May 31, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 8 preview



I can just feel that there will be absolutely no action in this episode. I don't know why, it's a gut feeling...

May 30, 2011

Heirs of the Blade pushed back for October



Adrian Tchaikovsky confirmed on his blog that the seventh book in his Shadows of the Apt series - Heirs of the Blade - won't be released in the UK in August as originally planned, but on October 7th. In other news, we are still waiting for a US release date for the sixth one - The Sea Watch - from Pyr, and who knows when that will happen. Still, it is slightly comic that the author would apologize for a delay that would still see him publish two big books in one year, but you gotta admire guys like him or Sanderson who could actually pull off a good quality work in such a short period of time.

30 000 hits!



Yay! Go me! Thanks to everyone who keep visiting this blog! I know the book reviewing section has been lacking recently, but I will do my best to improve on that. And the comment section is always open, so don't be shy.

May 25, 2011

Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides



There was no way I could've had lower expectation for this movie. Not after the tragedy that was Dead Man's Chest and the confused sea fantasy fiasco of At World's End. Still, epic pirate fantasy is epic pirate fantasy and propriety is to be observed, so I put on the ugly glasses and went to see if On Stranger Tides is as bad as people have been saying.

Well, it's not. The movie is pretty mediocre, and the plot unravels at the most cursory of serious thought, but it is still fun and entertaining, even with half the original support cast missing.

The story is set some time after the events of the previous movie. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johny Depp) is yet again crewless, shipless and most likely at a shortage of gold, but for some reason, rumors circulate around London that he is looking for a crew to sail to the Fountain of Youth. Now, Jack does happen to possess the map leading to said Fountain, but everything else about the rumor is false. So he tries to find out who is impersonating him, only to stumble upon his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who - as it goes - happens to be the daughter of the most horrifying pirate of all time - Black Beard (Ian McShane). Who, on the other hand, happens to be searching for the Fountain himself, on account of a prophecy that says he'll be killed in the next forthnight. Add to that an angry one-legged Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) on a mission from the King of England, and a Spanish force who are also looking for the same thing, and you have the action adventure all ready to go.

Sadly, a lot of it is spent talking and meandering. Not that there is no action, but it seems weirdly lacking from key moments of the script where you'd very much expect it to be in full swing. Still, some scenes are just awesome, key among them - the mermaid hunt - but I would have expected quite a lot more, considering the budget of the movie. Also, I think it's bad form when important plot-elements have no purpose and just fizzle in the end.

On Stranger Tides is missing a lot of players from the previous movies, but the lack of such monstrosities as dear Orlando and Keira has automatically improved the quality of the cast. Cruz and McShane are both brilliant in their poorly scripted roles, both making the most of them and going beyond the call of duty. All in all the acting is superb - even Depp's captain Jack is slightly less absurd than before (which surprisingly makes him cooler). I was expecting the Random Pretty Christian Boy (Sam Claflin) and the Sexy Mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey and I dare you to say that fast three times) to be obnoxiously bad as the previous "young couple" but they are actually very unobtrusive - kind of to the point where the viewers asking themselves why they are even in the movie...

Special effects, when applicable, are good, although the overall blandness dulls their use. The soundtrack consists of the usual Pirates theme - repeated ad nauseum - and practically nothing new. When it comes to eye or ear candy, On Stranger Tides leaves you with the impression of something lukewarm and re-used, as if you're watching a second hand movie that has already been worn out.

But it is still vastly superior to the abomination that was Dead Man's Chest, and in the end, there is not much competition on the epic pirate fantasy front, so I would still say that if you have the money, the movie is worth the price for admission. Nothing you'll tell your grandchildren you were among the first to see, but a decent entertainment for a few lazy hours on a hot day.

6/10

May 24, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 7 - You Win or You Die



After being released as a web promo, Episode 7 is up one week ahead of schedule. And after the King's Landing cliffhanger from A Golden Crown, that's more than a good thing, although You Win or You Die spends surprisingly little time in that storyline.

The final major player in the game of thrones - Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) - is finally introduced in a very cool deer-skinning scene with Jaime. I know it will sound stupid, but I was majorly disappointed when his hair wasn't shaved, considering that the first description we see of him in the book particularly says how he shaved his head the moment he started going bald. It's part of the character, and not just a visual detail, so I was annoyed they didn't do it. Other than that, Dance seems to be spot on for the severe and disdainful Tywin, and I can't wait to see him in the next three episodes.

Littlefinger is surprisingly obvious and his scenes lack the nuance of previous episodes. The new one - with the two whores in the brothel - is so utterly pointless it surprises me Martin has allowed it to happen. Cersei presents Lena Headey's usual acting constipation. Such a tragic miscast that girl turned out to be...

Everything else though - the Daenerys and Jon lines, as well as the rest of the King's Landing arc - is superb. There is little action in You Win or You Die, but a lot of plot, and it ends with possibly the most famous line in the book. I expect the final three episodes will be a real treat, if HBO has spent the necessary budget for them. Too bad some of us will now have to wait two weeks for them...

Game of Thrones, Episode 7 preview




There's no real point in doing this, considering many people (myself included) have already seen the episode, but I am posting it for continuity's sake. It's funny how the trailer has been cut to create the false sense of a lot more urgency and action than there is in the episode itself.

May 23, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 6 - A Golden Crown



Not much to comment on this one. It's more or less on the same extremely high level as the previous episode, and it includes several key moments from the story. There are also, however, a few downsides that are just too annoying not to mention.

The budget is not big enough for what HBO is trying to achieve, and it shows more than once. For example, there are still no direwolves whatsoever, and a very important moment which in the book is resolved by one of them, doesn't feature it at all in the episode. At the same time, large vistas like the view from the Aerie look like they're literally painted, and although pretty, seem entirely unconvincing. Probably the most absurd moment in A Golden Crown though, is the one scene from Robert's hunt, featuring him, Renly, Ser Barristan (the wonderfully well cast Ian McElhinney) and the poor "Little Red Riding-Hood" squire Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) literally walking alone through the forest. Not much of a Royal Hunt there, HBO!

On the plus side, Daenerys is just wonderful. The prophecy about her child is powerfully portrayed, while the final scene - giving name to the episode - is morbidly beautiful, and the girl's final words are the perfect way to end the episode. Then, of course, there is the Aerie with Dementia Aryn and her son Creepy McCreep who would have stolen every scene they are in, were it not for Tyrion's heart-breaking and loquacious confession of how he jerked off in his sister's soup when he was a child, as well as Bronn's smirking coolness. Of course, to balance the scales, we have Sansa's obnoxiousness which goes well beyond the call of duty (and the book) to get on the viewer's nerves in a BIG way. Sure, her attitude could be easily understood, but it makes her no easier to bear.

All in all, a great episode (even if the bad seems more than the good in this review - it's not), and the ending sets the stage for the final chapter in King's Landing. And the best part? The next episode is already here!

Nebula Awards 2011

From Tor:

SHORT STORY

NOVELETTE

  • WINNER: “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)
  • “Map of Seventeen,” Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride)
  • “The Jaguar House, in Shadow,” Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 7/10)
  • “Plus or Minus,” James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s 12/10)
  • “Pishaach,” Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride)
  • “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara,” Christopher Kastensmidt (Realms of Fantasy 4/10)
  • “Stone Wall Truth,” Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov’s 2/10)

NOVELLA

NOVEL

BRADBURY AWARD BEST DRAMATIC PRODUCTION

  • WINNER: Inception, Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (Warner)
  • Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud (directors), Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (screenplay), Sergio Pablos (story) (Illumination Entertainment)
  • Doctor Who: “Vincent and the Doctor,” Richard Curtis (writer), Jonny Campbell (director)
  • How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (directors), William Davies, Dean DeBlois, & Chris Sanders (screenplay) (DreamWorks Animation)
  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Edgar Wright (director), Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay) (Universal)
  • Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (director), Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee Unkrich (story) (Pixar/Disney)

ANDRE NORTON AWARD

THE SOLSTICE AWARD (for impact on the field)

  • WINNER: Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, JR.
  • WINNER: Michael Whelan

SERVICE TO SFWA

  • WINNER: John E. Johnston III

As usual, I've read next to nothing of the awarded works, but I have ceased being surprised by the fact. I have been less than impressed with the winning novels in the past few years (The Windup Girl excluded), so I'm not sure I'll be trying Blackout / All Clear, but who knows...

An interesting article on eBooks



This article from The Atlantic caught my attention. It's called "The Annoyance of eBooks" and deals with the issue of whether they will completely replace print or not. Me, I am on the fence. I don't think I am ready to part ways with the printed book, but I can't argue with the many advantages of e-publications. I guess time will tell, but either way, it's an interesting thing to read.

May 21, 2011

A big Dance With Dragons update



George Martin has posted a massive update on his site in which he sheds a lot of light on the upcoming Dance With Dragons.

A few key points:

- The book will be slightly shorter than A Storm of Swords.
-
There are 73 chapters, told from 16 viewpoints.
- Sansa, Sam, Aeron Damphair, Arianne, and Brienne have no chapters in the book.
- There will be new POVs, some of them of new characters, introduced here.
- Of the 73 chapters, 35 are dedicated to Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion.
- Of the rest, a large chunk is given to a character "who has been missing for a couple of books, but now returns to us... rather the worse for wear".
- The pre-editor trimming Martin did cut down the size almost 80 pages!
- A few chapters have been redirected to The Winds of Winter.

Read the whole post, it is worth your time, and definitely whets the appetite for Dance. As if said appetite needs any more whetting...

May 19, 2011

Going Postal - Terry Pratchett



I have spent most of my conscious life being a wild and dedicated Terry Pratchett fan. He was the voice of wise British sarcasm, consistently showing a world that could do with some more irony, from an angle that was just that little bit original. The bent mirror of the Discworld has been a source of artistic inspiration for me, as well as constant fount of good cheer and much, much smartass verbal smugness. I grew up with it, and through it...

...and then I grew out of it. Something happened about six years ago, that I could not define. Suddenly I had no more desire to read Terry's books, and every attempt at doing so failed miserably after a couple of pages. Seemed like I had just read too much of his work, and there was no more I could take.

But that is not asleep which can eternal rise, or some such, and I decided to try again. Turns out Jupiter and Pluto were at a proper alignment, and success was had. Maybe I just needed a break.

Starting as a stand-alone novel, Going Postal is now considered the first book in the Moist von Lipwig subseries - the fifth one in the Discworld (the other four following the misadventures of Rincewind, Death, the Night Watch and the witches of Lancre) - and it deals with said Most von Lipwig, con man and fraud extraordinaire. After his latest alter ego is "almost" hanged, he is given a choice by the patrician of Ankh Morpork, Lord Vetinari - he could take on the job of Royal Postmaster (the Royal Post Office having collapsed under its own ungainly and ill-managed weight some decades ago) or he could die, this time for real. Being alive presenting a lot more possibilities than being dead, Moist accepts the post (haw haw, see what I did there?) and soon wishes he'd chosen the quicker demise.

Now he must deal with a golem parole officer, the crazy ancient descendants of the once proud postal office workers, the evil money-grabbing owners of the Grand Trunk and their clacks towers, as well as his interest for the severe and sarcastic compulsive smoker Adora Belle Dearheart. Also, he must consistently do the impossible, because - as any con man knows - unless you give them a show, you can never get them to give you their money. Oh, and there is a killer in the night.

Going Postal isn't Terry's best novel by far. But then again, I have read his supposed best novels a good ten years ago, so who knows how they'd seem to me now. And as overall quality goes, it is still pretty damn good. It is always fascinating to see how authors we used to love as kids fare in the test of growing up. Well, Pratchett fares well. More than well. Style-wise the novel is absolutely fantastic. There is not a clever word-play that hasn't been thought of, no opportunity for elegance has been missed. The book simply flows, and the reader glides through the pages with such ease and comfort that it's a surprise the cynical effect isn't lost.

But it isn't. The Discworld, having started as a tableau for making fun of heroic fantasy, has seen many transformations, to evolve, finally, in its present state, which is just outside of our own world, with our own problems, sometimes alarmingly close yet always retaining that little bit of mystery, magic, and Things That Lurk At The Edge Of Reality. There has never been an easy way to describe the blend of flavors that is the Discworld (although people constantly do it, to varying degrees of mediocre effect), but one thing is for certain - there is always the cynicism. It is not the rebellious teenage aimlessness of Fight Club, or the bitter vitriol of an old spinster, but the self-aware wisdom of a man who knows the world far too well not to see everything that is inherently wrong with it, but still loves it.

In a way, Going Postal resembles in structure the beginning of the Night Watch books. A failing state position is given to an unlikely candidate, and he turns it upside down creating miracles. Moist is no Vimes though - he is opportunistic, fake, a fraud through and through... only it doesn't really feel that way. Somehow Pratchett has failed to make Moist' bad side believable enough, so his way-too-quick transformation into Someone Who Cares fails to hit the spot. The character is still cool, he just seems too nice for his supposed self-serving worldview. And the lack of believable internal conflict is what, in the end, makes him not terribly interesting.

This (semi-minor) problem aside, Going Postal is immensely enjoyable. True, if you have read any of Pratchett's recent novels, you've more or less read this one as well. But that is the trick to any of his works - you know them sometimes before you have even opened the first page, but you love them all the same. The novel is masterfully written, grips the attention from the very first page, and doesn't let go until the very end. And if when you finish it, you are not entirely sure you got anything new from the reading, well - I personally have gotten nothing new from reading far inferior books.

7.5/10

Game of Thrones, Episode 6 preview



There will be another action-packed episode, I can just smell it...

May 18, 2011

Movies: Priest



I am always fascinated by bad SF. There is just something so disarming in it, so innocent in its stupidity, one can't help but love it. I hurry to add that I have never read a single page of the manhwa this movie is supposed to be desecrating, but considering the wailing of its fans, I assume that's probably a good thing.

Priest is actually a very fun ride, but is sadly unbalanced in at least three aspects. But first thing first - in a gory cartoon story during the opening credits, we are told that in the reality of the movie, vampires have always existed. We see humans battling them in different eras, until - in the near future - the Earth is all but uninhabitable as a result of the endless wars. What ended said wars were the Priests - humans with a vague and potentially supernatural (although it's never stated as such in the movie) gift for killing vampires. The Priests were so badass that the Church itself feared them too much and after the surviving vamps were imprisoned in "reservations" and most of humanity enclosed itself in Church-governed dystopian cities, the warrior-monks were disbanded and fell into obscurity.

Now, I am sure you have to be wondering how smart it is to lose track of a super-powerful killing machine in the city you rule and make sure he feels thoroughly outcast and unwelcome, but we'll let that one slide. Soon enough our guy's (Paul Bettany) brother's family is attacked by the not-so-extinct-after-all vampires, led by a ghost from the past (that is, from a one minute long flashback that the movies starts with) in the shape of a very evil Karl Urban - whose role, incidentally, would have been a lot better was it not so ungainly burdened with lines - and he must disobey the Church's orders and go into the wilderness to save his niece. He is joined by heroic young sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) who is in love with the girl.

Which brings me to the unbalance I mentioned earlier. See, the movie has tremendously good setting. Everything - from the "Blade Runner gone wrong" Church cities, spewing smoke in the sky, to the postapocalyptic cowboy towns and the vampire hives, and even the SF dystopian western coutire clothing - is just made of style. This almost dead world is alive and believable, and it is cool! The vampires themselves are something like a combination between Aliens and rabid dogs, what with the no eyes and lots of saliva thing, but even so, they work great in this setting.

But then comes the script, and it all goes horribly wrong. That the story is stupid is a given. Whoever doesn't expect a stupid story from an overbudgeted b-movie? But Priest goes that extra mile and makes the stupid story pretentious. Everything drips coolness and pathos in that very annoying way of things taking themselves way too seriously. The dialogue is painful to listen to. Every word that comes from the nameless bad guy's mouth for example is so horrendously trite and misdelivered that it literally made me cringe. And sadly, the story just doesn't work. The epic feel that the setting provides gets thoroughly wasted around the middle of the movie, and the epic ending just doesn't feel epic enough.

And then of course, there is the matter of the Screaming Asian Ninja Priest With The Fancy Knife Moves, but we shall speak not of such vile things... *spits on floor*

Paul Bettany adds to the weirdness that is Priest. He is a good actor. Maybe not A-list material, considering his serial killer looks, but he is a better actor than a movie like that deserves, and he delivers a performance that is just a tad too nuanced and thus brings further dissonance to the whole experience.

But this is mostly me picking my nose for something to say. Yes, Priest is a dumb movie and yes, every word that comes out of Karl Urban's mouth makes you feel embarrassed for him, but the setting is awesome, the action is cool (yes, even with the slow-mo!) and in the end who needs plot when you have frothing vampire... ish goodness?

6/10

May 16, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 5 - The Wolf and the Lion



Episode 5 abandons the multi-plot structure the show has been following up until now, and with the exception of three short scenes following Catelyn and Tyrion's journey to the Aerie, as well a two completely pointless Winterfell cameos, it is entirely focused on the events in King's Landing, and thus - positively teeming with intrigue. This episode probably sets the record for most new scenes in the show so far, and they are all great. My personal favorite is the absolutely sublime exchange between Littlefinger and Varys (CĐžnleth Hill) who trade veiled insults and almost-threats in the throne room.

Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) gets introduced here, and unlike in the books, his relationship with Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) is shown clearly. And although a blowjob just might be a bit less subtle than hints and innuendos, I think that's ultimately a good decision, considering the little parts both characters play in the first novel; however, I feel no particular sympathy toward either character, while my love for Varys grows by the minute. Arya also keeps being adorable, while the newly introduced Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) and her son Robin (Lino Facioli) are a total creepfest, and perfectly fit the characters from the books.

At this point of the story it's time for action, and Game of Thrones more than delivers. There are two big sword fights as well as a nice little melee, and if some of the swordfighting feels a little sterile, an adorable kill with a shield edge and a decapitated horse more than make up for it.

The show is in full swing now. Characters have been established, and the story is moving toward the inevitable conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters. Even the lovely new scene between Cersei and Robert clearly shows the fan is to be hit by a fecal matter very soon and there is no chance of avoiding it. I expect however that Episode 6 will focus mainly on the Daenerys storyline, which means we will have to wait until Episode 7 to see how the King's Landing drama will unfold.

Ah, a week can seem like so much time...

May 15, 2011

Star Wars blu-ray release covers



I don't know how new those are, but I just saw them for the first time, and I think all three of them are positively gorgeous. Now, I know fans have been complaining about a lot of stuff concerning the new blu-ray editions. It seems they will be upscales rather than true HD, the original versions are missing, the new deleted scenes aren't made part of the movies as they should have, and there are almost no new documentaries.

But... it's a blu-ray release of Star Wars for frak's sake! And especially the complete set with its nine discs has a lot going for it, at least in the eyes of a non tech savvy humble fan such as myself. This is something that I will be buying on the day of its release if I have the financial capability at the time.

So anyway, here are the arts of the separate trilogies:








As for the specs of the sets, they can be found in the official Star Wars site.

May 13, 2011

The Vampire Diaries - Season 2



SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1!!!



It is the night after Founder's Day. The vampires from the church have been dealt with, but Anna (Malese Jow) has been killed by John Gilbert (David Anders), and that pushes Jeremy (Stephen R. McQueen) to take the final step and kill himself with vampire blood in his system so he won't have to deal with the pain of loss. While he lies comatose after overdosing on sedatives, Katherine has infiltrated the Gilbert house, invited in by an oblivious Jenna who mistakes her for Elena...

Season 2 begins the very moment Season 1 ends - with Elena coming home at the precise moment when Katherine stabs her uncle John. It is only the beginning of a brutal mind-f*ck as Katherine starts pursuing her own ends in Mystic Falls while playing cruel games with the Salvatore brothers and her look alike Elena. But that is only half the trouble, as an older and far more dangerous enemy starts closing on the town to use Elena for a purpose that Katherine herself was once meant to fulfill.

There is no real difference in quality between the first and second years of The Vampire Diaries. The plot structure and narrative pacing of Season 2 are more or less the same as they were in Season 1. That said, it suffers a little bit from the "what do we do with those characters now?" syndrome. Elena and Stefan achieved perfection around the middle of the previous year, and the new season doesn't attempt to mess that up, which means they are kinda stuck in their awesome love, with Damon hanging around hopeful and confused. Speaking of Damon, he is completely in the Good Guys camp now, although he still messes things up badly by being a psychotic killer who utterly disregards any life that is not his, Stefan's or Elena's. Apart from being something of a wild card though, his motives are not unclear as they were in Season 1 and to me he feels rather tamed.

Other than the main triangle though, relationships develop and change all over the place. With the introduction of an entire new species of supernatural beings, a lot of characters change their roles in the show, while new ones appear around the main strory-arcs. The best development award undoubtedly has to go to Caroline Forbes (Candice Accola) who changes dramatically after events from the very beginning of the season, and turns into easily my favorite person in the Good Guys camp. Another severe change is the character of Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino), but both him and Caroline are an important part of the main plot, so I can't say more without spoiling,

The star of the first half of Season 2 is undoubtedly Katherine though. Played by Nina Dobrev same as good girl Elena, the 400 year old vampire could not be more different. Self-serving, vicious, with no dignity or honor whatsoever, except for when it would help her survival, Katherine is an evil manipulative flirt who would stop at absolutely nothing to get what she wants. She is always prepared, always has a plan B, C and D, and is thoroughly delicious, especially in the early episodes of the season. If anyone could make you squeal with unformulated joy by their very presence in this show, it has to be Katherine.

The Vampire Diaries has not learned its lesson from Season 1, sadly, as the most awesome characters in the show - usually guest stars - get snuffed out all too quick, and with no chance of returning. It is annoying to get to love someone after barely five minutes of him being in the show, only to have him killed at the end of the same episode or the next one. Another problem is the drama, which is still all over the place, extremely formulaic and mostly boring, particularly when it deals with someone's personal issues like lil' brother Jeremy or best friend Bonnie (Kat Graham) who - by the way - turns in this season into Dr. Strange. The ending of Season 2 is also rather bland and doesn't fare well in comparison to that of Season 1. The resolution of the main plot is no resolution at all, and the cliffhangers leave sort of a meh feeling that doesn't hold a candle to Katherine's "Hello, John. Goodbye, John" from the previous year.

That said, there is action galore, and it is absolutely fantastic at times, and just like Season 1, the few times when the drama is actually done right, it is done all kinds of right. Towards the end of the season there are moments to seriously make you cry, and manipulative as they might be, they work. The soundtrack is still awesome if you are into cheesy pop - although there are a little fewer memorable tunes this time around - but the fact that apart from the main triad most of the recurring characters see major improvement (seriously, you will not believe how Caroline turns out) deserves admiration.

So, if you liked Season 1 of The Vampire Diaries, you can not afford to miss Season 2. The quality might not be drastically different, but the stakes are higher, the characters are cooler, and there is now two of Nina Dobrev, which I count as a win. And personally, I can't wait for Season 3 to start!

8/10

May 11, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 5 preview



After four episodes of introduction and setting the pieces on the board, it seems that Action is coming!

May 9, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 4 - Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things



After the introduction to the world and characters in the first three episodes, Episode 4 takes time to fill in some of the back-story for some of them. Dealing mostly with the intrigues in King's Langing and Ned Stark's search for the truth behind Jon Aryn's death, it is filled with what in a lesser show would be shameless infodumps. Despite that, Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things still somehow manages to move the story more than the previous one did, as well as introduce a few new characters.

The most interesting part of the episode is of course the background. We learn more about the Greyjoys and why Theon serves in Winterfell. Also, with the introduction of Gregor Clegane (Conan Stevens) we're told the sad story of his younger brother Sandor (Rory McCann). Personally, I was a bit disappointed with that particular tale, as it is Littlefinger that tells it to Sansa, instead of the Hound himself, as part of a bonding that might now never come to be. The names of dragons are also thrown around by a slumming Viserys in a new scene that doesn't feature in the book, while the screenwriters finally deign to give us a tease of the three-eyed crow of Bran's dreams that was supposed to make an appearance as early as Episode 2.

Last but not least is Sam Tarly (John Bradley). At first I was taken aback with the actor's looks as they did nothing to impress on me the image of an intelligent and sensitive lad not cut for warfare, as his character is described in the book. Bradley however quickly manages to get around his less than intellectual appearance and Sam Tarly promises to be one of the funniest characters in the show.

My favorite character for the episode is definitely Catelyn. Michelle Fairlay might seem a tad older than most of us would like, but she has the airs of a highborn lady and her mere presence commands obedience in a way that Lena Headey's poor queen Cersei couldn't even dream of achieving. Other than that, Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is still the best character in the show, in turns coldly sarcastic and haughtily decent. For those of us who have read the novel, he is so much Tyrion that it's almost inhuman!

Sadly, the Daenerys storyline is yet to be given the time it deserves to develop properly. I am hoping that the next six episodes will spare her more than a passing minute or two because the way things are now, I can't see anyone who hasn't read the book caring about what's going on on that continent.

All in all, Episode 4 is keeping with the tendency of each episode being better than the previous one. With a cliffhanger ending that literally made me squeal with joy, it sets the stage for the buckets of horribleness that are about to start pouring over everybody's head. I can barely wait for The Wolf and The Lion!

May 6, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 4 preview



Yes, yes, please.

Movies: Thor



I am a big Marvel fan. I am fully aware that most of what the studio produces right now is utter crap, but it's still a huge part of my childhood, and I will probably love these characters till the day I die. Also, ever since they acquired the rights to some of their franchises and started making their own movies, Marvel has done an amazing job at creating comic book adaptation of a level usually vastly superior to anything else on the subject.

That said, I have never read a single issue of Thor, and have only basic knowledge of who the character is and what he's about, so I went to watch this movie with no comic book preconceptions. That also means I have no idea how true it is to the original, although I don't suspect it's too close to it.

Thor is not a typical comic book movie. Unlike most other superhero flicks where the good guy is some form of altered human, Thor's origins are otherworldly. He is, quite literally, the god of thunder, hailing from Asgard - a place of wonderful megalomania where technology and magic combine to produce a people that seemingly hasn't evolved morally since Norse Mythology times, and somehow hasn't invented any means of transportation that isn't a world-destroying space blaster that propels the user throughout the cosmic chasm or a horse...

After showing us how mighty Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) ancient armies were and how thoroughly they raped the collective Frost Giants' ass, the movie schwooms forward to present time, where Odin's older son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a monstrous frat-looking douchebag who - in a less adolescent friendly movie - would spend his life drinking, whoring and fighting, but in a Marvel offering does only the last bit. He is apparently very good at it, but little else, which of course makes him seek battles like a junkie. In the end this causes actual damage (one might say almost political) and Odin gets furious, strips him of his powers and casts him down to Earth, throwing his all powerful hammer Mjollnir which has all the fallen god's might trapped within after him, making sure that only one worthy of it can wield it.

Being a thoroughly unworthy but lucky douche, Thor happens to crash-land in front of a scientist's van - Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who is studying a strange phenomenon which is actually the Asgardians' world-destroying space blaster. Through her he finds the value of compassion and self-sacrifice, thus becoming worthy enough just in time to kick some godly ass.

Thor is a first grade popcorn experience. It combines heart-breaking kitsch with tongue-in-cheek humor, and although it never reaches the quality of the first Iron Man, it is a far superior offering than the second one and definitely on the level of The Hulk. Half the time it feels more like a modern day He-Man reimagining than a comic book movie, what with the epic epicness of golden Asgard and its mighty inhabitants - but it still ties nicely to the whole modern Marvel mythos.

The plot is nothing original, and actually doesn't quite manage to convey Thor's evolution properly at all - he seems to just flip at some point - but it is not offensively dumb either, and is a solid summer(ish) entertainment without making the label sound like an excuse. Chris Hemsworth's role is lovable and doesn't take itself entirely seriously, which in this case is a huge plus, especially considering the actor looks like a total Norse bro and could easily become very offensive to all the five senses. Instead he is utterly disarming and has a few moments of actually decent comedy.

In fact, the acting might combined within the cast is quite formidable. Anthony Hopkins is the perfect Odin and doesn't seem absurd or embarrassed in the role. Natalie Portman's Jane is a lot more furtive and awkward character than one would expect from a Norse god's love interest, while Thor's semi-evil semi-brother Loki is a wonderful performance by Tom Hiddleston who, I admit, I'd never heard of in my life before. The cast also sports lovely geek-favorites like Rome's Ray Stevenson, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist's Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard in a role that literally every actor in his age range could have played just as easily.

The special effects are quite grand, as can be expected in a blockbuster about gods, and they look really, really good, although the 3D is mostly unnoticeable. The action is borderline chaotic, but not enough to start twisting your enjoyment's wrist, and the soundtrack is Epic Comic Book Movie crap that is hard to listen to without cringing a little from the blandness of it, but is still mostly ok.

In the end, Thor is a good, solid entertainment. It doesn't inspire wowness, but for what it's trying to be, it is really successful. And yes, it might not be in sync with the comic books. I suspect the differences are infuriating to actual fans. My perfectly sincere condolences to them, because they have been robbed of some real quality time. To all the rest of you I suggest you give it a go. It's more or less the best brainless fun I've had in a movie theater this year.

7/10

May 2, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 3 - Lord Snow



Episode 3 is just as big an improvement compared to Episode 2 as it was compared to Episode 1. Covering the events from Ned's arrival in King's Landing to Arya's first "dancing" lessons, its pacing is beyond perfect. Of the four major storylines only the one in King's Langing is given any significant time, introducing the members of the Little Council (and yes, Aidan Gillen is exactly as awesome as Petyr Baelish as the trailers promised) and further developing Jamie and Cersei Lannister's characters. Lena Headey has two more emotional scenes that further distance her Cersei from the literary original, but I am beginning to fall madly in love with this version, so I'd say it's working out fine.

The other three arcs don't progresses much, and Bran's has only a few minutes long cameo, but with barely three scenes we get a very strong sense of what life on the Wall is like through Jon's eyes. The one weak spot for me remains the Dothraki storyline. Emilia Clarke is without doubt the perfect Daenerys, but her brother Viserys has so little screen time that his outburst in this episode should come out of the blue for anyone who hasn't read the book and isn't familiar with the character.

Still, a great episode. I no longer have any doubts regarding the quality of this show. Game of Thrones is HBO at its best, and next Sunday can't come soon enough!

May 1, 2011

First fifty pages of China Mieville's Embassytown



Found this on A Dribble of Ink. The beginning of China Mieville's first space opera. Man, I can't wait. Here's a little teaser:

The children of the embassy all saw the boat land. Their teachers and shiftparents had had them painting it for days. One wall of the room had been given over to their ideas. It’s been centuries since any voidcraft vented fire, as they imagined this one doing, but it’s a tradition to represent them with such trails. When I was young, I painted ships the same way.

I looked at the pictures and the man beside me leaned in too. ‘Look,’ I said.

‘See? That’s you.’ A face at the boat’s window.

The man smiled. He gripped a pretend wheel like the simply rendered figure.

‘You have to excuse us,’ I said, nodding at the decorations.

‘We’re a bit parochial.’

‘No, no,’ the pilot said. I was older than him, dressed-up and dropping slang to tell him stories. He enjoyed me flustering him. ‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘that’s not…It is amazing though. Coming here. To the edge. With Lord knows what’s beyond.’ He looked into the Arrival Ball.

There were other parties: seasonals; comings-out; graduations and yearsends; the three Christmases of December; but the Arrival Ball was always the most important. Dictated by the vagaries of trade winds, it was irregular and rare. It had been years since the last.



Read the first fifty pages of Embassytown here.