

The premise of the book is pretty simple - every year 24 kids from around the world are put in an arena and forced to fight each other to the death - for TV ratings. The book follows one of these kids, a girl named Katniss Everdeen, as she is entered into this bloody event.

Here are the top 3 reasons why you should read this book:

3) Next year there will be a movie adaption coming out, and everyone you know from the kids to the ladies you work with will be talking about it, and you might like to know what the heck they are talking about.

2) The book is YA (Young Adults) so it won't take a lot of your time to read.

1) The book is compulsively readable - this goes for the sequels as well. I got intrigued pretty quickly by this story and then had a lot of difficulty putting it down.