25.11.14

IHAO on ... WWE Survivor Series 2014 - Part 2



Finally it seems that the Network is working again.  That is great news for the WWE if they can turn all that traffic into profits.  The show itself had a huge media exposure on twitter, tumblr, facebook, and whatever else, and that is huge news for marketing future shows.  So let's see what I missed out on ...


Traditional Survivor Series Match: Team Authority v. Team Cena

Ok, so the story of this match is pretty excellent.  If Team Authority wins, they are going to fire everyone but John Cena.  All of the guys backing up Cena are potentially losing their jobs just by being with him.  And Cena won't be fired because he is just a cash cow, so he gets to continue to work and watch those who stood with him against a bad guy regime lose everything.  But, if Team Cena wins, then Triple H and Stephanie will be reduced to paperwork and desk jobs, to never have any influence on the "careers or personal lives" of anyone in the WWE again ... unless Cena gives them the power back.  The build up has been a little weird, but ultimately, this is an exciting storyline.  On top of that, a good Survivor Series match, which is an elimination tag match, really does some great storytelling.  So I'm going in more excited than I thought I'd be for this match.

Bullet points thoughts as I watch:

  • It is crazy to me how much I love Eric Rowan and Luke Harper

  • Ziggler is way taller than I always think of him being, he's the same height as Cena and a little taller than Ryback.
  • This match has an enormous feel to it, a legitimately big feeling to it, which is exciting
  • Amazing, Mark "the worst wrestler in the ring" Henry knocked out immediately by Big Show.
  • "Feed Me More" chants make me a happy mark!
  • Vertical stall suplex on Luke Harper by Ryback!!!
  • Rusev v. Ryback is a cool stand off.  I want to see a full match of them, absolutely.
  • Boo, Ryback out!!  Sure, they had to have a bunch of cheating to do it, including the now VERY powerfully booked Curb Stomp, so it isn't like he looked weak, but I'm sad to see the Big Guy out of the match already.
  • Big Slow's offense doesn't look good, but he still sells well.
  • Interesting history, both John Cena and Dolph Ziggler have amazing Survivor Series records: John Cena is 8-1, and Dolph Ziggler is 5-1.  Things look good for Team Cena
  • The crowd LOVES Ziggler.  Biggest pops are for him and Ryback.
  • After a long segment of everyone beats up Ziggler, we get another shenanigans round as everyone does finishers and big moves ... ugh, and then we get the "throw the dude on the pile of dudes" again ... and then again.  I've come to hate that spot and the flying shove an enormous amount.
  • Rusev out by count-out to continue to protect him, but it was a pretty nice spot.
  • Golly, this ref is letting Team Authority to cheat a LOT.  Rollins flies in all the time with attacks, but the ref just lets it happen.  I don't quite understand the logic here, because he isn't even the Authority's ref.
  • Heel turn for Big Show.  Big Show loves his job, and that is what his story has always been.  Good storytelling, even if it is shenanigans.
  • CENA OUT?!  Well, that's nice.  But this story is crazy.  It is now Ziggler all by himself for Team Cena, versus Luke Harper, Corporate Kane, and Seth Rollins.  Doesn't look good for Ziggles.
  • Ziggler gets Kane out, which makes sense as Ziggler has beaten Kane a whole bunch.  Luke Harper and Seth Rollins left.
  • Ziggler's gimmick is less "Show Off" and more "Bump Around and Die Constantly, But Won't Stay Down"
  • Roll-up on Harper, Ziggler v. Rollins.  The two workhorses of this match, because MAN has Ziggler been working hard.
  • More shenanigans right when Ziggler had it won.  Ref can't call you for cheating if you pull him out of the ring ... though I doubt he would have, considering he hasn't all night.
  • Another Zig Zag, HHH kills another ref.  HHH v. Ziggler is a match I'd love to see.
  • Pedigree to Ziggler.  Ziggler dead for real.  Evil Authority ref out to make the count.

  • Sting showed up to help Ziggler and stop HHH!  Probably because Dolph's been doing the Stinger Splash for the past few months.  Sting hates authority.  Also has new music.  I miss his old theme.  Cool to see him, though.
  • The crowd is not as hot for Sting as I thought they would be, but that's probably because the young kids don't know him, so the older fans are explaining it to them.  
  • There we go, took a few minutes, but then colossal "this is awesome" chants finally.  Sting v. HHH, Mania?  Probably.  Give me a few more Sting matches before that, and I think I'm sold.
  • HHH sold the Scorpion Death Drop like a champ, and I love that about HHH in his spot in his career now.
  • Sting puts Ziggler on top of Rollins, and Team Cena wins.
That is a LOT of shenanigans.  And a kind of too long match, but I liked a lot of it.  It was a one-hour long extravaganza, and Ziggler was given a huge rub.

Verdict - Enormously important, lots of big feelings, but shenanigans galore, so a little tiresome, but overall enjoyable.  Also, look at Steph, she is perfect here!



So how did this whole PPV go?  I liked it.  It had great story and not great matches, but great story is better than bad story.  It also teased the future, and I like the future it teased.  I'm happy.  And I haven't felt that positively about the WWE in months.  Kudos on your free PPV, WWE.  I think you just may have gotten some new subscriptors.  Subscriptions?  Whatever.

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Well, it is Thanksgiving week.  And I want to thank all of you guys for reading IHAO.  I'm going to be taking the rest of this week off, but next week I have a lot of things lined up: John Wick review, Rosewater review, House of Cards review, and a special article I got with all the help of you guys.  December is going to have a LOT of neat stuff, including a special AMA 3, lots of Christmas reviews, and all sorts of other neat stuff.  So really, thank you all.  And here's to the future of I Have an Opinion.

24.11.14

IHAO on ... WWE Survivor Series 2014 part 1




This month has been FREE WWE NETWORK MONTH.  Little good it did me since I pay for it.  But what does that mean?  That means that this pay per view, free of charge, is a big ole commercial for the future of the WWE.  The future that they want people to buy the Network for all the way to the Road to Wrestlemania.  It is a little early this year to start the Road, but it has been starting earlier and earlier every year, so this is as good a place as any.  I will be honest, I am staring at the PPV, paused, right now, and I am not very excited.  These past PPVs have been lackluster, and I'm just not sure if I'm happy with where the main shows are going.  NXT continues to be amazing, but the regular show?  Oof, it has been dumb.

Well, I cannot put it off any longer.  No Pre-show this time around.  Gifs will be from wrasslormonkey.


Reverse Elimination Promo

We open with Vince coming out and restating how important this is.  Then the Authority do the same thing.  Then Cena.  The stakes are high.  This is the game-changer, the beginning of a new future.  The ante gets uped on the main event, as now either Team Authority wins and everyone on Team Cena is fired (other than Cena), or Team Cena wins and the Authority is no longer in power, at all, period, unless Cena gives them their power back.  It is an interesting twist, and frankly, this is a pretty classic promo that Vince is known for doing.  This is a big deal ... maybe.  We'll see how this goes.


Fatal 4-Way Tag Team Championship Match - Usos v. The Miz and Damien Mizdow v. Los Matadores v. The Brothers of Dust-struction (c)

I love this gimmick.  This is a match I could watch all the time, because there is so much competition and sports without all the garbage of no DQ or no rules stuff.  On top of that there is the great story of the fans wanting Mizdow to finally turn face and turn on the Miz.  Whenever the Miz would do something for the crowd, they'd boo, and then Mizdow would do it and they'd cheer like mad.  The story is fantastic, and everyone knows it, so they keep not letting Mizdow in and the fans want it more and more and more.  Los Matadores and the Dust Brothers have been the workhorses the whole match, and they really really did a great job.  Lots of counters, reversals, and other stuff.  Lots of great stuff ...



 except from the Usos, so did the same stuff they always do.  I hate the jump over the ropes at everyone section of these matches.  Bah.  The finish of the match, other than that everyone thrown at everyone segment, was great, with Mizdow winning for Miz and the crowd loving Mizdow and booing Miz.  It is a nice little team, and when Mizdow officially gets out from under Miz, good things will come.  I liked this match, and the story, and the work, other than the over-the-ropes thing, like I keep saying.



Verdict - I liked it,  Good opening.


Slator Gator hang out with Adam Rose and the bunny to sell toys because Rose is kinda turning heel, kinda?




Eh.  This is just kinda lame, but it sets up a match.  Because they didn't have the matches for the PPV picked before now?



Survivor Series match: Paige, Layla, Cameron, Summer Rae v. Natalya, Naomi, Emma, Alicia Fox

I guess Alicia is face now.  Whatever.  I'm excited.  I legitimately like a lot of these women, and Cameron, Summer Rae, and Alicia are all gonna get out quickly anyway ... I hope.



Cameron can't even make a slap look like it connected.  Ugh, Cameron is so bad.  Luckily first out.  These chicks are working real hard.  Other than a few, most are not good workers, but they are working hard to keep a crowd entertained, and I think it is a great job.  The match becomes Paige versus all four the others, and that's awesome stuff because she is so good.  Then Naomi wins with an awesome new finisher (thank goodness) and the good guys win.  It was a pretty good fun divas tag match.



Verdict - I don't know what people can ask for.  They worked damn hard and put on the best divas tag match in a very long time.  The weak ones were weak, but the match itself was a pretty good match.


Dean Ambrose v. Bray Wyatt

What happens when two unorthodox wrestlers wrestle each other?  Kinda ... nothing, I guess.  I really feel like I should be into this, because I love ole Lizard Tongue, but I just don't really care.  And it isn't a bad match or anything, it is a pretty good one.  I just don't really care.

They start getting me into the match after the early almost double count-out segment.  There's some great counters and moves that really hit hard which I really like.  This makes me want to see Sheamus v. Bray Wyatt.



But then it went to a weird final segment that just does not do it for me.  It was all just to set up for the next match in the series so both guys can continue to be occupied in the midcard.

Verdict - Eh, I liked a short section in the middle.  The rest was meh.


Team Authority are the Kobra Kai



Yup.


Adam Rose and the Bunny v. Slator Gator

This is just a waste of time and bunny puns.  Ugh.  I like that Adam Rose is turning heel, because that wrestler before this gimmick, is way better as a heel.

Verdict - Ugh.


Roman Reigns is on a big ole tv

Roman clearly went to acting classes, and this is them showing it off.  Good for him.  I liked him before he debuted.  I didn't care about him as he was progressing, so this time off is a real good thing for him.


Team Cena are nervous, and RYBACK HAS A NEW SHIRT!!!!



I LOVE Ryback's new shirt and want one right now!  Also, the Team Cena guys talked.


Divas' Championship: Nikki Bella w/ Brie Bella v. AJ Lee (c)

Nikki has be improving like crazy in-ring, and AJ is boring.  So I am rooting for Nikki.  This title has been treated like a real title for a good long time now, which is awesome.  We already had one good Divas match.  And I'm really excited for this one.

And ... that match is over in seconds.  Brie kisses AJ, then Nikki hits her, then hits her finish, and that's the end.  Uh ... wow.  Not what I expected.  But I'm good with it.  Maybe rumor of AJ being done with the company is true.  Who knows.  Must have been some kiss.



As much as I could not handle the thing that happened here, my WWE Network connection could either and kicked me.  It then wouldn't come back up for ten minutes or so.  Crazy.  Must have been some kiss.  Yup did that joke again.

Update, the network is still down.  We are now twenty minutes after the shut down.  Still cannot watch the main event.  This is kind of ridiculous, especially since I ACTUaLLY PAID FOR THIS MONTH, WWE!!!

30 minutes in ... still down.  I'm going to watch an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Be back later.


T.A.H.I.T.I.

I'm not quite into the show even by this point, but I do think that Ward is a cool character, as well as May.  It hasn't really improved since I last gave up, which was on episode 5 I believe.  But being on Netflix makes it possible for me to just go ahead and power through.

Bill Paxton shows up this episode, and that's fun.  He was great in Nightcrawler, so that's neat.

22 minutes into the episode, I decide it is time to take a break and see if the Network will work for me.  Mostly because it is 4am and I really have to get this written before I get to sleep.  Still no good though, even though I'm using the same device to watch Netflix and the Network.  Let me try my tablet ... Also a no go.  Awesome job, WWE.  I guess this is actually part 1.  I'll watch the main event and talk about it and other stuff in part two tomorrow.  Sorry to split this up, because I hate that, but that's all I can do until the WWE works with me.


21.11.14

IHAO on ... Dumb and Dumber To




















Grade: D


Because I refuse to not actually give a review, and even though I was able to express all my thoughts in a series of gifs, let me just say this:

The only reason this film does not fail falls on the acting talent of three actors and its inoffensive and perfectly boring camera work.  It is entirely mirthless, with zero jokes that made me laugh in theatre, only one that made me laugh at all and that was in the first time I saw the trailer, and a clear xeroxing of everything from the first one to do it again, just bigger, dumber, and louder.  Jeff Daniels at small points brings more to the script and the plot than necessary by being a good actor.  Rachel Melvin plays the supposed daughter of the guys (it is stupid and convoluted, and not worth watching or explaining) and she is fun, and attractive, so that helps.  And Kathleen Turner does a nice job and grounds the movie a little bit.

That's it.  Everything else is garbage.  This movie is garbage.  Context: Dumb and Dumber To is a worse movie than Interstellar, but Interstellar makes me angrier, so no minuses.  This movie just makes me ...

20.11.14

IHAO on ... Nightcrawler



Some movies are great films because of the firm hand directing them.  Many Fincher films are like that, like Gone Girl.  Some films are strong because of their ensemble's chemistry with each other, like Our Idiot Brother.  Some films are excellent because they have a tight script, or their sound is spectacular.  But some films are great films based solely on the single lead actor's performance.  Nightcrawler is one of those movies.

I do not like Jake Gyllenhaal.  He is not an actor I have come to like, and in fact, I have in the past said that he makes a bad leading man that brings down films he is the leading man of.  And Gyllenhaal knocks this movie right out of the park with his spectacular performance.  Nightcrawler is a character study about an odd thief who finds a new line of work in "night crawling" or following the police scanner for violent and terrible crimes, filming it, and selling it to networks for their morning news.  And that is what this movie is, watching Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal's character, and slowly picking apart and learning what kind of man he is.

As an actor, I love a character study.  And as a film guy, I love a character study.  The Hurt Locker I've said many times before is one of my favorite films because it is an intense character study of what makes the lead man, Jeremy Renner's character, do what he does.  Pain & Gain is another film I love with some intense ensemble character acting.  Birdman has some incredible acting in it, Oscar award nominee deserving acting.  And Nightcrawler is ... almost as good as those films.  It isn't Gyllenhaal's fault, let me be clear.

Explain yourself then, me!  To them, because I already know.  Because I add the gifs after I finish the review.  So yeah, me, tell 'em!

Film is a collaborative effort.  I mentioned and linked to Gone Girl above, and that film I gave a B+ to because even though the directing is phenomenal, the script and dialogue left some to be desired.  Nightcrawler has an incredible leading performance that has drastically turned me around on my thoughts of Jake Gyllenhaal ... but the direction by first-time director, multi-time writer Dan Gilroy made some odd choices that took me out of the film.  A lot of heavy-handed imagery, some odd choices for how to portray tension in a scene with obnoxious close-ups, and some fatty bits of other characters and scenes that really needed to be as slickly edited as the rest of the film all left me a little colder to the overall product.  All understandable for a first time director, but nonetheless a little on the nose.

This is a good movie.  A very good one.  And it tries to be great.  Gilroy writes a fantastic script.  And Gyllenhaal was more than excellent.  Small acting choices, or the disturbing lack of expression or wit makes Lou Bloom a fascinating character that will keep me coming back to the film over and over.  But every time I come back, I will once again see a heavy-handed montage of satellites and wires to show news being broadcast, or the final shot's slow obnoxious zoom, or myriad other things that all make this film a little harder to stay invested with.  This is the perfect example of a "B" film under my grading system.  It is a great movie, with some large flaws that keep it from reaching what it really could have been.

Grade: B++

EDIT: I made a huge mistake in my original posting of this review, attributing the film to Michael Mann.  I do not know why or how I confused Michael Mann into the mix of this film, as he is nowhere near this movie.  The closest he was ... was in the trailer for Blackhat that was before this movie.  Somehow I mashed them together.  So I need to say now that knowing that this is a first time directing part for Dan Gilroy, who wrote the wonderful Real Steel and the AMAZING The Fall, I really have come to like this movie a lot more.  It is still a B for me on the pure objective side of things, but I love Gilroy, and as weird as it sounds, to hear this is his first gig as a director makes me like the movie even more than I already did.

My apologies to anyone I steered wrong earlier, but there we go, caught it and fixed it.

19.11.14

IHAO on ... Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance



Oscar season is upon us.  I've always liked Oscar season.  And every year I say that I'm going to watch all the nominees for Best Picture, and I never do.  I also see movies that to me absolutely deserve to get a lot of nominations, like Pain & Gain should have gotten for Walberg, Johnson, and Shalhoub, as well as for cinematography and editing.  But invariably, I am very wrong on those thoughts.  But this year, I have this site up and running in a good way, and I hope to actually see all the nominees for best picture this year.  And review them.  And I'm gonna start with Birdman!

Something like this.

This movie was really good.  It is a film about a lot of things, filmed in an incredible way, with really strong performances, some amazing effects mixed into all the really strong human drama, and an interesting bedrock premise to ground a much more difficult to put into words true premise.

The story of the film; We follow Michael Keaton's Riggan, a 90s superhero film actor whose career has tanked since then, and the play he adapted, directed, and stars in on Broadway through the five days leading to opening night.  Edward Norton plays a broadway actor who is amazing at his job, but terrible at just about everything else.  Naomi Watts is an actress working to finally make her dream of getting to broadway.  Emma Stone plays Riggan's daughter and personal assistant, and Zach Galifinakas plays Riggan's lawyer, manager, and best friend.  Oh, and Keaton also plays Birdman, a delusion that plagues Riggan with doubt, fear, and worry.

This movie is really good.  Like, super super good.  I very much hope we get a directing nod for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who did the almost impossible of filming the entire movie in the illusion of one-shot without a single edit or cut, so that we, the audience, are a ghost watching the entire film with an insider's perspective.  I very much hope Michael Keaton gets a best actor nod, and Edward Norton a supporting actor, because both of those guys just killed it, especially on scenes they had together.

And I very much think it is a Best Picture nod.  This movie is about acting, about the relationship of audience to actor to director to producer to critic.  About the entire behind the scenes process of a stage show.  About how celebrity and talent are different.  About how social media changes how the world is perceived.  About the influx of superhero films.  About whether or not acting in a big ole bird suit is award-worthy acting or not.  There is a scene where a critic relates superhero movies in acting skill basically to porn and cartoons, as things that have no merit in "real" acting.  I don't agree, but many people do.  And that is interesting.

The whole movie is interesting.  And the subtitle even more interesting.  The "unexpected virtue of ignorance" is a thought I know I've had before as an actor, as a wrestling fan, and so on.  The entire film builds up to explaining what that is, and it is beautiful.  The film is wonderful.  Really great.  I hope that anyone who has ever acted or worked on a show or a movie gives it a watch.  And I hope it does very well this year at the Oscars.

Grade: A++

18.11.14

Nanarsday ... The Ice Pirates



The fun thing about really bad movies is that they are not at their best watched like a normal film.  They are done at best by sharing the terrible nature of these films with a group.  Drinking games, snarky riffing MST3K style, or just having it on in the background so that every now and again the weirdness allows for short moments of enjoyable levity between whatever else you may be doing with your social circle; that is how some of the best worst movies are experienced.  The Ice Pirates is indeed the perfect film for this kind of viewing.


Some bad movies I've talked about are more fun to enjoy as a real film.  This movie ... that is not the case.  My oh my, is Ice Pirates not the case.  This movie is bad.  Super duper very very uber bad.  It is a semi-comedy, semi-parody, semi-action movie that is sort of kind of being Star Wars.  Sort of.  It's real bad when Spaceballs has a higher production quality than you do as a space "epic."

Plot: Water is basically gone everywhere except on one planet, that is ruled by the evil Templars, and the only people who can get water to the galaxy is the noble pirates.  We follow our pirate heroes as they try to steal some ice, end up almost stealing a princess, then getting captured, almost turned into eunuchs, escape, and ... just so many more things happen.

I'm going to go ahead and put this out there; this movie is boring.  If you were just watching it alone, I am not positive you could make it through the first 40 minutes without dozing off.  I know I couldn't.  I have tried to watch this movie for years, and without fail would always end up falling asleep.  I am not sure what it is that makes movies like this.  They tend to be comedies for me, and they always seem to have stuff happening, like ... Ice Age is a movie I've only made it through maybe twice and every other time fallen asleep.  Maybe it has to do with the "ice".  Anyway, the pace of the movie, the music, the acting choices, the really bad direction, all of it leads to sleepytime by yourself.

But didn't I just lead into this review talking about watching this movie with friends!  That's what I did this time!  And I would very much suggest everyone do that!  Because there are some tiny little bits that are hilarious.  The eunuch factory was a great little funny section of the movie.  The pirate getting upset that he didn't get to rape the lead female character is hilarious to me.  The finale of the movie, which is a huge time travel weirdness where a few years go by every thirty seconds, that is a really fun and fast finish.  But I would never ever suggest you watch this thing without others there to have fun with.

Grade: F (+ if in a group)

17.11.14

Fantasy Booking: Dunesko



Welcome everyone to another instance of FANTASY BOOKING!  This time, I wanted to actually share with you a thing that was made by myself and my players in one of the two Dungeons and Dragons games that I run.  Yes, I am a Dungeon Master.  It is absolutely one of my prides and joys to do.  I love creating stories, watching characters, and the thrill of the game.  I've been doing it for a very long time, probably twenty years, and I've loved every second.

My first campaign is a Ravenloft campaign, which is my favorite ADnD setting, and will always be.  But I wanted to do something different.  I have a system for world creation so that my players and I can make a unique world to us as a group.  I've also had an idea in my head since college for an abandoned concept that was based on African lore, geography, and themes.  So, with my players help, we created the world of Dunesko.  And of course, why shouldn't I share it with you?!

I'm going to present it to you as I did my players, with an in-character written editorial of the history of the world.  I hope you all enjoy this small departure from normal IHAO business.

.;[]:.       .:[]:.       .:[];.


Before life came to Dunesko, there was only the Sand. Endless and all-encompassing, it stretched in all directions, without sun or moon, day or night. Beneath the sand, there grew a Seed. Within that Seed were the twelve Numen, Spirit-Gods that shaped the world then and now. When the Seed cracked open, the twelve Numen came forth, one by one.

The Untamed came first, a beautiful Heron that brought with it the sky, the birds, the trees, and the beasts of the land.
The Weaver came second, a grand spider spinning a web of fate over the lands, the animals, and the races to come.
The Spark came third, a beetle pushing the sun across the sky, bringing fire to the races and sparking imagination within them.
The Night came fourth, a starry vulture, spreading its wings to cover the sky and bring the races their first dreams.
The Labor came fifth, a mossy Ox that helped the races toil the earth and work the land, bringing forth more of their kind.
The Maw came sixth, an enormous hippo, that opened its jaws and the rivers poured from it, allowing men to trade their work.
The Pride came seventh, a powerful lion to gather the tribes and teach them to hunt, providing for their kind.
The Slaughter came eighth, a greedy hyena that hunted just to kill and destroy, causing the first wars.
The Power came ninth, a bronze rhinoceros whose strength and skill supplied the races with the means to fight their wars and protect their tribes.
The Thunder came tenth, a herd of gazelle, whose hooves warned of the coming dangers, and herding the races into greater societies.
The Swarm came eleventh, as locusts and gnats and frogs and snakes, bringing plague, famine, terrible storms, and powerful dragons that destroy the land.
The Herd came last, a skeletal elephant, trumpeting its sad sound as the dead joined him on his trek to his resting place.


A Brief History of Dunesko, Land of the Dunes

Written by Jacobi Bladeback (in Lehonti and Sauriel)

Prologue

What a beautiful and astounding world we live in, fellow beings!  Large and small alike, we must give deference to the largest in this world, she being the Numens who shaped our land and with their guidance created our glorious history.  In my studies, I have learned many an interesting detail about our strange and varied history.  And even more so, I have learned that many know small bits and pieces, but there has yet to be a dedicated collection of our history, from all aspects, across all empires.  So, I now present to you, a Brief History of Dunesko, Land of the Dunes.


Chapter 1: Pre-History

As best as can be determined, before the first records of the Auriel scribes, there was an expansive empire on the southeastern side of the Vuori’jono Mountains.  The Elves called the great empire Xendrixia, like the desert itself.  Ancient glyphs indicate that it was created by a great Pharaoh (it means God-King in ancient elvish, furthermore known as Xendrixian), an elven man stillborn, yet still alive, named Xendrix.  He swiftly became a legend, declared himself Pharaoh and established a long-lasting heraldry called “The Majesty.”

As Xendrixia grew it power, it also grew corrupt, as each passing Pharaoh in Xendrix’s line took more and more control over all the races that are not of Xendrixia.  The Pharaohs and the Xendrixian elves all forsook the Numen, rejecting their control over their lives and focused on arcane sources of power.  The first necromantic rituals were created.  The first order of the Mirage was formed, though none follow the conceits of an order to a lost Numen any longer.  Kobolds, Sauriels, Humans, all were made slaves to build the lost monuments, shrines, and temples to the Majesty of Xendrixia.
It was hundreds, maybe thousands of years before almost abruptly, the Xendrixian Empire fell.  

Legend says that the Last Pharaoh was a powerful necromancer who shaped the Numen to his will and called for from the bones of the dragons a dangerous and powerful slave, a Death Dragon.  It is unwritten how the Xendrixian Empire fell, but there were no Pharaohs after the last, and Xendrixia’s capital fell.  The races dispersed to the far corners of Dunesko, and the elves had been left to wander the Dunes.


Chapter 2: The Birth of the Races

To the Northwest, along the banks of the Auriel Sea, where the Auriel River and Auriel Jungle converge at the Auriel Delta, the humble Sauriel race founded their first city.  It is the oldest living city, with great limestone walls and buildings, beautiful paved roads, and all of it has lasted for hundreds of years.  I am a bit biased, I must say, for my home, but it is undeniable that a Sauriel city’s bones will almost assuredly never die. 

It did not take long for the Sauriel race to expand, traveling up the Auriel River towards the sun.  There they found Vuroi’Vesi, the enormous kobold named mountain of water pouring into the Ja’Arvesi.  There, a contingency of finheads created the city of Aqueus on the southern bank of the lake.  Lizard-men dug steps into the mountain and the Observatory was built above the waterfall, bring Aqueus its now world-wide acclaim.  At the same time, a traveling party explored the Auriel Sea to the south.  On the southern bank of the sea was established the city of Arboreus, right next to the now known as Cirdon Forest, though it was formerly the Southern Auriel Forest.

On the other side of Xendrixia, a permanent oasis, somehow able to not be swept by the magicks of the elves or the Kauhea’Tuuli, became a refuge for the humans, known at that time as the single nation of Ash.  They gathered together in their first governance, called Asher.  Kobolds had moved to the far southeast to the Vuori’Suuri, or Great Mountain. 

My own race at that time started to put together their law, the building blocks of the social structure that guided us for so long.  At the same time, the humans across the world rejected law, seeing fit to live in controlled chaos instead.  And the kobolds tell a tale of their great hero Kai’lliso, who was supposedly the size of a hornhead and was the first kobold to strike the earth with a pick and begin to mine the mountain.   I quite enjoy their legends, as a failing of us Sauriel’s is our strict sense and pride of history as opposed to the dreams of the other races.


Chapter 3: The Rise of the Sauriel Empire

Enterprising endeavors became the Sauriel’s goal.  There was an entire world to explore to the east and the south.  The enterprising guild, the Brick-Brotherhood, began to cut their way through the Southern Auriel Forest and laying a road along with them.  Two generations of our kind worked their lives tirelessly cutting through the dense forest until they reached Cirdon Lake further south.  How the Cirdon got its name is a mystery to us, as the records have been lost to time.  They continued their travel along the Cirdon’s river.  It was at this time Kauhea’Tuuli arose again, smashing against the mountains and making travel dangerous for all Sauriels.  Trapped on their river boats, the Brick-Brotherhood hunkered down, braving the rapids, until they reached a safe valley, hidden between two large mountains.  It was there the city of Ardon was established.  News of this history was recorded and flown back to Auriel City as fast as possible.  It was this news that first started the Sauriel’s libraries and histories.

Asher was not much a place to live as it was a place to survive, and soon a family and clan of humans known together as the Volkrad would have enough of the humans of Ash, reject their heritage and leave Asher, traveling north.  In the north they found the amazing Ja’atikko glacier, as well as savannah lands cold and flat.  At the foot of the Ja’atikko they established the new home for the Volkrad, Isaachar.  Another offshoot of the humans, ones more focused on worship of the Numen called the Malakar, left Asher as well not long after, heading south with the help of the elves, finding the expansive swamplands to the south and establishing their new capital for their race, Amalekiah.
It was at this time that the gnolls first migrated from the far southern deserts.  Lead by the gnoll-mother Nissa and her three daughters, they crossed the Black Desert and the Cirdon River, finding a new home in Xendrixia.  Their matriarchal society, based on the biggest and strongest women, lead the gnolls to split into three major packs: Cakar, Rahang, and Berlari.  All three sisters believed in focusing on gnoll survival through the hunt, but each sister had her own opinion.  The Cakar preferred to fight for their food.  The Rahang preferred to make anything their food.  And the Berlari learned to keep their distance and pick their fights, running as they need.

Also, the Kobolds mined Vuori’Suuri and established an underground city, named Ma’ati.


Chapter 4: The Grand Meeting and Its Fallout

Much was changing in the world as races were coming in contact with each other for trade and the borders of their claimed lands starting to come in contact.  Oxnard, a wise hornhead, established an assembly of Sauriels in the Auriel Delta.  The Assembly was created among the Sauriels to further establish our governing body and our caste system, finally naming the Auriel Delta as the capital of the Sauriel Empire.  The Sauriel Empire covered over half the known world, so an information trading guild of Flyers called the Post worked to put large posts across the rivers, savannahs and even points of the desert to pass messages more quickly and efficiently.  Using the Post, the Sauriels called for the Grand Meeting where all races came to Ardon, the city of safety.  The human nations (Asher Oasis, Malekiah, and Volkrad), the gnoll clans, the Xendrixian elves, the Kobolds, and the Sauriels all together signed The Treaty of Peace and Trade, which established rules for trade between races and cities, as well as a non-aggressive pact so that no race would interfere or attack any other race.
The Sauriels established two new cities after this meeting in hopes of expanding their empire.  First was the city of Aphar at the base of Vuori’Suuri.  It would be dishonest of me to say it was not for a purely beneficial gain from those small hard-working Kobolds.  Size has always played a part of our own discriminatory lives, though it was much worse during those decades.  To establish trade with the third human civilization, the coastal city of Anchorage was made, though the storms were too rough to explore its oceans for more than basic resources.

Many things changed after the Grand Meeting.  The humans, in a matter of pride, changed the name of their cities, as Amalekiah became Malekiah and the Ashers established a new name and an official town in the oasis now known as Gaddeanton.  The newly christened Gaddeantons turned to trade to establish a true economy, though they also applied heavy taxes and tolls along the few path ways that existed into the city, specifically with Anchorage.

Not too long after the founding of Aphar, a terrible accident happened in Ma’ati, destroying the majority of the Kobold’s only city.  It was after that terrible accident that most kobolds decided to leave their native home behind and instead spread out around the world of Dunesko.  A single family clan, the Syva’asuk, angered at this cowardly action from their perspective, instead entered the few remaining mines and caves of Ma’ati.  They have not had contact with the surface since.

It was a generation of peace and trade, as all the nations grew stronger and felt safe.  As we know now from our vantage point, this was merely the cause before the Slaughter’s terrible storm.


Chapter 5: The Sauriel Wars begin

A single fisherman, a human from Malekiah, was up to his hips in the swamp water, catching the crustaceans and other vermin of the bog.  His life is not particularly important.  His children’s lives probably not as well.  All of their names have been lost to history.  But his account of a single day has been immortalized.  I do not know if any reading this have heard his account before, but I will include it in its entirety below:

“The crabs were snapping light that day.  I was wading through the sugar cane bog over east when I saw it.  I heard it first.  A rumbling, like a hungry dog’s belly, tore through the mists and steam coming off the ponds.  I put my hand on my claw hammer’s handle, worried about what may be coming.  I saw a rustling in the willows, and then it burst forth.  A great red hyena, as large as an elephant, larger, with blood drool coming from its mouth and claws, not entirely there, almost as if it was made of the wind itself.  I saw the Slaughter stand before me and felt its breath on me, and I was certain I was a dead man.  As I struggled to force the words of worship from my mouth in the hopes the Slaughter would spare me, I watched him root into the swamp, digging with his massive claws until he disappeared.”

Why is this account important?  Because this not common event is what preceded the Slaughter’s personal race of warriors to be born into the world, the Orcs.  Born from the ground, weapon in hand and ready to kill, this was the first sign of the terrible wars to come.  The Orcs seemed pleased to kill any they could find, though they tended to focus on the elves, gnolls, and humans.  That is probably the only saving grace of the Sauriel race.

Within the old caste system, the Lizard-men were once a member of our race.  They were considered the lowest of the low, meat-eaters good for nothing but labor and expendable bodies.  It was the way life has always been.  They were unintelligent, smelled of rotted meat, and brought nothing to trade or society.  Or so it was perceived at the time.  But that perception also made them ignored, this allowed the Lizard-Men to plan a terrible revolt.  They all attacked at once, killing those who policed them and any that got in their way.  Ardon took the worst of it.  The Sauriel Wars had begun.

Ardon was destroyed as the Sauriels knew it in the matter of a two week siege.  The Lizard-Men burnt anything that wasn’t stone, killed any that stood in their way, and forced everyone in that city to die or leave.  The Sauriels looked to their allies for help, but the Treaty of Peace and Trade made it so that no other race could interfere in this civil war.  Gnolls broke the treaty almost immediately, joining in both sides of the conflict.  The other races had their own issues.  The Orcs had begun to raid villages of the three human civilizations, Gaddea, Volkrad, and Lehanti (the empire of the southern humans in Malekiah), murdering, raping, and pillaging.  The Kobolds argued amongst themselves as a group, the Ma’ante believed they should return to their homeland.  And the elves took to fighting the Orcs as they found them, removing all vestments of civilization and staying purely nomadic.

In the Auriel Delta, a commando unit was created for the specific purpose of eradicating the rebelling Lizard-Men.  Some Sauriels called it genocide, mostly those living Aphar or in Aqueous, but the Assembly deemed it necessary, calling members of all the castes to join the cause.  At the same time, those who for were of sound mind and body and were not training to join the Sauriel High Legion instead worked to build an immense wall 5 miles out in a circle on all sides of the Auriel Delta, to insure its protection.  This focus building and rebuilding, now that trade to the south was cut off, also lead to a long trade road being created across the desert from Aqueus to Gaddeanton and from Anchorage to Aphar.  In hindsight, this was a tactical failing that lead to the Sauriel Empire’s fall.


Chapter 6: The Fall of the Sauriel Empire

The Lizard-Men, leaving behind the ruins of Ardon, moved to the more inhospitable regions of Dunesko, making a military Stronghold among the peat bogs and oil rivers to the southwest.  There, they began to make plans on their next conquest against their former betters.

Elsewhere, the human empires, all staying out of the Sauriel War, made their own political improvements, expanding each empire.  The Volkrad were able to establish their first true kingdom beneath the rule of King Carolus, a great warrior knight and slayer of Orcs, protectors of farms in the north.  He and his elite guard, the Caroleans, protected the humans and kobolds of the northern tundras from many raiding parties of Orcs.  In Gaddea, a shadow government took form.  Built upon back-alley deals between different guild heads and corrupt police, Gaddeanton became a well-oiled machine, greased by money and information.  In Lehonti, a new religion focusing on worship of all 12 Numen, but only each in their time, arose, called Huruda.  The emphasis was to worship one Numen for a full moon cycle, then to immediately begin devout worship of the next in a particular series. 

The first great setback of the Sauriel War was the loss of Ardon.  The second was when Gaddea sent their militia to Anchorage and successfully slaughtered their way to control, truly creating a new empire.  The shadow government even changed the name of Anchorage, now known as the human land of L’Trel.  The war had now become a two-fronted one, and the Assembly decided it was best to retreat from Gaddea and prepare for the Lizard-Men’s next attack.  But they were not prepared.
The third great loss for the Sauriel’s was that of Arboreus.  Armed with arrows dipped in the oil sea and fireball loaded catapults, the Lizard-Men had made their way to the north and laid absolute waste to the lumber town.  It was burned completely to the ground, and every tree within a day’s travel was burned down as well for good measure.  The Lizard-Men oiled the earth to stain it black and keep anything else from growing.

Other interesting events transpired in this era.  A great hero among both the Sauriels and the gnolls, a Bladeback named Arins, tried to convince a pack of male gnolls to join the fight in the war.  The gnolls had their own battles to fight, so Arins traveled with them, eventually becoming accepted into their pack and being honored with a new name, Kapusa.  Arins of the Gnolls lead his pack through the desert to find the ruins of Xendrixia, now mostly buried in the desert that shares the same name, hoping to one day help the gnolls establish a true home city that he believed they deserved.

At dawn not long after the utter destruction of Arboreus, a single Lizard-Man herald under the white flag of peace approached the newly built gate to the Auriel Delta.  He had with him a treaty, penned by the Lizard-Men, that was made to end the conflict.  The Lizard-Men wished for their equality and had proven they were willing to fight fang and claw to be treated as equals.  He nailed the contract to the great wooden door, the last remnants of the Arboreus lumber mills, before turning and retreating.  He was shot dead not twenty paces from where he nailed the contract to the door.

The Assembly decided to end this civil war at once with a show of strength.  The full Sauriel High Legion was sent south deep into the Blightlands.  There, a one month battle killed nine out of every ten men that were in the Legion, and almost as many Lizard-Men.  But despite the dreadful loss of life, the Sauriel High Legion had slaughtered the Lizard-Men’s leaders and forced the remaining barbarians to retreat.  A pyrrhic victory, but victory nonetheless.  Many Hornheads and Bladebacks died that day, stunting their castes for generations, even to this day.  The Sauriel War was ended, and the price paid was a terrible one.


Chapter 7: The Three-Fold Empires; or the Age Just Past

The Sauriel War was over, though conflicts still remained.  Lizard-Men still prowl the Blightlands and other places.  Orcs continue to raid farms and villages, looking to take any foothold they can into the human empires.  Things continued on their natural course.

Aqueous, one of the few Sauriel cities to escape the conflict completely carved a treacherous but reliable pass through the mountains into the Xendrixian desert, creating a road to the gnoll encampment at the past Pharaoh’s ruins.  Aman, an astrologer from Aqueous, who was sick of the war and all the death it brought to the Herd, took an oath of pacifism and poverty.  His philosophies began to convert others to his school of thought, leading them down a path to enlightenment, through complete peace.

The landscape of the world began to change in the aftermath of the war.  From the literal ashes of Arboreus, a new city was formed by the survivors of the war, as well as nearby Orc raids.  The humans, gnolls, kobolds, and Sauriels all together named the city Ascendant, in hopes it would lift their spirits.  A human general from the Lehonti Empire in Malekiah brought with him his mean and rebuilt the city of Ardon for his home empire, renaming the city Honshar.  Honshar established a War College for both mage and warrior, which has since graduated many of the most prolific members of any military.  As a stopping point halfway down the Cirdon River, a citadel name Wysos was created by all races for the kingdom of Lehonti.

King Coralus the Second of the Volkrad Empire traveled by wooly elephant to the city of Aqueous to much pomp and circumstance.  He brought with him a proposal, mutually beneficial for both cities.  Aqueous no longer had support from the Auriel Delta, but was too important a city to lose in another terrible war.  King Coralus proposed that the city become part of his Volkrad Empire.  The local assembly took a full moon-cycle to deliberate, but in the end agreed.  It was not long for the new empire to share its knowledge with one another, making leaps and bounds in the science of engineering. 

Amon in his last years founded a philosophy college in Aqueous in protest to the Honshar War College in Honshar.  He died, worried that he had not done enough to leave Dunesko better than when he arrived.  At the same time, an order of his followers calling themselves the Order of the Pure Wind lead a pilgrimage of like-minded peace-seekers to the east.  They created for themselves a commune at the top of Vuori’Tuuli which they called the Home of the Wind.

The Sauriel Civil War had longer reaching political effects as well.  In Aphar, now its own entity separated from its mother city, found a political uprising.  Flyers began to rebel against the caste system there, protesting and calling for change, all in the name of equality, higher class jobs, and better payments.

Not long after the Sauriel War ended did the Xendrixian elves show their utter distaste for anything important.  They sent their messages to mages, wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, and any other with any arcane power to a competition, the Numen’s Duel.  It has happened every year since, during the Summer Solstice.  I have attended many myself, and while the elves have very little opinion of wars and governments, they make up for it in spectacle and social proclivity. 

Now, almost fifty years have passed.  The Three Empires continue to expand as more and more of the population spreads out from the water into the foothills and savannahs.  Ascendant has become the home for many of the gravely injured and ill, and the best medicine men and doctors live there now.  As a home to many veterans of many conflicts, war games and reenactments are the major source of pride for those there.

Dunesko is a dangerous place.  If it is not the orcs, it is the dragons.  If it isn’t the government, it is bandits and thieves.  But we all make due and try to live our lives.  And this, is my full accounting of the abbreviated history of Dunesko.


-------------------------------------------


An interesting note …

I am not a man who understands the weather or the stars.  But I do dabble in astronomy, and I have spoken with many philosophers and astrologers about the event that happened.  Kauhea’Tuuli came this year from much further south, destroying the city of L’Trel.  Gaddea has sent its men to the south to Aphar for support and trade to rebuild the city.  I fear they wish to expand once again. Kauhea’Tuuli was devastating this year, and I felt my walls shudder and quake for the first time ever here in Honshar as I finished penning my final draft of this collected histories.    I fear something terrible is on the horizon.  The 50th Numen’s Duel takes place this year.  There have been far too few accounts of Lizard-Men to the west.  There are reports that Orcs are forming cities.  And one of my colleagues has gone mad with his search for the unfindable.  As I look to the stars and moon for guidance, I see nothing good.  In fact, I wish to share with you all a dream I had.  Take it as a portent of terrible things to come.  Or the dreams of an aging scholar.

I saw a skull, carved of stone.  Stone that was alive, and heaved and breathed like a sleeping horse made of marble.  The skull was just a piece of a larger stone.  In its mouth, a symbol, ancient and profound.  I looked up its meaning … it meant in Xendrixia: the Infinite.  The stone glowed and around it, from the shadows, were new creatures born.  Creatures that had never existed, and should never be.  I reached out to touch the skull, but just as I felt the spark of some other-magic, just before my fingertips touch the warm, pulsating stone, I awoke. 

I write this, hand written and rushed.  I do not know why I write this, or how many will read it.  But I have at least written it.

~ Jacobi Bladeback



14.11.14

IHAO on ... Interstellar



I just am not really sure how to tackle this movie review.  Not because I don't have the words, because I do, I absolutely do.  And not because I don't know what I think and feel, because I am positive about those as well.  It is because I have very little faith my words will make a difference.  Some films are just going to be seen, regardless of any critic's review, and most of those critics have a much wider audience than I do.  It seems, I don't know, futile? to talk about just how poorly made this movie is.  And yes, it is incredibly poorly made.  This is a bad movie.  How bad?

*inhales*

Well, that's the problem, see.  I really don't like going into spoilers, but I have to all but spoil this movie to really talk about what makes it so bad.  It is a science fiction film where the science all seems to be mumbo jumbo garbage, almost none of it makes sense, and even if it was accurate, despite a very few visuals, it comes across as completely idiotic.  The theme of the movie is one of the most cliched themes in film history; I'm talking Disney would be ashamed.  The plot is mostly a bore.  The camera work is mediocre at best, and many many shots I've seen Go Pro cameras mounted on the outside of cars driving around do it better.  The acting is fine, in fact there is only one scene I would even call good acting.  There was only about a thirty minute stretch in this 169 minute mess that was really truly enthralling, invigorating, interesting, and tense.  But then we go back to cliche-land.  The plot is at best dull and at worst completely convenient and relentlessly stupid.  The climax of the film is simple just stupid.  The costuming and timeline of the film is atrociously un-thought-out, as we are in a future, and then a further future, and then a FURTHER future, and everyone still wears regular old clothes that we wear now.  The sound mixing ... my god, the sound mixing is absolutely atrocious.  Probably 1/5 of the dialogue is completely drowned out by the score.  And the score itself just does not match with the emotion or action taking place in any given scene.

Nolan has grown bloated in his reach and power.  He reminds me of George Lucas.  I highly doubt anyone is telling him "no" any longer.  He makes visually appealing films that hit all the emotional beats you want in a movie, but as soon as the movie is over every single aspect of the movie is just riddled with terrible terrible problems.  Interstellar is like a beautiful mansion that has termites in all its beams: it looks great, is enormous in scope, but just scratch the surface a little bit and you not only see the holes, but it is impossible to keep the entire thing from falling apart.  Christopher Nolan, for all intents and purposes, made a Michael Bay film minus stupid comedy, adding stupid emotional nonsense.

Blew your mind.

This science fiction film is lacking in science.  This great cast in lacking in scene quality.  This great composer is lacking in tact and finesse.  This great director is lacking in subtlety.

The only two good things I can say about this film, at all, the sole compliments I can give Interstellar are: the editor did an excellent job, as the 169 minutes never felt long or dull - stupid, yes, eye-rollingly stupid, absolutely yes, but it did not feel long; and the visuals look for the most part good ... though in our theater, that was supposed to be showing it in IMAX quality HD, it looked like it was all in 720p or even lower quality, with a very fuzzy film grain.

I implore you, all of you reading this, DO NOT GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  It is a waste of every single cent and minute of your time.  The longer I sit and think about it, the worse and worse it gets.  It is a terrible, terrible movie.

Grade: D--

12.11.14

IHAO on ... the Boxtrolls



Claymation is a really cool medium, especially nowadays.  It takes so much work and so much artistry for something that could be done just as easily, maybe easier, in CGI animation.  Really good Claymation makes you wonder "how did they do that?!" and makes very real looking things happen, because it is happening instead of being all computers.  The craft is really cool, is what I'm saying.  It also does not immediately make a film good.

The Boxtrolls is the perfect example of a conceit in film called "dissonance."  It is where the parts of a film, while perhaps all good in quality individually, when brought together are all rubbish.  There are good things, there are bad things, there are inbetween things, and none of it feels particularly well joined into a cohesive whole.  The voice actors are all well and good, but are reading things a little campier than the script intends, while in turn the script is much more whimsical than the direction of the film plays it which is basically straight without jokes, more like an action film, and then that is dissonant from the art direction, which is gothic and victorian and surprisingly dark with very very little humor to it at all.  As an example, let's just look at our bad guy.  He is played by Sir Ben Kingsley, who does a super super good job playing this dark, brooding, gothic evil character, but the script has him cross-dressing and dying (spoilers) by cheese induced farts and bloating like this is a madcap farce, but then the art direction has him become this truly terrifying Quasimodo-esque looking monster when he is having his allergic reactions.  None of those things really mesh together.  And that happens all throughout the movie.

The plot of the thing is that there are these Boxtrolls, and in this town that is obsessed with cheese and hats as status symbols, a red hat is promised a white hat if he kills all the Boxtrolls.  The Boxtrolls take a baby and raise him, and that young boy - named Eggs - has to save his family from the bad guy red hats..

There is something cool in that plot, yeah?  All right, maybe not for some, but I'm a Dungeons and Dragons, gothic literature loving kind of guy.  And this films gothic nature and dark tone don't turn me off.  But all the dissonance I was talking about above really does make it hard to like any of the film.  Which is a huge shame, because there is some stuff I liked overall in the movie, but really, the Boxtrolls parts for the most part are way better than the whole it creates.  I hate movies like this, middle of the road movies.  I can't even bring myself to be angry or excited about it.  They are just ... there.  I was pretty harsh on Big Hero 6 earlier for not being quite up to snuff for me in terms of scripting and plot and such, much like Gone Girl, but both those movies had strong directors that at least made a cohesive film.

Sorry Boxtrolls.

Grade: C

11.11.14

IHAO on ... Snowpiercer



Not too long ago, I started watching a new youtube series called Every Frame a Painting, which is an editor's view on film.  He talks about a lot of great stuff in there, and I highly suggest watching his stuff.  He did an episode on Snowpiercer two weeks ago, and I was intrigued.  Because I'll be honest, it looked stupid.  Nuclear winter kills almost everything on the planet, the only survivors are on a train that navigates the whole world and never stops running, and has been like that for 18 years.  That sounds stupid.  Then I started noticing the things involved.

It is a french graphic novel, directed by the super talented Bong Joon-ho, a Korean director who made Memories of Murder and The Host (not the crappy Twilight one, the Korean Kaiju horror film), and stars Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Ed Harris, plus Octavia Spencer and Song Kang-ho (an AMAZING Korean actor, like ... 9 Korean Best Actor awards).  This is ... how did they get everyone involved?

Let me tell ya, it is because this movie is as close to perfect as you can get with that ridiculous premise.  Science fiction is always about allegory.  Children of Men was a pretty movie that had really stupid messages and allegory.  Snowpiercer hits its mark perfectly.  It talks about what life is worth, class systems, religious terrorism, law versus choice, perception of reality, and all sorts of other things.  And you would think that a film talking about all of those things would end up being crazy pretentious on top of it all, but this film is incredibly deftly handed.  Bong Joon-ho is very very good.  The film is funny when it needs to be, exciting, tense, thrilling, horrific, incredibly heartwrenchingly sad, abundantly triumphant!  It goes through all these emotions in a smart, logical way that makes this film just an amazing watch.

The acting in this movie is across the board great, from every single character and even the extras.  Tilda Swinton, who is not an actress I like, knocks it out of the park with an incredible performance.  Chris Evans, who has proven he is a good leading man, plays an incredibly dense leading protagonist character, and has a fantastic monologue and some great scenes with John Hurt and Song Kang-ho.  The film does an incredible job of seeding ideas without straight dialogue.  Many films think that storytelling and dialogue are one and the same.  Gone Girl did a great job of doing storytelling without doing dialogue.  But Snowpiercer is able to implant ideas in our minds without ever saying the words.  It allows us to make logical leaps, then plays on those leaps so we better understand the world and the film.  It was crazy how many of us viewing it together all made the same leaps without ever talking to each other or the film having a character directly say it.

Snowpiercer may just be the best made film I've seen all year, right up there with Guardians of the Galaxy.  It is certainly a new favorite.  I cannot cannot suggest this enough.  If you can buy into its premise and allow the film to take you on its journey, you will not be disappointed.

Grade: A+++

10.11.14

IHAO on ... A Monster in Paris



My wife loves all things French.  Food, decor, film, music, the whole she-bang.  One of my roommates loves animation, in just about every form.  I love gothic storytelling.  So this movie hit all our buttons, in different ways, and we all walked away feeling good about this movie, though some a little more good than others.

A Monster in Paris is a French animated film.  The story is that the Seine has flooded most of the low portions of Paris, and the people are looking for a new leader.  At the same time, two young men are looking for love.  After curiosity strikes and they accidentally create an enormous singing flea monster, the monster finds his way to burlesque (basically) where the main singer and star names him Francoeur.  It soon becomes a big monster hunt as our bad guy tries to make Francoeur out to be a monster, and our protagonists all look for love and music in their lives.

The film is very beautifully animated, and very fast paced.  A little too fast paced for me, actually, as I wanted much more of Francoeur and much more singing.  The film is not quite a musical, as there really are not enough musical moments for that to be the case, so it comes across as this really nice semi-gothic, Phantom of the Opera meets Jules Verne adventure movie.  It is absolutely a family friendly film.  It is clever, inventive, beautiful, and very well made.  I wish there was more music moments, and more of the beautiful beautiful Sean Lennon (yes, that Lennon, he's Yoko and John's son) singing.  I cannot give this film less than an A, but I am conflicted on how much I like the film.  In the end, I'll never forget it, and talk about with many people, and really, there isn't a better way to say you like something.



Watch this movie.  It'll will be worth your while.

Grade: A+

7.11.14

IHAO on ... Big Hero 6



This may just be the hardest review I've ever had to write.  Why?  Because my subjective opinion makes me really really look down on this perfectly fine and fun kids action movie.  Let me make that perfectly clear, because you will see me using more words talking about how much I don't like it: I like this movie, and it is a very fun and good kids movie.  It is not a great movie.  But it is a good movie for kids.

Why am I having such a hard time with this?  Because I love Big Hero 6, the comic book.  And as an adaptation, this movie is utter trash.  The only thing that even remotely resembles the comic book is the characters names and Go Go Tomago.  That's it.  The setup, the setting, the backgrounds of the characters, the characters powers, the character's costumes, the themes, the bad guys, the style of superhero story.  Every single other thing is so utterly different that there is no point in this even being an adaptation.  Any of those things I listed are fine to change in an adaptation - in fact, they should be changed.  Some.  Not completely.  Not to be 100% unrecognizable to the people who you are trying to draw in off the recognition of the name, because that name doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things unless you know the source material, which doesn't factor into the movie at all!!  In fact, if it wasn't called Big Hero 6, if it had different character names, and if Go Go's powers were replaced with some other powers, this movie I would have liked more.


I'm going to explain myself better, jeez.  I told you this one was hard to write!

Ok, the good things: it is beautiful.  This film has some location shots that I cannot fathom were not real locations, they are so beautifully put together.  The camerawork and direction of this film is fantastic.  The acting is ... well, it isn't great, but the more I think about it, the more some characters really stood out: Scott Adsit's Baymax easily, but also Daniel Henney as Tadashi.  Maya Rudolph and T.J. Miller were a little distractingly ad lib sounding, and Genesis Rodriguez and Damon Wayans Jr. were both a little distracting in general, overall the voice cast did a good job.  And to be fair, I am being really nitpicky.

The real problem, for me as a film critic and not just a lover of the source material (as bastardized as this movie is from it), is the script.  Beyond the adaptation, which I could talk about for another couple thousands words I'm sure, this script is very very strangely written.  It is not a team movie like you would think a movie that is titled after the name of the team in the movie should be.  No, it is about Hiro, a genius teenage robotics whiz-kid, and his relationship with his brother, Tadashi, and his brother's robot, Baymax.  That is what the movie is about.  All the other characters probably have ... a fourth the screentime that these three do.  The dialogue is hackneyed, the callbacks are plentiful and lame, and the story is very small feeling, which is unfortunate.  There area total of 6 people who worked on the script, not to mention the original character creators from the comics.  That is a lot of voices to have to juggle in one script, and doesn't even begin to mention all the producers' voices and the directors'.  The product of all these voices is a very marketable, very cliche, very ... watchable film.  The story twists aren't twisty at all, the characters are two-dimensional at best, the pacing is very very segmented, there is even a tie-in Fall Out Boy-sung montage section, the emotional beats are humdrum ...

But then I look back at my wife, who sat next to me at the movies.  And for her, these characters were all real, and enjoyable.  The story, while cliche and been-there-done-that-nothing-new-or-even-different territory, still hit home, and the emotions she felt for these characters, especially Baymax, were very genuine.



Like I said, this isn't a bad movie.  Nowhere near one.  It is a good movie.  It is a good movie, not a great one, that just happens to fail in ways that irk me much MUCH stronger than most viewers, I bet.  This is a film I will own, because I know my kids will enjoy it.  And I will sit down with them, and watch it.  This isn't Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a great superhero team movie that was able to balance humor, action, emotion, character, and be smart and clever in its writing, but it is a good place to start.  This is a hard one to grade.  But I feel good, because I have at least presented an honest critique, and my honest opinion.  And that's what you come here for, at least, every Monday through Friday at 10 AM.  I think.  Ok, now I'm the bad writer.  Let's ... just ... end this ... now.

See ya Monday.

Bye.

Grade: B+-