Vampires and Werewolves and Ghosts, Oh My!

I hate Twilight. Actually, hate is too kind a word. I abhor, loathe, despise Twilight. And yes, I have read it and watched the movie. Both turned out to be even worse than I was expecting. But other people liked Twilight and publishers and authors and other sorts of culture creators noticed these other people that liked Twilight and began creating more of the same. Werewolves became cool by association and supernatural romances were for a while all that could be found on Young Adult bookshelves. Personally, this irritated me as I tend to like my supernatural creatures to be scary monsters rather than misunderstood superhumans.

So most of the supernatural wave I avoided. I had heard of Being Human but only because Aidan Turner, one of the stars of the show, was set to be Kili in The Hobbit. But a few weeks ago, season 1 of Being Human showed up at the library where I work. I was curious to see some of Aidan Turner’s work so I checked it out.

I loved it.

If you haven’t heard of the show, it’s a BBC production that will be entering its 5th season next year. I have only seen the first 2 seasons so far, which general consensus seems to claim are the best, and will be starting the 3rd season as soon as I can. The show follows Annie (Lenora Crichlow), a ghost; George (Russell Tovey), a werewolf; and Mitchell (Aidan Turner), a vampire. These three are housemates and friends and are desperately trying to, well, be human.

It can be a bit gruesome at times. We routinely see the bloodied victims of vampires with their throats ripped out and the werewolf transformation never got easier for me to watch.

But it was a surprisingly funny show. And very sweet. Despite their supernatural status, each of the three just want to live normal lives or as close to normal as they can. As the series progresses, enemies are introduced, some serious, some not. And new friends are made too, some that stick around and some that don’t.

Season 3 is the last with Aidan Turner as he left at the end of it for Hobbit work, but it has been an entertaining show so far and I’m glad I decided to watch it.
(There is an American version of this show (surprise surprise) but I have not seen it or even heard that much about it so I can’t say anything about it. Just the British one.)

Cinder

Written by Marissa Meyer. Published 2012.

Book 1 of the Lunar Chronicles.

Young adult fiction has a way of heavily influencing pop culture. Twilight gave rise to the supernatural romance genre while making vampires and werewolves the coolest things ever and The Hunger Games brought all kinds of dystopian scenarios to the forefront. Both these trends are beginning to die out now and something is going to take their place. Here’s hoping it’s Cinder.

Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella. That’s enough to get me reading it seeing how much I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings (LOVE. THEM. So much.) Here’s the twist though: Cinder is a cyborg in New Shanghai. Cyborgs are shunned and seen as less than human in this future society and that is why Cinder is so hated by her stepmother. The main elements of the fairy tale are there, with enough of Meyer’s own ideas to make the story seem fresh. Cinder herself is real enough to be interesting and sympathetic without fitting into a stereotype. I don’t want to give any more away about the plot but I truly enjoyed this take on the story.

The sequel, Scarlet, comes out sometime next year. Judging by Marissa Meyer’s website there should be 4 books total in the Lunar Chronicles, with Cress and Winter coming in 2013 and 2014.

Highly recommended!

John Carter

Poor John Carter.

I had read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs a little over a year ago. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much so I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up really liking it. I haven’t got around to reading the other novels in Burroughs’ Barsoom series, but I plan to some day. It’s a well regarded sci-fi and fantasy novel that influenced a good numbers of successors in the genre while even creating some sub-genres of its own. If you’re interested, you can read A Princess of Mars on gutenberg.org, as well as the next two novels, The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars.

I was pretty excited when I first heard that they were making a movie adaptation. A Princess of Mars has plenty in it that would translate well to a movie screen. Exotic locations, unusual creatures and a fairly simple plot line that would (should) hold up well to the edits needed to adapt it. When the movie finally came out, it bombed. Embarrassingly so. Disappointed by the bad reviews and not wanting to waste money on a bad movie, I decided to wait to see the movie on DVD.

I finally got the chance the other night. And actually, I liked it. It wasn’t great, by any means, but it certainly wasn’t the piece of garbage I was led to believe by the reviews. Some of the bits they added to the story were unfortunate. (For example, I have no idea why the film makers felt the need to focus so heavily on Carter’s first wife. It was completely unnecessary.) But, the movie itself certainly looked good. And so many good actors attached to it too! Willem Dafoe, Ciaran Hinds, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong. Taylor Kitsch might not be winning any awards for his acting talent anytime soon, but he certainly makes a good action hero.

Overall, the movie was just a light, silly piece of entertainment fluff. I don’t recommend going out of your way to watch it but if happens to fall in your hands, go ahead and watch it. You’ve seen worse, I can promise you.

Bitterblue

Written by Kristen Cashore. Published in 2012.

Slowest. Book. EVER.

Ok, a bit of an exaggeration. But for a fantasy novel, nothing really happens. And what does happens, takes so long to happen that it’s completely anti-climatic.

Bitterblue is the third book of Cashore’s Graceling trilogy. I’ve read all three now and I can’t say that I’m not particularly impressed with any of them. (Thoughts on Graceling here.)
We saw Bitterblue first in Graceling and this book takes place almost a decade afterward. Bitterblue is now 18 years old and Queen of Monsea. Some stuff happens and then it gets fixed after 500 pages. Katsa and Po show up a good bit, as does Fire and other characters from the previous books. Honestly, this book was so underwhelming for me I don’t even know how to review it.

Part of the problem is that 1) there’s no climax and 2)the primary villain, Leck, has been dead for as long as Bitterblue has been queen. The first 200 pages are nothing but questions as Cashore slooowly shows us that Monsea still has all kinds of problems even so long after Leck’s death. Except when none of those questions are being answered, I, at least, stop caring. I guess you could make the point that a certain revelation and subsequent death is the climax of the book but when it takes so long to play out, again, I stop caring.

It’s a shame really because there was so much potential in this series. It’s a cool idea but it just left something wanting in my opinion.

Cashore and I also do not agree on sexual behavior so the casual sex and homosexuality were parts of the story that rubbed me the wrong way.

I wish I could like these books but I just can’t.

Chapter 6: Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire

I’m participating in a Hobbit read along. Links to the earlier chapters/bloggers can be found here.

The cover of my Hobbit copy. It’s TERRIBLE.

This chapter jumped around a bit so I’m just going to do like David did and give some thoughts I had while reading.

  • We begin to see Bilbo maturing into a “Hero”! He’s just escaped from the goblins AND his encounter with Gollum. Yet, he worries that the dwarves might still be under the mountain and he is thisclose to turning around and going right back into all that mess he just escaped from so he can rescue them! What’s worse, as soon as he decides this, he stumbles upon their camp where the dwarves are arguing that they don’t need to go back and rescue him! Ouch. To be fair though, Thorin and Co. still weren’t sure Bilbo was worth the trouble and fortunately Bilbo was able to use his cleverness and a lucky find to escape on his own and then win the dwarves’ respect.
  • We see the first instance here of the Ring’s influence. Bilbo decides not to mention the Ring when describing his escape, showing that already, Bilbo is getting possessive of the Ring. I wonder how much of LotR Tolkien had thought of at this point? Had he already decided how important this Ring was going to be? Fitting with the overall style of The Hobbit, the Ring is made to seem more of a trinket than anything else. A trinket with invisibility powers but a trinket nonetheless.
  • It’s interesting to me how different Gandalf is in The Hobbit than he is in LotR. He seems a bit more sorcerous (is that a word? I don’t know), yet still slightly human. Bilbo asks about their escape from the mountains and Tolkien writes that Gandalf was happy to do so because he loved to talk about how clever he is. A little arrogant, no? But much more Earth-y than he is in LotR, where he’s more secretive and seems much more the Istari (is there a singular form?) that he is.
  • What’s with the random wolf/ Warg attack? It shows how dangerous their journey is, I guess, while also showing dangers in the wider world not related to them and their journey. And it provides an exciting story for the chapter title. But it’s so…random. It really just seems an excuse to introduce the eagles (and redeem the dwarves, especially Thorin and Dori). And it always makes me think of the almost exact same situation the Fellowship runs into when coming down off Caradhras. Except no tree climbing there; apparently Gandalf learned his lesson.
  • The Eagles! They always show up in the nick of time. A fine introduction for a good race. They keep to themselves, but they help out when needed. And we get to see some of their relationship with Gandalf too.

What did y’all think?

Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings coming next Tuesday from Rob at The Old Book Junkie!

Looper

I have a quirk where the more popular something is, the less I want to like it. Many times, I will dislike something simply because it is popular. For example, Harry Potter (although there are other reasons why I don’t like Harry). I can usually get around this if I discover the thing on my own, like I did with Neil Gaiman, who is pretty much a rock star in the literary world.

I run into this problem a lot with movies too. If a movie gets a lot of hype before I get a chance to see it, I tend to pick it apart when I finally watch it.

I was afraid this was going to happen with Looper. I (and you too probably) have been hearing about it for months and early reviews all claimed that the movie was amazing. Even after it opened last weekend, friends were exclaiming how good it was (except for one, who absolutely hated it). So I decided to go see it before the hype threw me off it completely.

Well, I didn’t hate it but I’m not sure I particularly liked it either. I’m not going to discuss plot too much; it’s complicated to explain and other places have done it better than I could. I’m just going to give my thoughts on it, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this won’t make much sense.

Directed by Rian Johnson (who also directed Brick, which I love), Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, Bruce Willis as his 30 year older self, and Emily Blunt as the mother of an unusual young boy.

A lot of effort was put into making Gordon-Levitt look like Bruce Willis. Sometimes it works. JGL clearly put a lot of effort into learning Willis’ mannerisms and facial expressions and it pays off. But sometimes it looks creepy. JGL’s eyebrows look weirdly and overly made-up at times, drawing focus to how he looks rather than what he’s doing.

It’s also a very violent movie. The violence is tastefully done, I guess, by which I mean that we aren’t lingering on blown off heads and spilling guts. There is definitely lots of blood and blood spattering but I suppose that’s to be expected in a modern day mob movie. Probably the thing that bothered me the most was that people were laughing during certain scenes where there was no reason to be laughing.

Sid was absolutely adorable and hardly seemed to be acting. Quite an amazing performance from one so young. However, the kid was a brat. Preventing his mother’s death may have been the event that ensured he didn’t become the Rainmaker, but children need discipline and he certainly wasn’t getting any.

Ultimately, the movie was far too gritty for me to really like. I’m not saying it isn’t worth seeing but I can’t say that you’ll like it. (If you’re really looking for a good movie, watch Warrior with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. I won’t be reviewing it here since it’s not fantasy/sci-fi but it is the most amazing movie I have seen in a long time. Seriously. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It was absolutely beautiful.)

Unbreakable

One of the best and worst things about working in a library is that there are so many entertainment options right at your fingertips. I take full advantage of this work perk and usually have a towering stack of books checked out with a handful of DVDs. Since I tend to check things out faster than I can read/watch and return them, every few weeks I have to take a day or two and force myself to finish up the books I’ve started or watch some movies. Last night turned out to be one of those nights.

I tried to watch Night of the Living Dead. I didn’t get very far with that one. I don’t particularly like zombies (unless they’re funny like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland) and Night of the Living Dead was absolutely ridiculous. Funny, I guess, but in a really bad way. Also, I’m a total coward and despite being awful it was still freaking me out. Turned it off after about 20 minutes.

I did, however, get through the entirety of Unbreakable. It’s a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while since it’s supposed to be Shyamalan’s best film after The Sixth Sense. It also seemed to have a really interesting premise: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is in a train wreck that kills everyone on board. Except for him. He somehow manages to escape the crash without even a scratch. He soon meets Elijah Price (Samuel Jackson) who convinces David that he is special, that he can do things other people can’t. Which turns out to be true as we discover that David is not only super strong, but he seems to have a sense about the bad things people have done. And there’s the fact that he’s never sick and never been injured. We get a scene where David finally accepts his superpowers (for lack of a better word) and just at the end of the movie we discover the villain/arch-enemy.

It was a kinda cool movie. Very realistic and an interesting premise. But maybe I just knew too much about the movie going in. I already knew who the villain was, I already knew about the hero. The main problem with Shyamalan films (besides the pretty awful dialogue) is that once you know the twist or secret, the movie stops being as interesting. So, overall, the film was kind of a letdown for me. I don’t regret watching it, but if asked to recommend it, my response would be a solid “meh”.