Movies

This Is The Maze Runner (Movie)

The full name of the film with the inclusion of its subtitle is The Maze Runner: Just Run With It.  At least I’m assuming that’s the full title.

There is an amnesia village full of Lost Boys.  There is a maze surrounding amnesia village.  Every night the maze closes because cybernetic hybrid mutant robots known as Grievers live inside it, and they will ruin your day.  Once a month, a new boy gets added to amnesia village.  Runners go into the maze, an elite sub-section of this vaguely Lord Of The Flys oligarchy who map the structure and its ever-shifting net of walls and dead ends.  If a Griever stings a Runner, because these cybernetic hybrid mutant robots have stingers, the Runner goes crazy.  Crazy = zombie.  Why?  Because every new young adult enterprise needs to be dystopian, and the zombie vein isn’t as dry as I thought it was.  Some of the kids who get stung don’t become zombies, or at least they do, but only for a little while.  No one explains why.  Fast forward a bit.  The Lost Boys (with the addition now of a Lost Girl who gets added later, a Lost Girl arriving with a note explaining something to the effect of “she’s the last one” which may lead you to question “Last what?  Girl?  Teenager?  Addition to amnesia village?” all queries which will also go unexplained) learn they’re in the future.  The sun scorched the earth destroying everything.  Then, a virus came along which made people go crazy (crazy = zombies), which has no cure.  Except it does.  Kinda.  Teenagers are immune.  But I think only some of the teenagers.  So survivors built this super maze full of cybernetic hybrid mutant robots in an effort to test the teenagers who were immune to make sure they were tough enough to face the world of Mad Max and virus zombies and, I’m assuming, save everyone.  It’s never explained how the sun scorched the earth.  Maybe global warming.  But it rained at one point, and the maze wasn’t in an artificial structure making it a natural rain, and I’m not really sure how weather works in this scorched earth scenario, but rain felt a little scientifically wrong.  At the end of the movie, we learn the sequel, AKA Phase Two in the Just Run With It Trials, is about to begin.  The lady who explained what the future is to the kids, and the lady who shoots herself in the face after explaining what the future is to the kids, tells a board room full of people to start up this so-called Phase Two.  I guess she was alive after all.

I rate this movie a “Huh?”

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Video Game

This Is Ori And The Blind Forest (Complete)

Wrapped a few nights ago.  Ori is one of those experiences I just didn’t want to end, a rare game I was so immersed in I found myself ferreting each collectible although my need for them was well over in an effort to simply prolong my time inside.

All of what I said in my first impressions post HERE remains unchanged: the graphics continue to inspire, growing more stunning the further into the world you delve, the world still a mix of science fiction and fantasy with a dash of Nimh I hadn’t quite picked up on earlier (which does fit into the Don Bluth hints), and gameplay that blend of platforming, exploration, and reflexes.  I never found the game as difficult as I’d read it to be, and never to the point I had to put down my controller and collect myself before diving back in, though Ori certainly has its moments of puzzlement and quick-thinking.

Speaking of quick-thinking, as abilities become further available – abilities like drifting, double-jumps, bashes – your options (obviously) expand making timing critical to avoid enemies, pitfalls, and the like all while stringing together combinations of your aforementioned abilities in an effort to survive and reach out-of-the-way places.  Anyone familiar with the Batman Arkham games, odd as this comparison may seem, will be familiar with the need for proper combos as moves are strung together  effortlessly from one thread into the next.  While white-knuckled in places, there’s nothing better than the satisfied execution of a particularly harrowing sequence, and Ori is full of these narrow moments.  In fact, there are spots leading me to mark this style as one of the game’s few negatives, where a handful of “chase” sequences – traditionally on the game’s more boss-like levels – lead to a fair amount of trial-and-error Samsara(esque) cycles of death and rebirth.  Few things lead me down a path of quick frustration as a missed jump or button press not read in time forcing me to restart the rote again.  And again.

And again.

There’s something to be said for the experience and the general beauty of its presentation even these constant reboots do little to sully the over all magic.  For a game with a (virtually) save-anywhere feature, rare moments of repetition where the power is removed from the player genuinely stand out as a cheap difficulty curve.  Not a game breaker.  However, to connect this one complaint into another with my own self-made combo, I dislike Achievements, unnecessary as they care on the surface, which are practically unreachable.  I’d mentioned in the previous post hoping to 100% the game, and most of Ori’s Achievements are obtainable through skill and practice, but something like “Beat The Game Without Dying” is a lesson in wasted time.  I think my final tally hovered around 320 deaths.  Skewed, perhaps, from item-hunting and impatience, but in a game where one wrong move spells oblivion, an Achievement of immortality is a poor excuse for replayability.  Ori stands strong on its own merit without resorting to that to keep players coming back.

The map is large.  Traversing it is simple enough, especially after you become both familiar with the layout and unlock some of the quicker abilities.  Even so, a quick-travel system would have been incredibly welcome, especially when looking to grab an orb or two you may have missed or not had the means of snagging at the time.  Having to “walk” from one corner all the way to another just to pick up one missed piece can feel a little defeating.  A handful of save hubs are scattered around the map outside of those you can create yourself, these filling your soul and health, and having them act as travel points as well could mitigate this some.  In the way those “chase” sequences feel weak in comparison to the rest of the game, one might argue travel grows into a case of padding the larger things become.

I clocked in around 10 hours.  Again, skewed, but not a bad length.  Every moment save a few was enjoyable, and even dying didn’t bother me as much as it should.  Wonderful story, wonderful presentation, a perfect control scheme and progression.  2015 is early, but its easily the first must-play title of the year, if not the past few years.  Buy it.  Ignore your Starbucks for a day or two, and buy it.

 

 

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Food

This Is Cupcakes

Or, more importantly, food presentation.

Also: I realize the title should be “These Are”, and right now it reads more like a panicked curse – “Cops everywhere, man!  This is cupcakes!  We’re totally cupcakes!” – but I have a system to uphold.

Supposedly presentation is a big deal.  I get not going out to a nice event looking like you just rolled out of bed, but that’s a personal first-impression variant where food layout is a different beast altogether, and not one requiring so much attention.  And look, I’m certain a fair number of you might be reading this who are already gearing up your weather machines to unleash an internet hate-storm before hearing me out, but listen: the arrangement of food on my plate, food which is about to be decimated in my mouth before traveling through the miraculous internal pumping parts of the human system where it will then be absorbed, reimagined, and, in many cases, shoved violently out, is not priority number one.  Taste is king (or queen), and in many cases, the sloppier my burger looks and the more overburdened by necessary parts hanging alluring over the sandwich-lip it appears, the more inviting the presumed taste.  The attractiveness of a meal makes little lasting sense.  Thanks to my wife’s innate cleverness, I now eat mashed potatoes, noodles, and corn as one compound mass of carbs, with the resulting sculpture far superior to any segregated pairings.  Perhaps that too is presentation, which leads me to believe I need to compartmentalize my argument some.

At any rate, I’m deviating.  I made cupcakes for work.  They were good.  Pretty good.  Though their placement in the pan may have been less than ideal, though their Manifest Destiny encroachment on spaces outside their own gives the impression of ill-planning, I ask: does this matter?  Because it’s a little rude to demean a man’s cupcakes who slaved over a cold mixing bowl for upwards of fifteen minutes out of the kindness of his own heart.

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Movies

This Is Chappie

Like a potpourri made of spices hand-selected not for their complimentary qualities but rather their sole aromatic strengths, Chappie is a sensory assault of clashing confections which manages to, in the end, produce a pleasant experience.

Neill Blomkamp is one of the best things going for science fiction currently.  In a number of ways, he reminds me of Philip K. Dick, exploring many similar themes with the same realistic stink and weary inevitability.  Dick’s future was a bleak one, one where the machinery and possibilities of were built with the same flaws and evolutionary muck-ups their creators possess, one where we grafted our own broken image onto something else.  Blomkamp has much of this same texture, if not fueled by as large a helping of melancholy.  In District 9, he used aliens and their quarantine as a parallel for South Africa’s struggle with apartheid.  Elysium follows some similar threads with its focus on the disparity between classes.  And while I’m simplifying these two films for both ease and sake of space, Chappie is a larger undertaking altogether with what it chooses to discuss and how, with the result becoming the aforementioned scent.

Chappie is a film unsure of what it wants to be.  It is one part a conversation about what it means to be human.  It is one part a conversation about class.  It is a conversation, to degrees, about xenophobia.  About upbringing.  About morality.  Science fiction is known so well for addressing these themes time and again – look to I, Robot, to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and The Day the Earth Stood Still – and here Chappie is no different, though the way Blomkamp pushes these issues together into one vast cauldron is what makes the dialogue interesting.  As such, the missteps are not with these explorations so much as they are the film’s tone, at times cycling furiously between dramatic dark and humorous farce.  A large part of the issue is found in Blomkamp’s choice to use South African hip-hop duo Die Antwoord as two of the main characters, and Chappie’s largest sphere of influence in the film.  If you are remotely familiar with the group, you’ll understand the curiosity of their use, both Ninja and Yolandi, respectively, having, respectively, less… conventional proclivities, many of which are displayed front and center.  For those of you unfamiliar, which I suspect will be many, I do not recommend looking them up and traveling down that particular rabbit hole.  Know only they are a group I am simultaneously fascinated and horrified by.

Their acting is fine.  Ninja – I feel ridiculous even typing that out – did not receive much critical reception from what I can tell, but I was genuinely surprised.  He played himself, and though there are levels with which that can go awry, he did himself well.  Yolandi too.  Their style is known as “Zef”, which a preliminary search explains to be out-of-date and “trashy”, not something I much picked up on, where I would more likely tell you to imagine a Chav living in a trailer park in the southern U.S in an effort to explain them.  At any rate, these are Chappie’s mentors.  Loosely.  As such, Chappie, the only robot with a consciousness and true sentience, learns from them in the way a child does, mimicking their posture, their vocabulary, their ideas of right/wrong, and even a sad understanding of what passes as “normal” to them.  I’d recently watched the documentary Rich Hill which is a heartbreaking look at the cyclical nature of the struggles of America’s poor, and I couldn’t help but see a fair amount of comparisons in the way Chappie would emulate his adoptive “parents” much as the children of Rich Hill would theirs without knowing any better.  Admittedly, the goofiness in Chappie’s learned personality does an excellent job of highlighting his child-like qualities.  Though a robot, I immediately took to him as the toddler he’s described as being, and in this way, his innocence is clearly apparent, a fact Blomkamp does a fantastic job of capitalizing on in his exploration of those traits of ours we pass along to whom we teach.  Though it’s an interesting lens to view yourself through, forcing a look at what words we choose, what actions we convey, what person we choose to show ourselves as to others, its juxtaposition alongside the heavier moments makes for large swaths of disparity.

Hugh Jackman plays what I suppose is the film’s main antagonist though, I could argue, there are a handful of these.  His actions are clear while being largely unexplained.  He is the xenophobe, fearful of truly intelligent A.I. with a zealot’s fervor, a fact which is never much addressed aside from a number of sign-of-the-cross gestures leading me to assume his concern is for the blurred line between who can or cannot play God.  Jackman’s character otherwise does not strike me as remotely religious appearing more a crazed army vet with a penchant for instability, making me wonder if my creationist theory is a wrong one.  Part of his issue with Chappie’s creator Deon, and yet another reason he’s the main antagonist, is the two work for the same company both attempting to create the next best robot.  Deon wins.  Jackman spends all his time and energy trying to get their boss to give his project a go while sabotaging Deon in the process.  He’s just petty, which may be the real answer here, coming off as incredibly one-dimensional and prone to tantrums.  Not too exciting.

My friends felt Chappie overstayed its welcome some, but the run time didn’t bother me.  I enjoyed the two hours or so I spent in that world.  Chappie is not an action film, another plus for BlomKamp in my book.  Though he doesn’t always get it right, he is unafraid of exploring what he wants to explore in the way of his choosing, fearless in the way a storyteller with something to say must be, and through its (at times) odd filter and slower pace, I was treated to a number of interesting concepts I began thinking on from the time they were introduced right up through the typing of this sentence.  And this sentence.

A fair amount happens here, none of which I want to give away as plot-points beyond theme.  There are no real twists in the Shyamalan sense, but a handful of “Ahhhh” moments do exist, all of which are wonderfully handled.  Chappie is more a true successor to the brilliant District 9 than Elysium, and one I would recommend on that merit alone.  Again, like Chappie himself, the film is a little unsure of who or what it is, a little too ripe with the possibility of its blank slated potential.  Though there are struggles, Chappie does what every good piece of science fiction should do: make us relate to the seemingly unrelateable and, in turn, come to better understand ourselves in the process.

I’m anxious to see what Blomkamp does now that he’s been tapped for the new Alien film.  Him being in control of one of my favorite properties has me ridiculously excited.

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Books, horror

This Is The Family Buried

Last of the trio.

The Family Buried is not quite autobiographical, though like most written-of moments, it was inspired by a handful of real-life events.  My wife and I once owned a farmhouse creeping close to two-hundred years old, a place ripe for such imaginings, and though nothing occurred so sinister as the unfolded plot, there were a handful of moments which worked their way in.

Recommended, obviously.

You can find the short story over on Amazon HERE.  If you’re a member of Kindle’s Unlimited program, you can download it for free (instead of the staggering price of one dollar).  If you’re a member of Goodreads, you can download it for free there as well.

I’ll get back to less narcissistic reviews next week.

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Books, horror

This Is One Day October

One Day October is my first novel, published a little over two years ago.  The goal was to go back to horror roots in a way, focusing on classics like vampires (non sparkly), werewolves, and haunted houses.  In an effort to connect them, the book takes place over the course of a single day and is told through six short stories all intersecting at a number of points.  From the synopsis:

Every building, every tree, every piece that takes up space on this earth leaves a residue. An imprint.

James Jeni found that out when he moved his family into the home on Creekside. It’s a beautiful place with all the room a young family could ask for. But when he begins renovations, James discovers a diary that warns of the house’s dark secret, and of the family who disappeared within.

Father Abraham Ferraro is no stranger to dark secrets. He’s been battling the undead longer than most of us have been alive. When his protégé Professor Jonathan Landers brings him news on a string of murders, Abraham’s worst fears are confirmed. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the killer won’t be the creature he dreads most. Maybe today won’t turn out to be his worst ever.

Today is the best day of Allison Jane’s life. Sure she has to work for one of the most terrifying women in the city, but after getting a raise and a promotion, what’s not to be thankful for? Of course, if she knew she was going to die before the clock struck twelve, well, Allison might be a little less celebratory. Francis didn’t mean to kill her. He doesn’t even know what he is, only that when the moon is full, like it is tonight, he changes.

Set over the course of a single day, a series of six stories bring together the miraculous and the mundane. Some people will wake up. Have breakfast. Kiss their loved ones good bye. And others, like James and Allison, must meet the incredible with unflinching eyes.

You can find the novel HERE.

As always, thoughts are welcome.

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Books, horror

This Is The Man In Christopher’s Closet

A little over a year ago, I won Writer’s Digest’s 9th Annual Popular Fiction contest with my short story The Man in Christopher’s Closet.  In starting to write these reviews, I realized I hadn’t yet shared my fiction work here, and I thought doing so might be a good change of pace.  There are three I’d like to share which should cover this week, starting with Christopher.

You can read the story on Writer’s Digest’s site HERE .  In keeping with the theme of the site, I’d like to hear your thoughts – good and bad – either in a comment or a PM.  Maybe sometime down the road, I’ll compile them for a user review.  For my part, I’d say “Recommended”, though that should be a given.

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