Monday, September 29, 2014

Gearing up for October

As we’re heading into my yearly Halloween-themed month, I’m currently at work reading the primary stuff I’ll be reviewing (the 2013 Penguin horror imprint), and am also hunting down a variety of films, comics and other related texts to chat about as well.

At this point I’ve got at least one movie connected with each reading (except for American Supernatural Stories – it’s my last one so I’ll be researching it later in the month), but have been happy to find related materials from all sorts of places (friends, used-book stores, Amazon, and in one case the special features of a DVD I’ve owned for quite a while now).

I’m still hoping to knock out a Charles de Lint review before we start but my reviews on new genre TV (Constantine, Gotham, American Horror Story: Freak Show, and The Walking Dead) will all have to wait until November.

Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Genre Character of the Week: Helward Mann

Last year I got pretty excited when first viewing the trailer for the Science Fiction film Snowpiercer.  The premise of that film, which focuses on a post-apocalyptic human society limited to existence on a moving train seem such a strange and unique idea I didn't think there had been anything quite like it before.

Then I read the 1974 Christopher Priest novel Inverted World.  In the novel, narrated (sometimes) by our Genre Character of the week, Helward Mann, the city "Earth" exists on rails and moves slowly across a landscape, and has been for years.  To be fair to the film, the city moves at a very slow pace, and there doesn't appear to have quite the same class divisions as described in the film, but there are enough similarities, I was comforted to know that classic SF had again touched on this idea decades ago.

What I really like about the character of Helward in the book is his position of being both the character the reader is meant to relate to, while at the same time basically being a guide to the strange world in which he exists.  His story begins with an incredibly evocative sentence:

I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles,

which is just an amazing way to show the reader just how different the world of this book is from ours.

Although there are a lot of places in which I disagreed with the actions Heward took, I still appreciated the way the story moves him about to best show the world in which he lives, and in the end, (sorry for the lack of spoiler here), I simply love what the author does with the character.

If you've never read it before, it is definitely worth a look.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie Review: The Maze Runner

Yesterday my seventeen-year-old daughter and I checked out the latest YA-based adaptation to hit the screen, The Maze Runner. Based on the 2009 novel by James Dashner, the film follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who begins the film being deposited in “the Glade” a small area of relative security in the middle of a massive maze.

Having seen a lot of YA adaptations over the years (from Twilight to Divergeant – which to be fair sounds like a great title for a paper on these types of films) I’m happy to say The Maze Runner stacks up pretty nicely. The story is equally strange and terrifying, much of the plot focuses on the mystery of the situation Thomas and the other boys (the film has a virtually all-male cast), have found themselves in, and very much like Lord of the Flies, society in The Glade is broken down to simple rules and is unfailingly brutal towards rule breakers.

For me the standout performance in the film belonged to Will Poulter as Gally. Considering his hilarious turn in last year’s We’re The Millers, this character is almost a polar opposite, really well defined, and surprisingly understandable.

The visuals on the maze itself are quite stunning and honestly may be best viewed in a full-sized screen environment, so if you can, try to check out the film while it’s still in theatres, and let me know what you thought.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie Review: Oculus

Although nearly a year after the fact, I finally got around to seeing the 2013 horror film Oculus last night, and honestly, it was pretty darn good.

The movie focuses on two grown siblings, Kaylie and Tim Russell, and their attempt to prove the evil and supernatural nature of an antique mirror called "The Lasser Glass" which they believe is responsible for the death of their parents.

The film uses two parallel story lines, focusing on Kaylie and Tim as adults and children, and as the effects of the mirror grow throughout the film, the story lines begin to overlap in really interesting and intriguing ways.

Considering the film's chief antagonist is an inanimate object, much of the strength of the film comes down to the story, the editing and the acting (standouts were Karen Gillan, playing the adult Kaylie, and Katie Sackhoff, playing Kaylie and Tim's mother).  Personally, one thing I really enjoyed about the film (sorry for the mild year-old spoiler) is the fact that although a history of the mirror is given, its origins are never explained, leaving them to the audiences imagination (a lot like some of the best Lovecraft stories, come to think of it).

In the end, the film is pretty great, has some fun twists and turns, and definitely kept me guessing until the end.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reading Series: Jumping right in or playing catch up

One of my favourite super-hero comics these days is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. If you’ve never read it, you really owe yourself a look. The stories focus on Astro City, which, like Superman’s Metropolis or Batman’s Gotham, has more than its share of heroes and villains, but with Astro City, the stories focus on all sorts of different residents of the city, over the course of decades and seen through the eyes of heroes, villains, and regular folks on the street.

The problem for me is, the series actually started back in 1995, and although it has a relatively small run, the time between each new release is long enough I’m always forced to decide between trusting my memory of comics I read 20 years ago, or re-reading the entire series each time a new volume is released.

I'm currently two volumes behind the current trade (technically three volumes, but I only buy my collections in softcover, rather than the pricier hardcover versions which show up a few months earlier), and so I can either jump in exactly where I left off, or re-read seven other volumes first.

Luckily, the series is pretty excellent, so if I decide to re-read, my punishment is to read an awful lot of good comics and get myself extra excited for the new stuff.

Well look at that, I think I just answered my own question!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Me and my tunes

After finishing grad school I was quickly able to increase my reading-for-pleasure habit from seven books a month back up to ten. This was excellent, as it gave me another Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction book a month to comment on.

But after a couple weeks, I realized that if my reading habits had slid back a little during school, my music tastes had virtually withered away. I’d spent the last few years listening to my aging iPod playlist, which, to be fair got updated time to time by my wife, who listens to a lot more contemporary music than I do, but for the large part, my musical tastes tend to live comfortably in the years between 1999 and 2004 (ages 23 – 27, respectively).

So, I decided to do something about it, and as a library-trained list making guy, I decided to use some basic filters.

New music comes out at an incredible rate – even if I limited myself to just listening to my local top-40 radio station or watching the music videos linked from the ads at the beginning of YouTube videos I watch, I would be checking out dozens of new songs a week.

So I turned to the Billboard charts – which have been keeping track of the top 100 songs currently in play since 1958, and selected the American list (where the lists originated), the Canadian list (where I live), and the UK list (as my musical tastes tend to lean that way if left alone), and began listening to the top ten on all three lists every Monday.

What I noticed right away is that there is a lot of overlap. With the exception of the UK list, which varies somewhere between 2 and 8 songs from the American list on any given week, the Canadian list tends to be roughly 60% identical to the American, if not in ranking, at least in which songs are on the list.

I’m not sure if listening to all these tunes (which usually means listening to about 18 songs a week, as I don’t listen to the same song if it appears on another list), is making me smarter, more culturally aware, or relatable to my kids, but it does tend to mean I’m a little bit faster in recognizing songs playing on the radio.

And as I'm adding new tunes to my iPod playlist can’t be considered completely golden oldies anymore.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I've got October Covered!

Hi All, just a quick heads up that I've finally figured out my theme for this year's October Blog-a-thon (is that a word?) and it's kind of crazy but, I'm going to focus on on some books.

Yup - rather than hitting the movies again (although there will be some movies), and instead of checking out some comics (although I may mention some of those as well), this year I'm going to be looking at the Horror imprint from Penguin Classics.

So get ready to join me on a deep dive into six classics of horror literature… if you dare.

Actually, just join me - the reading should be fun and I'm a little hesitant to start a game of dares online.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: Jack the Giant Killer

I think I'm just on a roll with my Charles de Lint reading right now.

Last month I read Yarrow and absolutely loved it - the merging of high fantasy (completely new world) and magic realism (wherein magical events happen in our world), was just incredible, and the characters were becoming incredibly strong, three-dimensional people that I would either love to meet, or in the cases of the villain, found intriguing.

…and then I hit Jack the Giant Killer.

This book is absolutely brilliant, it takes concepts from fairy tales and specifically merges them with modern day (well, 1987) Ottawa - which was amazing, and then begins to hint that the Ottawa of Jack the Giant Killer is also the Ottawa of Moonheart - just in a quick reference to a physical location, but still, this is the kind of stuff I get excited about when reading Terry Pratchett or Stephen King.

The novel focuses on a girl named Jackie Rowan, who ends up becoming the "Jack" in a fairy tale, which is both a lot of fun with gender-swapping the traditional role, and bringing forth an incredibly fun character, also Jackie starts doing things that may not work exactly in traditional fairy tales, but make a heck of a lot of sense if strange magic stuff started happening around a real person - like telling her best friend.

This book is great.  I spent almost half the story smiling and the other half really anxious about what was going to happen to this great character.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: Nazareth Hill

From the first sentence, "Years later Amy would remember the day she saw inside the spider house" forward, Nazareth Hill works insidiously to introduce the reader to one of the creepiest haunted houses I've ever come across in fiction. Focusing on a Widower and his teen-aged daughter, the novel starts slowly as a study in a troubled parent-child relationship and moves slowly from tragedy to thriller to horror.

The protagonist, Amy Priestly (15, going on 16), begins the book with an innate dislike for the new apartment building she and her father share with a number of others residents.

As the story moves along the nature of the house becomes clearer and clearer, and although it begins slowly, the tensions really increases as you move along.

In the end, the story is quite strong, the characters are well done, and it is well worth a look.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I'm taking an Online Course!

Having been out of grad school for a few months now, I started to get the itch to get some more schooling, and what do you know, my alma mater recently added a free online course called Understanding Video Games.  

So I signed up, and have been having a pretty good time of it so far - each unit has a video component, some readings, and the ability to chat with other students about the course content.  Also I'm able to play video games as homework (which is quite nice), and I'm hoping to use it as an excuse to catch up on both my Angry Video Game Nerd and Extra Credits viewing.

As I'm only one unit it, I can't say much more than that, but so far the reading has been a lot of fun (first one focused on the game Portal), and I'm excited to see what else the course has to offer.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review: Yarrow

Holy cats. Seriously, I don’t really know how else to begin. I’ve been reading a Charles de Lint book a month for almost half a year, waiting to be truly wowed, and so far the books have been pretty great, fun, experimental with fantasy tropes, and in the case of Mulengro (1985) a really neat blend of fantasy and thriller. Overall I was enjoying myself but I still hadn’t really been blown away by any of his books.

Then I hit Yarrow: An Autumn tale (1986) and everything changed. The novel focuses on a Canadian fantasy author named Cat Midhir, who is currently suffering from a bout of writer’s block. It turns out Cat has been using her dreams as inspiration for her work throughout her career, but now something has changed, something dangerous. I really don’t want to spoil the story even though it is now 28-years-old. What I will say is the story balances quite well between thriller and fantasy, and deals with questions of perception and reality as well, not to mention adding both a little comedy and a little eroticism into the mix as well.

With this book I can say that yes, I’m in it for the long haul and will be reading a De Lint book a month until I catch up (luckily, that is a lot of material before I have to slow down). Although I’ve never been to Ottawa (living in Edmonton), Mr. De Lint’s works make me wish I could travel to his Ottawa, a world of magic and wonder, with a feeling of danger beneath the surface.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Movie Review: Boyhood

This weekend I finally got around to seeing one of the movies I've been most excited to see in 2014, Richard Linklater's Boyhood.

The premise of the film is deceptively simple, it creates a drama following a boy from age six to eighteen, by creating a series of short vignettes, one for every year or so of his life, and filming in real time, over 12 years so that when the audience sees the film, they literally watch this boy (and his sister, and their parents) grow and age over the course of a dozen years.

Very much as with Michael Apted's Up Series the film works best over time, and as with that series I was mesmerized by the film as it's lead Mason (Ellar Coltrane), slowly but surely grows from an uncertain little boy into a young man on the cusp of adulthood.  

If you can see it do so, I loved it in the theatre and will be sure to get it once it's available on DVD or Blu-Ray as it is really unlike anything else I've seen in a long time.

Simply Wonderful.