True Grit | movie review

true grit

True Grit is the latest movie from the Coen brothers, and their best since No Country for Old Men.  It convinces me that they should stick to movies that are not comedic in structure but simply in tone; this is a revenge story layered with dark humor, but the characters and the situations are always, usually literally, deadly serious.  The story is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who sets out to bring her father’s murderer to justice in frontier Arkansas.  She hires the toughest, roughest, most ruthless U.S. Marshall in Fort Smith (Jeff Bridges) and insists on accompanying him into Indian territory on his hunt.  They run up against an uptight Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) who wants to bring the man back to Texas for trial.  It becomes a battle of wills and endurance to see who has the courage and tenacity to take Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) dead or alive…to see who has the true grit.

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Season of Mists: Episode 2 | Sandman Meditations


Welcome back to Hell.

Of course, we knew we’d get here sooner or later, since we were set up to see Season of Mists as a kind of Orpheus and Eurydice quest, but Episode 2 throws a wrench or two in the engine of our expectations. Quest stories often tend to be structured as a series of picaresque adventures, with each turn of the tale increasing the stakes for the protagonist, like walking up a giant metaphysical staircase. If Season of Mists were that sort of quest story, it would have been much harder for Dream to get to Hell, and he might only have gotten there toward the middle of the full story arc, having overcome various obstacles along the way.

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DMZ #18 |Top Single Issues

dmz brian wood

If you haven’t read this title yet then I envy you. You have a future where your exploration of the comic form still has just that bit more room to expand. Brian Wood, and most often Riccardo Burchielli, has created in DMZ a deconstruction of the most honest human form and desire. Our desire to hunt and fight. This comic isn’t about survival, it is about the denigration of the species.

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Season of Mists: Episode 1 | Sandman Meditations


The first panel of this issue sets up Hell not as a definitive place, but as “a place that wasn’t a place”.  Hell is as much part of a story as part of a reality: “Once upon a time…” Yet there is something stable to it, because though it has had many names and though it is not a place and though it is part of a story, there is still an “it” for the narrator to refer to: “We’ll call it Hell.”

(I’m just going to pause for a moment to point to the poetry of that sentence: look at all the double-l’s! And it’s a sentence of four words, three of which have four letters!)

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Playin’ With Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Tyrion Lannister Chapter 13

We be back and Elena focuses on info dumping while I give props to days of   ‘yore.  Forgot about us? She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the nubile newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are g-mashin’ George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on.  We return covering everyone’s favorite Romeo, Tyrion Lannister!

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Tron Legacy Movie Review


Tron Legacy is the sort of movie that, in my opinion, requires a disclosure of a reviewer’s perspective up front.  So to that end, I feel compelled to admit that I have only seen Tron once, and that I saw it about three days ago with the specific end of watching the original before I saw the remake.

I mean, sequel.

Except really I mean remake, because that was ultimately what it felt like to me.  In the first place, I am not sure it was a necessary sequel, in the sense that I don’t think it added anything to the Tron universe that really enriched it.  I liked the first movie; it was urgent and exciting, visually interesting and strangely psychedelic.  So was this one…until you realize that it parallels Tron to the extent that if you’ve seen it you know pretty much exactly how this new journey will play out.  Then you realize that Tron Legacy is really a remake more than a sequel despite the premise, which implies a remake was really what they were after but didn’t want to alienate the original Tron‘s fans by calling it a remake, which is, when you think about it, kind of insulting.

Still, it was entertaining, and if you love the original then you will be curious to get back into that world and see how it has grown and changed in the thousands of micro-cycles since its creation.  Read:  how new technology renders a world originally conceived 20 years ago.

Visually, it was intriguing.  The style reminded me of Harry Potters 5 and 6–very dark, blue and gray palettes that made the lights seem brighter in contrast, while they never, ever, really lit up the screen but only the part where they actually were.  It was a very dark movie, visually speaking, but interesting.  There were enough change-ups that I didn’t get bored of the digitally created world the way I did in Avatar; perhaps also the fact that this is meant to be a digital world not a real one made me more forgiving.

I saw it in 3D Imax.  Until Sam gets the Tron world, you don’t need the glasses at all.  I can’t judge the 3D for you, because I don’t really like 3D in general.  It always makes me think there is something wrong with my eyes, and I don’t think it adds that much to a movie watching experience.  At least this movie for the most part avoided the clichés of things coming out of the screen, and there were a handful of moments that I  was looking in exactly the right place for the particular 3D effect, and they looked good (mostly these were things exploding or disintegrating).  Still.  For me the 3D here was leave it.  Others might disagree, but for me I’d have rather seen it in 2D Imax (I went to that screen in the first place for the Imax not the 3D, just so we’re all clear).

I don’t really know what to say about the story beyond what I have, that it parallels the original, that won’t spoil it for you.  Most of the reveals come in the second half of the movie.  Overall the story was entertaining, a B+ to A- until the very last minute.  And I do mean the final 60 or so seconds of the film.  The “twist” that came in at the end dropped it a full letter grade or more to C+.  I don’t know what the purpose of it was, other than to confuse and undermine the efficacy of Clu’s villainous plans and to make you walk away disappointed that the movie chose such a nonsensical direction to go.

In the end I feel like this movie as a whole is take it or leave it.  It’s a spectacle, for sure, so if you can divorce your love of the original from what you see here then it’s worth seeing just to watch how modern technology renders the electronic world.  However, there is a sterility here that does not equal the charm of the half-animated original, and so for me, watching these two movies back to back, I can safely say that the original was memorable and haunting and unique in a way that the new one simply is not.  It’s not terrible, but that’s an echoingly empty rather than ringing endorsement, isn’t it?  All the same, that’s my bottom line:  it’s not terrible.

Season of Mists: Prologue | Sandman Meditations


One of the most famous stories by the great 20th century Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges is, it seems to me, echoed via allusion in the first two panels of the prologue to Season of Mists. “Walk any path in Destiny’s garden, and you will be forced to choose, not once but many times. The paths fork and divide.”

The first Borges story to appear in English was “The Garden of Forking Paths”. It was published in the August 1948 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in a special “United Nations Issue” of the magazine. It has one of the more remarkable tables of contents of any magazine issue I know, with stories by Cornell Woolrich, Ferenc Molnár, Georges Simenon, Karel Čapek, and Anton Chekhov.

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Daredevil #191 |Top Single Issues

Frank Miller, the first time he wrote Daredevil, crafted an epic, of that there is no doubt. It was the early 80s and Daredevil was extremely close to being cancelled. There seemed to be little care about the title so Marvel gave it over to the young Frank Miller to write and draw. Miller decided he didn’t want the Scarlet Swashbuckler to be a second rate Spidey anymore. He wanted this comic to be something more for adults, he wanted to generate emotion and clenched jaws and throughout his tenure he did just that.

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The Kipple Foodstuff Factory | Notes from New Sodom

science fiction

The Leopardskin Print of Thrift Shop Drag

So here I am, after a dozen or so columns, sitting in the SF Café, drinking my black coffee and saying, f’r sure, no Science Fiction novel has ever won the Booker. Yeah? And? So? What? Has any Crime novel ever won the Booker? Has any Romance? Has any Western? Let’s simplify it: Has any work of extruded formulaic pabulum in any Genre you care to name ever won the Booker? Has any work in any Genre born of the fricking pulps, in any commercial marketing category specifically designed to target a niche with a promise of extruded formulaic pabulum ever won the Booker?

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A World Apart: Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – Tokyo Drifter

Seven Samurai

At the heart of the Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai), is a dichotomy between the peasant class and the warrior caste that is a constant source of tension. The villagers do not like or trust samurais, believing them all to be greedy and lustful and despite the existential threat of the bandits, some are still loath to seek their help and would rather surrender their entire crop and go hungry. It is hard not to notice a certain amount of intertextuality between the opening discussing and those rich dialogues of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes (the original “gang of seven” plot device), when the citizens discuss their feeling about the enemy outside the gates. While this type of mistreatment of the peasant classes was common throughout the Sengoku period, the villagers are also not innocent. One pivotal scene in the film occurs when the hired samurai discover the bodies of other samurais in the village, murdered and robbed by the villagers in order to get by. The alliance between the villagers and the hired samurai is at all times fragile and tenuous, under normal circumstances they would not trust each other but they are forced to trust each with their lives in the face of a common enemy. The alliance is necessary though if both groups want to survive, as in times of hardship different people often have to rely on each other; a reflection of the humanist beliefs that run throughout Kurosawa’s body of work.

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Facade | Sandman Meditations


Stories about faces freak me out.

This wasn’t the case until I was nineteen and my face changed quite severely because of what was, I was told, basically a lymph node disorder.  It took a year to get a proper diagnosis, and another year of heavy-duty medications to solve the problem, so I spent about eighteen months with a severely and obviously swollen face, the sort of face that caused people to ask me if I’d been stung by a bunch of bees, the sort of face that made people look at me for just a few moments longer than they would have otherwise: I had a face that was clearly not right.

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a Marjorie M. Liu Interview | Dirk, Steele, and Comics

Marjorie M Liu

Recently I was given the chance to have a phone chat with best-selling author Marjorie M. Liu, author of the “Dirk & Steele” paranormal romance series and “Hunter Kiss” urban fantasy series; Marjorie is also a current writer for Marvel Comics with “X-23” and “Daken.”

In anticipation for Marjorie’s latest Dirk & Steele novel, In the Dark of Dreams, we discussed the D&S series, working on comics, and the best way to bribe her if you want spoilers for her upcoming releases!

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In Which We Learned the CDC Blew the Fuel Money on Booze – The Walking Dead “TS 19”

the walking dead

“The Walking Dead” went out with a bang, but also a bit of a whimper.    It wasn’t a surprise that the entire episode took place in the CDC.   Considering the ominous video diary, we all knew something dubious would happen.  It’s one guy who didn’t want to let in Rick & Company, and who was planning to put a shotgun in his mouth.  So what’s the best that can happen here?

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All Star Superman #2 | Top Single Issues

Over the next few posts I’m going to analyse and deconstruct what I view as some of the greatest single issues of comics I have ever read. Some will be old, some will be new. Some will be extremely smart, others complete and utter gleeful fun. In the end, they will simply be my choices. They won’t be broken down into any order, that would only make things more difficult, though I will save the best for last. There will be massive spoilers covered in each post and it will walk you through the issue not just to recap but to explain and discuss and unpack. The first issue up is All Star Superman #2. I hope you enjoy.

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Welcome to the Rileys | review

welcome to the rileys movie

Welcome to the Rileys is the only special screening I tried to get into at New Orleans Film Fest but could not, due to how quickly it sold out (that fact made me take no chances with 127 Hours and The Black Swan).  My primary interests in the film were that it was set mostly in New Orleans, and all of us here love to see how our city is shown on the big screen, and that director Jake Scott is the son of Ridley Scott.  As with David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer, I was curious to see what someone from that kind of family background would do with a debut film.  After hearing all the positive chatter about this movie at other showings around the festival, I made a point to see the movie before it left theaters around here (I think it is still lingering in a few theaters elsewhere, if you haven’t seen it and want to).

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Heroic Bloodshed: John Woo in Hong Kong | Tokyo Drifter

A Better Tomorrow

John Woo makes cool films. His Hong Kong action films are amongst some of, if not the best, action movies ever made. Films like A Better Tomorrow and its sequel, A Better Tomorrow II, The Killer, and Once a Thief had high grosses that contributed to the golden age of Hong Kong Cinema during the eighties and early nineties. His work proved influential not only in Hong Kong, but also in the international scene, leading to interest in Hong Kong cinema in countries like the United Kingdom and America, and influencing a generation of non-Asian filmmakers. Woo would himself later make the transition to Hollywood, making films like Broken Arrow and Face/Off, sadly not up to the same standard as his earlier work. For a generation though, Woo defined what it meant to be cool. Gangsters started to dress like Chow Yun Fat in A Better Tomorrow, complete with Alain Delon sunglasses (which caused them to be sold out in Hong Kong). The over the top gun fight choreography, slickness, hint of black humour, and symbolism that has become cliché through uninspired repetition by Hollywood was fresh and exciting. As Bordwell says, he is the ultimate Hong Kong auteur, because when you were watching one of his films, you knew that it could only be a John Woo film.

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A Tapestry of Spells by Lynn Kurland | Book Review

I had this book on my shelf for the better part of a year before I picked it up to read.  I had really enjoyed the original trilogy in the Nine Kingdoms world Kurland started in a couple fantasy-romance novelas (for anthologies), but she uses a style of storytelling that lends itself to a certain mood.  It has always struck me as being an almost tongue-in-cheek parodic tone poking (loving) fun at the quasi-archaic language and bardic tale form of many epic fantasy, while gleefully diving into the worst cliches of it.  So, between needing the mood for something light even its darkest moments and assuming this was a completely new cast in a completely new time period from the trilogy, it took me a while before I had that evening where I looked at my shelf and thought, Yes, THAT one.  Honestly?  Waiting that long was a mistake.  (Er…sort of.  The flip side of not enjoying this book sooner than I did is that I only have to wait a month for the sequel, which comes out in early 2011.)

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Sandman Meditations


Dates in fiction always cause my meaning-minded ears to prick up, and when a date is the first text in an issue of Sandman, a work rich with allusions, I pay close attention.

“June 23rd, 1593” are the words that invoke this story, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  June 23rd: St. John’s Eve, one of the days of the midsummer solstice.  1593, the year Christopher Marlowe died.

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Shane Got a Gun – The Walking Dead ‘Wildfire’

I’ve been very, very critical of “The Walking Dead.”  The show had a fantastic pilot and a lot of promise that I feel it hasn’t lived up to.  You may disagree.  Several of you have, actually.   It seems as though no fall television show has created so much furious discussion on the Internet.

But you know what? I liked “Wildfire.”   I liked it a lot.  In fact, I liked it so much that it just made me angrier they’ve garbled so many episodes, and that the show is going to screech to a halt inside of the CDC. We’re going to be stuck there for a year. I’m going to be without Andrew Lincoln-as-Rick-Grimes for an entire year!  This is so unfair.

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Dredging Suzhou River: Artifice and Art |Tokyo Drifter

At the very beginning of Lou Ye’s Suzhou River (Sūzhōu Hé) the unnamed and unseen narrator and protagonist whom works as a freelance cameraman tells the viewer that he is fine filming anything just so long as the client doesn’t complain. His camera, he says, shows things the way that they are. This statement recalls that famous one of Bruno Forestier in Godard’s Le Petit Soldat (his second feature film and first to star his muse and future wife, Anna Karina), “La photographie, c’est la vérité, et le cinéma, c’est vingt-quatre fois la vérité par seconde” – “Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 24 times per second”. A pretty sentiment, but ever since the first images were commited to film, artifice has always had a hold on the camera. Amongst the earliest films of the Lumière brothers, we see that iconic scene in which a train pulls up to the station, a real event no doubt, but there is a bias there in the timing and the editing that presents the scene as one singular event. Even documentaries, which by their very nature attain a sort of higher level of truthfulness, engage in a similar kind of bias and we should always be wary of their honesty, a lesson learned from Flahery’s Nanook of the North (although, it must be noted Cinéma vérité attempts to correct these problems). The image that we see on the screen, however truthful, is always through the camera’s eye, making the truth as murky as the river after which Lou Ye’s film is named. Artifice is at the heart of Suzhou River.

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a Mark Charan Newton Interview | Nights of Villjamur

Mark Charan Newton is an urban fantasy author who’s currently two novels into his writing career and, judging by the sheer tonnage of critical acclaim which now includes a place in Library Journal’s top 5 best SF/F of 2010, is only just getting warmed up. For those of you already familiar with his work, Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin, I suspect he needs no introduction…but I’m going to do it anyway.

Despite the intention of a professional life devoted to the environmental sciences Mark was soon dragged into the world of books with a fun job in a branch of Ottakar’s (RIP). From this he seemed to effortlessly tapdance  into working as an editor and publisher where he made a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with; it is a world from which he has yet to escape…

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A Dream of a Thousand Cats | Sandman Meditations


What an appropriate time to read the second story in Dream Country, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” — I have only in the last two weeks become a servant to cats again, myself.  One of them, a long-haired black and white fellow named Alex, seven years old and quite happy to no longer be at the shelter where he lived for a few months, sat on my lap and observed what I was reading.  His brother, Oliver (white and brown), watched from a chair across the room.  They are champion nappers, but neither napped while I read.  They seemed both intrigued and suspicious.

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Naked Heat by Richard Castle | Book Review

naked heat by richard castle review

This is the second book from ABC’s fictional crime author Richard Castle, and I think it did a better job than the first one of separating itself from the show and simply existing as a mystery novel.  If you watch the show, you know it’s the book Castle wrote after the cases he helped on in Season 2; if you don’t, all you need to know is that it’s the second book in the series, following last year’s Heat Wave.

Unlike the first Nikki Heat book, the title on this one had little to do with what actually happens in the book; the naked part is really just Castle/his publisher being deliberately provocative.  The story this time around is focused on the murder of a gossip columnist whom every celebrity in New York might have had a reason to want dead.  Where to start?  And detective Nikki Heat has an added complication to an already complicated crime:  reporter Jameson Rook, who just so happened to be profiling the gossip queen and insists he can offer the team insights into the woman’s life and writing.  With no leads and every news outlet in town watching the case, Heat has no choice but to put aside the fact that Rook ruined her professional anonymity…and ignore the attraction that never really burned out even after they broke up.

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Live in the Moment! And Always Replace the Toilet Paper! – The Walking Dead: Vatos

walking dead

Now this is “The Walking Dead” as I wanted to see it!  Well, mostly. Because the cold open may have been some of the worst writing the show has offered so far.   Andrea and Amy fishing was fine, and having a moment to cry over their (possibly) dead parents was actually quite realistic.  It reminded me of a moment (and I hate myself for bringing another comic into this discussion) in Y: The Last Man where Yorick and a music loving lady are sitting at the Washington Monument.  The woman says “I was just going about my life when I realized that the Rolling Stones are dead.”     When faced with horrific situations, we all kind of blunder along until we stop and think, and then it hits us that mom and dead and my dog and  Bruce Springsteen were all eaten by zombies and oh my God I’m losing it. So I liked that. From fishing to “Our parents probably died in this.”   But everything leading up to that – the clunky way two sisters relate over lures and clubbing fish heads – was awful.  No one talks like that. (I actually screamed that at the television and I feel ashamed.)  It was – and it pains me to say it – pure Robert Kirkman. Much of his dialogue was a bit stagey in the book, though I can often forgive it because of the nature of the medium. Comics have to dump a lot of info in a few panels, so much of it seems forced.  But when people have to speak it?  Yikes.

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