Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Little Game of Thrones — Photos for Season 3 (Storm of Swords, Part 1)

About a month ago, HBO released some photos from the upcoming Season 3 of the t.v. show Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, including several of characters from the books newly appearing on the show: Check out Dame Diana Rigg, who will be doing a small but juicy role. They made her look a bit older than she does for the role. She’s a lion in winter and the cast will have to step up their game. ūüôā


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More Hollywood Musings

When it was announced that Disney had acquired LucasFilm with George Lucas’ blessing for a tidy sum, it seemed an interesting development. Lucas’ sound and special effects shops alone made the company very valuable and the current t.v. animation and games for Star Wars certainly presented Disney with a lot of opportunities. When Disney announced that they would indeed be making the final trilogy of Star Wars movies, set later on after the success of the rebellion plot-wise — movies that Lucas had planned out long ago, but then decided would never be filmed —¬† there was a resounding cheer. After watching Lucas butcher his original series, albeit with great financial success, with the prequel trilogy, most Star Wars fans were happy to have the franchise in somebody else’s hands. And the sequel trilogy could go any number of places rather than be bogged down by the past mythology like the prequels, building on the groundwork laid out in the carefully coordinated tie-in novels or not, as needed. So while some were a bit uneasy about what the House of the Mouse might do to the franchise, overall the reaction was positive.

Then Disney announced that producer/director J.J. Abrams would be directing the new Star Wars movie, and I was a lot less happy. I have utterly nothing against Abrams, who has done a lot of interesting work on his own as a director/writer and also produced/mentored a whole lot more of new, young talent, particularly in the SFFH field, in both television and movies. He breathed some new life into the Mission Impossible franchise and handled the reboot of Star Trek with masterly aplomb, the newest installment for which is coming out this summer.¬† But that’s the point. Star Wars and Star Trek are not only the two biggest sci-fi entertainment franchises, they are the biggest world franchises ever.¬† A director, especially one who writes and produces, often simultaneously, leaves a distinctive imprint on his or her work. Having both major franchises have the same imprint,¬† at around the same time no less, leads inevitably to a blanding out of creative craft and larger obstacles for new talent to come to the fore. If Abrams had wanted to be involved with Star Wars, then as a producer with a stable of hotshot directors on hand, he could have produced and brought one of them in to direct. (Which would certainly be in the Lucas tradition.) Instead, we’ve essentially had the reins of pop culture handed over to one guy, because Hollywood seems to be under the impression that only about five people at a time should be the big guns. (For instance, Jeremy Renner — love him, can understand why they like using him, but seriously, are there no other male actors to headline in major action franchises anymore? Don’t be surprised if he pops up in Star Wars and Star Trek now too. )

However, at least I think Abrams is good at his jobs and there is the prospect of the new movies, going off in new directions. And then it was just announced that Disney will do “spin-off” movies about young Han Solo, young Boba Fett, maybe a Yoda movie. No doubt some folk will really like this idea and it’s understandable that Disney wants to milk every aspect and keep the sales of Yoda dolls up, but for me, it’s just retreading water. I will probably enjoy the new Star Wars movie, but I am a good bit less enthused about the whole thing now.

Speaking of Abrams, though, Josh Holloway, who played conman Sawyer on Abrams’ co-originated t.v. show Lost, was on that show at one point playing a cop version of Sawyer in an alternate reality that turned out to be relevant for the end of the highly mythologized show. His playing the cop version of the character was so popular that people wished there could be some sort of spin off of it. Well, Holloway is coming back to television in a new show, and while he’s not playing a cop, he is playing an intelligence operative, which is basically a spy cop. The show, Intelligence, is about a special cyber unit, and Holloway will play an agent who has been implanted with a microchip that allows him access to the whole electromagnetic spectrum. So basically science hokum, but what they will do with it should be fun. Oddly or maybe not so oddly these days, ABC Studios (owned by Disney) is producing the show but it will air on CBS.

And speaking of cops, the most excellent Andre Braugher has survived the knew-from-the-start-it-was-going-to-tank submarine treason conspiracy series Last Resort‘s cancellation to land on a sitcom pilot which is potentially the new vehicle for SNL comedian Andy Samberg. The untitled comedy is being considered by Fox and essentially rechannels the great 1970’s show Barney Miller, focusing on a division of cops. Braugher will play the precinct’s no-nonsense captain. If the show gets on, expect a lot of inside jokes about Homicide, on which Braugher so brilliantly performed as police detective Frank Pembleton. (And speaking of Barney Miller, its star Hal Linden, now about 82 years old, did a wonderful guest spot on Supernatural as a rabbi mage who fought Nazis. It was lovely to see him. He also popped up on The Mindy Project recently. Everything is connected!)





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Imagine Dragons — Radioactive (The First Rule of Plush Fight Club)

A good song and a ridiculously wonderful music video. LDP, we salute you sir.

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Hollywood Musings

Sometime back, Hollywood twigged that summer when the kids were out of school and people who could afford it took vacations was a good time for big budget action movies. Some credit Steven Spielberg’s Jaws with being the kick-off point, but it gradually started happening earlier and by the 1970’s, summer became an established season for “tentpole” movies featuring fights, explosions and special effects, often on a large scale, that had a strong impact on studios’ revenues. That summer season was initially just the last half of June and the month of July, with smaller action films and comedies dropped off in the dog days of August. It wasn’t long though before the opening bell got pushed back to the end of May and the U.S. Memorial Day weekend, which back then was usually the end of the school year.

And there it stayed for a good bit, but pressures began to creep the opening date upwards. The first main factor was the establishment of the PG-13 rating in the U.S., back in the 1980’s, which made teens¬† the key audience for almost any action film and some of the horror films. Teens would see movies more than once and bring their friends. Teens were willing to watch anything with explosions, so Hollywood happily traded sex-filled thrillers for spectacles with violent fighting and ever more extravagant stunts. And, most importantly, teens were willing to go see big action movies during the school year if it got them out of the house. The second factor was international. World film outside of Hollywood developed and grew, with little interest in U.S. calendar issues. Foreign made films, some not even in English, jumped from playing only in a few U.S. urban centers to film festivals and then to U.S. multiplexes and DVD. In return, Hollywood studios became increasingly reliant on foreign funding for the big budget action pictures and global revenues became bigger and bigger and more important. Action pictures translated really well across languages and the barriers to distribution in many countries dropped. Release dates for non-U.S. markets became staggered or needed to be coordinated with the U.S. premiere.

So the opening launch of big “summer” movies moved up rapidly through May. And then April. In 2012, The Hunger Games came out on March 23 in the U.S. And this year, the fifth Die Hard movie: A Good Day to Die Hard, comes out on February 14th. That would be Die Hard — the franchise that has earned over a billion and whose last movie installment came out in June. Maybe they just had financing problems, or fear that going back to the original “R” rating for the films means a drop in teen audience rollout, but it seems something of an omen.¬† January and February have long been the dumping grounds months in which studios put out low budget action pictures they didn’t expect to do that well amid the expanded viewing of Oscar nominated films and random comedies. But hits from some of those low budgets¬† like Underworld over the last decade have now made those months more attractive, and every successful launch in March or April has shown it doesn’t have to be a special time of year to release big pictures. Additionally, the end of the year holiday season — an alternate time for big pictures — has gotten more important for action pictures, as well as animated films, and has been extended. The holiday big picture season now starts in early October in the U.S., instead of at Thanksgiving.

Given the deep need in Hollywood to up revenues, especially for their initial releases, to cover costs and deal with declining movie theater visiting in the U.S., it seems unlikely that September will long be spared. A year-long “summer” season is probably soon to be upon us, with a concentration remaining in July.¬† Note that this doesn’t mean that other types of films — comedies, romances, dramas, kids pictures, thrillers, etc. — aren’t getting made. There are more films being put out now than perhaps any time since the 1930’s, including oodles and oodles of documentaries, and their international take at the box office is also rising. There are more foreign films being imported to the U.S. then there used to be too. But the tentpoles, with their increasingly elaborate CGI effects, online PR blitzes and ability to invade previously nature doc only IMAX theaters, are coming at us fast and furious. (Fast & Furious 6 will be out May 22, which again is technically not summer, northern or southern hemispheres.) Meanwhile, the ability of lower budget action films to do pretty decent CGI spectacles, like the recent Warm Bodies, is rapidly increasing. So all in all, it’s an interesting time for action pictures.


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Warm Bodies

So this weekend we went to see the zombie comedy film Warm Bodies and greatly enjoyed it. (The movie is based on the novel Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and is directed and written by Jonathan Levine, who directed 50/50.) If you liked films like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, chances are you’re going to like Warm Bodies. It’s a fantasy based zombie movie with a very straightforward allegory at its center. Nicholas Hoult, who played a character who suffered paralysis in the British t.v. series Skins and puts those skills to work here, plays “R,” a young zombie in a red hoodie in a world taken over by the zombie apocalypse. (He can only remember the first letter of his name.) R can’t communicate vocally much with his fellow zombies at the airport, including his friend, M (Rob Corddry,) but he still has many coherent thoughts going through his brain, which we get in voice over. Those thoughts and emotions are fading, though, and his memories are gone.¬† Eventually, zombies give up, their skin rots and peels and they become “bonies,” creatures of tendon and bones that move fast, scream inhumanely and scare even the zombies. (Their CGI is quite clearly borrowed from The Mummy movies, which I was fine with as this is a low budget picture and it made me feel nostalgic.) A large part of the physical drive of the zombies to hunt and eat humans is because if a zombie eats a victim’s brain, he gets the victim’s memories and gets to remember for a bit what it is like to be human.

Changes come when R and his pack attack a squad of young people¬† getting supplies for the human walled city and one of the humans is a beautiful, resourceful blond girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer.) R feels a connection which deepens when he eats her almost ex-boyfriend’s brain, and he rescues Julie by smearing zombie blood on her so that she smells dead and leading her back to the airport and his lair of collectibles in a jet plane. The growing connection between them eventually starts causing changes in R, changes which spread to other zombies, causing a strong reaction in the bonies. Romeo and Juliet (R and Julie,) have a lot to figure out and quite a bit of it is funny as well as satirizing with some pathos the sense of alienation among humans and the dangers therein, with creepy bits and effective action scenes for punctuation.¬†¬†Warm Bodies knows exactly where it wants to go with its balancing act and keeps the sharp lines of dialogue going, matched perfectly with the musical soundtrack. Using parts of Montreal, where it was shot, as an unnamed Midwest US city, the film gives a visual feast of color, lighting and camera angle tricks that do not give you a headache. The cast delivers deft performances, especially Corddry, Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s pal Nora, Cory Hardrict as another pal Kevin, and John Malkovich as Julie’s uptight father, General Grigio, who runs the human enclave. (Malkovich has in his golden years decided to take whatever funky role pops his fancy, of which I heartily approve, although his role here is not as fun as the one he does in Red.) Dave Franco also does pretty well with the somewhat thankless job of the boyfriend and Teresa Palmer, who has now done this role in a number of teen actioners, has the feisty love interest down. But the film rests, visually and auditorily, on Hoult’s shoulders and big blue deadened eyes and he keeps you watching. (Anyone who ever watched him steal About a Boy from Hugh Grant will not be particularly surprised.)

While not a revelation, Warm Bodies delivers with comedy, visuals, zombie make-up and odd warmth. (Never has blood smearing been so tender.)

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Seriously, No One Dusted In Here?

You leave something for a few weeks and look at it! Anyway, many weird, not all bad things have been going on, limiting my Internet activities to occasional spews at my usual hangouts, if at all. I got to swim with sea turtles, which was something I’d always wanted to do, did not expect to be doing and am very aware that most people will never get to do (although that is probably a good thing for the sea turtles overall.) I had to do a lot of work stuff, and say goodbye to things and people, I got sick, yada, yada. The New Year turned, as artificially created new years do, and I got to have mine with fireworks.

While I was dealing with all that, the world of people who like SFFH and talk to each other about it hummed along. One of the things it hummed with was a return by fantasy author Jim C. Hines to recreating ridiculous SFF book covers of women, only this time in a very huge way. Jim decided, after people kept pestering him to do more of them, to make a fundraiser out of it for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation. Aicardi Syndrome is a rare, very nasty and deadly¬† childhood condition and so Jim set a number of financial goalposts and as each one was met, he would do another cover pose (a couple of them were comic book covers cause people had specially asked.) The poses included two pose-off contests with fellow author John Scalzi (both of which Jim won,) and a group photo staged at ConFusion of Jim, Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Charles Stross and Mary Robinette Kowal recreating a truly horrendous Baen Books cover. Jim, I think, seriously underestimated the interest in this endeavor — he raised just over $15,000 for the Foundation and had to risk his back in many cover poses. You can see the whole thing here (warning: it’s not for the faint of heart,) including the pose-offs and the group shot which is one of the most coolest, horriblest things I’ve ever seen.¬† Jim is still arranging some of the poses promised and there will be a 2014 calendar that you can buy down the road, raising further funds for the Foundation.

Another fundraiser that’s still going on for another week or so is the medical fundraiser for SFF author Jay Lake, who has been fighting cancer for some time. The fundraiser was to raise money so Lake could have a gene sequencing procedure to give him a better chance and to help pay for all the wonderful medical expenses incurred in the U.S. medical system. The gene sequencing goal was reached and right quickly, but the family is hurting and further contributions are most welcome.

And one more now on-going, and this is a fun one because you simply can use some of your charitable giving that you might have been planning to do anyway. John Scalzi has been having gnat-irritation visits from pals of a fellow SFWA member to whom he’d once given a promotional break, long ago, without knowing the person was troubled, shall we say. This author and his friends are white male power enthusiasts, I guess you could call it, and they come over to troll the comment threads in Scalzi’s Whatever blog.¬† Scalzi has developed various clean-up methods for this intrusion into his lair, including recently kittening, a method he borrowed from his friend The Bloggess, which is spreading out virally. This author is a bit obsessed with Scalzi and talks about him a lot on his blog, whereupon his pals then descend on Whatever to thump their chests and misunderstand wolf biology.¬† (We only get to see the “polite” ones, which are sad enough.) So Scalzi decided to make a fundraiser out of it. Every time this author mentions Scalzi on his blog, Scalzi will be giving money to charities that help people who this author hates, $5 a mention, up to a max of $1,000. Scalzi is going with four organizations, and you can also chime in and give directly to those groups or ones of your own choosing, preferably groups helping women, non-whites, educational funding and scholarship, religious tolerance, etc. You can do it on the mention scale up to a set amount or just go ahead and give a set amount if you want. I’m going to be doing a .25 a mention up to $50 donation to, which is a non-profit group that, as I’ve mentioned here before, funds micro-loans to entrepreneurs trying to feed their families all over the world. You can pick who you loan the money to through Kiva and then when that person pays it back, you can loan it out again to another person. The organization basically stands for everything these people hate. So that’s a good one that some people are doing. Already the pledge count is pretty high, but the higher it gets, the better the fun of turning one of the most negative things about the Internet into a positive that helps people. If you can’t afford to give any money — and many cannot — you can still help out if you like by volunteering for charity groups like homeless shelters, women’s groups and the like. It’s a really nice way to start the year.

Stuff on books and movies and whatnot to come. Hope the shortest month finds you all happy.

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