Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game of Thrones, Season 1

Game of Thrones, Season 1 just came out on DVD, and I must say it's awesome! The show had me at the first two minutes before anyone spoke. And when they did, I was sold. The characters are complex and the plot surprising. (Here I must confess that I haven't read the books -- yet, though I have checked out the first one to read yesterday.)

Season 1 tells the story of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell and his family. Early on, he is asked by King Robert Baratheon to become his Hand and to protect his interests at court. Ned (as he is familiarly called) is an honorable soldier and loyal friend -- and agrees reluctantly to do so. Arrayed against them is the Queen's family, the Lannisters who have legendary wealth and guile. 

The central intrigue (to which we as an audience are privy to) is that the Queen is having an incestuous relationship with her twin brother -- a court secret for which people have died. But there is also the mystery of the dread"White Walkers" North beyond the Wall manned by the "Night's Watch."

The show has a late Medieval feel to it. It is more realistic in style, than not. But the fantasy elements are there, beyond the world being not ours, but its own. (Think about dragons and the "white walkers.") Know that there's a lot of blood and sex in this show -- but then, I imagine so was the Medieval period . . .

The series is a must-see, and it has gotten me started on the novels. The second season should be starting very soon on HBO.

Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter of Mars, part 02

Last Friday, my wife and I went to see John Carter in 3D. As anyone who reads this blog knows, it's something I've been looking forward to watch for the past few weeks. It was Lisa's first 3D film (mine was the Phantom Menace a few weekends ago); her first response after watching some previews in 3D was this:

"Why would anyone want to watch films in anything else but 3D?"

As far as I can tell, the movie combines elements of both Princess of Mars and Gods of Mars into one plot. (I'm currently reading Princess of Mars, but only about a third of the way into it.) I was very pleased with it, and I really can't find anything much to fault in it. 

The visuals were engaging: the movie avoided cheap 3D effects and focused instead on the scenery and the characters. There was chemistry between the two leads, John Carter and Deja Thoris. Besides being a science fiction thriller, the movie is a romance. The script gave them motivation for romance, and (in my mind) it was earned. For me and most everyone (I believe), the best part of the movie was the Tharks (Green Martians with four arms each). Regardless of whether you've read the Barsoom series or merely heard about it, the first thing you think about is the Tharks. And they don't disappoint in this film. Their CGI animation is expertly done, and you can't help but admire them whenever they are onscreen. The script hints at their heartless barbarism, without making them too unpalatable. (ERB makes them into real heavies at the start . . .) Their individual characters are distinct and credible.

And finally, the mysterious Therns ended up being good villains. They were both sinister and Machiavellian in nature. Their real agenda is hinted at, but there is always a sense that there is more hidden. At one point, their leader says that they are not about destroying worlds, but about managing their deaths. Also, there is an ambivalence to their portrayal -- it's not that they are evil per se, but rather more scheming and opportunistic in nature. Their technology and their powers make them seem god-like. Real nice big baddies . . . .

Seriously. Fun. Movie.

The first weekend box office reports are in, and it doesn't look very good for our film. But this can be attributed to the criminally bad marketing campaign that launched its release. And of course, the title doesn't help much. (Which is why I call it John Carter of Mars.) Please support this movie. Go ahead, treat yourself. See it in the movie theater. Maybe even in 3D.

Again. Seriously. Fun. Movie.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reading Anime 009: Trinity Blood (2005) by Tomohiro Hirata

One of my student shelvers recommended this title to me. Stylistically, it's much more typical of what I'd thought of as anime: characters with overly large eyes, spiky hair, poofy clothes, etc.

In this world, humanity has doomed itself by nuclear war. From its ashes, arise a race of vampires created by an extraterrestrial virus. Against them fights the agents of the Vatican. Apart from creating the opportunity for there to be vampires, nuclear war hasn't been all that bad for humanity, after all. Humanity has its airships, its androids and holograms, etc. There are still nation-states: the Vatican, Albion, etc. And this Vatican is not only very militant, but also socially enlightened -- at least in terms of gender equality, women share equal power with men in this church polity. Arrayed against them are the Fleurs de Mal (vampire terrorist group?) and the Rosenkreuz (apocalyptic terrorist group?).

Finally, it's interesting enough . . . definitely imaginative -- but it's, well, kind of silly really. Part of its appeal (I think) has something to do with the androgyny of its characters and the new romanticism of its neo-Gothic setting. But while there is some appeal (especially in its imagination and invention), I have problems taking it very seriously. Too much surface, not enough substance . . . .

Reading Anime 008: Ghost in the Shell 2 (2004) by Mamoru Oshii

Wow. Seeing the two films Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence back to back, one can really see how far the animation and storytelling has advanced in just one decade. Some years after the events narrated in the first film, Batou and his partner Togusa investigate a series of murders in which pleasure bots suddently and inexplicably murder their owners . . . .

Where Ghost in the Shell had depth, its sequel gains solidity. There is a feeling of mass, in both the animation and the writing. If one is to be the Neuromancer of the series, the other is its Blade Runner (or maybe its Mona Lisa Overdrive). There is a sequence in the middle of the film where the action loops back upon itself twice that is reminds me somehow of the Matrix, I don't know why.

Both a philosophical and lyrical film. (Something that I'd say is unusual in science fiction, except I have seen more of it lately in other works.)  It speculates on the nature of humanity and artifice, of memory and souls, etc. It references Confucius, Psalms, Milton and Descartes. An intelligent, accomplished film that makes you think. Needles to say, highly recommended.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reading Anime 007: Ghost in the Shell (1995) by Mamoru Oshii

So this is a departure from the Studio Ghibli films I've been watching so far. It's an adult cyberpunk film in the William Gibson tradition. (By adult, I mean there's almost a soft porn aspect to it.) The premise is that there is a special ops department SECTION 9 that handles counter cyber-terrorism operations. (And all their agents are cybernetically enhanced.)

What is unusual is that people can be hacked; their memories and hence their identities, their "ghosts" in the parlance of the film, can be altered by outside agency. The agents are in pursuit of a mysterious agency known only as "the Puppeteer." What emerges is that the Puppeteer is a sapient digital entity, a "bug" that resulted from a secret project #2501. What it seeks is asylum to protect it from the agency that created it and to merge with one of the cyborg agents (Maj. Kusanagi).

On the whole, it's a good film. A little hard to understand, at first. The writing is intelligent, and the art is innovative. The level of detail at some points is impressive. My sense is that this is one of those movies that rewards repeated viewing. (I'm still not sure I follow it entirely.) My only problem is that I find that the music can be somewhat off-putting. (But this is probably more a matter of my Western ears, rather than the music itself.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

What if we had our own con? Part 02: Note to Self

Just wanted to make a note of this. Derek posted a list of gaming cons on his Harvester blog. It's worth taking a look, not only to see if there's anything possible to go to (depending on coverage at work, ugh!), but also to consider for scheduling a con.

Here's the link: http://derekas.blogspot.com/2012/01/rpg-con-listing-for-northern-indiana.html

Have meant to write more about my thoughts on a gaming con here or on Google+, but have been slammed with work lately. Stay tuned.

New Blogger Features!

OK, this is cool. My blogger account recently got upgraded, and one cool feature is that you can view usage stats for your blog. Here are my stats for the past month:

Members: 4 (3 out of 4 are local to South Bend; other is friend from college)
Page Views by Country: USA 103, Russia 33, Germany 30, Costa Rica 4, United Kingdom 3, Canada 2, Indonesia 1, India 1, Kenya 1
%age by Browser: Firefox 47%, Internet Explorer 38%, Opera 5%, Chrome 4%, Safari 2%, GranParadiso 1%, Netscape <1%
%age by Platform: Windows 75%, Macintosh 16%, Linux 6%, iPad <1%, iPhone <1%

Why is this cool? Because until today, I thought I was largely writing in a vacuum, for just four people who are my personal friends. It's wild that there are people around the planet reading my blog. Even if it's only casually or incidentally. Go figure.