Monday, December 26, 2011

Blood and Ashes!

My all-time favorite book series is Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time". My brother introduced me to these books about 14 years ago, when my second son was just a toddler and we were renovating and remodeling a little house in the country and living with my in-laws. I was desperate for some good reading escape material, and my brother said to check these out. I had never really been a big reader of fantasy-- still not, really, though I adore "The Hobbit" and all of the "Harry Potter" books. Back then, I really only read mysteries and some thrillers. I had read all the "Cat Who..." books to that date by Lillian Jackson Braun, most of Dick Francis and Tony Hillerman's collections, and a handful of random titles. I hadn't really read any series of the scope and extent of Jordan's books. Of course, 14 years ago, there weren't as many of them. I think there were 7... maybe.

So I picked up "The Eye of the World" and after slogging through the completely detached and confusing prologue (I tell new readers to skip it, they won't understand it until later, anyway), began the story of Rand al Thor, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, along with the various female characters, whose names I struggled to pronounce, even in my head: Moiraine, Nynaeve and Egwene. (I happily report that all these years later, those names are no longer so foreign to me...) I was hooked, instantly and deeply. I adored the first book, and, I devoured the rest as quickly as I could. I remember driving down the streets of Salt Lake City, in my old Toyota Corrolla, with the book in one hand, face down, until the red lights, then I would sneak in a page or two until the light changed and I had to put it down again. That's the only time in my life I've actually been hoping to hit lots of red lights.

In my mind, this set of books sets the standard which all other fantasy series try to live up to. I haven't read many fantasy series, still. I've read the first three of George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" books, but there was a bit too much sex and incest for my taste, so I haven't ever re-read them. I started a couple of books by Terry Brooks and someone who I can't even remember, but wasn't really intrigued. I do love Orson Scott Card, and I've read two fantasy (not Sci-Fi-- that's a whole 'nuther genre, and please don't treat them as though they are the same. They aren't) books by him, "Enchantment" and "The Lost Gate", which are both fantastic books, especially the latter. I've read the LOTR trilogy, by the legendary Tolkein, and I was bemused by his over-descriptions of certain aspects of the scenery. I read those long before reading WOT, and yes, I'm aware that most fantasy books pay homage to Tolkein whether deliberately or unintentionally, but in my mind WOT still sets the standard.

I suppose I need to read more fantasy before making such a bold statement, but most that I start are pale imitations of this great series and I just don't care to waste my time on them.

The only series to come close to the magic and power of the world Jordan created (for me) has been Harry Potter. When I read those books, I wish I could visit at Hogwarts just a little longer. But Jordan's world is so vast, so epic and rings so true, I honestly feel like I'm there. Every now and then, especially when I'm doing a re-read of the books, aspects of WOT will creep into my conversation as though it's a real place. For example, once we were driving to Southern Utah for a vacation in the spring, and we were driving past a dry, arid place with no wildlife growing, and my mouth almost said, "Huh, kind of like the Aiel Waste, don't you think?" What made it out was "Huh..." and then I just grinned...

There are fans that are obsessed with these books, who attend "Jordon Con" and other events; who create costumes and fan art; who write songs and create video dedicated to WOT. I find them amusing, but I don't want to join their ranks. I adore these stories, I feel like I know the characters personally, but I am happily able to separate fantasy from reality.

It's been a long time since I read the entire series. A few years ago, when Brandon Sanderson finished book 12, I listened to it in absolute glee. When book 13 came out, I was in awe. Sanderson has taken the magic of Jordan and made it even better! I would have thought that would be impossible. Sanderson is a wizard. Absolutely amazing. His solo books are good, and getting better with time, but none of his older stuff is anywhere near as great as WOT. Until now. His "The Way of Kings" is excellent, and I look forward to more of the same. In the meantime, though, WOT reigns supreme and I'm just thrilled to have him at the wheel.

Yesterday, for Christmas, my husband gave me a Kindle Touch. It's nice and a lot of fun. Just for kicks, I downloaded a "sample" of "The Eye of the World", which I haven't read in about 6 years, I think. I can't put it down... If I pace myself, I could read a book a month and be done right about the time that the last book is released next year. But I've never been very good at pacing myself... I read super fast. I'll have to make a concerted effort to savor the stories, to try and keep all the Aes Sedai and Windfinders and nobles and other second- and third-tier characters straight. Maybe I'll finally figure out who Demandred is hiding as. Maybe I'll remember things I've forgotten and notice details that didn't make sense before.

Whatever happens, I'm sure I will enjoy the ride. Again. May you always find water and shade.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mission... IMPOSSIBLE!

Midway through a long day of last-minute Christmas shopping (of which I am so NOT a fan), my husband and I went to see the new "Mission Impossible" movie today. He was happy to be out seeing a movie instead of at work, and I was happy to be seeing Josh Holloway again... at least, I thought I would be happy to see him again... because his name is in the first 10 or so names in the credits... and I stupidly got my hopes up that he would be an actual character of note. Friends of mine (also shameless "Lost" fans) had speculated that maybe he was one of the baddies... which we would have enjoyed. He became my favorite on "Lost", and I was so excited to see him doing something new.  So imagine my disappointment, when he appeared in less than 5 minutes of film. Wha??? I was very disappointed. I won't say more, because I don't want to be the spoiler lady.

As far as the film itself, I liked it. It was exciting, had some breathtaking scenes and was well cast. I'm not a huge Tom Cruise fan, but I like the other members of his team in the film quite a lot. Simon Pegg is excellent, as always, and the casting of Jeremy Renner as Agent Brandt was brilliant. I am giddily awaiting the release of "The Avengers" next year, in which Renner plays "Hawkeye". He had a small part, little more than a cameo, in "Thor", and I liked him then. In "Mission", he's funny, charming and very believable as an ISA agent.

The movie is a little bit Bourne and a little Bond, adventurous, stunt-heavy with a barely believable evil plot to destroy the world. There were some fantastic moments where I cringed, clutched my husband's arm, and held my breath.

I can't bring myself to pay nearly $9 for a movie ticket, so we went to a matinee, and it was a full theater, and we only had a couple of idiots with cell phones. I've learned that if you sit on the back row, energetic tweens won't distract from the movie by kicking your seat the whole time. Unfortunately, so have a lot of other people, so our row was packed, elbow-to-elbow, but it was a fun time. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Super 8!!

Take a little bit of "E.T.", a portion of "Jurassic Park", a smidge of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (all directed by Steven Spielberg) and a heaping scoop of the Rob Reiner directed "Stand By Me". The result is "Super 8", written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Spielberg. It is a terrific sci-fi movie, set in the '70's and starring a bunch of newcomer kids, all of whom were perfectly cast. I loved the fun, comic-relief moments, the authenticity of the kids' relationships and dialogue and the fast-paced script. The middle-school romance was sweet and endearing, the heroics just believable enough, and the pacing of the direction was excellent.  There are enough startle moments to keep you on your toes, and I have always liked Kyle Chandler, who plays the deputy/dad character perfectly.

"Super 8" had some of the best movie trailers I've seen in a long time-- scary, fascinating, enticing, with just a tiny bit of the story. I love a trailer that teases the viewers, making us want to see the movie, giving us just a taste of what to expect, without showing us the whole movie. Fantastic!!

This is a very Spielberg-esque movie and I enjoyed it very much. However, I was surprised by the heavy dose of common cusses by the tweens, mostly the s-word, so-called "religious" swearing, and one loud and clear f-bomb (said by an older character). It was unnecessary and annoying, and made my 12-year old uncomfortable.

We are in the habit of letting a movie run through the credits, and we were rewarded this time with the film that the kids in the movie were making-- a zombie flick intended to be entered in a local film festival. It was very funny.