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My Fantasia Festival, Days 5 to 7: Cold in July, The Fatal Encounter, and Huntresses

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Cold in JulyI’ve mentioned before that the Fantasia Festival has, logically enough, programmed what look to be their most popular movies in the big Hall Theatre. That often means unabashed genre movies — movies that aim at telling a certain kind of story a certain kind of way. A genre’s a set of conventions, and a storyteller can play against those conventions or use them to get at whatever they want, as they see fit. And, especially as genres become better-known by audiences, there’s a natural inclination to mix conventions, to set genre against genre within a single story. The trick, of course, is that whichever angle you take you should try to do it well.

Last week from Monday (the 21st) through Wednesday I saw three genre movies at the Hall: Cold in July, directed by Jim Mickle from a prose story by Joe R. Lansdale; The Fatal Encounter (originally Yeok-rin), a dark, violent period piece from Korean director Lee Jae-kyoo; and The Huntresses (originally Joseonminyeo Samchongsa), a much brighter period piece from Park Jae-hyun. They all aimed at a certain target, and to various degrees hit what they were aiming at. They were all working in different genres, producing different effects. But they were all intensely conscious of how genre worked.

Monday was Cold in July, scripted by Mickle and Nick Damici from Lansdale’s 1989 novella. I haven’t read it, so I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation; but the story on screen did some interesting things, starting out as a certain kind of thriller, then changing tones, then changing tone again. It begins with a man in a small town in Texas in the late 1980s, a picture-framer named Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), who surprises an intruder in his home and accidentally shoots him dead. This leads to the dead man’s ex-con father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) swearing revenge. But then Dane makes a discovery that throws into question what he thinks happened, and suggests that the authorities are lying to him and Russell. A private investigator (and pig farmer) named Jim Bob Luke (played with tremendous humour by Don Johnson) enters the picture. The plot thickens. Ultimately things resolve in a violent third act mission.

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Ancient Worlds: Argonauts vs The Giant Robot

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

talos3ng4If you saw the 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts, you probably remember this scene. It’s classic Harryhausen: stop-animation work that was looks cartoonish now but was state-of-the-art at the time.

Like some of the other episodes in this movie (Skeleton battle!) you may have thought that this was all Hollywood. But Talos, the gigantic bronze guardian of Crete, was described in the Argonautica as well. Apollonius tells his readers that Talos was the last of the race of Bronze (mythical predecessors of modern humans), and that Zeus had set him to guarding Crete as a favor to his lover Europa. Since he was made entirely of metal he was completely invulnerable, except for one spot on his heel where a thin membrane of skin covered his vein.

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My Fantasia Festival, Day Four: Jellyfish Eyes, In the Land of the Head Hunters, and The Reconstruction of William Zero

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Jellyfish EyesLast Sunday, June 20, I saw four movies. I’ve already written about one of them, Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, which deserved its own post. But that’s not to say that all the other films I saw that day were poor. It was in fact an odd mix; out of the three other films I saw, I’m quite glad to have seen two of them, while the third at least had points of interest.

Things began with Takashi Murakami’s children’s fantasy Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kuragi in the original Japanese), which was followed by The Zero Theorem, both at the Hall Theatre. Then I went across the street to the De Sève to watch an utterly fascinating silent film from 1914, Edward Curtis’ In the Land of the Head Hunters, which mixed an early attempt at anthropological documentary into a fantasy adventure. My day concluded with Dan Bush’s intelligent low-budget sf film The Reconstruction of William Zero. Put them all together, and it made for a memorable cinematic experience.

That said, Jellyfish Eyes was something of a disappointment. Murakami’s an internationally-renowned artist, known in particular for creating or identifying the ‘superflat’ style of art — the word’s meant to refer not only to Murakami’s own style, but to the Japanese artistic tradition in general. Which emphatically includes popular art. Anime and manga artists have been exhibited in ‘superflat’ gallery shows, and Murakami’s own art has been said to be inspired by anime. The impression I get from what I’ve read is that it’s almost a take on the idea of pop art, combining Japanese popular culture with certain aspects of graphic design as a way of critiquing consumerism. So all in all it’s perhaps not entirely suprising that Murakami’s first film was an anime-inflected mash-up of Pokémon, kaiju, even a bit of Spielberg; nor surprising that its potential is largely nullified by a bluntness of approach.

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New Treasures: Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Donald Crankshaw

Midnight_thiefMy friend Livia has recently released her first novel, Midnight Thief, with Disney’s Hyperion imprint. I first met Livia at MIT, where she was studying the brain science of reading. She blogs on the topic at her blog, A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.

I’ve always been impressed with how much effort she makes to understand the how and why of what makes stories work (see, for example, this post on the anatomy of a death scene), and to use that in her own writing, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s gone on to sign with a major publisher.

Midnight Thief is a YA novel set in a secondary world of assassins, barbarians, and demon cats:

Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs.

But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he is persistent — and darkly attractive — and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.

Midnight Thief is available now at Amazon ($13 hard cover and $9.99 ebook), Barnes & Noble (at an identical price), and independent book sellers.

Future Treasures: Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Falling Sky Rajan Khanna-smallRajan Khanna has had a pretty impressive career as a short story writer, with appearances in anthologies like The Way of the Wizard and Dead Man’s Hand, and in magazines such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, GUD, and Shimmer. If his name is familiar, it could also be because he’s a blogger for Tor. com and has done podcasts for Podcastle, Lightspeed, and Pseudopod.

For his first novel, he spins a tale of a post-apocalyptic North America filled with zeppelins, a plague-ravaged populace, and an air city ruled by pirates. I don’t know about you, but he had me at “pirate air city.” I put my advance order in today.

Ben Gold lives in dangerous times. Two generations ago, a virulent disease turned the population of most of North America into little more than beasts called Ferals. Some of those who survived took to the air, scratching out a living on airships and dirigibles soaring over the dangerous ground.

Ben has his own airship, a family heirloom, and has signed up to help a group of scientists looking for a cure. But that’s not as easy as it sounds, especially with a power-hungry air city looking to raid any nearby settlements. To make matters worse, his airship, the only home he’s ever known, is stolen. Ben must try to survive on the ground while trying to get his ship back.

This brings him to Gastown, a city in the air recently conquered by belligerent and expansionist pirates. When events turn deadly, Ben must decide what really matters — whether to risk it all on a desperate chance for a better future or to truly remain on his own.

Falling Sky will be published by Pyr Books on October 7, 2014. It is 259 pages, priced at $17 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Chris McGrath. Learn more at Rajan Khanna’s website here.

Gonji: Fortress of Lost Worlds by T. C. Rypel

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2924853GW8NECCJBack in January, I reviewed the first three books of T. C. Rypel’s Gonji series. Though thirty-odd years old, the books are exemplars of what heroic fantasy should be: exciting, wildly inventive, well-written, and — above all — starring a heroic protagonist. Exiled half-caste samurai Gonji Sabatake, try as he might, is unable to avoid fighting evil or behaving courageously. This stuff is why I still read S&S.

While the first three books (actually, one big book chopped into three parts by the original publisher, Zebra) are a complete story, they are also the introduction to a much wider and wilder tale. Gonji’s adventures start anew in Fortress of Lost Worlds (1985), republished this past May by Wildside Press. The fifth book, A Hungering of Wolves, should be rereleased pretty soon by Wildside as well.

At the end of the previous book, Deathwind of Vedun, Gonji left his surviving companions in order to pursue the werewolf, Simon Sardonis. He had been told years before by a Shinto priest that his destiny lay with something or someone called the Deathwind, which he discovered to be Simon. But driven by his own fears and burdens, Simon wants little to do with the Easterner and cares even less for their supposed entwined fate, so he keeps moving to prevent Gonji from finding him.

Fortress of Lost Worlds’ main story picks up two years into Gonji’s trek to find Simon. He and his party of soldiers have been savaged and chased to the feet of the Pyrenees by an unknown band he calls the Dark Company. As his last companion is lost in the frigid night, the samurai makes his escape into caverns in the mountainside. While the caves possess magical properties that both warm the nearly frozen warrior and his horse and fill their bellies, they turn out also to have occupants: ogres.

That sets the stage for Gonji’s monster-filled journey from the mountains to the town of Barbaso. He’d been warned that evil was loose in the valley, but having decided to travel to Toledo to settle an old debt, the straightest route lay through the valley, and Barbaso.

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Why Must Han Solo Die?

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

han soloLast week, I made the prediction that Han Solo will die in the new Star Wars film. I have no evidence; it’s just a theory based on a confluence of random speculations and gut instinct. Here I’ll lay out, in no particular order, some of the thoughts that led me to posit this guess.

My premise begins with the knowledge that Han apparently plays a fairly major role in the plot, given that Harrison Ford’s recent injury shut down the entire production schedule for two weeks (an indication that his is much more than just a “cameo,” which easily could have been filmed around, with some scenes rescheduled for later in the shoot).

Observation #1

Some critics decried the rescue of Han from Jabba in the first act of Return of the Jedi as a cop-out, contending that his death would have provided a dramatic catalyst for the other characters. Of course, Lucas wasn’t going to go there (he’s George Lucas, not Joss Whedon); even Han’s blindness following his release from carbonite was temporary. Such characters in traditional heroes’ tales often suffer a permanent physical loss, such as blindness, that is compensated for by new wisdom or insight. Han’s blindness wore off pretty fast, and by the end of the movie he was back to being good ol’ Han Solo, the wise-cracking pirate with a heart of gold. So maybe J.J. Abrams and company will want to make a big end for the character this time out.

Observation #2

For all we know, Harrison Ford — who just turned 72 this month — stipulated that while he’d gladly reprise the role that made him famous, it would be just this once, and that he didn’t want to be running around playing a space pirate at 75. Even if he made no such stipulation, the age of the actor is a big factor. Which leads me to…

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New Treasures: The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Great Glass Sea Josh Weil-smallIn his first novel, acclaimed short story writer Josh Weil draws on tales of Slavic folklore to tell the story of two brothers in a near-future dystopian Russia. Lauren Groff, author of The Monsters of Templeton, said “The Great Glass Sea is our world made uncanny; the Russian countryside of folktale and literature turned darkly luminous, menacing, and brittle.” Sounds promising to me.

Twins Yarik and Dima have been inseparable since childhood. Living on their uncle’s farm after the death of their father, the boys once spent their days helping farmers in fields, their nights spellbound by their uncle’s tales. Years later, they labor together at the Oranzheria, a sea of glass erected over acres of cropland and lit by space mirrors that ensnare the denizens of Petroplavilsk in perpetual daylight. Now the twins have only work in common — stalwart Yarik married with children, oppressed by the burden of responsibility; dreamer Dima living alone with his mother, wistfully planning the brothers’ return to their uncle’s land.

But an encounter with the Oranzerhia’s billionaire owner changes their lives forever and soon both men find themselves poster boys for opposing ideologies that threaten to destroy not only the lives of those they love but the love that has bonded them since birth.

Josh Weil is the author of the the novella collection The New Valley, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and a “5 Under 35″ Award from the National Book Foundation. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Esquire, Agni and One Story. He lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

The Great Glass Sea was published by Grove Press on July 1, 2014. It is 474 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $14.99 for the digital edition.

Lawrence Santoro (1942-2014)

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Larry and his wife, Tycelia

Larry and his wife, Tycelia

Lawrence Santoro passed away this past Friday. He was a two-time Bram Stoker nominee: once for his novella, “God Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate Him,” in 2001; again for his audio play adaptation of Gene Wolfe’s “The Tree Is My Hat” in 2008. Two collections of his short fiction, Just North of Nowhere and Drink for the Thirst to Come, provide a great overview of his fantastic work. For the last two years, he’s hosted the horror fiction podcast series, Tales to Terrify.

Those are the highlights, the reasons why a casual reader of Black Gate might recognize Larry’s name. But I’ve been living and writing in Chicago for the last ten years and so I knew him for other reasons. Larry often read at local open mic events and was a fixture at some of them. Larry had a background in theater and he brought all his skill and that amazing voice to every performance. No microphones were ever needed when it was his turn to read and his larger-than-life performances were perfectly suited to the nightmarish tall tales; imagine if Lake Woebegone had a dark side and you’d get an idea of his fictional town of Bluffton. Tony C. Smith at Tales to Terrify provides a nice tribute to Larry, including a previously-unreleased performance by him.

There’s a brief overview of the amazing life Larry led before he ever wrote so much as a poem. At reading events, he was always encouraging other writers to keep writing, as well as offering advice on where to get their stories published. While Tales to Terrify has featured a number of big-name authors, Larry also made certain that it featured at least as many fledgling writers.

Larry leaves behind not just an impressive body of work, but a writing community made stronger by his presence and saddened by his passing.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Is Coming Back – Good or Bad?

Monday, July 28th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Sherlock_LegoAs a screen presence, Sherlock Holmes was essentially a dormant property from the nineties until 2009. Sherlock Holmes and the Vengeance of Dracula  was a hot script in 1999, with Christopher Columbus set to direct. But screenwriter Michael Valle died unexpectedly and Columbus went on to make some movies with a bunch of kid wizards in a pig school or something like that.

In 2009, Robert Downey Jr. breathed new life into the great detective in the global smash, Sherlock Holmes (worldwide gross: over a half a billion dollars! The sequel did even better).

Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat, writers on the successful Doctor Who series, decided to bring Holmes back to television, but with a twist: the setting would be modern day London. It was a HUGE success, artistically and commercially.

With references to the original stories by Doyle all over the place, including updatings of the original tales (the pilot, A Study in Pink, was a retelling of the first story, A Study in Scarlet), it was a fresh take on an old subject. And with Benedict Cumberbatch playing an obnoxious, young Holmes and likeable everyman Martin Freeman as his trusty sidekick, Watson, the three-episode series was a hit in the UK, America, and all over the world.

Season two was just as good, updating The Hound of the Baskervilles and turning The Woman, Irene Adler, into a dominatrix. Personally, after season two ended, Sherlock was one of my top five all-time favorite shows and even in a battle with Justified for the top spot.

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