Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review- The Way of Shadows

If you're a bookstore junkie like myself (and I can't believe the Border's by my apartment is closing!) then you may have noticed the Night Angel Trilogy books always up front and displayed on the Bestsellers, or Fantasy, or Recommendation shelves. I first took notice probably more than a year ago with its very intriguing cover art, and you don't have to be a book worm to figure out it's a novel about an assassin. I've been on the lookout for a good assassin novel for quite sometime now and finally took a gamble and just went and bought the entire Night Angel Trilogy box set. I'm not gonna lie, I was kind of nervous about the purchase. I had no idea whether this was going to be one of those lengthy medieval fantasy series like A Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings which, and don't hate me for saying it, I don't really care for. It's my own personal preference. I just don't like it when a novel has so many characters, I can't get attached or emotionally involved with any of them; or when I'm reading more about the strategic formations and histories of neighboring kingdoms rather than the internal struggle our hero is going through; or when the role of women are cast in the shadows of the men who are obviously are the ones who run the show. A Way of Shadows definitely drew inspirations from the likes of George R. R. Martin and J.R.R Tolkien but didn't quiet go to their extreme. I'd say the style of the novel was caught in between that and the modern day fantasy series (i.e. Harry Potter where the main focus above all else is still the characters and relationships).

So the story is a medieval fantasy which takes place in a country called Cenaria and centers around a boy named Azoth. Azoth is basically a slum rat boy and spends his days stealing money so he can pay dues to his guild. The specific guild Azoth belongs to is the Black Dragon guild which is run by a crazy, sadistic guy named Rat. Rat mercilessly beats anyone who is late on paying their dues and highly dislikes Azoth because he believes he's up to something. Azoth is determined to become apprenticed by the city's best assassin (which this novel refers to as wetboys) Durzo Blint so he won't have to put up with abusive people like Rat anymore. Rat begins abusing Azoth's friend Jarl in a scheme to break Azoth and threatens his other friend in the guild, Doll Girl. Durzo agrees to apprentice Azoth if he kills Rat but Azoth is unsure if he can do it. After a week of hesitation Rat kidnaps Doll Girl and beat her to the edge of death. Durzo shows Azoth the consequence of his hesitation but agrees to save her if he successfully kills Rat. Azoth manages to kill Rat and shows Durzo to his body as proof. Durzo gives Azoth a chance to get out of his apprenticeship but Azoth holds firm his decision. Soon after, Azoth finds a family to adopt Doll Girl on the agreement that he will anonymously pay all her living expenses then begins his training with Durzo.

In the meantime this is all happening to our hero, we also have a 11-year old boy named Logan Gyre who's father Duke Regnus Gyre is leaving their estate to head for Screaming Winds, which lies on the border of Cenaria. Duke Gyre leaves to defend their country against the threat of the neighboring country Kalidor and names Logan the Lord of House Gyre before he leaves. A traveling mage, Solon Tofusin, arrives at the Gyre estate on a mission from the prophet Dorian to help Lord Gyre. Once Solon finds out that Logan has also been named Lord Gyre, he warns him to train to become a great swordsman and decides to stay with him, now beliving he is the actual Lord Gyre the prophet was referring to. Soon after Azoth is taken on as Durzo's apprentice, Durzo renames him Kylar Stern and the two run into Solon and Logan. Durzo has Kylar run into Logan and start a fight so he can make his getaway from Solon. Kylar obeys and the two begin a gruff, but of course, they become bff's soon afterwards.

How Logan ties into Cenaria and Khalidor's kingdom strife becomes clearer late in the book and I don't want to spoil the entire thing so I'll leave it at that. Kylar's training period flys by within a few chapters at my dissapointment. I was hoping the entire first book would be about Kylar and his time at Durzo's Academy for Assassins. After little Kylar become big Kylar, he doesn't quiet become a full fledged assassin because he can't tap into his "talent" (some kind of magic assassins can harness). In the meantime, we begin to learn about the bad guy in the book and how he plans to take over Cenaria and how Durzo, Azoth, and Logan are involved in his scheme. Honestly, the book kind of became dead weight for me to read after Kylar grows up. I was only really interested in Kylar's story and couldn't bring myself to care about the struggling Kingdom of Cenaria. I knew all the politics would tie into Kylar's story somehow but I wish it would have gotten to the point quicker. I think this is a problem with many first time novels for authors. They don't know how to edit, edit, edit. This book would have been much more engaging if the second third of the book was cut down. The last third of the book however takes a sharp turn and everything unravels in an insane down hill shit show. Some people may have found it exciting but I felt like I couldn't focus on everything that was happening, but at least it picked up from the middle of the book.

Really my favorite part of the book was the beginning. I love a slum rat survival story with youngins. Also, I like how the story at that point was focused on Azoth and Durzo, before it got into the complexities of everything else and began switching POVs every chapter. Kylar was a likeable enough hero for the book but I just wish the book could have spent more time developing his relationship with the other characters in the novel. The relationship with Kylar and Durzo was kind of there....kind of...ehh...a not really....hehe. The attempt was there. Durzo seemed to be fighting some kind of internal struggle when it came to Kylar but I couldn't buy into it looking at his actions. Kylar's friendship with Logan could have been a great one if the book spent more time with the two of them, but they barely got page time together. The climax of the book would have been much more exciting if I was emotionally involved with the characters, especially Logan. I also think Kylar's relationship with his love interest Doll Girl (renamed Elene) could have been, like, ya know, existent. I think the two exchanged four lines of conversation, and that was after he professed he was madly, deeply in love with her. As kids, she was mute so zero conversing there. After that, while growing up, he just creepily watches her like a stalker and immediately becomes enamored with her for no apparent reason (except she's hot with big boobs). Kylar is warned throughout his creepy stalking that he can't fall in love with her and she will be his downfall. As expected, this is what happened but I didn't understand why because he had barely even spoken to her by that time so I couldn't get why he was so obsessed (or he claims "in love") with her. I love a good love story in a novel but in order for it to succeed, character development is key and the relationship must grow organically.

This kind of ties into my next cynical remark about the book. Okay I don't want to sound like some psycho feminist, but really, what is up with all the women in this book? I understand the place of women falls second place next to men within the context this story is set in, but the author could have strengthen the characters of at least the important ones. Apparently all women in this country become either whores/prostitutes by the age of 14 or they become over sexed nobles. Apparently Elene stands out and above all these other dumb women because she's stayed a virgin. Is this really what the author thinks makes a strong woman? Then there's the chracater Momma K or Gwinvere, who is, of course, the madam of several brothels. As strong as she tries to appear, he emotions are easily trampled on by Durzo (who loves spending his time calling her a big slut), leading her act recklessly.

Overall, the book is an easy enough read that is mildly entertaining. Don't expect to get emotionally attached to any of the characters though and be aware of the mid-slump. I think guys may enjoy this book more than girls. There are some pretty grimy and violent parts so be aware. I'll probably eventually make my way around reading the next two but I'm not going to put a rush order on it.

Final Score- 6.5/10

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review- Never Let Me Go

Earlier this month, I did a speed-read through Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go so I would be finished with it before Netflix sent me a copy of the film version. I always found the trailer to Never Let Me Go very haunting ever since I first saw it last summer, but wanted to read the novel before seeing it because a friend of mine told me it's a film better for those who've read the source material. If you have seen the trailer, you know it's not the easiest to make sense of what the plot is exactly. You can tell these characters are going through something substantial but don't know what it is exactly. The book has very much the same type of tone. It's slow and observant and things are unravel in a even pace, yet haunting manner.

So let me go into what the plot is exactly. Think back to the 2005 film The Island with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson; it was a future sci-fi flick in which a company breeds humans so their organs can be harvested at an at need basis for their clients. Never Let Me Go is very much the same concept except you take out the sci-fi thriller, summer flick feel and tell the story using a quiet, victorian tone. The entire book is narrated by a 30-year old woman named Kathy H. who was a former student at a school called Hailsham. She introduces herself as a "carer" at the beginning of the novel. A carer is one who watches over the "donors" at various recovery centers and is one of the last stages in the life cycle of these former students before they become donors. A donor can go between one to four donations before they "complete." Getting closer to the end, Kathy begins to reminisce about the past, the time she spent at Hailsham, and the relationships she had with her two close friends, Tommy and Ruth. The novel is split into three parts: Part 1 goes over the trio's time at Hailsham, Part 2 deals with after the three graduate and live in the cottages together, and Part 3 is when the donations begin. Ruth has a strong personality and has a tendency to talk things up. Tommy is short tempered and is pushed around a bit by others. Kathy is a quiet and very good at observing small subtleties in human behavior, making her the perfect narrator to tell their story.

I absolutely loved the writing in this novel. Ishiguro has an incredibly rich way to describe the attitudes and decorum of all his characters. I loved reading the parts about young Kathy and Ruth; it was very similar to how my friends and I would have behaved in elementary school. He is able to capture the real essence of human mannerisms, attitudes, and demeanor, as well as quells we go through with our loved ones throughout our lives. The diction Ishiguro uses tones down the true horrors of what is happening to these students. The truth is drawn out in easy to handle increments for the students (as well as the readers). They are told a bit of the truth before they are old enough to fully comprehend what it means, and by the time they are old enough, they've gotten use to the idea. The characters do not ever question or try to fight the horrific future that is laid out for them. They are taught to believe they are not humans in the same sense as you and I, but are freaks and disposable; however, it is very evident to the reader that these characters are very much humans with souls.

Even though this is a science fiction book, all the sci-fi characteristics are very much played down so don't except a very intricate, technical plot. The book looks at questions regarding science and ethics and how society often time will turn the other cheek at unspeakable horrors that go on at their benefit. If I can compare this book to any other I've read, I'd say A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee. The back of the novel says it is about a Japanese soldier in the military during WWII who falls in love with a Korean comfort woman (women who were forced to pleasure enlisted men during the war). It sounds to be a engrossing and tricky plot, yet the novel was pretty much just focused on characters and themes and accompanied by a beautiful writing style. Overall, I found Never Let Me Go to be beautiful and brilliant. Some may find it slow and boring (one review I saw on Amazon said it was like treading through mud). The ending is not a happy one for both our trio and the future prospects of students like them. I was really hoping Kathy and Tommy would run away together, but Ishiguro doesn't give you that easy satisfaction. I really look forward to the film and I only hope it can capture the same thought provoking aspects of the novel.

Final Score- 8/10

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bitchin' Ads- Dead Island Trailer

Why is it that video game trailers seem to be the best ads? Dead Silver has released their trailer for the upcoming game Dead Island and so far its been a massive viral hit online. As you can probably guess, it is a zombie game. The trailer shows the death of a little girl in reverse order and a zombie fight at the same time. The trailer seems to very story driven as opposed to focusing on the fact that you get to kill zombies in the game. I think this can be attributed to AMC's latest hit show, The Walking Dead, which has been a massive success. The trailer has been such a huge hit that Dead Silver had already been receiving an incredible amount of interest from Hollywood to do a movie adaption. It's probably safe to say that the zombie fad is back on. Whether this can compete with the shitty teen-emo, paranormal romance fad, we'll just have to see. I just want to see a film adaption of John Ajvide Lindqvis's novel, Handling the Undead. Check out the trailer below:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Review- Exit Through the Gift Shop

Yesterday I wrote my review of the Japanese animated film Summer Wars and I mentioned the modern art style created by Takashi Murakami called Superflat that was seen throughout the film. That got me thinking about an incredible documentary I saw earlier this year about the modern street art scene called Exit Through the Gift Shop. I can't believe it took me this long to get around writing my review for this film because it's probably one of my favorite films this year! Some of you may have heard buzz about this movie. Lately, the press has been getting wind about cryptic street art messages popping up over L.A. in the last few weeks. It's suspected that these are messages from the film's director, famous British artist Bansky, as a campaign to win an Oscar. Just take a look at this mural that appeared in L.A a few weeks ago that shows a Bansky-like Oscar statue surrounded by Storm Trooper production assistants.

Neat, eh? I'm not entirely convinced that this is actually work by Bansky but it's exciting none-the-less. The Academy seems to be shitting their pants trying to figure out what will possibly happen if Bansky wins the Oscar. For those of you who don't know. The identity of Bansky is pretty much unknown except to a few privileged souls and the man usually appears in a monkey mask. The Academy isn't amused by this fact but I personally would love to see Bansky accept an Oscar on stage wearing his monkey face!

So let me go into what this film is all about. An amateur French filmmaker named Thierry Guetta makes it his life work to document the underground world of street art. Street artists don't exactly use the most legal means to get their art work up onto the high-high of buildings. The film begins with Thierry following these street artists up to the roofs of buildings in order to film some of these street artists at work during the dead of night. During his adventures, he meets famous street artists such as Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, and he himself begins to get interested in leaving his own street art marks (a stencil of him holding a camera). In a amazing twist of fate, he gets the opportunity to meet one of the most famous street artists of all- Bansky. Bansky gives Thierry the amazing privileged to actually film him at work in order to create his documentary (granted his face is blurred and voice is distorted in the movie).

As interesting as the documentary is at this point, the film takes a hilarious turn. Thierry presents his completed film to Bansky and Bansky, needless to say, was not impressed. At this point, Bansky decides to take over the film making duties for the documentary (the first film project he has ever attempted) while Thierry takes this opportunity to reinvent himself as a street artist. I was slightly confused at this point in the film because I couldn't quite understand Thierry's art. Everything he was producing looked like something I've seen before that could be found displayed in the atrium of a office building. As Thierry prepares for his first art show in L.A., his production crew is not impressed, as it becomes obvious he doesn't really know what he's doing. Thierry renames himself as Mr. Brainwash and the people of L.A. immediately take to admiring him with the opening of his show.

Artists typically take their entire lives to figure out their own unique style, but for Thierry, it took a handful of months. The L.A. art scene completely eats up his work and throws down their money down at his feet. So what really constitutes art? Do Americans just have a craving to act cultured and will eat up whatever bullshit is suppose to be the new thing? This is a hugely entertaining film and it's absolutely hilarious! The movie is chuck full of beautiful street art and never before seen footage on top of the hilarious glimpse into the creation of Mr. Brainwash. Bansky's brilliance really shines through in his documentary. Some folks believe that the whole film is a documention of one huge hoax created by Bansky, and Thierry was in on the whole thing as a way to prove the over-commercialization of BS street art that people eat up and go ape shit over. That certainly would be interesting- I look forward to seeing what happens on Oscar night.

Final Score- 10/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Movie Review- Summer Wars

I first heard of Summer Wars when the 14 animated films were being submitted for consideration as nominees for the Academy Awards this year. The film is from Japan and being a big junkie for animated films and foreign films, I had to see what it was all about. When I went and saw the trailer, the crazy visuals reminded me of the 2007 Japanese animated film Paprika by Satoshi Kon, then I knew I had to see it. Here's the synopsis of the film.

The film is set in a world where all information is in this gigantic online digital space called OZ and just about every person in the world has an OZ account, which is integrated with all their personal and professional information. Each account member has their own unique Avatar which they can use to work, play games, and communicate with other users. A high school math geek named Kenji Koiso takes a summer job with his friend Natuski to go up to Nagano as her escort. Natuski is attending a large family reunion for her grandmother's 90th birthday and Kenji soon finds himself mixed up with her family's matters. While there, Kenji receives an email to solve a difficult equation which unleashes a viral cyberspace terrorist named Love Machine upon OZ. Love Machine begins hacking and taking over the accounts of several individuals in OZ and uses them to cause real world menace. Kenji and Natuski's family have to then work together and pull resources in order to stop Love Machine before innocent citizens get hurt.

Although it's a theme seen way too often, Summer Wars is really about people's dependency on technology. Nevertheless, it is still a very original movie. The movie also goes into how everyone's personal and professional data is all online and integrated into a single account, which is something I feel like I see happening more and more these days (cough cough Facebook). If our technology went haywire, everyone would go running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It has been said that one of the most likely ways humanity gets wiped out is by being taken over by AI. Like in the case of this movie, the AI named Love Machine gets into the accounts of several high ranking government peeps and aims the course of a satellite directly at many of the nuclear power plants around the globe. Our hero Kenji is really tested in his math whiz abilities in his attempts to keep up and beat Love Machine.

I love these imaginative, Japanese animated films because they always bring something new and different to the table. I really think many Japanese anime films are the inspiration to several modern directors. For example, I've always thought Christopher Nolan's film Inception may have gotten its idea from the Japanese film Paprika and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan seemed to have been inspired by Perfect Blue. Too bad the Academy's are only having three nominations this year for Best Animated Film. I really think Summer Wars may have had a shot if they had five. The art style in Summer Wars for the parts in the digital world OZ looked uncannily similar to the Superflat art style created by modern superstar Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Just take a look at the two clips below. Notice anything similar?

Well I can't seem to figure out if Takashi Murakami had any part in making Summer Wars, but it would be really cool if he did! One more master piece to add to his incredible growing range of art. Oh, by the way, I freaking loved the cute squirrel avatar that belonged to Kenji.

Final Score- 8/10

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cool Sh*t!!- 'Kill Bill' Everything Is A Remix

Kill Bill has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it in theaters back in 2003. While my some of my girl friends found it to be strange (we were in High School at the time) I loved it because it reminded me of many samurai and kung-fu flicks I would watch as a kid. Quentin Tarantino is a mastermind at movie mashups and Kill Bill is a perfect example of it. Editor Kirby Ferguson began a project called "Everything Is A Remix" to prove the point that film audiences enjoy watching the familiar. Most big box office movies are derived from existing material whether its a sequel or based on a book, comic, tv show etc. Even if a movie is not based off of any of these items, they're still based off of bits and pieces of old films. To prove his point, he's complied scenes from Kill Bill and matched it with scenes from old movies. Watch the video below! You can see that a lot of Kill Bill is influenced from old Samurai and Western flicks. I'm just surprised he didn't refer back to any Kung Fu films as the influence for the time Bellatrix spent training with her Chinese master Pai Mei.

Everything Is A Remix: KILL BILL from on Vimeo.

If you want to see the first part of Kirby Ferguson's project where he points out how George Lucas mashed up old films to create the Star Wars films, you can watch below.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.