Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Links

*In case you were after a longer review of the fantastic new(ish) graphic novel American Vampire than I provided last week head over to Booking in Heels. It's a rockin' review. (Via Booking in Heels)

*Here's a link that'll mean very little to most of you, but here are the top ten independent book stores in my home town of Brisbane (Via Concrete Playground)

*I've started a new feature over on my horror blog called Watch This, Not That. So if you want some real mini-movie reviews of which horror movies must be watched then take a trip over there. (Via me!)

*An amazing book sculpture/art installation in Madrid. (Via The Wheeler Centre)

*Got an essay due that you just don't want to write? Why not try Essay Typer? Don't really, but it's pretty fun just to blow your mind how great the doodawatzi that makes it work is! (Via Essay Typer)

*Talking about plagiarism, there have been a few waves in the book blogging world about this particular issue. There are some specific posts around on the latest controversy, but for an insightful and personal look into the issue I'd recommend checking out Belle's post on the subject. (Via Belle's Bookshelf)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Film Review: Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon
Jessica Chastain
Shae Whigham

Synopsis: Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

I follow a film Tumblr called Old Films Flicker who I rely on for decent movie recommendations both old and new. A little while ago she went crazy with screen shots and odes to Take Shelter, starring the enigmatic and unbelievably talented Michael Shannon. It's a fairly small film, and while it seemed to open to positive reviews in the US it never opened in cinemas here in Australia, so I added it to my film queue to watch on DVD.

Other than the screen shots and quotes Old Films Flicker posted, I had no real idea what this film was about. I knew that Michael Shannon's character (Curtis) was seeing visions of the apocalypse and a huge storm, but I wasn't aware of the genre so I had no idea if it was going to be a drama, and action-drama or a thriller. This probably could have been disastrous if I hadn't been in the right mood going into it, the film is very slow and at its heart is a family drama of monumental proportions.

Curtis is a small town husband and father who works on a drilling crew by day, and spends time at home with his wife, Samantha, (Chastain) and daughter, Hannah, at night. When Curtis begins to suffer from frequent dreams and hallucinations of a humungous storm with apocalyptic after-effects, their simple life is rocked in its foundations. Fearing mental illness Curtis secretly visits a counsellor and seeks medication, but as the dreams worsen and he develops and obsession with renovating their storm shelter, his family and friends begin to fear (for) him. What follows is a slow descent into madness, paranoia, obsession and fear as Curtis' visions become more frequent, while the question "what if..." is always present, lingering just off to the side, partly out of view.

Is he crazy? Are his visions real? Is he going to snap and murder everyone in their town? Until the end credits roll you will never be 100% sure which way this film is going to go. While it is primarily a family drama about a husband who is suffering from these visions, it never lets go of the possibility for a supernatural inclusion, or for a dark devastating turn that'll mess up your sleep for a week. This fervent questioning plays an important role when you consider how slow the film moves. The film revels in forcing you to just sit and watch as this family is pulled apart by mental illness. There are minimal edits and instead you watch an entire conversation, in all its awkwardness or sadness or distress. The characters progress through the entire gamut of emotion that would occur in a normal fight or moment, there are no easy resolutions, no simple answers. And while this results in a slower pacing that I typically enjoy, I respect the hell out of it.

Going hand in hand with the pacing is the visuals in this film. It's hard to find a film these days that isn't visually beautiful (especially films of the indie persuasion) but the beauty of this films wideshot small town aesthetics is emphasised because it is juxtaposed against the claustrophobic storm shelter and Curtis's dark descent into madness and swirling storm clouds. The effect this produces is astounding and one of the biggest draws in this film. My favourite is most definitely the shots with the birds swirling around the sky in apocalyptic formation (see promo image above), especially towards the closing of the film. It's just so good!

And the acting, man oh man! Michael Shannon is a phenomenal and completely under-rated actor who is superb in this role. Known best for his roles in Boardwalk Empire and Revolutionary Road, Michael Shannon really embraced the character's quiet and unassuming nature and it is both terrifying and heart-breaking to watch him circle the drain and give in to his paranoia and fear. Jessica Chastain gives a beautifully nuanced performance as his worried wife, Samantha. By the way, where did Jessica Chastain come from?! She has delivered some of the best performances in the best films of 2011, and I had never heard of her before! Hopefully she keeps it up because she won my heart in this role. She's so fragile, yet so strong. She's taken on the task of learning sign language so she can communicate with her deaf daughter, and she sells handicrafts on the weekend so that the family can spend one week a year at the beach. She's the glue that holds the family together, but as Curtis falls apart and recedes further into himself, she doesn't have enough fingers to plug the holes that are threatening to burst.

So all in all a terrific film! It manages to balance between a couple of genres yet never lose sight of the characters and their own problems, rather than focussing purely on these apocalyptic visions Curtis sees. I do have to warn you all how slow the pacing is, but if you can handle it then definitely find a copy of this film to watch.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fanart Friday: Miscellaneous

Hello everyone! I am alive, I swear! I'm a month out from my stage 2 proposal, so shit has been crazy round my way, hence the quietness on the bloggo-front! I'll hopefully manage to find time to do some reading in the next week or so, unless you're all incredibly interested in reading reviews on dry film and cultural studies text books? I'm spending the weekend down on the Gold Coast for their film festival, so at the very least I'll have some film reviews to share with you all shortly!

In the meantime, here are a few art pieces on the sandman from Neil Gaiman's graphic novel The Sandman, and the unbelievably beautiful Jennifer Lawrence. Seriously, could she be more stunning? And cool? Damn I want to be her friend.

Sandman by Kyodainahera
The Sandman by Preacher212
Katniss by Black-Cherry007

Katniss Everdeen by Blackfeatherz29

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Graphic Novel Mini-Reviews

 American Vampire (Volume 1)
By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King

Synopsis: This volume follows two stories: one written by Snyder and one written by King. Snyder's story is set in 1920's LA, we follow Pearl, a young woman who is turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European Vampires who tortured and abused her. This story is paired with King's story, a western about Skinner Sweet, the original American Vampire-- a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before with rattlesnake fangs and powered by the sun.

My Thoughts: Twists to vampire lore can be done, as this graphic novel demonstrates over and over again. Screw diamond skin and vegetarianism, this graphic novel pits the traditional Euro vamps against the new, brash and a little trashy American breed. They can walk in sunlight, contact crucifixes and are drained of power by no-moon nights. There's raunch, revenge, power struggles and a sweet little writer who struggles to keep up. Plus, you know...Stephen King.

Black Gas
Written by Warren Ellis, illustrated by Max Fiumara and Ryan Waterhouse

Synopsis: A tiny little island off the east coast of America sit on a fault in the underlying tectonic plate. On a night beset by a fierce storm and an earthquake simultaneously, the fault line cracks, releasing something foul from the Earth's guts, blown across the little coastal town of Smoky Island. The only two people on the island who were outside the reach of the black gas are now trapped on a spit of rock with a population that aren't what we'd call "people" anymore. After all, they started eating each other an hour ago... and it's about to get worse.

My Thoughts: Meh. I usually adore Warren Ellis and hold him up as a personal god, but this was completely lacking his sparkling dry and twisted humour. The concept was solid, but the characters were infuriating (especially the girlfriend, oh how I hated her!) and the dialogue completely lack lustre. I really don't know what was going on in this one, but it's low on my list of recommends.

Adapted from a Stephen King short story by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Alex Maleev.

Synopsis: There is something unearthly and mysterious deep in Acherman's Field in rural Maine. There is a Stonehenge-like arrangement of seven stones with a horrifying EYE in the center. And whatever dwells there in that strange, windswept setting may have brought about the suicide of one man...and harbor death for the OCD afflicted "N.," whose visits to the field have passed beyond compulsion into the realm of obsession.

My Thoughts: Now this is more like it! Stephen King's short story tackling compulsion and monsters and a stone henge like formation comes to terrifying life in this graphic novel. The illustrations were a bit of a let down at times, but for the most time they did what they were supposed to...emphasise the crap out of the horror story Stephen King spun and make me terrified to turn off my light! A definite must read if you like King, supernatural tales and graphic novels.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Links

*Holy crap. I've been trying to get my boyfriend to buy bowties for, like, forever now, but now he HAS to wear them, or at least this one! By the by, they're for sale and you can buy them! (Via Stitchy Spot)

*2012 marks 100 years since the birth of Australia's first Nobel Literature prize winner, the illustrious Patrick White. Here's a neat little article about him. (Via Ozwords)

*I'm a huge HP fan but for some reason I'm not particularly excited about her new books. If you are though, check out a few of these blog posts for all the details that have just been released:
     -Escape in a book - News: Synopsis for JK Rowlings first adult novel out in the wild.
     -Misprinted Page - Rowling reveals a few details about her upcoming adult novel.

*Pretty minimalist Disney posters. I likey a lot. (Via 9Gag)

*Mandy at Twimom101 has some details about a Hunger Games convention. Damn you Americans and all your close proximity to these things! (Via Twimom101)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fanart Friday: Dr Seuss

I loved Dr Seuss as a kid. I think we had just about the complete collection of his books, and I was always forcing my parents to read the same few over and over for our bedtime story. The stories and illustrations helped open my imagination to a world that I never would have experienced without his help. Now, as an adult, I can clearly see the impact the books have on the person I am now. I'm unashamedly weird, love blending adult with child (i.e. my ever growing collection of KidRobot Dunny toys) and take a particular pleasure in twisted rhyming schemes, bright colours, moralistic stories and slightly absurd illustrations. It's because of him (and Roald Dahl) that I take so much joy out of the work by Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton and Ralph Steadman which also take on realistic situations and twist them into something slightly askew and absolutely magical. So in honour of this wonderful and creative man (I was watching Horton Hears a Who the other night, that's what sparked this choice) here are some wonderful tributes. Be sure to click through the links to take a closer look at these pictures and the rest of the artwork these artists have created.

Dr Seuss' the Lorax by Gaberose

Dr Seuss Sleeve Sketch by Hoviemon

DSC- Dr Seuss by Rkw0021

Last Supper of Dr Seuss by Orange42

Seuss? by Lokiscape

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 
Written by Ray Bradbury

Published: 1950

Synopsis: Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires. And he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs or the joy of watching pages consumed by flames, never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid. Then Guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think. And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do...

"Nobody listens any more. I can'talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls."
Wow, there is a lot going on in this book!  Within 165 pages Guy Montag transforms from a man who loves his job as fireman, to a man who questions everything going on around him. He meets a young, whimsical girl, an old professor and college educated tramps. He's chased by a robotic hound, lectured at by his sanctimonious chief and witnesses his wife die and be brought back to life (no spoilers there, it happens in the first few pages). His entire world is shaken in this book, and the result is a complex, and rich short dystopian novel.

In the future books do not exist. Or they do, but owning and reading them is illegal and results in having them, and your house, burnt to the ground. The firemen are responsible for the burning, and are completely unaware of their vocation's previous purpose. There are plenty of rumours around, about firemen putting out flames instead of lighting them, or that books are in fact filled with interesting and delightful words, but this futuristic society is apathetic at best, and too busy killing one another, commiting suicide or staring blankly at their wall TVs. Sounds oddly prophetic right?!

Considering it was written over 60 years ago, Fahrenheit 451 hit pretty close to home on it's idea of a future society. America is at war and is detested by everyone else in the world, people fill their homes with TVs that fill an entire wall (or an entire room in lucky homes),  and stick headphones (known as ear shells) to hear a constant whir of noise all day long. Also, while books are now illegal, it was actually the people who led to that decision. Political correctness reached crazy heights and everyone began taking offence at every little sentence and began hacking away at books until they were bare and unilluminating. All that remained were the cheap stories that had nothing of substance and became the "families" that people watch day in and day out on their TV screens.

As Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a country bounded by censorship and devoid of intellectual thought or conversation, Ray Bradbury uses the most beautiful, descriptive language to describe it. It adds such weight to the idea of a world without books and imagination to read a book that employs such a diverse range of literary techniques. Of course, words themselves wouldn't be enough by themselves, as Bradbury himself says in Fahrenheit 451;
"Books were only one type of recepticle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid to forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what the books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us"

So joining the exquisite language is a rich story littered with characters who will capture your hearts or wrath within minutes. It really ticks all the boxes, and I'm not surprised this book has captured the attention of so many readers for so many years. If you haven't yet had the chance to read Fahrenheit 451 I highly recommend you take the time to discover it for yourself. I'm eager to read more of Bradbury now, and see if his other books are as prolific as this one.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Links

*Book Brick art by Daryl Fitzgerald.

*Sad news. Our new State Premier has decided the first thing to do in office is eliminate the Quensland premier Literary Award, which was a wonderful award which helped Queensland writing flourish for many years. I can't even describe how disappointed I am, so here is a run down on what they are and why they're so marvellous. (Via The Writing Bar)

*RiverRun Bookstore has a new online service which will select the perfect book for you and send it straight to your door. I'm intrigued... (Via RiverRun Bookstore)

*Laura has recently reviewed both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale over at her blog. You should visit and read them. Like now. OK! (Via Devouring Texts)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: Curbchek by Zach Fortier

Written by Zach Fortier

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Curbchek is the story of a damaged cop, Zach Fortier. Fortier worked in the police department for the city where he grew up. One foot in the world of the cops, courts and legal system. The other in the world of gangs, drugs, thugs and street violence. Where the laws and rules are made by the strongest, the schemers and the most brutal. Read about the transformation of Fortier from a green rookie to a damaged paranoid veteran seeing danger in every situation. Follow along as he walks this tight rope. Trying to make difference, breaking the laws he promised to enforce. This is a story of law and order uncensored

Curbchek is a behind the scenes, no holds barred look at life as a cop in America. Zack Fortier spent a portion of his life working as a cop both in the army and as part of the police department, and has a valuable position to tell some of the more dark, disturbing and occasionally bizarre stories that occur when you patrol the streets as a cop.

The book takes the form of a loosely chronological patchwork of stand-alone stories and more in-depth chapters which deal with the lessons he learned while on the job. The mingling of internal and mostly philosophical narration with the anecdotal conversations, interactions and confrontations works well, creating a smooth story that was rich, chaotic, interesting and, at times, disheartening. I feel like I came out of the other side of this book with a much more comprehensive understanding of people, what makes them tick, what sets them off, and what leads them down certain paths. At no time does Zach Fortier portray himself as an expert, but the clarity of his insights helps makes certain jigsaw pieces in your own life turn and fit together.

 Zach makes an interesting character (not in the fictional sense). He admits early in the book that he is hardly a perfect or undamaged person, as he describes on page 10;
"I knew that with my personality and various triggers, it was better for everyone concerned that I be something of an authority figure rather than be subject to authority figures without recourse."
He openly discusses his troubled marriages, his (sometimes violent) confrontations with other cops, and his unorthodox (for his area) relationships with victims and culprits alike. And while he discusses his complete disdain for most of the internal politics and practices at the police station (some will infuriate, some will make you sick) and his opposite outlook on most issues, he never puts himself on a pedestal as the "perfect" or "ideal" model of what is right and good. One of the quotes that best represented this to me came towards the end of the book (page 173). Zach was explaining why he tries hard not to resort to violence, rather than immediately jumping at the suspect with a nightstick and a closed fist;
"fighting wasn't a victory for me. I don't like how it makes me feel; I feel like a failure when I fight because  it means that I misjudged the situation. I believe I should be able to think my way out of anything, and most times I did."
Curbchek isn't your typical police memoir. While there is a sense of pride in helping others and not descending to a level of violence and racism which would have been better accepted by his colleagues,  the main focus is on the inherent self-destruction or problem that most men (and women, although this isn't brought up specifically) who join the force suffer from. It blurs the line of "us and them", and paints a dark and nihilistic personal view of the current state of the American police services and the road it is heading down.

I know how depressing I've just made this sound, but this is an incredibly well-written and well-thought out book, and there are funny or interesting cases sprinkled throughout. It was a real eye-opener, and I'd love to read an Australian equivalent of life in the force down here. I wonder how different or similar it'd be.

A final caveat, there is frequent swearing within the book, and while I had no problem with it and I think it plays an important function in retelling these stories, it's something you should be aware of before going in.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday Links

*The best and worst books of all time. (Via The Vine)

*Ever wondered how gruesome fairytales actually were when they were first written? Here's a list of some of the more popular disney titles. (via listverse)

*Here are some tips from Jack Kerouac about how life and writing. You're welcome. (via brain picking)

*Sick of The Biggest Loser and *insert country here* Idol? Here are some reality TV show ideas for some legendary authors. If any of these were picked up they'd have the addition of zombies, so that's also a plus! (Via Flavorwire)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

March Wrap-up

March was a difficult reading month for me. I found myself drawn to graphic novels or TV shows and stumbled over the same sentence time and time again when I tried to read. So it's been pretty slow, but I managed to add another book to each of my challenges (*ahem* they might have been the same book that works for both...) so it wasn't too bad! How did everyone else go this month?

Hosted by Booking in Heels
10 books and 1 film.

3 books and the film

Books Read:
The Invisible Man by H.G Wells - A short read, but surprisingly humorous and one that I really enjoyed.
Read review here.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen -film review - Quite different from the graphic novel, but a well-fleshed out story. I enjoyed the larger cast and the sets and costumes were amazing.
read review here.

Next to read:
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Hosted by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
One sci-fi book a month.

I used my League of read as my Sci-fi challenge book this month.

Books read:
The Invisible Man by H.G Wells -see above

Next to read:
 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.


31 read so far.

Books read:
Ugly to Start with by John Michael Cummings - A patchwork quilt of a coming of age story. I really enjoyed this one. It's up there in my top 2012 reads.
Read review here.

Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society by Robert Shields - A different approach to a YA magic tale. It has some problems, but overall a decent read.
Read review here.

Locke and Key by Joe Hill - A great graphic novel series by Stephen King's son.
Read mini-review here.

Anything New:

*I'll probably be posting only one review a week now thanks to the business of my Phd schedule, but I'm going to attempt to add a discussion post in place of the other review. I'll just have to take it as I go.

*I'm after some recommendations of new books to read. Any genre, any length, any topic. What have you read and loved? What MUST I read?


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