Category Archives: Books

“Game of Thrones” season 3 – Dinklage, Dragons, Flaming Swords – oh my!

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“…Me and THIS army…”

Full disclosure time, fellow nerds – I didn’t get on with “Game of Thrones”, at least in its television adaptation form.  I have yet to look at the books.

I tried two episodes, didn’t enjoy the mud-encrusted grittiness of the drama or empathise with many of the characters – it’s a real “It’s not you – it’s me” situation, I suspect.  It could well be that I just prefer my fantasy to be a bit more comforting, quite escapist and less of a mirror to our inhumanity (oh hai there, Markus Heitz!)

As many of you will be loving George R.R. Martin‘s grim saga of politics, family and fantastical realms, it would be remiss of me to not remind that there is a new trailer for the reasonably imminent season three now available.

Enjoy, I guess?

 

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The Lord of Some Rings – or, how I learned to love “The Sword of Shannara”

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Yes, “The Sword of Shannara” by Terry Brooks has awesome/awful/epic cover art, doesn’t it?

As I get older, I find myself less and less bothered by what people think about the things that I enjoy – hence, I’ve chosen to return to Brooks’ first novel, after abandoning it previously in a fit of peevishness over the debt owed by the novelist to some obscure fantasy novels written by a British academic, back in the day.  My reason?  It’s not original, it’s not clever, but it is fun – if you allow yourself to just enjoy it as fantasy novel candy, rather than genre-busting, transformational literature which alters the landscape of the form forever after.

In many ways, it doesn’t surprise me that Brooks would eventually go on to pen the tie-in novelisation for “Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace” as his work has a fair bit in common with George Lucas’ ultimately divisive sci-fantasy blockbuster.  Both writers lean heavily on breathless plotting, well-established archetypes/tropes and a sensibility so at odds with the critical establishment that it could well be deliberate.

Neither can be said to produce what might be referred to as high art and both are doing very well, thank you kindly, out of their nerdy, un-hip, Saturday morning serial brand of adventure yarn.  And, on the evidence of “Sword of Shannara”, the 1977-vintage Brooks and Lucas were slightly confused by girls and, not knowing how to write such mysterious creatures, didn’t bother to.

This is knowingly nerdy stuff, folks, with all the plucky Dwarves, ethereal Elven warriors and mysterious Rogue leaders that you could yearn for/fear of in fantasy fiction.  Your tolerance for it may directly correlate to how much you can handle post-Tolkien fantasy and whether or not your brand of escapism cleaves more to the grimy, neo-realistic worlds of George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with either, but I do find myself drawn more to a more optimistic take on extraordinary events – which, for an often cynical soul like me, is quite a turnabout.

As ever, the idea of ploughing through many years worth of trilogies and series by an author fills me with some trepidation but I’ll report back if “…Shannara” continues to entertain me as it has been doing for the last week or so.

 

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Eva Green joins “Sin City” sequel. Wait, there’s a “Sin City” sequel, now?

Everybody else gets to wear a coat - wither poor Jessica and Rosario in that rain?

All the blokes are dressed, and the women? Not so much.  It’s like Frank Miller wrote this movie or something…

I snark because I love – but I was genuinely surprised to learn that Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller were pushing ahead with a sequel to 2005’s ultra-violent, film noir pastiche, “Sin City”.

Mostly as I don’t imagine that a combined world-wide box office gross of $158,753,820 (thank you Box Office Mojo) indicated to anybody at the studio level that audiences were hankering after another slice of faux-gritty, ever-so-slightly misogynistic, thick-eared anti-heroism and omnipresent sleaze.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – I love pedal-to-the-metal, gonzoid exploitation action as much as any self-described genre cineaste, but I assumed that Hollywood’s brief, Tarantino and Rodriguez-spearheaded love affair with Grindhouse cinema had long-since passed into the ether of filmic trends past alongside duelling volcano movies and the notion of a can’t miss movie star being able to open any film they starred in.

Eva Green.  With an accordion.  And why not?

Eva Green. With an accordion. And why not?

So it is with no small amount of delight that I report the news, courtesy of those nice folk at Empire, that Eva Green has accepted the role of Ava, the titular Dame To Kill For in one of Miller’s “Sin City” graphic novels.  At one point, all concerned were chasing down Angelina Jolie to star but that came to naught when Angie stopped being weird, morphed into a cross between Mother Theresa and Madonna and became rather too important to headline ever-so-slightly nerdy enterprises like this one.

Oh, what might have been...

Oh, what might have been…

Then came word that Rachel Weisz was in the frame to topline, and whilst that would have resulted in arguably the greatest film ever made (Ms Weisz as a femme fatale?  How many thousands of tickets would you like me to buy?), that particularly awesome slice of casting never came to pass, either.

So, for a film that’s due this Autumn and which is filming even as you read these words, this is quite last-minute casting – I suspect the portmanteau nature of the story might give the film makers rather more latitude to work around such casting travails as the search for Ava,   and I’m glad that they’ve gone with a brilliantly off-kilter and singular actress like Green to star in this film.  She’s destined to be forever somewhat underrated due to her curious taste in projects – she’s been great in a lot of less than fabulous movies, which can’t exactly help her profile.

Green will next be seen in “300: Rise of an Empire”, which indicates that she has no fear of extensive green screen work, shouting blokes or material derived from Frank Miller’s oeuvre.  Yep, she’s one of a kind alright…

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“Y – The Last Man” – new director, no Shia, all good

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What a difference a couple of years makes.

When the film adaptation was last discussed, the movie version was heading directly towards mediocre town, helmed as it was due to be by D.J. Caruso and starring his “Disturbia“/”Eagle Eye” star, Shia LaBeouf.

This entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs was barely improved by LaBeouf’s words on leaving the film, in which he cited too many parallels between his character in “Y: The Last Man“, Yorick, and his “Transformersaction figure lead role, Sam Witwicky.

Having not read the screenplay for “Y” which LeBeouf was referring to, I can’t speak to the veracity of his opinion, but the very idea that any kind of line could be drawn twixt the two properties defies belief, frankly.   Where “Y: The Last Man” is a provocative post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale with fascinating characters, science run amok and smart things to say about gender in society, Michael Bay‘s “Transformers” flicks are essentially giant robot fetishism with explosions punctuating the minutes in the film not devoted to leering close-ups on some poor starlet’s aerobicised caboose.

The two projects are, I would submit to you, not exactly related in tone.

So, it’s bloody good news that Dan Trachtenberg, helmer of the superb “Portal” fan flick “No Escape” and former co-host of the late and lamented “Totally Rad Show” podcast, has signed up to spearhead a new take on the film.  Whilst Trachtenberg’s involvement hardly guarantees that the film will be made, it’s a real step in the right direction and perhaps acknowledges that people who like the material and don’t think that they’re making a rock-em, sock-em summer action flick are a good fit to direct something as good as “Y: The Last Man” is.

Something approaching common sense in Hollywood?  Clearly, normal service will be resumed shortly…

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” film review

Make mine Bag End...

Some pertinent business to deal with before I start my review proper:

1) The much-ballyhooed 48 frames per second process, which makes its debut with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is more or less unnoticeable.  Advanced reports of the film looking like a TV soap opera, or as though it was shot on digital video, are utter piffle.

2) If you can see “The Hobbit” in traditional 2D, feel free to do so.  I saw it in a 3D ‘LieMax’ screening and felt that the 3D frequently detracted from the experience – several action sequences were rendered impossible to watch comfortably, thanks to our old friend, Mr Irritating Motion Blur.  Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, who saw the film with me, currently rates the film as a 5 out of 10 as she saw roughly half of it – IMAX 3D and people with glasses apparently don’t mix too well.  A 2D viewing may be required for our actual full enjoyment of the film.

3) That 9 minute “Star Trek Into Darkness” prologue?  The “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” trailers?  Conspicuous by their wholesale absence.  Thanks, Cineworld, for screwing your UK consumers and having the nerve to charge a premium for an experience which is decidedly lacking.

Minor, nerd-entitlement caveats aside, did I actually enjoy the film?

Well, yes.  Yes.  Yes, yes, YES!  It’s Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and a prodigiously talented ensemble in front of the camera and behind it delivering epic fantasy on the kind of scale that fans always dreamed of seeing but rarely experienced before Jackson’s initial “Lord of the Rings” trilogy expanded the possibility of cinematic adventure in the early part of the 2000’s.

Getting over the fact that these movies are inherently episodic and tell their story in a serial fashion – don’t count on getting much in the way of closure until the summer of 2014 – going back to Jackson’s Middle Earth is like visiting a much-loved holiday get away destination and finding everything much as you left it.

Breathtaking New Zealand vistas, Hobbit holes, craggy old wizards and Howard Shore‘s delightfully evocative musical score are very much present and correct – thankfully Mr Jackson has resisted the urge to cast Justin Bieber, pump up the dubstep and ‘fix’ that which isn’t broken.  As I mentioned before, the major add-ons this time around – 3D and 48 FPS – are either a waste of time (3D) or imperceptible (48 FPS), so it does feel very much like business as usual.

The changes to the plot don’t really offer up anything particularly problematic – we get a fantastic prologue which deftly underlines lead dwarven warrior-in-exile Thorin Oakenshield‘s motivations and show us more of Middle Earth than we saw in the “LOTR” trilogy, and the climax imagines the events of ‘Out of the Frying Pan Into The Fire’ quite a bit differently, and really shows how Jackson and his team have rendered three films from a fairly slender piece of source material.

Where Tolkien’s classic tale for children of all ages alludes to action occurring off-screen or dispenses with blood and thunder battles in a sentence or two, Jackson’s film goes to town by mounting elaborate, bravura sequences which pile on the Orcs, Goblins and Warg enemies for our band to face off against.  It’s probably a bit too intense for younger kids, I would guess – this iteration particularly amps up the ass-kicking whilst not exactly down-playing the whimsical nature of Tolkien’s book but emphasizing the heroics in an appropriately cinematic fashion.

On the performance side, Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo the Younger.  He’s not doing an Ian Holm impersonation, but instead gives a turn which is funny, touching, quietly decent and layered – I’m going to enjoy following him on his burglary mission and I predict that you will too.  He’s perhaps at his best during the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence, which brings back Gollum for a spell and reminds you how utterly brilliant Andy Serkis is.  New addition Richard Armitage makes a commanding appearance as Thorin, quietly dominating scenes and neatly filling the noticeable, Viggo Mortensen-shaped hole for a heroic, smouldering lead.

I really enjoyed this movie – tech qualms be damned.  And I look forward to seeing more of Smaug, how Jackson stages the battle of the Five Armies and how the extended lore of Tolkien’s epic fantasy cycle is added to what is at heart a fairly simple and linear tale.

A qualified thumbs up for “The Hobbit” part the first it is, then.  Try and find time in your Christmas celebration to see it and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Related Arcana:

 

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An Unexpected Journey through “Hobbit” art

I’m a big fan of Tor Books‘ blog – there’s always something interesting to read there, be it from their own publishing list or from the wider world of speculative fiction and nerd culture.  Their annual “Steampunk Week” being a particular favourite, which will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me.

As we count down to our eagerly awaited return to Middle Earth, Tor Books’ Irene Gallo examines the work of various artists inspired by Tolkien‘s work over the years…

 

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New “Hobbit” video blog online – post-production…and beyond!

The world premiere of Peter Jackson‘s “The Hobbit” is in New Zealand on Wednesday and you’ll be delighted to know that the film is almost finished.

“Trust me – I know what I’m doing.”

Which is…nice?

Judging by the latest (#9) production blog uploaded by His Awesomeness, it’s a relief that the movie is this far along – these are phenomenally complex enterprises, undertaken by a brilliant collective of artisans, technicians and inspiringly creative individuals all united by delivering Jackson’s singular vision.  Just from watching the production blog, the thought is impossible to escape that just one person has to ultimately bring together multiple departments, disciplines and skill sets in a cohesive whole to  deliver three films.  I just don’t know if I could keep on top of that level of mind-smushing difficulty for as long as Jackson will have to.

There’s the usual jocular, collegiate, ‘man, this stuff is fun!’ tone running throughout the blog, but I’d hate to have to be the guy steering the ship.  But, at the same time, I love that he’s devoted himself to taking regular movie goers, genre nerds and devoted Tolkien fans alike back to Middle Earth for another couple of slices of prime fantasy fun.

Glowing blue swords? Nerdery? Does want!

There’s another blog due after the premiere this week – and those all-important first reviews to boot…

 

 

 

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Fantasy Fiction Feast

What, me – indulge in basic photo editing to preserve some semblance of anonymity? The very idea!

The Central Library in Sheffield held an afternoon event this weekend celebrating fantasy fiction in all its diversity by hosting writers and publishing folk from Angry Robot books and I went along to indulge in all the nerdy goodness on offer.

The writers who spoke and read were Mike Shevdon, Anne Lyle, David Tallerman and Gav Thorpe, who the “Warhammer 40K” devotees amongst you will know for his work in that uber-dark sci-fi universe.   Each writer gave a brief introduction to themselves and their work and would probably have swelled my reading list ten-fold had I not exercised unusual restraint in my book purchases on the day.

Restraint? Me? With books? Surely some terrible mistake has occurred…

Behold – The book that I paid hard-earned cashews for…

As pictured above, I went away with a copy of David Tallerman’s “Giant Thief”, as I had previously raced through the first fifty pages of the novel on a library loan and put it aside in order to pick up a signed copy at the Fantasy Readers day.  It’s definitely worth a look if you like the flawed rogues and anti-heroes that Joss Whedon is so good at creating – Tallerman’s protagonist, Easie Damasco is an unshaven, fairly unscrupulous ne’er-do-well trapped in the middle of a land war and trying not to be a hero.  Angry Robot’s own jacket copy suggests that if you enjoyed Scott Lynch‘s genius “The Lies of Locke Lamora” you might well dig this fantastical adventure, and that’s fairly on the money -though there’s infinitely less swearing in “Giant Thief” from what I recall of my brief time with Mr Tallerman’s novel.

‘Tis a righteously enjoyable romp and I look forward to devouring it in short order as I attempt to race through more fantasy fiction before some small-time Peter Jackson film opens in the middle of December.  I’ve heard it’s going to be quite the thing…

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A Plucky Dwarf writes…

I’m The Tallest Dwarf In Middle Earth!

In a stunning development matched nowhere else in recorded history, Warner Brothers have really begun to push the Gollum piloted boat out for their December Tolkien release, “The Hobbit“.

Hence the screen grab above – a neat little game which allows you to blatantly rig answers and cheat your way to your favourite Middle Earth character answer fun quiz questions and arrive at a nifty downloadable/Tweetable/BookFace-type digital thing to share with your fellow nerds.

You can book your tickets for Peter Jackson’s latest slice of Hobbit based awesome now, which is nice.  And if you’re sufficiently tech-obsessed and live near a big IMAX screen, you can check out whether they’ll be showing “The Hobbitin super-48FPS-3D-space-vision.

Oh yes, waiting until December 14th is going to be so easy…

 

 

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“World War Z” trailer – Zombies on Speed!

“Is that a lethal horde of newly risen, 100 metre sprinting brain munchers or just really pissed-off fans of the book?”

You’ve heard the rumours about an out-of-control production, on-set spats between star/producer Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster and disgruntled observations about how the synopsis bears no resemblance to Max Brooks‘ excellent novel – now witness the skin-crawling horror of “World War Z” for yourself with the new trailer!

And yes, it doesn’t really remind me too much of the Brooks book – I’m not seeing any epic ‘Battle of Yonkers‘ footage in that trailer – but it does look like it has the making of a splendidly action-packed horror blockbuster on a scale that we don’t see too often.  I guess $180 million buys a lot of urban destruction, free-running zombie hordes and military hardware, if not quite the confidence that “Quantum of Solace” director Forster has learned how to direct action (Does anybody else wish that Hollywood would take a leaf out of Hong Kong cinema‘s fine play-book and start having separate action/drama directors on a film?  Jean-Pierre Auteur gets to direct his challenging meditation on the illusion of contemporary monogamy and Michael Bay tag-teams in to blow shizz up and have Marion Cotillard run amok with an M16 – everybody wins!).

“You’re gonna’ need a bigger boat…”

Ahem.

“World War Z” opens in June 2013 and that high-pitched noise you can hear on the internet is a million Brooks fan boys crying out in revulsion at the prospect of the slow, relentless, all too numerous brain-chowing shambling undead of the novel being given a  cinematic make-over into speedy, mob-handed loons whose pace is so quick that even Usain Bolt would have his hands full trying to outpace them.

It could be..quite good?  

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