Friday, August 23, 2019

Freaks of Nature (2015) review


    Freaks of Nature is a movie that slipped under a lot of people's radar and probably was most likely to be encountered in your local Walmart's Direct-to-DVD shelf. Certainly, I completely missed it and am kicking myself for not watching it immediately. It's such a delightfully messed up premise and humorous from beginning to end.

Petra is a lovely woman. It's hard to buy her as an outcast.
    The premise is a small town in Ohio, Dillford, is the home for the Riblet. The entire town is employed in the production of the (apparently) meaty snack. Oh and it's also a town full of zombies and vampires. Yes, humans, zombies, and the undead live semi-harmoniously in a tiered system with the vamps on top while the zombies are on the bottom. How did this bizarre world come to pass? Doesn't matter. All that matters is that's how it is now.

    Zombies go to school with the regular humans, wearing shock collars to keep them from eating people, and also serve as cheap labor. Vampires, as always, are sexy badasses everyone loves--except for the teacher at the school who can't get a date on Tinder. It's these kind of hilarious twists and turns in the world-building that makes it such a bizarre yet believable setting.

    The town's idyllic facade is just that, though, a facade. An alien "invasion", that doesn't initially involve any actual invasion, results in the carefully maintained barriers between the citizenry falling apart. Soon, the zombies, vampires, and humans are tearing each other apart in a race riot that leaves our protagonists caught in-between the three major factions.

Being a zombie on brains is like being on drugs. Kinda.
       There's Dag Parker (Nicholas Braun) who just wants to sleep with local beauty Lorelei (Vanessa Hudgens). There's Petra Lane (Mackenzie Davis) who is bitten by her vampire boyfriend during her first time having sex and is immediately abandoned thereafter. Then there's Ned Mosley (Josh Faden) who is so sick of being smart in a town of idiots that he decides to become a zombie.

    The movie is tremendous from beginning to end with a lot of excellent horror, horror comedy, and just plain comedic scenes. It takes the Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque concept of "high school is hell" and applies it to the teens struggling with their all-too-relatable problems. I like the love triangle between Dag, Lorelei, and Petra even though it's not terribly difficult to see how it's going to turn out.

    A lot of the movie's humor comes from the fact that its mood can turn on a dime. At one point there may be a sweet bonding between a human and a vampire, then the vampire might end up eating his girlfriend only to have her feel really bad about it (well, sort of). The fake gore and over-the-top violence makes the sappy melodrama even more awesome to watch. I also appreciate the many unexpected cameos like Patton Oswalt and Keegan Michael Key. I about died when Werner Hezrog turned out to be the voice of the Head AlienTM.

The gore reaches Evil Dead levels.
    I'm a huge fan of Vanessa Hudgens and really enjoyed Mackenzie Davis in Blade Runner 2049. I didn't quite buy the fact that Vanessa Hudgens is so much more beautiful than MacKenzie Davis (due to the fact both actresses are objectively gorgeous) but that's part of the movie's charm. Dag is objectively less interesting than Petra in his storyline and, frankly, probably should have been her supporting cast member than the other way around but that's Hollywood for you.

    People expecting a coherent plot will be disappointed as everything very loosely hangs together. Why are the aliens here? What drove all of the townsfolk to rioting? How do they get over all the murders so quickly? What is the reason a character is a supernatural type we haven't seen before? Doesn't matter. Why do the cast have to get naked to evade the aliens (yet remain within the bounds of PG-13 despite its R-rating)? Mostly to show off the attractive cast. It's all loosely explained but the scenes carry from one insane situation to the next and never slow down. That's deliberate on the part of this movie.

    The only part of the movie I really wasn't a fan of is Denis Leary's Rick Wilson. Basically, a Trump parody before his 2016 upset election to the Presidency, he's an arrogant blowhard who owns the town due to being the Riblet manufacturing plant owner. He's not particularly funny and whenever he's a jerk to our protagonists, it's usually justified (like killing his mistress). As such, he just brings down whatever scene he's in.

    In conclusion, this may not be the greatest film in the world but I very much enjoyed it and recommend it to people who want something fun and brainless to watch. Mostly because the zombies ate them. Is it self-promotion to state this kind of reminds me of my Bright Falls Mysteries novels or The United States of Monsters? Maybe, but maybe that's why I like it.

8.5/10

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Star Wars: Resistance Season One review


    So, I didn't expect to like STAR WARS: RESISTANCE. It took me a while to warm up to the concept of STAR WARS: REBELS and that was based around a lot of concepts that I enjoyed, feeling very much like a West End Games STAR WARS: THE ROLEPLAYING GAME campaign. It included things like Inquisitors, Sith Holocrons, Darth Maul, and eventually Grand Admiral Thrawn. It took awhile to peculate, though. The first season's first half wasn't very good, IMHO, and it wasn't until Grand Moff Tarkin showed up that I felt moved. How was I going to feel about a show with no Jedi whatsoever? The answer is, in fact, pretty good.

Beautiful vibrant colors for a time of peace and justice.
    Mind you, I think part of why I like Resistance is that I've seen this show's basic premise before and liked it then. The TV show TRON: UPRISING was about fighting against the oppressive local tyranny by a group of mechanics located in a single city off the main campaign of the greater universe. This show is it's own thing and a bit goofier but I think it's easily the same quality as Tron: Uprising and I am going to continue to praise the work from beginning to end. I have some complaints but this is going to be an overall positive review.

    The premise is that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) recruits a New Republic pilot Kazuda Xiono (Christopher Sean) to become a spy for the Resistance. The Resistance is short handed, though, so he's assigned to be a spy rather than a pilot since they have enough of those. Placed on the strategically significant but not too-significant Colossus refueling station, he must attempt to find out what the First Order's plans are in the preceding six months to THE FORCE AWAKENS.

I believe BB8 is the real spy. Kaz is just his cover.
    I rather like the fact that the central premise is that a spy is hanging around at a truck stop and gas station, basically a highway shopping center at most, in order to do his business. Star Wars has always thrived when doing the mundane in space. The Colossus is easily the most well-detailed of the new canon locations and a place that feels vibrantly alive.

    One of the chief issues of the sequel trilogy was the fact that we were dumped into the universe with a minimum of world-building. Star Wars fans are every bit the pedantic nerds that Star Trek fans are and it was one of the few occasions where a Senate scene would have been welcome. This series nicely illustrates the New Republic is a pleasant, beautiful, and peaceful place to live far better than any exposition.

    The First Order was treated as something of a joke in both the first and second movies, hurting their intimidation factor as villains. Yes, they blow up a planet but Starkiller Base goes boom immediately after. They manage to wipe out the Resistance in the The Last Jedi but not the central people who helped form it. A certain incredibly potent character dies but that's because he overexerted himself, not because of anything the bad guys did. We get some reversal of that with their portrayal here.

Love the First Order's chrometroopers.
    It takes a bit to get there but we get a sense of just what the First Order has been doing in the Unknown Regions and watch them destroy whole planets, civilizations, and engage in such massive construction projects as to leave systems utterly spent. It gives us an idea of what they are capable of and the characters are not played for jokes, not even General Hugs. For a kid's show, it manages to create a real sense of not only menace to when the FO start "disappearing" people but also the implications when they find starless worlds where civilizations are in ruins.

   I have to say that I like a lot of the characters in this show and wish we got more of them. Torra is my favorite character of the series and I'm kind of annoyed she turned out to be five years younger than Kaz because I really liked their interactions. I also approve of Tam, a young woman who has practical concerns about money and security that blind her to the dangers of fascist takeover. Captain Doza and Yeager are also fascinating characters, each with their own ties to the Galactic Civil War. Synara the sexy inexplicably Russian-accented spy is also a great new character, even if I initially she was a Zeltron. I would have loved a lot more material about the Aces too, which is sadly not available in the main series.

She needs her own show.
    Which does lead to the problem of Kaz being the butt of the majority of the jokes in the series. I get he's out of his depths and the Resistance put him in a job he's underqualified for because A. They don't have anyone better for it. B. It's not exactly a high priority mission. However, they really go overboard making him a goofball incompetent. He's a guy who graduated the New Republic military academy and is an officer of their Starfighter Corps--the guy should at least be ESB-Luke competent.

     The art style of the series is one that took a bit of getting used to as it combines CGI with a heavy anime-influence that brings a 3-dimensional movement to cartoon characters. I was initially rather put off by it but eventually warmed to it. The action is fluid and beautiful with the starfighter races and combat being the highlight of the series. I also appreciated the diverse use of aliens in the show as it avoids a common problem in live action scifi series of too many humans. This is written for a young audience set but I don't think it's something adults should avoid. It's definitely in that sweet spot of good for the whole family.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed the first season of this show and would love to see more of it. I'm kind of disappointed we aren't getting a third season of it. After my severe issues with The Last Jedi, this was a nice return to form.

9/10

Monday, August 5, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel review


    ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is a movie I missed during its initial run in theaters. This is a shame because I watched the original OVA when I was in highs school. I remember enjoying the fascinating juxtaposition of the flying city of Zalem over the horrible slums of Scrapyard. So, I was pleased when James Cameron stated he wanted to make a movie about the series. Mind you, that was literally decades ago so I was pretty certain I would never see the actual movie. Thankfully, that changed and I have now got my opinions on this seminal adaptation of a classic anime. My opinion? It's pretty good.

"I have the power!"
    If it sounds like I'm not particularly blown away, the truth is I'm not. It's an absolutely gorgeous movie and has a lot going for it but I also feel like it kind of meanders from point to point. It feels like a condensed number of manga volumes and that's really what it is. I almost feel like the story would have benefited from taking a single plot from the manga then making it into one single long original story. On the other hand, it actually does make a number of significant changes that tie things together more coherently.

    The premise is the world is post-post apocalypse. A war between Mars and Earth resulted in most of the planet being devastated with only the city of Zalem remaining. In the comic, it was located in Kansas but here it's located in South America due to having a space elevator. Zalem floats over the city of Scrapyard and is supplied by the poor who live down there. It's a bit like Elysium or, perhaps I should say that Elysium is a bit like Alita: Battle Angel and both are a bit like Metropolis. First World and Third World inter-connectivity.

The monster under the bed should be terrified.

    One of the residents of Scrapyard is Doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) and he finds a centuries-old cyborg head in the junk of Zalem. Reassembling her, he soon has a beautiful is strangely anime-looking young woman that he names after his dead daughter. Alita (Rosa Salazar) is initially wide-eyed and innocent but proves to be an accomplished warrior who isn't actually suited for her teenage body.

    Things go from being peaceful to hellish with the fact that Alita is being hunted by the ruler of Zalem, Nova (Ed Norton), using a variety of cyborg soldiers as well as the local crime boss Vector (Mahershala Ali). Thrown into this is the series-only character Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), who is upgraded into being Doctor Ido's wife as well as the mother of their deceased child. We also have Hugo (Keean Johnson), a young boy that wins Alita's heart. Literally.

    I love the world we're presented and the weird earnestness of its premise. That the people of Scrapyard are living in the kind of cyberpunk hellhole where not only do you not have a police force, but you have society rely on bounty hunters that kill all of their psychotic prey. That this is perfectly normal to the populace and they just carry on with their lives in the shadow of such terrible misery. Yet, for the most part, they manage to get along to the point they have teenagers playing Rollerblade games in the streets. The world is nightmarish but because we see it through Alita's eyes, we also see it's beauty.

Jennifer Connolly does well with her small role.
    This is primarily an action movie and we have Transformers-esque battles between Alita and various cyborgs. The highlight of the film's combat, though, is the organized sport of Rollerball that is one part race and another part gladiator arena. It is the circuses that, apparently, compromises the bread and circuses that Nova keeps the populace placated with. It only occupies a small part of the movie but is very entertaining. I don't buy Christoph Waltz, who is significantly older than the comic Ido, being able to murder cyborgs with a rocket-powered sledgehammer but the fact that they incorporated that element from the manga intact is a credit to the creators.

    The story is streamlined and made more emotionally resonant in a lot of ways that I think improves the material. The people of Zalem are left as humans rather than humanoid robots, Doctor Ido's relationship is more fatherly than ambiguous (with implications he may have meant for Alita to be his mistress completely removed). The conflict between Ido's desire for a daughter and Alita to be a warrior is underscored by her scavenging her own body. We also have Hugo's scumminess toned down where he is sincerely in-love with Alita, it's just he may want to escape Scrapyard a bit more.

Waltz is surprisingly good at playing non-bad guys.
    In fact, the movie's emotional strengths may actually be its weakness. I mentioned above that the people of Scrapyard are seemingly getting along pretty well despite its dystopian hellhole nature and there's a wide-eyed feeling of optimism radiating from Alita that infects the rest of the film. Yes, well, that actually robs the movie of some of its stakes. The world of Battle Angel/Gunnm is supposed to be a hellhole. A place where the populace has become machines for survival, poverty is rampant, and people can actually be mugged of their spines in the street.

    Part of what makes the manga interesting is the fact that just about everyone is morally compromised in some way. Doctor Ido is a killer-for-hire to fund his clinic. He's more like Doc Holliday than someone saintly. Alita in the manga and OVA actually thinks he's the local serial killer before the revelation he's a bounty hunter. Hugo is basically the kind of guy that kidnaps people, steals their kidneys, and leaves them to die. Alita just likes him because, cyborg or not, she's thirsty for his body. Alita herself was actually, pre-amnesia, a monster. Grit and darkness are things that are sometimes overplayed but Rosa Salazar plays Alita with such zeal and pep that you sometimes forget this is a monstrously terrible place. This is like if Disney made a version of Neuromancer and that is downright strange once you stop and think about it.

I need to re-watch Rollerball at some point.
    Also, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't address the elephant in the room of Alita's anime eyes. The decision to make her have wide-eyed literal manga eyes is something that really does bring you out of the movie and takes about twenty minutes to adjust to. This is twenty minutes that really didn't need to be wasted and is just gratuitously lost. No other cyborgs have Alita's eyes and it's distracting out of universe. It's also unnecessary as Rosa Salazar is endearingly adorable anyway and is robbed of what I'm sure was a lot of impressive emotes. I have a few other nitpicks like the fact they could have thrown in some more Asian characters for such a racially-diverse cyberpunk dystopia but those are minor.

    In conclusion, it's a fun movie and I enjoyed it a great deal but I wonder if they made all the right decisions in adapting it. A few changes here and there could have made it a blockbuster hit despite all the problems in its production. However, unlike a lot of films with bloated budgets and troubled productions, I really do like this film. I want to watch a sequel. I kind of wish I could get a director's cut without the CGI eyes and maybe a bit more darkness but it's still a solid piece of film-making. Also, unlike the dark and edgy film it could be, you can watch this as a family with reasonably small children.

8/10

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Redemptor by Seth Skorkowsky


REDEMPTOR by Seth Skorkowsky is the latest of the Valducan series. I'm very fond of this urban fantasy series and its premise: that there is an organization of monster hunters armed with magical weapons that allow them to kill the hundreds of demons afflicting the Earth. Each book has a different protagonist but often has guest stars of the original cast. This book, Redemptor, is unique in that it is named after a villain's weapon rather than one of the heroes' weapons.

    The premise of this book is Matt Hollis, the protagonist of the first book, is forced to team up with a group of Vatican-backed monster hunters. The relationship is tense because the Valducan order is a group of excommunicates from the Catholic faith for a long-ago offense. The Catholic Church and Valducan have a bigger enemy than each other, though.

    A hunter of demons from centuries ago has become corrupted by his misuse of black magic and, worse, has corrupted a holy weapon to create a monstrous evil from the sword Redemptor. He's killed dozens of hunters and destroyed many holy weapons. Can our heroes stop him? If they do, what will they do with the fallen sword? The holy weapons are too valuable to destroy but this one has proven to be not only corrupted but a danger to all hunters everywhere.

    I really liked this book and enjoyed the dramatic irony Seth Skorkowsky made of the holy weapons. We, the audience, know the holy weapons are greater demons rather than angels. However, the Catholic Church is entertainingly wrong about them. However, there's just a hint that angels are real enough that the conflict muddies the waters considerably. Matt doesn't have any interest in theology, though, so he mostly just keeps a laser focus on killing the villain.

    I'm a huge fan of the Valducan series and recommend it as one of the darker, more mysterious urban fantasy series out there. It has excellent world-building, hardened antiheroes, and a coherent mythology that keeps building without undermining what has come before. The protagonists thought they'd struck a killing blow against the monsters in the first book but it turns out they're much more adaptable than the order ever gave them credit for.

    Matt Hollis is my favorite of the Valducan book protagonists and I'm very glad to see him make a return. While I liked the other book leads, I have to say I wouldn't mind following him as the permanent "star" of the series. He has a sly, dry wit about him and his crappy upbringing means that he's got a cynical edge that gives the story its signature feel.

    This is a straight forward adventure story in the style of Indiana Jones with Mayan ruins, evil immortal conquistadors, and lots of supernatural relics. I believe it's one of the best stories in the series but it's also definitely a lot more black and white than most of the Valducan stories. For a series that tends to focus on the moral ambiguity of its heroes even as they face genuine monsters, this is mostly a monster hunt. That doesn't hurt its score in the slightest, though, and I loved its Pulpy modern age goodness.

9/10

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Yakuza Kiwami 2 review


    YAKUZA KIWAMI 2 is the sequel to the original YAKUZA game, updated like its predecessor with new graphics and a combat system to reflect changing times. The original story was my favorite game of 2019, having a shockingly good story and a lot of interesting twists as well as turns. There were perhaps too many cutscenes and the gameplay has always been somewhat serviceable but it was immensely fun. So, I decided to pick up the sequel and see if it was every bit as good (if not better).

    The answer is, unfortunately, no. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination or I wouldn't have put in the thirty-four or so hours necessary to complete its campaign as well as the side missions. Unfortunately, the story lags in many places because of an excessive number of twists alongside an inconsistent amount of characterization. The original game had a complicated but not unbelievable plot centered around two old friends, a stolen pile of loot, a corrupt government official, and the relationships between them.

Some of the new characters are quite good.
    Yakuza Kiwami 2 goes past the original game and instead reaches soap opera levels with a war between two Yakuza gangs, the revenge of a Korean gang, children separated at birth, false identities, doppelgangers, faked deaths, and a cop who doesn't play by the rules to go along with the other cop who doesn't play by the rules from the previous game as well as the love interest cop who doesn't play by the rules (who is helped by a computer hacker who is NOW ALSO a cop who doesn't play by the rules).

    Oh and there's an underground castle that rises from the ground that is somehow less weird than the fact someone can be replaced for six months by an imposter with none of the man's friends the wiser. This is a story that has a solid core but goes off the rails pretty quickly. It lasts a couple of chapters too many and could have benefited from significant tightening up as well as focus on the main villain.

Gotta collect all the hostesses.
    The premise is that Kazuma Kiryu a.k.a The Dragon of Dojima is requested to return to the Tojo clan after war becomes inevitable with their greatest rivals in the Omi Alliance. Kiryu attempts to get the son of a previous Patriarch to come back into the fold as well as make peace. Unfortunately, this is undermined by Ryuji Goda the Dragon of Kansai. There's also the Jingweon Mafia that was wiped out 25 years ago by the Toja clan but apparently not completely.

    There's some interesting subgames to the main game that I enjoyed. For example, there's an entire plot about Kiryu becoming manager of a hostess club that's not entirely fun to play but still ridiculously entertaining. I also enjoyed the substory of playing as fan-favorite Majima as he attempts to navigate a plot against the Tojo clan.  As always, this game has many subgames spread throughout that range from enjoyable time-wasters to frustratingly weird (Damn you, claw machine! DAMN YOU!).

Goda is a decent but underused villain.
    There's two provinces this time in the game and many more gangs to beat the crap out of. Kiryu remains the nicest mobster who ever lived and helps out hundreds of old ladies, young couples, and dozens of other poor bystanders on the road to stopping a gang war. He also has his adorable daughter Haruka to let us know he's not at all a bad guy. While the first game also did this, we still had moments that reminded us that Kiryu was a ruthless killer. On the other hand, you get in a fist fight with tigers at one point.

     I feel like the game increased the role health items a great deal more as I found myself utterly boned when I first fought Ryuji Goda without many of them. I proceeded to focus myself on gathering experience and always being loaded up on health items from then on. Unfortunately, item management and grinding had a reverse effect as the game became ridiculously easy roughly halfway through. A healthy balance is necessary in a brawler game like this and it didn't quite manage it as I was able to utterly own opponents that were supposed to be tough even at the very end. In fact, I would have creamed the final level if not for the fact there's quick-time events where you automatically lose if you fail them.

Daigo, your father was a scumbag. Don't be like him.
    The game's values and morality system is a bit oft-kilter as well. The game bends over backwards to make sure we know Kiryu is a nice guy who is no longer a member of the Yakuza. However, it also has us try to talk up Daigo Dojima in order to make him the new leader of the clan. You know, the guy whose father tried to rape Kiryu's girlfriend. I feel like that plot element is never addressed and just hangs over Kiryu/Daigo's relationship throughout the game. The racism with the "Scary Koreans" is also something that is an undertone throughout--except 15% of the real life Yakuza are ethnically Korean. It's kind of weird because the real-life Yakuza are rather famously far right politically but one of the more accepting groups of ethnic minorities in Japan.

    On the other hand, while the game didn't keep me entertained for 37 hours, it did keep me entertained for about twenty-eight of them. I was fully invested in the story for about 2/3rds or even 3/4ths and that's not a bad thing. I gradually started to wish I could skip through cutscenes but was afraid of missing something important. There's a lot of really good bits here and fun melodrama but the game just didn't know where to trim the fat.

    In conclusion, this is a game that was enjoyable for much of my time with it but gradually wore out its welcome. I like the majority of the characters, including Kiryu's love interest, plus the graphics are gorgeous. A few of the villains are also quite effective, just not all of them. I'm not unrecommending it but Yakuza Kiwami is definitely the better game by far.

7/10

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Pet Semetary (2019) review


    PET SEMETARY (2019) is te second adaptation of Stephen King's original novel. I should probably mention that Stephen King used to be my jam during the early 90s. I was like twelve when I discovered my love for him but wasn't quite mature enough to actually "get" him. A lot of his prose and ideas went over my head and it's on my list of things to do to re-read his stories as an adult when I've had a bit more life experience to understand his deeper themes.

    However, with this caveat out of the way, I'm going to say that I think Pet Semetary is the iconic Stephen King book. Not necessarily his best nor his most famous but it's the one that I think fully encapsulates the essence of why people like him so damned much (the other contender is It).

Getting some The Wicker Man flashbacks.
    In simple terms, Pet Semetary works because it is story that doesn't really need any of his larger (multi)verse to function. It's a deceptively simple story. There's a place where you can bring back the dead in a small town and after testing it on the fanily cat, tries it on his dead child. Grief is one of the shared universal experiences and more or less everyone whohas eve lost someone will probably admit they'd love the power of resurrection. It is the basis for most afterlife-including religions and has a huge place in our cultural mythology.

    Obviously, being a Stephen King novel, the act of resurrection is one that doesn't bring true life and the rest of the movie is dealing with the horrible consequences of subverting the natural order. The funny thing is that Stephen King is aware he's touching on larger themes in medicine. Rachel Creed had a sister named Zelda who suffered horribly before her death due to long illness. Issues of quality of life and struggling to hold onto life when it's an inevitable to end are themes that resonate much more as an adult than my adolescence.

Awww, such a cute little zombie kitty.
    But what about the movie? This is the second adaptation of the story with the original being something of a B+ movie classic. Denise Crosby and Dale Midkiss did a great job even if the movie has its flaws. Does this stand out as compared? Ehh, I'm going to say that this movie isn't great. It's not terrible but it's a considerable step down from It's first part that is now my gold-standard for Stephen King adaptations.

    Part of the issue is the movie is a little too try hard. The Native burial ground is depicted as a weird Mordor-esque environment and there's a few more scenes that work a little too much like special effects extravaganzas. The appeal of Stephen King books is that they bring the horrifying and surreal right into the living room of your average Suburbanite or small town reader. There's a few moments where there's some genuine horror at something unnatural entering into a "normal" life but these are surrounded by enough weirdness that you have to wonder why they're surprised.
Fog filled cemeteries are a bit try-hard.

    Jason Clarke does a decent job as Doctor Louis Creed but he actually is the one who gets the least amount of focus during the movie. Despite being the man who decides to use necromancy he doesn't believe in to bring back his daughter, he doesn't get to show the all-encompassing grief that motivates his character. You have to believe in the devastation of a man's soul and that he's at fault for not looking after his child (or at least believes he is). I don't think Jason Clarke or the movie pulls off.

    The real stars of the film are John Lithgow as Jud Crandall and Jete Laurence as Ellie Creed. The movie changes the victims of the car wreck from Gage to Ellie and I think this is a good decision since what works in book form (a infant terrorizing adults) doesn't necessarily translate to the screen. Jete Laurence does a very good job as a creepy undead young girl as well as a likeable living one. John Lithgow gives his all in the performance and seems like the only one who belongs in a Stephen King novel (not just movie).
  
    So, all in all, I think the original is probably a better adaptation despite the stand-out performances of Lithgow and Laurence. It's not a bad adaptation but lacks any real scares and I'm not a big fan of the ending being changed. There's some good decisions in the movie but I feel it's a little too dolled-up to work as a great King adaptation.

7/10

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

L.A. By Night Season 2 review


    L.A. By Night is probably my favorite thing to come out of tabletop roleplaying games since Gehenna wiped out the original World of Darkness in 2004. The only things that match it are the 25 Years of Vampire: The Masquerade reviews of Utility Muffin Labs (available here: https://utilitymuffinlabs.com/25-years-of-vampire-the-masquerade/), Beckett's Jyhad Diary, the revised version of Masks of Nyarlathotep, and the 5th Edition of Chicago by Night. This is beating out many other wonderful supplements from V20 and other games that I love.

My favorite edition.
    L.A. By Night is a sort of hybrid between LARP, cosplay, community theater, and tabletop gaming. Basically, a cast of trained actors as well as talented geeks get together to roleplay out their adventures while rarely breaking character. Jason Carl, author of Mind's Eye Theater and father of LARPing as we know it, serves as the Storyteller and adds an impressive pedigree to the proceedings.

    If the prospect of watching a bunch of people sit around a table and play pretend isn't enticing then this is probably isn't the show for you. However, if you have spent literally years of your life sitting around tables and playing pretend like I have then you'll find this probably the best of the live-tabletop experiences online (most of its rivals also being on Geek and Sundry).

    Season One introduced the "Vamily" that consisted of a Suge Knight-esque record producer Victor Temple (B. Dave Walters), newly-created Brujah Annabelle (Erika Ishi), elegant yet deadly fashionista Nelli G (Cynthia Marie), and Nosferatu Jasper (Alexander Ward). They had to deal with an old rival of Victor's named Bobby Blaine, a cabal of Second Inquisition Hunters, and a group of Thin Bloods.

    I enjoyed Season One and wrote a flattering review of it but it wasn't without its rough points. The story was a bit low-key and the villains never really became more than a minor bump for our heroes. The Second Inquisition didn't amount to much as a threat, the Thin Bloods were dealt with easily enough, and Bobby Blaine never even got to explain why he hated Victor so much. However, the game ended on a massive stinger with a massacre orchestrated by the Camarilla that illustrated just how evil that organization can be.

The Prince and his consort are delightfully wicked.
    The new season has a much stronger character arc for our heroes as the Camarilla has declared L.A. once more to be part of its territory. They did this back in 2004 with Sebastian La Croix but while that is canon in this game, it's way before our heroes' time. Replacing La Croix is the much more competant and dangerous Vannevar Thomas (Bryan Dechart). Vannevar is a really old time Vampire NPC that dates back to 1st Edition. He's a bit more on the smarmy smug side than I remember him but every game has a different interpretation of classic characters.

    A (anti)hero is only as good as his villain and the antagonists for Season Two feel much more threatening, competant, and layered than Season One's. This isn't to say he original villains were bad but they really step up their game here. In addition to Vannevar's decadent adult Joffrey, there's the seductive Suzanne (whose actress Amelia Rose Blaire in a relationship with Vannevar's actor in real life), the ghostly Anton, and the return of Mark Meer's smug snake Chaz. We also get a realization that our coterie has no friends when they involve themselves in high-level Anarch politics. Hell, the Second Inquisition returns too, deadlier than ever. Whew.

Jeanette, Kasey, and Sycorax are all gals you'd love to party with.
    Really, the intrigue is the star of this season with lots of politicking between the sects. We get to see the Baron system of the Anarch Free States in action and it's honestly not that dissimilar to the Prince/Primogen one. This is by design and a sign the Anarchs aren't nearly as free as they think they are. We also get a real sense of just how much disdain the Camarilla holds the Anarchs in. Finally, we also see local politics with the attempts by the vamily to get a gang of Gangrel vampiresses onboard being one of the best scenes in the story.

    Jason Carl really steps up his game here and I think this chronicle is probably one of the better ones I've seen both in live action or tabletop gaming. He carefully balances the character development, adventuring, politics, and NPCs to create a living world that responds to the protagonist's actions. I really think Jason was prepared for the PCs to make different decisions, up to and possibly including them turning on the Anarchs. It's almost a shame this isn't the basis for Bloodlines 2.

When the Ex meets the Missus.
    I think my favorite part of this season was the development of unexpected plotlines like that of Jasper and his mortal ex-girlfriend Chloe. Jasper has surprisingly good game for a Nosferatu as the beautiful Tremere witch Eva seems to be falling for him while Chloe has devoted herself to finding him. He's also someone that is personally dedicated to Annabelle up to the point of risking a Blood Hunt. Chloe is a danger to the Masquerade, though and soon enjoys the attentions of the Second Inquisition.

    The side actors of this season are a real delight with Becca Scott's Chloe, Ash Minnick's Fiona, Xander Jenneret's X, Josephine McAdam's Eva, Whitney Moore as Jeanette/Therse, Trisha Hershberger's Kasey, Brittany Michelle's Sycorax, Noura Ibrahim's Ib, and Vincent Caso's Gregory all making fantastic contributions to the story. There's even an all-ghoul story that somehow not only manages to entertain but is probably the best episode of the season. I mean, seriously, ghouls get their own episode and it's awesome. What's next? The filthy Thin Bloods?

    In conclusion, this was a fantastic season and I cannot wait to begin Season Three. Everyone should watch this series as it's only gotten better. It's pretty much the number one way to sell people on Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition and shows just how much the metaplot can work with a street level game.

10/10