Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Mel Brooks is something of an icon of comedy. He's responsible for some of the funniest movies in the past forty-two years. So I thought I'd take some time to look back at the man's films, starting from the very beginning. I'm not tackling such things as the Get Smart TV show, simply because I haven't seen much of it. I'm simply sticking to the films that he was majorly involved in.
The year is 1968, and Mel Brooks creates a movie that almost is never released. It is saved, in fact, by Peter Sellers, who ends up watching The Producers by mistake. If The Producers had failed, these reviews probably wouldn't be up here. It's the one that started them all, and I love it to death.
Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a Broadway producer who simply can't make a successful play anymore. This situation has forced him to desperate measures, such as romancing little old ladies, to get money for each production. In a chance encounter with an accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), Max hatches a plot. Why? Because under the right circumstances, it's possible to make more money with a flop than with a hit-- assuming you're a dishonest man.
After some deliberation, Bialystock and Bloom discover their winner, a play that is sure to make all their dreams come true, a sure-fire, close-before-the-first-act-is-done, horribly offensive musical diamond in the rough. What is it? you might ask.
"Springtime for Hitler," of course.
With this film, Mel Brooks struck comedy gold-- not fool's gold, but real gold. There is hardly a moment I can watch without laughing at something. It's just chock-full of gags that simply get me every time. The events leading up to the play, which include casting a hippie as Hitler and hiring a director who makes his first appearance in a dress, are wonderful, escalating fantastically. Gene Wilder's Bloom is many times the audience's viewpoint, asking how everything got so crazy and why that director is wearing a dress, anyway.
But the real payoff comes when the play opens. There is a nice twist, which I won't spoil for you if you somehow haven't seen this (remedy immediately). Before the twist, however, is the opening number. Epic in its tackiness, glorious in its offensiveness, and magnificent in its failure, there is nothing quite like it. Thinking about it, I'm almost tempted to change my Top 25 Movie Scenes to put it in there. Suffice it to say, a classic, and one I watch every year at least once.
Coming Soon: The Twelve Chairs.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Beware! There are spoilers ahead!
Kylar Stern has rejected the assassin's life. The Godking's successful coup has left Kylar's master, Durzo, and his best friend, Logan, dead. He is starting over-- new city, new friends, new profession.
But when he learns that Logan might actually be alive and in hiding, Kylar is faced with an agonizing choice: will he give up the way of shadows forever, and live in peace with his new family, or will he risk everything by taking on the ultimate hit?
It's been about six months since I've read Brent Weeks's debut The Way of Shadows. I loved it, and thought it was one of the best debuts of 2009. Weeks's fast-paced, dark tale left me satisfied. I'm beyond pleased to say Shadow's Edge did not let me down. If anything, Weeks improved upon what he already laid down in the start of the Night Angel Trilogy.
Let me explain: This book doesn't suffer from middle-book syndrome. You know, where it's only a bridge, and the more than 600 pages only serve to get us from one book with a plot to the next. The stakes are upped nicely. We go from Kylar facing an equal to facing someone he believes it's his destiny to try to kill. Not to mention the mythology of the Night Angel being expanded even further. So it's big, and it's important.
The scope of the book is also much grander. More countries are visited, and more pieces are put on the table, giving us a sense of some really huge things. And the number of viewpoints is greatly expanded. Book one was all Kylar's show-- how he became an assassin. This book is about him trying to escape the shadows he has so long made his home. He does a lot of things that you wouldn't have seen coming at the start.
But it's not just about him anymore. It's got its focus on other areas, too. For example, Vi Sovari, just a very minor character in book one, has become one of the major viewpoint characters, and she's quite dynamic and intriguing. There are others: Dorian, who also had a small role, keeps cropping up, and mystery seems to follow him everywhere. Elene and Ully have some very unexpected twists. And the characters in the dismal Hole really leave an impression.
All in all, it's a worthy sequel, and a fine chapter in what is shaping up to be one of the best trilogies recently published. Highly recommended.
My rating: 10/10
Coming Soon: Something Completely Different (and no, that doesn't mean Monty Python).
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I still haven't figured out why Stephen King is put into a box, with everyone saying that he's "that guy who writes all those horror books." I mean, his first few novels (Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining) were horror, but since then he's written in just about every genre. I mean, take The Green Mile for example. It's a serial novel, and it's not horror at all. There are some frightening parts, but it's not horror. In fact, it's downright impossible to peg this serial as being in only one genre. I mean, I'll try: Literahorrospirituhistorfantasy. See? That looks ridiculous.
But I digress. The Green Mile is a fine American novel, and one of Stephen King's best books to date.
Paul Edgecombe is a man trying to make a living during the Great Depression. His place of work: Cold Mountain Penitentiary, E Block. Full of convicted killers waiting to meet their date with "Old Sparky," Cold Mountain's electric chair. Full of fleshed-out characters, too. There's Brutal, the prison guard; Edouard Delacroix, who is obsessed with a mouse named Mr. Jingles; Billy "the Kid," who others say "just doesn't care"; Percy Wetmore, who has a serious mean streak, especially when Delacroix is around; and John Coffey. It's this last one who gets the story started.
Brought in for a crime that can only be described as truly awful, John Coffey is put on the fast track to walk the Green Mile. But there's something haunting about him. Something that will shake Paul Edgecombe (and you, Constant Reader) and shock him into questioning what he thinks he knows.
Stephen King is one of the best writers alive today, and this is one of his best books. It's a literary achievement, a book that has almost every emotion known to man contained within its pages, and it really works. I absolutely enjoyed reading this book, allowing it to take me on each harrowing twist and turn of plot. It's unique in both its approach and its payoff. And the payoff is immense. I tried to read it more slowly but couldn't. I can say the same will be true for you. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
My rating: 10/10. The best book I've reviewed so far this year.
Coming Soon: Shadow's Edge
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Now, it should come as no shock to you that I've read and loved pervious books in this series. It's a great work of children's lit that, like the oh-so-famous Mr. Potter, blurs the line between what is "for children" and what is for "adults." The characters were a lot of fun, the premise was thrilling (and a lot of fun) and the writing never took itself too seriously, to great effect. It allowed for some epic moments in a lighthearted framework.
So now I've seen the film adaptation of the first book in Rick Riordan's bestselling series, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Directed by Chris Columbus, who did the first couple of film adaptations for the aforementioned Potter, and with a cast headed up by Logan Lerman (you know, Christian Bale's kid from the remake of 3:10 to Yuma). It's clearly intended to be a series starter, which is good, because I want to see the rest of this series on film. I went in to the theater (crowded with pre-teen boys) expecting a failure of downright mythological proportions (pun sadly intended). But I was pleasantly surprised.
Clearly Chris Columbus should stick to family friendly fare, because that's how his best movies get made. Think about it: Harry Potter, Home Alone... that's some pretty decent stuff. The characters are nailed. I really like how they're depicted, even if they're a few years older than in the books. I could let that slide, probably because I've seen the trailers.
Bear in mind that this is a two hour adaptation of a 400 page book. So stuff gets left out. But I knew that would happen. There are some big things that have been left out, but nothing that will be too hard to add in the adaptation of the much shorter The Sea of Monsters. So I'm not too worried about the long range stuff. The other cuts I can understand why the filmmakers made. Which is a far cry better than some adaptations (here's looking at you, Eragon and A Series of Unfortunate Events and Inkheart).
The special effects work solidly, and the acting is satisfactory. I enjoyed seeing Pierce Brosnan as a centaur. Something about James Bond with half a horse's body is just hilarious, in context. And the spirit of the book is kept miraculously intact. In short, there's a fast-paced movie here that just might do well enough to get a deserved sequel, and it gets a lot more right than it does wrong.
My rating: 8/10
Coming Soon: The Green Mile.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
"Trouble will find you," multiple characters in the novel say. Of course, that's absolutely wrong. If I'm reading this book, trouble has already found me.
If you've ever read anything at all by Terry Badkind, you'll know that the name Rahl means trouble. In his Sword of Truth series, it meant repetitive "non-fantasy" violence and lengthy monologues. Here, in his totally original thriller The Law of Nines, it means repetitive "non-fantasy" violence and lengthy monologues. It turns out you can take the Terry out of the fantasy, but you can't take the fantasy out of Terry.
There are spoilers ahead, but since I sincerely hope you won't purchase this book, there's no reason to stop reading the review.
Alex Rahl (yes, I know) is a struggling artist living in Nebraska. Seeing as Goodkind was an artist before he became, in his opinion, one of the greatest writers of today, I'm sure this character will be as totally original as the rest of the book. Full sarcasm implied. Well, as Alex-- or is his name Mary Sue?-- walks down the road, he saves a woman from being run over by a truck with a pirate flag. This is the best part of the book. Yeah.
The woman's name is Jax Amnell (yes, I know), and she comes from a parallel dimension (but, as Goodkind assures us, this is not fantasy) where a great man with the name Rahl did some vaguely hinted-at things. I think that even considering how bad The Law of Nines is, Goodkind is still trying to sell us the Sword of Truth series. Jax is immediately (I mean by page 3) established as a love interest for Alex. Despite initially being quite cold, and even contemplating killing him at the beginning, Jax falls madly in love with Alex in about a week. Yeah.
So, there's some prophecy about Alex being able to unite the two worlds with some kind of gateway, and it ties into the land Alex just inherited on his twenty-seventh birthday. But it's not fantasy. Apparently, when a member of the Rahl family (but not by blood, since it applies to both his father and mother...weak) turns 27, they go insane. His dad's dead; his mom's institutionalized.
Well, after an attempt to seduce Alex, his girlfriend, who happens to be a queen from the other world, decides to call in the heavies to beat Alex to submission in what is an absolutely bizarre, pointless, and stupid tazer sex scene. But that's over quick when Jax the deus ex machina fairy saves the day at the last moment. That's a paragraph I'll never type again.
Then they're captured the next day by the doctors at his mom's asylum. They turn out to all be evil and from another world, as well. How many people in this book are actually regular Earthlings like me? To be perfectly honest, not that many. But it's not fantasy. There's a drawn out scene where the characters are drugged, and I feel like I slept through it. It's quite boring, and it lasts fifty pages. After a naked torture scene (I think Goodkind has a weird fetish) they escape in a massively dull sequence of violence. It's intriguing to see how good Alex the artist becomes with a gun and a knife in a matter of days.
As the story plods along clumsily and readers beg for escape, it reveals a slew of contrived character moments and not-fantasy cliches. The dialogue is so cheesy it could be served with Ritz crackers, and the prose feels like it was written by me, age thirteen. Except I was more original. Characters magically figure out things at perfect moments, Jax becomes a total wimp in a matter of pages and the climax is extremely disappointing. The last few chapters seem like Goodkind is trying to lay ground down for a sequel. Don't read it; don't read this.
I was never expecting great things from Terry Goodkind, but I wasn't expecting this. Word gets out quickly, though. When the book came out, it debuted at #10 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Within six months, the first edition hardcover I got was languishing in the bargain section of the bookstore for $5. And that's paying too much. Seriously, avoid this book like the plague.
My rating: 2/10.
When I finished, I needed some good writing to get that taste out of my mouth. So I turned to the fail-safe King of fiction once again. Tune in next time.
Coming Soon: The Green Mile.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
There are three Terrys that are considered the staples of modern fantasy: Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett, and Terry Goodkind. Terry Brooks writes the Shannara, Word and Void, and Magic Kingdom of Landover series. Terry Pratchett writes the whimsical Discworld series (surely you've read one). Terry Goodkind writes the Sword of Truth series and most recently, The Law of Nines. Of these three, Terry Goodkind is unquestionably the worst.
Now I had never read this last Terry's work... until now. I knew I didn't want to read the 11-volume Sword of Truth series, whose reviews only went downhill as time progressed. So I decided I'd read his most recent, The Law of Nines. Don't make the same mistake as me.
But I'll get to that part later.
Just for your information, here are some of the pictures of the Terrys for comparison. Here's Terry Brooks:
Here's Terry Pratchett:
And here's Terry Goodlord... I mean, Goodkind:
Yeah. And this sums them up pretty well. Brooks and Pratchett are good-natured gentlemen. Goodkind is a pretentious weirdo. Don't believe me? Read this interview. I mean, seriously. Read it all. It's important for your understanding.
Read it? Good. In summary, for those of you that were too lazy, he idolizes Ayn Rand above all others (he mentions it twice in the interview), he is full of himself (for proof, read where he talks about the "fantastic" Dean Koontz), and he believes he doesn't write fantasy.
It's this last one that's really shooting himself in the foot. All his fans are genre readers. They're the only ones willing to slog through book after book in hopes of finding a glimmer of good writing. And he says fantasy is one-dimensional, has no plot, and anyone who notices similarities between his and other books is just not mature enough to read them. Wow. That's harsh and stupid. I mean, if he doesn't write fantasy, why is his debut novel called Wizard's First Rule? Hint hint: If that's your title, and it takes place in a secondary world with magic...
YOU WRITE FANTASY. Deal with it.
In fact, he says he doesn't even read reviews. So I can say whatever I want. Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-boo-boo. And so on.
He also makes it clear that he believes writing has nothing to do with hard work. His "look at me, I got published at age 45 with the first book I ever wrote, and I hated English too" schtick gets old real fast.
Why am I so angry with Goodkind now? Well, remember what I said about The Law of Nines? I actually read it, so I could say I've read Goodkind. And now I have, and I never will again. But what is it that makes The Law of Nines so bad?
Next time, dear readers. Sleep in fear.
Coming Soon: The Law of Nines. Be very afraid.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
I promise, there's a good reason I haven't posted since... last month. I'm usually better with this, but I've been really really busy. Doing what? you might ask, because you are all of course the greatest blog readers in the world and are certainly more concerned about my personal life than the latest book I've reviewed. Or maybe you're just asking that because you're goodnaturedly curious. Or maybe you don't want to know, but since this the first blog you've gotten from me in a while, you're going to stick around and see.
I'm a writer. Remember? It's even in the title of this blog o' mine. Go ahead and look, if you don't recall.
Back yet? Good. I've been busy because I've finally finished writing my book. Now, I've been writing this book for a good 2 and a half years now, in whatever spare time I've not been reading. So this is huge. This is massive. And then I'm going to pound away on a second draft, maybe another one or seven (you pick whichever sounds the most likely) and send it off to some publishers. Will it be published. I don't know. For now, I'm content to rest. And read.
Until next review,