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January 27, 2010

Enough Is Enough

We have reached beyond the saturation point on Vampires. I'm sick of it. I'm thoroughly upset at the current slough of vampires. Ironically, I'm mostly tired of it because all of the vampires are beautiful, misunderstood, just-want-to-be-loved-and-live-a-normal-life vampires, instead of blood thirsty monsters.

In Dracula, by Bram Stoker, the Count is an old man (although, granted, he youthens as the story progresses) who is not at all attractive. His fangs are visible, he has hairy palms, is mostly bald, and is extremely pale. He often flies into rages that are terrible to behold. While, even with his horrible exterior, he still manages to convey an appeal to women (probably his confidence, power, and predatory pheromones), many of them are slightly repulsed by him when they first see him.

But, in the end, Dracula is a predator and a villain, killing people with nearly wanton abandon. You must cut off his head AND stake him through the heart to kill this beast. (As an interesting note, Stoker's vampire could walk in daylight, although he didn't prefer it and was less powerful in it; it didn't kill him outright or immediately. That got tacked on later.)

Count Orlok, a rip-off on Dracula when the studio couldn't get rights to the book from Stoker's estate, is one of the first versions of a vampire on film. He is ugly, pale, and scary -- like Dracula in the book -- and a sense of menace surrounds him.

However, a few years later when the play based on the novel was a success and the Stoker estate allowed a film version to be made, they cast a fairly suave guy, Bela Legosi, to play Dracula. His dancer background made him glide across the screen and his debonair European sensitivities gave Dracula a sexiness that slowly became the norm when presenting vampires of any sort on film.

This is how I like my vampires-- ugly, predatory, and out for your women. I want to see them beheaded and staked, and I want it to be a bloody and god-awful action; none of this turning to dust the instant the stake enters their heart crap (even though I was a big fan of Buffy).

Today, we live in a world where vampires are, for the most part, sexy, young, misunderstood, and wracked with guilt. They do things to stay alive like simply stop feeding (which should make them dried out husks over the long haul, but in most versions simply makes them paler and a little less strong) in order to fit into society. They love transitory humans, they care for them, protect us from their more predatory cousins, and write poetry and make diary entries. In other words, for the most part, vampires aren't vampires any more. Hell, sometimes they GLITTER in the sunlight!

Right now, we have at least three vampire tales on TV (Being Human, True Blood, Vampire Diaries) as well as vampires showing up in other shows (Sanctuary, Demons, et al). And, of course, we have the current Twilight Saga movie series. In most of these, the vampires are good looking, young, sexy. Many are tortured and don't want to kill human beings.


Here's what I want from my next book or movie vampire:
  • Sex appeal: However, this sex appeal is used only for conquest. To make him/her a better predator. Remember, Ted Bundy was considered sexy by many of his victims-- it helped him to be a better killer.
  • Blood: I want this vampire to kill people. I want him to be remorseless about it. I want him to be a serial killer.
  • Weaknesses: I want the classic weaknesses; garlic, silver, holy water, holy symbols/symbols of faith, running water, thresholds on homes, ash/holly stakes through the heart, cutting off of head, salt, rice, etc.
  • Age: I want older vampires. Teenagers who become vampires would, most likely, do stupid things that would cause human beings to kill them. I want my vampire older, wiser, more wicked, and cunning. He's survived this long among the sheep because he doesn't make himself known.
  • Rage: Let's go back to vampires who rage when things don't go their way. Who have petty jealousies and kill people for simply being in their way.
  • Powers: I have never liked a vampire who became a bat, wolf, or mist. However, I do like my vamps to control vermin and wolves, who have the strength of 20 men, who have limited arcane and/or mental powers. I also prefer them to dislike and avoid mirrors (due to seeing themselves as the dead/undead they are, rather than what they appear to be) rather than to be invisible to them.
  • Scary: Lastly, let's make them scary again. Frightening. Let's make a movie with an R rating because of the violence involved. Hell, the movie should be a serial-killer movie where the killer just happens to be a vampire. No more misunderstood high school goths. I want something that keeps you awake at night for hours after you watch it because every creak in the house makes you think one of them is coming to get you. I don't mean to say I want fountains of blood and gore -- often not seeing the blood and gore is scary than seeing it -- but I want him seducing women and killing them. Attacking the men and beating them to death. I want heroes falling to him because he is just that bad-ass, cunning, and powerful.
So, from this list, I guess you could say that I want a fucking vampire movie. Not this teen-goth-angst-driven dribble we've been getting the last few years. I want a damn monster movie.

January 14, 2010

The Dresden Files

I watched the TV show on Sci-Fi and enjoyed it and was disappointed when they decided not to continue it. I recently took the next step and found that the show was based on a series of books written by James Butcher. I asked my wife to get me the first book from the library, and then started absolutely devouring them.

The premise is this: There is a private investigator in Chicago who advertises himself as a Wizard. He actually weilds magic of the most elemental sort-- he can fling fireballs and stir up windstorms and protect people with a nearly invisible shield of force. He works with the Chicago PD on all of the strange, fringe cases where the people are threatened by those from "his world;" i.e., vampire attacks, fairy incursions, other spellcasters doing diabolical things, etc.

The thing I like most about the books is that the they are written in the first person. This means you are always in the mind of Harry Dresden. You learn what he learns and figure out the mystery as he does. He also happens to be a very interesting and engaging person to hang out with. There are humor, suspense, horror, mystery, and a fair bit of sci-fi/fantasy in every novel.

Another thing that is nice to see is how Butcher's writing improves with each novel. While the first are not bad by any means, you can feel the author getting more comfortable with his character and his world with each book-- which is to the detriment of Harry! As the author gets more comfortable, he is able to put Harry through tougher and rougher situations. He also shows some steady growth of the character between and throughout each novel. He is more powerful now than he was in book one, and wiser. He learns frequently from his mistakes, too. Characters also grow, change, and even die around Harry, which shows the effects of this other world on the "real" world of Chicago.

Mostly due to my loving wife, I now own all but four of the series (and one of those doesn't count as it hasn't been published yet, but should be early this year). I have read the first eight novels already and I am about 1/3 of the way through book nine. I already have books ten and eleven lined up to read and, as I mentioned above, am waiting for book twelve to be released.

I definitely recommend this series if you are a fan of fantasy, horror, and mystery.

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Acting is one of those things that, unless you see it done badly, you don't often notice. Last night, my wife and a friend went with me to watch a touring production of Camelot, one of my favorite musicals. While everyone in the cast was proficient with the singing (and a couple of standouts) and everyone said the lines, every last one of them was flat and without any emotional context.

Now, you have to know that I own the DVD of the Richard Harris version of Camelot. I've also seen a video of him doing the role on Broadway. I've watched the Richard Burton version. When Camelot came to the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera starring John Cullum (who was starring in Northern Exposure at the time), I went to a matinee.

When Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave are singing "What do the Simple Folk Do?" to each other, you get the sense of their longing to make amends and move closer, and their frustration with not being able to. In last night's production, the most emotional context I got was that the king was angry for some reason, and that was only once during the production of that song.

When Lancelot sings "If Ever I Would Leave You," you should get the feeling like he has loved her from afar for a long time and that the pain of being separated would be terrible for him to go through. And you do, when Franco Nero sings it and even when Robert Goulet does it. Last night's production? Not so much. They were just lines and words... sung well, mind you... but without the right context or emotion.

And, of course, at the very end when Arthur realizes he has won the only battle that matters, the one of history and legend, and he tells Pellinore that "some of them do sparkle!" I usually get goosebumps. Hell, when I watch the Harris version, I often get misty-eyed at that point. It is so heartfelt and sincere when he does it that I am that moved. Last night? First, they had a chorus singing over the top of his lines, which made them very hard to hear and blunted their effect. Second, the guy just couldn't put the emotion into it to make them teary-eye worthy. Oh, he said them loudly, but there is a difference between loudly and filled with emotion, which a lot of people just don't get.

I don't want to rip on the entire production. The woman playing Guinevere had a very nice voice and showed some small signs of decent acting and comedic timing. The man playing Merlin and Pellinore (dual-cast, as the characters don't share scenes) was very good with his lines -- the best in the cast. The young man playing Mordred also spoke his lines with relish and humor. So, there were some bright points. I believe after watching it that the director chose his actors primarily for their singing ability, however, and not for their acting. And it showed, at least last night. Maybe I'm being too harsh and they usually do a better job than that. Maybe they had a long haul to get to SJ and were tired and not quite on. I don't know. What I do know is that, while the audience clapped politely, no one stood up for the cast at the end until after all cast had taken their individual and group bow. And even then, it was a half-hearted standing ovation at best.

Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography "I know it when I see it". Well, I know good acting when I see it, too, and last night did not contain much of it.

January 6, 2010

Movie Round Up, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire 3/01
An excellent film. The acting is a bit raw and natural, the story is well told and the pacing is superb. I love how certain questions the protagonist doesn't know at all, but the other questions he knows because of the story elements shown the audience. Definitely deserved the accolades it received and was one of last year's best.

The Wrestler 3/05
Another excellent film. This is a smaller scope picture, and that works. Rourke, an actor I actively dislike, was excellent as the aging, down on his luck wrestler just trying to get it right and live his life. I loved the behind the scenes footage of how the wrestling world works, much of it using real wrestlers. I'm not sure about the ending, still; it works, but I would have liked to see the story take a different direction at the end.

Watchmen 3/06
I think this film was made before its time. As the years go on and people come back to it, I have a feeling it will gain in popularity with both comic book geeks and movie watchers in general, much like Blade Runner did (which was a commercial flop at the time of release, but has a huge following now and is considered genre-defining today). It may be too faithful to the graphic novel it stems from in some ways, which turned off mainstream audiences.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine 5/03
Not a bad film, per se. Rather, a film that did nothing new and really taught us nothing new about the character, Wolverine, or the world he inhabits. Way too dependent on special effects and told "too big" of a story for the character. Wolverine, like Batman, is a character that needs smaller, more personal stories, to stay in the shadows, and use his feral nature and "bad-assery" in a natural and not very heroic way to do heroic things. This movie made Wolverine less feral and less bad-assed, so it becomes a failure. And, frankly, it had way too many super-powered people in it to manage. We were watching "Wolverine" not the X-Men; don't include all those other paranormal individuals, wasting time on their stories and making them interesting. Focus on your main protagonist and his story, dammit.

Star Trek 5/12
I found this to be an awesome new addition in the Star Trek and sci-fi genres. I liked nearly all of the casting choices, believe that JJ Abrams brought something new and exciting to the well-known universe of Star Trek, and that they now have a lot of interesting directions they can go with the series. However, that being said, I didn't like some of the choices they made. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows my huge dislike of time travel; it is too trite, over-done, and winds up creating too many self-defeating paradoxes. I felt that destroying Vulcan was unwarranted. I found it odd that Captain Pike, who stated early in the film that he studied Kirk's father's incident, didn't recognize anything going on as extremely similar to the events of that previous incident. I absolutely hated the entire set up of Kirk getting jettisoned to the ice planet, meeting up with Spock Prime, and then running into Scotty. That being said, this was a rousing good time to watch, hit mostly all high notes, and is an excellent sci-fi movie. I look forward to a sequel.

Angels & Demons 5/20
I finished reading the book for this movie just prior to its release. It was an exciting story, told in a visual style that would translate to film easily, and I thought it could be a much better film than The Da Vinci Code turned out to be. If I had gone into the movie with no knowledge of the book, I likely would have been much more entertained than I was. As it is, I found myself wondering aloud why they completely changed and lost some characters, changed important plot points, screwed with the pacing, and eliminated the bookend story elements that led up to the big reveal. In the first film, they took a story that needed visual, action elements and instead filmed them as boring non-action oriented conversations. This book had all the excitement and interest one could want in a movie, and they chose to take many of them out, completely change the plot, and dumb it down.

Lastly, Dan Brown is so anti-Church (and especially the Roman Catholic Church) that it isn't even funny. His books, and now the movies based on them, seem to only exist to show how petty, stupid, murderous, and greedy the church is. I'm not fan of the church, but it has done a hell of a lot of good in its time, too. This kind of obvious, biased hatred should be exposed for what it is.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 7/09
The first Transformers movie was stupid, loud, action-oriented fun. A great popcorn movie. This second installment is just loud and stupid. The plot makes little sense. The characters act against type and without thinking. You've got military people proclaiming first that Optimus Prime is the best of the best, and then in the very next scene a helicopter unceremoniously dumps his lifeless carcass about 100 feet to the ground. You've got gigantic evil robots that would be perfect for destroying a pyramid that needs destruction instead fighting against two racially stereotyped good robots and two human beings that shouldn't be able to hurt it. This movie is simply a mess and didn't deserve to make $400 million domestic.

Harry Potter: Half-Blood Prince 7/17
I'm an HP fan. I've read all the books more than once and I've seen all of the films more than once. I like both; they are very different products with very different goals, but I find value in both. Going into this film, I was excited-- this book, I felt, had the most action and would need the least bit of editing of many of the books as they were turned into films and made to focus primarily on Harry. The end result, however, is a film that is farthest from the plot of the source material of any of the HP book/movie combos. They changed so many things so dramatically that I honestly don't know what to expect from the concluding "movie" (I put that into quotes as they are filming the last book as two movies, to be released in the spring and fall of next year). I recently re-watched the film on DVD and it got worse with a repeat viewing; more questions about where they are going to go and how they are going to fit the new elements introduced out of the blue in this film with the existing elements that should be in the next film(s).

Julie & Julia 8/20
I enjoyed this "chick flick" quite a bit. However, it has one part that is an A+ movie (everything with Meryl Streep and about Julia Child) and one part that is, at best, a C (everything with the Julie character and Amy Adams). I like Amy Adams, but the material for her half of the film didn't give her a lot to work with, the conflict in it was superficial and unneeded, and just wasn't very interesting. Everything about the Julia part was fascinating, humorous, dramatic without being forced, and fun to watch. I left the film wishing that it has been entirely about Julia Child and her life becoming the first "domestic goddess" we had on TV.

Where the Wild Things Are 10/17
This is a dark, realistic portrayal of a boy coming to grips with and understanding his darker emotions. I felt it was one of the top three movies I saw this year, and makes my top 10 list for best films of the decade, for sure. That being said, I had two problems with the film version:

1. The boy in the film is not a prankster; he is a mean, nearly sociopathic punk that a) needs a spanking and b) likely some medication intervention for his issues. I'm not sure his mother would be so forgiving of the film's child as she is of the book's child; the film's child needs some serious counseling.

2. In the book, the boy is sent to his room for his bad behavior and the world of the Wild Things springs forth out of his closet. It is obvious to the boy and the reader that this was a make-believe place. The film makes it seem like the boy actually goes to a place in our world where these creatures, which represent both his own emotions and elements of people in his life, really live and breath.

However, these are relatively minor quibbles with what is otherwise an awesome achievement -- a film that doesn't talk down to children about their emotions and needs, and doesn't pander to the adults. I cannot wait to get this on DVD and rewatch it.

January 3, 2010

Random Thoughts

1. I hate it when I'm so tired I can't keep my eyelids up/open, yet I cannot fall asleep. It is 3:30 am and I am exhausted... but can't sleep. All the usual tricks and tips haven't worked yet so far.

2. We had over a foot of snow fall on us in about a 12-13 hour period of time. It is remarkable to see that much snow accumulate on the ground and collect on the deck and porch. What was more amazing is that, after shoveling the walk down to asphalt, not 10 minutes later it was covered in a 1 inch dusting. Unfortunately, this is not good snow-fort or snow-man building snow... too light and fluffy. Sigh.

3. has improved a great deal. Strangely enough, they did this improvement by becoming a free game. Not often that you don't spend money to make money, but it worked. The micro-transaction system is not horrible, either, and there is a ton of good content for those who don't want to pay either a monthly or micro-transaction fee. Good word of mouth is bringing more people to the game and you can actually team now. Still doesn't have as good a population as CoH or LOTRO, though. But superior to WoW and CO.

4. Romy is really showing a preference for me over M lately. Not sure why it is so pronounced. He doesn't dislike her, but is seeking me out over her when we are in the same room together.

5. My fingers currently look like overstuffed sausages. Strangely, I'm not having any real arthritis pain to go with the swelling. Lucky I took my wedding ring off the other day, as it started then and has gotten worse over the last few days.

6. I just don't find New Years a big deal. Haven't since a boy, but it gets less-so every year.

7. I really, really am hating Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and any variation thereof. What was a nice party novelty has turned into a common-place noise maker and party divider.