Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dredd: The Illustrated Movie Script and Visuals (2014)

Author: Alex Garland | Illustrator: Jock | Page Count: 240

You were shit out of luck when you ran into the Ma-Ma clan.

If there’d been a poll asking what people would like to see in a book titled 'Illustrated Movie Script and Visuals,' everything that’s already included would be on my list.  As someone who enjoys Dredd comics, screenplays and can happily waste an hour studying concept art, it seems almost tailor-made.

On the left hand pages is Garland’s script, laid out in the usual format.  It’s also where you’ll find trivia, concept art depicting various stages of evolution and full colour production stills, not all of which were used in the final version (unused hall of justice, judge badges, etc), with brief passages of text describing what each one is and how it fits into the overall structure.  It’s the ‘Visuals’ half of the book.

The right hand pages display the ‘Illustrated Movie Script’ half.  Jock’s sketches give life to the scene as written on the left.  The monochrome art is somewhere between traditional storyboards (minus the giant arrows) and a regular panelled comic.  It's filled in places with black and white screen tones (repeating dot patterns often seen in manga).  Dialogue is included.  It’s the best of both worlds.

Had it been created after the film I’d have said there’s a vibrancy and urgency to the lines that capture and communicate the gritty, uncompromising and violent aspect well.  But it was made first, so it’s fair to say that the film captured those aspects of Jock’s sketches.  Had a non-comic artist been responsible, someone without a history of Dredd, the film might not have felt so authentic.

I found it more enjoyable to read the comic part in one sitting, and go back afterwards to concentrate on the left hand pages.  Doing that spilt the book into two distinct halves but the alternative was disruptive to the flow of the story.

People who bought Dredd: The Screenplay (2012) as an ebook might be a little sore double-dipping but if any of the additional content mentioned above is to your liking, there’s likely enough to warrant a repurchase.

5 Munce Box Meals out of 5

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Guru Is Born (2012)

Author:  Takeshi Kitano  |  Translator:  Dawn T. Laabs  |  Page Count: 189

It’s easier said than done. It takes real strength to live freely, and if you’re still working at it, then you’re not really free.”

Beneath a cover that appears to promise some kind of awful beach novel is a story about religion and its usefulness, or lack of.  The deeper aspects of Japanese religion would be lost on most Westerners but the novel isn't really about that, although being able to use it as a contrast would certainly be useful.  It focuses on one of the many religious sects that pop up across the country like weeds in a neglected but fertile field.  The ones that mix old and new, creating something not quite as unique as they like to pretend they are.  Kitano is both a traditionalist and a rule breaker, so that particular mix is perfect fodder for him to explore.

At a gathering of one such group is Kazuo Takayama, a young guy hunting for a cause to believe in.  He dares to believe that the lack of satisfaction he feels about life will ease if he's able to devote his efforts to something altogether larger than himself.  He's awed by the figurehead of the group, the silent Guru, a miracle-worker of great importance.  In Kazuo’s inexperienced mind the serendipitous nature of such a meeting can’t be mere coincidence.

Even in translation the language is whittled down to just the essentials without losing the beauty of allusion.  Within the larger whole are numerous tiny passages that can only be described as the product of a haiku culture.  They aren't structured as haikus but they work upon the reader in a similar way.

Unlike the majority of the Western world, Japanese stories don’t require an easy resolution.  It’s something I've gotten used to in film, they’re usually only 90 – 120 minutes of my life, but in literature, where much more time is invested, usually over a number of days, it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens.

2½ end results out of 5

Note: Guru was originally published in Japan in 1990.  It was adapted into a film by Toshihiro Tenma, titled Kyôso tanjô (1993); known as Many Happy Returns in English, although at time of writing it seems to be unavailable for purchase.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Judge Anderson: PSI Files Volume 4 (2014)

Author: Alan Grant  |  Illustrators: Steve Sampson / Arthur Ranson  |  Page Count: 304

'Resyk was way past its limit – an’ the corpses just kept pilin' up.'

Anything goes (usually illegally) in Mega-City One, but esoteric concerns have always been better suited to Anderson's corner than that of the typical street judges. There's a lot of that kind of thing in Vol 4 and she's at the centre of it.

The first part finishes Steve Sampson's excellent run on art duties. He returns the reins to series regular Arthur Ranson for a multi-part epic that manages to be set present day (for the Meg) and simultaneously be tied into an event that happened prior Necropolis. It could've been a mess but it isn't, it works and it references a lot of history while doing so. It's also bloody and gruesome in places.

Being a senior PSI means Anderson's often relied upon to make the big decisions, but for her sometimes the personal ones are the biggest of all and there's nothing more personal than the world that's formed when you retreat into the confines of your own mind. With imagination having no boundaries, the vastness can be terrifying; more so when your deadliest enemy has also spent some time there.

If she's to be saved then the decision-making will need to fall to someone else, followed by consequences carefully weighed and action taken. It's fortunate she has a good working relationship with the current Chief Judge.

Something that not unique to 2000 AD and the Megazine, but certainly isn't commonplace in comics, is the acknowledgement that characters get older. They have a finite period of usefulness. For Judges that means it's only a matter of time before they’re either dead or forced to take the Long Walk into the Cursed Earth. Anderson isn't at that stage yet, but it's on the horizon.

As usual there are brief 'bonus stories' at the back of the book taken from various 2000 AD / Dredd specials, collectively featuring scripts by Mark Millar and Tony Luke with illustrations by Dermot Power and Russell Fox.

4 fields of death out of 5

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cowboys for Christ (2006) / The Wicker Tree (2011)

Author: Robin Hardy | Page Count: 216

"I am what the Goddess wants me to be.  All things to all men."

The Wicker Tree was originally published in 2006 as Cowboys for Christ, but the title was later changed to match the name of the filmed version (2011).  Normally I'd cynically bemoan such a change but the film was directed by the author, so it's not piggybacking sales on the strength of someone else's adaptation.

It’s Hardy’s semi-sequel to The Wicker Man (1978) but it has none of the same characters.  It's a sequel only in that it once again explores the similarities and differences between two different faiths, namely Christianity and Paganism.

Batting for God are two young born-again Christians from America: a successful pop singer turned evangelical voice of an angel, Beth Boothby, and her rather dim cowboy fiancé, Steve Thompson.  The two hopeful missionaries leave Texas to spread the good word in Tressock, a town of happy heathens situated close to the Scottish/English border.  Many of the Goddess-worshipping Scots welcome the pair warmly, especially Sir Lachlan Morrison and his wife Delia.  Lachlan is a businessman who also functions as a kind of well-respected town spokesperson.

The differences between the two cultures plays a crucial role.  Robin Hardy returns to the subject often, sometimes playfully and sometimes sensitively.  His writing is still occasionally awkward—there are continuity errors and unnecessary scenes that serve no purpose—but the structure, as before spread over just a few days, feels more natural than it did in The Wicker Man novelisation.

However, Beth and Steve are so fucking naïve that I found it impossible to get attached to either of them.  They walk into dangerous situations clearly signposted from a mile away.  If they weren't so Scooby-Doo dumb, if they had some believability to their actions and reactions, perhaps the exchanges and story twists would've felt more consequential and less shoehorned in.

Nevertheless, it's a better novel (but not a better story) than it's predecessor.  I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the novelisation of the next planned film, The Wrath of the Gods (2015), follows the trend and is better again.

3 stuffed birds out of 5

Monday, August 4, 2014

An Abundance Of Katherines (2006)

Author: John Green | Page Count: 236
It kept the loneliness of crushlessness from being entirely crushing. Driving was a kind of thinking, the only kind he could then tolerate. But still, the thought lurked out there, just beyond the reach of his headlights: he'd been dumped. By a girl named Katherine. For the nineteenth time.
Colin Singleton is an awkward former child prodigy who has yet to live up to his potential. Much to his chagrin, he has yet to turn his intellect into anything resembling extraordinary; what he calls a "eureka moment". This is only exacerbated by his girlfriend, a girl named Katherine, dumping him; a scenario that has happened to him a total of 19 times. To help him heal from the breakup and assess his life, his middle eastern friend, Hassan,  takes him on a road trip.

Colin's obsession with the name Katherine is one of his many eccentricities which also include excessive anagramming of words and phrases and adding lists in the middle of sentences. Since he cannot seem to make himself matter to the world, mattering to his girlfriends worked as a substitute until they inevitably crush him. Colin's motivation for learning and excellence contrast with Hassan who has no game with the ladies and is excessively lazy. Watching Judge Judy instead of enrolling in college classes is his favorite past-time as well as jabbing Colin on his awkwardness and atheism. Both are set to learn something on this road trip.

Colin is supposedly unlikeable, but I found him much more interesting than the protagonist of author John Green's previous novel, but this second novel is full of his non condescending and flawed, but personal characterizations that would become even more refined in his later novels. The inserted footnotes are both informative and entertaining and similar to the list interjections that Colin favors which makes me feel Green has put some of himself in the character. This only helped with the engagingly thoughtful ideas that really make the book worthy of any reader and not just the "young adults" it is targeted at.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand out of 5

Saturday, August 2, 2014

.hack//Alcor (2009)

Author: Kanami Amou | Illustrator: Rena Izumibara | Page Count: 176

“…do you have any quests where you don’t have to fight?

The .hack// world can accommodate many kinds of stories within its virtual bordered structure. Alcor is just one of the possibilities. It’s a one-shot about Nanase, a young girl who wants to progress in life but is afraid of taking risks and of failure. She uses the game world as an escape, but brings into it her anxieties and failings, making her online world as complicated as her offline one.

Except it’s not complicated at all. The book could easily be summed up in one sentence. I won't do that, so don't worry.

It’s fair to say, though, hopefully without seeming too harsh that it's wishy-washy, angsty, early-teen drama. So if you're an irritating, self-absorbed, angsty teen with troubles of your own making, Alcor might just be for you.

Most everyone else will have trouble connecting because the other characters, of which there are many, are loosely written and two-dimensional. It’s only Nanase who provides any kind of solid gateway into the work. That may have been the author's plan from the outset, because it's clearly targeting a younger, less emotionally discerning demographic. If so. then the book successfully explores another aspect of the hack// versatility that I mentioned previously.

2 lucky animals out of 5