Thursday, March 31, 2011


CDs in Play: Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Chris Bell, I am the Cosmos.

There are weeks that make you wish you were doing something else, somewhere else and maybe even as someone else. This is one such week. I am an Autopsy Tech. I actually like my job, though not always the politics that surrounds health care. This week has been a grind. I am training a new tech this week and working a lot of overtime. Tomorrow I have a case that I am dreading. For obvious reasons I cannot go into detail, but let's just say that it something that gives me shivers down my spine. Weeks like this are good for the pocketbook but not so good for getting much needed rest on a week off call.
The grind really isn't so much the trouble as how it is rubbing some of my other frustrations into some rather tender areas. For instance I have been looking at working in the United Kingdom doing what I do. The pay isn't great and I actually made a bit more than what I would be paid in many areas over there, but I figured the experience would be worth it. Two jobs postings on the NHS came through to me this week and the pay was less than what I was seeing last year. These weren't trainee positions, so I couldn't apply for them, but the pay was on par with what I was seeing for trainee positions last year in other areas of the UK.
Last year the jobs I saw were averaging from $27,000-$34, 000 CDN per annum, but these latest posting were offering $14,200-$17,500 CDN per annum! That is quite a drop, though these were smaller regions to be sure. Still, that is too low for me to actually survive in the highly expensive UK as a single guy.
So I was thinking about my options over here, positions a bit above my current pay scale. There are some jobs I had thought I would like to do, but I need to upgrade skills and take some courses. Easy enough, right? Nope. The qualifications on these jobs have been changed and you now have to be an LPN before being accepted. Which boggles my mind as you would have to take a pay cut to take these jobs. I also don't want to become an LPN, bleah...
So, my longstanding dream on living and working (at least for a little while) in the UK may be fading away and my options here are looking stagnant.
I am not particularly in good spirits right now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vampires! Werewolves and Zombies! Oh My!

I like monsters. I like classic sorts of monsters and I have always had a soft spot for books that looked into the stories and folktales surrounding the origins and myths about monsters. Of course I like certain films and programmes that deal with monsters as well. Starting with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries from my childhood to shows like Supernatural today, monsters (and hunting monsters) have always had a hold on my imagination. That said, I don't always agree with how said monsters are presented and film often gets my goat in this regard. The following is a list of films I have liked, a few that I don't like and stuff I would like to see done with vampires, werewolves and zombies. I also asked my friend Elijah for his opinions on worthwhile entries into the genre. But first, a number of words about...


The virus is an explanation for "monsterism" that is de rigueur these days and for the past 15 years at least. I guess in these days of decreasing beliefs in God and the supernatural, by extension, that writers and producers were looking for something more scientific, more empirical, more believable to explain how these sorts of things can happen.
I also think that viruses provide a sort of comfort in the idea that there is a cure, a means of prevention and make the monsters in question less plausible and, frankly, less scary. American monster fiction in the 20th century was big on rational (or pseudo-rational) explanations for the existence of monsters. Be it a virus, aliens or Old Man Jenkins with a projector, a sheet, a bucket of dry ice, two squirrels and a flashlight - Americans love to explain away the supernatural and that has been a blight on the genres ever since.
Of course the way in which the virus is presented as a cause for "monsterism" makes it a supernatural entity in itself. Viruses can now cause ordinary people to transmogrify into a completely different creature and imbue them with very special abilities. Viruses are given the ability to reanimate the dead, and in the case of vampires they maintain complex cognitive functions, arrest decay, a need to consume blood for food for some reason and extraordinary, impossible powers. In the case of zombies, the dead are reanimated and driven to feed on the living. In the case of 28 Days Later or Zombieland, the virus explanation works since the "zombies" aren't actually dead just reduced to a bestial state by viral related brain damage.
Viruses are a weak explanation for monsters. Often times the virus is every bit as supernatural a cause as an ancient curse and the cure every bit as miraculous as faith or alchemical as a potion. Basically, this is my plea to do away with viruses in monster genres. In just a couple of decades the virus has become far more hackneyed than crosses, holy water or silver bullets. In these days of scientific progress and hubris I would say that the supernatural is far creepier and a far more plausible explanation for creatures that could never exist. Monsters come from our primal fears, they come crawling (or sprinting) out of the dark. The more mysterious our monsters are the better our stories about them are.


Vampires, regardless of the romantic, humanising sub-genre targeting the hormones of swooning teenage girls (and boys, I suppose) are monsters. In fact, the notion of blood drinking creatures, spirits, demons or revenants have spanned human history across a number of different cultures. In the West, we may be most familiar with the Jewish legend of Lilith, said to be Adams' first wife in Midrash and whose legend dates back to ancient Babylonia and Sumeria.
In ancient Greece, precursors to the modern vampire were found in the characters of Lamia, (a name popular with Goth girls) Empusa, (a name not so popular with Goth girls) and the Striges where we get the Albanian and Italian words for witch (shtriga and strega - also the name of a liqueur) and the Romanina vampire known as a strigoi. India has the vile vetalas and other vampiric creatures can be found in the folk lore of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and China. The Chinese Jiang Shi (a hopping corpse) is an interesting cross between the vampire and a revenant. (similar in some respects to the zombie)
Vampires are monsters and I think it is time we get back to that notion. Exploring the possibility of internal conflict may be interesting - and it works in some cases - but enough with pining, whining, teary-eyed bloodsuckers already. It is time to bring back the horror.
I have been trying to think of three films that sum up the best the vampire genre has to offer, in my own opinion and the ones I came up with were:

1. Nosferatu (1922): There were around 23 films from the silent era that preceded F.W. Murnau's silent classic, but I have not seen any of them. I have also not seen Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of Murnau's film, but am very curious about it. The film is really just an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula and was almost lost to history through the actions of Stoker's litigation happy widow. (characters were renamed or dropped altogether) But Nosferatu resurfaced in the `60's and has been horrifying people since then. In fact, when I was quite young I caught a clip of Count Orlok creeping up a stairwell and it scared the hell out of me. (see below) Friend and fellow blogger, Geosomin, admitted to me the other day that she has always wanted to see Nosferatu but just knows it will scare the hell out of her. The cinematography is also another reason to see this film.

2. Shadow of the Vampire (2000): This film assumes that Murnau made Nosferatu using a real vampire. Willem Dafoe plays "Max Shreck" (a stage name for the actor who actually played Count Orlok in the original) and is every bit as creepy (and sometimes darkly comical) as the original version. John Malkovich plays Murnau as a rather horrific figure himself. It makes an interesting companion piece to Nosferatu, maintaining the horror and eeriness the flowed through the first film.

3. 30 Days of Night (2007): A film that truly unleashes unsympathetic, bestial killers on the silver screen. I think the film was better than its source material. A roving band of bloodsuckers arrive in a remote Alaskan town that has just shut down for the winter. After using a pawn to take out the towns communications and possible defenses, the proceed to feed with no qualms or sympathy. The monsters aren't the main focus of the film - monsters are usually best when they aren't - they are the antagonists, the source of conflict upon which the human drama is played out. The cast is strong and the film is chilling.

Runners up:

1. Fright Night (1985): I was initially going to put this at number two, but Shadow of the Vampire won out in my mind. About to be remade with Colin Farrell as the vampiric neighbour and David Tennent taking up the reigns as the "fearless vampire hunter", the original is still worth watching. It is a classic vampire story, where science and that rational play no part in the solution. My only complaint is that the film is that is a bit too eighties, but nothing is perfect.

2. Salem's Lot (1979 TV mini-series): It has been a while since I have seen this, but I found it made for creepy viewing despite the fact that we really don't meet the vampire until much later in the program. I also loved the ending, not really a happy ending. Actually 70's television wasn't too bad a decade for vampires. I have the series Kolchak, the Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin, on the DVD. The series features a somewhat campy vampire episode that is connected to a TV movie called The Night Stalker. In that movie reporter, Carl Kolchak, investigates the disappearances of woman working on the Las Vegas Strip. Much like Salem's Lot, I like this one (and the series) for its tone, pace and execution.

** Just looking things over and I decided to split this post up into three parts (Sorry Geo, sorry Glen - I know you hate splitting things up)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fantastic Four, No More

I was never a big Marvel guy. As a kid I read DC predominately, but I did pay attention to some Marvel titles and The Fantastic Four was one of them. I know, I know I'm a forty year old reading comics but the writing on some titles has been something else. Writer Jonathan Hickman has really caught my my eye and my imagination. I don't recall what my introduction to Hickman was or why I started reading The Fantastic Four, but I am hooked.
Hickman's familiarity and interest in science is obvious and makes for a more interesting read, as does his interest in family dynamics and the willingness to create threats from within. One of the issues I loved was one where Reed questions what it means to be a man, a good man and a better man. He's taking chances, in fact his taken his biggest chances recently - Hickman killed one of the Fantastic Four (and it seems like the member is dead-dead not just comic book dead) and ended the series at #588 and relaunching the characters as The Future Foundation, or just FF, with another longtime Marvel character assuming a place on the team.
If you read comics or if you liked The Fantastic Four at any point, check out what Hickman has done when the trades come out and what he is doing currently.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan: Grace Under Pressure

As I follow the story of how the Japanese people are coping with these series of disasters (earthquake, tsunami, volcano, nuclear crisis, economy) that have befallen them recently, I am hard pressed to believe that my home province of British Columbia will greet its eventual disasters with even a fraction of the poise and grace that the Japanese have. That saddens me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Criminal Recommendations

I like crime films and good crime television viewing - television is capable of delivering something of cultural value from time to time. The following are just somethings I have recently come across or decided to revisit.

Red Riding: 1974, 1980, 1983

I hadn't heard of David Pearce's Red Riding Quartet (1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983) until I came across these films on my On Demand service. I wasn't able to watch the first one due to flooding in my apartment back in December, but they are finally out on DVD here and I rented them for this weekend. Set during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, the series looks at police, civic and political corruption and collusion. It is bleak but worthwhile watching if you are a fan of the genre. I'll be looking for the books soon.

The Wire

From David Simon, former crime reporter responsible for the much lauded series Homicide: Life on the Streets, (based on his book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets) created this realistic series with Ed Burns who was a police officer and public school teacher. Cops like this series. Criminals like this series. Baltimore residents apparently say that this series nails how it really is in their city. I am surprised at how many people still haven't seen this show.
They look at the problems out on the streets from all perspectives. They look at all the obstacles facing police, the ways on which criminals make use of the system and find new ways to thrive and grow. Five seasons of goodness, so get on it.

The Hunter and The Outfit

There have been many adaptations of Donald Westlake's (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark) series about a hard ass, career criminal named Parker. Comic book artist and writer, Darwyn Cooke, has been doing an outstanding job of adapting the series for the graphic novel format. Keeping the setting of the early 1960's, Cooke uses an advertising art style from that period which lends the work a sort of authenticity. So far he has just two works adapted and will be adapting another two. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" Continues... At Last.

For my first actual blog post I figured I'd post up about something I have been waiting a while for: the fifth in George R.R. Martin's heptalogy, A Dance with Dragons, due to be released 12 July this year. I am generally suspicious of fantasy, having been disappointed once too often by low grade Tolkien knock-offs during my youth. However, when my friend Elijah was telling me about reading the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones) back in September 2008, he piqued my curiosity. As it turned out he bought me all four books that had been published so far for Christmas and I devoured the series in a few months and then I went back for seconds.
A Dance with Dragons was slow in coming, but I am sure it will have been worth the wait. Mind you the fan chatter surrounding the wait time was annoying. Every fan of a series should pay attention to the example of Douglas Adams - harass a writer to write more and you get crap. Yes Martin is older, yes he is heavier, but reminding him of that fact isn't going to ensure his best feelings for his fans.
If you haven't read the books, read them. But if you are the impatient type and you want another way into the series, you may consider watching the series A Game of Thrones starring Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Sharpe, Patriot Games might be his best known works here in North America)is set to premiere on HBO and HBO Canada on 17 April this year (which means I'll be waiting for the DVD release) and the next day on SKY in the UK. You can view the trailer on YouTube.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What is New is Old Again

I shut down my old blog, "The Blog That Shall Not Be Named", a short time ago. I was just feeling constrained by it, or at least the person I was when I started the blog. The name of this blog comes from Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. It is a fictional species of flower that forms the destructive drug in the book known as "Substance D". The meaning of the name can be translated as "the death of the knowledge of self". (Ontology is the philosophical study of "of that which is" or investigating the nature of existence and being. In my early 20's I thought it would be cool to be a professional "Ontologist") There has been no death in my knowledge of self, (I just like Dick's writing) rather an acute awareness of how we change and are changing. We are, paradoxically, the same person we have always been while undergoing a gradual metamorphosis that makes it sometimes hard to relate what we were to we are now. I guess this is a round about way of saying I wanted a fresh start.