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Monday, November 30, 2015

October 2015 Review Roundup

Among the books I read in October, two stood out as favourites: Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride and The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by the film's co-star, Greg Sestero.

I really loved The Robber Bride, a story about three women and their dark nemesis. I dove in knowing nothing about the book and was quickly carried away by Atwood's remarkably deft wordsmithing and her ability to evoke empathy for her characters, even the ones who behave very badly, including the titular villainess. The Disaster Artist was a huge surprise, laugh-out-loud funny one moment and deeply sobering the next, with a poignant ending that left me with a huge smile on my face. If you've ever seen The Room, Tommy Wiseau's bewildering film of romance and betrayal, you really must read this book. The Disaster Artist doesn't explain Wiseau or the film - I don't know that anything sane could - but it's a really wonderful portrait of an unlikely friendship, as well as a sympathetic look at a desperately lonely man clearly out of step with the world that surrounds him.

I also enjoyed the Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of the earliest novels of swashbuckling adventure that set the tone for later heroes such as Batman, the Phantom, the Lone Ranger and other masked men. Orczy's tale moves along at a brisk pace and doesn't seem dated despite being over a century old.

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is a well-crafted novel of court intrigue set in a fantasy milieu; I'm not sure why Addison felt the need to provide a fantastic setting, because it reads like a mainstream work. There's no magic here; the people are elves and goblins instead of humans, and that's as far as the fantasy element goes. Whatever her reasons for the setting, though, it works.

Ben Bova has written far better things than Transhuman, and I'm sorry to say that there's nothing really groundbreaking here that hasn't already been covered by someone else.

John Scalzi's The End of All Things is the latest chapter in his reliably entertaining Old Man's War universe, and while this novel is just more of the same, that's a good thing when you're reading Scalzi.

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk is well-written and a bit of a treat for dedicated fans, but even though the story is well-crafted I found it hard to appreciate for some reason...perhaps because it's almost better if Kirk's past is left to the imagination of the reader/viewer.

I watched 39 (!) films in October, more than ever before, but 26 of those were shorts, including the delightful The House is Innocent, a film about a couple who buy an infamous house that was the site of multiple murders. They decide to right the house's reputation with offbeat humour, decorating the home's interior, exterior and yard with eye-catching sculpture and signage. I was very sorry Sylvia wasn't there to see the movie with me, because the couple have a relationship much like the one we enjoy.

The bulk of the shorts I watched came from a delightful Blu-Ray called 3D Rarities. I had no idea that filmmakers were experimenting with 3D as early as the 1920s, nor that Canada's Norm McLaren had worked in the form. This disc alone made me glad we picked up a 3D television and Blu-Ray player; the shorts on the disc are inventive, fascinating, and many are superbly done, with very convincing depth.

In terms of full-length films, I finally got around to watching Terms of Endearment, the film that beat out The Right Stuff for Best Picture to my consternation back in 1983. Having seen both films now, I still think The Right Stuff is the better movie, but Terms of Endearment is charming enough, I suppose, if conventional. King Vidor's The Champ remains moving to this day, thanks in great part to Jackie Cooper's heartbreaking performance at the film's climax. In theatres I found The Martian a rare treat, a well-paced space survival film with, for once, a positive message about not just humanity's future, but about human nature itself.

I finished off the month with a handful of horror movies on Halloween, including Night of the Demon, Curse of the Demon (two versions  of the same film, both effective), White Zombie, Night of the Ghouls (an Ed Wood classic), Tales from the Crypt (70s anthology horror at its finest), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and the 1932 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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