Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl. Directed by Justin Chadwick & written by Peter Morgan.

Preconceptions: I knew we had this screeching change of pace coming in advance (I know, no vampires in the Other Boleyn Girl, I don't get it either), so I had a chance to look into the versions of the Other Boleyn Girl available to me: a Hollywood blockbuster with Scarlet Johansson and Natalie Portman or something done by the BBC. I decided on the BBC one before I got part of the way down the description of the Hollywood one. The BBC version suffered from a lot of issues, the worst of which was some truly bad directorial choices. There was a lot of spinning the camera around in a dizzying fashion and cutting to the present for no very good reason. It was a bit of a mess and not very entertaining. So I thought maybe I made the wrong choice, maybe this is the type of movie that would benefit from a bit of big budget spectacle. Besides, I like period pieces even when they're weak, so watching a second one was no big imposition.

General Review: It's rare that I get to see an idea castrated so totally. What I like about the Other Boleyn Girl is that it's the story of a wicked man and a wicked woman getting exactly what they deserve from each other, both of them choosing to ignore the better example of Mary (the good and, so, boring one). But this version of the movie decided it would be a good idea to weaken both Henry and Anne to try and make them relatable and make you feel sorry for them despite their consistent bad behaviour. Anne and Henry are most enjoyable as love-to-hate characters and softening them doesn't really make them more likable, it just makes them less fun. As it was, the first half of the movie wanted us to hate Anne for being a manipulative cow and feel a bit sorry for Henry for being a dolt. The second half wanted us to forgive Anne and shake our fists at Henry (who'd turned into a rapist). Do I even need to say that having a character get raped is a cheap way to make them more sympathetic? In the right hands a rape scene can jar me right off my desensitized throne (so can other well pulled off violence), but all this made me do was throw a pillow, cross my arms and scream "emotionally manipulative" at the TV (I'm afraid I make a ridiculous picture when I'm watching movies to review).

While I'm on the subject of the de-fanging (and I'll be on this for a while) why is it that so many movies can sexualize every damn thing except sex itself? Horseback riding? Sexy and fetishized to the point of Anne talking about clamping on things with her thighs. Bathing? Dressing? Highly sexual. But when we get down to the actual intercourse it could be two gauze clad boards rubbing against each other for all the passion the scenes evoke. The BBC version had its problems (oh boy did it, video blog style for something set in the 1500s? Pfft) but in it the sex scenes were at least sexy. I don't just mean they showed a bit of tit and male thigh (though they did) there was a sense of chemistry between the actors.

Finally, and I promise this is my last bit of railing on this point, Chadwick and Morgan wussed out on the incest. Yes, it hinks me out too, but that was an effective way of showing Anne's desperation and fear, unlike the ridiculous rape scene. If they were going to take it out entirely (because it's probably pretty inaccurate, historically) then they should have just been rid of it entirely. Teasing incest and then having the characters decide at the last minute that they can't do it is wimpy.

The movie wasn't entirely a toothless, neutered beast (only mostly) and some of the actors did show skill. Ana Torrent, playing Henry's first Queen Katherine was a cut above the rest of this flick. She had a strong presence and unlike a lot of the actors didn't just deliver her lines in an English accent and figure that was close enough to acting. The scene where she confronts Henry about divorcing her is the strongest the movie gets.Natalie Portman (who I have enjoyed in other things, though I think I may be the only one) didn't give a noteworthy performance. She wasn't exactly bad, but didn't raise herself much beyond being a coat rack that things happened around. I'd love to see her play another wicked witch character a few years down the road with a little more practice, I saw some glimmers of interesting talent. Scarlett Johansson was surprisingly good. Mostly, I just see her in things where she needs to be hot and not a whole lot else (the coat rack school of acting). Her skills weren't stunning in this, but she did manage to hold her own and there were some surprisingly good make-up effects to make her look haggard and not vixen-ly. I have a particular fondness for Eric Bana but there was definitely a part of me shrieking that he wasn't fat or old enough for the role. At least Bana isn't exactly the usual hunky type and I understand that casting someone who looks like Henry wouldn't lend itself to sexual charisma (though they made it work in the Sopranos so this might still be laziness).

In fact, laziness characterizes this movie over all. Anything chancy or scandalous has been snipped out of it and there weren't nearly enough stellar performances to dig it out of the ditch of boring. Sadly, you won't find the BBC version to be a whole lot better (though it is a lot racier). If these two movies could have been fused together there might have been something worth watching, the competence of the production of the Hollywood version melded with the willingness to be daring of the BBC version. Unfortunately, they haven't been and neither part stands on its own.

Aside: I know, I know that stupid B necklace was firmly placed in the book and possibly in history as well-but honestly is something that looks like this what you want your aristocratic character to be wearing?

While looking up "trashy letter necklace" to use in my comparison, the B necklace was on the second page. Clearly, I'm not alone in my thoughts on this matter.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 0-7432-2744-1


When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king, and take her fate into her own hands.

A rich and compelling tale of love, sex, ambition and intrigue, The Other Boleyn Girl introduces a woman of extraordinary determination and desire who lived at the heart of the most exciting and glamorous court in Europe and survived by following her own heart.


Aside:  What's this we're doing a movie / book crossover that doesn't involve vampires?  Next thing you know we'll be building snow forts in hell!

My Thoughts:

Oh where should I start? This was so trashy – and I don’t know why I was a little surprised since it’s a historical romance. If you happen to be following me on twitter, you might have seen me mention that it was like reading centuries’ old gossip. As such, it was a quick and mostly fun read, nothing to really think too deeply about (aside from my usual feminist musings which we’ll get to later, I know, you are just dying to get to that part!). And you know, my hat is off to Philippa Gregory – she wrote this 600+ page tome of a novel and I was fairly immersed in this English court from long ago and really more interested in this gossip about people long dead than I’d like to admit. I guess it speaks to our culture of voyeurism, we not only want to see into other people’s lives now through blogs and twitter, etc, but we also want to do the same with people in the past, even if we do so through a book that is a fictional account of history.

Alright, let me get on a different soap box here (I have so many to choose from!).

Let’s talk characters, shall we? It’s a pretty straight-forward plot with the kind of mudslinging and jostling for position that we all seem to expect when we talk about monarchies and courtiers. And we all know how things ended for Queen Anne, the poor dear. I have to say that I may have preferred to read this story from Anne’s point of view – or if not this particular novel, then I think I’d like to read a novel written from Anne’s point of view, because she seemed like the more interesting sister. Mary was sort of plain and naïve, always so naïve. I know that the blurb says she is determined and takes her fate into her own hands, but – and this might be a spoiler, I really can’t tell – she doesn’t do it alone. She meets a man who is according to everyone a “nobody” because he isn’t part of the gentry and he woos her with some pretty words and she follows him around. To me, that’s not really determination to change her life. I mean, sure she has to choose to defy everyone to marry someone who isn’t a courtier, but that doesn’t seem nearly as big an accomplishment as Anne deposing a born princess-turned-queen. Another character I think I need to address is that of King Henry VIII - I don't know why, but he is portrayed for a large part of the book as handsome and attractive. Now, maybe I don't know as much about King Henry as I should, but I was under the impression that he was a fat glutton of a man. Power is attractive, but to turn him into a young beautiful gentleman seems a bit much. He doesn't get to be fat until he's married to Anne, so when Mary is his mistress she keeps talking about how handsome he is and it really made me shake my head. I guess it's not romantic if you're sleeping with a fat glutton.

Maybe my problem is that I’m not used to reading romance novels or at least not these kinds of romance novels (I read my share of paranormal romance) and therefore I’m looking for a feminist heroine, a woman who follows through on what she wants to do – which would have been Anne. Sadly, at some parts Anne is simply vilified as the mean sister of the two. The end seems to take some of the earlier vilification away, and it’s important to remember that it’s all told from Mary’s point of view and sisters fight, but still, I wanted to read about Anne. I wanted to know what Anne thought and felt and did and the toll her life took on her. I wanted to read about the ambitious sister striving for the throne. I don’t know why I was looking for a feminist novel in a historical romance, but I was and that is simply a silly idea. This novel is not about feminism, it’s about entertainment.

Right, see, I warned you that there would be feminist talk.

Now, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this book for its entertainment value.  I enjoyed the gossipy nature of it, the portrayal of the striving court families and the things they were willing to do in order to gain favour with the king.  The writing was solid and (aside from Henry being attractive) I found the story and characters to be engaging and believable.

My overall opinion is that if you want to read some old, fictional gossip you might as well read this book. It’s a quick, easy read that (assuming you’re not trying to bed or wed an English king) will take your mind off life for a while. And I’m going to have to go in search of a novel about Anne Boleyn, where she is portrayed as ambitious and educated and witty and all those things will be positive attributes, even if they lead to her eventual downfall.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch. Directed & Written by George A. Romero.

Preconceptions: I've been a Romero fan since I was a blushing girl of 15. His blend of viscerally violent horror mixed with good dialogue and ham handed (to my grown up, more sophisticated sensibilities) satire have always cut to the core of what I enjoy. Plus, he was into zombies well before they were cool. His more recent movies have been a terrible let down, Diary of the Dead was clearly the journal of a sad old man who no longer understands what's cool and yells at his grandchildren to explain what a video blog is. After seeing that pathetic mess, I decided to finally treat myself. I've been saving Season of the Witch for a while, it's the only one of the old Romero films I haven't seen, so I settled in to be reminded what I love about horror.

General Review: Y'know, I don't know that I'd call Season of the Witch a horror film. I think if I'd gone into it knowing that I'd have liked it better. It was shot like a horror, felt like it was culminating to a horrific conclusion but ended up being more about liberation and self discovery. Actually, liberation and self discovery and how those things can come at a high price and still might leave you feeling lousy. I guess that's horrific in a way, but not so much in the zombies clawing at the window way that I was expecting.

Season of the Witch was shot very much in that tight, occasionally delusional style that I like so well. It had a number of bizarre symbolic dream sequences that reminded me both of the Prisoner for their strangeness and the Stepford Wives for their ability to make the everyday sinister and frightening. The dream sequences were by far the most effective part of the movie. Close shots, strange sound effects and frantic, half hidden action all made for memorable visuals. The reoccurring themes and images the occur in and outside of the dreams also worked well.

Unfortunately, this movie really lacked in action. I've since read that Romero didn't really care for this one, saying that he didn't get the performance out of the actors that he was looking for. I thought the actors were fine, Jan White (who played the lead) in particular. But her haunting eyes and well-portrayed disdain for her life of 70's wife-ery didn't save several long-ass scenes that didn't go anywhere. I understand that Romero wanted us to feel the same loathing for both the hippie douchebags and the middle class douchebags (ah there is the delightfully heavy hand of Romero social commentary), but when I want to be involved in a boring party or mean trick on a house wife, I'm perfectly capable of staging either. I don't need to be present for every agonizing minute of it. What was more irksome was that once I'd gotten through the dull party and into the witching not much happened there either. Sitting quietly at a table and chanting doesn't make for a whole lot of tension. I think we were meant to buy that Jan White had abused her witch-ay woman powers and was being punished for it with bad dreams-but this was just confusing since she started the movie with bad dreams, before she every tried the dark arts. Also, a character being afraid of their dreams and not doing anything about it doesn't really constitute action, either. I saw the longer cut (by Anchor Bay) of the movie thinking that I was in good hands, but maybe the shorter version would have been less frustrating.

I can't, in good conscience, recommend Season of the Witch. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of things I liked about it. I liked the complexity of the idea that freeing yourself from an oppressive society maybe isn't as great as it's made out to be. I loved the dream sequences and Jan White, whose presence carried a movie that was very nearly a one-hander (no, shockingly I'm not talking about that, this time). But when a movie that's only a little over an hour and a half drags there is clearly a problem with the plot or pacing. This movie needed more going on in it, something at stake and it flailed around looking for these things and never found them.

Aside: On a more superficial note, if your lead is supposed to be aging and realizing her daughter is younger and hotter than her, perhaps you could cast someone who looks significantly younger and hotter to play the daughter.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Blood and Iron: A Novel of the Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear

Blood and Iron: A Novel of the Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear
ISBN: 978-0-451-46217-6


For centuries, the human Mages of the Prometheus Club and the otherworldly creatures of Faerie have battled for control of Earth’s destiny, with neither side capable of achieving victory over the other.

Their impasse has come to an end...

She is known as Seeker. Spellbound by the Faerie Queen, she has abducted human children for her mistress’ pleasure for what seems like an eternity, unable to free herself from her servitude and reclaim her own humanity.

Seeker’s latest prey is a Merlin. Named after the legendary wizard of Camelot, Merlins are not simply those who wield magic – they are magic. Now, with the Prometheus Club’s agents and rivals from Faerie also vying for the favor of this being of limitless magic to tip the balance of power, Seeker must persuade the Merlin to join her cause...or else risk losing something even more precious and more important to her than the fate of humankind.


My Thoughts:

I came across Elizabeth Bear’s work in the Lovecraft Unbound anthology and was really taken with her story – probably my second favourite in the book after the Caitlin R. Kiernan piece – so I thought I’d track down one of her novels. Blood and Iron seemed like the best candidate based on my personal preference for Fantasy of Science Fiction and I have to say I am rather pleased that I picked it up, because it’s a really good book.

However, I’m going to start with my two smallish gripes. The first is that at times I felt like I was reading the second book in a series rather than the actual beginning. It seemed like there was a lot of back-story that I was missing and that would have added to my understanding of the characters. As the story progressed and more details were filled in, that feeling lessened. The second is that about halfway through the book the Seeker sections (Seeker is the central character of the novel) switch from third person to first person point of view, which threw me for a bit of a loop. There is a narrative reason for this that I won’t give away, but it was startling when it happened. Once I got over the initial flinch of the switch, I actually really appreciate the way Bear added a layer of meaning through this shift.

Now for all of the wonderful things!

Blood and Iron is a gripping story about faeries and mages and the conflict between humans and the unknown. It’s a story about stories and what is “real” and about love and loyalty and the cost and consequences of our decisions. It’s so many things all wrapped up in a neat urban-fantasy bundle. I’m actually a little sad that I didn’t know about Bear’s books before now, because this type of faerie story is what I crave when I read something like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry books and that I don’t get from those at all. Yes, there was sex in this book, but it mostly happened off-stage, acknowledged but not the focus of the story. Instead, the focus was on the characters and how their decisions shaped the world around them, both on the side of the human mages and on the side of the faeries.

The characters kept me interested and I enjoyed watching them grow and change and sacrifice all in the name of survival, because both sides know that they can’t truly win. I also liked that there was an attempt made to strike a balance to show why both sides are the way they are – my feeling stayed with the faeries throughout – but Bear did make a clear effort to show the reasoning behind the actions of the Prometheus Club and did an admirable job of making them accessible and human (you, know, making the humans human as we must so often do). Another aspect I really enjoyed was the references to mythology and Arthurian legend, which seem appropriate to a fairy tale.

Okay, I have to stop or I’m just going to keep going on about all the little things I liked so much about this novel. I will conclude with saying that if you’re interested in urban fantasy, faeries, or Arthurian legend you may need to check this out.

Aside: I don’t know what it is but Vlad the Impaler is stalking me in literature – yet another book where he is mentioned at least in passing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shawn O'Rouke Does Locke and Key

Locke and Key written by Joe Hill. Reviewed by Shawn O'Rouke.

The back-cover copy of Joe Hill’s horrifying bestseller, Heart-Shaped Box - recently and superbly reviewed by Doomwench - has a blurb from master-storyteller, Neil Gaiman. You open the book and there prefacing the first chapter is a quotation from Alan Moore, author of The Watchmen, V for Vendetta and countless other seminal works of graphic fiction. It certainly doesn’t take the world’s greatest detective to realize that the author must be a fan of comic books. This deduction is only reinforced when one reads the author’s earlier collection, 20th Century Ghosts, in which one story, "The Cape", offers a dark re-imagining of the superhero story. With such obvious connections to the medium, it seemed inevitable to fans of Hill that the writer would eventually find his way into writing comics. Fortunately, their wait was a short one. Hill made his first foray in the comic book world with the Eisner-nominated series, Locke and Key. Published by IDW, an imprint noted particularly for its horror comics, the series is broken into books, the third of which has just been released in a collected edition. 

Locke and Key is the story of a family trying to rebuild itself in the wake of tragedy, plagued by ghosts from the past - both real and internal - and seeking refuge in a magical house called Lovecraft. The story is terrifying, with its foundation firmly embedded in the horror genre but also cleverly weaving in the tropes from fantasy and young adult fiction. While some prose writers rely on assistance from established comic book creators to guide them while taking their first tentative steps into the medium, Hill shows that his skills as a creator are equal to the task, and he handles the transition with ease. His narrative style flourishes in the comic book medium where the artwork is able to capture the nuance and emotional depths, delving deeply into the nature of grief, fear, and guilt with a subtlety that demands the reader’s involvement in a way denied by limitations of prose. In a very real way, although Hill’s books are wonderful, a part of his creativity has not just found a home in comics, but been liberated by them. 

The artwork by Gabriel Rodriguez expertly captures the surreal sense of unease that permeates all the panels, ubiquitous and ever-present even in the sequences that are not overtly meant to frighten. To some degree, he does his job too well. The story has many plots that involve scenes of extreme violence, and Rodriguez captures those moments in a way that is not just terrifying, but disturbing. These moments are not meant to be voyeuristic like cheesy slasher films where the viewer can experience and explore violence as both perpetrator and victim in a safe fantasy world; these are all-too-real and force the reader to confront a brutality that while contextually fictional, painfully replicates a very present part of the world.

Despite the artwork that sometimes makes you want to put the book down and go outside into the sunshine, the story keeps demanding that it be completed. Although replete with fascinating characters and evil villains in extreme situations, it also meditates on the themes of loss and regret in a way that is immediately relatable. Hill explores these crucial emotions by examining the nature of memory with the visual symbolism of the locked doors and the keys which open them. 

For those who enjoy complex characters, Locke and Key has plenty to offer. The story jumps between a multitude of different perspectives, including the villains’, and gives the requisite time and attention to explore their motivations and make them real. Hill expertly divides the majority of his time to the three protagonists, seamlessly transitioning between the angst of teens - which has been compounded by a past tragedy -, and the whimsy and naivete of youth, with its surprising ability to endure even in the darkest times. Such is the level of genuine care in the construction of these characters, that there is no blurring of the respective rolls accorded to each: you hate who Hill wants you to hate, and you love who Hill wants you to love. 

With Locke and Key, Joe Hill has been able to make a transition that is no doubt the envy of many fanboys and girls (including myself); he has left the world of the comic book fan, hinted at with his earlier works, and become a highly acclaimed comic book creator. This story is a wonderful synthesis of the skills he honed as a writer of prose, wedded to the style and structure of the medium he clearly loves. Thus far three collections have been released, Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, and Crown of Shadows - all excellent reads, well-worth your time and money.

Final Thoughts:

This review is a little more gushing than the ones I typically write. There is a school of thought in criticism that admonishes the writer to separate the critic in them from the fan - as if to enjoy something is somehow an abdication of the roll we’ve been assigned (or assigned ourselves). While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that interpretation, I don’t completely eschew it either. However, when given a chance to write something for the folks at Girl on Book Action, I decided to review something I genuinely loved as a thank you for the opportunity. Consequently, I wrote with a little more fanboy enthusiasm than I might have normally, but I assure the readers that the book is truly worth the praise I’ve given it.


When Shawn isn't being wrangled by crazy women into writing for their blog, he's writing his own at the Uncertain Future of the Printed Word or other comic reviews at Popmatters. We heartily endorse his efforts and so should you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Announcement: Upcoming Guest Post By Shawn O'Rourke

It's a link heavy week here at Girl On Book Action as Doomwench went out into the wilderness to do a guest spot at one of our brother blogs the Uncertain Future of the Printed Word (a fair and balanced look at the books/e-readers controversy). You can find her biased (oh I kid) but beautifully written piece here. We decided (after great debate because over our writer's room door there is a no boyz allud sign) to ask Shawn to do a guest review for us. He kindly agreed to dress in drag while writing it so as not to entirely throw off our written by women atmosphere. He is, to steal a joke from Matt Elser (of ElserArt) our guest *ahem* member.

A (very) little info about Shawn to whet your appetite for the guest blog (posting August 20th): Shawn O'Rourke currently teaches in the Speech Communication Department at Orange Coast College and writes reviews on comic books for the website Popmatters.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Links: Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury

We here at Girl On Book Action try to mostly just share our own content and not flood you with the internet phenomena of the week. But occasionally some links are just too perfectly aligned with our mission statement not to share, so here is Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury by Rachel Bloom (with thanks to AAlgar and the Twitterverse in general for sharing):

Weeks Too Late: Ink

Ink. Written & Directed by Jamin Winans.

Preconceptions: Here comes another one of my shot in the dark reviews. Yes, in order to pluck the gems out of the squalor I've picked another movie I hadn't heard of that looked interesting, basically at random. This has worked out well for me in the past, right? Not a whole lot of preconceptions for this movie, except that I knew it was a bit popular online and that I thought it was animated (it really wasn't, not really sure where that one came from).

General Review: Well, cupcakes, you might not know what the basic plot of this one is, because it is independent and mostly released online. This is normally the point where I give you a helpful plot summary, but since in this case that will entirely spoil the movie, I'm not gonna. You've been reading for some months now and reading a blog for that long surely means you've given me your unstinting, blind trust, right? Of course you have! It's practically contractual.

Now that I'm assured of your faith in my taste, I want to give this flick a big thumbs up. I've seen a good chunk of smart movies in my time, but I haven't seen a ton of smart movies that acknowledge that the audience isn't mostly brain dead. Ink expects you to be able to understand basic narrative flow, be able to fill in any niggling gaps with your own well thought-out suppositions and generally keep up with a fast pace of information. While I've certainly seen any number of entertaining movies, it's a rare one that sparks my brain into action and expects me to give a little effort back. This movie walked the tiny line between being irritatingly artsy and confusing and spoon-feeding obvious information to the audience (I know it sounds like a great big highway of a line, but me oh my, it isn't). The story takes a number of the rather tarnished standard plot points and gives them the polishing they've needed for ages.

Quinn Hunchar is one of the better child actors I've ever seen at work. She had a good script to work with, but it was her charm and skill that made me give a damn about what happened to her. Given that there are tumblers of water that have more maternal instinct than me, it was an impressive feat. She managed to stay childlike, like an actual child, not the syrupy precocious automaton I've come to expect from movies. The close relationship between her and her father was set up in one brief, well constructed scene. I've seen entire movies that didn't set up relationships this well. While we're continuing to talk about difficult things this movie managed to do, lets round it out with a third: Jennifer Batter played a believable chick warrior character. She wasn't any of the stereotypes that I've grown so DVD-turning-off-ily sick of. She wasn't distant and heartless with a fiery libido just waiting for a man to match her, she wasn't the femme fatale and she wasn't just Conan in drag. Again, equal parts writing and acting (and good costuming, which was consistently good throughout), but Batter made me believe that she was a person as well as an ass kicker.

Ink uses a lot of hand held camera work and heavy colour washes. These are two things that usually make me pause and put my head between my knees. It wasn't the violence, but the washed out shakiness of Saving Private Ryan that made me feel sick. While I certainly can't promise that Ink will be the exception to vertigo for you, it was for me. Yes, the camera work is shaky and a bit undecided about what it wants to be looking at from second to second, but this is one of the rare cases I've seen in which that works. And if I ever say that about hand held camera again, may the back of my head be firmly smacked. The camera work and good choreography also managed to give the fight scenes the feeling of jumbled claustrophobia that so many movies seem to be trying for and failing.

Let me conclude my gushing with a discussion of the special effects. My irrational love for 70s horror has given me a real appreciation for doing a lot with the minor effects budget you have. A well-constructed trick on iMovie can easily be more appealing and realistic than something done for millions of dollars by a high end effects house. A simple set of hand held drums opens portals with a small flash of light and colour washes tell us what world we're in (tired of me hinting at story elements yet?). The effects in this movie are simply done but ultimately effective (I always had a pretty good idea of what the hell was supposed to be going on) and looked really cool as well.

One of the few complaints I have about Ink is that the link between the second and third act drag. There is a twenty minute period before we get to the climax where my interest started to wander. Don't worry, it's over quickly and we're right back into great movie.

Despite being an indy film, if I've piqued your interest, you don't have to wait for it to come to whatever theater plays weird movies nearby. You can get Ink in a number of ways on the Double Edge Films website, including renting it on YouTube for two bucks (hey, that's what rentals used to cost when I was a girl, I'm not getting old, who says that I am?). You will find those two bucks to be well spent. In case you hadn't noticed, this movie has my glowing-est endorsement. It's clever, funny and beautiful. Not to mention it proved me wrong about hand held camera being a blight upon film making, though the film industry should not take this as a challenge to make me care about bullet time again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
ISBN: 978-0-06-114794-4


“I will ‘sell’ my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder...”

An aging death-metal rock god, Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals...a used hangman’s noose...a snuff film. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as an item he learns is for sale on the Internet. For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by the deceased’s restless spirit. Judas has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts – of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed – so what’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary of metaphorical ghost, it’s the real thing. And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere – behind the bedroom door...seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang...staring out from his widescreen TV – dangling a gleaming razor blade on a chain from one hand...


My Thoughts:

So I’ve heard many good things about the writing of Joe Hill, in regard to both Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, but I have to say, I’m a little disappointed.

The book was creepy, I will admit to that. I made a point of not reading it before bed, but the end sort of ruined all of that for me. It was just...a letdown. Everything wrapped up too neatly. It made me think back to seeing the Silent Hill movie: there were some awesomely creepy parts, like with the nurses in the basement (you know what I’m talking about if you sat through this flick), but the end totally destroyed whatever feeling of unease had been created earlier on. The same is true for this book. Make of that what you will.

The thing about this novel is that while I was reading it I enjoyed it okay, but the more I think about it the more problems I find with it. The review is going to be largely negative when I didn’t necessarily hate what I was reading at the time. All the issues I’m going to discuss I noticed as I was making my way through the story, but they didn’t seem that prevalent in the midst of things. This small fact is a point in Hill's favour, as the atmosphere kept me preoccupied enough not to notice how certain details really rubbed me the wrong way. Upon reflection, however, I’m really questioning the whole thing.

For one, I didn’t like the representation of the female characters at all and of “Goth girls” in general. Jude sees them all as interchangeable and doesn’t even use their names, but instead refers to them as whatever State they’re from and that really bothered me. And that wasn’t the whole of it – to Jude, they all basically had the same history with a few variations and he didn’t allow for them to be individuals with personalities. They were just Goth girls; one is much like the next to him. When he starts to conflate Anna / Florida (his ex) and Marybeth / Georgia (his current) into one person the whole thing got even worse. Women, no matter how they dress, are not interchangeable. My feminist hackles were raised, to say the least.

This was my major problem with Heart-Shaped Box, but as it ran throughout the book it was a constant one. The more I think about it, the more I get the sense that this callousness in Jude might actually be more frightening than the vengeful ghost. While this is (hopefully) deliberate on the part of Hill to make a flawed character, he overshoots the mark and makes Jude too much of a bad guy. You don't want him to succeed or be happy, you don't care about his well-being. You get the feeling that he deserves what's coming to him.

The writing was actually pretty good and was a big reason for not putting the book down. The pacing was spot on and kept me turning pages. At times, I could feel my heart start to race with the action. So clearly, Joe Hill has some solid writing skills.

I guess my overall impression is that I wish the ending hadn’t taken so much away from the rest of the book. If I had been more satisfied with how the story ended I might not have been so critical of the content, because, let’s face it, I’m all about narrative satisfaction and I didn’t get that here. My suspension of disbelief did not survive the ending of this book. Everything wrapped up too neatly, and was too sugary-sweet. It just didn't work. So, I don’t really feel that I can recommend it, though if you wanted to read it and stop reading with about 20 pages left you might not come away with the sense of being let down that still lingers with me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Amazing Screw-On Head

The Amazing Screw-On Head. Directed by Chris Prynoski & Written by Bryan Fuller.

Aside: Not exactly a movie this week. The Amazing Screw-On Head was a sort of pilot/proof of concept created in the hopes of doing a continuing animated series. This didn't pan out and so it became a weird little DVD release.

Preconceptions: I dig me some Mike Mignola (who wrote the comic this was based on) and I dig me some Hellboy (his major comic series) but I was underwhelmed by the Hellboy movies. Yeah, Guillermo del Toro makes a damned pretty movie, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that he can't make a layered and complicated movie (excepting the visuals). Despite my derision, it also occurred to me that a comic that leans heavily towards exposition and people sitting in dark rooms talking about mythology and the occult might not be the best choice to adapt faithfully as an action movie (despite all the falling off cliffs). The source material for this show was less heavy into various mythos, but there is still more than a little of chatty time and people explaining their origins. It's a hilarious read, but again, might not make the best choice for an adaptation.

General Review: Yeah, yeah, it's less funny when I talk about how much I clapped my hands and bounced in my seat with joy, but I don't want to lie to you, cupcakes. Since this came out in 2006, I'm probably late to the clap/bounce party, but I intend to join in now and see if I can find any left over snackies behind the empty booze bottles.

Credit where it's due, the expository sequences managed to cram in a whole pile of world building and character history in a short space of time, never slowing things down or being dull (which is in the nature of exposition). The fact that it remained blackly hilarious and tongue in cheek probably helped. So, kudos boys, you beat the snot out of the Hellboy movie team. The voice acting was also top notch with David Hyde Pierce as the likable elitist bad guy (who'd have thought?) and Paul Giamatti capturing the old time-y radio hero quality of Mr. Head.

The only major complaint is that the animation was limited. Corners were pretty obviously cut to make it more affordable. There were action sequences that had a jerky, unfinished Flash quality to them. Fortunately, the budget was well spent in the character and set designs, which made the animation issues a lot less glaring. And hell, it was a pilot, so maybe the intention was to flesh it out if they got picked up (which, curses, they didn't). It's easy to forgive a hefty amount of flaws in animation if the result is something this funny and cool looking. And cool looking it was. They took the intricate backgrounds that Mignola is famous for and put them to excellent use.

It was also surprisingly graphic, I thought since cartoons are often marketed to kids (who don't deserve them) that the boobs and blood would be bleached out (much to the dismay of the kids). This wasn't the case, it contained the horrible, emaciated, naked old women that I love so well in Mignola's comics. Not to mention a healthy amount of swording and impaling.

If this review reads a little short, well it's a twenty two minute pilot and I didn't want to squeeze all the life out it with my vivisection (though if I did, I suppose it'd then become a dissection). If you were like me and totally oblivious to its existence, the Amazing Screw-On Head is well worth a look. It's darkly funny and true to the source material in tone and visuals (and if you haven't seen Mignola's drawings, have a look they're very cool).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Feed by Mira Grant

Feed by Mira Grant
ISBN: 978-0-316-08105-4


“Alive or dead, the truth won’t rest. My name is Georgia Mason, and I’m begging you. Rise up while you can.”

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we had created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives – the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.


My Thoughts:

Have I mentioned that I rather love zombies? Well, I do. I’ve read Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide multiple times (actually, I’m due a re-read for the sake of being prepared) and I adored his World War Z. I’ve been on the look-out for more zombie fiction, while being aware that there might be certain limits to this genre. I mean, how many times can you tell the same story of survival in the face of the hordes of the walking dead before you run out of different ways to tell it? Well, Feed delivers a good story – but it’s not the story of the immediate aftermath of the dead rising. Instead, it shows how North American society has survived and adapted to a world affected by a massive zombie uprising. In that respect, it’s similar to World War Z. Anyway, I’m not here to write a comparison.

From the very beginning, I was pulled into the story by the strength of the first person narrator’s personality. The character was appealing and felt more like a real person than a fictional creation. Since blogging is a key part of the book, the feeling that I was reading Georgia Mason’s blog rather than a novel may have been intentional on the author’s part (to clarify: the novel wasn't written as a blog, it just had that personal feeling). If it was, it worked for me. I liked Georgia and her voice, her no-nonsense attitude and her commitment to the truth regardless of the cost. She is someone I came to admire. That’s quite the feat. I want to be friends with Georgia Mason and she doesn’t even exist. That’s either good writing, or an indication that I need to get out more. The supporting characters are also three-dimensional and you care about their well-being, too. All of them are very human and therefore full of surprises.

Another aspect that helped with the overall feel and appeal of the book was the use of blogging, not only as a narrative device, but also as a way in which society changed due to the zombie infestation. Most zombie stories, whether in books, movies or comics deal with the complete destruction of our current way of life. Our technologies abandoned in a desperate fight for survival in conditions bordering on the medieval, but that didn’t happen in Feed. Instead, tech is alive and well and bloggers are the new source for reliable news and glimpses of the world beyond the relative safety of the outposts of humanity. As much as I love me a good zombie apocalypse, seeing a scenario that wasn’t about complete destruction was refreshing. It also made me wish I were a better blogger with more interesting things to tell you about than awesome books (I bet you’d prefer frontline zombie reporting).

I also enjoyed some of the pop-culture references – for instance, Grant includes a rather nice reference to Joss Whedon’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and she mentions San Diego Comic-Con. Oh, and George Romero saved the world! All of these little things make the story more believable, more compelling. I could see the possibility of this world in our future.

I have no complaints story-wise, but I do have a couple of things to nitpick (you knew I’d get to this eventually). The format of the book bothered me – it’s tall, like a trade paperback, but the width was that of a mass-market paperback, which made the book feel weird in my hands as I was reading it. I got used to it after a while, but the first 100 pages felt odd. I did like the cover. My only other complaint is one you should be used to seeing from me by now: there were typos! Not that many actually, but I did notice. It probably makes me petty that they bother me so much, but they really do.

Alright, let me wrap this up. I think one of the key things I take away from this novel is that I really, really need to learn the lesson that if I’m reading a zombie novel I should not get emotionally attached to the characters, no matter how compelling they are, because it’ll only lead to being sad when they get chomped. Secondly, the world doesn’t have to end, humanity might prevail. We’ve all seen enough zombie movies to get the basic idea of how to kill one of them. I better make sure to re-read the Zombie Survival Guide to brush up on preparedness measures. Off I go!

PS: If you like the icons you can get them at the Feed website under "Extras": Click for the Feed

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Boy of the Month - Ewan McGregor

Where you know him from:
  1. He was that douchebag on "Trainspotting"
  2. He was young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the horrible Star Wars prequels
  3. He was Christian the Penniless Poet in "Moulin Rouge!" (I'm not shouting... the name of the movie includes the exclamation point. Gotta love Baz Luhrmann!)

Why I think he's dreamy:

I can pin down the start of my one-way love affair with Mr. McGregor precisely to March 24th, 2002. The day before had been a group birthday party for me and two of my bestest girlfriends, and lots of people stayed the night. The next morning, all the girls watched Moulin Rouge (while the boys did something else for fear of contracting estrogen poisoning or something.) As soon as I heard dear Ewan open his mouth and sing, I fell madly, deeply in obsession with him.

(This scene still gives me chills.)

I had actually seen our boy in many films previous to this, but never really paid attention to him until that precise moment. Of course then I went on a Ewan-watching binge, and watched everything I could get my hot little hands on starring my new love.

Ewan is currently number two on my top five list, and only that low because of my complete and utter devotion to Mr. David Tennant (both of whom are Scottish. And adorable. Notice a trend?) There is something about Ewan though, something mischievous about his eyes, something playful about his demeanor, that is powerfully attractive to me. He is also quite a good little actor, if given material that's worth a damn. And, sometimes even not then... I still think he was the best part of the horrible Star Wars prequels, especially in "Revenge of the Sith". (The tag line for that should have been "New Star Wars: Now with Actual Acting!")

Another fun thing about Mr. McGregor is he seems to have no problem doing full-frontal nude scenes. He appears to be quite proud of his bits, and, may I say, with good reason. See below for some of my favorite films starring Ewan's tender bits.

Recommended Viewing:

If you have seen the previously mentioned films and are hungering for more Ewan, I am just the person to recommend some movies for you! First, let's go way back to 1994 and a wicked little darkly comedic thriller called "Shallow Grave", which stars Ewan and his lovely hair.

Next you'll want to move right along to 1998's "Velvet Goldmine", a Todd Haynes flick based loosely on real events during the early glam rock stage of the 70's. In addition to Ewan, this film also stars Christian Bale and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with a cameo by Eddie Izzard. Seriously, why haven't you already seen this??? Be warned that there are some fairly graphic bits and lots of nudity, especially the part my hubby likes to describe as the "Obi-Wan is f%*#ing Batman" scene.

The last of the more obscure Ewan films I would recommend is "The Pillow Book". It's a moody drama centered around body-painting, a harmless fetish taken, in this case, to its artistic extreme. The film is a sensual exploration into the nature of sensuality, literature, love and revenge. Also, there is a really long scene of Ewan wandering about nude. In context, it is not particularly titillating, so here is an out-of-context picture for you to ogle.

My "guilty pleasure" Ewan film is "Down With Love", because I love the old romantic comedies that this movie pays homage to, and also, because David Hyde Pierce is hilarious in it.

In Conclusion:
Don't mind me, I'll be over here watching The Pillow Book and Velvet Goldmine again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Salem's Lot

Salem's Lot. Directed by Tobe Hooper & Written by Paul Monash.

Preconceptions: Most of my favourite horror movies were made in the 70's. There is something in the way they're shot and the grain of the film that sets me on edge and makes me feel as though the events are actually happening. This isn't nostalgia, since the idea of my birth wasn't even yet being cursed by my family. One of my numerous (and crotchety) problems with the majority of recent horror is the number of filters and HD crispness, in endeavoring to look real the flicks end up looking so pristine that they're clearly fake. I was delighted to realise that I had a giant hole in horror viewing, because I hadn't seen Salem's Lot. Yes, it's technically a TV mini-series, but given that it's such a long story giving it more screen time sounded like a good thing. I quite enjoyed Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more recently his contribution to Masters of Horror (the first show I'd resurrect from the dead using powers man was not meant to know, if y'know, I worked on getting them instead of watching movies).

General Review
: I wish I could say that this movie neatly fell into a slot between the Stepford Wives, Dawn of the Dead and Last House on the Left. I guess I should have known better, given that none of my horror buff friends had recommended it and the fact that the horror genre has a tendency to pull the football away from me at the last minute (no, this time it won't for

While I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, one of the things I think he does better than a lot of writers is filling a town full of believable people rather than carbon copy NPCs who might as well be trash bags full of blood with smiley faces drawn on them. When they start getting mowed down by the serial killer, monster or plague which makes it a lot more meaningful and frightening (no matter what Doomwench might have to say on the issue). At the outset I figured that the tapeworm length of Salem's Lot was a selling feature. There would be time to flesh out a number of characters aside from the main guy and his love interest (because there is always a love interest) so that I'd feel concern and suspense when Nosferatu came a-scratching at their windows.

Oh horror movies, why do I even hope? I'm beginning to think this journal is a round about intervention by Doomwench to get me to finally give in to pattern recognition and give up on them entirely (my co-writer is very tricksy). So no, the additional time (Salem's Lot being about an hour and a half longer than it needed to be) did not build up the side characters. Hells bells, it didn't build up the main characters. Mostly, what the extra time meant was that there were long arguments about whether crates should be opened, whether crates had moved and whether crates were colder than the surrounding air. Hooper, Monash do you have something you'd like to tell us about crates? Some sort of unnatural love? Were your parents murdered by crates? Were you given a crate as a pet (ala Portal) that was horribly mangled and this movie was a loving tribute? Whatever the reason, we spent a lot more time talking about crates than we did setting up: atmosphere, the heroic nature of our protagonist, the shady history of the town.

While I'm mentioning the main character, if you want several characters to notice how devastatingly handsome he is, perhaps don't pick an actor with a clearly receding hairline and a little paunch. I'm a fan of the everyman actor who isn't more of a sculpture than a man, but women shouldn't be double taking when he walks by. Even if I suspended this particular bit of disbelief, there is the performance of the entire cast to contend with. The townsfolk were such cartoon hicks that I expected them to tie a rocking chair to their cars any moment. The main kid (as well as looking like a baboon) refused to use contractions in a way that I guess was supposed to make him seem intelligent, but mostly made him seem as though he was from another movie. The love interest was more of a coat rack than an actor (perhaps she started the school that Keanu Reeves attended). She spent most of the movie trailing after other characters looking vacant and occasionally putting her hands to her lips to indicate surprise or fear.

Despite being terrible, there were a few brief moments of the gripping, challenging horror that characterized my favourite movies of the time (a few 20 year old spoilers to follow). Our hero leaves his love interest behind, choosing to sacrifice her to the monsters and burn her alive in order to destroy the vampires. Her screams as we cut away were one of the scariest moments of the movie. Another one of the few bright spots is the first time we see a vampire. The make-up is surprisingly subtle and corpse-like and the effect of him floating outside his brother's window is menacing. Unfortunately, these are buried in hours of go nowhere plot and a main vampire who looks far too ridiculous to be a threat.

Don't fall for the same trap I did. This movie is nothing like the other great horrors that came out around the same time or the good Stephen King adaptations. It's a movie that somehow confuses standing and looking at something as atmosphere and long repetitive arguments as dialogue. It's a movie that has no monsters for the first half and nothing else to add suspense or interest until they show up. It is a waste of three hours.