Yup, A Dance With Dragons indeed sucked.

by Noah on February 3, 2013 · 0 comments

"Hey, Neil Gaiman, guess what? George R.R. Martin IS my bitch!"

A year and a half ago, I confidently – some would say arrogantly – predicted that the…um…long-awaited fifth volume in George R.R. Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire, was going to “suck.” I am unhappy to report that today, after finishing the 959th page of the mammoth tome, that my arrogant prediction was accurate…though incomplete. A Dance With Dragons did suck for the reasons I thought it would suck, but it also sucked for additional reasons.

Series Recap

First, a recap. The first three books in the “ASoIaF” series were possibly the best fantasy ever written by humankind. Tolkien was really the only competitor, and the differences between the two largely came down to personal preference; Martin had more fleshed-out characters, a more realistic society (with sex!), and better fight scenes, while Tolkien had lusher descriptions of nature, more of a feeling of adventure, and more apocalyptic magic. But when American critics started dubbing Martin “the American Tolkien”, it was a well-deserved accolade.

Unfortunately, by the time that accolade came into common use, the fourth volume in the series, A Feast for Crows, had already hit the bookshelves. Feast, though solid epic fantasy, was a clear step down from the dizzying pinnacle of the third book, and everyone knew it. There were clear signs that Martin was losing control of the story, much as his predecessor Robert Jordan had done with his own fantasy-to-end-all-fantasies. The pace was slower. POVs proliferated. Clever little details were repeated until they grated. When Feast was followed by a six-year hiatus, many fans – including myself – believed that Martin had realized where things were going, and was taking the necessary time to correct the problem and get the series back on track.

However, unlike many Martin fans, I didn’t think he’d be able to do it in the fifth book. And, depressingly, I was right.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Before getting to my grand explanations of what I think is wrong with this book (and what might be improved in the next book), I’d like to review what’s actually in A Dance With Dragons.

What ADWD is missing

What is not in A Dance With Dragons includes the following:

1. More than a few pages of Arya

2. More than a few pages of Jaime

3. More than a few pages of Bran

4. Any magic other than some clairvoyance and a couple face-disguising illusions

5. More than one swordfight

6. A set-piece battle

7. Any action north of the Wall

8. Much adventuring, with the notable exception Tyrion’s POV

9. Any contact whatsoever with the Others

10. Anything that really advances the plot in Westeros at all

11. A cameo appearance by John Turturro

Except for the last item, you may recognize this as a list of many of the awesome things we came to love – and to expect – in the first three books. They don’t even pop up to say hello in the fifth. This means that ADWD starts off at a big disadvantage.

The exotic cesspool of the East

What we do get to see is a lot of Essos, the eastern continent, that before was shrouded in mystery. This would be more interesting if there was anyone in Essos worth caring about. There is not. The bulk of the action takes place in Greece…uh, I mean Ghis, where Daenerys is supposedly attempting to teach herself to be a queen (and actually just trying to get some quality sex). Unfortunately, everyone in Ghis is a moron. I don’t mean they’re stupid. I mean that everyone with any sort of authority in Ghis is cartoonishly corrupt and inhumane and petty in a sort of generic, undifferentiated way, while everyone without authority is servile, pathetic, and pitiable in a sort of generic, undifferentiated way. No one has any sense of duty or compassion or even much individual initiative. But everyone has a weird greaseball haircut, and there are plenty of bizarre customs, weird and gross foods, and confusing political systems.

In other words, as a history professor would say, Ghis is heavily “orientalized”.

But Essos, with its monstrously fat slaver lords and its clanking armies of chained-together slaves, is actually the cool part of the book. The portions of the book that take place in once-enchanting Westeros are little more than garbage clean-up. It has all of the flat and boring cast of minor characters, with none of the guilty-pleasure over-the-top orientalist exotica.

Proliferation of NPCs

In general, ADWD’s biggest weakness is a truly massive proliferation of boring forgettable unsympathetic characters. This includes dazzlingly boring new POV characters like Quentyn Martell, who is easily recognizable the guy at the edge of the frat party sipping beer quietly and thinking about how much he can get for trading in his Honda CR-V. Or Jon Connington, whose only contribution to the novel was the entertaining genre-humor title of one of his POV chapters (“The Griffin Reborn”). But in addition to these less-than-stellar new “bro-tagonists”, we are subjected to a vast unending cavalcade of utterly interchangeable minor characters, the kind of telephone sanitation engineers that fill our daily lives but leave no lasting impression other than a sort of vague, occasional curiosity about whether they have secret double lives with really kinky sex. You know. Human paperweights.

Just to give you an idea, here is a partial list of sellswords that appear in the book: Homeless Harry Strickland, The Tattered Prince, The Widower,  Jokin, Kasporio the Cunning, Tybero Istarion, Caggo Corpsekiller, Denzo D’Han,  Hugh Hungerford,  ”Books”, Lysono Maar, Gorys Edoryen, Franklyn Flowers, Black Balaq, and Trystan Rivers. Not one of these people had anything interesting or distinguishing about them, but their names kept coming up again and again, as if we were supposed to remember who they were, or care. And they do things. Just not interesting things.

And of course, those are just the sellswords. We have an equal proliferation of throwaway characters  in Winterfell, another in Stannis’ army, another on the Wall and another among the Wildlings, and yet another in the rest of Ghis and the East. At some point it becomes apparent that the names of these characters are becoming mnemonic decides for the author himself. Big Liddle. The bald Archibald Yronwood.

These characters are exactly like the random useless people who block your path in a town in an old Final Fantasy game, who, when you talk to them, will only say something like “Tra la la, I can’t wait for spring!”, or “Our king is a good king!”. They exist to make the town look like less of a ghost town. At least the makers of Final Fantasy don’t bother giving them names.

Cliff notes

OK, on to the list of what does happen in the book:

1. Jon spends 100% of his time dicking around on the Wall, politicking with the Watch and the Wildlings and Stannis and Stannis’ queen, all of whom are extremely boring and obnoxious. He has no sex, has no adventures, has no moments of friendship, and gets in one minor nonlethal sparring match. He spends a lot of time managing stores of food, assigning people to fix up old castles, managing people, and stressing out about stuff. Seriously. It’s like Office Space, with an epic fantasy mod (but without the humor).  At the very end, Jon gets mercifully stabbed, possibly by the shadowy Committee to Advance the Frigging Plot.

2. Daenerys spends most of her time trying to get rocks off. Which is cool, she’s a teenage girl, she should be thinking about how to get rocks off. Except the guy she chooses to get rocks off with turns out to be the same boring, generic sellsword schmuck that she briefly ogled in a previous book. He’s basically the guy who the girl considers hooking up with at the beginning of the party, and then finally hooks up with at the end of the party because no other more interesting guy showed up. When she’s not getting rocks off with boring frat boy, Daenerys spends her time doing much the same sort of middle-management crap as Jon, only with cartoonishly evil Ghiscari assholes instead of insufferably priggish Westerosi assholes. She marries a guy who’s so boring that most of his characterization is based on the fact that Daenerys finds him boring. At the end she randomly flies off on a dragon. Fuck yeah! Thus George R.R. the Great unties your Meereenese Knot!

3. Bran continues learning to be a wizard.

4. Arya continues learning to be an assassin.

5. Tyrion takes a trip down a river and meets some slightly interesting people and gets into all kinds of crazy scrapes and situations; this is really the high point of the book. Although we meet a lot of boring sellswords and other scum, we also meet some actually interesting side characters like Penny the dwarf, Moqorro the red priest, and young Aegon Targaryen. Unfortunately, Tyrion has lost a bit of his ability to fast-talk his way out of sticky situations, but his wit still shines.

6. Cersei pops in for a couple of chapters and walks around naked, a scene that was almost certainly written exclusively for HBO.

7.  Jaime pops in for one chapter just so you remember he’s alive.

8. Quentyn Martell and Jon Connington deliver a heaping helping of pure boring pointlessness.

9. Barristan the Bold is inserted at the end as a POV to keep track of what’s happening in Meereen (hint: nothing interesting), and as usual performs surprisingly well for an old dude.

10. Theon returns, now transformed into Reek, a pathetic shell of a human being whose main purpose is to A) show what a bad guy Ramsay Bolton is, and B) to remind upstart me-too “dark fantasy” authors like Joe Abercrobie, Scott Bakker, and Richard Morgan who is the REAL undisputed King of Dark. And it works. Very well. It almost makes up for the fact that we knew jack squat about Ramsay Bolton until he suddenly turned up in the fifth book and became the Antichrist.

11. Asha Greyjoy becomes a new POV, and is actually interesting and cool.

Pant…pant…pant…

Too much villain turnover, not enough adventure

OK, so now on the the Grand Narrative of Why This Book Wasn’t Especially Good. As I mentioned, the two sources of suckiness I predicted 1.5 years ago were definitely in effect.

The first problem is that the third and fourth books essentially removed all the villains. Joffrey was killed. Tywin was killed. Jaime turned sympathetic. Cersei was toppled from power and turned slightly sympathetic. Melisandre showed signs of actually being Gandalf. That left…who? Only the mysterious Others, who haven’t been scary since the prologue of the very first book, where one kills a guy.

Martin apparently realized this, and spent much of the fifth book rebuilding his stable of villains. Ramsay Bolton is basically Joffrey to the power of a million. He’s a great villain. Really, an excellent, exquisite sadistic evil maniac, the kind of psychopath usually only found in books by Jack Vance (in fact, Ramsay seems a little inspired by the incomparably horrible Hildemar Dasce from Vance’s The Star King).  The problem is, he’s new. After this book, he will not be. That is good, but it shows a lack of careful planning.

As for other villains, Euron seems slightly scary, but he is also known as Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. The Others continue to fail to make an appearance; they are discussed exactly once, when a Wildling asks Jon Snow “How do you fight the cold?” (My answer: Invest in a space heater.)

The second (related) problem I predicted was that Martin seems to be in the process of turning an epic fantasy into a historical epic. This is exactly the same problem that happened with the Star Wars prequels – a rip-roaring adventure story (the original trilogy) bogged down into a tedious swamp of politics and intrigue (Episodes 2 and 3).

In A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords, we had plenty of adventure. We had Tyrion becoming the leader of a band of mercenaries. We had Jon going beyond the Wall, getting captured by Wildlings, becoming a Wildling, and falling in love. We had Arya on the run from various brigands and horrible people, encountering mysterious a wizard/assassin along the way. We had Daenerys voyaging from place to place, dodging death and gathering followers and encountering creepy magic. We had Bran journeying across the North, called by a mysterious wizard.

Adventure, adventure, adventure!

Now we have Jon managing food supplies. We have Daenerys dealing with a restless domain. We have Theon being coy with us about whether he still possesses a schlong. But only Tyrion is still out there having adventures. YAWN. In the process, Daenerys and (especially) Jon have actually been transformed from my favorite characters into total nobodies. It was to the point where I was actually glad when Jon got stabbed; maybe now he can come back as an undead asskicker like Beric Dondarrion, and get off the damn Wall and go have some adventures!

And here is a third (and again, related) problem, which I didn’t predict, but which really struck me as I read A Dance With Dragons. George R.R. Martin’s world is no longer any place I’d like to go. The people are, by and large, just horrible people. The condition of the world and the society is dark to the point of apocalyptic. Everyone is always raping or getting raped, eating human flesh, executing and torturing and maiming. Lots of people have been crying for realism in fantasy since the anodyne “light vs. darkness” lameness of the 1990s (Jordan, Brooks, Goodkind, etc.). Martin’s world is realistic, all right – it’s just like the Thirty Years’ War, or the Taiping Rebellion.

That can be interesting. The Thirty Years’ War and the Taiping Rebellion are very interesting. But that’s not why I read fantasy. I read fantasy so I can visit elvish valleys and dwarven ruins and see the mountains in the moon. I read fantasy so I can swing a magic sword and ride in the claws of a giant eagle, and all that stuff (see Heinlein for a more complete list). I don’t read fantasy so I can hear about rape and cannibalism and sleazy politics and the anarchy of war. That’s called “Google News”.

Middle Earth, for all its wars and dire peril, is a place I’d love to visit. Stalingrad circa 1942 is not.

(This realization was really driven home the other day as I watched this cool Danish short film about a pair of fantasy adventurers. The film represents everything that epic fantasy has lost in the age of “gritty”.)

I felt that the first three books of Martin’s series struck a perfect balance between exciting adventure and bleak realism. The fourth and fifth books, though, have gone all-in for the soul-crushing horrors of war. It’s just not fun anymore.

Reasons for hope

Despite being 45% how-to guide for middle management and 45% historical treatise on medieval war crimes, A Dance With Dragons does show a few glimmers of hope for the remainder of the series. Most importantly, it appears that Martin is taking control of his narrative, after nearly losing it in A Feast for Crows. His willingness to leave POV characters and pick them up much later on – Bran, Jaime, Arya – is refreshing. It means that Martin does not intend to pull a Robert Jordan. Also, Martin shows definite signs of rebuilding his depleted stable of villains, with Ramsey and Euron (though he needs to do more in this regard, especially by finally bringing out the Others).

Is it still possible for Martin to salvage the series? Of course! Martin still has the writing skill. (Like a boxer’s punching power, a writer’s ability to bring scenes to life is the last thing to go.) Here’s what I think he needs to do to give this series the finish it deserves:

1. More adventure, less politics. Make it a fantasy series, not a history series.

2. Fewer boring throwaway characters. If they’re not interesting, don’t tell us their names.

3. Steady advancement of the plot. Sidetracks are for spinoffs.

4. Ease up on the “gritty” just a little. Yes, we know you’re the king of dark. You don’t need to prove it every chapter.

5. More magic, please. Magic is supposed to be coming back into the world, remember?

6. More villains. More powerful villains. More magic villains. More Others.

7. Get back to swordfights, battles, etc.

8. Surely Daenerys can find someone more interesting to hook up with. Someone get this girl on OKCupid.

9. Yes, yes, Ghis was cool in its depraved, ridiculous way. Now nuke it from orbit and move on.

10. Six years is not too long to wait for a book (see: Vernor Vinge), but something tells me HBO ain’t gonna wait that long.

In the meantime, I am going to curl up with a nice copy of Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War. After A Dance With Dragons, I need to read something cheerful and light.

{ 0 comments }

NVIDIA has chosen “Deus Ex Homine” as “Best 3D Video of 2011″:

“Sorting through the hundreds of 3D videos uploaded to 3DVisionLive.com during the past year to choose our favorite was just as challenging, if not more so, than the one posed by our Best Image of 2011 selection.

We looked at all sorts of criteria, from page view metrics to our Highest Rated and Most Watched filters, and in the end it came to us choosing the video we felt was the most ambitious, compelling, and technically excellent, which also turned out to be the video that the 3DVisionLive.com staff watched the most and shared the most with family and friends. Our choice for the Best 3D Video of 2011 is none other than Peter H. Chang’s Deus Ex Homine, which is a stunning compilation of motion-controlled time-lapse photography taken in our stomping grounds in the San Francisco area.”

 

{ 0 comments }

This was a stereoscopic 3D motion-controlled (moco) time-lapse test for an upcoming project, so ideally it should be viewed in S3D.
Here is the 2D version with some behind-the-scenes photos.

DEUS EX HOMINE – San Francisco 3D Moco Time-lapse from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo.

Here is the 3D version. To view properly in 3D, hover over the 3D button in the bottom right corner of the video and select “Change Viewing Method…” Pick from several anaglyph (colored glasses) and stereo modes. Side-by-side works well for 3DTV’s. If your 3DTV doesn’t automatically detect the side-by-side input, go into the 3D menu and manually select it. HTML5 stereo view requires NVIDIA 3D Vision.

Blu-ray 3D (1920 x 1080p24 to each eye) and 4K 3D (4096 x 2160p24) are also available upon request.

Brad Kremer and Stewart Mayer of camBLOCK flew out for three days of shooting at the end of March. It rained the entire time they were in town so we were confined to interiors, which turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise since those shots turned out to be some of the more impressive ones in 3D.

After the weather cleared, I shot for an additional nine days around San Francisco with assistance from Simon Christen, Noah Hawthorne, Christopher Fuzi, Robert Mooring, Josh Golz, and Paul Leeming.

Canon 5D Mark II’s were used in both parallel and beamsplitter configurations for true, native stereo capture at 5.6K resolution RAW. The camBLOCK and Dynamic Perception were used for motion control.

There were some major technical hurdles with both capture and post, but once we saw the results in 3D, it was well worth it.

Special thanks to Jeremy Mayer (the typewriter sculptor), Cisco Systems, Gather Restaurant, San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, The Millennium Tower, The Port of Oakland, and the San Francisco Film Commission for giving us access to some great locations and subjects on short notice.

Edited by Peter Chang
Color correction and grading by Brad Kremer
Produced by Peter Chang and Christopher Frey
Music by Michael McCann “Icarus” from Deus Ex: Human Revolution

{ 0 comments }

This is a pre-review for George R.R. Martin’s latest book, A Dance With Dragons. By “pre-review,” I mean that I will predict what the book will be like, and how good it will be, without having read a word of it or any spoilers about it. After writing the pre-review, I will read the book and write an actual review, at which point I will probably recant a good bit of what I write here. So what’s the point of a pre-review? Well, to set expectations, for one thing, but also to illustrate some of the constraints under which writers operate, and the way in which the choices they make affect the flow of their narratives. And also, because I just really, really enjoy ranting.

As the more perspicacious among you may have already gleaned from the title of this post, my hopes for A Dance With Dragons are not high. The rant explains why.

Warning: This pre-review contains massive spoilers for A Game of ThronesA Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows, but no spoilers for A Dance With Dragons. It also contains liberal use of profanity, potentially obscure references, and probably a good number of spelling and grammatical errors.

Anyway.

Fantasy series suffer from a peculiar disease, which is that they tend to build up expectations that they can’t fulfill. This is much more true of big, sprawling, open-ended epics. Here’s what happens. An author dreams up a huge, luscious, fleshed-out world, and some cool characters to go in it. He thinks of some things that happen to those characters, and a Big, Overarching Conflict that looms in the background. He writes the first book or two or three, which contain basically all of his specific ideas for plot and character development, and which give a taste of both the luscious fleshed-out world and the Terrible, Looming Background Conflict.

After they read the first one or two or three books, readers are positively salivating with anticipation. Here, they think, is a sort of super-duper-Lord of the Rings, a world that is just as easy to get lost in as Middle Earth, combined with a narrative that goes on for much much longer and has characters that resonate more with modern sensibilities (e.g., they have sex). This, in other words, is The Next Michael Jordan. The ultimate Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The Star Wars prequel that doesn’t blow goat cock.

The problem is, like those other shibboleths, the super-duper-Lord of the Rings does not exist. As the first book in the New Big Fat Fantasy Epic stretches into a trilogy and then into a sextilogy and then into an open-ended series, savvier readers start to realize that this author did not know where his story was going when he started it. Having shot his plot-and-character wad on the first couple books, the author has no idea how to actually get from there to the apotheosis of the Big Overarching Looming Conflict that he’s been foreshadowing all along. Just when it comes time to step things up, the author falters. Not knowing what to do with his early characters, he allows the number of POVs to mushroom, since creating characters is much easier than making existing characters grow and change. The tight web of plot threads gives way to meandering noodling wandering and repetitive intrigues, and the Big Background Conflict stays conveniently in the background. The author continues to collect checks from the diehard fans who remember how great the first couple books were, even as a steady trickle of them bite the bullet, admit that the whole thing was a cock-tease, and move on to the Next Big Epic. The author either dies before the series ends, or wraps the thing up with a distinctly underwhelming anticlimax.

Learned readers will recognize that I am describing what happened to The Wheel of Time, the defining fantasy series of the 1990s. But the phenomenon is by no means limited to Robert Jordan’s bore-fest. Terry Brooks’ Shanarra series, Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia novels, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth (which actually was never good), Stephen Erikson’s Malazan series, and the T.V. shows Lost and Battlestar Galactica followed similar arcs of enticement and disappointment.

The basic problem in all of these is the same: Writers are better at starting things than they are at ending them. The few series that we remember as truly great – Lord of the Rings, the original Star Wars trilogy, Harry Potter – were written with the endings in mind. If you start with a really kick-ass ending, then you have a chance, because the rest of the plot becomes a way to get events and characters to that point. But if, like so many authors, your passion for world-building and character-sketching outstrips your ability to dream up a purpose for it all, then your massive epic suffers precisely the same fate as most Dungeons and Dragons campaigns – everyone’s characters either die or get to 20th level, and then everyone goes off to college.

We thought George R.R. Martin was different. I did, at any rate. The reason was not just that his skills as a writer equal or exceed that of any other fantasy author in history (yes, including Tolkien). It was that the first three books were on an upward trajectory of quality. A Game of Thrones was very good; A Clash of Kings was truly excellent; and A Storm of Swords was so mind-blowingly amazing that it made a lot of people lose their taste for every other recent fantasy series. Those books did everything right. The world was one we believed in. The characters were people we could love, hate, and (most importantly) understand. The magic was real, powerful, and cool, but always shrouded in mystery. The fight scenes were classic, the battles epic. And most importantly, by killing some of our favorite protagonists early on, Martin convinced us that This Was Serious Business, that no cows were sacred, that this was a world in which bad things happened to good people. When Ned Stark got his noggin chopped off, we started fearing for all of our other favorite characters, and that fear made their triumphs all the sweeter.

This was finally It, we thought. The One. The fantasy series to end all fantasy series. Then came A Feast for Crows.

In order to understand why A Dance With Dragons is probably going to suck hairy baboon butt, it is necessary to understand the suckiness of A Feast for Crows. The first sucky thing that happened was that the pace slowed down dramatically. Each of the first three books pushed the narrative forward substantially – the first book starts the civil war between the Starks and Lannisters, the third one basically ends it. But at the end of A Feast for Crows, nearly nothing is different than at the end of A Storm of Swords. Cersei is in jail, and that’s about it. It’s mainly just people walking around seeing how badly the civil war fucked up their country.

Which means we know that A Dance With Dragons is going to be more of the same shite, because A Dance With Dragons is really Book 4b. It is divided from A Feast for Crows not temporally, but character-wise, so we already know that dick-all happens in terms of big sweeping macro events, because if something big happened we’d have read about it in Book 4a. So we know that the Others do not breach the Wall, Daenerys does not sail to Westeros, Khal Drogo does not wake up with a really bad hangover and decide to open a chain of Mongol-themed clothing stores, etc. It’s going to be Jon Snow intriguing with Stannis, Melisandre, and the Wildlings, Daenerys dicking around in Ghis, Miles VorkosiganTyrion Lannister doing who knows what, and Arya learning to be the ultimate killing machine. Plus we’re going to get a few new POV characters who are kind of interesting but not quite interesting enough to have made it into the first three books. (Personally, I’m hoping for a Hoder chapter, that will just be the word “Hoder” repeated, with various punctuation marks, for three solid pages. It’s what James Joyce would have done.)

So that’s the first problem that ADWD is going to suffer from. But it’s not the only one, or even the biggest one. The big problem is the direction the whole series is going.

First, a note about characters. George “Arrhh Arrhh” Martin is famous for killing off his protagonists. But what he’s actually done a lot more of is to kill off his villains. In the first three books, the bad guys were basically the RepublicansLannisters. We had three main evil Lannisters. Tywin Lannister, i.e. the powerful old guy behind the scenes, was bad; Cersei Lannister, the scheming sadistic Tiger Mom, was worse; and Joffrey, the Kim Jong-Il of Westeros, was the worst. But now Tywin is dead, Cersei is suffering well-deserved humiliations in a dungeon somewhere, and Joffrey is deader than rock music. So who is left to hate? The guy left in charge of the Lannister usurpation squad is…Kevan Lannister? There are precisely 1.7 readers who give a flying flipping foo-foo about Kevan Lannister. And then there is Tommen Lannister…the Five-Year-Old of Darkness? Or maybe I’m supposed to hate Peter “Littlepenis” Baelish because his driving motivation in life is to take upskirt photos of Sansa Stark with his cell phone?

OK, then, but what about the Really Big Bad Guys over the horizon? Those would be the Others, the weirdos from up north who are getting ready to sweep down and wipe humanity from the planet. So far, all we know of their powers are that they can create zombies (meh), they are quick with a sword, and they are destroyed by contact with obsidian. This does not exactly make them intimidating. The Others will overrun humanity until and unless they happen to run into a gang of obsidian-chucking cavemen, at which point they are precisely fucked. Maybe if they had some other, scarier shit up their sleeve, like a Supergun, or Shai-Hulud, or an army of a million sub-humanoids, etc., they would exert more of an influence on the story. And as for supernatural baddies, the Others are basically it. Evil wizards, then? Well, Melisandre was scary but now she’s sort of a protagonist, and the Warlocks of Qarth were sort of creepy until they got offed by a hairspray blowtorchbaby dragon.

So where does this leave Martin? His Big Bad Baddies can be killed by the cast of Quest for Fire, and he’s killed off every hate-able human villain in the story. He can whip up some new ones real quick (Euron Greyjoy?), but they won’t be the people we came to know and hate in the first three books. Or – and this is what I predict he will do – he can leave us without any real villains. He can make his world a “realistic” world, where, as the cliche goes, there is no good or evil, only shades of gray. The story will cease to be about our beloved heroes struggling against our hated enemies, and it will become a chronicle of a bunch of complex, gray-shaded people struggling for power against other complex, gray-shaded people, and periodically dying, until finally the story ends and the lucky, most recent of the revolving cast of complex, gray-shaded people happen to be the ones who get to live and rule at the end. Yippee.

There is a name for this kind of story: a historical epic. It is different from a fantasy in many ways. Historical epics are not by definition worse than fantasies, and there are many excellent ones. What sucks is when you think you’re getting one and you end up getting the other. Like ordering an LED TV and getting a unicycle. Unicycles rock, it’s just really hard to use one to watch The Daily Show.

Earth to fantasy authors: Nobody who is reading your books cares what happens your fantasy world! The reason is simple: It can be easily replaced. We can just make up another medival fantasy setting. All those peasants who died in the wars? We care about them even less than we care about all those peasants who die in real wars that we read about on Google News. If the Others march through and slaughter every living thing in Westeros, or if Jaqen H’ghar decides to spell his first name with a “k” and the resulting explosion destroys the planet, the only reason – the only reason, now that the villains are toast - that we will be sad is that we won’t get to see interesting, right-feeling stuff happen to Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister.

In other words, if all we want to see is a bunch of gray-shaded people struggling over power, we can just read Google News. We want our fucking fantasy.

I did not have these qualms when I finished A Storm of Swords, though. Let me explain why. The first book starts with an account of the coming of the Others. So all throughout the Westerosi civil war, I was thinking “Look, you idiots, there’s an army of supernatural creepies massing to your north, you’re wasting time and resources slaughtering each other, you better pull together and learn how to slang some obsidian real quick!” And that was good. That frustration, the feeling of knowing something that the characters didn’t, lent an air of delicious futility to the civil war and an air of dreadful importance to all the stuff going on at the perimeter of the war, with Daenerys and Jon and Bran.

So at the end of A Storm of Swords, when Tywin Lannister gets shot and Joffrey pulls a Mama Cass, I thought “OK, so now the civil war is over, the next books will be about the remnants uniting to face the Others.” And that would have been a good story. In fact, “humans fight among themselves while supernatural enemies of humanity gather to strike” is a really damn good fantasy plot. It is the story of an extremely good, extremely little-known series called The Dark Border, by Paul Edwin Zimmer. I was hoping – and still am hoping, despite the evidence - that Martin is doing something along those lines. (I am also hoping that Martin’s supernatural baddies will show some small fraction of the awesome arsenal of destruction possessed by the bad guys in The Dark Border; these include a mile-tall pillar of smoke with a dragon head, an actual dragon the size of a village, goblin armies, huge spheres of negative energy, a living tornado, and some even nastier shit called “The Sabuath” that we never even get to find out what the fuck it is!)

But anyway, then out came A Feast for Crows, and my hopes were dashed as I realized that the next two books (4a and 4b) would still basically be about the goddamn civil war, even though that war was over and almost all of the players in it were dead or neutralized.  The civil war plot was going to become a zombie storyline, shuffling along aimlessly, shedding new second-string POV characters like lumps of rotten flesh. That’s when I realized “Oh shit, maybe the stupid civil war isn’t a distraction, maybe it’s the whole damn point of the whole damn series. Maybe Martin isn’t trying to write the super-Lord of the Rings, maybe he’s trying to write the super-War and Peace!”

The super-War and Peace might be an interesting book, but it is not a book that I want to spend my time reading. What’s more, I feel like if that is what Martin’s series continues to become, then it will spell the death knell for the epic fantasy novel series as a cultural phenomenon. After a certain number of Next Michael Jordans don’t end up panning out, fans forget about the original Michael Jordan. Martin’s series is/was the last, best hope that Lord of the Rings was not actually the pinnacle of fantasy fiction. Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist, and others made valiant attempts to dethrone Tolkien but ultimately failed. If George R.R. Martin doesn’t have the writing chops to make a bigger, better epic than Tolkien’s trilogy, then it’s quite possible that no human does.

Which I suppose would be fine. Lord of the Rings is a damn good series, sex or no sex. And there are lots of other good, solid, fantasy series out there, and I’m sure there will be many more. They just won’t come with the same expectations attached. Maybe that would be a good thing. Authors would get back to writing characters and worlds and stories that they could handle, and stop biting off more than they can chew.

But it would be nice if I were proven wrong, and Martin pulled this series out of the trudging-historical-epic doldrums in which it has mired itself, and made it back into a truly excellent fantasy. Just don’t expect that to happen in A Dance With Dragons. A Dance With Dragons is going to suck. It will get rave reviews, everyone will love it, and then a couple months later we’ll all admit that it sucked.

Of course, I reserve, and even relish, the right to recant everything written in this pre-review after I actually, you know, read the book.

Update: Reviewers on Amazon are totally vindicating my predictions.

{ 8 comments }

If I discover one truly excellent science fiction author per year, I’m pretty much a happy man. In 2010 I discovered Paolo Bacigalupi. In 2011 I discovered Cory Doctorow.

Doctorow is best known as the editor of the venerable and yet still-cutting-edge blog BoingBoing, which he writes from a hot air balloon while wearing a red cape and goggles. But sci-fi fans also know him as a prolific author of some of the most wildly original books and short stories of the 3rd millennium B.C.E. So far I’ve only read three of his books (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother, and Makers) and one of his short story collections (Overclocked), but that situation is of course changing as fast as I can spare time from writing my dissertation. Being himself a crusading anti-copyright activist, Doctorow has made all his books available for free download, which, perversely enough, is why I buy them new. Perhaps his business model is based on the existence of perverse individuals like me. If so, I kind of admire that.

Anyway, on to what I like so much about these books. I gave The Social Network a lot of crap for misrepresenting geek culture…well, Cory Doctorow books are the exact opposite of that. Doctorow protagonists – makers, hackers, gamers, bloggers, and fanboys – aren’t in it for the money, the status, or the bathroom blowjobs (though they wouldn’t necessarily turn those things down). They are in it for the love. They tinker and invent because they get an intellectual thrill and a surge of personal pride from the act of creation, and they share their for the sense of community and the respect that they receive.

To someone who hasn’t lived that life, this sounds like some kind of silly socialist utopia – the dream of a return to the village, the barter economy, the age of the solitary craftsman. But it’s not that. It’s simply a reflection of the fact that we live in a rich country, and we’ve climbed up Maslow’s Hierarchy to the point where love, esteem, and self-actualization are the things we need most urgently.

But that’s only one of the things Doctorow gets right about geeks. He throws in a thousand little details that are all too familiar: egos tempered and suppressed by complex personal morality, masculinity and femininity wounded by a world of dumb aggression. These geeks are men and women. They want the things that normal men and women want, and for much of their youth they were told they couldn’t have it, because they were different, because they were a little too smart…but then they grow up and they can have it all, and in fact they have an advantage in getting it, and they find that they don’t quite know what to do with it.

If you think that I failed to capture the geek experience in that four-sentence paragraph, well, you’re right. It takes at least several hundred pages to begin capture the geek experience. So go read Cory Doctorow.

As for the tech side of Doctorow’s books, this stuff is every bit as wild and visionary as anything ever dreamed up by Gibson, Stephenson, Sterling or Stross. But the style is something very new. Doctorow doesn’t need to carpet-bomb you with jargon in order to future-shock your socks off – he tells a calm, quiet story, and every once in a while you notice that the story you’re reading is set in a high-tech wonderland. An added bonus is that much of the gee-whiz gizmos in the books are actually real stuff, or very close to it; Doctorow knows his tech like few other writers. Little Brother might be the first cyberpunk novel written with zero fictional science.

Ironically, when people (who shall remain unlinked) criticize Doctorow, they tend to fixate on this fact. “The ideas are amazing,” they say, “but the characters are just vehicles for the ideas.” Poppycock, rubbish, and 出鱈目. What that reflects is how difficult it is for said people to appreciate subtle characterization.

I learned to write in college short-story-writing classes. That means I was a student of the Raymond Carver/Alice Munro/George Saunders school, where a character can be defined by looking out a window at some dust blowing down the street. I learned to focus on those subtle touches that can say so much more than big, dramatic actions. This is basically the technique that Doctorow is using; you learn more about his geeks from their reactions (or lack of reactions) to situations that are routine and pedestrian in their own lives than from the dramatic speeches and bold actions common in a lot of pulp stuff. (Note that this does not mean that Doctorow books aren’t fun, fast reads.)

Anyway, I think I’ll stop ranting now, but I want to say one more thing. Cory Doctorow is one of the only sci-fi authors (the other is Lois McMaster Bujold) who has actually made me change the way I live…to be more like an alpha-geek, of course. Since reading his books, I have altered my approach to technology – I’m much more likely than before to open things up and look under the hood, tinker with them, try to get them to do things that aren’t in the manual. I am beginning to trust the manual less, in fact. I feel like I’m just beginning to have the same kind of swaggering, “I can handle this” attitude toward engineering that I always had when taking tests back in school. I feel like that attitude germinated when I read Little Brother and Makers.

OK, now it’s time to stop ranting for real. Did I mention you should go read Cory Doctorow?

{ 0 comments }

Mark + Kimberley Wedding Fusion Film

by Peter on June 23, 2011 · 0 comments

Mark and Kimberley’s New Year’s Eve wedding at the Berkeley City Club was a grand event combining the holidays, a party with dear friends and family, and of course a celebration of love between two wonderful people. We always love to look at the story told with still images first, and then compare that to what can be presented through moving images and sound. The drama of a moment can be accentuated with a still photograph, light can be adjusted to accent an image, and it is easier to bring an artistic interpretation into an otherwise plain moment. However, with film one can find more emotional nuance through conversations and interactions – one that is less subject to the manipulations or interpretations of the person behind the camera – but is an unscripted and real presentation of personality, emotion, and character that documents an important moment in an entirely different (but complimentary) way. In our fusion films, we work to find the best presentation of the moments of the day and weave them together into a blend of moving and still images that is both cinematic and photojournalistic – to document the beauty, the nuance, the emotion, and the unique personalities of the wedding day in a single fusion piece.

{ 0 comments }

Many film fans have by now read Mark Harris’ rant about the present suckiness of big-budget cinema. I must say I agree with the problem – the flood of VFX-driven sequels, remakes, and adaptations cramming the theaters for the past 10 years has been truly yawn-inspiring. But I think Harris is at a bit of a loss as to why big-budget movies are in the dumps. Oddly, he tries to place much of the blame on Top Gun:

How did hollywood get here? There’s no overarching theory, no readily identifiable villain, no single moment to which the current combination of caution, despair, and underachievement that defines studio thinking can be traced. But let’s pick one anyway: Top Gun.

It’s now a movie-history commonplace that the late-’60s-to-mid-’70s creative resurgence of American moviemaking—the Coppola-Altman-Penn-Nichols-Bogdanovich-Ashby decade—was cut short by two movies, Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977, that lit the fuse for the summer-blockbuster era. But good summer blockbusters never hurt anyone, and in the decade that followed, the notion of “summer movie season” entered the pop-culture lexicon, but the definition of “summer movie” was far more diverse than it is today. The label could encompass a science fiction film as hushed and somber as Alien, a two-and-a-half-hour horror movie like The Shining, a directorial vision as singular as Blade Runner, an adult film noir like Body Heat, a small-scale (yes, it was) movie like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a frankly erotic romantic drama like An Officer and a Gentleman. Sex was okay—so was an R rating. Adults were treated as adults rather than as overgrown children hell-bent on enshrining their own arrested development.

Then came Top Gun. The man calling the shots may have been Tony Scott, but the film’s real auteurs were producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, two men who pioneered the “high-concept” blockbuster—films for which the trailer or even the tagline told the story instantly. At their most basic, their movies weren’t movies; they were pure product—stitched-together amalgams of amphetamine action beats, star casting, music videos, and a diamond-hard laminate of technological adrenaline all designed to distract you from their lack of internal coherence, narrative credibility, or recognizable human qualities. They were rails of celluloid cocaine with only one goal: the transient heightening of sensation.

Top Gun landed directly in the cortexes of a generation of young moviegoers whose attention spans and narrative tastes were already being recalibrated by MTV and video games. That generation of 16-to-24-year-olds—the guys who felt the rush of Top Gun because it was custom-built to excite them—is now in its forties, exactly the age of many mid- and upper-midrange studio executives. And increasingly, it is their taste, their appetite, and the aesthetic of their late-’80s postadolescence that is shaping moviemaking. Which may be a brutally unfair generalization, but also leads to a legitimate question: Who would you rather have in charge—someone whose definition of a classic is Jaws or someone whose definition of a classic is Top Gun?

Weird. Can this be right? After all, Top Gun is neither a sequel, a remake, nor an adaptation. It also didn’t spawn a whole lot of imitators.

Nor are high-concept movies Teh Suck – in fact, I see “high concept” as a marketing technique. You can sum up The Godfather in one phrase: “Son of mafia don is slowly corrupted into taking over the family business”. Or, really, just “historical mafia epic”.

I see the suckification of big budget movies as being due to three factors: 1) a lower appetite for risk among studios, 2) the internationalization of film, and 3) the advent of home theater.

1) Studios want a property that’s going to be a sure base-hit, even if it costs them a lot of money, rather than a risky bet on a home run. The 70s and 80s represented a disruption of the old low-risk model, as culture, technology, and actor contracts changed. Hollywood took risks for a decade because it had to, but it didn’t like it. As soon as a new low-risk model (sequels, adaptations, remakes, and VFX) presented itself, the studios jumped on board. The article author sees this fact, but blames culture and history rather than the cold logic of shareholder capitalism. Luckily, this problem will be solved by the falling costs of indie production, combined with hedge fund financing and web-based home theater.

2) International crowds are less discerning in terms of story, since good stories tend to resonate with some cultures and not others. To make a movie that offends no one, studios have an incentive to make a movie that people in all countries say was “pretty good, not bad”. This problem, I fear, will never be solved. The lamest part is, people in Japan or France or wherever are equally unimpressed with modern big-budget fare, from everyone I’ve talked to. But something that most French people loved would rub most Japanese people the wrong way, and vice versa, so we end up with insipid pablum.

3) Home theater means that VFX is the only reason to go to a movie theater. That, in turn, means that more of the people going to theaters will be VFX-junkies rather than fans of good stories. Look how much the stories have improved on TV shows! The smart folks are staying home. However, this problem will be mostly solved by falling production costs and web distribution – smart mid-budget movies will be made to go directly to the smart folks’ homes, and movie theaters will be no more popular than hockey rinks!

It seems like technology, business models, and globalization are likelier culprits for the decline of good big-budget movies than an accident of history. Even if that accident of history is played by Tom Cruise.

{ 0 comments }

Nina + Peter Wedding Fusion Film

by Peter on January 15, 2011 · 0 comments

Nina + Peter Wedding Fusion from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo.

This film together brought back so many memories of this touching wedding, its incredibly powerful moments, and the wonderful people we met that day. Nina and Peter were married last year in a private ceremony at the LDS Oakland Temple, followed by an open ceremony and reception at the Lafayette Park Hotel.

Nina and Peter’s wedding photos (always an interesting perspective when compared to the fusion film) can be found here: http://hawthornephotography.com/​oakland-temple-wedding/​

We would like to dedicate this film to Peter’s sister Kate, who we never knew personally, but whose voice was a light of inspiration at the ceremony, and whose life of love and perseverance will surely be missed.

{ 0 comments }

Kong + Aimee Wedding Fusion Film

by Peter on January 9, 2011 · 0 comments

Kong + Aimee Wedding Fusion Highlights from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo.

Kong and Aimee’s beautiful wedding at the Nestldown Estate brought a wonderful group of people to the tall redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains, after which we went to the famous Dynasty Restaurant for a huge banquet. The wedding was captured primarily with photographs, but we were still playing around with the idea of fusion films as another form of artistic, documentary photojournalism with a different characteristic than is possible with just images. We didn’t set up any elaborate audio equipment for this wedding, resulting in a fusion set that isn’t as comprehensive as we have done for other weddings. All that being said, with just some candid clips, beautiful images, all we had to do was let this amazing couple (and their adorable “baby” Spike) take care of the rest.

{ 0 comments }

Tiara + Derek Wedding Fusion Film

by Peter on November 4, 2010 · 0 comments

Tiara + Derek Wedding Fusion Highlights from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo.

Fusion remains one of the most difficult products to produce in the wedding media world, especially when attempting to capture a photojounalistic and real interpretation of the people, event, and place. However, we’re really excited about the potential for this new medium, blending the manipulation of time and imagery techniques to present a really engaging look at the flow of a wedding day. This is our latest project from Tiara and Derek’s wedding outside of Honolulu, Hawaii.

{ 0 comments }

The Social Network: Where geeks talk like White House media staffers

October 6, 2010

There is one scene in the movie The Social Network that sticks in my mind. Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team have moved to a house in Silicon Valley and installed a zipline from their roof to their backyard pool. One guy (I forgot his name) ziplines into the pool, whooping and splashing and floundering, [...]

Read the full article →

New Exotic sci-fi: The Windup Girl and River of Gods

August 15, 2010

Science fiction stories are generally extrapolations of current trends. With the relative decline of the West and Japan, writers have begun to think about the possibility that the future might belong to Somewhere Else. The most popular choices for that Somewhere Else are countries that are just now on the upswing of their S-curve of [...]

Read the full article →

Inception: “We love buildings of this type.”

August 2, 2010

Before dishing up a negative review of Inception, I have a confession to make: except for Memento, I have never been a fan of Chris Nolan’s films. In general, they strike me as cold, trudging exercises in technical show-offery. As my grandmother once said to me after a seal show at Sea World: “I was [...]

Read the full article →

LIGHTSCAPES premieres on Discovery HD Theater June 21 at 7:30 AM ET / PT

June 10, 2010

Lightscapes is an episodic, half-hour experiential television series airing on Discovery HD Theater that captures famous buildings and landscapes around the world as they are transformed by stunning, large-scale lighting displays. Captured in stunning 4K HD with both real-time and time-lapse cinematography, the unique Lightscapes visuals are accompanied by an instrumental soundtrack, drawing inspiration from [...]

Read the full article →

Richard + Christine Wedding Fusion Film

May 24, 2010

Richard + Christine Wedding Fusion from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo. Here is our latest wedding fusion project, co-produced with Noah Hawthorne Photography. Wedding fusion is a presentation of wedding imagery that combines the immediacy and emotional power of audio and film with the beauty of photos that highlight individual moments. This production for Christine [...]

Read the full article →

CHILDREN OF ENLIGHTENMENT trailer

May 13, 2010

CHILDREN OF ENLIGHTENMENT trailer from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo.

Read the full article →

The Birth of Children of Enlightenment

May 4, 2010

I remember very clearly the day that Children of Enlightenment was born. A friend of mine, living in my old room in a Stanford co-op, heard I was driving down from Berkeley. “Come over,” he said. “There’s something you need to see.” I knew better than to ask what it was. As soon as I [...]

Read the full article →

Alex + Giselle Wedding Fusion Highlights

February 1, 2010

Alex + Giselle Wedding Fusion Highlights from Peter H. Chang on Vimeo. Co-produced with  Noah Hawthorne Photography.

Read the full article →

Best Films of the Decade (2000′s)

January 1, 2010

This list is formulated based primarily on sheer emotional impact. Did they evoke an ecstatic viewing experience (Roger Ebert calls it “Elevation”)? Did they continue to move me upon repeat viewings? Did they move me to talk up the film and share it with others? 1. The New World (2005) – Terrence Malick In all [...]

Read the full article →

Best Science Fiction Books of the Decade (2000′s)

January 1, 2010

1. Anathem by Neal Stephenson What Noah said. An astonishing and virtuostic masterpiece of science fiction, Anathem is filled with compelling,  likable characters in a rollicking narrative wrapped in dense layers of philosophy, history, science, and mathematics. Just read it! It is amazing. 2. Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) by [...]

Read the full article →

Best Science Fiction Novel of the 00s: Anathem

December 29, 2009

Anathem is a history of Western thought in the guise of a science-fiction novel. It features an alien world in which scientists live like cloistered monks, laughing behind their hands at the ephemeral worries that occupy the ignorant masses on the outside as they go about their glacially slow research projects and dorm-room philosophical arguments. [...]

Read the full article →

Best Film of the 00s: Battle Royale (2000)

December 29, 2009

As far as I’m concerned, the 00s were a bit of a golden age for indie, off-beat, and foreign cinema. Although moviegoers were forced to endure a neverending flood of CGI-heavy big-budget adaptations and re-imaginings, the real action was mostly below the radar. Directors like Paul Tomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, Guillermo Del [...]

Read the full article →

Lightscapes trailer

December 12, 2009

See it in HD here: http://www.vimeo.com/7990690

Read the full article →

BLINK now available!

September 24, 2009

It’s finally here. You can now pick up your very own copy of BLINK! https://www.createspace.com/271054 http://www.amazon.com/Blink-Marisa-Brown/dp/B002OEBRI4 You can check out the trailer here: http://blinkthemovie.com

Read the full article →

Children of Enlightenment First Look

September 1, 2009

Here is a peek at our recent shoot in Japan! The Scarlet Brigade – Club Voice Hiro Maekawa – Minimal Techno DJ The Village Vanguard Hiroshima Peace Celebration – Shizuoka Cafe Exilir – Osaka Suika – Graffiti Artist Rinpa Eshidan Akira Hasegawa Akira Hasegawa’s Digital Kakejiku (D-K) Tokyo Design Festa Gallery Yo Mutsu – Tokyo [...]

Read the full article →

Speed Tribes Location Scout

September 1, 2009
Read the full article →

Watchmen

March 8, 2009

Watchmen is good! It’s an incredibly faithful adaptation of the graphic novel, as expected. The 80s themes are a little dated (and there are few 80s styles or period markers to place it in context), so people who haven’t read the graphic novel are going to be a bit confused. The violence is startlingly brutal, [...]

Read the full article →

Slumdog!

March 8, 2009

I waited months to see Slumdog, and two weeks to write a blog post about it after I saw it, which is really unfair, because it’s an awesome movie. The best movie of 2008 – I got no beef with the Academy this year! Of course, my runner-up was Cloverfield, so that may warn you [...]

Read the full article →

Goemon Trailer

February 24, 2009

The latest trailer for Kazuaki Kiriya’s follow-up to live-action anime “Casshern” has arrived, and it is packed with fantastical imagery and visual panache. See it at the official website.

Read the full article →

Red Cliff Part II trailer

November 17, 2008

Adapted from the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Red Cliff is the most expensive Asian film production in history $80m and the highest grossing film of all time in China. It recently set a record for advance ticket sales in Japan. It also marks a strong return to form for action maestro John [...]

Read the full article →

IP MAN trailer

October 9, 2008

Donnie Yen stars in this historial biopic of the man who trained Bruce Lee in Wing Chun.

Read the full article →

The Ten Best Flops of All Time

September 14, 2008

I noticed that Peter recently wrote a glowing retrospectives on Dark City, a film I also happen to love (in fact, the similarity between Peter and my tastes in movies is a bit frightening). But it also happens to be one of the biggest box-office flops in history, according to Wikipedia. Which is a shame. [...]

Read the full article →

Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

September 13, 2008

Here’s a teaser reel for Gilliam’s latest adventure, featuring Heath Ledger’s final performance (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law carried on the torch by stepping into his role). Gilliams says “It feels like the kind of films that I made when I was younger… Munchausen, Time Bandits, it’s full of magic and wonder.” I [...]

Read the full article →

Legendary Assassin Trailer

September 13, 2008

Wu Jing, hot off his impressive fighting trio of SPL, Invisible Target, and Fatal Move not only headlines but also co-directs the highly anticipated Legendary Assassin.

Read the full article →

DVD Reviewlets – Top Gun, Planet of the Apes

September 5, 2008

In my continuing effort to stop people from saying “I can’t believe you’ve never seen XXXX,” I watched some more random DVDs… Top Gun: What an 80s movie! The crimped hair…the cock rock…the fact that everyone is white. A solid movie, but it felt too short. I also didn’t like that they randomly killed off [...]

Read the full article →

K-20 trailer

August 29, 2008

The first full trailer for Shimako Sato’s K-20, starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and based on the Edogawa Rampo’s classic Fiend with Twenty Faces, has arrived. Set in an alternate world where ninety percent of Japan’s wealth is controlled by a small sliver of the aristocracy, the Fiend is a sort of Robin Hood figure who steals [...]

Read the full article →

Waiting for the great superhero movie

August 24, 2008

With The Dark Knight approaching the $500 million mark, and challenging Spider-Man for the title of Most Popular Superhero Movie of All Time, it seems like superhero movies now have a death-grip on U.S. big-budget cinema. Naysayers like A.O. Scott may grumble that the genre is getting tired, but aren’t critics just a bunch of [...]

Read the full article →

Dark City revisited

August 20, 2008

Phoenix Pictures has announced an adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag by director Alex Proyas (Dark City; I, Robot): Originally published in 1942, the offbeat tale centers on a man who becomes increasingly disturbed when he realizes he cannot account for his activities during the day, or even what he [...]

Read the full article →

The quiet decency of Shunji Iwai

August 18, 2008

Shunji Iwai is my favorite living Japanese director, and this week I remembered why yet again, as I watched two more of his movies – “April Story” and “Love Letter.” Both were excellent. These are quiet, slow movies, full of pregnant pauses, subtle little touches, and things left unsaid. They’re not for everyone. But as [...]

Read the full article →

DVD review: Harold & Kumar, the sequel

August 16, 2008

Finally got around to seeing H&K2 this week. It’s about what you’d expect from a sequel – a few awesome moments, a lot of extremely crazy moments, and a few parts that fell flat. The craziness, though, really stood out – this was one of the wackiest movies I have ever seen. Which means you [...]

Read the full article →

WB to adapt Tokyo Underworld

August 11, 2008

Cinematical reports that Warner Brothers has scooped up the rights to Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan, which tells the tale of American Nick Zappetti’s involvement with the Yakuza in 1960′s Tokyo. Can Hollywood match Takashi Yamazaki’s CGI recreation of post-war Tokyo in Always: Sunset [...]

Read the full article →

DVD reviewlets

August 7, 2008

21: This is what happens when not-so-smart people make a movie about smart people. The concept for this film was (in my opinion) really good, but the execution was bad. If you’ve ever read a Ben Mezrich book, you’ll see what 21 was trying to be: a story about an uptight nerd who gets thrust [...]

Read the full article →

Tran Anh Hung’s “I Come With the Rain” trailer

August 4, 2008

On the heels of the “Norwegian Wood” announcement, let’s revisit the trailer of Tran Anh Hung’s Engilsh-language, $18m “I Come With The Rain”, starring Josh Hartnett, Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life), Takuya Kimura (2046), and Shawn Yue (Infernal Affairs). Shot in Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Los Angeles, Harnett plays a private investigator who travels [...]

Read the full article →

Ninja Assassin first look

August 3, 2008

Currently in production in Germany, Ninja Assassin stars Korean pop star Rain (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK, Speed Racer), Naomie Harris, Sho Kosugi, and Rick Yune and is being directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and produced by Joel Silver and the Wachowskis. Here’s the skinny on the plot: Raizo (Rain) is one [...]

Read the full article →

Tran Anh Hung Adapting Murakami’s Norwegian Wood

July 31, 2008

Jason Gray reports that Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (“Cyclo”, “A Veritcal Ray of the Sun”, “The Scent of the Green Papaya”, and the upcoming “I Come With the Rain”) will be directing an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood in Japanese. Asmik Ace’s Shinji Ogawa (“Ping Pong”) and Fuji TV’s Chihiro Kameyama (“Hero,” “Bayside [...]

Read the full article →

Japanese movie of the week – Bubble Fiction

July 30, 2008

Most Japanese movies, like most American movies, try to be as non-controversial as possible. After all, who wants to alienate part of one’s target audience? That typically means no politics. In Japan, it also means no moralizing about family values – even obliquely implying that hard-partying salarymen should stay home and take care of the [...]

Read the full article →

Show me a real fight

July 29, 2008

A few days ago, I was discussing with Noah an increasing trend of incoherent fight scenes as a result of too many quick cuts and shaky-cam. Done well, this disorientation can heighten a sense of excitement and chaos — “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” are prime examples. More often than not, it just [...]

Read the full article →

Snakes and Earrings trailer

July 29, 2008

Based on the Akutagawa Prize-winning 2003 novel, “Snakes and Earrings”is about body mod kids in Japan – “tattoos, piercings, body mutilation, and random sex.” Chara (Swallowtail Butterfly) is doing the theme song, “Kieru.” From Booklist: Offsetting its highly conformist, nose-to-the-grindstone image, Japan maintains a subgenre of rebellious youth stories in literature and film. Kanehara’s short [...]

Read the full article →

Wong Kar Wai’s “Ashes of Time Redux” trailer

July 29, 2008

One of my favorites, “Ashes of Time” is a philosophical wuxia epic lensed by DP god Christopher Doyle and starring HK great Leslie Cheung at the height of his powers. It’s exciting to finally see a restored version of this but the jury is still out on whether WKW succeeds in improving the original with [...]

Read the full article →

Rinko Kikuchi in “The Brothers Bloom”

July 29, 2008

From “Brick” director Rian Johnson, Rinko plays a quirky explosives expert named “Bang Bang.” Official website /  IMDB HD 480P (47.3Mb) HD 720P (115Mb) HD 1080P (169Mb)

Read the full article →

Lala Pipo trailer – Tetsuya Nakashima’s latest

July 25, 2008

For those of you who know Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls), here’s his latest: For those of you who don’t know Nakashima, he’s one of Japan’s edgiest directors, and loves stories about people on the margins of society. His films have definitely been a big influence on our adaptation of Speed Tribes.

Read the full article →

A.O. Scott on superhero movies

July 24, 2008

A.O. Scott of the New York Times absolutely nails my thoughts on superhero movies: [T]he disappointment comes from the way the picture spells out lofty, serious themes and then … spells them out again. What kind of hero do we need? Where is the line between justice and vengeance? How much autonomy should we sacrifice [...]

Read the full article →

OK, I saw Batman after all…

July 22, 2008

My friends dragged me to see Batman, against my better judgment, and in the end I’m glad I went. This was exactly what a Batman movie should be – dark, brutal, psychotic, and actually morally ambiguous. The Comics Code was nowhere to be seen. Heath Ledger was, in fact, the perfect Joker – he’d be [...]

Read the full article →

Trailer for Anthology Film TOKYO!

July 20, 2008

TOKYO! consists of three segments — Michel Gondry’s “Interior Design,” Bong Joon-Ho’s “Shaking Tokyo” and Leos Carax’s “Merde.” “Merde” sounds like fun. As Daniel Kasman described it, “it captures in wicked digital imagery the emergence from the sewers of a hideous Denis Levant to wreck havoc on the unprepared Japanese city. Red-bearded like an ur-gaijin, [...]

Read the full article →

Speed Tribes v3.0 is done!

July 18, 2008

Peter and I have finished v3.0 of the Speed Tribes script, and it’s the best yet. The story flows much more smoothly, and all the characters are better defined. We’ve also made it more “Japanese” in a number of respects, which should please fans of the book and fans of Japanese culture alike. We’re certainly [...]

Read the full article →

Wuxia – China’s answer to sucky superhero movies

July 18, 2008

Peter pointed me to this article by Grady Hendrix at Kaiju Shakedown on the woes of the Chinese film industry. The article only briefly touches on the fact that a lot of big-budget Chinese movies are kung fu movies, many of the highly stylized wuxia genre. But it’s true, and I think this is a [...]

Read the full article →

Hellboy 2: the Son of Satan watches Howdy Doody

July 18, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is the second episode in the Hellboy TV show movie franchise. I liked it because it didn’t take itself seriously at all. If FBI agents glance at a suitcase and say “Look, the royal seal of the elven kingdom, we must be dealing with Prince Nuada,” while maintaining a perfectly [...]

Read the full article →

Khaaannnn!!!

July 18, 2008

Even if you’re not a Mongol history buff like me, you might want to go see Mongol. It’s the kind of movie that’s not for everyone – weird nomad culture, long quiet shots of the Mongolian countryside, a foreign language that you’re pretty much guaranteed not to know, etc. But if that stuff doesn’t bother [...]

Read the full article →

WATCHMEN trailer

July 17, 2008

The Watchmen teaser trailer is here! Somehow, I imagined things to be grittier and far less slick — shot in a hand-held documentary style instead of the “300″ Aesthetic 2.0 with too much CG. Still, it looks pretty cool.

Read the full article →

Why I’m not going to see Batman

July 16, 2008

Massawyrm at AICN says The Dark Knight is worthy of an Oscar. That may be true. But I’m still not going to see it in the theaters. Why? I want to (ineffectually) protest the fact that comic book adaptations have taken over big-budget action cinema. Some have been good (X-Men), some have been great (Iron [...]

Read the full article →

Quick DVD reviews: The Spiderwick Chronicles and 10,000 B.C.

July 16, 2008

Watched a couple of DVDs with the roommates the other day. Spiderwick Chronicles was a case of good concept, awful execution. The premise – single mom with unhappy kids moves into an old house, inhabited by fairies waging an ancient war of light and darkness – was solid, very Neverending Story-esqe. But the dialogue was [...]

Read the full article →

Top 5 American Movies of the 00s

July 16, 2008

Noah, I accept your challenge! Here’s mine: Fellowship of the Ring The Pianist Gladiator Children of Men Wall-E Runners up: Memento, Ratatouille, United 93, and on the foreign side: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, City of God, Pan’s Labyrinth

Read the full article →

Movie Challenge: Top 5 American Movies of the 00s

July 16, 2008

Alright Peter, give me your Top 5 American movies of the decade so far! Here are mine (in no particular order): Lord of the Rings (trilogy treated as 1 movie) Lost in Translation A Scanner Darkly Cloverfield Wall-E (I’m limiting it to American movies, because I really haven’t seen a big enough percentage of foreign [...]

Read the full article →

Brief WALL-E review (spoilers)

July 16, 2008

I’m generally a movie-hater. Which is to say if I hate a movie, it’s probably not because the movie is actually bad – it’s because I have the attention span of a stoned hamster, or because the protagonist looks like some kid I didn’t like in junior high, etc. But Peter came up with this [...]

Read the full article →