Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 1

Okay, so lets join your pal Bookmonkey for a talk about the Saw-franchise of horror films.

In 2004 Lions Gate Films released a horror film which would dominate the horror genre in film for the next seven years and touch upon other formats ranging from comic books and video games to reality television.  It all began with...

Wait, first let’s go back to the beginning.

In 1979 Australian Cinema hit the mainstream with the film Mad Max.  The finale of this car-chase / revenge film has ex-cop Max Rockatansky (played by Mel Gibson) come upon one of the villainous thugs who murdered his wife and child early in the film.  Forcing the man to handcuff himself to a car, Max sets the vehicle on fire, brandishes a hacksaw and states:

Max: The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel, it’ll take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. (tosses villain the hacksaw) Now, if your lucky, you can hack through your ankle in five minutes. 

Walking away from the vehicle as it burns, the audience hears the scream of the thug followed by the vehicle exploding.

The creators of the 2004 horror film Saw, Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell, were both two-years-old when the first Mad Max film was released, but both state that the film, and specifically this scene “...was definitely a big, direct influence”(1) on Saw (2004) which has two men handcuffed to pipes in an abandoned building and facing the same dilemma.  

It is these connections, along with the fact that the Saw franchise had a new motion picture out the Friday before Halloween every year for seven straight years, and that the story expanded into other areas, including significant aspects of popular culture, that drew me to want to make an examination of the series.

As a long-time horror fan myself, but definitely one who prefers the monster movie sub-genre, I was of course familiar with the general idea behind the series, but until this month have not seen any of the central or related texts.  

1. Hartley, M. (Director and Writer) (2008). Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! [Film] Australia: City Films Worldwide.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thing's I've Noticed: Growing a "Saw" collection can be pricey

One of the things people don't often realize about having a "Theme" month, is that it can get kinda pricey.

Back in 2010 when I did Twilight of Bookmonkey, the price was fairly minimal - my kids owned all the Twilight books, as well as the first two films, so all I needed to find was the novella and some soundtracks, which was fairly easy as my local library had everything.

In 2011 for The Reimagining of Bookmonkey, things got a little pricier - the library doesn't tend to collect horror movies so over the course of a few used book store runs I had to trade away movies I was finished with for a lot of movies that I would soon be finished with  - quick note here, if everything you are looking for is available in multiple copies at multiple used-bookstores, maybe the thing you're looking for isn't that great.

This year, I've got seven films, two PS3 games, a couple seasons of a reality TV show and a single issue of a comic book from 2004 to track down.

So far I've laid out about $30, making Bookmonkey Saw my priciest theme-month to date.  Also that was for one game, a specific edition of the first film (which included the 2003 short film used to sell the script to potential buyers) and the comic.

Thank god I can rent the rest.

Anyway - I'm not complaining too much, after all I do get to spend the next month watching all these movies, and seriously, how bad could they be?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Brad Wolgast

Two years ago I read the Justin Cronin novel The Passage and loved it – the story of a world overrun by vampires was amazing and on a massive scale – the vampire world doesn’t even appear until page 260.  I loved how the story spent a lot of time developing all of its characters and eventually, I chose one of them, Peter Jaxan, as a genre character of the week.

Last week I picked The Passage back up and started re-reading it, as next month it’s sequel The Twelve is coming out and I wanted to brush up on the first story before I dug into the sequel – and along the way I found a character I liked even more than Peter (and I think he is a pretty great guy already).  Brad Wolgast, one of the men who is behind the end of the world, and perhaps one of the men behind it’s rebirth.

It’s tricky to describe what I like best about a character without going into spoilers, but I’ll try my best. Wolgast is a federal agent charged to collect volunteers for a secret government project.  He is recently divorced and carries a sadness with him wherever he goes – what I loved about this character (who largely exists well before page 240 in the book) is just how real he came across to me, a guy doing a job well, but not a job he particularly likes, just biding his time until retirement, and hoping each day will help him get over his failed marriage.

I know I’ve said this before, but honestly, my favourite part of any genre fiction is well-crafted characters, who come across as real people with hopes, dreams and fears.

If you haven’t read the book yet, it is definitely worth the time, although I’ll warn you it’s pretty big, and if you’re anything like me you’ll want to follow it up with the sequel as soon as possible.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Three Posts to go until a month of Saw

From the Desk of Bookmonkey,

As I'm now three days away from spending a month on a look at the Saw franchise, I thought I would clear a few things up.

1) I'm not going to get into graphic descriptions of on screen deaths or the like, although I'm a big fan of the horror genre, I'm not particularly into gore.

2) I am going to focus on a lot of the ways in which the franchise grew, looking at the original short film, the series, the spin-off comic book and at least the first game for the PS3 (I'm still searching for the second)

3) I've done a bit of a double duty with my Saw-themed month, I'm also going to be using it for a course I'm currently working on, so there may be some references to other academic works over the next month, and the occasional work cited (bear with me).

Anyway, that's about all - I just wanted you to know that my goal is to still have this blog be a place my kids and my mom could read over the next month, and due to the subject matter, I thought some of you might be cautious about what I'd be writing about.

Your pal,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Things I've noticed: I'm getting behind on my reading

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m pretty regular in terms of what I read; I like to visit my favourite genres, current author, my two book club selections as well as whatever other book tickles my fancy in any given month.

Right now (20 days into the month) my list looks like this (let's focus on September):

Which shows I’ve still got a book dating back in July (and it’s not even mine, I’ve borrowed it from a friend), two from August (Luckily I own both of these) and six remaining from this Month.

Lets break it down shall we?
Science Fiction: This month I’m planning the read Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi – I loved Old Man’s War a few months back and this was the next one published.

Horror: I had originally written The Flesh Eaters, as it is the 2011 winner of the Bram Stoker Award for best novel, but it is actually the third in a series, starting with Dead City, by Joe McKinney, so there you go.

Fantasy: The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.  Completed, blogged about it here.

Book Club 1: Ubik, by Phillip K. Dick.  Completed, actually it was a re-read from an earlier Phillip K. Dick read through I did in the mid-90’s.

Book Club 2: The Passage, by Justin Cronin.  Currently Reading – actually re-reading, but am quite excited as it’s sequel The Twelve is coming out next month.

Matheson: …Now You See It.  Won’t be touching this one until I finish his previous book, Shadow on the Sun, which was my Matheson book from August.

Me: Die Trying, by Lee Child.  Completed – after reading Killing Floor for one of my book clubs last month I just had to continue on with the series.

Classics: The Plays of Aeschylus, which I’m not going to be starting for at least a few more months as I’m still working on the previous book in my Classics list, The Old Testament (I’m currently up to Proverbs), but haven’t touched it since I started my new job.

So there you go, I attempt to read eight books a month and if I have time left over I hit my backlog of comics and magazines (which I haven’t looked at since May).

Thank goodness there haven’t been any Saw novelizations as I think October is going to be crazy busy as it is (8 movies, including the original short, a comic book, and two PS3 games).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Jack Burton

Okay – full disclosure – Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favourite movies of all time.  Yes I know it’s silly, yes I know the dialogue is corny and the action is over the top, but you know what?

I don’t care.

For me this movie, with all of its great twists and turns, sets and characters, comes down to one guy, our genre character of the week, Jack Burton.

Jack is a little hard to like – on the one hand he’s so self-involved and full of himself that he can’t stop talking about how amazing he is in every scenario, but on the other hand he is incredibly fun to watch.  Watching this film with my family a few months ago it became pretty obvious to all of us that although Jack is the main character of the film, he is actually the sidekick in the events happening to his friend Wang.

Looking at the film from this point of view, it’s actually even better than I remembered it the first time through.  So much of Jack comes down to telling everyone how great he is while great things are actually happening just behind him or off screen.  His role in the various fight scenes in the film move from observer to hero and then to even less than an observer (he gets knocked unconscious a lot.

Honestly, a huge part of the character comes down to actor Kurt Russell, who just a few years earlier had played one of the great action anti-heroes, Snake Plissken inEscape from New York, wherein he speaks very little, but spends almost the entire film kicking butt.  A lot of the humour of Jack in Big Trouble in Little China comes from Russell playing against type – it’s sort of like he wandered onto the set of a Martial Arts/Fantasy film and would leave.

If you’ve never seen the movie before, it is great – a lot of fun, a lot of funny and some pretty spectacular action throughout as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: The Long Earth

One of my favourite experiences in finding a new writer is when I’ve finally caught up with their published works and can start waiting for the new ones along with all their other fans.  For the past few years Terry Pratchett has been one of those I look forward to the most.  I read his discworld series and every other published book I of his I could get my hands on from 2004 – 2010 at the rate of one book a month and loved every one of them.
Last week I got a hold of his newest novel (co-authored with Stephen Baxter) The Long Earth, which I would describe as a science fiction novel taking place in a multiverse that borrows heavily from Larry Niven’s Ringworld and from Clifford D. Simaks Ring Around the Sun.
The story takes place on an alternate Earth where one day the plans for a dimensional hopper are transmitted around the globe through the Internet and soon the vast majority of Earth’s population begin travelling up and down (or, East and West as described in the book) many multiple Earths.  There is one strange thing however.
People don’t seem to exist in any of these Earths except our own.
The main character of the book is a young man named Joshua Valient√© who is a particularly gifted “Stepper”, being someone who can step from world to world without the need for the gizmo virtually everyone else has to use.  Like Ringworld, the novel is very much a story of exploration, and although I did miss the standard footnotes which can sometimes be some of my favourite bits of any Pratchett novel, I did find the book to be fun, intriguing, and definitely worth the read.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why I love horror: The Early Parenting Years

Picking up from where I left off two years ago - as a young man working in a local video store learning to love the horror genre alphabetically, we move on to the next stage of my exploration of the horror genre.


As a father of two young daughters in the late 90's, I did see a number of really great horror movies in theatres with my wife (...28 Days Later, The Blair Witch Project, etc.), but on a day to day basis I found that I really couldn't have horror films on display as they might freak out my kids (or any friends they may have over for play dates - this included my super-cool Clive Barker designed toys which spent five years in a box in the basement, hidden under a blanket before I could find them a good home), so I found the horror icon that got me trough those dark years.

Reptar (Pictured left).

Yes, I'm talking about the giant dinosaur from the Nickelodeon television series Rugrats.

For those of you who don't know; In the show, a bunch of adorable babies toddle around their homes and have adventures.  The main character is named Tommy and his favourite TV show character is Reptar, a giant dinosaur who is sometimes portrayed as a giant monster and sometimes as a misunderstood hero.

Basically he's Godzilla, only changed slightly for a kids show - and you know what?  The kids in that show LOVE him!  He stomps around smashing stuff and does everything a giant dinosaur would be expected to do, and like all kids who love horror stories, the kids in Rugrats somehow immediately adore this bizarre giant creature who, in their world, is incredibly popular (he appears in theme parks and ice shows!) and is either a hero or villain depending on the episode.

For me, this green monster was a great way to introduce horror icons to my kids and get them to understand just how awesome movie monsters could be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Monroe

This week I’m looking at not just my own, but one of my whole families favourite characters in Dark Fantasy, Monroe, the Blutbad (pronounced BLOOT-Baad-in) from the television series Grimm.
For a quick description of Grimm, you can either view it as a Fairy-Tale themed Police Procedural or (as I do) the American version of the current Canadian Dark Fantasy series Lost Girl.  Basically you have a cop in Portland, OR who finds out he is the last in a long line of Grimms, that is people who can see the monsters (called Wesen in the series) around them and are innately good at fighting and killing these creatures.
In the pilot our Cop/Grimm (named Nick and played by David Giuntoli) comes across the character of Monroe and the two become friends, or I suppose uneasy allies, then friends. 
Here’s what I like about Monroe – he’s a kind of wolf-like creature called a Blutbad (which translates to “Blood Bath” in German) who is working very hard, through drugs, diet and sheer willpower, to be a better non-violent person.  The idea of a non-violent killing machine is pretty cool, and he also tends to get the best comedic lines in every episode.
Played by Silas Weir Mitchell (Who I had really enjoyed in both My Name is Earl and Burn Notice), the performance is a really nice balance between a man who has found a sort of peace with himself, but is also just barely holding himself over an abyss of primal violence.
Although I’m still a bigger fan of Lost Girl at heart, I have to say that Grimm has grown on me, and a large part of that is due to the character of Monroe .

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why I'm Excited about Revolution

Next Monday (Sept. 17) I’m going to be sitting down to check out what appears to be a show tailor-made for me, NBC’s Revolution.  Taking place in a post-apocalyptic earth 15-years after an event caused all technology to stop, the series follows a family called the Matheson’s (for newcomers to my blog, Richard Matheson is the guy who famously wrote the classic post-apocalyptic story I Am Legend, which was turned into the Vincent Price 1964 film The Last Man on Earth, then the Charlton Heston 1971 filmOmega Man and most recently the 2007 Will Smith film I Am Legend and I’m currently working my way through all his published works).

The show was created by Eric Kripke, who created the CW series Supernatural, which currently rides pretty high on most of my friends I-can’t-belive-bookmonkey-doesn’t-already-watch-this-because-it-is-totally-his-kind-of-thing-list (The sad part is that Supernatural isn’t even at the top of that list) and looks an awful lot like a 2004 science fiction novel called Dies The Fire by S.M. Stirling (which was also pretty great and deserves a review of it’s own here someday).

In the end the first few weeks of September are always like a hyper Christmas for me, full of fancy gifts that I’m sure I’ll play with for years to come, and containing any number of gifts that will surely be broken and forgotten by New Years – I’m just hoping this one post-apocalyptic present may stick around for a while (or at least until I can judge the pilot).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Things I've Noticed: I'm heading back to school

Today marks the first day in my second year of library school - not that I'm a second-year student (although I sort of am), but as I'm about a third of the way towards my Masters of Library Sciences, and there isn't such as thing as a 1/3 student, I guess I am a second year student.

This term I'm actually taking two classes, a Thursday morning (Organization of Information) and a Thursday afternoon (Multimedia LIteracies), which means that for one day a week I'm not at work but am instead a full-time student (sort of).

It was very cool - I got to have first day jitters, meet new students and get the smell of freshly sharpened pencils (a scent I've connected with school ever since kindergarten).

Anyway, I've seen the early work on the saw-themed banner I'll up next month and it looks pretty cool - and hopefully by the time it goes up I'll be able to understand it's relevance to the series (which I've still never seen) and am pretty excited to spend a month looking at one of the biggest horror franchises of the last decade, so at least I'll be in the know.

Being a student is pretty cool!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Uther Pendragon

I've always found the idea of parallel novels interesting.  Basically parallel novels take place during the same time as another novel, but from another point of view  Uther by Jack Whyte is the seventh of his A Dream of eagles series, but it takes place at the same time as the third novel in the series, The Eagles Brood.

The novel focuses on the life of Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur Pendragon, and his life as king of Cambria, which was touched on, but never explored in the rest of the series.

In the main cannon, Uther comes across as a brash, angry young man who ends up the king of a tribal society and doomed to die before his son is even a year old.  By the time I read this book, Uther was long dead and Arthur has become the accepted high king of the land.

As a novel Uther looks at the story following the king, rather than his cousin Merlin (who is the narrator and protagonist of books four through six of the series), and while staying true to the character as shown in the main series, also allows the reader to see his passions, drives, and uncover the mysteries behind a number of mysteries introduced throughout the main series.

In a lot of ways the book feels like a classic tragedy, following a heroic but flawed man as he races towards his meeting with destiny.  Going in, I wasn't sure that I would enjoy book where I felt I already knew everything that would happen, but it was the character of Uther that kept me reading, he was just so interesting, so relatable to me that I couldn't put the book down.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review: Killing Floor

All right – who’s been hiding these Jack Reacher books from me?  Seriously – no one is willing to admit it?  Fine then, we’ll do it your way.

Normally I’m a guy who appreciates three specific genres: Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, but every once in a while I find an author and character in other genres I can’t help but want to follow; Lucas Davenport in the Sandford’s Prey series, or Spenser by Robert B. Parker, Heck if I’m being honest even those Gallagher siblings in Nora Robert’s Irish Trilogy, grabbed me as characters and demanded that I follow them through however many books they appear in.

And now I’ve got Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.  What’s funny is although my friend Ron brought it up as his book for book club, Reacher is mentioned in a throwaway line in one of my picks from a few years back Under the Dome, by Stephen King, as a reference for one of the characters in that book – which to be fair, Ron mentioned at the time.

So last month I dig into the first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor, and I’ve got to say the character grabbed me from page one.  While sitting at a restaurant, Reacher sees a number of police pull up in cruisers, jump out of their cars and run straight for the diner.  Looking around he casually notes the other people present and immediately deduces that the police are there for him.  For me, this puts Reacher, who is about to get into a whole lot of trouble, in a bizarre position of control, a position he maintains throughout most the book.

I guess I would classify the book as “Men’s Adventure,” in that Reacher is almost always a man of action moving through each scene like a super-cool guy who is “The best at what he does, but what he does isn’t pretty” and the part of my brain that loves characters like these, from Spenser to Schwarzenegger’s Dutch in Predator, just eats this stuff up.  The book took me about three days to finish reading it on the bus and over lunch hours and I loved it.

Sitting on my desk in front of my right now is the second Reacher book Die Trying and assuming it’s as good as the first I’ve definitely found a new series that I’m going to have to start following.

So thanks Ron – very fun book and the beginnings of what look to be a very cool series.