30 June 2010

Trailer - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 & 2)

If you haven't been a fan of the Harry Potter series, for whatever reason (don't like magic, it's a kid's story, blah blah blah) then you still need to see this.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment of J.K. Rowling's series, is to be made into 2 movies (cleverly named Part 1 and Part 2). For those who haven't read the books, this is the one where everything kicks off. The past 6 books have been but a build up to this moment, and it all hits the fan hard.

I'm looking forward to this film, more than I'd anticipated. What I like about the series is that it does grow up with its audience; the series has become darker with each novel/film. With some of the disappointments of Half Blood Prince (namely the cutting of the battle at Hogwarts in the finale to make way for the final battle in Deathly Hallows) this looks to be one hell of a ride. Plus we get to see Voldemort get his wizardry on at last! (Note: That scuffle with Dumbledore at the end of Order of the Pheonix doesn't count :P)

What do you think? Excited much? Or is this kind of thing not your cup of tea?

25 June 2010

David Gemmell Awards Winners Announced!

This just in from the David Gemmell Awards website - the winners of the 2010 awards have been announced. They are:

Ravenheart Award (cover art): Didier Graffet and Dave Senior - Best Served Cold (by Joe Abercrombie)
An excellent cover because it pretty much encapsulates the story in a single image, which is what you want the cover to do. It's got travel and adventure, fighting and bloodshed, and gold and treasure. The use of the bloody sword and gold coins on top of the old style map makes you feel like you're looking an an actual prop rather than a book sleeve. Well deserved.

Morningstar Award (debut novel): The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel

I've not heard of this novel at all before seeing these awards. From the blurb, The Cardinal's Blades sounds a lot like Kari Sperring's Living With Ghosts in that it's a swashbuckling adventure type of story set in a 17th Century style environment. Swap ghosts for dragons and there you go. I've not read a dragon novel in a while, so Mr. Pevel, if you're listening, I'll be glad to take a copy off your hands to read [insert cheeky wink and grin here].

Legend Award (best novel): Empire by Graham McNeill

I've only read Graham McNeill's Heldenhammer, which is another book in the 'Time of Legends' series (I'm pretty sure that Empire is the sequel to Heldenhammer). McNeill's writing style makes you appreciate the human element in large scale conflicts by ensuring that you care about the people fighting on the front line. Whilst he is a prolific writer for the Black Library, McNeill could easily expand his work into general fantasy. An excellent choice.

Congratulations to the winners!

24 June 2010

Just received: Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier

Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel NeumeierI just received Rachel Neumeier's novel Lord of the Changing Winds (you can purchase from Amazon UK and Amazon US, the first book in the Griffin Mage Trilogy. My thanks go to Orbit and for sending me this review copy. I can't wait to get stuck in!

A press release came with the book. Here's what it says:

A gripping, fast-paced fantasy full of courtly intrigue, compelling characters and magical flying griffins.

The desert winds have come to the village of Minas Ford. Griffins, creatures of fire, have appeared in a burning haze – searing the sky a blinding white and scorching the earth to parched, barren sand. These majestic beasts, half-lion, half-eagle, spread the arid desert wherever they roam.

Iaor, the King of Feierabiand, will not tolerate the destruction of his people’s farmland. He means to drive the griffins from his domain – whether by negotiation or brute force.

But not all those who encounter the griffins fear them. Kes, a timid village girl, is summoned to heal the King of the Griffins himself. She will discover her affinity with these creatures, and come to realise that the menace they flee is even more deadly than the blazing fires of the desert.

The amazing cover art is what first drew me to Neumeier's book, and I've not read any fantasy that features a griffin as an integral part of the story (with the sole exception of Prisoner of Azkhaban). Thanks again to Orbit and Little Brown Books, this looks to be a great read!

Rachel Neumeier's Official site

21 June 2010

The Movie Dirty Dozen Blogfest

Here's my Movie Dirty Dozen for the blogfest for Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of the upcoming 'Cassastar' and Mr. Awesome Blogger himself. These 12 movies have in some way, shape or form defined me as a person or had an impact on my life. Strap yourselves in, people, it's going to get crazy ...

Blade is one of the best vampire movies ever made. The biggest thing about it that I find awesome is that they scientifically explain many things in the vampire canon that are usually put down to spiritual or religious reasons. Plus, as an adaptation of a Marvel comic, it comes from a good source. Snipes does a great job as Blade, and Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost is brilliant. This is a vampire movie worth watching; the villains are predators. None of that sparkly nonsense going on here. This was also the movie that really got me interested in the vampire genre.

Dogma, to me, is Kevin Smith's best film. As a Catholic I can identify with a lot of what is said (and I understand many of the in jokes). Superbly cast and the long scenes of dialogue are both gripping and highly memorable. Casting Alan Rickman as the Voice of God was an excellent move, and the movie shows what Kevin Smith can do when  he's given a bigger budget. The team up of Damon and Affleck, as in Good Will Hunting, works here (especially seen in the parking lot scene).

Jurassic Park was the first movie I saw in the cinema, and likely the movie that sparked my interest in ancient history and archaeology (that scene at the beginning where Grant and Sattler uncover the raptor skeleton was my favourite scene, even as a kid). As one of the first films that made realistic CG creatures, Jurassic Park is a highly important film. It was from watching this movie that I went and read the novel by Michael Crichton, which then sparked my interest in reading adult fiction (I was an avid Goosebumps reader until then).

Labyrinth was a classic movie, a true fantasy through and through. With expert puppetry by Jim Henson and a surprisingly awesome performance by David Bowie (the soundtrack to the movie is also amazing), the film had everything that a kid could want. I've since shown it to adults who'd never seen it before, and they couldn't get into it, so it's still very much a children's movie. However, with great set design, a great cast and fantastic music, what's not to love?

The Mummy was the very first movie that I watched on DVD, and it blew me away. I was hooked on the story - one of the best things about the movie was the build up to revealing Imhotep in that it felt like a quest/adventure movie before going down the hammer horror route. Jerry Goldsmith's score is excellent and as someone with a huge interest in Ancient Egypt, this had a massive amount of appeal to me. Safe to say, I went and bought a DVD player and The Mummy on DVD as soon as I could.

Little Shop of Horrors is likely the movie that got me to like musicals. An excellent soundtrack and a brilliant cast made even better by starts Steve Martin and John Candy, Little Shop of Horrors made it cool to sing in a movie. Plus the songs had a motown/soul vibe to them, which made it even better. However, nothing beats Steve Martin's song about how awesome it is to be a dentist (is that his actual hair in this film, or had he gone gray already?)

Planet of the Apes (1968) was a phenomenal movie. Time travel, Chuck Heston, Roddy McDowell, archaeology, twist endings, what more could you ask for? One thing I like about sci-fi movies of this period is the lack of constant action. It takes quite a while for the first gunshot to be fired, and even then it's done so sparingly. I practically devoured the entire Planet of the Apes canon, including the 3 hour documentary. An excellent sci-fi movie.

The Time Machine (1960) is another sci-fi movie in a similar vein to Planet of the Apes. Based on the H.G. Welles novel, the concept of time travel found in this movie highly interested me. What I like most about this is the use of stop motion to show the passage of time, and the protagonist's determination to find an era of human history that isn't filled with war and death. Plus, having him appear at the beginning of the movie with torn clothing and a blackened face after his journey of 800,000,000 years (which only took a week in the time of his contemporaries) is one of the greatest things about time travel movies.

BASEketball was a big of a wild card for me. I rented it years ago just because I knew of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. What I got was an insanely funny movie that revolved around a brilliant concept - the creation of an entirely new sport (I was really into creating hybrid sports and new games as a kid). BASEketball is extremely funny because it doesn't bother with limitations. Want to show the main characters electrocute a child? Go ahead. Want to see a dude lick a sex toy? Sure thing. Every scene is brilliant on its own and nothing is really superfluous. Brilliant!

Army of Darkness is, in my opinion, the best of the Evil Dead Trilogy. Bruce Campbell is an excellent B-movie actor and this movie combines the Campbell funnies with a great fantasy movie. Whereas Evil Dead I and II tried to be more scary and comedic, Army of Darkness just went in for the fantastical comedy. It's both witty and action packed, and it kicks all kinds of ass.

The Monster Squad was my first introduction to the Hammer Horror movie monsters, and when it's told through a 1980's B-movie you know it's going to be good. Since I saw this as a kid, I identified with the guys in the movie (as kids with overactive imaginations). I even started my own Monster Squad club at school, so influenced I was by it. It had a great way of toning down the horror enough to make the movie fun. Although, for the record, the Wolfman's transformation in the phone booth scene scared the crap out of me, and Frankenstein's farewell to the human girl made me cry as a kid.


My 12th entry is in fact 2 lots of 3 movies. They're similar in importance and so historically epic and no one could begrudge me having them both on here.

How can I not add this to my list? The original Star Wars trilogy had such a big impact on cinema and on the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Though it had massive space fights and laser blasters and what not, I always felt there was a heavy element of fantasy to the movies. In any case, it's the classic good vs. evil story, clean cut with amazing special effects, an awesome soundtrack and a brilliant cast. You can't help but be sucked in to this universe and its characters. Even after over 30 years since A New Hope was released, people still enjoy it. That says something.

Last but by no means least, The Lord of the Rings is such an monumental achievement in fantasy cinema. Such a close adaptation of a novel is unparalleled, and there doesn't seem to be a single thing wrong with these movies. Everything falls perfectly into place, from the cinematography to the cast to the music to the effects. You don't need to read to books to understand the story, and I think that is an excellent achievement. Just as Star Wars is important in cinema, it can be seen that Lord of the Rings will ring into the future with the same kind of importance.

So that's my Movie Dirty Dozen. I'd appreciate any and all comment about my choices and any suggestions for further watching. My thanks go to Alex for hosting the event, and I hope you take a look at the other entries on his bloglist. Enjoy!

17 June 2010

What I did today - and a trailer for HBO's A Game of Thrones

This has a link to the realms of fantasy so I thought I'd post up a bit about what I did today. After work I decided to visit Oystermouth Castle in Swansea. Now mostly in ruin, the castle was built in the 12th Century and has been reused and patched up numerous times in it's 800 year history.

Throughout June, the local Archaeological Trust has started some excavation work at the site before further repair begins, so I went up there and took some photos of the castle.

I adore castles, and living in Wales means that there's no shortage of awesome castles, most of which are still more or less standing. They kind of encompass the fantasy genre in a single building - if you walk through the grounds and through the corridors you can imagine massive battles being fought on the battlements, a storm of arrows soaring through the sky, monsterous creatures raining fire down upon the enemy ... I digress. But it links up nicely with a great piece of news that's been hitting the fantasy Blog-o-sphere lately. Though only 22 seconds long, the trailer for HBO's A Game of Thrones (an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series) does get the blood pumping in anticipation. Sean Bean and fantasy go together so well, and his singular line of "Winter is Coming" sets the tone pretty much straight off the bat. I can't wait for this, thought I really need to read the novel soon.

12 June 2010

New Iron Maiden album "The Final Frontier" plus FREE TRACK

A few days ago, Iron Maiden announced their newest album, The Final Frontier, due for release on August 16th. Judging from the cover art as well as the tracklisting, the band are going for a sci-fi theme for the entire album. Also, looking at some of the song lengths (at a total length of 76 minutes, it's the longest Iron Maiden album to date) they seem to be going with more of a progressive metal style than their previous albums. In any case, it's an Iron Maiden album and therefore it's going to be epic.

As part of the promo for the new album, the band have released a free download of one of the tracks from the album, El Dorado. (US fans click here to download; everyone else click here). The cover art of the track is a comic book style sci-fi strip, again pulling the spacey themes into the album's concept.

El Dorado is a brilliant song, similar in vein to the songs on Iron Maiden's Brave New World album (2000), another album with heavy sci-fi themes. Though Bruce Dickinson doesn't hit the higher notes as well as he used to, his vocals are still excellent on this track. If this song is anything to go by, The Final Frontier is going to be a brilliant album.

Here's the track listing for The Final Frontier:
1. Satellite 15....The Final Frontier (8:40)
2. El Dorado (6:49)
3. Mother Of Mercy (5:20)
4. Coming Home (5:52)
5. The Alchemist (4:29)
6. Isle Of Avalon (9:06)
7. Starblind (7:48)
8. The Talisman (9:03)
9. The Man Who Would Be King (8:28)
10. When The Wild Wind Blows (10:59)

Iron Maiden have just kickstarted their world tour to promote the album, supported by Dream Theater. I highly recommend giving El Dorado a listen, it's going to be an awesome album!

Source: ironmaiden.com
Download El Dorado: US fans | Everyone else


In other news, I've won another award! Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh, I've been given the Rock Star Blogger award. Since this post is about heavy metal, I suppose now is the most appropriate time to mention it. Thank you, Alex!

I'm gonna pass this award on to Alex Richards of Intellectual Correspondance. His phone and letter pranks crack me up every week.

9 June 2010

Just received: Dante's Journey by J C Marino

This just came in the mailbox today, and I'm really excited to start reading it. Author JC Marino very kindly sent me a copy of his debut novel, Dante's Journey, all the way from the US. HUGE thanks to you, John! I've read a few great reviews of this novel, so I can't wait to get stuck in! Here's the blurb:

A flash of light and Detective Joe Dante steps through.  No longer on the cobblestone streets of 1961 Boston, Joe finds himself in a horrifying new worldHell itself.

Joe was in hot pursuit of his family’s killer, drug lord Filippo Argenti, when both were killed, and isn’t about to let a little thing like death slow him down.

So, with a healthy dose of New England stubbornness and the help of a mysterious guide, Virgil DiMini, Joe must evade angry demons, and search ever-lower through the rings of the original Dante’s Inferno in hopes of finding justice for his wife and children.

However, Joe will soon discover that behind every sin lies a secret and each secret revealed could land Joe in an eternity of hot water… VERY hot.

Dante's Journey is published by Star Publish. You can view the author bio on the Star Publish page.

5 June 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs the world [movie trailer]

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
After the recent release of the full length trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [below], I decided to start reading up on the comics that the movie is based on. I'm a huge Edgar Wright fan, and it seemed to me (from looking at the trailer) that he was doing his best to stay true to the spirit of the original.

So yesterday I got a hold of the first Scott Pilgrim book, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life [Amazon UK], by Bryan Lee O'Malley. The first volume introduces Scott, his band, his current girlfriend Knives Chau, and his latest love interest; a quirky girl named Ramona Flowers. Scott quickly becomes obsessed with her and is determined to win her heart, but the moment he starts to do so he is faced by the first of Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends - Matthew Patel.

If I had the time, I'd be able to take that trailer and, frame by frame, match it up with the panels in the comic (well, of the first volume anyways). The comic itself puts in place a host of homages to video games and traditional comic canons, and the movie adaptation has so far taken all of these and used them in the cinematic visuals as well. The comic is very funny to read; it has the same quick wit that are the staple of many webcomics today, but it still manages to execute a larger story. I am so excited for the movie, and I can't wait to get my hands on the second volume of the comic!

In other news, yesterday I found out that I was one of the lucky winners of a pair of tickets to the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards ceremony in London next week! For those of you who don't know, Metal Hammer is the UK's best heavy metal magazine, and every year they have an awards ceremony that is also a one day festival with the newest heavy metal bands.

They give away 1000 tickets to fans to go to the awards ceremony, and I was one of 25 who won a competition to win a pair of tickets from the Metal Hammer Podcast. The Podcast's Facebook page usually gets inundated with people slating certain bands, saying "They're not a metal band because of ..." etc. So the competition was to come up with the best (read: silliest) "That's not metal" post. Why am I telling you this? I hear you cry. My entry for the competition made mention of Douglas Adams:

"Norway isn't metal. All Norway has is fiddly bits around the fjords, designed by a bloke from Magra-f*****-thea. Magrathea, the least metal planet in the galaxy. Vogon, that's where it's at. THEIR lyrics are metal as f***. Grundfuttock? Tis a Vogon word, and the most metal word EVER! Urban dictionary defines it as 'large groups of naked angry dwarfs wielding oddly shaped hammers wearing c*** rings'. Most. Metal. Planet. EVER."

So once again fantasy and sci-fi saves the day. It also means I get to see the likes of Airbourne, Skindred and Five Finger Death Punch live next week in London. Whoo! 

Prince of Persia [movie review]

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is based on the video game of the same name. The plot follows vagabond turned prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal - Donnie Darko), who finds a mysterious dagger that has the ability to turn back time. Attempting to claim the dagger and unleash its raw power is the corrupt brother of the king, Nizam (Ben Kingsley - Ghandi, Schindler's List), and so Dastan must aid the guardian of the dagger, Tamina (Gemma Arterton - Clash of the Titans) to safeguard the dagger before Nazim can unleash its terrible power upon the world.

The movie was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure) and you can pretty much see his stamp on it. The cinematography has a very Pirates feel to it, and though Prince of Persia doesn't match upto the pace of those movies, it is well executed and makes good use of its video game roots (especially at the start of the movie, during the initial siege scene).

I was surprised with Gyllanhaal's performance as Dastan. I didn't think he would have been able to pull off the arrogance and slight aristocratic air to the character (with a British accent to boot) but he did it well. However, he didn't own the performance. There was still something that didn't seem right about Gyllenhaal playing Dastan, but on the whole it was a very good performance. I was also glad to see more of Arterton after her very brief stint in Clash of the Titans as Io. Here she really captured the air of rebellion and the dry wit of the prince's love interest, and you find yourself drawn to her, sometimes moreso than the Dastan. Kingsley, as always, did a brilliant job.

I felt that the movie was a little too Disney to do is justice, however. It seemed to have been toned down in order to appeal to the family audience a little more, and it could have done with a little more 'punch' in its delivery of certain scenes. As a fan of the video games, another thing I would ask for in the movie (as any Prince of Persia fan would also say about any video game or movie) it could have done with more acrobatics to show of the full range of the prince's abilities.

The computer graphics were well used, especially when we see the dagger being used to turn back time. I felt that there wasn't enough of these kinds of actions to let the audience fully grasp the power of the dagger (I think it was used a total of 4 times during the movie). I also felt that the climax was a little underwhelming and shortlived, and a lot of potential to blow the audience's expectations was left untapped.

Prince of Persia is a very good adventure film that will be fun to watch. Don't expect too much from it and you won't be disappointed. Think of it as a better National Treasure with aspirations towards Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of cinematic grandoise. A definite buy when it comes out on DVD, but now I've seen it I have no desire to return to it just yet.

3 June 2010

Arise... Sir Patrick.

Brilliant news. The awesome Patrick Stewart, who most know and love as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation and as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II yesterday.

He says that he owed all of his success to his former English teacher, who first encouraged him to perform.

"Although many people in my life have had great influence on me, without this man none of it would have happened," says the actor, 69, from Yorkshire.

Sir Patrick is a fantastic actor; in theatre, film, TV and in his voicework (you can hear him as Emperor Urial Septim VII in Oblivion) and I want to extend the fullest congratulations to him for this high honour.

Source: BBC Entertainment News

Here's a little clip that pretty much shows why he's deserved this award for so long. The man is awesome.

1 June 2010

Review - Feast of Souls by Celia Friedman (Orbit)

Feast of Souls by Celia Friedman fantasy book coverFeast of Souls by Celia Friedman
Published by Orbit
Paperback - 608 pages
Published November 2009
Review copy given by Little Brown Books

Feast of Souls is the first book in Friedman's Magister Trilogy. It follows a number of different characters as they struggle to repel a growing darkness borne of ill magic that was thought lost. Locked in this struggle is Prince Andovan, a proud man who is slowly dying through magic, and is determined to find the cause. Also Kamala, the first female Magister and a force to be reckoned with, and Queen Gwynofar, a women born with the blood of ancient guardians who must watch her kingdom fall apart around her as her husband becomes corrupt by the very forces they are trying to repel.

The greatest asset of Feast of Souls is Friedman's ability to interconnect and entwine her character's stories. She has very different personalities serving their own agenda, only to clash with each other later on in the story. What makes this a great addition to the story is that she doesn't lose sight of the overall driving force. Each character's actions serve their personalities and nothing is put in 'just to further the plot' or 'because it would shake things up'. They are a well balanced set of players that you can feel for, and the intricacies of the narrative only serve to help that along.

The magic system in this story is very strong. Your garden variety 'witch' (whom can be both male or female) use a portion of their own soul fire every time they cast a spell. If they use enough magic, they will inevitably die before their time. The Magisters, however, use up the soul fire of other people (chosen at random). This concept is more or less at the core of the story, and it sets off a chain of events that results in the rise of an ancient evil. This means that magic becomes precious to those who aren't Magisters, and Magisters themselves have to battle with a constant moral dilemma; if they use magic, they are deliberately contributing to the death of another person.

This is not an action packed novel, so if that's all you care about when it comes to fiction then you may shy away from this. What it lacks in action it makes up for in political intrigue, subtleties and underhandedness. The politics and personal prejudices behind the secretive Magisters play a major role in the events of the story, and I found myself wanting to go deeper into what makes these connections and how the Magisters interact.

In short, Feast of Souls is an absolutely brilliant novel that, despite the lack of action, will have you enthralled from start to finish. With a host of fully developed characters and a solid narrative, you should definitely check it out!