Monday, July 16, 2018

25 words or less: Jinkies!

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero; Doubleday, 2017

An older Scooby gang – respectively fugitive, alcoholic, crazy, and dead - revisit their last case as teenagers, encounter the Necronomicon, confront Lovecraftian horrors. Read it.

Friday, June 29, 2018

5 x 5 Movie review: Mythica

1. So, if I summarized a story something like a cleric and a magic-user meet in adventurer's tavern in a vaguely medieval setting; joined by a fighter and a thief, they go on a quest to rescue a kidnapped priestess and retrieve a sacred object from a band of orcs and an ogre, you'd probably guess that I was talking about a archetypal Dungeons and Dragons adventure. Well, that's actually a summary of the movie Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, but you'd still be correct, because the movie is really just one session in a five-movie-long D&D campaign.

Fighter, magic-user, thief, cleric... duh

2. As Wonder Wife commented while we were watching, you could almost call the dice rolls as the action in this film progressed, it was such a parallel to gameplay. A little backstory, get the party together, the thief has a stealth encounter, the fighter draws the aggro in combat and the cleric heals him - I mean, seriously, the big guy kept putting himself in harm's way to save the party and going down, and I kept thinking, yeah, he's got the HP. The climactic battle has the party caught in a cave between giant spiders and the ogre - pretty good DMing there.

3. Which is not to say the movie doesn't stand on its own merits. I don't want to sell it short: for an  indie fantasy film, it's pretty engaging. That the leader of the group is a young woman is a nice change, and the movie hints at a darkness within her (related to the nature of magic in the world) that I am sure will be explored later on. The characters have a little bit of wiggle room within their stereotypes as well; this is the set-up film for the franchise, so I will expect some growth and change there as well. There is a bad guy that I am sure will return, and an enigmatic elder wizard (a cameo by Kevin Sorbo, the film's "star power") who is sure to have a bigger role in the future. And if the  CGI is a little cheesy, well, that just adds to the charm - and you try doing high fantasy on tight budget!

4. Perhaps that tight budget actually added to the appeal of the movie for me: without huge CGI effects, there's no world-threatening, mind-boggling, set piece with a cast of thousands. There's just four adventurers fighting one monster. But they are four adventurers that are kinda fun to watch, and who you're staring to care a little about, and that beats the heck out of any planet-smashing for me.

5. I did a little research on the creators and they have the expected cred - not just in RPGs, but with other fantasy and mythology as well. Anne Black, the writer/director, includes in her credits The Crown and the Dragon, Dawn of the Dragonslayer, Orcs!, and Age of the Dragons - that last a retelling of Moby Dick with steampunk dragon hunters and which I most def want to see now. I think I may have discovered a new well from which to draw.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

25 words or less: A Wrinkle in Time

Totally disappointing. Great actors wasted in a superficial, charmless, confusing, and tension-less story about people I didn’t care about. Two hours wrinkled away pointlessly.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

5 x 5 movie review: Justice League

1. So, right off the bat (heh) I am going to say that I liked this a lot more than I had expected to. Based on a lot of stuff I had heard, and my general disappointment with the way DC has been handling its movie properties,  I didn't rush out to see this in theaters, but watching it at home on our new fancy-schmancy HD TV, I had a ball. Of course, I would have liked to have seen the Original Seven, but one thing I realize is that the comic book version of a thing and the movie version of a thing are not the same thing, and that's okay. It's not hard, really; just think of it as an Elseworlds. And on that level, this was a fine superhero movie.

2. Even if I am okay with Cyborg in the Justice League (which honestly still feels a little weird given his connections in my mind with the Teen Titans), I was not down with his angular, multi-faceted chrome appearance: it just seemed way too fussy. I had a similar response to Flash's segmented and wired outfit; I got the in-story explanation but it still had an overall clunky effect. On the other hand, I thought "The Aqua-man" look was a great interpretation.

3. I often go on about how this type of movie often gets too big for my tastes, how the stakes and the action are unnecessarily high; I didn't have that problem with this movie for two reasons. The first is that the Justice League, both in the comics and in this movie, was formed specifically to deal with world-threatening events; it is pretty much their brief. The second reason may seem like a technicality, but I think it is important: the League's mission was not to fight off an entire invasion, but to eliminate a device that would have made the success of that invasion a guarantee. The target, the goal, the macguffin if you will, was graspable and manageable.

4. The movie was also appealing to me for how much it captured the feel of the animated series - for example, the use of parademons to give Batman something to fight  while the heavier hitters fight the big bad.

5. Am I the only one who didn't notice Henry Cavill's CGI-ed out mustache?

Closing with this image just because I liked it so much.

Friday, December 22, 2017

12 Step Movie Response: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

So, Wonder Wife lobbied hard enough that we went to see the new Star Wars movie last night; as I have mentioned before, I am not a hardcore fan. But here goes.

1. It seems pretty clear that the last film tried to hit some sort of emotional reset button. I have to agree with some reviewers that The Last Jedi seems to be aiming to clear away much of the clutter of the past and move the franchise forward. As I don't have as much of an investment in the canon as a lot of fans do, that part doesn't matter much to me. Just judging the movie on its own, as an adventure flick, I just found it so-so.

2. Will Shetterly wrote a comprehensive (warning: and totally spoilery!) analysis of some of the writing problems with the film; I saw many of the same issues and can add a few of my own regarding portrayals of strategy, military discipline,  and so on. The biggest flaw for me is that while much of the film takes place in three different locales simultaneously, and the passage of time is critical, the events seem out of synch even more egregiously than usual.

3. Visually, the movie is pretty stunning; besides the usual blowy-uppy stuff and recreation of WW2 style combat logistics, there are great landscapes and wonderful critters to look at, as well as a diversity of alien and artificial life forms.

4. And speaking of diversity, it is great to see more visible diversity in the human cast as well, not just in race and gender but also in age and body type. Heroic figures don't all need to be popped out of the same action figure mold.

5. And speaking of critters, there seemed to be a real mindfulness regarding animals embedded in the film: some not-totally-subtle messages about animal cruelty and such. Wonder Wife was of course thrilled by this sensibility.

6. As for the major characters: I still love Rey, but she seemed a little more petulant than she needed to be and doesn't get a big enough set piece to really shine.

7. Finn is still developing as a character and hasn't quite found firm footing in this film. I like the idea of his being like a Spirit-esque hero: getting the crap knocked out of him a lot and being dragged out of wreckage by women, but fighting on nonetheless.

8. Kylo Ren moved the dial a little bit from emo to menacing in this episode... but still not enough.

9. Nice final appearances of Luke and Leia, considering the series had already all but left their characters behind. (When is Chewbacca gonna get some real love?)

10. I know Poe is supposed to be a headstrong hotshot, and he obviously has both skills and physical courage, but he was really quite the jerk otherwise, if you ask ask me. I really want to like Rose, and in many ways I do, but the next movie is going to have cash that check.

11. The movie included a couple of star turns in minor roles: I expect this from Marvel superhero movies, but not Star Wars. I think these parts could have been exploited a lot more.

12. We got a nice dig at the 1% in the middle of the flick.

That's it. Not really a review, since you're going to see it or not anyway. Wonder Wife loved it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

5 x 5 Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

1. So, why can Marvel Studios churn out competent, entertaining superhero movies seemingly at will, while DC Entertainment gets caught in so much Sturm und Drang every time it puts out one of its overwrought productions? With the exception of the excellent Wonder Woman, which I think shows the best potential of being a tent-pole of any film that DC has produced,  all their movies seem just terribly... fraught. Thor: Ragnarok, on the other hand, is everything one would want from a film in this genre: fun characters, fantastical action, visual thrills, a little humor, and some heroism at its core.

2. Like many films these days, the CGI stuff got a little too big for my taste: my favorite Marvel movie is still Ant-Man, in part because the stake were so relatively small. But given that this movie focuses on a epic chapter in the history of Asgard, I guess it can be forgiven for being huge. And truth be told, for all that it was an apocalyptic tale, there were a lot of small bits as well - Thor with Dr. Strange, with Odin, with Hulk, with Valkyrie, and of course, with Loki.

3. I gotta give credit for diversity. We're starting to see worlds on screen inhabited by people who more resemble those in the world we live in, and that's great.

4. I'm going to say it: Stan Lee's cameos are getting tiresome.

5. Many years ago, I read an article in a fan magazine - Amazing Heroes or A Comics Reader or something like that - in which a writer asserted that many of Jack Kirby's visuals would never work anywhere but on the comics page. He said that certainly in live action, and even in animation, some of the King's costume designs were just too much for reality, as wonderful and beautiful as the looked on the page. He gave Hela's headdress as an example of this notion.

He was wrong.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A superabundance of bunny

So, as I related over on Epicurus, I got a couple of Usagi Yojimbo phonebooks on the occasion of my last birthday.

I could go on and on about this series - rightly called a saga in these collections. Whether we are speaking of art, or writing, or character designs, or historical accuracy, or ethical perspective, the Usagi stories are a treasure. Stan Sakai is masterful, and the consistent high quality of his work is nothing less than astonishing. I could read these every day; if you're looking for a way into graphic books, this epic story of a 16th century Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals is a lot more accessible than most of the current superhero stuff.

There's only one hurdle: Usagi has been around for so long, one wonders where to begin!

Getting these collections reminded me that I dd have some Usagi Yojimbo titles in my shortbox already:

  • I have a 2010 Number 1 from Dark Horse Publishing; it's actually a reprinting of the real Number 1 from 1995. I guess the #99 I have from 2006 is from that original series (apparently still going at #160 or so).
  • I also have a Number 1 from the color series by Mirage Publishing that began in 1993; actually, I go all the way to #9 (of 16) with that one.
  • I also have a 1992 Color Special (#3) from Fantagraphics. (This series ran to something like 40 issues.)

You see, Usagi has traveled from publisher to publisher, and starred in a few titles other than his own, and that makes collecting the oeuvre problematical  Since the slightly OCB completist in me really wants to start at the very beginning and read my way all the way through in one collection, this is an issue. The Saga phonebooks only compile the Dark Horse series; for the Fantagraphics works, I have to get a separate volume from 2005; and as far as I can tell, the Mirage stories have never been collected. What to do, what to do?

Well, I'll tell ya: just read 'em. Let go of the sequencing and drop in with whatever story you find - you can't go wrong.

Travel along with the rabbit ronin through an exquisitely realized landscape. Discover Japanese mythology and traditions; meet samurai and ninjas and constables and performers; learn about how swords were tested and soy sauce made. Enjoy out-of-canon stories like Space Usagi, a sci-fi extrapolation of the character, and Senso, the wonderful what-if-H.G.-Wells's-Martians-had-landed-in-a-16th-century-Japan-populated-by-anthropomorphic-animals story. Linger over the artwork, thrill to the battles, laugh a lot, and cry a little. It's good stuff. It's like Kurosawa. But with animals.