Saturday, October 30, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
ISBN: 0-393-96458-2


The epic battle between man and monster reaches its greatest pitch in the famous story of Frankenstein. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor himself to the very brink. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship …and horror.


Aside: The blurb comes from since my special Norton Critical Edition mostly just talked about how great it is and how many bonus essays you get in it, which, as you might guess, makes for an excellent summary of the story.

Aside the Second:  Wren and I once more bring you a dual review of a book and one of its movie adaptations.  I hope you enjoy our thoughts on a classic in literature and film, Frankenstein.

My Thoughts:

Ah, Frankenstein, a great Romantic tale.  As much as I love this book, I have some issues with it.  As a literary period, Romanticism is my favourite and I've devoted a lot of my official studies to exploring it. What does this mean for you, the reader? Well, my dears: I’m used to writing about Romantic texts in an academic fashion. You may need to bear with me on this one.   

I think the language of the novel might put off some modern readers, but I rather enjoyed it.  I miss when English was a little more flowery in its execution.  Although, I will admit that during some of Victor's more prolonged outpourings I may have skimmed a little (it was 11:30pm and his whining was beginning to grate on my nerves).

And really, that brings me to the one big issue I have with Mary Shelley’s novel: Victor Frankenstein.  While I definitely see elements of the typical Romantic hero in him – striving for the unknown and messing with forces best left alone – he’s just really whiny.  He creates this being, and rather than being responsible for his creation, he abandons it and then he’s surprised and upset that it doesn’t turn out great.  There is a clear opportunity for the monster to be a benevolent creation, but Frankenstein totally blows it and he ends up with a vengeful murderous villain bent on making his life miserable.  Not once does Victor truly understand what he’s done.  He comes close a couple of times and then his Icarus-like pride in his research and egotism obscures his understanding again, and he further antagonizes his creation.  His woe-is-me speeches eventually made my eyes glaze over and I started skimming them rather half-heartedly.

The story itself is still interesting nearly 200 years after it was first published (which was in 1818).  The issues of science presented here are as pertinent now as they were in the 19th century.  Sure, our science is more complex and our test tubes are mightier, but we still struggle with the same moral issues regarding research; Victor's irresponsibility towards his experiment is just as reprehensible.  Do the means justify the ends? Is a question we must always continuously ask ourselves (or we risk ending up a boring whiner like Louis...I mean Victor).  Mary Shelley clearly grasped this idea in this novel.

I do worry, that you, my dears, might not enjoy this one.  I don’t mean this as a judgment on you, specifically (except you over there, you know who I'm looking at), but as a comment on the post-modern reader.  We all want a quick pace with lots of action and a gripping, spine-tingling narrative.  Alas, when you read novels from the 19th century you won’t necessarily find any of those things.  Personally, I enjoy these books that are part story, part meditation on human nature, but they are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.  So just be warned that there is a fair bit of meditating, (a lot of whining from Victor) and plenty of descriptions of rugged landscapes and that very little of the action happens “on screen” so to speak.  Rather, most of it is related through oral narrative which is then reproduced in letters – Victor tells his story to the would-be Arctic explorer Walton who writes it all down in letters to his sister (there's something to be said about the chain of evidence and the reliability of third-hand accounts here, but let's not go there).

Alright, let me just step down from my lectern now.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre and you haven’t read Frankenstein you most certainly should do so.  The horror it evokes is much more subtle than what you might be used to as you really have to think about the implications of Victor’s hubris before you get that creeping sense of unease.  While the pace can come off as slow, it's really worth the effort in the end.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Red

Red. Directed by Robert Schwentke & written by Jon & Erich Hoeber.

Preconceptions: What's this? A movie not only from this decade, but one that's still in theaters? I had an extremely pleasant birthday ambush, where I was absconded back up to Canada to have a night of fun and frolic with my friends, which included one of my favourite things: going with the gang to see something recent in order to review it (my pleasures are clearly taken from the dank pits of inequity). I had very little time to prepare any preconceptions about Red, having heard nothing about it except that it was very loosely based on a Warren Ellis comic that I haven't read.

General Review: I know it's more fun for all concerned when I can come out of a movie, tear it to shreds with my mighty claws and then play with the bits, throwing them in the air with an adorable mix of playfulness and carnage. As soon as I saw the DC logo (with the exception of hiring my hero Chris Nolan, DC has made comically bad choices with their movies) I fully expected to come out of seeing Red with my glands full of amusing venom. But y'know what? Die Hard: in a Retirement Home was a lot of fun.

Much of the fun was strictly the beefiness of the cast (really, the only way to shove any more charm into it would have been to stick Ewan McGregor in there, somehow). I've never been a huge fan of Bruce Willis, but what he lacks in range he makes up for in presence. And really, as older guys who I buy as being able to still kick some ass he high on the list. Mary-Louise Parker not only pulled off bewildered but capable, but the character was written in such a way that I didn't want to smack her around for not leaving these action packed escapades. It was an unusual feeling for me to have towards the hero's love interest in an action movie and I spent none of my time yelling that she should be more person than pet (which was probably a good thing, what with being in a theater with other people and all). While I appreciated her accentuated crow's feet and the fact that she's only ten years younger than Willis, I didn't buy that she was old enough to be interested in Willis. The Hollywood magic anti-aging worked against her this time. However, I am willing to ignore this because of her otherwise excellent performance and because the director waved Karl Urban at me. Clever Schwentke, to know that he's one of the few men Doomwench and I both find distractingly attractive and talented. His performance in Red was no exception and watching him be villainous and walk around in a purposeful manner, was a good time for both of us (and the man can rock a busted up face). Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman were predictably great and I hope that, like Mirren, I can manage to still have sexpot leanings at 65.

Red wasn't just carried by the superb cast. While I used to be more interested in action movies, the stylistic choices of the last 5 years or so have bored me to tears. Slowing the action down to show us every painfully choreographed second of a fight scene is dull, dull, dull. Worse yet, it's patronizing. Yes, movie industry, we can watch fast things happen and are able to keep up. The directing in Red was much faster paced and natural. The bulk of the fighting and killing were done in a frantic, but unconfused style that I like to think of as real time with a tripod. The excitement was from the action itself, not the camera being jostled or slowing things down to turn it into a snail's waltz. The few times we did have a bit of slow motion or bullet time were when clarification was genuinely needed or to simulate a drugged state. Y'know a choice rather than a standard for every damned punch that is thrown.

Red is totally disposable and I'm not here to say that it isn't. It isn't sophisticated or meaningful. However, it's entertaining, something that I've found sorely lacking in recent action flicks. It's cleverly written, the humour is actually funny and not the usual groaner fair. The cast is killer and in a lot of ways it's like the Ocean's 11 remake with a better script.

Aside: Rebecca Pideon's character is really the kind of executive assistant I want to be when I grow up.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt
ISBN: 978-0-14-317228-4


It is 1912, twenty-five years after Dracula “crumbled into dust.”  Vampire-hunter Van Helsing’s protégé, Dr. Jack Seward, is now a disgraced morphine addict who’s convinced that Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a murderous, raven-haired beauty born in 1560, still walks the earth.  Meanwhile, the intelligent and capable Mina, wife of Jonathan Harker, has her own concerns: her son Quincey has finally learned his parents’ terrible secrets, but not soon enough to prevent Jonathan’s brutal murder in Piccadilly Circus.

Someone is stalking the band of heroes who defeated Dracula.  Could it be that Dracula somehow survived their attack and is seeking revenge?  Could it be that love never dies?

Based on Bram Stoker’s own handwritten notes for characters and plot threads, this is the bone-chilling sequel to the timeless classic Dracula.


My Thoughts:

If you’ve been following along, you are no doubt aware that I’ve read and reviewed several books dealing with Count Dracula, ranging from a historical novel depicting the life of the real Vlad the Impaler (C.C. Humphreys' Vlad: The Last Confession) to tales based loosely on what Stoker began (Kostova's The Historian) to unofficial sequels (Marie Kiraly’s Mina).  But this, this is a sequel endorsed and approved by the Stoker family, co-written, as it were, by Bram’s great-grand-nephew and well, it’s not very good. 

Now, I know some of you may be sitting at your computers with a tiny sneer and the words “I could have told you so” running through your head.  I assure you, I wasn’t expecting to read the best novel ever, but at times this was barely readable.  Considering that there were two authors, probably multiple early readers, as well as at least one editor, the fact that there are missing words and numerous typos and grammatical mistakes is, well, unacceptable, really.  It was so bad that I very nearly got out my trusty correcting pencil and the whole ordeal made my jaw ache from clenching it so tight.  I know that I always complain about typos, but I think this book comes in as a close second to the “Book with the Most Terrible Typos” award.  I won’t name number one since I'm not about to name-drop.  That would be uncouth. 

Anyway, moving right along now that my eternal griping on careful editing with regards to typos has been concluded.  I will be discussing plot points in this review, so if you want to read this novel and care for the not-so-subtle mystery to be intact, I suggest you just stop reading this post now.  If you have no such scruples, let me tell you why this story is terrible.

Honestly, I don’t even know where to start there is so much wrong here.

First, and most problematic for me, is that Dracula becomes the hero in this book at the expense of Elizabeth Bathory.  No longer is Count Dracula the evil vampire coming to England and killing women, rather, he is tracking Bathory and attempting to stop her from murdering prostitutes.  This change in the story transforms Bathory into Jack the Ripper and Dracula into a misunderstood benefactor.  Indeed, he turns Lucy into a vampire, not out of his own desire, but because Van Helsing has killed her with his blood transfusion and Dracula could not stand to see her life extinguished.  I’m about ready to gag myself with a spoon.  The portrayal of Bathory got all of my feminist hackles up.  Yes, she was a monster who tortured and murdered girls, but in this book she becomes the ultimate violator and destroyer.  In one scene, she even rapes Mina.  Through Stoker’s and Holt’s words, Bathory’s bloodlust is associated with her lesbianism, thus painting her desire for women as evil.  I like to think that they were attempting to show that the intolerance shown for her sexual orientation is the source of her evil and that if she had met with a kinder reception she would not have been a monster, but that wasn’t at all clear and it needed to be.  And Dracula as the hero, ugh.  Other books have somewhat humanized Dracula as a character, but the ones that I have read have done so through Mina’s eyes and her attempts to come to terms with her desire for the vampire, none of them have actually turned him into a benefactor.  Ultimately, he is always a monster, feasting on the blood of the living to survive.  Here, he is like the near-unbearable Ricean Louis, drinking only the blood of animals.  Pathetic is what we like to call that around here.

I could write essays about all that, but there are other issues to address.  Such as the book being way longer than it needs to be at 545 pages.  There is a whole subplot about the police investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders which really didn’t need to be there.  It just started to feel like they were trying to incorporate as many historical names as they could into the book (let me call a spade a spade and say that the authors are uncouth enough to name drop).  Of course, it also featured an appearance by Bram Stoker himself and an explanation that he heard the story from Van Helsing, who was trying to immortalize his name.  Just dreadful.  I won’t even try to count how many different points of view there were, because I think I might cry if I had an actual number, suffice to say: there were too many bloody points of view.  The writing, when it wasn’t filled with typos and omitted words, was mediocre at best.  Oh, and last (because I really need to wrap this up) but not least, why won’t Dracula stay dead?  He supposedly died at the end of Stoker’s novel, but that was a trick.  Then, Bathory tried to kill him right after, and that was another ruse.  He was caught in a fire, burnt to a crisp, but still survived, then Bathory eviscerated and drained him nearly dry and he still didn’t die.  In the pivotal final battle he is stabbed, his throat is slit and he gets caught in the sun and bursts into flames before plummeting off a cliff into the ocean, but at the end it is suggested that both he and the now vampiric Mina who followed his fiery swan dive off the cliff are still alive and following Quincey to America – aboard, get this, THE TITANIC.  Yeah, I don’t think I need to say anything else…

In closing, the only positive thing I have to say is that there are kernels for good stories in here and perhaps in the hands of a more skilled authorial team it could have been a good book.  As it is, I recommend you stay away, or at the very least enter into it with the understanding that no matter how low your expectations for it are, you are going to be disappointed and possibly enraged.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Announcement: Banner Art

Dear readers,

As you may have noticed, we have sexy and beautifully drawn new banner. We would like to heartily thank our good friend Matt Elser for creating something so absolutely gorgeous for our home away from home...erm, on the internet. We encourage all our little fluffers, cupcakes and dears to check out Matt's blog (you can also find a permanent link on our sidebar) where he posts sketches, comics and other favour art for grabby bloggers. We here at Girl on Book Action are drooling morons of praise for his work and you should be, too! Now lets all be nice and praise the pretty! Praise it!


The Girl on Book Action Staff

Weeks Too Late: Deadgirl

Deadgirl. Directed by Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel & written by Trent Haaga.

Preconceptions: What's that horror movie genre? You promise that if I check out just one more new horror flick that it'll be different? You've changed, you say? It's all been a horrible misunderstanding and that I should have a look at Deadgirl? It only runs an hour forty and I should take that as a good sign? Well as you cupcakes know, the horror genre has never lied to me in the past, so I've clearly got no reason to be skeptical about Deadgirl. Tra la la, let me blithely just check it out, then.

General Review: I hadn't heard of Deadgirl until Doomwench recommended I give it a watch (which immediately made me suspicious that she was, once again, trying to prove to me that most horror movies suck), so a brief plot summary: two teenage boys find an experiment in an abandoned mental hospital. That experiment? A feral, naked woman who can't die. Horrific things ensue. While I do have a few problems with Deadgirl (shockingly) I will say this: it doesn't mess around with the ensuing. At exactly 18 minutes in we've stopped watching teen drama squad and have gotten straight into the horror. If only other movies realized that this is what works unless you're going for something extraordinarily clever, which 9.9 times out of 10, you aren't (even if you believe you're being clever, M. Night Shyamalan) .

I spent the first half of the movie being mightily irked that every single character was unrelatable. The nicest of the boys, Rickie, was only barely less reprehensible than the rest of them. He's stalk-y, obsessive and unwilling to stand up to his slightly more evil friends, J.T. and Wheeler. Also, as a side note, I tend to be unwilling to buy the squinty faced pouty snarl from any character, let alone one who's just a teen boy rather than an immortal vampire. The above mentioned Wheeler is stupidly evil and J.T. directly so. JoAnn, the girl Rickie is slavering after, is a ditsy apologist for her stereotypically aggressive, jock boyfriend. Finally, the character Deadgirl (Jenny Spain) is a snarling, mute, abused victim (and one of the more skillfully portrayed characters in the movie). You see the problem I was having. I may come off as seeming dim, but it took me the first half of the movie to realize I wasn't supposed to identify with any of these characters. This movie attempted to walk that difficult line of having an interesting story with no likable people in it. While I was on board with this toward the end of the flick, my irritation throughout shows that it didn't perfectly walk that tightrope.

In a lot of ways Deadgirl reminded me of Teeth (the movie closest to a horrordy that my unsophisticated palate can still enjoy). Overall, Teeth was a better movie, but both of them did what horror can do best: take something already horrifying, like teenage sexuality and grotesque it up into disgusting hyperbole. Sexuality, at its worst, can be violent and frightening on its own, adding elements of monster movies means that these issues can be explored in new ways that aren't the same dull after school specials. Deadgirl takes rape, an already repellent topic, to even more repulsive extremes that have remained with me days later. That is what good horror should do, stick with you and hit you with thoughtful nausea later in the week.

As you've probably noticed, I enjoyed the broad strokes of Deadgirl. Unfortunately, some of the finer details lose me. The dialogue was as unbearable as the badly translated foreign films I've been watching lately. "Fuck, c'moooon, man....I mean, fuckin' c'mon!" is the type of grunts and moos that pass between our leads. In many scenes they might as well have been growling and barking for all the meaning that was in their dialogue. I'm well aware that this could have been done on purpose to mock the slang and curse filled speech that certain old lawn aficionados think make up teenage dialogue. It also might be intended to be a response to the less realistic, but more clever, Whedonesque style of writing. Those intentions are all very well and good, but what you're left with is intercourse (heh) that's painful to listen to. Maybe it would have been better if delivered by more talented and seasoned actors, but the writer must have known this movie, by its very nature, would be in the hands of a young, callow cast. The cast wasn't exactly incompetent, but they needed stronger writing to carry their lesser skills.

Finally, it was a nice change of pace to have a zombie movie where zombies aren't actually mentioned. While I've enjoyed the rash of fourth wall busting zombie flicks that have come out lately, I think all the juice has been squeezed out of the "having the characters know exactly what to do in the zombie apocalypse" fruit. It was good to see people not know exactly they were dealing with, again.

Deadgirl isn't that perfect horror movie I've been waiting for all my life (I think the original Stepford Wives might be the one that got away...which actually makes me wonder if I should be questioning my movie choice sexuality). I don't usually read other reviews of movies I intend to look into, but I couldn't help peeking this time. I'm not surprised to hear that other reviewers found it misogynistic and desperate to shock the audience, because, well, it is. It shocked little old desensitized me and I was gnashing my teeth at the hateful characters. But I got the feeling that the creative team wanted me to feel this way. They got both my hackles and my lunch up and in that, Deadgirl is one of the more stirring horror movies I've seen come out of the west in a long time. It was effectively disgusting and hit me so viscerally that there are scenes I won't be forgetting anytime soon. If you're like me and don't feel like you've really gotten the price of admission for a horror unless you feel that you've been beaten about the head and guts, I think you'll dig Deadgirl. It's disquieting, brutal and scary.

Aside: Also, do you guys remember this Naked Ape video?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2578-5


Mercy Lynch is working at a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when she learns that her husband has died in a POW camp and her estranged father is gravely injured and wishes to see her.  With no good reason to stay in Virginia, Mercy sets out to see her father in Seattle.

But crossing the country is no small task; it’s a harrowing adventure through war-torn border states by dirigible, rail and the Mississippi River.   What ought to be a quiet trip turns deadly when the train is beset by bushwackers, then vigorously attacked by a band of Rebel soldiers.  The train is moving away from battle lines into the vast, unincorporated west, so Mercy can’t imagine why it’s meeting such resistance.  Perhaps it has something to do with the mysterious cargo in the second and last train cars?

Mercy is just a frustrated nurse who wants to see her father before he dies.  But she’ll have to survive both the Union intrigue and Confederate opposition if she wants to make it.


Many moons ago, I reviewed a book called Boneshaker and ever since I've been waiting for the follow-up novel to reach my hungrily awaiting shelves.  Lo and behold, here it is and along with it, comes my review.

Now, I'll start with my gripes and then tell you about how lovely I think the overall novel is, so sit tight.

First, I’m not a fan of that back-cover blurb, and I feel that it reveals too  much of the plot.  Therefore, I've edited it before posting it here and removed the spoilers.  I actually didn’t read it until after I’d finished the novel so I wouldn’t have as many expectations going in as I would otherwise.  This complaint really has little to do with content and more to do with packaging, so make of that what you will.  I’m a picky creature.

Second, well, that’s harder to explain.  As the blurb tells you, Mercy is widowed.  If you recall, Briar Wilkes in Boneshaker is also widowed, which left me wishing for a little more variety in characters.  Part of me understands that in writing about a prolonged Civil War and a world where there are zombies widowhood is going to be rampant, but another part wishes for a strong female lead that wasn’t a lone female because her husband has died.  Maybe my desire for this kind of leading lady is too modern for this historical setting.  Another issue I have with Mercy’s widowhood is that she spends all of an afternoon mourning her husband.  Her lack of emotional melt-down is explained by her not having seen him in some time. They had only been married a brief 8 months before he went to war. Still, this explanation didn't sit well with me.  Once she was on her way and in Union territory, her dead husband just became a tool to use so she would be accepted as part of the Union, rather than being from the Confederate states. 

Lastly, in the complaints department, is something that you might read as a spoiler, so if you care about this sort of thing you may want to stop reading…now.  So, we spend a good 390 pages on this journey to see Mercy’s ailing father and the book is only 400 pages long.  Can you see where I’m going with this?  If you were thinking that my complaint is along the lines of there not being a lot of emotional pay-off at the end, you might be right.  She meets her father and then the book ends; we don’t even get to see their first conversation.  I suppose there is something to be said about the importance of the journey over the destination, but I wanted more here – like maybe an explanation of why he abandoned his family when Mercy was a little girl.  (Okay, so there is a chance that some of this was explained in Boneshaker where we met Mercy’s dad Jeremiah, but if we did, I very much don’t remember it, so a refresher might have been nice).  Anyway, I wanted some more closure.

And I’m now done with spoilers, so you can continue reading.

On to the good things!

Remember how Boneshaker was printed with brown ink?  Well, Dreadnought is as well, which means I loved the look of the book.  We all know that I’m a sucker for this type of thing.

As much as I took issue with some of Mercy’s doings, for the most part I found her to be engaging and well-portrayed.  I cared about her well-being, even if I felt she could have used a touch more emotional depth.  The other characters were memorable as well, especially the stoic Horatio Korman and the at times infuriatingly irritating Miss Clay.  Actually, even the side-cast and people we only met briefly along the way seemed like real people.  It made the world seem alive rather than being a place that exists only on paper and in the imagination.  Also – there was no romance.  I know that perhaps the lack of a romance in a story shouldn’t be a high-point, but with all of the romance-driven plots these days, reading something that has no hint of a love-relationship is a breath of fresh air.

The pace was really good, too, quite quick and I had a hard time putting the book down.  In fact, I lost track of time on a couple of occasions while reading, because I’d finish a chapter and just have to read the next to find out what was happening, which to me is a true sign of an immersive universe.

Lastly, the machines were neat and I do sort of wish we'd seen a little more of the Walkers that are mentioned early on, but the ride on the Dreadnought and its steam-powered goodness was nifty.

I know that it seems that my complaints are much longer than my praise, but truly, this novel was delightful.  It’s a very solid follow-up to Boneshaker, and I think actually a better book, because it felt more mature.  No second act jitters to be found here (although I suppose Clementine might be considered the second act).  I can say with certainty that I will be purchasing Clementine when it’s out in paperback next year, and I’ll be picking up the next Clockwork Century novel whenever it’s out.

Aside:  If I've piqued your interest in Cherie Priest's work, I've also reviewed her novel Fathom.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Seven-Per Cent Solution

The Seven-Per Cent Solution: Being A Reprint From The Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. Written by Nicholas Meyer.

Aside: That's right, we've done it again, and clearly we've planned this all out, despite what Doomwench says. We're meticulously organized over here at Girl on Book Action. Besides, every once in a while it's important for me to show my co-writers that I can, in fact, read. Plus, it's also fun to freak you out, my little cupcakes.

Preconceptions: True to my words way back in January (I'm nothing if not an honest reviewer-hmm, how sad for me) I decided to look up the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories. They turned out to be a gateway drug and after a few months of picking away at them, I started seeking out movies and television series (don't be shocked if a few of those end up creeping onto here) starring my new favourite weirdo detective. Digging around for new material led me to the famous (to everyone but me) fan-fic, the Seven Per-Cent Solution. Despite knowing this is a well-loved book and not having to pick off any rotten tomato off the cover, I was still skeptical. It is, after all, someone else trying to write in Doyle's style. While I've read some good books with Holmes appearing in them, writing a story that is supposed to fit into the canon works is something altogether more difficult (just look at the new Hitchiker's book, or rather, don't).

The Plot: In case I'm not alone in having never heard of it, the conceit of the book is that an unpublished Holmes adventure has been discovered and edited by Meyer. What makes this new case particularly interesting is that Holmes has gone from occasional cocaine use when he was bored, to a full time addict. Watson, ever faithful, sets out to find treatment for his friend. And who is clever enough to treat the detective? Sigmund Freud (My other favourite weirdo detective and the only other man up for the task, Batman, not having been born yet).

General Review: Having just glutted on the original Holmes, I was surprised to see how close in tone this book was to the source material. Though admittedly, I'm only a fan and not an expert I didn't find myself yelling to an empty room (or worse a full one) that "Sherlock wouldn't say that!" More importantly, Watson's voice remained nearly unchanged. There was great skill in keeping the style and language (right down to the juvenile snicker-worthy use of "ejaculate") choices consistent. However, though my most major concern was laid to rest, there was too much neatness and fan service. Not every boat and train station needs to be one we've seen in original books. Along the same lines, while fan-girl me was delighted to see Toby (the lovably ugly tracking dog) back in action, harsh-critic me thought any unnamed bloodhound would do, not to mention be less pandering. There was one other notable change and it was one I couldn't bring myself to dislike. Holmes was the tiniest bit nicer to Watson. This could be explained by a more enlightened Holmes, or simply one who'd been weakened by his condition, but as a long time Watson fan I was happy to let this go.

The Sherlock stories have led to volumes of speculative essays about the characters. This is interesting on its own and was sort of like an academic version of a message board discussing the culture of the Romulans. What the Seven-Per Cent Solution did best was take some of the great ideas considered in those essays and weave them into a coherent story. We learn more about Sherlock's past and Watson's family life, and the information seems believable because the germs for these ideas were extrapolated from the source books.

Perhaps because this was so true to the original books, once the mystery was solved the story lost most of my interest. The last thirty pages of exciting chase scene didn't have much sparkle. Doyle learned early on to keep some of the deductions for the end of the story to keep the reader engaged, Meyer didn't take this lesson to heart. Maybe he thought a swashbuckling, chase scene (and one on speeding trains no less) would be enough to keep the audience engaged. By all rights it should have been, but in a Holmes story the mystery is always more compelling than the action. It was worth getting through, however, because we came back to the the mystery of Sherlock's psyche, being untangled by Freud. All in all, there wasn't enough delving into that particular mystery. The glimpses we got of Freud treating Sherlock were compelling, but they were also brief. One of the book's few missteps was not showing us more of these two characters just talking. It might seem less exciting than jumping from speeding trains, but it wasn't.

The Seven Per-Cent Solution was a great nightcap after reading the Holmes series. It tied up some loose ends and answered a few lingering questions in a way I bought. Be warned, however, that as a stand alone book, it would lose a lot of its power. I don't think you need to have read the entire Sherlock catalog to enjoy it, but if you haven't read a couple of them then you'll be missing out. That is the trouble with writing something this tied to the source material, without that background, it's really only half a book. Yes, it would be a coherent narrative, but it wouldn't be a very interesting one.

Another Aside: Those of you who know me are probably sick of me recommending this comic (and its sequel) by Kate Beaton over at Hark! A Vagrant, but it's still one of the biggest Holmes laughs I've ever had.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Girl on...Movie? Action: The Countess

The Countess (2009)
Director: Julie Delpy
Writer: Julie Delpy

Aside:  What's this? Doomwench is reviewing a movie?  Well, my dears, things around here have been hectic and as such there has been NO time for reading.  Luckily, I had this little gem sitting in my backlog still.  So, yes, you get a movie review for once.   Enjoy it while it lasts.

Preconceptions: I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – I love period pieces, especially when it comes to movies, although this also applies to books. I’m also always looking for new and exciting vampire-related things and the Countess Bathory qualifies in this category. I was looking forward to a period-piece foreign film about the bloodthirsty, youth-obsessed woman. That said, I wasn’t exactly expecting a master-piece, but even my somewhat low expectations were disappointed.

My Review:

There were so many BAD elements of this movie that I'm not sure which was the worst. The main culprits are the acting, the script and the strange accents everyone felt they needed to use, none of which matched with any others. Since it's probably a combination of those elements, I’ll say it was bad directing. When the director is also the writer I tend to worry about the quality of the movie, and when it turns out said director and writer is also the main actress I begin to think that the movie is all about appeasing someone’s ego.

So, let me talk about the acting in specific. It was pretty terrible – there were a few believable scenes across the board, one that springs to mind is when Erzebet (Delpy) grabs a young girl she recognizes and tells her to run away. I believed the mad despair in that scene, but that was about the only time. Delpy felt wooden for most of the movie, as if she was some sort of Hoffmanian automaton. Her lover and also narrator of the film, Istvan Thurzo (Daniel Brühl who you might recognize from Inglorious Basterds) was pretty terrible and came across as creepy rather than seductive or alluring. He definitely didn’t make me believe that anyone could fall so madly in love with him that she would start murdering virgins. His performance was probably the most disappointing, since I thought he was good in Basterds. I guess it shows what a good director can do. The only other character worth mentioning is Dominic Vizakna (Sebastian Blomberg) who was so unrealistic that he bordered on a parody, which I doubt was the intention. I think he was meant to be a mysterious, dark paramour drawing Erzebet to the dark side, but Blomberg did not have the acting chops to pull that off. His scenes mostly made us laugh.

The accents were inconsistent and generally bad, enough said.

I did like the sets – the castle was appropriately imposing and isolated – and the costumes, at least for the women were nice. I do have to say that at times Iztvan’s jackets looked like they were made from some nice curtain brocade. Erzebet’s dresses were beautiful, though I can’t say how time-appropriate they might have been.  Historically accurate or not, I liked them quite a bit.  As much as the dresses were pretty and the sets appropriately imposing, these things to do not make a solid movie, they are just window-dressing.

The plot was straight-forward, even though it was trying to be filled with political intrigue and personal agonies. I think in the hands of a better director with stronger actors it could have been something really amazing, if not necessarily unique. Given the weakness of the acting and the script, stronger focus on the murdering would have helped keep an audience interested – if you can’t woo them with brilliant performances, entrance them with gore, it works for the Saw movies after all.

Let me add one more positive thing to this review. Some of the shots were quite nice – I remember especially the sequence toward the end when Bathory is being walled into her room and you see her silhouetted against the outside world and the two men who put her there. That was effective. There were a few other similarly picturesque images, but none that stand out as much as that one.

Overall, if you can get it for free and want to spend an hour and a half cringing at the terrible dialogue with the off-kilter accents, go for it. If you’d rather use that hour and a half to do something, anything else, I won’t hold it against you. Definitely don’t spend any money on renting or buying it. You can find something better to spend your pennies on, trust me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Hexer

The Hexer. Directed by Marek Brodzki & written by Michal Szczerbic

Preconceptions: When not watching movies and writing gush or snark about them, I'm an avid video game fancier, particularly of the fantasy RPG persuasion. While waiting for more Dragon Age, I decided to glut on some other fantasy games to ease my desire to hunt dragons and run around in caves. One of these was the ugly and unbelievably buggy Neverwinter Nights 2 (no real point to commenting on this, except an opportunity to slag a game that was nearly unplayable and a horrendous waste of money) and the other was the surprisingly good the Witcher. Now I was expecting the Witcher to be a passable hack n' slasher, full of amusing dungeon crawls and the occasional pair of animated breasts and taut male behind. To its credit, it held up that end of the bargain, but it was actually pretty good in other ways. The story was fairly complex and didn't patronize (believe me, gaming industry, we can keep up and you don't need to have characters whose entire purpose is to spout the obvious, in case we weren't paying attention). Its moral choices were actual choices. This went beyond the usual pathetically simple good and evil, like: "save village and virtuously refuse reward" or "burn it to the ground and loot the charred corpses" (not that I'm against the occasional charred corpse loot). Having enjoyed the game so much I dug a little deeper (which is to say I dug at all) and discovered it was based on a series of books which were also adapted into a movie.

I was intrigued. Despite his many similarities to Moorcock's Elric (one of my most hated fantasy characters) I had found myself liking Geralt; conflicted, occasionally funny and rather unlikable fellow that he was. Reading further I discovered that the movie was patched together from a TV series, never a good sign. But despite this, I decided it would be fun to see Geralt and company running around in live action, and it also lets me continue my trend of the last few months of bringing weird tid-bits to your attention (oh I'll get back to mainstream stuff soon enough and you'll miss this when it's gone).

General Review: The Hexer is in that unfortunate category of movie that makes a nice book end if you've already read the source material (like the animated New Frontier movie and to a lesser extent Watchmen). If you're a fan, seeing characters you love bouncing around in the flesh is fun and you know the answers to all the things left confusing or unexplained by the movie. For instance, I know that Geralt and his Hexer (or Witcher depending on who's doing the translating) buddies have gone through a mutation (caused by eating the grossest parts of monsters) to make them top notch warrior types. I also know that they all hang out at Kaer Morhen where they drink, discuss how tough they are and how terrible it is to be a mighty, unstoppable fighting force (le sigh). The movie, however, won't be telling you any of this information. It goes well beyond expecting the audience to pay attention and right into withholding vital information. The Hexer is extremely stingy with its back-story giving only the tiniest of hints (if that) to the audience. Hell, I didn't even know the Right of Surprise (an integral bit of plot contrivance) from the game, I remembered it from some fairy tales (another passion of mine, somewhat lower on the list).

Having learned my lesson from Night Watch, I was determined to track down the subbed version, so that I'd know exactly who to blame for any pain I was caused from the dialogue. This time I can tell you, without question, that it was poor writing and translation and in no way the fault of trying to sync up the dubbing. Occasionally it was just stilted, characters proclaiming "I don't like you at all!" and other times it was down right nonsense speak.

The Hexer wasn't all bad translation and ignored exposition, if it had been I wouldn't be drawing your attention to it, I'd have just shuffled it off and tried something else. Whether it was by choice or an accident of editing, the story structure was really cool. Often, when we follow big tough heroes who we're meant to believe are always having off screen adventures, we barely see them have one adventure in the movie. The Hexer gave a real sense of Geralt basically falling from one quest or danger directly into the next one. They weren't all connected to the main plot or helping the character figure out something he needed to know for his development. Nope, a lot of the times Geralt was just having random encounters with monsters and bandits. It's something that should be obvious that I haven't seen much of, in any genre that employs the swashbuckling hero. I enjoyed it and wish some flicks with a better grasp of the basics would steal it.

The visuals weren't impressive. I knew going in that this movie didn't have a spectacular budget and that the effects wouldn't wow me...but really the look of the Hexer owed a lot more to Ladyhawke (worth a look if you enjoy 80's fantasy) and (more laughably) Quest of the Delta Knights than something that came out in this century. The rubber monsters (which I know can look good with the right puppeteer) were straight up Ed Wood-y and the less said about the CG the better (though naturally, I'll show you). Despite the appalling look of the creatures Michal Zebrowski (who played Geralt) was good at reacting to them. Unfortunately, this can't be said for any other actor in the movie, who mostly poked at where the monsters weren't. Zebrowski was also passable in the fight scenes, doing some neat and believable choreography where he manages to spin away from sword cuts rather than needing to parry them. But again, the other poor physical actors took almost all of the fun out of the fights. Also, we appeared to be in the land of the butch facial scars as nearly every male character had at least one.

While Zebrowski wasn't a bad physical actor, the quality of the acting overall (including him) was more Ren Faire than SAG. Surprisingly, Marta Bitner, who played Geralt's tag along kid, was one of the stand outs. She managed to portray a regal bearing and a range of emotions that the rest of the cast lacked.

I've given the Hexer more than a few rough smacks on the bottom via my review (well deserved), but despite this I didn't exactly hate it. If you haven't read the books or played the game, it's going to be extremely muddled and difficult to follow, don't let me mislead you. But the good I did see and my general enjoyment of the game, has piqued my interest enough that I'm going to be picking up the full length TV series and those books.

Aside: Watching the rough and tumble Geralt deal with his mommy issues had me in stitches.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
ISBN: 0-385-66365-X


Walking the streets of Moscow, indistinguishable from the rest of its population, are the Others. Each owes allegiance to either the Dark or the Light, two powerful forces that long ago forged an uneasy truce in order to avert chaos and disaster. They watch each other closely, carefully maintaining the world’s precarious balance between good and evil.

Anton, a young Other of the Light, is a Night Watch agent who patrols the streets and subways of the city, protecting ordinary people from the agents – including vampires – of the Dark. On his rounds, Anton comes across a young woman, Svetlana, who is under a powerful curse that threatens to destroy the city, and a boy, Egor, an Other still unaware of his powers, whom Anton narrowly saves from the vampires of the Dark.

Anton and his partner, Olga, a powerful female Other who has been turned into an owl as punishment, work frantically with their Night Watch colleagues – each gifted with their own particular powers – to deflect Svetlana’s curse and to protect Egor from the creatures that pursue him.

Aside:  And here you go, my follow-up to Wren's review of the movie adaptation.  Enjoy!

My Thoughts:

As usual when I review a book that also has a movie version that I’ve seen I’m going to try to keep the comparisons to a minimum, but they may creep in here and there.

The first thing I want to address is that I was worried about the translation when I started reading this book, especially when thinking back to Let the Right One In.  I had concerns that some of the prose was problematic for me because of the way it was translated. My fears with regard to The Night Watch were unfounded. Not only was the prose pleasant enough to read, but I don’t have any typos to gripe about!

I really enjoyed that while there was quite a bit of action, the novel was also a meditation on Good and Evil, the boundary between the two, the grey areas. As Anton grows as a character and learns more about both the side of Light – the Night Watch – and the Dark – the Day Watch – the questions of who is right and who is wrong become more and more difficult to answer. Both sides have rules and regulations but they’re in a sort of cold war with small skirmishes and negotiations. The setting and mythology just really appealed to me. The idea of a Balance that needs to be maintained and that any action by either side not only has natural repercussions but also gives the other side the right to retaliate. It’s a book about choices and having to live with the consequences of your actions. And if you've been following for a while, you might recall that I was similarly pleased to find this type of meditation in the Recluse books (you can find the first review here).  The topic is approached in a more gritty, mature way here, so you need not fear that it's repetitive.

The story itself moved at a good clip and there were puzzles, clues, and ethical pondering. Between the mystery, the philosophizing and Anton’s character I kept turning pages. While the notions of Good and Evil are fairly universal, the setting and characters led to a bit of estrangement from these concepts. In some ways, the whole book reads like an intense, drug-induced hallucination and you’re just rushing along in a whirlwind of fantastic events.

The pace of the story was probably one of the few drawbacks of the book – sometimes it felt like things could have been explained more fully or described in more detail. More complete explication would not have detracted from the mysteries and puzzles. I’m mostly thinking about the organization of the two Watches, some of the understanding of how they work is mostly inferred from conversations and events, which is fine in a way, but when you set up a fairly complicated system explaining at least some of it in detail helps. I also would have liked to have seen some more action from the women. There are several female characters, all of them strong, but since the story is told from Anton’s point of view, we only get a limited view of these women.

Wow, did I really get this far without talking about the movie? Good for me and for you, too!

Okay, let me wrap this up. This book and the quality of the translation pleasantly surprised me. The setting and characters are memorable and make the pages fly past. I recommend this one and will be looking to get part two, Day Watch in the near future.