June & July movies

September 19th, 2008 at 9:47 pm by Michael

In an attempt at starting to catch up on reviewing the movies I saw over the summer, here are the ones from June and July.

Mostly Martha [4/5] [Amazon]

Bella Martha (the original German title) may not be a perfect film, but a very strong performance by Martina Gedeck makes this story of a chef forced to face an entirely different aspect of life very worth seeing. The cooking bits are pretty good too.

Control [2/5] [Amazon]

Even if you’re a Joy Division fan (which I definitely am) you’re likely to find this version of the rise and fall of Ian Curtis to be dull far too much of the time. The performance sequences, though well done, aren’t enough to save it.

In Bruges [4.5/5] [Amazon]

This dark comedy gets really dark, but it’s still an amazing piece of work, with stand-out performances by both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Highly recommended.

Sweeney Todd [2/5] [Amazon]

I liked Johnny Depp’s singing well enough, but I overall found this movie to be a bit too drab for me, despite the gallons of blood that were sprayed around. I found myself enjoying it less and less as it went along.

Atonement [2/5] [Amazon]

It starts off well, but then goes entirely in the tank. The scenes in Dunkirk struck me as especially pointless, and I found the ending to be completely unsatisfying (even if it was true to McEwan’s novel).

Penelope [4/5] [Amazon]

A sweet and enjoyable fairy tale, with a nice performance by Christina Ricci.

Books for July and August

September 8th, 2008 at 8:07 pm by Michael

Despite a busy summer, I actually managed to get through a few books, thanks in large part to a quiet vacation with plenty of time for reading.

Realms: The First Year of Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace [4/5]

An excellent mix of stories chosen from the first year of Clarkesworld Magazine, including outstanding pieces like Elizabeth Bear’s “Orm the Beautiful” and Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “The Ape’s Wife.” There’s also great stuff from Jay Lake (“Chewing Up the Innocent”), Barth Anderson (“Clockmaker’s Requiem”), Jeff VanderMeer (“The Third Bear”), Ekaterina Sedia (“The Taste of Wheat”) and others. Highly recommended.

The Queen’s Bastard (The Inheritors’ Cycle, Book 1) by C.E. Murphy [3/5]

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up liking this as much as I wanted. I thought it started out strongly, but then things seemed to get too bogged down in the protagonist’s internal dilemmas, to the point where I began to get somewhat exasperated. I’d still recommend that fans of Catie’s give it a try, especially if they’re looking for something a bit darker and edgier than her two Luna series (The Walker Papers and The Negotiator Trilogy), but it didn’t quite work for me.

Heart-Shaped Boxby Joe Hill [4/5]

The horror gets ratcheted up pretty quickly in this ghost story, but then it seems to stick at the same level for far too long, which causes it to lose some of its punch. I also wasn’t especially enamoured of the ending. Still, the prose is quite good, so I’d say this one is well worth a read despite its flaws.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson [3/5]

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of ANATHEM via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, which is why I’m reviewing it before its official release date. This novel has Stephenson’s usual wry humor and deep thoughts, but I thought that the poorly-handled plot detracted from what may otherwise have been another great book in the vein of CRYPTONOMICON or THE BAROQUE CYCLE. Instead of being glad when the plot side of things finally got moving, I ended up being frustrated by the pacing (too much time spent on rehashing things that were already explained, too much time spent on going on and on about maneuvering in space, too much time spent on not very evocative descriptions of the spacecraft) and some of the false buildups that ended up going nowhere. I also wasn’t at all fond of the cheesy epilogue ending to the book.

Overall, I think I would have been happier if Stephenson had either stuck with the philosophical debates (which were really interesting) or, better yet, not fumbled what could have been a good plot. If you’re already a big fan of Neal’s work then maybe you should take a crack at this one (since obviously opinions will differ), but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Out of Her Element by Ekaterina Sedia

Summer concerts

September 2nd, 2008 at 10:02 pm by Michael

Somehow I’ve managed not to mention any of the concerts I’ve been to since May, so here’s a quick rundown:

June 5 – Over the Rhine at Sellersville Theatre (Sellersville, PA)

Over the Rhine put on a great show, but apparently the sound man was going deaf, because the volume level for both the opening act and OtR was so high that I wished I’d brought earplugs. No, an OtR show should not be as loud as one by Sleater-Kinney or Throwing Muses. My friend Jenn and I (along with her brother and his wife) had great seats in a very nice venue, but the thing I’ll remember most about the evening was how loud it was.

June 17 – My Brightest Diamond at Blender Theatre at Gramercy (NYC)

The MBD show at The Space last fall was great, so I was really looking forward to the CD release show for their newest album, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth. In the end though, I didn’t end up liking this concert as much, probably in large part because the new songs didn’t lend themselves especially well to being heard for the first time in a live setting with less-than-stellar sound.

July 31 – The Paper Raincoat at The Bowery Ballroom (NYC)

I finally made it down to NYC to see The Paper Raincoat, taking advantage of the fact that they were actually doing a set that started earlier than 11:00pm! They were one of the openers for The Spring Standards, and my friend woj and I made it to the venue just before Alex, Amber and the gang went on stage. The sound wasn’t great, but they put on a fun show, and I picked up a copy of their very excellent EP. As a bonus, we ran into Vienna Teng, so I got to chat with her for a while before woj and I decided to bail on seeing the main act.

August 9 – The Kane Sisters at a house concert in Fairfield, CT

The only thing better than going to a Kane Sisters concert is seeing Liz and Yvonne play their fiddles from about five feet away in someone’s living room. Wow. It was a wonderful show, with lots of great tunes (only some of which were named “Paddy Fahey’s”), and it went on for hours. My thanks to our hosts for their hospitality, and to the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society for putting the whole thing together. If you’re at all into the Irish traditional stuff, go and see The Kane Sisters if they’re performing anywhere near you.

Books for May and June

July 7th, 2008 at 11:02 pm by Michael

It was another two months where I didn’t read very many things with covers.

Captain’s Fury by Jim Butcher [4/5]

This is the fourth installment in the Codex Alera series, and I thought it was another fine effort. Jim has a knack for keeping things moving, which helped to keep this sword-and-horses tale
down to a svelte 438 pages. I’m very much looking forward to the final two books in the series.

The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction’s Finest Voices edited by Ellen Datlow [4/5]

I picked up the ARC of this anthology when I was at NY Comic Con, and I’m glad I did. My favorite of the included stories was Elizabeth Bear’s “Sonny Liston Takes the Fall,” and I also quite enjoyed Maureen F. McHugh’s “Special Economics,” Margo Lanagan’s “The Goosle,” and Laird Barron’s “The Lagerstatte.” Some of the other choices didn’t work as well for me, but it’s still a good group of stories overall.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Green by Jay Lake
  • Chill (or at least part of it) by Elizabeth Bear
  • Good Housekeeping by Mary Robinette Kowal

May movies

June 23rd, 2008 at 9:53 pm by Michael

Better late than never….

Gone Baby Gone [4/5] [Amazon]

This was a really impressive piece of work by first-time director Ben Affleck, with an excellent performance by his brother Casey in the lead role and strong supporting efforts from Ed Harris, John Ashton and Morgan Freeman. It’s a movie that asks some tough questions about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons (or the right thing for the wrong ones).

Death at a Funeral [4/5] [Amazon]

Not as funny as it might have been, but Alan Tudyk‘s performance makes this one very worth seeing. He’s hilarious.

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian [2.5/5] [Amazon]

I’ve never actually read the Narnia books, so I can’t comment on how accurately this adaptation portrayed the events of the novel (though I’ve been told there are plenty of things that were changed). As a straight fantasy movie though, I didn’t find Prince Caspian to be very impressive, and I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first installment.

Grace is Gone [3/5] [Amazon]

It’s a good premise, and John Cusack and the young Shélan O’Keefe both give great performances, but I don’t think the movie worked very well overall. It started off strong, but then faded.