Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review in Print: Bruce Duffy's Disaster Was My God

I have news of my most recent assignment in print. My book review of Bruce Duffy’s Disaster Was My God, which depicts 19th century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud as having a strained relationship with his mother, appears today (Aug 30) in the national section of Xtra: Canada's gay & lesbian news.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Go Juan With Ya’: A Review of Juan of the Dead

Irreverent, cocky and languid, the Cuban zombie flick, Juan of the Dead, is satisfying, funny and crammed with homage. Sure, the protagonist, the deadbeat dad Juan, played by Alexis Díaz de Villega with a masterful laidbackness, is a steretopical Latin man. A womanizer, surely, a drinker, undeniably, this lackadaisical leader nonetheless looks out for his grown daughter, Camila, the radiant Andrea Duro (think Twilight’s Kristen Stewart with a sexier, non-whiney charisma), his best friend Lázaro (Jorge Malina) and his cadre of petty street criminals. Certainly, the film won early points for including La China, a cross-dressing whore, as a main character, portrayed by Jazz Vila with street-smart sassiness and charm. An effete stereotype, surely, but a welcome addition to the horror milieu.

If one were to use the term “extreme homage”, they would not be far off in describing this giddy horror yarn with nods, winks and even, clearly, blown kisses to a plethora of zombie and non-zombie cinematic fare. Such celluloid includes but is not limited to Shaun of the Dead, anything directed by George A. Romero, not to mention Leo Fulci of Zombie film fame, the current T.V.s series, The Walking Dead, but also Bruce Lee, and action fare in general.

Don’t be fooled by my comparison to Shaun; Juan is darker, with a Tarantinoesque sensibility of splatter-shed, and immensely watchable action scenes. Underpinning the whole works is the Malecón, an esplanade, roadway and seawall along the Havana coast, and the echoes of Cuba's own bloody revolutions. Juan's refrains and monologues about Cuba's revolutionary past and himself as a survivor steering though the river of history hold the film upright, keeping it from tipping over the precipice into disrespect.

I watched Juan with my horror film club, (Not The) Masters of Horror. Co-founder, Mr. M. enjoyed it, as did Miss Jay. Mr. M.’s father-in-law was visiting from Cuba, as was his sister-in-law, also orignally from Cuba. Admittedly, my exchange with said father-in-law was limited to something along the lines of "Usted no habla español." (Translation: "He doesn't speak Spanish."). That's literally about all he said to me.

Luckily, Juan of the Dead is in Spanish, with English subtitles. Thus armed to bridge a cultural and linguistic divide, we all sat down and watched Juan.

We laughed at the sight of Lázaro groping himself at the first sign of an attractive female. Here, I should clarify. It turns out that Lázaro is a chronic public masturbator who has trouble keeping more than merely his genitals in his pants once he starts baring firearms. But further to the point, we were entertained and distracted, watching Juan and company dispatch zombies (and sometimes non-zombies!) in various ways. Juan lazily at first, and then with passion (said with a Spanish accent, but spelled the same as in English, incidentally) fights the hordes of the undead invading his Cuba libre.

To summarize, for horror-goers, I cannot recommend Juan highly enough, for its mix of infectious humor, camp, personality and fun. Perhaps even brave non-horror-goers might want to, er, take a bite out of the film.

Vladi California (Lázaro's son, portrayed by Andros Perugorría), Camila, Juan and Lázaro go a walkin' in Juan of the Dead.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to School with the Latest Teen Fiction Part 2 of 8: Catherine Austen's All Good Children

All Good Children
Catherine Austen
Orca Book Publishers
October 1, 2011
312 pages
Library binding, $19.95
On April 16, All Good Children won the 2012 Young Adult Book Award, given by the Canadian Library Association.

Set in the not-too-distant dystopic future in Middletown, All Good Children features kids who are turning into obedient zombies. Teenaged graffiti artist and prankster Maxwell Connor and his friend Dallas are not happy about it. Connor, a rebel, decides to look beyond his small town to solve the mystery. The author originally planned this book as a Stepford Wives or Invasion of the Body Snatchers for middle graders.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for disruptive kids who are good at heart,” Catherine Austen wrote from Gatineau. “The ideal reader might be any teen who feels under pressure to be a certain way, who feels let down by adults, especially a labelled kid or a self-absorbed kid who needs a kick in the pants to look at the world around him and take a stand on something.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back to School with the Latest Teen Fiction Part 1 of 8: Don Aker's Running on Empty

 With the lazy, hazy days of summer upon on us, young teens can chill out to some great, award-winning YA novels from Canadian writers across the country. Whether kids are growing fairy wings, solving a mystery in between surfboarding the waves, saving cash for their first car, or harbouring secrets, there is something for even the pickiest reader. Here is a sampling of what’s hot off the press on the bookstore shelves.

Running on Empty
Don Aker
HarperCollins Canada Ltd
May 1 2012
272 pages
Paperback, $14.99
Aker won the Canadian Library Associatin's 2008 Honour Book Award for The Space Between.

When Ethan Palmer finally gets together enough cash to buy his own car, he crashes Dad’s Volvo into the garage. All the money he has saved goes toward fixing the car for good ol’ Dad, who also happens to be a lawyer and politician. But Ethan wants a car so badly that he devises another way to raise the capital that could cause even worse problems.

Award-winning Don Aker, resident of Middleton, Nova Scotia, was prompted by a story he heard about parents fronting their son a cash stake to gamble with over the summer in order to make money.

“My ideal reader is male, no question, a teenager who’s struggling under authority, who feels misunderstood by his parents,” Aker said. “The most ideal reader would be the son of a divorced couple.”

“If you ever dreamed of something that you wanted it so badly you could taste it, you could feel it in your hands and have something rip it away from you—that’s what this story is about,” Aker added.

Story about Young Adult Novels (Intro to Eight-Part Article)

I recently attempted to pitch a story about young adult novels to a number of Canadian daily newspapers, both local and international. However, the freelance market being what it is, I was not successful in getting my feature into print. The pitch? Here it is for your perusal:

"As school lets out and the lazy summer days begin, young teens should get excited about reading, particularly YA books penned by writers from across Canada who are producing notable, award-winning work. Parents who read this article can sample books to buy their kids to read at the cottage - or to simply keep the teens out of trouble for a few hours."

So, in essence, I wanted to highlight eight Canadian authors across the country who are doing some notable YA novel work. I also hoped parents would read the article and then present their kids with possible reading options for the summer. I talked to Don Aker in Middleton, Nova Scotia, Catherine Austen in Gatineau, Quebec, and Jeff Ross in Ottawa, Ontario. My Toronto contingent includes Kenneth Oppel, Leah Bobet, and Kelley Armstrong. My West Coast representatives are Ivan E. Coyote and Kit Pearson.

Having failed to have this story in newspapers, however, does not me deter from printing the whole article here, in blogland. I consider the piece a nice cross-sampling of what teens can get into nowadays. On that note, I will present my story in eight parts, starting in eastern Canada and heading west. The story necessitates dividing because I have discovered that cutting and pasting the whole works does away with all formatting.

Notes on Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile

Firstly, I want to say outright that I truly wanted to enjoy The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. However, from the outset I noticed that the art was, well, slipshod, the level of comic-book drawing you would find in early high school. Hoping to get past this aspect of the thin graphic novel, I gave it a read, which was very quick.

Niffenegger admits, in the afterword, that the idea for the comic came to her as a teenager. The premise is intriguing- everyone has a library somewhere of every book they have ever read in their lives. Niffenegger states plainly that she has more Bookmobile stories in mind. As a standalone story, however, the Night Library is still only a nascent concept.

Niffenegger originally intended this is a parable examining the sacrifices that avid readers make for their obsession, and the often precarious balance between reading and living in the real world. She meant Bookmobile as a cautionary tale. Unfortunately it is not cautionary enough, nor are the characters developed enough or easy to sympathize with. This is largely due to a protagonist who loves books, as well as walking around in the wee hours, but who gives the reader little else to root for. Thus, whatever happens in her life and relationship with her boyfriend has little impact.

Unfortunately, the story also doesn’t quite breathe. The art remains mediocre to the point of distraction. While the idea was interesting, I am certain there are more exciting things one could do with the idea of a night library. Personally, I am less interested in seeing a library with every book I have ever read (after all, I’ve already read them) than a library that might contain an entirely different collection that is somehow related to my life (insert imaginative corollary here).

As for why I wanted to enjoy this comic, the reason is simple. Having read The Time Traveler’s Wife, her astonishingly difficult to categorize novel involving a love story, time travel, all shot through with elements of literary prose, sci-fi, horror, romance and humour, I somehow expected more here. But, as a sage teacher once wrote on my report card in high school, if one is talented in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re talented “across the board”. This is my longwinded way of saying that perhaps the author’s ideal medium is novel writing, not comic book writing. That said, I eagerly look forward to whatever novel Niffenegger is now working on.

After having written the above, I did a check and discovered Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story set in in London, came out in Nov. 2009. This work warrants further inspection. And, again, I want to see what Niffenegger creates next, in novel form.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Postscripts to Darkness 2 launched!

On Sat, Aug 11, the Darkness returned to Ottawa. The Postscripts to Darkness 2 launch, organized by co-editors Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad, went exceedingly well at the Imperial Pub. Mr. Moreland did a top-shelf job of hosting in front of the hearty crowd of about 40. The audience also watched two short horror films, including James Greatrex's "Heaven over Earth", and listened to readings from the new horror anthology.

The five featured readers read to an enthusiastic crowd.  Zachary Abram opened, with the PhD. candidate from the University of Ottawa sharing "In the Hotel", which features characters who run an establishment housing extraordinary clientele. Rhiannaon M. Dawn came from North Bay to read "Blood Moon", designed to wrankle even the most staid vampire. Daniel Lalonde, a published guidance counselor, drove from Kingston to read "St. Gertrude Boys' Choir". a zombie yarn containing black-than-black humor. I threw in my effort, "Carl's and Monty's Prairie Wager", regarding two old friends who make a bet. PSTD 2 co-editor, Aalya Ahmad, standing in for contributor Tisha Moor, who was unable to attend, read "The Piss Monster", which is actually much better than the title leads one to believe.

I might also add that PSTD 2 includes my e-interview with U.S. horror novelist, Lee Thomas, a notable new talent. The anthology also includes 16 other horror stories and accompanying artwork and is available for a not-so-frightening price of ten dollars.

The launch also attracted ChiZine Publication's Communications Director, Matt Moore. Derek Kunsken, who is involved in the upcoming Canadian Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature in Ottawa occurring Sept 21-23, also attended.

Kudos to Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad for publishing another PSTD, and launching the anthology at a solid event, both enviable feats in Ottawa in early-to-mid August. As Sean mentioned, PSTD 3 is open for submissions for a limited time, due to the tremendous amount of response from prospective contributors.
To buy this issue of Postscripts to Darkness, or others, go here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Postscripts to Darkness 2 launches Aug 11!

The Postscripts to Darkness 2 launch party is next Sat, Aug. 11 in Ottawa. PSTD II is an anthology of short, weird and uncanny fiction and art from contributors around the world. Sean Moreland, inspired by our collaboration in organizing the Canadian premiere of the Rolling Darkness Revue (RDR), assembled the first chapbook, along with editors Aalya Ahmad and Dominik Parisien. RDR is a travelling roadshow showcasing the finest in American horror writing. Through a variety of funding, I brought L.A. horror authors Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins to Canada, performing in North Bay and in Ottawa and the Ottawa International Writers Festival. For PSTD II, I had a hand in selecting the pieces, and also contributed my interview with U.S. horror author, Lee Thomas.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Film Review - Some Guy Who Kills People

Undeniably the best B flick I've seen in a while, this low-budget effort features a protagonist who is purportedly offiing his high school tormentors. The cast sings here, loudly. Kevin Corrigan draws tentative sympathy as the lonely Ken Boyd, fresh from the asylum. He looks dishevelled and disheartened while working at the local dairy bar and still being heckled by bullies. When said bullies are dispatched, however, the killer moves in for the kill, ninja-style. Barry Bostwick is uproarious as Sherriff Walt Fuller. At one point, Sherrif Fuller compares the state of a corpse to minimialistic artwork and yet he is still stymied by the question of the killer's identity or motive. To say that the gangly, white-haired actor is a poor man's Leslie Nielsen would be to underrate his comedic delivery. The teenaged Ariel Glade as Amy Wheeler, Boyd's daughter, soars in her engaging portrayal of curiosity, teen angst, and earnestness. Karen Black, of Shaun of the Dean, among othe films, is always reliable, and does her usual good job.

While SGWKP owes much to the HBO show Dexter, featuring a serial killer who dispatches what he deduces are evil people, the film possesses a darker, albeit humorous, heart. This film won me over. It surprised me often, and surpassing my admitted lack of expectations. It's as though the filmmaker, directory Ryan A. Levin, worked harder because he had a lower budget. Funny, odd, and gratifying, this B-sider was far better than many more financially endowed cinematic projects out there. John Landis, director of the rather superb 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London, was executive producer. Recommended.