Sunday, October 24, 2010

Movie: Red

Bruce Willace plays a retired CIA Black Ops representative ("Retired, Extremely Dangerous") in this movie based on a CIA retiree. He and his girlfriend (who he has only chatted with online) must immediately go to ground and avoid teams of masked gun men who mean to kill them. I don't want to include spoilers for the movie, but the cast is masterful and the ending is very well done. While it has an element of the fantastic (ie violations of the laws of physics) they keep those to a minimum and the story is largely about the interactions of the old 'retired' and ...well...extremely dangerous...individuals that have to deal with the situation that has been dealt to them.

Souless by Gail Carriger

This book is quite fun. Its a Victorian urban fantasy novel that takes a lot of the same tropes that we've seen over and over again (Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts and Frankensteins) and breaths fresh life into them. There is also a rather new twist on the way vampires are done (which these days is VERY hard to do). Essentially, the book combines the steam punk (Zeppelins), Romance, and Urban Fantasy genres with excellent skill.

The source of the title is essentially that the main protagonist is preternatural, who can drain the supernatural abilities. She accidentally murders a vampire at the beginning of the story who has no ideas about the proper protocols of British society. England has embraced its supernaturals and learned to live with them. The united states, with its puritan roots, not so much. Oh, and Vampires took the side of the South in the Civil War....

I liked it. It was quite fun and would highly recommend reading it. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Netherworld 2010 - Atlanta GA

The production value on this thing is absolutely amazing. Its like walking inside of a Hollywood movie set. There are two separate haunted with mental patients and car crashes, which is smaller and not quite as interesting. It looks like they're either reusing old ideas or trying new ones out, but it still does a pretty good job of scaring people (based primarily on the reactions on the teenage/college girls within earshot.)

The second has more of a haunted house/gothic theme going, with extremely high decorations and @#$@#$ gargoyles. Yes, there are freaking things with wings flying around on wires that can scare the crap out of you. The main reason this matters is because everything and I mean *EVERYTHING* has to be looked at that it might have a possibility of moving and scaring the crap out of you. The makeup is such that the supposedly dead bodies can easily turn out to be living at any given time. There are also enough hidden doors and tight spaces that it is easy for something to come at you from any angle, but the @#$@#$@ gargoyles add a whole new dimension because you have to look UP in addition to everything else. A lot of the larger monsters were amazing to look at but not scary per se with a few notable exceptions. The final critter does not move much but especially when you look over your shoulder in the mist just as you exit it is extremely impressive.

Oh, and the very last thing that hits you, you will never see coming.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dark Faith - Anthology

This review took me a while to write, because the stories in this anthology are exceptional. I think it is a rather good read for Halloween even though it was released in May. This book explores the deeper questions of the relations between humanity and that which it worships. There are no sacred cows, as multiple faiths and multiple perspectives are explored.

Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland – A fascinating commentary on the exploitive melodrama that our society has woven from the most profound event in our history in the last 20 years. It speaks from the perspective of the dead, and it is not a pleasant one. Excellently written it sets the whole tone for the book to come.

I Sing a New Psalm by Brian Keene – An excellent story on the consequences of believing and then having that source of that belief removed unexpectedly or arbitrarily. The formating of the story is also quite unique following that of an actual biblical psalm.

He Who Would Not Bow by Wrath James White – A fascinating take on particle physics and the true meaning of the term ‘God Particle’ as well as the true consequences of what the Rapture might actually entail when applied to the real world.

Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation by Douglas F. Warrick – An amazing contrast between the religious overtones of Zen Buddism and Christianity, as well as the challenge and consequences of living up to our own convictions. It does a better job of describing hell than Dante, that is certain.

Go Tell it On the Mountain by Kyle S. Johnson – An interesting take on what reality would be like if Jesus were essentially a burnt out talent agent. It also has a pointed message on valueing what we have here on Earth whilst we have it.

Different From Other Nights by Eliyanna Kaiser – A demonstration on the exercize of being careful what we tell our children, why we tell it to them, and making sure that they have a complete understanding thereof. Innocence can have severe consequences when it belies ignorance. Also a very interesting look into Jewish tradtions of Passover.

Lilith by Rain Groves – Short poem that is well done.

The Last words of (Not Dutch Schulz) Jesus Christ by Nick Mamatas – This a rather abstract piece that starts with a documentary style account of what would happen if God were Nyrohotep and Jesus was his spawn and someone made a film that tapped into the collective zeitgeist. The second half of the story is the actual script of the film that kind of begs to be made. Mind warping but entertaining read.

To the Jerusalem Crater by Lavie Tidhar – Old Gods are deposed by the New as the walls between worlds bleed together until it is almost impossible to tell one from the other. A fascinating and somewhat surrealistic tale though a bit out of place compared to the others. The descriptions are lush and very visual.

Chimeras & Grotesquiries by Matt Cardin – What if God were One of Us? Just a Stranger On the Bus? Or Maybe a Hobo H.P. Lovecraft on Acid with a Side of Fries. Delightfully messed up story.

You Dream by Ekaterina Sedia – A highly personal experience in the second person. It blends the realm of the dead and the living and of dreaming and the waking world. Very enjoyable.

Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes by Jay Lake – Danny Broke the World. Danny is rather guilty about this fact, and, as is highly appropriate, uses duct tape (among other things) to fix it. A wondrous look at the actual consequences of prayer and non monotheistic faiths.

The Mad Eyes of the Heron King by Richard Dansky - A lesson on why most human interaction with the supernatural would probably go unreported. Aesopic, whimsical and prophetic, it speaks of the dealings of Leonard, the office worker and the Heron King. And the consequences thereof.

Paint Box, Puzzle Box by D. T. Friedman – An artist conceives of a rather creative way to cheat Death. Death has other ideas. A very enjoyable read.

A Loss for Words by J.C. Hay – Muses can be quite destructive and often demand a heavy price, particularly when their gifts are not properly appreciated, but the relationship can work both ways, even if the victory is only phyric.

Scrawl by Tom Piccirilli – The implications of the supernatural have a light touch in this one, with a far more sensual muse. But what it lacks in the twisting of reality, it makes up for in the travel guide towards the twisted parts thereof.

C{her}y Carvings – A poem. Beautiful and extremely abstract, it invokes light and darkness…

Good Enough by Kelli Dunlap – Some consider Science a religion. The protagonist, Chris follows in the footsteps of those who have passed the path of its worship before, though without the same end result. Twisted but very well written.

First Communions by Geofry Girard – Takes a much different take on the concept of sacrifice, and what giving one’s life for the concept of unlimited unfathomable love can ultimately mean. A strange duality across time in a series of flashbacks between two girls; two witnesses just like in the book of revelations who bear witness to the concept of love in an extremely disturbing way.

The God of Last Moments by Alethea Kontis – A fascinating alegory I had never before considered between Pandora’s box and the hope chest. It also shows the hunger that can easily consume any of us, and the pointlessness of power for its own sake. Fame, fortune or glory can easily be substituted for the powers sought by Max. And furthermore, it ends well too.

Ring Road by Mary Robinette Kowal – Interactions between mortals and gods seldom go well for the mortals involved, though this modern incarnation of ancient norse mythology helps the reader appreciate corn flakes with a side of toast. A trip to Iceland meets disastrous results. It is very well told and, most importantly, is faithful to the feel and theme of the ancient Icelandic mythos.

The Unremembered by Cheysa Burke – The vast majority of the world’s cultures have oral, not written histories and as a result some of the greatest civilizations in the history of mankind have had their histories lost with an untimely death or series of deaths. But in a world where the supernatural can occur, these disquiet spirits take umbrage of this fact and choose Jeli to rectify it. But such knowledge does not come without price.

Desperata or the Desiderata of H.P. Lovecraft by Lon Prater (Poem): The Catacysm of Cthulu

The Choir by Lucien Soulban – The forgotten corners of history give wide berth for the shadows of darkness to move about unseen, providing ample explanation for why dark tentacled things at night might slaughter with abandon to the uncaring unhuman masses above. Set in WWII in a Qship returning to the states with a cargo of ‘shame’ it has an amptly appropriate ending.

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente – This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a wimper. And a well stocked collection of spiral ring notebooks from elementry school. A slice of unlife story in which the apocalypse comes in a most uncinematic theme.

Miz Ruthie Pays Her Respects by Lucy A Snyder – A distant family relation comes to pay her respects in an unorthydox way. And a young boy is given a chance at redemption from an unexpected quarter. And finally, an excellent proof that God (in this story at least) does not play favorites.

Paranoia (a Poem) by Kurt Dinan - It isn’t if they really are out to get you. They are.

Hush by Kelly Barnhill - Written in the present tense. The moment is captured and unspoken wood gods of ancient york make their mark upon the modern world. A delightful bundle of mystery makes its mark known as well.

Sandboys by Richard Wright – There are those that believe all things in the universe are animate, that they have a spirit of their own. Is it any wonder then that if there is a grief of sufficient strength that nature herself might not answer back in reply to the unheard cries offered unto it? A story of personal growth.

For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer by Gary A. Braunbeck – Time takes a glance sideways in a world of infinite possibilities. Faith merges with cosmology in science to provide an explanation to an elemental question of life and death. A cop saves a child with the help of a magical reverend.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Movie: Winter's Bone

This movie is excellent. It is a story about a young 17 year old girl who must take care of her mentally ill mother and two (much) younger siblings. Her father has put the house in rural Kentucky up for collateral on the bond that he received and has now skipped out on the bond. Thus, an ominous warning from the Sheriff forces our heroine to go searching for her ne'er do well father. Only it turns out that daddy was involved with some very dubious people and some very dubious activities, but the children and her mother have no where else to turn so she does what she must.

A very human and detail oriented drama. It also shows people in a fascinating light. I highly recommend it but not for children.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dragon Con 2010 - Cards and Related Paraphinalia

So every year at Dragon Con I pick up a stack of business cards, promo materials and the like and it gets lost. This year I decided to track it and review it here.

Darkstar - The interactive movie: So on the surface this looks like a game that is part Dragonslayer and part choose your own adventure but when I type in the promotional facebook pace I get nothing. Let's try google: Found it and the wikipedia article and am able to indirectly link to the facebook page via wikipedia. Not a good start for them but I really like the premise so I 'liked' it on Facebook.

GMX Geek Media Expo: Its close, Nashville and looks like a mini Dragoncon. Well put together 3 x 5 inch card. MTAC goes to Dues in easter weekend 2011 on the back looks...odd but potentially interesting. I might go to this, at least a day of it. Its in the 22nd through the 24th of October.

Anime Weekend Atlanta: Nice card. Going on next week. Went once, seemed nice but unfortunately the core of anime culture is really about 10-20 years younger than me. Still, this 'black tie event' thing Friday seems kind of cool. I might get to reuse the suit I got for Gencon...though it would probably be better if I was 'cosplaying' but while I've done costumes, I've never 'cosplayed' and have no idea what I'd do, plus just typing it makes me feel silly.

We shall see.

Dragon Con Steampunk Exhibition: Saw it. Took pictures of it. It was awesome. On the back it had play on con July 2011. Missed last year, I think I'll go next year. Its in Birmingham.

Operation Anime Storm: Giving anime to the troops. Sounds like a worthy charity. Might donate to it when I financially recover from dragon con.

The Legend of Atlantis: July 28-31 2011...a con in the BAHAMAS...You know...I think I can like that idea. I'll check out the cost later.

Web Comic I shall not name: Why? Because he handed out these well timed and well done fliers advocating his web comic...and...they're not well drawn. I might criticize something mainstream but this guy is obviously still learning. I remember what it was like to get one star reviews with Red Anvil. Nevertheless, pass. Might come back when he learns to draw.

11 Cents and a Marta Token: ?!!!!?!?! WTF? What is that doing in there?

The Devils Panties Web Comic...I'd heard about this before, now I'm adding it to my Reader list.

Vexxarr! Looks interesting. Another web comic. Its sci fi and Gag a day, which I like.

I'm also keeping the dragoncon pocket program because it is helpful going through and googling names from panels in areas that I didn't have time to attend later.

Thought there was more than that including some rather interesting steam punk web shows, but I'm sure I can find them on my own later. That will do for now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dragon Con 2010

Overall Con: A

The con still rocks. There are some problems, I still had some negative experiences, but on the whole I still highly recommend this con. Let me mention a few specifics:

*Registration: B-. They are more efficient than in years past, but a few minor things could make it go so much faster. I mean to email them some suggestions. They need to find a way to let the badges be mailed out, and even failing that, reduce the need to thumb through books of printed out names. Very stone age. If you paid for Will Call you sailed through in seconds.

*Tracks: A+ More tracks! Most of them were awesome. None of the ones I attended seemed poorly organized.

*Parties: A+. The parties worked like clock work and people knew where to find them and by all accounts had a lot of fun. I, of course, did not have as much fun but I'll address that in another blog. But if you want to go to a con to party, Dragon Con should be at the top of your list.

*Costumes: A-. This is a solid awesome though there were not quite as many truly eye popping costumes, on the other hand the general quality is very very high.

*Need Coffee Fun Time During the Masquerade: D-. I should have known something was wrong with this when they spent over TEN MINUTES of self congratulatory masturbation before they started on the 'fun' which consisted of getting audience members to read from scripts and 'improve'.....Which is sad because the promos they showed indicated that these guys clearly had talent.

*Film Track: A. I do this with reluctance since they consistently reject my stuff, but the reason they do that is because this stiff is ALL very good. The Dragon Con film festival is clearly a national, not a regional film festival and I expect that it will only increase in status and stature. Dr. S vs the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies rocked on ice skates.

*Track Location: B+ FIVE hotels?! It worked. Barely. They isolated the whedonites and the steampunk stuff over into the Westin, which mostly worked but they need to double the number of shuttles (in my opinion) and add a third track since the Westin seemed kind of empty. Still for the most part, they used the space well.

*Gaming: B. Didn't do much beyond the LARP, but wandered around. They have separated the tournament gaming book into a separate publication. I have no problem with this but they could do to sell ad space in it, and they should have it available at registration rather than making people go down to gaming to get it. But the rest of gaming seemed to run very well and preregistration worked smoother than ever. The hours were really weird though. Also, I should be able to register for a LARP *AT* Gaming Registration rather than having to go to the individual Larp table. That's just silly.

*Dealers Rooms: A+ Awesome. They got this right. The dingy basement one didn't seem dingy this time. The crowds were minimal, and the mix of what I was looking for was very good. Rather strange side note: There were almost no software vendors there. I guess game companies have decided that Dragon Con is not worth their time which is kind of stupid on their part. Really stupid.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

In a word...AWESOME! First of all, you should just see this because it is a good movie.

But if you have ever played video games and liked them, especially games from the eighties and the nineties YOU MUST SEE THIS.

The basic plot has been plastered all over the internet, but I'll summarize. Scott Pilgrim finds the girl of his dreams (literally) but to date her he must defeat seven evil Exes. This is a world in which video game physics rule (except for cracking open barrels and randomly eating stuff from them or breaking into people's houses and stealing stuff and...well...OK, SELECTIVE video game physics) and Scott's membership in a small indie band and his video game fighting skills come into play again and again.

The graphics are neat.

The homages to ancient video games are neat.

The character dynamics are actually quite interesting.

But the reason you need to see this is because it is also the FUNNIEST damn movie I have seen in a long time. It actually hurt to laugh. That hasn't happened in quite a while.

I can't recommend this movie enough.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Dresden Files RPG

Despite rumors that its demise is not yet here, the truth is that the RPG industry isn't what it used to be. Almost everything is moving to electronic. Stores are fewer and farther between, and new games are less. The rpg industry is still vibrant and strong but it is smaller than it was in the 80's or 90's. D&D of course is still alive and well.

One exception to that decline is the Dresden Files RPG, which in two (rather expensive) hard bound volumes creates and refines a system (Fate 3.0) which is revolutionizing most other games (something which in my opinion hasn't happened for a while) but also perfectly captures the spirit of the books upon which they are based. Quite frankly it has been a VERY long time since I've seen a non original (ie adaptation) setting be worth playing. The last one was Angel the RPG and that was what....8 years ago?

The game is essentially story based, which a lot of games claim to be, but this one uses a mechanic and rules set which actually encourages it, with just enough crunch to avoid the floaty 'our game is what we want it to be' feel that a lot of story based games end up being. More importantly in play the thing actually WORKS. It also beautifully put together. Some of the art is merely adequate, but even the adequate work is color INSIDE the book. That's part of the reason this is expensive and it ends up being worth it. This is a new game I not only want to play but WILL play in many games for years to come.

Movie: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Despite the fact that he basically plays Nicholas Cage in every movie that he's in with only very minor variations on the I Am Nicholas Cage In This Movie character, I actually LIKE Nicholas Cage...he makes crappy movies better. In some cases, he even makes a movie say...Next. In this movie he actually plays the character I like him most in....Wizard Who Looks like Harry Dresden and Acts Like Nicolas Cage Playing a Warden in the Dresden Universe.

And he does a damn good job of it!

Unfortunately this movie is not really about that character at all. Instead its about Clueless but Nerdy Science Wanna Be Mage But Doesn't Want To Be Mage Chosen After a Thousand Year Search Who Uses Science! This kid is an OK actor....I could maybe like him in something but in this movie he sucks compared to what I see what the movie should have been. This kid plays the character like obnoxious side kick when unfortunately the movie is ABOUT the obnioux side kick.

The main villain does a pretty good job. He's not Alan Rickman but he holds his own. HIS Sidekick is actually pretty funny. Draco Malfoy as Duche Magician is the second best part of the movie. Also not very much screen time.

But then again this is a Jerry Bruchheimer film....which is to say don't expect much. If you see this cable, its worth watching. It you pay money like I did, I feel sorry for you. If you put it on Netflix....I assure you there are better movies out there to rent.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Movie: Inception

This movie is by Christopher Nolan, the same guy who did Batman the Dark Knight.

It is not a movie for stupid people. This might be one of the reasons I like it. I think I over analyzed the movie while I was watching it, but despite that I greatly enjoyed it. The real trick to this movie is that because it involves dream logic, you'd better be prepared to change realities like you're changing a channel. The key to keep track of them is to understand that basically each major 'place' in the movie is in fact a dream; a chase, a hotel, limbo and a snow fortress. Dreams within dreams.

There were some bizarre inconsistencies in that, the dreamers could obviously affect the dream but hardly ever did so. They explained some of this away with the fascinating idea that, anyone invading the dream of another became the subject of attack by all the subconscious projections (ie people who populate the dreamscape besides the person invading the dream) but there were times where they distinctly didn't care about whether or not the person was aware and still used really small changes.

Then again, maybe I think more outside the realm of the possible/impossible than normal. Still, as long as you can keep track of what's going on, this movie is quite enjoyable. I wouldn't recommend seeing it with someone who is easily distracted or can't keep track of the plot of something else that was complex though. If you can, see it in the theater, for it is visually stunning but if you can't, DVD is a good second because I hear you catch more things the second time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie: Despicable Me

An excellent Children's movie. Its not as good as Toy Story 3, but its still pretty fun. Basically the plot is about a super villain that uses three orphan girls in his plot to steal the moon. Its pretty funny though pretty basic at the same time. Then again, that basic frame work helps make the movie work since you don't ask a lot of questions about how the world works and why the characters are doing what they're doing. Gru (the main character) is by far the most complicated character, since he is both the protagonist and primary villain (though not the antagonist). I'd recommend seeing it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie: Toy Story 3

So, the movie was not all it was hyped up to be. However, that doesn't mean what you think it does. I liked it. It is one of my favorite Pixar movies. In terms of quality I put it behind Ratatoui and Up. So it wasn't a life changing experience. It hasn't and won't be floating in my head for days making me view the world in a profoundly different light.

But that does mean I'm putting it ahead of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, the Incredibles, Wall-E etc. All of which are masterpieces. I can think of *NO* other trilogy that goes from Strong, Stronger, Strongest. This movie successfully wraps up the series. It answers questions that anyone seriously pondering the ending of Toy Story 2 can do, it helps children deal with unanticipated questions, and is actually a spiritual thing without being preachy.

I cannot recommend seeing it enough and as usual it is absolutely light years ahead of anything else that is out there. Why Pixar doesn't win best picture each year I simply don't know. A few movies can compete, but when it comes consistently to hitting it out of the park, no other studio even comes close.

Movie: Splice

This movie is more frightening because it is going to happen. Please understand, it is not a question of "might happen" but WILL happen. It might be a year or five years. It might even be five centuries but sooner or later someone is going to start splicing human genes with animals and this movie does an excellent job of showing the result.

OK....partially. The super superior combo that is the 'monster' in this is not the likely creation. No, instead the part of the movie that is the most accurate is the extremely human child hood of the 'creature' growing up, and the monstrous way that the scientists that created her treated her.

This movie is definitely worth watching, if for no other reason that to understand that sometimes there really *IS* a reason to grab pitch fork and torches, but not for the 'monster' but for the real monsters that make them. And they will.

Forever Odd by Dean Koontz

I listened to this as an audio book on the way back from St. Augustine. I liked it. It wasn't quite as good or original as the first book in the series, "Odd Thomas" but it was still fun to read. The thing that made the first Odd Thomas book so fun was the curious cast of characters in the small California town "Pico Mundo" (which means Small World) as well as the odd quirky nature of the protagonist.

The sequel has the supporting cast only in a small part of it, with most of the book being a conflict between Odd and the villain and her henchmen. Koontz does an excellent job creating a believable story, villain and plot. All of the things that happen fall well within the parameters of the rules set up by the story, keeping the level of the super natural exceptionally light. I liked it, but without the unusual setting and human element, it felt a lot more like another book of his that I read that was extremely sparsely populated because it was the end of the world.

I have come to the conclusion that I like Koontz books that take place in places with lots of people in them. Those that in sparse areas are enjoyable reads, but not quite as exceptional.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: Movie - The A-Team

Mindless mind candy that has no mind.

They fly a tank. Let me repeat that. They fly a tank.

And yet unlike so many remakes of late, this one captures the spirit of the original better than most I have seen. GI Joe didn't really FEEL like GI Joe. Transformers....kind of felt like transformers.

THIS? This felt like the A-Team. The origin idea is often tired but since they never showed it in the original show, it was quite welcome for me in this case. They show how the team assembled, and their first mission and how they got screwed over by the government. Moreover, the way they transferred the old Vietnam War origin to the Desert Storm origin worked quite well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Movie: Iron Man 2

They did a good job with this one. It wasn't quite as good as Spiderman 2 or the Dark Night, but it was a solid performer and still quite enjoyable. As a comic lover I was particularly appreciative about how they incorporated all of the other movie projects that they're working on.

Normally, having more than one villain is a terrible idea, but the truth is that we have one 'super villain' and two minor villains in the form of Hammer and a rogue senator that wants to take Stark's armor. I also like the fact that they addressed in a somewhat realistic fashion just how much the government wouldn't like the idea of such armor being in the hands of a relatively unregulated private citizen; even a billionaire.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Movie - Kickass

Kick Ass is Kickass.

Basic Premise: Average high school student decides to become a super hero and ends up in circumstances beyond his control. A disgraced cop and his brainwashed daughter are exuding revenge against a local mafia. They see the would be super hero in action, like the idea and become super heroes themselves.

Good: The fight sequences, the acting, the cinematography, the plot, the writing and the dialog. In short, just about everything in the movie.

Bad: Nothing.

Of Note:

*Is Nicholas Cage in EVERYTHING?

*This is based on a small miniseries comic. I think that helped it because it kept the story scale limited, while still leaving loads of room for a sequel.

*This is NOT a movie for small children. AT ALL.

*However they will probably see it anyway and like it.

*You will never listen to the Banana Splits song quite the same way ever again...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dragon of Feldra - LARP

I played in this LARP with Jennifer at Gen Con in 2009. They're running it again this year and I've volunteered to help them 'promote' it. This thing was awesome in a hat box. Here are six things I liked about it:

1) The out come is HIGHLY flexible. You as a player, can make a huge difference. It was obvious looking at the design that there were probably 10-12 different story lines, each of which could end a different way, and each of which was somewhat independent of each other whilst still affecting the other story lines.

2) All of the parts matter. There are no small parts in this thing. It allows everyone to do some really cool stuff. I didn't see anyone looking at their character sheet and going, "Well that sucks!"

3) The world makes sense. And yet at the same time it is extremely unique. It is obvious that the GM's have put quite a lot of thought into it.

4) The people running it are cool. They'll take the unexpected but in many cases they've also already PREPPED for the unexpected. This is their baby and it clearly matters to them, which only highlights how awesome it is that they're so flexible about what the outcome can be.

5) The system rocks. Its very simple. Its an excellent blend of crunch and yet it allows for creative flexibility in interpretation of how to do things.

6) Most important of all, the system and setting are very 'newbie' friendly. I've been doing LARPS for years and yet I had a blast with it, while my wife, who had never played a LARP before was also mastering things in a few minutes.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend playing this or the sequel, the King of Feldra at Gencon 2010.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bohemian Girl and Other Stories

By Stacy Danielle Stephens. (Full disclosure. I received a free electronic copy of this book from a friend.)

Right. First of all, this book is about the experiences of various Transsexuals dealing with their experiences in reality and life. The book is excellently written, and I'm a bit surprised at the fact that there appears to be a deliberate attempt at not mentioning what the book is about anywhere I've seen. Given that the theme of the book involves living with and coming to terms with the truth of who they are; it seems a bit of a mixed message to spring a 'surprise' in how it is marketed. Its not like there is some big reveal at the end. The reader learns about it in the first three pages. It seems a bit of a Kangaroo Jack to imply otherwise. I make this comparison not because the book is bad, which it isn't, but because Kangaroo Jack was marketed as a movie about a talking Kangaroo...which it wasn't. At all. Bohemian Girl doesn't go quite into that territory, but it certainly is approaching Hudson Hawk levels (which was marketed as an action drama and was in fact, a quirky surreal fourth wall breaking romantic comedy.)

This book is strong enough to stand alone as what it is. It doesn't need a Shyamalanian twist to get people to read it. I highly recommend it.

The characters are interesting. Personally, I still liked the title story the most. It obvious that the writer has put a lot of their personal life into the book, or researched the lives of others rather thoroughly. Common themes of Nebraska and the Catholic Church seemed especially prominent. The details draw the reader in.

I have often pondered what things I was doing now that might be disapproved of by future generations. For example, while there were blatant racists in the 1940's...there was still a baseline of acceptable behavior by less racist people that would be considered shocking today. I do not want to be judged by history. For a while, I thought that this might be the way we treat animals (and it still might be) and in discussing with others they've said that it might be plastic (or how we treat the planet in a broader sense of the word (and it still might be) but after reading this, I have come to realize that it will DEFINITELY be the case with the way society treats Transsexuals, and if one desires to avoid being judged harshly in the light of future generations, one would be wise to avoid stereotypes and preconceptions as much as possible.

This book does an excellent job of doing that. The characters are real people, with real hopes and dreams. More importantly, while the greater facts of their lives are taken into account, they are still all quite different as individuals and are extremely in depth. This is literature in the finest sense of the world; both for the quality of writing it uses and for the themes that it explores.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lazy Review

The following things suck:

Space Chimps (as if that wouldn't be obvious.)
Meet Dave

The following things are flawed but watchable

The following things rock:
The Wire Season 3.

That is all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Movie: How to Train Your Dragon

It was awesome. This is an excellent kids movie. It teaches a lot of important lessons like using your head, and avoiding stereotypes without beating you over the head about it. It also has a fascinating mythology to the whole thing that is pervasive but comes nowhere near overwhelming anyone unfamiliar with the setting (and I certainly wasn't going into this.)

The summary of the story is that a child named Hiccup doesn't fit in with the rest of the village of Vikings that are routinely raided by Dragons. Obviously (since the title kind of gives it away) Hiccup ends up with a dragon that he has to deal with and bonds with it. The rest of the movie involves how Hiccup solves the challenges that brings him, including how to rectify being the friend of a dragon amongst a people that hate dragons and want to kill them on sight.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Movie: Inglorious Bastards

This movie is seven kinds of awesome. Basically it is a Quentin Tarantino movie about a group of US Jews who are sent behind Nazi lines to kill Nazis. That and the fact that it is basically a movie for those who felt the Nazis, especially the Nazi upper echelons that killed so many people and died before they could really be held accountable to the whole thing. I enjoyed it. There are a few elements of violence that are a little over the top, but since it largely involves blowing up nazis it is very hard to call it extreme. The ending is a classic that will be remembered for quite some time and the very very ending is even better.

In short, this is a movie worth watching.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Movie: Alice by Tim Burton

This was a good movie. It was my third favorite Tim Burton movie after Batman and Beetlejuice. First of all, it was visually stunning. It was pretty, haunting and unique, but not garish like some of Burton's works. His style seemed to work perfectly for wonderland. Second, I liked the plot. He managed to set it up in such a way that you have certain expectations about the world at Alice and the beginning which are pleasantly turned on their head in the middle of the story. Third, comparing it to the recent sci fi mini series of the same name, it also incorporates the original mythology but this time with the same character and the books. While it mixes and matches "Through the Looking Glass" and "Adventures in Wonderland" freely, it does so in a way that actually makes the story work well.

Fluffernutting is a nice easter egg. Depp's performance, some say, is upstaged by the Red Queen. This is true. By a long shot, but in this case that makes sense since the Red Queen is the primary villain of the story. Depp is not so insecure a performer that he'll overact just to be the main stay of the series and it reflects in this, despite the fact that it is marketed with Depp's hatter on the movie poster. The hatter isn't the main character, not even by a long shot, though he is among the most interesting.

I am entirely mixed about the statements it makes about how women are treated at the time. On the one hand, it does so in a personal and visible fashion. On the other has a ham fisted, almost forced feel to it, but to be fair; one cannot make a historically accurate piece without acknowledging it and Burton takes his worlds too seriously not to. I respect him as a film maker and simply hand waving it away was not warranted. Still, personally I'd have been a bit more subtle about it; not reducing the content in the story but minor changes to the dialog to bring the same point home.

Not that I'm Tim Burton mind you.

The film left the door wide open for a sequel so expect, "Through the Looking Glass" sometime in the next year or two.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Movie: Shutter Island

The last movie that Leonardo deCaprio did with Martin Scorsese directing it was 'the Aviator' which my Wife and I saw on our first date, so I'm not entirely unbiased about this, but nevertheless, I enjoyed it a great deal. The quality is good and it doesn't try too many gimicks, especially unfair gimicks to get its point across.

The basic premise of the movie is that two Federal marshals are called in to an asylum for the Criminally insane (note that it is not called Arkham) called Shutter Island 11 miles off the coast of California. The girl is gone when they get there, and the staff and patients are all behaving rather erratically, as if they are clearly hiding something. One doctor wants to use benevolent treatments while the other believes in old school treatments like Lobotomy, and there are hints early on of associations with the horrific German experiments at Auschwitz. The main character helped liberate the death camps in WWII and as such is highly suspicious of the older doctor.

In short, I liked it. The acting and the directing were perfect. The music score was occasionally a bit too overbearing and loud but I didn't notice it until after the fact when it was pointed out to me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Movie: Batman - Gotham Knight

So the idea that a bunch of DC comics writers and Japanese anime artists collaborating to make Batman sounds neat...on paper. In practice what it means is that you end up with something similar to 2 out of 6 segments having awesome animation; 3 out of 6 segments having awesome writing and only 1 out of 6 segments having both. I think one of the things that hampered this was the idea that they were tying it in to the Dark Knight universe from Batman Begins (ie the highly popular movies) setting the story between them. They were obviously trying to go for something similar in scope to the Animatrix, but the thing is with the animatrix, the artists (I think) wrote their own scripts as well. I mean, had the anime people been able to take their own twist on Batman (as the whole video was originally marketed) I imagine that they would have been able to tell stories much more suited towards their animation style. I mean you could have had an homage to the 60's era Batman or the 90's cartoon or the Graphic Novel Dark Knight or even something wholly original. Instead they told a series of interlocking stories that could have been interesting but for the most part weren't.

The lesson from this is that one or two neat ideas might work in synergy...but three or four and you'd better wait to try it first with something simple before you take a huge leap into the abyss.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Play: Mama Mia!

Mamma Mia is an excellent play. It is essentially a story written around a stuttered medley of Abba disco songs. You can tell they created the plot primarily based on the lyrics of the songs but they mesh together in an almost seamless format. There was one minorly uncomfortable moment where the main female young lead sings what was clearly written as a love song but with ambiguous lyrics to her father “What’s the name of the game” in a much more different context, but in the end it managed to work well. The play itself is just plain fun and contains a high amount of energy. The costumes are well done. The set is fairly minimalist but since this is a quasi surrealistic musical it doesn’t really need stunning vistas. More over, they are able to cram an extremely large number of characters into only almost two hours and still make them dynamic, believable and quasi realistic. I highly recommend seeing it if you get a chance.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Movie Review - Terribly Happy

Terribly Happy is an interesting move entirely in Danish. The showing that we saw had a bizarre bit of Danish Film Festival propaganda about how cool Denmark was and how they were essentially the center of all things cultural, without actually seeming arrogant about it. It wasn’t really that bad but it was an interesting chaser right before the movie.

The basic premise of the film is that an out of favor cop from Copenhagen is sent to the middle of nowhere (and they spend like, the first three minutes of the film showing just how in the middle of nowhere it is) to be given a second chance and ‘do his time.’ The film states that it is based on ‘actual events’ however a careful search on my part could find absolutely no indication anywhere what those events were. I’ll explain below.

On the whole I enjoyed the movie. I found the actors and the plot moved at a reasonable clip and it had enough twists and turns that it easily drew you into it. The self described genre of the film is ‘Thriller’ and I found that appropriate. It has also been compared to Twin Peaks meets Northern Exposure. I think it has a little bit more Northern Exposure than Twin Peaks, because while there are no supernatural elements they do do a very good job of portraying just what life would be like in a very small Danish town in the middle of Southern Jutland (which is apparently the middle of nowhere.)

(Spoilers follow)

So, I spent like 30 minutes looking everywhere I could find on what the hell these ‘actual events’ were. The movie was based on a Danish novel called Frygtelig lykkelig by Erling Jepsen. After googling all of these people there was nothing mentioned about the actual events. Was it just a few events, like the fact that people died and they made wild speculation about it, or was it pretty damn close to the bizarre plot of the movie? The reason I wanted to look this is up is because, quite frankly, there is absolutely no explanation about how anything is discovered.

I know I said spoilers, but I don’t want to give too much away. But people DIE in this thing and the bodies are discovered, and the killer and many people involved end up going on their merry way (and yes, that’s not by itself the biggest spoiler of the damn movie….). So how did anyone see anything? As near as we can tell, the little girl who witnessed everything might have put the pieces together when she grew up and written a tell all or gone to court?

Who knows.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

TV Show: The Wire - Season 1 and Season 2

This program was originally made for HBO. It has a lot of swearing, a lot of graphic violence and a lot of nudity. With the exception of the swearing, however, it is not as gratuitous as some of the other original programming they have in the 'look, we're on cable and we can do this stuff' that I've seen with some of their other programs. (I'm looking at YOU Sex and the City). More hints and shadows. What makes The Wire so good is the writing. The writing is excellent which happens to be coupled with excellent actors and very competent directing.

The series for its first two seasons does an excellent job of basically showing the realistic obstacles, life styles and challenges of a police department in the city of Baltimore Maryland in dealing with criminals who are far more strategic in their thinking and in their level of sophistication. It is particularly adept at showing how society is harmed by the petty bureaucracies that often exist in our society and within the law enforcement community itself. Anyone who despises or wants to reform government would be well off studying The Wire to learn that the government can do a lot of good but that it is all about how the system itself is designed. People are human and are going to behave like human beings, which is to say good, wonderful, flawed, horrible and greedy.

Even the most heroic characters have their flaws, and even the most vile villains have their good side. This is largely the truth and the screen rarely wastes our time on cartoon characters or two dimensional characters. This is the way Law and Order was meant to be done and perhaps would have been done if it didn't have to be made for the lowest common denominator on Network Television. This is particularly ironic really since the very people the networks hope to capture the attention of are portrayed far more realistically in the Wire. People say "The suits" mess things up, but the truth is, that they really do.

And when you compare "The Wire" to "Law and Order" you really begin to see why.