Saturday, July 31, 2010

Carrie and Cujo (the books)

It's time for yet another double-feature, boys and girls, Constant Readers all! A Stephen King two-fer. It'll be pretty brief, just the basics here. We're taking a look at two of his big 3 C's. Sorry, car fans, no Christine for you yet. Someday.

Carrie: Well, ladies and gents, it's time to go back. Way back. All the way back to the beginning. That's right. The very first Stephen King novel ever published, all the way back in the 1970s. The one that started it all. It's the novel about the little telekinetic girl that could, and the prom night that no one will ever forget. We all know a Carrie White, so be warned...

For a first novel, this is a really solid effort. The pages turn with ease, and Stephen King's telltale style shines through brightly. I enjoyed this lovely festival of horror, especially since it has a different method of unspooling from the rest of King's works. The amalgamation of multiple sources, mixed in with traditional narrative text, gives Carrie a unique feel, something akin to Avi's Nothing But the Truth, but much, much darker. It's not King's best, but it'll give you chills nonetheless.

My rating: 9/10

Cujo: Man's best friend is about to become his worst enemy. When a normally lovable dog comes into contact with the shadows, the lives of a family will never be the same. Simple in premise, yet multifaceted in its approach, this one bites.

Rarely has any Stephen King story been so basic: Mother and son are trapped in an overheating car by a rabid dog. But King tells it differently than just a straight-up scare-fest. Which it could easily become. But the characters themselves lend the book drama. 400 pages of Cujo trying to break into a car might eventually get boring. King makes it more special. No book this basic should provide this much white-knuckle enjoyment. And yet, King makes this one into a winner. Not as good as his best, but still an excellent, different, read.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: The Desert Spear and more.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sorcerer's Apprentice and Inception

That's right, I've been to the movies again! This time, I'm taking a look at the blockbusters of July (or modest earners, in the case of Sorcerer's Apprentice). And I've got some expensive news for you: you should see both these movies. Of course, I mean that on different levels, but let's dive in.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: It's a movie about that classic story of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy gets involved in long-standing wizard's feud, boy has a nervous breakdown, etc. In all seriousness, This is a movie about Dave (Jay Baruchel), a hopelessly geeky kid-- which doesn't at all remind me of myself-- who becomes a major player in the plans of Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), a powerful sorcerer and former apprentice to Merlin. Dave is also hunted, however, by a darker sorcerer, Maxim Horvath (scenes stolen by Alfred Molina), who wants to raise an evil sorceress from the grave.

There was no way I should have enjoyed the movie as much as I did, except for the fact that Bruckheimer and co. were having an absurd amount of fun making it. Sorcerer is not afraid to poke fun at itself, and it never takes itself too seriously. Some of the action setpieces are creative and kinetic without resorting to Bourne-esque shaky cam. And the scene that pays homage to the Fantasia short is great. It's not going to be one of the best movies of the year, or even most profitable, but it is a good time at the cinema for the whole family.

My rating: 8.5/10

Inception: Hoo, boy. The big one. The one we've been waiting for since the bizarre teasers last year. Especially since it's from Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind Memento. And The Prestige. And Batman Begins. And The Dark Knight (ever heard of that one?). I can't explain this film. To do so would take ages, and I just wouldn't be that good at it. Can I just say see it?

No, I don't think it's quite as good as The Dark Knight, and it's impact on a genre won't be like the aforementioned film. But it's still really, really good. It's a multilayered (literally) tale about dreams, with Leonardo DiCaprio's best performance to date. Actually, almost all of the actors give their best performances to date. Hans Zimmer's score is unique and suits the film. The action is nail-biting and some of the best I've seen this year. The story makes you think, but you never get tired of constantly focusing on this two-and-a-half hour film. The world it creates is fantastic, and it raises some great questions about the nature of dreaming. Now go see it. Seriously, there's at least a few things in there for everybody.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Steven King and The Desert Spear.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Classic of the Month: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Well, buckle up, ladies and gents. This blog post is gonna get a little trippy.

Why is that, you ask? Well, Constant Reader, it's time for another Classic of the Month! And this time, we're not looking at Gatsby, but rather something a little more recent. 1962, to be precise. And this time, the review's going insane... literally. That's right, it's Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The one that was made not too long after into a movie starring Jack Nicholson, considered a classic in its own rights. The one about crazy people.

Patrick Randle MacMurphy enters the ward, guns blazing, ready to change things from the start. He's a boistrous fellow, a fan of both gambling and women, and he's not ready to give up either. He'll do anything to keep things interesting, despite the intimidating presence of Nurse Ratched. Throw in a colorful cast of other loonies, and have the book be narrated by a Native American who only pretends to be deaf and dumb, and you've got the gist of the story. Just as long as you realize Nurse Ratched isn't willing to give up without a fight, and it's easy to keep fighting when you hold all the cards.

Where can I start? The characters are mesmerizing. It's never really revealed whether or not MacMurphy is legitimately insane, but Kesey tells the story in such a way that it doesn't matter. Also, Kesey has a good grasp of the surreal and bizarre, presumably aided by the LSD he went around in a bus distributing shortly after. Kesey was one of the Merry Pranksters, subject of the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Additionally, it's fascinating to look at Chief Bromden's transformation over the course of the novel. MacMurphy's presence is the catalyst in every character's change, and it's Bromden's narration that keeps the novel from having a totally depressing ending. Ratched is genuinely threatening, and despicable in a three-dimensional way. The climactic confrontation between her and MacMurphy is satisfying in the utmost.

To sum it up, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is an unusual, lively story told in an unusual, lively way. The writing is skillful, and it's a pity Kesey didn't write regularly. The dialogue is snappy and realistic. The book is in every was a success, and one that I would certainly recommend, if not for everybody.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Some Stephen King and some movies, along with The Desert Spear and more. A lot of stuff.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Magicians

I'm back, at long last! For a while, I've been somewhere north of home, in a dark realm where no computer access lies. So now I'm back, and boy do I have a lot of stuff that needs to be reviewed! Before the month is out, I'll be looking at another Classic of the Month, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in addition to a bunch of books. Oh, and a little movie, I don't know, called Inception. (By the way, see the movie now, if you haven't already. The review will just be me saying that in a thousand more words.)

Here we go, the first book I've ever read from pretty new author Lev Grossman, the book that made a huge splash last year... The Magicians.

Quentin Coldwater is an unremarkable genius. Sort of. Just go with it. He's absurdly attached to an old series of five novels set in the magical world of Fillory, and he's bored to tears with life as is. And then, one chilly day, he stumbles into a fantastic new reality, a reality that might be perfect for him. But the world of magic is not as pristine as what is depicted in the Fillory books, and Quentin is in for a rude awakening.

This book was too much fun to be expressed in words. Grossman wears his influences proudly, but never lets them become distracting to the overall effect. In fact, they contribute to the fun vibes. The Magicians is marketed as Harry Potter grown up, but it's more than that, a deeper character study set in a bizarre yet whimsical universe. The pace just whizzes by, much like The Warded Man, and yet Grossman gives the characters a lot of time to breathe. This seems like a paradox, but hey, it's magic.

There are a few nagging things that bring the book down in my estimation, however. The climax is far too heavy and melancholy for the rest of the book, and therefore makes the end feel almost incomplete. The emotional ebb and tide is a bit off, something I hope Grossman will fix in The Magician King, due out next year. And I will be buying it. Because stuff this much fun (the majority of the time) is hard to come by, it will be one of next year's most anticipated reads. It's not often such a quality mix of literary fiction and fantasy can be achieved.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Classic of the Month.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fact That This Exists...

...leaves me shocked, but I'm not entirely sure if it's in a good way or a bad way. I mean, you don't really have a way of preparing yourself for THIS.
Until next time,
The Writer

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Lord of the Rings Film Retrospective

One Ring to Rule Them All...

A few months ago, I went and watched all six STAR WARS movies back to back. This provided an unparalleled opportunity to review one of my all-time favorite film series as a whole. So, recently, I decided to go for a marathon viewing even more epic in scope: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And I didn't cut corners-- these were the Extended Editions, the shortest of which is three and a half hours long. The Return of the King is over four. In other words, this viewing took almost as long as the one for STAR WARS. It's a big time commitment, but one that is ultimately extremely rewarding.

Here's a note beforehand: these films were released over three years' time, but they together comprise a single storyline. Watching them as such, the continuity is to die for, and the love for the source material from the filmmakers is overwhelming. You can feel the love in every frame, in the costumes and sets, in the editing, in the special effects, and in the brilliant score by an inspired Howard Shore.

It is the height that all book adaptations strive to reach, and the height that few, if any, others will. Sure, there are great adaptations out there, like Stardust, The Princess Bride, or To Kill a Mockingbird, but even these fantastic films cannot match the emotional weight of almost twelve hours of breathtaking story. I saw all of these films when they came out in the theater, and the memories of that first viewing are still clear in my mind: the audience sitting on the edge of their seats, cheering, and crying together. It was an experience, and one I'll never forget.

So, with that out of the way, here goes some EPIC.

The Fellowship of the Ring: Peter Jackson initially wows audiences with his nailing of the first third of J. R. R. Tolkien's classic story. Frodo, a hobbit, finds himself in possession of the One Ring, an object of great and sinister power forged by the dark lord Sauron in the fires of Mount Doom. He sets off to the mountain to destroy it, aided by Sam, his closest companion; Merry and Pippin, two hobbit friends; Gandalf, an ancient and wise wizard; Legolas, an elf; Gimli, a dwarf; Boromir, son of the steward of Gondor; and Aragorn, blood heir to the throne of men. But the Fellowship is being tracked by Sauron's forces of evil, and the road will not be easy...

What I Liked: The Prologue, which can bring even someone who has no idea of what Tolkien is talking about up to speed, and narrated by the lovely Cate Blanchett. The Shire, which Peter Jackson nailed, and graciously didn't speed through to get to the action. Rivendell is realized marvelously, as are all the environments and locales. New Zealand is truly the perfect place to shoot The Lord of the Rings. Boromir's arc was well-handled. Peter Jackson also gives a taste at what the Scouring of the Shire would have looked like. And in the Extended Edition, Bilbo's trolls from The Hobbit even make a brief appearance, as well as the rest of Galadriel's gifts.
What I Didn't Like: No Tom Bombadil, which makes me sad deep in my heart, but I understand why, for time reasons, it was cut. There are a few other changes, but most of them were made for understandable reasons, such as Arwen being the one who takes Frodo the last leg to Rivendell.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Two Towers: The Fellowship has been broken. Some have died, and the rest are spread out over no less than three locations. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli track Merry and Pippin, but get sidetracked by trouble in Rohan, caused by the turncoat Saruman. Merry and Pippin, having been carried away by orcs, flee into Fangorn Forest and find something far older and stranger than they would have imagined. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam receive the aid of an unlikely creature to help them on their way the the land of Mordor...

What I Liked: Rohan, especially Edoras. This set was beautifully constructed, and feels like an Alan Lee illustration come to life. The new additions to the cast fit in nicely. I think this is a good time to talk about Christopher Lee's pitch-perfect portrayal of Saruman. Lee says he reads The Lord of the Rings every year, and it shows. He's really, really good. And I can't write this review without talking about the marvelous Ents. Seriously, I giggle with fanboyish glee everytime I see them, and my father's worse. Gollum is a feat of groundbreaking motion capture that still holds up today and doesn't distract from the story. Also, in the Extended Edition, there is a scene that is a lovely homage to Tom Bombadil.

What I Didn't Like: Faramir. Peter Jackson, I know you wanted to add another dimension to him, but in doing so, you deprived him of his strength of character. I like him better in the book-- a lot better. Also, I know that Arwen is here mainly to be a reminder of her importance in Aragorn's life, but she doesn't actually do anything in this movie besides cry in a sexy way. And yet, the film is still fantastic.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Return of the King: Winner of 11 Oscars, this is the final part of the saga of The Lord of the Rings. Sauron unleashes his forces upon Gondor, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli struggle to combat it. They go into a haunted mountain in search of a secret weapon to turn the tide. Gandalf and Pippin ride fast to Gondor to bring a warning, but the steward, Denethor, has turned to madness, and they quickly become embroiled in the conflict. And Frodo, Sam, and Gollum journey the final stretch to Mordor, where Sauron waits to reclaim his prize.

What I Liked: Can I just say this film was practically perfect in every way? Howard Shore's score will move you to tears. The acting reaches new heights of success. The action is tense and epic in scope. The "Lighting the Beacons" sequence features jaw-dropping cinematography. Aragorn's speech is full of great literary value, and his final, "For Frodo" is exciting and dramatic. The entire Mount Doom sequence, one of my favorite scenes of all time, is emotionally charged and true to the book's heart. The Gray Havens WILL make you cry. If not, you have no soul. The very last line of the book has been preserved, something that makes me extremely happy. And, on the Extended Edition, there are a number of great additional sequences, such as one in Isengard that gives an element of the Scouring of the Shire, and the Houses of Healing.

What I Didn't Like: No Scouring of the Shire. I miss the Scouring of the Shire. I mean, the movie would have been nearing the five hour mark if it had been included, but still. I wouldn't have minded. Honestly, I just can't fault this movie.

My rating: 10/10

So there you have it. When put together, The Lord of the Rings is One Movie to Rule Them All, based upon One Book to Rule Them All, centered around One Ring to Rule Them All. It's just... awesome. I'm sorry, but I don't know what else to say. I love these movies so much, and and sincerely hope the movie version of The Hobbit gets made eventually. The world needs more Tolkien movies. Although I don't know how well The Silmarillion would go over with audiences. You know, regular, non-geeky audiences.

I will return again very soon with more Stephen King and Lev Grossman's The Magicians.

Until next time,

The Writer

Saturday, July 10, 2010


So, I've been trying to catch up on good ol' Stephen King's work, which is no small feat. His seemingly endless numbers of tomes assault my eyes and my imagination. But until now, I haven't read one of the modern master's greatest achievements: what is perhaps the longest horror novel ever written. I am speaking, of course, about IT, the book which has inspired a chilling fear of clowns in millions of Constant Readers.

So, to quote another famous frightening clown, here... we... GO!

IT is a book of immense scope and simultaneously a book of intimately personal character studies. I have rarely if ever read a novel with characters so well-developed, and each one sticks out in my mind, long after I have read the final page.

I can tell you all about Stanley Uris, who had perhaps the greatest grasp of all of what he and his childhood friends were fighting.

I can give you a wealth of information about Mike Hanlon, the only one who was willing to stay in his hometown haunt of Derry, if only to give the signal to his comrades to return.

I can get off a good one about Richie Tozier, whose myriad of voices could keep a terror at bay, but who is struggling to find his own.

I can delve into the childhood of Beverly Rogan, who traded one set of demons for another, but whose love may be the key to saving them all.

I can spin many a tale about Eddie Hapsbrack, whose hypochondriac mother's influence lingers decades after leaving the house.

I can talk about the transformations gone through by Ben Hanscom, who has built both spectacular skyscrapers and an inpenetrable wall of will.

And I can explain the workings of the mind of Bill Denbrough, a writer and leader, whose stutter cannot mask a strength of character within that no force of darkness can easily overcome.

This review wasn't meant to be long; in fact, it seems as if the lengths of my reviews are inversely proportional to the lengths of the books which they are about. But that's okay. IT has been around for twenty-five years, and on this auspicious anniversary, I can say wholeheartedly that it still holds up, and that it is perhaps the best of its kind. This book gave me chills repeatedly, but not by cheap methods. Stephen King is a master storyteller because he earns the scares, because the terror comes from within the darkest places in our consciousness. You can feel the characters, and because of this, you can feel all the fear that King has intended. IT is a book written with great intentions, pulled off by the sheer tour-de-force that is Stephen King's writing. A masterpiece.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: A Lord of the Rings film retrospective.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This Is Why I Love Fantasy.

This and this.

Until next time,
The Writer


Okay, I've stalled doing reviews for a while now. Over a week, in fact. But it's time I reviewed a very solid book, a very solid YA fantasy, and the finale of Robert Liparulo's excellent Dreamhouse Kings series. This one's called Frenzy, and it earns its title easily.

Honestly, I don't know how to explain this one. Anything I say will be loaded with spoilers from previous books. If you've read them, you know where the Kings are when this book begins, and if you haven't, then it would take too long to explain anyway. So I'm just going to say that it's everything you've come to expect in terms of suspense and more besides. It's got more action than any other book in the series, and things are closed off well while leaving the world open for readers' imaginations to ponder the future.

If you haven't heard of Dreamhouse Kings, then I'll try to sum it up for you. Take LOST, except make everybody a family, change the island to a house, change the smoke monster to... actually, that's a spoiler, and throw in some Back to the Future-esque, headache-enducing time travel conundrums, and you've at least got some idea of what's going on. The six-book series is really just a really long serial novel, as one book flows into the next seamlessly and without any sort of time gap.

Now, for people who know the series, Frenzy is clearly chock-full of stuff Liparulo has been dying to write, stuff that could only be achieved in the Dreamhouse Kings universe. The six-book length has given him the ability to explore a myriad of possibilities, and one in particular is quite hard-hitting, especially for a YA book. This is a fantastic effort from the author, and it makes me happy to see a series written quickly, economically (even with six books), and yet thoughtfully as well.

Dreamhouse Kings is a series that parents can read with their children without worrying, and one that will make the children eager to read more. It should inspire conversations, many of which will be about time travel and circular in nature, but it should also make one think about the courage displayed in the face of truly frightening and overwhelming circumstances. All in all, I'm pleased with Robert Liparulo for telling an interesting and complex story in an accessible, fun way.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: IT