Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things I've Noticed: The New Up Documentary is coming soon!

All right, I'll be the first to admit it, although I am usually interested in Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, I am a huge fan of documentaries.

Hello?  Is anyone still there?

Cool - so about eight and a half years ago I read an article in my local paper about an upcoming documentary called 49 Up, which followed the lives of a bunch of 49-year-olds in Britain and basically asked them about their lives, life in general and anything else that came up.  The interesting thing to me was that this was in fact the seventh film featuring this group of people, that in fact they had been interviewed at the age of seven asking them the same questions and then had been followed up with every seven years since then.

This I had to see, but being the kind of guy who hates starting in the middle, I bought a boxed set of the first six films, sat down with my wife and over the course of six Saturdays watched them all.

Directed by Michael Apted (who directed all but the first, which he did work on) these movies are amazing.  Honestly there are some things film is best for as a medium and longitudinal studies (where a subject is followed for a long period of time) is definitely one of them.

The films have no flying cars, no horrible monsters and very little technology, but despite my love of all those things I just got sucked into this series of films and have been waiting for seven years to see the newest one, 56 Up.

Check out the trailer here - honestly, it is quite different than a lot of what I watch/read/play, but I would honestly put this series of films in my top ten list of favourite movies - no question.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: John, the savage

Every once in a while I take the time to read a book off of my “I should really read that” list, which includes a lot of classics, a number of books my wife enjoys and a varied selection from friends and family.  This week I read the 1931 novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and was swept up in the section of the story involving a savage named John who travels to a civilized world.
The story (sorry for any mild eighty-year-old spoilers) focuses on the horror of a utopian future, being an ideal place without strife, pain, hunger or fear. It’s interesting because although all of these things are absent in this world, it comes across as unbearably horrible – think of something like The Matrix,wherein everyone is happily living their lives, and they also just happen to be living batteries for (oh wait – mild twelve-year-old spoilers) for a giant computer.
In this Brave New World, there are reservations where people live in traditional ways, called savages by the people living in civilization, and one of these savages is a man named John.
Here’s what I like about John, he is incredibly well read (or as well read as a man in his situation can be), and he has an incredibly strong moral code. Unfortunately, morals aren’t really needed in a utopian society, so John’s journey is destined to be a hard one.
Overall I found the book to be quite readable, and aspects of it reminded me an awful lot of Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan.  Honesty, it is worth the read and it was a pretty fast read as well.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Seven months after it was released in theatres, my wife I and finally got a copy of the 2012 horror film The Cabin in the Woods, and wow, was this movie right up my alley.

About fifteen minutes into the film, my wife turns to me and say, "So, obviously you're going to be buying this" and she was absolutely right.  The movie is a bizarre twist/homage to the classic slasher film that I grew up on (Roger Ebert uses the phrase Dead Teenager Movies which I love, but didn't hear until I was an adult) and unfortunately there isn't much I can say about it without giving away major plot points.

Lets say that on the simplest level it is about five friends who go on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods and end up involved in something pretty terrifying.

The movie is a lot of fun, made me think of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Night of the Creeps a lot in how it plays with the standard concepts and plots of slasher films and director Drew Goddard has come up with something truly unique in the horror genre.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Choosing a Calendar can be Tricky

I know, I know - It seems silly, but seriously, sometimes this is the stuff I think about.  As November is nearing the end, and as I'm one of those people who tends to get their Christmas shopping done before December 1st, I'm actually on to the next big holiday decision I have to make every year.

Calendar choice

In my life there are four calendars I deal with on a regular basis - my desk calendar at work, the wall calendar in my home, and the calendars my kids put up in their rooms.

First, calendars for the kids - in the past they've had everything from cute puppies and landscapes to TV-show and movie calendars.  As the person who purchases their calendars for them each year, this can be a lot of fun or pretty uncomfortable.  Honestly, the kids let us know what kind of calendars they want, so in terms of choice, the first two calendars are not a big deal for me.

Next is my work Calendar, over the last few years I've either used the Life's Little Instruction Book Day-To-Day Calendar or a horror-themed calendar.  But since my old job was in a cubicle by myself, not many people got a look at my calendar, and at my new place, calendars are noticed (and commented on) - so I've got to pick a good one.  Do I want to spend the year being known as Sudoku-guy?  or Word-of-the-day-guy?  maybe I'll be Island-view guy?  I'm really not sure - perhaps there is a library-themed calendar I can use to self-identify with.

Finally there is our home calendar, which is usually either a landscape calendar or cute primate calendar (my wife likes monkeys and great apes), but due to a sad lack of good primate calendars this year, I may have to put in a vote, and this time it will end up being something she sees more often than me so I'd better make it count.  Right now I'm leading towards The Hobbit but perhaps we'll try Modern Family or something related to books - you know I really don't know.

Anyway, here are my key tips for calendar selection:

1) No Girly/Guy Calendars - seriously, at some point your mom/dad/son/daughter is going to come over, look at your calendar and judge you.

2) Realize you will be judged on your calendar selection (I'm judging you right now)

3) Make sure you really like whatever the subject of your calendar is - your going to be looking at it for the next year and that "Knock Knock-Joke-A-Day Calendar" you are looking at will get pretty old pretty fast

4) Make sure you go calendar shopping early as the good ones get snapped up quick (unless you're ordering online)

5) You have my full permission to smack anyone who tells you that you are putting far too much thought into your calendar purchase - don't these people know how important this is!?!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Kyle Reese

Ask most people who said the phrase “Come with me if you want to live” and they’ll point straight to The Terminator Franchise – totally correct.  Then they’ll likely say it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who said it in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and if you’re like me, the answer will make you a little sad, because it was actually said in the first Terminator film by this week’s genre character, Kyle Reese.

To be fair to the folks who answered with Arnold Schwarzenegger, yes, he did say that phrase in the second film, but it was meant to remind the viewer of what Reese says in the first, not to stand alone on its own.

Kyle Reese, (Sergeant Tech-Com, DN38416) is a man out of time, sent on a mission to do the impossible, to save the life of his best friend’s mother from an unstoppable killing machine.  He has no weapons (or clothes, at first), and as he comes from an era after ours has been destroyed, he hits massive culture shock almost immediately.  Although he possesses the skill set of a guerrilla soldier (irregular tactics, the element of surprise, extraordinary mobility), the machine he is trying to beat is pretty much unstoppable.

What I love best about Kyle (played by Michael Biehn) was his humanity, his everyman quality, and the fact that he had fallen in love with a woman across time (a story concept I’m totally a sucker for) which altogether makes him not just one of my favourite characters of the franchise, but of Science Fiction in general.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: The Twelve

Last month I re-read Justin Cronin's novel The Passage, which is both an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novel featuring an outbreak of vampire-like creatures which overrun North (and probably South) America killing virtually everyone who lives there and the girl who ends up saving the world.

I loved The Passage - it was great, the pacing was wonderful and I loved how the first third of the book happens before the end of the world as we know it.

The Twelve was an obvious read for me - loved the first book, excited for the next, and after reading it I can say it was a lot of fun, but it didn't really impress me as much as the first.  For starters rather than move the story forward from the end of the first book a massive amount of time is spent returning to the vampire apocalypse and re-telling it from the point of view of other survivors whose lives will (mild spoiler) have an affect on those of our main characters almost a century later.

Now, I don't mind backstory, but honestly, the thing I loved most about the original book was it's pacing and this just felt backwards to me.

In the end I enjoyed it, but wished the story has moved forward rather than back and forward as it did.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Things I’ve Noticed: I won Bookmonkey Saw!

So I just got my mark back for my class project focusing on the Saw franchise and I got 87% - my conclusion wasn’t as strong as it could be, but my review of the videogame stood out nicely and overall I’m pretty proud of my work.
Next year I’m not sure which aspect of horror I’ll be looking into – perhaps a style of horror like “found footage”, exorcisms or zombies,  or maybe I’ll spend more time looking into a format, like horror in videogames or the like.
Anyway, it was a lot of work, it’s something I’m glad to say I’ve finished and I’m quite happy to finally put the Saw franchise behind me.
Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Gobo Fraggle

Airing from 1983 to 1987 (or if you will, from my seventh through eleventh years), Fraggle Rock was one of my favourite television shows growing up.   The story involves a group of subterranean creatures called Fraggles, who on one end of their caves connect with our world and on the other connect with a world of giants (who consider Fraggles a delicacy).  Aimed for children, the series had a large focus on the ideas of friendship and cooperative play, and from my point of view, was just about the best thing you could be watching on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation any day of the week.
Unlike certain other friends of mine, who enjoyed the four “lesser-Fraggles” of the series, I was, and will always be, a huge fan of the greatest Fraggle of them all, Gobo.
Unlike his artsy, depressed, angry, or scared (and Hawaiian-shirt wearing) friends, Gobo was a level-headed, well-meaning young Fraggle, who kept up a written correspondence with his Uncle Matt and was often required to get his friends out of trouble.  Also he was brave and could play the guitar (or the tiny, gourd-based Fraggle version of a guitar), so he was pretty darn cool, which to my young mind, was all he needed to be.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

To celebrate a great report card, I took my 15-year-old daughter out to see the new Disney film Wreck It Ralph today.

It was pretty great - the film feels pretty strongly like a mix of Shrek, Toy Story and Tron.  Our main character is the villainous Wreck It Ralph, a Donkey Kong-style character in a game called Fix-it Felix Jr..  In the game Ralph destroys a building, Felix fixes it and at the end of each level Ralph is thrown off the top of the building.

Being tired of always being the bad guy, Ralph decides to change his life, basically feeling that if he can't be a hero in his own game, he'll try to be one in another.

The film has many video game character cameos and used a lot of video game tropes as background to a story of seeking self-identity.

For me, the strongest part of the film was voice actor John C. Reilly who brings a wonderful sense of the sympathetic to what is, simply enough a two dimensional bad guy in a video game.

The film was a lot of fun, had great laughs and emotion throughout, and honestly reminds me why I can always count on a fun time with anything Disney produces.  I'm fairly confident it will end up on my DVD shelf.

Also a quick side note - the Disney short Paperman was, in my mind, such a sweet wonderful short it was easily worth the cost of the ticket all by itself.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Things I’ve Noticed: Wow – Pannekoeken are tasty!

On Tuesday, my friend Trish was lamenting to my wife and I about the opening of a new Dutch restaurant in our fair city – not that she has anything against Dutch food (she’s Dutch herself) but that as the restaurant is only a breakfast and lunch place, she works too far away to enjoy it.

Luckily for me, I work across the street from it (pictured above).  DeDutch serves traditional Dutch cuisine, all in a very cozy little setting very accessible to anyone who can get to downtown Edmonton.  As I had my lunch break today from 11:30 to 12:30, I beat the rush and was able to grab a quick photo of the dining room.

Not being very familiar with Dutch cuisine (except in terms of baking, largely because I live near on of our city’s Dutch bakeries) and having very little idea of where to start, I let my server suggest a good first meal – The Windmill Pannekoeken – which is a large 12” light pancake (or heavy crepe) served with wild B.C. Salmon, Edam Cheese and Hollandaise Sauce.

Traditionally you roll up your Pannekoeken and eat it in slices, so that’s exactly what I did.

The food was really tasty – and I got the one with fish as my friend Trish is not partial to those and I didn’t want to make her too jealous – but next time I’m thinking of something with apple, and maybe cheddar. 

Overall, an excellent place, the meal was served quickly (7 minutes from my order to my table) and it wasn’t too hard on the wallet ($25 including coffee and tip) – and believe me, I’m still feeling pretty full and it’s been a few hours since lunch.

Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Eddie Hudson

Although the majority of my October horror experience was involved in the Saw franchise, I did get to enjoy a few other horror films and books.  Case in point - Dead City by Joe McKinney.  I actually picked up this book because I read the Bram Stoker winner of best horror novel each year, and McKinney's The Flesh Eaters won this year - but as it is the third in the series, I went back to book one, Dead City, and found my genre character of the week, Eddie Hudson.

Eddie is a patrolman in San Antonio, Texas, who spends an average day worrying about a fight he's having with his wife when the dead begin to rise.

From that point on we are treated to Eddie's harrowing escape from a city quickly overrun by the undead and get a good look at how quickly things might fall apart as the people who show up at emergencies (police, fire and ambulance workers) become the first to fall and change.

McKinney, a police officer in San Antonio himself, gives Eddie a great, ground-floor view of a zombie rising from the point of view of the police, and I actually found a lot the technical detail to be really interesting and compelling throughout.

Like my personal favourite zombie-fighting police officer, Eddie comes across as a regular guy in terrible circumstances and although the events of the novel only follow the course of a day, I would definitely be interested in checking out further books featuring the character.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book Reviews: Little Fuzzy / Fuzzy Nation

For one of my book clubs last month I read the novel Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, who wrote one of my favourite Science Fiction novels of the last few years, Old Man's War.  The book is a reboot of the 1962 H. Beam Piper novel, Little Fuzzy.

So, being me - I decided to read both.

Little Fuzzy (pictured left), tells the story of a miner named Jack Holloway, who while looking for fossilized rocks called sunstones on a far off planet discovers what may be a new life form, adorable little creatures he calls Fuzzies, who may or may not be sentient creatures, which if it turns out they are sentient, would mean that the prospecting on their planet is entirely illegal.  What starts out as an adventure novel ends up as a courtroom drama and it is pretty awesome - read it if you can find it, it was a lot of fun.

John Scalzi's 2011 novel, Fuzzy Nation (Pictured right) tells the story of a miner named Jack Holloway, who while looking for fossilized rocks called sunstones on a far off planet discovers what may be a new life form, adorable little creatures he calls Fuzzies, who may or may not be sentient creatures, which if it turns out they are sentient, would mean that the prospecting on their planet is entirely illegal. The story is basically identical to Little Fuzzy, but with more action, and the Holloway character is portrayed as more of a rough-and-tumble loner, than the grizzled-prospector type in the earlier novel.

Both books are fun, well worth your time, and although they cover the same bases, they each bring a very different feel to the concepts of big business, colonialism, and decency.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thing’s I’ve Noticed: Movie Adaptations can be a lot of fun

On my anniversary this year, my wife and I went to see the film Cloud Atlas, and I totally loved it.  The six intertwining stories taking place across hundreds of years (circa 1849 AD to “106 years after the fall”), and involve multiple characters, many of them played by the same actors playing different ethnicities and genders throughout.  The film was ambitious, definitely something to be seen on the big screen and in turns funny, action-packed, horrifying, romantic and hopeful.

I totally loved it.

Now, going back a few years I actually read the 2004 David Mitchell novel for one of my book clubs, and honestly – it wasn’t really my thing.  At the time I enjoyed the two stories set in the future, and the story entitled “The Ghastly ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” was also pretty funny, but overall the novel just wasn’t for me.  

Unfortunately the book club member who chose the title was unable to attend the book club meeting and the three of us who made it found the book less than great, so we didn’t really have anyone to “champion” the selection.

So when I heard they were adapting the novel into a film, I honestly had very little interest in checking it out.  But, after a pretty amazing trailer, a glowing review from my favourite movie reviewer and the fact that my wife loves to see every movie Tom Hanks is in, we decided to check it out.

Totally worth it, lots of fun, and honestly – it kind of makes me want to revisit the novel.