Tag Archives: adventure

Investigate Your Way Through Adolescence

There was a time in my life before speculative fiction ruled. Who knew?

I read a fair bit of Nancy Drew, but it hasn’t stayed with me. I don’t think my library had any Hardy Boys; I certainly never read them. That doesn’t mean I was at a loss for teen investigations, though. Oh no.

#1. Trixie Belden

I was totally mad for Trixie Belden. I have no idea where I got them – probably an older friend of the family – but I know I read a loooot of them.

I used to imagine myself as one of their gang, and falling in love with Jim…! (or, since he was so clearly all over Trixie, I’d settle for Dan, the somewhat dour but very useful stable boy.) I loved that Trixie wasn’t the oldest, or male, but that she was clearly the leader of the group – even her older brother Brian usually followed her lead. Plus, adventures, and travelling around the country, and a cool group of friends with a variety of talents, and… yeh. Perfect. Plus plus, a lot of the investigations were actually very clever, and had neat little twists. Not that I remember very many of them, because they were a long time ago and I just read them one after another and they all blur together…

Words I would not know without Trixie Belden: jalopy. Also, that it was possible to have violet eyes (Di was not my favourite, but boy did I envy those eyes).

#2. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.

A series that I quite literally could not get my hands on enough of (because the library didn’t stock them).

I loved the three different characters who made up the team: Jupiter – smart and ‘chubby’; Pete – nervous and athletic; and Bob, the studious one. To be honest I actually don’t remember enormous details about them in any specific book, but I remember enjoying their conversations immensely and thinking that it was awesome how they were all so different but worked so well together. I liked the settings of the books – I seem to recall quite a few being set in/around carnivals – and I adored the intricacies of the mysteries they got themselves involved in. I liked that Jupiter was regularly underestimated because he was fat but that I the reader was very smug in knowing that his brains made up for any perceived deficiency – and clearly the people who thought poorly of him were villains or redshirts because everyone good knows Jupe is the leader. Duh. I really liked Jupiter. Plus, again, fun twists to the plot, some of which I even hadn’t already guessed for myself.

I’m still quite the sucker for police procedurals – also Shadow Unit – and I think I can trace that back here.

Pitch Black

I’m fairly sure that we watched Chronicles of Riddick at the movies one summer when it was unbearably hot outside. It looked exactly like our sort of thing: futuristic sets, awesome action/fighting sequences… excellent. Then we discovered that Riddick had had a previous outing, so of course it was a no-brainer: we had to find Pitch Black.

They are, of course, remarkably different movies. Pitch Black was made on a very tight budget, with a limited amount of time, in the Australian outback, and falls squarely into the SF/horror bracket. Chronicles had way more money and time – Diesel was a much bigger name three years later – and it is a much more lavish, grandiose film, that’s far more mainstream SF. And you can watch Chronicles without the benefit of Pitch Black, which is a remarkable achievement in a sequel.

But I’m not here to talk about Chronicles; that can wait. We re-watched Pitch Black a couple of days ago, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to muse on a couple of points.

Spoilers ahoy!

I love the anti-hero, and Riddick is close to the ultimate anti-hero. You really don’t know whether he’ll help the other survivors; the only reason I didn’t think he’d go for Johns’ plan is because he loathes Johns more than anyone else. I like that he is just human – frighteningly fast, strong, and quick-thinking, but he has no superpowers. Diesel sure knows how to deliver a line, too, which is one of the things that stops this film being way too grim for my liking.

The supporting cast is largely enjoyable. I love Claudia Black, so I’m always sad when she dies way too early. Radha Mitchell is nicely complex as the navigator trying to redeem herself, and it’s totally gutting that she doesn’t get to leave. Riddick’s one human moment comes with that stricken “not for me”. Paris P. Ogilvie is hilarious, and allows for a nice lightening of the mood; the Imam is an interesting choice for moral compass/unintimidated person. I wonder if he was only possible before the Sept 11 attacks? Perhaps becoming more feasible now…. I love Johns’ character because he alone has any real development – from apparent hero through to junkie bounty hunter, willing to sacrifice companions to save his own sorry butt. Plus, Cole Hauser is cool. And Jack – well, the kid certainly adds an interesting twist when he’s revealed to be a she. The implication that it’s bad enough that a boy would shave his head and enthuse about being a killer, but that for a girl to do so is that much more troubling, is fascinating.

I enjoy the cinematography and setting every time I watch it. There are just enough weird-ass camera shots that it has a less-than-mainstream feel to it, but not enough that I actually feel queasy. And the lighting is immensely effective. It’s overdone, but I think that’s part of its effectiveness. It’s so other, so alien, that the three suns thing feels like it fits right in. The whole eclipse-every-22-years thing? Totally terrifying. And I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, but those damned monsters manage to scare me every single time: I forget when they’re going to appear, and then BAM – shriek! They’re utterly absurd, but they’re very clever.

Pitch Black remains a movie I will always enjoy re-watching.

I [heart] disaster movies

I avoided 2012 when it was at the cinema, because I figured it wasn’t going to be worth wasting my money on it there. However, if you saw it at the cinema and haven’t bothered to rewatch, let me suggest that you get the DVD and watch the special features, especially the one about the ‘science’ behind the movie: it is so, so worth it.

The scare-quotes around ‘science’ in that last sentence ought to tell you a bit about what I thought of this movie.

I have gradually come to the realisation that I am a total sucker for disaster movies. Natural or manmade, it’s all good: from Poseidon Adventure to Dante’s Peak, Inferno to Core, I just love them. Consequently, I really enjoyed 2012. But there’s no way I’m going to pretend that it was actually a good movie.

Some spoilers ahead!

For a start, I really enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor. I liked having a smart black man as a lead character, I liked having a sensible geography geek as a lead character, and I always enjoy a good moral scientist v immoral politician stoush. On which note, Oliver Platt was excellent as the politician, and his development from fairly sensible if somewhat (and necessarily) ruthless through to being entirely obsessed with his plan was very well played.

From my memory of the ads, I had thought that John Cusack was the main character, so I was surprised that Ejiofor’s character got quite so much play. I quite like Cusack as an actor, although this role was very different for him – and the whole SF-author-as-character thing generally has me rolling my eyes. His relationship with his family developed in somewhat unexpected ways, for which i was grateful; I had been anticipating a typical overblown Hollywood family – the reason why I won’t watch Deep Impact again, but watch Armageddon frequently. There was a bit of the divorced-parents stereotype playing out with the kids, but actually I thought the son in particular was quite a complex little character, with his angst towards the dad and love of the step-dad and wanting his dad to actually like the step-dad. I figured that someone would end up being sacrificed, one of the men, and I honestly wasn’t quite sure which it would be – and I was a little disappointed when it was step-dad. It would have been a much more interesting movie if they’d allowed step-dad to stay with the family, and also made it much more poignant that Ejiofor had brought Cusack’s book with him. But, you know, they didn’t. (Of course the much edgier version would have seen the two blokes get it on, but that was never going to happen.)

The plot… yeh. It actually had one, which was fun. I thought that the time jumps needed to be done a bit more obviously, because I was confused when they were talking about having prepared for this over years when it was only 10 minutes ago! I liked the split between national response and family response – I thought it was a pretty good split, time-wise. Having read Stephen Baxter’s Flood, when they first started talking about arks I was expecting spaceships, which would have been very, very interesting – and much more complex about how many people they could save. When I finally (eventually, much later than I ought to have) realised they were talking about floating ships… well, ok. It meant they could save more people, which was all nice and touchy-feely. And I had had several thoughts about how the movie could end, and managed to be a little surprised by the conclusion. It was something of a cop-out – especially Our Hero’s dad still being alive on the resort ship – but it was a nice (if admittedly tacky) touch to have them go back to Africa.

I enjoyed the effects. Some nice, utterly ridiculous scenes with the cars and the planes escaping from various encroaching disasters – they actually managed to be engrossing! I was gripped! One or two of the waves managed to not be entirely CGI-looking, which is an achievement.

So. 2012. Glad I didn’t see it at the movies, thoroughly enjoyable on a Saturday afternoon.

The Expendables

Short version?

So much potential.

Long version: includes some spoilers.

This movie had so much potential. I mean, seriously: what a cast! Jason Stratham! Sylvester Stallone! Jet Li!! Dolph Lundgren!! And the people not mentioned in the credits but unfortunately shown in the trailer!

This movie should have been the greatest thing I could see all year.

But it wasn’t.

I realised afterwards that I was hoping for Space Cowboys – awesome old dudes still being awesome, with great history and chemistry, and a really fun plot. Expendables did not deliver. Partly, this is a function of character. There were two characters whose names I didn’t even know, by the end of the movie, but they were meant to be part of The Gang. And I just didn’t care very much about them. I didn’t know enough back story, there wasn’t enough character development, to suck me in. And this is from someone who will watch Die Hard over, and over, and over again. I’m not asking for much.

The other main problem was that the story didn’t really know what it was trying to do. I had basically hoped for a movie that acted as a vehicle for the awesome cast: a little vignette for Stallone here, maybe shooting in the jungle; a little vignette of Statham there, maybe in a really great car chase; and of course a couple of magnificent martial arts scenes for Li. I would have been content with an entertaining plot that connected those scenes together – I guess a better version of DOA, with a better cast. But I didn’t get that. I also didn’t get a movie that accepted it had huge names and played them as an ensemble, like the Ocean’s movies. Instead, I think this tried to walk some sort of a middle line, and it failed at both.

Did I mention the plot? It sucked. This is largely, I think, a factor of the middle line I just mentioned. It tried to start as the “let’s be a fun vehicle” style of movie – and the opening scene is really cool. But… it lost its way. It tried to get serious, and it didn’t do it in a clever or original or twisty kind of way. Instead, it just turned into a standard revenge/save the girl/be bad-asses movie, without even much clever dialogue to keep it up to a higher level.

The best scene, bar none, for what it managed to do was the one including Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnie. Seeing those three guys, together? On the screen? Worth every penny. And the best lines of dialogue, too:

Willis: What’s up his ass? (of Schwarzenegger)

Stallone: He wants to be President.

So much kudos to Arnie for letting them use that! And that, sadly, also epitomised what I wanted the entire movie to be. I wanted Rambo jokes, boxing jokes, I wanted Stallone and Lundgren to shadow-box, I wanted Li to have karate jokes – although his explanation that life was harder because he was shorter was indeed amusing.

Don’t get me wrong, of course: there are some great chase sequences, some awesome explosions, and some witty-enough banter. But none of that was enough to tip this movie into the ‘fun in a bad sort of way’ category. And I think it was unnecessarily MA-rated, too. Yes, some of the gruesome violence had its shock value, and I don’t mind that when I’m expecting it. But the fight sequences? Too long. Boring. If they’d been enlivened with different ways of kicking bad guys’ asses, it would have been different. But they just kept doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. It got dull.

So, in sum: I was disappointed. I am unlikely to get this out of DVD, even in a few years for nostalgia’s sake. And that makes me sad.

Clive Cussler

As a teen, I had a Thing for Dirk Pitt. It complemented my Thing for James Bond (book version), and Biggles. I read all the Cussler I could get my hands on.

Last night, overheated and unable to sleep, I watched half of Sahara – which I thoroughly enjoy as a ridiculous and entertaining movie.

On the back of that, I decided to read Black Wind, cowritten by Dirk Cussler (!). What better way to spend another scorcher of a summer day?

Answer: reading something that is actually readable. I don’t think it’s just that I’ve become more aware of reading things like “the perky receptionist”… it’s just that the details are presented in about the most boring way, and the predictability – which in some ways I used to love, because the repartee between Dirk and Al was humorous to my teenaged eyes – is now just… predictable.

I don’t think I could ever go back and read old Cusslers, for fear that they will turn out to be as badly written. Same as I could never read the McCaffreys I loved, again.

Black Wind is going into the off-to-second-hand-bookshop pile, with just three chapters read.

Books I’ve read recently

Ines of my Soul, by Isabel Allende. I don’t usually read historical fiction – at least, not such recent historical fiction! My mum raves about Allende; most of her other work is contemporary literature, so I’m unlikely to read it. This one, though, is about Ines Suarez, a real Spanish woman who heads off to South America in the 1500s, following her husband. She ends up going to Chile with the conquistadors, when they conquer and settle there. It’s written as though it’s a memoir – old Ines interrupts the story of young Ines at various points, and she speaks directly to her daughter at a number of points. It’s a really fascinating story on a number of levels. There is, apparently, very little info about Ines, so this is very definitely a fiction, but I understand that Allende did a huge amount of research beforehand, so the conditions she describes (at the very least) will be based on fact. Then, old Ines reflects a lot on the whole idea of memory and writing autobiographies, throwing doubt on her own memories at various points, so that’s an intriguing philosophical line. And the writing – well, I read this in a couple of days, which I often do, but her prose is simple delightful to read.

Flood, by Stephen Baxter. Not my favourite Baxter, but still pretty good. The world is flooding… and no, it’s not a global warming polemic. Time span is 2016 to 1052. Some good characters, and interesting social and political reflections.

Chaos Space, by Marianne de Pierres. The sequel to Dark Space, this follows a number of characters – some of whom have finally met up, so their stories start meshing, which makes it all a bit easier to keep straight. There is a lot of weird stuff going on in this universe, and a lot in the background which is only just being revealed in this, the second book. It’s a fairly awesome space opera, although some of the characters tick me off. Still one of the most intriguing aspects is that her main character is Latina; it made me realise just how Anglo a lot of the future is projected to be (at least in the stuff I’ve mostly read; maybe that’s just a reflection of me).

twenty-six lies/one truth, by Ben Peek. About the weirdest book I’ve read in a long time. 26 chapters, each with ten or so entries; each chapter has entries starting with the same letter. It’s roughly “autobiographical” – although like Ines, Peek has a lot to say about the unreliability of memory, and when you pair that with his many entries on fraudsters and hoaxes of the literary world, it’s clear he’s sending up the whole idea of autobiographical ‘truth’. It also reminded me of Eddie Burrup, the male Aboriginal artist who sold a lot of paintings and was then revealed to be the female, white Elizabeth Durack; she’s a distant relative. Anyway, twenty-six lies is confronting, absorbing, and disturbing – mostly in a good way. I read it in a few hours. Half way through I realised it doesn’t have to be read in a linear fashion, but I’m stuck in my ways so I just kept turning the pages. And, at the end, I realised that in fact it does work linearly – there are revelations towards the end that change the way you think about the rest of it. You could read it haphazardly, it would just change your reception of some of the things Peek reveals, although it wouldn’t spoil the story as it would your bog-standard narrative. I also like the cover – typewrite art by Andy Macrae, and the art by Anna Brown, which I recognised from the Nowhere Near Savannah webcomic Peek and Brown collaborated on.

At the moment… Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum. I had thought this would be more about the history of chocolate, and it does have some of that, but it’s actually more about chocolate today – the chocolate masters, the chocolate producers, the scandals, the individuals, different perspectives around the world. It’s made me realise that I am in no way a chocolate connoisseur, and probably never will be – living in Australia, and not having the money to spend on it! It’s brilliantly written… and I think I will go back to it right now.

It’s just so wrong

So very, very wrong.

My love and I both had crap days. We both got home tonight feeling the need for utter mindlessness, so when we discovered The World is Not Enough waiting for us, it felt like fate.

It’s just such utter crap!

Denise Richards – Dr Christmas Jones – argh! What an embarrassment to the sorority of Bond girls everywhere!

Even Sophie Marceau is pretty crap. And I loved Hamish Macbeth, but Robert Carlyle is also quite average.

As for Pierce Brosnan… well, it’s reaching Roger Moore levels of stupid one-liners, in this one. The stunts aren’t quite as daft as they get in the next one – and the speed boat chase is pretty cool – but still, I feel quite impatient watching it a second (third? Can’t remember) time.

Perfect, though, for a Monday night with the need to do nothing.

Planetary alignment

Yes, you guessed it, I am spending tonight watching the first Lara Croft film. Whee! It does have a brilliant opening, I must say. And some of the action sequences are marvelous. I love the bungee scene, between floor and mezzanine; giving her the bungee cord makes it at least vaguely plausible, unlike some other scenes of this type. And, you know, who doesn’t love a sexy archaeologist (talking about Alex West, aka Daniel Craig, of course – with a bad American accent)?

But seriously. A planetary alignment I can just about come at, on a fantastical level; it’s not a new idea, and there are alignments of two or three (I’m including the sun and moon here) every now and then. But a meteor that strikes at the exact moment of the alignment? Not even I’m that gullible. And I don’t think it adds to the story, either – it’s not necessary for the plot to work.

Oooh, just got to the massive Buddha getting up and angry; very cool.

And Jolie’s hair? So very fake.

Mummies and romance

I watched The Mummy a couple of days ago, and The Mummy Returns tonight.

I’d really like to be able to say that I watch and enjoy them because of my joy at seeing archaeology and egyptology on the big screen, getting a cool rep; for the awesome FX; and for the manic action sequences.

Part of that is true – I leave it to you to figure out what’s a big fat lie from that statement. But the truth is, I like those movies for the same reason I like the original Star Wars movies.

Yes, it’s partly the action and the explosions – particularly in Star Wars. But the reality is, I watch them for one main reason: Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and their relationships with Evie/Leia.

This is my big guilty secret, that I am trying to come to grips with, and which outing myself here will hopefully help: I am a sucker for romance. It has to be surrounded by action, and explosions, and preferably lots of cool FX and a scifi bent; the heroine has to not be a wimp and the hero has to be a real hero (being a rogue helps as well) – and I love movies with no real romance, too – but, still, a bit of romance done well is not something I object to.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade or so building up an anti-romance persona; it hurts to tear it down! And there are certain friends to whom I will never admit this, ever. Because they will never let me live it down. Like they still tease me for getting married, after saying I never would (six years today). Kate – stop scheming right now!

DOA; or, How to Watch Unexpected Movies

Oh. My. Goodness.

When out shopping today, I decided to act on impulse and visit JB to finally buy The Mummy, because I only have this taped off TV. I expected that I would be able to get it as a double with The Mummy Returns, which I was fine with. Turned out that I could only get it as a trilogy, with The Scorpion King. OK, I figured – haven’t seen the latter, I’ll deal with it; it was $4 more than The Mummy by itself. Plus, it was 20% off all DVDs, which was even better. For that reason, we had a look around the store for anything else that caught our eye, which is how we ended up with the Blade trilogy as well. Then, on the way out, my darling saw the stall where they have the multiple-movies-in-one-case. There was one with The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Scorpion King, Van Helsing (I can’t believe we didn’t already own this!) and The Hulk (meh): back went the trilogy I’d picked up, because this 5-set cost less than it did! And while we were there, we got a second: Doom (not seen… not sure), Pitch Black (love it; love Claudia Black!), Chonicles of Riddick (same; plus Judi Dench in such a cool, out-there role), Serenity (do already have it, but you know – it’s Serenity!)… and DOA.

I’d never heard of DOA: Dead or Alive, and my question is this: did it ever appear in Australian cinemas? Because it’s the sort of thing I certainly would have thought about going to see, although perhaps not busting a gut to get to; but I’d never heard of it before I saw it on this DVD cover. And heck, it has Holly Valance in it! Clearly, it was going to be (as my love says) qualitah.

What it turned out to be was a fairly cool 75 minutes of fun fighting choreography. There is a plot in there – somewhere – but it was fairly transparent, not to mention flimsy, and in many ways was essentially facilitating bikini-clad women fighting either blokes who knew not what hit them, or each other. It really was very cool choreography, though, and there was barely a 5-minute block without a fight scene. And Holly Valance’s opening scene had me in absolute hysterics; never has a woman putting on a bra been quite so hilarious.  I’m not sure I’ll watch it again – except maybe with friends who will appreciate the gloriously insane and kitsch nature of the film – but it’s definitely one to loan out and wait for the reaction from.