Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Watching The Expendables 2 with my 15-Year-Old Daughter

Highlights of watching The Expendables 2 with my 15-year-old daughter today.

"...Are you sure I don't need to see the first movie?"

"How many knives can that guy possibly be carrying?"

"How did they get that plane so fast?"

"NOW can I ask questions again?"

"Who's That Guy?"

"Okay, that was kind of funny"

"Expendables 3?  Seriously Dad!?!"

Monday, January 28, 2013

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Over the weekend I checked out the 2012 film Frankenweenie, a full-length adaptation of a short film from 1984, and found it to be a lot of fun.

The story, a take on the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelly, but replacing Victor's hubris with love for his pet dog, had a lot to say about kids, death and pets, but did it in a light-hearted way that had more than a few nods to classic monster movies throughout.

My biggest problem was that I honestly preferred the live-action short from the 80s - it did everything I needed it to, and although it didn't have some of the more creative monsters that this film had, it felt just about right for me at the time.

In the end the recent film was a lot of fun, but I'm not sure if I'd add it to my DVD collection.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes 100% Just isn't worth it

For Christmas I got the game Grand Theft Auto IV from some good friends, and each weekend since then I’ve slowly been working my way through the various missions (both story and side) that I need to complete my character Nico Bellic’s rise to power in the underworld of the fictitious Liberty City .

There is definitely a lot about this game I love, for starters the id-pleasing levels of violence and mayhem, both incidental and story-driven definitely allow me to take my daily frustrations out in a relatively harmless way, secondly, the game world is well set up, and the stuff you can do throughout the game world is pretty impressive.  Finally, the game actually requires you to make friends, hang out with them, take their calls, call them, and change up the stuff you do with them if you’d like them to become really good friends with you (in the game really good friends are willing to do special tasks for you) which is kind of funny, because for everyone saying how terribly anti-social the GTA franchise is, this concept of making and keeping friends has a lot of potential for application in the real world.

My biggest problem with the game is the stuff you need to do to complete the game at a 100% level.  This involves doing every main mission, driving every type of vehicle, doing every stunt jump in the environment (50) and killing 200 pigeons.

There was a time when I would have happily spent my weekends running through a videogame collecting all of the various things to get that precious 100% score, but honestly, once you’ve killed a few pigeons, you would have to be pretty dedicated to say, sure I’ll do this 198 more times.  At least with the stunt jumps you get cool camera views of the jump, but even with the 50 seems like it would take an awful long time to complete.

Right now I’m about 5/8ths of the way through the main part of the game, and it’s pretty fun.  I think my days of doing absolutely everything in the game are behind me – I’ll happily finish the story, but after that I’ve got other games to play.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Ser Duncan the Tall

Having finished A Game of Thrones earlier this week, but not willing to review it until after my next book club meeting, I moved on to the first novella written in the series, which takes place nearly a century earlier and follows the adventures ofSer Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg.

Duncan’s story is very similar to that of the film A Knight’s Tale in which a recently deceased Knight’s squire declares himself a knight and enters into tournaments to seek his fortune.  The novella was published in 1998 while the film (which I also loved) came out in 2001.

Considering that Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga is all about the shades of grey in fantasy, this story is pretty much a simple black vs. white story of a young man trying to do good with his life.  I totally loved it and a huge part of that comes down to the earnest, decent character of Dunk (known officially as Ser Duncan the Tall).

Whether you’ve read the main books or not, the novella is a fun, stand-alone story it took me a few hours to read and was totally worth every minute of it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

5 Things about Me and Reading In no particular order

  1. The first piece of mythology I can recall reading is the story of Theseus, but even though he is much more famous for his adventures in the labyrinth with the minotaur, what interested me the most was his dad telling him; “I’ve put a bunch of stuff under this big rock, when you’re old enough to move it you can take what’s there and go make something of yourself”, which is pretty much exactly what happens and was the first moment I understood the concept of “not until you’re older”
  2. Like many children of the 70’s, my favourite preschool book is The Monster at the end of the Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollen.  If you’ve never read this 4th wall-breaking story I am entirely jealous of the fact that you will get to read it for the first time.
  3. When I was eight years old, my third grade teacher Mr. Murray read the entire class the novel The Hobbit, a chapter at a time for a month.  I think I can honestly say that every time I read a fantasy novel I’m trying to recapture the state of awe and wonder I felt in that classroom almost thirty years ago.
  4. Each month I set out to read at least seven books, and even though I don’t quite make my quota every month (with comics, course readings, family time, etc.), my punishment is I get to read eight or nine books the next month, which is pretty much the best punishment ever.
  5. As many readers eventually do, I have tried my hand a few times at creative writing – netting me a couple rejection letters and one short story which can still be found online related to a role-playing game I was really into at the time, and honestly, I still like it!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Things I’ve Noticed: MIB3 Something The Third Time is the Charm

Back in 1997 my BFF Mike took me out to see the film Men In Black, and honestly I thought it was a lot of fun, the aliens were weird and cool, the concept was weird and fun, and the chemistry between it’s two stars, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was a lot of fun.
So fun in fact that when Men in Black 2 came out in 2002 I checked it out with my BFF Mike and my lovely wife.

Not a good decision.

Honestly as much fun as Men in Black was, Men in Black 2 was not.  I thought the concept was kind of old, the story felt contrived and the ending really bugged me (for whatever reason, reality in a marble seemed okay, reality in a bus station locker, not so much).

So I've got to say I'm pretty suprised by how much I enjoyed Men in Black 3.  The story is a time travel one, allowing our lead to travel back in time and play the experienced partner to the man who would become his mentor.  The story was sharp, the aliens fun, and Josh Brolin's performance of Agent K has to be  seen to be believed.

Although I never said I would eat my hat if I ever went to another Men in Black film, if I had, I certainly would, brim and all.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Mister Pullman

Normally I don't do this - if I'm reading a book that I'll be discussing at one of my book clubs in the near future, I tend to hold off on discussing aspects of the text on my blog until after the meeting.  This month I've been reading The Unwritten a comic book series written by Mike Carey and art by Peter Gross.  I would consider the story as a dark fantasy.  The reason I'm writing about it now, rather than early next month, is that I totally loved the main villain, Mister Pullman.
Staying away from spoilers (and The Unwritten has a lot of those) Pullman works for... hmmm...
Okay, Pullman has just about the creepiest power (curse?) I've seen in comics to date, you see, when he... right, no spoilers.
This just got much harder than I expected.
Okay - go read The Unwritten - the first six Trades are currently available for purchase.  It's pretty great, there is a heck of lot going on, and oce you've seen Mister Pullman in action, I think you'll see why I think he's such an interesting villain.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Flesh Eaters

Being a life-long fan of Horror novels, I look forward to reading each years winner of the Bram Stoker award for best Horror Novel.  The 2012 recipient, Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney was actually the third novel in his Dead World series, so before I read the award winner I went back and read both Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead.  As most horror novels are stand alone I haven’t had to do this level of back-story reading since 2004 when Peter Straub’s In the Night Room won, which required me to read four other novel (two of them award winners and all of them quite enjoyable)

Flesh Eaters works like an unending nightmare – it starts in Houston shortly after the events of one Hurricane and just before it is hit by two progressively worse ones.  As the city reels under the very real-life horrors brought on by such a disaster certain survivors begin to act strange, their eyes clouding over and then suddenly craving the flesh of others.

The novel is a prequel to the previous books, which both mention the devastation which took place in Houston , but give only secondhand accounts of it.  The main character is Police Sergeant Eleanor Norton, who, on top of her duties as a police officer during the storm, is also trying to save her own husband and daughter as well as other survivors she finds along the way.

Although I have to admit I was starting to feel pretty zombied-out by the time I got to this book (having received a zombie-themed calendar last year, I’ve actually read more than a dozen zombie-themed books in the last few months), I found the book worked well, introduced a lot of well developed characters into an increasingly horrible situation and will have me keeping an eye out for other books by the author (but I’ll be taking a break from his zombie titles for a while as I’m flexing my fantasy-genre muscles right now).

Friday, January 11, 2013

Things I've Noticed: There's this book called Game of Thrones

Right now I’m in the process of jumping on the bandwagon that is A Song of Ice and Fire – better known to the viewing public as Game of Thrones.  As I’ve said in the past, I believe that if I’m going ot go around and tell people I love the Fantasy genre, it is probably worth my while to explore the popular texts in the field because that it what I’ll get asked about by people on the bus, or in class, or at work.

So onto A Game of Thrones.

I was just starting High School when the first book in the series A Game of Thrones was released.  As High school kids don’t have a lot of cash it was probably in grade eleven when I started noticing a lot of my friends were reading the recently released paperback edition.  The cover (pictured right) showed a guy dressed in black sitting on a horse in a winter setting with a castle in the background and what appeared to be a fire burning some part of the building.  The cover looked exciting, my friends who were reading the book told me it was probably a hundred times better than the DragonLance stuff I was currently reading (probably due to the graphic sex and violence, we were teenaged boys after all), so I added it to my list of series I should get around to reading.

I picked up the book to read on Monday.

Now I’ll admit, after four sequels, a lot of awards and two seasons of an award winning HBO series, I’m probably coming to this pretty late, but at the very least I’m starting before the series is finished being written, which is something I usually never do, to avoid the curse of the Wheel of Time – a wretched state that has only released it’s hold on of my high school friends in the last few days.

Anyway, back to property damage (some mild 22-year-old spoilers follow), at one point early in the novel an assassination attempt is made using the burning of a castle’s library to draw attention away from the event.  Watching the library burn, the castle’s mistress Catelyn Stark, watched “…the smoke rise into the sky and thought sadly of all the books the Starks had gathered over the centuries.”  And you know what – I got pretty upset!  Even though this small library is purely fictional and even if it wasn’t it would not in anyway be available to me, I was still thinking: Come on!  Couldn’t you burn down some other part of the castle?  Why does it always have to be the library!

Then I realized I was getting pretty upset of the fictional destruction of a non-existent library collection and I realized two things.

1)     George R.R. Martin can really write – he totally sucked me in to the story.


2)     Any doubts that I’m in the wrong field of study have pretty much left the building.

So there you go – while reading a twenty-two year old fantasy novel I was able to reaffirm my career and professional goals – not bad at all.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Alex White

Today I finally caught up to author Richard Matheson; to be fair, I’m just talking about the novels, not the short stories, screenplays or other writings, and even then there are still a few tittles I could not track down for a reasonable amount of money (much as I love the writing, I’m not paying more than $50 for a paperback of The Night Stalker).  His latest book, Other Kingdoms focuses on the events which happened to a World War I soldier in England after he is injured in the war.  The protagonist, and this week’s genre character,Alex White.
The story is told from the point of view of 82-year-old horror author Arthur Black, creator of a series of horror books called Midnight.  Born Alexander White, he tells the reader the story of an event which occurred to you just after he finished serving as a soldier in WWI due to injury.  The story is one of his first loves, to two very different women while living in a small town called Gatford.
Although I wasn’t a fan of the author commenting on the structure of his book while writing it (commenting on nice turns of phrase or unacceptable word usage depending), it did a great job of conveying the feel of life and love at that young age (the main character is 18 at the time of the events in the story), and although more than a little whiney at times, he did come across as an honest look at a young man in extreme situations.
Having now caught up, I’m moving into another genre (which is tricky, as Matheson has written in Crime, Fantasy, Horror, Western, Non-Fiction and straight literature), but for me right now I’m jumping over to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and then perhaps to something a little more Fantasy-based.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: She Wakes

For the last few months I’ve been reading the early novels of Jack Ketchum, the first three, Off SeasonHide & Seek, and Cover – were all effective horror stories showing a very dark version of our world – no supernatural monsters, aliens or ghosts involved, just a shocking and often terrifying look at what one human being can do to another.

Last week I finished Ketchum’s fourth published book, She Wakes, which involves a supernatural evil and is set in Greece .  To be fair, I’ve always been a big fan of Classical Mythology (which is probably why I enjoyed the Percy Jackson and Latro of the Mists books), but even with the basic knowledge that gave me going in I was shocked (in a good way) at how well Mr. Ketchum put together this story, which starts out eerie, moves into ominous and ends like a hiker seeing an approaching avalanche from the valley below.

For fans of Supernatural horror it is a great read.  For me it was another example of how well this man knows his craft

Friday, January 4, 2013

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes you don't need to keep a show you like

Over the Christmas break my wife and I finally caught up on our TV watching – catching up with a few shows that had been steadily building up on our PVR over the last few weeks (and in 1 case, months), and were finally able to check out some of the television shows we have on DVD.

The first up was Entourage

I purchased the first season of Entourage from a no-longer-existing store called A&B Sound in the Edmonton downtown core back in 2005; at the time I hadn’t heard anything about the show, but as I was enjoying other HBO shows like The Sopranos and Sex & The City, and the fact that the whole season retailed for $19.99, I decided to give it a shot.

Since then my wife and I have watched eight seasons of the show (which is produced by Mark Wahlberg) and have found the show to be a lot of fun and an interesting look at one view of the Hollywood lifestyle.  In the end however, we’ve decided to let our collection of the show (all 8 seasons) go on my next used-book store run.

It’s not that the show was bad – actually it was a lot of fun, and living in a house filled with women a really nice breath of “Guy-centric entertainment”, but in the end I tend to base my DVD collection on the idea that I may 1) Want to rewatch the show at a later date and 2) Have someone else in mind who might enjoy it as well.  And unfortunately the show doesn’t meet both qualifications for me.

On the plus side, I’ve now got about a foot of shelf space for future DVDs I’ll be adding to my collection, and I feel I got my moneys worth from purchasing and enjoying the series.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Ted

As my wife is a pretty big fan of Mark Wahlberg, I’ve sat through my share of his films; whether his characters are fighting monkeys (sorry apes), plants, or their own dysfunctional families, I’ve pretty much seen them all.  In the last couple years however, he’s started to move into some pretty great comedies, like The Other Guys, and his most recently released film Ted, which features this week’s genre character – Ted.

Ted is, simply put, a teddy bear who came to life after a little boy made a Christmas wish.  After some brief terror from the boys family, the Ted became a mild celebrity, and after a while, the world sort of settled down and stopped focusing on him so much.  Many years later, the young boy is in his mid-thirties, dating a lovely young woman, and still living with his magical bear, Ted, who, although also in his mid-thirties (or late twenties, I suppose) is still in the same, unchanging body of the teddy bear he started out in.

Considering that, he’s actually pretty well adjusted.  The problem is, although he’s a great friend to Wahlberg’s character, John, he’s a pretty lousy influence on him, something which is pretty obvious to John’s girlfriend, Lori (played by Mila Kunis).

What I love about the character is pretty much the whole concept, the idea of taking a fantasy most children have (if only my toys could come to life) and then seeing the logical conclusion to such a wish if it were granted.

The film is great, a lot of fun, and completely inappropriate for children – remember, just because it’s funny does not mean it’s for kids.