Monday, April 29, 2013

Just back from Jasper

So yesterday my wife and I returned from a trip to Jasper National Park, where we took in the 2013 Alberta Library Conference, which was pretty amazing.

I took in sessions on topics ranging from leadership to storytelling and building an online presence, and my wife and I got to stay in a really nice cabin (pictured right), and eat some incredibly tasty food over the three days we spent there.

This is the fourth time I've attended the conference, but the first time I got to volunteer - I did duties as a convenor for one of the sessions (basically I introduced the speakers and reminded everyone to turn their cellphones to silent), which was a little nerve wracking but a lot of fun.

Also, on a side note, this was the first time my wife and I spent more than a few days away from our kids and they handled themselves wonderfully - Thanks Girls!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie Review: Pain and Gain

Earlier this week my wife and I went to an advanced screening of the new Michael Bay film, Pain and Gain, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, and based on the Sun Gym kidnappings in Miami in the early 90s.

To be perfectly honest, the reason we went to the movie is that my wife is a pretty big fan of Mark Wahlberg.  Although I liked both of Michael Bay's earlier films (Bad Boys and Bady Boys II), I haven't really been a fan of the transformers movies, and I felt Armageddon wasn't quite as good as Deep Impact.

That said, I actually found Pain and Gain to be a really funny, refreshing movie about a horrific and stupid series of kidnappings that has to be read to be believed (the first of the newspaper stories the film was based on can be read here)

The story plays with multiple points of views, has a villain you can't quite feel sympathetic for, and was an all around fun movie to watch.  It does have some excessive violence and language, but assuming you're not bringing your kids to see it, it is definitely worth the watch.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Genre Characters of the Week: Gustav and Otto Arlingmeyer

For one of my book clubs this month we read Steve Hockensmith’s debut novel Holmes on the Range, a western mystery, featuring two delightful cowboys-turned-detectives, Gustav “Old Red” and Otto “Big Red” Arlingmeyer, as they take on their first big case.

The two main characters are both huge fans of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, as written by his chronicler, and partner, John Watson.  Interestingly, rather than being fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Hockensmith has instead put his characters into Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Universe, allowing them to read of his exploits in the paper, and even meet people who are related to people that Sherlock dealt with over his career.

Being both a longtime fan of Westerns and mysteries, this fast-past novel (written in 2006), kept my attention the whole way through, had me smiling more than a time or two, and in the end worked as both a mystery and a western, which is a great job for any cross-genre story.

I think what I liked best about the Arlingmeyer brothers was their depth, considering I’m not used to a lot of character study in westerns, their German upbringing came through again and again their work ethic and in how they saw the world around them.

A really fun story and I’m sure to follow up with more of the series in the future.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Reality is Broken

As I’ve said in the past, I’m beginning to become a bigger fan of nonfiction writing; whether history or cultural commentary, I find it an interesting addition to my monthly readings into Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction.

Case in Point: Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World – which was a pretty interesting examination into why more and more people are spending huge amounts of their free time fighting virtual robots, unicorns and zombies. The book examines the draw that these games have (for example, feelings of productivity, useful and clearly spelled out missions, and huge emotional benefits for success and helping with the success of others) and how these attributes can be added to our real-world experience, therefore making reality an equally fun place to play.

The book reads really well – although I don’t personally have a background in game theory, I sure didn’t feel spoken down to, and I wasn’t lost in any of the author’s concepts either.  The arguments were pretty straight forward, and even though there are a few real world problems that game design might not be able to help directly, the vast number of things game design can help is pretty impressive.

I’d recommend the book for anyone who either considers gaming a waste of time, or has been told gaming is a waste of time.  The book got me pretty excited about the things in my own life I can try to modify with game design and has given me both the confidence and the interest in trying it out.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thing's I've Noticed: I'm ahead on my reading!

It's the strangest thing, once I didn't have classes (and the assigned readings for classes) I blew through my list of readings for April incredibly quickly - I'm just finishing up the last one right now which means I get to pick another Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction title to read this month!!!

So next up for me will be a fantasy novel I've been meaning to read for a while now Down the Mystery River, by Bill Willingham, an advanced readers copy of the new Joe Hill novel NOS4A2, and one of the many science fiction novels that have been sitting on my "to be read" shelf.

Finishing stuff is awesome!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Willow Ufgood

 So back in 1988 I was twelve-years-old and my mother took my three sisters and me down to Edmonton’s historic Princess Theatre (pictured left) to see the new movie, Willow. The four of us stood in a pretty long lineup for about half an hour waiting to buy our tickets, and then the manager comes out and starts counting people in the line.
The show was almost sold out and we were either going to just make the cut or have to come back and see the movie another day. Luckily for us, we made it, although we ended up sitting scattered throughout the two floors of the theatre, and I ended up in the very front row, head craned back and nervous about the group of older girls I had to sit beside to see the film.
The next two hours of my life then proceeded to fly by, as I saw my first really great live-action fantasy film. Now I know, Star Wars and E.T. can both be fit clearly into the fantasy genre, depending on your point of view, and the early 80’s had a lot of great Fantasy classics like Ladyhawke, Time Bandits, Conan the Barbarian, Legend, and Excalibur, not to mention one of my favourite films period, The Princess Bride. But the thing is, I saw all of those on home video, rather than in an actual movie theatre – so for me Willow rightly takes its place as my first Fantasy film experience in a movie theatre.
For those of you who don’t know, the film follows this little guy, Willow Ufgood, a member of a race of little people called Nelwins, as he becomes the protector of a baby, and ends up having to save the world. For many people the movie is a sort of forgettable, pre-Lord of the Rings fantasy film also filmed in New Zealand and that’s about it.

For me, however, the story of this young husband and father going on a grand adventure and learning to trust in himself and his abilities totally resonated with me.

I’ll be quite honest here, I’m a pretty huge fan of the film – I read the novelization by Wayland Drew and played both the NES game and the Arcade version when I could. Although not a fan of the sequel series of novels, I think I may be one of the bigger fans of this film in my hometown, or at least in my neighborhood.
The film has recently been released on Blu-Ray, and if you haven’t check it out yet, it is definitely worth a look.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Series Review: Adventure Time

During my time off between courses I've decided to check out a bunch of genre stuff I've been meaning to get around to - first stop - Adventure Time.

First appearing online back in 2006 by Pendleton Ward, the series was adapted to television in 2010.  It follows a human boy named Finn and his shapeshifting dog Jake.

Together they go on adventures - bizarre, Dungeon & Dragons-style adventures.  At 12 episodes in I've seen them fight zombies, vampires, other various monsters and go on some pretty crazy quests.

This show is weird.  The first episode sort of jumps right in to the middle of their story so can't really give a background to their world - just think of it as a little kid and his dog fighting monsters in a traditional Sword & Sorcery setup and you have a pretty good idea of what is going on.

If you've never given it a try, it is definitely worth looking in to - it's pretty silly, but a heck of a lot of fun.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Things I've noticed: Everyone is reading A Song of Ice and Fire

To be fair, not everything I notice is something that people haven't noticed before.  Case in point, Game of Thrones is pretty big right now.

Since January I've been reading this series at the rate of one a month, and since I started I've been approached by people on the bus, in coffee shops, and even on the street.

My favourite comments so far (seriously):

5) Damn, that girl with the dragon is hot! (Not sure if the guy who said this was referring to the book, the TV show, or maybe The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo)

4) Don't read those - everything and everyone you like is totally going to... (wait a second, the spoiler was annoying enough for me to hear, I don't need to spread it further)

3) That Joffrey kid is bad ass!  (said a guy on the bus I'm pretty sure who missed the entire point of his character).

2) What do you think of series three so far (and then after I mention the fact that I don't have HBO), do you want me to burn a copy for you?

1) Those books are a sequel to Lord of the Rings, right?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

School's Out!

With the exception of one remaining group assignment, I'm finished school for the term - classes are done, and I can now get myself back to the regular reading/watch/gaming schedule.

Right now reading means continuing my journey through A Song of Ice and Fire

Right now watching means I'm running through the last new episodes of most shows I've been watching and am finally getting to check out some movies I meant to see last year

Right now gaming means Little Big Planet: Karting - which is both silly and fun.

Now only 26 more days until I'm back in a new course!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Movie Review: Evil Dead

This weekend I decided to take a small break from my schoolwork and check out the new film Evil Dead.

My opinion is a little mixed.

First the good - the special effects are pretty darn amazing; by staying away from computer generated effects the imagery looks raw, and honestly, much more realistic.  Also it's very gruesome, so maybe not a film for the kids or the faint hearted.  The acting is well done, and a special notice goes to lead Jane Levy as she brings a really great vulnerability to the role.

All right, the questionable - there is a Bruce Campbell cameo, but it's pretty strange.  I'm a huge fan of him, but I wish they had found a more constructive way to put him in the film.

Finally the bad - this movie sort of felt unnecessary.  Last year the film The Cabin in the Woods, covered much of the same territory, and even without the official Evil Dead name to it, it just made a terrific kids at the spooky cabin film.  This movie does everything it needs to do, but in the end, The Evil Dead did all of this back in 1981.

I don't think I'll add this to my DVD collection, but if my local library gets it I may check it out to see the behind the scenes stuff and check out the commentary.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Things I've Noticed: Grad School is keeping me really busy!

As my latest term of grad school is coming to an end, I've got a couple major projects due in the next week which are taking up a lot of my time - I'm not complaining, just stating a fact.

Right now I've just finished a 1974 Science Fiction novel called 334 by Thomas M. Disch, which I'm still deciding whether I liked or not, and am less than 20 pages into A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin.  Past that I've just watched a really bizarre/creepy claymation film from the mid-80s (review coming next week) and one of you lovely people has just offered to send me a game I'm pretty excited to try.

So overall things are going well, I'm just finding that a lot of my time is being focused on school - so bear with me, my courses end by next weekend and then I'll get back to my regular length of blog post.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Batman circa 1889

Like everyone, I have a bunch of books that were given to me years ago that I still haven't got around to reading yet, but as I did all of my March reading on time, I got to check out a few magazines and the Christmas gift my BFF Mike and his lovely wife Trish gave me in 2009.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Considered the first of what would become DC's Elseworld titles - wherein current DC superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) have their stories retold in different times, settings and in some cases worlds.

Gotham by Gaslight tells the story of Batman set in 1889 Gotham.  Also this version of Batman gets to fight Jack the Ripper.  Written by Brian Augustyn, Drawn by Mike Mignola (Hellboy) with inks by P. Craig Russell the story very creatively fits together the Batman mythos, American history and the crimes of Jack the Ripper.

An excellent read.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Happy Easter from Bookmonkey

As we come to the end of the Easter long weekend for 2013, I just wanted to send a quick "Happy Easter" out to all of you.  I hope you had as great a weekend as I did. (Finished three books, finally got around to reading Batman: Gotham by Gaslight - review coming later this week, and started watching the fourth season of True Blood).

Enjoy the short work week and we'll see you all on Wednesday!