Saturday, March 31, 2012

Film Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games 

Directed by: Gary Ross

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence
Josh Hutcherson
Elizabeth Banks
Stanley Tucci

Synopsis: Check out my review of the book for a comprehensive synopsis!

Warning!! This review will discuss the book in detail, so if you haven't read it (or don't want to read it but want to watch the film) and don't want to read any spoilers then back away from the review. You've been warned!!

Now that I've had almost a week to decompress and step back from the "HSDFHS@!! HUNGER GAMES!!!" cloud of excitement, I thought I'd take a chance to review it. As my warning suggests, I'll be discussing the film in relation to the book and all the spoiler-y goodness that happens. So I guess this is less a review, and more a discussion post...but whatever.

First off, I really liked it. I had that moment just as the last ad played when I gripped the seat and thought "crap, what if it sucks?! Maybe I should get out now..." but for the most part I was really happy with the way they adapted the book to the screen. In fact, perhaps it was the film's faithfulness that lead to the few problems I had with it. But I'll get onto that in a minute, first, the goodness!

How amazing was Jennifer Lawrence?! She was so perfect as Katniss. She was moody and cranky and closed off to people she didn't know, but completely open and on the verge of falling apart when she was dealing with someone she loved/respected. The scene with Rue (again, SPOILERS) had me paralysed with emotion, I freaking bawled like a baby. I really liked Elizabeth Banks (how hard was it to pick it as her?!) as Effie, Stanley Tucci was a great Caesar, and Wes Bentley was superb as a more fleshed out Seneca. I thought Lenny Kravitz was a weird pick for Cinna considering how crazy his clothes usually are, but amazingly he managed to pull of the calm, downplayed vibe of Cinna. Overall I guess I could say that I was really impressed with the cast. I was at a slight advantage because I read the books after all of the massive publicity for these films, so I always imagined the characters looking a lot like the actors cast in it, but I still think they worked well to create a cohesive cast that I believed. The only exception would be the guys playing Gale and Peeta. The opening scene between Katniss and Gale was perhaps the most forced conversation in the entire film, and while I think Josh Hutcherson was a decent enough actor (he needs to stop expressing his emotions through an open mouth though) I'm not convinced of him as Peeta...yet. I'll wait until the sequel before I make a final decision about that.

The art direction and costuming was amazing. They truly brought to life the world created by Suzanne Collins, and it was a pleasure to see all the elements I'd read presented so beautifully and accurately. However, while I thought the Capitol costumes were gorgeous, and true to the book, I found them a little too much. This was what I was hinting at above, according to the details in the book the choices in the film were understandable, but in a book you're able to prescribe exactly how crazy it'll be. To me they had all the sugary superficiality of the costumes in the film, but with a much darker undertone. So in my mind, while there was a clear separation between the Capitol and the outer districts, there was a connecting slither of something that made it work. In the film I just felt like the two worlds were too disjointed, and too disconnected. Which lead to the Capitol costumes appearing almost cartoonish, and not in a great way.

While I'm complaining, I'll bring up my other complaint. Though the film was incredibly close to the book, some of the areas they trimmed, especially the pre-games story, meant that the film was lacking the substance that the books had in spades. For instance, the Mockingjay pin has none of the rebellion connotations, so that scene with President Snow at the end just seems weird. And why did Cinna hide in on her jacket? It's just a pin from her sister. Similarly, the emotional tug-a-war with Peeta lost its complexity without Haymitch sending her little hints that she should be pushing the relationship angle. Also, what with her not nearly dying of dehydration? They kept in the line about how 20% of them would die from exposure and hunger/thirst yet never explored that path, leaving the thread open and messy. There were a few other little things like this that, while not a huge deal, may come back to bite them in the ass in the next two (or three if they split the last book) movies because they won't have the foundation they needed. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I've heard from a few people who haven't read the book that they really missed the crux of the story because of these missing elements, and things like the district 11 rebellion scene just seemed out of place because of it.

But my complaints really are minor. It's just like I always came out of the Harry Potter films complaining but inevitably came to love and adore the films in their own right. In all honesty, the film really managed to hit high in every area, acting, costumes, sets, CGI (except those damn dogs), scripting, and I enjoyed the few additions they made, such as the crossbacks to Caesar during the games and the inside look in the game-maker's room (although I could have done without the Seneca and Snow scenes).

It was great to see a YA book handled with some respect, and not melodrama-ed and cartooned up (with my exceptions above). It seems that Suzanne Collins had a real hand in the production of her story, and with her television background I'm fairly positive that the areas I've complained about have been handled by her and she knows what she's doing. At least that's my hope. I'm interested in seeing how they actualise the next two books, and with the success of this first cast I can't wait to see who they choose to play all the additional characters coming in Catching Fire! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: The Invisible Man by H.G Wells

The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells

Published in: 1897

Synopsis:This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.

Before I begin my review I just want to point how awesome this cover art is! I always admire it when I see it in a book store and I'd love to get a print of this to hang in my future library room (haha, like I'm ever going to have a single room to dedicate to all my books!) but unfortunately I haven't managed to get my hands on one of these editions just yet.

But enough fluff about the cover, let's get into the meat of it shall we? The Invisible Man is actually my first H.G Wells read, and I'm so glad I finally got around to reading his work. I didn't go into this with any expectations, because while I've always been aware of who Wells is, he's always been just off my radar. This was probably to my benefit because I came into the book with clear eyes (other than the character's role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and was impressed with the pacing and level of humour in this novella.

The story begins with Griffin's arrival at a small village inn, where he makes a splash with his weird bulky get-up and face full of bandages. After a couple of days of muffled yells, breaking glass and mysterious late night walks the jig is up, and Griffin's secret is revealed. Under all of his layers and bandages is...nothing. After managing to successfully formulate a process to render him invisible, Griffin is now stuck in that see-through state and it's beginning to take a toll on his mind. After making a dicey escape the invisible scientist/madman stumbles across an old friend, rehashes the events that lead to his transformation, and descends deeper into a murderous insanity.Given the shortness of the novel I don't want to provide too many details, but I will say that the book was chock full of action scenes with the potential to start your heart racing, even considering the lengthy dialogue scenes that take place (it was written in the late 1800s after all).

I really enjoyed the book, but I did find myself having to reread sections from time to time. On occasion the action was moving so fast and there were so many new characters introduced, that when you added "old timey" language and vernacular I was stuck going round and round in circles. However, I was juggling reading this book with reading a tonne of uni textbooks, so I didn't really have time to dedicate to length periods reading and getting used to the language, so it may have just been me.

Overall I found this book an enjoyable read and surprisingly funny (at least in the first quarter). The story did feel rushed at times, and it could have been clearer, but for one of the first science fiction stories it did a great job of combining science with intrigue, action and issues of sanity. My edition comes combined with The Time Machine, and Griffin and his invisible mischievousness has done more than enough to whet my appetite for some more of H.G Wells' science fiction!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Links

*The book trailer for Irvine Welsh's new book Skag Boys, the prequel to Trainspotting. 

*A church has been coverted into a bookstore. This is AMAZING, fly me to Holland NOW! (Via My Modern Met)

*A really comprehensive look at the best ways to create a digital magazine (Via Net Magazine)

*Can you guess the author simply by reading their prose? (Via Flavorwire)

*An unbelievably detailed and well thought out map of Panam (Hunger Games world) (Via Livejournal)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

Ugly to Start With 
By John Michael Cummings

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Jason Stevens is growing up in picturesque, historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970s. Back when the roads are smaller, the cars slower, the people more colorful, and Washington, D.C. is way across the mountains—a winding sixty-five miles away. Jason dreams of going to art school in the city, but he must first survive his teenage years. He witnesses a street artist from Italy charm his mother from the backseat of the family car. He stands up to an abusive husband—and then feels sorry for the jerk. He puts up with his father’s hard-skulled backwoods ways, his grandfather’s showy younger wife, and the fist-throwing schoolmates and eccentric mountain characters that make up Harpers Ferry—all topped off by a basement art project with a girl from the poor side of town. Ugly to Start With punctuates the exuberant highs, bewildering midpoints, and painful lows of growing up, and affirms that adolescent dreams and desires are often fulfilled in surprising ways.

I have enjoyed all of the books that have been sent to me for review, but Ugly to Start With is in a league of its own. From the content, to the format, to the quality of writing...John Michael Cummings delivers a high quality and emotive novel that is potentially my favourite read of 2012.

Ugly to Start With is a patchwork quilt style narrative. It unites thirteen short stories in a general chronological order that delve into the life of teenager Jason Stevens. Each story is self-contained and delivers an insightful look into all the elements that help a teenage become the person they need/want to be. While Jason battles with the difficulty of desiring to be an artist in a small historical town, and of not conforming to the very traditional and conservative ideals of the town and his family, the book also looks at the issues a community of this type encounter. The book touches on a myriad of themes and issues, race, class, family and community hierarchy, sexuality, pedaphilia, abusive relationships…however it successfully manages to convey these issues without every coming off preachy or one-sided, or losing sight of its young protagonist. If anything, this book shows the complexity every issue contains, how un-black and white these problems are, and how this can affect a growing and impressionable teenager.

 I’m finding it hard to express exactly how wonderfully intricate this book is. It is so encompassing, yet so specific at the same time, I don’t think there are many writers who can manage this. By the time I finished this book, I felt like I knew Harper's Ferry, I understood the people who lived there and the way they thought and the motives behind their actions. At the same time, I completely empathised with Jason, he's a fish out of water, he's vulnerable and caught in a moment of flux. From the first story we know what he wants, to move to Washington (or any city really) and become an artist, but each story throws up another roadblock in the shape of his family, his personal history, the towns prejudices, which could not only halt his progress but actually manipulate him into the typical townperson he should be but doesn’t want to become.

I loved all of the stories for what they brought to the greater story, but there were three in particular that stood out.

The Wallet – ( In which Jason discovers there is more to the turbulant relationship of his mother’s friend than what is shown on the surface.)

This story is beautifully told, and takes a scenario which typically has everyone on the one side, and provides something that, although it doesn't excuse his actions, it makes you realise judgement is far too easy. In essence, this story really made clear the overarching theme that I identified in the story, and really highlighted the internal struggle that Jason had to overcome.

Rusty Clackford – (In which Jason meets an old man and begins to spend time at his house)

This was one of the shorter stories but just a really sweet example of the kid Jason was/is. It’s perhaps more melancholic than any of the other stories, but there is a real beauty in the static action of the story and an overwhelming feeling of hope and calm. Jason seems truly content in this story, just free and happy in the moment.

Generations – (In which Jason tags along on one of his father’s mail runs)

This was the perfect way to close the book. Generations mirrors and book ends the opening story which had Jason driving with his mother and discovering how hard it was going to be for him to move from Harper’s Ferry and become the artist and man he wants to become. There is no definite closure, but this story hints at a further progression for Jason in his desire to become an artist, as well as an intriguing look at the relationship between Jason and his father.

When I was 12 The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys changed my life with its frank detailing of young teenage boys who loved art and anarchy and were experimenting with love, identity and religion. 10 years later I’ve found its spiritual counterpart. Ugly to Start With is earnest and unflinching and doesn’t steer away from discussing every element that jigsaws together to form a teenager’s adult personality. Regardless of where you are in your own life, I think this is a book that everyone can connect with and find parallels to their own adolescence.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fanart Friday: Artist spotlight - Steven Cock-Cely

This week, instead of focussing on a particular book or character, I'm showcasing an artist. Steven Cock-Cely is an amazing artist that I first featured in an earlier Fanart post. Steven's work covers a multitude of styles and frequently focuses on wonderful books and characters. Here is just a small selection of pieces which feature some of my personal favourite literary characters, be sure to follow the links to see the full size images and the rest of the gallery of work Steven has produced on DeviantArt. Also, be sure to follow his tumblr and visit his personal website.

The Catcher in the Rye


Captain America


The Prisoner of Azkaban

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Graphic Novel Mini-reviews

The Sandman: Seasons of Mists (Volume 4)
by Neil Gaiman

Synopsis: Lucifer has grown tired of being the lord of Hell. He kicks out the demons and the damned alike, closes up shop, and gives the key tp Hell to Morpheus. Beings from all the world's mythologies converge on the lord of Dream to seize this instrument of power.

My Thoughts: I've slowly been making my way through The Sandman series for the last year or so, and this is perhaps my favourite. Not surprisingly, Neil Gaiman weaves an incredible story but it's the inclusion of gods, deities and mythical beings in this story that I really loved. The interactions between them, the unique perspectives provided, the was what made American Gods amazing, and it's what sets this volume apart from the previous three. I can't wait to get my hands on the next one!

Locke and Key (Volumes 1-3)
By Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Synopsis: Keyhouse is an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them.... and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature.

My Thoughts: Tom bought the first volume purely out of curiosity as to how Stephen King's son would perform as a writer. We bought the next two because they're really freaking awesome! The story is more fantasy than horror (for those of you wondering) and along with the exciting discovery of a series of keys which do weird and wonderful things, it delves into the different ways a family grieves for the shock loss of their beloved father and husband. There are some corny little references (for instance the town the live in is called Lovecraft) but it's a great series and I can't wait to finish it.

By Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

Synopsis: Brears and Lamper, two young and cocky FBI agents, investigate a fresh series of ritual murders somehow tied to the final undercover assignment of Aldo Sax –the once golden boy of the Bureau, now a convicted killer and inmate of a maximum security prison. From their interrogation of Sax (where he spoke exclusively in inhuman tongues) to a related drug raid on a seedy rock club rife with arcane symbols and otherworldly lyrics, they suspect that they are on the trail of something awful… but nothing can prepare them for the creeping insanity and unspeakable terrors they will face in the small harbor town of Innsmouth.

My Thoughts: An interesting story, but not for anyone who is put off by heavy sexual scenes or images! Lovecraft was one of the most repressed men to ever exist, and this graphic novel basically brings to light all the supressed sexual imagery that existed in his horror novels. Not a perfect story, but pretty good nonetheless.

Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Volume 1)
By Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Synopsis: Tom Taylor's life was screwed from go. His father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem is Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom's real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart, turning him into the lamest variety of Z-level celebrity. When an enormous scandal reveals that Tom might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that's secretly kept tabs on him all his life.

My Thoughts: This. Is. The. Greatest. What if you grew up loving Harry Potter only to find out you were Harry Potter? Essentially that's what this story is, plus a rich greater story that involves literary clues from across the years and world. It's part story within a story, part fantasy, part mystery, part 'get out of my head and stop watching my dreams'!! Give it a go guys, seriously!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Links

*One of my favourite comic artists, Paul Duffield (of Freak Angels fame) wrote a great blog post about sexism in comics (Via the Paul Duffield blog).

*Stephen Fry has spoken up in the Hobbit bar legal debate. (Via the Guardian)

*The Sydney Writers' Centre has launched Australia's Best Blog(ger) competition and are open for entries. Just thought that was something that would be...interesting to know...(Via Sydney Writers' Centre)

*Really great bookmarks/shelves...I'd need about 500 though! (Via Geek Sugar)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Author Interview: Robert Shields, author of Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society

Today I present you with an interview with author Robert Shields. I reviewed his book Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society on the blog yesterday and he was kind enough to answer some questions about the future of the series as well as the lessons he's learned through the writing process. Be sure to learn more about both Robert Shields and his book over at his websites, Fruitbat Books and Secret Girls Society.

K: Could you describe your book to us?
RS: It’s about a girl named Daphne who at first seeks revenge against her childhood enemy and in the process discovers that her enemy named Vivica is a witch. Daphne seeks to level the playing field as she belatedly enters the world of witchcraft. She becomes part of the Mysterious Girls’ Secret Bathroom Society and finds out that the politics governing witchcraft are daunting and sometimes deadly. She realizes she is aligned with the Daughters of Charm in this political battle with the Daughters of Spite led by her nemesis, Vivica. Along the way, she discovers that witches do not perform magic or witchcraft but a differentiated form of physics that only some women have mastered. The story deepens as she learns about the long history of witches’ domination and annihilation of wizards.

K: You have a background in legal and sports writing, how did you end up writing a novel about teen witches?
RS: I love this question. I cannot tell you how many fiction books I started and never finished. Then I started to write Daphne. I went to a parochial school like Daphne. The characters to a great extent have the strengths and weaknesses that I remember in my friends. It was not a stretch for me to imagine some of those girls when I was younger being witches. From there, the story was easy to develop.

K: Are you planning to expand this into a long running series?
RS: Yes. I am currently writing the second book. I hope to have it out in the next six months. I’m thinking of names for it and will take suggestions. Right now, I’m considering calling it the “Rise of the Red Hand.”

K: Any hints about what to expect from Daphne and her friends?
RS: Sure. Daphne as would be expected will grow stronger in her magic. The society will become more political between the Daughters of Spite and the Daughters of Charm. And not to give away too much, you will see more of the boys, which is somewhat predictable.

K: What was your writing process?
RS: I often have an idea in my head. Then I start writing it. This sounds simple enough, yet we all know when you start putting pen to paper it never ends up as it played in your head the first time. Or at least that is the case for me. I’m ready for them to develop the device that just allows me to download it directly from my brain to paper. I have a gift or curse depending who is around me being able to write anywhere. The downside for me is that I always seem to need at least an hour to write. It takes me longer than I would like to get my mind where the book is taking place. Or in other words, it takes me a while to get inside my mind’s eye. Once there, I can write for a long time.

K: Did you learn anything from your writing experience? Things you will do/did differently or the same?
RS: Yes, there is one thing that I might do differently. I first want to relay a personal story. When I was young some of my favourite books were written by SE Hinton. I loved Rumble Fish, Tex, and The Outsiders. Never did it cross my mind that the person writing them was a woman and that the S in the SE stood for Susan. If I had known that going into them, I might not have ever read the books and been robbed of some of my favourite books because of my own bias. Now with that said and if I had a chance to start over on Daphne, I might write under a pen name that would have been more nebulous such as R.T. Shields. To my surprise, I have encountered some bias. Some don’t want to read a book about girls that was not written by a woman, and I understand because I would have done the same thing but you might be robbing yourself.

K: Have you got any advice for any budding writers reading?
RS: One piece of advice I would offer is to write what you know. I fought this for years and it’s the reason why I started so many fictional stories and never finished them. It’s hard to create what you don’t know. I know that sounds silly. Daphne was easy to write because I knew the subject matter.

 A huge thanks to Robert Shields for answering these questions for me!

If you're interested in checking out Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Bathroom Society, it's now downloadable for $0.99 on the Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBook store websites.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society

Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society
by Robert Shields

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Following years of persecution at the hands of Vivica Vance, Daphne Downing levels the playing field wielding her No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil as she belatedly enters the world of witchcraft. Daphne becomes part of the Mysterious Girls’ Secret Bathroom Society and finds out that the politics governing witchcraft are daunting and sometimes deadly. She realizes she is aligned with the Charmers in this political battle with the Spiters led by her nemesis, Vivica. Along the way, she discovers that witches do not perform magic or witchcraft but a differentiated form of physics that only some women have mastered. The story deepens as she learns about the long history of witches’ domination and annihilation of wizards

Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society (Daphne & from now on) is a fantasy-esque novel that follows in the vein of Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jones. In this alternate world magic is something that all women have the capacity to perform, yet if they don’t recognise it early in life they grow up to be regular magic-less human beings. Unlike Harry Potter, magic in Daphne & isn’t really magic, it’s really a manipulation of physics. Essentially, young girls and trained adult witches recognise a different type of physics than what is standard in science, so the “physics rules” that the world runs on are merely one way of looking at how the world works, or can work. This was possibly one the highlights of this novel, the idea that the girls have to be young and not yet indoctrinated into the physics that Newton, Einstein and co have informed us of. If you’ve ever watched young children play, it’s the capacity to believe anything is possible and nothing is out of bounds that is so wonderful about them.

Anyway, in this world some girls and women have the ability to freeze time, apparate (for want of a better term), transform into other people, and a myriad of other awesome abilities. Once upon a time there were wizards, but they were exterminated by the witches long ago, so it’s only girls who have this ability to manipulate physics. Daphne is not one of these girls. She’s a young teenage girl who crushes on boys and has an ongoing feud with the beautiful female bully (Viv). It’s not until an altercation with Viv that the secret world of magic/female physics are revealed to Daphne, and she realises she’s one of the only girls her age who isn’t a witch. The first half of the book centres around this revelation and Daphne’s determination to become a witch like her best friend Lyla and her younger sister. As Daphne learns how to cast a spell and the history of the witches, we, as an audience, also learn the background of this world. At times it felt a little to exposition-y, but for the most part I felt like it was a neat way to pack in a lot of information and unfold the story at the same time. After the initial learning aspect of the story, it descends into a mystery surrounding the history of witches and wizards and the older female witches in charge of female physics. I won’t divulge any of this plot because it’s best to discover it as it unfolds, but even as the main plot is concluded it opens the door for a series to unfold from aspects introduced in this book.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed, for instance, I really enjoyed the small references to the side effects of certain spells. In one example, the casting of one spell is linked to dementia, so witches try to avoid using that spell unless there are no other options. Similarly, the manipulation of physics/looking at physics through a different lens was a big part of what I liked about this book. It was a new idea, and the complexity of the description is really intriguing and I could see a great series being born out of it.

 One downside with this novel is the writing itself. I found it a little formal, especially considering the book focuses on a group of teenage witches. The dialogue wasn't written in the most natural intonation, for example, there are very few contractions used, and I know that when I was younger (and even still) I almost never said “I am,” “do not” “have not” etc. There were also some inconsistencies where the young girls would jump from not understanding “big” words one minute and then use an equally long or difficult word a few pages later. Much of this is easily fixed, and I did find that the writing improved as the book went on, but it did take me out of the story from time to time and sometimes led to really strange sentences or conversations.

I’d recommend this book to readers either around mid-teens or who enjoy books that fall towards the younger end of YA books. There is some language that is perhaps a little too risqué for young readers and some of the physics concepts are quite advanced, but this is the kind of book I would have loved to read when I was younger, with its blend of humour, early-teen angst, boy trouble, friendship and magic in the one cohesive story.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fanart Friday: Neil Gaiman's Sandman

It's no secret that Nylon Admiral is a Neil Gaiman appreciation blog, but it's been taking me quite awhile to make my way through his seminal work, the Sandman graphic novel series. I'm nowhere near finished it yet (it's huge guys!) but I'm loving it more and more with each trade, especially the title character Sandman (AKA Morpheus). The characterisation in this graphic novel is phenomenal, and when you combine that with the artwork by the collection of outstanding contributing artists, it's not hard to see why this series is so well loved. So in honour of Neil Gaiman and his splendid graphic novel, here are a collection of art pieces by artists equally as enamoured with his work as me. Be sure to click through the links and see the rest of their impressive galleries.

Sandman Sketch by TimKelly

The Sandman: Prince of Stories by Crystal (redheaded-step-child)

Sandman and Death by SaraRichard

Sketchy. The Sandman by Kidnotorious

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Film Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Released: 2003

Starring: Sean Connery
Stuart Townsend
Richard Roxburgh

Synopsis: In an alternate Victorian Age world, a group of famous contemporary fantasy, SF and adventure characters team up on a secret mission

OK guys, this is going to be a short review because I have been staring at a blank screen for three weeks now, absolutely unable to write anything about this film! I watched this film for the 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' 2012 challenge and I really did enjoy it, I just (weirdly) have nothing to say!

The film differs greatly from the graphic novel. it's more of an 'inspired by' film than an adaptation, which is actually probably better in the long run. This way they had more creative freedom and didn't need to worry about fans getting cranky that they changed small aspects here and there. Is it better than the graphic novel? Probably not, but I still enjoyed the film and the direction they decided to take.

There are a heap of new characters added to the movie, branching off from the original team made up of Mina Harker, Alan Quartermain, Jekyll/Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible man, Rodney Skinner (known as Hawley Griffen in the graphic novel). Joining the ranks are Tom Sawyer, a brash American working for a government agency (I can't remember which), and Dorian Gray (played by the handsome Stuart Townsend), while the Phantom now accompanies Moriarty as a bad guy. I actually really liked the addition of these extra characters, it isn't always the case, but in this instance a larger cast worked well for the tension and story build-up.  Unlike the graphic novel, everyone in the film is much more civil with one another and there doesn't seem to be as much distrust or animosity swirling around least at first.  As kind as everyone is in the beginning, none of them really want to be there; they were coerced, in their own ways, into participating in this hodge podge of a group and the greater number swells the animosity and highlights their differences.

The team are united under the watchful eye of 'M' who informs them that the dastardly Phantom wants to sink Venice, and that it is their job to foil his plan. There are obvious complications along the way, both involving the Phantom's group of lackeys and within the group itself, but the pacing is fairly quick and the action scenes are exciting and well done. The story is a little silly, but I felt like the real interest in the film was of seeing the literary characters placed into situations that were removed from their traditional settings. Perhaps that has something to do with me being a reader, but I could forgive the film-makers deciding the story needed to be more 'Hollywood' than the original graphic novel because I felt like the characters were fleshed out enough. Although,it kind of sucked that they removed the love interest between Mina and Quartermain and replaced it with the younger, hotter couple of Mina and Gray, but I understand why they did that (I just hate it!).

Visually the film was fantastic. This was one of the earliest  mainstream films to utilise the Steampunk aesthetic, and it was really gorgeous. This was probably the film's real strength, the locations, props and costumes were all done to perfection. Similarly, the actors were all top-notch, it's just a pity the story was so unnecessarily extravagant in parts. Fun fact, did you know this was the film that made Sean Connery decide to retire? Apparently life on set was a nightmare, although it seems more to do with the director (Stephen Norrington) and less about anything else.

So a pretty decent film all in all. It wasn't the greatest ever, but it flowed well and it definitely wasn't hard to watch. I think most literary fans can find something in this film to enjoy.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Written by Bram Stoker

Published: 1897

Synopsis: Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula's attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham van Helsing.

I'm a little embarressed to say that I haven't read Dracula before. I've seen most of the film adaptations, and I've always been aware of its notoriety as a classic horror text but for some reason I've never gotten around to reading it before. I'm so glad that 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' challenge rolled around, because it's an absolute crime that I've missed out on the magic of this book for so long!

Dracula is a phenomenal book. Contemporary authors really should take the time to study this book, regardless of whether they write horror or not, because it truly is amazing in every possible way. The quality of writing, the ingenuity of the story, the vitality of the characters, the use of journals and letters, the combination of so many delcious genres into one great book...seriously, why hadn't I read this before?!

So the book begins as Jonathan Harker heads out to meet Count Dracula, an elderly client who is intent on moving to England and needed legal help to organise it all. Once in the huge castle it doesn't take long for the easy and enjoyable conversations late into the night to turn to something far more sinister. Harker soon realises that his freedom in the castle is being severely curtailed, and after several late night explorations it is removed completely. At the same time things around the castle starts to get really weird, he witnesses the Count crawling down the castle's steep walls, and he comes across three women who appear out of thin air and encircle him eagerly clawing for his throat. As much as I loved the rest of the book, I think it was this first portion that I loved the most. The action takes place amongst such a wild and mysterious part of the world and the capacity for the supernatural seems all the more likely.  From the early descriptions of the changing landscape to the growing unease of the locals who risk their lives to help Harker avoid the castle to the scene with the Count asleep in his coffin, the pacing and foreshadowing is done spectacularly well and completely had me within its grasp. Then there are the three women/vampires, va va voom! Take note Stephenie Meyer, that's how you write some disturbingly sexy scenes! For example;
"There was a deliberate voluptuousness that was both thrilling and repulsive. And as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal till I could see in the moonlight the moisture Then lapped the white, sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited. ”
The visual capacity for this writing is extraordinary (a word I seem to be overusing, alas!), it's not hard to see how this book led to so many film adaptations and copy-cat writers. As Jonathan struggles to survive in the castle amidst the three women and the wolves, Dracula makes his way across the sea to England and Jonathan's fiancée, Mina, happens to be in the small seaside town he lands in. After Mina's friend Lucy succumbs to a mystery illness, we're introduced to the rest of the cast, Lucy's Fiancée, Arthur, his friends Dr Seward and Quincey Morris, and the absolutely delightful Van Helsing. Because I hadn't read this book before, I'd always imagined Van Helsing as a young BAMF who dominates vamps and other mythological creatures (I think you can blame the Hugh Jackman movie for that) but he's so different! He's definitely still a BAMF, but he's old and sweet and anunbelieveably gorgeous character. I just wanted to take him home and keep him in my pocket! He definitely falls under the Gandalf/Dumbledore awesome old guy banner. One of my favourite lines of his is this one he says to Mina;
"There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights"
See! See! So the book is told through a series of diary, journal, letter, telegram accounts which have been collected by Mina in order to help the group in their attempt to destroy Dracula once and for all.  I'm not sure how many books at the time this was published would have used this format, and even though it's fairly common now, it's exceptionally well done and I loved that it added perfectly to "this happened but we don't believe anyone would ever believe us" theme that runs through the book. I guess in a way it's the precursor to all the found footage horror films around now, except given the time the book takes place, it actually makes sense for all of this to be documented in a diary or in long letters to one another.

So yes, I enjoyed the crap out of this book. It's intelligent, funny, heart-warming, spooky, unique and well worth the attention it's received for over 100 years! Given it's age, it does take a while to get into the rhythm of the dialogue patterns if you don't often read books from that time, but it's not impossible nor difficult once you get into it. There was one character, an old man in the seaside town Lucy and Mina stayed in, that I couldn't understand a word of. His dialogue is written verbatim in a very thick Northern (?) accent and full of idioms and speech patterns unique to that area. It was only about a page in total, but I just couldn't work out more than 1 in 5 words and I simply gave up. It had no real bearing on the story (a touch of foreshadowing if anything) so it wasn't the end of the world, but thank god it wasn't all like that! Anyway, that one blip aside, everyone should read this book asap! Do it! NOW!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fanart Friday: Miscellaneous

Rum Diary by Sergio (sHusky)
Hunger Games - Mockingjay by BlackFeatherz29

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Death: A Life by George Pendle

Death: A Life
By George Pendle

Published: 2008

Synopsis: At last, the mysterious, feared, and misunderstood being known only as "Death" talks frankly and unforgettably about his ininitely awful existence. Chronicling his abusive childhood, his near-fatal addiction to Life, his excruciating time in rehab, and the ultimate triumph of his true nature, this long-awaited autobiography finally revels the inner story of one of the most troubling, and troubled, figures in history. For  the first time, Death reveals his affairs with the living, his maltreatment at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the ungodly truth behind the infamous "Jesus incident," and the loneliness of being the End of All Things.

Death makes an interesting narrator, I enjoyed the crap out of his role as narrator in The Book Thief,  and after seeing this book reviewed on Gabe's blog I thought this would be an interesting, and contrasting, read to Death's previous literary incarnations.

Poor Death, he's lived a hard life. The son of Satan and Sin, he found his purpose in life, by chance, on Earth. As The End of All Things he saw civilisations rise and fall, God take a leave of absence, other religions lose their supporters and stupidity reign supreme. As I'm sure you can imagine though, it got a little tedious to collect souls day in and day out, but it was never a real chore until he met the love of his life, Maud, a woman who has no fear of death. A glitch in the system sees her reincarnated in similar forms for centuries, and Death begins to skive off work to spend some time with her before she's sent off to the Afterlife. She proves to be his downfall, and is the catalyst for his dangerous addiction to life, which results in several decades in a rehab trying to regain his gloomy persona.

In case you haven't grasped it yet, this book is a rather silly and hilarious revision of history. Because of Death's ability to be anywhere and everywhere, George Pendle was able to have some creative fun with historic and mythological events that most people are acquainted with. The humour is the predominant feature of this book, and for the most part it's clever, genuinely funny writing that incites feelings of empathy for Death and the trials he's survived in his very long existence. At times the humour reaches for the easier, or more convenient jokes, which do grow old very quickly, but I found these to be in the minority and spread far enough for them to quickly become overlooked.

I enjoy revised history, even if the only revision is instilling a conversation between Death and a random Roman soldier, or peasant. George Pendle has quite a knack for taking an aspect of myth, text or history and twisting it from how it's typically portrayed just a pinch. So the angel Gabriel is now power-grabbing, God is a little distracted, Jesus is a bit of a dick, all the Gods in mythology existed and were interviewed by God for their roles, and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse didn't include Death (he just had a brief stint with them as the fifth horsemen). Those examples all centre around religion (and primarily Christian religion at that) and while other aspects of history do play a role in this book, religion is one of the key themes and topics. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, even though it's all in good fun, anyone who is particularly religious should probably steer clear of this one. I'm not sure if you would actually be offended by the ideas in the book, but it's definitely something to keep in mind. Perhaps read a chapter or a few other reviews first.

All in all, this was a fun book to read and an easy and enjoyable one at that. The addition of a few photos were a cute touch, even if they were mostly too dark and too small to be clearly viewed. It gets a little flowery towards the end, but overall it was an interesting and funny book that added a unique perspective to the Death/Grim Reaper mythology.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Links

*GUYS! GUYS! ^These raps are EPIC! This one is suitably literary themed, but you should check out the rest of their "epic rap battles of history" (Via Youtube)

*14 movies that feature cameos by the original author (via Mental Floss)

*Laura over at Devouring Texts just wrote a great post that's a little bit Young Adult review and big bit why blockbuster/movie politics suck. (Via Devouring Texts)

*Brewster Khale is storing hundreds of thousands of books in shipping containers in the event that there is a digital disaster of sometime. Long live the printed worfd! (Via The Times of India)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3)
By Suzanne Collins

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Katniss, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers from book one and two.

Mockingjay is the third and final book in the Hunger Games series. Once again, I've heard people (my sister and brother included) say that this was one of the weakest links in the series, and while I didn't agree with that regarding book two, I do in this case. I did still find myself racing through it and I definitely enjoyed it, but after I finished I found myself questioning the storyline that Suzanne Collins decided to use.

After the explosive end of book two I expected big things in this book, but instead it ended up weirdly paced and a little unfocused. Katniss, Gale and their families and friends have settled in district 13, the town that was believed to be destroyed until recently. And while they've escaped the tyranny of the Capitol, they're now contained by District 13's strict rules and guidelines. Katniss may have never been free in the true sense of the word, but at least in District 12 she could escape over the fence and run in the forest, swim in the lake and provide for her family. In District 13 everything is strictly monitored, food, work, free time...not to mention everything takes place deep underground, away from the sky and fresh air. Furthermore, while Katniss fought against the adults trying to control and manipulate her actions and future in the previous two books, by book three she has become a mere symbol for what the men and women in charge want, and her opinion is no longer held with much regard.

While I could see what Suzanne Collins wanted to do, I didn't feel like it was played out particularly well. Every now and then the pacing would pick up and it would seem like the action was going to develop to the place where I felt like it should be. For example, the scene where she visits the hospital in District 8, things progressed from a safe TV spot into something way more kick-ass. But then things slowed down to a crawl again. I'd been anticipating the rebellion from the early pages of book one, and half way through the final book barely anything was happening except PR stunts. I found the TV persona aspect overwhelming, I feel like by the third book there should have been less attention paid to Katniss as an individual and more to the actual rebellion. Snippets of news from the other districts weren't enough, when Katniss found herself defending the hospital in Disrict 8 I thought this was the role she'd play from now on, but nooooooooo. She went back to District 13 and walked around corridors and argued with people in small rooms. It seemed like Collins wanted the book to play out like a chess game, with Katniss as one of the pawns, but the approach really bugged me.

My other issue was the love triangle. I was never a big fan of it as anything other than a metaphor for the choice she had to take (rebellion vs Capitol control), and this book just really pushed it too far. I've never really enjoyed Gale as a character (mostly because of the love triange) and his place in this book just added to the slow and monotonous pacing. He never acts like a friend of Katniss, let alone a potential boyfriend, unless he's whining about how little attention she gives him or how much she gives Peeta. Considering Peeta is being held captive by the Capitol you'd think he'd be a little less egocentric but apparently that would be too out of character so he just behaves like an ass. Meanwhile Peeta is (SPOILER AHEAD) being brainwashed and turned into an anti-Katniss robot, and everyone is being so self-centred that none of them can think about anything outside of their own little bubble.

The reality TV elements and love triangle elements of the first two books were amplified far too much in these books so the story stagnated. Why was all the action happening in reports back to the group? Even if Katniss was being contained and controlled by the adults in charge, why wasn't there a main character (Gale perhaps?) the focus of several chapters kicking butt in each district as they overturn Capitol control? Why did the end speed through so quickly? Was Collins out of time, room or ideas?

Grievances aside though, I did really enjoy the book as I read it. These issues niggled at me a little as I read, but it wasn't until I put it down after racing all the way through it that I realised how disappointed I was. It wasn't that it was a bad book (because it wasn't) it's that I felt like there was great potential to create an amazing action/rebellion book that was completely missed. Regardless, the writing was of equal quality to the previous two books, and Collins put in great effort to paint the world so that we, the readers, could imagine every element of it. The story-telling itself was top-notch, it was the story that made the quality lag. I also have to commend Collins for her ability to kill of characters without hesitation! It's far more realistic to see a character you've invested in emotionally injured or killed when they're placed in a dangerous position, than the Hollywood ideal of three people managing to take down an entire army! It was heartbreaking, but it made me respect Collins a great deal more for having the balls to do it.

I know I've made it seem like a complete failure of a book with this review, I want to reiterate that this ISN'T the case. It was just a disappointing third installment FOR ME after two remarkable books. I'd still recommend reading the series at a whole, this book does provide the climax, answers and resolutions that have been building through the entire series. It wasn't the final book I was hoping for, but it was interesting nonetheless, and I certainly was invested in it as I read it.

What did everyone else think about this one?

Friday, March 2, 2012

February Wrap-Up

How was everyone's February? I was so busy! I had my sisters both staying with me, I went back to uni, I had to set up our home office, it's been disgustingly hot and rainy, and I went up to Cairns for a weekend! Somewhere in the midst of that I managed to get a bit of reading done (amazing right!). My blogging has slowed down in the last month in anticipation for how full on this year will be for me. I'll continue to have Monday links and Fanart Friday each week, but I'll only be posting two reviews a week, most likely on Tuesday and Saturday. I'd love to keep reviewing with the vigour I've been reviewing with up till this point, but I think this will be much more sustainable as my uni commitments increase. This way I should be able to keep going like this, rather than have to break for a month at a time. Anyway, hope you all had wonderful time reading this February!
Hosted byBooking in Heels
10 books and 1 film.

2 books and the film

Books Read:
Dracula by Bram Stoker - I can't believe I haven't read this before! I absolutely loved it, it's exactly what a supernatural horror/thriller should be.
Review to come

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 read the Hunger Games trilogy this month since the group read was a book I've already read.

Books read:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - All of you bloggers didn't let me down! I loved it! I found it similar to some other stories out there, but I really enjoyed it.
Read my review here

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - Probably my favourite of the series, I found this one fresh, fast-paced and action packed.
Read my review here

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - I had some real problems with this one, but it's definitely still a must read.
review to come

Next to read:
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.


24 read so far.

Books read:
The Fog by James Herbert - Both great and not so great. A fantastic horror concept and some wonderful short character vignettes but the army aspect wasn't really my cup of tea.
Read review here.

Drift by Andrew Cyrus Hudson - An author requested read. A different story, a blend of horror with family drama with a healthy dose of musical influences.
Read review here.

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk - A real let down. The rushed story and wishy-washy characters made for a forgettable read.
Read review here.

Anything New:
*I've started accepting films for review and my first post was of three films by director Jeremiah Kipp. Click through to read the reviews and for the links to watch the short films.

*Be sure to check over at my horror blog for Asian Horror Month!

Fanart Friday: Dracula

Last week I finally finished reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. I know, I know, it's about time!! The book is incredibly visual and has spawned countless film, television, game and comic adaptations, as well as influencing the representation of vampires in popular culture for a very, very long time. It's not hard to see why, it's mysterious, threatening, pervasive, enticing and a little bit sexy. Here are a selection of works which, while perhaps not all specifically based of Bram Stoker's Dracula, depict various elements of the classic horror novel.

Dracula and Harker by BaronPluto

The Brides of Dracula by DPDagger

Vlad Dracula, I by Luise

Dracula by ValerieJB


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