Lego Batman

This is just a quick review of the Lego Batman movie.

If you’re a fan of Batman, watch it.

Its story is just coherent enough that it manages to keep rolling along while delivering nonstop Batman fanservice.

Like the first Lego movie, it is painfully self-aware, and I really don’t think it’s going to stay a fresh and enjoyable approach into the Ninjago movie they had a trailer for, but if you got a kick out of narcissistic asshole Batman there, this manages to keep the funny coming.

Batman here is a grotesque, all of his worst qualities (particularly those from the 80s & 90s comic incarnations) are exaggerated and played for laughs but also to give a bit insight into just why Batman is so messed up. It ends up looking at a lot of the same themes as Dark Victory, just taking an incredibly gonzo approach to get there.

I don’t know how well it would work as an actual kids movie; there’s plenty of action and explosions and slapstick humor, but much of the comedy and entertainment value revolves around either Batman being a terrible person or Batman obscura in film, cartoons and comics. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s definitely worth a couple of bucks to see.

(Did anybody else think it was weird that they used Carrie Kelley’s character design for a Robin that was supposed to be Dick Grayson?!)

The Force Awakens to Put Me to Sleep

In all of the ongoing discussions as to whether or not Rey from the Force Awakens was a Mary Sue, I seem to have missed anyone warning me just how boring Episode 7 was.*

Keep in mind, I’m someone who loved Rogue One and has gone to bat for it a few times – it restored in me a love of Star Wars I haven’t really felt since playing TIE Fighter. That said, if I HAD seen The Force Awakens, I probably would’ve skipped out on Rogue One.

Absolutely nothing in The Force Awakens seemed to have any real weight, and everyone was just sleepwalking through their roles. Han and Chewie looked as if they couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with. With Carrie Fisher’s passing, seeing Leia show up as tired and old and barely relevant to the story is even more of a gut punch and should’ve undercut anyone’s excitement that ‘hurr hurr, she’s a general now, because women are important in sci-fi for a change!’

Despite how much he’d been hyped everywhere I’d seen in fandom, Poe felt about as relevant as Biggs did before all of his scenes were cut.

Finn’s affections for Rey can only be excused as thirst, cuz she treats him like crap through the whole movie. He’d’ve been much better as an “I seen some shit” vet who’d finally had enough. He needed a better “God is not here today, Priest” moment.

Rey was more annoying than I’d expected because I’d never heard Daisy Ridley speak before. Her character comes off as a whiny scold. I disliked her from the moment she bullied that random desert nomad guy into giving her BB-8 for no reason. We’re told over and over that she’s special, but we’re never told why. We’re told Chewie likes her, and since Chewie is Han’s morality pet and supposedly a good judge of character, we ought to like her, too.

Starkiller was just there to have another Death Star in the background. It barely felt relevant. I don’t even remember if the not-Rebels were concerned about figuring out how to destroy it; it kinda felt like “it’s all good, we’ve got this, done this twice already”, so there was no tension.

No, the big secret everyone was after was Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, because the Star Wars universe is obviously just as full as people obsessing over the canon as real life.

And what’s up with Snoke? Emperor just happened to have an ugly darkside giant tucked away somewhere to pick up the reins? No! I’d’ve much rather seen a Hellenistic Empire split between ex-governors and former moffs playing and being played by the Rebel Alliance against one another. Yet Hux and Kylo Ren are the best the Imperial remnants have to offer.

I’ve seen complaints that the characters in Rogue One were flat because they didn’t get much onscreen development. I think it worked there, though, because Rogue One relied on Tropes – you knew enough about the characters because you understood their functioning role in the story: Pilot, Heavy Weaponry Guy, Kung-Fu Dude, so on and so forth. It’s black and white cowboy hats and Henry Fonda’s blue eyes. The Force Awakens had nothing. It had neither character exposition/development nor fictional tropes to rely upon in the absence of development. As terrible as they were, the prequels were a hundred times better at character development and storytelling than The Force Awakens, and that’s saying something!

On a final note, Captain Phasma was a hell of a wasted character. How great would it be to see a Star Wars movie where the dashing rebel pilot ends up stuck with ice queen stormtrooper captain lady?

“Take the helmet off.”
“No…”
“I said take it off!”
::pretty dame under the stormtrooper helmet::
“I can see why the Empire would want to hide a pretty face like that.”
“Sh-shut up!”::angry blushes:: “I’ll have you executed when we get back to the Star Destroyer!”
“IF we get back to the Star Destroyer…”
::giant space monsters show up that they have to fight together before they fall in love::

Anyway…

@corduroyalist summed it up quite well: I found force awakens a disjointed pointless movie with the trauma of watching Han Solo be a loser & then die.

 

Rogue One Review (With Spoilers)

Star Wars Rogue One did something I did not think was possible: it made me feel excited about Star Wars again. Like, “I want to go out and grab a Star Destroyer model to build after I finish my next Gundam” excited.

I actually enjoyed Rogue One more than the last four Star Wars movies I’ve watched, at let me tell you, I’ve skipped a couple.images

Okay, yeah, it was not really pulpy, and as dumb as it sounded when those sites said “this is the first Star Wars movie about war”, they kind of had a point. This was not the Star Wars of the original trilogy, or the plastic and cartoony prequels and their spin-offs – this was expanded universe Star Wars: the Star Wars of TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces. In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

There are no super powered characters here – folks rolled their stats 3d6 in order, and the casting choices reflect this. One of the striking things about Rogue One is how rough everyone looks; I mean, it really says something when Forest Whitaker is not the ugliest dude in your movie. Unlike TFA with all of the pretty but bland people, Rogue One’s cast is, while not traditionally beautiful, striking. Jeffro mentioned Jyn Erso having a fish-face, and once someone points that out, you can’t not notice it. I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound mean to Felicity Jones, but the huge eyes, trout-pout and buck-teeth that together give her a touch of the Innsmouth look, give Jyn Erso a really distinctive appearance that’s in stark contrast to Daisy Ridley’s more generic Hollywood features. Jyn’s not a sexy, ass-kicking conventionally attractive Mary Sue who can do anything better than everyone else; she’s a weird, awkward girl who tries really hard and doesn’t give up, and you end up liking her for it.

It was kind of awesome having a Spaniard playing the male lead; every time he spoke, I kept thinking “My name is Inigo Montoya; I am looking for the plans to the Death Star!” The chemistry between Cassian and Jyn was subtle, never ham-fisted, but there were plenty of little moments, little glances that made me smile. I’ll admit, I was moved as Inigo and fish-girl held hands and embraced, watching the mushroom cloud of destruction roll towards them.

The rest of the characters filled the party nicely, again harkening back to the movie’s strong tabletop feel: Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist, Guy-Who-Likes-to-Play-the-Robot, and Guy-Who-Wants-to-Play-Eastern-Martial-Artist-in-Every-Game-Regardless-of-Genre. Seriously, the Force Monk is something I’d only ever really seen back in the 90s at the FLGS with people playing d6 Star Wars. His character worked, though, and frankly is far more like what one expected of the Jedi and wanted to see than what the prequels gave us.

Rogue One handled Vader much better than I could’ve expected. We got to see Darth Vader’s castle from Leigh Brackett’s Empire script, which was neat. We also get enough bits to reinforce the impression from New Hope that Vader thinks the Death Star is a dumb idea and Tarkin is an idiot who’s going to screw everything up. When Vader actually fights, he looks cool – he’s not jumping around flying all over the place like the prequels, and he’s not using the Force to throw hunks of trash at people like Empire. Vader was well done.

There were a few really bad spots, but most are easily forgiven with an eye roll (the criminals from the cantina running into Jyn and Cassian in the alley, R2 and C3PO’s cameo). Tarkin was not one of them. They really needed to find a better way to include Tarkin than having a body double with a creepy Peter Cushing Gollum face CGed onto him. While CG has reached a point where it can create photorealistic faces, it has not reached a point where movements and expressions are not noticeably and horribly out of place. CGI-face Leia was weird, but thankfully only one scene. Speaking of Leia, having her at the battle and having her Corvette be an escape ship smacks of continuity snarl (the next cut of New Hope will have Vader saying “You expect me to believe you’re on a diplomatic mission?! I was on your ship at the Battle of Scarif not 20 minutes ago!”) Also, would’ve been nice to have some bit about the rebels evacuating Dantooine and moving their base to Yavin 4, but that’s not as bad as the somewhat rushed denouement that leads straight into New Hope.

I can’t remember which blogger I follow who said it first, but I would much rather watch more movies about the characters from Rogue One than any of those from the originals, prequels or new trilogy. Which is a shame, because like so many RPG stories, this one ended in a TPK. In a way, I’m sad, because while this movie made me excited for Star Wars again, I don’t know what else there is to look forward to. I really don’t care about Episode VIII, and I find the promises that subsequent stand-alone films will focus on Han Solo and Boba Fett less than intriguing.* Now, if they announced a Marek Steele movie, I’d be all about that. For now, though, I’ll just have to wait and wonder. And check out how cheaply I can find a decent Star Destroyer model…

*:One interesting tidbit was the hint that there was another jedi out there and that jedi was a woman (and therefore could not have been Obi Wan Actually the Main Villain of Star Wars Kenobi). This could be interesting or terrible. Given how most of the movies have treated Jedi, I’m leaning terrible, but Rogue One was good enough that I may cross my fingers.

Brief Addendum:

Why I liked it better than Empire:

  • Seriously, the Battle of Hoth was the only good part of Empire, and Rogue One had its Battle of Hoth as the climactic ending instead of the first act.
  • Empire’s pacing is a damn mess and its timeline makes next to no sense
  • Despite all the love for the romance between Han and Leia, it drips with a lot of bad cheese and still has a lot of cringe; Jyn and Cassian were nowhere near as cringy
  • Star Wars becoming terrible can be pinpointed to the moment when Darth Vader started to use the force to throw giant hunks of trash Luke. From that moment forward, the Force stopped being mystical and became about moving garbage by pressing down-to-forward + punch. Blind Force monk felt way more true to the mystical rather than mechanical concept of the Force

Why I liked it better than Jedi:

  • C’mon, bro, we all know Jedi was trash!
  • Just Kidding
  • (Not Kidding)

Review: Assault on the Review of Nations

Assault on the Review of Nations is a 1st level adventure for the OSR system Shitlord: the Triggering. It is the first 3rd party product for the system and is available for free here from the Mixed GM.

Assault on the Review of Nations has the appearance of a fairly straight-forward dungeon crawl, though does have a few interesting opportunities for roleplay and negotiations which leave the module open ended.

The map, created by Gozzy’s “Random Dungeon Map Creator” is fairly generic, and comes more from the Holmes school of dungeon design than the Gygaxian. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, however it would’ve been cool to see something that captured the flavor of the Review of Nations, maybe something that looked like an eagle or somesuch. Still, it’s serviceable and, as this is a 1st level adventure, will not be too difficult for a neophyte mapper to get a handle on.

Judging by the wandering monster encounters, this would probably be best for a smaller group; with the exception of the giant beetles, whose 2d6 numbers could easily end up as a TPK at first level, most random encounters would be a pushover for a standard 6-man B/X party. I’d recommend adjusting the number of monsters by an additional die or die size for each additional Player beyond the 3rd.

Though showing the page number where the monsters may be found in the Shit:T core book is helpful, including a simple statblock would be nice.

One interesting direction taken with the Cheese Puff Golem and Lou Richly are the bonus hit points. Typically, with monsters that are X HD + Y, the Y will most often be 1 and almost never greater than X. The plus generally functions as a way to prevent 1HP monsters, make monsters just a touch more powerful, and negate an obscure Fighter bonus. The Cheese Puff Golem and Lou Richly are 2HD + 10 and 3HD + 9 respectively. That’s something you almost never see, but has a few interesting mechanical implications. Monster attacks in B/X are primarily based on their hit dice – the more hit dice they have, the better the chance they have to hit. With these bonuses, you have monsters with roughly 5 Hit Dice worth of HP only attacking with +2 and +3. This makes encountering them much more survivable by 1st level characters with decent armor while allowing them to take a bit of a walloping.

Overall, this is an amusing little adventure that will help you bring the joke to your table if that’s something you really want to do. Perfect for a one-off gag. Not meaty enough if you’re wanting to run a ‘serious’ adventure, but there’s only so much seriousness to begin with if you’re playing Shitlord. Let’s face it, while someone COULD put together something of the scope of Death & Taxes for S:tT, at that point it’s almost missing the joke.

Red Sun Magazine Issue 1

Red Sun Magazine is one of a handful of new up and coming short fiction SFF magazines that is aiming to bring back the action and excitement that the field was once known for.

They feature, in addition to a handful of stories, a few surprisingly high-profile interviews, including David Morrell, author of First Blood, and Margaret Weis, perhaps best known as ‘that Dragonlance author’.

Red Sun’s first issue also has several pieces of pretty cool looking full-color artwork.

The layout of Red Sun is really slick, but unfortunately the PDF uses a fake-sheen watermark that both made the pdf hard to read and difficult to print off, so I wasn’t able to get the full benefit of the layout work when I read it as a mobi. (which partly explains why it took me so long to finish reading it). They offer a print edition, so, as a fan of physical copies, I would recommend grabbing that for maximum enjoyment.

The stories may have been a little rough in spots that I would’ve wanted to see tweaked in this or that way (the Orion Incident, for instance, was great, but could’ve used a bit more satisfying ending), but they really set out to do what they aimed for and largely succeed. While Red Sun is not ‘retro’ or ‘pulpy’, it IS story-driven and action-packed Sci-fi. No fluffy think pieces or grim nihilistic tableau that don’t go anywhere. Red Sun contributors write the sort of stories I’d welcome in Cirsova, and Red Sun is the sort of publication that I would suggest my own contributors submit to when they have more stories than I have space for (I promise to only be a little jealous), and that’s really the highest recommendation I could give them.

I requested and received digital review copies of Red Sun Magazine. Cirsova was interviewed by Red Sun Magazine here.

Summer Review Round-up

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a round-up of my Castalia House Short Reviews.

One of the cool things is, since someone uploaded scans of a ton of Planet Stories back in December of last year, you can actually read a most, if not all, of the stories I’ve been talking about! Going forward, I’ve been including links to where you can read the stories within the articles themselves. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about Queen of the Martian Catacombs.

14_1949_fall_planet_anderson.jpg.scaled1000raid on the termites

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-enchantress-of-venus-by-leigh-brackett/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-giants-return-by-robert-abernathy/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-ordeal-in-space-by-ralph-sloan/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-captain-midas-by-alfred-coppel-jr/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-signal-red-by-henry-guth/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-wheel-is-death-by-roger-dee/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-action-on-azura-by-robertson-osborne/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/pulp-advertisements/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/retro-fandom-friday-is-fandom-terrible-and-should-we-cut-them-off-yn/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-vulcans-workshop-by-harl-vincent/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-hellhounds-of-the-cosmos-by-clifford-d-simak/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-raid-on-the-termites-by-paul-ernst/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-priestess-of-the-flame-by-sewell-peaslee-wright/