Terminator: Genisys

Last night my wife and I compromised and it was a huge mistake.

She had selected some possible movies, and all of them were dramas. I was tired – had a scare with my dad who lives 6 hours away last week, and once I had mopped that up I had one of the worst Fridays at work in memory – so I didn’t want to use my brain. I had a collection of Chinese and Korean historic actioners, none of which had been well-reviewed.

We compromised on Terminator: Genisys.

The horror. The horror.

My wife, who has much more charged for this than I, nodded off a couple of times. I got up to get a drink, make some popcorn, and didn’t pause the movie. These two are basically equal. I don’t think I could fall asleep with a movie on if I wanted, no matter its quality, but I also always pause when I have to leave a movie for a moment.

So, yeah, not so good.

The plot was convoluted. The acting was acceptable but not exceptional. The action was mediocre. There was way too much idiot plot going on – story only works if all participants are idiots.

Redeeming? I like the idea of re-booting the franchise by using its very crux – time travel. How can anything be truly resolved if people and flesh-encased machines can travel back further and further.

Can you imagine Terminator in occupied France? Victorian Terminator? Just its use in this movie was great. I give high points for originality.

I think how the looped in Schwarzenegger’s age was done well, but I think that necessity led to much of the convoluted storyline.

And that’s it. There was nothing else I can really cheer for. Sure, it had Lee Byung-hun in it, but for too short a period and once again as a villain. This makes me sad, because he was the lead in my favourite Korean gangster movie, A Bittersweet Life, and I would love to see him get more of a chance in a Hollywood movie. I know that’s expecting too much, but a guy can dream.

So, I’m going to give Terminator Genisys 2 exploding projectiles of mediocrity out of 5. The plot was convoluted, the action unimpressive, and the writing lacked any real spark. Someday, somebody might do something interesting again with the franchise. This isn’t that day.

You can read more about Terminator Genisys at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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I don’t think I will ever be blasé about signing books.

At Breakout Con – which, by the way, was a blast, and will be an intended destination in con season 2016 – I signed some books for a couple of people. I felt kind of embarrassed, in my Canadian self-effacing way, but also immensely proud. Someone wanted me to sign one of my creations, as though that added to its value.

And I wanted to include a cool comment, which I am worried I overdid. Because I like nothing better than second-guessing my decisions.

This kind of sound funny considering I included an extra tier in my Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter for signed copies of the book. It didn’t prove popular but certainly more popular than I expected. I had created a fair number of tiers and went looking for advice from my peers. The signed copy tier was one that got a fair amount of support, so I left it in. I’m glad I did.

I mean, honestly, who doesn’t want their work to be appreciated? And I can’t imagine a bigger compliment than asking a creator to sign a book.

So thanks for the ego boosts, Alexander and Rob. It was a great cap to a great weekend.

You can find out more about Breakout Con here.

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Robert E. Howard’s Conan Roleplaying Game

In case you aren’t listening to the Accidental Survivors podcast (and why are you not?), you might not know about Modiphius Entertainments Kickstarter for Robert E. Howard’s Conan Roleplaying Game. It’s funded already, with a lot of stretch goals hit. Modiphius always does good work. If you’ve been following Accidental Survivors for a while, you’ve heard me interview Chris Birch at Gen Con and he even joined us for an episode. He’s good people and Modiphius does good work.

You can also check out the Quickstart to see if you dig the rules.

Then head over to the Kickstarter and pledge.

You can listen to the Accidental Survivors chat with Chris Birch about Achtung! Cthulu. and as one of the people we spoke to at Gen Con 2011.

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A Kim Jong-Il Production

In case you didn’t know, I lived for three and a half years in South Korea. It’s where I met my wife. It’s my second home, and I feel more comfortable there than I do in most other places. I have continued to study Korean history and follow Korean politics. Knowing this, Chris “Mother Fuckin'” Bullock picked up A Kim Jong-Il Production for me, a book written by Paul Fischer.

It’s an amazing book. I say that because it is both very well-researched and very evocative. Fischer’s prose keeps your attention, delivering a story while he informs.

The book is about the South Korean director Shin Sang-Ok and his wife, the actress Choi Eun-Hee, who were kidnapped by movie-obsessed North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Il (father of the present leader, Kim Jong-Un).

Yes, Kim Jong-Il used the resources of the North Korean intelligence community to kidnap a director and actress to make movies for him. I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

The book begins with the rise to fame and influence of the three, how Shin became a great director, how Choi became South Korea’s premier actress, and how Kim rose to power and took the reins from his father. Then we learn about the kidnapping and the lives of Shin and Choi in Kim’s North Korea.

What I really love about this book is the period details. The story runs from the Korean War to the 1980s, and both the South and the North changed dramatically during that period. The discussion of the lives of the three main characters is intertwined with the story of the evolution of the divided Koreas.

I give A Kim Jong-Il Production 4.75 communist movie cameras out of 5 for those interested in the Koreas and a 4.5 for all others. This is both a fantastic story and an insightful examination of a dynamic period in Korean history. I was enthralled with the story, and appreciated the details. I would highly recommend this book for just about anyone, but especially for those interested in the Koreas.

You can learn more about A Kim Jong-Il Production at Goodreads.

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The Book of Eli

I saw the Book of Eli was available on Netflix (I think it’s recently added, as I hadn’t noticed it before) and given that I am now running a post-apocalyptic role-playing game, I decided to have another look. I had watched it previously and enjoyed it, so I wanted to see if it held up.

I believe it does. I think Denzel Washington delivers another excellent performance. He brings conviction and gravitas to his role, and even though he is Denzel Washington – I mean, it’s hard for him to disappear into a role when he has such a presence – I believed him as Eli. Gary Oldman is always great, though his performance is a less nuanced. Mila Kunis is solid in everything in which I’ve seen her, and Ray Stevenson never disappoints.

The action is well choreographed and while there a couple of set pieces in which the speed and precision of Eli’s moves are not as evident, there is no shaky-cam. Part of Eli’s invincibility in the early fights is given a supernatural patina mid-way through the film, but there is nothing particularly super-heroic about his abilities – at least not relative to other action films – especially given that his adversaries are generally portrayed as amateurish and clumsy, thugs who are suddenly faced with a trained and competent opponent.

This is a good movie but not a great movie. I think the Hughes Brothers who directed it were going for something more epic or penetrating than what I saw. I saw a very competent post-apocalyptic actioner with western tropes baked into it.

The reveal of the book’s contents and the villain’s purpose are not particularly surprising. It’s very much telegraphed. However, the reveal that happens at the end – the twist – falls flat because there is absolutely no real foreshadowing throughout the movie. A twist has impact when we can go back through the movie and see how it explains specific choices or scenes. I knew the twist going in, and no groundwork is laid through the rest of the movie, so it feels like a complete cheat.

There is the possibility that the Hughes Brothers and writer Gary Whitta meant to imply something about the power of the book and its impact on Eli, but even working on that assumption, it still falls flat. There should be something to foreshadow it, some clue, but there is nothing, so it feels cheap.

However, that is a really minor nitpick.

I give the Book of Eli 4 really cool sunglasses out of 5. This is a very competent post-apocalyptic actioner whose performances overshadow the workmanlike script. It provides great inspiration for setting and characters, and I found it totally entertaining.

You can find more information on the Book of Eli at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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Korean Film Archive

The Korean Film Archive has presented a ton of great Korean cinema from the past. It’s a fantastic way to see the evolution of Korean cinema, as well as a chance to see some North Korean movies. I think it’s an amazing initiative and it’s given me lots of moments of real enjoyment.

Now I just noticed their Im Kwon-Taek collection. Im Kwon-Taek got me into Korean movies before Korea became a centre of outstanding actioners and thrillers. Im Kwon-Taek. I watched Sopyonje with my wife soon after we got serious, and it really opened my eyes. Now, this is an incredibly depressing movie that I have a hard time revisiting. It is a fantastic artistic achievement, and for me embodies han, a kind of shared sadness among Korean society and a term I’ve always translated as deep, cultural melancholy. It is a masterpiece, but it hits very hard. I would strongly suggest watching it when you are in the mood. It looks at the death of a very specific, traditional art form in Korea, and the dysfunction that can affect a family when a parent values the art more than his own children. This is a really amazing film, but it left me very emotionally drained and saddened.

But right now I’m going to recommend Festival. It’s got Ahn Sung-Gi, one of favourite actors, and everytime I watch it I get very nostalgic for my life in Korea. It’s not the plot, it’s the places and the activities that remind me of my time there. Just fair warning, this is a slow, careful drama that relies on Ahn’s charisma and naturalistic acting to draw you in. If you like drama – especially indie drama – this will be a great intro Korea cinema. The story looks at a successful author who returns to his hometown to attend his mother’s funeral.

This is also about art and dysfunctional family relationships, but it doesn’t crush one’s heart the way Sopyonje does. It’s also a chance to be introduced to Ahn Sung-Gi early in his amazing career. I really with Two Cops was available (which pairs Ahn Sung-Gi with Park Jung-Hoon, who is another favourite of mine), but Festival is a fantastic film and well worth your time, especially if you want to get a sense of Korean culture in the modern world. It’s set in a time long past – Korea has changed as dramatically from 1996 to 2016 as it did from 1976 to 1996 – but this really depicts Korea as I remember it.

You can find the Korean Film Archive here.

You can find the Korean Film Archive on Youtube here.

The Im Kwon-Taek collection can be found here.

Sopyonje can be viewed here.

Festival can be viewed here.

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Sword Of Destiny

While I wasn’t thrilled with it, Sword of Destiny, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, only minimally disappointed. I honestly wasn’t expect much more than a chance to see Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh in a half-decent kung-fu movie. I got Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, kung-fu and a movie.

I’m going to talk about what I liked first, and then I’ll get into what didn’t work for me. The latter is much longer than the former.

The fight scenes were good. They weren’t great, and there weren’t any that really impressed me. Part of this, I think, was the reliance on big fights. It was generally the hero(s) against a crowd of baddies. There was very little of that in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In that earlier movie, the fights functioned as extensions of character interaction, which was why they were so expressive as well as being impressive. The fights told the story even more than the dialogue. The character’s revealed themselves in their styles. Sword of Destiny is more like an adventure movie, with the hero(s) taking on a bunch of minions with only a couple of one-on-one fights. And other than the fight on the frozen lake – which was pretty cool – even those didn’t live up to some of Yuen Woo-Ping’s former work.

I would rate the fight scenes in Sword of Destiny about the same as those in Iron Monkey – also a Yuen Woo-Ping movie – which means they were good, but they served a totally different function than the fights in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

And as with the fight on the frozen lake, there were some great scenic visuals in the movie. It wasn’t a constant canvas as was its predecessor, but it did have a bunch of really beautiful shots, some of them pretty obviously CGI or computer-enhanced, which frankly wasn’t necessary.

But that was it. It was enough for me to enjoy the movie on the level I generally enjoy kung-fu movies.

Having said that, there is no way this could ever be the successor to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That was a piece of art and I don’t think we’ll ever get that confluence of talent again. Sword of Destiny was cashing in on the name. Yes, it had Michelle Yeoh and it had Yuen Wo-Ping, but what it didn’t have was depth.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was actually a very small story. It was intimate. It was about these few people, their interactions, their desires, and their pain. Sword of Destiny may have tried to go epic with a story of Hades Dai seeking dominion over the Martial World, but it failed to achieve that. We really knew nothing about the villain or his motivation. He was big and bad and that was all. But that’s not surprising. None of the characters got any real depth. The relationship of Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and “Silent Wolf” (Donnie Yen) relies on an understanding of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it lacked the subtleties and delicacy of Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai from the original.

Which is a shame, because the movie has a Seven Samurai piece to it in which Silent Wolf recruits a collection of knights errant of the Martial World to protect the Green Destiny – Flying Blade, Thunder Fist, Silver Dart Shi, and Turtle Ma. These could have been really fun characters in another movie, but they did not fit the sombre tone of this one. I would actually love to see a an action-adventure kung-fu movie with the exploits of this crew, but that would be a totally different movie than this one, which attempts at profound rather than pulse-pounding.

And that sombre tone – a carry-over from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – wasn’t consistent throughout. While it never fell into “light hearted,” the movie seemed much more like an adventure movie than character piece with kung fu of its predecessor. The attempt to maintain solemnity may have been part of the reason for the very dull deliveries by most of the actors. Even very solid actors like the two leads didn’t really compel here, probably because they had so little to work with.

So in the end, I have to say Sword of Destiny failed to meet even my minimal expectations, but it didn’t miss by much. I never expected another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I had hoped for a quality film with some great action.

I give Sword of Destiny 3 villainous mobs of martial arts outlaws out of 5. While the fight scenes were pretty good, they were part of a movie that attempted to be both epic and deep and failed at both.

You can find more information about Sword of Destiny at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can watch the trailer here.

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