Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween 2009: The Graveyard Book

Probably the best possible book to have finished reading on the night before Halloween.

I finished The Graveyard Book about 4 minutes ago, so my brain is still whirling a bit. Neil Gaiman is quite a story teller. When I initially read the synopsis of this book--something along the lines of "Nobody Owens is a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts"--I had my doubts. I also knew it was a children's book, though I must emphasize that it's for older children. The first few pages describe a family being stabbed to death, so please don't read this to your 6-year-old.

But I should have trusted Gaiman to weave an engaging, exciting, and touching tale. Bod (as Nobody is known) and his supernatural guardians represent a fascinating cast of characters. Those first few pages are brutal, but they immediately engage the reader. And honestly, though I enjoyed the Harry Potter series as much as anyone, I think if I were to encourage young readers to read about a young person in a magical setting, I'd go to this book first. It's a bit darker, but also better written and leaves a bit more to the reader's imagination (which is a good thing).

I'm a bit too tried to blather much more, but I will say that as with Gaiman's other children's novel, Coraline, I highly reccomend this book. It's a quick but satisfying read for an adult, and it's a story I'm sure some kids will want to read over and over.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween 2009: Roman Dirge's Lenore

OK, this one has to be quick, but it's pretty Halloweeny....

I randomly picked up Roman Dirge's Lenore: Noogies the other day basically because it looked pretty Halloweenesque. It's a comic based around a "cute little dead girl" named Lenore. I figured if this guy Dirge names his main character after a Poe poem, it can't be all that bad.

And it isn't. The strip, which is comprised of multiple short stories and a few longer stories (some that don't feature the title character at all) is often quite amusing, though darkly so. Lenore regularly mangles pets, stabs people to death--even babies!--and generally wreaks havoc wherever she goes. But, you know, in a cute and funny way!

Though ultra-violent, the strip is very cartoony, so it can't be taken seriously. The characters are very reminscent of Tim Burton's designs (think Frankenweenie or The Nightmare Before Christmas), which is not a bad thing. This particular collection represents the early days of the character and the strip. New characters are constantly being introduced, some of whom stick around for further adventures, some of whom are one-shot deals.

You can see a little more of Lenore at Dirge's website. I'll eventually pick up the next volume, Wedgies, collecting the next four "chapters" of Lenore's story. Maybe I'll save it for next Halloween...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween 2009: Ghost Mix

Anyone can make a Halloween Mix. Throw in some "Monster Mash" and "Spooky" and you're off to the races. But how about a mix that's only about ghosts? Here's a list of ghosty songs, arranged according to their relevance to Halloween. Note that I don't really dislike any of these songs, but the ones marked with a "*" are actually pretty good and I would really put them on a mix, Halloween or otherwise:

Songs about literal ghosts (pretty Halloweeny):
  • "Friendly Ghost"--Eels (from Souljacker)*
  • "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky"--Johnny Cash (16 Biggest Hits...sorry, don't know original album)*
  • "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky"--Me First and The Gimme Gimmes (from Love Their Country)*
  • "Little Ghost"--I'm From Barcelona (from Who Killed Harry Houdini?)
  • "Ghost King Pt. 2"--State Bird (from Mostly Ghostly)
  • "I Think I'll be a Good Ghost"--Say Hi To Your Mom (from Ferocious Mopes)*
  • "Ghost of Mae West"--Trailer Bride (from High Seas)
  • "Skinny White Girl"--Trailer Bride (from Hope Is a Thing With Feathers)*
  • "Leslie Anne Levine"--The Decemberists (from Castaways and Cutouts)*
  • "Eli, the Barrow Boy"--The Decemberists (from Picaresque)
Songs about figurative ghosts (only slightly Halloweeny):
  • "Ghosts"--Laura Marling (from Alas, I Cannot Swim)*
  • "Walking With a Ghost"--Tegan and Sara (from So Jealous)*
  • "The Ghost of You Lingers"--Spoon (from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
  • "My Summer With Ghosts"--Doleful Lions (from Song Cyclops Volume One)
  • "Ghost-Town of My Brain"--Jim White (from No Such Place)
  • "Searching for the Ghost"--Heartless Bastards (from All This Time)*
  • "All My Ghosts"--Frank Black (from Frank Black & The Catholics)*
Honestly, I have no idea what these songs are about, but they have the word "Ghost" in the title (probably not that Halloweeny, but who knows?):
  • "Paddling Ghost"--Dan Deacon (from Bromst)
  • "Ghost of a Plastic Bag"--Pee Wee Fist (from Flying)
  • "Ghostship"--Menomena (from Friend and Foe)
  • "Ghost"--Neutral Milk Hotel (from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea)*
  • "Boy Ghost"--Eef Barzelay (from Rocket Science soundtrack)
  • "Not A Robot, But A Ghost"--Andrew Bird (from Noble Beast)*
  • "Ghosts of Perdition"--Pepi Ginsberg (from Red)
  • "Ghost King Pt. 1"--State Bird (from Mostly Ghostly)
Know any other ghosty songs? I probably missed some obvious ones.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween 2009: Sleepy Hollow

File this one under very, very, very Halloweeny.

Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite movies to watch on Halloween. It also happens to be the only "scary" movie my wife will watch with me, but that's besides the point. The film, which came out almost exactly 10 years ago, fell between Burton's two fairly unsuccessful forays into sci-fi territory, Mars Attacks! and Planet of the Apes. Sleepy Hollow is the quintessential Tim Burton film, and I dare say it's my favorite of his movies.

I'll just make life easier for myself and make a list of just a few of reasons why this movie is awesome:

  • Johnny Depp as a brilliant but scaredy-cat Ichabod Crane.
  • An actual flaming pumpkin head.
  • Purposely cheesy dialogue delivered perfectly, including this exchange between Depp and Christina Ricci (in her best role since The Addams Family): Katrina Anne Van Tassel: I have shed my tears for Brom... and yet my heart is not broken. Do you think me wicked?
    Ichabod Crane: No... but perhaps there is a little bit of witch in you, Katrina.
    Katrina Anne Van Tassel: Why do you say that?
    Ichabod Crane: Because you have bewitched me.
  • It has plenty of humor, but also features multiple graphic beheadings, as well as the off-screen slaughter of a cute child (not my wife's favorite part of the movie).
  • An amazing supporting case, including Miranda Richardson, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Gambon, and Christopher Lee.
  • The obligatory cameo by Burton's girlfriend-at-the-time, Lisa Marie (it's like looking for Hitchcock in one of his films).
  • And of course, perhaps most importantly, Christopher friggin' Walken, as the Hessian Horseman himself:
See? Awesome.

If for some reason you've never seen this movie, this is the time of year to do it. It will bewitch you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween 2009: The Walking Dead

This one falls into the category of very Halloweeny...

Zombie stories pretty much fall into two camps: satirical (think the recent Zombieland or Sean of the Dead for movies, or my most recent favorite computer game, Plants vs. Zombies) or scary. Robert Kirkman's long-running The Walking Dead comics series falls very squarely in the latter category.

I picked up the first compendium of The Walking Dead earlier this year--it's comprised of the first 8 trade paper backs, or the first 48 issues, of the series. It starts off almost identically to one of my favorite recent zombie flicks, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. A dude, our "hero", a townie cop, wakes up from a coma to find the hospital empty. He eventually makes it outside to find that the town is a wasteland and the walking dead (only much later are they actually referred to as zombies) are everywhere.

Eventually he finds living people, including his family, which is probably the least likely plot development the story offers up. From there, the tried and true zombie tropes are trotted out. The zombies can only be killed by a head shot (or ax, or hammer, or ninja sword...whatever). People think the government will eventually come to the rescue. And most importantly, the survivors should be more afraid of each other than the actual zombies.

There's not a whole lot of new territory here in terms of the zombie mythology, but since it is an exceptionally long series, we're allowed to observe and get to know the well-written characters far better than one can in a 90 minute movie. As long as you don't actually get attached to any characters. This is very much an anyone-can-die-at-any-moment kind of series. Like the superb Y the Last Man, there's also a lot more thought put into the plot and the circumstances. Besides just murder and mayhem, the series is very much a thought experiment. Kirkman has clearly put some effort into imagining what the world would actually be like if the dead came back to life.

The black and white illustrations, primarily by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn, are well paired with this level of story telling. The violence is graphically depicted, but they're not really going for the gross-out factor. Yes, a person's neck is bitten, but we're not seeing veins and gore squirting everywhere. It's gross, but not too gross.

I can really only read this book one chapter at a time, with good breaks in between. It's a compelling story, but relentlessly grim. There's not a word of comic relief, nor should there be here. Kirkman chose his tone early on and he's remained consistent. But really, when nothing every good happens to anyone, ever, it gets more than a little depressing if you read too much at once. Still, zombies are pretty cool, and this whip-smart series is worth the occassional visit to get that zombie fix we all desire.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween 2009: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

In an effort to get a little more content up here, I'm going to try to do a post a night this week in honor of Halloween. I'll try to write about Halloweeny things, but some will be more Halloweeny than others. This first entry is really only vaguely Halloweeny.

My brother-in-law (who's German) recommended Stieg Larrson's novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, ages ago. In hind sight, it was probably before it was even released in this country. It's the first in a trilogy by the late Swedish author who basically wrote the series as a pastime. The series is relatively popular here, but it's huge in Europe. Literally millions of copies have been sold--it's like Harry Potter, but instead of magic for kids, it's sex and murder for adults.

I suppose the book is what one calls a crime thriller. It's not a genre I read often, so it's tough to say. It's the thriller part that gets me. The only difference between "thriller" and "horror" in my mind is that the "horror" usually involves the supernatural in some way. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. I guess it's the thriller part that also makes this book vaguely Halloweeny--there are some legitimately creepy parts.

But more importantly, once you get past the first 60 pages or so, the book is pretty much unputdownable. Sure, 60 pages is a lot, but it's worth getting through. Not that the beginning is a complete slog, but it's our first introduction to the main characters of not just the book, but the series. The real meat of the story comes soon after, and it's very tasty meat indeed.

Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist who's recent fall from grace leads him to a dubious new employer. Though he's not the most exciting character, he's thrust into the extraordinary circumstances that form the crux of the novel. Lisbeth Salander, the titular "girl", is a fascinating character and the centerpiece of the series. It takes an agonizingly long time for her to enter the central plot, but she requires a lot more development as a character.

And really, I can't say much more without spoiling it. I haven't stayed up late to read a book in ages, and my wife read it three times faster than I did. She cursed me for encouraging her to read such a riveting book that was also too scary for her.

The novel isn't great literature, and it's not without its flaws, but it was undoubtedly a fun read. If you started it right now, you'll probably have it done by Halloween. As for me, the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, should be arriving on my doorstep any day now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Highly Anticipated Fall Albums

I'm so far behind on the albums I've listened to and would like to review, I will likely never catch up--so, sorry about that. But there have been three albums released in the last month that I was really looking forward to, and even though I haven't really absorbed any of them yet, here are some quick early impressions...

The Dodos - Time To Die
So far this album falls squarely in between the previous two Dodos albums in terms of how much I like it. It's not quite as catchy as Beware of the Maniacs, but it's definitely more accessible than last year's somewhat disappointing Visiter. The third album is often a death knell for bands, but I think The Dodos still have some life in them. "Fables", the song in the following video, is pretty representative.

Thao (with the Get Down Stay Down) - Know Better Learn Faster
Of the three albums I'm writing about here, this is the one living up to my expectations the least. That may be because I had the highest expectations for it since Thao's last album, We Brave Bee Stings And All, was my favorite album last year. Where that album was kind of light, silly, and sexy, this album is often dark, dirty, and sexy. It was a big shift in tone (other than the sexy part), and I guess I was a bit jarred. It might grow on me, but I'm pretty sure it won't crack my top 10 or 20 of the year. Still, "Cool Yourself"'s a pretty good song (though not particularly representative of the rest of the album):

Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy
Of these three albums, this is the one that surpassed my expectations. It's not that I don't expect a lot from Built to Spill--Doug Martsch and co. are hands down one of my favorite bands. But they've made a lot of albums, and there are some misses along with the hits. Since I really enjoyed their last album, 2006's You in Reverse, I didn't want to get my hopes up too much. I needn't have worried. I would say There Is No Enemy is on par with Keep It Like a Secret in terms of how much I like it, though they are both very different albums. This album is a little more bitter than usual, but the clever lyrics and massive guitar are still there. Whenever I really need to have my ears barraged by guitar, I know Built to Spill is there for me.

The video below is fan-made, but it's the only way I could get this song on here. "Things Fall Apart" is long, kinda depressing, and has some NSFW lyrics...but it's also pretty awesome.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Andrew Bird's "Anonanimal"

Andrew Bird doesn't make a ton of videos, so when he does, it's kind of event...umm, if you really like Andrew Bird. Which I do.

Check out the freaky-cool video for "Anonanimal", a pretty song from Noble Beast, Bird's most recent album. Unfortunately I can't embed it, but you can see it if click on the pic or go to the following link: