Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Skyfall trailer!

This new Skyfall trailer makes me so happy. So very, very happy!! This is gonna be so AMAZING!! Is it November 9th yet? Because I need it to be November 9th already.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

In preparation for seeing The Dark Knight Rises I re-watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for the first time in -- well, I'm not sure how long. TOO long. I'd forgotten the power of those films, and how they never fail to draw a deep, visceral, emotional response from me every time I view them, without fail. Christopher Nolan's darkly compelling reimagining of the Batman legend is storytelling at its finest, exhilarating, powerful, and moving. I feel as though I can't really look at this film as a single entity -- it really is just the third act of Nolan's Batman epic. And as such, I thought it was beautifully told. There are apt to be lots of spoilers below, just so's you know. :)

After I finished watching The Dark Knight, I went back to my old blog and read my thoughts on that film (that was 2008? where has the time gone?). I was once again powerfully struck by Batman's sacrifice at the end of TDK, where he takes the blame for the crimes Gotham's White Knight, Harvey Dent, committed as Two-Face prior to his death. If the Joker taught Batman anything, it was that there is a very thin line between hero and vigilante. If all -- or at least part -- of the reason Bruce Wayne initially donned Batman's cowl mask was to become a symbol for the people of his city, to embody the idea that anyone could make a difference, he takes a step towards the ultimate sacrifice by allowing himself to become the villain in order that Gotham might have hope, an ideal to cling to in the darkest night. As the then-Lieutenant Gordan explained to his son, Batman isn't the hero Gotham wanted, but the one she deserves. They'll chase him because they need to, and because he can take it, because he's willing to be whatever Gotham needs in order to give the people of the city the strength to rise up against crime and lawlessness. That was Batman's gift -- taking on Dent's guilt and leaving Gotham with the hope of something incorruptible and pure -- a line he crossed a long time ago.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after Harvey Dent's (Aaron Eckhart) death, the former District Attorney memorialized as a hero. The Dent Act, inspired by his heroism, has given Gotham's law enforcement the power need to virtually elimate crime. Superficially, all seems well -- but Gordon (Gary Oldman), now the police commissioner, is increasingly sick with guilt over his part in perpetuating the myth of Dent's nobility at the expense of Batman's reputation. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, whose notoriety only grows with each passing year that he spends in self-imposed seclusion on his estate. Following a large investment in Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate's (Marion Cotillard) clean energy project -- a device designed to harness fusion power -- Wayne pulled funding when he learned that the device's core could be modified and transformed into a nuclear bomb. The failed project has left the once powerful and influential Wayne Enterprises in financial flux and turmoil, ripe for a takeover bid -- and waiting in the wings is an unscrupulous business rival, Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), eager to deal the once-mighty company a final death blow.

Superficially, Gotham is more peaceful than it has been in years -- but as her once-mighty guardians Gordon and Wayne sit sick with the knowledge that the peace was bought with a lie, no matter how well-intentioned -- the city itself is crumbling from within. There are rumors of an army assembling beneath of the city, led by a ruthless mercenary -- as Gordon painfully discovers when investigating the kidnapping of a congressman. Gordon's only ally is a streetwise police officer named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who grew up in an orphan's home funded by the Wayne family. Blake's family history is heart-breakingly similar to Bruce's -- and he has identified so strongly with the Bruce's family heartache that he's seen beyond the playboy persona and pegged the recluse as Gotham's Dark Knight. Blake and Gordon know their city needs its caped crusader -- but Batman has been absent for so long, could he survive another war with unspeakable evil? And as the ever-faithful Alfred (Michael Caine) worries, does he even want to?

Nolan doesn't miss a beat in bringing Batman's story full circle. I was blown away by how many threads from the first two films were woven into this final act. This is thorough, thoughtful, timeless storytelling. Over the years throughout this filmic journey I've been struck again and again by the manner in which Nolan utilizes the heroic journey template to bring Batman's story to life. In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell posits that the archetypal hero receives a call to adventure that requires him to set himself apart, venture into previously unknown territory, survive trials and complete quests, and then return to society where he shares the fruits of his knowledge and accomplishments. According to Campbell, the purpose of trials is to conduct individuals 'across those difficult thresholds of transformation that demand a change in patterns not only of conscious but also of unconscious life' (as discussed in my undergraduate thesis).

Tortured by his parents' murders, Bruce became Batman for a two-fold purpose -- to make a difference, to become a symbol of resistance to evil, but also in an attempt to exorcise the demons that haunt him. Because fighting evil at the level Batman encounters cannot help but change a man -- and every time he puts on that mask, every time he faces unspeakable evil, he dances with the risk of losing his own precious sense of humanity. That, I think, is how best I can articulate Alfred's grief over his son in every way but name -- his heart's desire is to know that Bruce could live free from the shackles of the past. His devotion is raw, pure, and heart-breaking. Caine's portrayal of Alfred breaks my heart every single time, and every time leaves me breathless, on the edge of my seat in awe of Bruce's drive and wondering how he can possibly come back from one more ride as the Dark Knight.

I suppose  the "easiest" way to finish up my discussion of this film, and in the hope of touching on as many of the elements that I loved, is to talk characters. I have loved every second watching Christian Bale's journey as Bruce Wayne/Batman. When Wayne the recluse was first introduced, my first thought was "Look! Wayne's an American Rochester!" (A Jane Eyre reference is always appropriate, no? Ha!!) Ever since Rachel's (Maggie Gyllenhaal) death at the end of The Dark Knight, Bruce has remained "stuck" in limbo, because with her death he believed he'd lost his one shot at a life beyond Batman. The revelation that Rachel would've chosen Harvey Dent if she'd lived, and that Alfred had kept that knowledge from him was positively gut-wrenching -- especially in how it leads him to reject the ever-faithful Alfred.

Meeting Blake and Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) are turning points for Bruce, as through them we see, I think, for the first time him realize that he has an opportunity to sow into their lives, to take everything his experiences as Bruce and Batman have taught him and share it (the final step in Campbell's heroic cycle). In Blake, Batman recognizes a kindred spirit, someone willing and capable of stepping into his shoes as Gothoam's symbol of resistance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just amazing as Blake -- principled, driven, loyal to Gordon, willing to risk the ire of fellow officers like Foley (Matthew Modine) to follow his gut instincts. I loved the energy and physicality Gordon-Levitt brought to the role, and that hint of brokenness behind the eyes, so similar to Bruce's -- yet perhaps not quite so in danger of losing himself, because of how he seems grounded in serving/mentoring his fellow orphans. And while his full legal name -- Robin John Blake -- comes as no surprise by the end of the film, the official reveal is an extremely satisfying moment. I loved the fact that rather than develop a partner relationship between the two, Batman mentors Blake and then gives him the ability to continue as his heir.

I confess I was a little nervous when I first heard that Hathaway had been case as Catwoman. Catwoman has been a favorite character of mine ever since I was a child -- I loved her style, her cat ears, and as I grew older, that sense of ambiguity and attraction between her and Batman. The script handles her character brilliantly and Hathaway more than rises to the occasion. Selina Kyle is, in her own way, just as broken as Bruce Wayne, just as desperate for a fresh start -- and until she meets Bruce/Batman, unable to see a way to achieve that new beginning without selfishly doing whatever it takes in order to guarantee her survival. It isn't until she effectively signs Batman's death warrant at Bane's hands that you see regret crack her steely demeanor -- and when he returns, the realization that he still sees the possibility for good in her, in spite of what she's done, that is what empowers her to change. More than the momentary flirtation Bruce Wayne shares with Miranda Tate, I loved the soul-deep connection this film forges between Batman and Catwoman, and the way in which it explores the idea that these two broken, wounded people can rise above their pasts to make a difference in their world.

Tom Hardy as the mercenary Bane was interesting. I am really a fan of Hardy as an actor but the character of Bane left me a little...flat. Compared to the Joker or the fear unleased by Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), he struck me as such a run-of-the-mill terrorist. Absolutely, 100%, crazy and evil yes -- but more interesting because of his history with the League of Shadows and relationship with Ra's Al Ghul's heir than his status as an arch-villain. He didn't stand alone for me -- he was a puppet. I remember reading that Hardy had to redo his dialogue because the initial cut was so garbled -- and laying the re-done dialogue over the existing soundtrack didn't do Bane any favors, either. It seemed separate from the film, in a way.

That said, I loved the reveal of Bane's history and how it related to Miranda Tate, revealed to be the true mastermind behind the latest attack on Gotham, because she is the daughter of Batman's mentor -- Ra's Al Ghul. First of all, Cotillard is unbelievably classy-looking, and I loved her whole demeanor as Tate -- and then the turn, when she reveals that she's been playing Wayne all along. This was a long con, brilliantly executed, and her cold-blooded plotting honestly scared me more than Bane's thuggery.

I've already mentioned how much I adore Caine as Alfred. It was also wonderful to see Morgan Freeman return one final time as Lucius Fox. I loved the moment at the end of the film when  he examines the Bat and realizes that Wayne had already fixed the autopilot issues -- and that against all odds he could've survived. That look -- oh it was priceless. In the category of people I never expected to see in this film, we have Burn Gorman, the Torchwood vet as Stryver, an associate of Daggett's, and then there's Sgt. Wu -- I mean Reggie Lee! -- as Ross, Blake's partner on the police force (thanks to Grimm I can't think of Lee as anyone other than Wu, lol!). I also loved seeing Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) and Ra's Al Ghul make return appearances in this film -- Nolan never missed a beat. :)

Google The Dark Knight Rises and Charles Dickens, and you have your choice of articles discussing how Nolan was inspired by the classic A Tale of Two Cities when penning the script for Batman's final chapter. Dickens's tale of the French Revolution is all over the final third of this film in particular, lending a timeless quality to the chilling scenes of the show trials and Bane's efforts to get the Gotham populace to tear down its wealthy, and the scenes of the resistance led by Gordon and Blake. There is a particularly effective moment when Selena Kyle finds a family photo in a trashed home, and realizes, perhaps for the first time, the human cost of this "revolution."

When Bane throws Batman in his hellish pit of a prison, the trilogy really comes full circle. Batman Begins opens with Bruce Wayne in prison, so eaten alive with the pain of loss and rage that he was willing to live there in order to fight criminals. This time, this time the prison is not only literal but a symbol, and in breaking out of it, Bruce sheds the shackles of his past. He is literally and figuratively reborn when he emerges from the pit, ready for one final battle as the Batman -- but not just for himself, for his broken and besieged city. In making that final, apparently fatal sacrifice to save Gotham, Batman reveals that he is finally ready to relinquish his dual identity and move on with his life. (Side note: the look on Gordon's face when he realizes that Bruce Wayne, the child he offered comfort to years earlier has been his staunchest ally against crime, responsible for saving his son's life -- it's a powerful illustration of how one never knows what little, perhaps seemingly inconsequential moments, sow into the lives of others to bear fruit years later.)

At Bruce Wayne's funeral, Gordon reads the following passage from A Tale of Two Cities:
"I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, though long to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out....It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
That is a fitting summation of Bruce Wayne's final gift to his city -- enabling them to rise above, to survive and (hopefully) thrive after Bane's assault -- the gift of faith that they could do so without him -- but he doesn't leave them forsaken. In willing the Batcave to a worthy successor in Blake, in seeing the Bat Signal repaired, lies an assurance to two o fhis staunchest allies that they will never be alone. Unlike the immortality Ra's Al Ghul saught to achieve, Batman's legacy as a symbol of sacrifice and hope is oh so much more powerful. And Bruce's final gift, of allowing Alfred to see that he'll be okay -- oh that brought tears to my eyes. He's finally, I hope, achieved a measure of the peace that proved so elusive.

I sincerely hope that come awards season The Dark Knight Rises receives a slew of nominations. This film, and the trilogy as a whole, is an epic accomplishment in every sense of that phrase. From Nolan's masterful direction, to the tightly-plotted scripts, character arcs, set and costume design, and yes, the musc -- love Hans Zimmer's scores! -- Nolan's Batman trilogy is a breath-taking, cinematic tour-de-force. Seeing Bruce's hard-won measure of peace -- it's been a long journey but one well worth the taking.

*Images copyright Warner Bros./DC Comics.

Book Giveaway reminder!

Just a quick reminder, you have through tomorrow -- 7/31/12 -- to enter to win a copy of As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney. All you need to do is leave a comment with your email address at THIS POST. You can read my review of As Always, Jack here. Good luck!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Inspector Lewis concludes tomorrow

Inspector Lewis concludes its latest season tomorrow on Masterpiece Mystery with an episode entitled The Indelible Stain. Here's a bit about the story:
A controversial American academic is found strangled after a guest lecture at Oxford, drawing Lewis and Hathaway into a criminology department rife with murder suspects and a long list of motives. Watch Inspector Lewis: The Indelible Stain, Sunday, July 29 at 9pm on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY!
And here's a short preview:

Watch Inspector Lewis: The Indelible Stain Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

After this week it looks like PBS will probably be in fundraiser mode, and then Masterpiece will encore two episodes from Inspector Lewis's fourth season starting August 26th.

Hathaway sings!

Okay, so it isn't Hathaway, it's Laurence Fox. *wink* Thanks to Tasha for making me aware of this little auditory gem (and yes, I did purchase it on iTunes!).

I need a full album, ASAP.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Warlord of Mars (John Carter of Mars #3)
By: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Publisher: Fall River Press

About the book:

For glory, power, and love...

In this thrilling adventure, John Carter risks everything to rescue his beloved wife, the Martian princess Dejah Thoris, from the seemingly impregnable Temple of the Sun, where she has been imprisoned by the evil false goddess Issus. Carter will not only brave extreme conditions and horrifying creatures, but he'll also wage bloody battles against Martian combatants long divided over theology, race, and politics. Can Carter overcome these incredible odds to become the mighty Warlord of Mars?

The Warlord of Mars is the third book in the classic best-selling John Carter of Mars science-fantasy series. Written during the heyday of the pulp fiction era, these epic, swashbuckling Red Planet tales of derring-do and dazzling romance permanently remapped the terrain of fantasy and science fiction.


Edgar Rice Burroughs concluded John Carter's first cycle of adventures on Mars -- sometimes referred to as the Martian Trilogy -- with the serialized publication of The Warlord of Mars in 1913-1914. At the conclusion of the previous installment, The Gods of Mars, the future of John Carter's beloved princess Dejah Thoris was in grave doubt. Having proven that the centuries-old Martian worship of Issus was falsehood perpetuated by power-hungry members of the Holy Therns and the First Born races, Carter set about destroying the religious infrastructure in order to free Barsoom from the false promises of the Issus-worshippers, where devotion is repaid with slavery and violent death. But Carter's quest to spread the truth is not without a price, as in repayment for his actions Carter's enemies lock the one he holds most dear in the vault at the center of the Temple of the Sun -- a room that can only be accessed once per Martian year. Seconds before the door closed, Carter saw Dejah Thoris nearly stabbed by Phaidor, the daughter of the head of the Therns and his avowed enemy since he spurned her romantic overtures. Living with the torment of not knowing whether his beloved wife is alive or dead, Carter has worked furiously to discover a way to free Dejah from her prison -- but his enemies will do anything to get to her first and claim her as their own. Fighting men who have nothing to lose, Carter chases news of Dejah across Barsoom, confronting countless new enemies, challenges, and even climates in his single-minded quest to save his imprisoned wife.

The Warlord of Mars is the slimmest of the first three volumes in Burroughs's John Carter of Mars series, but it is every bit as action-packed as its predecessors. Unlike the first two Carter novels, there is no prologue from Edgar Rice Burroughs, no preface to the following action from Carter to his "nephew" and guardian. The action opens a few months after Carter deposed the fake goddess Issus , with our hero deep in the throes of his search for a way to rescue the imprisoned Dejah and Thuvia, the latter a former Thern slave instrumental in aiding Carter when he returned to Mars in hostile territory at the beginning of the second novel. Whereas the previous novel saw Carter dealing essentially a death blow to the age-old Martian religion, exposing it as a cult, this follow-up adventure is largely concerned with the fall-out of that successful assault and sets up endless possibilities for future battle with the false religion's deposed leaders. Is there ever any question of Carter's ultimate success? No -- but that is part of the fun and magic of these books. Burroughs was a master craftig non-stop action sequences and building tension and suspense in his novels. Just when you think that surely Burroughs's imagination must be tapped out, he introduces new people, places, and customs to challenge Carter's seeming invincibility. Predictable? Sure, such is perhaps the nature of pulp fiction. But in the hands of a master like Burroughs, he proves that the journey is always a worthwhile and entertaining ride.

John Carter's third Martian adventure is just as fast-paced a rollicking adventure ride as its predecessors, and serves as a fitting capstone to the first "trilogy" within the overall series. When he was first introduced in A Princess of Mars, Carter was a man without a country or purpose, forced to make his way in a wholly alien world. In The Gods of Mars, Carter returns to Barsoom after an absence of ten years, and has to fight to reclaim the life he built with Dejah Thoris's people. The Warlord of Mars brings Carter full circle, forcing him to fight for the life he wants on his new home, culminating in a rather touching recognition of Carter's place and the esteem in which he's held by his adopted countrymen and friends. Having never explored pulp fiction of this ilk until recently, I remain thorougly impressed by Burroughs's work and in no little awe of his standing as a trailblazer in the science-fiction world. Barsoom is peopled with colorful peoples of wildly varied cultures, fascinating landscapes, and never-ending posibilities for adventure and death-defying escapades.

These novels are sheer fun from start to finish. I adore John Carter's completely over-the-top, unbelievable invincibility and his old-fashioned heroic charm. I love how much he adores Dejah Thoris -- it could be argued that he's the anti-James Bond, since Carter is just as ridiculously perfect and appealing to women, but he's very much a one-woman man, and his love story appeals to the old-fashioned romantic in me. :) Snappily plotted, well-written, imaginative, and endlessly adventurous, The Warlord of Mars confirms me as an avid John Carter fan, and happily there is no end in sight when it comes to exploring Burroughs's backlist. Barsoom and its people are a world I love getting lost in -- escapist entertainment of the highest order.


Continuing my look at classic John Carter covers, here's the Frank E. Schoonover cover for the 1919 hardback release -- isn't it a beauty?

Her Majesty and James Bond


Seriously, I have no words, except maybe SQUEEEEEE!!! :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Going for Gold: The '48 Games preview

This Wednesday, July 25th, BBC America is premiering a new made-for-TV film entitled Going for Gold: The '48 Games in honor of the upcoming Olympics. I'm a total Olympics junkie, so this film would interest me on that score alone, but there's the added bonus that it also stars the Doctor (a.k.a. Matt Smith)! Here's a preview:

And here's a bit about the film from the BBC America website:
“Going for Gold – The ’48 Games” is an uplifting true story of how two young men from very different backgrounds triumphed against the odds at the 1948 London Olympics.

That the 1948 games took place at all was astonishing in itself, with Britain still struggling with the damaging after effects of a war that had decimated its resources and left London half-destroyed.

But thanks to a refusal to let the event die, the so-called Austerity Olympics ended up as a major success.

The spirit of a nation determined to get back on its feet is embodied by the journey of boatbuilder’s son Bert Bushnell (Matt Smith, “Doctor Who“) and Eton and Oxford-educated Richard ‘Dickie’ Burnell (Sam Haore, “Jane Eyre”) as they battle to keep their Olympic dreams alive.

This compelling film tells the real-life story of this unlikely pairing of competitors for the double sculling event.

Thrown together just six weeks before the games, Bert and Dickie have to confront and overcome vast differences in their personal and professional lives, as they push themselves to their physical and emotional limits in their bid to win Olympic gold.

Dickie’s background contrasts sharply with Bert’s less privileged upbringing and they struggle to bond as a team before finally realizing that they have more in common than they could have imagined.

Culminating in a tense and exciting race to the finish, this is a film that reminds viewers what the Olympic Games are really about – heroic personal endeavor, courage, determination…and a little bit of luck!
I think it sounds fanastic -- a 1940s-set Olympics film? I am SO there. If you don't have BBC America you won't have long to wait for this film to make its bow on DVD -- it releases on disc July 31st.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Is it January yet?

Because just looking at the new cast photo for Downton Abbey season three, I'm thinking it should be...

You can read a few minor spoilers for the upcoming season here at the Masterpiece website. I also can't resist sharing this photo of Hugh Bonneville from the recent press tour. Needless to say, Lord Grantham, I couldn't agree more. :)

Book Giveaway: As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Axios Press I have one brand-new copy of As Always, Jack to give away! Click here to read my review of this lovely, moving memoir!

The Rules:

We're going to make this super-easy -- all you need to do in order to enter is leave a comment on this blog post and a valid email address -- your.name (at) domain (dot) com.

This drawing will be open through July 31, 2012, and the winner will be announced in a blog post on Wednesday August 1, 2012.

Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only.

Good luck!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Gods of Mars (John Carter of Mars #2)
By: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Publisher: Fall River Press
ISBN: 978-1-4351-3445-4

About the book:

Battling against incredible odds...

At the thrilling conclusion of A Princess of Mars, Captain John Carter of Virginia was racing against time to bring vitalizing air back to the dying planet of mars and save its inhabitants, including his betrothed, the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, only to be returned to Earth against his will. Now, ten years later, Carter is finally back on Mars, searching for the princess he'll do anything to reunite with. First, Carter must team up with his Martian ally Tars Tarkas to battle fearsome enemies, including the terrifying Plant Men and the deadly Pirates of Barsoom. Embroiled anew in death-defying battles and intrigue, Carter learns more about the ancient theological, racial, and political divisions that have kept Mars in a state of war for centuries. But will he survive long enough to find himself back in the arms of the divine Dejah?

The Gods of Mars is the second book in the classic best-selling John Carter of Mars science-fantasy series. Written during the heyday of the pulp fiction era, these epic, swashbuckling Red Planet tales of derring-do and dazzling romance permanently remapped the terrain of fantasy and science fiction.


At the conclusion of A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs's first chronicle of John Carter's Martian adventures, readers were left in the thrall of an irresistable cliffhanger. With the future of all life on Barsoom at stake, John Carter risked everything to help repair the planet's failing atmosphere plant -- and in doing so found himself unceremoniously sent back to Earth. With the future of his wife, Dejah Thoris, and their unborn child far from secure, Carter spends the next decade waiting and hoping for a way back to his new homeland to learn their fate. When Carter's fondest wish is finally granted and he is returned to Barsoom, his simple desire to be reunited with his lost love is easier sad than done. Upon his return to Mars, Carter finds himself in the Valley Dor, the final destination of the voluntary pilgrimage all Martians take down the River Iss, from which they can never return, in order to fulfill the tenets of their faith. But the renowned valley is anything but a peaceful spiritual haven. And Carter discovers that in order rejoin his family he must overcome centuries of belief and a false religious power determined to maintain its stranglehold on the Red Planet.

When Burroughs first introduced his vision of Mars to readers, the landscape and peoples Carter encountered were a fairly straightforward translation of the tenets of the American western placed within the parameters of a new frontier. There are the nomadic Tharks and the various tribes of warlike red men populating the desolate Martian landscape. But when Burroughs returned Carter to Mars for a second set of adventures (first serialized in 1913), he took the opportunity to gloriously expand on the world he'd created, introducing new landscapes and peoples for Carter to encounter. En route to the Martian "paradise" Carter battles fearsome Plant Men who are joined by an old foe -- the vicious white apes. Those creatures are controlled by the Holy Therns, the pasty-skinned, bald gatekeepers of Issus worship, a cult of cannibals drunk on power, willing to do anything to maintain their faithful following. And finally there are the fearsome Black Pirates of Barsoom, the self-proclaimed First Born tribe whose hidden seat of power Carter vows to destroy in order to free Mars from the power-mad perpetuation of a false faith.

I find Burroughs's treatment of organized religion particularly fascinating here. I did some cursory online reading and it doesn't seem as as though Burroughs was anti-faith. Rather, that he was highly concerned with the potential for exploitation of the faithful stemming from any organized religion. As such, Carter's single-minded assault on centuries of faith is extraordinarily thorough, and sets up nicely endless possibilities for conflict to come in subsequent volumes of the series. Carter as a fighting man is the epitome of straightforward action and belief, and as such is perhaps the embodiment of Burroughs's ideal argument in favor of the virtues of the "everyman."

Unfortunately much of the old-fashioned romance found within A Princess of Mars is distinctly one-sided here as Dejah is off-screen for most of the novel. But the charm of Carter's inherent nobility and chivalry are perhaps only magnified by Dejah's absence as thoughts of her are never far from his heart (seriously, he could make me swoon). Thuvia, a Martian prisoner Carter frees from the Therns is the principle female presence in this story. And while she falls in love with Carter (as expected), even though he doesn't give her a second look (could he be more perfect?), she is as honorable and moral as Dejah in the previous book and refreshingly capable of assisting in her escape from the Thern captors. Burroughs's women may be idealized, but he gives readers a bit more than "just" a fainting damsel in distress than one might expect from classic pulp fiction.

Much like its predecessor, The Gods of Mars is a rollicking, fast-paced, old-fashioned adventure novel that is every bit as fun and entertaining -- perhaps even morseo -- than Carter's first Martian outing. This book is a page-turner of the first order that has deepened my appreciation of Burroughs's work as a science fiction pioneer and made me even more of a John Carter fangirl. Filled with characters I've grown to love, this is a world that I adore getting lost in, leaving me eager to dive into the next installment.


I couldn't resist sharing some classic cover options once again. This gem is by Frank E. Schoonover and is from the 1918 hardcover edition of The Gods of Mars:

And this is a 1960s-era paperback cover (not sure about the artist?):

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Inspector Lewis continues tomorrow!

Just a quick reminder that Inspector Lewis continues tomorrow on Masterpiece Mystery with a brand-new episode entitled Fearful Symmetry. Here's a short preview:

Review: Sense and Sensibility -- The Graphic Novel

Sense and Sensibility, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
By: Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew
Publisher: Marvel
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4820-3

About the book:

Two-time Rita Award-Winner Nancy Butler returns to Jane Austen's world, accompanied by internationally acclaimed artist Sonny Liew!

Marvel's adaptation of Pride & Prejudice spent 13 weeks on The New York Times Graphic NOvel Best-Seller List, and now comes the adaptation of Jane Austen's first novel. Published in 1811, it introduced readers to the world of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two daughters without parents* or means, forced to experience hardship, romance and heartbreak -- all in the hopes of achieving love and lasting happiness.


Sense and Sensibility is the second of Jane Austen's novels to receive the graphic novel treatment from Marvel. Author Nancy Butler returns to adapt the text, while artist Sonny Liew brings the Dashwood sisters and their world to vibrant, colorful life. Where Butler's previous Austen graphic novel was a competently-executed adaptation of the source material, I felt my overall enjoyment of the book was hampered by the dark, bold tones of the illustrations. Happily no such issue exists with this version of Sense and Sensibility. Liew's whimsical, fanciful drawings contain all off the period detail one could wish for while possessing a light touch that enhances Austen's story. The softer color palette is easily adjusted to suit both Elinor's outward tranquility and in an instant, alter to complement one of Marianne's passionate displays of temper. Liew uses chibi figures throughout to artfully exaggerate the humor found in certain key scenes, supporting Austen's aim of illustrating the ridiculousness of individuals such as Fanny and John Dashwood and their penny-pinching ways. Throughout, each character is uniquely and gorgeously-rendered on the page. This is an attractive volume that retains, in large part thanks to the lyrical illustrations, the humor, pathos, and romance of Austen's original novel.

My one qualm with this adaptation relates to the manner in which Butler elected to translate key scenes to the page. She does a creditable job once again of retaining the flavor of Austen's text, but as she points out in her introduction, Sense and Sensibility was originally largely epistolary and narrative-heavy, a drawback when crafting a graphic novel version. In most cases, visual and textual renderings of events only hinted at in the novel are created on the page in a manner faithful to the story's spirit, striving to remain in-line with the author's intent. But in some cases, such as when Willoughby pleads his case to Elinor, so many panels are given to relating that event that a key turning point moment, such as Marianne's illness, receives the short shrift. That "balancing" issue aside, this is a lovely volume and a fine introduction to Austen's classic tale of the trials and tribulations of two very different sisters.

Sample panel:

*Clearly whoever wrote the back cover copy for this volume never read the book, or they wouldn't act as though poor Mrs. Dashwood was dead. :P

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Pride and Prejudice -- The Graphic Novel

Pride and Prejudice, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
By: Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
Publisher: Marvel
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3916-4

About the book:

Tailored from the adored Jane Austen classic, Marvel Comics is proud to present an adaptation of the whimsical tale of Lizzy Bennet and her loveable-if-eccentric family, as they navigate through tricky British social circles. Will Lizzy's father manage to marry off his five daughters, despite his wife's incessant nagging? And will Lizzy's beautiful sister Jane marry the handsome, wealthy Mr. Bingley? Or will his brooding friend Mr. Darcy stand between their happiness?

One of the most acclaimed novels in English literature has endured since its release in 1813 and is adapted as a graphic novel for the first time, collecting all five installments from two-time RITA award-winner Nancy Butler and fan-favorite Hugo Petrus.


So this is what happens when you're sick and off work for a week -- you pull out that graphic novel edition of Pride and Prejudice that you've been meaning to read for ages and finally dive in. Pride and Prejudice was the first Austen novel adapted for the Marvel Illustrated line -- comic-book versions of timeless literary classics. As with any adaptation of Austen's work, it is bound to face criticism for plot condension and the losss of pages upon pages of Austen's signature witty, insightful prose. But for a 120-page or so graphic novel, this volume does a creditable job of translating the essence of Lizzy and Darcy's story to the page.

Adapted by author Nancy Butler, the text does a surprisingly decent job of remaining faithful to its 19th-century origins. She keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, and while events are often shortened or tweaked to fit the graphic novel format, all of the plot's most famous scenes get their due. From Darcy's famous put-down at the Meryton assembly to his subsequent first (refused) proposal to Lizzy's first view of Pemberly, all key moments are brought to life with relative faithfulness to the original text.

I have mixed feelings abut illustrator Hugo Petrus's interpretation of Austen's classic tale. There are to be sure some gorgeously-rendered panels within these pages, and he has a nice eye for period detail. But the color palette is a bit darker than I'd prefer for Austen's brand of frothy social commentary. And many of the characters are blessed with such similar looks that it is difficult to tell them apart, particulary the bee-stung lipped younger Bennet sisters. However I enjoyed his realizations of Darcy, Mr. Bennet, Lady Catherine, and Lizzy in particular, though the latter suffers occasionally from some incredibly awkward facial expressions that detract from the emotin of key moments.

A pleasant way in which to while away an afternoon, this edition of Pride and Prejudice mostly hits all the right notes and could serve a a fresh way to introduce Austen to new readers.

Sample panel:

Review: As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney

As Always, Jack
By: Emma Sweeney
Publisher: Axios Press
ISBN: 978-1-60419-048-9

About the book:

The discovery of a cache of letters -- written just after World War Two by a young pilot from Texas to the California girl with whom he had fallen in love -- becomes a grown daughter's touching introduction to the man who died before she was born, the father she never knew. Unique in its poignant details yet universal in its depiction of the passions and fears of wartime, As Always, Jack is a love story that sears the heart.


Four months after her father was lost in the waters south of Bermuda on what was supposed to have been a routine Navy flight, Emma Sweeney was born. By the time she was old enough to start wondering about the father she'd never known, Emma's mother had remarried. And with a reticence to revisit the past, perhaps characteristic of her mother's generation, information about her father was slow to come over the years, when at all. But following her mother's passing, Emma discovered her final gift -- a ribbon-tied packet of fragile letters through which she finally met the man that tragic plane crash, decades earlier, had forever robbed her of the chance to know in person. Through those letters she finally met Jack.

As Always, Jack, collects the letters Lt. Jack Sweeney wrote Beebe Mathewson over the course of a six-month deployment to Asia in 1946. Though they'd known each other a scant eleven days before he left California for points east, that was enough for Jack, who made no secret of his determination to win Beebe's heart. Funny, heartfelt, and poignant, Jack's letters are not only an introduction to a young man head-over-heels in love with the woman he'd determined to marry, but a window into the hopes and dreams, concerns and fears faced by those living in the uncertainties of the waning days of World War II.

This slim volume is beautifully designed, interspersing period reproductions of air mail stamps and Jack's humorous illustrations throughout the text. The latter, especially, are powerful reminders of the intensely personal nature of these letters, and what a precious gift it is to be invited to share in the heady early days of this timeless love story. As I met Emma's father, I was powerfully struck by what a rare gift it is for a child to gain such insight into their parents, to see them before they became firmly ensconced in a parental role, when life and love were still very new prospects. As such this book is an intensely personal gift, one that cannot fail tug the heartstrings, threaten tears, and leave the reader awash with a renewed sense of gratefulness for the sacrifices of the military and their families through the ages in the name of honor, duty, and patriotism. This book is an incredible gift, one I'll not soon forget.

"Just remember me once in a while -- not too often, or it'll cramp your style, you know -- and as long as I'm remembered, I'm not really dead. I'll still be living in John, and Bill, and Al, and Dan, bless their hearts. That's what they mean by eternity, I think." (from Jack's final letter, written days before his death in 1956)

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review opportunity!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Glamorous Illusions winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered my drawing for a copy of Glamorous Illusions by Lisa T. Bergren! Sorry for the delay in announcing a winner but this bronchitis/pneumonia thing has really thrown me for a loop.

1. Gwendolyn Gage
2. Carissa
3. Kristin
4. Abbi Hart
5. Erika
6. Julia M. Reffner
7. Leah
8. Jennifer
9. Audrey
10. orangeroomart
11. Lori Benton
12. Liz B
13. cyn209
14. Tayler

After assigning each commenter a number, and utlizing good ol' Random.org, the winner is:

#9 - Audrey!!

Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who entered! Audrey, an e-mail is on its way to get shipping info -- and as soon as I'm fit to be out in public again I'll mail your book. :)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Glamorous Illusions -- delay in winner announcement

Well people, my doctor thinks I have pneumonia...I'll try to get the winner of Glamorous Illusions announced sometime today, tomorrow at the latest. Sorry for the delay!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Inspector Lewis continues this Sunday!

Inspector Lewis continues this Sunday on Masterpiece Mystery, and as if I wasn't already excited enough about Lewis and Hathaway on my TV screen, this episode features Toby Stephens! TOBY STEPHENS!!! SQUEEE! :) Here's a bit about the episode:
When a lonely Oxford professor's dating video goes viral, she is humiliated before her students and colleagues. But humiliated enough to take her own life? Lewis thinks not. Watch an all-new Inspector Lewis, Generation of Vipers, Sunday, July 15 at 9pm. Toby Stephens (Jane Eyre) guest stars. (90 minutes)
And here's a short preview:

Book Giveaway reminder!

Just a reminder that you have through Sunday, July 15, 2012 to enter the drawing for a copy of Glamorous Illusions  by Lisa T. Bergren. Click HERE to read the rules and enter! Good luck! :)

Oz: The Great and Powerful trailer!

Last night I discovered the recently-released trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful, the upcoming Sam Raimi-directed prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Here's the film summary from the official website:

Disney's fantastical adventure "Oz The Great and Powerful," directed by Sam Raimi, imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum's beloved character, the Wizard of Oz™. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he's hit the jackpot—fame and fortune are his for the taking—that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity—and even a bit of wizardry—Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz™ but into a better man as well.

And here's the trailer:

I tend to be a bigger fan of Wizard of Oz reimaginings (such as the Tin Man miniseries) than the actual Dorothy story (I have a hard time separating the classic musical from its source material), so I'm pretty excited about this film. It is due to release March 8, 2013!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Inspector Lewis: The Soul of Genius

Inspector Lewis at long-last returned to television screens with its fifth series of new cases to solve on Masterpiece Mystery, beginning with The Soul of Genius. This is an episode with a literary flair that reaches back in time to touch on the loss of Lewis's wife -- the tragedy that has in no small way informed the man he is today -- and in doing so examine just how far the series' titular sleuth has come. Here's the brief episode summary from the PBS website:
What is a snark? This is just one of the many unanswered questions Inspector Lewis must ask when botanist Liz Nash accidentally unearths the recently buried body of an English professor obsessed with the Lewis Carroll poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Locked in bitter rivalry with his brother, professor Murray Hawes was fixed on solving a legendary riddle hidden in Carroll's philosophical story of an impossible quest for the unknowable. The search for Murray's killer launches Lewis and Hathaway on an impossible quest of their own, taking them from Oxford's botanical gardens to the evidence wall of an interfering amateur sleuth. But when a prime suspect is killed and a secret society is exposed, Lewis and Hathaway intensify their hunt not for the unknowable, but for an all-too-real killer. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox star alongside James Fleet (Little Dorrit) and Celia Imrie (Cranford) in The Soul of Genius. (90 minutes; TV-PG)
This series is one of the most satisfying productions Masterpiece has ever produced, with consistently high production values, smart scripts, and engaging characters. In other words, the powers that be behind this show know what works and what doesn't. :) And the biggest draw of this series for me is the manner in which the relationship between Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) has been developed. Over the course of this long-running production we've see Lewis and Hathaway move from barely tolerating each other (one has to wonder if Lewis ever perhaps felt that Hathaway was Morse come back to "haunt" him, as the two cerebral, classics-loving officers bear more than a  passing resemblance to each other -- though Hathaway is decidedly less grumpy) to genuine respect and appreciation for the ways in which their varied backgrounds and points-of-view complement their partnership. Last year's season saw Lewis and Hathaway reach a new level of ease in their partnership as the two men have become fast friends, freeing them to needle and annoy each other at will. The Soul of Genius makes it abundantly clear that this sense of camaraderie is still very much a vital part of what makes this show work oh so well -- Lewis and Hathaway, people, they never get old.

The Soul of Genius opens with a young botanist, Liv Nash (Nadine Lewington), leading a group of volunteers on  quest to eradicate some sort of pestilential plant. But Liv and her crew make a discovery of another, and wholly unpleasant kind, when they unearth the corpse of a murder victim -- one Oxford English professor named Murray Hawes. Hawes was a frequent visitor to the Botanical Gardens, something of an eccentric well-known for his obsession with Lewis Carroll's enigmatic poem, The Hunting of the Snark. In attempting to describe the allure of the Snark and its mysteries to Lewis, Hathaway describes the poem as an "impossible quest" with an unknown end in sight, the danger being in discovering what the unknown is -- the type of intellectual and philosophical puzzle that can drive a person mad.

Murray was survived by his brother Conor (Alex Jennings), a chaplain and tutor at Oxford's Carlyle College. The brothers apparently had a very testy relationship history, particularly since Murray was apparently the favored son, leaving Conor to fester in jealousy and insecurity. Two of Conor's pupils were seen near the Botanical Gardens when Murray's body was discovered -- self-style postmodernists Mia (Daisy May) and Vincent (Oliver Johnstone), a.k.a. the most obvious intellectual posers in the history of recent cinema (I mean hello, they took their names from friggin' Pulp Fiction). Mia and Vincent are obsessed with gaining admittance into the Wednesday Club, a legendary, secretive organization for geniuses at Oxford.

Lewis and Hathaway quickly discover a third line of inquiry when an amateur investigator, Michelle Marber (Celia Imrie), suggests that Murray's death is connected with the work of Dr. Alex Falconer (James Fleet). Falconer is a scientist with an aristocratic background who works at the Davy Institute of Clinical Medicine -- a research facility where Murray frequently participated in drug trials, earning money to support his Snark research. Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front), Lewis and Hathaway's no-nonsense boss, has a funnier-than-usual appearance when she tells the detectives to "deal" with Michelle, who she very obviously writes off as a nutter. Michelle blames Falconer for her son Stevie's death -- a brilliant student who worked as Falconer's research assistant. Falconer's possible connection to the case circles back to the Botanical Gardens, as Lewis and Hathaway discover that he's been having an affair -- never mind his sickly wife Thea (Annabel Mullion)! -- with Professor Helena Wright (Matilda Ziegler), head of the Garden and the boss of Liv the botanist who discovered Murray's body.

And with that set-up we're given what Lewis does best -- delivering twisty, multi-layered plots, laced with enough red herrings to make one's head spin. :) The modus operandi of this program might best be described by Sir Walter Scott's line "oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive," as nothing is ever as straightforward in these investigations as the down-to-earth Lewis would like. I love spotting familiar acting talent in each episode's cast. This installment features a pair of Cranford veterans -- Jennings played the Reverend Hutton throughout the series, while Imrie played Lady Glenmire in a single episode. James Fleet is another Masterpiece veteran, who memorably portrayed Frederick Dorrit in the Little Dorrit miniseries, and the delightfully flaky Hugo in The Vicar of Dibley.

This investigation is laced with some absolutely superb Hathaway/Lewis moments, a fantastic illustration of just how far this duo have come has regards their partnership and friendship. Lewis's concern for his younger partner takes on an almost fatherly tone when he sees, once again, the toll the investigation takes on Hathaway's well-being. The latter's intellect and quiet demeanor set him apart, but when Lewis encourages him to break the cycle of loneliness, I seriously cheered. For a man who has battled his own personal demons extensively over the course of the series, this episode gives Lewis a chance to mentor not only Hathaway but to also sow what he's learned through his experiences with grief and loss into the life of Michelle. Watching Lewis willingly revisit the painful loss of his wife in order to help another through their grief -- it was a fantastically well-acted, incredibly moving scene, underscoring Lewis's compassionate nature. He may not have the most patience when it comes to Oxford's intellectual elites, but having known the pain of sudden, inexplicable loss, he can understand the toll of grief.

Hathaway reminded me powerfully of Morse in this episode -- not only because the Endeavour prequel film recently aired, but because since last season of Lewis I've had the chance to immerse myself in the Morse series. Like his predecessor, Hathaway is extraordinarily smart, loves the classics -- a bit of an odd-man out when it comes to the typical pastimes of his peers, leaving him rather isolated. And -- most adorably! -- he's completely hopeless when it comes to women. This episode gives me hope that perhaps that aspect of Hathaway's life will change, as he is clearly smitten when he meets Liv the botanist but he has NO IDEA how to manage a casual conversation. I love that he is so struck by a woman who is, at first blush, his complete opposite -- suits vs. work clothes, gardening vs. classic texts. But Liv is every bit as whip-smart as Hathaway when it comes to common sense, observation skills, and a vast knowledge of the history and purpose of plants and their uses, which proves critical to the resolution of the murder investigation. I can only hope that someday she makes a return appearance for Hathaway's sake. Also, the moment when Hathaway BOWS to her? I nearly died that was so absolutely, wonderful, perfect! :)

Some spoilers ahead! For the most part I was quite pleased with how the resolution of this mystery unfolded, though I do wonder if we'll discover additional scenes on the DVD release, since I feel like the Conor/Wednesday Club storyline and their somewhat tenuous connection to Murray's death were explained in a bit of a haphazard fashion. I did, however, love how the story's love triangle was so unbelievably twisted. This show does twisty, complex personal motivations for murder oh-so-well. *wink* Not only does this script give us illegal secret drug tests, but the tests are run by a man whose mistress is helping him try to find the cure for his wife's cancer, and somehow the sick wife is OKAY WITH ALL OF THIS because she didn't want her husband to be alone after she died. NEVERMIND THAT HE WAS KILLING PEOPLE, apparently! Gotta love the crazy Lewis and Hathaway run into! :P

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Lewis and Hathaway's most welcome return to TV screens! I hope that the next few episodes will feature more of coroner Laura Hobson (Clare Holman), and perhaps a little forward momentum on her oh. so. S-L-O-W burning will-they-or-won't-they romance with Lewis. Unless I'm forgetting something (and given how this week has been going, that is HIGHLY possible), I really felt like she didn't have much screentime in this episode. That said the Hathaway moments were priceless. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

something to tide us all over...

I know things have been a little quiet around here lately -- this week has been CRAZY busy. So please bear with me until I get my blogging rhythm back. :) To help hold you over, here are a bunch of pictures from the season four premiere of White Collar. Wasn't it amazing?! :)

I'm so happy the White Collar boys are back. :) What have you all been up to this week -- reading, watching, writing, whatever?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars (John Carter of Mars #1)
By: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Publisher: Fall River Press
ISBN: 978-1-4351-3448-5

About the book:

Marooned on a war-torn alien planet...

When Civil War veteran Captain John Carter is incredibly transported from Earth to a strange landscape on Mars, he finds that the weak gravity exponentially increases his speed and strength. Taken prisoner by Martian warriors, Carter impresses them with his remarkable fighting skills, and is quickly made a high-ranking chieftain. Before long, the captain finds himself embroiled in the deadly warfare and dark intrigues that have been polarizing the Martian races. The heroic Carter also finds dangerous romance with the divine princess Dejah Thoris, who wins Carter's love the first moment his eyes meet hers.

A Princess of Mars is the first book in the classic best-selling John Carter of Mars science-fantasy series. Written during the heyday of the pulp fiction era, these epic, swashbuckling Red Planet tales of derring-do and dazzling romance permanently remapped the terrain of fantasy and science fiction.


At the close of the Civil War, Confederate cavalryman John Carter found himself to be a man without a country -- and so he bid farewell to his native Virginia and headed west in search of gold. While attempting to save his prospecting partner from an Apache attack, Carter seeks refuge in a cave -- a cave with mystical properties as he soon finds himself transported to Mars, otherwise known as Barsoom. The variances in the Martian atmosphere gift Carter with a preternatural speed and strength. Carter's newly-discovered gifts allow him to survive among the Tharks, a nomadic, six-limbed tribe of fierce Martian warriors, winning him the hard-won respect of Tars Tarkas, one of the tribe's premiere chieftains. Carter gives little thought to his long-term future on Mars until the Tharks capture Dejah Thoris, the beloved Princess of Helium, one of the Red -- or humanoid -- Martians centers of power. In a life or death struggle to safeguard Dejah from the warlike Tharks and restore her to her people, Carter falls in love -- and in losing his heart finds a reason to fight for a future on this planet so different from his own.

I cannot remember the last time I indulged in the luxury of re-reading a book, so to read A Princess of Mars twice in four months? That's something special indeed. A Princess of Mars is my first experience with early 20th-century classic pulp fiction, and it has proven to be a memorable one indeed. Burroughs's first drafted John Carter's first adventure after a series of failed business ventures. The behind-the-scenes featurette on the recently released film, "100 Years in the Making," posits that John Carter was birthed out of an existential crisis in the author's life -- and taken as such it is fascinating to watch Carter's journey from outsider to Martian hero unfold. A Princess of Mars is in many respects the first space western, with the arid Martian climate standing in for the American west. If Mars is the western frontier, the various tribes of warlike Tharks are stereotyped Native Americans -- but what is fascinating is that Burroughs does not rest on stereotypical divisiveness. Carter moves from an attitude of superiority and frustration with his Thark captors to respect and admiration from their battle prowess and code of honor exhibited by warriors such as Tars Tarkas. This eventually helps birth an unprecedented alliance between the once sworn Green and Red Martian enemies, perhaps pointing to Burroughs' own belief in the inherent possibility of new beginnings symbolized by wild frontiers.

First published in 1912 in serial form, Princess is told wholly from John Carter's point-of-view. The first time I read the novel I was a bit put-off by the sheer amount of information "dumping," exacerbated by the fact that all of the action is related as Carter's reminiscences of his Martian adventures. For a good part of his time on Mars Carter is observing and learning, concealing the fact that he's learning the language and customs of the Tharks. This narrative style made the first third or so of the novel a bit of a slow-go on my first read-through -- but on my second, knowing what to expect, I couldn't put the book down. I relished Burroughs's imaginative world-building and richly-drawn characters. This is an intelligent adventure, articulately-told, with a cracking pace and a finely-honed sense of adventure and heart.

While the non-stop action and breath-taking fight sequences make this a page-turning read, by far my favorite aspect of the novel is romance -- perhaps something I relish all the more because, in a novel of this ilk, a romance this passionate seems unexpected. I'm a complete and total sucker for an old-fashioned romance, and Carter's character possesses an inherent nobility and chivalry that I just adored. And while Dejah isn't quite the warrior the film version introduces (at least not yet), her nobility, self-sacrificing spirit, and intelligence mark her as a ground-breaking character -- every inch the lady, strong-willed, and willing to fight for what she believes. I loved the way Burroughs's develops their relationship. He seems to relish in their cross-cultural misunderstandings, but doesn't shy away from ages-old male/female archetypal behavior that lends their budding romance humor and spark.

Princess is an old-fashioned adventure novel that becomes an increasing page-turner the more Burroughs lets us see Carter adapt to his new environment, gradually opening himself up to friendships and relationships with people whose appearance and customs are so different from his own at first blush. John Carter's first adventure on Mars is the rare type of novel that improves when revisited, giving me a deeper appreciation for Burroughs's work as a pioneer in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. A Princess of Mars is a ground-breaking, thoroughly entertaining adventure that holds up to this day -- a sterling example of Burroughs's imaginative prowess, a classic from the pen of a pulp fiction master. I adore this book. Bring on the sequels!


The cover of this edition of A Princess of Mars was painted by Kekai Kotaki, and while I love it I have to share the cover to the 1917 hardback edition by Frank E. Schoonover:

I love it. Here's another cover option, this time from the 1963 edition, by Bob Abbett:

Love it too. :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Inspector Lewis premieres Sunday!

I am so ridiculously happy about this. My favorite detective duo returns to Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday with the first of FOUR brand-new episodes! Inspector Lewis kicks off its newest season with The Soul of Genius:
Botany, rivalry and secrecy collide when Lewis and Hathaway attempt to find the killer of an obsessed professor. Kick off the new season of Inspector Lewis with The Soul of Genius, Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 9pm on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! Celia Imrie (Cranford) co-stars. (90 minutes)
And here's a short preview:

Lewis and Hathaway forever, I love these guys SO MUCH. :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

I love Spider-Man. LOVE him. Spidey cartoons hold a prominent and beloved place in my childhood memories. So it was with a curious mixture of excitement and trepidation that I approached The Amazing Spider-Man. After all, it was just ten years ago that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire brought the webslinger to the big screen, and I was hooked. People, I ADORE those three movies so very much. I mean I saw the first one -- in theaters -- something like seven times the summer it released. That movie is romance and heartbreak, breath-taking action and pure, unadulterated joy for me. So the way I see it, my challenge is to discuss The Amazing Spider-Man on its own merits as much as possible. Though some comparisons are unavoidable, because this is, after all, essentially the same film as the predecessor that launched the Raimi/Maguire trilogy. After all, when you're exploring Peter Parker's origin story, certain things just have to happen, you know?

In trying to summarize why I love the Peter Parker character so much, I keep coming back to how wonderfully ordinary he is. Peter is SUCH a deliciously flawed human being. I love watching him explore his powers, his potential, learning to look outside himself to how he can help others, and yes, all of those times he falls flat on his face (literally and metaphorically) -- because he's arguably one of the most human of the comic book heroes. I relish watching Peter navigate the tragedies and triumphs of life, and those moments when he's able to soar emotionally and physically over any given obstacle, well when played right on-screen, those moments can bring me to the best kind of tears. I suppose the point here is that I feel very personally INVESTED in this chap. :)

The film opens with a young Peter (played by an absolutely ADORABLE Max Charles) playing a game of hide-and-seek with his father. All seems well until Peter enters his father's study and discovers a broken window and his father's just-rifled through desk. Peter's father, Richard (Campbell Scott), is apparently a scientist of some repute -- so he comes by his scientific aptitude naturally. :) Just before his father finds Peter in his office, the boy is captivated by a spider under glass (OOH!!!! Foreshadowing!), his reverie interrupted when his father abruptly enters, removes a hidden file from a secret desk drawer compartment, and spirits Peter and his mother Mary (Embeth Davidtz) away. Richard and Mary leave their young son with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) with no word of explanation -- just a "be good," and then they are on the run, and poor Peter is left behind, little realizing that he was never to see his parents again. (This is tragic in any scenario, but triply tragic when you're looking at the face of Max Charles!)

Peter's legacy from his parents, particularly his scientist father, come into play throughout the film, and it's all very obviously a set-up for the over-arching theme of this batch of Spider-Man films (at this point a trilogy is planned). I'm curious to see how this plays out, as sometimes I wish movies and TV shows were not quite as concerned with mythology and destiny as is the current trend -- one of Peter's charms is that he is such an ordinary fellow. So this idea that somehow Peter's was "destined" or became Spidey because of his father's work...well, IF that is the direction the filmmakers are going, I suppose all I can say at this point is that I'm very curious to see how it plays out.

Andrew Garfield was surprisingly good as Peter (is it weird that I wish he could've kept his accent? LOL). I've only seen him in The Social Network and a two-part season three Doctor Who storyline, so I wasn't terribly familiar with his work, but oh was he good. Interestingly enough he's actually older by two years (29) than Tobey Maguire was when he first became Spider-Man. Garfield's youthful face and lanky body type really work in his favor when attempting to capture the demeanor of an angst-ridden teenager -- and that is something this Peter Parker is in spades. After only one viewing I'd say he starts out a tick more self-centered than his filmic predecessor, and understandably so given the parental abandonment issues, etc. Garfield feels very much like a teenager in his angst and responses to everything from falling in love with classmate Gwen Stacy to the heady rush of his first successes as Spider-Man. Also, I LOVE the fact that in this film Peter designs and builds his own webslingers -- not only does that hearken back to the character's comic book origins, but it reinstates Spider-Man's ability to be hurt in his fights, reinforcing the idea that he is a very human, relatable hero.

Speaking of Gwen...this film goes back to Peter Parker's first love, and though that doesn't end well (eventually) one hopes that if this film franchise continues they stick with the Garfield/Emma Stone romantic pairing, because these two are absolutely ADORABLE. Garfield and Stone are a real-life couple since meeting on the set of this film, and it's no stretch to say that part of the reason they work so well on-screen is because there is such genuine feeling between the two of them in real life. I loved the palpable on-screen chemistry! The only other film I've seen Stone in is The Help, and based on that and her work here needless to say I have been incredibly impressed. Gwen Stacy is whip-smart and funny and game, and I loved watching her slowly pull Peter out of his shell (though I think her reaction to the reveal of Peter's alter-ego was a bit understated -- though funny!).

I was incredibly attached to Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris's portrayals of Uncle Ben and Aunt May in the Raimi trilogy, so Martin Sheen and Sally Field had a LOT to live up to. I was particularly impressed with Sheen's turn as Uncle Ben -- he's very blue collar and straightforward, and the suggestion of a history of tension between himself and Peter's more academic-minded father was nicely handled. He may not have Peter's intellectual smarts, but he captures the most critical thing -- Ben is a good man, and that foundation is essential to Peter's growth as a person and Spider-Man. The one point where this film falters is in Uncle Ben's death -- the Robertson version of that turning point in Peter's life emotionally eviscerates me EVERY SINGLE TIME. And this version, while horrible and tragic to be sure, to my mind it lacked something of the emotional punch the Raimi film's script brought to the scene. This script leaves Garfield curiously detached -- the realization of his role in events leading to the shooting, and what Ben was trying so hard to teach him, it doesn't seem to hit Peter this go-around with the power I wanted to see until the final third of the film. That said, by this film's conclusion I loved Sally Field as Aunt May -- she's a bit more energetic, perhaps, than Harris, and she and Garfield seem to complement each other nicely. (Peter was WAY obvious about not hiding his secret identity from May, though! It was actually pretty funny by the end of the movie.)

The villain this go-around is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an OsCorp scientist and a former colleague of Peter's father. Connors and Parker were pioneers in the field of interspecies-genetics, with a lofty goal of eradicating weakness and illness -- of particularly interest to Connors as he is lacking one arm and would love to regain it. The Spidey fangirl in me loved the OsCorp and Norman Osborn name-dropping -- the groundwork has been set here for a franchise rich in Spider-Man lore. It's during a visit to the Connors lab that Peter is bitten by a genetically modified spider, identical to the one he saw under glass in his father's office. In an attempt to find out more about his father and his work, Peter shares his discovery of a decay-rate algorithm which is the missing link in Connors' genetic research. Ifans turns in a very solid performance as the struggling, conscientious scientist whose thirst for knowledge and scientific advancement overrides his better judgment, leading him to experiment on himself and turning him into the iconic Lizard.

I thought the special effects that brought the Lizard to life were incredibly well-done. I loved the sequence where Peter tracks the Lizard to his lair in the NYC sewers -- the tension and the subsequent fight sequence were top-notch! I have one minor complaint though -- by the time the "final battle" arrives, the Lizard becomes a bit too cartoonish for me when he starts talking. I realize there is no good way to get around this issue (unless there was less of the Lizard wearing Connors' torn lab coat), but I needed to just get this out there -- the talking Lizard just negated a huge part of the character's "fright factor."

A couple of other casting shout-outs -- I love the way this script brings in the character of Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), Peter's school enemy and later friend. I was just really impressed with the way the film handles their initial animosity towards each other, and the subtle pivot we start to see following Ben's death. And Flash wearing a Spidey shirt at the end of the film? PRICELESS. I also loved seeing Denis Leary as Gwen's father, Captain Stacy. Not only are the Stacys the second strong emphasis this script places on family, but the Captain is a nice foil as a very by-the-books cop for Peter's more angsty, envelope-pushing personality. :) Also, Stan Lee's cameo appearance was perhaps one of his best yet in the recent slate of Marvel films -- absolutely hilarious!

The special effects throughout the film were for the most part remarkably well-done, building on the ground-breaking work from the Raimi trilogy. This movie has a darker color palette that took some getting used to, but it is very much in keeping with the trend for "grittier" superhero films (I have a strong bias for the bright color palette Raimi employed, though!). One of the things I love most about Spider-Man are the requisite flying through New York scenes -- and in this movie the result is a bit of a mixed bag. There were way too many scenes for my taste from Spider-Man's perspective, where we see his hands slinging webs -- and those just felt very fake to me. It's when the camera pulls back, and lets me watch Spider-Man sail breathlessly through the skyline of New York that I can really lose myself in those moments -- and this go-around, I didn't really get that sense of pure, unadulterated wonder until the film's final act. But it was a powerful moment, worth the wait -- because it is the first time we see an average guy step up to help Spider-Man, and those moments -- when the people he has helped rise up to help him, those moments are priceless for me.

As you can tell I've had a hard time refraining from some comparisons to the first Raimi film -- it's tough because this is, essentially, the same story with a few rearranged playing pieces. It's a very solid start to a new franchise -- the leads are extraordinarily well-cast and play off each other beautifully. Garfield's performance is thoroughly enjoyable and leaves me with more than confidence -- anticipation! -- that his subsequent outings as Peter Parker have the potential to be even more spectacular than his first. The script is packed with genuine humor, and with a bit better pacing (this movie was, I think, about fifteen minutes or so too long) the next outing could really shine -- especially with the promise during the credits scene that there is much Connors knows about Peter's father that is still shrouded in secrecy. And since I'm such a film score junkie, I have to give James Horner a shout-out for his work here -- he is perhaps one of the last composers I'd think of to associate with a comic-book action movie like this, but I was incredibly impressed with his work here, particularly during the movie's climatic battle and closing scenes. 

From my perspective, there are a few tonal mis-steps in The Amazing Spider-Man, but overall director Marc Webb and his team have more than risen to the challenge of launching a fresh take on the webslinger's franchise. With Raimi film script veteran Alvin  Sargent supporting Harry Potter vet Steve Kloves and James Vanderbilt, the pieces are in place for what has the promise of being a truly great sequel -- and one to which I'm now very much anticipating. Well done for winning me over, Andrew! :)