Sunday, 28 November 2010

More Movies - Favourite SciFi Films

Probably my favourite genre of movie is the SciFi movie. I enjoy the imagination, the special effects, the interesting aliens, and if it's well-done, the fascinating story lines. My Top Ten list covers a variety, from old classics to some newer movies and I think they display a nice variety.

John Carpenter's Starman
 Number Ten is from 1984 and I think it's John Carpenter's best movie. Starman starred Jeff Bridges as an alien who crashes on Earth and must travel across the United States in order to rendezvous with his ship. To do so, he kidnaps Karen Allen, a widower who is having great difficulty dealing with the death of her husband. Basically, Bridges is able to assume the appearance of her husband (alien trickery) to make himself seem more familiar to her. During the journey across the US, Karen tries to escape and, as well, the US government is chasing them as they want to experiment on the alien. The US government is represented by Charles Martin Smith and Richard Jaeckel.

The best aspects of this movie are the interactions between Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges and also the people they meet along the way. These interactions provide Bridges with insight into humanity and in many ways help develop his character; from alien to human. It's a great movie and so many excellent vignettes. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges, one of his strongest roles, and Karen Allen is also excellent. Charles Martin Smith also puts in a very strong performance as the UFO expert who must battle his interest in aliens and his concept of right. There was a TV series spin-off in 1986 with Robert Hayes, in which the alien returns to Earth to help the son he fathered on his previous visit.

Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still
 Number 9 is one of the classics. In 1951, Robert Wise, who also directed West Side Story and The Sound of Music, amongst others, directed Michael Rennie as that noted alien, Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Rennie, or Klaatu, is sent as a representative of other alien races to warn Earth that if they don't live peacefully, they will be destroyed as a threat to the peace in the galaxy.

Klaatu assumes his human form to interact with Earth, especially with Patricia Neal and her son and to attempt to get his message across to the rest of the planet. In the interim, his spaceship is guarded by his Alien robot, Gort. This was a very interesting movie, slowly paced, and attempting to present the dangers of nuclear weapon. There are some nice small scale special effects, especially, when Klaatu demonstrates the power of the alien races. (I won't ruin that for you if you haven't seen before.)

As mentioned, this is a classic. As a side note, a rock band of the 80's, took the name of Michael Rennie's character, Klaatu. They were a mysterious group, many rumours of who was in the band, but they did produce some good songs; notably a version of The Carpenter's, Calling Occupants. There was a 2008 version of the movie, starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, but I must say I have never got up the interest to watch it. Maybe someday.

Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys
 Bruce Willis is in two of my favourite SciFi movies, the first one being Number 8.  12 Monkeys comes from the weird and wonderful mind of ex-Monty Python star, Terry Gilliam. He also brought us such films as Brazil and The Time Bandits.

12 Monkeys stars Bruce Willis as a man from the devastated future who is sent back to the present to stop 'someone' from setting the events in action which will result in this awful future.

During his trips back, he meets the lovely Madeleine Stowe as a psychiatrist who believes Willis to be insane. In the insane asylum, Willis meets Brad Pitt, in one of his wilder roles. He hams it up terribly, but is fantastic.

I really enjoyed this movie, the story line was interesting and complex. The ending surprised me, but I won't get into it as I wouldn't want to ruin the movie for anyone. Suffice it to say, Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis at his best and Brad Pitt is fantastic. An excellent effort from Terry Gilliam.

Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451

Number 7 is not only a great movie but also an excellent SciFi novel by Ray Bradbury. Released in 1966, Fahrenheit 451  starred Oscar Werner as a Fireman whose job is to track down people who save books and then burn them. He meets Julie Christie and gradually begins to question his life.

As mentioned, this is also an excellent novel and the movie follows the ideas and concepts of censorship very well. The movie is definitely recognizable as a movie of the 60's, as the special effects aren't great. However, I think Truffaut displayed the bleakness of Ray Bradbury's future so very well.

Oscar Werner is excellent as Guy Montag, the troubled fireman. I particularly liked the scenes at the end as Montag meets the 'resistance', those people who hide out and try to keep literature alive.

Luc Besson's The Fifth Element
 Number 6 is the second Bruce Willis movie.Oddly, it also has a number in the title (12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense) and The Fifth Element, written and directed by Luc Besson. I will say that my wife doesn't particularly care for this movie, although she will sit and watch it with me. However, I think it covers all the bases; great special effects, interesting concept, sound acting and even a sense of humour.

Bruce Willis once again proves he is an action hero par excellence and in this movie he is surrounded by a great cast. Gary Oldham can play any role and here he is perfectly cast as the villain, Zorg, playing him with wit and menace. Mila Jovovich plays the 5th Element with a nice innocence but also proves her skills as a deadly killing machine. Ian Holm as the high priest is also wonderful. Chris Tucker is outlandish and hilarious as the VJ Ruby Rhod. Even small bit parts like Luke Perry as Billy and Lee Evans as Fog are well acted.

The story is of the deadly Evil approaching Earth to destroy it. Mila Jovovich is sent to Earth to try and stop this deadly evil. She is assisted in her mission by Bruce Willis as Korbin Dallas, an ex - soldier who is now a taxi driver. The mission takes them into outer space to find the other elements necessary to stop Evil. It's a high paced adventure and an excellent SciFi movie from beginning to the very end.

The War of the Worlds
 Number 5 is another classic. The War of the Worlds starred Gene Barry and was released in 1953.

The first thing I will say is that I am disappointed that the movie could not be set in the era and locale of HG Well's book, that being the 1890s and in England. However, besides that disappointment, I find this movie a guilty pleasure.

It's one of those movies I can watch over and over and I must say that I have. There are corny bits but for some reason, the idea of HG Wells' story come across quite well. Gene Barry is satisfactory as the scientist asked to help discover what the meteors that landed in California might possibly be.

There is suitable tension as the Army and Air Force try with all their might to destroy the alien invaders from Mars.

All in all, it's a very enjoyable movie and worth seeing. Hopefully, someday, a director, maybe Peter Jackson will release a version that is loyal to the book. When Steven Spielberg put out his version in 2005 I had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, it was more of a action vehicle for Tom Cruise than an homage to Wells' story.

The First Star Wars movie
 Number 4 happens to be Number IV in the first Star Wars Trilogy. In case of point it was the very first Star Wars movie, but in George Lucas' scheme of things, the first movie was the middle his originally planned 3 trilogies. Confusing, much? Star Wars: A New Hope came out in 1977. This is one of those much awaited movies where I actually remember where I was.

In the summer of 1977, I was spending my time training with the Canadian Forces, working at Base Supply at Canadian Forces Base Halifax. When the cinema down the road on Barrington Street. A bunch of us went down and stood in a huge line awaiting this movie. It had been anticipated so very much and there were huge line ups everywhere.

It definitely lived up to its billing; the special effects were awesome for the time and, in effect, even now they still hold up. They set the trend for so many future SciFi movies. George Lucas was an inspiration and created an empire out of this movie.

Anyway, the movie was great and the follow-on movies were even better. The cast became household names. Having said that, only Harrison Ford was able to move on from Star Wars and not be typecast as Hans Solo.

They did update each movie, with some added technologies, but in my mind, I don't think it was really necessary and didn't really add anything to the originals. The second trilogy was somewhat disappointing; I don't think it had the inventiveness or freshness of the original trilogy. So where were you when you went to see the first Star Wars?

For Number 3, I go back to the classics. Oddly, I saw the 1978 remake first and quite liked it. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Brook Adams was tense, creepy and well-directed. I enjoyed it so much I researched where it came from and was informed that the movie was originally based on a novel by Jack Finney's novel, The Body Snatchers, written in 1955. As well, the original movie from 1955 was based on the story.

Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers
 Number 3 on the list then is the 1955 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. While the special effects in the '78 version were better, the original had a touch to it that really grabbed me. And if there is a choice between a well-made original and a well-made remake, I'll always pick the original.

The story deals with alien spores from space that choose Earth to settle. The spores form pods from the essences of individuals and create duplicates. When the duplicates are formed, the original is destroyed.

The story is so neat, with family members of pod people trying to explain that the pod person isn't their husband or wife or child, but not being believed. Gradually, Kevin McCarthy as the local doctor begins to suspect that things aren't normal in his community. With the help of others, mainly Dana Wynter, he investigates and discovers the alien spores and the plan to take over the Earth.

The movie is tensely directed and came out at a time when Communism was considered to be a threat to individualism and freedom. It struck a chord then, but its success was also in large part that it was a very good movie. There have been other Body Snatcher type movies; in 1993, Gabrielle Anwar starred in a version called simply Body Snatchers. I also heartily recommend this version. You can't go wrong with a good alien invasion story.  One final movie of this ilk that I'd like to recommend is one based on Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. While not of the same quality as the Body Snatcher movies, it's a very entertaining movie and a great story.

Ridley Scott's Aliens
Number 2 is Aliens, the second of Ridley Scott's series. I had listed the first Alien movie in my list of Top Ten Horror movies, but this is the highlight of the series in my books.

In this version, the characters are much better developed, we get to really get to know Sigourney Weaver's character, Ripley and the action is constant and thrilling. The Space Marines are an interesting bunch, from tough female marine, Vasquez, to the true group leader, Michael Biehn, as Hicks, through to Bill Paxton's whiny, Hudson. Lance Hendrickson as the updated Android (or Artificial Person as he prefers) is the most humane of all the characters. Paul Reiser is perfect as the evil company rep who will go to any ends to get a live Alien. And finally, Carrie Henn in her only acting role as little Newt, who has as much courage as any of the Marines.

This movie is not stop action, thrills and spills. It's scary, creepy and full of tension. Some scenes stand out in my memory; Lance Hendrickson volunteering to crawl down the tunnel to get to the automatic recall so he can get the spaceship back. If you have any sort of claustrophobia, it will give you chills. It was an excellent movie and Ripley as the super mom was wonderful. Of all the Alien movies, and they were all great, this is my clear favourite.

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner
 And finally, my favourite SciFi movie, Number One on my list. In 1982, Ridley Scott released another excellent movie, based on Phillip K. Dicks' Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The movie became a cult classic and all time SciFi favourite. Starring Harrison Ford as Richard Deckard, my Number 1 movie is Blade Runner.

This is a fantastic SciFi movie; gritty cop movie with the science fiction thrown in. Deckard's job is to find android's who have escaped and are trying to live as humans.

The setting of the movie is dark, rainy, gloomy; film noir at its best. Ridley Scott creates such an excellent mood and texture. The characters are all great, Rutger Hauer as the head android of a group that have escaped from Mars is intensely disturbing. Darryl Hannah as one of his followers gives her best acting role of her career. Sean Young is cool and detached; is she human or android? Even the Toy Maker, Joe Turkel creates interest.

It's a moody movie, but a true classic and one that bears watching over and over again.

Honourable Mentions

There are so many excellent SciFi movies and they cover such wide ranging topics and ideas. Some of my other favourites include:

Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton's story of cloning dinosaurs
The Abyss - a love story set thousands of feet underwater.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai - witty, funny story about Aliens invaders from the Eighth Dimension. Starring Jeff Goldblum as New Jersey and Peter Weller as Buckaroo and John Lithgow as the mad Alien.
eXistenZ - From Canadian director, David Cronenberg, a strange story of virtual reality and games designers on the run from assassins.
Strange Days - From Jarhead Director, Kathryn Bigelow, another cop type SciFi story dealing with murder, mayhem and virtual reality set on the Eve of the new Millennium.
District 9 - A South African entry, interesting movie about Aliens who crash on Earth and are forced to live in slums around Johannesburg. Very interesting strange movie.
Cloverfield - Final mention is to another Alien invasion film, as caught on film by a group of party goers who must try to escape New York. Very well done movie, with humour and interesting ideas.

Friday, 26 November 2010

A Bit of Sword and Sorcery - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs was best known for his fantasy series; the Tarzan books and the Barsoom (Mars) adventures of John Carter. He lived between 1875 and 1950 and the Martian series came out from the period 1912 for A Princess of Mars and ended with Llana of Gathol in 1948.

I purchased the series twice as most of the first books were ruined during the many moves my family made when I was young. The edition to the left were published by Del Rey, with A Princess of Mars a Seventeenth printing in 1981. All but Volumes 7 and 8 are the Del Rey editions. One interesting note, the first time I bought the books, they cost $.50 Canadian, while when I went about replacing them in the 1980's, they were $2.50 a book.

It's been ages since I read the books, so my memories of each and every story has faded, but I remember enjoying them each time I read the books and they hold pride of place on my book shelves. Even though they were written in the first half of the 1900's, they demonstrate a continuing interest on the part of Earth regarding our nearest neighbour. Consider the War of Worlds by HG Wells, Invaders from Mars, a classic SciFi movie from the 1953, which was remade in 1986.

There has always been a fascination with the Red Planet. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote 11 stories about the adventures of John Carter, the Earthly cavalry officer who finds himself on Mars (somehow) and also about the adventures of his family and friends. The last story contained one written by Edgar Rice Burroughs' son, John Coleman Burroughs.

Anyway, to get back to John Carter, the cavalry officer from Virginia, in Book 1 he suddenly finds himself astrally projected to Mars and is a prisoner of the green Thark. Also a prisoner was the lovely Dejah Thoris, Princess of the nation of Helium. Dejah was to become the love of John Carter's life and many of his adventures on Mars involve her. To get her to Helium, they must travel thousands of miles dealing with deadly enemies and unknown dangers.

The stories were very entertaining, John Carter was the bigger-than-life hero, who with his gallantry and heroism, won over potential enemies and made life-long friends of many savage Mars people, who often end up helping him on his adventures. These adventures take him all over Mars, even to the distant moons. He is often taken back to Earth and must wait (in future stories) to get back to Mars to find out what has happened and to find his love, Dejah Thoris. This happens at the end of this first story, when John Carter seemingly sacrifices his life to keep the Atmosphere Plant working so that the inhabitants of Barsoom will survive. He wakes up on Earth, wondering if he has been successful in saving his new wife and adopted world.

Book 2, The Gods of Mars, came out originally as a five part serial, published in1913. My version was the Seventieth US printing, which was published in Nov 1981. Just the fact that it was the 70th is a testament to the series' continuing popularity. In Book 2, John Carter finally returns to Mars after a ten-year absence. Unfortunately, he arrives in the one location on Mars, the Valley Dor, the Barsoomian afterlife, from where nobody can escape. Typically, for a relatively small book, it's a very complicated plot, in which we once again meet Tars Tarkas, the green giant who had befriended John Carter in the first novel. Newly introduced are Thuvia, Maid of Mars and the Black Pirate (or First Born), Xodar, who will also become a friend of John Carter, and, finally, he will meet for the first time his son, Carthoris. There is much treachery, even amongst his supposed friends in Helium, especially Zat Arras, who sentences John Carter to death. After much adventure, sword battles, travels throughout Mars, we are left with the scene of Dejah Thoris and Thuvia, possibly being slain with a dagger just as a door is closed.

The next two books in the series are The Warlord of Mars, published as a four part serial from 1913 - 1914 and Thuvia, Maid of Mars, published in April 1916. My versions are the part of the 2nd Canadian printing of Apr 1980.  I love the covers, both colorful, with the brave muscular swordsman, John Carter on the first and the voluptuous Thuvia on the second.

The Warlord of Mars continues where the previous one finished, with Dejah Thoris imprisoned in the Temple of the Sun by the high priestess, Issus. Supposedly, she is imprisoned in a room which can only be accessed once a year as it slowly revolves. John Carter enlists the aid of Matai Thang who helps rescue Dejah Thoris, Thuvia and one of Matai's own race. However, he also tricks John Carter and steals the three women, heading north. The narrative concerns John Carter's race to save his wife and Thuvia, meeting new and exciting people and adventures along the way.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars concerns John Carter's son Carthoris and his love Thuvia. Unfortunately, she is promised to another and the only way Carthoris could break that engagement is for Thuvia's betrothed to be killed, but not by her suitor. Confusing, eh? As well, Thuvia is kidnapped and Carthoris must journey to the deep South to find her. Of course, Carthoris is blamed for the kidnapping, resulting in a possible war amongst the various red races of Barsoom. Carthoris must rescue Thuvia, get back home to stop the war and hopefully also win his loves hand. Wow!

The adventures continue with Book 5, The Chessmen of Mars and Book 6, The Master Mind of Mars.

Chessmen was originally published in 1922, the third Canadian printing in Apr 1980. This story deals with John Carter's daughter, Princess Tara of Helium. Tara's hand is sought by Prince Gahan of another state, Gathol. Tara thinks he is somewhat of a spoiled prince and has no interest in him. She crashes in a storm and is captured by the ferocious Kaldanes, another race. Gahan searches for her and does save her, but because he isn't in his princely finery, she doesn't recognize him. The adventures continue when they are both captured by the citizens of Manator, who entertain themselves by pitting captives against each other on a life-sized chess board, forcing the captives to fight to the death, including brave Gahan.

The next story,  The Mastermind of Mars,also follows a different path, following the adventures of another human, Ulysses Paxton, who, like John Carter, arrives on Mars via astral projection. A somewhat strange story, in which Paxton is taken by the mastermind of Mars, a mad scientist who transplants the brains of old rich Martians into young Martian bodies. He wishes to train Paxton  in this skill so that Paxton can do the same for him. Paxton refuses as he loves a young woman, Valla Dia, whose body has been given to an old hag. The story follows Paxton and a strange group of the mad scientist's victims as they try to find Valla Dia's body so that she can once again receive her brain. (Cool, huh?)

Books 7 and 8 are the two remaining copies of the editions I purchased in the late '60's. These are the Ballantine Book versions, quite a different type of cover, but still colorful and full of action.

Book 7 is A Fighting Man of Mars, originally published in 1931, with this edition in Feb 1969. The story covers the adventures of Hadron of Hastor, one of the warriors in service of the Warlord of Mars, John Carter. He searches alone for Sanoma Tora, who has been abducted. Distracted from this search when he tries to save a slave girl of his own race, he is taken prisoner. There he learns of a weapon that will disintegrate metal and realizes it could be used to destroy the fleet of John Carter, which is on the way. What will he do to save his emperor and will he find his lady love? Read and find out.

Book 8 is Swords of Mars once again follows the adventures of John Carter. In this John is determined to stamp out the Assassin's Guild and goes to its headquarters to do so. While there he discovers an invention; a ship which for the first time will take Barsoomians off their planet. He also discovers that the leader of the Assassin's Guild has captured his love, Dejah Thoris!! This is the first time that the adventures go off planet; as the Assassins flee to Phobos, followed by John Carter.

The final three books in the series are; Book 9, Synthetic Men of Mars originally published in1939, Book 10, Llana of Gathol published as 4 novelettes in 1941 and the final, Book 11, John Carter of Mars, Part 1 published in 1940 and Part 2 in 1942.

Considering the time it was written, Book 9 explores the dangers of cloning and genetic mutation years before they became popular themes in SciFi. In this story, John Carter tries to get the aid of Mars' greatest scientist, Ras Thavas. However, Ras is a prisoner of his own nightmare creations, half humans who lived only for conquest. And worst of all is the horror hidden in his laboratory that could destroy Mars.

Book 10 consists of 4 separate stories; City of Mummies, Black Pirates of Barsoom, Yellow Men of Mars and Invisible Men of Mars. The thread is held together by Llana of Gathol, John Carter's granddaughter, who plays the damsel in distress in this story. The basic premise is that Llana is kidnapped by brutal Hin Abtol, leader of an army from the frozen north. Kidnapping Carter's granddaughter could prove to be a fatal mistake; you don't harm the kin of John Carter!

Book 11 is a collection of two stories. The first, John Carter of Mars, is a juvenile story written by Burroughs son and supposedly edited by Burroughs. The second is Skeleton Men of Mars and was originally to be similar to the 4 novelettes dealing with Llana of Gathol. However, this was never accomplished and the story ends up unresolved. The stories deal with the attack of skeletal creatures from Jupiter who plot the conquest of Mars, which involves the kidnapping of John Carter. The first edition of this story was published 14 years after Burroughs death, with the publisher highlighting the differences in style between the first story and the second.

I enjoyed all of the John Carter stories. They are filled with adventure in strange lands, with strange and wonderful races and lovely women to be saved. John Carter is the perfect hero, honourable, steadfast and a man who will protect his family and friends at the drop of a hat. I think these are great stories for a young man looking to escape into a world of adventure.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Top Ten Favourite Book - Number 7

From the back cover of this book, "When she was only twenty-three this, Carson McCullers' first novel, created a literary sensation. She is very special, one of America's superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition." Wordy, eh? Well, don't let that somewhat heavy description scare you away as ths book below is well worth reading and ranks in my Top Ten favourites.

Carson McCullers lived from 1917 - 1967 and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was her first novel, written when she was just 23. Reading through the wikipedia page on her, she didn't write a great many novels and I must say this is the only one I've read. But, having said that, this was a truly great novel.

It tells the story of a young girl named Mick who lives in the South. Her life revolves around her family, their new tenant, the deaf jeweller, Mr Singer and the varied other people that impact on her life. Many of these people come into her life via Mr Singer; the black doctor, Mr Copeland, who tries to bring culture and knowledge to his race. There is the restaurant owner who stands behind his counter watching life go by. There is the wanderer, the drunken radical who befriends Mr Singer and Mick.

It's a deep, wonderfully written story, that touches the heart as it tells of Mick's growing up, the incidents that affect her life. I rank it with others of the type, including A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. This one also tells the story of a young girl's coming of age, dealing with the trials and tribulations of her poor family. She is desperate for an education, in a similar vein as Mick's yearning to be a concert pianist, but unable to even take lessons due to her families poverty. These are great stories that anyone would enjoy. I chose. While they deal with tragedy, they also deal with love and happiness. I chose The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as one of my Top Ten's, partly because it is also such an excellent movie.

I actually saw the movie first, many years ago and was struck by the touching story. Alan Arkin is excellent as Mr Singer, portraying the deaf mute to perfection. The movie is centered more around Mr Singer, with Mick playing a major role as well.

It was a movie that I wanted to share with somebody and I had looked for it for a long time on video so that I could get Jo to watch it with me. The story is so excellent and well told. Of course, I didn't tell Jo the ending, which I won't tell you either; suffice it to say she gave me a smack on the shoulder as there were tears shed. Still, I know she thought it was excellent too. :0)

As I mentioned, Alan Arkin is so good, probably his best role ever. And Sandra Locke, Clint Eastwood's ex wife, is also excellent as Mick. This was Sandra Locke's first role, a real winner.

I heartily recommend both the movie and the book. You will ultimately be satisfied with either and I'm sure feel the same way I did.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Bookstores, Part II

Illahie, Victoria, BC
 In August 2007, I was transferred by the Canadian Forces from my job in Comox down island to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt, in Victoria. Since Jo and I were well settled in Comox and she had a good job there, we decided that I would go down by myself and either come home weekends or she and Nikki would come and spend time there as they could.

I ended up renting a place off St Charles Street in Victoria. It was an old mansion that had belonged to the first big lumber baron.  You can see the place on the left; it was quite fantastic and I had the one of the top floor flats (there were three).

Living room
 My rooms ran the whole length of the front of the house, consisting of a bedroom, living room and kitchen. The picture to the right is actually the living room of the apartment that backed onto mine, but it was very similar.

For the first few months, I generally drove back to Comox on Friday afternoon and then returned on Sunday. In 2008 and until I retired from the military in Apr 2009, Jo and Nikki came down more and more often to Victoria. In fact quite often Jo worked out in Sydney at the other Tab Store (that was the name of the store in Courtenay.)

So often on a Saturday, when Jo was working in Sydney, I would spend an afternoon walking around the downtown, visiting the various book and comic book stores there. There were many new and used book stores down town and just near my apartment and as well, on Johnson Street a number of comic book stores.

Comic Book Stores

I'll start with the comic book stores. Legends and Curious Comics were the two main comic stores I frequented. Curious Comics is a chain, that has stores in other locations on the island and on the mainland. Besides comics, it specialized in games, comic related knick-knacks, etc. Legends, located just up the street from Curious Comics was an interesting place, with a wide variety of new and used and collectible type comics. It was always fun to look through its back-issues and catch up on some of those that I had missed before. I started to collect the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, plus other Alan Moore series there and also J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars series.

New Books

Munro's Books

The best store for buying new books in Victoria, is in my opinion  Munro'sBooks.
It began in 1963, owned by Jim Munro and his wife, author Alice Munro. They started on Fort Street and after another moved, finally settled in its current location in 1984.

The store is great, lots of selection and I love the displays. I've purchased many a Xmas present and added to my collections as well.

An interesting story about Munro's Books. Jo was trying to find me a copy of Sheila Munro's book, Lives of Mothers and Daughters; Sheila's biography of her life with her parent's, Alice and Jim Munro.

Jo checked on line, checked the local book stores in Comox and was having no luck as the book had been out of print. Well, Jo called Munro's Books to see if they might have a copy. She talked to Jim Munro's partner but they didn't have a copy either.

But very shortly afterwards, Sheila Munro called Jo as they had called her to see if she might have some copies, herself. Unbeknown to me, Jo made an arrangement to purchase one of Sheila's copies. To finish off the story, one Saturday afternoon just before Xmas, Sheila knocked on our door, at our place in Comox and personally delivered me a signed copy of her book. It turns out she lives across the Straits in Powell River, BC and had some errands to run in Comox anyway. Anyway, I guess I've nattered on a bit, but just to say, that Munro's has fond memories for me in many ways.

Ivy's Books

Another cute little book store in Victoria is
Ivy's Books, in Oak Bay. Oak Bay is a lovely little area of shops, bakeries, tea shops, antique stores, art galleries and Ivy's Books, as well as another I'll discuss later, Grafton Books.

Ivy's is a small shop, but has a nice selection, especially of biographies and fiction, as well as magazines from England. It's a great place

Cadboro Bay Books

The other new book store that I want to mention is the Cadboro Bay Book Store, located, where else, but in the Cadboro Bay area of Victoria. It's a genteel sort of area, quite quaint and nice to wander around. There aren't a lot of shops in this small corner of Victoria, but enough to make an enjoyable place to spend a couple of hours.

The book store is hidden in a small courtyard and possesses a lovely, different collection of fiction, children's books and others. I found it to be a very eclectic store to wander around.

Used and Antique Books

There were quite a few stores I spent my time wandering around in my search for used books. Besides Victoria, I also went up to Sydney (about 30 minutes drive) to visit Jo and also spend time looking at the used book stores up in Sydney. But my favourite time was to wander through the book stores in downtown Victoria.

The first store I'll mention is the Grafton Bookshop, located in the same area as Ivy's Books. It was an excellent store, especially if you were looking for antique books. I found my copy of Arthur Conan Doyle's book on the Boer War as well as another that he wrote concerning specific time frames in World War I. We found many interesting books there and it had a very wide selection.

Russell Books, located on Fort Street, has been there since 1962. It occupies two stories, the main floor displaying calendars, children's books and a variety of others. I tended to go to the second floor, accessed by a narrow stairway immediately off Fort Street. It had my genre of books, science fiction, mystery and fiction and it had an excellent selection.
The final store I'll mention is one of my all-time favourite bookstores. Even the name is different. Chronicles of Crime, located further up Fort Street. It's another neat area of Victoria; our favourite Indian restaurant was there, plus a number of antique and collectible stores.  As you may have guessed from the store name, Chronicles of Crime specialized in crime/ mystery stories, both used and collectible. It was organized in such a neat way; not your standard, A-Z listing, but rather, by genre's of mystery. Shelves dedicated to French mystery writers, female detectives, police stories, spy thrillers, hard boiled fiction. It was a neat store, and had a feel of a mystery book store. Jo bought me quite a few of my Ian Rankin, Rebus stories there. It was just a fun place to spend an hour or so, looking at books and enjoying talking with the proprietress. Great place.

Anyway, enough nattering on and on. Suffice it to say, one of the best things about being in Victoria was the book stores and having my family spend time with me while I was there. In Mar 2009, I retired from the Forces and now we are happily living back in Comox, where we belong. :0)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Movies, Movies, Movies.. Another list.. Favourite, er, scariest horror movies

OK, I blame this list - making habit on my oldest daughter, Jennifer. I'm sure I never made lists as a kid, but she was born making lists. Pencil in one hand, sheet of paper in the other. Amazing!

Anyway, I was looking through an old notebook that I carry around in my briefcase; both are well used. I used the book to list (there's that word again), email addresses, my snail- mail address book, occasional meeting minutes and, lo and behold, there were a few pages where I had attempted to put down my favourite movies by various genres.

I know the purpose of this Blog was to talk mainly about books, but I have been finding that many times when I've discussed favourite books, I've also gone on to refer to related movies, TV shows and that sort of thing.

So I thought I'd dust off these lists and include them periodically in the Blog.

Nikki on the deck
My next thought was which genre to discuss first. Well, it's late at night, the house is dark, we're watching scary movies.. well, OK, actually, we're watching Parenthood, but the mood is almost there. So, voila, my topic is Top Ten Scary Movies. Funnily enough, a few minutes ago, I was taking Nikki for her late night walk. While we were puttering around the cul-de-sac, I was thinking of this Blog. It must have put me in the mood because as I was lifting her onto the front porch to bring her back inside, I was sure I heard footsteps running behind me. *Shudder!* Of course there was nothing there, but that's always the effect that scary movies have on me.

The first scary movie I can recall ever seeing was a Japanese B movie called the Mysterians. It was made in 1957, but I didn't see it until a few years later in Chatham, N.B. I seem to recall my dad taking me to it along with my older brother and sister. It was a typical B movie, but during the movie, the aliens start abducting women. In one case, the alien floats down from the sky, enters a lady's apartment through the window and takes her away. Well, I tell you, I definitely had trouble that night. When we got home, I kept waiting for that alien to come through my window. I think I even got dressed in my pyjamas at the top of the stairs that night. (Remember! I was only a youngster!)

There was another I remember watching on the television with my sister one afternoon (in Chatham again). Darned if I can remember the name of it now, but it involved a group of knights on a mission to get a princess back from an evil witch (I think). They had various challenges to go through, like the cyclops, the bubbling mud, etc. Scary, scary.. I spent most of that time either behind the couch or flying my toy plane out of the living room into the dining room during scary moments.

Finally, another Saturday matinee in Chatham, with my buddies. I don't think I stayed for the end of this one, Phantom of the Rue Morgue, based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story. I spent most of the movie with my face behind my fingers or looking down to make sure my shoes were tied properly. When the hand fell from the chimney, it was time to go home. Well, actually time to leave the cinema, wait outside for my friends to come out and then go home with them so nobody at home would know I left early. :0)

There is something about scary movies, 'you can't live with them, you can't live without them'. That adrenalin rush is pretty heady, but the after effects of making sure the doors are locked, that you turn on all the lights in the house before you go to bed, that's just something you have to deal with.

So what made my list of the ten movies that scared me the most? In no particular order, let's start with -

13 Ghosts - I've never seen the original movie from 1960. When the 2001 movie with Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz and Matthew Lillard came out, I braved all and went to see it by myself. I don't know if it was terrifyingly scary. Matthew Lillard provided some excellent comic relief as did Tony Shalhoub, but the effects were excellent and the sudden views through the special glasses did add quite a bit of tension. You could see what the people in the house couldn't. It was quite neat. I think they may have tried a bit too hard with the special effects, but all in all, it was well worth watching. It's a movie that I don't mind turning on when it shows up on Space or TBS or whatever station might be showing it.

The Birds - This is the Alfred Hitchcock from 1963. It starred Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette and Tippi Hedren. The scariest thing about it was trying to figure out why the heck the birds were flocking together in swarms and attacking humans!! There is a scene in the bedroom of Rod Taylor's house when Tippi Hedren is pressed against the door while the birds swarm her that was very frightening. And the ending, well, just spooky. I won't ruin the ending for you.

Alien - I drove down to Edmonton from Cold Lake Alberta with a buddy, partly just to see Alien. By then I was 24 years old so I felt I had now put that old bugaboo of being affected by scary movies behind me. Nope. I've enjoyed all the Alien movies and the second is probably my favourite. But as the first in the series, this one was excellent! At one point, to try and calm my nerves, I had to go out to the concession stand for another drink. (I had learned that this was a better idea than just going home.) Mind you, during the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I went to see by myself at University of Toronto, I left after about 10 minutes. Somebody had explained the story to me in gruesome detail and I kept waiting for the next thing to happen and couldn't take it anymore. Another scary space horror tale was Event Horizon, starring Sam Neill and Lawrence Fishburn. Try it, you'll like it.

The Shining - I can't remember which I did first, go to the movie (1980) or read the book, which is by Stephen King. Either way, both were scary and excellent. I think the movie was a little over the top, maybe not surprising as it was a Stanley Kubrick movie. Jack Nicholson definitely made the most of his role as Jack Torrance, really hamming it up. But it was tense and breath -taking from beginning to end. The scenes in the maze were excellent and the twins who kept trying to get Danny to 'play' with them. Enough, enough!! There was an attempt at a TV remake in 1997 with Steven Weber as Jack Torrance and it was also pretty good. I think I prefer the original movie.

Night of the Living Dead - George Romero's first zombie classic came out in 1968. Continuing a trend of mine, I went to see it on my own. Why did none of my friends want to go see these movies with me? No matter, I'll haunt them in a future life! This was a great movie, the grainy film quality, the tension as the people trapped in the house try to survive this invasion of zombies. It left you sitting on the end of your seat. Just this moment I got a chill down my spine. I'm not looking forward to my dreams tonight! There have been many really good zombie movies and TV shows. I've just finished watching a BBC mini-series called Dead Set, twinning the Big Brother show idea with zombies. Cool! The AMC network is showing a new series called The Walking Dead, that I watch upstairs Sunday nights while Jo does anything else downstairs. George Romero has made a career of zombie movies. Another excellent one was Day of the Dead (1978), where the survivors hole up in a shopping mall. Funny and scary both. 28 Days Later and Dog Soldiers are two other excellent British entries in this genre.

Psycho - I watched this Alfred Hitchcock classic in my film class at university (and yes, I took many 'bird' courses at university). The movie came out in 1960 but I had never seen it until my film class presented it. I had heard about the famous shower scene and when it came up, was mildly scared. But from that point on, the tension built. The movie is excellently paced; each sequence would start slowly, then build up to a climax that had you on the edge of your seat. It was a very tense thriller and a favourite of mine. Don't watch the remake with Vince Vaughn. It's not worth watching! Why remake a classic?

The Ring - This was another one I went to on my own. Jo had returned to England to sell her flat in the Fall of 2002 prior to moving back to Comox to be with me permanently. So bored one evening, I decided to go see The Ring at the local theater.  Based on the Japanese movie, Ringu, this one starred Naomi Watts as a woman who is investigating how a mysterious tape seems to be causing the deaths of anyone who has watched it. This is critical as she and her son and best friend have watched the tape and they now have one week to live. It's a very stylized film, but also very scary. Especially scary was the scene where the girl comes out of the TV. I won't say anymore, as I don't want to ruin it for anyone else who may not have seen it. (OK, definitely becoming creeped out now)

Black Xmas - This is an old favourite of mine for a few reasons. It was filmed at University of Toronto and came out in 1974, the year I went to U of T. There were many familiar landmarks; the sorority house was down the road from our residence. I lived at University College, near Hart House where much of the action took place. It was a Canadian film, with Canadian stars Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin, amongst others. There is something about it, very Canadian; sort of sloppy, humorous, but at the same time, very, very scary. What a way to spend a Xmas night!

OK, now onto the big two.... the two movies that scared me the very most.

The Exorcist -  Before I actually went out to see this movie, I read the book. I would get so scared that I couldn't read it by myself downstairs after everybody else in the family went upstairs to bed. The part of the book I remember most was the scene where the priest is alone in his cell at the seminary, listening to a tape of  Regan (Linda Blair in the movie). It sounds like a foreign language, but as the priest rewinds the tape to listen again, he realizes that in fact Regan has in fact been speaking 'BACKWARDS'! Gad!

That summer I had a job cleaning out a daycare after it closed for the night. I would bring my radio with me to keep me company as I was the only person in the school. When the theme for The Exorcist by Mike Oldfield would come up, well, let's just say, cleaning didn't take too much longer.

Then the crowning glory when my friend, Alain, and I went to the movie. It was kind of a graduation present for us, we were now old enough to go to an adult movie.

How scary! That's all I can say. It was sometimes over the top (pea soup vomit), but it was such a dark movie and built such tension. For weeks after that, if I had to babysit my brother and if he happened to call out in his sleep with a bad dream, I was convinced that he was possessed. lol.. Yes, I do have a great imagination.

And number one in my book.......

John Carpenter's...

Halloween - It came out in 1978, my first year in Cold Lake, Alberta. A buddy and I went to see it at the Base Theater. The theater was full and I was sitting beside a young lady. Tension built. When the music would sound most threatening and you would think something was going to happen, Carpenter would trick you and let nothing happen. Then out of the blue.. 'stab'.. shriek!! The last half hour was so intense. The girl beside me would scream; I'd scream. The nice thing, if it can be called a nice thing for a horror movie, it was just scary, not gory.

To top it off, when I returned to my rooms that night, the lights were off in the hallway, just the red emergency lights were on. I kicked open the door to my room, turned on my light, checked under the bed.. I only did that for a couple of weeks mind you. I did eventually get over it. :0) Many years later, I tried to watch it with my daughter, but the atmosphere was all wrong. Daytime, at home. You need the full audience reaction for this one, or a dark and stormy night.

Some honourable mentions

Poltergeist, The Thing, Rosemary's Baby, Jaws, The Haunting (original), Exorcist III, The Changeling, Scream, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Entity and The Pyx.

Sleep well!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 8 (Big Brother is Watching)

When I first started thinking about doing a Blog on books, I made up a Top Ten list so that I'd at least have something to write about when I couldn't think about anything else. Well, as time has gone by, the list has undergone some slight revisions. I had originally listed The Princess Bride, by William Goldman in this spot. However, the more I thought about it, I really didn't have much to say. It's one of those books that I did enjoy tremendously, but when I thought about it, it's the movie I preferred. I didn't actually read the book until I'd watched the movie a few times.

The other day when I went to the Rotary Club Book Sale, I found a copy of a book that had disappeared from my collection a few years ago, probably quite a few in fact. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find an edition in such excellent condition of Nineteen Eighty - Four, by George Orwell. It was finding this book that made me revisit my Top Ten List.

Firstly, it is an iconic work of Science Fiction, that has impacted not only countless readers, but I think has affected many other authors with its theme of the little man battling against Big Brother/ or government. Besides that, once I had it in my grubby paws, it brought back such fond memories. I've read it two or three times in the past years and have enjoyed totally each and every time.

The book has been the subject of BBC programs, two excellent movies, the first in 1956, starring Edmund O'Brien in the role of Winston Smith, the little man and the timely 1984 version, with John Hurt as Winston and Richard Burton in his last film role before his death, in.. yes, you guessed it 1984.

For those who may not have read the book or seen any of the film adaptations, here is the basic premise, as taken from the jacket of the pictured book. This Penguin version, for your information, was first published in 1954 (the book was written in 1949), with this edition printed in 1964. Anyway, back to the summary...

"1984 is the year in which it happens. The world is divided into three great powers, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, each perpetually at war with the other. Throughout Oceania, 'The Party' rules by the agency of four ministries, whose power is absolute - the Ministry of Peace which deals with war, the Ministry of Love (headquarters of the dreaded Thought Police) which deals with law and order, the Ministry of Plenty which deals in scarcities, and the Ministry of Truth which deals with propaganda. The authorities keep a check on every action, word, gesture, or thought.' Hence the well - known phrase, "Big Brother is Watching".

It was and still is a fascinating book, the story of Winston Smith, the lowly functionary who works revising historical historical records to ensure they match with current government philosophies. his world is rocked when he helps Julia, who hands him a note stating "I Love You". And with that begins his spiralling life surreptitiously meeting with Julia, trying to avoid the Thought Police.

Even though we are now in 2010, the book still resonates. The question in 1984, when the movie was redone and new editions of the book published, was whether his vision of the world had taken place?Look at some aspects, such as CCTV in which your life is monitored, DNA registries, complex computer systems that track your financial transactions, your life in Blogs, etc. In some ways he was a pretty darn good forecaster of the future. But in others, maybe he wasn't so correct, that being that on the whole, the Western world does still permit freedom of expression, freedom of ideas. Even with the US Department of Homeland Security and the like, with the constant threat against individual freedoms vs security for the majority, we're probably not quite in Winston Smith's world yet.

I think one of my favourite parts of 1984 was Appendix 1, The Principles of Newspeak in which Orwell outlines the principal language of Oceania. For example, the use of the word 'free' was still acceptable, but only in the context of "The dog is free of lice", but not in the Oldspeak context of "intellectually or politically free". I'm so very glad I found this copy of 1984 as it has rekindled my interest in the book and also in George Orwell's other writings.

Other George Orwell novels

I have previously read only one other Orwell novel, his other iconic text, Animal Farm. I first became aware of the story when I saw the animated movie version of the story as a child. For me, and I'm quite sure I saw it in the early 60's on TV, it was sort of scary. The animals revolting and taking over Manor Farm.

The book was written in 1945, the edition on the left republished in 1985. It's the story of how the animals, lead by the pigs Snowball and Napoleon, take over Manor Farm. The basic commandment of the animals is "All animals are equal." Eventually, and this is where it gets scary, Napoleon takes over with the help of the dogs and chases Snowball away.

I won't get into it anymore in case you haven't read before because it is worth reading. The book reflects Orwell's suspicions concerning Communism as ruled by Joseph Stalin. You should read.

In the past few months (maybe years) I have found a couple of other Orwell books in my used book store explorations that are now on my 'to be read' shelf.

Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London was written in 1933 as a documentary narrative of Orwell's personal travels.

It's a factual account of his experiences among the poor of both capital cities.

In this edition the cover art shows a detail from "Bank Holiday in the Park" by William Roberts.

Burmese Days was one of Orwell's earliest novels, first published in 1934.

It reflects his impressions of the final days of the British Empire experienced during his days as a Police Officer in Burma.

The story was originally written in 1934 and this Penguin edition printed in 1969. As an aside, I've got to say if you want to have some nice books in your bookshelf, you can't go wrong with some Penguin Books. They add a wonderful look and touch to any display of books.

Burmese Days as described on the jacket -

"Flory, a timber merchant, has educated himself to a point of self disgust and acute horror of the other English people in a small town in upper Burma. Then Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives in Kyauktada to stay with her uncle. Flory sees in her a chance to escape from his drunken womanizing bachelordom, but he reckons without the wiles of U Po Kyin, the magistrate, the jealousy of a scheming ex-mistress, and above all, the cold opportunism of Elizabeth herself.." .. and the plot thickens.

Other Big Brothers

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932. It is Huxley's best known novel. The version featured was printed in 1975 and I've had it since my university days.

The story is set in AD 2540 and everyone is ruled by the World State. To keep itself in power, this means that all people are conditioned from birth in the State's values; 'buy a new one instead of fixing the old one, because constant consumption, and near-universal employment to meet society's material demands, is the bedrock of economic and social stability for the World State.'

The book tells the story of Bernard, an alpha male who doesn't fit in because of his inferior stature and of Lenina, a vaccination worker who is attractive to a variety of males.

 Honestly, I can't say this is one of my all time favourite SciFi novels. I did take it in my Science Fiction novel course at University (I did indeed take a few 'bird' courses) and it does stand a test of time, one of those books that should be read.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is another classic of the sci fi genre. It's another of my favourites. I guess I have a thing for the underdog.

It's the story of Guy Montag, a fireman, whose job is, instead of fighting fires, setting fires. He is part of a team that goes to the homes of dissidents, finding their stashes of books and burning them.. Hssssssssss! Boooooooo! (The title is explained within the book as the temperature at which book paper catches fire.

Like Winston Graham, Montag begins to question his life. Montag wanders through his life by rote, his marriage is boring, his life questionable. It's when he meets Clarisse McClellan that his life changes and he turns his questions into actions. I won't go any further in my summary, as the book is really a must read and I wouldn't want to ruin any of it.

The book was also a subject of quite a good movie, directed by Francois Truffaut and starring Oscar Werner as Montag and the lovely Julie Christie as Clarisse. I have read that Bradbury was so happy with the ending of the movie that he changed his version in future versions of the book. All in all, I highly recommend this book.

Another of my favourite stories in the Big Brother type futures is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I had read a couple of Margaret Atwood's other earlier Canadian Literature (Can Lit) stories while I was at University; Surfacing was one of the books we took in my first year Canadian Fiction course and I tried The Edible Woman and a book of her poetry, The Circle Game,but neither was my type of story.

In 1985, she tried her hand at science fiction with The Handmaid's Tale and hooked me. It incorporated her vision of an Orwellian future and also her feminist view of the world. the story deals with a future United States which has become sexually repressed new world called The Republic of Gilead. In it the world is ruled by an intolerable theocracy of religious extremists. The story revolves around Offred, a woman taken from her husband and family to become one of the handmaids, whose role, since she has been determined to be fertile, is to procreate for the Commander and his infertile wife. Once again you have a battle of the individual against the whole. This is an excellent story that I've read again and again and know I would enjoy again. It was also the subject of a well received movie, written by Margaret Atwood and Harold Pinter and starring Natasha Richardson as Offred, and Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway as the Commander and his wife. I heartily recommend both.

The final book I'd like to recommend in this genre is P.D. James' Children of Men, published in 1985. This book was also subject of a film, with a pretty good cast, Clive Owen as the protagonist, Julianne as the female foil. But I've got to say it did not work. I so looked forward to seeing this movie and it was a total waste of time, so disappointing.

The book was excellent. P.D. James is noted for her Inspector Adam Dalgleish mysteries. This was a bit of a change for her and in my mind, it really worked.

Similar to the Handmaid's Tale, it does deal with mass infertility. It is set in England in 2021 and deals with a country that is steadily depopulating but there of course are a group of dissidents who don't follow the popular theories.

In this story the main character is an Oxford don , Theo Faron. Once again, this main male character meets a female Julian, who is part of a dissident group called the Five Fishes and they want Faron to approach his cousin who has been elected (decreed Warden of England) to persuade him to enact a variety of reforms including returning to a more democratic system. And the story goes on from there with the government chasing this group, especially since one is pregnant.

Once again, I enjoyed this story greatly and it fit nicely into the big government controlling the lives of its citizens and an individual/ small group of dissidents working against this tyrannical overrule.

I recommend all the above books and hope you take a chance on them.
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