Fire & Ice and Warcraft 3

Fire & Ice is currently available on Amazon Prime. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a 1983 fantasy flick animated by none other than Frank Frazetta. If you’re a pulp fan, you probably know who he is. Even if you’re not, you may have seen some of his work:

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So on one hand, Frazetta is awesome. On the other hand, the film was directed by Ralph Bakshi, whose name is also attached to the ill-fated 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film (not to be confused with the excellent Rankin and Bass movies).

I gave F&I a watch, and I have to say it’s okay. It’s not bad, and although Frazetta was a lot more skilled at stills than animation, I loved watching his art here. And that’s basically what the movie was – a vehicle for his art. The story wasn’t great, but it was serviceable in that role.

One thing that struck me – as far as I’m aware no one from Blizzard has cited F&I as an inspiration for pieces of Warcraft 3. But.

I mean come on. Also Frazetta was the master of thick chicks.

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Also Nekron is a gaylord.

-Bushi

bushi

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McLintock! and the Minstrel of Gondor

I recently discovered that Amazon Prime’s got a nice little cache of westerns and have been picking through some of the old John Wayne flicks. Yesterday’s lunch break selection was McLintock! – a kind of comedic western about the titular wealthy, but of course manly, cattle baron (Wayne) and his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara). I was pleasantly surprised to see her in the leading woman’s role. Hadn’t realized the two of them had co-starred in so many films together!

Anyway, there was something familiar about movie’s opening song. It took me a moment, but it was that lead vocalist. Sounds a lot like the vocals from that 1977 animated Rankin and Bass Hobbit production. Well, turns out that’s because it is!

Glenn Yarsbrough, who just passed away last year, had a real nice timbre. Here are a couple of his pieces that I remember fondly, despite not knowing who he was until now.

The Minstrel of Gondor! Not a bad post.

RIP, Minstrel.

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-Bushi

bushi

Rogue Wut

So I finally watched Rogue One because it’s on Netflix and why not. Just a warning up front – I’m going to spoil the hell out of this thing, so if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want anything “ruined” for you, skip this post!

Now, I didn’t think the movie was bad, per se. The sets were pretty good and the costume design was well done. I didn’t hate the characters as much as I expected I would, and I even felt bad when Almost-Jedi and his buddy Big Gun Guy died.

There was quite a lot to pick apart, though. It’s been done before, but you haven’t had the pleasure of reading my particular nitpicks, so. Here we go, with some of my thoughts as I was watching:

1. The film starts off with blue milk. Oh, this is going to be that kind of film. Oh…

It seems this is what we’re going to get from Star Wars movies now, and we saw it coming in The Force Awakens. We’re going to be served up fan service galore! Since the writers are incapable of coming up with new witticisms and/or the actors aren’t up to delivering them in memorable fashion (instead we get garbage like “Rebellions are built on hope.”) rest assured that you’ll continue to hear “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” at least once or twice in every new film.

The droid did have a few good lines, at least, and I’m glad the writers either resisted the temptation (or it didn’t occur to them) to reuse “Never tell me the odds!”

2. I’m glad to see Mads Mikkelson going more mainstream. I like his work, generally. Still, a genius scientist? What, was the Rock unavailable for the role?

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3. Good to see stormtroopers are still and always will be useless unless deployed in the hundreds and with heavy support.

 

4. Oh good, Mon Mothma. Can’t get enough of her. (?)

This goes back to the fan service bit. While I enjoyed the fact that Red Leader was either the same dude from a New Hope or else looked and sounded really damn close, I didn’t need Mothma and Tarkin to be major characters just because hey I KNOW WHO THEY ARE WOOOOOOO!

 

5. CGI has come a long way, but it’s still not a great tool in the place of real people. It’s true that Peter Cushing cut a pretty ghoulish Tarkin even when he was alive, but in Rogue One it looked like they dug him up and found some necromancer to reanimate his corpse. I found his appearances jarring and not at all natural-looking. Thank God CGI Leia was only on screen for all of 5 seconds.

 

6. The pilot dude who was mind-raped by the tentacle beast – didn’t Saw say the side effect was losing your mind? Meh, whatever! Details!

 

7. Speaking of Saw, he was pretty lame. What a waste of Forest Whitaker.

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8. I thought Felicity Jones actually did a decent job with what she was given. I don’t see the “fish face” thing. Also the film and her character weren’t as “girl power!”-y as all the marketing material led me to believe. True – the part where she beats up a bunch of Stormtroopers with a baton is absurd, but so is the blind monk beating them up with his stick. This just reinforces the fact that Stormtroopers and their cosmetic armor are the worst.

The main problem was really…why should I care about Jyn? Or any of the characters? We got a glimpse of some humanity when she viewed her father’s holo message. Ip Man the blind force monk was likable enough, but neither he nor his companion were really fleshed out all that much. The droid was funny sometimes. The pilot was a dude. Cassian (I seriously didn’t even remember his name – had to look it up) was introduced to us in a very scumbaggy way – getting news from an informant and then murdering him.

The messaging of the film was inconsistent and off-kilter. At first the writers seemed to want to tell us that there are no good guys – just bad guys and less bad guys. But then they seemed to realize they’d lose the audience with a bunch of bland, half-assed miscreants, so they tried to make them somewhat likable. By then, though, half the film had already been wasted.

Cassian and Jyn actually had a little bit of romantic chemistry going at the end of the movie, but by then it was too late and didn’t matter. And the dude didn’t even kiss her as the giant wave of destruction approached to kill them. Lame.

 

9. The ending was forced and stupid. I don’t mean the ending where all the protagonists die – there is actually some argument to be made for that kind of ending, I think, though it’s more compelling when you know and like the characters. I mean the part where a bunch of rebel soldiers play hot potato with the Death Star plans and then the Admiral Ackbar stand-in’s capital ship spits out Princess Leia’s blockade runner.

First off, back on Yavin IV there’s a scene where some peon tells Mon Mothma that there’s a battle going on and Fish Admiral is already on his way. And then we are treated to fan service of R2D2 standing with 3PO as the latter complains about not being informed of military deployment. But they’re supposed to be on the ship! Unless Leia makes a pit stop back on Yavin IV (in which case the rebels would already have the plans by a New Hope), the continuity is messed up! Did no one think of this?

Also, why the hell would Princess Leia, a diplomat and important Rebel leader, be traveling into the thick of battle on the Admiral’s flagship? Not like she’s got anything to contribute.

In conclusion, Rogue One wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good (comparatively, anyway). These new Star Wars films just don’t get me excited. There’s a lot going on and a lot of action, but…it just falls flat. Is it just me?

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-Bushi

bushi

 

 

 

MUST READ SFF: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

  • by Gitabushi

It should be no surprise by now that I like books with good stories, good characters, and ideas that challenge me.  Who doesn’t want to be entertained?  But there are so many options for entertainment, so when I read, I want my mind to get a workout.

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This book does that.

To be honest, this book may be generation-locked.  The main character was born in the 1940s, and so is in college in the 1960s, and the culture of the 1960s has an impact on the plot. Growing up in the 1970s myself, I didn’t live 1960s culture…but most of the books I had available growing up were written in the 1960s or early 1970s, and set in the late 1950s and 1960s, so I was familiar with the culture.  For someone who never had to dial a rotary phone or never lived before there was cable TV or microwaves, maybe the book will lack some impact.  I don’t know. If you are one such reader, try it out and let me know.

However, Grimwood does an excellent job capturing the normality of those early times.  The protagonist goes back to his youth, but brings his adult sensibilities with him. And if you can imagine how society has changed just from the introduction of widespread use of the birth control pill, you can imagine how his mature assumptions clash with the culture and society of his youth.

The entire book is written with bedrock-solid descriptions of mainstream life in the United States. It feels real. The characters actions and reactions seem real. The author thinks of aspects I didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) and plays them to the hilt. The result is a book that makes it extremely easy to willingly suspend disbelief. It is easy to get drawn in, to care about the protagonists, what they want to do, and why.

It is also intersting to see things fall apart when the main character gets to experience one of the most common wishes of humankind: “If I knew then what I know now.”  Jeff gets several lifetimes of that wish fulfillment, and it still never turns out like he expects.

From that point of view, the book can be seen as a comfort: you are already doing pretty much the best  you can. More knowledge wouldn’t make your life better, it would just move you along to encounter new problems. Life is life. Stop pining for how things could be different, and start appreciating what you actually have.

In the end, you may get a “Groundhog Day” vibe out of this book, but rest assured: this preceded Groundhog Day by several years.

In fact, I would like to challenge all writers: Take the premise of this book, or Groundhog Day, or Flash Forward, and write your own stories. We have endless takes on zombies, vampires, young adult dystopias. Enough!  These three formats are crying out for additional exploration.

But first, you have to read this. Find it and read it. Let me know if you think I steered you wrong, but I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

Oh, and give me a review of the review. Did it make you want to read the book? If not, what else should I have included to help persuade you?

Replay Radar

 

MUST WATCH SFF Television Show: Flash Forward

  • by Gitabushi

An unheralded television show aired on ABC back in 2009.  It was cancelled after just one season in the spring of 2010.  I somehow managed to get a copy of the DVD without knowing anything about it, and my teenage kids and I fell in love with it when we randomly picked it out of the backlog stack and gave it a try.

Premise: The entire world falls unconscious for 137 seconds, for unknown reasons. This causes all sorts of pandemonium, like car crashes, planes falling out of the sky, and other disasters you might expect from such an event.

As the world is coping with the massive loss of life, people begin comparing notes of the dreams they had while unconscious.  In doing so, they discover coincidences that cannot be explained as anything other than visions of a moment six months in the future.  For instance, someone has a vision of being in a meeting with someone they have never met before, but there is enough identifying information from the vision that the other individual can be tracked down. When contact is established, the other individual reveals they had the exact same vision, including the same actions, conversation, etc. Enough visions include looking at a calendar, clock, etc., that the moment of the vision of the future can be established, and all visions with such time-based details all agree with each other.

This causes all sorts of crises, including visions of being intimate with someone not your spouse, dealing with the aftermath of killing someone, discovering that someone you thought was dead is actually still alive.  Worse, perhaps, is the people who do not have visions: the understand rapidly spreads that these people will be dead before the Flash Forward moment.

And as the world is dealing with this realization, the FBI discovers that the event may have been triggered deliberately by unknown, non-government entities. Moreover, closed-circuit television captures at least one person moving during the blackout: the blackout wasn’t, in fact, universal.

Then they discover that you can actually take actions to prevent your vision from coming true, in drastic fashion.

I think you can immediately think of multiple philosophical issues that arise from these various aspects and examples, and the television show doesn’t shy away from exploring them.  My children and I always had plenty to discuss for more than an hour after watching each episode. There were plot twists to discuss, of course, but also the philosophical and psychological ramifications of events and developments.  We had some discussions of fate, comparing/contrasting the actions of those who chose to prevent their future vision and how they did it with those who actually caused their vision to come about via their efforts to avoid it.

Particularly poignant was the relationship between the main protagonist (there are a lot of people you care about in the show) and his wife (also a protagonist) who had a vision of being intimate with a man she didn’t currently know.  At the point of the blackout, they had a strong relationship and were both faithful.  The knowledge of the apparent unfaithfulness did seem to both contribute to it coming about, but also seemed to supply motivation that might help prevent it. Watching the couple struggle through jealousy, guilt, and distress was extremely interesting, and it gave me several launching points for talking to my kids about marriage, love, trust, integrity, desire, dissatisfaction, and proper/improper ways of dealing with marital difficulties.

One person, an FBI agent who would be dead in six months, was engaged to be married.  How does he tell his fiancee he will be dead?  Particularly when her vision is of the wedding ceremony they planned?  How can both their visions be real?

These stories both subvert and play straight the notion of Fate: can it be stopped?  Does fighting it bring it about? The answer to both is Yes, and it seems to conclude that the future is in a box with Schroedinger’s Cat: you don’t know what happens until you get there and open it up. And the story was the better for it.

This is not a television show to binge watch.  Nor is it a show to watch alone.  This is one of the better “what would *I* do if…?” stories I’ve seen.  Watch an episode, and then take a few days to let it sink in, to discuss it with the friends and family you watched it with. Then watch the next episode and have your mind blown.  Rinse and repeat.

The show had declining viewership, and I really don’t see why.  Of course, there were some very depressing points as the season went on, and confusing aspects, and developments we didn’t like.  But we had the whole disc, so it was easy to continue watching.  From that perspective, I guess I could see looking at the next episode coming up and deciding you have better things to do with your time.  It is also true that the episodes were so dense with information that if you missed one, it would be nearly impossible to have any interest or ability to catch up with what was going on.  This was in 2010, so I don’t think there were options to watch the shows online to actually see what you missed.  So I guess I do see why, but I think a bunch of people missed out on an excellent story, and since it resulted in the series being cancelled, I think we are all the poorer for it.

The declining viewership meant the show was cancelled. The season finale was written and filmed before the cancellation, however, and this creates two problems: one, there is a cliffhanger over whether a character survives or not; two, there is a completely new set of intriguing Flash Forward visions, but this time 20 years in the future instead of just 6 months.  I would like to have seen how they handled a 20-year gap.

But the series remains watchable.  For as much love as Firefly got for its single season, I think this is better. The cast is large, and yet you actually know the characters more deeply than on Firefly. Firefly introduces a bunch of elements (particularly regarding River) that change the very nature of the series (making it really all about River); nothing like that happens in Flash Forward. In fact, the season doesn’t just stop, it concludes and wraps up almost all the stories.  It is a pause. It is the end of the first act, but good enough to let you go on with your life without burning questions.  Flash Forward ends like Star Wars: sure, you don’t know what happened to Darth Vader, and the Rebellion hasn’t won, but you get enough of the threads wrapped up that you don’t feel dissatisfied. Firefly is like what you would feel like if they never filmed The Return of the Jedi: imagine never knowing what happened to Han.

So if Firefly can get so much love and attention from just one season, Flash Forward deserves equal treatment.  Find it and watch it.  Let me know if you think I led you wrong.

But my bottom line judgment is: THIS television show is what speculative fiction is and should be: a “What If?” tale that challenges you, teaches you, and still lets you teach yourself.  I can’t imagine watching Flash Forward without growing as a person. And it is also entertaining. What more could you ask?

 

Quick as a Flash review

Flash Gordon is another one of those old comic series that I’d really love to get into if I could carve out the time and spare the bucks to dig them up. Fortunately, Gordon’s alive™ in other media!

Any nerd or child of the 70’s or 80’s worth his salt is already familiar with (and a huge fan of) the 1980 film featuring the titular character. It’s got Max Von Sydow, Brian Blessed’s most famous line, and a lizard man being disintegrated.

{y:i}Halt, Lizard Man! {y:i}Escape is impossible. Surrender.

What’s not to love?

I also recently discovered an animated incarnation of Flash from 1979-1982. Strangely, there was a feature-length film, the Greatest Adventure of All, that was put together in 1978 or 1979 but not actually aired until the resulting spin-off cartoon was put out to pasture around 1983. Odd.

I haven’t rooted around for the series yet, but the film is up on YouTube. I won’t link it here for fear of bringing the Copyright police down on the channel, but feel free to just search for the Greatest Adventure of All.

I gave it a watch and I was pleased. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s exciting. There’s plenty of action, and if you’re a fan of the live action movie you’ll recognize most of the characters. I can’t speak to how well they resemble their comic book origins, but for the most part they match up pretty well with their film counterparts.

Also, the men are men and the women are women!

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Zarkov shoots at a dinosaur
Aura
Aura lounges around all sexy-like

I’m also glad they included Thun, the prince of the Lion men. He didn’t make it into the live action film, probably because of how big a pain in the ass it would have been to make a convincing-looking lion man.

Anyway if you’ve got an hour and a half to kill or if you usually spend your lunch breaks staring at your cube wall, look it up and give it a watch!

Bonus fact: If you’re a fan of the old Shee-Ra cartoon, you’ll also recognize the voice of Melendy Britt (who voiced Shee-Ra) as Princess Aura.

-Bushi

bushi