Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 2010 Summer Screen Review

For Sonya, I'll comment briefly on my film and DVD viewing this year as well. Don't worry, rest of the world, I'll keep it brief.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Toy Story 3 and was pleasantly surprised. Don't get me wrong -- it's not that I expected it to be bad, but I was a bit wary of returning to the characters after such a long hiatus and possibly feeling like it was a purely cash-grabbing move to produce the movie at all. (I'd recently watched a very interesting documentary about Pixar.) What I got was a story that took into account that hiatus and had some decent heart along with its fun, adventuresome story. But man, that baby doll is creepy. Ha!

That covers my trips to the movies, to be honest, but I have been active with DVD, particularly with television on DVD.

Being a fan of Veronica Mars and working my way through its third and final season on DVD (and might I say that, had the show been on a stronger network, it might have lasted longer), I picked up Pulse, since it starred Kristen Bell and was seriously cheap. Hmm. Yeah, it's also really, really bad.

Yesterday, Betsy at long last had a long-overdue movie night and watched two movies. Drag Me to Hell was an enjoyable little romp from Sam Raimi, the brains behind The Evil Dead, which pretty much showcases what he does with a budget. It has a lot of the fun and schlock-horror elements but with some money behind the effects. Not brain-busting, but fun.

Then it was time for Let the Right One In, an unconventional vampire film from Sweden. So unlike the movie that would have been made in America, it is graciously calm in its storytelling, not really qualifying as horror so much as supernatural drama, I suppose. It is generous with stillness and silences, with a score I'd love to get on CD. Perhaps not everybody's cup of proverbial tea (and probably not for the teenaged gore-crowd), but a fine film.

Summer 2010 Reading Spectacular #2

Alright, I've fallen behind already, thanks to a hectic few weeks with very limited internet access. I'm going to divide my reading update over a couple of entries here.

Firstly, I read Issue Two/Spring 2010 of Elephant, an Arts and Visual Culture quarterly from the UK. It was something I picked up when disappointed that I couldn't get my hands on the latest issue of The Believer and I have to admit that it was a good consolation prize. It's quite a beautiful and hefty magazine, sitting at just over 200 pages of image-laden articles and almost no advertising (and a bargain at $20, might I add). A particularly interesting idea for a section of the magazine interviewed several artists about their work and the cultural and arts scene in Madrid, each giving their thoughts, favourite places to eat, and places to visit. I'll certainly consider grabbing Issue 3 when it's available (which should be soon, if not now, I suppose).

The Society of S by Susan Hubbard is a novel about vampires with a rather misleading title. The Society is mentioned fleetingly during the book and doesn't seem central, at all, to the plot, although a certain affinity for the letter S is expressed repeatedly. I'm assuming that it becomes increasingly relevant as the series of books progresses. My main complaint about the novel is that it doesn't really arrive anywhere notable. Yes, there is a protagonist, and yes, she experiences events which set the plot in motion. Yes, she embarks on a personal quest, and yes, she even arrives at a conclusion. What is my problem, then, you ask? My problem is that the rising action doesn't rise that much. When you arrive at the end, you're left saying, "Oh. Well there you go." Sort of like embarking on a "Thelma and Louise" road trip and realizing that you're just heading to the grocer's for some milk. Having already purchased the second book (it was a sale), I'll probably read it at some point and hope for more.

Next up was the latest from one of my usual summer reading authors, Jonothan Santlofer. The Murder Notebook is his second to feature forensic sketch artist Nate Rodriguez and the first which doesn't feature the art world centrally in the story. The drawings (provided by Santlofer, a visual artist himself, and representing Rodriguez's work) are less integral to the plot than in Santlofer's previous books. While I have preferred his earlier trilogy featuring Kate McKinnon, I still enjoyed The Murder Notebook. I'm not sure if Santlofer will have a new novel ready for my 2011 summer reading, but I hope so.

The update will continue...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Summer 2010 Reading Spectacular #1

So, it's been a hectic year. Just take my word for it; I don't plan to bore you with the details. I'll try to do better.

I'm planning to finish off the 52 Pages project which clearly didn't turn out to be a once-weekly entry in the end, but I'm determined to get to 52 pages in total regardless. I'm also considering another little project, but we'll see whether I get it up and running any time soon or not. Biting and chewing and all of that.

But here I am, and if nothing else, I'm back with this year's Summer Reading Spectacular, or, "What I Read Between the Beginning of July and Labour Day". I'm sure Sonya will be thrilled.

I finished up a few things just at the end of June, but technically those don't qualify, so I'll start with the things I've finished in the past few days.

I whipped through The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan van Sciver. It's a graphic novel which chronicles the return of Barry Allen, the second and "Silver Age" Flash from seeming death/obliteration back during the days of Crisis on Infinte Earths in the DC universe. Yeah, if you're not a comic reader, that probably makes little sense to you. I was around and reading back in the days of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC's attempt to tidy up its mythology a bit, but I don't remember that much about it, to be honest. In any case ... I picked up Rebirth just out of interest since I don't read much comic-wise any more.

My reaction is somewhat lukewarm, though, perhaps because I'm removed from the current climate in the DC universe, but compounded by the fact that there just seem to be too many Flashes and Flash-like characters. There's Jay (the original Flash) who is around again these days (don't ask me). There's Barry Allen (who has returned). There's Wally West, the latest Flash. There's some teenaged Flash character, Bart Allen. There's Wally's kids, one of whom becomes the new Impulse. There's some Liberty Belle woman and some Johnny Quick character. Then there's the baddy, Reverse Flash. Seriously. Enough with the fast characters. We get it. I had thought they might be creating this storyline in order to whittle it down to one or two, but not so much. So there you have it. Maybe current Flash fans ate it up, but I just sort of went, "Huh?"

Next, I finished reading Just In Case by Meg Rosoff. You might recall that she wrote How I Live Now, winner of the Michael Printz medal and on my list of reading last summer. While I enjoyed Just In Case, it didn't grab me quite so immediately or firmly as her debut novel. This time around, she tells the story of David Case who has an experience that triggers an obsessive belief that Fate is out to get him and who subsequently tries to hide from Fate by changing his identity and name. That's just the start. It's a rather complicated narrative, in many ways, full of freak accidents, an imaginary dog, a male rabbit named Alice, mixed in with some teenaged hormones. The result is one of those "young adult" novels that I suspect has less appeal to its target audience than to those who have already passed the young adult stage. I'm not sure how readable the majority of adolescents will find it, though I have no doubt that a rather sophisticated sub-group of teen readers would eat it up.

Next up, I read Judith Guest's The Tarnished Eye, a very digestible suspense story about the vicious murder of an entire family in their summer residence in Michigan. Short, energetically written chapters and more insight than usual into the victims' characters helped to motivate quick, page-turning reading. I will keep my eyes opened for other Judith Guest titles; apparently she wrote the book Ordinary People, which was turned into a movie in the 80s.

Finally, a few minutes ago I finished reading Elephant: Issue 2, an "Arts and Visual Culture Magazine" from the UK. It's quite a hefty volume for a magazine, sitting around 200 pages, but one to read from front to back. Of those 200 pages, as well, very few are advertisements, though the magazine is quite lushly illustrated with images and works of art. I'm definitely going to watch for Issue 3 of this quarterly. I wish I'd discovered it at Issue 1. Darn.

There you have it. The start to my summer of reading. I've got five things on the go right now, so hopefully I'll manage to get through a few this coming week and keep you (both) up-to-date.