Thursday, March 29, 2012

Things I've Noticed: The Snow White Debate

For those of us looking forward to the various fantasy films coming out this year, there is an interesting couple of films featuring a similar premise involving a young lady with hair as black as night, lips as red as blood and skin as white as snow.

In the next month both Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman will be entering theatres showcasing the classic fairy tale, but with different twists – Mirror Mirror looks at a comedic angle and Snow White and the Huntsman appears to be very Grimm indeed (sorry for the obvious pun, but I think there’s a law that I have to use it when reviewing dark fantasy). This pairing of similar films has happened in the past (notably with disaster films like Dante’s Peak and Volcano, and Science Fiction films like Armageddon and Deep Impact), what is interesting however is that this year also introduced Snow White and her evil Stepmother as characters on television in ABCs Once Upon a Time and even as a featured character (although dead) in Castle.

So with all these Snow Whites running around, I started to ask myself who the best ones were. Did Disney’s 1937 classic win out due to its classic status? How about the various Snow Whites in fiction?

For me, I’d have to say my favourite Snow White is the character portrayed in Bill Willingham’s Fables. Hands down she is one of the coolest characters I’ve read in comics for quite a long time, and I suppose the Snow White character in Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples runs a very close second (although she is definitely not like any of the others).

In the end I probably won’t see either of the upcoming Snow White films in theatres unless there are extraordinary circumstances involved (kids, friends, or family wanting me to go), but I’ll probably check both out on DVD.

For me, the next big fantasy film I’m looking forward to is Dark Shadows.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Wander

A few months ago I reviewed the videogame ICO and listed its main character as my genre character of the week. This week I go back to a game from the same company Shadow of the Colossus and will take a close look at its main character, Wander.

Remembering that ICO had a really basic setup (captured kids escape from castle), I was thinking that this game would have a similarly simple plot, and you know what it does – basically a guy named Wander heads in to a forbidden area with his dead girlfriend and demands that the ruler of this land bring her back to life. He is told that to perform this action sixteen statues must be destroyed, and each of these statues have a living representative in the real world that must be destroyed as well. So Warder heads off with his trusty horse Argo and begins the process of defeating each of these Colossuses... Colossi... Colo... Creatures.

So yeah – simple premise, very little dialogue, virtually no supporting characters, but wow – the graphics are amazing and the battles are shocking in how amazing they are. Rather than thinking of this game as a fighting game or an RPG game, it might be best to think of it as a puzzle game, as each of the creatures has to be defeated in a certain way. So far I’ve flat-out fought one, hidden from another, rode two and climbed the beard of a third – I’m only halfway through at this point but this game is pretty freaking cool.

Wander doesn’t have any obvious connection to Ico (the main character of ICO) and his horse Argo is a heck of a lot easier to deal with than Yorba, but like the previous game, Shadow of the Colossus is stunning in its music, visuals and overall concept.

Definitely a personal favourite.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Review: Doomsday Book

Okay, a quick top five list:

Bookmonkesy's top five favourite time travel stories

5. Bring the Jubilee by Ward Churchill - short, to the point, and an excellent example of of great time-travel fiction

4. Futurama, created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen - sure it's a TV series, and sure the major time-travel element is that of a modern-day guy being put on ice for a thousand years and waking up in the future, but you know what - it's great and if you haven't watched it before you need to re-think some of your science-fiction-watching choices.

3. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells - and yes I'm talking about the novel here - although the many film adaptations were also pretty fun. A victorian-era traveller experiments with his fancy new time machine and adventure! Terrifying, thrilling adventure!

2. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis - I read this last week and it is really great. Following an undergraduate student at Oxford in the future who for her history practicum travels back to to the middle ages. There's just one problem - she ends up landing smack dab in the middle of the black plague and an eerily-similar outbreak happens in the future among the scientists who sent her back. The story is heavy on character and balances well between the horror that was the plague with moments of high drama and comedy as well. A great read and I am totally looking forward to the rest of the books in this series.

1. The Back to the Future Trilogy - no explanation necessary.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things I’ve Noticed: Your favourite sub-sub-genre can tell a lot about you

Let’s begin with some quick definitions.

Genre – a particular style of fiction (i.e. Horror, Romance, Science Fiction, and Crime)

Sub-Genre – a more specialized type of genre fiction (i.e. Zombie Horror, Historical Romance, Time Travel Science Fiction, and Hard Boiled Crime)

Sub-Sub-Genre – The nitty-gritty of sub-genre, where only the fans who really reallylove (obsess over) the genre go (i.e. Zombie Apocalypse, Historical Fiction that doesn't get too steamy, Time Travel Fiction ending up in a return to a changed future, and
Swedish Hardboiled Crime (Hello Steig Larson fans).

Most people have favourite genres, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people have favourite sub-genres, but I think the number drops significantly when you go to the fans of a sub-sub-genre.

Like me for instance – I’m personally a big fan of Horror/SF or Horror/Fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic setting. After all, why just end the world and follow the few survivors unless you’re going to throw in prophetic dreams, robots, aliens or hoards of the undead?

Probably you could simply say that I like stories which follow the Man vs. Environment theme which also touch on our consumerist nature and echo my own personal notion that in some ways the world might do better with a few years off of the grid.

At the same time my BFF Mike is a huge Star Trek fan (which you all know as you’ve made sure to check out his Star Trek episode review blog that I’ve linked to right here, right?) and I suppose that could be considered a sub-sub-genre of fiction – genre (Science Fiction), sub-genre (Space Travel), sub-sub-genre (Star Trek). And his love of Star Trek tells you is that he’ll likely be in Calgary next month and perhaps he watched Enterprise a little longer than was good for him (I gave up in season three when they explained that in the past Florida was cut in half by a giant space laser – I mean COME ON!! This was supposed to be a prequel and NOWHERE DID KIRK, SPOCK, PICARD, SISKO or JANEWAY EVER TALK ABOUT THE TIME WHEN FLORIDA WAS CUT IN HALF BY A RACE CALLED THE XINDI!!!!)

But I digress.

What I mean to say is that your personal favourite sub-sub-genre can be an excellent way for you to examine your likes and dislikes, and hopefully find other things you could check out and enjoy just as much.

Sorry about before, I promise not to talk about season three of Enterprise ever again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Billy Harrow

Earlier this week I read the China Miéville novel Kraken. Last year I really enjoyed his The City and The City, and I read his first novel King Rat maybe five or six years ago. Anyway – the important thing is this is his third book I’ve read, and I came to the book looking forward to what he had to offer. In addition to a great read, the book introduced me to this week’s genre character, Billy Harrow.

Billy works as a curator in the Darwin Centre at the British Museum of Natural History, mostly involved in the preservation of undersea specimans (the centerpiece of the collection is a giant squid that Billy helped to preserve), and although his life seems pretty quiet at the beginning of the novel, he actually seems quite okay with that, not being the type who longs for something greater, he just seems like a quiet, serious young man who happens to be quite good at his job.

As the main character in a fantasy novel, however, Billy is not destined to be left alone by the universe and he quickly gets swept up in something that felt like a slightly more realistic Neverwhere mixed with more than a dash of The Matrix (only the first one however – my hatred of the later two films could fill a post on its own).

As discovering the strange new world Billy finds his own world has become is a big part of what I loved about the novel, I don’t want to go further into the plot, but let me state simply, the story was fun, intriguing and introduced me to some things both wondrous and terrifying (and often both).

Well worth the read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Season Review: The Walking Dead Season 2

Last night my wife and I finished watching the second season of The Walking Dead.

Oh yeah - Mild spoilers ahead.

So season two could basically be considered the Farmhouse season - which honestly was fine with me. After the amazing (but obviously super-expensive) first season which involved a zombie-infested Atlanta, I actually thought going smaller worked.

I wasn't a big fan of the season split however (where the first half of the season aired from October through December and then we were treated to a large break followed by new episodes in February), but mostly that is due to my fear that the second season will be split up for the DVD sales.

As with the first season, I was thrilled with the acting, the look and the zombie effects, and as a long-time reader of the original comic, I found it pretty interesting to see where the story changed and where it stayed the same.

If zombies are not your thing, I'd probably stay away from the series, but if you like a little scare on TV, this might be right up your alley.

I can't wait for season three this fall!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Things I’ve noticed: Sometimes Books come to you

Yesterday morning I was sitting on a bench in Southgate mall reading my oversized fantasy novel and drinking my small coffee (Starbucks – Pike Place Blend – Short – Non-fat) when this guy sits down beside me, drinking coffee out of a travel mug (I know, I know – I’ve tried a few times, but I hate carrying extra stuff on me when I travel) and reading his own oversized fantasy novel.
We do that thing that readers do on benches – sizing each other up and wondering if we should see what the other guy is reading and then he takes the plunge, leans forward slightly and says:

“China Miéville, eh? – I really liked King Rat, and Perdido Street Station

To which I replied:

“Yup, It’s his newest, Kraken” (Which I will do a review of on Monday) and then I check out what he’s reading. It’s a book calledThe Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. He goes on to describe it as an adult fantasy book without being an adult fantasy book (which so many categorized as “Urban Fantasy” really are – and yes Sookie Stackhouse I’m looking at you – and am still reading anyway!)

He suggests that if I want to start reading the author I should start with his first novel, The Blade Itself, which he read about a year ago and really liked.

So you know what, bench guy? I’ll give it a shot – right now I’m reading the historical fiction of Canadian Jack Whyte, but once I’m done I’ll be sure to give your book a shot.

Man, it’s pretty cool when books come to you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Chris Nielsen

I’m currently on my 10th book by Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend, and The Shrinking Man, and this one is called What Dreams May Come, which most people may recall was adapted into a Major Motion Picture starring Robin Williams back in 1998 that was well received and even nominated for a number of awards. Also the main character happens to be this week’s genre character, Chris Nielsen.

Chris begins the book by dying in a pretty terrible car accident, and thereafter spends the rest of the book in the afterlife. Oh yeah, for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the story is also a romance. Here’s what I like about Chris.

The guy loves his wife.

That’s not everything, he’s also a good father, a writer (so he’s quite good at explaining the afterlife – which he does through a medium to his brother Robert) and incredibly brave, but at the most basic level, Chris loves his wife Ann, and it is that love that is the guiding theme behind the entire story.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet (or in a while) definitely check it out; Robin Williams is great and the art direction and visual effects are simply stunning. The story is a wonderful read as well, and although it doesn’t feature ghosts, vampires, or time travel (like some of my other favourite Matheson novels) it is currently sitting in my top three Matheson novels I’ve read so far.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Movie Review Double Feature: John Carter and Zombie 2

This weekend I managed to see not one, but two movies I've been pretty interested to check out for a while now. First up, John Carter, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 novel A Princess of Mars the film follows a Civil War veteran who is transported to Mars (called Barsoom in the story) and gets involved in an awful lot of craziness. The story is heavy on action, feeling a heck of a lot like an Indiana Jones-style story (which should I suppose be correctly called a John-Carter-of-Mars-style story), and was full of a great mix of humour and adventure. Also bonus points for almost being a Rome reunion film (3 carry-over actors!).

Also quick note - the 3D glasses gave me a headache - catch the film in 2D if possible.

Next up Zombie 2 a 1979 classic of zombie films, directed by Lucio Fulci, this Italian zombie movie isn't actually a sequel to anything, it just got titled that way after the huge success of Dawn of the Dead in Europe. The movie works like most zombie films, in that zombies are discovered, there is a small band of main characters and the deaths are both shocking and gruesome. Although to be fair one of the deaths is so gruesome I had to watch it through my fingers as I was covering my eyes (YEEEEESH!) The movie also sports possibly the coolest fight I've ever seen:

Zombie vs. Shark

Seriously, this scene has a guy underwater dressed up in zombie makeup attacking an actual shark - honestly I have no idea how this was done as the best computer animation at the time was Pong!

Also props to my BFF Mike, who while watching the scene said my new favourite catchphrase:

"You have broken the uneasy truce... between Shark and ZOMBIE!"

Both movies were fun - I'm not sure if I'd own either, but they were both definitely worth the watch.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Fiscal Responsibility can be COOL!

When I was a kid board games came pretty cheap - you could usually count on a game of checkers or travel scrabble from the kid who was forced to come to your birthday party because his mom worked with your mom, and although you would end up playing them a lot, you didn't feel that the cost was very high.

Now as a parent, and in the era of expansion-crazy games like Zombies!!! (Which is still pretty fun) or Settlers of Cattan (also fun) I can honestly say that games are pricey, but definitely worth it.

Case in point, Arkham Horror - an H.P. Lovecraft inspired game that I first heard about when I was reading reviews for Zombies!!!, mostly in the "it's a solid game, not quite as fun as Arkham Horror, but totally worth the cash" sort of comment. As a pretty big Lovecraft fan myself, the game seemed a no-brainer, the only problem, it costs over $50 (Canadian).

So I decided that for every trip I took to the comic-book store and didn't buy anything, I would put $10 to the side and after six visits (can't forget about tax) I could pick up the game.

Last weekend I got it and this weekend I'm hoping to try it out. In some ways I think that by waiting the six weeks to save up for the game, my anticipation for playing it has gone way up and as my wife says, "sometimes I make fiscal responsibility look sexy!"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Caesar

Yesterday I went down to my local library and picked up my latest hold, the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and brought it home to watch with my wife and kids.

First off a really quick review - the movie was fun, engaging and the effects were surprisingly good.

Next, on to our genre character: Caesar.

The movie is basically Caesar's life story, from birth through to a decision which will end up spelling the end of humankind (or at least the end of us as dominant species on Earth), and considering that the movie is being made for a human audience, the special effects folks and especially actor Andy Serkis deliver a character that gets you feeling incredible sympathy and empathy for.

Effectively being raised in a single-parent home, Caesar lives with his "father" and "grandfather" (Played by James Franco and John Lithgow) and through all his years he comes off as an incredibly smart, inquisitive and loving chimp.

The problem comes down in the second act when he is removed from his home and put in a primate care facility with some less-than-great humans. Caesar works to understand his new world, but eventually he starts making some connections that will start a whole new world for ape-kind and pretty much bring and end to humankind.

The movie was really great, the characters engaging and if there were a sequel, I would definitely check it out.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Series Review: The Lost Room

As I rent all of my DVDs through a website called, I sometimes come across stuff I've never heard of before. Take for example the SyFy mini-series The Lost Room. This little six-episode series involves a man who finds a magic key which can be used to open any door with a keyhole - the catch? Every time you open the door it leads to to a mostly empty motel room which can then be exited to pretty much anywhere.

I suggested that my kids (14 and 19) might want to check out the first episode with my wife and me and then the funniest thing happened - my whole family started enjoying the same show. The concept was pretty cool (I'd explain more but that way lies spoilers) and the story was pretty solid. Just a neat science fiction show with a pretty fun "What if?" idea behind it.

I will also note that both my kids found the lead (played by Peter Krause) to be pretty darn appealing - but I think that may have had more to do with his dreamy eyes than with his acting (which I enjoyed by the way).

Anyway - the show is pretty cool, definitely worth the watch and had the potential to lead to an interesting series.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes Hyper-Realistic games can be adorable

Since I finished ICO for the PS3 I’ve moved on to one of the console’s classics, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which is designed to be a wrap up for the franchise and is, for my money’s worth (my money being 7.99 at a used DVD shop) it is an incredibly fun game of hide and seek wherein you try an manouver an older guy through battlefields where either side will start shooting at him if they see him. The game’s main character, Old Snake, is pretty cool as a grey-haired, moustached guy who has seen too much war and although is incredibly skilled, is also getting very tired with it.

Why is the game cute? Three reasons:
1) As my wife puts it – the main character may be an old man, but he sure has a young man’s butt.

2) Like with previous games Snake is able to hide using cardboard boxes or rusted out oil drums, and as he moves around in these it is, simply put, one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen.

3) Akiba (Johnny), a member of the Rat Patrol team, Johnny is well meaning, more than a little disgusting (the first time you meet him he is suffering from severe diarrhoea) and desperate to be thought of as “cool.” Honestly, he may be my favourite character in the game

Seriously, the game does introduce a lot of questions about war economy, the nature of soldiers and even the use of AI in wartime technology, but for me it is the surprising levels of cuteness throughout the game that keep me going.