Throughout his career, Yasujirō Ozu experimented with ensemble narrative. While it forms the core of his most famous film, one of the greatest films ever made, Tokyo Story, he first employed the style years earlier in Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family. There is something particularly special about Ozu’s ensemble films in the way in which the lives of the characters within the film are entwined for better or for worse. The slow pacing and the rarity of real confrontation give the films what David Bordwell calls “calm”, the lives of the characters are a sort of quiet sadness that makes the tragedy more affecting.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Shinn last fall with all of the questions that had built up over a decade or more of reading her work. After reading her most recent novel, Troubled Waters, I found I had a few more questions, most of them related to the new book. I caught up with Sharon via email to discuss how it felt to write a single novel after spending so long on a series, what some of her inspirations behind the setting were, and what’s coming up next for her.
I could have been really cheeky and declared that I couldn’t come up with an idea for this column.
That, after all, is the situation of Richard (aka Ric) Madoc in “Calliope” — he’s a writer who has published one novel, The Cabaret of Doctor Caligari (a title that would be, I must admit, just about enough to make me buy the book without knowing anything else about it), but who has run into total writer’s block. From an elderly writer, Erasmus Fry, Madoc gets a muse. Literally. He gets Homer’s muse, Calliope, the muse of heroic poetry. Fry has held her captive for decades, and trades her to Madoc for a bezoar.
If you’re anything like me, you’re broke.
Not quite selling-your-plasma-for-lunch-money broke. But definitely dodging-bill-collectors-and-praying-to-a-God-you-don’t-believe-in-that-your-car-won’t-break-down-again broke.
The real trouble with this kind of broke is that it’s mostly voluntary. That is to say, I’ve been afforded ample opportunity in my lifetime to achieve material success, and I have essentially ignored said opportunity and will more than likely continue to do so.
Why, you may ask? Why cling to this plebian lifestyle of mine? Why work not one, but two jobs well below my level of education?
Simple answer: The Goonies.
There are a lot of moments I’m looking forward to as the world dies, comes back, and eats one another in “The Walking Dead.” One of them was the reunion of Rick, Lori, and Carl. Robert Kirkman did it pretty beautifully, but there’s always something special about seeing the panels brought to life. I’m a sucker for scenes with lots of tears, kisses, hugs, and “I thought you were dead!”
In 2046, Wong Kar-wai’s eighth film, Tony Leung Chiu-wai plays a journalist and writer (the same character he plays in In the Mood for Love), that begins to write science-fiction as an additional income when journalist work dries up. The story that he writes, also called 2046, set in the distant future about people who travel to 2046 (whether it is a time or a place is never explained) in order to live in the memories of their lost loves, a place from where no one has ever returned. Scenes from 2046 punctuate the narrative as a parallel as Leung comes to realise that he is writing about himself. Unable to come to terms with the failure of his relationship with Su Li-Zhen (played by the multi-talented Maggie Cheung) in In the Mood for Love, he too longs to live in his memories of the past and as a result all the relationships he forms during the film ultimately fail. The relationship between time and memory is one that on the part of memory is dependant; only through the passage of time can memory persist. If, as Tony Rayns says, Wong Kar-wai is a poet of time, he is also a poet of memory because his films go further than expressing the relationship between time and memory, this relationship also plays a large part in his narratives. Nowhere is this more evident than in his 1994 wuxia pian film, the underrated Ashes of Time (Dōngxié Xīdú), recut and reedited in 2008 as Ashes of Time Redux.
If you’re an avid reader of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” series, I imagine you sang a similar refrain for the entire hour of episode 2, “Guts.” Depending on your level of fandom and your need for page-to-screen literalism, you said it with varying degrees of curiosity, enthusiasm, or anger. Hold on! But that’s not the way it happened!
Elena and I agree on something! Oh, How we glitter! 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 are back with a Ned Stark chapter and I waive the white flag as Elena gets kind of nice this week (and like Robert, I’d rather be hunting or wenching than blogging).
The Taiwanese New Wave that emerged in the 80s provided two of the best film makers of the modern age in the late Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Jonathan Rosenbaum has compared both of their work to that of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, in that they eschew the usual pacing and narrative structure of a film in order to portray life in a way that is more realistic. Both of their films are grounded in the troubled history of Taiwan and are deeply affected by the past that they are engaging, that of twentieth century Taiwan. Yang chooses to set most of his films in a contemporary setting (of his films, only the short film Expectations and his epic A Brighter Summer Day are set in the past) in an urban setting, usually Taipei, his characters tend to be middle class or upwardly mobile, but at heart of these films were the very human consequences of the legacy of Japanese rule and the onset of Westernization. Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films in comparison tend to be set in the past, in rural areas, focusing on the lives of primarily working class characters as they go about their day to day life.
Endings are tough, especially in the realm of the Endless. “Lost Hearts” concludes The Doll’s House, but it’s also a waystation, a rest before another tale.
I’ve got to admit, this was my least favorite of the Doll’s House stories. It felt too explicit, too explanatory, too determined to try to make us feel something for Rose and the other characters.
The ability to boil something down to just one word has power. To use that word is impressive but to know the meaning of the word is the key to unlocking a world that exists behind the façade of reality that every man faces. To know the meanings of the true powers of the world is a gentlemen’s club of exclusivity and some degree of intimidation. Casanova knows how to use these acronym as the magic words they are, and it is building on a rich history of spy words always meaning so much more, but being able to say it all in just a handful of syllables.
Gareth Edwards is not what you probably picture when you think of a special effects artist turned science fiction director: he’s personable and energetic, as charming to look at as he is to listen to, and utterly enthusiastic about his new movie, Monsters. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a near-future in which a NASA probe brought back life from one of Jupiter’s moons, and the creatures have taken over half of Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican militaries cannot eradicate them, so they just blocked off the “Infected Zone.” The story follows two people who have to travel through the zone to get home. I attended Edwards’ (solo) NY Comic Con panel about making a special effects movie on a tiny budget and had the delightful opportunity to sit down for a chat with him afterwards. If you love science fiction movies or truly independent movies, then make a point to see this one. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
In the first book in Kate Griffin’s series that continues to prove to the world how awesome urban fantasy would be if it the genre name had a goddamned thing to do with its content, Matthew Swift is resurrected by a spell, his soul animated with the life of the blue electric angels until they are he and he is them and they are light, they are life, they are fire. He battles a shadow that is taking over London and killing all the sorcerers, and staggers away from the aftermath without any real direction for his new life. Continue reading The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin | Book Review
At the same time I read the sixth part of A Doll’s House, “Into the Night”, I was reading a very different book, Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism?. I certainly wasn’t thinking I would see any echoes of Josipovici in The Sandman or vice versa — after all, Josipovici at one point highlights approvingly what he sees as the Modernist dislike of fantasy (and, as he notes, realism too): “Not out of Puritan disdain for the imagination or the craft of letters, but out of respect for the world.” I’m too much of a postmodernist (world?! Pah!), and too enamored of weirdness as a quality unto itself to have a whole lot of sympathy for such a view, myself, of course, but you can see from it how a connection to The Sandman might not be particularly expected within Josipovici’s definition of Modernism.
There are two big questions that dog every comic adaptation. One is that diehard refrain of every comic fan: “Will it be faithful to the source material?” From there it’s a series of frantic concerns and scoffs about how no one is going to have the guts to do it right, they will have to water it down, they will never cast the right people, etc.
The other is a little more hesitant. “Is this going to make sense to anyone who hasn’t read the comic?” Adaptations often reward the readers with visual references and shorthand story cues, but leave nonreaders in the dust, implying they are not cool enough to get it.
Jia Zhangke is not only the best filmmaker to emerge from China’s sixth generation of filmmakers, but also widely regarded as one of the most important and vital directors working today by both his peers and the critics. The World (Shìjiè) is his fourth film and the first to be set outside of his native province of Shanxi, although a number of characters are from Shanxi and communicate with each other in the Shanxi dialect. It is also his first film to be made with the approval of the Chinese government, making it the first to be officially released in China, although his previous films had been screened at international festivals and were available in his home country on pirate DVD. The approval of the Chinese government, however, does little to change his creative process, and his films continue to be about the problems that have arisen from the advent of rapid social change in China. Platform, his second film which remains his best work to date, followed a troupe of performers during China’s Cultural Revolution, as they were brought face to face with society in the wake of the failures of Communism. The World instead deals with the problems faced by modern China, now a juggernaut of Capitalism.
Finally back and we are heading to the Free Cities, as both Elena and I have wedding invites to cash in. 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. On to Dany’s wedding!
Some of you may remember the brief spotlight I put on this project back when it was just a viral sensation on the web. Others of you may remember my interview with the author. What you may not have heard was that the website disappeared to make way for a formally (or “traditionally”) published book of the same basic text, only tweaked and edited and generally made better. Bertocci’s publicist was kind enough to send me a copy of the final book as thanks for talking up the original, so please consider this a review of the product more than the idea. The concept is, in two words, tearfully hilarious.
While I was at New York Comic Con, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Daniel Wallace, author of the new book The Jedi Path–basically the official textbook on how to be a Jedi. He showed me some of the cool features of the book (it comes in a vault! It has mementos secreted inside! It has notations from various famous Jedi in the pages!) and gave me the inside scoop on how it came about, how he approached writing a book of this order, and just a hint of what the new information it contains encompasses.
It is a story in words and pictures; that’s comic, kids. That’s what the companies sell, that’s what we buy. But I always want more, and I don’t think I’m asking for too much. There are some comics out there that offer you just a little more bang for your buck and I know I not only appreciate the effort made by creators to include back matter in their comics but I also try my best to pick those titles up each month rather than trade wait. I love back matter, it elevates every comic I buy, and there are so many different ways to go about adding that extra layer to your product.
Before we begin, I would like to say a few brief words on the nature of this column. I believe it is impossible to talk about films without discussing what are considered spoilers, and to quote Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Is this form of worry a fit activity for grown-ups?” Therefore if you have an aversion to spoilers, I recommend that you do not read this column, consider this your only disclaimer.
Well, here we are: The Cereal Convention.
There are millions (more!) things I would like to know about life, the universe, and everything; one of them is if Robert Bloch ever read “Collectors”. He’d have enjoyed it, I’m sure. Bloch is the man who gave us Norman Bates and “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” and a novel about the Chicago World’s Fair serial killer H.H. Holmes, American Gothic. Bloch was a man with a playful, dark sense of humor — he called his autobiography “unauthorized” and was also, I believe, the originator of one of my favorite quips, something along the lines of: “Despite my age, I have the heart of a young boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
I could review The Black Swan with one word: amazing. The film is dark and shifting, conflating dreams and obsessions into a terrifying reality where nothing is certain. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a ballerina dedicated to achieving perfection whose first starring role is threatened by a new member of the troupe, the restless and unrepentant Lily (Mila Kunis). The only question is—is it Nina’s obsession, or Lily’s, that shapes the terrible path Nina finds herself walking?
There were many thematic layers to Darren Aronofsky’s film, and unfortunately to discuss them in much detail is to give too much away about what happens. And this really is a film that you need to see the first time in a state of suspense.
That being said, Aronofsky captures rather magnificently the depth of obsession an individual can have for something, and how far it can drive her. Subservient thematically to the film, but underlying the obsessions chronicled so somehow also at the heart of the movie, is the concept of performance art as fleeting, ephemeral. By its very nature, a perfect performance cannot be more than a perfect moment, but that one perfect moment transcends everything if it is ever achieved. This idea makes the climax of the film both more glorious and more haunting.
Visually the movie is somewhere between The Wrestler and more traditionally cinematic filming. There are lots of shots from behind Nina, looking over her shoulder as she walks through corridors, into rooms, into empty spaces to show us that this is her world, her experience. But there are also wider shots, and the film is peppered with moments of visual artistry, as well. There is a continual interplay of light and dark throughout the film, echoing Nina’s “swan queen” to Lily’s “black swan”—white spotlights on a black stage, Nina’s little-girl pink room in contrast to the claustrophobic deep green of the rest of her mother’s apartment, Nina’s pale coat against the night. Aronofsky also managed to create a visual analog to a deep understanding of ballet performance to allow the film audience to understand Nina’s triumph. During the last 25 or so explosive minutes, we see the opening night of the ballet, and as Nina dances the part of the Black Swan she sprouts feathers from her very skin until she ends the dance with a full set of wings. It was stunning to watch, and it made the brilliance of that performance intelligible to people who do not have the depth of knowledge (or even interest) in dance to know if it was just good or utterly breathtaking.
Portman delivers a smashbox performance as Nina. She is fragile, repressed, determined, and afraid while on the flip side her dark “twin” comes to the surface as wild, violent, frightening, and consuming. Nina is a curious mix of relatable and yet not. On the surface she is an underdog, and because we are following her story there is an automatic sympathy for her, yet she is not an easy person to understand or warm up to. All the same as you watch her, you find yourself falling under her spell, understanding why she does these things you would probably never do, and wanting desperately for her to triumph.
Mila Kunis carried the role of “the black swan” perfectly. She is a charismatic actress, and that is the entire point of her character—to be someone people want to watch, someone people are drawn in and seduced by, even if she is not “perfect” or polished. Vincent Cassel was the director and object of Nina’s suppressed desires, Barbara Hershey was Nina’s perhaps tragic, perhaps obsessive, perhaps wonderful mother, and Winona Ryder was the erstwhile queen of the troupe whose star has finally faded.
The musical arrangement of the traditional Tchaikovsky pieces was done by Clint Mansel, probably the best musical scorer working right now and someone who understands how to create not just mood but rather atmosphere with his music. Aronfsky has worked with him several times before to brilliant effect; at a guess, anyone else’s touch on this score would have been less effective.
This is not a movie that will leave you easily once the lights go up. I found myself unwilling to read or watch television once I got home from the screening, preferring rather to prolong the mood the film had cast and probe at bit harder at my impressions of the characters and action. I am still pensive and reflective this morning, and I know this is exactly how it should be. The film is a moment of perfection in the same way the ballet it follows is, and just as rare.
The Black Swan will hit theaters in limited release December 3.
1. Words are only words, a somewhat artificial simulation of nature, and should not be given too much importance. Slick writing should be tossed out like men with sweaty hands, mass-produced objects, and food in Styrofoam cups.
2. Never imitate yourself. The writing should be artificial and shallow, without contrived emotions. Then maybe something will be realised. There is already enough sadness in life. Soak the book in gasoline if it must be soaked in something.
Danny Boyle’s latest movie is based on a true story (chronicled in the memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston), and it would be a disservice to the story and the film for me not to be open about all of it. So if you are looking to watch this movie as a “What happens?” narrative, this is not the review for you.
Aron’s story is fairly simple: he was rock climbing and got pinned when a boulder fell on his hand. He was trapped in a narrow canyon for five days before cutting off his own arm to escape with his life.