Friday, May 28, 2010

Fantastic Short Film Friday - Universal Dead

And we are back with another weekly installment in our Fantastic Short Film Friday series, as we look to showcase films released in the "lesser" known form of cinema- the short film.

This week we have for you something a bit different, rather than the usual one and done short, this one is the first episode in an ongoing zombie webseries called, Universal Dead. Directed by Vernon Mortensen and written by Kelly Parks, the series stars a plethora of talent such as DB Sweeney (of Jericho fame), Gary Graham (of Alien Nation fame), and Doug Jones (of Hellboy and Pans Labyrinth fame). So yeah, its nice to see some fairly known stars in a webseries. Here's the official synopsis:

Planet Earth is ravaged by a strange disease that turns people into mindless murderers. As civilization struggles to survive, a small team of US Navy SEALs must protect a doctor from the Center for Disease Control on a mission to evaluate the claims of an erratic scientist who may have discovered the secret to mankind's salvation.

I'm not sure what I really think of Universal Dead so far. To be fair it's only the first 5-minute episode. But it does have this cheese factor to it, with some oddly pretty poor acting, and I'm not a fan of the gray shuffling zombies the filmmakers have decided to use. For one, the make-up looks poor, and secondly, I think shuffling gray zombies in a visual medium is just lazy. Still, it's very early on and there's a lot of promise I can see here. So I'm waiting to watch at least the first 5 episodes before I make a final judgment.

I can sit around all day and watch a zombie show and a bite-sized webseries sounds right up my alley. To find out more information about the series including the rest of the series (when they finally air) go: here.

I know it seems as though I'm down on Universal Dead, but it's only because I see so much promise here and can't wait for the creators to hit their stride and flesh out the story they want to tell. Give the series a chance, watch the first few episodes, and hopefully we'll all be rewarded with an interesting and fun take on a zombie filled world. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Publication Date: 2010 in US


In 2014, two experimental viruses—a genetically engineered flu strain designed by Dr. Alexander Kellis, intended to act as a cure for the common cold, and a cancer-killing strain of Marburg, known as "Marburg Amberlee"—escaped the lab and combined to form a single airborne pathogen that swept around the world in a matter of days. It cured cancer. It stopped a thousand cold and flu viruses in their tracks.

It raised the dead.

Millions died in the chaos that followed. The summer of 2014 was dubbed "The Rising," and only the lessons learned from a thousand zombie movies allowed mankind to survive. Even then, the world was changed forever. The mainstream media fell, Internet news acquired an undeniable new legitimacy, and the CDC rose to a new level of power.

Set twenty years after the Rising, the Newsflesh trilogy follows a team of bloggers, led by Georgia and Shaun Mason, as they search for the brutal truths behind the infection. Danger, deceit, and betrayal lurk around every corner, as does the hardest question of them all:

When will you rise?

Joshua's Take: 4/5☆

Why I picked up the book: a story about journalism, zombies and blogging? Seriously, did Mira Grant write this book for me?

I am a journalist by study if no longer by trade and while the world of news no longer interests me as a profession, I am still fascinated by reading the news, or to more precise, how newsies go about their craft. And as we all know, especially you, purveyor of our blog and I'm sure countless others, most people get their news online or from television. The majority of people first hear about something from the John Stewart Show, Colbert Report, or watch news stream instantly online from any war torn area. Newspapers can no longer compete. It's a both sad and sobering thought because the truth is, bloggers don't have a filter. This is both freeing and cumbersome, the idea that now I can write as much as I want, about whatever I want to, unfiltered and unfettered, but I don't have an editor, someone to pare down the post to the essentials. I'm also my own fact checker now and that's scary. What I'm trying to get at here is- imagine a world where the zombie apocalypse has happened, and now the world has been saved and gets its information from everyday modern journalists who run their own blogs, no filter no fact-checking but their own- and god help us because that's the very definition of chaos.

I'm not going to lie, nothing brings me more pleasure than a good zombie and vampire story. I'm a sucker for the decaying flesh and blood sucking fiends, but while I do read a lot of their stories, I'm also very picky on what I consider good, because damn I read a lot of their stories and I want to be impressed. Mira Grant has crafted a fascinating world, post zombie apocalypse style. So many stories I read about zombies deal with the zombie infestation rather than the aftermath, the thought about the daily life of people who have to live with zombies shuffling around. Do people run and hide and cry? Sure, some do. But many others just go about their daily lives, just now in fortified cars, with guns and more watchful eyes.

Mira Grant is the pen name for urban-fantasy author Seanan McGuire who has penned two previous novels (Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation) both of which I have not yet read. But man, after reading Feed, I'm eager to read her other books. She has created something special with Feed. It's reality and horror though information, a story of how people can be at times even crueler than wave after wave of zombies, a story about a world rebuilding through politics and journalism, though faith and death, through virus and understanding. The zombies are here to stay, but we can survive if we have enough information on the hows if not the whys. We can all thank Mr. Romero for that one.

However, what really got me about Feed, what really kept me glued page after page, were the main characters, the Mason brother and sister, or to be precise, the sister, Georgia Mason. While Sean Mason is the balls to the walls, fun Irwin of the story (Irwins are journalists who go out and like to poke zombies for the viewing public's pleasure), Georgia Mason is part of the Newsies, journalists who give you the information straight as they see it. Her character reminded me so much of everyone's and mines journalistic ideal, Hunter S. Thompson, or more specifically, Warren Ellis's warped vision of Thompson, Spider Jerusalem from one of the greatest comic book series- Vertigo Comics, Transmetropolitan. If you want to read awesome, check out Transmetropolitan now!! I'll forgive you for leaving me mid-thought. So yeah, we have Ellis's Thompson personified dishing the news on zombies, all the while fighting for the political future of a post zombified United States. Seriously Feed is all about bloggers covering the up and coming Presidential caucus and the zombies that appear to be out to assassinate them and thepresidential hopeful they are following. God, is it any wonder I love this book so much?

I will say that the book does drag a bit as sometimes the POV shifts back and forth, and I wasn't a fan of the final POV shift, although I understand it, but damn if I don't want to accept it. But yeah, while the book does get bogged down a bit with too much character exposition, with conspiracies on top of conspiracies that are just a bit to easy, a bit to transparent to figure out as you sit there screaming at the characters, "why don't you see it, you're smarter than that." However that by no ways takes any of the sheer fun out of the book.

Feed is the first in Grant's Newsflesh trilogy with the second book, Deadline, hopefully coming out soon. Seriously, Feed has it all- great action, poignant deaths (I mean come on right, this is a zombie book), chase scenes, zombies, more zombies, great heroes on the front line reporting the news so people can feel safe. This is what war journalism would read like if zombie's were the new and constant threat. Hide and be scared, but there's no reason to feel afraid and lost because the Mason siblings will do whatever it takes to bring you the news, even if it costs them their lives. A must read for any zombie or journalism fan.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What I Think Of: The Back-Up Plan (2010)

Another month, another romantic comedy and I'm all the lesser for it. This 2010 rom-com is directed by tv director and first time feature film length film director Alan Poul and stars Jennifer Lopez as Zoe, a pet shop owner who decides that since she hasn't met the right man yet, to get artificially inseminated since she wants a child. However things don't go as planned when she meets a hunky farm owner named Stan (played by Alex O'Loughlin). Will Stan stay when he finds out that Zoe is pregnant, and is Zoe ready for the greatest gift of all- a family?

Booo. I know. What the hell was I thinking watching this? But again like I always say, I'll see any rom-com and time and again they prove me a sucker. The two lead character's are so different, so at odds with one another and yet, and yet... so right for one another. Wow. You can imagine how the movie ends. I wanted to see this one because I was a big fan of the 2007 tv show Moonlight, which starred Alex O'Loughlin as the hunky vampire, but yeah, I've come to understand a movie about a woman who is obsessed with having babies isn't really for me.

Here are some of my thoughts concerning this film:

  • Jennifer Lopez has really gone down hill as an actress. I mean she still has the cute rom-com female love interest going, but just thinking how she started out in Selena, then in Out of Sight which is just one of the best movies, it's kind of sad. Still, she has carved out a niche market here, but I can't think of any of the rom-com's that she's been in that have been stellar...or good?
  • Since Jennifer Lopez's character owns a pet store (and since they do book signings at pet stores although this is the first time I've heard of such a thing), Caesar Romano makes a cameo. I'll give any movie more credit when they get Caesar in the film. I love dogs, and Caesar's tv show allows me to watch dogs play and still make me feel like I'm watching something important.
  • I know that Alex O'Loughlin is good looking, but the way he goes about courting Jenny from the Block is really creepy, very stalkerish and not endearing in a cute way at all. Which made watching this film almost feel like a horror/crime thriller, like I was expecting him to turn up with bodies buried underneath his house. But hey, he is good-looking so maybe really good-looking people do things differently.
  • On that note, to many things are left unexplained, too many threads left unfinished. Stan owns a farm that he maintains and yet never seems to work at the farm. Zoe owns a pet shop that she rarely visits. Her guy employer seems to have a crush on her/is thinking about leaving the store, but the thread is never finished and he's only shown like three times so it's odd they had a story-arc surrounding him. Alex goes back to school so he can learn how to open and run his own grocery store but then quits the school because he has to work to support J-Lo's kid, but then he still somehow opens the grocery store and nothing is ever explained. I mean for a rom-com I'm stunned that there were so many left open threads.
  • On that note, why where there so many threads in a rom-com? This movie is just way too long for its source materiel- yay we get to watch J-Lo be pregnant for an hour. Oh shes part of a single-mother's support group, and they're all hippies and lesbians and that's why they're single moms. Good for you director Alan Poul keeping up those wonderful stereotypes. Even worse, you don't go all out on the lesbian/hippy single mom stereotypes so it's never funny.
  • There were just way too many characters in this movie. There's like 15 supporting character's and yet all feel like throwaways and are unnecessary. Especially when Stan goes to the park to hang out with other dads as he stresses about what it means to be a father. Just brutal. Way too many supporting characters that are supposed to matter but just make the length of the film feel longer.
  • On that note, I can so see how Alan Poul has mainly directed hour tv shows like Six Feet Under and Rome, because this movie acts and is paced like a 45-minute show and yet sadly the movie is over 100 minutes long. Painful.
  • Seriously Alex O'Loughlin's character is just way to creepy to be the male lead in a rom-com. I mean he comes off as a stalker/serial killer and while I get that J-Lo's Zoe is desperate, she's having a kid and this guy just keeps showing up everywhere. Again, I guess the really good looking people live in a different world and have a different set of social moral standards.

So that's what I think of The Back Up-Plan. Oddly much worse than I thought it was going to be since I really felt that it didn't know what it wanted to be, a rom-com about two people falling in love, a family drama on what it means to be a family, or a rom-com about two people not ready for parenthood. Either way, it failed at all three. Still there's a shirtless Alex O'Loghlin and J-Lo still looks pretty good, so yeah, some eye-candy I guess. But if you watch it and don't like it, then like me, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Episode 62: Iron Man 2, Robin Hood and Letters to Juliet

Hello there and welcome to the 62nd episode of the Cinema Cafe Podcast, the bi-weekly, twice monthly film podcast by the fans, for the fans. Join us each week as we review new movies releases, look at some dvd's, talk some film news and share our general love for all things cinema. The main goal is to have some fun and hopefully provide the listener with some helpful insight. We are back and the podcasting world is alight once again.

This week we have a treat: it's our 62nd episode, which means we've been bringing you "bi-weekly" content for more than a year now. This week we take a look at 4 movies that have been recently released or are on dvd. With that said here's a look at what we discuss on this weeks podcast:

* Letters to Juliet
* Fargo
* Iron Man 2
* Robin Hood
* Upcoming movie releases for the weekend of 5.21.10 and 5.28.10

Also, film news and more, only on the Cinema Cafe Podcast. We hope you enjoy and happy movie watching.

Thanks as always to all our loyal listeners for sharing the ride with us as we've reached this milestone for the show. It's all due to your support that we have kept things going and we hope you continue to share the ride with us in the coming months.

We're also on Itunes so head over there and subscribe to the Cinema Cafe Podcast and don't forget to post a review! Thanks!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Ficciones is a collection of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, the preeminent Argentinian writer, essayist, poet.

Synopsis from
Goodreads provides:
Reading Jorge Luis Borges is an experience akin to having the top of one's head removed for repairs. First comes the unfamiliar breeze tickling your cerebral cortex; then disorientation, even mild discomfort; and finally, the sense that the world has been irrevocably altered--and in this case, rendered infinitely more complex. First published in 1945, his Ficciones compressed several centuries' worth of philosophy and poetry into 17 tiny, unclassifiable pieces of prose.

Penny's Take: 3.75/5☆

I want to say most of that description is true. I'm not sure if my world has been irrevocably altered but I will say that this collection definitely made me uncomfortable and tested my patience and the limits of my imagination. And it may very well be that I haven't reached that level of enlightenment and why I am not singing the high praises of Ficciones. I found it difficult at times to follow as sometimes there's no logic to some of these stories and perhaps that's what makes them special. But for me, I think I needed more clarity. I won't say I didn't enjoy myself because there were definitely a few short stories that I found very interesting, especially ones that provided a "twist" or a reveal within the last paragraph or line (The Circular Ruins; The Garden of Forking Paths; The Form of the Sword; Death and the Compass). There were a few that had really interesting premises to begin with--Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; Funes, the Memorious; Three Versions of Judas; The Secret Miracle. And there were some that weren't I didn't quite like (or understand) but what Borges did is quite unique, something I'm not used to--he told stories as if they were real reports or news blurb. In some instances he created a fictional review / essay on a fictional author or topic, one may think is real but in reality, it's straight from Borges' imagination.

This was hard for me to rate because 3.5 felt too low and 4.0 felt too high. I can't claim to be a book snob and I think this is a perfect example of why I can't. But if you are, then this may be the right book for you.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Publication Date: 2003 in Japan, 2009 in US


He is a brilliant math professor, with a peculiar problem — since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. She is an astute young housekeeper with a ten-year-old son who is hired to care for him. And between them a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms. Though the professor can hold new memories for only eighty minuets, his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past; and through him, the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the housekeeper and her son. The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family where one before did not exist.

Joshua's Take: 3.5/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because I had heard a lot about Ogawa's work and her Diving Pool collection of novella's sounded right up my alley, but since I couldn't find it, well, I picked up this book instead. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite books, The Time Travellers Wife.

Okay, so The Housekeeper and the Professor is nothing like Audrey Niffenegger work, but while short, it's an incredible sum of its parts, a world where mathematical equations can express the very essence of the stars and the beauty of a falling cherry blossom. The title directly translates from Japanese as The Professor's Beloved Equation and Mrs. Ogawa's voice here is a breath of fresh air, a first person narrative surrounded by a wonderful cast of characters who are ingeniously never named (I leave it up to you to figure out what that means thematically), from the tragic Professor who only remembers things from before his car accident in 1975, who must awaken anew each day afraid, wondering where he is, to the Housekeeper, a young single mother with her own deep problems, who takes care of the Professor and forms an unlikely friendship that gives her both strength and courage, and of course the Housekeepers son Root, given his name by the professor since the top of his head looks like the square of a root sign, and his own felt inadequacies since he has to grow up rarely seeing his mother or feeling the warmth of a family. All three characters are given so much life in such a short amount of time, all given a reason for being through math, oh and baseball!! Just amazing.

Granted I was a bit turned off that Mrs. Ogawa used actual math problems in the books narrative to mirror whats going on internally within the characters rather than use math in an abstract sense. I've never liked math, much like the Housekeeper remarks when the Professor first gives her math lessons, but I have to admit as the story goes on, I became wholly invested, absorbed in the mathematical problems along with the characters. The author has created something truly amazing, she has created a world where math is the poetry, math is the allegory to the character narrative. As a reader, as I read along, figuring out the problems along with the Housekeeper and her son, I became more invested, cheering along with their triumphs and feeling dismayed with their setbacks. It's truly an amazing thing, an amazing world, Ogawa has created.

In 2006, this book was adapted in to a film with the Japanese translation, The Professor's Beloved Equation and directed by Takashi Koizumi who directed the beautiful 1999 film, After the Rain. I have not seen the adaption, and while I hear its a bit different I also hear it's quite good. As long as it stays close to the original source material I'm sure it's a deeply moving and profound watch, so I look forward to having the chance to see it soon.

The Professor and the Housekeeper is the kind of book that people read because they love books and publishers publish because they too love books. It turned out to be something different than what I was expecting, a fantastic look at what it means to be a family through friendship, and while I only read this book because Mrs. Ogawa's Diving Pool wasn't available, I'm glad I did because it opened up the work of Yoko Ogawa for me, moving and surprising me in many ways and I can not wait to read more from her.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fantastic Short Film Friday - Connected

And we are back with another weekly installment in our Fantastic Short Film Friday series, as we look to showcase films released in the "lesser" known form of cinema- the short film.

This week we have the very interesting sci-fi dystopian short called, Connected. This is a Danish short written and directed by Jens Raunkjær Christensen & Jonas Drotner Mouritsen. I'm actually amazed by how beautiful the overall short looks, and it really builds an overall dread throughout until it climaxes in a fight for survival. Here is the synopsis:

Set in the distant future, Connected is a story about survival and greed with a post apocalyptic wasteland as its backdrop. Survivors of an unknown disaster shuffle through a desolate landscape, as it quickly becomes clear that not everybody has the strength to survive.

I really liked the idea of how in a future world where pollution reigns supreme, people must use others oxygen to survive either by being connected to one another, creating a symbiotic breathing system, or by stealing it from a traveler. I just loved the ambiguity of the whole short and how in a world where survival is literally finding breathable air, morals no longer have a place.

I will say though that a minor drawback to the short is the soundtrack. There's
some unfortunate music cues that feel truly out of place in this type of film. I mean, really? Western cowboy banjo's in a sci-fi film?

Still it's a wonderful 7-minutes spent. To find out more information about the short go: here.

So get out your breathing masks and try not to waste any precious gulps of air. Welcome tot he world of Connected.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trailer Talkback: Inception (2010)

The word "obsession" means the domination of one's thoughts and feelings by a persistent idea, image, or desire(cite). Well, the problem I have here is that I have an obsession with the Inception trailer. I first saw this new cut trailer at the Iron Man 2 showing last Friday in IMAX. I was absolutely blown away by the cinematography, the special effects, and the dreamy men involved in the film. Oh and did I mention this is written and directed by Christopher Nolan--you know, the man who did Memento and The Dark Knight.

The idea of Inception is quite interesting--stealing secrets in the dream world and how it's executed is aesthetically mind blowing. Though DiCaprio isn't my favorite actor, I will admit, he's great in these roles. And who else did I see in trailer? Michael Caine (our favorite Alfred--I know I'm lame), Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Juno (I mean Ellen Page) and my all time favorite JGL. After this excited and nonsensical rambling, I think you can tell that I have absurdly high standards for this film when it comes out in July. I hope it meets all my expectations and more. Now, sit back and enjoy the trailer.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Review: Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster


Travels in the Scriptorium was first published in 2007 by Paul Auster. This fairly short novel focuses on an older gentleman by the name of Mr. Blank. He is disoriented and suffers from memory loss. He is 'trapped' in this minimalistic room with a bed, a desk, a chair and an adjacent bathroom. He has visitors that come and go throughout the day; all the characters were previous Auster characters from other works, all but Mr. Blank himself.

Penny's take: 4/5☆

This probably should not have been my first Auster book since as I mentioned, it featured some of Auster's characters from his previous works and if I knew those characters a little more intimately, I may have had a greater appreciation and/or understanding of the story as a whole. But nonetheless, I actually really enjoyed Travels in the Scriptorium. It's hard for me to pinpoint what exactly I liked about it but I'll try.
  • I won't say the story was easy to follow because you are never quite sure what is happening. Mr. Blank, as I said, has huge chunks of his memory missing. But what I liked about it was the element of trying to piece everything together with Mr. Blank as he's trying to make sense of things. Though at times, pieces of memory will come back and the reader doesn't really understand what it all means or how it fits.
  • The characters all seem to serve Mr. Blank and to what capacity, you can only guess. This is when I wished I read more of Auster's works to perhaps understand each person's motive and back story. The characters, for me, were individuals who I wasn't sure if they were genuine but they provided some intriguing conversation and actions.
  • Mr. Blank--you feel sympathetic because he seems so helpless though it seems that he at one time wielded some power and stature.
  • The end was simply delightful.
I recommend this book, perhaps after you've read a few of Auster's works first.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Publication Date: 2005 in Sweden, 2008 in US


Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden's wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pieced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.

Joshua's take: 4.5/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because everyone and their mother kept telling me I'm missing out on life by not having read this book and since it's been made into what I hear is a fantastic Swedish movie, and I always try to read the original source materiel before I see the adaptation.

There are some books that take your breath away, literally. You become so engrossed in the book that you forget to realize that your quiet drawn out breaths have stopped, as you suddenly gasp, drawing the air around you in, finding surface once again from an endless ocean. Your pulse quickens, pounding and your heart gets palpitations, as you nervously and hungrily turn from page to page, your heart beats in hurried succession, bump-bump-bump, akin to the feeling when a loved one say's, "we need to talk." You stop, breath in, catch your breath and smile as you again realize the truth that so rarely comes these days, "this is why I read." Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is such a book- part of that indelible truth- those rare books that not only live up to expectations, but exceed them as you close the front cover, caress it and and ask, "where have you been my whole life?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book in the best-selling "Millenium Trilogy" from Swedish author and journalist Steig Larsson, who sadly died of a heart-attack shortly after handing in the manuscripts for what the world now sees as his legacy.

I haven't been this engrossed, this excited reading a book in quite some time. There's such a great mystery here, so much background explored, that you'd feel as if the Vanger family were real and the excesses and corruption of Swedish big business frighteningly close. Each page breathes new life into the story, and Larsson has created two of the most endearing, yet broken central characters that I believe will stand the test of time, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander- two characters at such opposites that they come together in an explosion of righteous justice and ecstasy, but I'll get more into them in a bit.

The book does a really good job at explaining the ins and outs of the Swedish stock-market and financial industry that while the story is concentrated on the Vanger family and their mysteries, is the backbone to the over-arching whole of the story. It all works amazingly well and draws the reader even more, as they feel as if they too are fighting for the sake of the everyday Swedish citizen. I also thought the action scenes were nicely paced, without being unrealistic and the intrigue and fact finding when they delve into the mysteries was wholly intoxicating to read.

If I had to nitpick, one of the flaws of the book is in its "aha" moment, the moment in all crime fiction when the curtain is lifted and we see the inside of its mysteries, or in the case of this book, the identity of the "killer." I do feel that that while the book is a wonderful labyrinth of crime documents and detecting, there was not enough information for the reader to come up with the same conclusion at the end that Mikael and Salander do. You can guess (I guessed correctly). But that's all you're left with, guesses, because in the end, the world of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as much of a mystery to its inhabitants as it is to the reader. Some may not mind this, but I've read too many crime novels to not feel a bit toyed with and blinded, like at the end of a movie such as My Bloody Valentine (which still makes no sense too me). Still like I said, I'm nitpicking here and no way did that detract from my enjoyment of the overall story.

And talking about Mikael and Lisbeth. If they aren't the ultimate odd-ball, left-field couple ever I don't know what is, and yet it's because they are so not a match, such opposites, that in the end, they do turn out to be the "right" match because they can truly see what's inside the other, highly devastating flaws and all. I love them together and I can not wait to see where they end up. Mikael feels so real because he's Larsson, hard hitting journalist on a mission to bring down corruption and Salander is frighteningly and painfully real in her trauma and neurosis. And that's why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo works so well, because while the world they live in may seem cartoonishly boundless, those two characters feel as if they have a soul, and it's their souls that capture us, the reader. And my god, poor Lisbeth, she is the ultimate crime noir heroine, a modern Valkyrie tied to the wonderful domination that is Swedish crime fiction.

Sadly now that Steig Larsson has passed away, we will never get more of his fantastic and captivating brilliance. But his work stands along in fine company with the works of Henning Mankell, Hakan Nesser, and my favorite Swedish author, John Ajvide Lindqvist (of Let the Right One In fame).

The greatest complement I can give an author is that right after I read this, the first book in a trilogy, I quickly ran out to the bookstore to buy the second book The Girl Who Played with Fire and the only reason I didn't buy the third and final book is because it hasn't been released here yet. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an amazing start in a trilogy where I find myself wondering if I'll ever finish the final book because once that's over there won't be anymore. But then again, that's what's re-reading is for. I for one can not wait to see the movie adaptations now. All three have been released in Sweden, with the film based on this book having been released here stateside in March. I can't wait to see the my minds vision turned to reality on the big screen. Seriously, run don't walk to your nearest book depository and get ready to what essentially amounts to crack on paper.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leftovers: The Simpsons does Ke$ha

I know I'm a week late in posting this but I'm still loving The Simpsons' intro from last Sunday (May 2, 2010). If anyone knows me, they know I'm obsessed with Ke$ha's Tik Tok and when The Simpsons used the song for their opening with all the characters lip-syncing to it; and it reminded me why I still like the show. Maybe the show lost some of it's pizazz in recent years but I feel that it is still relevant and funny. If you haven't seen the intro, check it out:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fantastic Short Film Friday - The Gift

And we are back with another weekly installment in our Fantastic Short Film Friday series, as we look to showcase films released in the "lesser" known form of cinema- the short film.

This week we have the much buzzed about sci-fi action thriller, The Gift. Not to be confused with the equally brilliant 2000 film with a topless Katie Holmes, this is the short from Ridley Scott protege, Carl Erik Rinsch. As I mentioned last week, Mr. Rinsch's short has been causing quite a bidding war as Hollywood studios look to be the one's to turn The Gift into a feature length film. The story is simple: a futuristic Russia, a mechanical box, and a humanoid android trying to protect(?) it. There's really not much more to say about the plot of the 5-minute short except that it is a wonderful blend of cgi magic, minimal dialogue, and simple wonder.

The Gift iss part of project between Philips and five filmmakers from Ridley Scott Associates, called Parallel Lines. Here's some of the information about the collabaration:

Five short films. Five genres. Five of RSA's hottest directors. One unifying piece of dialogue.
Were pushing the boundaries of cinematic viewing, giving you the chance to experience the spectacular Ambilight, picture and sound capabilities of Philips TVs for yourself.

Each filmmaker was asked to create a short in the genre of their choice around the same unifying dialogue and theme. 45 shorts were entered, with Philips selecting the five (from directors
Jake Scott, Greg Fay, Johnny Hardstaff, Carl Erik Rinsch, and Hi-Sim) they believed were the most groundbreaking. You can find out more about the project by going: here

Mr. Rinsch has been very busy as he is currently developing a remake of the Creature From The Black Lagoon and is in pre-production on the remake of the samurai film 47 Ronin which is to star Keanu Reeves. I'm a huge fan of the 47 Ronin story and the idea of Keanu Reeves as one of the Ronin has me both gagging and smiling at the possibilities.

So here is Carl Erik Rinsch's, The Gift. Sit back, enjoy and imagine the possibilities.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What I Think Of: The Bounty Hunter (2010)

What do you get when you team up two really good looking and fun actors, one who sends women all a-flutter with his washboard abs, the other formerly America's sweetheart who has aged really damn well? You get probably one of the Top 5 worst movies to be released in 2010. Again proving I'll watch every rom-com that's released, here we have The Bounty Hunter. This is a 2010 action romantic comedy directed by Andy Tennant (of recently Hitch and Fool's Gold infamy) as stars Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston as ex's in a cat and mouse game for their lives. Butler stars as Milo, a bounty hunter who finds that his next assignment is to bring his bail-jumping journalist ex-wife Nicole, to jail. However, things turn out generically, as the couple find themselves on the run for their lives when Nicole's current investigation appears more than it seems. They must fake being married again and hide out or be found and live down their vows "to death do us part" (and yes I went there). Here are my initial thoughts after watching the film:

  • This film is actually stunningly bad. I mean I know it has an 8% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think that's still being generous. Granted, the trailers looked terrible, but I thought I would get at the very least a generic romantic comedy (which I can always watch), but this is like a hybrid of generic romantic comedy with even a more generic action movie and wow, it's like at the end someone slapped me in the face, looked in my wallet, scoffed at what they saw and then left, leaving me with my money but without my dignity.
  • But the key to how bad I should have known this movie would be was that its directed by Andy Tennant who directed Matthew Mconaughey and Kate Hudson in Fool's Gold, which made my worst movie list of 2008. He was able to take two actors who starred in a film I really liked (How to lose a guy in 10 days) and then reunite them in a movie that made me wish I had lost my very eyesight. It's a shame too, since his directing career started out promisingly. Sure Fools Rush In is generic, but at least it wasn't insulting, and I love Ever After. I mean I've watched that like 20 times that movie is so good. But yeah, no more. You have once again taken two actors I really liked, put them together and made me never want to watch them in another movie again. At the very least I can say this one positive about director Andy Tennant, "I believe from now on I can always count on you to create a movie that will make my bottom list at the end of the year and give me something to talk about. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
  • I'm a big fan of Gerard Butler, but I think this is easily his worst performance. It's like he ate a ham sandwich before shooting and decided to act the entire movie in a really overly dramatic and hammy way. It actually made me really sad to watch him sink so low. But hey, it's a pay check and he got to hang out with Jennifer Aniston, so that's a plus.
  • On that note, damn Jennifer Aniston still looks really good. I think she's gotten hotter in her old age. Sure, she still acts like Rachel in everything she does, but I don't care. She's just damn hot and well, I actually like her Rachel shtick, so I'll watch her in anything, and I thought she was really good in Love Happens.
  • However, while I don't think Andy Tennant's direction helped, I can't say he should shoulder all the blame. Sarah Thorp's script is really frustrating. The whole movie doesn't know what it want's to be. A comedy? Well it isn't funny and there's no standout comedic moments. An action film? Well, the action scenes are really poorly shot and the plot that sets up the action actually makes very little sense. A romance? Well, we also don't really have that, and the reason why the couple originally divorced is just as poorly thought out and constructed as the rest of the movie. In the end, the movie tries to be three things, but leaves the viewer with nothing.
  • Seriously, Gerard Butler is terrible in this film, and his character isn't really all that likable. And for that matter, neither is Aniston's, so you're left watching the movie, with two pretty terrible people not caring if they get back together, or perhaps hoping they do because they deserve to make each other miserable.
  • In the end, I wish I could say something positive beyond, "wow Jennifer Aniston still looks really good", but I'll frankly be stunned if there is a worst romantic comedy then this one released this year. It seems like director Andy Tennant has forgotten how to present believable and interesting characters, and like how Uwe Boll's name is synonymous with the worst of video game adaptations, Tennant's name is now synonymous with the worst of rom-coms.

A definite "sneak out/I want my money back" rating. It's a damn shame this movie has already made around $121 million worldwide which will keep producers green-lighting films like this as long as big names are attached to the finished product. Anyway, do yourself a favor and stay away from this one no matter how much you may like the actors in it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review - Percy Jackson and The Olympians (fiction)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians is a series of fictional adventure and fantasy books authored by Rick Riordan. The series if you couldn't guess is geared towards young adults. The story and journey focuses around Percy Jackson and his demigod (half mortal/half god) friends in a world where Greek gods exist in modern day and all the mythology we learned in school were all true. As in the mythology, the gods mated with mortals and Percy is a product of one of these encounters. His father is one of the Big Three Gods--Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, you find out who midway through the first book. Percy goes to many quests to retrieve something or fix a situation (again these quests are similar to the ones of other Greek heroes--Hercules, Achilles, Perseus, etc.). The overarching storyline that spans throughout the series is that there is an enemy who is trying to destroy Olympus, and there is the great prophecy that may or may not involve Percy and his friends in helping or deterring that enemy.

Penny's Take: 3.5 out of 5
You may remember my review of the movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Well, that movie was based on the first book of the five book series. I recently finished the entirebook series and now would like to review it as a whole.

Overall, I thought the book did a great job in educating readers about famous myths and Greek gods and how they are relevant today. The book made Greek mythology cool to the kids today. I liked how it infused modern day electronics like cellphones and iPods and current events but I also feel that because it infused 'trends' of today, it may not stand the test of time. I'm not a huge young adult reader but I have read The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, and though I refused for the longest time, and ended up loving it, the Harry Potter series. And they all, to me, can stand the test of time because it wasn't too modern. But this doesn't mean that Percy Jackson & The Olympians isn't as good, it's lacks that timeless feel.

I thought the adventures and how the educational factor was infused was done well. The story was consistent though I question the background of three main characters--Annabeth Chase (daughter of Athena), Thalia Grace (daughter of Zeus), and Luke Castellan (son of Hermes). They came to Camp Half-Blood (a camp for kids who are demigods (half mortal / half god) together and I question if one or two aspects of the story were not fully fleshed out. I'll leave it at that since I don't want to give anything away. I still thought it was an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Publication Date: 2004 in Japan, 2009 in US


When the alien Mimics invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many recruits shoved into a suit of battle armor called a Jacket and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again. On his 158th iteration, he gets a message from a mysterious ally--the female soldier known as the Full Metal Bitch. Is she the key to Keiji's escape or his final death?

Joshua's take: 3.5/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because I love Japanese science fiction and the book was recently optioned by Warner Brothers for a big budget movie.

Do you like anime? Are you a fan of dystopian science fiction where humanity fights endless waves of killer aliens? Does the idea of a book from Japan that reads like a cross between Groundhog Day and Aliens excite you? If you're like me then you've checked all those marks standing at the bookstore with a stupid grin on your face as you think about the possibilities. Can such an insane book live up to such odd expectations? It's fun to be a geek.

I loved ever minute of this book. Written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and nominated for the Seiun Awards (the Japanese Nebula awards), All You Need is Kill is a short read (about 200 pages long) and Sakurazaka's writing chews up every sentence as the dialogue bursts rapid fire off the page. There's no wasted writing, no drawn out explanations and exposition. This is just a quick, down and dirty read that will leave you feeling amped, as you move page by page, reliving the same day over and over as Keiji Kiriya does. Not all is perfect of course. I wish there was more background on the alien Mimics, and also how the other parts of the world have fared against the attacks, but some left out information is a small price to pay for a fun and quick read.

What soldier wouldn't give the world to relieve the same day over and over? Sure you would be privy to countless deaths as you witness your friends die over and over. However, while your body may not change, your mind would. You would get more proficient as a soldier, a veteran of countless battles even if no one knows. You go from rookie to veteran in one day. And you can use your knowledge to break the endless loop and hopefully change a losing battle into a winning one. And imagine you meet another person, a stranger, who knows what your going though, but you have to win them over each day since unlike you they don't repeat the same day. You would fall in love with the person, as you first meet them over and over, and they would have no idea. It's like a sci-fi version of 50 First Dates, but with more death and armored powered suits. It's just a fascinating concept, and you can imagine why an American movie studio such as Warner Brothers would be interested in optioning a Japanese book.

All You Need is Kill is released by Viz Media's Haikasoru imprint, and it's honestly one of my favorite book imprints. Haikasoru's mission statement is thus:

With a small, elite list of award-winners, classics, and new work by the hottest young writers, Haikasoru is the first imprint dedicated to bringing Japanese science fiction to America and beyond. Featuring the action of anime and the thoughtfulness of the best speculative fiction, Haikasoru aims to truly be the “high castle” of science fiction and fantasy.

Damn if that doesn't sound fantastic. I would recommend starting with All You Need is Kill and working your way through the rest of their catalogue. The only other book I've read from the imprint was The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa and it was equally awesome. You can find out more information about the book imprint by going: here.

So yeah, check out the book before the Hollywood movie makes it big in 2011. If your a fan of science fiction books touched with a tinge of cool, then you will enjoy All You Need is Kill just as much as I did.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Episode 61: The Losers, Harry Brown, Wild Strawberries and...

Hello there and welcome to the 61st episode of the Cinema Cafe Podcast, the bi-weekly, twice monthly film podcast by the fans, for the fans. Join us each week as we review new movies releases, look at some dvd's, talk some film news and share our general love for all things cinema. The main goal is to have some fun and hopefully provide the listener with some helpful insight. We are back and the podcasting world is alight once again.

This week we have a treat: it's our 61st episode, which means we've been bringing you "bi-weekly" content for more than a year now. This week we take a look at 4 movies that have been recently released or are on dvd. With that said here's a look at what we discuss on this weeks podcast:

* Harry Brown
* Uncertainty
* Wild Strawberries
* The Losers
* Upcoming movie releases for the weekend of 5.07.10 and 5.14.10

Also, film news and more, only on the Cinema Cafe Podcast. We hope you enjoy and happy movie watching.

Thanks as always to all our loyal listeners for sharing the ride with us as we've reached this milestone for the show. It's all due to your support that we have kept things going and we hope you continue to share the ride with us in the coming months.

We're also on Itunes so head over there and subscribe to the Cinema Cafe Podcast and don't forget to post a review! Thanks!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What I Think of: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Double Feature)

In the past few days, I've watched two, count them two, Joseph Gordon-Levitt films and here's my review of them below.

It first started with Uncertainty, the 2009 drama directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel that reminds me a bit of Sliding Doors with less romance and more thrill. The film opens on the Brooklyn Bridge where Kate (Lynn Collins) and Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are trying to make a decision. They toss a coin to make up their decision and once the decision is made, Kate runs to downtown Manhattan, and Bobby runs towards Brooklyn. Here the story splits--one follows the "green" version with Bobby running to Brooklyn, and the other a "yellow" version with Kate in Chinatown. The use of green and yellow by the directors was for the purpose of following two versions of the movie and not confusing the two. It was a cute idea but perhaps it could have been a bit more subtle, give the audience a little credit. And I say this because the two versions are quite different. The green storyline is more dramatic and somber focusing on Kate's family; the yellow storyline is a thriller that focuses on a found cellphone by Bobby and people hunting them down trying to retrieve it.

There's one somewhat connecting thread to both stories but I won't give that away. I'm not sure if it's even that vital since in the end you really don't know what happens and what decisions are being made. And speaking of the end, I almost felt that nothing happened. Ok, wait, a lot happened but nothing progressed except time. It was an interesting story and the way it was done was unique but I don't know if the crux of the story was strong enough for me.

Now onto the second film of the double feature, I watched the 2005 high school crime drama Brick. I've been wanting to see this film for a while and finally watched it on Netflix's Instant Watch. This film was directed by Rian Johnson (you may remember my review of Brothers Bloom--same guy) and you can tell he was influenced by the detective novels/films of the 1930s and 40s. Johnson updated the locale to modern day California high school, the detective and criminals are high school students. JGL plays Brendan Frye, a somewhat geeky kid obsessed with solving the murder of his ex-girlfriend Emily Kostich(Emilie de Ravin). His sidekick The Brain (Matt O'Leary) helps him navigate into the "upper crust" elite crowd, the rich kids with drug habits, and their dealers. The story twists and turns and you learn a little bit about the case and Emily. And like a true noir film, the mystery is solved at the end and JGL explains how it all went down.

I'll say that when I first watched it, I came in with high expectations because I heard so many good things about the movie. And I hate to say it but I think my expectations may have been cast too high and not to say that I didn't like the film, I was expecting something that blew me away. And this didn't do it. I think one thing that may have put me off was the way they spoke. It was a bit hard for me to follow the 'old-timey' speak of hardboiled detectives. I think you get used to it but I found myself re-winding a bit. Also with the twist and turns and the nicknames, it was a bit hard to follow for me, perhaps I needed to brush up on my noir films before watching this. However, I was ever so grateful for the recap at the end. :) And I will say for the young cast of actors, they did a great job.

Recap of JGL: He has been picking some really interesting roles that showcases his range and I love that he goes in there and just does it. True professional; very crush worthy.

And here are the trailers for our entertainment: