Thursday, May 31, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Horror Creeps into my music, too

I’ve written an awful lot over the last few years about favourite horror films, stories and games, but there are definitely a lot of favourite creepy songs out there as well.  Last night my lovely wife picked up the new Regina Spektor album,What We Saw from the Cheap Seatsand the seventh song is called All The Rowboats which takes a trip to a museum or gallery to an extremely creepy level; the song starts out by describing paintings in a museum:
All the rowboats, in the paintings
They keep trying to row away
And the captain's worried faces
Stay contorted and staring at the waves
They'll keep hanging, in their gold frames
For forever, forever and a day
All the rowboats, in the oil paintings
They keep trying to row away, row away
The whole album is really great, but this song both intrigued and freaked me out a little (musuems and galleries being cultural cousins of libraries – where I hope to work again one day).
I’ll admit, It may not have the same staying power as The Monster Mash or Ночь на лысой горе, but I’ve got to say the creepy factor was both unexpected and a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: John Perry

So I may have just found one of my new favourite writers (the last time this happened was reading Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box), in that I just read John Scalzi’s first novel, Old Man’s War and it was freaking amazing!  Basically mix together concepts from both Joe Halderman’sThe Forever War and Robert E. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and then give them an incredibly intriguing twist and you get what this book has to offer.
To get a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s the first three sentences:
I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.  I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
This is how we are introduced to the main character (and our genre character of the week)John Perry.
John is a retired advertisement writer who has enlisted in the Colonial Defence Forces (CDF), who supposedly defend Earth from something, but as there is a complete media blackout on what exactly service with the CDF entails, new recruits have no idea what they are in for.  The rules for registration are simple, 1) You must be at least 75 years of age, and 2) You must agree to leave Earth permanently, legally listing yourself as deceased and hoping for the best.
Now on the John Perry - As a character he’s great, he’s adventurous, inquisitive and a wonderful lens to view this world through, in a lot of ways he makes me think of Miles Vorkosigan in the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster-Bujold in that he is quite clever and incredibly fast on his feet (mentally speaking).
The best part of this book (for me) was in discovering exactly what the CDF is about, so try to avoid spoilers like the Wikipedia page or Amazon reviews.  In fact, if you want to enjoy the book the most, even skip reading the back cover.  Trust me, it is worth the read.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Game Review: Assassin's Creed II

This morning I got up early and figured I'd play a little bit more of my latest PS3 game, Assassin's Creed II.  The game has 14 chapters (called sequences) and as I had just finished Sequence 11 yesterday, I figured I would try sequence 12 today and finish the game up next week.

Interesting note about Assassin's Creed II, Sequences 12 and 13 are downloadable content, not part of the main game, so when you finish Sequence 11 you go straight to Sequence 14, the end of the game.

Luckily for me, I wasn't quite finished my latest book for review, so I can now do a game review.

Assassin's Creed II continues both right where Assassin's Creed left off and a few hundred years later.  You still play Desmond Miles, but instead of inhabiting an Assassin during the Crusades, you instead inhabit an Assassin during the Renaissance in Florence, Venice and ultimately the Vatican.

Like the previous game the set up is that you are a guy in the near-future who has been kidnapped and put in a machine (kind of like The Matrix in reverse) and are living the life of an Assassin in the past to discover stuff about the future.

The game is sandbox style, which means that while there is a main story line to follow, it has a large number of side quests and areas to explore.  It feels kind of like the Grand Theft Auto games in that way.

The visuals are great, the music is fun, and in one particularly interesting set of side quests you have to make your way through a number of ancient tombs to find secret seals (items not mammals) which feels an awful lot like Tomb Raider or Uncharted.

In the end the game was fun, worked for me for about a month and a half (remember, I only play on weekends) and definitely has me interested in continuing through the series if I can find the discs for a good price ($20 or less).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thing’s I’ve noticed: Planning my TV-on-DVD summer is complicated

Now that the 2011-12 TV season has pretty much run its course (I’m still waiting on Cougar Townand Mad Men to wrap up, and deciding on whether or not to watch season 2 of The Killing) I’m looking forward to attacking my towering stack of TV shows on DVD.

Last summer my wife and I checked out the HBO series The Wire, which rests comfortably in my top five favourite TV shows of all time, so this year I figure we should follow up with a show from FX I’ve always been meaning to finish, The Shield.

Years ago we watched the first four seasons, but after taking a break of a couple years found we were totally confused by the beginning of season five, so over the next few months we are going to do our best to watch the whole series at a rate of a couple episodes a night.  On top of that we’ve got about a dozen other shows we’ve been waiting for the summer to see, so now we decide whether or not to alternate between The Shield and other shows season by season, or to just watch The Shieldstraight through and see how much time we have left afterwards.  One thing I will say for most of the shows from Showtime, FX and HBO – the fact that these seasons run 10 – 13 episodes definitely makes for a great feeling of productive tv watching once you decide to check out any of their shows.

On the horror/SF/Fantasy front, the only shows I’ve got are the final season of Millennium and perhaps a re-watch of The X-Files, oh yeah and a Bruce Campbell series called Jack of All TradesI’ve been meaning to check out.

The next few months are looking pretty good, and if I juggle all my goals of school, family, TV watching, Video Game playing, Movie watching, book reading and whatnot, I might even get outside for a few hours before September!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Magda Cuza

Last week, following my continued work through the book Horror the 100 best books, I checked out The Keep by F. Paul Wilson.  The novel is a horror novel involving a monster set in Romania during WWII, and the main character, also our genre character of the week, is a young woman named Magda Cuza.

For starters, a quick review of the book - it is a lot of fun, the atmosphere is very creepy and if like me, you are a fan of Hellboy, this book will totally be up your alley.

The premise follows a group of Nazi soldiers during World War II who are ordered to take up position in an abandoned keep in Romania.  Soon after their arrival men start dying and it quickly becomes obvious that something is killing the men.

Eventually a Jewish doctor and his daughter, Magda are sent for, as he is an expert in both Romanian folklore and this keep in particular.  Once the doctor and his daughter figure out what is going on the novel moves into high gear.

What I like about Magda is that she is both incredibly smart and also devoted to her dad (as a dad myself, this is a nice trait, although she does carry it too far).

The novel is a lot of fun and if it is not available through your local library, it is definitely worth a purchase.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Kaia

Today in Canada we get a day off work to celebrate Victoria Day (the last Monday in May before the 25th) to celebrate Queen Victoria's (1819 - 1901) birthday, as well as the date our nation celebrates our current reigning monarch's birthday.

Around my house, we tend to use this day to celebrate my youngest daughter Kaia's birthday, and today she is fifteen-years-old, so we showered her with presents of books, vampire movies and more (although I  kind of wish there was more to the swimsuit her older sister gave her), and as we are spending the day focusing on her, that's about all I've got.

She's a pretty awesome girl, and I can't believe that my tiniest baby is going to be starting high school in a few short months.

Happy Birthday Kaia.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Horror fans are everywhere

So I’m sitting in my class last night (LIS 598 Managing Financial Resources) and Meghan, one of my fellow students leans over and asks me what I’m reading (and no, class hasn’t started yet, so I’m perfectly within my rights to read whatever I like), so I pass her the book The Keep, by F. Paul Wilson (1981 – review will be up next week), and when she sees the premise, wherein some-thing is killing Nazis in a strange Romanian Keep (small castle) in 1941, she asks me if I’ve seen the 2009 Norwegian film Dead Snow (Zombie Nazis attack vacationers) and although I haven’t seen it yet (just added it to my library hold list), I felt pretty great since my love of horror seems to be something I share with a smaller and smaller group of friends (and you, dear readers).

Years back I created an account on LIbrarything (I’m pretty easy to find – just click the book to the left or go to and look up bookmonkey) and in one thread I started about classic horror novels I think everyone should read I had a response that suggested I should calm down on my love of horror as it’s pretty much a phase everyone goes through in their teen years…

I was 33 when I received this comment.

Anyway, I’m mostly just happy to see that my love of all things strange and monstrous isn’t just me and a bunch of Saw-crazed teens (and yes, chances are really great that this October will be the year I take in that franchise).

So thanks fellow student, you brightened my day!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: The Incredible Hulk

One of the best things in The Avengers (for me) was the character of Doctor Bruce Banner, aka our genre character of the week, The Incredible Hulk.
Now, like most people born in the ‘70s, my earliest memories of the Hulk were actually based on the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferringo television series, in which Doctor David Banner spent each week desperately hoping that no one would make him angry, because they wouldn’t like him when he was angry.  The show still sits quite nicely in my memories as a great twist on the Jekyll and Hyde story (which, according to Hulk creator Stan Lee, it actually is), and although I’m hesitant to revisit it as an adult, it had a huge childhood impact on me (pictured right).
The next time The Hulk showed up wasn’t until my twenties, when my BFF Mike started going on and on about the amazing Hulk comic-book series written by Peter David from 1987 to 1999.   Although I never got around to reading those (yet), Mike’s rantings about how great the story was led me to check out the 2003 Ang Lee film, Hulk.
You know what – I really liked it.  The actors (especially Eric Bana) are great and actually I still own that movie, and honestly, I think a film that basically came down to a character study of the man who ends up as the creature was a very well done film.
Then in 2008 Edward Norton starred in The Incredible Hulk, which, after the success of Iron Man, moved away from the character study and towards an action/adventure film, and actually did quite well there too – (I don’t own this one, but If I came across it at a used DVD store, I might pick it up).
Then last week my wife and I went to see The Avengers and the film actually looked into the character (this time played by Mark Ruffalo) and allowed him to smash like nobody’s business.
Honestly, in the end he’s a guy with some serious anger issues, but darn-it-all, I really like him.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Just a quick one today as I'm busy doing stuff with my wife (and the mother of our two lovely children)

Happy Mother's Day all, from your old pal Bookmonkey!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Things I've Noticed: The Avengers is pretty awesome

I took the day off today to hang out with my wife, get a couple doctors appointments out of the way and finally check out The Avengers in theatres.

For the three of you who haven't got around to seeing it yet - go for it!  The movie was a lot of fun, filled with both humour and action, and if you've taken the time in the last few years to see the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America or Hulk films, this is the payoff.

We saw the film in 2D, and honestly, I prefer the brightness you get there as compared to the dimmer colours that come with the "benefit" of 3D (also I have pretty bad eyes so all I get from 3D is a bad head-ache).

Over the years I've read a bunch of Marvel comics, but have to admit that I don't actually know the identity of the character in the end bit, but even without that knowledge, we had a great time.

So there you go - like with pretty much everyone else, I found the film to be a lot of fun, and will probably add it to my collection when it hits DVD.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Doctor Moreau

Last weekend I got a chance to see the 1932, Erle C. Kenton directed fillm, Island of Lost Souls, an early adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. The film stars Charles Laughton as the good doctor himself and it is AMAZING!
Seriously, I got it from my local library, so it cost me nothing but 70 minutes of my time and this film was just great.  The version I saw was the recent Criterion Collection edition and you could definitely see that the folks who handled the sound and digital transfers really knew what they were doing.
I could go on about how good the makeup was (this film had so much and varied make-up pieces featured throughout it wasn’t eclipsed in this regard until The Wizard of Oz nearly nine years later), and how terrifying the ideas shown were (torture, man playing God, etc.), but in the end this film comes down, almost entirely to the portrayal of the main character by Charles Laughton.
The character is horrifying – honestly he is consistently amused at his genius and his ability to follow a sort of ends-justifying-the-means mentality means the entire film is spent with the audience (or at least me) in constant shock at just how far this guy will go.
Is he the kind of genre character I’d like to hang out with?  No.  Was his performance so good I couldn’t look away from the screen?
Although I might not buy this new, if I came across it in a used-DVD store it would definitely get added to my collection.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Movie Review: Real Steel

Yesterday my wife and I decided to check out the Hugh Jackman robot fighting film, Real Steel, based off the short story Steel by Richard Matheson.

Although the film has a significant science fiction element (giant fighting robots), I would actually consider it a cross between two Sylvester Stallone films, Rocky (1976) and Over The Top (1987), and for the record, I really liked both of those films.

The movie focuses on Charlie and Max Kenton (played by Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo) as an estranged father and son involved in the world of robot boxing.

It's a lot of fun; the fight scenes are great, the human drama is engaging and it felt both futuristic and quite contemporary in theme.

Although definitely a guy movie, I think it is well worth the watch.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Budgetting for Summer 2012 is tricky

So here we are at the beginning of the 2012 Summer Blockbuster season, a day before The Avengers opens (and hopefully will not be considered this years Green Lantern - btw, for anyone who decided to start watching genre movies with that one, I humbly apologize) and I'm thinking exactly what we all are...

How best can I work my entertainment budget this summer?

Yup - as  parent/blogger/video-game enthusiast/reader/film buff/couch potato/Grad Student/husband, I simply cannot see every movie/book/game that comes my way.  In fact, as grad school is pretty pricy I have to cut down from the nearly ten movies I saw last year from Thor to Fright Night.  

I think I'm going to try and get down to four movie theatre trips this blockbuster season.

Yup.  Four.

That doesn't mean I won't see more than four, it does mean (B-Day movies with kids immediately comes to mind, or my BFF Mike dragging me to see Men In Black III, quietly hoping I'll forget the irreparable harm that MIB II did to me, and that I've held him responsible ever since).  It mostly just means that most of these movies will have to wait for DVD for me to check them out.

Which four do you ask?  That's actually a kind of tricky question... Tell you what I'll get back to you next week with my finalists.

Good news for my TV watching followers however, this summer is looking up for my TV-on-DVD viewing.  After enjoying The Wire with my wife last summer, I'm thinking I'm going to give a try to The Shield this summer.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: The A-77

After borrowing and enjoying The Avengers (UK spy-fy series from the '60s) from my friend Ron last year, I decided to follow up with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) a series that balanced between cool, weird, and totally cool.

The premise follows two agents from an organization called the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, which battled the evil agents of THRUSH (no meaning was given for the term in the series).  The agents, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) would save the world each episode (or significant parts of it) from various evil agendas operated by the forces of THRUSH.

Interestingly, it wasn't until the third season that I found a character for my Genre Character of the Week, it may be because she's a little more science fiction-y than the usual characters in the show, or that the concept behind her is really really creepy, or that it was thought up by Harlan Ellison and appeared 30 years before the similar characters in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

in the second episode of season three, The Sort of Do-It-Yourself-Dreadful Affair.  Napoleon is attacked by a strange, emotionless and apparently invulnerable woman, this creature, our Genre Character of the Week, is the A-77.

Described by its creator as a bizarre mix of machine and animal parts, the A-77 is based off a young woman named Muriel and is a definite precursor to both The Terminator and the fembots of Austin Powers fame.

Although there are many stronger episodes throughout the series, this creature comes across as an unbelievably creepy addition to the world of science fiction.