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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tarzan: 100 Years

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
 
 
I thought I was going to have an article at Examiner.com on the Centennial of Tarzan about a week from this Monday. It’s actually going to be a little earlier than that. Even though the downtown library in Sacramento originally scheduled the centennial event for Labor Day weekend they moved it to this weekend instead. This was apparently due to a recent decision to close the library for the entire Labor Day weekend due to lack of funds and so having to furlough the staff for that weekend.  Well, at least it gives the library staff a weekend off which they definitely deserve (aside from not being paid). Where would this country be without our public librarians and their supporting staff? Literacy would be a much more elitist activity, now wouldn’t it? So maybe library work isn’t laborious work (at least not for the librarians) but it’s still a lot of work with a lot of complications and they don’t get praised or appreciated enough for it, at least not openly. So maybe we should call for a holiday just for them. That’s just a suggestion for you guys and gals out there to think over and plan if you think it’s a good thing; I’m not leading any petition or such movement. I’m not that political (I hardly am to begin with, but that’s an entirely different subject that I’m not going to get into here.)

 

So the Tarzan Centennial has been going this weekend at Sacramento Central Library. It’s a two day event, and so started today (August 25) and continues through tomorrow (Sunday). Think of it as a mini pop culture con only it’s all Tarzan, with supplements of other works by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs--including the Mars novels that were initiated by A Princess of Mars and ended with John Carter of Mars which the Disney movie adaptation of released in theatres last spring and more recently on DVD/BluRay. In fact, I just rented it today before heading for the centennial. I’m going to watch it for the first time tonight since I’m doing an article about the best sci fi movies set on Mars and so need to see if it’s worthy of including in the article.

 

Now I know a lot of you are probably shaking your heads warning me not to include John Carter on the list, perhaps not even to waste my time watching it. Well, if I waste my time watching it at least I won’t be wasting the buck-20 that I paid to rent it from the Redbox at the Raley’s near my humble wooded abode here in the Woodland of No Return. But here’s the other reason I’m still going to watch it: it may had done crappy at the box office and so maybe the blockbuster majority wasn’t impressed by it, but some of us film viewers are not the blockbuster majority. And so we go by our own standards of what makes a good movie as opposed to Hollywood CEOs’ standards. Therefore I’m giving this movie a chance like I do with all movies that appeal to me in their trailers. If you don’t see Disney’s John Carter listed in “The Best Movies Set On Mars” (tentative title at the moment) at Examiner.com next week then you’ll know I thought it sucked. Or at least thought it sucked enough not to be included on the list.

 

Oh, the Centennial.  Like I said, it was today and continues tomorrow.  There’s been a lot of great talks there on everything from Tarzan as modern mythology and the Tarzan books (of course) to the films of Tarzan.  Tomorrow it continues with talks on the comic book adaptations of Tarzan and female characters in the Tarzan novels, great talks by authors and pop culture historians, including historians from big name E.R. Burroughs organizations such as the Burroughs Bibliophiles. There are Tarzan collectible exhibits on display and even a guided tour for them.

 

If you’re in the area and whether you’re a Tarzan/E.R. Burroughs fan or just a pop culture fan in general, I strongly suggest you stop by and check out the centennial celebration. It starts at noon tomorrow and goes to about 4:30 p.m. Here’s a link to an article of mine that gives more information on the event. I’ll have an article dedicated to it at Examiner.com within the next week. If you’re not in the Sacramento area then do a Google search for “Tarzan Centennial” and type in the name of the closest major city to you and you may be able to find an event going on in your area.

 

Until next time . . .

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Atom Punk

1958 paperback edition of a Ray Cummings sci fi novel
Photo Credit: Amazon/Ace Books




There's been a heat wave here in the Sacramento valley for the last two days. It reached 104 degrees today is what I understand. I know that's nothing compared to other regions in the nation and throughout the world, but if you're a native of this part (like me) you would think the sun is moving closer to the earth at rapid speed! Kind of like in the 1951 movie When Worlds Collide. Which brings me to my discussion here.

For the past week I've been working on a new short story of mine that's supposed to be an atom punk story. A lot of you probably don't know what atom punk is. It's just another -punkism of science fiction that derived from cyberpunk like steam punk did, only instead of cyber futures and alternative steam powered futures, it deals with alternative futures based on the 1950s/'60s anticipation of future society. Examples would be similar to what you would see in the cover illustrations of sci fi pulp novels and magazines of the '50s: cities of glass tube towers and bullet shaped rockets. As far as anything made today goes, the sci fi web series Mercury Men is a good example of atom punk. It's really good. Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to finish the whole series of what has been produced to date. To add to the atom punk style, it was deliberately filmed in black and white yet with a good balance of today's special effects. It's reminiscent of 1950s sci fi TV but also1930s and '40s movie serials (e.g. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers).

An example of a full length atom punk film is Matt Mercury [http://www.mattmercury.com/] that's supposed to be releasing either in theatres or on streaming television. It's an indie film and so there hasn't been a whole lot of talk on it, but based on what I've read it seems to have promise. You may want to check the movie's official web site periodically for updates.

Examples of atom punk literature? Unfortunately there's really not a whole lot out there, and the little there is is very obscure. They say that William Gibson's short story "The Gernsback Continuum" is a good example, but in my opinion it only comes close. The alternative future in that story is based more on the 1930s perception of future society which gets more closer to the art deco style of that time, though the '50s did inherit a lot of art deco elements. It's a great story, but it may be more correctly classified as diesel punk. What kind of punkism is that? The movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a good example. Diesel punk involves alternative futures based more on World War II era air crafts more than on space crafts.
But here's an author's website, Philip Reeve's, who is not only very knowledgeable of atom punk but is also one of those few authors (besides mwa) who is coming out with a story in the sub-genre, particularly a series of novels for young adults. But don't make the mistake of thinking only teens and pre-teens will get enjoyment out of this series. Look at what happened with Harry Potter in the fantasy genre!

The story I'm working on I consider to be atom punk. However, probably the only overt element of that sub-genre in this story is a vacuum tube that a person's holographic image is stored in. But I am in the process of putting in predominantly transparent glass architecture scenes so maybe that will give it a more atom punk flavour. I'll let you know what happens next time. You're probably wondering why I want to put my story in an atom punk setting. I'll go over that next time too. Now you have an even better reason to come back here next week! So . . .

Until then . . .

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Movie Review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

Well, here's that "Special Edition" post I said I would have for you last time: my review of  The Dark Knight Rises. See, I always keep my word. It may be delayed a little bit, but I keep it.




Photo Credit: IMDB.com/Warner Bros.



Finally we’ve come to an end of another Batman saga of movies. Supposedly. The movie does play in such a way that sets up the possibility of a fourth film. But even if no fourth film comes along, The Dark Knight Rises still does a great job of concluding director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  



Dark Knight Rises carries on well its consistent realism of the previous two movies. Two elements it does this best with is the plot and characterization. Bruce Wayne has been hiding out since his friend’s, District Attorney Harvey Dent’s, death eight years ago which is the time lapse in setting since the events of the previous film.  Feeling guilty about Dent’s death, Wayne has abandoned both his role as socialite and Batman. But after Alfred, his butler since childhood, encourages him to return to his role of CEO of Wayne Enterprise and as Gotham’s philanthropist, Bruce Wayne soon feels the need to turn back to his role of city protector too. And so once again he takes up the Dark Knight’s “armour”.



What provokes him to do the latter? Two criminals are causing havoc on Gotham at a level that has not been so high since the Joker’s threat in the previous movie: Cat Woman (in this movie, known by her real name of Salina Kyle, and just as the “Cat” in Gotham news headlines), and, worse yet, Bane--a monstrous super powered muscle man and leader of a literal underground terrorist organization. Anne Hathaway plays Cat Woman/Kyle good and with believability but her character is secondary to Bane’s, despite the fact she has been the longer time Batman villain and the more popular one at that. Therefore Bane is the real threat to Gotham even though the Cat Woman assists him and even manipulates him and his gang of terrorists at one point.



Cat Woman’s gang? It only consists of one girl: a teenage delinquent who is Kyle’s mentee in crime, who does not overplay her role. To have done so may have added too much humour and/or campiness to the movie and after what happened with Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin in 1997, we definitely would not want that to happen now would we? As in the comic books, Kyle is both a cat burglar/jewel thief as well as Batman’s infatuated admirer/enemy in one. But Bane, along with his terrorists, is the real threat to Gotham. He steals a nuclear device made supposedly for environmental protection but has it turned into a bomb setting it to literally blow the whole city to rubble.



Because Kyle’s villainous role is secondary to Bane’s, her character is no where as well developed as his. We hear that her excuse for crime is poverty but her background story stops there. Her costume matches the realism of the movies: a black body suit and a pair of goggles that merely suggests a pair of feline ears and so is much more inconspicuous than her costume in the comic books. But such suggestiveness is useful in that it reminds us we are watching a movie based on a comic book superhero.



Bane’s character, played by Tom Hardy, is much more developed than Kyle’s. As evil and destructive as he is, we can feel some sympathy for him since his excuse for crime is much more complex. He was born and raised most of his childhood in one of the world’s worst dungeons located in the Middle East. It is this experience that drives his evil ambitions.



A small exception to Bane’s character is that, in spite of the overall movie’s realism, it gets a little typical in its villainy and so may seem to some a little out of place with the trilogy. This is particularly due to the way Hardy performs the role, as great as his acting is. Many fans of the trilogy would probably find this a problem and perhaps that’s why other critics say this film didn’t do as good as expected. But being a big fan of the four colour comic book, I personally don’t see it as a flaw and so feel it adds to the comic book flavor without detracting in any major way from the realism of Nolan’s style.



As with the first two films, Dark Knight Rises goes deeply into Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s character. In doing so it further develops his character. Wayne’s true character shows up more after he is captured by Bane and forced to suffer a fate similar to the one that led Bane to his present state. This is a test of endurance that Wayne/Batman must not only get through to save himself but to save all of Gotham as well whose citizens Bane has brainwashed with a false promise of liberation from social injustice.  This endurance shows Wayne’s/Batman’s self sacrificial values for humanity. Christian Bale carries out these characteristics in his role as the Dark Knight just as great, if not better than, in the previous two films.



The characterization moves the story along good enough and the plot holds together well. Part of this is due to the well utilized themes of falling and rising/redemption. Not only does Batman continuously fall and rise in his turmoil but so does Gotham even if more gradually, in both its social and even physical structures. The action also moves the story along well and so doesn’t obscure narrative elements, yet is enough to keep the audience intrigued and definitely from falling asleep.  Like the first two installments of the series, the special effects are also done good and so make Batman’s world believable. Also, the suspense and irony are sufficiently balanced from beginning to end.



It’s actually irony that sets up the movie at the end for the possibility of a fourth film. In this irony is a reference to another Batman character that I won’t give away here, even though such reference may only be symbolic. Because of the manner of the film’s suggestion of the possibility of another sequel, a fourth film would take too different of an approach on the Batman character (somewhat like the comic book has done at times), and so hopefully Nolan will go on with his decision not to do anymore Batman movies. It would be better to see someone else’s cinematic interpretation of the Dark Knight starting from scratch.



Because The Dark Knight Rises holds out so well like Nolan’s two other Batman films, and because it is set up as a conclusion to the trilogy, adding another installment that will do just as good would be very hard, nearly impossible if not. Although it does suggest the possibility of such an installment, this shouldn’t contradict the movie’s conclusiveness of the trilogy. Comic book super heroes’ stories, like those of all great mythic heroes, often are open ended to some extent since they are episodic.  


Until next time (our regular time slot and same blogman channel) . . .


Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Book Covers and World-building

I said last week I would have a review of The Dark Knight Rises by this weekend. I was actually in the middle of writing it, but got a little worn out. I haven't really been feeling my greatest today. I have that feeling of a head cold but we're smack in the middle of summer and so I'm going to be a little stubborn and say that it can't be a cold though colds can come up at this time of year. So I'm just assuming it's alergies. For this reason, I'm keeping this post short but will have the review for you by early next week, hopefully Monday. I know, it's not my usual time to post but we can call that one a "Special Edition".

I'm working out a bunch of technical elements with my cover for my book of short fiction and so haven't really been working on the illustration (the final sketch itself) lately. I'm shooting for next week to start work on that. There's so many implications that come with creating one's own book cover that most people don't think about, such as deciding on a trim size and the coresponding size of the illustration. You can't make a 5" x 6" cover for an illustration that was meant for a smaller or larger cover. Not that either in my case are those sizes, this is just an example.

Then I'm working on two short stories, one that I'm debating whether to include in the collection. Maybe I'll post it here in the next week or two for you to read and then let you guys take a vote on whether it should be included or not. The other story will probably not be used in the collection although it can since it does have to do with the theme of illusion/misconception but it is too complex and so I probably won't have it revised in time. I'm at the world-building level of that story, a level I thought I was already finished with until I discovered that one of my characters would be better off as an alien. So I had to add to the world building, particularly her home/ancestral world. Talk about complexity!

Until next time (the "Special Edition" posting) . . .