A nerd before the birth of TOS Red Shirts, I share my thoughts on genre media be it books, movies, TV shows, etc

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Summer Of Not So Super Cinema Sausages

Sorry this post is going to a downer.  I much prefer to write about things that brought me joy but sometimes one gets buried under a deluge of depressing dross and the occasional venting is needed to clear the palette.

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Seen any of this summer's big blockbusters? Feel like if you seen one - you've seen them all? Remember any of them? Feel compelled to see any of them again?

Welcome to my world.

Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger, etc.  All feature scenes of mass destruction.  Most deal with an atagonist that turns out to be the front for a bigger one hiding in the shadows. All of them feel interchangeable. Like interconnected sausage links.

Movie studios have fully embraced comic book summer tent pole movies and the feeling of someone cranking a handle and churning out indistinguishable product has never been stronger than it has this summer. The products look great and sound great. Its all cinema sound and fury that assaults the senses for two hours only to drain away and leave no lasting impressions like an unexpected summer storm that wets the streets for a brief time. Only to be evaporated away under the light of an indifferent sun.

Most egregrious is the latest Superman reboot - Man of Steel.  When it was announced that this would be the most realistic Superman ever, a warning bell went off in my mind.  Most realistic how? In terms of characterization?  In terms of how Clark Kent would fit in to a world where nearly every big event moment is captured on video; how the artifice of simply putting on a pair of glasses is no longer a sufficient cover? Or would it be to use current SFX to showcase Superman's powers?

The warning bell was for the third point - because it was a given that showing Superman's powers with the latest SFX toolset was a no brainer - and that such depiction would overpower the other ones.  Which is exactly what happened with MOS. What was most disturbing about MOS is by the time the movie ended, the depiction of Superman's powers came across as pornography given the mass destruction and collateral damage.

Another Summer Movie Sausage Of Mass Destruction

I've never been beholden to the Christopher Reeves movies because they played like cousins of the Adam West Batman TV series.  Both far too goofy for my tastes.  Both did create memorable music with John William's superb Superman score the de facto Superman soundtrack.

I could go on with the myriad problems with the MOS but I'll leave this link to an excellent article by Hulk Film Crit that applies not just to MOS but to movie - and story - analysis across the board:

Hulk Film Crit -


I 'll add a few of my personal issues with the movie to what the article points out:

1)  MOS preaches actions has consequences through out the movie and then at the end of the climax with the biggest actions, there are no consequences whatsover.

2) This movie shows the world is a better place without Superman. His actions result in the crisis that the world has to face. In this movie if there is no Superman there is no crisis and the world continues on its own merry way quite nicely.  Thank you very much.

3) The other thing that saddens me about Man of Steel is that it brings Superman down to our level as opposed to the other movies which inspire us to try and reach his level.

I'm ready for the next reboot of Superman already.

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With that out of my system, I promise to return to writing about things that brought me joy in my next post.  And there are many such things!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

2013 - The Year Of The King Clan

This entry is sparked by a wonderful interview, where the logistics of getting all these very busy members of the King family in the same location must been immense, that appeared recently in the New York Times Weekend Magazine.

You can find it here - Stephen King’s Family Business

2013 may very well represent the apex of the Stephen King Writing Clan in terms of output.

By the time this year ends we will have had:

1) Stephen King:    Joyland
2) Owen King:       Double Feature
3) Joe Hill:             N0S4A2
4) Stephen King:    Dr. Sleep

and by extension of being Owen King's wife:

5) Kelly Braffet:     Save Yourself

Will this alignment of releases in the same year ever occur again within one family?  Hard to say.  We know S. King has two more books nearing completion - Mr. Mercedes and Revival.  His output the last few years has been amazing!  Can the kids keep up?

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With the imminent release of Stephen King's sequel to The Shining - Dr. Sleep, I decided to reread The Shining since it had been over 20 years since I had read it least.  Partly because I want to reread some of King's earlier books because it has been 20 plus years for a lot of those books.  And partly because the impact that Kubrick's adaptation of the book has had within pop culture is so pervasive- how events played out in his movie versus the book have become blurred. Writer & King expert, Bev Vincent, made this observation and I agree with him.

And I am very glad I reread this book.

The Shining by Stephen King

Well I'm all set for Dr. Sleep.

It's been over twenty years since I last read this book and as good I thought it was since then, it's even more powerful than I remember.  No doubt because in the twenty intervening years I have become a family man and father myself. My focus on this story has shifted from the horror elements to the characters.

Twenty years ago the visceral thrills that the Outlook Hotel gave have been dulled due to the ever expanding boundaries of what horror books/movies etc have shown and told us.

What stands out more in The Shining are the ghosts we carry around inside of us.  These ghosts have the potential to be far more damaging and/or terrifying than anything a possessed hotel can throw at us.

The Cover Version of The Shining I First Saw And Still My Preferred Version

Jack and Wendy Torrance are damaged goods trying to cast off the ghosts of their parents.  Jack fails and with Wendy it is unclear how she fares moving forward from the end of the book.

And Danny?  Ah, poor Danny.  With his gift, or curse, of The Shining - the weight of his ghosts is ever so much heavier.  Will his ability ultimately help him conquer his demons or will he crash even harder than his father?

Come Sept 24 with the release of Dr. Sleep, answers should be forthcoming.

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Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

One feels guilty when you read in a day, a story a writer put a lot of work into. But it is also sign of a great book and Kelly Braffet has pulled off a particularly difficult feat.  She created a very sad world with characters beaten down by events out of their control. Yet Braffert writes the characters in a way that makes you empathize with them.  You may empathize with certain characters over others and that's perfectly fine. There are enough characters in the story that more than a couple of them will probably get their hooks into you.

The subtext of the unquenchable human thirst for the hope of being a better person flitters on the edges of every page. The only caveat is the characters end up where you think they will. The surprise is the price they have pay to get there.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Serial Smorgasbord - Final Serving - Dexter Dessert + A Map

Dexter - Season 8 - Final Act

Season Seven was seen by many as a rebound for everyone's favorite serial killer - I never found Season 6 as bad as the general consensus judged it to be.  The seventh season finale with Deb shooting LaGuerta to protect Dexter's identity was a shocker indeed.

At this writing the show is halfway through the eighth season and the first big bad has been dispatched. Were those first six episodes of a stature one hopes for in a final season?  If you employ the metric that a hero is only as interesting as the villain he faces then those episodes were a bit of a bust.  The Brain Surgeon turned out to be a pale shadow behind the curtain.

On the other hand those episodes offered up great opportunties to explore Dexter and Deb's background with the introduction of Charlotte Rampling's Dr. Evelyn Vogel.  The show has done some retconning here bringing the Vogel character in the show mythology as a psychiatrist who helped Dexter's dad - Harry develop the 'Code' that Dexter has based his kills on.  While it somewhat undermines Harry as a character, because we have been led to believe for seven seasons that he was acting alone, the plausibility of Harry seeking professional help makes sense. Plus the introduction of Vogel has allowed for some interesting exploration into Dexter's and Deb's early years.

It intrigues that Deb has had the more interesting arcs the last two seasons. Her discovery of Dexter's Dark Passenger and then her decision to kill for him have led to some intense scenes between them.  Jennifer Carpenter has been given some meaty material to play with and she has definitely made the most of it.

Especially in Season Seven.

Charlotte Rampling has such interesting eyes - they give her the air of being in two different places at the same time.  This works especially well for Vogel because it invokes an air of uncertainty about her motives. Are her motivations proper and humane?  Is she really trying to help these sociopaths?  Or are these people irrelevant to her and nothing but guinea pigs that allow her to explore the darker side of the human psyche?

Now it appears that Vogel wants to continue the experiment by having Dexter become the mentor to a new serial killer.  Intriguing.

Hannah has returned and that looks like it will be the last major arc of the final season.  Not sure if that is the way I want the series to play out but with Hannah married and Dexter tutoring his heir apparent, Zack Hamilton, hopefully the last six episodes will bring all things to an unexpected conclusion.

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And that is enough serial killer postings for awhile.

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Time for something lighter!

The Map Of Time by FĂ©lix J. Palma - inspired by my Cemetery Dance Grab Bag in which was the second book in a series - The Map Of The Sky. Since the local library had the first book in the series, I decided to read that one first.

The concept is intriguing - late 19th England and a story that mixes historical fact with fiction.  In this book H.G. Wells plays the role of connective thread with three stories that are tied up with time travel.  Historical figures come in and out of the story - John Merrick aka The Elephant Man, James Joyce, Bram Stroker to name a few.  Also tied into this is a version of Jack The Ripper who is caught after just murdering his fifth victim.

The bulk of the book deals with alternate timelines that turn out to be false except for the one dealing with Jack the Ripper.  H.G. Wells turns out to be much more than just a writer about time travel but actually its father.

This is an interesting book on several levels beyond the ones just mentioned. Written in his native tongue of Spanish, I am very curious how much of the English translation brought the Old England tone to the prose.  The books also breaks several writing conventions including POV switches - sometimes several times in the same chapter - and on occasion invokes an omniscent third person viewpoint that knows and sees all -but is never identified. Perhaps that revelation lies in the sequels. It reminds me when Stephen King used the same conceit late in final volume of the Dark Tower.

I enjoyed it for all these elements - and despite some of them - and look forward to reading The Map Of The Sky which deals with The War Of The Worlds really happening and Edgar Allan Poe on an Antartic Expedition.

A very fun, genre bending book.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - Part 3

Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon

The third book in McCammon's Matthew Corbett series is the most gruesome to date.

The book synopsis:

The world of Colonial America comes vibrantly to life in this masterful new historical thriller by Robert McCammon. The latest entry in the popular Matthew Corbett series, which began with Speaks the Nightbird and continued in The Queen of Bedlam,Mister Slaughter opens in the emerging metropolis of New York City in 1702, and proceeds to take both Matthew and the reader on an unforgettable journey of horror, violence, and personal discovery.

The journey begins when Matthew, now an apprentice "problem solver" for the London-based Herrald Agency, accepts an unusual and hazardous commission. Together with his colleague, Hudson Greathouse, he agrees to escort the notorious mass murderer Tyranthus Slaughter from an asylum outside Philadelphia to the docks of New York. Along the way, Slaughter makes his captors a surprising—and extremely tempting—offer. Their response to this offer will alter the course of the novel, setting in motion a series of astonishing, ultimately catastrophic events.

Mister Slaughter is at once a classic portrait of an archetypal serial killer and an exquisitely detailed account of a fledgling nation still in the process of inventing itself. Suspenseful, illuminating, never less than compulsively readable, it is, by any measure, an extraordinary achievement, the largest accomplishment to date from one of our most gifted—and necessary—writers.

This book really crackles and dear Lord the price Corbett has to pay for a decision really made by his partner Greathouse but to which Corbett agrees to.  Damnably so for Corbett since he has found money which could be used for the altruistic purpose Greathouse, mostly, intends to use with the lure of what Slaughter is offering.

This book leads Corbett through a trail of innocent victims whose deaths are on his hands.  McCammon also deftly ties in the over arcing storyline of Professor Fell.  This book leaves Corbett a changed man for life and not in the best of ways.  It will be a long journey for him to find his way back out of the darkness.  A journey that Corbett will likely not be able to make on his own.  And that is a parallel internal journey to the ones that Corbett will face in each book.  The answer to the internal journey is within these books but based on where things stand in the series, it will be a long time before Corbett finds it.

Slaughter is a vile creature and a worthy adversary for Corbett.

For my money, this is the best book in the series.

You may never look at sausages the same way again.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - Part 2

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - Part 2


Desparate for some ratings traction NBC took a gamble with Hannibal and let TV show runner vet Bryan Fuller bring this grisly series to broadcast TV with the hope that the cachet that Silence of the Lambs - Hannibal the Cannibal Lectern has would bring some much needed eyes to the network.  And for the most part that gamble paid off.

Hannibal the TV series is a prequel to the events that take place prior to those from ManHunter and Silence of the Lambs.  The show has a great cast but no doubt the lion's share of the credit belongs with Bryan Fuller.  Fuller was a self professed Star Trek freak who won his way onto the show when there was an open call for scripts.  From there Fuller has worked his way up to producer gigs on such shows as Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Heroes, a Munsters remake of the 60s TV series and rejected pilot - Mockingbird Lane.  Throughout his various gigs, Fuller has shown himself a consummate story teller and all those skills come to play with Hannibal.

Hannibal stars Hugh fancy as a mentally tortured profiler, Will Graham brought in by the FBI's Jack Crawford played by Laurence Fishburne, and in the titular role, Mads Mikkelsen.  There are other characters but their function is restricted to plot holders. Slightly more nuanced is psychiatrist Dr. Alana Bloom played by Caroline Dhavernas who is romantically attracted to Will.

The lead 3 characters are all great with Mikkelsen having the juiciest role.  The show's motif of naming each episode after a culinary serving tied into dinner scenes of Hannibal serving his guests meals of questionable origin never became tired.  They never failed to make me uneasy.

One of the pitfalls the show avoided that I expected was the episodes to be driven by stand alone murder investigations tied to an over arcing season long serialized thread. Instead the story was driven the other way around.  Each episode was part of the gestalt of the season long story behind which stood Hannibal manipulating everyone especially Will.

Given Will's tenuous hold on his mental state I pondered how the series would be able to go beyond this season with Will often seen in a state of not only mental but physical distress: disheveled and sweat soaked.  The toil on his character was not sustainable in the long term. There seemed to be no plausible story line with any longevity.

But Bryan Fuller brings the close of the first season to the only possible end point that allows for a second season.  A second season that I am very excited to see where the show goes next.  Will Graham is locked away and viewed as insane by the world but Will knows that Lectern was behind it all.  It's a stunning reversal of all the previous incarnations of the two characters.

Brilliant Bryan Fuller!  Brilliant.

In Part 3 we avoid the clutches of Mr. Slaughter.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - 1st Course

Over the past few weeks my wife and I have been watching a couple of series that dealt with serial killers. (It's one of those strange confluence of separate events that happen around the same time.)   In this first visit to the Serial Killer Buffet Table I'll recount how are palettes responded to the presentation of two TV series.

One of the TV series represents the new model in TV viewing paradigm - instant access to all the episodes via Netflix to view at the viewer's leisure.  That was the case for The Fall which was a short 5 episodes and to my mind qualifies to be defined as the old style miniseries.  The other series, Hannibal, was presented in the tried and true manner - broadcast on a weekly basis on a major television network, NBC.  With only 13 episodes Hannibal, instead of the normal 22 episode run, felt more like a cable TV show on two counts: the shorter season run and the graphic nature of the show.

Two new TV series with different viewing experiences. Which one worked better?  Today our first course is one where we look at:


The Fall - a BBC Ireland production starrring Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

Release in several distribution methods - TV in the UK, Netflix in North America this was an interesting series on several fronts.  First up is Gillian Anderson - who did double duty this year appearing in Hannibal too - as a hard nosed, no nonsense Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson from the MET who is brought to Belfast to investigate the details of a murder case.

This is the first big role that Anderson has headlined since the X-Files and time has been very kind to her in the time span between the end of the TV series and movies.  She owns the role of the outsider as Stella Gibson - a pretty generic name - who knows what she wants professionally and personally.

The series is more or less split between her and Jamie Dornan - who plays Paul Spector, the serial killer Gibson is pursuing. Over the first season, Dorman has the juicier role as we see his dual life as a married man with 2 children.  His wife suspects something is up and Spector who seems cool and collected at the start of the series quickly unravels as his compulsion causes him to become more and more reckless.

The pacing of the 5 episodes quickly caused my wife and I to perk up because it quickly became apparent the show was not going to resolve the duel between the two main characters unless the writers pulled a fast one. Thankfully they did not.

Close but no cigar is how the season can be summed up.  Gibson is thwarted but not down and the already announced second season will continue the chase in a new locale.  We both look forward to it.


Next, Hannibal tantalizes our taste buds.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Of The Macabre, Musicals, Magic, and Maslany

9 to 5 - Live Theater 

For my wife's birthday we went out for a dinner theater at the Mayfield Theater in Edmonton to a stage version of the 1980 film that starred Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.  The movie examined the office politics and sexual discrimination that took place in the 1980s and in some ways seems dated though sadly not enough.  Now the movie is best remembered for the Dolly Parton songs that came out of it.

We had seen the Buddy Holly story the previous year and really enjoyed that performance.  9 to 5 was fun but the songs just did not grab us as much.  Still the food at the dinner buffet was good and the play did entertain.


Orphan Black - starring Tatiana Maslany

This 10 episode series came out of the blue and blew a lot of people away: critics and viewers alike.  Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany carries the premise of human cloning on her slight shoulders with great aplomb.  Her ability to create distinctly different personas for each of the clones - aided with wardrobe and accent changes and the advancement in technology that gets away from the old school locked down split screen shots used for doubling up the same actor in one shot - sells the series conceit.

Mix in the main clone's gay brother played with cheeky humor by Dylan Bruce, an over arcing mythology as the clones work together to find out who is behind their creation and why, the constant thread of humor in what could be a very dark and morose series, and the kicker of seeing the various clone iterations interact with one another.

Another kicker with all these clones was getting to know each of them and re-evaluating which version you liked best.  Sarah, the main clone, is the punk rocker version and initially seems the most rebellious, interesting, and engaging.  At the other end of the scale we had the uptight soccer mom - Alison who was off putting.  Yet by the end of the season because of the character arcs the clones have, Alison became my favorite clone and Sarah ended up being the more restrained one used to drive the plot.

A fun series and as an added note of attraction the series is shot in Toronto so seeing familiar landmarks ie Union Station and the tight shots of the Toronto skyline trying to hide the CN Tower bring an extra layer of verisimilitude to it.


Shadows & Tall Trees - Vol 5 - edited by Michael Kelly

I've read every volume of this small press collection that Michael Kelly has put out and this horror  series continues to explore the themes of alienation and loss.  This volume includes stories by Ray Cluley, Gary Fry, Richard Gavin, Claire Massey, Daniel Mills, Lynda E. Tucker, Kin Tidbeck, and D.P. Watt.

There are several great tales here with the standout being Moonstruck by Karin Tedbeck which has a Gaimanesque quality as the moon gets closer and closer to earth. Other tales range from the sublime - Casting Ammonites by Claire Massey to the outright horrific - Laudate Dominium (for many voices) by D.P. Watt.

As Peter Straub is quoted on the cover - 'A beautiful and courageous journal.'  I agree and will continue to follow the journey Michael Kelly is charting with it.


The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

A wonderfully lyrical book.  Gaiman makes magical seem so.... magical.  To put specific words down to describe the story would dilute it's charm because it would put limitations on the ginormous ideas contained in this slim novel.

Read it. Treasure it. For Gaiman is indeed a Wizard Of Words.