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This Is New Year’s Eve

Parties do very little for me.  Freshman year of college I attended one, singular, and was there maybe ten minutes before turning right around and leaving.  There’s something claustrophobic about a number of people pressed too close together, sidling around one another and screaming over the music.  Now I understand not all parties are like this, and I’m being generic here.  I get that.  Getting together with friends is not what I’d consider a party, even if it’s labeled as such, like Housewarming Party, or New Baby Party, or Whatever Party.  Those fall more into Adult Bonding Rituals.  People seem to like them.  You might infer from this I also do not care for clubs.  Or bars.  Honky Tonks I think I’d be fine with, as they have mechanical bulls.

So New Years.

Perhaps I’m predisposed given my leanings to being confused by the whole thing.  Birthdays make sense, those at least being a celebration of you managing to come together as a miraculous collection of cells, although you had nothing to do with the process.  Thankfully.  New Year’s Eve and consequently New Years just seems a strange commemoratory process.  Is it in recognition of your survival of the past year?  Is it a looking forward to the unknown next?  An excuse to get together and hang out?  I call that Saturday, but we all have our reasons.  Those braving the New York City cold are especially curious, waiting untold hours in sub-weather, packed together like so much meat wearing (admittedly fantastic) glasses and top hats and banners and all manner of who-knows-what-else, waiting for a ten second slice of time where they can howl descending numbers together before hugging and kissing (again, a Saturday) and braving the long battle home.  Perhaps it’s an experiential affair, a bucket list checkmark, or story to whip out at one of those Adult Bonding Rituals.  I don’t know.

I’m a hypocrite here, however.  My wife is more the social butterfly than I am, and this is something I’m working on getting better at, or more open to at least, and were she to tell me visiting Times Square on New Year’s was the pinnacle of some lifelong dream, I’d be there in a second with my own glasses and top hat and banner and who-knows-what-else.  And I’m sure it would be an experience, certainly an anecdote to be exhibited at just the right times.

At full disclosure, this year I will be spending the night with friends, my justification that excuse to get together.  I’m told there will be Cards Against Humanity available, which I have yet to play though always wanted to.  My version of Apples to Apples often becomes a PG version of Cards, a result likely leading to my failing to win time and again, so I’m anxious to experience the real deal.  If this fails to happen, I’ll be reevaluation my friends as a resolution.

 

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Books

This Is The Sword Of Shannara

More like The Sword of ShannEHra.  Right?  Right?

Okay.

Shannara has long been one of those series I felt necessary to give a go.  Terry Brooks seems a patriarch of the genre in some ways, much like Herbert or Asimov would be of Science Fiction, and there’s always been this strange, outstanding guilt for not having read anything by him.  I’ll admit, though, I approached Sword with attached biased, albeit small, having heard a number of times how much he apes from Tolkein.  Borrowing isn’t a new phenomenon, especially in fantasy, so I suppose it’s presumptuous of me to have an initial knee-jerk before even cracking the spine.  I’ll admit that.  However, having just wrapped the book, it was founded.

It isn’t all bad.  I’ll say that much up front.  There isn’t much great either, but if you like your milk lukewarm and your cereal soggy, you’re in for a treat.  Tolkein’s influence is evident throughout.  You’ve got the peaceful folk living in quiet solitude whose lives are interrupted when a mysterious stranger with great power interrupts everything, sending them on a grand adventure.  You have Ringwraiths in the form of Skull Bearers.  A fellowship of Elves, Dwaves, and Men, eight instead of nine.  You have a forest and a tree who lulls those near it to sleep.  The many-armed monster in the lake.  An adversary who has long been dormant and forgotten now reawakened without form, looking to conquer the lands having raised an army.  Not a ring which can destroy the evil, but a sword.  Gollum in the form of a crazed Gnome named Orl.  A Balrog-esque scene where the Druid Allanon, in the role of Gandalf, battles a Skull Bearer over fire and appears to plunge to his death.  There’s Palance Buckhannah, brother to one of the fellowship members Balinor, a prince of the city of Tyrsis (the description of which echoes Gondor incredibly well), whose mind has been poisoned by an evil advisor Stenmin, much in the same way Wormtongue bent the ear of an already addled Théoden.

You get the idea.

Couple all of the above with a liberal use of Deus ex machina, too many “well how about that!” moments to try and remember out of seven-hundred plus pages, and things are just grim.

Brooks’ writing is serviceable.  He really enjoys adjectives and adverbs.  The text feels incredibly repetitive, which admittedly could be a result of the story some, as the two are difficult to separate.  Flat is a good way to describe it.  If Brooks didn’t put an exclamation mark here or there, I wouldn’t have realized something exciting was going on, even in the midst of a grand battle.  His descriptions of people and places are the bread and butter, both of which I could often picture clearly.  I enjoy worldbuilding immensely, and while Brooks takes liberally to help populate, the amount of time spent going over the geography, the look and feel of the races, the history, and the overall setting kept me far more engaged than I otherwise would have been.

For someone new to the genre, Shannara wouldn’t be too difficult to recommend.  It’s an easy read as evidenced by the writing, and if you’re not familiar with fantasy as a whole, many of the tropes will be covered to help catch you up in spades .  For those who are better versed, I suppose Shannara acts as a good history lesson in its on way, having been published close to forty years ago when much of what we take for granted now was still being shaped, though I still can’t say if a recommendation is warranted based on that lens alone.  I’m told books two and three – Elfstones of Shannara and Wishsong of Shannara – are better, and I’m compulsive enough where if I begin something, I tend to see it through however painful.  While I could possibly argue the series has been around long enough to assume some degree of good in that popularity, Twilight is also popular, doing little to elevate my hope.  We’ll see.

I’m taking a Shannara break to read Repairman Jack books six and seven (about two-thirds through the former), and then I’ll jump back in.  Here’s hoping they do indeed get better.

A mediocre recommend.

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Movies

This Is Turbulence

Unconventional Christmas movie number two.

If Die Hard counts, Turbulence certainly does.  The latter is definitely a less-good movie, which is being kind, but my wife and I found ourselves enjoying it in spite of.  In fact, we enjoyed it enough for her to say we should make Turbulence our new Christmas tradition.  Or at least add it to our Christmas tradition.  Not sure I’m willing to go that far, but as long as Netflix continues to stream it, there’s little reason for me not to, I suppose.

So here’s the story: it’s Christmas eve.  Lauren Holly is a flight attendant who, until a few hours before her flight, was engaged.  She’s flying from somewhere to Los Angeles with a very light flight.  Ray Liotta is a serial killer who managed to escape prison and remain on the run two plus years.  He’s caught wherever Lauren Holly lives.  Marshalls transfer him back to LA along with Brendon Gleeson, who is psychotic in a Deliverance sort of way, or at the very least in a Deliverance meets Natural Born Killers sort of way.  You can probably see where this is going.  The pilots die.  There’s a terrible storm system the plane is flying into (apparently the rating scale of awful goes from 0 to 6, this one being an obvious 6++).  And Lauren Holly learns to fly.

Ray Liotta does charming very well.  He doesn’t do psychotic so hot, at least here.  I’m willing to bet he was there for the paycheck and when they told him to lose his mind, he just decided to go full tilt and have fun with it.  I’m also willing to bet there’s an outside chance Heath watched Ray’s performance when shaping his Joker, deciding to tone down Ray’s tongue-flicks for something a little more subtle given Liotta went more snake who can’t stop sniffing, which is appropriate, as it now dawns on me he looks a little like a snake.  A lot like a snake.  He also laughed through the entire second half, a possible non-acting move.  Lauren was fine.  Her character’s decisions bordered terrible to needing a helmet to survive the real world, doing absolutely nothing life-saving or thought-out while trapped on a plane with some dude who just murdered like seven people.  Imagine if every death in Texas Chainsaw resulted in the victim seeing Leatherface and running toward his chainsaw and you’ll understand her character’s motivations.

Now that I think of it, I’d totally pay to watch a Texas Chainsaw taking place in an airplane.

There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief in this.  Clearly.  I guess it’s bound to happen when the plane is on auto pilot the entire time and does just fine through a class Murder storm, when a briefcase plugs a gaping hole in the side of an aircraft, when Ray Liotta is willing to kill everyone but Lauren Holly even though she’s the only one trying to land the plane safely, when Brendon Gleeson is way smarter than an entire team of Marshalls, and when a plane not piloted by Denzel flies upside down for an extended period of time, doesn’t blow apart mid-air, and rights itself and keeps heading for that good horizon like it didn’t just do a barrel roll.  I suppose it’s a good note of the film there is no example of Deus ex machina occurring I can think of, since the entire film is one long frown of plot choices.  A Jeep or a Jeep-like vehicle becomes attached to one of the plane’s wheels.  That was cool.

This is not a movie I would recommend under most circumstances.  It is, however, more entertaining than it has much right to be, and a prime candidate for USA rerun Hell.  Gather your family.  Buy some eggnog.  Light a fire.  Fire up the Netflix.  Be amused.

 

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Movies

This Is Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

Unconventional Christmas movie number one, ahoy.

Here’s the bad news.  I went into this assuming I’d get either an Independence Day like scenario where aliens attack and Santa musters his forces of reindeer and elves and defends earth from their martian greed, or two, Sana musters his forces of reindeer and elves and flies to Mars to destroy the martians in his holiday greed.  But no.  Instead, we’re treated with an exceptionally long Star Trek (TOS) episode with a public service announcement on the dangers of over television consumption thrown in for good measure.

Martian children are watching too much television.  Too much earth television.  It’s making them unhappy, and their martian parents can’t seem to get them away from the screen.  In an effort to boost morale, they call on their version of martian Yoda to tell them to go get Santa, bring him up there (because I’m assuming Mars is “up”), and make toys and stuff so the kids are happy.  There’s one martian with a mustache who’s particularly cranky, looking to incite rebellion on the spaceship, and always undermining the captain’s orders.  He’s the main antagonist.  Pretty sure he tried to shoot one of the kids they kidnapped with a laser.  They eventually capture Santa thanks to a giant robot who wrecked his workshop, and they put him to task making toys for martian kids.  Thing is: Santa’s a little creepy.  He laughs a lot, and is a little too buddy buddy with the kids in an uncomfortable sort of way, like the parent who’s trying to be cool by buying their teenagers alcohol and flashing gang signs when they come in the door of their very white, suburban neighborhood.  Add some Gene Wilder Wonka into the mix, and you’ve got Santa.  Wonka in the boat tunnel, mix.  Santa has some crazy.  A good chunk of the middle-end of the flick didn’t make much sense, and only a day gone, I’m having trouble remembering some pieces of it.  The basics boil down to Santa just needing to push a button to make toys, which he doesn’t care for because, I’m assuming, the magic is then lost (though to be fair, dude was outsourcing anyhow).  Somewhere in this, an accident occurred or a rebellion occurred when Mustache Martian took another martian hostage he thought was Santa because Other Martian dressed up like Santa, and Mustache Martian was going to shoot him.  I don’t remember what happened with the storyline there.  All I remember is the workshop getting overrun by bubbles, bad martians panicking and not being able to deal, and Santa laughing in his manic way.  And then Santa and the kidnapped earth kids went home.

This is a bad movie.  It doesn’t quite make it back around where I’d suggest everyone watch it because it’s bad in a fantastic way.  A giant robot without much movement flipping tables is cool.  I enjoyed that.  Oh!  There was a polar bear attack, with someone in a clear polar bear suit swiping at the kids.  You know those videos where people pass a basketball back and forth, and after the video runs the “Did you see the moonwalking bear” message?  The polar bear looked like that.  Exactly like that.  He managed to convey bored extra remarkably well.

Disappointing.  Santa conquers nothing.  Needs to be remade with the fat man either playing war tyrant or earth’s greatest hero.

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Movies

This Is The Hobbit The Battle The Five Armies

My mom read the Hobbit to me when I was young.  Starting in the womb, supposedly, and a few times close after.  I was a huge fan, as anyone with a heart should be, picturing all of Middle-earth with wide-eyed awe, approaching each chapter and new adventure as something magnificent.  The idea of five armies coming together on the battlefield was, at the time, inconceivable to me, the number too big to wrap my head around.  It was one moment in literature I looked to with such anticipation, I couldn’t help but be completely underwhelmed when Bilbo was knocked unconscious and the fighting skipped.  What a ripoff!  I understand the book was (largely) aimed toward children, but still.  You don’t go for that kind of set-up, only to let it be a quick recap after the fact.

It should be no surprise I’ve waited over thirty years to see the fulfillment of that moment, and having just gotten home from the theater, it lived up to all of my expectations.  Completely worth the wait.  Would do so again.

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Video Game

This Is Persona Q

I’m a fan of Japanese school children.  Sounds weird when I type that out.  I’m more a fan of Japanese school children fighting world debilitating darkness, which I assume is better, though I admittedly enjoy manipulating their various social engagements while taking shopping trips to the mall.  For a mace.

Persona Q has only one of those things: the children.  If you’re at all familiar with the Etrian Odyssey series, you’ll be at home here.  I’ve not played them, though I mean to remedy that oversight, as the mix of modern and “old school” gameplay tickled my fancy in all the right places.  Having to physically draw a map in order to keep your bearings brings me back to my early gaming days.  Persona Q adopts the Etrian formula of first-person dungeon exploration, mapping out your progress, solving puzzles, and facing increasingly difficult enemies with (seemingly) overwhelming odds.  The marriage between these two series is a good one, incredibly smooth in transition given Persona’s equal penchant for dungeon exploration and stacked odds.  While the social links of the Persona series have been done away with for this outing, there’s enough nods to them and series favorites to keep fans happy.

Q takes place within the frame of 3 and 4, allowing players to approach the story from the perspective of your chosen cast.  I’ve always been partial to 3 – though 4 is great – so that’s the route I went, and I understand some story beats will be different depending on which you decide on.  Eventually, the two teams merge, and you can use characters from both in your party at will, which is great.  The interaction between the two is wonderful, poking fun at some of the overlapping similarities within the characters and titles, while also being careful to highlight their differences.  Social Links are replaced with a “Stroll” option, which are cutscenes aimed at giving a break from the dungeons by having characters spend time with one another.  Think small side-stories.  One had, I believe, Junpei trying to establish himself as a ladies man with the girls from 4, which, spoiler, he fails miserably at.

Series enemies will be familiar too.  The Shadows as they’re known here all look the same, act the same, and come beautifully animated.  Persona fusion is still a necessary aspect, one I liken to an adult (or “adult”) version of Pokemon in a strange way, breeding demons with the powers you need to overcome that obnoxious Shadow in the 3rd Labyrinth who can’t seem to stop spamming wind spells for two seconds to let me breathe.  It might be a little overwhelming for newcomers, but old Persona fans will slip right in to old habits, and old mainstays.  There’s plenty to do – side quests can easily eat up an unnecessary amount of your time – but exploring the various labyrinths and unearthing the plot in this mysterious school you’ve all been ported to will be where the bulk of your hours get lost.

I suppose one complaint could be the repetition.  It wasn’t repetitious for me, mind, because put me in a Starbucks line for more than two minutes and I’ll go Falling Down on the place, but grinding for days in the dark harvesting curious parts for a new sword does little to stir my feathers.  Priorities.  Some of the cutscenes can also be a little over-long, though that mostly falls into a “whatever” category for me.  They’ve got nothing on Metal Gear, but neither does the extended Lord of the Rings editions.

Totally recommended to fans of role playing games, Persona games, Etrian Odyssey games (I assume), Japanese kids, and fun.  And pain.  Some of that too.  I’m still working on Fantasy Life, and see myself working on it for the foreseeable future, but once that wraps, I might have to give an Etrian Odyssey game a go finally.  The number of 3DS titles I desire is getting out of hand.

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Books

This Is Repairman Jack

Well, some of Repairman Jack, anyhow.  I’ve read through book five of more-than-a-dozen, which is at least enough to form an opinion.

My brother turned me on to this guy.  He’s a character by F. Paul Wilson, who isn’t so much a handyman as he is someone who fixes people’s problems when those problems stray into either missing persons or dark creatures from the Other – these two issues not always exclusive.  And the “he” in that last sentence is Jack, not Wilson, who I suppose may also be a handyman when he isn’t busy being a doctor, since I can’t say what he does after hours, though I suspect it isn’t dealing with the supernatural regularly.  What I like about Jack is his normalcy, a trait attributed in part to his desire to be all number of inconspicuous things, but he himself is fairly low-key which makes him easy to initially connect with as his speech and his gait and his motivations are all clear.  He’s the perfect anti-hero in a way, not bad, really, in how we might root for a villain occasionally, but more someone who on the surface takes jobs for the pay and looking out for number one, while still being the type to want to risk himself to help others at the end of the day.  Put a dash of reluctance in with the anti, and that better sums him as a start.

The first Jack book is The Tomb which I loved.  It had an Indiana Jones meets Lovecraft vibe, no Temple but still flavored with Doom.  Very occult-like with a string of the everyday mundane which makes the mystic elements strangely out of place as well as easy to accept.  The second book, Legacies, foregoes any strangeness, putting Jack in the middle of your standard mystery minus the noir.  Again looking to Jones (who honestly Jack as a character has little in common with, the comparison is just a lazy one for me), I imagine Legacies to be more a story centered around Indiana’s time teaching rather than raft-riding, with a stolen pen or pencil thrown in for added plot sake.  Not to say Legacies was bad, just uninteresting after the bang of the first book.  In Conspiracies, the supernatural elements return, and it’s really where we get our first sense of the direction the series is going to take.  Something known as The Otherness is introduced, and again to reference Lovecraft, my initial thoughts is they remind me of what I assume the Old Ones might fall into with some western mythology added in.  I may be wrong in this, but i believe The Tomb and Legacies were written many years apart, with Conspiracies following a bit after that, and from there the books came out more frequently, so it could easily be a case of Wilson not intending any real narrative with Jack outside him doing these random odd jobs, but it’s very clear a stride begins here, which books four and five – All The Rage and Hosts – continue.

I like the strangeness of the books.  They straddle a line between urban fantasy and mystery novel without really ever choosing much of a side, and it works on some strange level.  There’s also some horror, though this is more in atmosphere than actual tone or style.  Again, I also like Jack as a character.  He isn’t necessarily easy to like as a person, but there’s enough good (and light) in him, and character evolution, he’s someone I want to stick with.

Wilson’s writing is fine.  More functional than good.  It feels as though the words are there simply to get the reader from one scene to the next.  This isn’t a bad thing, really, in that there are times I just want to put on a movie and eat popcorn, which is what the Jack books are for me, since again I’m more interested in the overall plot and world than I am the painstaking description of it; I don’t need Cormac McCarthy detailing invasion from a parallel dimension, though I would absolutely take Cormac McCarthy detailing invasion from a parallel dimension.  Sometimes the writing feels a bit repetitive or as though there’s a stilted rhythm to it, and it makes me pause after reading a few of his books in a row.  Some writers I can read their whole catalog front to back and want more, but Wilson isn’t one of them.  Again, not saying this as a real negative, or even as a tick that’d keep me from recommending him, just something to be mindful of.  And too, as a final negative, Wilson has trouble wrapping his stories.  I feel.  There’s a fair amount of build, and the build is more a very steady climb up than a pumping train, a build which tends to culminate with a showdown in the last twenty pages or so before rolling to a screeching end.  I really started to notice this in the last two I read, though it was evident as well in his non-Jack books The Keep and Midnight Mass (Keep being a part of a six-book – I think – group known as The Adversary Cycle or something, of which The Tomb is one as well).  Something else to be mindful of.  Always a little deflated at the end.  Not even as a cliffhanger, just… done.  Like he ran out of time.

Still, in spite of this, I’d recommend.  I just started reading Terry Brook’s Shannara series for the first time, which I’m planning to use as a Jack filler.  My brother assures me books two and three of Shannara are better, but Sword is pretty rough, as a mini review.  I’m way behind the times, and it is too.

Read Jack.  At least The Tomb.  it’s good stuff.

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