Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Movie review: Super

James Gunn's Super is one weird little film which, granted, I knew going in, but even so surprised me.  I don't know a lot about Gunn's previous work aside from Slither (which I adore) but I knew from reading reviews that Super was supposed to be dark, twisted, funny and violent which seem to be the director's typical M.O.  I had thought that maybe Mr. Mouse might like this film - he like dark comedies and he likes Rainn Wilson - but as I started watching it one night after Mr. Mouse had already gone to bed, I knew within minutes that I'd made the right call to watch it without him.

Super is the story of sad-sack Frank (Wilson) who, after his recovering addict wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a handsome, smarmy drug dealer Jock (Kevin Bacon - excellent and clearly enjoying himself), adopts a superhero alter-ego, The Crimson Bolt, who goes after petty criminals wielding nothing but a big ol' wrench.  Frank is slightly disturbed, however, and ends up administering indescriminate costumed beatings to people who cut in front of him in line at the movies.  Things intensify when Libby (a maniacal and tiny Ellen Page), a clerk at the comic book store where Frank "researches" superheroes without superpowers, figures out who the Crimson Bolt is and signs on as his kid sidekick, Bolty.  Bolty derives far, far too much pleasure from hurting people - she's effing nuts.  But nuts is sort of what Frank needs when he goes up against Jock and his crew.

The cast Gunn has assembled is impressive: in addition to the aforementioned Wilson, Tyler, Bacon and Page, there's Nathan Fillion as a Christian t.v. superhero, Gregg Henry as a detective, Michael Rooker as Jock's main henchman and Linda Cardellini in a cameo as a pet shop owner.  The film itself has a very small, low budget feel to it, not nearly as sophisticated as Slither.  It's not as funny either, although there are spots of humor here and there.  Wilson's Frank is truly pathetic, good-hearted and also mentally disturbed.  The violence is pretty shocking - which I know sounds strange coming from someone who watches so many horror/monster movies.  But Super is about a regular person facing real life issues - mental health, drug addiction, abandonment - and to watch him going through the thought process to conclude that violence is the only way he can deal is pretty grim.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Two books and a movie

I just got the second and third books from Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy from the library, so now I can't do anything else but tear through them because I am obsessed with these books.  However, here are snippets about other things I've been reading/watching, in case you're interested.

11/22/63 by Stephen King - Stephen King doesn't need people to review his books anymore.  The man is unstoppable and everything he writes is pretty much automatically a best-seller.  11/22/63 is somewhat of a departure for him in that there are no monsters or ghosties or long-legged beasties.  It's a fantasy, of course, a time-travel story in which the protagonist goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination.  I liked it quite a lot (I am not an objective observer, though, as I love SK).  He does a particularly nice job with creating the 1958-1963 world and its denizens.

Moneyball - Mr. Mouse has been haranguing me for weeks about getting the movie Moneyball.  He read the book and is a baseball fan so, it figures.  We finally got the movie and even though it clocks in at over two hours, we both managed to stay awake and engaged.  The film's cast is stacked - we were constantly going, "Who's that guy?" "Oh look, it's that guy!" - and Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill do a nice job with their roles, although I'm not so sure I would have nominated Pitt for that Oscar.  It was refreshing to see Hill step out of his comfort zone.  Also, SPOILER I totally applauded the t.v. when Andy from Parks and Rec hit his homerun.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain - I am an introvert who has learned extroverted behaviors for my public persona.  Apparently the fact that I abhor going out to lunch and prefer to spend my hour with my nose in a book in the cafeteria has not gone unnoticed; a coworker gave me this book.  It's non-fiction (duh) and although it's quite interesting, it's a book that you extroverts should read ... because I already know it all.  (Well, not the science-y bits.)  Well-written, easy to read.  But now that I have more Abercrombie, it's going to have wait for a bit.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mini movie review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

I find it oddly synchronous that I would watch Tucker and Dale vs. Evil right after having watched The Cabin in the Woods.  They're both horror movies (or, "horror" movies) that put a spin onto the classic horror tropes.  TCitW is bigger budget, better acted and smarter; Tucker and Dale is still pretty fun.

There's this bunch of privileged college kids, you see, heading out into the wilds of West Virginia - hillbilly territory - for a weekend of camping, skinny-dipping and hijinks.  On the way, they stop at a hole of a gas station which is staffed by a scarcely-toothed hick (at this point I laughed because the movies were right synced up with each other at this point).  While the college kids stock up on beer and bug spray, two local yokels are loading up their pick-up truck with all kinds of ominous items: chainsaws, rope, gasoline, chainfalls, pickaxes, hatchets, a wood chipper.  These two are the titular Tucker and Dale, played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine respectively, and contrary to appearances and the snap judgments the college kids make, they are very nice fellows.  Tucker has just bought a cabin out in the woods - his very own vacation home - and they are headed out there to fix 'er up.

Of course the hillbillies and the college kids cross paths again: Tucker and Dale save one of the girls from drowning and the other kids immediately assume the worst, mounting an attack to rescue their friend.  It all goes terribly wrong as the college kids end up impaling themselves on sticks, falling into the wood chipper, shooting themselves in the face, etc., etc., as poor Tucker and Dale watch in bewilderment.  There's a moral about judging books by their covers, and one of the college kids turns out to be an actual psycho, and Dale gets both some self esteem and the final girl at the end.  It's all silly, foolish, gory fun, and not too long at 86 minutes.  A very minor quibble: Alan Tudyk's teeth were WAY too white and straight for him to pull off hillbilly (and his accent kept fading in and out).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mini movie review: The Cabin in the Woods

I used to go to movies almost every week - I didn't work Fridays and more often than not I'd hit a Friday matinee.  When we moved from Maine to Utah that changed: first I didn't have a job, so I didn't want to spend money I wasn't making on movies; then I got a job and had to work Fridays, plus we were so busy on the weekend doing things that I just never went.  I missed it a little but I also figured stuff came out on DVD so quickly that I wasn't really missing anything (well, I sort of wish I'd seen Inception on the big screen but our new t.v. should do okay).  Finally, a film came out that I wanted to see in the theater, partly to support the movie and partly because I had put myself into internet-exile so as not to get spoiled.  The Cabin in the Woods, my first theater movie since August 2009.

Written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (frickin' dream team right there!) and directed by Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods is not the scariest horror flick ever, but it is certainly one of the cleverest and it is absolutely one that anyone who calls themselves a horror fan should see.  Yes, there's a cabin in the woods - straight out of Evil Dead.  Yes, there are five classic horror film characters - the slut, the jock, the sensitive guy, the fool and the virgin - but they are all actually developed characters, not shallow tropes, and you care about them.  Yes, there are zombies and people acting stupidly, but there are reasons for all of it.  TCitW is funny, jumpy and bloody, it explores horror movies and why we like them.  People are either going to get it and love it, or they're going to miss the point and wonder why there weren't more boobs and/or beheadings.  For the record, there are both boobs and beheadings.

The cast too is fantastic.  There's Chris Hemsworth, pre-Thor.  There's Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, lending an air of respectability.  There are Whedon alums a-plenty with Fran Kranz, Amy Acker and Tom Lenk.  And MILD SPOILER there's a killer unicorn.  What more do you need?

Seriously, if you like horror movies at all, you'll like this movie.  If you are a Whedon or Goddard fan, you'll like this movie.  Me, I thought it was great fun and I plan to buy it when it comes out on DVD - the last thirty minutes are completely batshit crazy and I need to watch it many more times before I'll come close to taking it all in.  Go see it, and quickly before you get spoiled on it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mini book review: The Blade Itself

After having read Joe Abercrombie's two standalone novels set after The First Law series (Best Served Cold and The Heroes), I've finally gotten my hands on The Blade Itself, Abercrombie's debut novel and the one that kicked the whole thing off.  I have to say, I really like this stuff.

TBI follows three main threads, separate at first but then weaving together in a complicated tapestry.  There's the Northerner, Logen Ninefingers, also sometimes known as The Bloody Nine, separated from his crew and pondering the violent life he's led.  He falls in with the sorcerer Bayaz, who may or may not be an actual legend, and follows him to one of the Union's fabulous cities.  There, their paths cross that of Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a feckless youth who is learning how to be a swordsman, and the crippled Inquisitor Glokta, once a soldier and swordsman himself, now ruined by torture and himself a torturer.  Glokta is set on rooting out the government's corruption, Jezal wants wine, women and fame, Logen wants to be a good man again ... and no one is quite sure what it is Bayaz wants.

As this was Abercrombie's debut novel, it took a little while for him to find his voice, that fabulous voice that rings so clear in Best Served Cold and The Heroes - dry, blackly funny and with a gift for battle scenes.  By about the final third of the novel he hits his stride; by the time the Bloody Nine comes out to play, I was grinning as I turned the pages.  Abercrombie writes wonderful battle fantasy and this was a good start - I'm very pleased to have two more books in The First Law trilogy yet to read.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mini book review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Jo Walton's Among Others is not your standard YA fantasy novel.  Yes, the narrator/protagonist is a teenaged girl.  Yes, there are fairies and witches.  Yes, there is tragedy to overcome.  But there is as much discussion about actual classic science fiction and fantasy novels as anything else - this novel is the best friend of the reader who needs to line up their next book.

Morwenna Phelps has not had an easy life.  Growing up Wales with her twin sister, Morgana, was pretty happy - loving extended family, with green mountains just outside the door, and playing with the fairies in the woods.  But when the twins' magic-enamored mother went a little crazy and tried to increase her powers, the girls went up against her to stop her and it ended badly, with one twin dead and her poor sister crippled.  Mori is sent out of Wales to be cared for by her English father, whom she has never met, and ends up sent to boarding school.  She is torn away from everything she's ever known, physically and emotionally diminished, and struggling to understand the role of magic in this non-magical place.  Her only comforts are books, science fiction and high fantasy novels in particular, which she devours.

Among Others is written diary-style and through it we see Mori's struggles to find her place in the world, to find friends, to make sense of what has happened to her.  She talks in great detail about the books she reads and her recounting of book club conversations are pretty cogent literary criticism.  The pacing is fairly slow and since it's a diary, the narrator stops telling stories she is uncomfortable with whenever she likes, which means that there are gaps in the story that the reader must fill in for themselves.

I've said before in here that I prefer novels with straightforward narrative and an overabundance of plot, neither of which are found here.  But what I loved is the reading list that Walton hands over, the dozens and dozens of science fiction and fantasy titles, some of which I've read but by no means all.  After having read Among Others, I will no longer have to wonder what I could read next.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I'm working on a little book review for Jo Walton's Among Others that I should get up here soon, and I have a couple of movies (Paul and Super) that need watching, and I'm cranking through Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself which is all kinds of great ... but I've got nothing for you right now except to report that Mr. Mouse and I have stumbled upon this wonderful British family sitcom, Outnumbered.  We found it on PBS totally by accident and are completely smitten - and, amazingly, we both like it.  It's about the family life of the Brockhursts: dad Peter, a history teacher; mum Sue, who works part-time and has a dad slightly stricken with Alzheimer's; oldest son Jake, cute and sarcastic and put-upon; middle son Ben, a holy terror; and youngest daughter Karen, old beyond her years.  Karen in particular is hysterical: the line readings this little girl gives are just brilliant.  Highly recommended.

Note: the link below is for a non-USA format DVD set. I don't know if you can buy USA-formatted disks or not, sorry.