Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Serenity

Firefly was one of my favorite television series that I have seen, and so this movie had a special importance to me. I love the characters that have been developed over the course of the series, and I was very pleased to see that not only were their core personalities intact, but in fact they had come into their own as actual people. Though one of the biggest appeals of the show for me was how intimate the story was, and the movie had a stereotypical "saving the galaxy" feeling to it, the characters and the world are both unique enough that it didn't feel tired or cliche.

The thing that saddens me most about the movie is the fact that the series came to an end. There were so many questions that needed to be answered, and now will not. However, considering what was left to work with, the movie did a superb job of tying up loose ends. Though there was still much left unanswered, the answers that were given were satisfactory, both in terms of storytelling and emotional fulfillment.

Blade Runner

I have to admit, this movie leaves me feeling very conflicted. I do have a particular fondness for dystopian stories, particularly when they take place in a science fiction environment. My biggest issue is a sad one, because since so many movies have copied its style and tone, seeing the original feels cliche. I wish I had seen the movie when I was younger, because it is extremely remarkable for how original of a movie it really was.

My second biggest issue is with Deckard and how he isn't particularly heroic. Normally this would be fine, however he is considered to be the best Blade Runner, and he spends most of the movie being beaten and bested. If he was a normal guy sucked into a situation beyond him, or he was shown to be beyond his prime it would be more fitting, but he is not.

That being said, the way the rest of the movie is handled is brilliant. The villains are intimidating, yet still sympathetic, and they all have great depth, as do all of the characters, even those in the movie for only minutes. The sets are very well designed, and feel very old and lived in. The plot has a nice, paced flow that feels very natural and organic, like what people in those situations would decide, other than simply what was written.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Magicians

The Magicians is Harry Potter for the adult world. The sense of magic and wonder is still there, but instead of being wonderful and fantastic like chlidhood, it is worn down and jaded like adults normally see the world. This creates a curious juxtaposition of wonder and boredom, excitement and normalcy, which makes for not only a great fantasy story, but a critique on the entire genere as a whole. Astoundingly, despite the jaded feelings of the main character, the story is never brought down into a story of depression, but rather a fantastic look at what a realistic magical world would look like to us.

The biggest challenge for a fantasy novel released today is competing with Harry Potter, and Briliantly, instead of competing with Harry Potter, it tackles the fantasy genere from a different angle. There is no great adventure to be had, no main evil to be beaten, instead there is simply life to be lived, and the day to day adventures we have without even thinking about. I love the fantasy genere, but am usually jaded with the overly optimistic worlds because it feels very unrealistic. In the real world, nothing is gotten without sacrifice or struggle, and even then you have to fight to keep it; there is no happily ever after. The Magicians appeals to me for the same reasons Lord of the Rings does; everything is won only after a struggle, and there is no happily ever to be had, only an 'after'.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: The Hobbit

As a personal note, I have tried several times over the past few years to get into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, however I have never been able to be completely taken in by the works, whether due to language used or the density of the material. The Hobbit, however, I first read over ten years ago and enjoyed it immensely, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

What makes The Hobbit so enjoyable is that, despite the fact that it is readable by people of all ages, the story it contains nevertheless is very mature, and while violence and gore is almost non-existant, death is still a very real possibility. The personalities featured in this story are classics; Bilbo makes a wonderful reluctant hero, though he is far more adventurous and daring than than his hobbit nature would lead you to believe. Gandalf is the quintessential wizard, though he is far more gruff than modern depictions have led me to imagine.

What sets this story apart from most novels targeted towards young adults is the real sense of loss present in the story. Particularly with movies made in recent years, any sense of loss or threat is either completely absent, or minimized to such a degree that it can barely be called a loss. Often, the one character who dies is brought back to life, completely negating any sense of sacrifice. The Hobbit will have none of this: a main character dies in a selfish war brought on by himself, the hero of a town is murdered, the entire town destroyed, and a chain of events set into motion that will leave most of the world shattered or dead. Compare this to The Princess and the Frog, where defeating a madman channeling the powers of Hell only costs the life of a firefly. There is a reason The Hobbit has stood the test of time, it is a classic in every sense of the word.

Review: A Wild Sheep Chase

A Wild Sheep Chase begins in what seems to be an exceedingly boring fashion; the main character's life seems to be devoid of any joy or entertainment, and everything he does is extremely forced. As the story progresses, however, the only comparison that can be made is to Alice in Wonderland, for the story becomes so strange and surreal that it has only the barest of ties to the reality we know.

There are some very common elements of Japanese story telling; posession by spirits, a very heavy presense of an other world, characters known by certain characteristics of theirs, and a dominating, nearly obsessive goal that seems mundane or senseless outside of the story. It has a very humerous aspect to it, which is in no way deminished by the fact that the cultural difference makes everything extra surreal.

The characters are very typical tropes; the main character broken out of his duldrums by an obsessive quest, the strange friend who may or may not be totally real, and the nigh ethereal starred sheep. the main goal of the entire quest. Due to the difference in culture, and the overall strangeness of the tale, however, the characters never seem overly familiar or boring, they feel very fresh and alive. While the story's tone can be likened to Alice in Wonderland or something out of Dr. Suess, the plot itself reminds me more of a fantasy epic like Lord of the Rings, because of the overarching goal driving the characters.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interview with a Vampire

Anne Rice's interview with a vampire is a very interesting take on the vampire tale. While many of the vampire staples are there; the ancient life, feeding off of blood, vulnerability to sunlight, and need to sleep in coffins, most of the other weaknesses are missing. Religious iconography have no effect on them, garlic is an irritant but nothing more, and staking them through the heart does not guarantee instant death.

My favorite aspect of the movie is the take there is on the vampire's personalities, there is a very nice balance between the two main characters, Lestat and Louis. Louis is a very emotional, whiny character, and though it can be annoying at time, the fact that the story is told from his point of view gives a very nice counterpoint to the action happening within. When Lois is made a vampire with such suddenness that it is not completely clear if he was willing or not. His first feeding is violent and distasteful for him, causing him to become a "vegetarian" vampire, feeding only on animals, and to develop a very strong dislike for Lestat, who he views as crude and unappreciative.

The dynamic between Lestat and Louis is very interesting. Louis constantly lambasts Lestat for not indulging in the pleasures of live. He views Lestat as crude and hateful of all life. The interesting thing, however, is Lestat indulges his every whim, killing as he pleases and taking delight in the morbid nature of his life. Louis shows much more restraint in his life, being more of the traditional, overly emotional and regretful vampire that is common in modern stories. A key scene is when Louis stumbles across a child who's mother died of the plague and feeds off of her, almost killing her. Lestat comes in and encourages Louis to finish her off, dancing with the mom's corpse. Louis finds this grotesque and flees, this becoming a clear moment in his mind of Lestat's complete disrespect of life. What he doesn't think of, however, is that while Lestat had his morbid dance, he did feed off of a child and leave her to die alone.

Lestat is a necessary foil because it shows the hypocrisy of Louis. Louis kills people every night, but whines about his cursed existence and how he is just a victim. Lestat is there as a reminder of "we are monsters, we literally feed off of death, so stop beign so dramatic and enjoy it."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Response to Monster Island

One of the most interesting aspects of Monster Island is how the story is told, and the different perspectives you are given within the story of different cultures' take on the pandemic, even including one of the undead. What this lends to the story is that then you see the events from many different perspectives; the cliche main character who is horrified over everything that is happening and is just trying to find his way to his daughter, the Somalian's view of the situation as a part of life and death as an honor, and the undead perspective of acting according to nature and trying to survive.

The fact that the story does alternate between the view of the living and the dead is an interesting twist few zombie novels have. Here, the story had an incredible opportunity to explore the depth of why the undead act as they do, and though the novel touches upon the reasons, it never explores the reasons why in any real depth. What the novel first touches upon in terms of the undead is two aspects; their actions are based partially upon their nature, and partially upon staving off death.

Another interesting aspect the story took on was that all of the zombies have a supernatural connection that allow them to move and act together. This is something that most stories never address; how zombies, without any eyes, noses, or ears, can possibly sense survivors. Also, taking a supernatural approach to the outbreak allows for some leeway in terms of science. If a story tries to give an entirely scientific explanation, then a lot of questions can arise as to how a pandemic can spread so quickly, how the zombies react, why they are resurrected, etc. Giving it a magical explanation allows for all those issues to either fall to the side, or to be explained pretty easily with "oh its magic", or to be given more novel explanations.

The idea of intelligent undead is another interesting twist that makes the story much more tense. Whereas normally the undead aren't much of a threat, acting as a motivating force for the main characters, they end up being a serious threat, and with how the entire story is told, the ending is totally open, because no favoritism was shown to any of the characters throughout the novel.

Reaction to Frankenstein

Frankenstein is one of those novels that everyone knows the story of, even if they have never read it. It is a classic that is truly timeless, and perhaps the only example we have of a modern legend. Unfortunately, in modern retellings, much of the subtly and tact wich made the original book such an example of literature has been lost. What made the original tale so brilliant is that it was a critique both on the overambitious nature of pride, and the un-accepting nature humanity can have.

Much of the opening of the story is spent describing first the nature of a sea captain's voyage, and then of the history and childhood of Frankenstein, leading up to his downfall. Frankenstein is described as being extremely interested in education, devoting much time to the study of alchemy, being very interested in the promises of immortality offered within. It is elaborated upon how, after entering formal education, Frankenstein became obsessed with the reanimation of dead tissue.

After bringing his creation to life, Frankenstein becomes horrified, and flees from the creature. From then on, the story follow's Frankenstein's attempt to catch his creation, and the creature's attempt to survive. An amazing complexity that is usually lost in modern retellings is the fact that Frankenstein's monster is not a mute horror, but rather a being of intelligence and complexity, looking for acceptance, but not finding it, and thus turning his back on the world.

With its analysis of character and critique on both humanities greatest strengths and weaknesses, Frankenstein is a great classic, and one of the few examples of a nearly totally new tale.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Characteristics of the Horror Genere

-Wolves howling, horses neighing
-fog or stormy weather
-Violin music
-Either a carriage or a car ride through a stormy night
-A human antagonist hindering the main character in whatever he is trying to accomplish
-A main threat, monster or otherwise
-An attractive, blonde female, usually a lead character
-A point where the horror could have been prevented or altered
-The woods at nighttime
-An intolerant town