Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula Le Guin

Author: Ursual Le Guin
Title: "Left Hand of Darkness"
Pages: 304
Publishers: Ace Books

“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula Le Guin is one of the most famous of her Hainish cycle with a Nebula Award for Best Books and rightly so. In the 300 or so, I accounted quite the plot and themes cramped inside with an ease. Just for that trait alone the book deserves its prize and praise, but once accounted with the depth of the world-building and characters, you can hardly deny that this is one of the greatest books ever written.

The setting this time is the planet Gethen, referred to sometimes as the planet Winter, because of its unfavorable cold weather, blamed for the lack of evolution and development of its original race. The main character this time is Genly Ai, a representative of the galactic federation of worlds, and his mission is to prepare Gethen for membership into the guild. His journey starts within the borders of Karhide, a primitive feudal kingdom. There under the guidance of Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, the prime minister of Karhide, he maneuvers trough the complicated political system, further entangled by the constant and yet subtle battle for personal shiftgrethor – social prestige. His mission fails with Estraven sent into exile and Genly tries with the neighbors aka Orgoreyn, which in terms of social life and politics seems to exceed Karhide. However yet again Genly loses to prejudice towards his abnormal biology (Gethenians are androgynous by nature), political games and plots against him, which lead to his imprisonment into a camp for criminals. Of course on his death bed Genly is saved by Estraven and they make a very long travel through ice and volcanoes to Karhide, where Genly calls his ship and his crew from the planet’s orbit in order to make the two countries believe his tales and join the federation.

Of course the plot I present to you is quite stripped from the subplots and all the interesting minor characters, who make their entrance and introduce more of the world and its spirituality. What excited me most is the apparent loss of gender along the way of evolution resulting in a species with no gentiles for 24 days of their 26 day month, while the last two days are spent in kemmer. In those two days pheromones battle in both partners until they settle on a gender. This choice is random, which makes it possible to both bear and sire children. To add even more exotic features to this biological species, Ursula le Guin mentions that incest is not forbidden. Alas I would have wished this peculiar trait to have been explored further with the psyche and its effect on its society.

The accent falls on inner duality and Zen-like religion and the ability to peer into the future. As we learn a Gethenian is a woman within a man and vice versa and their world and beliefs state that “light is the left hand of darkness, while darkness is the right hand of light”. These ideas hint towards the famous yin and yang sign, which is one of the most important symbols in Taoism and takes its place among many sub-religions in China. Similar ideas of religion are found in Gethen as well.

What I personally didn’t enjoy and left me a bit disappointed in the book was the political angle and the long journey through the barren lands. As a person, who likes a bit action seasoning on their literary plate, I felt compelled to sleep on the pages describing day after day surviving harsh cold winds, blizzards and chilling temperatures far below the zero mark. The long narratives on shiftgrethor tactics and political structures of both countries and the countless parties struggling for power. It can be said that I am not a major fan of political anything as it is boring to me a subject, but the manner in which Le Guin executed it was still very pleasing.

All in all this a very good book, but my heart still lies between the pages of “City of Illusions”. Nonetheless, you can’t say that you have read good literature unless you have read this work.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

GIVEAWAY ~ "Black Magic Woman" by Justin Gustainis

Seeing how many people chose June as Blogger Giveaway month, I am hardly to blame for wanting to keep it up with big names like Robert from the “Fantasy Book Critic”, who outdid himself with a rapid succession of all sorts of giveaways. I am still a bit pouty that he does the good stuff for US residents, only, but well the post office is a greedy something. Theresa from “The Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin’ Book Reviews” throws her books around to people, the same manner a model would wave at her admirers.

Being moved by this spirit I officially start my giveaway of “Black Magic Woman”, which I reviewed one post earlier to keep it fresh for everybody. Rules are pretty simple and standard and for all of the hard core players in the giveaway business it’s going to be a breeze:

1. You can either comment here on this post or write me a nice e-mail at likenion(at)gmail(dot)com with subject title “Giveaway – Black magic Woman”.

2. Only one entry per person, if someone decides to play unfair, I will disqualify him and maybe send some spam along his way (just joking really, but the possibility is deliciously evil)

3. You have a whole week, so mark July 4th in red, because after then you get nadda and because of the whole time zone thing I will wait for midnight US time, even though that means Saturday morning for me. Yeah, I am from the future.

4. Have fun and if you win, stay in touch, because after 48 hours and no answer I will have to choose another winner.

So, this is it. Have fun all!

Monday, June 23, 2008

"Black Magic Woman" by Justin Gustainis

Title: "Black Magic Woman"
Author: Justin Gustainis
Pages: 336
Publisher: Solaris Books

Through the courtesy of Solaris books I had the great fortune of reading one the most exciting books in the urban fantasy genre. “Black Magic Woman” explores new grounds for the genre in a field that has yet to be fully developed, mainly magic. Here is the blurb:

Occult investigator Quincey Morris and his "consultant", white witch LIbby Chastain, are hired to free a family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem witch trials. Fraught with danger, the trail finds them stalking the mysterious occult underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York, searching out the root of the curse. After surviving a seris of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself—the very heart of darkness.

For those not needing their 101 revision class in occult literature, I happened to be the latter sadly, Quincey Morris is a character from Bram Stoker’s and exerts the profession of a bounty hunter for all that goes bump in the night. With this very delicate and interesting reference to the past and this classic we follow the descendent Quincey Morris, who in his line of work as a consultant usually has to kill vampires, demons and break off curses. Such is his task in “Black Magic Woman”, when he is contracted by a family under magical attack, because of a feud going on from the Salem trials. He and white witch Elizabeth Chastain have to neutralize the witch before she finds the needed opening to eliminate her targets. Interestingly enough we have another Black Magic Woman in the scene, the African witch Cecilia called in from Africa in order to create magical fetishes. A series of violent ritualistic also called ‘muti’ killings of children begin to spread. A police officer, Garth Van Drennan, from Africa is called at the request of the FBI Behavior Unit.

As a reader I want to be entertained and left satisfied with how a story is being told and say a loud wow at the end. There exists a tight number of authors, who can narrate two stories, which collide and whirl into each other without getting entangled in their own strings. Fewer are the authors can do that while using multiple viewpoints without it getting annoying. Justin Gustainis handles this task and fulfills his obligations with flying colors. His prose is tight and sharp, always driven to the fast pace of the story and never getting too scarce or too eloquent in his descriptions.

His characters are new to the genre at least in my opinion. Quincey Morris is a Texas gentleman with vast knowledge and a very business oriented sense, wearing smart clothes and shifting between manners of speech given the situation and is cool without the whole macho testosterone overdrive, thus more believable. Libby Chastain is independent and very capable of saving herself, when needed, but she has nothing in common with most self-assured, strong and powerful women with an attitude. She is as smartly dressed as Quincey, owns a fine sense of humor without going into sarcasm and has an air of tranquility and class around her. Mind you those two features often get overlooked, when authors create their female characters for urban fantasy. Van Drennan is the brooding type and although his daughter is a victim of a muti killing, we don’t see him deep in angst and keeps his cool throughout the whole chase.

I can go on and on about how much I loved this book, but I will just talk about the occult utilized in this novel and just leave discovering the magic yourselves. There is nothing new used here, but what was taken from the dusty old pages of mythology and superstitions simple added a great flavor to the whole adrenaline rush of near death scenarios. We have charms, tricks to kill vampires and demons, warding spells, mirror spells and curses just as your great great grandmother used to hear and in the fashion of the novel, played their role with class.

As a conclusion, this is a very promising beginning of a series, which hopefully set new rules for the genre and get it going in the right direction aka more magic and occult theory.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chaos Theory {The Movie for the I don't know, you decide}

So this is the wrapping up review for this issue of Movie Week, as I think that in time I can find enough movies to do another a bit stricter themed week. The last review happened to be the hardest one to choose from as I originally planned to watch and review “My Blueberry Nights”, but then I went through the phase “Gosford Park” and now I return to “Chaos Theory”. Why is that you may ask. Because the movie is weird, is the answer.

Although there is a quite startling similarity between the protagonist in “Chaos Theory” Frank Allen (Ryan Reynolds) and the protagonist from “Stranger than Fiction” Harold Crick. Both are very orderly to extreme paranoia and they follow an iron fisted schedule. Although Harold Crick is stuck in an endless routine and likes to count, we have a Frank Allen obsessed with time and lists. His wife Susan Allen (Emily Mortimer) is very patient with his freakish nature and even jokes about it, saying that he needs a list for his lists.

Of course things go from somewhat OK for Frank to not so much as he misses the ferry for his lecture, which is on time efficiency. Great irony really. Somehow this ends him up with a blond seductress in his apartment and him later on driving late at night, when another blond, giving birth while driving almost runs him over. As these things happen he finds himself in the hospital being mistaken by the father and when the nurse calls to his home about a baby, guess who picks the phone. Susan, yes. No need to mention that she goes ballistic and kicks him out of the house until he proves that he is not the father. So he does so, but in the making of it, he finds out that he is sterile. No big deal you think. Sure, but Frank has a little daughter and so we find out that Susan hasn’t been the role model for a housewife. Tisk, tisk, tisk.

The realization that his beloved daughter is not really his daughter sends Frank off the edge into a strange state, where he decides never to decide anything again and picks randomly between things he always wanted to do on small pieces of paper, whenever he pleases. In the mean time Susan goes through a crisis on her own, when she tells Buddy Endrow (Stuart Townsend) hers and Frank’s best friend that he is the father of her child. Buddy by the way is the epitome of a playboy and a man child. Several days of emotional crisis, one night at the lake and a shot gun resolve all of their problems and Frank comes back a healthier man with a stronger marriage. I personally convinced that the shot gun did it all, but critics think otherwise.

What I liked about the movie is Ryan Reynolds mainly as he is kooky enough to play this kind of role and own it. A new brand of specific charisma is his main trait, which is so distinguishable from all the other comedy actors. This coupled with the unnatural concept of this movie, although not as quite peculiar or weird as in other movies, “Chaos Movie” offers a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from laughter to sadness, excitement, nervousness and even a bit shame, watching Ryan Reynolds doing really uncomfortable things. I personally feel that way, when the protagonists feel at unease. The supporting cast also did their job properly and add to the pleasant experience, although I am not quit familiar with their filmography. I just wished that this movie would be a bit funnier than it was to me. It has some room for improvement, but I think it’s definitely entertaining.

Okay, people, so this is wrap up. Thank you for bearing with me on this one and here is the long awaited trailer:

"Vanity Fair" {The Movie for the Historical Romance Guild}

Due, to a slight one day getaway I missed the opportunity to watch a movie I marked as interesting enough for this issue of movie week, so I will cramp up two reviews in one day, because I make up the rules and I can bend them. A certain fascination with the past has been present in today's society and it especially concentrates on the period of Entglish splendor mainly during the 18th and 19th century. Jane Austin and the Brontes, thank you very much for raising enourmes dresses, fashionable suits and tongue-in-cheek conversations to Hollywood stardom.

This being said, I am moving on to the topic of this post “Vanity Fair” from 2004, one of the numerous adaptations of the novel “Vanity Fair” aimed to criticize society from the beginning of the 19th century. We have the usual suspects: the poor, yet confident girl trying to be accepted into society Rebecca Sharp (Reese Witherspoon); her noble blooded, stunning husband, deemed to be too good for her Colonel Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy) and the whole British society, playing hard to get at some point (the other cast).

Becky Sharp has a very unfitting part for her to become an amiable and agreeable part of society with a father starving artist and a mother an opera singer, both deceased, leaving her to grow up at a school for girls. When it is time for her to leave, she goes to work as a governess at the Crawley family run by the careless Sir Pitt (Bob Hoskins), which seems to be living in a pretty run down manor. Under her care the manor looks like a palace and Sir Pitt’s daughters shape into ladies. But fate has other plans, when Becky meets Sir Pitt’s half-sister and spinster Miss Crawley (Eileen Atkins) and his younger son Rawdon. Becky managed to gain Miss Crawley’s favor and sets with her to London, where she marries Rawdon secretly and thus is shunned with him from the family. From here on we trace Becky’s way of rises and falls as she struggles with life. We see how her marriage fells, her husband dies, her child is taken away from her and how her friendship with her best friend Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai) falls apart as well.

The movie is as long as it is complex in the spirit of the Victorian vibe, although I am not quite sure, if that time period falls into that era, just hitting at blind. Following that tradition we see a parallel depiction of the Sedley family as they go bankrupt and Amelia’s marriage to George Osborn (Jonathan Rhys Meyers); the countless admirers for Becky’s heart or bed and the typical jumps through time.

As a whole the movie was a pleasurable experience as it entertains with the easy air of comedy and the typical mentioned above tongue-in-cheek quality. Being a fan of that time period and works of this genre and in this tradition I felt lost in the intrigue considering class, the witty conversations and the grandeur of the costumes. However this is not one of those movies, which you will remember for the rest of your life. Even though the actor’s play stood on a high note with big names and talent, the whole production didn’t strike as memorable.

However this is a skillfully directed production with enough Guild members for your entertainment, so a chance has to be given, although critics say it’s average and my opinion somewhat overlaps with that. The usual trailer applies.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Definitely, Maybe {The Movie for the Hopelessly Romantic}

I actually originally planed to review "Chaos Theory" with Ryan Reynolds, which is also specific enough for this week of memorable movies selected completely randomly, but in the end I watched "Definitely, Maybe", mind you this is another Ryan Reynolds movie.

The story itself is quite complicated, so I will spare the details and cut to the chase, which probably won't be a very interesting concept then, but I have the remedy to fix this aka the trailer. so let's begin shall we. Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is in the middle of a divorce and barely has contact with his 10 year old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin), who after a sex-ed at school decides to know the whole story of how Will met his wife and had Maya. Upon nagging enough Will caves in, but decides to change the names of all the three women he has relationships with and so the game "Love Mystery" is born. This is how we slip back into the 90's with a young Will Hayes with ambitions for the president seat, who travels to New York for a campaign for Bill Clinton, while he leaves behind his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth banks).

When Emily decides to be promiscuous with Will's roommate and he has already bought her an engagement ring, they seperate and he falls in love with Summer (Rachel Weisz), a reporter and a friend of Emily's. Their relationship florishes after some years, when Will has founded his own company for leading campaigns. She is a reporter and all seems well until she publishes a negative article about Will's client, which costs him his job and his relationships. A witness to all of these failures is April (Isla Fisher), who plays the role of the friend that never gets to be the girlfriend. Now fully knowing her father's story Maya is deterimed to make him happy and the movie goes to one of the most inconclusive endings ever, which works just fine.

I only managed to cover the relationship aspect of the movie and just as barely, but there is just so much more for this movie. Apart from great acuracy in depicting the 90's as the era of the large brick sized cell phones, Nirvana being quite new to the scene and Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky being in the mouth of every one, we have sophisticated characters and actors to boot with talent. Starting with the women, the viewer will meet three types of women, solely opposite of each other and three actresses to play the cards right. Emily is the girl next door and has that air of innocence and Elizabeth Banks amanges to portray that very convingly. Rachel Weisz plays the smart, somewhat sarcastic Summer, a character which strikes with high intillect and conficence to achieve a lot. Isla Fisher is the free and travelling April, the only woman to have obtained her real name in the movie and the only one to have remained a close and yet rebellious friend.

Of course when we add the comedic genius of Ryan Reynolds. I especially liked him in the TV series "Two Boys, One Girl and a Pizza Place". He was loads of fun. To his talent I add the young Abigail Breslin and we get a movie not to be missed. Here, take a look for yourself:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

99 Francs {The Movie for the Not Easily Offended}

"99 Francs" is another amazing hight of the French movie industry and strikes with the unusually high levels of sarcasm, irony, dark humor, grotesque and class, which only can be achieved in that country and none other.

Octave Parango (Jean Drujardin) is a creative genius, eccentric richman, perverse junkie and a sex addict, who somehow strengely enough is the king of advertisement in France. This doesn't sound so shocking now, does it? Reality is an irrelevent term in his vocabulary, since the light motive that defies his existence is hedonism, which can be rarely found in the wide circles of today's society. Octave and his entourage engage into a careless frenzy of drugs, women and money. He happens tofall down to Earth after his girlfriend Sophie (Vahina Giocante) announces her pregnancy and from here his life and relationship crash and burn. Sophie leaves him after a very inadequate reaction from his side and he almost ends up in a morgue from an overdose. in his searches for a replacement he finds the prostitute and aspiring actress Tamara (Elisa Tovati), who later is involved in his last project. His career is also under question, when he fails to meet the expectations of the big firm for yoghurt "Madone" and present a decent idea for the campaign for their new product "Starlight".

Being intentionally chaotic, the viewer can sometimes finds himself into teh logic as the movie seperates in two different paths, leading to two polar alternative ending with no conclusive on which one is the real one. The viewer also has no time to deliberate, since is preoccupied with the massive amount of raw craetivity slapped in his face with visual effects and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, whioch grows to blunt and cynical. This movie is a bomb for the senses and challenges your modest ideas of what it means to be rich and successful, showing a crumbling man, who quite knows what he does to himself and yet takes the bullet train to destination hell on earth. You think media people care about consumers. Nope. They simply want to create a mindless slave army to march into stores and buy the chosen products.

Of course under creativity and innovations I really mean the raw edge of the movie, exploiting nudity, obscene body functions, hallucinations, sex, exhibitionism, drugs and near the ending the director Jaun Kounen takes this one step further with an abominable alternative advertisement of "Starlight".

Movies like "99 Francs" are the reason, why I watch movies in the first place, hoping that such rare gems will make it through. I must add that judging by the US ratings, this particular movie is uncomprehensible by the American mentality and is more suited for the European understanding and view of society and life. I find this particularly sad, because "99 Francs" tends to put under the spotlight raw life in transgression without all it's glamour and cold shine. It takes a lot of bravery to shoot this movie and still it's a love it or hate it relationship with it. Although I recommend this movie to everyone, willing to experiement, I would like to advise people with weak nerves to simply pass on this one.

Here is the trailer to get a sample of what I am talking about. I only found the Franch version sadly:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles -- {The Movie for Kids and Children at Heart}

There are quite some reasons for featuring this one in the whole Movie Week frenzy. 1) I watched it last week so it's still pretty fresh in my mind, 2) this is the movie adaptation of one of the most enchanting YA fantasy authors out there (although I never had the pleasure of reading her book, will soon change that) Holly Black and 3) the movie is brilliant.

The story is quite symple, made for children mainly. We have Ms. Grace, who recently got divorced and has to move to the Spiderwick estate, which was given to her by her aunt Lucinda, who is rumored to have gone insane, since she claims her father being abducted by fairies. With her come her three children: the twins Jared and Simon and their bigger sister Mallory. Jared is the protagonist, who takes the change the hardest since he knows nothing of his father's new family and blames his mother for the divorce and the move. Upon investigating the house he finds a book called the Fieldguide, which is protected by the brownie Thimbletack. And this is his introduction to the world beyond the normal human senses, inhabited by fairies, goblins and everything in between this spectrum. However all these magical creatures are invisible unless they want to reveal themselves to humans.

When the book is opened, the shape-shifting ogre Mulgarath seeks it again to obtain the knowledge of every magical being and its secrets so that he can rule the forest and from then on supposedly the world. A frantic journey to protect the book introduces characters as the hobgoblin Hogsqueal with his knack for birds and aunt Lucinda, who is pretty much sane and conversing with flower fairies. The movie ends with a siege of the Spiderwick estate, once the protection circle has expired and all of Jared's family are convinced about the existence of this other world.

What I definitely liked about this story is the freshness of the take on fairies, brownies and all magical creatures that have been neglected or transformed through the urban fantasy genre. The Spiderwick Chronicles offer you a look through the prism to see all the myths and bed times stories, which are responsible for our imagination, and enjoy a modern tale with those ageless characters. This coupled with the amazing visual effects and CGI plus thes tunning play of the actors, we are convinced that yes Freedie Highmore is speaking to a brownie and that yes goblins are wrecking up the house.

Next comes of course the casting. Freedie Highmore has the tough job of playing both twins and for a moment I thought that perhaps Freddie has a brother like the Olsen sisters. he was so convincing in both roles: Jared with anger management issues and Simon, a pacifist. Here of course comes the magnificent editing that leaves you wondering, whether the second Freddie is added or real. I am not quite knowledgable of the other actors as names and appearences, but I have to mention their excellent play as well. Here is the trailer to see for yourself:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"August Rush" {The Movie for Musically Addicted}

“August Rush” is one of those excellent, enigmatic and delightful movies that go usually unseen through the media ocean swamped with Hollywood abominations. The fact why I am stating this is because this is a 2007 release and stars some of my favorite actors like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Freddie Highmore and Robert Williams.

The movie deals with the small orphan Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore), who finds music in everything around him and believes if he plays long enough and listens hard enough to music he will find his parents. He is the offspring of a rock band lead singer Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and star cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russel), who meet for a night one stand and due to Lyla’s strict father miss each other and can’t reunite again. Lyla obviously pregnant decides to keep her baby, but when a car strikes her near her ninth month she gives birth while unconscious and her father gives the baby for adoption, while stating that the boy is dead. This for her is the moment she decides to leave the stage. The same happens to Louis as he finds no more satisfaction in music and decides to leave his band.

Freddie, already sure of his ability to follow music, travels from his orphanage to New York to find his parents. This transition doesn’t run so smoothly and he ends up joining a band of musically gifted children, who inhabit an abandoned theatre and play for money on the streets. This crew is led by the Wizard (Robin Williams), who makes Evan his star player after discovering the latter is a music prodigy, who learned to play the guitar in innovative ways in one night. There he assumes the artistic pseudonym August Rush. Being the Wizard’s protégé is tiring and unsatisfying, so August rush runs away and happens upon a church, which accepts him into its mission. One day there he composes a complex piece for the church organ and deemed extremely talented he is enrolled into the Julliard School for musically gifted. In the end we learn how he is chosen to perform on the summer concert in Central Park.

In the meantime Lyla learns from her father, what he had done and embarks on a quest to find her son’s identity. Meanwhile she decides to resume her music career and play right before her son in the said above concert. Louis is confronted with his miserable life without music and once again aspires to make it in the music business with his band and has a chance meeting with Evan in New York. Needless to say that when Evan’s turn comes to present his symphony, his music touches the souls of his parents, who finally find him.

I probably killed the excitement about this movie with such a detailed synopsis, but the story although fresh and innovative, I think doesn’t quite contribute to the full experience of the movie. However one must account the brilliant play of Freddie Highmore, one of the youngest actors in the industry with amazing talent and extraordinary air of serenity around him. As we can recall he received quite the collection of awards for his role of Peter in “Finding Neverland” the biographical movie J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is just Jonathan Rhys Meyers and nothing needs to be said more. Movies like “Elvis”, “Matchpoint” and the TV series “The Tudors” speak of his diversity to incorporate different characters and to that I add the striking features of his face. I am not familiar with Keri Russel apart from her role in the TV drama series “Felicity”, but it seems she has made a path of her own in the movie industry. Robin Williams, I found the best man for the job to portray such a kooky character as the Wizard and we all are undoubtedly familiar with his comedic genius.

Apart from the successful casting we have the main idea of the movie, which is how music connects people and how people respond to music. This is the aspect that will make people either love this movie or simply don’t care, since music today is stuck in a very immoral rut, speaking of sweaty bodies and different sweets used in quite the context. Of course I am not the one to judge as I listen to those songs every now and then. The thing about this movie is that we are shown a creative soul following his instincts regarding one of the most amazing forms of art in the world. Apart from the idea that a person can find people with music, we are left to the magic of the spellbinding soundtracks.

In the end I think this is one of the strongest movies I have watched in quite a while, a rare find these days. You like music so much that you listen to it around 90% of your time awake? Then this is a must have!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Movie Week 1 {Revisited} -- "The Onion Movie"

Side Note: I have finally managed to get back online with the problems regarding my home PC finally solved. All it took was for me to reinstall the Windows XP again to get rid of the malfunction and tweak it for five hours and the likes. I am quite bummed that movie week was sabotaged by evil technology, but I am revisiting it again, starting from Monday and ending on Sunday with one extra movie. Rejoice people.

Todays movie worthy of being second first has a very touchy, make it or break it genre, the satirical comedy, which tends to expose the faulty nature of society and all in between. "The Onion Movie" was released on June 3rd 2008 after a long history of filming through 2003 and 2007 and was written by Robert Siegel and Todd Hanson. There is no actual plot apart from the vague storyline of anchor man Norm Archer, who has to adjust to the idea of a corporate takeover. The emphasis falls mainly on the news, interviews and commercials, which take on to some of the media norms in todays society that we take for normal, when they are quite unnatural.

For instance let me start withe short, but very diverse news flashes that cover topics from "the internet crashes down for three hours and all over the US a drastic increase of people doing their jobs is noticed" to "the new non-smoking policy leaves just one room available to smoke in" and I am not sure which state that was. Coupled with that people also see small vignettes of different social aspects like the military, technology, sport, music industry, movie industry, poverty and terrorism although the last is not that social at all.

We have the sexually driven in her lyrics pop star Melissa Cherry, who claims to be a virgin and to sing about pure feelings. However her stage attire resembles that of an underage porn star and her songs carry the deep and profound titles "Shoot your Love on my face", "Down on my Knees" and "Give me your love from behind". Another sarcastic joke with the entertainment industry comes in the face of Stephen Segal's new action movie "Cockpuncher" and I am not talking about the bird.

Apart from that there are many more vignettes to watch like the Masked Gunman, who comes in a bank with a gun, but not to rob, instead he demands a job and becomes employee of the month. We have the newest PCs that shoot out with the speed of bullets and freaky reports. I am not sure how most people can react to such a movie, since satire is differently perceived by people and can be either true comedic genius or bland and stupid like the movie parodies from the likes of "Superhero Movie" or "Meet the Spartans". However I do urge people to watch this movie and see in what a ridiculous world we live in. The reality check is a must have.

Now enjoy the funny trailer:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Side NOTE: Technical Emergency

I seem to suffer from quite some bad luck regarding technology. My PC decided to delete something from the Windows Configuration program and well I can't start the machine. I called my techno whiz friend over and well it didn't work out, so I am calling a specialist. I will hav eto postpone activity for some days. I am so bummed movie week got canceled.

Monday, June 9, 2008

MOVIE WEEK: "Love Songs"

I have decided to start a themed week series that will continue through as a tradition with usually repeating themes, but well the world has enough material for several hundred reruns of a themed week, so I am not worried. So with great Solemnity I declare: “Welcome to Random Movie Week”, which means that for seven days I will post seven reviews of randomly picked movies I think are worth mentioning.

First stop is a small pearl of the French movie genius. “Love Songs” is a 2007 musical, which ran in 2007 Cannes festival with two other movies and was nominated for a Golden palm Award. The movie is directed by Christophne Honore and is about life, death, and love and all of their aspects intertwined into an unusual story.

Ismael (Louis Garrel) works at a magazine and is an a very heated, passionate love-hate relationship with Julie (Ludivine Sagnier). What makes things even more interesting is that the relationship is not monogamous and the third partner is Alice (Clotilde Hesme), who happens to be Ismael’s coworker. Of course being a threesome is a bubbling cauldron of problems such as Julie’s constant fits of jealousy, Ismael’s inability to act adequately with both women and Alice’s unsatisfaction and sadness with being unacknowledged as an equal in the relationship. However when Julie dies from natural causes Ismael is left in ruins and Alice is left out emotionally from what is going on with him, but remains a close friend. Through her she meets Erwann, who is the brother of Alice’s new boyfriend and through the short time of their friendship become lovers. This comes as a great shock to Julie’s family as they are very close to Ismael.

What I liked about this movie is the typical French approach to love in different aspects and to fit everything from pure emotions to threesomes and gay relationships. The atmosphere is weird because of this story line and yet you get the usual notes of melancholy and depressions that outline everything, even the moments of happiness. Being a musical a role in this all is the fact that throughout the 90 minutes I listened to 14 magnificent songs, performed by the actors in the movie with great artistic spirit, body language and facial expressions. The lyrics are incredible in their own originality and metaphor, although I can’t provide translations at this time. However I will offer you a sample of the beginning songs from the movie with a video. “Love Songs” is a movie worth watching with great depth, sensuality and that tongue in cheek vibe we get from time to time, typical for France. Enjoy:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

"City Of Illusions" by Ursula Le Guin

Author: Ursula Le Guin
Title: "City of Illusions"
Pages: 232
Publisher: Ace Books

“City Of Illusions” is the third book in the Hainish cycle, which I had happened to stumble on, before I reached “The Left Hand of Darkness” and I wasn’t left disappointed. From the three so far I enjoyed this book the most.

The story this time is set on Earth, our Earth referred to as Terra in the distant future and well we pretty much find it in ruins in a state after a major apocalypse, but not the way most people think. Terra has healed all wounds, has overgrown all the cities, know humans are nearly extinct and live in single Houses, giant ranches, miles and miles apart. Our future descendants never recuperated from the War culturally and exist on a pre-technology level of society. This of course is done against their will, since Terra is ruled by the Shing, rumored evil aliens referred to as the Enemy, who can lie with their minds, when general belief around the galaxy states that with telepathy no one can lie. So the Shing live in a giant city, the only one existing city Es Toch or the City of Illusions/Lies and forbid humans to evolve in any way, while they thrive with electricity and technology.

Falk is the protagonist of the story, an unusual human specimen with yellow eyes of a cat, who is also rumored to be a Shing, but he can’t tell for certain. Mainly because his brain was telepathically fried, so he sets on a journey to Es Toch to find his identity and answers. He teams up with Estrel, once he gets abducted by the fearsome and quite brutal in its rituals tribe Basnasska and escapes with her to the city. However things get kind of messy, when he learns that she is actually a tool of the Shing. To that initial shock comes the knowledge that the Shing are actually humans, who in order to prevent more wars have pretended to be the enemy. Then comes a boy, who announces that he is Agad Ramarren from the world of Werel (yes the same Werel from “Planet of Exile”), who has come here on a mission to contact Terra. The highest point in the novel is when Falk has to choose whether to make a psychic surgery to regain his memory. The dilemma consists in that once he regains his old memory his current life will be deleted, which he doesn’t want since is in love with a woman from his House. Secondary reason is that he knows that the Shing are lying about their history and intentions to help him regain memory and travel back to Werel. However as the story progresses we see Falk and Ramarren meld into one personality and escape earth with a hostage without revealing Werels’ coordinates to the Shing so that they may not attack Werel.

All of this happened in 232 pages, which is unbelievably deep and skillfully written. I can even forget the fact that this is sci-fi, a genre, which initially doesn’t attract me much, but this book certainly changed my view if not a little. The main theme of the book is clearly about truth and deception. For quite a time I was fooled by some of the false theories Le Guin has presented, which were later revealed as false for new ones to fill in their places. The endless circle of lies and truth, which is later announced as lies and myths that were deemed as lies become true, is perplexing, intricate and overwhelming in the positive aspect. Then comes of course how the novels in the Hainish cycle interconnect is also enchanting. When we left “Planet of Exile” Werel was just about to settle down and here in “City of Illusions” we learn of Werel as a fully blooming world with a new rave forged from the two before. As a fan of world building, these tiny tidbits of setting, beliefs and history are precious and add volumes and depth to the experience.

Characterization here also is important and is mainly shown through Falk-Ramarran, who consists of two polar personalities, which reflect the struggle between truth and lies. Falk is naïve and in tune with his heart’s desires and emotions, while Rammarran is a mathematician, a person of logic and in full control of his spirit through a complicated spirit discipline that suppresses emotions. The process of both personalities melting together is parallel to the assimilation of what is fact and what is deceitful information.

I am confidently recommending this classic to anyone!

Friday, June 6, 2008

"Scent of Shadows" by Vicki Pettersson

“The Scent of Shadows” by Vicki Pettersson for me is probably one of the best books I have had the pleasure to read in a while. It can be described as gritty, dark, violent and one of the more captivating Urban Fantasy titles on the market. A lot can be said about the book, the ideas it conveys and the quality of the writing. By my rating standards this novel exceeds the maximum ten points and skyrockets far in the distance.

“The Scent of Shadows”, which actually is only the first installment of the “Signs of The Zodiac” series, follows the photographer and multibillionaire heiress Joanna Archer from the moment her life changes for the worse. She is a strong character, which is typical for the genre and has a colorful biography to boot. From being messed up by a trauma in her childhood that led her train herself to be a modern age amazon Joanna finds herself thrown into the great battle between Light and Shadows agents, where her fighting skills, short temper and her aptitude to violence come in handy.

The other face of Las Vegas hidden behind the neon lavish is a battlefield between the Shadow Zodiac and the Zodiac of Light, where twelve agents from both sides are meant to fill a star sign on each Zodiac. Each agent has his conduit, which is their special lethal weapon. Armed, dangerous and trained they have one purpose: fight. Seems like a standard good vs. evil plot, but here comes the world building and the reader is strapped tight and slammed into a rollercoaster of action. Vicki creates a sub-society of superheroes, who can heal fast and possess their own special mythology. Something that simply can’t be passed on so lightly.

Another amazing factor is the sense of smell, which is taken and elevated to new and incredible heights. It’s not only there to make a small entrance as a deus ex machina to track the foe, even though one of its major purposes is. A whole new world is opened up with this acute and powerful sense of smell, which can detect all smells and their remnants and it even connects people to each other.

But it doesn’t stop there. Vicki builds on top of that a whole science relying on genetics that is concentrated on how to mask and change smells and characteristic scents. Also killing a star sign with his own conduit your own scent is erased and you become invisible to the senses of the people around unless you make contact.

For me all these little details that get revealed part by part without info-dumping and by sensible dialog is enough to hook me alone, but what made me purely addicted to her work is her style of writing. Judging by my own experience with writing, first person POV could never quite mix with wondrous paragraphs of deliciously long sentences of descriptions. It just shows how much I have to learn to extract the maximum of both techniques together and for that I simply bow down before her skills.

But now let’s view Joanna Archer, who is not only flung without her consent or idea of the whole Zodiac troops and star signs, but finds out that she is the daughter of the leader of the Shadow Zodiac, while her mother is the prize star sign of the Light Zodiac. She is destined to do a lot and she can choose to be on either of both sides. As a bonus she possesses special skills from both sides as well.

But of course being an awesome one of a kind hybrid isn’t all about the perks. Joanna, although playing for the good guys, is vulnerable to all the energies and defenses against the dark, although we are not sure as of yet if vice versa applies as well. Her role in the superhero society is met with mistrust as Light is equal to Shadow inside of her and the equilibrium between the both can and has been tipped easily.

Her character is the most exact brought-to-life metaphor of the struggle between good and evil inside the human being and that is what makes her as real as any other human being can get. Coupled with the challenges to live the life of her sister Olivia, who was murdered the day, she went through the metamorphosis that unlocks her powers, Joanna has to adapt to being this new person. Exactly with this purpose in mind Vicki has her going through a drastic plastic surgery to become her sister. It’s not only a quest to find a place on the battlefield, but to find the person that you are. “Who are you?” is the question Joanna posses to the woman staring back from the mirror and we witness how she is getting closer to finding that answer in between receiving punches and multiple stab wounds.

By the length of the review, you can conclude how much I liked it and I can still comment on everything ranging from the author’s choice of words to the secondary characters and the amazing climax surrounding the traitor among the Light Zodiac. All I can say is that Vicki Pettersson has arrived, plans to stay and there is nothing stopping her.

PS: I am sure stupid for not actually posting this one before I posted the review of the second novel in the series, but well this me realizing my mistake and being unable to write about something new.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Planet of Exile" by Ursula Le Guin

Author: Ursual Le Guin
Title: Planet of Exile
Pages: 140
Publisher: Ace Books

“Planet of Exile” is the second novel from the Hainish cycle and like the first book “Rocannon’s World” it is similar in length, contents and the fine blend between science fiction and fantasy.

The setting of “Planet of Exile” happens to be the planet Werel, third from the Gamma Draconis system, which is an extremely peculiar world. One year on Werel is equal to 60 human years, which is pretty much the average life length of the Tevarans, who are the planet’s original inhabitants. Like in “Rocannon’s World” the race is primitive with no religion, technology or literacy, while the Earth human colony stranded on the planet have once excelled in all fields, but due to the law of the League of Worlds have been forced to remain on the same level as the inhabiting race. This of course leads to the human degradation in terms of science and technology.

The story begins, when the Autumn season is almost reaching its end and preparations are made for the upcoming Winter season. News of an even more primitive tribe called the Gaals grouping in large armies in order to siege large Winter cities, built anew every year, stirs up the waters and forces the Tevarans, the clan of Wold to be more exact, and human fraction to interact. The relationship between the two races has been limited and tense as humans think of themselves as two evolved to be involved with Tevarans, while the Tevarans fear the humans for their telepathic abilities.

Rolery a young girl from Wold’s clan wanders inside the human city and almost drowns, once when the ocean tide returns fast, but is saved in the last second by Jakob Agat, one of the humans in the City senate. This chance meeting develops into a very strange love relationship with a lot less romance too many inadequate moments and bad consequences for both involved. As the long dreaded Winter comes and the rumors of invasions are confirmed, Tevarans unite with the Earth colony. From then on the book handles the siege of the Earth colony city as it manages to fend off the Gaals.

Personally I didn’t find “Planet of Exile” to be quite as entertaining as “Rocannon’s World” or “City of Illusions” due to the fact that in its core “Planet of Exile” is a military novel. The story starts with preparations for a war, which rages from then on in every aspect with sneak attacks, sieges, slaughters and all in between. Although there are deeper themes such as the evolution and interaction of two different species, which for their own survival have to merge together as much as they don’t want, run on the background. The Earth colony suffer from lack of potency to reproduce as an effect of the unusual sun’s radiation and later near the end it has been shown that they are vulnerable to infections, contradictory to the knowledge that no native to Werel disease or bacteria can harm the Earth colony. The Teverans take a step forward in their evolution with Rolery demonstrating a perceptive mind open to telepathic communication, a talent so far not exhibited by her race. This all leads to the idea that for the Earth colony to survive it has to merge with the native Teverans, which clearly happens as it is revealed in “City of Illusions”.

All in all it wasn’t a bad book, but it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. I would recommend it to anyone, who likes to read about military strategy and war.

Related Posts with Thumbnails