Monthly Archives: September 2005

Cry_Wolf

As it happened, I managed to squeeze another movie in on Thursday after all. It probably would have been Flightplan, only the timing was off. So, I picked the horror movie I preferred of the two that are out right now, Cry_Wolf.

The title gives away almost everything, of course. You have a group of prep school seniors and the new guy who wants to fit in. They hatch a plan to follow up the murder of a local girl by creating an urban legend of a serial killer who has struck several campuses in the past killing various people from the school in the same way, but always starting with the dead townie. But then, the killer starts threatening the kids via IM and large stabby knife. OR DOES HE??? And in a completely shocking twist, none of the cops or school admninistrators believe them for some reason. For that matter, they can barely trust each other. It reminds me of a fairy tale or fable or something I read sometime, but frankly I can’t be bothered to investigate further.

We’re looking at three parts Wild Things[1] to one part April Fool’s Day[2], but with the ongoing PG-13 breastlessness that is either what has revitalized the genre via wider ticket sales or else strangling it via the removal of core values. I’m not sure which it is, but I suppose as long as the plot (not the dialogue, though, believe me) is mildly intelligent, I shouldn’t complain too much.

[1] Down to the same wet, chilled blue bikini top.
[2] It’d be cool if I could make a direct comparison here too, like if someone had the same noose-shaped braid. But that never actually happened in the movie, much to my disappointment.

Serenity

mv5bmti0nty1mzy4nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwntczodazmq-_v1_sy317_cr0Some time ago, there was a new Star Wars movie coming out. I’d been burned by the series a bit, if not as badly as some, so I was looking forward to it still, but guardedly. Meanwhile, the Joss Whedon movie, Serenity, was pushed back from before Star Wars until months after it, here at the end of September. So I hatched a plan, made a promise with myself if you will. Star Wars was over, whereas Serenity might spawn new films or even a return to television for its show of origin, Firefly. So, however many times I felt compelled to see the Sith get their revenge, I would see Serenity twice as often. The problem is I no longer have a job with its pesky reliable income, and that the Star Wars movie was really quite good. Good enough that I kind of saw it four times, and only didn’t see it more because I was in the midst of moving, and ran out of time to see it before it vanished.

So, now I need to spend some reasonably large amount of money to see Serenity seven more times. (Or possibly eight; previews don’t make money and so don’t count toward totals, and emptying my pockets to them was kind of the point of this exercise.) So, that’s the bad news. The good news is this: except for having to sell my body on the cold, cold streets for ticket cash, I will not find this task in any way burdensome.

I had a couple of problems with the movie, although at this particular moment I’ll be damned if I can remember what they were. Instead, my head is flooded with individual scenes, some funny, some gripping, one that left my mouth open for at least a full minute, not a few technically amazing pieces of work that would have, well, if not left Lucas jealous of the skill, at least left him acknowledging that it’s not only him can make these things happen on a screen, these days. So, I’m a geek for Joss Whedon and especially for this show, and no denying it. Perhaps that makes me easier to please, perhaps it makes me harder to. I know this, though. I’m going to wander around in a happy daze for the next few weeks.

Will it work for new people? I think yes, if they can be talked through the door. The introduction scenes were rapid, because Joss doesn’t assume his viewers are stupid. I’m pretty sure the average Hollywood consumer is in fact not nearly as stupid as most movies take them to be, so having rapid-fire intros shouldn’t be a problem. A couple of the characters were introduced less well, but I think still well enough. He created the sense of history without deigning to explain it, but it was there solidly enough that you should be willing to allow it to be true and wait for the payoff. The plot should be plenty easy to follow, though, and the characters and dialogue should make up for any unfamiliarity by the end of the second sequence.

As far as the plot: River Tam, a government experiment in mind-reading and enhanced military capability, and her brother Simon are on the run from the government that created her. They have fallen in with the crew of Serenity, a group of people who don’t much cotton to the way the Alliance of Planets keeps its nose in the affairs of people who would just as soon be independent, and who make their living on whatever side of the law is most convenient. The problem is, River has a secret buried in her brain, and very important people want it back. At any cost.

Lastly, the part where I snagged it early. It was a bit of an event last night. I got to see it in an Old West ghost town (well, okay, a movie set, but done up well enough), at sunset, with a Chinese box lunch and a fortune cookie that included an actual fortune if you can believe it, not just a compliment. Also, Kaylee and River were there. I would have a hard time imagining a better way to get to take it all in. Here’s my point, though. Go see it. This weekend if possible. If I’m wrong, tell me about it and I’ll make amends. But I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. (Even if I did have a couple of complaints.)

Faery Lands Forlorn

Apparently, I waited a while to hit the second book in my current Duncan series. I’ll see about maybe reading the last two closer together. This will be tricky, as there are a couple of gotta read books coming out here soon, plus a couple of other books I want to read in between or whatnot.

Faery Lands Forlorn continues the adventures of Queen Inosolan and Rap the stableboy, now separated by half a continent from each other and from home. Things move fast despite the introduction of a few more races of people with which to fill in the map. In a way, they moved too fast almost. All the events of the first three quarters of the book felt like they should have taken up only a few dozen pages, not a few hundred. And yet there was no trace of things seeming dragged out or focussed on disinteresting side material. It’s a neat trick, and although I wouldn’t want to duplicate it, I wish I knew how he did it. Lots of enjoyable but ultimately empty calories, perhaps.

In the midst of the fast-forward buckle-swashing, sorceress-escaping, and romance-creating, Duncan still found time to flesh out the magic system quite nicely and introduce more powerful enemies while giving old enemies new powers of their own. I think my favorite thing so far is how the word enemy is a misnomer. There are people opposing our heroes’ goals and people assisting them, but there haven’t been any (well, more than one, and I haven’t made up my mind there) truly bad people in the world; it’s all about politics and unobjectionable people who have different goals from each other. The very opposite of run of the mill, and good enough on that merit alone even if it weren’t so rompful.

Brokedown Palace

515ke3hm56lSeriously. If this is the kind of experience any given regular person has when reading fiction, I can force myself to feel a little bit of sympathy for the non-readers of the world. It was very good, and certainly easy to follow on the primary level. Four brothers, a king and his siblings, must decide how to deal with the gradual decay of their familial home and the seat of the kingdom’s power. Sides are chosen, battles are fought, dragons are incidentally slain. So why did I feel like I spent the entire book trying to catch up and understand what was really going on?

Brokedown Palace
, set in the same world as Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels and Khaavren romances, interweaves the main story with several folk legends of that land (possibly actually Hungarian in origin, but that would be missing the point, or so I believe). I don’t really think I ever did decide what was happening under the surface. There was a lesson in the tale, and I think I’m supposed to be able to compare it to the many lessons (or were they all the same lesson?) of the interspersed fables. Only, most of the fables themselves were incomprehensible to me. As they often were to the characters of the story. Eking meaning out of that confluence of events, if any exists, is beyond my capacity.

Odd, in any case, to have enjoyed a book I understood so very little of. Perhaps I don’t actually have that sympathy after all. Below the cut, a couple of questions that act as spoilers for the book, and more importantly, as spoilers for his other novels in the same setting.
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The Annotated Chronicles

When I was a wee lad, I read a ton of those AD&D Dragonlance books, pretty well indiscriminately. There came a time in my late teens when I realized that some, okay most, of the books in that setting were pure crap, and that they didn’t actually have to be suffered through in order to know the entire story. Ultimately, books written by authors who didn’t create the characters I was trying to read about, in which the characters did completely ridiculous things that they probably would never have done anyway and certainly would have mentioned doing… these kinds of books could be ignored. It was a pretty happy day, when I finally worked that out for myself.

The thing is, though, I still think that the Weis and Hickman originals (10 now, plus several short story collections and a handful separate from each other) are generally quite good. Rough around the edges early on, perhaps slightly overflowing with bile towards Wizards of the Coast near the end, but on the whole filled with likeable characters having interesting stories in a setting that I’ve always enjoyed. Naturally, then, I’d want to read about all the little notes and thoughts and stories the authors had about creating the series, once I knew it was available.

In the end, it was pleasant I liked the books well enough to enjoy a reread. There’s quite a bit of interesting material, don’t get me wrong. The problem is that the majority of the material is added by a person I’ve never heard of, probably in marketing, who exists to point out when a throwaway reference to an event or character was eventually written into a book that you-the-consumer ought to go out and buy and read now. Plus, most of Tracy Hickman’s commentary in the first book revolves around explaining exactly how D&D the game went about creating the early situations. Given that it’s the single weakest element of their work, I think that the knowledge is both fairly common by now and also not particularly worth dwelling on.

So, what I got out of it was quite a few good anecdotes from people involved in the project, some poetry analysis from the guy who added the poetical elements (well, obviously), a very few glimpses into the creative process itself (somewhat moreso into the processes, creative and otherwise, of working for a book farm like TSR in those days), and answers to a few questions I’d often wondered about. Not bad as an excuse to read for a few weeks without having to turn my brain on while still being guaranteed reading pleasure out of the process.

Transporter 2

There is a formula in Hollywood. One of many, of course, but this one goes as follows: Car chases + chopsocky = $$$. Car chases always include a) cars that explode, b) cars that drive up ramps on two side wheels to flip them upside down in mid-air, and c) cars that drive off the edge of a conveniently partial bridge. Chopsocky always includes a) people that punch each other, b) people that kick each other, and c) people that jump around a lot, avoiding certain death.

That’s right, Friday was double feature day at the local mallplex, and the next thing I saw was Transporter 2. Frank the ex- special forces guy plays the role of Neo if he knew how to drive, dodging as many bullets as a National Guardsman sitting out of the Vietnam War while beating up Generic Enemy 1 through 57 with as much of the scenery as Jackie Chan.

The plot, to be perfectly frank, is irrelevant. It involves the driving and the chopsocky, not to mention a soulless female assassin who spends the majority of her screen time in wet, transparent lingerie. Even the French guy was worthwhile. I’m not saying movie of the year, here, but it is the year with Serenity in it, so that explains why.

Red Eye

Wes Craven understands tension. Whether you care should be enough to determine whether you want to see Red Eye. Although his heroine fears flying and loss of control, nothing works as well for the audience like a good dose of claustrophobia, and the majority of the film delivers.

Rachel McAdams finds herself in the clutches of a professional… well, I don’t know if there’s a specific word for it, but when you need to hire somebody to do something nobody else can, but it’s a bad guy rather than the A-Team. Anyhow, he’s a professional one of those, and he has her where he wants her. Unless she arranges for a government official to be in an exposed position at her hotel, her father will die.

Any time the plot strays from the interactions between McAdams and her assailant, well, as you’ve just read, the plot is far too derivative for its own good. Luckily, the movie very rarely lets that plot get in the way of an otherwise excellent story. And as for the assailant, every bit of claustrophobia provided by the sets was matched by Cillian Murphy‘s depthless blue sociopathic eyes. Typecast he may always be, but as long as he doesn’t trip onto an unfortunately spaced barbecue fork, he’ll never hurt for work. It certainly helps that he can also act.

Special note for fans: Colby Donaldson plays a third tier role as the head Secret Service agent. So, y’know, good on him.

The Cave

The important thing is, I’m back in the groove. Well, and that there’s a lot of stuff coming out over the next couple of months, now that the summer dry season is over. I am disappointed to realize that no matter how good I think Flightplan is going to be, it cannot possibly stand up to the sheer artistry that is its preview. Still, though. Also coming soon, Venom and The Fog (not to be confused with The Mist, by Stephen King; I can tell, because I did for nearly half the preview) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Not to mention the couple that I missed. My point here is to say that, although slasher movies haven’t quite resurged, the horror movie is back. Hooray!

Oh, right, also I watched one last night. The Cave is the story of… well, you see, there’s this hole in the ground, under an old Templar church, with rock formations and underground dwelling creatures, and an underground river to boot. It’s sort of… well, I suppose the best way to describe would be that it’s a cave.

And, yeah, the plot is every bit as straightforward as the title. People die in approximately the order and number that you’d expect them to, after having seen the entire cast introduction sequence. (In fact, at one point I thought the wrong person was about to die, and I was aggravated at them for ruining the formula pointlessly. But, no, they came through.) The biggest flaw[1] was that rather than let the killer monsters just be random killer monsters, they attempted to explain the cause behind the random killer monsters, but then just left the cause dangling instead of doing anything particularly interesting with it.

Well, no, the biggest flaw was PG-13 rather than R. There’s something altogether off-putting about seeing a bikini rather than boobies or hearing ‘motherf-‘ rather than motherfucker in this kind of movie, and just so that the distributors can trick themselves into believing it will sell more tickets this way. Schlock cinema, even in the midst of its resurgence, is basically dead.[2] Woe.

[1] No. Being a formulaic horror movie does not qualify as a flaw. Shut up.

[2] I blame the homogenization of the movie theater landscape, combined with how the theaters are beholden to the movie studios, in a way that they were not just twenty years ago. The death of the drive-in is not a cause, but it is certainly another effect of this same cause. As usual, anytime massive success in a sector leads in the slightest amount toward monopolization, the niche suffers. Luckily, I can still go into a Fry’s and find such brilliant titles as Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker! But without any kind of advertising or preview budget, most of these movies languish unwatched in direct-to-video limbo, simply because they are completely unheard of. So… you’re welcome? I’ll keep doing my job, anyway.

Final Fantasy

Over the past several months, I’ve played Final Fantasy (with intentions to play the other ones, eventually) as my tiny-TV-in-bed time-waster of choice. The amazing part is that I actually got around to finishing it, just last night. Well, it’s not that amazing. I am a jobless bum with no real prospects, since my marketable skills have been eroded over the past three years of getting paid a king’s ransom not to use them.

…but it’s possible that this is not about that. Um. Where was I? Right, the game. I’ve been reading 8-bit Theater for lo these many years, and once I realized they were re-releasing the game, I got it in my head to play as the characters from the comic. Then, I played it for a while. Then, I didn’t. Then, after I got unenjobbed, I returned to it, and after a quick walkthrough to remind me of the dungeon I was in the middle of, I got back to plugging away at it. It is mindless, but certainly entertaining. Even with cleaned up translations of the spells and people’s speech patterns, it still makes barely a lick of sense. But at the end of the day, the world was saved, so that’s pretty cool.

Also: unlike any other Final Fantasy game (well, that I know of; I admit that my knowledge in this regard is limited), there are no chocobos. This alone makes it the most awesome thing ever for the whole of the minute or two that you’ve spent reading just now, not to mention the minute or ten I’ve spent typing. I mean, just imagine it. A world with no chocobos! It would be fairly breathtaking, but luckily we are blessed by other video games who have never heard of such a beast, on even the quietest winds of rumor. But if we weren’t, man. People would be lining up to play this game over and over again, just to avoid that terrible fate.

Or, maybe it’s just me with the chocobo aversion.

Myst

A very long time ago, I spent a week in Southern California, right after the spring semester. Mostly hanging out on the beaches watching bikini babes rollerblading by on the boardwalk, right? Well, obviously not, because I’m me. No, a big part of that time, I played Road Rash on the Sega and Myst on the PC. However, vacation time ran short, and I did not quite have time to finish.

That would be the all too common end to the story, except that one of my friends hit upon the idea of buying the first three boxed together over this holiday weekend. None of us has ever touched Exile, I’ve never played Riven (except for the first ten agonizing minutes or so, after which I got bored and quit), and one of us had never played Myst. Also, none of us particularly remembered how to solve the puzzles, just pieces of the plot. So, we sat down and got to work.

And then, after about six or eight hours of game play spread across two days, we finished it. I learned several things from this experience. 1) Ten years down the road, a lot of games have incorporated this kind of puzzle motif, to the extent that what was new and unusual back in the day is now all to easy to spot and understand the purpose of. The paradigm has shifted, and this was certainly the game that did it. 2) Full-motion video has come a long way. 3) When I stopped playing, that early summer all those many years ago? Yeah, I was about 5 minutes from the end of the game.

What a sack of crap.