Galactica needs to get off the treadmill

I spent the first half of this season of Battlestar Galactica trying to adjust to the new feel of the show. Everything was so dark and painful to watch, but it was gripping. I always wanted to know where they were going next. Now that things are pretty much back to normal on the show, I’m getting restless. Yeah, there are moments that I love in each episode, but the feeling I’m getting is that the show is kind of running in place. And I’m not the only one.

The Geek Monthly blog offers some complaints about the season so far: “Ticking time bomb my butt! Athena got her baby back (baby back, baby back) without so much as a raised fisticuff. It’s like her rescue mission was on her ‘to do’ list between ‘buy milk’ and ‘tape Lost.'”

And: “As Roslin keeps reminding us over the past few episodes, Baltar will be tried for his crimes. Eventually. After we cover all of the pressing story business of a racist doctor, a dead ex-wife, and how much Galen and Cally’s lives suck. Seriously though, after that it’s next on the agenda.”

Agree? Disagree?

Pulp movie news

VH1 summarizes a whole mess o’ news from last weekend’s New York Comic-Con, most of it regarding films based on pulp characters. Check out the link for more info, but here are the short versions:

Green Hornet: Previously announced as a possible Kevin Smith project, now the director pronounces it dead.

The Spirit: Frank Miller is moving ahead with writing and directing his modern version of the classic Will Eisner character. Filming begins this summer for an ’08 release. Expect lots of cameos from Hollywood stars.

Shazam: I didn’t even know this was in the works, but apparently they’ve already got a director in Peter Segal (Get Smart, The Longest Yard).

The Shadow: Not really any news on this one. Just a reminder that it’s getting made with Sam Raimi co-producing.

And it’s not really pulp, but there’s also a quick interview with Steve Niles about the 30 Days of Night movie, coming out October 19th.

2006 Nebula Award nominees

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have announced their nominees for the 2006 Nebula Awards.

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra, Jul06)
Seeker byJack McDevitt (Ace, Nov05)
The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford (Dark Alley, Aug05)
Farthing by Jo Walton (Tor Books, Jul06)
From the Files of the Time Rangers by Richard Bowes (Golden Gryphon Press, Sep05)
To Crush the Moon by Wil McCarthy (Bantam Spectra, May05)

Burn by James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon Publications, Dec05)
“Sanctuary” by Michael A. Burstein (Analog, Sep05)
“The Walls of the Universe” by Paul Melko (Asimov’s, Apr/May06)
“Inclination” by William Shunn (Asimov’s, Apr/May06)

“The Language of Moths” by Chris Barzak (Realms of Fantasy, Apr05)
“Walpurgis Afternoon” by Delia Sherman (F&SF, Dec05)
“Journey into the Kingdom” by M. Rickert (F&SF, May06)
“Two Hearts” by Peter S. Beagle (F&SF, Oct/Nov05)
“Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre (SCI FICTION, 23 Feb05)

Short Stories:
“Echo” by Elizabeth Hand (F&SF, Oct/Nov05)
“Helen Remembers the Stork Club” by Esther M. Friesner (F&SF, Nov05)
“The Woman in Schrodinger’s Wave Equations” by Eugene Mirabelli (F&SF, Aug05)
“Henry James, This One’s For You” by Jack McDevitt (Subterranean #2, Nov05)
“An End To All Things” by Karina Sumner-Smith (Children of Magic, DAW Books, Jun06)
“Pip and the Fairies” by Theodora Goss (Strange Horizons, 3 Oct05)

Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (Warner Bros., released 17 Jun05)
Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt (Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Pictures, U.S. Premier 10 Jun05. Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.)
“Unfinished Business” by Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Dec06)
“The Girl in the Fireplace” by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, BBC/The Sci-Fi Channel, Oct06 (broadcast 10 Oct06))

Also awarded by the SFWA is the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier (Penguin Razorbill, May05)
Devilish by Maureen Johnson, Razorbill (Penguin Young Readers Group, Sep06)
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins, 2006)
Midnighters #2: Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld (Eos, Mar05)
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Razorbill, Sep05)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, Oct06)

Winners will be announced at the Nebula Awards Weekend on May 11-13 in New York City. Check the link above for more info.

To See: The Fabulous World of Jules Verne

Take a bunch of Jules Verne stories and mix them together with special effects based on illustrations from old editions of Verne novels and you get The Fabulous World of Jules Verne.

It’s an English-dubbed Czech film about a scientist and his assistant who are on the verge of discovering a new energy source. They’re kidnapped by pirates who work for an evil buisnessman, but he’s a cool evil businessman because he has a submarine and a secret volcano hideout.

Found via Brass Goggles.

Writing is Hard: World-Building

There’s something of a controversy amongst fantasy/sci-fi writers (and their fans) around the topic of world-building. Basically, people hold differing opinions about the value of a writer’s putting time and effort into constructing an environment for her/his fictional characters to inhabit. Some say it’s unnecessary, reader-numbing, and the mark of bad writing. Others suggest that it is necessary, but in the same way that research is necessary (and that, like research, you shouldn’t put everything you’ve uncovered into your story).

I like the second view, especially with that caveat about restraining yourself when it comes to including details. A good writer should do some amount of world-building, all of which should be transparent to the reader.

Anyway, fantasy/sci-fi writer Lynn Viehl has a great checklist of things to consider when world-building as well as some cool links on the subject.

Review: Ghost Rider

It’s a law of physics that you can’t make a movie about a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle and have it be Uncool. And if you include an unshaven Sam Elliot in Western gear, then your movie becomes automatically Likeable.

But it doesn’t, unfortunately, make it Good.
Standing around after Ghost Rider last night talking with my buddies about the movie, I tried comparing it to Ang Lee’s Hulk. The middle part of Hulk, where he’s fighting tanks in the desert and jumping around looking for a place to be alone, is a perfect recreation of every Hulk comic that any child of the ’70s ever read. The really long lead up to it and the weird fight at the end were annoying bookends to that beautiful segment, but they don’t take away from how utterly cool that was.
My point in bringing it up was that parts of Ghost Rider really nailed what made me love the comic as a kid. There was a point towards the middle where I forgot about my frustrations from earlier in the movie (mostly involving Nick Cage’s overacting a few times) and just revelled in seeing the Ghost Rider zoom around town on that unholy bike of his bringing vengeance to the guilty. But as the movie wrapped up and started concentrating on its story again, the disappointment crept back.
The plot of Ghost Rider blows. Not the origin sequence. That’s okay. But the stuff about a contract that the Devil once had for the souls of an entire town and how this contract somehow has the ability to grant an unbalancing amount of power to whichever demon holds it. First of all, it’s never explained just why this particular contract is so powerful. Yes, there are probably thousands of names on it, but how do those make a difference to a being that’s got to have billions upon billions of souls locked up over the course of human history? It’s a stupid object to have everyone hunting for.
Actually, the whole focus on demons is a drawback. Ghost Rider is demon enough for one movie. Yeah, he’s the coolest looking one in the show, but having other demons playing such important roles in the story waters down Ghost Rider’s uniqueness. The best Ghost Rider comics aren’t the ones where he’s battling Hell, they’re the ones where he’s fighting the Orb or trying to rescue a girl from an evil shaman or something. (Fans of the ’90s version may disagree with me, but they’re wrong.) Weird villains, but relatively mundane. Human, at least.
And as long as we’re talking about demons and the plot, I’ve got to gripe about the end. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know what happens, consider this your Spoiler Warning and skip the following paragraph.
The plot of the movie revolves around Mephistopheles’ trying to get his hands on the Special Contract and keep his son Blackheart (pffft!) away from it. That’s the whole reason he turns Johnny Blaze into Ghost Rider in the first place. Instead of following orders, Johnny gives the contract to Blackheart, but uses it against him, destroying both Blackheart and the contract in the process. So then Mephistopheles shows up, but rather than being pissed over not getting his contract, he all but applauds and slaps Johnny on the back for a job well done. Even offers to remove the Ghost Rider curse. But when Johnny refuses — wanting to use the Ghost Rider powers for good — Meph throws a fit and is all, “I’ll get you for this, Johnny Blaze!” You’d think Meph could just take the curse back regardless of what Johnny wants, but apparently not. Maybe it’s the kind of thing where Johnny has to willingly give it up, but that doesn’t make much sense and even if it’s true, it would be nice to have that piece of information foreshadowed earlier rather than implied by Meph’s otherwise inexplicable reaction.
Another problem I have with the movie is the acting. I usually like Nick Cage just fine and he’s funny and charming through most of Ghost Rider. The writers put some nice touches on his character by giving him some quirks, but Cage’s charisma also helps out. Yet, like I mentioned earlier, there are a few times when he just overacts as he’s striking a dramatic pose or falling down or something. During those times he reminds me of a seven-year-old pretending to be a super hero on the playground. To be fair though, some of that may be in the directing. The kid playing Young Johnny Blaze strikes a similarly cheesy pose (basically he’s standing there with his feet spread apart, pointing intensely at the person he’s talking to) at one point, but I don’t know if he was told to do that or improvised it after watching Cage do it. Either way, regardless of who’s doing it or whose idea it was, it’s silly-looking.
The worst acting in the film though comes from Eva Mendes. Cage has said that she’d make the perfect She-Hulk, but she doesn’t make a convincing reporter for local TV news, much less have the chops for a more complex role like Successful Trial Lawyer Dealing with the Physical Oddity of Being Big and Green. Her performance in Ghost Rider might have been okay had she been playing a reporter for Hard Copy, but she wasn’t able to communicate the professionalism of a serious journalist.
She does have the look for She-Hulk though. She’s a good-looking woman, no question. And that, plus Nick Cage’s humor, plus great effects (both visual and sound), plus Sam Elliot, plus the fact that it’s Ghost Rider, all combine to make a movie that I liked. It’s just too bad that it had a crappy script and some acting problems to keep me from liking it more.

To Read: Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales

Yeah, you know that Lester Dent created Doc Savage and had crazy adventures with Walter Gibson. But did you know he also wrote zeppelin stories? It’s true!

Airships are undeniably cool. Except for maybe the Hindenburg, but that’s a special case. Who doesn’t love the idea of a sky full of giant blimps floating from skyscraper to skyscraper as they deliver mysterious passengers and secret cargo? And now there’s a book full of stories about them, all written by the guy who wrote Doc Freakin’ Savage. And there are pirates!

Found via Bookgasm.

Review: Tarzan and His Mate

I never did come back and post again about Tarzan the Tiger, but that’s because my opinion of it never really changed from what it was three episodes in. Except that maybe I appreciated Jane’s legs more and more as it went along.

There was one scene where Jane took everything off and went for a swim and even though she was always shot too far away to ogle properly, I found myself wondering how they got away with that in 1929. Naive me, thinking that nudity was some kind of issue in the late ’20s/early ’30s. I hadn’t seen Tarzan and His Mate yet.

I didn’t know it going in, but the Jane-swimming-naked scene in Tarzan and His Mate is infamous. According to the IMDb, it was shot three different ways (with Jane fully clothed, topless, and completely naked), but all the versions were originally removed due to pressure from religious groups. Nothing new under the sun, eh? Anyway, the nudie version is what’s on DVD, though it’s Josephine McKim, an Olympic gold medal swimmer, and not O’Sullivan who’s actually in the water.

I like how Tarzan and His Mate is a true sequel to Tarzan, the Ape Man. Another preconceived notion I’ve had about the Weissmuller films — probably due to my sporadically catching them out of order on TV over the years — is that they’re purely episodic in nature and don’t cross-reference each other. That might be true of the later films (or not), but TaHM picks up where TtAM left off, only a year later. Neil Hamilton (who would later play Commissioner Gordon to Adam West’s Batman), Jane’s initial love interest in the first movie, has returned to the jungle to collect all that ivory they found last time. And if he can talk Jane into coming back home with him, so much the better. Complicating matters is the fact that he’s brought along his major investor, a cold-hearted cad who’s sunk all of his finances into the venture and has also taken a shine to Jane. Can’t really blame him.

There’s a lot to love about this movie. Some of the special effects are unbelievable. I’ve spent a goodly amount of time trying to figure out how they shot a scene in which a native is killed without actually killing the actor involved. Another scene that I’ve mostly figured out involves Tarzan’s wrestling an enourmous crocodile. I know it’s a fake croc, but there are moments in the fight where I honestly couldn’t tell how they were doing it. It’s as convincing as most modern CGI.

Not that all the effects are awesome. As in the first Weissmuller film, you can still see the trapeze bars that Tarzan uses to swing on, and the Asian elephants they used still have fake ears to make them look African. Some of the animals are obviously fake — especially a lot of the apes that Tarzan hangs out with — and there’s also a lot of rear screen projection going on. But that’s the kind of stuff that I expect from a ’30s adventure movie. The fact that they were still able to fool me on a couple of scenes is remarkable.

About the only thing I didn’t care for in the movie was Jane’s jungle yell. I guess it makes some kind of sense internally to the series that she have one to go along with Tarzan’s, but it sounds so shrill and silly that I cringed everytime she used it.

But everything else is great. I even like Cheetah in it, and I’ve always found her (always thought she was a boy, but not according to Jane in this movie) to be an annoying sidekick, but she’s really charming and heroic here. And that final scene! I won’t spoil the specifics, but the idea of having ivory poachers battling natives in the midst of a pride of clawing, biting lions is something to make Grant Morrison jealous. Then you add a herd of elephants to the war and my head explodes.

Wake Not the Dead! (and other forgotten horror)

SFScope has an article about how the University of Tampa is going to be re-publishing a series of “neglected supernatural fiction, mysteries, science fiction, and adventure stories from the nineteenth century.” They’ve already got a couple of volumes out: a ghost story (The Library Window by Margaret Oliphant) and an Egyptian curse story (A Study of Destiny by Count Louis Hamon).

The next volume is a vampire story called Wake Not the Dead! or The Bride of the Grave. More info in the link.