Sunday, 10 August 2014

Joss Whedon - Geek King Of The Universe by Amy Pascale

Before you start worrying, this is not another long-winded speech about our love for the Geek King of the Universe that is Joss Whedon. Someone else has already got there.

Sort of.

For those who don't know (and why the hell are your reading this blog if you don't know?) Joss Whedon is a writer of TV shows, films and comic books. Up until recently, his work was known to a smallish audience who made up for their lack of huge numbers with passion.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL and FIREFLY are considered (by their fans at least) as some of the finest science fiction and fantasy shows ever put on television. They never broke into the mainstream, though, and DOLLHOUSE barely made a dent on the popular culture.

Marvel's AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, however, really put the man on the map by becoming one of the biggest moneymaking movies of all time. Taking time off to relax from making that blockbuster, he made a film version of Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in his house!

We at the Sci Fi Freak Site have always loved Joss Whedon, so it was no hardship to read this biography. Amy Pascale's chronological retelling is carried out in a clean and clear style that never puts the writing ahead of the story that it is telling. The author certainly knows her subject, with input from Whedon's family, friends and co-workers on almost all subjects, whether it is his work, his Shakespeare readings with friends, his support of the writers' union or his rocky relationships with various TV companies and movie producers. Whilst his private life is kept private (he's married, he has children, that's about all you're getting), his professional life is laid bare and whilst his early life might not raise too much interest, the moment that we get into the stuff we really want to know about, the book becomes unputdownable.

If there is a negative to be found then it is that a book about a man who is described by almost everyone as the wittiest man they have ever met could have done with a bit more itself.

If you're interested in Joss Whedon's work, then this biography gives a great insight into his history and his methods.

It's available now.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

THE ZOMBIE FILM from White Zombie to World War Z by Alain Silver and James Ursini

Now that the whole sparkly-vampires-make-good-boyfriends farrago is come to an end and the werewolves-also-make good-boyfriends phase never managed to get off the ground, attention has turned to the zombie as the paranormal boogeyman of choice. Zombies have often featured in low-budget movies, but now the budgets aren't always so low and screens both large and small are awash with the shambling dead.

To cover this increasingly huge genre of work comes this large format book that starts with the generally accepted first zombie movie, White Zombie (having already covered the myth and written words history of the undead) and takes the reader through all the various iterations of the zombie whether it be George A Romero's shambling metaphors for modern society, Stephen King's reanimated pets in a sematary, raging speedsters appearing 28 Days Later or (oh the horror, the horror) zombie strippers.

The early parts of the book are the more interesting as the formative years are covered with appearances by masters of horror Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in films that set the earlier, voodoo-linked stories. That moves on nicely into the George A Romero period of increasing gore and social commentary. When it moves into the more modern era, it becomes less sure of itself, often becoming overwhelmed by the sheer amount of output that there is to cover and becoming often a list of films and what happens in them rather than analysis into the thematic and historical contexts. Of course, that might just be because there are no themes being examined any longer. The writing style is generally clean and accessible and entertaining, certainly in the book's earlier sections.

It is surprising, however, that THE WALKING DEAD television series gets so little coverage, considering how influential it has been in the genre.

There is a huge filmography at the end so that you can make sure that you have caught up with all of the more obscure offerings that the genre has and the book also has interviews with zombie filmmakers and contributors that vary from the interesting to the intrusive. For sheer coverage, the book also cannot be faulted as it covers the most obvious entries in the genre to some of the less obvious. It's concentration on the contribution made by Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is refreshingly insightful.

The content of the written words might be variable, but there is no faulting the visuals. The books comes stuffed full of lobby cards, stills and images of corpses in various stages of decay. As you can see from the cover image, this is probably not a book to leave where your four year old can get their hands on it and give themselves nightmares.

THE ZOMBIE FILM from White Zombie to World War Z might not be the ultimate guide to the zombie genre, but it will certainly fill the hole whilst we wait for that that one to come along.