Archive for June 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

XmenAIf you have not guessed, I am a fan of comics and superheroes. I knew that I was going to see X-Men: Apocalypse as I had enjoyed the last two X-Men movies. What I wasn’t sure of was whether I would enjoy it or not.

After seeing X-Men: Apocalypse I would say that it was enjoyable but just okay.

I know that doesn’t seem to make sense so let me explain.

I enjoy a good action movie and X-Men: Apocalypse delivers on this part of the bargain. There are spectacular fights that range from intense two person battles to combats that range across several city blocks as well as the vistas of the mind. The effects are done well and the choreography is what I would expect based on the first two movies in this new X-Men canon.

In addition to the fast paced action, we get good performance from James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Each of these actors have stellar acting chops and even when the writing is trite and lacking in originality, these three are able to give their characters life that elevates the characters that we are watching on the screen. In particular, this movie provides us with another Magneto redemption storyline. Fassbender gives a depth to both Eric’s desire to form a family as well as heat of his rage as it is all taken away from him. Lawrence provides a similarly powerful performance as the lone woman working to save the lost mutants that have been forgotten.

These same strengths point out the failings of the movie and keep it from being anything other than okay for me. Each of these scenes, and a few others are good to watch. They just lack a cohesive connector that maintains the level of investment I made to the surroundings scenes. Apocalypse could be an incredible over-the-top villain but what the audience is given is a character that seems to be attempting to make an impression with minimum effort. It felt like a Oscar Isaac was wasted in the role as he was not allowed to be bold and outrageous as one would want from Apocalypse.

the movie also inundates us with origins. We get Storm, psylocke, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Jean, and further looks into Wolverine’s past. Each story is interesting but feels like a distraction from the big tent pole that is taking place in the background. It felt much like playing Final Fantasy 7, all this time is spent raising chocobos to get Knight’s of the Round when supposedly the clock is ticking down. It takes away from the drama and adds little to the overall theme of the movie.

I give X-Men: Apocalypse two bear paws out of four. It is a collection of vignettes that are entertaining on their own but point out the lackluster quality of the movie over all. There are several good performances that aren’t able to lift the rest of the movie from mediocrity. Definitely worth waiting for Bluray to watch in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ancillary Mercy

AMAnn Leckie created a fascinating universe with her first book, Ancillary Justice. She introduced us to a universe where the Radch Empire spans galaxies and the people that are a vast conglomeration held together by the overwhelming might of the Radch fleet. Ancillary Mercy brings the story to a climactic conclusion that answers the questions that had been strewn across the tapestry of centuries.

First off, I love this series! Ann Leckie has a way of dealing with far reaching changes in her universe and making them both seem awe-inspiring as well as something that be accomplished by those willing to make the hard choices. She incorporates super-science that appears magical without making it boring or cumbersome. She creates characters that are both heroic and down to earth at the the same time. They deal with the larger issues that are facing them and their world while still having to make sure that dinner is made and forms are filled out.

These small domestic moments are the anchors for me in these books. In Ancillary Mercy it is these small moments that build to the crescendo. The Undergarden was wrecked and made unlivable at the end of Ancillary Sword. An individual and space that had been unaccounted for are discovered as a result of this carnage. Breq meets with this individual and has tea with them. Breq treats them as if they are human despite knowing that that are an Ancillary just like Breq. It is over these simple domestic rituals that the forms of address, of being, and place within society are further fleshed out. Breq comes to call this stanger cousin. Breq begins, in this simple fashion, to create a family for those that are in a similar plight. From this simple decision, we get to watch as a great transformation builds momentum.

These small character moments play out throughout the series and this book. in other books, a precious tea set would appear to be nothing more than set dressing. In the hands of Ann Leckie, it becomes a tool to learn more about the characters that we follow as well as an entry point into deeper conversations. The tea set in question was destroyed in a fit of pique at the end of Ancillary Sword. A daughter learned that she was worth less to her mother than the tea set that was given to an enemy. This shattered symbol allows Breq to bridge the gulf between the new Cousin and events that have been unfolding for quite some time here on Athoek Station. As they attempt to put the broken pieces back together, Breq’s cousin begins to piece together her own place in this rapidly changing universe.

I love Ancillary Mercy. It picks up the threads of the the first two books and runs with them. Leckie continues to work with the ideas of identity, responsibility, and love in this far future space opera. I love watching as Breq continues to struggle to protect the little corner of the galaxy that she has staked out. In the face of overwhelming odds, Breq, the crew, and the Ship come together to do what they can to protect those that are placed in the middle of something far outside of their control. I especially appreciate that the character gains made it each book are not left to sit. Leckie does not allow these characters to plateau and stagnate. She peeks into the corners of their lives and shows us those little pieces that have been knocked under the couch when then things shattered. Leckie then shows us both the price of the missing pieces and the joy of putting them back into place despite the damage already being done.

I give Ancillary Mercy and the entire series four bear paws out of four. Ann Leckie has created a universe and characters that are vast and layered. She deals with deeper issues while weaving a tale that is captivating, exciting, and heartbreaking. Ancillary Mercy, and it’s two predecessors Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword are books that should be in your library.

Warcraft: The Beginning

WarcraftI have played Warcraft and World of Warcraft for years. I was in a raiding guild for a time and left the game when time was just not available to play. I rejoined to level up a new character with friends while they wait for the new expansion to drop later in the year.

Hearing of the movie based on this game gave me chills. There has been only one good movie based on a game. Sadly Clue is many decades old at this point and each new attempt at a movie based on a game has been bad. Most do not even reach the level of fun B movies. So,my hopes were not high.

It turns out that Warcraft is an entertaining movie.

This is the story of the Orcs arrival on Azeroth. The Orcs original homeworld has been devastated. There is little life left to support them their. One leader, Gul’dan, has discovered a way to save them. By sacrificing the lives of thousands of captives, he will open a gate to a new world and establish an outpost for the Orcs. His band of Orcs pillage the land and capture as many prisoners as possible because the sacrifice needed to bring the rest of the Orcs through will be prodigious. It will be up to a few to unite the kingdoms of Azeroth with those few among the Orcs that see what is happening as wrong.

Warcraft plays out the story of Medivh, Khadgar, Anduin, Garona, Durotan, and Gul’dan. If you have not payed any of these games these names will not mean much. Luckily, Duncan Jones does a good job of introducing these characters to the audience and breathing life into a tale that could have been stale for those of us that had played the game for many years.

There were several things that made me enjoy Warcraft: The Beginning.

First, there is Ben Foster. He plays the powerful magical Guardian, Medivh. I have enjoyed him in movies such as 3:10 to Yuma, Lone Survivor, and 30 days of Night. He chews the scenery effectively as the brooding Archmage. Foster does dark and brooding well and his turn as Medivh is no different.

Next, there is Paula Patton as Garona. It took me a moment to realize where I had seen her before and it was in Ghost protocol. Here she lends a dose of humanity to a legion of Orcs that are done in CGI. She plays what appears to be a half orc. She embraces the part of creature with no home very well and gives a glimpse of both the brutality and empathy that can be found in the orcs. A wonderful choice of actress to fill this important role.

Finally, the animation that is ubiquitous in the film is well done. The film is littered with CGI Characters. The characters and creatures are well rendered and do not cross the boundary into the cartoonish or the uncanny valley. The fight scenes are handled with skill so that things are not hard to follow and there isn’t normally horrible lack of properly functioning anatomy that one would see in other movies.

Warcraft: the Beginning is a good fantasy movie that hits on the tropes one expects without being boring and repetitive. The effects are well done and the performances are solid. definitely worth seeing at a Matinee.

I give Warcraft: The Beginning two bear paws out of four. Worth seeing at the movies but not worth seeing again.

Lore of the Clans

I am a fan of the White Wolf tabletop roleplaying games of the 90’s. I have spent countless hours roaming the darkened streets of Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and L.A. fighting against the tyranny of the Prince or keeping my city safe as sheriff. I have played all flavors of that they had to offer but Vampire was the go to game for most of the groups that I was

Front Cover

Front Cover

a part of in the past.

With the all the recent change overs in ownership of the White Wolf intellectual property, I was happy that Onyx Path Publishing began creating both anniversary editions of these games as well as new content. The Kickstarters have allowed them to create books that are both gorgeous artifacts and clean up and clarify various rules that have morphed over the passing years.

One of my recent acquisitions via Kickstarter was Lore of the Clans for Vampire: The Masquerade. I loved the previous deluxe editions and enjoyed the previous clan books to which this book was the successor. The level to get the Deluxe hardbound of Lore of the Clans was only $55 which included the PDF and wallpapers. This was an excellent bargain for a gorgeous 306 page book.

First off, the book is gorgeous! The cover artwork is by Tim Bradstreet and is gorgeous. It is a full wrap-around cover with a member of each clan featured in the book and the clan symbols running along the bottom of the cover. The front and end papers of the book are sepia toned art pieces depicting a Dead Man’s party featuring all the clans once again. Each clan is given their own chapter and the chapter is opened with a full color depiction of a quintessential member of the clan. The pictures are just stunning.

As I mentioned, each clan is given their own chapter. Each clan’s story is to

Back Cover

Back Cover

ld in a style of sharing information with a someone new to the clan. The origins of each clan are discussed as well as the clan’s journey through the long night. The story culminates with the modern nights and what nightmares and dreams currently plague those of the blood. The chapter then presents a set of archetypes that can be found within the clan as a helpful starting point for players both new and old of this ancient game. The last part of each chapter are new mechanics for the clan. This includes new merits and flaws, discipline powers, combination disciplines, and new paths. One of my favorite parts about this book are the little box tests scattered throughout that deal with various parts of cannon. In particular, The Tremere Antitribu. the book addresses how the antitribu were supposedly destroyed in a great ritual by the Tremere and how, like much else of Kindred lore, is a piece of propaganda. The authors leave it to the storyteller to determine the exact number of survivors among the Tremere Antitribu as well as providing various explanations for these individuals surviving the purge. Some insight is also given into what a Tremere Antitribu faces within the Sabbat. It was a wonderful aside and there are many of these gems scattered throughout the book.

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Interior Art

I really enjoyed this book. It takes the idea of clan books that I enjoyed in the past and gives a much tighter presentation of the information. I appreciate that the stories delineating the history of each clan specifically calls out that these are just tales that the groups chose to believe. The proof of any of these stories is sadly lacking and the shadowy nature of the tellers just enhances the unreliable narrator factor. This gives me, the storyteller, more latitude in my games to play with the tales given and make them my own as well as making them something more personal for my players. The appendixes are a nice addition as well. They provide information about how the Caitiff fit within these modern nights as well as providing more information about the various clans Antitribu and Kindred of note around the world.

Four bear paws out of four! A gorgeous book full of useful information and game mechanics. A must have for any fan of Vampire: The Masquerade.

Orlando Solidarity

Orlando

My heart aches for those who have lost their lives in Orlando this weekend.

There are families, friends, and communities with holes in them from the callous hatred. There are people that are struggling to cope with the injuries of this hatred.

There are plenty of charities that are uniting to help those that are caught in this tragedy. You can find a way to donate here.

No post this week as I can’t bring myself to write about something with this much sadness in my heart.

DC Universe: Rebirth

DC-rebirth-1Spoiler Warnings On

 

I got back into comics about five years ago with the Flashpoint event in DC Comics. Watching the various alternate stories play out as the result of the Flash trying to save his mother from dying was something that intrigued me and sparked my interest in reading about these characters. So, I started reading the DC’s New 52 and would pick up and drop titles as I searched for that spark that I wanted out of my super heroes.

I will be honest. For awhile, I was just happy reading these stories again. It was nice to be transported to the world of the Justice League, Green Lantern, and the Legion of Super Heroes. Time passed and the Legion was canceled and titles came and went. I kept reading but the amount dropped as I realized what I really want in my comic reading.

I wanted my super heroes to have a core of hope, joy, and light. This was missing from what I was reading and it made me sad.

DC Universe: Rebirth brings my comics reading full circle. It reaches back to the Flashpoint event and moves forward through what has passed and charts a new path. It made me so happy to have read it and it makes me look forward to the new books coming out.

This books pulls out Wally West, Kid Flash, who has been missing from the DC Universe since Flashpoint. We learn that Wally has been trapped in the speed force as he was traveling through time when Flashpoint occurred and this caused him to lose his anchor to reality. It opens as he is struggling to find a connection to this new world to allow him entry. We watch as Wally visits and the different people of the DC Universe that in the hopes of finding the one that remembers him so that he may live again and warn them of the coming danger.

I loved this book!

First, we get Kid Flash back. I will never call myself a Flash fan but I always liked Kid Flash. I loved the relationship that was built up between Wally and Barry over time and how when Barry died in Crisis Wally took up the mantle. This feeling of a continuation of the name despite the person behind the mask changing was something that resonated with me and I felt that the rest of the DC Universe could benefit from this. It was the ideal that the other characters needed to emulate. In particular, I like that this book does not assume that you know everything about Kid Flash. It does an excellent job of giving you the basics behind the character as well as how he ended up in this place to begin with.

Next, This books gives a glimpse of things to come. As Wally is trying to find that connection we get to see several of the heroes as they begin their journey into Rebirth. Each of these little vignettes gives a nice introduction to the continuing story arc that will be occurring in these new titles while giving a great sampling of the characters that will be making an appearance. I was so happy to see that we would be getting both the old Blue Beetle and the New Blue Beetle in rebirth. I enjoyed the playful attitude that was always present in the Ted Kord character but also enjoyed the new character design and youthful perspective of Jaime Reyes. The new Kid Flash and Aqualad also give me hope that DC is going to try and work harder at providing a more diverse hero in Rebirth.

This book also hits one right in the feels at several points throughout. These are times when Wally drop out of the speed force to attempt to reconnect with someone he knows. There are lots of these throughout but a few that are punches to the gut. When he drops in to see Johnny Thunder, I was heartbroken. Johnny is in an old folks home and being treated like a demented fool. Wally asks him to find the Justice Society and to use the Thunderbolt. Johnny’s answer is that is what he has been trying to do for a long time. Just…damn. I love the Justice Society and seeing the happiest of that team struggling so much just hit me right in the heart. This happens again when Wally goes to meet Linda, the woman he loves and has been his anchor so many times before. He appears before her and she has no clue who he is. The anguish of lost love is just crushing.

Finally, the villain of this piece and going forward is wonderful. This book opens and closes with a watch and some text. If you are a fan of Watchman, you will recognize the imagery and the text. It is taken from the story of Doctor Manhattan. All we get to see in these pieces are the watch pieces. They are either working or being put back together on Mars. Throughout the book there are hints as to Watchman being brought into the DC Universe as a whole. We get to see as Pandora accuses an off-screen villain of trying to destroy hope before she is killed in the same manner that Doctor Manhattan kills people in Watchmen. There is also the introduction of Mr. Oz who speaks to Superman and The Comedian’s button appearing in the Batcave. All signs point to Doctor Manhattan as the big bad of Rebirth without ever showing his face.

Excellent!

Like I said. I love this book. It has beautiful art throughout. Each artist does an excellent job of catching the feeling of things lost and things regained with skill and panache. Each panel does an excellent job of communicating the story and the energy that this book is trying to generate. The story is well written and draws you in with its emotional overtones of love, loss, and hope. Each of the characters we meet has a story that I want to know more about and see how it plays out. I want to see more of the new Green Lantern, Kid Flash, and Aqualad. I want to know more about how Wally West integrates back into a world that doesn’t remember him. I want to see Hope, Love, and Legacy be a thing in DC Comics again and it looks like that this is the promise of rebirth.

Four bear paws out of four for DC Universe: Rebirth. And, at only $2.99, a cheap way to get back into DC books as they start a new storyline.