Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Our Hearts Know No Restrain... [#2]

I do not know if you remember the first post thus titled, since it has been a long time since... At any rate, the nights out with friends have grown increasingly fun over the months, even though their frequency may not be that high.

This particular one should normally go last, seeing as it is the most recent but really, I wanted to post it while it is still relatively fresh in the memories of all involved. While working on the "Science of Love" theatrical show, IndieAnn and I had noticed, on our way from a late-night rehearsal to the metro station of Kerameikos, a bar/club named the Eccentric Fox (which I have recently seen mentioned as Intrepid Fox): it seemed incredibly interesting, part semi-underground garage, part wire-fence cage and 100% cool feeling, its walls filled with posters of Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath, The Doors, The Beatles and even the 1922 "Nosferatu" film poster, among many many others. There were those of us among the SciCo troupe who had been talking about going for a wild night out drinking for ages, but had never got around to it. Seeing that place, IndieAnn and I thought it would be perfect.

That was sometime around March: even though we played the "Science of Love", prepared the "Science of Ecology", played it at the EcoLife Festival, we still hadn't managed to arrange the fabled night out, until the 18th of June, when we played "Science of Ecology" as part of the Fringe Festival. I have to tell you, playing for a very limited audience may have its perks (less fear of making mistakes, less noise, pressure, etc.) but oh, the vertiginous feeling of having tried so hard to put up a decent, quite complex theatrical show within 15-20 days and then facing the deafening echo of a near-empty hall... Let's face it: not very pleasant for most involved. For myself, besides the incredible advantage of being an insensitive bastard, I believe that the very first events of Ordre de Ciel at KABATZA were very instructing: 7 people, 2 of them the members of the (then) team, another 2 the barwoman and the manager and a grand audience of 3, myself included. Until we drew in the anime crowd (that is, for the span of around 4 months), that number never went over 15, so rather empty spaces do not really depress me. The presence of Mai-chan and Flexxy among the audience was quite enough for me, although there are very few things like the rush of a full house.

At any rate, the troupe was not really in the mood, it was our last show for the season and some had other plans. Thankfully, Nickolas (a member of the troupe who had to remain at the sidelines for "Science of Ecology" due to day-job demands - i.e. working on finishing his Ph.D.) was also there and one of our newest members, Julie, had friends waiting for her... at the Eccentric Fox! Therefore, absolutely refusing to listen to IndieAnn's excuses, finally a company consisting of Mai-chan, Flexxy, Nickolas, IndieAnn, Julie and her two friends, Tina and Eva, as well as yours truly, found itself at the much-discussed destination.

Interestingly enough, the DJ pair of the night was all set for 80s and 90s (and a bit of 70s) retro-action (well, for most of the night anyway, until they had gotten bored or tired and started the mixes from Hell) and we had Mai and Flexxy with us. Well, you will get the idea...

Nickolas, displaying his ticket for
"Science of Ecology"... with IndieAnn and Julie.

Indie has serious issues with staying put for a
decent photo (I kill you!).

I mean, come on! Even I stayed put, although
I am probably the least photographed individual,
both for the practical reason of being behind
the camera, as well as the aesthetic one.

And we're not even drinking yet...

"Not for long...!"

Tina, who was very fond of my cane
and hat (that hat is insanely popular -
I could never beat it, even with a stick).
Did I mentioned I went there wearing
more or less my Hercule Poirot outfit
from the show (with the exception of the shirt)?

Mai-chan and Flexxy...

...who danced so hard that people
cleared some space to watch them!

Flexxy and myself, with Indie laughing her ass of
in the background. Right, brilliant...

Given that we were there to drink, I
simply HAD to acquaint some people
with the legendary "Bears"!
(A "Submarine" variation with
Beer, Tequila and Ursus - Ursus
goes first and the rest follow).

First one went to Flexxy...

...and the second, well... let's just say
that if Mai is a crazed dance-machine
when sober...

Three Crazed Belles: Julie, Eva
and Tina (Eva simply would not
stay put for another photo...).

"I am entitled to trying on all
of Speedo's hats" (yessiree
and no lie dear readers).

The "Bear" and Mai effect:
Stage 1 - Shy Diva.

Stage 2 - Dance Mayhem.

Stage 3 -Ourg!
(Temporary bear persona).

...aaaand Stage 4 - *ahem*.

Tina turned out to be an...

...amazingly fun person...

...and quite the party animal!

As for Flexxy, as per usual, he did not stop at all...

...whether dancing with Mai or Tina, until he reached
his first limit, but we left before he had the chance
to do his Limit (and skull) Breaker.

Julie, also sporting the notorious hat,
although it gives her a rather different air.

You know, I have realized that though I do not
dance in general (and when I do, I do it badly),
maybe alcohol is not the key to it, but rather
a type of music I cannot really place but originating
in my childhood, along with excellent company...

...which was exactly what the
people in ours constituted...

...alcohol consumption and...

...inherent craziness notwithstanding
(I really like this photo).

As one amongst us put it, our company was "super" without trying to be anything other than people with genuine desire to have fun and relax after a taxing day. Of course, my continued restricted mobility over the past 6 months (i.e. I have become a slothful furry animal) meant that the next day I felt pain in places of my body whose existence I keep forgetting, but it was a welcome pain, a muscle memory of having a good time.

Of course, since everything is connected, one of my common courtesies of the night resulted, indirectly, in a string of peculiar and not entirely pleasant experiences for one of us. However, I have come to understand that a certain level of entropy is unavoidable around me or perhaps around any sort of good intention and those strings of seemingly randomly interconnected events is nothing more than the definition of life. As I said before, so far as the good outweigh the bad, even slightly, be grateful. I know I am.

Here's to your health,


P.S. I have seen a number of disturbing things in my life, but Flexxy doing the "Macarena" is in a league all his own. Cheers!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Literary Section XIV - "You and the Land Are One". what Percival said to King Arthur after the completion of the Grail Quest, in the 1981 movie, "Excalibur", featuring a phenomenal cast of actors, such as Helen Mirren (Morgana!), Liam Neeson (Sir Gawain), Gabriel Byrne (Uther Pendragon), Patrick Stewart (Sir Leodegrance) and classic legendary actor Nicol Williamson (Merlin).

Today's post refers to this particular movie (which I watched when I was entirely too young to meet the age restrictions and my parents enitrely ignorant of its specific content, when I asked for it in VHS) only by association to the latest book I read and then only throught this particular phrase. The book is "Voice of the Fire", by Alan Moore (author of "Watchmen", "V for Vendetta", "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", "From Hell" and other such masterpieces) and I bought it several months (maybe even a year) before I entertained any thoughts of starting to read it. That's just how it is with me: I keep accumulating interesting things I mean to read, which I pile upon the previous bunch of such interesting things and so on and so forth. However, I eventually get there, especially when - by necessity of work deadlines and bad time management - I cloister myself at home: there is only so much one can do between 6-hour work intervlas of translating "hard science for the masses" (read the beginning of the article for more details).

At any rate, when the work-seclusion started, I needed something to relax my brain from all the science and yet keep my thought processes alert enough to get into the flow of work, to get used to seeing so many words fly by my eyes so quickly. Hence, I first picked up Neil Gaiman's and Michael Reaves's "Interworld", which will be covered in a different post: it flew by effortlessly and even with my limited available reading time, it was gone in a little less than a week and it had enough cosmological and scientific references which, though helpful to my necessary thought processes, prevented it from being as relaxing as it would otherwise have been. I needed something else...

Alan Moore's writing has come to be perceived, almost by definition, as very deep and hard to understand. I have personally received the comment: "What?! You're reading Alan Moore? No way dude, he's faaaar too complicated for me: I cannot stand him." That was a comment provoked by the author's graphic work, along with Eddie Campbell, entitled "A Disease of Language". Funny enough, I have not had the time to read that particular volume just yet, but I believe we are dealing with a genuine case of "deceiving appearances". Alan Moore IS deep and no question about it, since all of his works have been hailed as masterpieces, at least in the comic book domain, for which he has been rewarded with non-resolvable contract fine-print and a number of bad movie adaptations (I believe that, despite its stellar cast, "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" was by far the worst, tantamount to ridicule). As for being far too complex and hard to read, I would have to say that it's a rather inaccurate statement: I believe it would be more correct to say that Alan Moore's works, especially when not aided by the imagery of the comics medium, require that the reader becomes interlocutor, instead of passive (even though captive) audience.

It was something that I realized while reading this, his first work I have come across that is not in comic book form (I believe that "Alan Moore's Writing for Comics" does not really count in this instance). "Voice of the Fire" is many things: a novel in 12 chapters, 12 linked short stories, 12 iconic personalities and imagined characters from the area that is now Northampton. However and not presuming to understand the mindscape of Alan Moore (although I HAVE watched Dez Vylenz's documentary), I believe the point is a space/time testimony beginning with a half-wit neolithic boy, passing through Roman rule and decline, the time surrounding the arrest of Guy Fawkes, the Burning Times, the Victorian Era and reaching 1995, which sports the writer himself at the center-stage.

All 12 personalities, real, or assumed, or completely imagined, speak in the first person, through the lips of the author. Through their eyes we see how Hob's Hog and Bridge-in-Valley became Ham Town and in time Hampton, how the relics, both physical and metaphysical shifted, moved, were redistributed and yet remained with each people of the land, how the 2500 BC forge became Hammersmith Train Station, how - in the end - the land and the people and the tales, the blood, the violence, the sex are one: oh, they may change form but are never lost, a kind of "Conservation of Legacy", much like the indomitable Conservation of Energy. Each story is told in the appropriate way, whether half-witted neolithic thoughts, mad diary ramblings or last thoughts as the fire licks tender flesh. This is a book of themes and symbols pervading Alan Moore's hometown, as only an honest-to-(whatever) God Shaman can perceive and accept them.

There is no glossing over here: humanity has persevered through fear, murder and sex, as much as it has through imagination, ingenuity and creativity. Alan Moore not only presents a profound understanding of this, both instinctive and researched, but he doesn't try to put himself on the outside either: the last chapter may well have been an entry from his personal journal, where nothing is left unsaid, where he smirks ironically at his own reflection and that of his family and friends, all descendants in underlying nature, if not in fact, of the previous 11 protagonists, the whole lot of them, past, present and future, birthed from the fertile, wet nether regions of the Northampton land.

I cannot really say much more without referring the entirety of the book and there are even parts I had to reread in order to make sure the connections I saw were not imagined. Was it hard to read? Not really, not apart from the first chapter, which was no more difficult that a conversation with a retarded child would be: the language also changes from chapter to chapter, to reflect the era and is in itself a journey of discovery, as things unknown at first, start to gradually make sense. It also becomes clear that the historical research was arduous, what with the book being nearly 300 pages, having been written over a span of 5 years and first published in 1995.

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie.

If I wanted to draw a general conclusion from this book, it would be this: however hard we may try to forget and strike from record what has come before, the land never forgets and it seeds our dreams, our fears and our superstitions with the clues to the truth. Whether we want to ignore them or not and what might the consequences of each action be, is a matter that we cannot hope to resolve - merely accept, if our mind is open enough.

Remember, for if memory is a river, the more debris you drop in, trying to stem its flow, the more disastrous the flood when the dams break,


Saturday, 25 July 2009

"I Shall Take the Mighty Stone and Leave the Dwarves Behind..."

The title of this post, though it did not appear as such in the good professor's book, is indicative of how much this particular work has influenced me. Let me clarify: the lines come from Blind Guardian's "The Bard's Song (The Hobbit)", from the album "Somewhere Far Beyond". The lines illustrate a most pivotal moment in Professor Tolkien's book, "The Hobbit", in Chapter XVI: A Thief In the Night.

"Somewhere Far Beyond" [1992].

I couldn't have been more then 8-9 years old, when my as yet unborn sister's godmother-to-be, suggested I read "The Hobbit", knowing of my inclination towards epic fantasy even then (although being asked, I could not have put it that way). It seems that, even at the time, I kept that piece of advice somewhere in the back of my head. So one day, when I was in the midst of my habitual mining through the piles, racks and shelves of stuff in my father's work room, I came across a 1978 edition of "The Hobbit", translated in Greek, by Kedros Publishing.

"Dad can I have this?"

"Sure, go ahead."

That was about the extent of the dialog exchanged between us concerning the book. I have said in the past that I do not believe in events and lives being written in some unreachable, cosmic stone and what's laid out for us is merely choices, some rather inconsequential, some decisive for our whole future existence: to me, picking up this book is one of those pivotal moments in my life, where the path forked, presenting the possibility of a child who did not, in fact, read the book and forgot all about it and that of a child who picked up the book in amazement and did not put it back down until it was finished. That second child grew up to be the person now feverishly typing these words.

The Greek Cover of the 1978 edition.

Reading "The Hobbit" had a profound effect on me and shaped me in more ways than my then impressionable mind could have ever imagined, like listening to epic metal as a teenager, playing Role-Playing Games, developing an insatiable curiosity about the myths and legends of diverse civilizations, writing and above all, desiring nothing in life so much as telling stories. There was a bit of biological hard-wiring in place, what with my keeping things in memory, though several years may have passed (even decades now!) and those things, seen in the light of the mind at different ages, becoming tales to be told and embellished upon. Even now, I can remember with perfect clarity (and even a measure of heartache) lying on an old sofa, reading:

"Farewell, good thief"


"Farewell, King under the Mountain!"

Thorin Oakenshield, by John Howe.

...with tears flowing from my eyes and down my cheeks, my chest in so much pain from sudden sorrow as if (God forbid) a dear friend or relative had passed away. Thinking back on the actual passing of relatives and the events surrounding it, years later and more than once, that deep and uncompromising sadness has now aged into the sweet taste of reminiscence, of innocence, of discovering truths about friendship, honor and forgiveness in the pages of a book as a child, more than I ever did in real life as an adult.

Therefore it was not easy for me not to squeal with delight when Kyoshiro sent me the following...

Granted, it's not much but you DO catch a glimpse of Bob Hoskins (at least, I think) and many glimpses of the Dragon, Smaug. Although I have known for quite some time (I first mentioned it here around the end of the article) that Guillermo Del Toro would direct the film, as well as the fact that there would be a second one, bridging the 60-year gap between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" (probably material from "Lost Tales" and "Forgotten Tales"), this is the first actual peek into the production, so I am pretty elated to see it. I have high hopes for this film, based on my conclusions from his other works ("Pan's Labyrinth", "Hellboy II", "El Orfanato"), even more so because he really respects the source material. Although it was amazing seeing "The Lord of the Rings" on the big screen, Peter Jackson had done a number of unforgivable fumbles and changes, not the least of which was making Gimli, son of Gloin, a comic relief.

So far "The Hobbit" will have Ian McKellen again as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving (unfortunately) as Elrond, Andy Serkis as Gollum, Ron Pearlman probably as Beorn and Doug Jones ("Hellboy"'s Abe Sapien) as... well, I don't know. Of course, rumours abound concerning Bob Hoskins (as mentioned above), James McAvoy (who said it was sadly just unfounded internet talk) and Paul Giamatti.

Digging through del Toro's current projects, I also noticed he is working on Neil Gaiman's "Death: The High Cost of Living", a tricky business involving one of the most celebrated comic book characters of all time. The film adaptation has gone through a number of rough tumbles, but now its coming into existence actually seems feasible.

Death, Second of the Endless.

Here's to looking forward for SOME movies in the future: at the very least, movies that will be directed with respect.



Thursday, 23 July 2009

Celluloid Vampires and Then Some - Part 1

Hello again people: I hope life is treating you well. As of yesterday, I am back from oblivion (not the game), since I handed in my latest translation (as well as the index to it), a tough little cookie called "The Universe: A Biography" (by John Gribbin), which dealt with the beginning and the end of all that we know (and probably will know) in the Universe, compacted inside 220 pages. The book had large amounts of Astrophysics, Cosmology, Particle and Nuclear Physics, some Quantum Mechanics and a smattering of Organic Chemistry and Biology, just for good measure. It bled me out, but at the end of the day it was a really interesting book and great inspiration for anyone attempting to write serious science fiction. Interestingly enough, an old friend had some serious questions yesterday, concerning the nature of Physics and especially Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which led to other questions and so on and so forth, all of which are actually covered in the book; just a note on things being connected.

The cover of the English Edition.

In spite of those scientific and linguistic labors, my thoughts are turned to vampirism these days. For some reason, Vampires never seem to go out of fashion, ever since the Victorian Age. Sure, they change faces, settings, descriptions, they suffer the rigors of becoming literary, televised and cinematic cheap thrills, but at the end of the day, they still remain lodged in our brain's seat of fascination (wherever that may be and if even such a thing exists). Sometimes, they make for rather unexpected surprises, such as Greek television putting on "Rise: Blood Hunter" with Lucy Liu, a Chinese production for rather "culty" tastes, yet definitely in the must-see list of Vampire movies.

Of course, as with anything popular, there's times of hype and times of quiet. Well, the past 6 months have been rather noisy. However, two very specific things initiated this post, one being my current fantasy/horror fix, the other an addition to the long list of cinematic adaptation misfires.

Let us start with the bad, so to speak, since it's the most recent. On Monday, I had been awake since 20:00 of the previous day, since I spent the night doing last-minute corrections to the last chapters of the translation, as well as translating all those annoying things one leaves for last, such as the author's bio, aknowledgements etc. After everything was done and sent over to the publisher, I had to get ready and make my way downtown to the publishing house (Metaichmio) offices on Ippokratous St., in order to discuss some details. After that meeting was concluded, I made my way to the nearby Games & Hobby Store (Kaissa) on Kallidromiou St., where I salvaged another couple of RPG books from being lost to obscurity and dust. After that, having been cloistered for more than 20 days, I headed for some more geek-therapy consisting of buying comic books (at Solaris), after a brief visit to a different publisher, in order to get paid for an older project. While there, I was contacted by Mai-chan, whom I had not seen since the last J-Party, so we got together and went to have a bite (at Mystic Pizza: cannabis seed-laced Pizza & Pasta, yaaay) and coffee. Thereabouts, Kyoshiro called and asked if we would be tagging along for a movie, "BLOOD: The Last Vampire". Naturally, we were game and agreed to meet the others at around 19:00, since the movie started at 20:00.

The Salvaged Items

Call of Cthulh Supplement
for the 1890s.

Swashbuckling Adventures Supplement
for the secret hoards of pirates.

So now we have reached the actual event which was one of the two triggers for this post, i.e. watching the aforementioned film. The reason I more or less described the rest of my day, was to explain how I had been awake for 24 hours straight, going all over Athens, until we entered the cinema. The movie was based on a 2000 Japanese animated film of the same name, by Production I.G. (of "Ghost in the Shell" fame). The anime film, although possessed of stellar animation and design, was only 48 minutes long and hence, ended in an unsatisfactory way, leaving the viewer hanging dry.

In 2002 came out a manga sequel by Benkyo Tamaoki, which elaborated a bit further on the main character, Saya, why she is a hybrid (Human/Chiropteran, as Vampires are called in the specific context), her relation to the U.S. government etc. It was a more complete, stand-alone story, containing a few useful clues about the anime film.

There have also been a manga adaptation of the anime, two more manga spin-offs (Blood+ Adagio [2006] and Blood+ Yakou Joushi [2009] - not translated in English), as well as an extended, 50-episode TV series [2006-2007] which finally gave some concrete answers.

Saya and Haji as portrayed in
the anime series.

Did you get all that? Good. Now Hollywood, continuing on its unimaginative streak, decided all that would make yet another easy adaptation, hence the live-action movie. Let me tell you: the original material, most of which I have either watched or read, is messed-up enough that it changes who and what Saya is at least twice, though skillfully enough that you have to look for it, in order to see it. So what did the Americans do? They took the already problematic outline and pacing of the original anime film, copied it almost to a fault, up to a point and then they just got "creative".

The American Poster.

The Japanese Poster (even the poster
is way better - these people KNOW
the source material!).

Not all was bad: Yasuaki Kurata, who played the elderly mentor of Saya, Kato Takatora, had some very impressive combat scenes and Koyuki (who played Taka in "The Last Samurai") made for a real mean Onigen, the Demon Queen of the Chiropterans. However, the Chiropterans themselves were bad, BAD CGI, the special effects were tiresome and untimely and I must confess to nodding off to sleep during various instances. As I said earlier, I had not slept in 24 hours but come on! I have done 36 and 60 hours in a row in various instances and if there was something really interesting to keep me awake, it did (the 60 hours are a prime example, since at the time we were playing a great RPG session with friends, whereby I was kept awake until my body collapsed). I therefore conclude that the movie was not all that great.

Kato Takatora: Epic.

Onigen vs Saya: great photography, lousy
planning, duration and ending.

The idea of the Chiropterans (sickly, dark green and brown colored winged creatures, resembling part Coppoloa's Dracula in his winged form, part reptile with huge teeth - they can also take human form and infiltrate the population) struck me as a bit cliche and throwback for Vampires, even in 2000, but at least they had something primal and disturbing to them, especially during the transformation from human to Chiropteran. That disturbing quality was preserved during the early stages of the transformations in the film, but the full-fledged Chiropterans looked like silvery flying Gollums to me. Furthermore, someone not familiar with the source material would have a very hard time understanding the underlying politics and intrigue, which were featured in a rather silly way anyway. Finally, what's with having a non-Asian female co-lead in the film, dumber than a sack of hammers, who is "important" because she "somehow" connects with Saya (Vampire/Human sword-wileding, monster-slaying, at-least-200-years-old merciless, reclusive person, remember?)? Her presence, let alone part, in the film is nonsensical.

A piece of amazing promotional
artwork for the original anime movie.

So yes, in my book, it's yet another vampiric misfire. Was it as bad as "Twilight"? No, not really and "Twilight" has a number of much more important problems than 'BLOOD". Before you ask, yes I did watch it on the big screen (in fact I went with high hopes, knowing nothing of the books or the hype) and funny enough, it was yet again with Mai-chan and Kyoshiro. To me "Twilight" is the epitome of lukewarm, bubble-gum soap opera horror-romance or, in simpler words, the heir to a long line of bad Vampire interpretations, having gaping holes as far as the legends go and one of the most absurd and ridiculous innovations ever: Vampires do not go out in the Sun because they glow like they're made of Swarowski gems. Not to mention that most of the Cullen family really look and behave like goth-wannabees in white, instead of Vampires, with the marked exception of Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen, as well as Ashley Greene in the role of Alice, the youngest of the family.

Other than that, it's just a (heavily) watered-down version of Anne Rice and (even worse) Laurell K. Hamilton stories or, as one of my favorite analogies goes : "What if Buffy banged them instead of killing them?" However, banking on the ever-impressionable female population who deep-down wants "a guy seemingly so bad/sad/dangerous that I can turn him around", "Twilight" became a world-wide hype. True to that, girls/women without such complexes did not like the film. I know, I know I am pushing it but I am desperate to see how a thing so badly written and even worsely adapted (except for the film's photography, which I admit was higly artistic) could have such a profound "kyaaaaaa" effect.

These three COULD have saved the film.

Besides, Robert Pattinson?! I mean, I am not the best at commenting on male looks but seriously, outside the film (and at times, inside it too) the guy looks like someone hammered him with a frying pan and flattened his face. I think that if not for his very unsympathetic role, Cam Gigandet (James) would be a much more reasonable candidate for female drooling. I should also point out that the trio of James, Laurent and Victoria far outshone the leading characters, although they were used terribly unskillfully in the story (James's death being the ultimate "I have no idea how to get rid of him" demonstration).

Seriously, get a good look at the guy...

...and now look at these three.
It IS kinda obvious.

If (and only IF) you want some good Vampire fiction, masterfully adapted for the (small) screen, you should check out "True Blood", a TV series by HBO, the second thing that initiated this post. However, now that I look at it, this post has already become huge, so I will break it into two parts and elaborate on "True Blood " in Part 2.

Till later,


P.S. Regardless of the film's final quality, you can go here for some great photos from the shooting of BLOOD.