Oct 24, 2010

Anime: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is one of the first anime movies I watched when I was a teenager. Now, centuries later, I am old and wise, and yet I still have a (very) soft spot for it. There is something in it that resonates with me on a level that doesn't care about cheesy plot or lack of depth, a sign that the impressionable geeky kid has gotten something right.

Bloodlust is a sequel to the very old and moderately lame Vampire Hunter D, and they are both based on Hideyuki Kikuchi's series of post-apocalyptic novels. However, you don't need to have seen the first one to appreciate the beauty of the sequel, as it is a completely new tale that shares nothing but the main character and setting with the original.

The story is set 12 000 years in the future. Human civilization has been destroyed, scattered by the demonic nuclear winds of a long forgotten war, yet humanity itself persists. Small secluded societies manage to survive in a hostile world filled with mutants, monsters and demons, and during the day life is hard but manageable. Night however is ruled by the vampires. This immortal nobility is the last vestige of high civilization, wielding both forgotten technologies and supernatural powers, holding humans in the thrall of constant fear.

But the vampires' reign is weakening. A new caste is emerging among the mortal cattle - bounty hunters who roam the land and kill the nobles. Isolated and secluded, the children of the night fall one by one. And nobody among the hunters is more feared or hated as D - a lone Dunpeal, half-human and half-vampire, whose implacable determination is legendary across the world.

A young merchant's daughter has been kidnapped by the vampire Meier Link. D is hired by her father to kill the vampire and save her, or end her misery if she has been turned. But the Dunpeal is not alone on the quest - the Marcus brothers are also after the bounty, and they don't take kindly to competition. What's more troubling - the girl might not be with the vampire aristocrat against her will...

Bloodlust is a classic tale of forbidden love and betrayal, of epic struggle and doomed hopes. In fact, it is that very archetypical nature that prevents the movie from suffering under its action-heavy and ultimately simplistic plot. There is beauty in every single aspect of the story. D's silent determination is chilling. He cannot be stopped, cannot be dissuaded. His eyes betray no mercy or compassion. It is easy to guess that the tragedy of his origin is at the root of what he is, but that doesn't make the character any less compelling.

Being the sucker for decadence that I am though, my heart goes to Meier and his desperate nobility. A creature of elegance, intelligence and unspeakable might, he is still helpless against the tide of times that seem to deny his very existence. The world that his race has ruled is ending, their technology forgotten, their allies turn enemies, their slaves turn executioners. He has only his impossible love and a hope held within a legend that may not even be true. You have to love such a tragic character, even if he didn't look like an elvish warlord.

is filled with examples of those two characters' strengths and weaknesses. The type of examples that creates a lump in your throat if you have the sensitivity to appreciate them. A vampire walking into the sunlight, helpless and burning, reaching for the one thing he cares about as it is being taken from him. An emotionless death-bringer who - for reasons even he couldn't fathom - stops the chase to bandage the wounds of his own competition. The movie is filled with heroism in the strictest, most pure and noble sense of the word, and instead of being cheesier or cheaper, it is greater for it.

The world of Bloodlust is also very evocative. You can literally feel the ages that have gone by since our own time. In that aspect it resembles Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, even to the extent of the vampires role, so much reminiscent of his Exultants - the oldest families, most aristocratic and powerful, and yet actually the newest masters this world has known. Remnants of olden times are scattered here and there, skeletons of gargantuan machines, memories of an age of technology that destroyed its own children.

What really gives this anime its strength though, is the artwork. In a single word - Bloodlust is gorgeous. Lavish colors, amazing detail, rich character and background designs, empowered by incredibly fluent animation and some of the most staggering action scenes I have ever seen in Japanese animation. Studio Madhouse knows its job when it comes to art and action, but this movie is undoubtedly the jewel in their crown. There are so many details one could obsess about - like the fact that you only see D's sword as a flash of light in front of his emotionless face; or the dynamic of his fights with Meier - but I don't think any sort of description can do the movie the justice it deserves. You can see the two shots in this review, but you can never imagine the fluency of movement, the inevitability and energy of it.

So (wait for it) just watch it. If you like anime, you probably already have, but even if you don't, there's a strong chance that you will like this one. It was targeted at Americans, the original dubbing is in English (and surprisingly good, considering), the awesomely epic soundtrack is also very non-Japanese sounding. But above it all, there is just so much to love about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. It is an emotionally-charged tale of classic archetypes, grippingly told and beautifully animated. Give it a try.


Oct 23, 2010

Martin Freeman officially cast as Bilbo Baggins

Finally, some actual news from The Hobbit. Martin Freeman (of Love Actualy and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) has been cast as young Bilbo Baggins. Some of the dwarves have also been announced:

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Aidan Turner as Kili
Rob Kazinsky as Fili
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
Mark Hadlow as Dori
Peter Hambleton as Gloin
John Callen as Oin

Shooting is slated to begin in February 2011. There's still time, and a lot of names are waiting to be cast. The main question is whether sir Ian McKellan will return in his role of Gandalf, but with Peter Jackson directing, I'd say chances are good.

Oct 22, 2010

Manga: GYO - Junji Ito

I am not easily horrified. In fact, unless it's some deeply disturbing psychological stuff, it is almost impossible to work on me. Gore, violence and all that joy just don't connect with me, even if they could - on occasion - gross me out. There is, however, one thing that really unsettles me, and it is the reason why Gyo led to a totally sleepless night even though I was 24 and quite rational at the time I read it. That thing is a simple story concept - taking the human condition and perverting it into something inhuman. It lies at the core of the zombie story of course, but we are used to zombies. However, it was also the reason why Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was so horrifying. And it is the reason why Gyo is one of the most amazing horrors I've ever read.

I am not generally a manga person. The tropes of the medium don't do it for me, and even though the stories are supposedly better developed than in anime, I'd always prefer to watch an adaptation instead. However, a sudden rain forced me into Borders one day, and I had to kill the time somehow. I wasn't in the mood for a book, so I just picked a manga at random. It was only two volumes, had awesomely stylish covers and they contained a spider-fish hybrid and some sort of bloated zombie thing with tubes in its mouth. Awesome, right?


Thus began my affair with Junji Ito and his sick imagination.

It all begins with a stench - a horrible rotten smell that comes from the ocean. Then the fish start walking, an unstoppable tide of squirming dead mass born on metallic spidery legs that springs forth from the water. And then the gas comes, and with it the world is remade.

It is impossible to summarize Gyo's plot without spoiling it, although it is not the rather simple story that really grips the reader. It is the atmosphere. The art is simple when depicting humans, but very graphic and detailed when dealing with the supernatural threat that consumes them. The way the story flows is very Lovecraftian in a way, weaving a tale of poetic inevitability and doomed efforts, of senseless struggles and monstrous purpose. It is told through the eyes of the young man who first encounters the walking fish, but in a way, there are no main characters here. Nobody is important enough against the tide.

This feeling of inevitability, of something that is so much bigger than you, so malicious and at the same time so vastly, inhumanly uncaring, is what makes Gyo the horrific gem that it is. As the story progresses, both the artwork and the atmosphere become more and more surreal, and toward the end there is even a Lynchian circus scene, giving the manga an absurdist spin that only makes its impact stronger.

In the end, I have no way of telling whether my profuse usage of adjectives has done its job, but I can't recommend Gyo highly enough. It is a deeply disturbing tale, masterfully told and beautifully drawn, and if there is even a tiny part of you that's fascinated by being horrified and unsettled, then it is exactly what that part needs.Plus, at the end of the second volume there are a couple of short stories that somehow manage to be equally good. So go for it! Who cares about a few sleepless nights?


Oct 20, 2010

Cover art for Steven Erikson's The Crippled God

Few of the Malazan covers have been truly impressive, but I have to admit that the artwork for The Crippled God looks staggeringly good! I wonder who the character is. Also... is that a Balrog?!

Oct 17, 2010

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Nine: Here We Remain

After the catastrophe in the prison, Rick and his little boy Carl are alone in the wilderness. Rick is badly hurt, and when they crash into an abandoned house, he lapses into a coma, leaving Carl to fend for himself. And that is only the beginning of his worries, because then the phone starts ringing...

Here We Remain is a slow story (what a surprise, eh?) that sets the pieces for the next story-arc. Unlike previous entries though, this one is full of character development, or if not development, then study. All the strain finally catches up to Rick, while Carl has some wonderful moments of his own. A few old characters reappear (not too many of those were left after the last volume), and some new ones arrive.

And just when I said that there is no point to this story, Kirkman might have proven me wrong. Finally a character appears that claims to know what caused the zombie apocalypse, and what's more - to be able to reverse it or at least stop the dead from rising. I have the traitorous feeling it's all going to be a sham, but at least now The Walking Dead went from Fortress Defense to a quest story. There might yet be a hope for the series.


Oct 15, 2010

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Eight: Made To Suffer

The inevitable moment has come - the Governor attacks the prison in force. While his first attack is repelled, it takes its toll, and Rick's group has to make tough decisions. Because next time they might be forced to run...

Volume 8 is sort of a finale for a very long story-arc that started with the discovery of the prison. The good part - there are almost no musings on how people feel, since most of the time is dedicated to actual things happening. Also, the status quo is irrevocably shattered, and after the end of this tpb nothing can ever be the same again. For this, Kirkman gains points in my book.

I finally figured out what the actual problem of the series is, however. And it is very simple, but also not something you can get before reaching a certain point of the story. The fact of the matter is that The Walking Dead is not a story. It is a soap opera with zombies. There is no narrative structure to the series, no actual point to be made. It doesn't have a beginning, middle and ending planned, just a beginning and an endless middle. It can literally go on forever, and ten years from now we can be reading the exact same story about completely different people, the torch having been passed from Rick on to others.

And yes, I don't like that. I've never been a soap opera person, and zombies aren't enough to make me into one, especially considering the fact that the series actually pretends to explore the human condition. So, while I've obviously reached a point where I won't be quitting (and honestly, it reads fast enough not to take too much time anyway), I have also stopped trying to find any relevance and depth in The Walking Dead. It is just a grossly overhyped pretentious soap with a few gems hidden under tons of boring crap. Too bad, because the potential is there and keeps trying to rear its head. If only Kirkman would let it...


Oct 14, 2010

Brandon Sanderson's Long And Rambling Post On Future Books

Brandon posted a huge post on his site, concerning where he is now in his writing, how long his most anticipated projects - Memory of Light and Stormlight Archives Book 2 - will take to finish, as well as some further ideas he's working on. I was especially thrilled with Scribbler's concept, and can't wait for him to start working on his second Mistborn trilogy (supposed to be taking place in a 20th century-like setting). And he actually apologizes for deciding to take a three-month break, after what he's done these last two years! Gotta love such people.

Oct 13, 2010

Cover art for Blake Charlton's Spellbound

Tor released the cover for Blake Charlton's Spellbound. His debut novel Spellwright received very positive response, and is in my to-read list. The cover for Spellbound looks really good, considering the fact that it has a dragon on it...

Oct 12, 2010

Dollhouse Season 2 is out on Blu-Ray and DVD today

To all Whedon fans who didn't already know this - Season 2 of his latest show Dollhouse is finally out on BD and DVD. It had a short run, and didn't create the cult that Whedon's other shows have, but it is still very, very good, and definitely worth your money.

Oct 10, 2010

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories - Daniel Abraham

I first heard Abraham's name when Hunter's Run - his collaboration with George Martin and Gardner Dozois - came out. Since then he has been a constant presence in the blogosphere, and always mentioned with great admiration. So I decided to try his short fiction first, before jumping to The Long Price Quartet.

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is a very diverse collection. There is fantasy there, as well as post-cyberpunk, ghost stories, horror and just plain old comedy. The Speculative element is all but missing at times, but that steals nothing from the quality of the writing. And the quality of writing is very, very high. Abraham delves into disturbing topics with energy and determination, and doesn't shy away from uncomfortable truths. His style of writing is rich enough to allow the diversity of genres and themes, and the ideas around which the stories evolve, are - more often than not - rather original.

The Cambist and Lord Iron is a Victorian tale of a noble playing a bad joke on a money-changer, only to find himself in need of his services again and again, when he has to determine the value of more and more abstract concepts. There is no obvious supernatural element to the story, apart from some hints of the world being an alternative reality, but the focus of the tale itself is somehow outlandish enough to make it feel like fantasy.

Flat Diane is a story of subtle horror and implied brutality, in which a father cuts his daughter's image from paper and sends it across the world to reconnect with distant relatives. Too late he realizes that he has sent away a part of his little girl's soul. And as she grows up, she is forever changed by the experiences "Flat Diane" has. This is perhaps the most horrific story in Leviathan Wept, and the fact that nothing actually happens for the reader to "see", that it is all "off-screen" and implied, makes it even more so.

The Best Monkey is the other story in the collection bordering on horror, or at least that's how it felt to me, since altered humanity always chills me. In this particular case, the plot revolves around the perception of beauty, and what happens when that perception is changed.

The Support Technician Tango is perhaps my favorite in Leviathan Wept - a comedy about a malicious self-help book that wrecks havoc in the lives of all the employees of a law firm. It is witty, elegant and smart, and flows with such ease, that it's pure delight to read.

Then comes A Hunter In Arin-Qin, a fantasy story that shares absolutely nothing with the previous four. Its protagonist is a mother tracking the demon who kidnapped her daughter. There is something of Gene Wolfe in this tale of unlikely revenge, both in structure, and in the atmosphere of mystery, of things left unsaid.

The titular story, Leiathan Wept, was a bit of a disappointment to me. It deals with analogies in a world where connections between people have maybe turned humanity into bigger organisms in which individual humans are only cells. And those organisms might be at war with each other. But what if there is only one, and it is just sick? Even though the idea is very interesting, and the story is well written, I found the development unsatisfying. The concept was intriguing, but remained vague, undeveloped, as if Abraham wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to do with it.

Exclusion is the story with the most interesting idea in the collection. It deals with a future society where technology has advanced to the stage where humans have their own AI systems integrated into their bodies, and those systems allow them to "exclude" other people from their existence. The Ignore function in a very extreme and literal sense, because contact with the excluded is impossible. You don't see them, they don't see you. You can't perceive them in any way, and neither can they perceive you. But what happens to a person's will and courage, when they can simply erase any problem with a thought? Unfortunately, the obvious happens - people prefer to run away from, and "ignore" the problematic relationships, instead of dealing with them. The story had great premise, and I sort of expected more than this simple moral from it.

As Sweet is another Wolfean tale - a poetic piece musing on the nature of love and passion, mixing different centuries but always getting back to Romeo and Juliet's (and more importantly - Rosaline's) Verona and the contemporary life of a literature teacher entering her middle years.

The Curandero and the Swede is a story about the importance of stories, and the way their meaning can change, and by changing - change us. It is the third tale reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's writing, and it deals with dusty roads, and Indian spirits, and Mexican witch-doctors, and all the right stuff that stories should be made of.

All in all, Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is a great collection. There are overarching themes in all stories, like that of sexuality. It is always there, sometimes obvious, others - just implied, but ever present. Many of the stories deal with IT and its evolution, and there is always some dry wit, no matter the seriousness of the plot.

Two things disappointed me a little. The first was the repetition of structure. Too many of the stories are structured in short passages that switch between some present and the slowly developing past that led to it. True, it is a tried and proven frame for a short story, but when you read it so many times in a collection by the same author, it becomes tiring. The second thing is that many of the stories revolve around a single idea, and when that is exhausted, they don't seem to have much to say. Examples of this are Leviathan Wept, Exclusion, and to a lesser extent The Cambist and Lord Iron, although the trend is recognizable in other places as well.

Still, it couldn't have escaped your notice that in three instances I actually compared Daniel Abraham to Gene Wolfe. People who know me should be aware that there is no higher praise I could give an author, and Abraham more than deserves this praise. He has a rich and diverse style of writing, great ideas, and that indefinable energy that compels the reader to continue reading, no matter what. Leviathan Wept is a brilliant book, and I hope we see more collections of his short works soon. Meanwhile, I will soon be jumping into his longer ones.


Cover art for Daniel Abraham's The Dragon's Path

This is not the finalized cover, supposedly. It is rather K.J. Parkerish, but I kinda like it. I have a lot of Abraham catching up to do before I get to this book though.

Oct 9, 2010

The Books Charles Stross will not write, parts 5 and 6

Charlie Stross continues his exploration of the never-to-happen universes in his head. Here are his last two posts:

Part 5, where he describes his time-shifting military unit sub-genre idea


Part 6, dealing with Halting State variations

As usual, both are worth reading, although probably less interesting than some of the previous posts on the subject.

Movies: Let Me In

I never managed to properly like Let the Right One In, possibly because - even though the movie was brilliantly executed - there was no connection to the viewer. It was just too cold, too distanced, too emotionless. Too many things were just implied, and not in the way that made you feel good for figuring them out.

Therefore, I had mixed expectations for Let Me In - its American remake. My first surprise came from the fact that it followed the original almost exactly. The plot is the same, with just a few minor adjustments in the dynamics of the supporting cast, the forlorn and oppressing atmosphere is also very close to the Swedish bleakness of the other movie. The difference, then, is one of connection.

Owen (Kodi Smith-McPhee) is a lonely young boy, living with his overbearing and yet distant mother (whose face we never actually see), with a father who is only a disinterested voice on the phone. He is shy and introverted, which makes him a focus for the school bullies attention, and he spends his time alone in the playground near his apartment. But then Abby (Chloe Moretz) arrives - a girl his age, moving next door with her father. And even though there seems to be something wrong with the new family, Owen quickly becomes friends with Abby. But then the murders start...

Let Me In is not the modern kind of vampire story. There is no glitter there, no quaffed hairdos, and no ripped abs (actually, one of the bullies had those but never mind). It is - just like the original, and like - I assume - the book that inspired it - a tale of loneliness, of repressed anger and violence. Vampirism is not erotic here, not alluring and sexy. It is parasitic, ugly and demanding, monstrous and cruel. And it is to the movie's credit that it manages to walk the thin line between Abby the lonely girl in need of human contact, and Abby the ancient manipulator who measures her every word and action. You are never specifically told which one's real, but there is enough in Let Me In to suggest both. Also, unlike Let The Right One In, this time around you are given the chance to sympathize with her "dad" (Richard Jenkins) who was once, maybe, just a boy like Owen. And who might just be in the process of being replaced. It is themes like that, which were present in the original, but never expanded upon, that raise the remake above it, since it features them in a more pronounced way, while still managing not to actually state or commit to any one.

The casting is really good. Kodi Smith-McPhee is a perfect choice for the wimpy and weak Owen with his issues of abandonment and repressed aggression, and for a time his character is actually a lot creepier than Abby. But as the movie progresses, we can easily see just how vulnerable and helpless he is, how terribly alone and hopeless he feels. And it is to the boy's credit that Smirh-McPhee portrays that without going sappy. Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer's Chloe Moretz is also perfect for her role, with her slightly androginous features used to maximum effect in pointing out the fact that she is not a girl, not really. She is in turns innocent and manipulative, weak and hideously powerful, and this duality is just perfect for the role.

Let Me In is sickeningly grayish-green almost the entire time. Owen and Abby's apartments are depressingly poor and claustrophobic, and the 80's setting only increases the oppressive atmosphere. Music is fittingly gloomy as well, but the special effects and gore factor are a little jarring. Abby's vampiric exploits are a bit too artificial and computerized, while blood, guts, hideous burns etc. tend to be too much in the viewers' faces for comfort.

But, admittedly, comfort is the last thing Let Me In is going for. It is a depressing and disquieting movie, one where what should be a simple love story between lonely children is turned into a twisted parasitic relationship with no clear future or even hope of real honesty. Thankfully though, the most disturbing scene from Let The Right One In - the one where the boy sees the girl naked for an instant - has been edited out of the remake. Even without it though, the movie is not an easy one to watch, and still it's also impossible not to appreciate. It really pains me to know that it tanked so horribly in the box-office. Obviously shirtless werewolves is what sells your vampires nowadays, but even without those, Let Me In somehow manages to be the best vampire movie to come out in a very long time. So do yourself and the movie's box-office a favor, and go see it on the big screen.


Oct 8, 2010

Movies: The Social Network

I am not exactly the biggest Fincher fan out there. My relationship with his movies has been off and on throughout the years, and when I saw the trailer for The Social Network, my first reaction was "f*ck that!" But then the raving reviews started piling, and being the trend-following creature that I am, in the end I just went to see it.

And man, I am so glad that I did! This is, hands down, one of the best movies of the year. The production is impeccable on almost every level, and it would be nitpicking to try and list negatives.

The story follows the creation of Facebook, and the drama surrounding its creators, leading to two law-suits. The script is close to perfection. It jumps between the "present" - the two suits - and the "past" - the events that led to them. The movie's rhythm is exceptional, the cuts situated on exactly the right places, but the best part of the script is undeniably the dialogue. The lines fly at sonic speed, sarcastic remarks, snappy retorts and neurotic arguments that would leave the viewer physically exhausted were they not so engaging.

Which leads me to the second component that makes The Social Network so good - the casting. Jesse Eisenberg is amazing as the site's creator Mark Zuckenberg. He is a fidgeting douchebag, whose mind moves too fast for trivialities like sensitivity and manners, but who at the same time isn't above pettiness and the feeling of betrayal. A controversial character to say the least, Zuckenberg makes it hard to sympathize with him, and it seems to me that it is a desired effect. But Eisenberg has amazing timing in delivering his lines, and manages to bear most of the movie on his wimpy shoulders, which is saying a lot for an actor that young.

The rest of the main cast are also very good. Kudos to Armie Hammer, playing one of and the face/voice of both Winklevoss twins. The guy has an overbearing presence, creepily deep voice, and projects intense murder with just his eyes, which is kinda cool, considering the role he gets to play. Plus, he gets the best line in the entire movie: "I'm 6.5, 220 pounds, and there's two of me". Awesome!

Direction and cinematography are on the usual Fincher level of amazingness, although The Social Network isn't the type of story that suggests too much originality in those aspects. My only complaint is a small one, and has to do with the colors in the movie. Every part of the story uses its own particular color scheme - greenish-brown for the Harvard scenes, golden-brown for one of the law-suits, gray for the other, etc. Fincher is very big on utilizing different colors (or at least different shades of brown, that is...) as a storytelling tool, but in this particular case, the jarring transitions between them, while possibly intentional, tend to, well, jar. I don't particularly like it when effects like that are thrusting their cleavage in my face.

It's a minor problem though, and not particularly annoying. Overall, The Social Network is a great movie that deserves every praise it's been getting. Do yourselves a favor and go see it.


Oct 7, 2010

Avatar: Special Edition announced

Amazon has the collector's extended edition of James Cameron's Avatar up for pre-order. After the mockery that the previous edition was, fans are finally getting what this particular movie deserved all along. In a grossly overpriced format of course, but for those of us who were firm in our beliefs and said NO to double dipping and Fox's infinite greed, it is the only edition. I completely ignored the previous "VHS"-ed., and I am hoping many of you did the same.

The Collector's Edition of Avatar comes to DVD and BD on November 16

Oct 6, 2010

No Ordinary Family - first impressions

The Powell family is the typical American stereotype - Jim and Stephanie (The Shield's Michael Chiklis and Buffy and Angel's Julie Benz) love each other, but can't seem to connect. He is a failed painter turned police sketch artist, and she is a scientist, and "Executive Vice President of Research at Global Tech", whatever that means. They are both rather estranged from their two teenage kids - rebellious Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and slow-learner JJ (Jimmy Bennett) - and although Jim finds the time to be a housewife and bear as much load as his kids choose to dump on him, Stephanie is almost never at home long enough to take the part of the mother. All in all, family life is on the decline.

But then something extraordinary happens. After a plane crash, all four Powells suddenly find themselves with superpowers. Jim is impossibly strong and capable of sustaining staggering amounts of damage. Stephanie has gained super-speed. Daphne is suddenly telepathic. And as for ever-failing-tests JJ, he seems to have become a genius who understands ridiculously complex scientific concepts by just looking at them. But while they are struggling to figure out what those powers are, and how they are going to affect their lives, Jim finds out that there are others like them out there. And some of those people might be really dangerous.

The first two episodes of No Ordinary Family seem pretty decent. I am a bit twisted when it comes to Supernatural/SF/Fantasy shows, because, honestly speaking, most of them aren't made by Joss Whedon and therefore tend to, well, suck. That said, I kinda enjoyed Heroes' first season (although I stopped after that to spare myself from the disappointment that it seemed to induce in everybody else in further seasons), and this one looks a lot like a cross between it and Fantastic Four. I can't say yet whether or not it's going to deliver, but the premise is promising, the intrigue that's slowly developing seems interesting, and the special effects are kinda the shit. The fight at the end of episode 1 in particular was all kinds of awesome, and Stephanie's super-speed deal is visualized in an amazing way.

Another thing No Ordinary Family has going for it are the two leads. Although I've never watched The Shield, I know enough to know it's good, and so is Chiklis, who manages in just a few short scenes to portray a really warming picture of a caring father who feels alone among his own family. The place I heap all my adoration though, is at the feet of Julie Benz. Ever since Angel I've held nothing but deepest respect for her acting abilities. She projects an amazing mixture of devilish charm, intelligence and tender sensitivity, and I think the role is more than perfect for her.

So, I'll be having my fingers crossed that this would be one of those rare exceptions where - like Whedon - screenwriters have an actual plan for the show, the way it develops and what it wants to say. Cause the setup is good enough to deliver a lot.

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Seven: The Calm Before

After a necessary break from the series, I decided to jump back into the world of The Walking Dead. It seems to have done me some good, because even though not much happens in Volume 7, it wasn't irritating either. The Calm Before is sort of an interlude, as the title suggests, dealing with the weeks of relative peace the people in the prison are enjoying, after Rick's return from Woodsburry.

Outside of the token death of an established character (and one that was long time in the coming, to be honest), the only important thing to happen in this volume is the birth (finally!) of Lori and Rick's (or Lori and Shane's, but who cares anymore?) baby. Plus, of course, the cliffhanger at the end - one which we were also expecting for a while now.

And yet, The Calm Before feels just right for its title, giving the characters some (not too much) rest from all the drama they've been forced to endure, and in a way that doesn't feel like the story is dragging the way previous volumes did. Sure, Kirkman is obviously never gonna grow out of his pretentious declarative exhibitionist conversations about who feels how, why they feel that way, and how messed up life is, but I've kinda grown to accept that The Walking Dead just isn't the masterpiece I was led to expect. Now all that's left is to see where (if anywhere) the ride will be taking us.


Oct 5, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 7

As another summer draws to its end, the rebuilt Sunnydale High is finally opening its doors to a new generation of students. Dawn heads for classes in the new place, while Buffy herself is hired by the charming principal Robin Wood (DB Woodside) to be the new student counselor. But from beneath the school, the Hellmouth is beginning to open, and this time a force unlike any other is prepared to use it for its dark ends. A force capable of touching every part of the world simultaneously, striking at the very heart of its protectors - the Watchers' Council and the Slayer line. And while Potential Slayers are getting killed all over the globe, Sunnydale is becoming both the safest place for the girls to go, and the most dangerous. The First Evil has made its move. And this time the Slayer won't be enough.

Season 7 is not simply the final season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It is one huge, 22-episode Finale for the entire show. Throughout every episode there is a feeling of impending disaster, of a convergence of powers the likes of which Buffy has never faced before. She has slain vampires, demons, monsters born of magic and science, hellgods and even herself, but every second of this season shows you that this, here, now, is - one way or the other - the end of all that she, her friends, or any of us have ever known.

Buffy Season 7 is vibrant with the energy of closure, and it is not surprising that closure, as well as redemption, are the two predominant themes in it. Gone are many of the insecurities, uncertainties and undefined fears of the Scoobies. They have faced terror, darkness and hell itself - both without and within - and have emerged triumphant, even through loss and suffering. Now they are all - Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Dawn, Anya and in the end even Spike - the thing that so few characters in fiction are - true and real heroes. They are champions, not simply of abstract concepts like "good", and "justice", but of morality and integrity. They have all made mistakes, both small and profound, and the truths they have learned, the justice they represent, are now not something they like or respect, but something they are.

Should you take a step back and look at it in the context of the entire show, Season 7 is a thing of beauty. It is the culmination of a phenomenon that was never afraid to go into places of darkness and shine the light of love and humor on them. It often delivered not what the viewers wanted, but what they needed. And, unlike almost every other TV show ever made, Buffy The Vampire Slayer realized its potential. It was a glorious ride that lasted for seven amazing years of constant reinvention, evolution and growth, and it ended exactly when its time came, with the bang that it deserved.

Every actor in the show gives their best performances here - Nicholas Brandon and Allison Hannigan in particular, reminding us how terribly important Willow and Xander have always been to this show - and there are many fine moments from each of its main writers as well, particularly the ridiculously talented Jane Espenson. Truth be told, it is hard to pick any one moment to praise, as it all fits together so well.

Due to the dynamic of the season arc, there is not much to say about individual episodes, and it would be beside the point anyway. There are gems among them, no doubt - like the hauntingly enjoyable and originally structured Conversations With Dead People, where - due to scheduling conflicts - every one of the characters is in a separate storyline the entire time; or the humorous yet heartbreaking Storyteller, focusing on Andrew's (Tom Lenk) own redemption, facing the truth of what he has done. Perhaps the greatest "year one" episode is Anya's own Selfless, which, in a series of gorgeous flashbacks, shows her journey from a pre-medieval village housewife to one of the most powerful demons on the planet, to an awkwardly honest yet ultimately kind-hearted human. It even features another musical number from her, going back to the night before the events of Season 6's Once More With Feeling.

Season 7 is not, however, about the individual episodes. It is about Buffy's last battle as a guardian of the Hellmouth. The final episode, Chosen, is the culmination of all the tension that has been gathering throughout the whole season. A battle of epic proportions, and one that - were it shot in today's high budget television - would have rivaled anything Lord of the Rings showed us about fantasy. Amazing soundtrack, fantastic battle scenes and effects that are more spectacular than anything Buffy has ever done before, and yet Chosen's true power is not in its action, but in the beauty that comes of reaching the end of a long road. It is in the scene where the four original Scoobies - Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles - discuss what they are going to do tomorrow, and it is in Giles' full-circle comment that yes, the world is definitely doomed. It is in The three inseparable friends going their separate ways to do their part in the final battle, without saying anything, parting with but a slight touch of hands and a knowing smile.

But it is, above all else, in the episode's message. Which is, ultimately, Buffy The Vampire Slayer's message. That you are strong. That there are those around you, on which you can rely. That love redeems, and that forgiveness cures. That sacrifice is only worth when you do it for others, and that we all have inside of us the potential to save the world.

The show ends with a future. A whole new world to explore. "We saved the world", Dawn says. "We changed the world", replies a disbelieving Willow. And so they have, if maybe just a little bit, for those of us that looked at what Joss Whedon gave us without cultural and intellectual prejudices, and opened our eyes to see beyond a cheesy premise and a corny title. Buffy The Vampire Slayer changed us, and for the better. In the end, it was more than just another TV show, more than just entertainment and thrills. It went beyond art, beyond storytelling, and style, and characterization. It went beyond them to come to us. And I will end this long series of reviews by saying that if my posts have inspired even a single soul to watch the show with the eyes to see it for the glorious experience that it is, then I will be content.


Oct 3, 2010

Synopses for two upcoming Daniel Abraham tiitles

I've been reading Leviathan Wept and Other Stories these past few days, and it's getting me pretty hyped for Daniel Abraham's work. Apart from moving his Long Price Quartet higher on my to-read list, I've been tracking him for snippets of his forthcoming novels. And thanks to A Dribble of Ink, here are the synopses for two of them:

The Dragon's Path:

Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities.

Marcus wants to get out before the fighting starts. His hero days are behind him and simple caravan duty is better than getting pressed into service by the local gentry. Even a small war can get you killed. But a captain needs men to lead — and his have been summarily arrested and recruited for their swords.

Cithrin has a job to do — move the wealth of a nation across a war zone. An orphan raised by the bank, she is their last hope of keeping the bank’s wealth out of the hands of the invaders. But she’s just a girl and knows little of caravans, war, and danger. She knows money and she knows secrets, but will that be enough to save her in the coming months?

Geder, the only son of a noble house is more interested in philosophy than swordplay. He is a poor excuse for a soldier and little more than a pawn in these games of war. But not even he knows what he will become of the fires of battle. Hero or villain? Small men have achieved greater things and Geder is no small man.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. What should have been a small summer spat between gentlemen is spiraling out of control. Dark forces are at work, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon’s Path — the path of war.

and Leviathan Wakes by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck):

Welcome to the future. Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer, Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Oct 2, 2010

The Books Charles Stross will not write, part 4

In the fourth part of his series of posts, Stross finally delves into the reasons why he will never write a third Eschaton novel (damn him!), and also describes the outline for its never-to-be story. To be honest, I am really sad there won't be another book in that universe, but I get the reasons why.

Oct 1, 2010

First chapter from Towers of Midnight now up on Tor's site

Tor has the first chapter of the upcoming Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan - titled "Apples First" - on their site. Dig in!