Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm a Dog Person and I like Dog People(not a furry)

I am a dog person.  I can remember from my earliest memories being surrounded by puppies and dogs.  I literally can not imagine myself without having a canine friend.   I tried for a few years to not have one of my own, and it was a miserable, horrible time in my life.  I like dogs so much that a character having a dog instantly ups my chance of liking said character that much more.

Max Rokatansky (A.K.A. Mad Max)

The first Mad Max movie I ever saw was "The Road Warrior".  The character was cool by itself, but the fact that he had a bad ass dog companion made him even more cool.  The way the dog knew to be an out of sight "trap" for anyone trying to get into the car was really cool, and how he was trained to do exactly what Max told him was great too.  But, it wasn't all one sided.  The world had gone to shit, and you literally had to kill for a mouthful of food, and its very telling that Max took the effort to feed and care well for his dog.

Fallout 3 (AKA Mad Max Simulator)

Early in the game I found the junkyard.  I found the double barrel shotgun, the biker armor and the dog companion named Dogmeat.  It was obvious by the character dead near it that this was an homage to Mad Max.  I took Dogmeat as the companion and only switched out when forced to for story reasons, I always came back and got my dog though.  His practically "infinite" taunt made him the best companion for me, everything instantly targeted it, and let me get headshots real easy.

Shadow (Final Fantasy 6)

"He'll slit his own mother's throat for a nickle" was how you were introduced to Shadow.  "Don't touch the dog, he eats people" was how you were introduced to Interceptor, his faithful dog.  Both introductions proved to be pretty accurate, but also a mask hiding the truth of who they were on the inside.  You have to dig hard to find this dog-loving assassin's true intentions, but he'll match Max for being the badass that cares.  Interceptor's name is homage to Mad Max, as Max's patrol car was the "Last of the V8 Interceptors"

Galford (Samurai Shodown)

An American ninja dressed in blue, a level where you get to cut up barrels of apples, what more could you want for kickass fighting game character?  He's got a dog.  Poppy was not just a kickass attack dog that would eat the opponent or turn into a ball of flame to make attacks, Poppy is also a responsible mommy.  Yep, in Samurai Shodown 2, when you win there will be a row of puppies that come in and celebrate the victory with mommy and ninja-step-dad.

Lonestar (Spaceballs)

Lonestar is a bafoon.  He's not good with his money and he's pretty lousy with the ladies too.  He also drives the most uncool spaceship in movies.  So what makes him a worthy hero at all?  Barf.  As in the Man-Dog Mog.  He's his own best friend, but after that he's best friends with Lonestar.  Also, when he's not being a kickass best friend, he's John Candy, and who doesn't like John Candy?  Terrorists, that's who.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

10th Doctor Retrospective(slight spoilers)

The 10th Doctor Retrospective

When the 9th Doctor came to an end, I was almost ready to call it quits on Doctor Who.  Its the American in me that does not like when "title" characters change on me.  After so many years of cult movies I liked getting different leads to play the same actor and being "shit", I did not like "my" Doctor changing.  Christopher Eccleston was the 9th Doctor and the first Doctor to keep me interested in Dr. Who.  He had a toiled past about him, and no matter how cheery he got, he was a little tortured inside over guilt about something.  Then, when we were finally getting answers, he left the show after only one season.  For those that do not know about Dr. Who, he is sort of like a Phoenix or a Trill(from Star Trek).  The Doctor gets reborn at the time of death into a new personality but with keeping the memories of the previous.  The 9th Doctor was taken far too early for my sense of story sensibilities.

The 10th Doctor came out cheery, silly, and only randomly did bad things.  The companion, Rose, seemed to abandon the thought of 9th Doctor very readily because this 10th Doctor was "dreamy".  I watched that season and I took a good long break.  The loss of Rose was the last link to 9th Doctor and the new companion from the Christmas Episode that year seemed like a real "pill".  If I had known how great the 10th Doctor's 2nd and 3rd year were going to be, I'd have watched them a lot sooner.

The 2nd and 3rd year of David Tennant as the Doctor are some of the best seasons of television I've ever seen.  They rank easily up there with Star Trek Next Gen's best.  The writing started taking into account Tennant as an actor, and Rose was replaced with a caring Martha.  Where as Rose was flighty and ditzy and played  alot of "stupid" and "school girl crush" jokes, Martha was intelligent and not quite so susceptible to closed doors(you Whovians know what I mean).  We got kickbacks to the original Who series with guest actors that played the parts they played in the 70's and 80's.  We got the wonderful Sarah Jane, arguably the most beloved woman on British TV, coming back so triumphantly she got her own spin off show.  And we had David Tennant.

David Tennant was perfect at showing a child-like wonder with Dr. Who.  Everything fascinated him.  In the 2nd and 3rd years, we met the other side as well.  David Tennant could make Dr. Who heartfelt.  This is why 10th Doctor has won me over.  Unlike Eccleston, things that happened with Tennant made me tear up.  Whenever he knew someone was going to die, he would say "I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry" and after you believed that he was sorry, you realized someone in the room was going to die and it would bring up tensions.  They are not shy to have people you care about die in the Tennant era of Doctor Who.  When things are revealed we are only as surprised as the Doctor, and Tennat did this very well.  He was right mix of serious, funny, and just enough Scottish to remind us of a Time Traveling James Bond.  He had the best portrayal of a mischievious person, but just like the Dumbledore you read in the books, or Gandalf being silly in the Shire, there's a hint of "everything is under control, I know what I'm doing".  In this post alone, I've compared Tennant to Gandalf, Dumbledore, and his story to the very best of Jean Luc Picard's Enterprise.  These are lofty places in nerdom, and I think he belongs there.

Oh and that companion we thought we dodged a bullet on after the Christmas Episode?  She was Donna Noble and Tennant made us care about her.  I was determined not to like the woman, and their work together was easily the most emotional of any in the series so far.  Do not even ask me how it happened, but I ended up liking Donna Noble even more than Rose Tyler.

The Tennant Era is one big huge story.  Almost every thing that happens actually is building to something and oh did it end in a wonderfully huge finale.  You might think that each season is self contained for the most part, as each season gets it own resolution and completion, but you're lulled into a false sense of "finish".  Tennant's era finishes with "The End of Time" and this two parter takes every major story line of Tennants era and gives it a send off the likes of which are usually only matched by series finales.  And that's a big difference to what we got with the 9th Doctor.  David Tennant got a send off, he got to say goodbye to everyone, and the show treated his leaving as the passing of a crown, as should befit the passing of a benevolent king.  The lasting quote of the 10th Doctor, "we must look like ants to you"  "oh no, to me you look like giants" is a great summation of the 10th Doctor.

So the 11th Doctor has shown up and like the 10th, he hasn't given me a very good impression.  We don't know what we're getting for a companion and we can't imagine Doctor Who without Tennant.  As I said before in an earlier daily post... that's core for Dr. Who and an experience you have to get used to if you're a fan.  I'm looking forward to finding out if I"m a David Tennant fan, or a "Whovian" in the real sense.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Attack on Titan; Series thoughts

Attack on Titan is one of those shows that can straddle the edge of being "too much", and do it just enough to keep you watching.

The roughest episodes are the first.  If you can get past the first 4 episodes then you are in it for the long haul.  Attack on Titan is not a DBZ or white washed kids show.  Attack on Titan is a brutal, heart wrenching show that does not flinch when it comes to showing you the gritty details.  People will be destroyed in front of your eyes.  You will see them die in blazes of glory, but you will also see them die begging for their mothers, appealing to an uncaring enemy for mercy, and crying because they are not ready to die.  The show makes you lose hope because of all the horror and tragedy represented, there is just no way you feel like the sun will come up tomorrow.

So what is this show about?  Well, Western Europe is full of tales about giants.  From Ireland to Germany, we have fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk or legends about The Giant's Causeway.  Attack on Titan takes place in what looks to be Germany(and uses German language in the story).  Only the "giants" in this show are "Titans".  They are giant, generally mindless, representations of human cruelty.  Taken in a modern context, they are 20-100+ feet tall zombies that devour people without mercy.  To fight back, humans developed a sort of "Spider-man" rope system that sends the characters soaring through the air just like the masked web-slinger.  They then use swords to attack the vital parts of the Titans.

Why would anyone keep watching?  As much as the show makes you hopeless, it also brings you to lofty heights of pride and ambition.  I compare it to Independence Day.  Almost every episode is going to have a Bill Pullman-like president speech calling on everyone to be brave and do their part, and then someone you enjoy watching is going to make the ultimate sacrifice to save those they love.

It helps that the character's stories are interesting, including those around the main characters.  Eren's life, like many others, is turned upside down when the Titans start invading.  The death of those around him spurs him to want to kill every Titan with a tenacity that always impresses, intimidates and scares those he comes in contact with.  His childhood friends, Armin the very intelligent weakling, and Misaka the last Japanese person left alive, are ever at his side protecting him.  They all decide to join the military to learn how to fight Titans, and that is largely what the first season is about.  The surrounding characters rarely get the spotlight, and its a shame because the extended cast is just as interesting as the main three.

Hajime Isayama is the writer of the manga, and I would give you a big list of his accomplishments if there were any.  Attack on Titan is the first one he's done out of the gate, and he already writes like a seasoned pro. In Japan the comic it is based off of has not ended yet, and I do not know if they intend to ride it out for a decade or if they have an ending in site, but either way the first season is worth watching if you enjoy anime. I rarely like anime, I'm super picky, but Attack on Titan gets my seal of approval, with only my cautioning that it is brutal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Shared Fantasy: Potential Series

Shared Fantasy: Potential Series

This is a sort of specialized list.  I took a list of books my girlfriend has liked and a list of books that I have liked and fed them into the internet and came out with a list of Fantasy Series that we may both enjoy together.  The reason is that we had so much fun while I read Harry Potter and then again while she read The Lord of the Rings.  We want to recapture that kind of feeling by reading a whole new series that neither of us have read and discuss it while we read the series.  My girl goes more towards the fairy tale side of things as she's a fan of Robin Mckinley and Gregory Maguire.  My tastes are varied, but I generally like a lot of magical weaponry and questioning what makes us "human".

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Ever watch that rare Disney movie "The Black Cauldron"?  Well that was a movie based on the second book in the series.  My girl and I have watched "The Black Cauldron" and while it had problems, it was really cool for the era it was made in.  Did you like how the Harry Potter series "grew up" with Harry?  Well this series does that, as we follow the protagonist from childhood to maturity.  There are 5 books in the series, but if you've read through Harry Potter, then these will be pretty easy to get through as they are not huge tomes.  It is NOT like Harry Potter as it takes place in a new fantasy world instead of our world.  Its really pure fantasy.

The Books of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

One of my all time "needed to have read" series.  This series was passed around the theater when I worked there in my teens and early 20's.  Plenty of female co-workers read it as well and seemed to like it.  Basically there are magical swords forged by the gods that each have something special.  One will make it possible to defend a town, but the townsfolk will always hate you.  Each of them have that one drawback.  It is fairly short, usually the trilogy is collected into a single tome.  The cast of characters is very large, and this is the real reason I would like to share this with my girl.  We loved talking about the lesser known characters in Lord of the Rings, and when we talk about our favorite Harry Potter characters, we gravitate to the B-cast.  I think this will be great, not only because of the large cast, but the philosophical questions the swords present.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

A youth finds out he is actually a magical person in our very real world.  That's right!  A Harry Potter analogue from the 1970's!  Well, this is here because of that, and because this series won so many awards as they were written.  From what I have read in reviews, this series focuses much more on European Mythology than Harry Potter does, but doesn't get into myth to the extent of Percy Jackson(which I haven't read).  Harry Potter is very "Raul Doll" inspired fantasy, and The Dark is Rising is more epic fantasy, so I think it will be plenty different enough.

Previously Talked about Books

Generally if I'm interested in it, I'm interested in sharing it with someone.  So here are my previous links to my previous lists.  Of particular interest of reading with my girl is "The Dragonriders of Pern", "The Magicians", "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn".  I just did not want to repost what I said about them here in this post, head over there and check them out maybe.

Epic Series Candidates

Stand Alone Novel Candidates

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Star Trek Enterprise: I Took That Pill

Ok.  Let's do this.

Was Star Trek Enterprise as bad as they(including me) used to day?  I think its about 75% as bad as what they give it.  Did I get used to the horrible beginning song? No, and quite frankly the refusal by the producers to give it up was a huge "F U" to fans that were genuinely trying to help by the 3rd season.  Were the actors horrible?  Absolutely not, the only real fault I could find with the cast was that Jolene Blalock had a hard time playing a Vulcan, especially in the first 3 seasons, but sadly by season 4 the show was just about over.  Was the writing as bad as they say?  Yes, and worse.

I'm not really sure how to proceed aside from maybe expounding on some of those things?

The Cast

I really can not find fault with the actors and actresses that played in this series.  I have always been a fan of Scott Bakula, which is why I gave him the benefit of a doubt when they cast a "known" actor as the new captain.  Bakula has serious geek cred, especially in series that were taking place when sci-fi was not taken seriously on television.  I think the writing keeps Captain Archer from being one of the greats, but overall I do like him more than Sisko, and a hell of a lot more than Pine's Kirk.  Connor Trinneer won me over as Trip Tucker and in the end I think what most pisses me off about the "end" was what they did with his character.  I feel like he knew it was bullshit as well, and so his worst acting, his worst performance was also his last one as Trip, and I feel he did it on purpose.

And thus ends the characters that got enough development to be on par with even the "B" cast of Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager.  The writing kept us from getting to know and love Hashi Sato, Malcolm Reed, and Travis Mayweather.  The actors; Linda Park, Dominic Keating, and Anthony Mongomery, all were terrific for what they got to play as.  The entire first two seasons they are almost set decoration, with one episode each to "shine".  Reed notoriously got "his" episode devoted to how boring absence of his personality.  Seriously, what the hell?

That leaves me with one last character.  This character kept me interested in the show even when it got "slow".  Doctor Phlox, played by Peter Billingsly, deserves a medal for bringing the only bit of character into the cast that resembles what we all loved so much about the characters of Next Gen and its spinoffs.  If you're a fan of Data, Quark, Seven of 9, or ANY of the doctors, he's like all of those in one.  If I have one sadness about Enterprise being over, its because Phlox doesn't get more time in the sun.

The Writing, Plot, etc

Ok we have to separate these into certain "eras" of the show.  The first and second season are easy to group.  The people in charge of the show at this point really did not know where to go.  They had a vague meta-plot that resembled a washed down DS9 type thing, and then had plenty of episodes about nothing.  Things happened, yes, and there were a couple of "our first time blah blah" for the Trek fans, but really not a lot happened to progress characters or anything really.  I would have to say there were 3 "good" episodes if I am pressed: Dear Doctor(easily the best of the first 2 seasons), Carbon Creek, and Dawn.

Season 3 can best be summed up as The Deep Space 9'ification of Star Trek Enterprise.  This is when the Meta Plot took over and ate the show alive.  You can not really watch these shows out of context because its essentially a season long episode.  This is the same problem I had with DS9.  You have to care about that meta plot as well, and frankly it was very slow to start with getting interesting.  I have to say though, that the most exciting and tense parts of the entire series was the last 5 episodes of this season.  This is also the season where Shran becomes the 3rd best character in the series.  I eagerly waited and got much happier when he appeared in an episode.

Season 4 is all over the place.  It starts out strongly, living off the good accomplishments of Season 3, but then gets slow in the middle when it starts being a "we're going to give nods to past Treks" tribute show.  The overarching meta plot style of season 3 is axed, and we're given a 3-4 show meta plot mini-series of sorts.  The writers try and "fix" Vulcans and explain why they are all emotional dickheads for the first two seasons, but its a "fix" that's too late to save them.  The middle of season turns to shit as they focus on Klingons and Wrath of Khan sub plots.  The series starts to end strong as we get the core of the Federation coming together, something we've been wanting to see since season 1.  It was criminal that they did not get around to making Shran the first Andorian in Star Fleet during this season.

The finale.  This is the shit of the shit for episodes, holy crap.  This is also a slap in the face of all the actors and hard working people that put in effort to get this show being better the last two seasons.  They basically take the finale out of the hands of the cast and crew, and give it to a gimmick of being part of a Star Trek Next Generation episode, literally.  They do sort of try and save their ass in case they get put in sindication, and set it to the 10th year of the Enterprise mission, leaving plenty of years of stories left to do for the crew.  Star Trek has had a good track record with finales.  Their writers knew they had to keep things vague enough to allow for speculation and future growth, and yet have things end on a good enough note for the characters in general.  We are invested in these people and we want them to overall end up well.  Enterprise's finale says "fuck that".  We end on a depressingly shitty outcome for 2 of the 3 "headliners".  We have an uncharacteristic turn of face for one of them that leads to easily the worst acted, thought out, and forced scene of the entire FRANCHISE.  It is almost "Spock's Brain" caliber of shit.

You want to come away from Enterprise on a good note?  Skip the last, and leave Terra Prime as the finale.

Final Thoughts

I do not feel like I wasted my time.  There are a handful of really "great" episodes, but really only "Similitude" can be watched out of context and enjoyed, the rest have to be part of a mini-feature length+ movie.  The cast saves the show from being a total wash out, but the writing NEVER gets there like it does for the other series.  Is it worth

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fantasy Stand Alone Candidates Thrimidge 2014

A "Stand Alone" is a book that has a self contained story.  There is a beginning and an ending within its pages, and there are no other books that are needed to finish its particular narrative thread.  This does not mean that a Stand Alone book must take place in a world where other books do not.  There are several stand alones that happen to side characters or other parts of a world that an epic series takes place in.  A Stand Alone is a great place to start if you are curious about a particular author.  I used Elantris as my starting point on if I like Brandon Sanderson or not.  It is a horrible feeling to dislike someone's writing style, but be stuck reading it for 4-8 books because you want to know the outcome of a story.  They are also great for a change of pace.  I am technically reading through a few epic series in both science fiction and fantasy, and having a one shot in between books to allow me to think about the previous book or to change pace is really helpful.

Without further stalling, here are the ones I'm considering as of late:

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Several websites list Tigana as their #1 pick for a fantasy stand alone.  Sometimes this worries me because some of these sites favor Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings, but apparently Tigana is widely accept by both camps as of late.  I am very hesitant to read Kay's stuff because he does a lot of "real world turned fantasy" stuff, of which I'm not a huge fan of.  I hear he is a great writer and not just  a great story teller, and I'm interested to see if I like him, which is why Tigana is on my list.  It is a story about a musician(lots of those around these days) and his friends struggling against a tyrannical sorcerer that has enslaved the free world.  This book is also in #1 lists for "most feels evah"

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

This book has gotten a few add on novels, but the original was meant to be a single story and can still be read as one.  This sounds like the kind of gritty "Game of Thrones" stuff that I can actually take.  This book gets put on the top of lists about Anti-heroes, and for people that like characters such as Wolverine, The Punisher, and Kratos.  These kind of adolescent "power trip" fantasies are my guilty pleasure.  Its no surprise then that he wrote the God of War novelization...  I love reading about some smug, snooty asshole that thinks he's untouchable get confronted by the true unstoppable monster in hero form.  Its the story of an assassin doing what assassins do.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

I owe it to my childhood to read this book one day.  It exists in this world though, that if I never read it, the story never ends.  That's not meant as a pun, its just that I don't want it to be "over" in the same way that Star Trek Next Gen had to "end" one day, or that Tolkien's stories had to "end" for me.  One day...

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has a popular set of books, a couple of trilogies, that are liked by those that like Game of Thrones, but are said to be made of sterner stuff.  I'd like to see how his writing is, and if he can do epic army clashing fantasy without resorting to "shock" factors like Game of Thrones.  That's what I'm reading in the previews of this book anyway, and epic battle to end all battles or some such.  Sounds good.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Yet another stand alone that later got a sequel.  This is urban fantasy, and I have an urban fantasy series already with Dresden Files.  I'm not a huge urban fantasy fan, but I'm reading reviews that compare this to a more "serious" Harry Potter.  This comparison doesn't intrigue me as much as almost all the reviews say this is a book about the struggle to attain something someone desires so much but likely will never have.

Bonus: Elantris
If you haven't read my non-spoilery review, here it is: Elantris
Well worth the read, a good book.

Also my fantasy series candidates are here: Fantasy Series

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Potential Epic Series 2014

When it comes to the list of books I have read, science fiction dominates by a wide margin.  Aside from Dragonlace getting close to being read 20 years ago, and Lord of the Rings, which I've read twice in the past 10, there are not a lot of epic fantasy series that I have gone through.  I crave that epic fantasy style that stretches across multiple books, but I am also extremely picky.  I have a long-form series I am already reading through(Dresden Files) and I have Discworld if I want to add even more.  Those are different than something like Lord of the Rings.  I shy away from Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones because I hear so many things about "bad books" or "rough patches" along the way, and there's simply too much out there for me to put my time into that.

Anyways, this post is about my potential next series.

Lyonesse and Dying Earth by Jack Vance

I owe a lot to Jack Vance, and if you know me then you know I place an inordinate amount of effort into "getting" or "knowing" influences to things.  The entirety of Dungeon and Dragon's magic system is based upon Jack Vance's magic systems in these two series.  I hear they are wonderful, and since they were more or less developed along with Lord of the Rings, they did not take inspiration from it.  Its like a whole other side of fantasy that would find others melding with Lord of the Rings style stuff to create things like Wheel of Time.

Why I am having second thoughts: The Dying Earth series has a HUGE gap in between the 2nd and 3rd book, decades of a gap.  It is also generally a collection of loosely tied together short stories.  I have a book of short stories on a list that I want to read first, so that kind of takes out Dying Earth.  Next is Lyonesse.  Its Arthorian and Atlantean undertones set in Welsh mythology.  Yes, it also takes place on Earth.  Generally I stay away from Earth based fantasy, but Arthur and Atlantis is of huge interest to me... but... I just finished Elantris, and if you can't tell by the name, is hugely influenced by Atlantis.  None of these detractors are deal breakers... I just think it may be the wrong time.

Dragonriders of Pern by Ann McCaffrey

Dragonriders of Pern is the archetype for human/dragon relations in the fantasy boom of the 1980's and 1990's.  The fans of Pern are some of the most hardcore fans to not have their object of affections burst into the mainstream.  Their devotion lead to "living" campaigns in forums before that was a big thing on the net.  They had a large community in the text only MMO's of their day(M.U.D. variation named M.U.S.H.) and have held large events at Dragon'Con for over two decades.

Second thoughts:  It has gotten to be a very long series with numerous short stories and stand alone novels that I am afraid to invest my time.  Now... to be fair, I had  a stopping point in Dragonlance that I have not went back on, so maybe I'm just thinking of excuses.  I really hope I love them so much I end up reading all the books by Ann and now her Son, but it does make me apprehensive.  I think I've read that the two main trilogies are good enough to not need outside things, in fact they stand apart themselves as well.

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams

I do not know Tad William's books.  I do not know his reputation aside from what I read on the net.  I wanted to read one of his "stand alone" books to see how much I like him(same reason I read Elantris by Sanderson), but his one fantasy novel that fits this bill is about a rocker transported into a new world... a sub-genre that is surprisingly populated.  Unlike the others of the genre, which died out at the end of the 80's, this book about a rockstar turned hero was written in the 2000's.

That said, I think this trilogy could be great.  So much so, that I am hesitant to not read it because I also have a list of epic novels I'd like to share with my girlfriend as we read and discuss them, much like we did with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Hunger Games.  Seriously, that's the only drawback... it might be too good for my purposes.

The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip

I'm not a fan of riddles.  Its too easy for someone to lord themselves over someone when they know the answer, and it seems like they have a smug satisfaction even though it is not like they came up with the riddle in the first place.  Anyway, that's the detractor and I started with it because I think that's the only bad thing I can say about it.

I once read an article saying Patricia A. McKillip puts many authors to shame because she creates these worlds of fantasy without having to do it with long, drawn out expose'.  She had a book of short stories(mentioned above) that for each one she is said to create a believable world worthy of a series of books each.  I have been intrigued since reading that, and to my surprise she has been honing her skills for decades.  Riddle-master is her original trilogy that put her on the map.  I think that will be what I start this week.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Post-Mortem: Elantris(low spoilerage)

by Brandon Sanderson
A stand alone novel

The story of why I read this book has many smaller folds.  My girl and I were looking for a new book series that we could read together so we could interact like we did with Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings.  We rather enjoy our discussions and perceptions of the characters and the plots of books, but we're both sort of tepid when it comes to committing to a multi-book series.  I decided to look at some stand alone novels by people who had done book series.  Several names came up, Tad Williams, Jack Vance, and many others, and then I saw Brandon Sanderson's name.

Brandon Sanderson is known right now as the hand picked successor to Robert Jordon, chosen to write the last books of the Wheel of Time series using Jordon's notes.  Wheel of Time is the classic example of what I feel is a trilogy or quadrilogy that so obviously starts being expanded purely for profit.  Just like with A Game of Thrones, people can point to the book where the author said "let's see if we can stretch this out".  I am no fan of Jordon(on a side note, I am more likely to read the his novels than George R. R. Martin's though), so I almost passed on Sanderson's entire body of work, an unfair and now admittedly stupid thing to think.

Elantris had me after reading its back cover, where it explained people would become Gods and reside in a magical city for all eternity; except eternity ended ten years ago.  Yes, its a story of demi-gods that had fallen from grace.  They did not become evil, they became some sort of living zombie creature, too pitiful to die and too insane to live normal lives and one of the main 3 voices in the book had just become one.  It is a hell of a start, and proper bait for me to bite at when it comes to describing a book.

Sanderson's style won me over immediately.  I am not a fan of writers who write "smart" to prove they are smart, yet I am not fan of drab and boring writing either.  Sanderson is a great example of people taking inspiration from The Hobbit more so than from The Lord of the Rings when it comes to plain exposition.  I love it.  I can fly through pages without pausing, and remember everything I've read.  When the action gets intense, my reading does as well.  Also unlike a few recent books I've read, the author doesn't linger too much on certain details and use that to continually fill space with description.  I read a book recently where food was unusually focused upon at all times, despite it not being central to the plot.  I do not know if starving himself was the author's way of getting into the writing mood, but it certainly seemed like it.

The character of the Princess was the next thing that won me over.  She is a really great protagonist, if a little cliche in our day of "a princess that's not a lady" arch type, but something about her made me like her.  Unlike the first Shrek's Fiona, Repunzel in Tangled, and a few others; Princess Sarene does not grate on my nerves with her insistence on proving to an audience that she's crude.  The other characters grew on me as well, and I actually found that I wanted more from almost all of them; something that Sanderson sadly stayed light on.  Most characters show their true selves by the end though, and none of them are a disappointment in this respect.

The plot is really well done.  If you are well versed in this type of literature, you can guess several things that are going to happen; its just the nature of the genre.  However, Sanderson does a good job of presenting the real clues only a chapter or so before it happens, so you do not spend half the book saying "I bet this is what's going to happen, I'm 90% sure".  It really is pretty smart to do it the way he does, he simply doesn't foreshadow real facts till right before the reveal.  The plot focuses on Hope without being sticky sweet.  There is sorrow, remorse, and regret in this book, and the reader will feel it as well.  But also there's Hope, and I think the reader will feel it as well.  Not exactly the kind of hope that a movie like Braveheart brings, but a yearning in the back of your mind that you want the good guys to succeed.  In many of today's plots you aren't sure who is the good guy, or if the protagonists coming out on top is really anything more than a changing of the despots.  I am all for "gray" characters, as I name them, the bad that aren't so bad, or the good that aren't so good, but they have to be done right.  Elantris doesn't touch on gray all that very much, but where it does, it offers a nice shade away from the view points of the always morally "right" view points we get.

The book really bursts open the last 100 pages or so, and will leave you wanting more of the world.  Seriously, while being a great stand alone novel, and self contained, it sure could be the opening of something grand.  The world, the veil of a fantasy world with only a few bits of fantastic things, and a legend, gets blown wide open toward the end and you almost wish immediately for a book that expounds on it all.  Oh, and that "burst" is not exactly what you've been waiting for from the start, its not as obvious a veil lifting as you think of from the very beginning.  Again, Sanderson knew what he was doing.

The bold princess is bold.  The magic is truely magical.  The suspense is paid off.  The epic story ends epically.  I could only hope certain ongoing series that I am reading right now has this sort of pay off(lookin' at you Patrick Rothfuss).

I give Elantris my highest mark: recommending it whole heartedly.  I can't see people that enjoy fantasy novels being disappointed in it at all.  I am not one to ask people to read things that I think could be a waste of time in the least.  I would want to know what people have read and liked before I recommend something, but if someone just said "Fantasy", Elantris would be right after The Hobbit(the Lord of the Rings requires some dedication compared to The Hobbit).

Media with related themes:

Atlantis mythology of all types
Grandia by Game Arts
Vagrant Story by Yoshi Matsuno
Zombie literature
Political drama

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hook: Hated and Loved

Hook occupies this weird place with my generation.

When you look at movies "made for kids" there are generally two categories that they can be put in.  Category one is the movies that kids are supposed to love, but grownups are going to yawn or think about taxes and grown up stuff during it while the kids stay staring at the screen.  The second category is the movies that are entertaining enough for grownups to enjoy as well, and typically are liked on their own as a "movie" not just a "kids movie".

The categories are also appreciated differently by their fans over time.  With category one, usually when the kids grow up they lose appreciate for the film.  They see the movie without their rose colored glasses, and they say "wow, I don't remember this being this bad... but I bet my kids will love it one day".  Nostalgia can play a huge part in the appreciation, but they recognize that the actors were in it for the pay day or for making it for their kids, the critics rated it with the thought of kids in mind, and at the end of the day it is not taken seriously, given a "pass" and the movie lives on.  Usually the "fad" movies are in this category.  Movies that were created to take advantage of a fad at the time.  Examples include: Three Ninjas, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Rookie of the Year, Beethoven.  Movies you would probably only watch as an adult to get that nostalgia factor hit.

The second kind of movie are "kids" movies that stand the test of time.  The easy ones for my sister's generation are E.T., The Goonies, and The Neverending Story.  These films are remembered so fondly that children older than my sisters and children younger than I claim the in their childhood.  Its this whole huge bubble of everyone loving these movies.  The Critics too had lots of good, if not great, things to say about them.  These movies were held to standard, they were reviewed with critical eyes on the acting, but also on the directing, editing, writing, and technical aspects.  Movies in this category that I would consider part of my actual generation(I was the age it was meant for when it was released) include Home Alone, My Girl, Jumanji, Adams Family, Homeward Bound, Mrs. Doubtfire.

Hook has this place in a 3rd category that I do not think others are easily put there.  Hook, to much of my generation's surprise, is thought to be one of the biggest turds every shat out of the Hollywood machine.  It is reviled by critics, so much so that these said critics(that are still alive) deny it has a cult status.  There are a lot of things my generation has brought into mainstream America and made closer to "normal", but you can't talk about Hook being a great movie, you get shouted down.

Why is that?

Well I think there was a lot of hype surrounding the movie.  This is nothing special to people now, but do you remember when a movie was released and advertised on television and in restaurants for 6+ months?  This sort of thing really happened.  Now, if something is advertised or talked about for more than 2 weeks, it threatens to take the profit from the studio's next movie.  So things are generally talked up for a small amount of time and quickly asked to be forgotten(until the home versions come out).  Hook had HUGE names attached to it, names that were the biggest in successful movies and critically acclaimed movies as well.  Dennis Hoffman had just gotten an Oscar and was still living in its glow.  Bob Hoskins had just headlined the extremly successful "Who Frames Roger Rabbit".  Robin Williams was on the verge of being the hottest comedy actor in movies.  Stephen Spielberg had just made his come back to blockbuster elite after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Julia Roberts was on the verge of becoming America's sweetheart, every bit as destined to be as huge as Robin Williams was about to be.  Plus, there were cameos, OH MY GOD was there cameos for everyone over the age of 40 at the time.  Everyone from Woodstock performers, to Oscar nominated actors and actresses, and even Spielberg's friends George Lucas and Carrie Fischer.

The critics hated it.  I think they must have gotten the message that this movie was made for Baby Boomers instead of kids, I don't know.  The actors don't tend to have wonderful things to say about it in memory.  It was in a time before CGI sets(thankfully) and it was a pain to work on such elaborate sets back then.  Its a look and a style that I think are under appeciated, and a look that I think lasts, since we now see a lot of the late 90's and early 2000's CGI sets are garbage due to time and tech passing them.  Spielberg has said that he hopes one day he can watch it and like it, because right now he hasn't liked seeing it, all he sees are his failures in the movie.

People outside my generation seems to have hated it as well.  Most of the really younger crowd, under 10 years my junior, don't seem to have an appreciation for it either.  I think they may rely on the internet for their proto-opinions where as my generation only really had viewing to formulate our thoughts on film rankings.  The younger crowd get told its trash before they get to appreciate it.  Unlike the Goonies, which you are bombarded with left and right about how great that movie is.

My generation, kids that were 8-11 when this movie came out, love the hell out of the movie.  We see characters like Rufio as alternative heros.  He is the hero we're not supposed to have liked, but he was the hero we had, and he did not seem to conform to anything.  He was the 90's version of Peter Pan, and his character was perfect for the analogy.  Critics found him obnoxious, overplayed, and heavy handed... and that was PERFECT, they should have.  If that kind of kid wasn't annoying enough to grown ups, he would have pushed the boundaries until he was.

The other stuff, the imagination needed to eat, the food fight, and the kids playground scenes were right up there with the best scenes of unfettered kid joy in all the 90's.  The closest to it was the Foot headquarters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that one went over the top because of the cigarettes and beer all the teenagers got.  The Lost Boy's camp was the perfect mix of mischief, freedom, and light hearted fun.

I'm not saying there wasn't flaws, because there are many.   But what I'm saying is that unlike category 1 movies, my generation seems to keep enjoying the movie as time goes by and their ages advance.  Unlike Category 2, later generations seem to dislike it as much as the older generations.  Unlike Goonies or E. T., Hook will never have its time in the sun as a great cult classic.  But that's ok, because you know what?  That kind of gives us our little gem.  I think some of the closest analogies is the movie "Singles" to people that were that age in the early 90's.  If you weren't there, you don't really "get" that movie, or have an attachment to it beyond the music.  That's not a perfect analogy because that's like saying "you don't understand Hook unless you were a lost boy at the time".  Which admittedly has a nice double meaning to the phrase, but is not accurate in what I meant.

Anyways, to me and a lot of people my age, there is no Captain Hook unless it is Hoffman's Hook.  Even the old Peter Pan Disney movie, with its Hook extending into many other shows, is not the Hook we love.  The recently departed, and inspiration for this post, Bob Hoskins is the Smee we hear, and not the delightful voice of Bill Thompson(we do remember him for other things though).  We willfully claim our movie, even as others throw it away.  The old critics, and the old haters are dying out, but we are showing it to our children.  It is sure to live beyond its reputation that it currently has, and I think deserves another look by the detractors.  I can take off my rose tinted glasses, can you throw away your pre-conceived notions, your "I've been told to hate this film or my opinions aren't sophisticated enough" mentality?  I think we would both come out with a sense that it was a well done movie with more than a few miss steps, but then what movie is not?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yojiro Takita's "Departures"

Departures was released in 2008, and won the Japanese Oscar and Foreign Film Oscar for its year.  Takita won praise for the earlier samurai period piece "When the Last Sword is Drawn".  An interesting turn of events, as Takita began his career as a porn director.  In the past decade though, there are few Japanese directors more lauded in the native land as Takita.

To understand Departures, you have to understand a bit of Japanese traditional culture.  In Japan, only the lowliest of those on the social ladder dealt with death.  One of the biggest taboos of Japan is the touching of a dead body.  This is juxtaposed with the tradition that a body must be washed, properly dressed, and ritually prepared before it is cremated.  In Japan, one must trust the last rite of their loved ones to the lowest of society.  For many it was a thankless job that meant they would be shunned.

This happens to the main character in this movie.  A musician, Daigo, learns that he will not be able to continue his life as a paid musician and must look for a new job.  He is attracted to a job because of its high pay, and before he knows it, he's presented with the choice of being a mortician by and aging man that will soon not be able to perform his duties.  With no one to pass his skills down to, the traditional death rites will soon be forgotten, and the impersonal, modern way of dealing with the dead will take over.   Daigo must make the choice between not only being shunned and money, but also keeping this deeply personal practice alive in the modern world.

The movie is powerful, emotional, and at time funny.  Takita is heralded as a champion of traditional ideas in the modern world, and this movie makes a good, sentimental case for why keeping some traditions are important.  Do not expect action, adventure and kung-fu in this foreign film, this is a story about loss, love, and human dignity.  Its uplifting and inspiring, and is one of my favorite films of all time.  Japan is doing the kind of heartfelt movies that Hollywood will not touch anymore.  Takita's directing is amazing, he is the master in understating, and not telling the viewer everything that is happening on screen; the view must watch and look to read emotions on faces to understand the context of scenes.  If you have seen When the Last Sword is Drawn, then you will see his hand in this as well.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Romantics Anonymous

Someone wrote that Romantics Anonymous is a cup of warm cocoa, and I think that fits it better than I could.  I can describe this movie as sappy, corny, sweet, funny, quirky, and just an overall nice movie, but somehow that can come out sounding bad?

I mean, let's get this strait, this movie is not going to make you rethink or change your life, but that's not what it set out to do.  The movie has set out hoping that you find a little of yourself in these neurotic, afraid of everything characters.  But then that could turn people away too, I certainly would have had a hard time convincing myself to watch a movie about social anxiety laden people, but it somehow does it without being annoying.  American cinema, romantic comedies especially, rely on "annoyance is funny" of which I despise.  Romantics Anonymous never felt annoying, it felt warm, and silly, and was just overall a warm cup of sappy cocoa.

A small summary of the concept: Jean-Rene and Angelique are both socially awkward people.  Angelique is in a group of strongly emotioned people that get overwhelmed but have formed a group therapy session to help each other with it.  When she gets asked questions or becomes the center of attention she has a panic attack and frequently faints.  This has cost her a job as a chocolate maker. in the past.  Jean-Rene is the inheritor of an old fashioned chocolate boutique, he has inherited his father's fear of the world as well.  He goes to a therapist that challenges him to try new things.  Angelique chooses this shop to apply for a job, while Jean-Rene's challenge is to ask someone to dinner.

There is a small cast of quirky individuals that reminds me of the kind of casts in Hedgehog and Amelie, and they all do their job very well also.  The stars make the movie though.  Angelique is played by Isabelle Carre, and she's kind of quirky like Amelie, but she has this Pam Beesly(Jenna Fischer) from The Office quality to her.  She is played well, but I feel the star performance is by Jean-Rene's actor Benoit Poelvoorde.  He is what separates this movie from the Hollywood drivel that comes out here in the states.  He's funny, and almost clown like in his mannerisms, but plays the part strait at the perfect times.

If you like the 90's era un-edgy romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle, Jerry Mcquire or You've Got Mail, I think you could come to like this movie.  Oh, and if you don't want to see an hour+ movie with chocolates as a centerpiece, stay way, this will make you crave chocolate.  Here's a trailer:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Experience with Frozen

I came into Frozen with a cold heart(I'm a blogger!).

I find myself in this weird world where Disney is not making any hand animated features, and Pixar is endlessly putting out horrible sequels to my least liked Pixar movies.  I don't like this world.  The thing is... the Disney Studio's recent CGI movies are trumping Pixar.  Wreck-it-Ralph overcame my skepticism early with its first trail.  It has a hand up when it comes to me because its based on video games, and thankfully it was created by people who actually loved video games(of all eras).  Wreck-it-Ralph was amazing in all categories.  Frozen, I wanted to hate Frozen.

Frozen had no excuse to me as to why it was CGI and not hand animated.  It was a Disney princess tale, not a movie about computer created characters.  I disliked Tangled, which I thought would have been better animated by hand.   I started picking Frozen apart early, starting with the fact that it was in development hell for years.  Then I saw the advertisements.  It was so "formula" based it solidified my want to hate it.  The snowman thing looked horrible, sounded horrible, and seemed unneeded.  It was like it was an afterthought, but hey, they chose to use it as a huge advertising focus.  Then there was the whole "dumb guy, smart princess" thing that was funny when it was first done, but now probably 1/2 of Disney movies use this dynamic... oh and 100% of today's sitcoms.  It also looked so damn much like Tangled.

Then I watched it.  I said to myself "you know what, even if its a crap story, and annoying characters, I will be in a theater, and I'm virtually guaranteed to see some amazing landscapes.  Early on I really liked that the two Princesses were not enemies.  This was a movie made for sisters to watch together.  It is a dynamic not explored in Disney before.  Then they also had some hard political intrigue.  I'm not talking "oh no the guy from the other nation doesn't like things", I mean they had economic manipulation and diplomatic position shifting.  Another bonus for me.  The stupid animated snowman never redeemed himself.  I took the opportunity of his song sequence to go take a piss.

I think it turned around for me during the amazing landscape sequence I was waiting for, because the song was amazing.  The song sequence "Let it Go" is easily the highlight of the entire movie for me.  I got the incredible visuals I was expecting, and a pretty good song I was not.  Disney has not had a super strong song in a feature for many years, especially not one that people would go out and buy a soundtrack for.  I just wish the rest of the songs were catchy like in the early 90's movies, but these days 1 good one is good enough.

Good enough for an Oscar.  Idina did an amazing job on the Oscars right before they announced that Frozen had won for best original song.  Even during the Oscar performance, I was like "this is a very powerful song".  I can even overlook the incessant need for people to put a "let's talk in the song like Pink" part at the very end.  Its the very end, I can get over it.  Then the pair that came up to accept the Oscar were like the most bubbly and funny pair I'd seen at the Oscars all night.  They also looked like normal, every day people among a sea of plastic and paint.  I was very happy for them.

I'd own Frozen.  A rare sentiment for a Disney/Pixar movie in the past decade.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Relationship of Miyazaki and Disney

Many people of my generation would point to John Lasseter being the great "Walt Disney" of our times, and its understandable to do so.  To his credit though, John Lasseter has repeatedly pointed to his own personal hero to claim that mantle:  Hayao Miyazaki.  

Miyazaki is an animator and illustrator from Japan that has taken the Japanese, and now American audience, to fantastic places for over 40 years.  His films are national treasures in Japan, to the point that factories shut down when they are released because so many would schedule their days off during them.  Miyazaki is the head of Studio Ghibli, which do other movies aside from his own, which are each wonderful in their own ways as well.  It is an extensive catalogue.

This catalog was to be bought by Disney in the late 90's.  Many thought that this would mean we would get great versions of them brought to our shores.  In video games, the Japanese games were at their height.  On television the Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon craze was in their zeniths as well.  That fact such a large company bought the rights to Ghibli distribution should have been a cause for celebration.  Unfortunately the lead of the studio saw Ghibli as a competitor.  They were afraid these wonderful movies would detract from whatever half assed direct to DVD sequel they were pumping out that week with horrible quality animation, and shoddy voice acting.  The catalog was bought for one reason: to bury it so that western audiences would never see it.

This is where John Lasseter came in.  Disney was feeling the pinch of their horrible decisions around the turn of the millenium.  Their biggest hits were done by Pixar, a studio that was not yet part of Disney.  John Lasseter wrote into the contract that he would in charge of Studio Ghibli's western distribution, and since Disney needed Pixar, they consented.

Many times since, we have been getting good quality transfers of Ghibli films, and Oscars have either gone to Lasseter's Pixar stuff or Miyazaki's Ghibli movies.  While Lasseter does not make the movies himself, you can see why and how Miyazaki has influenced the kinds of things Pixar green lights.  From Up to Wall-E, you get that warmth and quirky charm.  While the earlier stuff is niche still, and largely unknown, the stuff released since Lasseter got in charge of it, are known and loved by critics and movie audiences a like.

Ghibli movies are spectacles.  You are guaranteed to be transported to a place you never imagined.  To places that are not yet stereotypical here in America, and treated to stories that are heart warming, quirky, and less about princesses in castles rescued by the quarterback. 

This is the end to my post about Miyazaki and his relationship with Disney, but it surely will not be my last post about Ghibili.  I have watched almost all his movies, and the movies of Ghibli not done by him, several times each.  I should do reviews and try and get others to watch them as well.