Thursday, December 31, 2009

"some people have techno-fear. i have techno-joy!"

so it's nearly the end of 2009 and in celebration, here are some miscellaneous clips from eddie izzard. because it's the thursday before new year's and we all need a laugh, right?

first, from dress to kill, british versus u.s. movies:



and then from glorious (i hate his suit but i love the fact that he wore it), commentary on the american colonization of the robin hood story. particularly meaningful, i feel, in the face of the upcoming ridley scott/russell crowe version:



and then the ever-wonderful techno-fear vs. techno-joy bit (also from glorious):

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"you megalomaniacs are all alike."

so miscellaneous thoughts on sherlock holmes which you will be able to read while i am doing nothing at all at my parents' house in maine far from any internet connection. :)

anna and i waded out through some rather nasty boston weather yesterday to hit up the early matinee at the tremont street theatre.

there were a lot of previews, i know that! i realise it's been a while since i went to the movies -- g.i. joe, in fact -- but jeeze -- 20 minutes worth! two nicolas cage previews! a steve carrell preview! but, on the other hand, both the nic cage movies looked like they might be a good time -- although did anyone else think that his outfit in the sorcerer's apprentice preview just totally nicked harry dresden's hat and coat from the dresden files books? and there was a clash of the titans preview -- lots and lots of shiny things going 'boom!' looks promising.

anyway, holmes. i suppose i should put a disclaimer here to the effect that, while i have read and enjoyed all the holmes short stories and novels, for me, performances of holmes begin and end with jeremy brett (holmes) and edward hardwicke (watson). along those lines, i'm including the clip below here to make a couple of points. one: jeremy brett is awesome. he is on the list of actors to whom i would happily listen if he were reading a grocery list, the phone book, or a series of doctor's prescriptions. two: a lot of the reviews i have read of the new holmes have critiqued it as being a "bromance" vision of the holmes/watson relationship. i'm not entirely sure i understand what this word means and the bits i do understand i don't like. so we're not going to use it at all. what i think it's meant to mean is an affectionate relationship between two otherwise heterosexual men. if this is the protest against the new holmes, then all you really need to do is come back with the scene below.



just for context, that's from the empty house, holmes's first episode after his encounter with moriarty at the reichenbach falls. i really don't want to belabor the point of the relationship between watson and holmes because i think it's really rather sweet and certainly out-of-date. it strikes me as a very late victorian kind of male relationship. if this bears closer examination, it will be by someone other than me.

i will say, though, as a closing thought, that at some points the movie is rather like watching a long break-up between holmes and watson. law and downey do a good job making this seem sweet and rather sad but inevitable. watson is going to leave and marry mary; holmes is going to stay single because...well, he's holmes and he has to until mary dies and watson returns. i have to applaud the screenwriters and ritchie for placing the movie at a point in the holmes/watson relationship which conan doyle didn't cover: when watson is leaving to marry his wife, mary. if you've read the original stories and you're not a tiny little bit curious about how this went down...well, you should be if for no other reason than without watson there really is no holmes.

if i remember correctly, holmes himself only narrates one or two of the original stories -- i think "the lion's mane" is one of them? -- and then part of one of the later laurie king-written novels with mary russell (not one of the more successful ones). watson explains and excuses holmes to the wider world; without him, holmes is essentially voiceless. in the original conan doyle stories, holmes seems to realise and appreciate this. while he nags watson about how inaccurate and sensational his stories are, he also thanks him for getting the word out about how brilliant he, holmes, is. i'm not sure if this idea applies so well to the movie since holmes has to narrate for himself otherwise why bother to pay robert downey, jr.? still. it's an interesting point.

anyway, the new holmes really had me sold from the point -- about 10 minutes into the movie -- where ritchie did a nearly perfect re-enaction of the opening credits of the old brett sherlock holmes. youtube is your friend here:



this wasn't the version i wanted; it's from an earlier series with a different actor as watson, but you get the idea. watch this a couple of times, then watch the new holmes and you'll know it when you see it. i don't believe granada television exists any more, but i would swear that they had the same set to film that bit.

so, really, this movie pleased me right off the top so i was willing to let it get away with quite a lot. and it wants to get away with quite a lot. it wants to get away with an adventure totally independent from -- although referring to -- the original holmes adventures. it wants to get away with a (rather predictable) last-minute twist. it wants to get away with some rather unnecessary violence. it wants to get away with a totally foaming at the mouth/scenery chewing villain. and y'know what? if you just take a deep breath, relax, and let it get away with all of these things, it's a hell of a lot of fun. oh, and there's some great animation over the closing credits but no tag. don't bother waiting. :)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"the end is nigh. motherfuckers."

okay, this is going to be a slightly abbreviated version of the post that blogger has now eaten twice. *sigh* "no frustration more keen..." anyway.

as you read this, i am, with any luck, in a movie theater watching guy ritchie's sherlock holmes. i don't think that this will be the great cinematic experience of all time, but i do think it will be showy, flashy, and fun. all three of which i am totally in the mood for right now.

but rather than leave the "watch this space!" card up here, i have some thoughts on the mutant chronicles movie. i watched it a few weeks ago on netflix insty and, really, lord love netflix insty. there are so many things i never would have bothered to rent that i've seen on there because, hey, it's there, right? might as well! the most recent example of this is the original clash of the titans so that i can go and see the sam worthington remake next year without feeling guilty.

the basic set-up for the chronicles is that a long time ago a spaceship -- or large piece of unknown alien tech -- fell to earth (think tommyknockers, here) and the zombie-style aliens inside immediately set about collaring all humans and submitting them to a kind of conversion process to turn them into more zombie-style aliens. pretty basic, right? you can more or less fill in the blanks from here: war to defeat the aliens; brave band of heroes; evil defeated -- or at least pushed back into its hole; brave band of heroes retreats to safe point; vows to keep knowledge of terrible evil safe from the world except for those pledged to protect the knowledge and fight the evil should it ever return.

'cause you know it's gonna return.

and so it does -- in the middle of a centuries-later war being fought by the four giant geopolitical blocs into which the nations of the earth have divided. they just happen to be fighting over the site of the ship; some dork sets off a mine powerful enough to blow a hole down to the lock of the ship; and there you have it -- you're knee-deep in zombies once more.

the opening scenes of this movie resemble nothing so much as ben hawkin's first world war flashbacks from carnivale. i kept expecting to see a circus bear or clancy brown around any corner. this isn't to say they aren't effective; they are. someone certainly took the blood/sweat/tears/mud/more blood/more mud lesson from the first world war history seminar to heart because they are swimming in it. literally at one point.

the cast of our second set of brave heroes is headlined by thomas jane, ron perlman, sean pertwee, and, from my point of view, devon aoki since she was the only other person to whom i could immediately put a name. there were several other familiar faces, too, though; worth looking out for. jane and perlman definitely throw the movie over their backs and carry it on several occasions. they carry it well and they carry it with style, but the story runs thin on the ground a couple of times. jane and pertwee have some excellent scenes together, notably their last scene together; ditto jane and perlman.

there's a whole sacrifice/redemption theme going on which i feel is fairly common in horror movies or genre movies in general and which probably doesn't bear particularly close examination here. perhaps if blogger agrees to be nice and publish this post, i'll write something about it later.

the look of chronicles seems kind of steampunk'y to me -- there's a sense throughout the movie that the war between the four blocs has been going on for so long that technology isn't quite moving backwards, but it is having to be cobbled together quite a bit. there aren't replacement parts for things; broken machines are having to be welded together; revamped; recreated to make them work. the universe has that kind of world-weary feeling; lots of dust, grit, grime, slightly ragged clothes; chipped dishes; that sort of thing. and, man, this is a movie that loves its world-weary and pissed off heroes; we don't settle for just one -- jane -- or two -- jane and perlman -- but we end up with a whole gang of them.

there are some really winceable moments, particularly in the first half where the "introducing the members of our brave band" tends more towards racial and cultural stereotype than anything else. the mexican character is loud, brash, offensive. the two asians huddle together and look obscure and knowing. the german is controlled, stern, harsh. you get the idea. get past that, though, and the movie really does make it worthwhile.

along with the story elements i wish had been dropped -- see above; they really spoke of sloppy screenwriting more than anything else -- there are some others i wish had been kept. there's a suggestion, for example, when one of the mutants is captured and being examined early on, that the conversion process may not be total. someone undergoing conversion may be able to fight it or there may be some residual human left even after the process. sadly, this idea gets dropped pretty early on. it's a shame because it's really interesting and might have simplified some of the rather tortured story-telling that has to go on to make the last 25 minutes or so make sense.

in any case, overall i'd give it a 7 or 8 out of 10. i'm not sure why it works, but it does.


Friday, December 25, 2009

"your human. he's been bitten."

graphic by pokecharm
happy christmas!

i don't know if this is just the gift you were waiting for but i do have something for you today -- a brief two-minute review of david wellington's latest, frostbite. (mild spoilers follow. nothing that will ruin the book, i promise.)

having done zombies (the monster series) and vampires (13 bullets, 99 coffins, et. al.), wellington really had only one monster left to do. bet you can guess what it was.

werewolves -- weres in general -- have never been my thing. i find them terrifying -- once, actually, when playing a table-top game of white wolf "vampire," my gm asked us all what monsters or beasties we found the most frightening as ourselves not as our characters. i said, "werewolves" -- and what d'you know? without fail a werewolf showed up in the next session. :) she turned out to be fairly helpful if my memory is accurate, but still. the point stands. weres creep me out. i don't know why; i have this vague memory of seeing some part of a scary movie that involved werewolves when i was really little and obviously whatever it was has stayed with me. i have a vivid memory of a nightmare -- again, from when i was relatively small -- that involved werewolves and biting and moons and the like. very nasty.

still, despite all this, i don't seek out werewolves in horror fiction and i don't find them that scary now except in movies where the transform tends to be gross and the feeding habits grotesque. (underworld is my exception for this rule because i like the transform and, really, there's michael sheen overacting like all get out. how can you not love that?) i got tired of weres rather early on when i was still reading laurell k. hamilton's anita blake books and i swear to god there was were-everything. werewolves, tigers, leopards, jaguars, bears, alligators, parrots, mice -- good god, it was ridiculous. and while zombies are pretty straight-forward munch-machines, vampires at least tend to keep their heads about them as characters. you can still narrate while draining someone dry. (i realise there are exceptions to this rule.) werewolves -- not so much.

but i like david wellington very much so i wanted to give his werewolves a shot. and they're good. not as good as his vampires -- the end of 13 bullets is my favorite, personally; i love the uber-vamp's parting shot -- but they're solid. he's given them more brain and more thinking power when in wolf form which saves you from having either animal-style narration which is always awkward or just big gaps in the narrative that the poor characters then have to go to great lengths to fill in. his narrator, named cheyenne, is an engaging voice and goes through the "oh, woe is me -- the curse has come upon me!" stage very quickly. she's also duplicitous, cunning, and not entirely unhappy to suddenly have unnatural strength and healing capabilities. i find this compelling in a narrator. :) whining really doesn't get you very far in this kind of situation; you might as well just suck it up and learn to enjoy as best you can.

while wellington spends quite a few chapters establishing the rules for his weres -- basically nothing you haven't heard before although they're quite a bit stronger and angrier than other versions of the story -- he doesn't spend a lot of time establishing the rules for his world. which means that it's kind of a shock to discover, about halfway through the book, that lycanthropes are a known, knowable quantity in this world. it's not some awful shock that there are weres around. it's not great news, but it's not "oh, she's just crazy" news, either. i'm thinking this is the set-up for another series; since it ends not quite on a cliffhanger, but definitely with a kind of "and then...?" feeling.

there are some great secondary characters -- i'm thinking primarily of dzo, here, who is one of the first characters you meet other than cheyenne. i think he has real potential and i'm hoping wellington does go on largely so i can find out precisely what he's capable of.

there are some problems, of course. as it becomes frustrating in his vampire books that no-one seems to think of flamethrowers as a weapon, it becomes frustrating in frostbite that the weres can heal from pretty much anything. without lasting damage. i mean, of any kind. not even a migraine. by the end of the book i was kind of tired of this as a trick, but it did make for a really resilient narrator.

overall impression? 7 out of 10. definitely worth reading. don't think too hard about it while you're reading.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"no, see, this is a really shit idea. you know why? because it's obviously a really shit idea."

a couple of quick movie-related thoughts for your monday morning...

1. the core. i clicked this on through netflix insty while i was feeling rather ill yesterday afternoon and wanted something mindless and flashy to watch until i felt better. the core is both mindless and flashy and i think hilary swank, stanley tucci, and tcheky karyo lost bets and had to be in it. when even i can tell that the science is not only wrong but so far wrong as to be breaking basic laws of physics, you know you're in trouble. still -- i have to say the movie had a kind of charming naivete about itself. it enjoyed itself so much that it felt rather churlish not to like it. what it mostly felt like was a poor dry run for danny boyle's sunshine which has it all over this movie in terms not only of acting talent but...well, pretty much everything else. not scientific accuracy, but almost everything else. still -- if what you want is flashy, pretty, and the odd unexpected good oneliner ("so we'll hotwire the nuclear bombs -- as one does--"), this will certainly fill the bill.

2. i am legend. i have seen the beginning of this movie -- approximately the first 20 minutes (up to the point where he's apartment-diving on the second day you've been following him) about three or four times now. it's brilliant. incredibly clever. well-thought-out. creepy. excellent stuff. the opening sequence with emma thompson (calling her "dr. krippin," even with the spelling error, is a little heavy-handed, but it's cute, so we'll let it slide.) and then the second "opening" with robert neville (will smith in case you've been under a rock for the past three years) and his dog driving through the abandoned, weed-filled streets of new york with posters that you just about manage to glimpse as he shoots by that say something about "contagion," "god still loves us," and "don't go out after dark" is great. it requires the viewer to pay attention, be responsible for the story in a way that many genre films -- like, say, the core, -- don't.

and then it's all downhill.

after, approximately, the scene with sam (the dog) and dr. neville's return to the video store where he talks to the mannequin in the adult section. (i'm trying not to spoiler here. if you've seen the movie, you know what i mean.) up to then, we have a (reasonably) sensitive, intelligent, clever sort of movie. there isn't a lot of forward motion -- we're not quite sure why we're here -- but it's interesting and well-photographed enough that you don't mind too much. presumably, the movie knows where it's going and will tell you when it's ready.

but it doesn't.

and it won't.

(mild spoilers after this point.) after the return to the video store -- legend descends into being a pretty standard, unimaginative hack'n slash. not even as scary as 28 weeks later or resident evil 3 which at least had a couple of good startles for all their over-use of stage blood. legend ends up with long talky scenes with neville facing down a young woman who rescues him from the lurking human mutants in the city and they argue pointlessly for several scenes about whether or not he will go with her and her adopted "son" to vermont where she thinks there is a human colony because god told her to go there. so we bicker about divine inspiration versus scientific accountability until we have nowhere else to go and so we have a rabid mutant break-in to pass the time.

the main trick of the mutants seems to be to scrabble over cars, lamp-posts, and ceilings in rather the fashion of the mummies in the mummy. they have a leader. his trick is to stare at neville threateningly and then scream -- again, a la the mummy.

i think we're supposed to think that the mutants -- or genetically wounded or rabid or vampires or whatever they're supposed to be -- are working together or making a plan or something, but they're so poorly explained and so little screentime is given to them and neville spends no time speculating about them that we don't know. it seems that they can set traps -- since one of neville's own traps for mutants is later adopted and used on him -- but this development in their group intelligence is ignored in favor of a scene with rabid dogs. uh-huh. well, okay.

and then the actual end of the movie is voice-over rubbish. neville apparently has a last-minute flash of brilliance regarding a serum to cure the genetically wounded -- although we're not really sure this is possible since it's based off one victim and one batch of serum. there are more problems with the ending but, in the interests of not ruining it entirely should you wish to watch it, i'll keep my mouth shut.

really, it is worth watching for the first -- quarter to half. then shut it off and watch 28 days later or resident evil or even night of the living dead. at least they have either genuine intelligence in the story and really do expect something of the viewer or they have no illusions at all and just provide you with popcorn'y fun. offering the first with one hand and then whipping it back to say, "haha! fooled you! we're all about a mutant bloodfest after all!" is just unfair.

but just so i don't leave you on a complete downer, here's a little clip i found on one of my rss feeds this morning for a new bbc remake of john wyndham's the day of the triffids:

Friday, December 18, 2009

friday!

and so i'm now in post-thesis-completion aftermath which basically means spending a lot of time unearthing emails that have gone too long unanswered, working on ebooks blog posts (which i keep promising to our poor editor well in advance and continue to email to him the day before they need to go up!), and planning things to do here. and i have a nice fat stack of books that have absolutely nothing to do with my thesis topic, including hilary mantel's wolf hall, which i started from the library a few weeks ago and haven't gotten to finish, and stephen king's under the dome which is fat enough to keep me going for at least two days. :) plus a brand-new 30% off coupon from borders burning a hole in my email.

and this mostly means that i don't have a plan for today, of course, so, instead i'm proposing that you all go and get addicted to freakangels.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"dull. abysmally dull. a triumph...the dullest of the lot."

so this is it, folks. you saw it here first:

and what is this you're looking at, you ask?


that right there is the desk of a person who just did her last day's work on her master's thesis, thank you very much.

under the sudden looming pressure of an inescapable desire to get the fucking thing done, she drank more caffeine than five people need, drove her girlfriend nuts for a long weekend, and forewent sleep, emailing friends, regular exercise, and food with nutritional content (other than chocolate and the milk in coffee).

but the thing is done, by god, and she is not revisiting a comma of it.

it is done. finished. completed. and will be printed tomorrow to be a (hopefully) cheery surprise for her two professors on thursday when they weren't expecting it 'til next week.

but that's what the desk looks like.

why isn't she there, you ask? why, because she's busily crawling her way to her bed. which is out of frame.

see? the bed is that green bit over there on the left with a total lack of bibliographies, footnotes, or block quotations. goodnight, folks. that's all she wrote.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"yeah, 'fear of god.' got it."

please pretend that you are reading this yesterday. which is when it should have gone up. but didn't. because it always takes longer to check citations and put together bibliographies than i think it will. because life sucks like that.

anyway, so for today i thought i'd do a super-fast review of population 436, this little horror film that netflix popped up on my insty queue the other day. it looked okay, so i watched it. and it was okay. staggeringly okay. about the most middle-of-the-road okay you will ever find.

first off, it's misfiled. 'horror,' 'thriller' -- it's really none of these things. the sarah jane adventures episode "day of the clown" is scarier than this -- admittedly, it's it in 45 minutes, but it's still scarier.

436 is a moderately entertaining sort-of suspense movie. the basic plot is that there's a small town -- in virginia or west virginia, i believe -- that has a population of 436. always. continually. forever. and so the census bureau notices this and tosses out a desk jockey to check on it. he gets there, ends up with two blown tires just inside the town limits, and is then trapped within the town as he realises the classic "something is wrong with this town..." it isn't a very exciting something; nor is it something that anyone faintly familiar either with shirley jackson's short story "the lottery" or with how horror movies of this sort work in general will fail to guess within the first five minutes. on the whole, the "reveal" is less a reveal than an "oh, thank god, the movie finally caught up with the rest of us."

this said, there is something charming about the movie. the protagonist, played by jeremy sisto, is a likeable young man who does his best with the information he's given and tries to do the right thing as he sees it. there's a great young girl -- played by i don't know who -- who really should have gotten more screentime. the photography is sometimes beautiful; wherever they actually filmed this is 100% gorgeous country. and, sometimes, the cinematography manages to transcend the story material and create some tension where, honestly, there isn't a lot to work from.

there's next to no blood -- unless nose-bleeds disturb you -- and nothing very graphic. there's a riff in some episode of mst3k, i forget which one, where crow describes the movie they're watching as "the movie which constantly reassures you, 'you don't need to concern yourself with this.'" there's kind of a similar effect here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

action transvestite!

i have no brain.

i've been doing the last-ditch revisions of my thesis for -- well, what feels like several years now. checking my email, i see it's only since the 1st of december. it feels like longer. my brain is slowly turning into swiss-cheese'y stuff but thanks to my wonderful friend diana (you should go and read her blog and decide that it is awesome and go and vote at the best librarian/library edublogs 2009 site. that link right back there), i have truly gorgeous slide backgrounds for when i turn to making my slide-show presentation.

for my presentation.

which is next week.

immediately after which, i have a job interview. so that's going to be a really good day!

anyway, the upshot of all that is, determined though i am to stick to this random and self-assigned every other day schedule, i have really nothing to say this friday except "bleerrrrrrrr" and "has my professor's handwriting always been this awful and i've never noticed before? what the hell is that word?! is it important? oh, god, what if it's important -- oh, crap--" and other things of that sort.

so go watch some eddie izzard instead. really. it's about star wars. you'll like it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"words. words, words, words."

the other day i was at work (big surprise, yes?) and i clicked to the main website rather than the archives website and i found this news story about a professor working on a legal project. i must confess that i didn't read the story through very closely at first (i have since read it over with more care); what caught my eye immediately was the acronym: sgbv.

quite often the neu news feeds feature stories about research scientists working at the university, or professors who have gotten grants, or engineering grad students who have presented something nifty to someone interesting, or people on co-op doing something spiffy -- but that's not what this story is talking about.

and i should say right off the top that it sounds as though this professor is doing dynamite work. if what she does gets help for people who need it, that's great. more power (and chocolate) to her.

but the acronym -- sgbv -- struck me and i couldn't think why for a minute until i realised it reminded me of the opening of this george carlin routine. (i'm not bothering to embed the player because i couldn't find a live cut and i really don't want a still shot of george carlin (r.i.p.) glaring out of my blog at me.) the part of the routine i'm thinking of is the first two to three minutes -- not very much of an eight minute cut, but the rest is absolutely worth listening to if you like what you're hearing so far.

he's talking about the shift in language over the course of the 20th century from "shell shock" to the current "post-traumatic stress disorder." (i'm not even sure he gets as far as ptsd; i think he might stop with "battle fatigue" but you get the idea.) and he's talking about this shift as a softening of the words, a multiplication of syllables -- and a distancing from the actual poor sod suffering from the medical/psychological problem in hand. he was making a very specific point in regards to vietnam veterans not getting adequate medical or psychological attention for the issues they were suffering from, but i think his idea, besides being very funny in a "wow, that isn't really funny at all is it -- but why am i laughing?" sort of way, has broader applications and i think "sgbv" is along the same lines.

what the hell does it stand for? well, according to the news article, it stands for "sexual- and gender-based violence." okay. so, in old-school terms, physical attacks like rape. i realise there is a broader spectrum of attack possible here covering not only the physical (probably the highly aggressive physical searches most of the republican prisoners i'm writing about underwent count under this heading -- both the physical search itself and the resulting trauma) but anna isn't here for me to pick her brain for what these things might be and i am very tired, so i'm just going to let you fill in the blanks on your own. i'm sure you've read the odd news story you wish you hadn't about horrible things happening to children or young women or old women or young men or old men or dogs or cats or chickens; just pick something from there.

and as i said before: if what she does gets help for people who have these horrendous things happen to them, good. excellent. but i don't know if i think this kind of acronym is going to help.

it's...catchy. sort of.

it's memorable. -ish.

it covers a lot of ground. absolutely. almost too much, in fact. if you say "sgbv," people say, "huh? what?" but if you say "rape," people know what you're talking about. there's an immediate visceral reaction to the word. this is bad. something bad has happened. (and if you recognize that really vague movie allusion, give yourself a hug.)

i thought i would have a really coherent post to write about this, but i find that i don't. i just find the shift away from what seems like the precise language to the vague acronym -- troubling on some level. maybe it's just me.

but whichever way you think about it, that's a pretty miserable thought for a wednesday (and i could go on about the irish republicans. really. i could. with quotes. you don't want me to.) and so i'll leave off instead with a clip from my latest fun thing which is eddie izzard's stand-up. netflix has been insisting for years that mr. izzard and i are meant to be "bff." i didn't believe it, so i didn't watch any of his stand-up until this week. the up-side of this is that now he has something like six (6!) routines that i get to watch -- yay! (plus or minus movies, of course.)

anyway, this is from his dress to kill show in san francisco; if you watch nothing else of this, watch the first 2-4 minutes and take in the full glory of his theory of european history (and i want his nail polish):



probably nsfw. :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

"cheese, gromit! we'll go somewhere where there's cheese!"

i debated about putting this up on sunday because that was nick park's real birthday, but i thought that wallace and gromit videos might be a nice touch on a monday which i, for one, am not looking forward to.

so, yesterday was nick park's birthday; i think that's awesome; and i think we should all watch some w&g in celebration. i tried to find a full online cut of "a grand day out" which was the first aardman full-length short (er -- that sounds funny -- it was about 20 minutes long and the first long piece they did with wallace and gromit) and my favorite, but the only place i could find it was a chinese site that wouldn't cough up an embed code. at least, i don't think it would. it probably would have if i spoke chinese. which i don't. so it left me rather nowhere.

fortunately, hulu came through! and then hulu totally failed and took down the episodes i linked to. i've taken down the embedded windows because, well, they were totally pointless and quite ugly. you'll just have to take my word for it. wallace and gromit = very fun = go watch some. sorry.

and then because i'm a historian and i find it really hard to look at much of anything without saying, on some level, 'so where did that come from?' i also went and found one of oliver postgate's 'clangers' shorts.



these were -- apparently -- used on the bbc (i'm guessing for filler between shows) in the '60s and '70s; there's actually an episode of doctor who called the sea devils from the early '70s where the master is in jail (temporarily) and sitting in his cell watching television. he's watching what i now realise is an episode of 'clangers;' he's quite cheerfully whistling back to the little clangers and enjoying the show when the warden of the prison comes in and asks what he's doing. the master replies that he's apparently watching some interesting form of extraterrestrial life. the warden looks at the screen and says, "they're only puppets, you know. for children." the master smiles, shrugs, and turns off the television, returning us to the main storyline. but it was incredibly satisfying to discover the 'clangers' through one of my rss feeds last year. anna since tracked down a dvd set of the episodes and they're just great. very cute; entirely reassuring and soothing to watch. and clearly inspirational for nick park and aardman. (there's stephen fry in that last link, too, if you need another reason to click.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

music overkill

so in the throes of trying to decide on a title for my colloquium thesis presentation -- which i'm looking forward to about as much as unanesthetized dental surgery -- i ended up surfing through most of my music collection looking for inspirational lyrics. luckily for me, breaking benjamin and linkin park came through in spades for me -- good lads! -- and i found a title. i'm not sure what arthur griffith or bobby sands would make of linkin park but they're both dead, so that's okay.

but before i found that oh-so-awesome title (yes, i'll put it at the end of this post), i wandered around youtube for awhile because...well, it was better than grinding out more pages of rewrites. and in the 'but what about that song...and didn't that one have a good line...'-ness of it all, i came across a few music videos, then deliberately looked for a few more and, because a good tune is always handy for getting you through a saturday....

is this the most emo video ever? bar, of course, anything made by the nine inch nails?



and the answer is possibly, yes, bar this one by papa roach:



and then there's this -- another entry from seether which i personally think of as "the best way to blow off your celebrity ex-girlfriend in public" video:



sorry about the sound quality on this next one; the lead guitar is a little swallowed up but the one i really wanted i couldn't embed for reasons which pass my technical expertise.


and because i can't do a post of videos without breaking ben...


oh, and the title? "memories consume: irish republican nationalism, 1980s-1890s," thanks to these guys:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"such a lonely little boy. lonely then and lonelier now."

last night i finished my last grad school library science paper. perhaps in after years this will take on major significance in my life, but mostly it was just another paper and i wrote it and now it's done and i'm okay with that.

i managed to wrangle out a paper topic i was rather proud of. in the face of a suggested list of topics from my professor which included "write about the history of a typeface" and "consider biblioklepts over the years" (okay, they were really cooler than that, but you get the idea), i put together a proposal to write about the history of books in horror fiction.

really, this was just an excuse to re-read a lot of h.p. lovecraft and call it schoolwork.

and it mostly worked. i can't say this is the best paper i've ever written or anything like that, but it's a fairly solid paper; i know it would go over well with either of my history professors, but the lis professors are a peculiar and uneven crowd and difficult to foreguess. we'll see what happens. i am proud of myself for writing a single paper which allowed me to footnote -- within nine pages! -- jane austen, neil gaiman, stephen king, and neal stephenson. oh, and some academic'y stuff, too.

anyway, this is really one long lead-up to what i actually wanted to talk about which was a biography of m.r. james that i read for the paper. (i mostly wrote about two short stories james wrote -- "canon alberic's scrap-book" and "the tractate middoth" and a bunch of miscellaneous lovecraft including "the case of charles dexter ward," "the dunwich horror," and "at the mountains of madness.")

james was a late victorian, born in kent in the mid-nineteenth century, went to eton, then to king's, then proceeded onto the kind of calm, untroubled academic existence that e.m. forster and evelyn waugh, in very different ways, blew right out of the water with maurice and brideshead revisited. (to say nothing of dorothy sayers and gaudy night.) so, in order to garner any useful biographical details -- perhaps best described as "gobbets" in the tradition of irwin from the history boys -- about james's career as an antiquarian and rare books enthusiast for my paper, i read this biography, m.r. james: an intimate portrait, by michael cox. published in 1983 and before you ask -- how can it then be "intimate" when the author was, at best, an infant when the subject was in his last years? who knows. your guess is as good as mine. personally, my guess involves thinking that cox wishes he had been at cambridge in the '80s, '90s, and '00s rather like noel annan and his the dons. fairy tales for the true ivory-tower academic? maybe. we probably all need 'em on some level.

better him than me; they wouldn't even have let me in the door. literally.

the biography is very affectionate and not badly written; cox is clever at picking out good anecdotes and putting them together and teasing out significance from diaries and letters, not always an easy task. he generally resists making wild speculations. he does have a bad habit of smoothing over james's worst points and sometimes refuses to speculate at all just where you'd really like him to -- when it comes to james's private life for example. he never married but had a series of close, affectionate friendships with other men. none of them wildly underage; nothing "inappropriate" -- no fumblings at choirboys or anything like that -- but... i couldn't help feeling that forster, who was up at cambridge while james was there, must have had him in mind when writing maurice, at least a little bit. i think it's laudable that cox wants to avoid the kind of "pseudo-analytic biography" that wants to find significance in everything and claims to be able to know the deepest, darkest thoughts of the subject from grocery lists, but it also seems relatively plain -- even from the evidence cox puts forward -- that, whatever james was, he was no ruler.

is this a bad thing? no. a problem? only in that following his proclivities to the natural conclusion would have been illegal. small issue there. the wilde trial was international headline-making news during james's lifetime; i'm sure he didn't see that as a great "tallyho!" towards emotional satisfaction.

so that's all fine and really only regrettable in that it makes cox seems somewhat hidebound and stuffy in terms of defending his subject from something that isn't really an issue requiring defense and james must have led a sad life at times.

the really annoying part is that cox eternally defends james from charges of being conservative and out of touch with the times. while quoting things like james saying that undergraduates should aim to be able to "con" a page of greek as easily as they can a page of english or french. this is in 1925. okay, that's a laudable ambition but possibly a tad mid-victorian and, y'know, there's been a major world war and lots of people died and--did any of this register with you?

and the answer to all that seems to have been, no, it didn't. and, when it did, james took a fairly natural action and retreated back to familiar ground. familiar ground for him was an evangelical anglican religion and the comforts of eton/cantabrigian academics; a world run entirely by men, for men, whose rules he knew, and in which he had been comfortably at home since the age of 9.

i don't know if this is any more or less in need of defense than his (possible) homosexuality, but it does strike me as being a bright and shining example of why the british empire crashed and burned up against the first 20 years of the 20th century, particularly the first world war. they had people like this leading it and they thought the answer to everything was most likely something that had happened in their childhood. really, if it took place after 1890, it was a little new-fangled. (you should read what he said about the irish! dear god! not quite "white chimpanzees" but not too far off. "inspired by...")

and i don't know if i have any great closing thought for this little mini-rant but it just occurred to me riding home today on the t, reading about james trying to hold a place at king's (cambridge) for the classics against the dubious onslaught of liberality and the natural sciences. no wonder the machine gun came as such a shock -- how would you say it in greek?!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"i love deadlines. i love the 'whoosh!'-ing sound they make as they go by."

notes from a tuesday-that-really-really-really-feels-like-a-monday.

why is it that all deadlines -- no matter how far in advance you knew about them or how well prepared you really are -- hit like bricks? is this some cosmic rule of which i was not informed? if so, i would like to call a foul. or at least an inconvenient. the latest brick to hit are the end-of-term thesis deadlines. argh. two weeks. argh. i realise that i had to be finished editing it and coddling it at some point, but does it have to be so soon? *sniff* (and did it really have to be when i had editing to do on another paper and a paper not included post to write and...and...and...? and the answer to all that is "yes," 'cause that's how life works.) i'm trying very hard to see all these scary deadlines and not-having-a-full-time-job-yet-ness as being opportunities to learn to deal with the universe on a different level -- challenges being handed out by a good teacher, so to speak, to make you stretch a bit -- but minus a good night of sleep in several weeks and plus stress, it's hard. not impossible, but hard.

i'm still determined to keep up my every-other-day posting routine here; i don't really know why since it's a totally arbitrary schedule i thought up more or less at random, but it's something that isn't school- or work-related and i figure it's important to have a couple of those type of things floating around.

i don't have any neat short book reviews for today, but i do have some unconnected thoughts i was hoping to work into something more major later. i picked up hilary mantel's wolf hall from the library the other day and so far it's slightly bizarre but very good. i don't normally care for historical fiction very much -- not for a.s. byatt's self-serving and whiny reasons ("they don't do it good like me!") -- but because i get too caught up in my own speculation about what happened and whether i like how the writer is writing the person and whether i happen to know that an actual historical detail is being elided for the sake of a good story. (okay, maybe that is kind of like what byatt says but, damn, that woman annoys me.) i don't necessarily object if this happens, but it does tend to bump the book further down the "must read now!" list.

i have read and enjoyed more "historical" mystery series than anything else: laurie king's mary russell novels; elizabeth peters' amelia peabody series (colorfully described by my mother as "bonking all over upper egypt"); and c.j. sansom's matthew shardlake books, of which there are only four at the minute, though i hope for more!

i also have eoin colfer's and another thing..., but i haven't been able to bring myself to crack the covers yet. i wouldn't say that i hold the original guide trilogy (in five books) particularly sacred, but i really do love them and i disliked the idea of a "ghostwritten" sequel as soon as i heard about it. nothing i've heard about it since has made me feel any better about it and i just don't have the energy to read one of my treasured pre-adolescent literary memories being done badly.

and now off to write part 2 of my pni post about the internet archive and the wonders of the bookserver project. i won't put any links so you'll all have to head over to pni and increase our traffic!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"i may have made a social blunder. i showed them how to destroy the world."

a few passing thoughts for your sunday morning on the first episodes of the second season of the sarah jane adventures.

you will definitely need to have watched the first season to be au courant with events since the season opener doesn't even bother with a brief "detective exposition and sergeant plotpoint" sort of recap. (i did some desultory searching for a first season trailer to post here and had no luck; no time to search further! try the bbc america website if you're really keen.)

the adventures, for those of you not in the octopus-like grip of russell t. davies, is his third reboot of the doctor who series and the second successful spinoff -- torchwood being the other one. i can only say that if you're not watching torchwood you're missing something very special. but i say that a lot when it comes to doctor who-related things.

sarah jane herself -- the eponymous character of the adventures -- is an old-school companion; she travelled with the 3rd (jon pertwee) and 4th (tom baker) doctors back in the 1970s-1980s. she's one of the absolute all-time knock-down drag-out top ten best companions ever and they tried to give her her own show before in the mid-'80s with k9 and company:


that's the first nine minutes or so of the one episode it got. if you want the rest, it seems to be mostly present between google video/youtube and dailymotion. it isn't a bad way to spend an hour or so but you can pretty much see -- with doctor who at the time still going strong -- why the show didn't go too far. if nothing else, k9 was something of a sensitive point with fans; a lot of people -- including some of the crew of the show! -- hated him and wanted to see him thrown into the nearest collapsing star. presumably this is why, in the new adventures, k9 is barely present, being busily occupied repairing the damage done by a runaway physics experiment and only accessible when he spins past earth every few weeks. i hear rumours that he will get a spin-off of a spin-off of his own, based out of australia? but i think that might be too spin-off-y even for me.

regardless of all that, the new adventures is a blast. elisabeth sladen (if you watch the new who, you saw her in "school reunion") is clearly having one hell of a time playing sarah jane but with some of the doctor's best tricks up her sleeve (sonic lipstick!). her companions are three young teenagers: her adopted son luke, and two schoolfriends of his, clyde and maria. maria's dad, alan, also gets in on the show in the later episodes of the first season; his ex-wife and maria's mum, chrissie, has a disturbing habit of waltzing in at odd minutes and anna and i took to shouting at her to go away because she's just dreadful. but the first episodes of the second season seem to hint that perhaps, just perhaps, she will improve.

i thought that, with doctor who as the angst-fest of the millennium and featuring some remarkably angry, violent, and difficult episodes with torchwood not far behind in tormenting its fans by doing awful things to their favorite characters (russell, you and i still need to talk about that season 2 closer!), that the adventures would be more aimed directly at little kids -- originally doctor who's target audience! and it is noticeably gentler than the davies's other two series, but i can't say he pulls a lot of punches to gather in a younger audience. the first season features episodes where parents are possessed and try to harm their children; a rearrangement of the space-time continuum such that people are randomly plucked out of their proper time and forgotten by everyone except one or two people; and some gripping depictions of the consequences of childhood actions in later life. (not to mention a great guest star turn by phyllida law playing a woman suffering from the effects of age-related memory loss who has forgotten the importance of a piece of critical alien tech she has hidden among her jewelry.) while the adventures aren't, for example, doctor who's "turn left" or "midnight" or torchwood's "meat" or "countrycide," they're not dumbed down fare to make kids feel happy. some of this stuff would have scared me stiff as a child; i would've watched anyway, probably with my mouth hanging open, but the prospect of your parents being taken over and controlled by something you can't see and them coming after you? not okay!

and, while i couldn't find teaser trailers for either season, i did find the first section of the first episode, invasion of the bane from season one which may, if you're into this sort of thing, make your netflix queue longer by a few discs (the rest of bane, at least, also seems to be up on youtube in 9-10 minute chunks if you're into watching things that way):

Friday, November 27, 2009

"are you fucking kidding me!"

a rainy, grey, chilly post-thanksgiving friday in boston and, honestly, i'm not feeling wildly inspired to produce grand blog posts. i seem to have created a completely overwhelming "to do" list for myself for this weekend and i'm feeling totally...well, overwhelmed by the whole thing and i've yet to come to that point in the being overwhelmed process when inertia becomes unbearable; at the minute, i'm still busy being staggered by the amount of work i still have left to do.

fortunately, a friend has come to my rescue. diana posted a vlogbrothers video a few days ago on twitter and because twitter is what it is and my memory is what it is, i totally forgot about watching it until this morning when anna reminded me.

but it is very funny and i'm with him on 89% of the stuff:



i'm not sure why a giant turkey head is the default still for this one.

only other update is that supernatural -- the next 4 episodes -- continues good. there are even a couple of exceptionally good episodes: "faith" being the outstanding entry despite the startling appearance of the actress who played darla in buffy. "scarecrow" and "asylum" are also solid. there are some very obvious nods to preceeding entries in the genre, particularly jeepers creepers and house on haunted hill (original and remakes) but if you're gonna steal, steal. and make it good. and they do.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"i'm agent ford and he's...uh...agent hamill."

working on the first few posts for the paper not included ebooks blog -- my second one accidentally turned into a 2-parter -- and reading frantically to figure out what happened to the ira between partition in the '20s and sean mcstiofain in the '60s didn't leave me with any brain left to come up with a post for this morning, but i do have a couple of things to throw out there.

1. gillian flynn's dark places. i tried. it looked like a promising kind of dark murder thriller and then just went boring by about chapter 4. the narrator was a compelling voice -- the grown-up survivor of the in cold blood-style murder of her family by her elder brother (she thinks) -- but it quickly became apparent, to me at least, that the only way i was going to be happy with the book was going to be if the narrator turned out to be the killer and flynn clearly wasn't going to take it in that direction. the writing was good; the voices of the characters very clear and distinct; but i was looking for something a little more twisted and this wasn't going to do it. sorry, ms. flynn.

2. supernatural. i've been drifting in and out of wanting to sit down and actually watch this show for quite a while; i keep channel-flipping through random episodes and, whenever i do, i tend to sit and watch the rest of the show which means i have a really weird view of what's going on. i then got put off the idea of netflixing the early seasons by the fact that every story i saw about the show for awhile referenced the fact that the two lead actors are really hot and therefore girls obviously loved the show. uh-huh. yeah, 'cause that's clearly the only-- oh, why bother. moving on.

two things -- technically three, i guess -- got me back into the idea of watching it again. one was the episode i flicked into last week which was a very clever self-parody featuring the two main characters, dean and sam winchester, being invited to a fan conference for themselves. supernatural has been turned into a popular book and comic series in their universe and guess what? they have fan boys. lots of them.

the second was a post on scifiwire -- has anyone else noticed that the wire has gone kinda weird since the sci-fi/syfy (shudder) rebranding? -- about the colt. now, i have no idea what this is meant to mean other than a prop colt pistol which probably has some uber-nifty demon-killing and/or spirit-banishing significance. but they happened to mention that the gun had only 13 bullets. :) this probably has absolutely nothing at all to do with david wellington's 13 bullets, but the mere possibility made me happy. and then, last but not least, there was a sale at best buy -- the first full season of the show was only $15.

so far, it's a not badly spent $15. i've watched the first eight episodes -- the first four back to back last saturday afternoon in a desperate attempt at decompressing after a stressful morning. i can say with some certainty that:
a) i like their car:


and b) i like dean's jacket.

i think i'm going to start calling it dean's amazing indestructible self-cleaning jacket, in fact. and i'm hoping that the necklace he wears so prominently turns out to be important in some way. i'd take either important to the character or the actor.

it's funny that i watched the first episode or two thinking, 'wow, this really looks like it was filmed in x-files country' and then noticed that, in fact, john shiban is one of the writers/executive producers for the show. i used to have a better grip on who the various x-files writers were and whether they produced reasonably coherent shows -- within chris carter's somewhat...shall we say flexible universe rules -- or whether they just came out with incoherent crap. there are a couple of supernatural episodes that are very x-files: "wendigo" and "skin" particularly. "skin" reminds me so much of an old x-files that i've been tempted to go back and figure out which one but, really, it's one of the weaker of the eight episodes i've seen, so i'm letting it just fade into distant memory.

if the show has an overarching weakness so far, it's that all the female character are the same. they're either motherly and null or teenaged, hot, and damaged. and they all wear too much lipgloss. i mean, really. every woman in this show is addicted to collagen lip injections and revlon gloss. but i have hope this will improve; i mean, you can't run a show for 5 seasons, keep a solid fanbase, and fairly good critical reception entirely with the same two guys in a car. no matter how good the leather is.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"i'm taking you home."

to wake you up this monday morning, we have another five-minute book review! oh, and when you're looking for a way to procrastinate later, why not head over to the paper not included blog and check out our first posts? i'm one of the five writers in the project which will, of course, be awesome. :)

but to return to the subject of the moment which is christopher ransom's the birthing house. it's mr. ransom's first novel which makes it respectable in and of itself. while i have written novel-length files -- go, nanowrimo! -- i can't say any of them are wildly coherent or meaningful to anyone other than myself.

and the birthing house isn't bad. but it's not one of those first novels that's going to make you want to go out and buttonhole people on the street and insist that they read it. the set-up is the classic horror trope: bright young couple moves into house with (possibly) twisted past. weird shit begins to happen. weird shit continues to happen and gets worse. bright young couple descend into weird shit and emerge/don't emerge/emerge in a different dimension on the other side. tah-dah.

in this case, the bright young couple isn't all that bright or young -- in fact, the husband of the pair makes the house purchase on his own with money received from the estate of a recently deceased estranged father. the wife isn't consulted and, when told, isn't entirely wild about the idea of moving from l.a. to the wilds of the midwest. but the move is accomplished; the first conversations about neighbors that feature dialogue like, "so how do you like your house? y'know, the last people who lived there--- well, i really shouldn't say--" happen; the family pets start to behave in freaky ways and so on.

the dark secret in the house's past is that it was a birthing house -- a phrase that ransom throws around unexplained for most of the book. i guess, largely from what i gathered through the novel itself, that it was some kind of home for unwed mothers run by a single male doctor and -- maybe? -- staffed by a couple of permanent female nurses. i think that's what he was getting at anyway. a little more explanation and detailed historical background would not have gone amiss.

there are a lot of first novel mistakes made here; one of the worst is that, for no good reason, about 2/3rds of the way through the book, one chapter is written in first person singular while the rest of the book is written either in straightforward third person or from an omniscient point of view. the one chapter is a clanger; a wrench straight onto the foot of the unsuspecting, trusting reader. i assume its effect was meant to be to make the narrator more untrustworthy than he already was and it sort of works, but it's mostly just annoying and feels like an author who suddenly lost confidence in himself and resorted to a hack trick to get out of what he thought was a bad corner. kage baker -- an author i absolutely adore -- has a similar slip in her first novel, garden of iden; there's this one weird section towards the end of the book that, in order to make the action work, changes point of view abruptly in the middle of the action. it makes the last bit of the book run smoothly, yeah, but it's also really annoying.

to be fair, there are also some genuinely creepy moments: the chapters that are flashback or waking dreams explaining the haunting of the house by an abused daughter of one of the unwed mothers are really unsettling and twisted. there's the sense of the narrator tracking the ghosts -- there may be only one, there may be many, he isn't really sure although by the end it's made mindbogglingly clear -- through the house to try and figure out what's going wrong. there's a moment about halfway through the book where our narrator, the husband, isn't sure if he's looking at and talking to his semi-estranged wife or the ghost of one of the house's old inhabitants which is quite frightening, not least because the woman in question opens the conversation with, "the baby is dead." oooh-kay. we'll just be leaving you alone to have that moment, then.

there are probably whole shelves of books out there written about the use of pregnancy and birth metaphors -- and real pregnancies and births -- in horror fiction and i'm not going to try to make some sort of wild intellectual argument here without really knowing what i'm talking about. i'll just borrow a phrase one of my college friends used as her sig file for a long time: "get pregnant? i saw alien. i ain't doin' that."

the book is creepy; the birthing house concept veers from the mildly unsettling to the deeply disgusting; and, in the end, there's a kind of tommyknockers-style conclusion. it works -- but a second novel will probably be better.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"you want to play with me now?"

every friday the guardian does a film trailer dump on its culture website which -- trust me -- is a black hole for time under normal circumstances and, with this additional load of youtubery, becomes just about irresistible.

and who, when procrastinating on job application cover letters, can really walk away from the juicy goodness of 2-3 minute film trailers? not me! certainly not when they're describing things involving "viral pandemics" and "fleeing" and "darkness"!



not that it looks wildly original, mind you. 28 days later meets quarantine with a tad bit of doomsday mixed in and some mad max just for kicks but you never know. if done with enough gusto, that could be a really good time.

and, no, i didn't see the new star trek movie. it may go on the netflix queue; it may not. it looks like it might be fun but -- on the other hand, iron man also looked like it might be fun and mostly turned out to be 2 hours worth of frustrating!

and because the above reminded me of the following:



i have no particular faith in ethan hawke, but i have a lot of faith in willem dafoe and sam neill. and does anyone recognize the song being played at the end of the trailer? i should know it and it's driving me nuts that i can't identify it. it sounds very much like one of the main themes from 30 days of night -- but possibly it was also just played in an episode of bones!

Friday, November 20, 2009

"murderer."

my aim this month -- more or less because i can -- has been to post every 2-3 days. so far, i haven't quite hit that. but i have found time -- mostly on the t -- to read some really good books i can tell you about! more five-minute book reviews: everyone's favorite, right?

so today we have philippe claudel's brodeck.

i read this in one sitting; it took about 3-4 hours; and it was entirely motivated by shame. i picked the book up at the brookline public library about -- a month and a half ago, renewed it something like four times and was finally faced with having to return it the next day without ever having read it. like the man said, "not good! not good!"

so i read it and i returned it and so i don't have a copy on hand from which i can quote excerpts that might convince you without me having to go on about it that reading this book is a really good idea.

be warned, though: it isn't fun, but it is deceptively easy. i don't know what claudel is like to read in french -- i could do it, but it would take me way the hell longer than 4 hours! -- but in english he reads something like a cross between primo levi and aleksander solzhenitsyn, and...something i can't quite put my finger on. if i track it down, i'll get back to you.

without spoilering anything too badly for you -- and you really don't want me to do that because claudel has spent a lot of time putting together some really delicate rakes in some really long grass and it would be a disservice to his effort for me to point them out -- the story centers around and is told by brodeck, a returned prisoner from 'the camps' which were set up during 'the war' who has come back to his home village somewhere in what is probably eastern europe and is now faced with a demand from his fellow villagers: tell the story of their interaction with a stranger who came to town and is no now longer in town and do it right. what 'right' might be, brodeck isn't exactly sure, but he's pretty sure he knows and he's even more sure he doesn't like it, but he's not sure what to do about it.

brodeck isn't always a sympathetic narrator; sometimes he's quite frustrating, doubling back on his own story, revising it, continually apologising to us for not being a real writer, for doubting himself, for repeating himself, for not being a stronger, cleverer, better writer or man. but despite his evasions and his own stated desire not to return to his own past, he ends up telling his story and the stranger's inasmuch as he knows them. he's not entirely sure of large sections of either one, having to make them up out of what other people have told him -- voluntarily or inadvertently or through omission -- or what he can guess for himself.

the thing this felt most like to me -- apart from levi and maus -- was deadwood. there's a scene with pigs at the end of the second or third chapter that just shrieked al swearengen to me. not that brodeck himself is in anyway like everyone's favorite saloonkeeper; if he was going to be compared to anyone in the town, it would have to be doc, still continually caught in the aftermath of civil war battles.

and then for no particularly good reason except that it's friday and i can, here's another mst3k short i found resurrected on google videos:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"...or we can be lycans!"

five minute book-review!

1. jonathan maberry, bad moon rising. the third in the trilogy with ghost road blues and dead man's song. not the greatest last volume in a trilogy you'll ever read. i think maberry could have told this story much more effectively in two volumes. reading rising, i kept feeling like the characters were just repeating information among themselves; each set of characters -- good guys, bad guys, good guys over here without knowledge of the good guys over there, ditto bad guys, and null guys -- had to learn the same piece of information, discuss it, chew it to death, and then move on to the next shred of evidence. all this in spite of the fact that the reader, being a clever person and, possibly, well-versed in this kind of horror novel, figured it out pages ago and has been patiently waiting for the progressively dumber characters to figure it the f&%k out. i really enjoyed blues and song precisely because maberry didn't treat the reader as though s/he were stupid but he slipped up pretty badly in rising.

the pace goes all to hell -- the first two-thirds dragged and then the last third shot by so fast that, had it been a movie, i'd've been thinking, 'wow, the fight choreography/special effects/acting must really suck here 'cause they're moving too fast for me to see it!' there are some shocking, terrifying sequences -- i reference particularly a scene in the last third of the book where two of our protagonists fall into the basement of the house of our big bad guy. you really don't want to know what he keeps in the cellar. really. you don't. but you're going to find out anyway. maberry does occasionally get confused between blood/gore/squick and what is actually frightening but that's so often a matter of taste and he does both well that i don't want to complain about it too much. what's slightly more frustrating is his habit of stepping out of the action of the action scenes -- which he writes really well with a great eye for an unusual detail that pulls the whole scene into focus -- to tell you what the characters are feeling or thinking. in the middle of a fight scene, we don't really need to know that our "hero" is feeling cold and sick and nauseated. it's okay. we'll take it as read and you can catch us up on it later. right now, we're worried about the fanged nasty that's going to fall on him from the ceiling...

maberry also falls prey to making the whole thing unnecessarily complicated. by the end of song, we're fairly sure we've got a reasonably straightforward set of supernatural baddies: vampires and werewolves. some of the vamps are smarter than others; some are basically mindless killers; and we've got one clearly over-arching uber-bad guy. okay, good. we've got the right idea. and then by half-way through rising, we've got psychic vampires, psychic werewolves, dhampyrs, ancient vampires, 'fangheads,' vampire kings, evil gods, possession, demonic spirits, ghosts, and a whole range of other issues i won't even go into. all of which turn out to be almost completely unnecessary. while i often have issues with stephen king -- having hated him cordially for most of my life and only really started to read his stuff in the last three or four years thanks to a friend who swore up and down that the dark tower series really was that awesome (and it is) -- at least in salem's lot, which maberry's trilogy is absolutely a child of, he kept it simple. master vampire; spawn. there we go. end of story. simple, threatening, murderous. all done.

the only other thing i wanted to note is that the female characters in the book are, by the end, totally pathetic. if the main woman had said, "but i'm pregnant!" one more time, i was going to vote for the lead vampire to rip her throat out on the spot. it was a terrible excuse for not putting her into play as an actual, y'know, character. and there's a scene in the beginning that is just a total rip from dracula in the most painfully bad way where all the men silently realise they are willing to die for this one woman (better you than me) and all i could think was, 'mina was more kick-ass than you. any day of the week.'

all of this is not to say that wasn't fun to read. it was. it's just that, by the end of the third book, i wished there was a little less to read. it's sad when the trilogy is a slow downward slide when there is clearly the talent in place that could have made it a great upward rollercoaster ride.