Sunday, July 23, 2017

Revisiting Dune

One of the first posts I ever made for this blog focused on Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction epic Dune, which in many ways is the Science Fiction equivalent to fantasy's The Lord of the Rings or Horror's The Stand - basically it's a big-old book packed with story and intriguing concepts that kept the author coming back and helped to grow a large number of fans for the genre.

Of course, my complaint at the time was that the book was simply too darn big, and that if the author couldn't get his point across in a shorter format he needed to get a new editor.

Last Christmas I received all six of the books included in the recent Penguin Galaxy imprint and as I hadn't read the first two before (The Once and Future King and Stranger in a Strange Land) I felt this year might be a good one to read these titles and revisit some classic SF (also taking a quick side-trip into Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as well).

Reading Dune for the third time, and revisiting it after watching the movie, the SyFy channel miniseries and listening to the original film's soundtrack over and over again, I wasn't sure if there would be much for me this time around, but man was I wrong.

For starters (sorry for the fifty-plus-year spoilers) I had somehow completed ignored the environmentalism focus of the novel (also the fact that Lady Jessica was Baron Harkonnen's daughter - which is stated clearly, multiple times), and furthermore the darker aspects of Paul's rise to glory. For years I had heard from friends and others not to read the rest of the series as each book got worse and worse, but now I have to say I'm pretty interested - maybe not all of the fourteen novels that were written after Herbert's death, but the first five may be added to my science fiction reading list.

A really neat read, and in many ways a great introduction to the genre for newcomers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Last night my wife and I saw an advanced screening of Christopher Nolan's WWII epic Dunkirk, and I'm still in awe of what we saw.

The film breaks down the rescue of nearly 400,000 allied soldiers in late May and early June of 1940 from three different points of view; Land, which follows the soldiers attempting to evacuate, Sea, which follows the civilian ships coming to their rescue, and Air, which follows two air force pilots attempting to offer as much cover as possible.

The film is sparse on dialogue, with the lead from the Land section speaking very little until the end, but massive on immersion.  Hans Zimmer's score, often timed out with a stopwatch keeps the tension high and the action moving.

The sheer spectacle of the film was pretty amazing for me, but after a day to think about it, I think I preferred the characterization in Saving Private Ryan to this, which focused much more on the people than the events it covered.

A few caveats: the movie is loud, and in many cases the accents are thick, so unless you've got an ear for English accents, you may have some difficulty understanding some of the dialogue. 

In the end I found the film to be an incredibly immersive experience, and well worth seeing in theatres.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

So I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming on Wednesday with my oldest daughter and I really, really liked it. The film is bright and colourful, fits itself comfortably into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and focuses on a key aspect of any good Spider-Man story, Peter attempting to find the balance between his superhero and school lives. Equal time is given to both, and the film borrows liberally from both previous MCU films and the teen-focused films of John Hughes to place Peter in a really interesting niche in the continually expanding franchise.

I have to admit I was initially hesitant when Marisa Tomei played Aunt May in Captain America: Civil War, but I really liked her in the film, also, I think it works to make Peter appear even younger and the Avengers much older and established.

In the end the movie is a lot of fun, and not getting into any spoilers, was really satisfying - I would definitely see more Spider-Man if it was coming from this creative team.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Review; Baby Driver

Okay, fair warning, I'm a pretty big fan of Edgar Wright's movies in general, I own the movies, a TV show and have made a point to see every one of his films in theatres I can when possible.

So when I saw the first trailer for Baby Driver, I was already fairly certain it would be one of my "theatre flims" in 2017 (as compared to the "I'll wait for it on DVD" or the "I'll wait until I can borrow it from the library") films I see trailers for as well.

Although heist or crime films are not my favourite genre (no monsters, ghosts or things that go bump in the night), I've seen more than my share over the years, I've seen enough to understand the basic beats of the stories: successful heist to begin, introduction of the challenge, gathering of the gang, prep work, the heist, the heist goes wrong, the chase, the resolution.

Baby Driver hits all of its marks as a heist film, but then adds in music in a way I haven't seen outside of musicals before. As his previous film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World used fight scenes in place of musical numbers in a video-game themed boy-meets-girl story, Baby Driver uses music and sound from beginning to end to keep the audience engaged and the story moving.

Simply amazing, and currently my top pick for my favourite movie of the year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: No Last Name

I first heard the name Jack Reacher back in 2010 while reading Stephen King's Under the Dome; his character is mentioned as a character reference for the protagonist Dale "Barbie" Barbara. At the time, I probably wouldn't have put it together, but a friend in my club mentioned that this was referring to Lee Child's book series featuring the character.

Two years later one of my book clubs selected the first Jack Reacher novel Killing Floor as a selection and from that point forward I read a book a month and slowly but surely got myself up to date. Now, like any number of other Jack Reacher fans, I'm stuck waiting for the new title to come out.

Luckily for me, I was able to get my hands on the book No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher short stories. The collection includes twelve short stories, most with Reacher as protagonist and a few with him as a supporting character or even as a cameo. Like the main novels, No Middle Name includes stories told from both first and third person perspective, ranging from senty-ish pages down to less than five. Although normally I like reading short stories in order of publication, Reacher's life is sort of made up of random events punctuated by violence, so the more episodic nature of this collection worked quite well for me.

A great read for fans of the character and also a potentially good jumping on point for new readers.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: The Last of the Wine

As I'm working my way through this list of 36 Historical Novels set in Ancient Greece, there are a few authors I'm always happy to get to, Christian Cameron and Steven Pressfield novels both make for excellent reads, but so far my clear favourites are the novels of Mary Renault.

Renault (1905-1983) wrote a number of both contemporary and historical fiction novels, but is most well-known for her works set in Ancient Greece. At this point I've read The King Must Die, The Bull From the Sea, and The Praise Singer, so I was definitely looking forward to The Last of the Wine. The novel takes place during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young man called Alexias, who is famed for both his beauty and his running.

Unlike most of the novels I've read off of the list (17 others to date), The Last of the Wine is largely focused on the lives of the Athenians in Athens. The novel focuses on Alexias teenaged and adult years and portrays the lives of young Athenian men almost as wealthy socialites. Renault does not shy away from homosexuality in the setting, indeed Alexias' father recommends he takes an older lover, and the love of Alexias's life is a man called Lysis. Both men are disciples of Socrates (who figures large in the story) and much of story involves how Alexias deals with his love for his friend over their lives.

A fascinating read and a picture of Athenian life that is too often shown in historical fiction as entirely focused on warfare.