November and December 2008 Movies

April 5th, 2009 at 10:27 pm by Michael

Here it is only April, and I’m finally catching up on talking about the movies I saw during the last months of 2008!

War, Inc. [2/5] [Amazon]

This was a mess. John Cusack plays a character who is remarkably similar to Martin Blank from the movie Gross Pointe Blank, which might have been a good thing with a better script, but War, Inc. has none of the charm that made that movie so great. Instead, it’s hamfisted in it’s attempts at parody and lacks very many moments that are actually amusing. It does, however, have Hillary Duff playing an evil version of her usual characters.

The Visitor [5/5] [Amazon]

An excellent film with a brilliant performance from Richard Jenkins (who should have won the Best Actor Oscar for his work) and great supporting efforts by Haaz Sleiman and Hiam Abbass. Very highly recommended.

Get Smart [3.5/5] [Amazon]

Steve Carell was the perfect choice to play Maxwell Smart, and even if the movie is a bit uneven, there are still plenty of laughs to be had.

Oldboy [4.5/5] [Amazon]

An intense and powerful thriller that has to be seen to be believed. There’s an American remake in the works, which will most likely dumb everything down and completely miss the point, so be sure to see the original Korean version.

The Spiderwick Chronicles [3/5] [Amazon]

Some of the issues with this movie were probably caused by trying to stuff a series of books into one film, but even beyond that, the whole effort just felt rather flat.

Kung Fu Panda [4/5] [Amazon]

A very fun movie with great voice acting.

Wanted [3.5/5] [Amazon]

This one definitely shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but the stunts and CGI made for some great visuals.

City of God [3/5] [Amazon]

I didn’t find this movie to be nearly as compelling as I’d expected it to be, given it’s many awards and stellar reviews. It’s not a bad film by any means, but it just didn’t work for me.

Burn After Reading [3/5] [Amazon]

The first half of this Coen Brothers film is a slow (and sometimes annoying) set-up for a great second half, so you can safely call it a mixed effort, despite the ridiculously high level of acting talent involved.

August, September and October 2008 Movies

March 24th, 2009 at 8:41 pm by Michael

The Bank Job [4/5] [Amazon]

I wasn’t as impressed with this as I’d expected to be, but it’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the heist sub-genre.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [4/5] [Amazon]

This was my first Wes Anderson film, and it was weird and wonderful much of the time, but there were some dull patches. I don’t know if I’d have liked it nearly as much without Bill Murray in the starring role.

Redbelt [4.5/5] [Amazon]

I thought this was great, thanks to Mamet’s dialogue driving things forward and an excellent performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It might look like just another martial arts movie, but it’s much more than that.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day [4/5] [Amazon]

Fun and light, with fine performances by both Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

Snow Angels [2/5] [Amazon]

I thought this was a slow-moving mess of a movie, and while the chemistry between Arthur and Lila was intriguing, it wasn’t enough to save this one.

I Am Legend [2/5] [Amazon]

Another remake that never needed to be made, this falls apart more and more as it goes along.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall [3.5/5] [Amazon]

Hilarious, with good work by pretty much the entire cast, but there were a few bits that managed to be crude without being funny (as opposed to the ones that were both).

Hamlet: Special Edition [4.5/5] [Amazon]

It’s the entire text of Hamlet performed by a host of great actors and actresses, including Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Jack Lemmon, Brian Blessed and more, and it’s definitely worth the four hours it takes to watch.

summer reading from last year

February 17th, 2009 at 9:30 pm by Jennifer

I kept not finding time to review these, and now I’m several months behind…. So, here’s summer 2008, in which August was well-read due to an actual vacation.

    June Books

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen : Essentially, Gossip Girls in turn-of-the-century Manhattan (19th century, that is). Scandal, back-stabbing betrayal, scheming, blackmail — this book has it in spades. This was a fun story, and I thought the plot set-up was very well-done. And I really enjoyed the historical New York setting.

Safe House (1-800-Where-R-You) by Meg Cabot : Part of a series featuring a girl with a psychic ability to find people who are lost. With “suits” after her to try and use the ability she’s claiming she’s lost, Jess is trying to find a missing girl without giving herself away, and trying to fit in with the in-crowd. She’s an intriguing and complex character with both personal conflict and a role to play.

    July Books

The Thieves of Faith by Richard Doetsch : I’ve discovered a fondness for these historical thrillers that usually have to do with some sort of religious artifact or other obscure piece of archaeology. And I’ve managed to still not read The Davinci Code in the midst of all that. I enjoy novels by Steve Berry and A.J. Hartley, and Doetsch’s book fits in well with those. This book is the second to feature ex-thief Michael St. Pierre who attempts to find the gold box known as the Albero della Vita, the tree of life, hidden in Ivan the Terrible’s secret treasure trove buried beneath the Kremlin and keep it from a madman intent on using it for his own purposes. An intriguing adventure with powerful themes.

    August Books

The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks : Book 4 in the Love at Stake series. Vampires. Fashion and design. A dark and forbidden love. Everything one expects in a paranormal romance. She wants to design fashion; he’s a famous designer, but also a vampire trying to lie low — together they will defeat his enemy and try to work out their day vs. night schedule so they can live happily ever after. The tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is charming. The story would probably be a more fun read if one had read the earlier books as it seems several of the secondary characters are the featured couples in those books.

Dark Needs at Night’s Edge by Kresley Cole : Book 4 (yes, another book 4 in a series) of The Immortals After Dark. The interesting thing in this one is the heroine, a ghost that was a famous ballerina betrayed and murdered by the lover she spurned. The hero is, yes, another vampire, but he’s imprisoned by his brothers who hope he will regain his sanity if they keep him from giving in to bloodlust — in a mansion they don’t know is haunted. Even if some of the secondary characters (Valkyries, witches, werewolves) start to give the world-building an everything and the kitchen sink sensibility, the chemistry between the characters is very well-handled.

Conspiracy in Death by J.D. Robb : Thanks to Lou once again for continuing to loan me books in this series. This brings me up to #8 (the about-to-be-released Promises in Death is #34 so I’ve got a ways to go). The balance between the mystery and the Eve/Roarke relationship continues to be the challenge of these books. Going a little deeper into the backstory of the characters throws their chemistry into relief against their need to come to terms with their pasts and solve the crime.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill : This book came with a lot of buzz. And the writing certainly lived up to it. The characters Jude and Georgia were also suitably dysfunctional. The ghost story is as macabre as one might wish, if perhaps exactly what one might expect with few surprises. The ending was a bit muddy, but it was otherwise a tense and involving read. Page-turning, for sure.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen : A charming novel with a subtle magic that brings to life the dreams of the characters in a family that has inherited a spellbinding legacy. When Sydney, the black-sheep sister, returns, fleeing an abusive marriage, she and her daughter cause a dynamic change in the settled life of Claire who stayed in the small town and was contented with the family’s place on the outskirts. Effective and compelling.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson : This is a truly awe-inspiring volume, both for its length and its depth. The world-building and the philosophical aspects were provided in a level of detail that made this a read that seems to become somewhat consuming. However, while the Publishers Weekly review said: “a heady mix of antecedents that makes for long stretches of dazzling entertainment occasionally interrupted by pages of numbing colloquy” — I found quite the opposite to be true. The internal mechanisms of the book as well as the cultural conflicts were a lot more compelling to me than the plot, which did not have the same depth and dexterity as evidenced in other aspects of the book. So, while I have very much enjoyed this author’s work in the past (particularly Cryptonomicon and Snowcrash, with the Baroque Cycle only trailing a bit behind those), I just didn’t fall in love with this book as much as I wanted to, despite its ambition to live up to its literary antecedents.

The Bone Key by Sarah Monette : Since I did my senior thesis in college on H.P. Lovecraft, this collection of stories really took me back. Kyle Murchison Booth works in a museum and traces his roots to a mysterious family with an unfortunate history. He becomes involved in various tales that show the influence of both Lovecraft and M.R. James (as claimed by the author). Evocative and creepy.

Books for September, October, November and December 2008

January 9th, 2009 at 10:11 pm by Michael

Now that 2009 is officially underway, I thought it might be a good idea to say a few things about the four books I managed to read during the last four months of 2008. Which isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, as it only counts the books with covers, and not the drafts and other manuscripts that I read for various friends, but one book a month still feels like a pretty sad number.

Alphabet Of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip [4/5]

A wonderful book, with McKillip’s fine prose and a very good sense of setting. I don’t think it’s among my very favorite of her books, but I still recommend it.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss [2/5]

A lot of people seem to really love this book, but I didn’t end up being one of them. It was almost as though the author took the slow start that plagues far too many fantasy epics, stretched it out into a whole book (and a long one at that), and added a framing device (the protagonist telling his story). The setting has some interesting aspects, and the prose is good, but I didn’t like Kvothe much at all, so overall I’d have to say that this book didn’t work for me.

Best New Fantasy edited by Sean Wallace [4/5]

This excellent collection has great stories by Theodora Goss, Nick Mamatas, Holly Phillips, Kelly Link, M. Rickert and others. I got it as free bonus when I bought other books at the Prime Books table at Readercon, and I’m glad I did. Recommended.

Lamentation (The Psalms of Isaak) by Ken Scholes [5/5]

Wow. I ‘m glad I got my hands on an ARC so I could read this early. I should probably include the disclaimer that Ken is both one of Jenn’s clients and a really cool guy, but even if he wasn’t, I would still be tremendously impressed by this book. The prose is excellent, the setting is creative, the characters are great, the pace is quick, and the whole novel is just packed with things actually happening. Very highly recommended.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Gideon by Alex Gordon (early draft)
  • Locomotive to Crimea by Ekaterina Sedia (draft)
  • Journey to the East by Mary Robinette Kowal (draft)
  • a few other projects

Bruce Campbell, Live!

November 12th, 2008 at 9:29 pm by Michael

On Sunday, Jenn and I went to see the incredible Bruce Campbell, who was doing a Q&A session after showings of his new movie, My Name is Bruce, at a theater in Hartford.

The basic premise of My Name is Bruce is that a desperate small town called Gold Lick kidnaps B-movie actor Bruce Campbell to save it from Guan-Di, the angry Chinese god of war (and protector of bean curd). As one might imagine, hilarity ensues, as the movie (directed by Bruce himself) pokes fun at both the actor and B-movies. This is not a piece of high cinema, but it’s a lot of cheesy fun, especially if you’re a Bruce Campbell fan.

The main reason I was there wasn’t the movie though (which I would have otherwise waited to see on DVD), it was the chance to see Bruce himself in person. I wasn’t disappointed. Bruce was funny and sarcastic as he answered questions about the movie and his career, with the occasional cutting retort for those in the audience who were trying to be witty at his expense. He was also appropriately horrified at the young women who had drawn pictures of him riding a unicorn. Yikes. It was a sold out show, and I think everyone went away happy, except maybe those people who apparently thought Bruce would be doing signings in addition to three Q&A sessions every night.

Bruce is heading down toward the Mid-Atlantic states next, then taking a swing through the upper Midwest before hitting the West Coast (full calender here). If you’re a Bruce Campbell fan, buy your tickets in advance and go see him! You’ll be glad you did.