Tags: reviews

Conan The Barbarian

As an adolescent I loved the Conan The Barbarian (1982) film. It helped that I was big fan of the original stories, not just by Howard but also by Carter and De Camp, and the artwork that often went with novel covers by Frank Frazetta, who also did covers for the Marvel comic adaptations that housed the artist John Buscema's excellent artwork.

I watched that movie a lot during my teenage times. It helped that I got it out on video, and back in those days when you hired a video you made sure you watched it and watched it to get your money's worth.

And I dug Arnie, though his face never really gelled with Buscema-inked comics I'd grown up with.

Last night I watched Conan The Barbarian (2011) with everyone's favourite Dothraki Jason Momoa. Sure, the budget is bigger, the fight scenes choreographed to look real, the special effects oozing from the side of the screen, and although it follows the same rough plot outline the 1982 film did (young boy watches his father and village slaughtered at the hands of a warrior wanting to be an evil magic user and seeks his revenge) it really didn't have the sweep or majesty of that first film. Momoa delivers his lines better, but Conan doesn't really need to do this, and Momoa's face certainly brings the brooding Cimmarian closer to that of the Frazetta/Buscema visuals, but it's missing, for me, some of the key ingredients that made the first film work.

The first film was largely written around the fact that there would be no dialogue, or minimal at least. It would be driven along by epic sweeping vistas and landscapes, action set-pieces and a rousing score from the maestro Basil Poledouris, all three of these things being enablers for repeat viewing. Sit back let the eyes sink into the feast and the ears carry you to a far away land. And for the trainspotters amongst the audience, name the short stories or passages from the books that make up some of these early scenes and action set-pieces.

Conan (2011) doesn't utilise any of that. Instead it lurches from bloody battle to bloody battle. It's a new movie, a new direction, I hear those young people cry! Sure, sure it is, and they should have written a new plot line to go with it rather than simply rehash the old one.

Overall I enjoyed the movie (I do love my Conan), though it doesn't quite scrape a pass. I doubt I will watch it again, and definitely not through choice. I'd be better off spent going through my old Savage Sword of Conan collection.

(2 / 5 for need of a score).

Some notes on television

American Horror Story
I enjoyed this a lot, suprisingly as it was on commercial tv and it was from the creators of Glee (which I cannot fucking stand). Scary, creepy, out there, good twists and Jessica Lange.

New Girl
Heavily promoted by Channel 10 and that really should have been all the warnings I needed. I dig Zooey, I really do, but this show was awful, just awful. 'Adorkable'? Not even fuckable.

Sherlock S02
I know it hasn't started proper yet on our screens, but I must have magically watched these in my dreams. The reimagined Holmes and Watson for the 21st Century. I like it, I like it a lot. They make me laugh, they make me think, they make me go Wow! (And Mark Gattis - formerly of the League of Gentleman - is really hitting his stride here with some great screen writing).

30 Rock S05
Still good (though perhaps not as good), still twisted, still full of surprises and I'm still in love with Tina Fey. The best American comedy for my money.

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The Last Days Of Kali Yuga: A Review

Guy Salvidge has posted what I think is a wonderful review of my latest collection over at his blog.

For tasters:
"The writer Haines reminds me of most is M. John Harrison, whose work is similarly sardonic and sometimes vicious. A number of recurrent themes run through many of Haines’ stories, including but not limited to: the pressures and angst of urban living; sexual frustration and jealousy; and the cycle of seemingly inevitable violence. The author pulls few if any punches in his depiction of the more sordid side of life, and he keeps us close to the edge as readers. William S. Burroughs once said that ‘writing should have the immediacy and danger of bullfighting’; Paul Haines is certainly a writer whose work fits that bill."

Even better, Guy has posted a screen shot of Star Control 2, a game mentioned in the new novelette "The Past Is A Bridge Best Left Burnt". Extra kudos! I didn't think anyone but perhaps my brother would have picked up on that one.

Sucker Punch Sucks

Movie Review: Sucker Punch

A series of music videos based on computer games (Mortal Kombat, Castle Wolfenstein, World Of Warcraft et al) featuring scantily-clad women firing guns. Pretends to have layer upon layer of reality (Inception, The Matrix, Shutter Island), but obviously and clearly doesn't. Has Scott Glenn deliver Matrix-style, substanceless mysticism in an attempt for further depth. Visually stunning at times, but like eating sugar continously until sick, eye-candy does not a movie make.

1.5 out 5.

Afterwards we went to the Curry Vault in Banks Place in Melbourne's CBD for dinner. The best curry I have had since moving to Australia in 1996. Glorious!

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"Her Gallant Needs" reviews

I haven't posted any writing related news for some time. The energy and oomph seems to have deserted me as of late. In an attempt to make you all feel better about how good I sometimes think I am, here are some reviews for my 11,000 word novelette "Her Gallant Needs" which appears in the Twelfth Planet Press anthology Sprawl:
A typical Haines piece of blokey grotesquerie (which is not to say bad, though the subject matter ensures that no Paul Haines story can ever be classified as 'good'), based around a sleepy New Zealand childhood in the days when living in Australasia meant being several years behind the rest of the world.  It's a Haines story.  You know how they work.  It's horrible. Not quite as horrible as "Wives," but it's way up there in the grottiness stakes.  Read it.
Sprawl‘s final story is “Her Gallant Needs” by Paul Haines, which is an engaging work on a number of levels. At first it resembles Simon Brown’s story in that it is about a seminal moment in one’s adolescent years, but the story takes on a decidedly fantastic and shocking twist toward the end. Set in New Zealand in the early eighties, “Her Gallant Needs” centres on an overweight child by the name of Samuel Goldstein. Both he and his mother are in possession of several things that brothers John and Richey desire, not least a then-new Atari 2600. Both get significantly more than they bargained for.

From ASiF:
Finally, the anthology concludes with its New Zealand offering, by Paul Haines. Haines is known as a harrowing writer, and “Her Gallant Needs” fits the bill. Set in the early 1980s, like “Sweep”, Haines considers suburban life from the perspective of adolescent boys. Unpleasant adolescent boys. In between lusting after Atari games and Mad Magazine, the boys first pick on the new boy at school and then befriend him when they discover the riches he has access to. Of course, you just know things aren’t going to end well. Haines is a disturbing author both because he writes about disturbing things, and because he realises his characters so frighteningly well. This is a creepy conclusion to the anthology.

From Bibliophile Stalker Charles Tan:
And then there are stories which are effective and powerful you want to include them in various "best of" anthologies. One such piece is "Her Gallant Needs" by Paul Haines and it impressed me on several levels. On one hand, it's quite disturbing yet goes beyond the simple horror tropes. In terms of writing, the attention to detail is authentic and there's a sense of versimilitude, especially considering that it's told from the point of view of a teenager. One memorable scene for example is how the protagonist, after what is the climax of the story, grabs some Atari games despite the horror he just witnessed. Similarly, there are subtle details that hint that there is something off about the narrative, yet the setting of suburban Australia is used to good effect to explain the narrator's ignorance.

I'm buoyed by the reviews for this story, as I do like the tale a lot. Um, I...er...I've already run out of steam...
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More reviews.

Time wasted over the last month:

TV Review: Big Love Season 3
The best yet.  A house of cards in an open breeze, and still more cards are piled atop and in and... Jesus Christ, you wouldn't want to be a polygamist, or a Mormon (in any form).

TV Review: 30 Rock Season 3
I am in love with Tina Fey. Jules knows this. I think she is even okay with it.

TV Review: The Wire Seaon 3
There is nothing better. It is all true what they say.

TV Review: Mad Men Season 3.
There is nothing better. It is ... uh, hold on, I just said that about The Wire. And both statements are true.

Game Review: Civilization 5 (Update)
The A.I. seems to be pretty crap. It's hard to lose on normal and difficult levels. Technology in the modern eras and onwards is largely military-focused, boring and seemingly unnecessary.  Modern Social Policies are hard to explore as you're generally going to win before you can unlock them all. So much promise, not enough delivered.
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And being unproductive, here is some of the time wasted:

Movie Review: The Town
I have loathed Ben Asslick and anything he has touched for many a year. I did enjoy his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone a couple of years ago but then he didn't star in that one. With him having a hand in almost all aspects of The Town (directing, acting, writing, producing) I approached it with some trepidation. I was impressed. I'll even call him Affleck again. Are we seeing the beginnnings of the redemption of Affleck? I hope so, if The Town is anything to go by.

Game Review: Elemental - War Of Magic
I loved Stardock's Galactic Civilization and was eagerly anticipating their "spiritual successor" to the magnificent Master Of Magic from yesteryear. I bought the game. I wish I hadn't. Terrible graphics. Terrible sound. Turn-based strategy? Ha! What a joke. If you go first in combat you will win. Always. The guys who wrote this say they love these sort of games and after playing this for a few hours all you can think is "Huh? What? They like playing with shit?". One more turn? Get fucked.

Book Review: From A Buick 8 - Stephen King

I love King. My first favourite author. And this would be the first book of his I wanted to put down after about 60 pages. Lots of dull padding masquerading as world building and character development. Knowing it was King, however, I persevered. 200 pages later I thought I'd keep going, gutsing it out, starting to skim read a whole lot of fairly uninteresting prose. When I got to the end I wished I'd put it down after 60 pages. This would have been a great 100-page novella.

TV Review: Dexter Season 3

The first couple of episodes in I was starting to think the show had fallen off the rails and was simply retreading dead paths. I began to detest Dexter's fiance and the relationship he has with her. Terminably boring and dull. I can see the point, but she is such a vaccous empty lifeless and saccharin character. But enter Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado. I'd never given Smits much attention before but he was wonderful in this. Menace, power and charisma oozing from every pore. He made this series. Completely.

Movie Review: Cats & Dogs 2
Every joke fall flat. There's only so much screen time you can devote to two animals standing still looking at each while someone animates their mouths. All I can say is we were lucky not to see it in 3D. Isla loved it of course.

Game Review: Civilization V
This series almost cost me my Honours degree and definitely contributed to my first broken heart. Civs I, II and IV have stolen so much of my life. V looks like it can do the same. Only thing, the AI seems a bit easy this time round. One more turn? Only one? C'mon, I NEED more than one...

Book Review: The Year Of The Flood - Margaret Atwood
My first dalliance with Atwood, she of the post-apocalyptic but I'm-not-writing-science-fiction literary prowess. The writing is great, the characters great, the world building great, but for fuck's sake after 260 pages the plot points are obviously not going to move faster than tectonic plates, and the post-apocaypse really ain't that post anything except post-science fiction (ie done before and with a plot), I had to put it down frustrated and disappointed. I know she gets criticised by the SF community, and I know she is taking SF to a literary audience, but Jesus Fucking Christ, this was boring.
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Overland Slice of Life Review

Over on Overland, one of Australia's premier literary journals, sits a Slice Of Life review.

Paranoia, profanity, horror, guilt, black humour – Haines’ worlds are macabre constructions existing somewhere in the borderland between genre greats Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. Like in Dick, Haines’ everyday protagonists live in worlds where something is clearly going on beneath the surface of things. This combination of little people in their small everyday lives (in Haines case they often inhabit the grungy world of backpacking or share-housing) and grand dark forces (shadowy figures that control us in one way or another) opens a space for black humour. Like Ellison, Haines writes explicit and violent stories that show little respect for taboos.


Australian Speculative Fiction In Focus

Simon Petrie has offered a very nice indeed review of Slice of Life at Australian Speculative Fiction In Focus.

A great many scurrilous, degrading, and downright libellous things have been written about Paul Haines, most of them by Haines himself. Suffice it to say that if Paul Haines, the writer, is guilty of merely one-tenth the activities attributed to Paul Haines, the character, then the man should be locked away, without prospect of parole, and provided solely with bread, stale cheese, water, and pencil and paper.

“Slice of Life”, the story, is appropriately the first tale within Slice of Life, the collection. It’s an effectively unsettling introduction to Haines’ (hopefully) fictional-autobiographic style, and the charming, urbane, psychotic character that the author puts forward as his alter ego. The danger of reading Haines’ stories in this vein is that the reader can come perilously close to accepting cannibalism, sexual sadism, or any of a myriad other vices as representing innately reasonable behaviour – because, in the context of Haines’ stories, this is very much the category such activity falls into. If iniquity needs a poster child (and I’m not sure, in this day and age, that it does), then the protagonist in stories such as “Slice of Life” will do just nicely, thank you.

“The Devil in Mr. Pussy (Or How I Found God Inside My Wife)” is perhaps the collection’s signature statement, a brilliant extended blurring of reality and drug-induced delirium. Is Haines hallucinating? Is his cat really talking to him? Is it possible to overdose on cat food? And does his home’s former tenant genuinely harbour sexual designs on him (for, of course, the soundest of ethical reasons), or is such imputation just the fevered imagining of Haines’ overactive brain? The result is sometimes hilarious, sometimes excruciating, ultimately profound.

“Mnemophonic” is deceptive and disorienting – there are a kaleidoscope of viewpoints used, in a quite short shory. I’m still not entirely sure, on a second reading, of what has transpired here…

“This Is The End, Harry, Goodnight!” is another story which feels, on first pass, to be unnecessarily complicated. But it’s only on reaching the end that you see the point of what Haines has been trying to achieve here, as the enforcer Robert Butler’s world pretty much falls apart around him.

“(It’s Not Like) The Good Old Days” is a cynical, clinical take on the perils of letting yourself become literally starved for bandwidth.

“Going Down With Jennifer Aniston’s Breasts” has a title that’s at once misleading and entirely appropriate. It’s a riveting, desperately compact tale of impending doom, played unflinchingly.

“The Punjab’s Gift” is one of two stories in the collection which, with exquisite deftness and economy, skewers cultural prejudice. This one should be required reading in high schools, or something.

“Failed Experiments from the Frontier: The Pumpkin” is a seemingly straight-edged, traditional fantasy story. But the edges in Haines’ stories are seldom as straight as they might appear on first approach, and ‘Pumpkin’ is no exception.

“Slice of Life – Cooking for the Heart” marks the return of the debonair cannibal. If anything, the repressed tension within these stories accumulates incrementally, with each additional page: by this stage, we already know what the fiend-character Haines is capable of, and the narrative needs only the subtlest of nudges to foreshadow something terrible.

“Inducing” is a more overtly comic piece, SF-tinged, but with appropriately dark overtones and a deliciously illicit, druggy sensibility.

In “Lifelike and Josephine”, Denise is focussed on aggressively twenty-first century beauty treatments, while Bernard harks back to the history of the Napoleonic wars. It’s a mismatch made in purgatory, and something between them has to give. Or does it?

“Yum Cha” manages, in three short pages, to be both politically and gastronomically incorrect, big time. The result is a black-comedy masterpiece in miniature.

“A Tale of the Interferers: Necromancing the Bones” is a gross-out story that reads like the fevered result of a creative (or possibly procreative) liaison between Chaucer and Cronenberg. It’s atrociously overdone, but I suspect that’s at least partly the point.

“Shot in Loralai” is brilliantly executed: to say more would be to risk giving the game away.

“Doof Doof Doof” carries so many different flavours of “wrong” that it’s difficult to know where to start. But, if fairytale porn’s your thing, who am I to argue against it?

“Where is Brisbane, and How Many Times Do I Get There?” is a comparatively unfocussed story of geographic desperation. It’s enjoyable enough – Haines is always, at the very least, readable and entertaining – but “Brisbane” feels a little slight in comparison to its neighbours.

“Slice of Life – a Spot of Liver,” the collection’s most recent story, demonstrates that Haines has lost none of his abilities, nor his unsavoury appetites. Do not accept an invitation to dinner from this man.

Paul Haines is a singular, twisted, unforgettable voice within contemporary Australian speculative fiction. If he’d written nothing else, his brilliantly dark novella “Wives” in the recent X6 anthology would pretty much assure him his place in specfic folklore. But he’s written plenty else, with much of the best of his output (up to now) compiled in this elegant, troubling, and  multifaceted collection.