Yearly Archives: 2010

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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Everything is Transitory but the Family Remains: Yasujirō Ozu’s The End of Summer | Tokyo Drifter

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.

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Troubled Waters | Sharon Shinn Interview

sharon shinn

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.

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Calliope | Sandman Meditations

sandman

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.

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Troy’s Bucket (and Why I Ain’t Riding Up It)

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.

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Rick Finally Stops Running, and Gets to Tent Rockin’ – The Walking Dead

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!”

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Ashes of Time Redux: Wong Kar-wai as a Poet of Memory | Tokyo Drifter

ashes of time redux

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.

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But That’s Not the Way it Happened! – The Walking Dead “Guts”

the walking dead guts

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!

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Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Eddard Stark Chapter 12

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).

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Love Throughout The Ages: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times | Tokyo Drifter

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.

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Lost Hearts | Sandman Meditations

sandman neil gaiman dolls house lost hearts

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.

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C.A.S.S – Cool Acronyms of Spy Stories

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.

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Gareth Edwards | Monsters interview

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.

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The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin | Book Review

Midnight Mayor Kate Griffin reviewIn 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

Into the Night | Sandman Meditations

sandman gaiman into the night dolls house

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.

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The Walking Dead ‘Days Gone By’ | review

the walking dead

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.

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Paris in a Beijing Suburb: The Failure of Capitalism in The World of Jia Zhangke – Tokyo Drifter

The World  Jia Zhangke

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.

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Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts: Daenerys Targaryen Chapter 11

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!

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Two Gentlemen of Lebowski by Adam Bertocci | Review

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.

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Daniel Wallace on The Jedi Path – NYCC Video Interview

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.

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Back Matter Matters – A Study In Commitment

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.

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