True Grit Review: Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!

Now that True Grit is finally out on DVD (VHS if you live in a former Soviet Bloc country… or Arkansas), I felt like it was probably a good time to do a little review on the original novel by Charles Portis. Just to clarify for those who are unaware, the book actually came out in 1968–a full year before the so-called “classic” with John Wayne debuted. I say so-called “classic” because, even though I love the Duke, acting really wasn’t his strong point. Please watch The Conqueror starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan if you disagree with me (if you’re wondering whether or not he had the famous Khan mustache, don’t worry, the Duke never disappoints).

So anyway, I digress. The novel came out a full year before the John Wayne flick, which means [insert drum roll here] the movie was not an original. Shocking to know that even the oh-so-awesome baby boomer generation was susceptible to being unimaginative, right? Totally shook me up.

If you’ve seen either movie you should be familiar with the plot: little Mattie Ross leaves home to avenge her poor father (who was gunned down by the no-good Tom Chaney), and she enlists the aid of the one-eyed Marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her track down–and kill–her quarry. The story is unique in that it captures the essence of the West: sometimes good folks have to go above and beyond the law to get the job done.

Mattie is an unusual character in the truest sense of the word; even though she is only fourteen-years-old, she speaks and acts like she’s an adult, and we’re only reminded of her actual age from time to time. She is independent, rebellious, and carries more than enough grit for a teenage girl in the Old West. She’s honestly very admirable, and a very likable character.

Portis did a wonderful job with his creation of Cogburn, who is a man of questionable moral character to say the least. You find out from his back-story that he was a former criminal, and because of that, you tend to doubt his sincerity as a marshal. But Portis had a wonderful understanding of the Old West, because characters like Cogburn did exist. If you doubt me, look at the great Wyatt Earp, one of the most famous sheriffs of the Old West. Despite his actions in the name of the law, Earp was a former horse thief, and was wanted for his equine-related crimes in several states. He also married a prostitute… but that’s a different kind of story.

The language and the setting are rural and straight to the point, and the plot is classically Western: austere setting, gritty narrative, blurring of right and wrong, and above all, the importance of having grit (courage in the face of adversary). It’s a great story that reads surprisingly fast.

What I would suggest is to pick up this book, and then watch the two movies (hopefully not back to back) and decide which one is truest to the source material. Which film conveys the gritty nature of the book? Which one portrays Mattie as a strong young woman, or as a whimpering, bothersome adolescent? Which Cogburn is more believable? You be the judge.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it… Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

Anthology: 22 short stories

Edited by John Joseph Adams

How will the world finally come to an end? Will it be because of some crazed dictator (who’s probably pretty short) that decides to push that infamous button of nuclear destruction? Or will it be because of some greedy mega-corporation that designs a drug that “accidentally” turns people into zombies (Resident Evil has been warning us for a very long time)? The possibilities are truly endless, and because of that, Michael Bay will probably never run out of material for his next god-awful movie.

Yet what happens after the radioactive dust settles? What happens after the zombies take over the planet? Does anyone survive? And if so, what does one do after the world officially ends?

Since the time of Mary Shelly –the founder of post-apocalyptic fiction–writers have been using their (possibly demented) imaginations to discuss the multitude of scenarios that humanity would possibly face after the mushroom clouds dissipate.  Night Shade Books (a wonderful purveyor of all things zombified and horrific), assembled 22 of those writers and published their thoughts on post-apocalyptic life. Each story focuses not on how the world ended, but instead, focuses on what daily life is like for the survivors. Each one is vastly different from the other, and most of them are remarkably haunting. Some are a bit too much to handle (like Paolo Bacigalupi’s story on how humanity eventually mutates into grotesque insects), but most are deeply engrossing, and well worth a read. To discuss each story (and their unique plots) would probably overwhelm WordPress, but one of my personal favorites is “When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth” by Cory Doctorow. In his short story, sysadmins–the people that basically run the Internet–around the world hold up in their respective network operation center while a series of natural (and possibly manmade) disasters end civilization. Being that the Internet was designed to survive even a nuclear war, the admins are faced with a dire dilemma: with civilization and society gone, what do they do with the Internet?

This anthology is an amazing read and well worth picking up. Besides, it might be nice to have when the Road Warrior comes knocking at your door.

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The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures

Author: Dan Stevens

Illustrator: Carrie Spiegle

Graphic Novel

Continuing with my LA-in-the-1930’s theme, I went back and re-read my copy of The Rocketeer (my girlfriend was kind enough to get it for me for Xmas). Honestly, I had no clue there was a comic version, so I was surprised when she dug this up (the movie is still good, though I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it at times). The story follows daredevil Cliff Secord, a broke and luckless pilot who discovers a top-secret rocket packet. The rest of the series follows Cliff as he uses his newfound jet pack to fight Nazi spies, impress his aspiring-actress girlfriend (who looks just like Bettie Paige), and help out other superheroes like The Shadow. The writer died in 2008, and he was apparently pretty slow at churning out new issues, so the Complete Adventures issue actually only contains a few stories. The plot isn’t very deep, and never feels all that solid. It also doesn’t help that it never actually ends. But what The Rocketeer does have going for it is its setting, and its wonderful artwork. The comic is like one endless example of Art Deco, so it’s beautiful to look at. Stevens obviously had a thing for that era (especially for Bettie Paige too, since Cliff’s girlfriend is particularly half-naked the whole time), and he took his time to make sure his characters fit that time period perfectly. It’s honestly a fun read; it captures every boy’s dream of donning a rocket pack and flying like a bat out of hell. Overall, it’s worth picking up.

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DMZ: Body of a Journalist

DMZ Issue #2: Body of a Journalist

Matty Roth is back, and it’s up to him to stop an invasion of Manhattan. The plot in this issue is very intricate, and it has a few twists and turns, but it is overall pretty satisfying. The artwork is just as gritty, and once again really captures the horrors of war.

This issue shows just how troubled Matty is. He is constantly trying to come to terms with what he witnesses on a daily basis; the dismembered bodies, the horrible destruction, and the constant threat of being killed at any moment are starting to really takes its toll on the young journalist. It will be interesting to see how is coverage and his overall demeanor changes in the next few issues.

While the first issue focused on life in the DMZ, this issue focuses on unveiling the complicated conspiracy between Liberty Press (the news network that Matty works for) and the U.S. government. I wont delve too much into the plot, but it gets a bit heavy. It’s not as addictive as the first issue (mainly because it was just so original), but it is still very entertaining. Issue #2 also includes a short origin story on Zee (which is nicely done), and also a “guide book” on life in the DMZ (which despite being rather short, it adds some much needed life and flavor to the neighborhood that Matty calls home). Overall, this issue wasn’t as good as the first, but it still incredibly awesome.

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Los Angeles Noir

Mystery/Fiction

Style: Anthology of Short Stories

Edited by Denise Hamilton
LA Noire for Xbox 360 is finally out! Honestly, I’ve been counting down the days for some time now, and I can’t wait to don my fedora and do a little sleuthing in a recreated 1940’s Los Angeles. To quote the famous Humphrey Bogart: “[It’s] the stuff that dreams are made of.” 

Okay… Mr. Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon (classic noir novel and film) may have been referring to a big gold bird, but if he had an Xbox back in the Depression he would’ve been just as excited as me. 

Anyway, in honor of that oh-so-awesome video game, I picked up a copy of Los Angeles Noir (I think the video game messed up the spelling), which is an excellent anthology of murder mysteries and detective stories that all take place in the City of Angels. Some of the authors include famed crime author Michael Connelly, Janet Fitch, Susan Straight, Tector Tobar, and L.A. Times reporter Denise Hamilton. My personal favorite so far is the short by Janet Fitch, which takes place in Beverly Hills and involves a rather complicated jewelry heist. The anthology reminds us that L.A. is the home of the noir genre (made famous by Hollywood, the gritty narratives usually revolve around a rather dark and intricate mystery), and each story reflects that concept rather potently. Streetwise characters, unethical behavior, and copious amounts of crime all set within icon locales throughout Los Angeles; this anthology is a definite must for any fan of the genre.

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Fight Club

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Author: Chuck Palahniuk

Fiction
Plot: Come on… do I really need to explain this one? Anyway, the unnamed narrator, who makes a living investigating accidents for a car company to assess their overall liability, is combating his insomnia and very potent anomie by attending a series of support-group meetings for the terminally ill. He meets an apathetic woman named Marla at one of them (testicular cancer), and soon thereafter, he also meets his new best friend — Tyler Durden. It’s with him that he starts a new sort of club: one where young (and equally disenchanted) men can meet come together in total equality… and beat the shit out of one another. Welcome to Fight Club.     
Okay, I’ve seen the movie version, and like everyone else I know, I loved it. But I was interested in reading the book, and seeing if there were any differences. I also wanted to try my first Chuck Palahniuk book and see how it affected me (my girlfriend is a big fan, and she warned me of the side effects: general apathy, sarcasm, etc). And well, lets just say, it definitely had an affect on me. The book will linger with you, like the way wine or alcohol lingers on your palate. You’ll sarcastically joke about the office drones at work. You’ll worry that there’s pee in your coffee. You’ll bash IKEA. And above all, you’ll long to knock someone out with a hook to the jaw. Palahniuk’s writing is superb, and reads like poetry. If you really want to understand where this whole Fight Club phenomenon began, pick up this book. Oh, and did I mention that the ending is different from the movie? That was a surprising treat. Just remember… the first rule about fight club is: you don’t talk about fight club. You’ve been warned. 

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DMZ: On the Ground

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Type: Graphic Novel
Author: Brian Wood
Illustrator: Riccardo Burchielli (it’s his first American comic!)
Plot: In the not-so-distant-future (a bit of a cliché, I know), America is engulfed in chaos. Occupied with expensive wars abroad, the U.S. government ignored dissent at home. Left unchecked, it resulted in an armed uprising led by Middle America. These “Free States” pushed the U.S. government back to the coasts, eventually coming to a standstill in New York — in particular, Manhattan, or as the rest of the world knows it, the DMZ.

This is where Matty Roth comes in. He’s a phototech intern who is working as a lowly assistant to a famous photojournalist. When his boss is assigned to cover the living conditions in Manhattan, Roth goes with him. It’s supposed to be a straightforward assignment, but as soon as they land in the city, everything goes completely wrong. Their helicopter is attacked, and Roth is the only one that survives. Now he has a choice: try and escape Manhattan, or stay and cover the DMZ as the only embedded journalist in the entire city.

Verdict: Excellent. This graphic novel is incredible. The story and illustrations have natural grit that (at least in my opinion) really captures the brutal nature of war. Couple that with the fact that the fighting is going on in one of the most famous cities in the world, and you have an engaging setting to say the least. Folks that are little unfamiliar with journalism may not identify with Roth, but anyone who has dreamed of seeing their name in print and lived the life of a menial intern can really appreciate the character. Overall, this shit is addictive. Pick it up ASAP.

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