Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At Long Last, Some News

Patrick Rothfuss announced today that The Wise Man's Fear, sequel to the phenomenal debut novel The Name of the Wind, will be released, for real, period, end of story, on March 1, 2011. It's been a long wait, and that's almost a year from now, but I think it's going to be amazing. It's certainly a labor of love from the author.

Coming Soon: The Bride Collector, LOST: Season 4, and The Warded Man.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Classic of the Month: In Cold Blood

It's time to start a new feature here at The Writer's Notebook: Classic of the Month! The basic idea is that these are books you either have been forced to read or really should read, reviewed solely on their own merits. The goal is to get a better idea of which classics are really... well, classic, that deserve to endure from generation to generation and be read by every self-respecting member of the human race.

So, I'm going to start things off on an unexpected note. That's right, no Shakespeare here, not yet. Instead, it's time to take a look at the enigmatic Truman Capote's only great work: In Cold Blood. Capote envisioned this work as a "nonfiction novel," or objective facts told in the style of gripping fiction. And it really does work.

The date is November 15, 1959. In a small town in Kansas, the Clutter family has always stood as the paradigm of the American Dream. They are religious, stable, and honest folk, with beautiful children who are all too quickly growing up. But when the next morning dawns, all four of them are found savagely murdered in their house. In Cold Blood is the account of the events preceding and following this act of brutality, up until the execution of the guilty parties.

Capote spent half a decade researching In Cold Blood, and it shows. There are loads of interviews, tirelessly reproduced and tastefully integrated into prose that manages to flow without becoming subjective. Capote said that he accumulated enough research to fill a small room, and there's a part of me that would like to see some of the "outtakes."

Objectivity is another interesting part of this book. Capote never reveals his thoughts on an idea, with our only clues to subjectivity being what facts he leaves out. The events are told at a good pace, and I can't ever recall another nonfiction book that has held my attention so solidly.

Capote also takes great care in fleshing out the killers. He makes them appear as real on the page as they undoubtedly were in person, making you halfway sympathize with them (before you remembered that because of them, a family is gone). By the end of the book, you have an understanding of them that you never would have expected.

So Truman Capote knew what his aim was with In Cold Blood, and he achieved it, making a tale suspenseful even when everyone reading it has known the outcome for fifty years. In my book (no pun intended) this makes it a classic deserving of its title. Outstanding.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Bride Collector.

Monday, April 19, 2010

LOST: Season 3

If the seasons of LOST were written as books, the first book would probably be called "Survivors." The second would probably be called either "Dharma" or "The Hatch." Season 3 could very easily be called "The Others."

That's right, in a controversial move, LOST: Season 3 focuses on the mysterious and hostile inhabitants of the equally mysterious and hostile island. We've already met a few, with Ethan Rom in Season 1 and Ben Linus and Tom Friendly in Season 2. But now that the gloves (and beards) are off, it's time to really expand on what happened after the second season's massive cliffhanger. And it takes a while.

This is the problem with Season 3, which is lessened by my watching the DVDs: for about the first six episodes or so, the show only focuses on a couple of major characters at a time. We don't even hear anything about the hatch until the third episode. Really, there's a six episode prologue of sorts that could have used some trimming down.

But the farther in we get, the more the characters develop, and there are some side stories which, while they aren't really all that necessary, are a lot of fun and worth watching. And then, toward the end, the show turns it to 11, giving us a really powerful season finale that makes the desire for Season 4 instantaneous. So, while there was a bit of a dip, and this is a weaker season than the first two, it's still immensely enjoyable and good for some great head-scratching entertainment.

Some favorite episodes of mine:

I Do: Awesome points for the show: Kate was married to Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. It does my heart good to see Nathan Fillion again.

Flashes Before Your Eyes: This episode is amazing, making Desmond one of my favorite characters. I mean, it's really weird. But GOOD.

Tricia Tanaka is Dead/Expose: These are both of very little significance, but they're so much fun to watch! One involves Hurley and a hippie bus, and the other makes me think Twilight Zone, with a Poe-esque ending.

The Man from Tallahassee: It's about time we found out how Locke got in that wheelchair to begin with. By the way, it's just a tad shocking.

The Brig: In which two birds are killed with one stone. Literally. I mean, metaphorically. I mean, wow, it's tense but showcases fantastic acting.

Through the Looking Glass: This is the ultimate season finale. Charlie is redeemed, major characters are killed, and a twist shows up at the end that will surely shake the world of LOST to its core. Wow.

So there you have it. FYI, I'm already well into the fourth season, and so far it's even better.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: A week of mystery and thrills.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Before I begin, I want to say that while I have seen the Harryhausen original, it's been a while. When I saw it, I found it to be enjoyable, but without nostalgia-tinted lenses, it's not amazing. Which is fine. It did some creative stuff, and the camp value you get nowadays when viewing it is a warm feeling. The remake of Clash of the Titans is just that-- a remake. Some things will be different, but the overall idea is the same. Except, since it's been made today, the camp value is gone, but the visuals have been nicely updated and in some cases improved from the original.

With that said, I enjoyed Clash, but not immensely.

Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun, especially with the scene-stealing performances of Liam Neeson as Zeus and Ralph Fiennes as Hades. I always love watching these two actors, no matter what universe they're in, and having them act together was a real treat. Suffice it to say these actors captured all the campiness of the original and make it work in a surprisingly commanding way. Sam Worthington... well, he's got that melancholy look down, and he's added fierce and solemn to his repertoire. But the original Perseus wasn't spectacular either, so that's moot.

Let's get to why people really are watching Clash of the Titans: the monsters. I found them to be an improvement almost all across the board. The scorpions have made a purely logical transition to CG, and it comes across nicely. Calibos doesn't look like a troll anymore, which is refreshing. And the Kraken... well, there's no comparison. It's easy to see where a lot of the creative juices and money went in this picture.

Why the Pegasus is black in the remake has no real explanation, other than to stand out. There's nothing wrong with the original, so the change was pointless. Medusa was a bit of a disappointment. She was one of the best things about the eighties version, and in this one, with everything fiercer, she doesn't stand out at all. She in fact loses some of her fright factor from the original. Sad.

Other than that, there's not much to say. The pacing was good, and kept me from going to the bathroom any time in the two hours the movie was playing. The score was nicely energetic, but not memorable. All in all, see it if you enjoy a good summer blockbuster and want to see one a month early, before the season starts with Iron Man 2. But to be honest, I liked The Lightning Thief better.

My rating: 6.5/10

Coming Soon: LOST Season 3. And some books. Really. I promise. Harry Dresden won't be the only thing you get this month.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fool Moon

I enjoyed Storm Front, Book 1 of the Dresden Files, about a year ago, and I finally got around to reading the sequel. Once again, I'm going to keep it brief, because it's a quick read.

For Harry Dresden, the only registered wizard in the Chicago phone book, business has been pretty much dead. And that's dead dead, not like a vampire or a zombie or anything. But a few things change for the worse when he actually does get a job. Because there are bloody paw prints left at the scene of the crime. And there are tooth marks on the corpses of the deceased. Really, if you can't figure out what the big deal is, you need to get out more.

As always, Jim Butcher's writing style is crisp, fluid, and full of character. It comes right off the page smoothly, adding to the mental movie of the proceedings that you will immediately have. And speaking of character, let's talk about Harry Dresden himself. Butcher isn't afraid to put the titular Dresden through the wringer, and it's astounding how low he gets beaten.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of it all is how Butcher still keeps the story feeling fun, even with all the darkness that goes on. There is murder, betrayal, and copious amounts of both guilt and angst, but the story stays fun. Bob, the enchanted talking skull, is a hoot, and Dresden frequently exchanges witty banter. Part Sam Spade, part Malcolm Reynolds, Dredsen's is an entertaining voice to tell the story with.

I know I'll read Book Three, Grave Peril, at some point, as this was an improvement upon the first.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: The Clash of the Titans remake.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

LOST: Season 2

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.

Have I got your attention yet?

Good. Since I recently jumped on the LOST bandwagon, I've found there is much to enjoy and surprise in this show. I was worried this season's review would be a bit shorter, and looking back over it, I'm afraid I'm right.

Here goes. LOST: Season 2 lives up to Season 1's potential, taking some unanswered questions and answering them by way of making you ask another question. The show whirls you around, constantly going in different directions and dealing with different mysteries. Here's the thing, though: it works. It still holds together remarkably well, and by all accounts it should have fallen apart rapidly.

There's little left to say. The high production values, quality of acting, and head-scratching goodness of the scripts are back in spades, and it doesn't disappoint.

Some favorite episodes of mine:

Man of Science, Man of Faith: It's high time we found out what was inside the hatch, and that is the very first thing we see in Season 2. But, of course, it's not what you expect. It's not even close to what you expect.

The Other 48 Days: Guess what? There are more survivors of the fateful crash of Oceanic Flight 815. But their month and a half has been a little less positive than the one experienced from the survivors of the fusilage. And that's saying something.

Lockdown: Trouble in the hatch. A blast door shuts on Locke and he needs to depend on a prisoner to save him. He gets much more than he bargained for, though, and stumbles upon a major clue.

Two for the Road: A betrayal. An escape. And two murders. This is where the real end game of the season begins, and it's really quite shocking. Really.
?: Yes, that's the full title of the episode. Locke, with the help of Mr. Eko, makes good use of the clue he found, but what he finds at a strange DHARMA (not explaining that here) location will test his faith in the Island and drastically change his perspective.

Live Together, Die Alone: In this double-length season finale, Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley follow a known traitor into a trap. Meanwhile, at the hatch, Locke works with a familiar face to make a potentially cataclysmic decision regarding the hatch. And wow, does it have a whopper of a cliffhanger.

I'll admit, I've heard that this show hits a bit of a slow spot midway through the series, but LOST: Season 2 is not it. This is relentless, mysterious entertainment at its best, and something that will surely be remembered for a long while.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Fool Moon (Book Two of the Dresden Files).