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Tuesday
Aug252009

Old News But Good News: John Carter of Mars Movie in Pre-Production

It might be old news to some, but at least its good news: John Carter of Mars is going to the big screen. I should qualify that. It’s potentially good news. If anybody could mess up a straightforward-science-fiction-pulp-classic-adventure yarn, it’s Hollywood.

But let’s not be too pessimistic. I try to be thankful for all the good that comes my way: potential or otherwise.

So, what’s good? Well, after years of false starts, decades really, we have the film in firm pre-production. According to IMDb, the release date is 2012. (Of course, this in and of itself could be a Hollywood ploy to get our hopes up and already spending on pre-release stuff before the Mayan prophecy proves true, destroying the world, and saving producers from having to face the fact they screwed up something as beautiful and simple as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved classic. But again, let’s not be too pessimistic.)

What else is good? Andrew Stanton, the man behind Wall-E. Yeah, Wall-E was cute and adorable and a heart-tugger, but it was one of the smartest science fiction films to come along in a while. It was story driven, unlike say, most everything that has come out in forever, not to mention it wasn’t a remake or a part two of something. Stanton, too, is a confessed lover of Burroughs. That’s always a good thing: to have someone who knows and appreciates the source material. Let’s face it, The Lord of the Rings worked because Peter Jackson knew and loved The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, my first concern here was that we were going to have an animated Carter and Dejah. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, animated films tend to automatically be labeled family films. In many cases they are family films. If you’ve read any of the Barsoom books (for the uninitiated, that’s Burroughs’ name for Mars), Carter can be pretty gritty on occasion, and no, animated or not, Pixar or not, I would not even hope for Dejah Thoris to be gracing the big screen displaying her glorious natural assets for the whole universe to see as she does throughout the book. From what I understand anyway, it’s going to be released as a Disney film. That info comes from johncartermovie.com, which, by the way, is an excellent unofficial site. I’ve been checking it out for some time now.

So that brings us to Disney. Can go either way here. They’ve made some classic family films, which may or may not resemble the source material. 20,000 Leagues is my personal favorite. But they have gone grittier in recent years with the whole Pirate franchise. But herein resides the problem. I read somewhere, forgive me for not recalling the exact place, that Disney was hoping for another franchise success like Pirates. Well, all you have to do is remember what went on in Pirates 2 and 3 and you know why my heart cringes at the thought. What few producers realize is that nothing works, absolutely nothing, when the goal is simply to make money.

Nothing.

On the bright side, Michael Chabon is reworking the script as you read this (if you’re reading it in 2009, that is). Chabon is, for lack of a better word, brilliant. Check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Not only did it win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001, it was awesome. Then there’s The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Gentlemen of the Road. He acknowledges genre fiction, he appreciates genre fiction, he writes genre fiction. To me, this is one of the strongest arguments for doing this film right now. Disney could mess this up, however. Chabon could write something too good. (Good, for some reason, is not appreciated by most money-grubbing producers. They could just as easily order a rewrite. But let’s not be too pessimistic.)

What else is good? Well, they’ve got the primary characters cast. Taylor Kitsch will be playing Carter. Kitsch played in Friday Night Lights and more recently in Wolverine as Gambit. (Is it me, or does he look a little young for a civil war officer?) Lynn Collins will be Dejah Thoris. She, too, was recently seen in Wolverine, playing Silverfox. Well . . . I mean . . . what can you say? Just look at the picture!

Veteran actor Willem Dafoe will be portraying everyone’s favorite four-armed green Martian, Tars Tarkus. Dafoe is a pretty spectacular actor, but I suspect some serious CGI getting ready to happen here. Still, no complaints. Remember how great he was under all the make-up in Shadow of the Vampire? Heck, his voice is a better actor than a lot that I’ve had to watch.

Interestingly enough, as I write this (August 24, 2009), three more cast members have been confirmed. NewsOk.com reports that Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (“In America” and “Sweet and Lowdown”), Dominic West (“The Wire” and “300″) and Polly Walker (HBO’s “Rome”) have joined the cast.

All we can do for now is sit back and bask in the glow of expectations and potentialities. This is a movie with everything going for it. What could go wrong?

(Now, now, let’s not be too pessimistic.)

Friday
Aug212009

Seven more cast for The Game of Thrones

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news last night, and George R.R. Martin has confirmed (with some commentary) the casting of seven more major characters for The Game of Thrones. The actors and actresses range from unknown to slightly famous and all look like pretty good candidates for the roles. Everything seems to be shaping up nicely for a great roll out. Let's just hope that there is enough of an audience for gritty fantasy out among the masses to keep the series on the air.

 

Here are the new actors:

 

 

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as bad boy Jaime Lannister. I loved Coster-Waldau in New Amsterdam, a very underrated sci-fi series that didn't even manage one full season. He is definitely not who I mind-casted in the role while reading the novels, but he is an enormous talent. Much like Nathan Fillion though, he seems to bring the curse of cancellation with him wherever he goes. Hopefully, Martin can get some of New Orleans buddies to work their magic and remove the bad mojo before filming starts.

 

 

Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys, the fire from the Song of Ice and Fire. Merchant played one of King Henry the VIII's eventually beheaded wives in The Tudors (hope she doesn't get typecast as the woman who stars in projects that involve beheadings). I haven't seen her scenes in the Tudors, but Martin seems impressed, saying her sex scenes were “as hot as anything I've ever seen on T.V.” I'm not sure at what age saying something like that gets a bit creepy, but I'm pretty sure Martin is past that age. Regardless, male fans of the series apparently have a hot Dothraki deflowering to look forward to.

 

 

Alfie Allen (Lily Allen's little brother!) as Theon Greyjoy. Allen moved into the role of Alan Strang in Equus when Daniel Radcliffe tired of flashing around his wand, so he should have no trouble playing the series' biggest wang, Neddard Stark's young ward (and, well, you know--hostage) who repays his honorable treatment by the Stark family with blood. Allen has a kind of smarmy douchebag look that should work well for Theon.

 

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. This is a pivotal role for my enjoyment of the series and Maisie is, appropriately, a complete unknown. It is really in the second book that she starts to distinguish herself, so Williams should have time to grow into the role. For the Game of Thrones, she just needs to be boyish and bratty—actor or not, most kids could pull that off.

 

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark. Another important role, another near unknown. I really think this is the way to go for the series and I have faith that a team as experienced as the one working on Game of Thrones will do a good job. The quality of these two roles should give these young ladies a chance to go from unknown to famous in no time.

 

 

Richard Madden as Robb Stark. Madden is a British stage actor who recently played Romeo in a London production of Romeo and Juliet.   He certainly has the look for Robb. As Martin mentions, Robb's story arc will take the ladies for a quite the emotional ride if the series manages to make it through a few seasons.

 

Iain Glenn as Jorah Mormont. Glenn gets the plum role as creepy, older dude lusting after thirteen-year-old Daenerys. Of course, in order to pull off the sex scenes with Kal Drago, Daenerys will be older here than in the books, so he Mormont probably come off as an honorable knight who, after being crushed by his first love, bravely dares to love again...while spying on her for the king.

 

That's the new cast. Most of the roles are now filled and, despite the bit of snark above, I'm pretty excited by the mix. Can't wait to start seeing publicity shots of these guys in full costume. We will keep you guys informed as news rolls in.

Tuesday
Aug182009

PS3 getting the "slim" treatment.

 

PS3 is finally getting the "slim" treatment, which should help with the cost of production. It is said that Sony has lost millions on this system so far because of the cost it takes to make them. With the slimmer version, available on SEPT 1st, the price also drops 100 dollars. It will be available with a new matte charcoal finish. Also getting a upgrade is the storage capacity, which will now be 120 gig standard.

Saturday
Aug152009

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolfe?

I have a confession.

I am forty-two years old. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for at least thirty. In all that time, I’ve read many of the classics, I’ve loyally followed several authors, and I’ve read much stuff of questionable merit. In all that time, however, I have never read anything by Gene Wolfe.

Oh, I knew about him and read much about him and his work. Now that I think about it, that may have been the problem. I’d always heard how his works were “literary” and defied the genre in which they were published. There’s also lots of discussions concerning allegory and religious symbolism, particularly within the volumes comprising The Book of the New Sun. None of this scared me. I’ve read Moby Dick, for crying out loud. And then there’s the use of archaic and exotic words, again mostly within The Book of the New Sun. That didn’t frighten me, either. I’ve read Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – twice. (Yes, I had to keep a college-level dictionary in hand both times.)

I still don’t know what kept me away, unless maybe, it was the “mythic” reputation that surrounded Wolfe’s works. When I’d mention reading any of his stuff to anyone, I would either get a firm “I love it!” or a sudden, almost overwhelmed wash across the poor soul’s face and a half-whispered “couldn’t do it.” It’s not dissimilar to talking about tomes like Moby Dick or The Fountainhead. At one point, about 10 years ago, I bought a used copy of The Shadow of the Torturer. As a fan of SF & F literature, I felt an obligation to try to make it through the book. I had done the same thing with Moby Dick in college. As a Lit. major, I felt I had to read it. After three attempts in about twice that many years, I finally did it and loved it. I felt the same about The Fountainhead. I finally broke down and read it. I quite enjoyed it as well. I don’t know what became of the Wolfe book. I lost track of it on my shelf, and it ultimately vanished entirely from my collection.

I never read it.

Life went on.

Every year, I try to attend two or three SF & F conventions, and one of my favorites is DragonCon. I get giddy with anticipation as the days draw near when they begin releasing their guest list. This year . . . Well, you don’t even have to guess whose name I saw first on the initial list. Let’s just say that when I saw it, I felt something that could only be compared to shame. Then I asked myself how I could call myself a true fan having never read works that have won the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula, the Locus Award.

So I began.

I ordered a second-hand copy of Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, the first volume of The Book of the New Sun. I’m now over halfway through it, and I love it. I more than love it. It’s one of those books that I look forward to picking up again. I become so absorbed in the tale of Severian, the torturer, I forget that I’m actually reading. Before I had finished the third chapter, I was at my computer ordering the rest of the books.

The language in the book is fluid – like prose poetry at times. And the archaisms do not interfere with the work at all. (Okay, maybe in the first chapter when you’re not used to them.) While reading Donaldson, the words interrupted the flow of reading at times; they seemed more like added speed bumps than part of the road. Not so with Wolfe. If anything, the words add to the atmosphere of the piece. It’s almost as if you can feel the inexorable doom of the world while the red sun hovers in the sky.

Severian’s world is in our far future, yet you can’t help but feel you’re reading a medieval romance. There’re guilds and halberd-carrying guards and walled cities. Occasionally, however, some sort of ship will fly over. There’s talk of traveling among the stars, but that was long, long ago. The distinction between technology and magic no longer exist.

But what’s most remarkable to me is the narrator/protagonist, Severian. He’s a dishonored torturer, who is forced into exile beyond the only world he’s ever known. He is definitely not a typical hero (or anti-hero as today’s trends seem to favor). Besides being a torturer, he’s down-right unreliable. At the beginning of the book, he tells us that he has a perfect memory. Shortly thereafter, however, he states that he is insane. And then he seems to forget when he has told certain information. In one discussion, he even contemplates the fact that lies become truth over time.

So what’s the truth in this story? I don’t know, yet. I may never know, but that’s okay because that’s a powerful message in itself. The tale itself is beautiful and beautifully told. Sometimes that’s enough.

Anyway, I can confidently say that I will finish Wolfe’s wonder-filled The Book of the New Sun, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be reading more, too, like the Books of the Long and Short Sun, the Soldier series, and the Wizard Knight duology. I’m just sorry I waited so long to begin. Gene Wolfe is deserving of every bit of his praise and then some. So, take my advice: there’s nothing to be afraid of.

 

Thursday
Aug132009

Casting for "A Game of Thrones", so far...

 

Casting for HBO's long-form television series A Game of Thrones has moved along quite rapidly since the initial announcement of the casting of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister.

My favorite casting so far is Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon. He has been around a while, but most people are familiar with him as the father on the US sitcom Still Standing and as Dave from "The Full Monty". He should have an easy time playing the hard partying, self-loathing, whore-mongering king of the realm

Sean Bean, an immensely talented actor from Britain, who has already delved into this genre with much fanfare, will be playing the beloved Eddard Stark. This is probably the most important role from the get go since Eddard Stark is really the guy whose actions the books revolve around--especially early on, and casting someone like Bean is a strong sign that HBO is going to pull out all the stops for this series.

Harry Lloyd has been cast as Viserys Targaryen, slimy brother of Daenerys Targaryen. Lloyd is best known for his role in Robin Hood the TV series.

Jennifer Ehle has been cast as Eddard's wife Catelyn Stark. Ehle, a Meryl Streep clone, is probably best known for "Pride and Prejudice" a TV series that she won a BAFTA for in 1996. Again, I think this will be a good casting, though admittedly, I'm not as familiar with her as the other actors I have mentioned. Catelyn will be a hard role to play. She has a lot of grief and will require an intense performance from the actress. I look forward to seeing how she does.

The role of Joffrey Baretheon and John Snow will be taken on by two relatively unknown child actors, Jack Gleeson, with Kit Harrington, respectively. Both are really important parts, particularly that of Jon Snow, who is central to the storylines taking place in the north.

Throw in the fact that George R.R. Martin has announced on his own blog that there have been six more cast members signed but yet to be announced. Of the six, one is Jaime Lannister, another Theon Greyjoy-- two characters that you love then loathe from book to book. I will keep you posted as they are announced. Filming starts in October.