December 24, 2010

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!


It's the best time of the year--excluding Halloween!
And watch out for Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster!


The blog is going on hiatus until the New Year. I imagine the blogosphere will be pretty quiet next week, what with the holidays and all. I hope everyone had a great 2010, and let's keep our fingers crossed that 2011 shows remarkable signs of improvement all across the board.

I'd like to cap off the year with a GIANT THANKS to all of the bloggers, readers, and writers who have shared kind words, helpful advice, and some great stories this past year. I greatly appreciate it all and look forward to seeing what's to come in 2011.

Have a merry Merry and a happy Happy!

Flash Fiction: "The Waiting Game" by Gef Fox

Back in the summer, I entered another flash fiction contest at The Clarity of Night. Didn't win, but I still thought I'd share the piece I wrote for the heck of it.

All entrants had to come up with a story inspired by the picture shown on the right. I was in the mood to write something a bit humorous and this was the end result. Enjoy.




The Waiting Game
by Gef Fox


I hate dogs. I never liked them before, but tonight it's official: I f---ing hate dogs.

He isn't even mine. Some kind of bulldog--ugly as s--- too--that Marty won at a card game. Marty should out here walking this thing up and down the beach. But no, I've gotta do it.

Why Marty even kept it after he won it, I'll never know. He's never owned a dog before. Hell, he can barely take care of himself. If he wasn't so good with locks, Chaz and I wouldn't even need him.

Why the hell didn't Chaz put his foot down and tell him to leave the dog when we picked Marty up? We're just lucky it didn't start barking up a storm when he hit that old man's house.

This wouldn't even be an issue if they hadn't gone back in to grab that damned flatscreen. They dump the loot in the backseat and say they'll be right back, meanwhile I'm sweating bullets behind the wheel just waiting for the cops to roll by.

And since when does a dog eat jewelry? Did he think it was puppy chow?

I didn't even know a dog did that kind of thing. And the balls on Marty to say I pocketed the jewels while they went back inside. Now, just to prove myself, I have to--God, I hate dogs!

How long does it take for a dog to s--- twenty grand worth of diamonds anyway?

Rabid Rewind: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
voice acting by Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Summer Glau, Andre Braugher, Ed Asner
directed by Lauren Montgomery
screenplay by Tab Murphy
Warner Brothers Animation (2010)

When it comes to the DC universe, there are two voices that are sacrosanct in my view: Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly as Batman and Superman respectively. They have been the voices since DC came out with the animated series in the early 90s, and whenever someone else voices the Caped Crusader or the Dark Knight in a cartoon, it's just not the same. So, I was quite happy to see their names in the back cover credits of this DVD.

A meteor crashes in Gotham City, which Batman investigates only to find a distraught--and nearly naked--young woman with superpowers eerily comparable to Superman's. She's inadvertantly wreaking havoc on the city while Bats tries to subdue her, and when Superman eventually shows up it's revealed that the woman is Superman's cousin from Krypton, Kara. Superman is pleased as punch to have a relative who's flesh and blood, but Batman is suspicious about her history and her intentions.

An old nemesis, Darkseid, learns of her existence and hopes to abduct her and turn her into his personal minion and supersoldier. Meanwhile, tensions continue to mount as Kara finds it hard fitting in, let alone earning the trust of Batman, so she's soon recruited by Wonder Woman to undergo some superhero training back with the Amazons. And it's there where the battles are really waged between the forces of good and evil.

I've never read the run of comic books on which this story is based, and I'm not overly familiar with the history of the DC Universe. I catch on quick though, and the movie manages to provide just enough backstory to keep me from feeling lost. Darkseid's past with Superman is legend, but even if you don't know it, he's depicted as such a remorseless evil megalomaniac that it is very easy to see he is a genuine threat to the heroes.

Summer Glau was an interesting choice to play Kara, and she did a pretty good job. Sometimes when these animated films get guest voices, you can picture the actor rather than the character spewing the lines, but she blended into the character nicely. And she seems to have a knack for playing those tormented women with bad-ass fighting skills (i.e. Firefly and The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Ed Asner, however, had a voice that kind of sticks out like a sore thumb. As for Andre Braugher as Darkseid, well, he's got one of those menacing baritone voices that suits any supervillain.

It's a fun film, despite a couple of moments where even my suspension of disbelief was challenged, and the climactic fight scenes at the end are fantastic. An art that I have yet to be won over with by the CGI crowd.

December 23, 2010

Getting Graphic: "30 Days of Night" by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith

30 Days of Night
written by Steve Niles
illustrated by Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing (2002)
ISBN 978-0-971977-55-6

I saw the film adaptation of this novel a few years ago and was delighted to see a genuinely good movie that was: 1) adapted from a comic book, because--let's face it--not all of them have been worth bragging about; 2) firmly entrenched in the horror genre, because--again, let's face it--Hollywood and horror rarely blend well. So, after enjoying the movie I finally got around to reading its source material, and I think is another example of how a good movie comes from a better book.

It's apparent from gazing at the very first pages that this is not a comic book presented with a conventional visual style. It's a clouded watercolor effect blended with some vivid scenes during the action. And the font choice in the voice bubbles is pitch perfect. It's gorgeous and grotesque at the same time.

And the plot is so simple, it's a wonder it hadn't been before. Well, maybe it had, but apparently not to this caliber of story. In the dead of winter, way up in Barrow, Alaska--the northern most town in America--the sun is about to set and won't rise again for thirty days. The entire town is plunged in darkness and becomes the perfect--and until now ignored--hunting ground for vampires. I love that concept.

And these vampires aren't romantic, dashing, or sparkly either. These bloodsuckers are devious predators, just the way I like 'em. The sheriff, his wife, and the rest of the town quickly catch on to what's happening when the impossible becomes very real and the whole town is plunged into chaos. And there's no way to get help thanks to a lack of transportation or communication to the outside world. Isolation and an nigh unstoppable force.

There was also a subplot involving a vampire hunter from New Orleans who learns of the vampire invasion in the arctic, but that didn't really go anywhere. Maybe it's something that's touched upon in the succeeding volumes. Who knows. Despite that minor drawback, I thought the book was a great piece of horror fiction. And while the film adaptation didn't follow the book religiously, it did do the book justice I thought.

I say if you if vampires and comic books, this combination of the two is a good book to go with if you come across it.


CymLowell

December 22, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #79: Lou Anders' "Masked" (anthology)

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem. All December, I'm shining a light on anthologies.

Since the blog is going quiet for a week, I thought I'd post next week's WLW today.

I've only ever taken in superhero fiction by watching movies or reading comic books. Never read a novel involving superheroes, let alone an anthology.

So if I'm to start reading about caped crusaders without all them pretty pictures, I figure an anthology edited by Lou Anders is a pretty good way to go. Masked is a collection of short stories from the likes of Stephen Baxter, Mike Carey, and Matthew Sturges that all deal with superheroes and the worlds in which superheroes exist.

I've read some positive reviews, and a couple of negative ones, and this sounds like it has potential to be entertaining for readers who are fans of comic books and those that aren't. How about you? Would you want to read a superhero anthology?

Book Vs. Movie: Surrogates

The Book:

written by Robert Vendetti
illustrated by Brett Weidele
published by Top Shelf Productions (2006)

The Movie:
starring Bruce Willis, Rhada Mitchelle, Ving Rhames, and James Cromwell
directed by Jonathan Mostow
screenplay by John Brancato & Michael Ferris
released by Touchstone Pictures (2009)

I read and reviewed the two graphic novels (The Surrogates and The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone) by Robert Vendetti and Brett Weidele back in the spring. So when I finally got around to watching the film adaptation, I thought I'd do a little contrast-and-compare.

In the graphic novel, the lead detective is a kind of hard-boiled kind of cop that epitomizes the gritty art style that defines him. Bruce Willis, however, looks very polished as that character. Almost cosmopolitan, dare I say. Granted, he's classic hard-nosed Bruce when his surrogate is damaged and he has to continue his investigation by walking the streets the old fashioned way. Personally, I thought his surrogate looked a bit like his psychiatrist character from The Sixth Sense, while his real-life counterpart looked like an even more grizzled version of Die Hard's McClain.

The story goes that a couple of people have died--murdered--while operating surrogates, which is something that has loss been deemed impossible by everyone in the know. So, the cops have to not only work with the monopoly that manufactures surrogates in order to find out how it's possible to kill someone via a surrogate--a notion they dismiss outright--and deal with the anti-surrogate movement that is where their lead suspect resides.

The book tackles a lot of the philosophical questions related to living life through an avater. Things like vanity, reclusiveness, classism, racism, and a slew of other issues are approached at different points. In the movie, however, the focus really leans towards the mystery and the potential conspiracy behind who would want to sew seeds of doubt concerning the security of surrogates. On the other hand, the action scenes are so much more potent on screen than on paper. Seeing man versus man-in-surrogates was a sight to behold.

Winner: The Book. I say check out the book first, especially if you're interested in those underlying questions about a technology that would allow you to look how you've always dreamed (if you have the cash), and live life while sitting in a pod and treating real life like an elaborate video-game. If you just want some sci-fi action with cool special effects and a couple of explosions, then go with the movie, as it has its own benefits.

Wish List Wednesday #78: Neil Gaiman's & Al Sarrantonio's "Stories" (anthology)

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.All December, I'm shining a light on anthologies.

All I needed was a look at the cover and a peak at the list of contributing authors to know this anthology was likely to be good. Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, have brought together the talents of Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk, Joyce Carol Oates, Jodi Picoult--to name but a few--in an expansive anthology of never before published tales.

The list of authors is ecclectic, and I'm sure the stories will be equally so. I've sure enjoyed Gaiman's work as an author, and have read a couple of Sarrantonio's short stories thus far, so I'm interested to see how they work together to bring together all those other authors under one tent. Should be fun.

Have you heard of this one, or had a chance to read it?

December 21, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2
starring Robert Downey Jr., Gweneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell
directed by Jon Favreau
screenplay by Justin Theroux
Paramount (2010)

Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie was one of the best casting choices of any superhero movie that I can think of. Aside from Downey's remarkable talent as an actor, his real life struggles with alcohol and drugs added an extra bit of verisimilitude to a comic book character that deals with his own battle with the bottle. Comic books aren't often known among the casual audience for tackling weighty issues, so when one does offer a more three-dimensional glimpse into these larger-than-life characters, it's refreshing.

In Iron Man 2, Stark's alcoholism becomes an issue as his self-aggrandizing nature reaches new heights in the wake of revealing himself as Iron Man. What happens when an egotist is lauded for saving the world? Well, this movie tries to answer that question. The trouble on that front though, is that it doesn't do a very good job. The whole movie feels like an action movie weighed down at key moments when it tries to take itself more seriously than it should.

Overall, the movie is very enjoyable. Downey is pitch perfect as the jet-setting Tony Stark, and Sam Rockwell is just a treat to watch as Stark's corporate nemesis. Even Gweneth Paltrow is likable as Pepper, and I haven't enjoyed seeing her on screen in years. As for Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, well, he's Mickey Rourke so all he really has to do is stand there and be all Rourke-y. Then there is Don Cheadle as Rhodes, replacing ???. Cheadle counts as an upgrade in casting, as far as I'm concerned, but the Rhodes character is given very little development despite the amount of screen time. Aside from a couple of key scenes where Rhodes is at odds with Stark--one fight scene in particular comes off as cliched to the point of parody--Cheadle seems to be under-utilized.

Maybe it's just the fact that, as a sequel, this movie is tasked with being bigger, brighter, and louder than the original. There is only so much time for all these characters to be presented as their superhero selves as well as their mundane alter-egos. Where movies like Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight strike a balance and wind up becoming better films than the ones they sequel, Iron Man 2 struggles to make par.

If you liked the first Iron Man, you're bound to like this one. And as far as movies with "2" on the end of the title go, this one is a real treat.

Getting Graphic: "American Virgin" by Steven J. Seagle and Becky Cloonan

American Virgin: Head (Book 1)
written by Steven J. Seagle
illustrated by Becky Cloonan
DC/Vertigo (2006)
ISBN 9781401210656

Have you ever wondered about those holier-than-thou types that promote the whole abstinence-only policy to kids? Turns out, so have Steven Seagle and Becky Cloonan.

Adam Chamberlain, a charismatic youth minister with a mother and step-father so shady they'd make Jerry Falwell appear saintly, is out in the world evangelizing and promoting abstinence as hip and cool. He's even walking the walk, saving himself for when he can marry his sweetheart Peace Corps girlfriend, Cassandra. His world is thrown into a blender though, when he learns Cassandra has been murdered--and beheaded--in Africa. He's especially devastated because he believes God spoke to him, telling him that Cassandra was the only woman he'd ever be with. That's gotta suck.

So with the help of his little brother and step-sister, both of whom are resplendent in their comparatively deviant behavior--piercings, casual sex, and recreational drug use--Adam takes it upon himself to go to Africa and find some measure of justice for his one true love. Of course, things don't exactly go according to his plans. Culture shock, tabloids, mercenaries, secrets spilled, and hallucinations are but some of the things in Adam's path.

To say Adam is stunningly ignorant of the world he preaches to is putting it mildly. And while he might like to consider himself christlike, the story slowly reveals that he is not without lust in his own heart--and hate. Some readers might see his gradual transformation as a declination in moral code, while others--including me--see him finally becoming aligned with his true feelings and having to confront them, rather than bottling them up behind a saintly facade.

It's an interesting story with very little resolved by the end of the book, but definitely leaves readers with the promise of more in the rest of the series. I'll likely to be on the lookout for the second book.

December 20, 2010

On My Radar: Lisa Mannetti's "Deathwatch"

Lisa Mannetti and Shadowfall Publications have a great deal for the holidays. For a limited time, Lisa's new book Deathwatch is available for purchase for a mere $1.99 on Amazon. This e-book is a collection of two novellas, Dissolution and The Sheila Na Gig.

Here's a quick write-up from Lisa's blog:

In the first work, Dissolution, Stuart Granville is a would-be medical student from the South who's been sent down for drinking and believes he's heading north to Hyde Park, New York to tutor twin girls. Instead, he discovers that his charges, Abby and Eleanor, not only have never been to school of any kind, but that they are Siamese twins their father, a doctor with grandiose dreams, means to separate surgically, taking advantage of Stuart's expertise and his vulnerability--as well as the supernatural forces at work in the house itself.

In The Sheila Na Gig, Tom Smith is on a ship in steerage and bound for New York from his native Ireland after facing down the the constraints imposed by his family, overcoming the loss of his first love, circumventing his grandmother's wiles and occult knowledge, and trying to save his younger, mentally challenged sister, Delia, from both witchcraft and sexual abuse.
I've been on a real novella kick lately, so I'm really looking forward to reading this one over the Christmas holidays. And a nice caveat is that Shadowfall Publications guarantees: "... if you purchase a copy they will always see to it that you can read it on whatever E reader you have now--or later on."

So if you're looking for something inexpensive to add onto your Kindle--or someone else's--you may want to consider this one.

LINK TO AMAZON

Getting Graphic: "Y the Last Man--Unmanned" by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra

Y: The Last Man--Unmanned (Book 1)
Written by Brian K. Vaughn
Illustrated by Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr., and Pamela Rambo
DC Comics/Vertigo
127 pages
ISBN 1-5638-980-9


What would happen if every mammal with a Y-chromosome dropped dead--except one? Well, two actually--Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. That's the initial premise of this comic book series from Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra.

Yorick Brown is hanging out his apartment practicing escapology and chatting over the phone with his girlfriend when the nearly half the human population--and every other male mammal on the planet--dies a quick but excruciating death. But we don't see the end of man through just his eyes. There's also his sister Hero, a paramedic; his mother, U.S. Congresswoman Brown; Agent 355, a member of a long forgotten security branch; an Israeli soldier; and a scientist dabbling in cloning who suspects she may be the cause of it all.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what kind of story I was expecting from Y: The Last Man, but this wasn't it. I think I was expecting a very singular, intimate story from Yorick's point of view as he navigates his way through a world populated entirely by women. Instead, this series appears to be a very convoluted epic that spends more time concentrating on the multiple conspiracy theories and plot twists. And believe me, there are a couple of plot twists that are just blatant in their attempt to drop jaws.

I didn't mind the book, but I felt it lacked a heart. Or maybe it's just that the heart of this tale, which is Yorick's, isn't a very sympathetic one. Yorick is brash, self-centered, impulsive to a fault, and frankly I didn't find him to be at all likable. If he's the last man on Earth, then I pity all women in that world. I add this though, I have heard rumors that the film adaption of this series will feature Shia Labeouf as Yorick. If that's true, then his grating screen presence will suit the character to a tee.

I'm hoping Book 2 will turn me around on the series, but so far I have no one to root for. Yorick not only has to reunite with his would-be fiance, who is stranded in Australia, but he also has to help solve why he was spared a horrible demise, as well as evade psychotic femi-Nazis and Republican gun-nuts. Yeah, the book is off in all directions, and while it does feel like it is honing in on a singular storyline, so far I'm not very interested.

December 17, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass
starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, & Nicholas Cage
directed by Matthew Vaughn
screenplay by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
based on the comic book series by Mark Millar & John Romita, Jr.
Lions Gate (2010)

I remember hearing some controversy over Chloe Moretz's involvement with this film in the weeks leading up to its theatrical release. The whole children-and-violence thing wasn't sitting well with the more anally retentive among us. I gotta say, after finally having a chance to watch this movie, I doubt any tween has been traumatized--least of all Moretz.

That's one of the things though that sits in the middle of this movie: the violence. It's not really a glorification of violence, but it is stylized so that I can see how folks would see it that way. When thugs and gangsters are having limbs chopped off and brains blown out, all to peppy and high octane soundtracks, the sensational aspects of those scenes are a bit entrancing. But to say that the movie is little more than that is really just a declaration of ignorance.

I read and reviewed the graphic novel earlier in the year (click here). I had a couple of reservations concerning the violence within the book, but I just had a preconception of what to expect, then had it disintegrated. I think the thing about the comic book and the movie is that each approaches the violence in a very different way than just about any popular superhero fiction that I've previously seen.

And that's the key to this movie's success, I think. It gives a comical, yet stark, view of what it might be like to emulate a superhero. When the bad guy punches you in the face, it's going to hurt--a lot. Which is precisely what happens to Dave (Aaron Johnson) when he dons a scuba suit and mask and calls himself Kick-Ass, New York City's first real-life superhero.

But it's Moretz's turn as Mindy (aka Hit Girl) with Nicholas Cage as her father, Big Daddy, that really steal the show. Maybe the startling sight of a little girl with a sword spewing profanity left and right, and beaming a satanic smile as she lays waste to bad guys is hard to compete with, but there are the quieter scenes in which her character has to deal with what the violence has wrought on her family that shows Moretz can actually act quite well for a kid her age. And seeing Cage channel Adam West in a couple of scenes while in costume is plain fun to watch.

The movie gets a bit ridiculous towards the ends, as did the comic books, but the action is easy to get into. And aside from a glaring addition to the superhero arsenal that is over-the-top to an insulting degree, the movie plays it pretty close to the bone and tries to keep it firmly entrenched in a real world atmosphere. The slavering audience, which includes Dave's best friends, who eat up the YouTube clips of Kick-Ass doling out vigilante justice is all too real. And one scene in particular really made me like some of those spectators less when the film takes a dark turn.

If you like action, superheroes, blood and bullets, and some comic relief rolled into a very colorful and glossy package, this is a good movie for you. And the featurette that shows the collaboration of the comic book's creators and artists is very enlightening.

December 16, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Losers


The Losers
starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Seldana, Idris Elba, Chris Evans, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, and Jason Patric
directed by Sylvain White
screenplay by Peter Berg & James Vanderbilt
based on the DC/Vertigo comic book series
Warner Bros. (2010)

I remember hearing good things about the comic books when they first came out, though I never read them. Contrastingly, when the movie hit theaters I heard nothing but jeers. Still, I wanted to give it a chance. Turns out the detractors of the film were half-right.

The main problem I had with the movie was the tone, or rather the abrupt shift in tone. For the first half to two thirds of the film, it's guns ablazin', catch-phrase aspewin' fun. Then it turns rather dark and decidedly unfunny for the last act when the final showdown gets started. This shift should have been apparent to me when the opening sequence of the movie involved the Losers rescuing a group of children from a dictator only to watch them shot out of the sky by a missile. If a movie is willing to kill a bunch of kids in the first ten minutes of the movie, there's definitely going to be a dark bent to the rest of the movie.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the leader of this rag-tag band of mercenaries--who are most certainly not the A-Team. There are five Losers, there's only four A-Team members. Big difference. Another big difference is Zoe Seldana as the federal agent who recruits the Losers out of hiding in order to hunt down the man responsible for their fall from grace following that botched mission with the dead kids. She's a more formidable female presence than is normally afforded to male-centric shoot-em-ups, but her backstory is a big disjointed.

The bad guy, played by Jason Patric, oddly enough plays more of a comedic role than any of the Losers--including Chris Evans. He's a great villain, but the development of him as a bad guy seems to outweigh any backstory and attention paid to the Losers. That lot is a fairly generic brand of antihero with Morgan doing most of the heavy lifting through their scenes.

The action sequences were fun, but please don't ask me to apply any correlation between them and the plot. By the end of the first act, I really didn't know the intricacies of any plot, nor did I really care. I just wanted to watch more things blow up and maybe see Zoe Seldana prance around in her underwear a couple more times. High end spy thriller, this is not. It's a star-spangled action flick that carries itself better than anything you'll find in the genre lately, though most shoot-em-ups wind up being direct-to-DVD nowadays.

I'm waiting to see how I like The A-Team, The Expendables, and Red. I have a feeling Red will wind up as my favorite shooter for 2010 for the simple fact is has Helen Miren mouthing off and packing heat. As for The Losers, it's average, which I suppose is the best one can hope for from the genre right now.

December 15, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #77: Christopher Conlon's "He Is Legend" (anthology)

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem. All December, I'm shining a light on anthologies.

One of my favorite stories is Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, and Matheson is also responsible for possibly my very favorite haunted house novel, Hell House--not to mention his influence on The Twilight Zone. So the idea that there is an anthology inspired by Matheson's works is very cool, in my opinion.

Christopher Conlon originally compiled these stories for a limited edition through Gauntlet Press, but this year Tor Books is rereleasing a massmarket version. There are stories from Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Richard Christian Matheson (Richard's son), and even a collaboration between Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill.

One might consider this blasphemy, reimagining stories like I Am Legend or The Incredible Shrinking Man for the sake of an anthology, but given the caliber of authors in the table of contents, I'm sure the source material is in good hands.

Have you heard about this one, or even had a chance to read it yet?

Rabid Rewind: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick
directed by Edgar Wright
screenplay by Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall
based on the comic book series by Bryan Lee O' Malley
Universal Pictures (2010)

There was a macabre delight for me when, after weeks of hype surrounding the Scott Pilgrim movie--even going so far as to call it a game-changer and the single best movie of 2010--when the opening weekend box office results rolled in ... the movie came in a dismal 5th place. That's the problem when you make a movie about and for slacker twenty-somethings: they're going to download the movie through torrent sites rather than actually spend money to support their darling film.

I suppose there are those who say they didn't buy a ticket to the movie because it wasn't a good movie, but after watching it on DVD this month I don't buy that. Scott Pilgrim is definitely a good movie--maybe the best movie about twenty-somethings since the last time Michael Cera starred in a movie.

Scott Pilgrim is a self-absorbed, 22-year-old bass player relishing in the fact that he's dating a 17-year-old Chinese girl named Knives. But now he's met the girl of his dreams. Her name's Ramona Flowers, and he first sees her in one of his dreams. Literally. And when he manages to get a date with her, he finds out the hard way that she's got seven evil ex-boyfriends--and they all want to kill him. So with the help of his bandmates, his gay roommate Wallace, and his sister, he has to find ways to defeat all seven of the boyfriends (one's a girl, even), get his band noticed by producers, gently dump Knives, avoid his own ex-girlfriend Envy Adams, and maintain a comfortable level of obliviousness.

If you're not a gamer though, the references to Super Mario Bros. and other popular games from the last twenty-some years are probably going to fly right over your head. And the sight gags, one-liners, and graphic effects are frenetic. Non stop. The slowest points of this movie are still whipping by at a fast clip. I mean, at one point there is a Battle of the Bands going on, and it jumps with hardly any segwe into a superhero caliber fist fight. Unless you're at least partially acclimated to the Scott Pilgrim universe, you're gonna be scratching your head I'll wager.

Is it a game-changer? Doubt it. Not in this jaded age. Is it the movie of the year? Doubt it. Not with Inception on the ballot (I haven't seen that movie yet, but so many folks who have still drool over it).

December 14, 2010

Graphic Novels Challenge


I'm entering yet another reading challenge in 2011. This one should be an easy one for me though, because it's all about graphic novels, and I've read a slew of them over the last couple of years.

You click HERE to see the details for this reading challenge in you're interested too.

There are three levels to the challenge: Beginner (read 3 comic books and/or graphic novels within the year); Intermediate (3-10 comic books and/or graphic novels); Expert (10+ comic books and/or graphic novels).

This is a good challenge, I figure, to spur readers to try the comic book medium when they might otherwise be averse to reading something they would assign strictly to young boys. There is a plethora from which to find a comic book or graphic novel that could appeal to you. So, if you don't take part in the challenge, and you haven't read a comic book in your adult life, you should at least read one in 2011 just to give it a chance.

Getting Graphic: "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted" by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Astonishing X-Men (Volume 1): Gifted
written by Joss Whedon
illustrated by John Cassaday
Marvel Comics (2004)
ISBN 0-7851-1531-5

A couple months back when I was on my Joss Whedon kick (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Volume 1, Serenity Volume 1, and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog), I saw that he'd written for Marvel Comics and their X-Men franchise. I liked the movies, though the third one I'd rather forget, and figured I'd check this series out.

The trouble for me, as someone who doesn't follow the continuity of the Marvel Universe, I had no idea what was happening or why.

Cyclops and Emma Frost reopen the X-Men Academy in the wake of some averted apocalypse. The world is saved, though there is a lingering stigma against mutants. Since Professor X is galavanting somewhere else, Cyclops and Frost--who are having an affair, I guess--decide to get the ball rolling again to improve human/mutant relations. Joining their reformed group are Beast, Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine. A pretty disparate bunch if ever there was one, and it shows as Cyclops and Wolverine immediately get into a brawl on school grounds, and the once villainous Emma Frost is the ethics teacher for the academy.

School is the least of their worries though, as a scientist and one-time colleague of Beast reveals a cure for the mutant gene. At the same time, a new villain rears his head in luring the X-Men into confrontations. Some toady looking badass named Ord from some other dimension, or planet, or whatever.

The action is great and the quieter scenes between different members of the X-Men as they contend with the thought of losing their superpowers--or cured of them as some see it--but as a guy who isn't a devotee to the series, I was generally lost. Jean Grey is apparently dead at this point in time because of her turn as Phoenix, and Magneto is in exile somewhere licking his wounds, and Nick Fury is borderline malevolent in his scenes with the X-Men (I thought he was supposed to be a good guy).

I think if I'm to continue reading the Astonishing X-Men and enjoy some more of Whedon's trademark storytelling, something tells me I will have to find a Marvel Universe almanac or some damned thing, just so I can have half a clue as to what's going on. Fans of the characters likely enjoyed this incarnation, but if you're new to this bunch then you'll probably want to find a shallower end of the pool to dive in.

December 13, 2010

Flash Fiction: "The Orchard and the Crow" by Gef Fox

I entered a flash fiction contest almost a year ago over at Jason Evans' blog, The Clarity of Night. Entrants had to come up with a flash fiction story using the picture shown to the right as inspiration. My entry wound up getting an honorable mention, despite missing out on getting a prize.

Since I shared a previous flash fiction entry called "Liar's Glass" (click here to check that one out), I figured I'd share this one too. I have a third piece that I'll likely share some time before the New Year. Enjoy.


The Orchard and the Crow

by Gef Fox


I awake hungover and cold inside a decrepit barn. The night before--New Year's Eve--only clouded fragments. I roust myself up and fight against the chill. A wonder I didn't freeze to death.

Outside, I squint against the sheer white that greets me. I'm in an orchard covered by new snow. Fallen while I slept. I see no tracks. Nor my car.

I left my car, I remember, to walk home. But there's no orchard between the pub and home. I don't know where I am. Gnarled trees surround me, clinging to withered fruit.

A crow circles above me, then glides down and lands on a skeletal branch before me.

"Maybe you can tell me where I am," I joke.

We call it Purgatory, a voice answers.

I sober up and look for whoever spoke, but there's only the crow.

"This is a dream," I say, unconvinced.

This is Purgatory. Where you will remain, unless you find the boy.

"What boy?" I ask, but I already remember.

I abandoned my car, but not at the pub. I didn't see the boy--barely in his teens--on the road's shoulder until it was too late. I swerved into the ditch. Then--

Find the boy and salvation is yours, it says then flies off.

I search for the boy. If he's here like me, I can find him. The coldness creeps inside me. I have to find him, but all I see are trees. Like tombstones row on row.

Getting Graphic: "Preacher: Until the End of the World" by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Preacher: Until the End of the World
written by Garth Ennis
illustrated by Steve Dillon
DC/Vertigo
ISBN 978-1-56389-312-4

I read and reviewed the first volume of the Preacher series back in July (Gone to Texas). I thought that was an insanely entertaining book and kept my fingers crossed that this second volume would hold up. I dare say that it at least made par.

Jesse Custer, a preacher who now speaks the Word of God--literally--after being struck by the entity known as Genesis (an escaped offspring from a forbidden affair between an angel and a demon), is on the road with his estranged girlfriend Tulip when he runs into his past. Well, more like his past catching up with him. His family has found him and wants to claim him once again to preach the Word to the hungry masses. And when Jesse tries to use the Word on them and finds that they're the only people immune to its power, he realizes just how deep a hole he and Tulip are in.

The first volume introduced Jesse as a disillusioned man of God, who after being given such an awesome ability as to have anyone bend to his will, decides to pick a fight with God himself over being an absentee landlord. This second volume traces back his family history and gives a clear sense as to what caused him to be so disillusioned and angry. His family, ruled by his grandmother Miss Marie, is about as evil a family as you could ask for. And they've got someone in their corner who is either a very shady God or a nefarious impostor.

But the story of Jesse's family and his love for Tulip is only have the story in this weighty graphic novel. The second half has Jesse reuniting with Cassidy, the vampire with a Keith Richards attitude towards life, and an exercise in justice against a debauched millionaire responsible for the death of one of Cassidy's old girlfriends. The lurid depictions of the villains in this half are damned near comical, as Jesse and company try to wade through the perversion in order to get at the top dog.

All in all, it's like having two graphic novels in one book. That's great if you want to be thoroughly engrossed by these characters and their antics, but after the absolutely wrenching ordeals from the first half of the book, the second half did feel like it came up a little short. Although, the subject matter is given a much more comedic sentiment that maybe it's just there to help diffuse the wrenching scenes that linger from the first half.

That's about the closest thing to a complain you'll hear from me on this book, as it was just a great read all the way around and I'm eagerly anticipating the third volume, Proud Americans.

December 10, 2010

And the Winner Is ...

... PinkStuff28.

Congrats, Ralu. I'll send you an e-mail tonight to let you know as well.

As for everyone else--only two others entered their names, which I thought was weird--you can check out her blog at http://booktopiasign.blogspot.com/

I think this is the last giveaway from me for the year, but I will try to cook some stuff up in 2011.

In the meantime, Wag The Fox will be having A Comic Book Christmas for the next two weeks. That basically means a whole bunch of reviews of some of the graphic novels and movies based on comic books I've read and watched this fall. Then the blog takes a one-week hiatus heading into the New Year.

Rabid Reads: "Lucky Stiff" by Tonia Brown


Lucky Stiff: Memoirs of an Undead Lover
by Tonia Brown
Library of the Living Dead Press (2010)
233 pages
ISBN 1452833974

Even though I had this book on my wish list after hearing about it through the Funky Werepig podcast, and managed to win a copy through vvb32reads.blogspot.com, I still wasn't sure quite what to expect when I sat down to read it. I've read some zombie fiction, and enjoyed most of it, and I've read some erotica--and enjoyed a fair amount of that too--but I've never read a book where the two genres meet. Now I have.

Peter Lyles is your average college student, although a bit gifted for his age by entering college life a year or two early, but all that is over when he accidentally overdoses on what he thinks are sleeping pills. Turns out their a party drug. Also turns out he dies. His buddies panic, and the best plan they can come up with to cover their asses is to take Peter's corpse to a witchy woman whom one of the boys used to frequent as a prostitute. Classy. Well, turns out she's pretty gifted--drop dead gorgeous despite her years and magically potent through sexual rituals. How's that for erotica?

As it stands though, I wouldn't describe this as erotic horror so much as erotic fantasy. There are a couple of gruesome moments in the book, but my preconception of a Romero-esque zombie parading around as a gigolo was way off base. It's established fairly early that Peter has a natural gift in the dark arts, and under the tutelage of his lover/mentor/protector Madam Sangrail he learns how to use his magical gifts to feign an appearance that's a little more human. Plus, he feeds not on the flesh of the living--well, he kind of feeds on the flesh--but on the orgasms of those he has sex with. There's a radiance emitted that only he can sense and absorbs that in order to maintain himself, though a literal hunger for flesh lingers under the surface.

The novel is presented as a first-hand account from Peter about his life after death. The first half of the book focuses on his years with Madam Sangrail, and on its own that could have been the entire novel, but the second half of the book gives his accounts of the years after he leaves her and makes his way through the world. The excitement picks up a measure through the second half of the novel, as Peter fucks his way around the world, and tries to avoid being killed along the way--or kill anyone himself for that matter.

The book's an interesting mix of fantasy, comedy, and erotica. And like I said, the horror elements aren't as prevalent as I'd expected. I get the feeling that a lot of the titillation would have been sabotaged if there'd been a stronger element of gore. Then again, there's probably a niche market for something like that. For the rest of us, Tonia Brown has us covered.

December 9, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Frozen

Frozen
starring Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, & Kevin Segers
written & directed by Adam Green
Anchor Bay Entertainment (2010)

I never liked downhill skiing. Two reasons contributed to this mindset: 1) 80s flicks depicted most skiers as vapid. self-absorbed pricks tormenting another equally annoying group of skiers; 2) the one time my elementary school took us all on a ski trip, I witnessed a classmate breaking his leg. I wouldn't say I was traumatized, but give a timid kid an avenue by which to avoid an activity he wasn't keen on in the first place and he's going to take it.

All that being said, the place I went skiing as a kid was no near as ominous as the way the B.C. Rockies are depicted in this movie. They're practically a character from the get-go, and the ski lift our trio of twenty-somethings use to head up the hill is downright sinister--like a set piece from the Final Destination franchise.

The premise is pretty simple and for ninety minutes or so it's milked for all it's worth and then some. Take three friends and strand them halfway up a mountain on a rickety ski lift. That might not be so bad, but consider the idea that no one knows they're up there and no one is likely to show up for days to reopen the hill. Yikes. Sure, the way in which they wind up in their situation is preposterous on an unparalleled level, but the convoluted steps are all laid out to let the audience at least shrug and agree to roll with it. If you ever saw Open Water, it's remarkably similar, only place the characters in the mountains rather than the ocean.

So it's cold as hell and getting colder, there's a blizzard brewing, no food or water, and panic is gradually setting in as the reality of their situation becomes more clear.

There's a point midway through the movie though that seems like a curve ball, and it really changes the tone of the movie, and I'm not so sure it's in a good way. I don't want to spoil it, but if you've seen the movie already then you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. The first half of the film seems to rely completely on the performances of the actors as the three characters are forced to contend with their previously unspoken tensions with one another. Then, the second half of the movie seems to switch focus altogether when an unexpected threat to their lives is introduced--a more immediate threat than simply freezing to death over the course of several days. I suppose this is done because the target audience might have been bored by a pure character driven film. It doesn't ruin the movie though, I'll say that, but it just takes it in a direction that seemed a bit tacked on for the sake of a more visceral scare.

The performances are good and the dread of the situation comes through with every scene. The camera work and sound are especially good, and there are a couple of real cringe-worthy scenes that really had my blood curdling. If you don't like skiing, you'll like it even less after this movie is through with you.

December 8, 2010

Book Chick City's Horror & Urban Fantasy Reading Challenge 2011

I'm not usually into the reading challenges, but this one is right up my alley. Carolyn of Book Chick City fame is hosting more than one reading challenge on her blog, including a Mystery & Suspense Challenge and even a Stephen King Challenge. I may sign up for the King one too, but I'm unsure just how many of his novels I'll actually read next year--I think my number of King novels read for 2010 was a half-dozen.

As for reading a couple dozen horror and/or urban fantasy novels in a year? I'll likely have read that many by the time the snow thaws.

If you're interested in signing up for the reading challenge too, head on over to Book Chick City and see the challenges she has to offer. It should be fun to see what titles people choose to read through the year. Might be a good way to add some books to the ol' wish list.

Wish List Wednesday #76: Tim Lieder's "She Nailed a Stake Through His Head" (anthology)

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.All December, I'm shining a light on anthologies.

Given the kind of horrors that can be found within the pages of the bible, I can only imagine how an anthology that offers reimaginings of biblical tales might up the ante.

Tim Lieber assembles a collection of short stories for She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, which includes contributions from the likes of Catherynne Valente, Gerri Leen, Lyda Morehouse, among others. When browsing Amazon for upcoming anthologies for this year, this one kind of jumped out at me. The cover is striking enough, and the subject matter is provocative enough that I'd be more than willing to look past the fact that I'm unfamiliar with the majority of contributing authors.

There's a couple of stories in particular I'd like to read, including one about Jonah and the whale with a Lovecraftian twist.

Have you heard about this anthology? Sound like something you'd want to read?

December 7, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Hard Roads" by Steve Vernon

Hard Roads
by Steve Vernon
forward by Norman Partridge
Gray Friar Press (2007)
160 pages
ISBN 9780955092282

Some strange things can happen when you're traveling the back roads of eastern Canada, and if you don't believe me then you can just ask Steve Vernon.

In Hard Roads, Vernon offers up two novellas. The first, Trolling Lures, is set in rural Nova Scotia--my own stomping grounds--as a suicidal man and his ghostly female companion head out a back road towards his last fishing hole. Before he can meet his demise though, the man runs afoul of a troll and the two children enslaved to it. The second novella, Hammurabi Road, has a trio of friends driving along an old railway track in a borrowed pickup truck, with a fourth passenger tied up in the back. They're on their way to kill the man they blame for a fire that killed one of their brothers, but when a black bear gets in their way things take more than one strange turn.

Vernon manages to wrap up about six varieties of weird in each of these two stories. You've got a talking trickster god who likes to switch between being a coyote and a mountie. You've got a bear attack that ends with one guy wearing bear brains over his face, while another ends up elbow deep in the bear's south end. You've even got a couple of ghosts getting it on by a campfire. Yup, a little bit of everything happens in the Canadian wilderness.

Before now, I've only read Vernon's nonfiction through his ghostly storytelling of local legends via Halifax Haunts and Haunted Harbours. The stories he weaves here come with an even thicker dialect and really carry their own weight. The language is rough and tumble, just like the terrain and the characters in his stories. Some of it feels a bit mismatched at times, but it kind of gels by the time you finish each novella. Sort of like good stews, I guess.

I'm not sure how readily available these stories are. It looks like Gray Friar Press only published a few hundred of these in limited release. I recommend each story to readers looking for something both quirky and gritty to go with their horror, but considering I only got ahold of this book thanks to an inter-library loan, you might have to do some scavenger hunting of your own.

December 6, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In
starring Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson
directed by Tomas Alfredson
written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
released in 2008

After hearing a lot of praise for both the novel--and the Swedish film adaptation--I had a chance to read John Lindqvist's Let the Right One In earlier this year and was blown away by how good it was (you can read that review here). I became very interested in watching this movie afterwards, but foreign films aren't exactly hot commodities in my neck of the woods, so it seemed more likely that I'd see the American remake before ever seeing the Swedish original. Fortunately, my library came to the rescue yet again.

A great aspect of this vampire film is that the vampirism isn't flagrantly announced until late in the film, it's essentially taken on observation of Eli's behavior as Oskar gets to know her--and the stark scenes Eli shares with her serial-killer companion. But, just like the book, this isn't strictly a vampire story. Rather, it's a story about a troubled boy's struggles with bullying and his own simmering violence as he grows up in a broken home. It's through Eli and discovering that she is capable of viciousness for the sake of her own survival that Oskar sees an outlet for his own problems--as a protector and as a friend.

The winter setting is so well captured on film too. One of the first scenes involves Håkan, the serial killer who collects blood for Eli to feed on so she doesn't have to hunt for herself and risk being seen. After subduing a passerby and hanging him upsidedown from a tree, he commences to drain him of his blood like he might stick a pig, only to be interrupted by a large white poodle. The crunching of the snow as Håkan flees, and the fog escaping everyone's breath, not to mention the dog casually lapping up the blood from underneath the hanging corpse, all add to a tremendous precursor of what to expect from the tone of the movie.

The movie isn't wrapped in a lot of heartpounding tension, but relies more on those seeping moments of dread when you have a pretty clear sense of what's coming and certain characters are powerless to prevent it. The movie is quite streamlined compared to the book, which is to be expected given it's a movie. Despite certain scenes and characters being omitted, I didn't get the sense that anything vital was missing. The movie stands very well on its own.

The story is set in Sweden during the early 80s, and while I haven't a clue about how authentic that era is presented on screen, I remember being close to that age in the 80s and some of the fashion choices are spot on. There's a certain look to this film at certain points that really reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which may simply be because it's about a young boy experiences some wildly supernatural shit. But when you see scenes like Oskar sneaking up behind a vengeful drunk who is looking to kill Eli, the palpable terror is all over the place. And the bully scenes are just pitch perfect, as far as I'm concerned.

This is, quite simply, the kind of movie I would point to whenever a detractor of the horror genre demanded I name a movie of merit. And the fact that it deals with the well-worn trope of vampires is even sweeter in that regard.