Thursday, September 30, 2010

Boy of the Month: Tim Roth

Where you know him from:
  1. The better recent "Hulk" movie
  2. That "Lie to Me" show on Fox
  3. "Pumpkin" on Pulp Fiction
Why I think he's dreamy:

First of all, I know what you're thinking. Sure, Mr. Roth would more properly be called the "Man of the Month", but I'm not changing the name of the column now. But if I were to change it for anyone, oh boy, it would be Tim Roth. He is 5' 7"of ALL MAN.

I first became aware of Mr. Roth while watching "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover". It is still one of my favorite movies, and while Tim Roth's performance was wonderfully brutish (as was called for in the role), he is only a small reason why I enjoy the film. Still, it did put him on my radar. His appearance in "Reservoir Dogs" cemented him as one of my favorite living actors.

While most of the male celebrities I enjoy tend to be a little "girly", at least according to my friends, Tim Roth does not fit that mold. This is less a giggly schoolgirl-type crush, and a more animal sort of instinct. Something about this man makes me think that if you were to go to bed with him, he would rip you apart and make you like it. Also, he has gorgeous tattoos. Now pardon me for a moment while I recover on my fainting couch.

Recommended viewing:

If you haven't see the aforementioned "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover", I highly, highly recommend it. Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon are fabulous in it, and the costumes and set design are amazing. Though I find it difficult to belief anyone with an interest in film would have skipped "Reservoir Dogs", let me take this opportunity to remind you to add it to your Netflix queue if you have not.

I'd also recommend "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", a film that occurs, as it were, in the "background" of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". It's an interesting metaphysical interlude in which Roth stars as Guildenstern, and the wonderful Gary Oldman plays Rosencrantz (or is it the other way around?)

If you have mor
e main-stream tastes, check him out as the Abomination in the more recent of the two recent "Hulk" films. As for his television show "Lie to Me", if you like "House", you will probably like it. (Yes, I like them both, but I have a thing for emotionally and/or physically crippled geniuses, so take that under consideration.)

In Summation:
As one of the better actors I have featured in this column (if not the best), Tim Roth has an interesting body of work should you want to study him further. Though he has appeared in some clunkers (the awful Tim Burton "Planet of the Apes", the useless American remake of "Funny Games", it's never his performance that causes those movie to fail artistically. And he does appear to have a bit of a sense of humor, as seen in the "Brostitute" faux documentary.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Night Watch

Night Watch. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov & written by Timur Bekmambetov & Laeta Kalogridis.

Preconceptions: Ahhh, finally back to something we're more comfortable with for the duo review. Night Watch is chalk full of vampires and absolutely devoid of court politics, I feel more at home already. It's also one of those sad instances were I've read the book long before I've seen the movie. I'll endeavor, as usual, not to make this a dull compare and contrast review. However, I am excited to see it as a flick because though I enjoyed the complex, ethics questioning novel I found the dialogue almost unbearable. Being completely unable to read Russian, I can't say whether this was bad translation or a weakness in Lukyanenko's writing. Either way, I expect it'll be cleaned up for the movie. I admit, I was only able to get a hold of the dubbed copy and this is one of those movies where, I've been told, getting the perfect version of it does make a difference (the Blade Runner Syndrome). They do some artsy and unique things with the subtitles in certain versions, but it's extraordinarily difficult to get your hands on. I'm not going to go bootleg diving for a review, since I think a movie should be able to stand on its official release merits.

General Review: Night Watch was a mixed bag of candy. There were the cherry gummy bear flavoured casting choices and visuals, but it there were also the foul licorice all-sorts of bad writing.

Some of the blame for the writing can be put squarely on the shoulders of Laeta Kalogridis who did the English translations. Despite my hopes, the dialogue was as stilted as it was in the book. The slang was outdated and the swearing used awkwardly and to poor effect. I'm sure that Timur Bekmambetov was adding black licorice to my experience as well, though, because there were scenes without any dialogue that were confusing and poorly executed. One of the climaxes of the movie (because interestingly, there are two) shows Sveltlana coming to the realisation that there is magic in the world and that she's a part of it. After being alternately frightened of and bulled by Anton she suddenly trusts him implicitly enough to change her entire world view. Her motivations and abrupt change in beliefs utterly snap the suspension bridge of my disbelief.

Visually, Night Watch seemed very experimental. Like all experiments, there were successes and failures. It had some of the better shape changing effects that I've seen and it used two completely different methods for each change. Given that I'm accustomed to the ugly, fake-y looking shape shifts American Werewolf in Paris and Buffy, having two distinctive, pleasing styles of shape shifting is a coup. The effect of the vortex of birds over Sveltana's house was impressive and realistic. Now that I think of it, so was the very Perseus vs Medusa fight, where a vampire disappeared and Anton could only see him in a shard of mirror. The hand held camera work (and of course there was some) was about half and half, well used in the claustrophobic subway and irritating in fight scenes (not to mention nausea inducing).

The casting choices in Night Watch were great. Konstantin Khabenskiy was excellent as Anton. His portrayal of the complex character was believable. And something unexpected that was kept from the book was that he had a genuinely dark past. Not the usual Hollywood situations where you could see doing the same under the circumstances. Nope, Anton begins as a self-absorbed, fetus strangling prick. He isn't the typical five o'clock shadow sporting anti-hero we're meant to love and implicitly trust. He's seeking redemption for his actually horrific acts (and due to a pathetic, but well executed, obedience to a strong authority figure). Unfortunately, whether it's due to bad voice acting or poor dubbing, we miss some important dialogue while he's hurt,
(choking on your own blood isn't an excuse for poor diction in movies, please recite "the rain in Spain" around blood and spit 50 times and then re-take that bit). Over all I liked the casting, particularly Galina Tyunina as Olga. She was otherworldly and cruelly practical in a way I never questioned. Plus, I like her nose for obvious reasons. Also, the pretty people managed to be attractive but not so movie star good looking that they didn't belong in this gritty setting (something that usually snaps my suspension bridge of disbelief).

Anton's major problem with the Night Watch (and the source of much of the conflict in the movie) is that they allow too many regular humans to be hurt or used as currency between the good and evil forces. He believes it's the Night Watch's job to protect them. The impact of this is severely limited when nearly every "ordinary" human we meet turns out to have some type of secret or unknown magic power. Almost no straight up humans are hurt in the fighting and political wheedling and this makes Anton's reasonable concerns seem groundless.

Where Night Watch was strong, it was both interesting and pretty to watch, but where it was weak it was painful. Its weakness was too prevalent for me to properly recommend it as a must see, but it was different enough that if you're looking to see something unusual that also manages to be entertaining, it's worth looking at. Along that vein, it was unique enough that I'll be checking out the sequel, Day Watch.

Aside: This week's review brought to you by my revulsion towards black licorice, the candy of the damned.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
ISBN: 978-0-345-48129-0


When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo – an unhatched dragon’s egg - Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands – and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, the captain has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East – a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.


My Thoughts:

If you recall, I reviewed part one of this series some time ago (you can find that review here) and I really enjoyed it. I had high hopes for the second instalment and I was just a little disappointed. I know I’ve talked about lacklustre second acts before; it seems to be symptomatic for some fantasy authors, so I’m still hopeful for part three. And Throne of Jade wasn’t that bad, it just took a while to get started. Before I get into the review, let me just say that it’s likely going to contain spoilers for the first part, so if you haven’t read it yet and care about these things you should stop reading now.

Right then. The problem I had with this novel is the long sea voyage – it just dragged and I was bored. I just wanted to skip ahead and get to the interesting part, because I held out hope for an interesting part all along (which was happily rewarded).  I got the sense that everything that happened along the way – sea monsters attacking the ship, assassination attempts and various negative (and a very few positive) interactions between the crew, the aviators accompanying Temeraire and the Chinese -  were just thrown in there to make the interminable travel more appealing to the reader. For me, this tactic didn’t work. I really just wanted to get to China. If the characterizations had been stronger, I think the voyage could have been a great place to show how Temeraire was growing as he comes in contact with the Chinese delegation. What little we see of this growth is filtered through Laurence and thus comes off in a negative light since he’s filled with anxiety over losing his dragon to the Chinese – if not through force then through persuasion. Laurence’s fears are important, but the story is somewhat one-sided since the dialogue between dragon and rider was a strong element in the first book, but isn’t as much in the forefront here.

The story definitely picked up once we got to China. The descriptions of the settings and the way that they approach dragons compared to what we saw in England were well done and drew me back into being interested in what was happening. The dragons in China were part of society instead of separate from it.  They had their own social strata - which mirrored human society - and had different callings.  There were poet dragons and worker dragons and fighter dragons.  This was a good juxtaposition to the British system where dragons are only used in the military and then treated as nothing more than intelligent animals. The action here also didn’t feel like it was just meant as a filler to make the story interesting, but fit into the plot, along with the political intrigue (which still could have been stronger I think, but it was better than the subdued version on the ship). The pacing overall was better once we were back on land.

Laurence’s fears were somehow more palpable in the latter sections of the book – his anxiety that Temeraire might choose to stay in China even if the diplomatic mission succeeded in obtaining the British right to keep him slowly crept up as he learned more about the Chinese dragons and their relationship to people. On the ship he was bordering on petty with his opinions and behaviours. This attitude slowly changes as he sees how much Temeraire wants to learn and his growth in a short period of being exposed to such a different way of doing things. I do think that it could have used more Temeraire, because he really is the star character of the book. Since we’re on the topic of characters – some of the crew members felt more like they were there to be cannon fodder rather than actual supporting characters.

The conclusion seemed like it wrapped things up in a too-neat package.  Maybe I'm spoiled from reading fantasy novels with solid political intrigues that even in resolution leave problems for the characters - Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books come to mind here - but this ending just didn't have enough strength to it.  There was so much slow build-up of the struggle to keep Temeraire and then all of these hurdles are overcome easily with a simple ceremony that is too-easily granted.  The only uncertainty that remained was Temeraire's choice (which I won't spoil here).  It was just a bit of a let-down as far as endings go and didn't necessarily set up enough conflict to pull you through into the third book.

So I’ve done a lot of complaining, haven’t I? As a second act this novel was mostly disappointing. The last third saved it from being a complete disappointment. I am still hopeful that book three will pick up again and be as strong as the first one.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Batman: Under The Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood. Directed by Brandon Vietti and Written by Judd Winick.

Preconceptions: Alright, alright, I know I'm running a little late (even for me) on this review. But on the off chance you haven't already picked up the latest DC Animated movie lets give it a look. Bruce Timm, if you haven't heard about him in nerd circles yet, is the excellent producer of Batman the Animated Series (which played almost as big a part in my childhood as the Adam West Batman series), the Justice League and a host of other excellent cartoon series and the ugly but excellently written Arkham Asylum game. His (and his team's) take on Batman has informed my opinion on the character nearly as long as I wanted to buy a plastic mask and swoop around in a cape. Finally, Timm and his team (notably Paul Dini) brought us Harley Quinn who is my favourite super villain (though her "superness" is somewhat debatable). I could easily hose down a grown animator with the spittle from my gushing about Bruce Timm and the rest of his creative associates. Despite the huge amounts of saliva I've spent on these guys in the past, since they've moved from TV series onto straight to DVD movies, there has been a distinct drop in quality. This isn't to say that all the movies have been bad, in fact, the Wonder Woman movie was a good example of the streamlining and internal logic providing that these guys do so well (and given the messy nonsense, created by a fetishist psychologist, that is Wonder Woman, this is saying something). For every Wonder Woman there has been a Public Enemies, a stupid movie based on a stupid comic that was basically the story of Batman and Superman being insufferable and beating up and patronizing Power Girl for an hour and a half. Or a New Frontier, which cut so much of the plot from the source material that I'm not sure if it would have even made sense if you hadn't read the comic. Under the Hood, the Judd Winick comic that this flick was based on, was nearly as bad as the Public Enemies comic. The mystery was as poorly constructed as the Long Halloween or Hush, Batman called people "punks" and was generally lame (it takes a real effort to make me not take Batman seriously, I am a woman who is serious about her Batman).

Added to the poor subject material was the fact that the regular duo of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamil as the Joker (who have epitomized the roles for the last ten years) had been re-cast. Very nearly every time they have tried this it has ended in characters who sound like Bizzaro versions of themselves. Having just read the novel of my preconceptions you can see, my cupcakes, that I have a lot of baggage regarding Batman and not a lot of faith in this movie.

General Review: Well, just like Power Girl, I have received a pop in the mouth and have been shown my place. I owe a public apology to the people I scoffed at when they told me that Under the Red Hood was a good watch ("Under the Hood was terrible. And so is Jason Todd. And so are you." I would say to them) - so here it is: I was wrong. While I still contend that the original book is one of Winick's (who I've really enjoyed reading on other titles) worst efforts to date, the movie has that old Bruce Timm witchcraft. The Red Hood's identity isn't tossed around as some sort of big mystery (smart since at least half the people watching have already read the comic) and they made Nightwing likable. Yes, Batman's daddy issue having, mullet sporting, endlessly whining sometimes side-kick was great. There is a lot of credit to spread around on this massive improvement on one of my most hated comic characters (second only to Huntress, pictured dismembered here), the writing was solid and he was used for actual comic relief (not to be confused with the usual quipping comic relief so forced that it deserves the comedy hell that is a laugh track) in a dark, dark story.

It wasn't just the writing and good use of the character that improved Nightwing (watching him try and fail to keep up with Batman didn't get less funny), it was also the skilled voice acting of Neil Patrick Harris. Doogie has become a nerd icon since his performance in Harold and Kumar and Dr. Horrible, but this voice acting showed a pile more skill than I'd credited him with. Yes, the writing was mostly good, but he sold the weaker writing and the ridiculous super hero lines that I've seen more than one good actor flop. Speaking of selling difficult lines, Jensen Ackles, made me laugh at his gallows humour rather than rolling my eyes and waiting for the scene to end, which is too often my response to clumsy black comedy. Bruce Greenwood as Batman and John DiMaggio as the Joker were the first actors who haven't left me crossing my arms and shaking my head, refusing to accept that Conroy and Hamil aren't in the movie. While Greenwood didn't cause me to cry, stomp, scream and go red in the face, to be honest, this was mostly because he sounded a lot like Conroy's Batman, only a few years older. He was passable, but he didn't add anything to the role. But given the recent missteps with Batman's voice actors I'm painfully willing to give credit to a passable job. DiMaggio, however, surprised the ever loving stuffing out of me. Not only did he not cause a nerd girl hissy-fit, but he impressed. His Joker was less puckish than Hamil's, which meant that there wasn't as much of a juxtaposition between the gaiety and menace, but the overall threat was more consistent. I also liked the slightly effeminate touches. Plus, what a great laugh.

The art direction was also a pleasant surprise. Along with hating the gritty realistic giant pecs of the Arkham Asylum game, I hated the brightly coloured spandex-y giant pecs of Public Enemies (they went through the bad art choices of the 80's to the 90's between those two projects). They didn't just go back to the stripped down black on black style of the Animated series, either. This movie had substantially more shading and detail than I've seen in Bruce Timm's projects, but it still kept elements of his previous style choices. The city was more nuanced and so were facial expressions. They filled the Joker out, making him look more physically menacing, which worked in this more violent and bloody story (I still miss his red lips, though). The only major complaint I have is that the integration between the CG and the more animated style is jarringly bad. It looks easily ten years out of date. The car and plane chase sequences might as well be from a different movie, but are mercifully brief.

If you, like I, have ceased running out to get the next Bruce Timm and Co.'s next project because they've been a mixed bag, I'm telling you that Under the Red Hood is a good reason to move those haulting feet. It's effectively harsh, well voice acted and looks slick. You'll laugh with Nightwing rather than at him, be creeped by DiMaggio's Joker and give a damn about Jason Todd.

Aside: In case you're wondering, the drawing is by Dewey from several million years ago. I'm a fair sized fan girl of his funny, sci-fi web comic which you can get to here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
ISBN: 978-0-451-45781-3


Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P. D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a – well, whatever.

There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get…interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.


My Thoughts:

I love a good long series and this novel is the first novel of the Harry Dresden books. And I’m a little bit late to the party on this one, since this series is something like 12 books long now and I’m just now starting, but at least I’m finally here, right?

Reading this novel was sort of strange for me, but also nostalgic in a way. I was reminded of the first few Anita Blake books, before they became overly romantic and then descended into orgiastic porn. And it was strange because I’m used to a female point of view in these types of books, not a male. The reversal made me realize a few things that I hadn’t thought too much about in the past when it comes to objectification and the gaze, but let's not go into too much detail here. We'll just say I’m more aware now of the fact that it works both ways.

The story here was pretty good and moved along at a good pace. It’s the sort of book that would be easy to devour in one sitting. I think that my only complaint is not even specific to this particular book and more to the genre, which is that it felt formulaic. I’m not sure that it’s fair to complain about this aspect, but it just jumped out at me as I was reading. I may have reached my fill on urban-fantasy / paranormal mystery-romance books. Anyway, it doesn’t seem fair to rag on this novel just because I’m becoming jaded.

Harry Dresden as a character was likeable enough even if I didn’t like his lack of fashion sense. I suppose there is some sort of method to having your protagonist running around in sweats the majority of the time, but the least you could do is give the guy a pair of jeans. He doesn’t have to wear Armani suits or anything.

The overall story was entertaining, it was predictable and I knew who the bad guy was way before it was revealed. I wasn’t really expecting to have the mystery aspect “wow” me, so this didn't detract from the novel for me, but it might for some. If I wanted hard-boiled mystery I’d read books in that genre. The use of magic was as believable as these things get and it was nice to see a governing system in place aside from the main character’s innate morality or lack thereof and to have that governing body act as something that is actually obeyed.

One last thing that is actually pretty minor, but I enjoyed Butcher’s take on the vampire (also that it wasn’t central to the story) and I think I could enjoy a novel devoted to these kinds of vampires in the future. They were really just monsters with good glamour to hide their true, grotesque selves while in the human world.

Do I think you should run out and read this immediately? The answer to this question is a "yes, but." Yes, if you're already into paranormal detective books. But, while it's a quick read, entertaining and interesting, it's in no way unique. While certainly of a better quality than some, Storm Front remains firmly within this genre and is not revolutionary enough to change someone's mind who doesn't like this sort of book. Personally, I’ll be tracking down part two when my out-of-control to-read pile has been brought back to a more manageable size.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Pandorum

Pandorum. Directed by Christian Alvart & written by Travis Milloy & Christian Alvart.

Preconceptions: My hunter-gatherer male has lately provided me with a vast number of trashy fantasy novels. As well as proving, once again, how well-suited we are for each other, glutting on these has given me a mighty hunger for fantasy's gun metal gray cousin: sci-fi. Having a Trek-a-thon has helped, but I wanted something I hadn't seen, so I found Pandorum. Besides hearing that it was a fiscal failure, I hadn't heard much about this flick. Nobody else seeing a movie hasn't ever really informed my movie picking, sometimes leading to huge wastes of time (as you may have noticed). I hoped that this one wouldn't be one more for the muck pile.

General Review: Yes, like all sci-fi action hybrids it cribbed heavily from the Alien series. I'd be delighted beyond measure if something in this genre didn't, but since this has become a given, at least Pandorum didn't copy its space mommy in every conceivable way. A different H.R. Giger painting appears to be the inspiration for some of the visuals, for one. Comparing this movie with Aliens is pretty fruitless, and besides, Pandorum can be much more easily characterized in the ways it didn't piss me off. Action sequences were filmed smoothly, with no hand held camera to be seen. This movie had the distinction of being one of the few fairly recent action flicks that didn't make me feel car sick. The filth was actually filthy, rather than just giving the hero a bit of "oh isn't he sexy" dirt on his face. In fact given the level of grime, there was refreshingly little crow-barred-in sexiness (except for the main chick's space age push up bra, which I'll get to when I get negative). I was aware that we were in dark corridors but was able to see everything that went on, helped in part by my very best friend: smooth camera work. The expository sequences were more than a little clunky and peppered with awkward phrases like: "you just had to remind me of the worst space disaster in history" delivered in the typical gravely hero voice, but they were mercifully brief and did answer the questions they raised. The monster design was cenobite in the extreme, but after setting them up as super-strong our heroes mostly failed at fighting them and found that running away was the best option, which was refreshing. Despite the fact that we spent a lot of time running through corridors ala old Doctor Who the pace of the movie was excellent. All in all, I haven't seen a more competent action sci-fi type movie in some time.

Competence, however, does not mean excellence. While I can say with complete honesty that I enjoyed watching Pandorum, it was a long walk from being a great movie. Our hero felt like one of those NPC tools that you're always having to escort from place to place in video games. Every time he took a step, he was falling down holes, attracting monsters or dropping his weapon. The team would have had an easier time carrying an egg on a spoon to their objective than hauling him along. In the movie's favour there were valid reasons (besides your earth morality) for the rest of the characters not cracking open his skull, eating the innards and being on their way.

Speaking of the rest of the cast - movies, can we make a deal, you and I? I'll agree not to complain if you want to make a boy's story about soldiers that doesn't include any women and you promise to just leave women out entirely rather than turning them into tits that spout macho catch phrases. Yes, yes, I know, we all like breasts, and our main chick kicked a bit of ass and was supposed to be some sort of scientist (trained in the deadly arts of kung-fu, I guess) and we needed every person possible to pack our hero in soft tissue and delicately carry him to his destination, but eeesh, that is a lot of tightly controlled cleavage for someone who's been barely surviving the last few years.

My first look at the inside of the ship wasn't heartening. The bridge looked like it was made with white cardboard and the uniforms were tragically Babylon 5-y (actually, come to think of it, so was that cardboard bridge). Fortunately, the rest of the ship's guts were metal walkways and too few lights (phew back in our Aliens comfort zone). What surprised me most was that when they got the lights back on, the place that had been so menacing suddenly looked livable. That's a difficult trick to pull off and something that I've rarely seen done so successfully. The tiny crawlspaces full of tubes were also a nice (and gross) womb-like touch.

No, there wasn't a lot of deep character development or astonishingly good, award winning sci-fi to be found in Pandorum. But, it didn't nauseate, patronize or bore me to tears. The look of it was pretty slick, if unoriginal. Most importantly, it entertained. I didn't spend any of my time watching Pandorum nodding off or wishing it would end so that I could type out something snarky about it. It isn't going to floor you and make you re-think your way of life the way excellent sci-fi can, but it is going to get you wired and interested the way good action should.

Aside: For the curious here is the glorious book pile:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Mina by Marie Kiraly

Mina by Marie Kiraly
ISBN: 0-425-14359-7


In Bram Stoker’s immortal classic, Dracula, an extraordinary woman named Mina Harker became the living object of a vampire’s obsession. He came to her in the night, like a demon lover, opening a vein in his chest – and pressing her tender lips to the wound. Consumed by passion, Mina drank of his blood. And from that moment on, his seductive power filled her senses with strange, forbidden longings. Only one thing saved her soul from eternal damnation: a stake driven through the heart of Count Dracula…

But was the spell really broken? Could a mortal woman return to an ordinary life of marriage – after tasting the exquisite pleasures of Dracula’s desire? In this sensual and haunting sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the dark prince’s most famous mistress reveals the untold story of a timeless love that refused to die.


My Thoughts:

Marie Kiraly is a pen name for Elaine Bergstrom and depending on which edition of this book you’re looking at it may have either name on its cover. I’m not sure why this is the case and I mention it so that you, dear reader, are not confused if you happen to look this book up elsewhere. Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let me give you a review and I will try my best not to spoil it, but I fear in this case it may be impossible to avoid. A lot of the book deals with the mystery of whether or not Dracula is still alive and I'm not sure I can safely discuss the book without giving away the mystery, although the back cover does strongly hint at the content. Stop reading now if you care about these sorts of things.

I really enjoyed reading this book and it certainly helped me drag myself out of a reading slump, but I do wish that Kiraly (I will use this name throughout as it’s the name on my copy) had chosen to stick to one style of narration. I understand that she was trying to connect her narrative to Stoker’s but if she was going to use journals and letters it would have worked better if that is all that was used. Instead, she intersperses Mina’s journals with third person narration, which hops between the different characters, a move that was likely meant to provide the multiple view points of Dracula. The story still works and is pretty gripping; I just think it would have benefited from consistency.

Mina’s struggle for independence in a society where a liberated female is not acceptable added some depth to the story so it didn’t feel like just another paranormal romance. However, it made the opening slow if you’re looking for something with a fast pace and lots of action. The second half definitely picks up and the change of pace was nice, but it was made more meaningful by the earlier character exploration. Mina’s conflict really made the book interesting, her strength and her determination, but it was undermined by the fact that Dracula’s blood spurs on her passion and makes her grasp for more in her life. Still, in the end she stands alone against the vampires, none of the men can help her.

Another aspect I appreciated was that the vampire brides are fleshed out in Kiraly’s narrative and she uses a journal to good effect here. They are still monstrous, but some of their humanity is restored so you don’t just see them as overly sexual creatures that feed on the blood of children when they aren’t able to seduce travelers for their meals. Actually, both the men and women are well-written and three-dimensional, but the men tend to lack understanding and suffer from a general inability or unwillingness to act. The exception is Lord Winston Gance, but his motives are suspect from the outset.

The resolution was a little anti-climatic, but also solved the issue of Mina’s passion and need for independence and sexual satisfaction being so heavily influenced by Dracula. The end did leave me wondering what would happen next, and it appears that there is a sequel called Blood to Blood which I may need to find so I know how Mina’s life turns out after all of her struggles and triumphs.

Overall, I recommend this novel if you’re looking for something that features the characters from Dracula that is more sympathetic to the women characters. The stylistic issues really fade into the background as the story grips you and pulls you along with it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Alice

Alice. Directed & written by Jan Svankmajer.

Preconceptions: Given my girlish leanings towards black lace and too much eye make-up, it's a surprise I hadn't heard of Jan Svankmajer in general and his Alice in particular sooner. As it is, I only came across him while flipping through Netflix Streaming (I'm actually beginning to wonder if the people behind that should be paying me for all the time I spend praising it). Since it's described as a classic, I may very well be the last person on earth to see this. In case I'm not and there are others out there that share my predilections who haven't seen it, lets talk about Alice.

General Review: When I first started watching it, Alice (as in Alice in Wonderland) reminded me distinctly of old Terry Gilliam movies. It's weird, fantasy-driven and everything looked like it needed a good washing (seriously, the movie is so coated in grime that it took all my control over my psychosomatic response to keep from putting away my dinner and washing my hands). It turns out I had this backwards because Gilliam (and Tim Burton) were heavily influenced by Svankmajer (how had I not heard of this guy before?).

Alice had a lot things that called to 16 year old me: stop motion taxidermy creatures and horrible little dolls. It also had a major element that appeals to suave adult me: the mixture of the adorable and the grotesque (not to mention inanimate objects coming to life, always a favourite). A lot of me simply enjoyed watching this without a properly critical eye. But I wasn't entirely able to bludgeon my inner critic (that little voice in my head that seems to think I know better than acclaimed directors, not having directed anything myself) and so I do have a few non-gushy things to say about Alice.

My feelings on the stop motion are varied. The slight jerkiness of movement and having the menagerie of taxidermy animals bleed sawdust and making them eat more to replenish it fit stop motion well. However, the stop motion, while undeniably well done, meant we lost some of the frantic pace in the scenes that required quick movement. Most noticeably, the tea party and the constant changing places seemed orderly and choreographed rather than the panicked rush that the scene calls for.

The movie is largely without dialogue and Alice narrates what there is, including the voices of the other characters. So the little blonde girl will say: "And then the Mad Hatter said: 'Change places!'" It's less confusing to watch than to read about, I promise. This was an interesting choice that had a lot of advantages, making the dubbing less intrusive for one.It also gives the movie a further sense of surreality and makes the interactions between Alice and the other characters seem more hollow. While this choice had its good points, the film already had more than enough surreality to go around and it might have been nice to see Alice properly interact with someone else. Watching a girl play with her dolls for two hours is one of the numerous things I hated about Tideland (which remains in the top ten worst movies I've forced myself to sit through). Actually, come to think of it, Tideland really takes the worst of this movie and shamelessly tarts it up and shoves it to the foreground.

While I relish picking nits as much as the next barely literate ape, there is far more to rave about in Alice than there is to groom. The scene where she's forced to break out of the doll she's been trapped in, to free herself from a horrific pantry (yes, you heard me) is disquieting and had my stomach squirming. The glassy googly eyes of the animals made me want to look away. And the less said about the Caterpillar scene, the better. But this is all balanced by Alice being fearless and treating the whole horror show as a grand adventure. She is clearly enjoying herself, it's the audience that has the problem.

I don't think Alice is for everyone. It is unapologetically weird, discomfiting and a story most people are already too familiar with. I think it's a good balance of child-like exploration and the macabre, but it does lean very hard into the strange. If you've got a dock martin wearing little girl living inside you too (and have been living in the same cave I have), chances are good you'll adore this movie.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Monster Island: A Zombie Novel by David Wellington

Monster Island: A Zombie Novel by David Wellington
ISBN: 978-1-56025-850-6


It’s one month after a global disaster. The most “developed” nations of the world have fallen to the shambling zombie masses. Only a few pockets of humanity survive…

In New York City, the dead walk the streets, driven by an insatiable hunger for all things living. From the other side of the planet, a small but heavily armored group of schoolgirls-turned-soldiers comes in search of desperately needed medicine, with a former UN weapons inspector as their local guide. They think they are prepared for anything. On Monster Island they will find that there is something worse even than undeath.


Aside: As you might recall, I reviewed David Wellington's Frostbite back in January, which encouraged me to pick up some of his other books.

My Thoughts:

The last zombie novel I read was Max Brooks’ amazing World War Z way back when it was first released, so I was pretty much looking forward to someone else’s take on a world overrun by the flesh-eating undead. I love zombies only second-best to my object of study, vampires. Indeed, at times I have preferred the zombie, with its allusions to mass-consumerism and conformity, etc etc ad nauseum. At any rate, my expectations, based on Wellington’s Frostbite and my previous zombie-novel exposure, were not low. I also tried to keep in mind that the zombie, while effective in movies due to the gross-out factor, isn’t necessarily made for fiction.

Okay, I promise I’m done with the intro now. We all know I could go on and on in that vein.

Monster Island was okay. It took a while to get going and the end left me going “huh, what?” in that uncomfortable, “did I miss something important along the way?” manner. As well as losing me at the end, I wasn't overly fond of the main character, didn't appreciate the characters I liked were without a doubt the ones who ended up dying and would have liked to hear more about some of the background of various things touched on throughout the story - mostly in relation to the zombies. While the book certainly had its flaws, but where it did succeed is in bringing in a little bit of mythology, a little bit of magic rather than just giving you your run-of-the-mill virus-induced zombies.

Is that a spoiler up ahead?

Gary, in my opinion, was a great addition to the novel and made a decent villain. If the book had been just about fighting the hordes of the undead, it would have been boring, but the additional plot of a sentient zombie working against them once he realized he’d never be accepted among the living gave the story a little bit of depth. And when Mael showed up and started talking druid talk, the whole thing got even more interesting, at least to me. Although the whole "I must destroy the human race, because that’s what my ancient god wants me to do" thing was a little bit predictable. I’m also not sure about the mummies, but hey, it worked.

We’ve made it safely past! End spoilers.

Let’s talk characters briefly. I made the mistake of becoming attached to all of the wrong characters and this being a zombie story, a lot of people got dead. The moral of the story is: don’t get attached to characters in a zombie book, everyone is fair game, up for grabs, on the meat-market. Okay, I’ll stop there. The protagonist wasn’t particularly endearing to me. He had his moments, but mostly I just sort of put up with him and admired all the stronger people around him, like the schoolgirl soldiers with their AK-47s slaughtering zombies left, right and center.

To return to what I said before – the end made no sense to me and I have a feeling I missed something along the way. It’s possible that it’s meant as a setup for the second novel in the trilogy, but that didn’t come across in my reading. It's laudable to want to set up part two to make people want to continue reading, but the novel has to make sense in itself. Perhaps I’ll get part two at some point and find out. I have to admit that in the process of writing and editing this review over the span of a couple of weeks I went back to the ending and re-read it and thought about it some more and I *think* I have it almost sorted out, but I still have some doubts. It makes more sense to me now than it did when I originally read the book and wrote this review, but it's still not completely transparent.

My last two-cents are as follows: If you’re looking for some zombie fiction, you can pick this up. And while it's certainly not on par with World War Z (which you should read at some point if you're interested in zombie fiction), Monster Island is a decent foray into the world of zombies in print.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Boy of the Month - Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Where you know him from:

1) He was that kid in "3rd Rock from the Sun"

2) He was the sad sack in "(500) Days of Summer"

3) He was that stylish and incredibly attractive gentleman in "Inception" that made Leonardo DiCaprio look like some homeless guy

Why I think he's dreamy:

It is with a great sense of shame (I know, I was as shocked as you are to find that I had some of that stuff) that I present to you Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this month's Cute Boy. I find him to be incredibly good looking and that is highly disturbing to me, since when I graduated high school he was 11 years old (icky.) And when I first noticed him in "3rd Rock from the Sun", he was 15 (squicky) and I was in my twenties (early twenties, but still). The point being, he makes me feel very much like a dirty old woman.

Still, look at the man now. He's apparently the darling of fashion photographers everywhere, as there are a million high-concept, black and white and/or artfully shot images of him on the internet. (THANK YOU, fashion photographers!) While I had been aware of him from other projects, "Inception" really cemented his place on the "would be on the Terry's Top Five List if he weren't SO FREAKING YOUNG" list. He's a wonderful actor who can say more with a slightly raised eyebrow than most of his contemporaries can say with pages of dialog. He also looks astoundingly good in a suit.

Recommended Viewing:

First of all, if you haven't seen Inception, please go see it. It's probably the best main-stream American film I've seen in years (but please keep in mind that I do tend to prefer indie and foreign flicks.) If you are a fan of JLG, it's a must-watch, and half of that is just for his wardrobe.

Next, check out "Brick". It's a "hard-boiled detective" story set in a modern-day high school, with all the accompanying Dashiell-Hammett-type touches. Once you figure out the slang, you'll enjoy it. I began watching it without knowing that was the premise of the film, and it took me a while to get into it. But, since Joseph Gordon-Levitt was wearing glasses, I persevered, and was rewarded with an interesting and unique film experience.

Also, if you haven't seen (500) Days of Summer, you should probably watch that. Make sure you have tissues nearby if you are of an emotional constitution, like myself. Even if you know where this movie is going, it still packs a bit of a wallop when it finally gets there.

On my to-watch list is "Mysterious Skin", in which Mr. Gordon-Levitt has what some people consider his break-out adult role, and "Manic", of which the same is said. Well, really, I pretty much want to see most of the more recent films JLG has appeared in, except for G.I. Joe. I apparently found my cute-boy/bad movie limit right there.

In Conclusion:

If you're watching a movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you have about a 95% chance of it being a very good film. And if you are a fan of JGL, Claudia Schiffer, menswear or very light bondage, I highly recommend checking out this photo shoot, from which the below image was taken. Don't thank me, thank those blessed fashion photographers.