Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Priest

Priest. Directed by Scott Charles Steward & Written by Corey Goodman.

Preconceptions: Since leaving the snow-glare drenched valleys of my own post-apocalyptic wasteland, Mother Canada, the thing I
miss most (besides having a sled team of yappy little dogs) is my regular movie nights with the gang (and planning them using inappropriate media, like other people's podcasts). When deciding to fund an expedition back to my homeland, movie choice is extremely important. Eventually, Priest was decided on (I started using passive voice here, to avoid blaming any one person, but I've changed my mind: I blame Doomwench). I know that a futuristic, dystopian setting, filled with blood thirsty creatures sounds a little on the cliche side (and I love that I live in a world where the technology exists to make that true), but we're big suckers (ha-ha) for vampires as monsters. Not to mention, Karl Urban is a big draw.

General Review: Before the claws come out, a quick plot summary (well, I say plot). We're in a dark and gritty spaghetti western future, ruled by the oppressive power of the Church. A plague of slavering semi-intelligent vampires wiped out a whole lot of humanity until a group of holy warriors got face tattoos and were sent off to smite (this is all breezed through in an opening comic-chic credit sequence, with a lame voice over). A few years later, most of the vampires are dead and the Church disbands these Priests the better to oppress the frightened populace. Our hero (called Priest, because it won't be confusing, so quit asking) hears that his family has been overrun with vampires and goes on a quest to find out what's what.

While I often deal in hyperbole in this blog, I do not lightly say something is worse than Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. Priest was, without question, worse. What characterized this movie most was utterly shameless waste. We're presented with sweeping cityscapes (alright, which are highly cribbed from Bladerunner) and vast cowboy-friendly plains. The creature design was yawn-worthy but there were tons of them bouncing around. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw the same grey slobbering monster in Thor a few weeks back...and (as Doomwench has pointed out) in Doom (another flawed but less tedious Karl Urban movie). Finally, the cast couldn't have been cheap, featuring Karl Urban (all Roland-ed out), Paul Bettany and Christopher Plumber. This movie cost about 60 million dollars to make, one quarter the budget of Avatar (blue people, not white people)*. But all the money, talent and spectacle couldn't make up for the uninspired, derivative drivel that I guess could be described as a script.

Oh sure, there were a lot of directorial choices that were dull and copy and pasted from other movies (movies that might have been hip 10, 20 years ago, I mean Priest was making use of bullet time and escaping explosions by running in front of them), but the occasional hackiness in directin
g was nothing compared to the writing. While no one actually said it was "Quiet, too quiet" or screamed "My baby!" we were subjected to every bit of terrible dialogue up to those. I was also waiting for "Stay frosty" but was only rewarded with "Stay sharp." It was almost worse when the flick tried to get a bit more creative with the writing. While looking over a deserted city, full of tumble-down skyscrapers, Cam Gigandet, our young scrappy side kick, tries to describe the feelings caused by the devastation. What he manages is: "thinking about it makes my eyes hurt." Yes, Priest, I enjoyed a very similar 90 minute experience. But the fun didn't stop there. Karl Urban goes on to describe himself as the "only human vampire." What? No, seriously, what?! You're going to have to try a little harder than that, and this is from the woman who clapped her hands and laughed at the vampire-Pomeranians in the unfortunate Blade 3.

Really, what turned this movie from bad to unbearable was how stone cold serious it took itself. This was a movie about a pseudo-western, vampire hunting priest (with kung-fu undertones) that wanted us to buy every moment of it without any doubt.
Priest lacked even the tiniest modicum of self awareness. If it had been a goofy romp through some silly ideas, I would have skipped through the tulips with it, but no, it wanted me to watch it with the same grim awe that I saved for my first viewing of Apocalypse Now. Goodman and Steward drained every bit of life out of a stupid, but possibly fun ideas (who are the real vampires, am I right?).

To momentarily remove
the screws from Goodman's thumbs, lets talk about the acting. Oh, I suppose the performances were mediocre. The seasoned talent gave reasonable performances utterly lacking in spark and as for the new meat, I didn't care for Cam Gigandet's dullard act and Lily Collins wasn't believable as a a girl with spirit (lets all roll our eyes and chorus: "we all like a girl with spirit").

While racking my brain for anything positive to say about
Priest, I came up with two things. Thing One: Karl Urban remains very handsome and I look forward to the new Star Trek movie. Thing Two: Stephen Moyer (from the deliciously trashy True Blood) was a nice bit of stunt casting, playing someone who wasn't a vampire. Seriously folks, that's it. Day dreaming about the next Star Trek movie was the highlight of this experience.

It may shock you to learn I don't recommend Priest. While it's plenty bad enough to be fun, it's just the same kind of bad you've seen a thousand times before. Sure it's all lumped into a big pile, but that doesn't add any new terrible elements to dissect and enjoy with a group of friends. If you haven't seen any movies in the last quarter century and are looking to catch up on tired trends, I can endorse Priest. For everyone else, maybe Death Trance instead.

*According to my investigative review research: quickly looking it up online, without checking any other source.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Girl on...Movie? Action: Death Trance

Death Trance (2005)
Director: Yûji Shimomura
Writers: Seiji Chiba, Shinichi Fujita, Junya Kato, Yûji Shimomura

Aside: I know you were expecting the usual glib book review, my dear little spiders, but I'm a mercurial creature (I really am - a Virgo, ruled by Mercury). So instead of my nattering about books, you get a review for a movie you've never even heard of, enjoy!

Some Introductory Rambling:

Every so often I find myself awake late at night, not tired enough to sleep, but not really able to partake of my usual entertainments (reading, writing, snarking on the internet, or playing Dragon Age 2 for the tenth time – in case you were wondering) and so I turn to Netflix. My recent problem there has been that all the movies I really want to watch are foreign films and at that point of the night I don’t really want to bother with subtitles. Alas, alack and well-a-day my dear pumpkins I braved the horrible yellow type for this one anyway. I had absolutely no expectations when I randomly picked this flick and so I was pleasantly surprised.

Thoughts that might resemble a Review:

If you’re a fan of strange Japanese movies you might have seen Versus some years ago (I know I saw it multiple times with my sister) and Death Trance is done by the same director and main actor guy. Strangeness abounds.

The story, as understand it, is that Grave (our main character) steals this magical coffin from a monastery.  Why, you might ask, well, rumor has it that it grants wishes if you take it to a special forest.  Although really, what do I know?  It was 3am.  Naturally, a lone surviving monk (he was elsewhere when the thief attacked the monastery) is sent to prevent Grave from opening the coffin and unleashing forces that will destroy the world (who'd have thought a wishing coffin could lead to problems?). A very creepy little girl (in a Japanese movie? Shocking!) follows Grave around for a while, but once he's separated from the coffin, it becomes clear that it's the coffin she's following, not Grave. Oh, and the monk runs into a guy with a strange sort of curly mohawk hair-do and a bazooka. These two team up to get the coffin, although mohawk guy wants it for wish-granting purposes.

Along the way, we watch Grave fight a whole bunch of pale guys in awesome clothes – sorta like a cyber / steampunk convention in the middle of a forest. And if you were wondering why I found this movie so appealing that last sentence pretty well sums it up: it was lovely to look at. Silly plot aside I loved all of the costumes and I am a superficial creature that can be easily seduced if you present me with enough black-clad folks, especially if there are also buckles and zippers and goggles involved. Speaking of – the movie hit another one of my weaknesses: stoic anti-heroes with glowing eyes. Yes, Grave becomes some sort of Chosen One meant to do battle against the Goddess of Destruction (I'll explain this in a moment, don't you trust me?) and his eyes glow red as he begins to come into his power. I just about turned into a puddle.

Right, so once Grave brings the coffin through a strange glowing door in the special forest (which had some weird spider-vampire-ninjas and a horde of zombies wearing leather facemasks that he defeated with his sword that was actually a gun) the creepy little girl crawls into it and comes out as the Goddess of Destruction. The monk and a strange lady (yes, another person following Grave and / or the wishing coffin through the magical forest full of ninja goths) who showed up along the way follow and witness the battle between Grave, whose wish is to be destroyed, and the Goddess. This battle scene was gorgeous! All rose petals for blood and floating around in an infinite black space. She defeats our unfortunate anti-hero despite the fact that he gets a special sword with a pulsing, fleshy hilt and glowing red script on its blade. He falls and falls in a shower of red petals. Very picturesque.

And then for the most nonsensical part of the whole plot (yes, even more nonsensical than the wishing coffin, list of bizarre characters and some things I haven't had time to touch on yet) where we find our monk again and he is in the middle of the desert with angels falling to the earth all around him. Yes, angels.  That strange lady shows up again and we see on her back that she has scars that look like she used to have wings there. Between the two of them they hash out that the Goddess has gone to the heavens. And it turns out Grave isn’t dead, because he shows up again, with glowy red eyes and his glowy red sword and he follows her to do battle once more. I guess the whole "dying" thing was meant as some sort of rite of passage to bring him into his powers, but the promise of a much better battle (which I presume takes place in a sequel that has not yet materialized) does take the oomph out of what was supposed to be the climatic battle scene.

Finally, I need to address the issue of some of the strange anachronisms going on in this movie - although, given that the tag line reads: “An unknown time. An unknown place. Without reasons. With no future. His only desire is... Destruction!” (thanks, IMDB), the word anachronism seems inaccurate.  I already mentioned the bazooka, and while this was probably the worst, it certainly wasn't alone.  There were several species of guns (though no one seems to understand how aiming worked) and a motorcycle.  To a certain type of continuity nerd this might have been unbearable.  I don't know if it was the time of night (it sure was getting late) or an innate ability to ignore the movie's occasional nod to being a period piece, but I had no issue with a few misplaced items.  So, long paragraph short, the lack of internal consistency didn't bother me, but the distinct lack of marskmanship sure did!  Guns aren't just there to make loud noises, people.

Is Death Trance a good movie? No, not at all. Was I amused? Oh, yes. Should you see it? Well, if you like strange flicks, men with glowing eyes and don’t mind reading subtitles, go for it! Mostly, it wasn't anything more than pretty to look at and weird enough to keep me entertained (at godawful o'clock).  Now, I'll just sit here and wait for a sequel...and wait...and wait...and wait...I sure could use a wishing coffin right about now to end this interminable waiting (nothing could go wrong with that, right?)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Girl on Week Action: The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two)

The Wise Man's Fear. Written by Patrick Rothfuss.

: That's right, it's once again time for me to prove that I can read and conversely, that Doomwench can sit through a movie. It's time for the old switch-er-roo, where I'll be telling you all about a book I've been buried in.

Preconceptions: I suppose it would have been more helpful to start with the Name of the Wind, the first book in this series, but I read that ages ago and I'm more excited about The Wise Man's Fear (plus Doomwench has already done one). This only just came out and I was dancing nervously at the door waiting for its arrival. Excepting A Game of Thrones (which I originally read some time ago, but am re-perusing for the same book club Doomwench is in-do we do anything apart?) Name of the Wind is the best fantasy book I've read in years. Waiting for the sequel has been killing me.

General Review: Just in case you've had your head in a fantasy blocking bucket for the last couple of years, the general plot of the Kingkiller books is as follows (beware of very minor spoilers):

Kvothe, our hero, is telling the truth of his much exaggerated life story to
a historian. We flash to the present, where he's a tavern keeper and then back to the exploits of his youth. After the death of his parents at the hands of some mysterious demon types, he spends a few years in poverty and then manages, through trickery and generally being a smarty-pants to get himself into a school of science and magic. The Wise Man's Fear covers the middle years of his time at school, the love of his life and some extracurricular adventuring (spoilers end).

Right off the bat, let me tell you that I very much enjoyed this book. The pacing was a heck of a lot better than that in many second act fantasy novels. This was not a placeholder book, the way so many second act books are. It didn't run in circles and vaguely set up for the climax. I ate the whole thing up over a few days and it was the cause of a couple of bleary eyed mornings (just one more chapter).

While we do focus heavily on Kvothe (a deeply self absorbed character) the glimpses of the other characters he allows us remained interesting. Walking the line between writing a believably egoistical protagonist and ignoring the rest of the cast is difficult and Rothfuss doesn't waiver a bit. The slow revelation of who our demonic villains are continues to be paced exactly right. We get the feeling that it's difficult to figure out, but also have enough tiny crumbs of information not to be entirely frustrated.

I know what you're thinking: "but how do you feel about the love interest, O Love Hatey-ist of Reviewers?" Well, I have to give into my own stereotype at least a little here. While the love interest is integral to the story and not at all shoe horned, I continue to hate the object of Kvothe's interest: Denna. She's supposed to be the ultimate desirable but unattainable woman. She's also supposed to be soulfully sad, believing that she's alone and unworthy of being loved. Yeah, you'll be shocked to hear I don't buy it. I just haven't been convinced that she's that great. This might be intentional on Rothfuss' part, the fact that quite a few characters fall head of heels for her leaves me with the distinct impression that it's probably just my wishful thinking. Truth be told, while I enjoyed every minute of this book it was generally lacking in fascinating female characters for me to latch onto. Getting me to ignore my gender bias shows you just how engrossing a read this was!

The world building holds up in this second novel, it continues to feel like a real place with its own history and laws of nature. The magic system of Sympathy (using the likeness between two things to effect each other) is something I've seen toyed with in other fantasy, but is explored to much greater depth here. We spent just a touch too much time at the school, but just as I was beginning to get tired of the setting, Rothfuss moved us out of it.

If you haven't read the Kingkiller books yet, you simply must. It might not be for those of you who want to set the entire fantasy genre on fire, but it is one of the handful of series I would even bother recommending to my pyromaniac friends and readers. These books are excellently written. Rothfuss has created a wonderful world, peopled with unforgettable characters and has woven a complex story I think you'll dig. It is an un-regrettable read.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Girl on Book Action: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
ISBN: 978-0-553-57340-4


In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing.  The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall.  At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to.  Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.  Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavours to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.


Aside:  I know what you’re thinking: Doomwench is jumping on the Game of Thrones bandwagon because of the new TV show and the announcement that the next book is finally done.  I suppose that in a way I am, but mostly what I'm doing is cheating. You see, Game of Thrones was the reading selection for the book club I recently joined and now it’s doing double duty as fodder for a review. Double dipping aside, I still have many things to say about this novel (which is why you're here, is it not?).

My Thoughts:

I’m not sure how I missed reading these books all these years, given my unabating love for long fantasy series.  I suppose I was so busy reading Robin Hobb’s Farseer books and Katharine Kerr’s fifteen part Deverry series that dear old George passed under my radar.  I’ve had a copy of Game of Thrones sitting in my to-be-read pile for at least a year, perhaps longer, I just kept putting it off, and the book club finally gave me the push I needed to start reading.

While my overall feeling on it is that I really loved the novel, I do have some issues with it.  The main one is that there are so many different character's points of view.  I think too many points of view is going right up there under “whiny narrators” on my list of pet peeves.  Why do I hate this device?  Well, I find it jarring – just as I’m settling into a character and its story I’m wrenched out to start the process anew with a different character.  It becomes especially problematic when there are a number of silly people running around that I wish I could slap upside the head.  Having to deal with their idiocy instead of enjoying the broody outcastness of Jon Snow or the strong-willed determination of Arya really got my hackles up.  There were times when I began to wish that the whole story was told from the point of view of the Lannister clan, because they seemed like they would be less frustratingly stupid.  Yes, I said it, the Starks (with the exception of Arya and I suppose Robb - also Jon, though he's a bastard, so I like to think of him as separate from this mess) are stupid (especially, you, Eddard *glares*).

Spoiler Warning!!!

What kind of idiot tells his arch nemesis that he knows her very important secret, one that she’s already proven she will kill to keep?  Eddard Stark does.  Seriously, when he told Cersei that he was going to expose her and warned her to flee I wanted to strangle the man.  It was as if he was inviting a viper to bite him.  Honour is all fine and good, but sometimes you have to use your brain, Ned.  You deserved what you got, my man.

I suppose I’m done spoiling things now.

Going hand-in-hand with the too-many-points-of-view complaint is the pacing.  It took a while for the book to really pick up speed since we had to sit through all the different character introductions.  Fortunately, once it got going it really got going and I read the last half of the book in a mad rush to find out what happens.  Of course, I had to fight the urge to skip reading the chapters about characters I didn’t like (Sansa, Catelyn, Bran, Eddard), but at least the end had a few Daenarys chapters to make up for it (even if my most favourite suffered a terrible fate. *sigh* It’s like Lord Tezdal all over again).

When I wasn’t being jarred out of my emotional connection with the characters or cursing them for being hysterical women (Catelyn) or idiots (Eddard), I really enjoyed the book.  And really, my reaction to some of the characters speaks to the skill Martin has in pushing a reader’s buttons.  Even though I didn’t like a lot of them, they were still well written.  I loved the court intrigue and I adored the idea of the Night’s Watch.  I’m thoroughly sick of people telling me that “winter is coming."  Direwolves are pretty damn cool.  Am I telling you anything you don’t already know?  Probably not.

If you’re like me and you’ve somehow missed these novels, or have avoided them because you, like me, fear that the series will never be completed, I do suggest that you give it a go.  I finished A Game of Thrones and immediately wanted to start A Clash of Kings, I’m refraining only because that would not lead to good blogging, but that should tell you how good the book truly is, all of my griping aside.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Sexy Bookshelves!

Every so often we here at Girl on Book Action like to do something new to jar you out of your regular routine of reviews.  Personally, I'm hoping that this will become a semi-regular feature in these parts, as there is little that titillates me more than sexy bookshelves (I mean...*sigh* never you mind!).

First, we have the shelves of none other than Handsome Dan from Down Under, whom you might remember from his excellent guest review of Xombi (clicky here to have a look-see).

He writes:

As you can see my Bookshelf acts like a shrine to nearly every nerd aspect. Video Games, Comics, Books, Movies and Role Playing games.

Included amongst the various documents and footage files are toys that I've accumulated over the years. Highlights would be a plush Count Von Count and a Chibi Freddy Krueger.

This bookshelf just screams, "Help I need a life!"

I, Doomwench, disagree with that last statement, but perhaps I'm not the best judge of that.

Next, the enviable shelves of our good friend Jen (you can find her blog Suburban Pagan on the side bar or clicky the name):

I don't think this particular set of shelves needs a blurb.  Just stare in envy as I'm doing right now, readers.

*happy sigh*  Are you ready for more?  Because I certainly have more to show you.

The lovely Mallory sent us these treasures:

Wonderful, aren't they?  Hark, I think I hear the sound of contentment emanating from book lovers everywhere.

Now, don't you wish you could have your own shelves on display?  To have people salivating about your overflowing bounty?  Or fainting at the pristine organization of your most prized possessions?  Well, fear not!  We would love to see your own arrangements!  You can e-mail them to us at any time (the higher res the better for proper ogling), with or without blurb (though you risk me blurbing for you) and we'll include them in the next titillating sexy bookshelf post.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Thor, For Real This Time

Thor. Directed by Kenneth Branagh & Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz & Don Payne.

: My feelings on Thor went through a rather ridiculous change. To begin with I was certain it was a misstep. I mean, Iron Man, Captain America and the rest all fit into a science fiction-y comic book hero universe. A god with magic powers? Not so much. Still, hearing that Branagh was directing really turned my head. Not because he's never done a bad movie (I hate his self-aggrandizing directing in Hamlet, for example) but because his movies aren't stupid. Even if I didn't end up enjoying how Thor fit into the rest of the Marvel universe, I wasn't worried about rolling my eyes at prancing idiocy. Then I began to hear the trickling work of mouth, mostly good, and more than being interested I was excited to see Thor (words I never thought would pass my lips...or keyboard in this case). Finally, when I wasn't able to see it I was disappointed (who'd have thought?). So I made another stab at going to the theater. This time there would be no hateful Plan B movies, I was going to see Thor.

General Review: Well to say that there was no prancing idiocy is maybe a bit of a stretch. Once again, we've got a superhero movie with an excellent cast where I completely do not buy the love interest. I have a soft spot for Natalie Portman. The Professional was a powerful and disturbing movie that wouldn't have worked without her talent and I think she didn't get nearly the credit she deserved in V for Vendetta. Her performance in this, however, didn't even reach the level of "meh." It was so uninspired that I simply can't get to anything else about Thor, not even my usual general summary until I get this out of my system. I didn't believe for two blinks that she was a scientist of any kind. She didn't sound like she understood any of the jargon she used and she certainly didn't seem like an expert in her field. What's more, I didn't buy that there was anything captivating enough to get Thor's attention. Sure, she was the first person who was nice to him, so there might have been a bit of a complex there, but she wasn't especially brilliant, charismatic or even pretty (and if it was going to be her ridiculous loveliness that was going to catch his attention, they really shouldn't have put her next to the much sexier Kat Dennings). I don't know what it is about super hero flicks being unable to cast convincing female leads, but it's gone way past the point of tiresome. Because it isn't the writing or directing that's falling down, it's strictly a matter of poor acting.

Now that I've ground that particular axe down to a nub, lets talk about some of the great things about Thor. Chris Hemsworth and (even more so) Tom Hiddleston can wash the taste of Portman out of my mouth any da
y of the week. And not just because they're some jaw dropping-ly gorgeous men (because on that score let us not forget Idris Elba, I mean, how could we?). No, these two were excellent, both in their own rights and as foils for each other. Yes, yes there was the obvious blonde, tanned muscle-y brother next to the dark, lanky brother, but the mirroring went deeper than that. Hiddlestone (as Loki) spent most of his time lurking in the corners of scenes while Hemsworth (Thor) roared and smashed at centre stage. It was a wonderful pairing of good acting and directing.

I could go on about these two and the directorial choices for them for ages. Hemsworth's brash, dopey Thor was charming. And it was nice to have the big dumb hero actually be gullible and clearly out-matched mentally by almost everyone around him. If Portman had been better we might have believed that he was mooning after her because he admired her intellect. Loki's arc was suitably twisty and tragic. As ever, it was fun seeing Clark Gregg be Agent Coulson: Super Bureaucrat and I also quite dug Jaimie Alexander who played a completely believable warrior woman.

Despite my ribbing of Branagh's ego (there is so much to rib), this was a wonderfully put together movie. Not only were the Asgardian bits cool and believable looking, but I wasn't bored either when we were there or when we were on Earth. I very rarely found myself wishing one part or the other was shorter. That's some amazing pacing right there. It was vibrantly colourful both on Earth and on Asgard and looked more like a classic comic book than any of the previous superhero movies, which tend to be a fair bit grittier (as a aside, me and Doomwench got into a silly grammatical argument over whether it should be "on" or "in" Asgard. It's a planet in the Marvel U, so I stick out my grammar tongue at her). I do have a few minor nits to pick, the Frost Giants were kinda lame looking (though from what I can tell, fairly true to the comics) and the huge beast that they fight in the first act (I guess it's the Frost Giant's dog) looked like every CG slobbering horror I've seen in the past few years (yawn). The design choices there were tedious and cribbed awfully heavily from Lord of the Rings.

The costume design, on the other hand, deserves some seriously praise. The costumes in Thor, lets make no bones, are stupid. Sure, some of them are passable in comics (though certainly not all), but making them real? That had to be tough. Somehow Alexandra Byrne made the the costumes not only look like something that people could wear, while remaining true to the original design sensibility, but she made them look cool.

While there are certainly a few flaws to Thor (ones besides Portman) it is really worth your while. It's a story of a hero's redemption which, despite all the comic movies from the last few years, is also one that hasn't been told recently. Thor is funny, it doesn't take itself too seriously and is skillfully acted and directed. If I were a betting woman, I'd place several shinies on you enjoying this flick. What's more, I don't feel the need to throw up the usual: "if you like comic books" disclaimer!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
ISBN: 978-0-7564-0571-7


The world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own.  Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival – but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.  Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations.  Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely.  After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life.  Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas.

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world.  Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery...before the curse catches up with her.


My Thoughts:

If you’ve been following along, you will remember that I reviewed Feed some time ago and that it was written by a woman called Mira Grant, well, dear readers, Seanan McGuire is the same person (gasp! I know! I'm clearly a villain for revealing her secret identity.  You are now shocked! Shocked!).  Why am I telling you something that I’ve mentioned before (in the Feed review, have you read that yet? Why not? Pause and go read it, right now) and that you could easily find on Google?  Well, my snowflakes, it’s so you are prepared for the fact that I am going to be showering praise on yet another book.  While I’m repeating myself (indulge me), I’ll reiterate something I wrote when discussing Elizabeth Bear’s Blood and Iron: the book fills a void in my reading life.  This abyss was created when certain other writers abandoned interesting characters and mystery plots to write paranormal orgies instead.  These books use empty promises of plot to lure in the unsuspecting reader, but then do nothing but parade abnormally handsome men across the pages and the plot, if it is remembered at all, too often happens off-stage while the heroine is conveniently (or inconveniently unconscious).  Needless to say, I've got some issues with that type of book and I felt some trepidation at the outset of Rosemary and Rue.  Happily, my fears were unfounded (always a surprise).

Let me offer you my only piece of criticism up front, so that the gushing can commence in earnest. There was a pacing issue (for me): in the middle of the book Toby goes from one fight to the next to the next with barely a moment to breathe.  Different allies patch her up in between so she can keep moving and then she’s ambushed again.  I understand that it makes sense to show that her enemies are determined to see her dead, but it got to be a touch repetitive.  And then the ending felt a bit rushed – there was a big climax and then a couple of short chapters of summary.  I would have liked to have seen more detail on the aftermath, but since there are further books that wish may still come true (and really, this is a backhanded sort of compliment - I liked the story so much that I wanted to see more of it!).  And that’s it, griping over.  Almost painless when there is so little to address.

October is a believable protagonist.  She has flaws.  She has weaknesses.  She’s relatable.  She isn’t the most beautiful woman ever who just doesn’t realize her own beauty like some others (okay, okay, I promise I won’t use this review to underhandedly criticize other, inferior novels anymore).  You suffer when she suffers and you want her to succeed.  I couldn’t have asked for more in the way of a plucky heroine.

The world building was subtle and well done.  I wasn't lost -  not when it came to elements of Faerie and not in the real-world setting of San Francisco, although I have a tiny bit of knowledge of that area of the world.  The description of the terror that is the Bay Bridge really struck a chord – that place is horrifying.  I never felt like I was reading a big info-dump to get me caught up on the magical elements in the story, while at the same time getting enough background to understand who different people where, why there were important and how this world functions.

And, my dear readers, I like to think that I’m perceptive, that I notice things, that I’m adept at guessing the outcomes of mysteries, but I was truly surprised when the culprit was revealed.  Now, I suppose you could argue that I’ve been reading lazy mysteries (I assure you, I have), but I’m going to posit that it was the author’s skill and not any shortcoming on my part that made this work.  I am impressed.  Another thing that made me love this book is that when people are in danger, they are really in danger and characters you begin to like can and will die (I would add another snide, underhanded judgement of other inferior books here, but I won’t).  Having that sense of urgency in the narrative really drew me into the story more than having everyone be safe and happy in the end.  Life is not like that, why should fiction, especially fiction about mythical creatures and murders, suddenly coddle you?  It shouldn’t (in my not-so-humble opinion).

To make a long review short: I loved this book and I’ll be buying subsequent October Daye books, well, whenever my self-imposed ban on buying more books expires (which is probably soon, as I’m beginning to go a little crazy from lack of new treasures; also, I’ve been filled with awesome recently and deserve all the papery presents).  If you like urban fantasy novels and smart-ass heroines, you should definitely give this a go and if you prefer Mira Grant’s zombie-infested world, you can pick up the follow-up to Feed at the end of May (a fact that elicits a happy “squee” from me whenever I remember that that is very soon indeed).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Thor, Wait No, Offspring

Offspring (decidedly NOT Thor). Directed by Andrew van den Houten & Written by Jack Ketchum.

Preconceptions: Well, my little sweetmeats, it was my intention to bring you something unusually timely this week. I had purchased tickets to see Thor, a movie that I'm surprisingly excited to see (I mean really, Thor?). Unfortunately, a labyrinthine clusterfuck of roadwork left me nearly an hour late to my showing and sullenly eating food court swill instead of the ambrosia that is movie theater popcorn. And, much along the same lines, you now have to listen to me talk about Offspring instead of Thor. Alright, I was a tiny bit excited to see Offspring since it was put out by Ghost House, the same offshoot production company that brought me Seventh Moon. I wasn't nearly as interested in Offspring, but I did have some hope of a second good horror movie.

General Review: Ha-Ha! Of course it wasn't a second good horror movie. Once again, the genre has pulled away the football after cruelly giving me a kick at Seventh Moon (I think this metaphor has gotten away from me). Yes, Offspring was deeply and unbearably abysmal. In the year I've been doing this blog, this is the first time I've thought to myself "I should just turn this off." Typically, if a movie is good, I get to enjoy a good movie and if a movie is terrible I start crafting my mean spirited jokes. Not so with Offspring. It was well under the hour and a half mark, but it still managed to be a test of endurance. It trotted out most every cliche you can think of. A woman actually screams "my baby!". A retired (doubtless too old for this shit) police officer is saved from a stab wound by his trusty drunkard's flask (not to be confused with my baker's shot-glass, which is classy). A young boy fearlessly leads his crying, helpless mother (he's the man of the family now, naturally). Seriously, I was waiting for the "it's quiet, too quiet" speech. This movie wouldn't have been relevant if it'd been made 30 years ago and there is no excuse for this type of lazy writing now. What's more, the writer of the screenplay is the author of the book this was based on. This was how he wanted it to be written. This was Ketchum's vision.

Okay, before I go any further I guess I should tell you what this movie is about (and I use "about" loosely) because I sure as hell don't want you to go see it. A family of cannibals, probably descended from an evil lighthouse keeper, roam up and down the coast, eating townsfolk and baffling both American and Canadian police alike. They also have some kind of religion that makes them want to kill babies (you say religion, I say that screaming noise they make in movie theaters). Various people run away from and hunt for the cannibals.

Offspring seems to be half halfheartedly set in the 80's, at least the fashion and hair choices were. I mean just look at this guy (who, by the way, is given some 50 odd evil qualities: he abandoned his son, he's abusive to his ex-wife and oh, if that wasn't enough he's also a rapist. YOU AREN'T SUPPOSED TO LIKE HIM):

But despite the quasi-1980's setting, some characters have modern cell phones (though not the police force who are utterly time warped). I don't know what the costuming and setting sensibility was supposed to be, but pretending to be an older movie didn't make me any more likely to excuse its many many flaws.

For a movie almost entirely devoid of character development and plot, it sure had a sizable cast. We have the cannibal family, their captives, the police force (including a heroic chief and the retired drunk), the good guy family and the broken home family (including the would-be rapist). Not one of them becomes anything more than a cardboard cut out of a character. Though one mere morsel of praise, Pollyanna McIntosh was the only one who managed (by sheer strength of charisma) to raise her character from cut out to sock puppet. She had some presence, despite being hampered by every conceivable angle.

I know you're saying to yourselves, Wren, this is just a slasher flick, sure it wasn't good but maybe you should relax. To that I respond: No. No. No. Yes, Offspring doesn't have a whole lot of illustrious company; horror in general and slashers specifically can be rough. But this was a cut below. It lacked the simple things that make a movie watchable. It lacked characters and cleverness. It was utterly without spark, originality, interest or even basic internal consistency. It barely made sense, and this is coming from someone who loves dimension bending ghost stories. Since I embarked on this blog, I've seen some real dreck, but this (to paraphrase Homer Simpson) is the worst movie I've seen...so far.

Ahem, so yes, don't see Offspring. And with this bile out of my system, be prepared for an exciting look at Thor next week (only a few weeks too late this time!).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Girl on Book Action: The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower II by Stephen King

The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower II by Stephen King
ISBN: 0-452-26214-3


The Drawing of the Three continues the epic saga of The Dark Tower, hurling The Gunslinger into the twentieth century.

Once again Stephen King masterfully interweaves dark, evocative fantasy and icy realism, as his hero, Roland, The Last Gunslinger, pursues his quest for The Dark Tower.  Roaming another world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, he is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into 1980’s America.  Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean and with beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherwordly enemies.  With a storytelling skill that is sheer magic, and with breathtaking boldness of imagination, Stephen King has risen to the peak of his power to create a compelling epic that is at once enigmatic and familiar...and always compulsively readable.


Aside:  Here’s your obligatory there will be spoilers for part one and quite possibly for part two of The Dark Tower series warning, but since I'm the only one who hasn't read these books, you're probably safe.  Oh, and if you want to start at the beginning of my journey here is a link to my thoughts on The Gunslinger.

My Thoughts:

You know, after reading the first one of these, I was really excited to keep reading and jumped straight into this one.  And damnit, I was disappointed.  We spend barely any time in Roland’s world, we don’t learn anything new about his history, instead, the majority of the book takes place in the real world. Ugh.  If it wasn’t for the fact that Wren assures me this book is an exception and the rest are much better, I would probably give up right now and not bother with the remaining five volumes.

I just...didn’t like this book.  Most of that had to do with the fact that Eddie Dean and the whole subplot of drug-smuggling bored me.  But, ultimately what  I didn’t like, is pretty well everything that happens.  I didn’t like that the book started with The Gunslinger getting mauled by “lobstrosities” and spending the majority of story injured and sick, half-dead pretty well.  While Roland isn’t the most interesting protagonist in the world due to his personality and lack of wit, he was still interesting enough when he was shooting people and sleeping with girls and all that.  Now, he’s maimed and half-useless, wandering around sick and weak.  I guess I should look on the bright side – since he was hurt and suffering from a pretty bad infection there were fewer discussions about the status of his balls.

Okay, let me go back to Eddie Dean, Odetta Holmes and the rest of the characters that boringly dominate this book.  The worst of these three episodes was definitely the one with Eddie, because it resulted in the most time spent in the “real” world.  I really didn’t care about him smuggling drugs, or his junkie brother, or anything about him really.  It’s hard to enjoy a book when you can’t even find a character you’re remotely interested in.  And because once wasn’t enough we had to go back for Odetta – at least she was sort of intriguing.  The whole dual-personality thing is a little over-done these days, but it’s a step up from a junkie.  I did get tired of Detta in next to no time.  In the “real” world she made sense, but in The Gunslinger’s world she was just annoying – I guess she was supposed to be, but damnit, I was bored and annoyed at this point.  By the time we get to the last door and into our world again, I was frustrated.  When the point of that venture becomes clear (I won't get into details) I was simply angry at having had to endure more time in this other world.  What intrigued me in the first book was the fantasy world of The Gunslinger, so spending all this time elsewhere didn't sit well with me.  Oh, and don’t get me started on Eddie falling in love with Odetta – I’m all for romance, but not immediate romance.  Love at first sight is a myth and here it felt forced - romance for the sake of romance, not for the purpose of plot or character development.

Ugh, okay.  Here’s a positive: while I didn’t really have an overwhelming urge to pick it back up and keep reading (aside from wanting to finish it so I could read something else) whenever I was reading it, I was absorbed despite my frustrations and disinterest.  Which is a bit of a paradox or something, but I never promised you that my mind makes sense.

Overall, I'm disappointed with this second installment, but I'm willing to put it down to "the 2nd book phenomenom" I have discussed before.  I am going to trust Wren (I know, you may question my sanity some more here) and try book three and hope for improvement, after I cleanse my pallet with The Constant Princess (so I'm doubly listening to Wren as she reviewed it recently).  Anyway, I promised you I’d see this through to the end and I will, as long as it doesn’t get worse than The Drawing of the Three.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle. Directed & Written by Hayao Miyazaki.

Preconceptions: I've been thinking a fair bit about filling in the holes in my Miyazaki knowledge. It's a safe bet that I'll enjoy the flicks of his I haven't seen, given that my least favourite (Ponyo) was still reasonably good. Initially, I'd intended to review Kiki's Delivery Service, but the disc came broken in twain, which I took as a sign to watch Howl's Moving Castle instead (and by sign, I mean I had no option).

General Review: I'm known far and wide as a woman who disdains love stories and, for the most part, this is true. 9 and 3/4 of all romantic comedies make me want to kill with acid vomit (the whole genre gives me acid puke, little known fact). Love being shoe-horned into a story where it doesn't belong causes me even worse monstrous mutations - at least I can safely avoid romantic comedies. All this build up is really to stress that this was a particularly good love story. None of my possessions went hurtling towards the TV and my eyes were safely stowed in their unrolling position. It reminded me that I
can enjoy a bit of romance that isn't pandering, cliche and written by committee. Alright, it was maybe a touch predictable, but in a classic fairy tale way that felt like a deliberate stylistic choice rather than the usual tedium.

To say that it was beautiful reads as both condescending and obvious, of course it's beautiful, it's Miyazaki. Still, with the exception of Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle is the prettiest one yet. Also, even though we weren't talking about environmentalism this time round, it contained that mixture of vibrant colours and sets contrasted harshly with smog. The very fact that the movie had nothing to do with saving the planet made the juxtaposition more interesting to watch. Again, no shocker, but the character design was interesting, the monsters were cool and the horrific transformations were properly horrific. I also love how old witchy women look in the Miyazaki style and have a deep fondness for chicken footed, chuffing tiny dogs (of course I do). I will say that until he comes up with something new to do with them, the goo monsters that I adored in Spirited Away have become repetitive.

Speaking of repetitive (and because I can't leave well enough alone) I notic
ed a handful of score that I've heard in some of his other movies. I'm not sure if this is something from the original un-dubbed Japanese version or something put in afterwards by Disney, but it felt like a strange bit of corner cutting in such an elaborate movie. I mean, I'd rather have ten more minutes of animation than entirely fresh music, but it seemed like expense wasn't a huge issue and so it felt odd.

I adored Lauren Bacall and would love to hear more of her in witch roles. Christian Bale's sandpaper-y "I'm Batman" voice was occasionally tiresome, (yes Mr. Bale, we're well aware that you're Batman). However, his light-hearted and shallow voice while playing Howl in a good mood was hilarious.

The story, as I mention
ed briefly above, was charming. Yes, it would be easy to complain that the main chick character spends a lot of her time doing housework, but Sophie wasn't the "some day my Prince will come" milk-sop we're so often forced to settle for. She's active and heroic in her own right. She solves her problems on her own, not needing divine (or magical) intervention for much besides retrieving lost shawls. I worried that two hours might mean that the story was spread a bit thin (a major problem I had with Ponyo) but that was not the case. I was actively engaged the entire time.

While I won't say I'm glad that Kiki's Delivery Service arrived crushed for my convenience, I am glad it gave me an opportunity to see this. It's well worth picking up and has my whole-hearted endorsement. If you love Miyazaki already, this is probably no surprise to you, if you don't know him, this is a great movie to start with. Don't worry, the love fest is over and I promise more horror movies and hate soon.