Archive for June, 2010

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid – Coming Soon to SyFy

June 28, 2010

I don’t know about you guys, but I am IN.  Even though I found Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus totally lame (not even good-bad, just plain-ol-boring-bad), I am hopeful the filmmakers and SyFy network execs read my review and learned a little something from it.  Like, for example, to make sure to save a little something in the budget for the final duke-out scene.  So you don’t have to stage it using bath toys.

Also: Debbie Gibson AND Tiffany!  In the same film!  CAT FIGHT!

I’ll let you know when I hear anything about a release date.  Party at my house!  (And p.s., I have no idea what a Gatoroid is either, but I’m hoping it’s part gator, part robot.  Because that would be awesome, in the purest sense of the term.)

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1642261/20100624/gibson_debbie.jhtml?xrs=share_fb

New Boyfriend is Up!

June 25, 2010

He’s funny!  He’s smart!  He has a crooked smile!  He’s willing to sleep with strangers!

What’s not to love?

Enjoy!

http://megwood.com

MOVIE: The Road (2009)

June 22, 2010

Movie’s fine.  Viggo’s good.  Book was about a thousand times better.

Man, I’m bummed out.

[Netflix it | Buy it | Buy the book instead]

Genre:  Drama, Post-Apocalypse
Cast:  Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Garret Dillahunt, Michael K. Williams, Molly Parker

Two Ex-Boyfriends Come Together to Match “Wits”

June 22, 2010

Two ex-Boyfriends of the Week — John Hodgman and John Roderick of The Long Winters — came together this past weekend for the finale of a 4-part comedy/music stage/radio show on Minnesota Public Radio.

Yes, you read that right!  Both Johns on the stage AT THE SAME TIME (along with Neil Gaiman, “who’s written some stuff”)!  And nothing exploded!  It’s a goddamn miracle.

The show, a series that started in March and is hosted by radio great John Moe, is called Wits. has, over the past few months, brought together musicians and comedians of all types (including Julia Sweeney, John Munsen, and more) to discuss, joke, and sing about a huge variety of topics (“hard work, chickens, parenting, and distraction,” for example).

Though this video starts with a few too many minutes of people wandering around taking their seats (dear MPR, how about editing your film clips before posting?  It’s super duper easy, I swear), fast forward ahead a bit and let the laughing begin.

Really, John Hodgman on a ukulele — what more could you possible need on a Tuesday?

Check the show out here — it’s a blast!

And if you enjoy it, be sure to fire off an email to MPR asking for a second season.  Whether or not it comes back is up to the fans and the station so let them know how you feel!

BOOK: Little Bee by Chris Cleave (2009)

June 22, 2010

Let me start this review off by saying I was very surprised by my reaction to this novel. Not only was it highly recommended by a friend, but damned if every review in every major newspaper I’ve read wasn’t also absolutely gushing.  I expected to fall in love with it, to be blown away by its story, characters, and the writing that brought those two elements to life.

Instead?  While it was intriguing enough to keep me reading until the end, ultimately I didn’t engage much with it.  It was a good story, but overall I found it kind of uninspired and uninspiring.  I can’t explain this.  Perhaps you can.

The novel tells the story of two very different women brought together by astonishing circumstance.  The first is a white British woman named Sarah O’Rourke who has just lost her husband Andrew as the novel begins.   A writer and now-single mother to a little boy who dresses as Batman every day to fight the “baddies,” Sarah is about as mainstream dull as we 30-something women come.  Before her husband’s death shocked her into a new state of mind, she was having a fairly traditional mid-life crisis, including an affair with an also-married colleague.  She had little awareness of the world around her and was lacking in passion for life in general.

While we’re getting to know O’Rourke, we’re also getting to know a young Nigerian refugee who goes by the name “Little Bee” and has, as the novel begins, just escaped from two years of detention in England, where she’d been forced to sit and wait while the government decided whether to allow her to enter the UK or send her back to her violent, dangerous homeland.  Little Bee knows that if she returns to Nigeria, she’ll be killed, and so when given the chance to run, she snatches it up, risks be damned.  She’s savvy, sharp, and kind, with a past so traumatic it’s hard to believe she’s still alive.  It’s her stubbornness that’s kept her going all this time, her stubbornness and one other thing:  Andrew’s wallet, a connection to England, a connection she has spent years and years trying to reestablish.

As it turns out, Sarah and Little Bee already know each other.  They met several years prior, when Sarah took her husband on a vacation to war-torn Nigeria in an attempt to save their marriage (they didn’t quite understand the “war-torn” part, obviously, as we Westerners tend not to).  There on a beach, the two heedless tourists encountered Little Bee and her sister, soon followed by a group of soldiers out for blood.  How Little Bee and Sarah survived is a horrific tale, for both women as well as for Andrew, who ultimately committed suicide in part because of the events of that day.  Now that she’s finally out of detention, Little Bee heads straight for Sarah, using Andrew’s driver’s license, which he’d dropped in shock on that Nigerian beach all those many years ago, to find her.

When Little Bee appears at Sarah’s door, Sarah is at first overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility for her.  A sort of guilt, almost.  She had believed Little Bee to be dead and had spent the past several years trying to push the incident as deep into a corner of her mind as possible.  But as their relationship grows, the two women come to rely on each other for strength, strength that ultimately takes them back to Nigeria in a finale that, I’ll confess, absolutely frustrated me to no end, and, frankly, made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.  (This may have been more out of frustration with the way the world works, I think, than it was with Cleave’s plot itself, however.  Hard for me to say.)

Oddly, this description almost makes me appreciate the book more.  It’s a good story, it really is.  But the writing lacked something for me.  It lacked impact.  Cleave had a good grasp on dialogue, and on dialect for that matter, but his descriptions were powerless and I never got a clean sense of the characters themselves or their emotional states.  I wasn’t moved by this novel, I guess is what I’m saying.  I felt completely disconnected from it the entire time I was reading, and I turned the last page absolutely astounded by all the praise it has  received.

It’s possible I simply wasn’t in the right mood for this story.  But I can’t help but feel like it’s a problem that lies more with the book itself than with me.  Have you read this one, friends?  What did you think?  I’d love to have a conversation about it, especially if your experience was dramatically different from mine.  Hitten zee comments and tell me what you have to say.

[FICTION]

[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon | Browse more book reviews | Search book reviews]

MOVIE: Junkbucket (2008)

June 19, 2010

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film.  It was made by a friend of a friend and seemed to have quite a little following of fans here in Seattle, but a lot of the super-low-budget horror movies I’ve seen have ended up being insufferably stupid,with lame local actors who can’t act, shoddy writing, and unbearably bad production work.  Also, the premise of this film, which I’ll get to in a moment, did not inspire a tremendous amount of optimism in me, I’ll confess.  (I suspect the filmmaker might see this review at some point, by the way, so if you’re reading this, Mr. Lange, please read on because I’m about to get super-duper nice, I swear.)

Color me surprised, though, this movie is actually pretty damn hilarious and even as I was rolling my eyes at some parts, I was laughing at the same time — both of those things, I believe, by absolute design.  Now that’s how you make these things right, people!

The story is about a group of early 20-somethings who have gotten together to help their friend clean out her parents’ cabin at Lake Pakajanomo after her folks died in a tragic accident.  They’re there for moral support, but they’re also there to drink lots, smoke a lot of pot, and have a lot of sex.  Ah ha, the perfect recipe for slasher-movie killings galore!

On their way to the woods, they pick up a hitchhiker who has with him a bag full of weapons (note to all 20-somethings: under most circumstances, you should probably leave guys like that by the side of the road).  Later that night, he tells them a story around the campfire about the very woods they’re staying in.  It’s the tale of a mutant kid, the product of incest, abandoned in the woods by his mother years ago.  Before leaving him there to die, she cut off his, well, his “junk” (ahem) so he could never reproduce, leaving the pieces in a bucket next to his body.  As legend goes, though, he lived, and now roams the woods wearing the bucket on his head, looking for people to de-junk and then kill.

When the group reacts to this tale with horror, the hitchhiker laughs it off, saying it’s just a story.  But later that night, the killings begin, and he’s forced to admit the truth: Junkbucket exists and the hitchhiker’s come to the woods with his bag of weapons to take him down at last.

The thing that makes this completely ridiculous story entertaining is the sharply-written dialogue, which had me laughing out loud more than once.  It’s clear the makers of this film are avid horror fans, and the movie is packed full of nods to other classics with an overall eye towards satire of the genre.  It’s about as low-budget as they come in terms of production quality, but the actors are surprisingly talented, the writing is completely solid, and the story, well, let’s just say I found this to be a pretty unique spin on the old “demented killer in the woods” tale.

I’m not sure if you can find this film anywhere — I got a copy by sending a donation to the filmmakers through my friend to help support their goal for a sequel (what can I say?  I’m a sucker for people who love making movies).  But if you ever DO come across it, I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out.  Hey, it features a sex scene involving an accordion and a mime.  That’s worth the price of admission right there, am I right?

I am so, so right.

Great work, Mr. Lange!  Hot diggity.  I look forward to Junkbucket 2, and if you need any extras, I’d be happy to volunteer my time.  (But only if I get to keep my junk — that goes in my contract, for reals.)

UPDATE! To get a copy of Junkbucket sent to you, send $10 to director Steve Lange via PayPal using the email address mcslange@yahoo.com. You can also use that email to contact him if PayPal ain’t yo’ thang.  Please don’t steal the movie off a Torrent site. These guys worked hard and they’re trying to make a sequel — ten bucks seems a small price to pay to support both films.

[Junkbucket on Facebook | PayPal.com (send funds to user “mcslange@yahoo.com”)]

Genre: Horror
Cast: Erin Stewart, Scott Baxter, Celene Ramadan, David Rollison, Steve Lange, Ryan Miller

BOOK: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (2009)

June 14, 2010

There’s something (good) to be said for a novel that tries to be somewhat experimental.  I mean, even if it doesn’t end up working quite right, I’m always at least willing to tip my hat to the writer for giving it a try.

This novel falls into that category — while overall, I think I’d describe it as a bit of a failure, I was intrigued by what Larsen was doing (more on that in a sec), thought it was well-written, and really found myself bonding with the main character, a 12 year-old boy named Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet.

Now for the bad news.  This novel is about that boy, who mostly just goes by T.S. and who is obsessed with mapping, graphing, charting, and sketching all the things around him.  He draws and intricately annotates everything from the city sewer system to the way his sister shucks corn — there is nothing too complex or too simple to be mapped out by T.S.   It’s his way, we soon realize, of creating order in a world that, for him, feels far too random, chaotic, and unpredictable.

As the story begins, a university friend of T.S.’s entomologist mother has submitted several of T.S.’s drawings for an award at the Smithsonian.  The Smithsonian has been buying Spivet’s work for years, not realizing he’s only 12 years old.  And when he wins this prestigious award, they call him immediately, asking that he come to Washington, D.C. to accept in person and give a lecture.

At first, T.S. is pretty “No way in HELL” about the whole idea.  After all, that would blow his cover — they’d know he was twelve and probably stop working with him altogether.  But when his mother makes him angry one night, he decides enough is enough — home sucks anyway.  He packs up his stuff (including all his cartography tools and “oodles of underwear,” plus snacks) and hits the road, stealing, at the very last minute, what he thinks is the notebook containing his mother’s life work:  scientific details about a new beetle she’s discovered.

T.S., having done some mapping in the past about hobo signs, decides his best option for getting across the country is riding the rails.  He lucks out in boarding the perfect train for the East — a train carrying brand new Winnebagos, one of which he stakes out as his home for the ride.

And here’s where the story kind of spiraled from wonderful to less so.  While riding the train, Spivet finally cracks open his mother’s notebook and finds inside a biography she’s been writing about his great-grandmother, who was a science geek and artist too.  As it turns out, his mother’s life work has nothing to do with beetles — she’s been trying to write the story of this woman who had so impressed and inspired her, and it’s clear from what she’s written that she’s hoping T.S. will provide the illustrations, something that both heartens him (his mother does value him!) and makes him terrifically sad (and he’s just run away from her!).

When the story in this novel is about T.S. and his journey (physical and  emotional), the story is brilliant.  His explorations of himself, his family, his work, and the world around him are sharp, energetic, incredible, unique.  Getting to know T.S. is a joy — it’s pure joy, plain and simple.

The problem is, the story about his great-grandmother, which ends up consuming a huge chunk of the novel, is both commonplace and out of place.  By the middle of the book, which is much, much too long, I started to skim all the sections related to that element, and if I had it to do over, I would likely skip that whole tale completely and not, in fact, feel like I’d missed out on anything too terribly important.

The end of this novel is also extraordinarily weak — so much so, in fact, that I was stunned it had been written by the same guy.  I had to wonder if maybe Larsen had gotten to the end of his own book and gotten bored with it himself.  “Oh whatever,” he might’ve said around page 400.  “Let’s wrap this thing up already.”  Not a good sign, sir.

The “experimental” part of this novel I mentioned above deals with the marginalia.  The margins are packed full of Spivet’s art — his scientific drawings, maps, charts, and heartache (take a close look at anything that has to do with his older, beloved brother, for example, whose death T.S. blames himself for).

While I initially loved this feature — it’s what made me pick this book up in the first place, in fact — I ended up having the same problem with it that I had with the footnotes in Mark Danielewski’s  House of Leaves:  they became a distraction instead of an enhancement.  You can’t really skip reading them because they’re telling part of the story (or, in the infuriating case of House of Leaves, an entire secondary companion story).  But at the same time, reading all the margin notes PLUS the text itself becomes an overwhelming task.

Fewer of these annotations would’ve greatly strengthened the novel overall and enhanced the marginalia itself.  It would’ve made coming across one of T.S.’s drawings a treat instead of a slog.  If only a good editor had gotten their hands on this one, I think it could’ve been absolutely brilliant.  Instead, I’ll just say something (good) about it as an experiment in fiction, and hope that Larsen’s next book takes it all one step further.  Or one step back.  Or whatever it is I’m trying to say.  You get my drift.

Overall, I’d say it’s well worth your time.  But when the urge hits to start skimming sections, roll with it.

[FICTION]

[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon | Browse more book reviews | Search book reviews]

SIFF MOVIE: Cargo (2009)

June 13, 2010

This science fiction movie from Switzerland turned out to be a happy surprise.  Never having seen a Swiss film (I don’t think?), let alone a Swiss space thriller, I had no idea what to expect.  But, wonder of aces and bliss, it not only had decent special effects (though, granted, a bit cartoony in places), but an extremely creative and satisfying story to boot.  Go, Switzerland!

Set some time in the future, Earth has been evacuated due to dangerous levels of acid rain which have poisoned the ground and made it impossible to grow food.  The majority of the population now lives in a series of space stations which have gotten dangerously overcrowded, leading to famine and disease.

A handful of wealthy or otherwise fortunate people have been allowed to resettle on a new planet, Rhea, where, TV ads tell the space station residents, life is bright, clean, green, and happy.

Dr. Laura Portmann, the main character of this story, decides it’s time to get off the station and work her way to Rhea, where her sister lives.  Towards that end, she takes a job as medical officer on a cargo ship transporting, she is told, construction materials for a new station closer to a galaxy more likely to hold habitable planets.  The trip will take eight years (four each way), but will make Laura enough money to get to her sister: totally worth it.

On the cargo ship, we find the usual sci-fi suspects: the grizzled, no-nonsense captain, the suspicious and all-too-serious female XO, the goofy fix-it guys, the nerdy computer/science geek, etc.

Thrown in for good measure, though, is a TSA agent — a space cop of sorts — now a mandatory presence on all vessels due to an escalation of violent terrorist attacks being perpetrated by an anti-technology, anti-government organization known simply as “the Luddites.”

Once the mission gets on its way, everyone goes into cryo-sleep with one person awake at a time, taking eight-month shifts.  About three-and-a-half years in, it’s finally Laura’s turn.  At first, it’s mostly just boring.  Then one night, she begins hearing noises, noises that eventually lead her to suspect someone else is on board and awake — a stowaway.

The next thing she knows, crewmates are dying, the TSA agent keeps making out with her (oh, shush — he’s gorgeous, so who could blame her?), and, well, things with Rhea, she soon discovers, are not quite what they seem.

Overall, I found the story and characters really engaging.  The little romance between Laura and the TSA guy was overdone to the point of silliness at times, but not unbearably so.  Also, I appreciated a lot of the smaller elements, mostly related to the science of space-travel.  Like the ship being really cold, the presence of “gravity reversal” cautionary signs on all the doors (it takes so little to make me accept your space travelers walking instead of floating — so very little — but it does take something, okay?), etc.  Sure, there was noise in space (no there isn’t!), but at least it was muffled.  I forgave it quickly, if only because of the super-cool jet packs.

Definitely a good choice for spaceship-set sci-fi film fans.  Not sure you will be able to see this one on the big screen unless a film festival comes your way, but you can keep an eye out for it at your local video store or prequeue it at Netflix.  And, well, you oughta.  Recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Science Fiction, Foreign
Cast: Anna-Katharina Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Regula Grauwiller, Pierre Semmler

10 PRINT “Hello, World!”

June 8, 2010

Hi, my peoples!  When I logged into WordPress right now, it wanted me to check a box that said “Remember Me” next to it.  Ouch, WordPress.  I have to ask?  To be remembered?  You guys remember me, right?  Even though I haven’t posted for a while?

Sorry I haven’t posted in for-ev’s, but I was out of town this weekend and haven’t seen a new movie in a week or so — the nerve!  The good news is, I’m about to blog a book for you (tonight), AND I have a great Boyfriend write-up 90% ready to go.  HANG IN THERE.  DON’T LEAVE ME!  I WILL BE BACK SHORTLY!

Smooches,

Meg

SIFF MOVIE: Skeletons (2010)

June 3, 2010

Okay, this flick is a strange pup and I’m going to have a really hard time describing it, I think.  But it’s also absolutely delightful, so even if you finish this review thinking, “What the. . .?” try to catch it somewhere if you can (not sure where, I’ll confess — check your local film festival scene and, barring that, keep an eye out for a DVD release?).  You can, and will, I’d wager, thank me later.

Bennett and Davis are two overweight sad sacks with a special skill:  they, with the help of two magic rocks (don’t ask me), can go into your house, open up your closet, and find all the skeletons buried therein.  (Metaphorical skeletons, I mean, not real ones.)  People hire the company they work for, Veridical, to come reveal the things they’ve had hidden deep inside for too long.  Couples about to be married want their secrets told to each other, a husband wants to know what his wife’s been up to, etc.  Whatever it is, these two can pop in, wave their magic rocks, and empty the deepest depths of your soul.

For the most part, they like what they do, but it’s not always easy.  For one thing, Bennett struggles with the fact all they are able to offer is the truth — they tell people terrible secrets and then walk out the door, leaving clients to battle their emotional reactions alone.  Davis, on the other hand, has a far bigger problem:  he’s addicted to “glow chasing,” using the two rocks solo to go back into his own memories.  The memory he keeps returning to, over and over again, is one of him as a child, nestled between his mother and father on the couch, listening to them tell him a story.  At the end of a long, hard day, it’s the best coping skill he knows, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t resist the urge to sink back into that sofa.  It sounds lovely, but too much glow-chasing can make people “Go Bulgarian,” as Davis finds out the hard way when, later in the film, he suddenly wakes up and can only speak Bulgarian (it sounds funny, and it is, in fact, but this syndrome can, and has more than once in the past, result in the chaser’s death).

When the two men take a job that involves a woman and her daughter, though, everything begins to change.  The gig is particularly challenging, due to a variety of factors (for one, her house is in a “cold channel,” which means they can’t get a signal from her closet), so the two men have to spend a few nights at her house (cue hilarious dinner scene, in which every course she serves is a starchy carbohydrate).  Davis begins to bond with her 20-something mute daughter, who hasn’t spoken in years, while Bennett starts to fall for the mother, who has hired Veridical to help her find out what happened to her husband after he disappeared nearly a decade before.

As the challenges pile up, so do the emotions, and eventually, the story and all the characters take a dramatic, lively zig-zag towards a better, happier life.

This movie is sweet, funny, and thoroughly original.  I’ve never seen anything like it, really.  It had such a wonderful balance of humor and heart, and the whole “skeletons” element was absolutely fascinating — the pain that brings out in people, and sometimes the joy, the relief.  I left the theater completely buzzed with joy, wondering when, oh when!, I might be able to see it again.  And then again.  And then one more time after that.  At LEAST.

I was never a huge fan of British film until I started to dig into it with some seriousness earlier this year.  I hadn’t been exposed to it, so I didn’t know what I was missing.  Now that I’m starting to experiment more, I have to say, I’m thoroughly impressed.  It’s so different from American cinema — so much more cerebral and clean, uncluttered with masses of special effects and torturous overacting by ridiculously paid superstars.  So far, I haven’t seen one I haven’t completely adored.  Let’s hope the trend continues.   I have a feeling it will. And if you have any favorite British films — or TV shows for that matter — make sure to let me know in comments!

Highly, highly recommended!

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Comedy, Drama
Cast:  Ed Gaughan, Andy Buckley, Jason Isaacs, Paprika Steen, Tuppence Middleton


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