Weekly Roundup for 23 Nov 2014

Strike Back: Shadow Warfare. I’ve watched the first two episodes of season four of Strike Back. It looks like they are still filming in South Africa, and using it as both Columbia and Beirut. Now, I think it does okay as Columbia, but it is a really poor Beirut. If they wanted something closer to Beirut, they probably should have filmed in Israel or Turkey. And they still have the need to show boobies every episode. Given these failings, it’s still a fun watch, and if you liked seasons two and three, I’m pretty sure you’ll like four.

Seal Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines. I couldn’t finish this. Really, this is bad. The acting is very wooden and the action is completely unimpressive. Listen, if you are going to go for military porn, do something other than full automatic Rambo shooting. I guess there’s an audience for that, but I’m not counted among them. I would have been okay with this if it had been poorly acted but had half-decent combat choreography. As it was, thirty minutes into this, I gave up and switched to Strike Back. At least they do the military porn right.

Outpost: Black Sun. I liked Outpost, though mostly because of Ray Stevenson, who seems to be pretty solid in everything in which I’ve seen him. This sequel isn’t bad, but then again, it isn’t good. Its greatest value to me was as inspiration. I could totally see running a short campaign of the PCs tracking down Nazi super-tech that creates invincible, undead soldiers. This is a fair enough time waster, but I really didn’t like how they portrayed special force operators as inhuman kill machines with no human empathy.

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Crying For Education

Why has this place been so quiet? There are three reasons: my work is gearing up, I’ve started an 8 week International Relations course, and I’ve started playing Far Cry 3.

The less said about work, the better. I do want to point people toward edX, which is one of the services on the internet that provide free university courses. I’m taking a course on the politics of the Korean Peninsula, and while it has only just started, it seems pretty good. It takes about two to three hours a week – which, honestly, is about a third to a half of my free time in a week.

And Steam had a Far Cry bundle for sale. Part of it was Far Cry 3. I’ve written about Far Cry 2 before, and that got pretty frustrating. Far Cry 3, so far, doesn’t have the same problems as Far Cry 2 and I really like the weapon choices and accessories for them. I’ve kitted up with a suppressed Remington M-700 with a high-powered scope (called a Predator in game), a suppressed M14 with an ACOG, a suppressed HK MP5 with a reflex sight, and a Winchester Model 1887 with a red dot sight (which seems kind of weird, but whatever). I suck with the bow.

You can learn more about edX here.

You can learn more about Far Cry 3 here.

I wrote about Far Cry 2 here.

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Weekly Roundup for 9 November 2014

I’ve had a busy week. I finished a 5,000 word freelance assignment and got a chance to take in Interstellar. I’ve also worked a bit on my Borderlands-esque fiction and a short story I started. Be that as it may, I have three choice viewing options for you, though not all are available on Netflix.

Ronin: This is one of my favourite movies. I’m not saying it is the best movie ever, but I can sit down and watch this at any time and enjoy it. I’ll watch clips. I’ll watch the movie on broadcast TV, cut up and riddled with commercials. I don’t care. This movie is just straight up awesome for me. I love the chemistry between DeNiro and Reno. For rogue intelligence operatives set adrift, this movie can’t be beat.

Goldeneye: Pierce Brosnan’s entry into the James Bond franchise and one of his better efforts. I really would have preferred Brosnan be the star of the Living Daylights, which seemed to me like an attempt to reboot the franchise in a framework closer to the novels well before Casino Royale. It also has Sean Bean as a rogue MI6 operative. Frankly, I wish Bean had been playing the hero spy, a kind of working-class Bond, but we had to wait until Cleanskin for that.

Burn Notice: The story of CIA agent case out of the agency who becomes a rogue operative, trying to uncover the facts behind his spurious “burn notice,” and acting as a kind of more light-hearted Equalizer in sunny Miami. Not only did the first couple of seasons have outstanding writing, it also had Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar as series regulars. Lots of fun.

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Interstellar, A Review

I saw Interstellar last night and I was blown away. If you read nothing else in this review, read this:

You should see Interstellar.

I’m not saying everyone in the world should but if you read something like this blog, you are part of the target audience.

And let me get this out of the way: this is not a perfect movie. There are flaws and plot holes – though not too many – that for brief moments in time took me out of the movie. The most glaring of those I don’t want to get into because I don’t want to reveal too much of the last third of the movie, but how an important dump of data is achieved really annoyed me.

All that said, this movie punched me right in the gut . . . in a good way. I have two young daughters whom I consider pretty damn bright. Geniuses? (genii?) Proud as I may be, I’m not going there. So I might not understand about being the father of a genius, but I certainly know about being a father, and this movie is about fathers and daughters and the sacrifices we are willing to make for our children. It’s about children following their parents and children exceeding their parents. I felt bad for the son because he kind of gets swept aside for the relationship between the main character and his daughter, but I really identified with that relationship.

And while the exploration of that relationship is powerful, it’s not the full story. Interstellar, as one might imagine, is also about exploring space, the extreme environments we might encounter on other planets, and the majesty of the universe. It’s about smart people doing smart things, even when they are flawed people who sometimes make mistakes because they are human.

Why are we exploring space – other than that’s what we should be doing, that we are a species that explores . . . until now. Much of the movie is about what a mess the Earth has become. There are stabs at the anti-science, anti-rationality movement that has abandoned evidence and replaced it with ideology and emotion. And this movie does talk about emotion, it revels in it. And faith, but not religious faith, which I don’t recall being addressed.

The cast of this movie is amazing, and they deliver. I’ve always liked Matthew McConaughey, and he is fantastic in the lead. Everyone is fantastic. Even the young lady playing 10-year old Murph is really convincing. The script can be overwrought and sentimental at times, but the score by Hans Zimmer helps to land these moments, helping me to accept the moments and have them resonate.

And the score – another out of the park for Zimmer. I gushed about his work on Man of Steel (honestly, my favourite thing about that whole movie), but I think he may have outshone himself with this one. The score really adds to the majesty and the tension, and I wondered who could have done such masterful works as the credits rolled, and when I saw Hans Zimmer, it all made sense. Since noticing his work in Black Hawk Down, I’ve realized that if a score really hits home for me, it’s likely Zimmer.

I could go on. This is a case of having so many superlatives and few complaints. For geeks, there are going to be parts of this movie where an inaccuracy or flaw really hits you because we love science fiction and we know the pitfalls and dangers of Hollywood telling us about space. But this movie really delivered. It gave me both a science adventure and a moving story. That’s hard to do.

I think I appreciate the concept and execution of Inception more, but Interstellar’s core story of father and daughter, the goddamn outstanding visuals, the space exploration, and the score all score higher for me.

This is a movie I desperately want to see again. I’m giving it 4.75 wormholes out of 5.

You can learn more about Interstellar at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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Snowpiercer, a Review

Given that I’m a fan of South Korean cinema, I was very interested to hear that Bong Joon-ho, the award-winning director of the speculative fiction movie the Host, was set to direct a post-apocalyptic action movie based on a French comic and starring Chris Evans. Snowpiercer, however, had a few hurdles to get into theatres, and I almost forgot about it until it popped up again recently.

I was not blown away by this movie, but I was entertained. I had expectations, but after all the problems the movie encountered, they were not excessively high. The movie delivered on what I hoped it would – action, acting, and atmosphere. The script was good, but it was certainly not great. The story is very high-concept, but it demands such a willing suspension of disbelief that there is little left over for other demands.

(I mean, why is survival only possible on a moving train when I would expect the stress on the rail line infrastructure from the cold and lack of maintenance would make this one of the worst choices for survival?)

Once one swallows the initial horse pill of a setting, the rest goes down much easier. This movie has Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Song Kang-ho (the Weird from the Good, the Bad, the Weird, one of my favourite Westerns which happens to be set in Manchuria in the 1930s) so it has got the acting sewn up tight. In places, the dialogue can be clever, but most of the time it’s pedestrian. It does its job but does not impress.

The fight scenes are visceral and tense, using a very small amount of shaky-cam and close-ups, meaning that we can see more of the fight and follow the ebb and flow of the combat. While this is not “realistic” fighting in any sense of the word, it is much more grounded than many action movies. The consequences of the violence are still generally narrative for main characters, meaning that being wounded will effect them when this is narratively interesting.

But the atmosphere – the setting of the train and the glimpses of the frozen world outside – is excellent. Again, you are asked to swallow a pretty big pill, but each train car has its own character, its own charm, and its own dangers. The ghettos look depressing and stark whereas the leisure class gets to live in something pristine.

If you like post-apocalyptic movies, you’ll probably find Snowpiercer interesting. I would actually recommend it to anyone who digs speculative fiction movies.

I give Snowpiercer 4 pieces of uncut Kronole out of 5.

You can find out more about Snowpiercer at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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The Fantastical in the Fantasy

Here I am, with a new idea and almost 2,000 words into a new story and I come to the realization that it’s not really a fantasy story. I’ve always considered fantasy stories as not just stories that happen in other realities or settings, but that also require a fantastical element. It’s not just that there are characters that use magic, or that there are hints or mysticism in the story, but that the fantastical element are crucial to the plot.

Mike Mignola’s take on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from the Dark Horse comic.

Because sword noir stories are founded on the same ideas as hardboiled fiction, many of the plots which I imagine aren’t really fantasy because the fantastical element aren’t crucial to the plot. Sometimes, I can get around this: “A Pound of Dead Flesh” has a magical MacGuffin that also forces the characters to make certain choices, but in the end, it could have been the Maltese Falcon without changing the story too much. It would have lost one element that led to hard choices for the characters, but I could have worked around that. However, the fantastical element of “Farewell, Something Lovely” is absolutely crucial to the way the story plays out. Again, it wouldn’t be impossible to tell the story without it, but it would change a lot of characters’ motivations and arcs.

For this new story, there is no fantastical element as I imagined it. I think this is going to be much more “A Pound of Dead Flesh,” in that I can shape a piece of the story into something fantastical, but it is not going to be intrinsic to the story. I take comfort in considering that there are many Conan stories and even a couple of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales that have the same level of fantasy in them.

What’s a MacGuffin, you ask . . . Wikipedia’s got you covered.

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Weekly Roundup for 2 November 2014

Strike Back, Season 3: This week didn’t see as much Netflix watching. I’m catching up on Season 3. I’m up to episode 6. I like that they are geographically limiting the stories to the area in which they are filming (South Africa), but I am really, really sick of the gratuitous nudity. I am not a prude, but the nudity does absolutely nothing for the story and just makes certain I can’t watch this comfortably on my tablet in public.

Jodorowsky’s Dune: This is a documentary about the failed attempt by surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to adapt Dune to the screen in the early 1970s. This was before Star Wars changed how studios saw science fiction. It failed because Jodorowsky got kind of crazy with what he was attempting to put up on the screen, but those involved ended up changing science fiction film-making through the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a very interesting film, one I highly recommend, but I have to say I don’t think I would have enjoyed Jodorowsky’s take on Dune.

Snowpiercer: Finally saw this. I enjoyed it. This is a great actioner, but the science for it is ridiculous – we can’t leave the train because the world is frozen, as though whatever is providing heat, light, motivation etc. for the train would fail in a stationary configuration. Chris Evans delivers as always, and Song Kang Ho, who played “the Weird” in the Good, the Bad, the Weird, does a great turn as well. Strong cast doing well with an okay script makes for a fun experience.

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