Saturday, December 1, 2018

2019 Movie Previews

"I'm an American! I don't have to see something to know it's stupid!" Tom Smothers

I've been really busy cheating on my nanowrimo word count this year, which is why I haven't had much time to post a whole lot to my blog. But as Hollywood continues to try to bankrupt itself by releasing nine blockbusters every couple of days I thought it might be a fun distraction to do a preview on the upcoming releases of the first half of 2019.

Here then are the twenty-two films listed on Wikipedia that stood out for me one way or the other, and what I think the odds are of them being hits or misses. I've included my interest level ranging from one to five.

1. Escape Room 1/4: Six strangers participate in a room escape game that turns deadly.
Interest Level: 4. It shows promise. And I'm a sucker for game-oriented films.
Will it be good? That one's a toss-up. We've tried hybrid-ing film and game before and the results have been predominantly disappointing. This movie shows a lot of promise and could be quite fun if the filmmakers don't force the tragic ending so as to appear 'indie'. 1997's Cube anyone?
Will it do well? No. Not until DVD. January is typically the dumping ground for films that the studios don't believe in, and a movie like this requires a word of mouth hookup to generate interest. At least it will show up for a few days on the highest grossing films of 2019 list, if that's any consolation.

2. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part 2/8: The continuing adventures of Emmet, Lucy, Batman, and Princess Unikitty.
Interest Level: 4.5. It's got a tough bar to probably fall short of, but hopes are high.
Will it be good? Yes, of course. It's a question of how good. The first movie may have been lightning in a bottle, and I can't imagine how they could duplicate it for the sequel. But as long as it tops the meh-ness of the Lego Batman Movie, I'll have very little to gripe about.
Will it do well? Oh yeah. It's going to spend about a month topping the highest grossing film list, and won't likely fall off until November, if even then.

3. Alita: Battle Angel 2/14: A live (sort of) adaptation of the classic manga Battle Angel Alita; known affectionately as BAA.
Interest Level: 2. For a lot of us old enough to have caught the first wave of anime in the States, Battle Angel was our initiation into how operatic a kick in the gut could be. But it really runs the risk of its soul getting westernized out.
Will it be good? It's Robert Rodriguez, so it will look good. But emotional impact simply isn't confirmed under his skillset. Granted, he hasn't proven he can't handle the weight, but spectacle alone isn't going to carry a misfire.
Will it do well? I'd say even odds. On the one hand it's got James Cameron's stamp on it, which seems to attract audiences like moths no matter how eye-rollingly dull the movie turns out to be. On the other hand, people are still waiting for their tax refunds in February. It's not the best time to give movies a blind shot.

4. Happy Death Day 2U 2/14: Come celebrate Valentine's Day with a return to the Groundhog Day loop.
Interest Level: 5. Happy Death Day was a silly premise that they did some genuinely inspired things with. And when a cast and crew is having that much fun making a film, of course you want to see them rehash the party.
Will it be good? It's doubtful it will be bad. The first film pretty much felt complete, so there's always a risk of undoing what worked. But at the same time the killer's motivation was the only real weak element, and this could be a chance to fix that.
Will it do well? Respectably. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a slightly bigger hit, as so many people have discovered the first film on DVD. But I honestly hope they leave well enough alone after the sequel. Birthday treats go stale quickly.

5. Captain Marvel 3/8: The MCU finally admits that there's an audience for super-heroines.
Interest Level: 4.5. Given Marvel's track record, there's not any reason to doubt it will be good. But all I really know about her character is that she's essentially Marvel's Superman, which might come with the same over-powered story issues.
Will it be good? Naturally. Marvel's got it's act together. The question is more, will it be amazing like Black Panther, or will it just be good enough like Iron Man 3?
Will it do well? Uh, yeah. At the end of the day it doesn't matter if it's good. It's necessary. You don't think you're going to go into Avengers 4 having skipped this one, do you?

6. Dumbo 3/29: Oh look. A live action remake of a classic Disney film. Yay...
Interest Level: 0.5. Guys, seriously. This may not be your direct-to-video redux, but in the foreseeable future when 'oversaturation' becomes equated with Disney, this is what people are going to be using as the example.
Will it be good? I don't have the lung capacity to sustain the sigh of appropriate length. Why put this movie in Tim Burton's hands? Unless you're doing the version where the heartless invade, Burton seems to be the least qualified director to take on the emotions needed.
Will it do well? Dear God, I hope not, but large groups of people have a habit of disappointing me. Maybe they'll remember what a waste of time his Alice in Wonderland was, but I suspect it won't matter.

7. Shazam! 4/7: DC throws in the towel and decides to just copy Marvel.
Interest Level: 2.5. The trailer looks funny, and DC could certainly use some funny in their camp. But trailers don't always match their films, and DC already has the reputation of being all over the place.
Will it be good? That would be nice, wouldn't it? I don't know how DC's pantheon of modern deities became the underdogs to Marvel's demi-humans, but I'm more than willing to forgive some rough edges if it keeps them in the game.
Will it do well? Best guess: adequate. DC has proven they're run by committee, which is why their films tend to be messes. Shazam seems like a decent supporting player, but when you've used your three biggest guns and only Wonder Woman has hit the mark, it might be time to go back to the minors for a bit.

8. Avengers 4 5/3: The world's first cinematic television show airs its season finale.
Interest Level: 5. Duh.
Will it be good? The Russo brothers have emerged as the superstars of ensemble action films, so if they drop the ball at the end then I'd expect literally nobody was up to the task. But in addition to having to give resolution to about thirty-eight subplots, this is goodbye to ten years of story. There are going to be emotions.
Will it do well? Ha ha. Good one.

9. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu 5/10: Ryan Reynolds is Pikachu, a detective in the live-action world of Pokémon, bent on solving the disappearance of -wait, what?
Interest Level: 4. You know, if you'd just given me the written synopsis I'd assume this was a joke ad for the Deadpool collection on blu-ray. But no. This is actually happening. And it's just strange enough to have my attention.
Will it be good? *shrugs* Maybe. Nintendo is so guarded about their properties, they must really believe in the project to have signed off on it. The fact that the trailer isn't depicting Deadpool humor in a presumably family film is a good indicator.
Will it do well? You know it will. I feel a little bad for the Ugly Dolls movie which opens opposite, because you know it's not going to stand a chance. But we're in the middle of 90's nostalgia, so Detective Pikachu is going to rake in whatever Avengers 4 doesn't. And if the production team has their hearts in the right place, it just might deserve to.

10. Aladdin 5/24: The story of Aladdin. Retold. In case you've forgotten.

Interest Level: 3-ish? I would really, really like to see this live-action remake trend die, but there's a regrettably morbid side of me that can't help but be a little curious. The original was fun, but incredibly imbalanced. Perhaps we'll get to see the 'What Could Have Been' version where Genie doesn't hijack the film and Jasmine actually has something to do?
Will it be good? A Guy Ritchie film is like a fireworks show. It's big, loud, and colorful, and you don't really remember much about it once it's over. I honestly can't judge its quality going in, and I won't be surprised if I feel the same way after seeing it.
Will it do well? I would bet on yes. Solo: A Star Wars Story took in almost $400 million and it had a backlash that Aladdin doesn't. Aladdin will probably make about that range. Whether it's a hit or a flop depends on what it cost to make.

11. Dark Phoenix 6/7: X-Men 3 again. Or 4 if you start counting with the McAvoy series.

Interest Level: 1. 2000's X-Men was ultimately the reason superhero movies are what they are today, but I'm honestly over this franchise. The films have tripped more times than Jennifer Lawrence, and once Bob Iger makes up his mind is any of this even going to matter?
Will it be good? Writer/producer/director Simon Kinberg isn't a name associated with much more than adequacy. So anticipate that. Unfortunately a movie like this needs more than adequacy. And they probably should have done this instead of Apocalypse.
Will it do well? Don't count on it. The younger cast just feels like a pale imitation of what drew us to the theater almost two decades ago, and it seems like we've only been going lately out of obligation. Maybe it's time to pull the plug before Channing Tatum does irreparable damage to Gambit.

12. Toy Story 4 6/21: The toys are back! And this time they're even more back than they were last time they were back!
Interest Level: 2. You read that right. One was groundbreaking. Two was probably flawless. Three was, dare I say, not as solid as it's given credit for but still a well earned conclusion to the story. Quit while you're ahead for &#$%'s sake!
Will it be good? *huff* Yeah. If there's one sure bet, it's that Pixar knows how to tell a story with these characters. Whether or not it's considered a worthy fourth chapter in the trilogy is going to be the debate.
Will it do well? As well as Christmas does in coming to Who-ville.

...and one to grow on
I decided to stop at June because I feel the blog is long enough. If you're interested in seeing me tackle the second half of 2019, let me know. But after dealing with Dumbo and Aladdin, I feel compelled to add that I have absolutely no interest in the remake of The Lion King. The original was a beautifully drawn just-okay story, and I think we've seen the best version of that just-okay story already. I can think of no reason whatsoever to justify the trouble of rehashing it. There.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Chasing the Rabbit: Chapter Seventeen -One Little Spark

Click here for the table of contents.

Bagheera batted carefully at the singed ground. Still hot. Not as hot as he would have predicted, but he'd burn his fur if he tried walking across it.

The devastation to the foliage had been abrupt, yet controlled. The flames had been neither the unstoppable eruption of magma nor the carelessness of man. This was something else entirely.

Bagheera took to the branches on the outskirts of where the land had been engulfed. In truth, he'd had no expectation of finding any trace of Tarzan or Elsa, but if the molten rock stream had come and gone as quick as this, they might have found refuge somewhere. How had the fires not spread? The rising moisture in the air had the feel of a recent rainstorm, but not the taste. He was certain that the flames had not been extinguished by the ocean.

He hopped to a higher branch to gage the distance to the small mountain where Tarzan had most likely taken Elsa. Still quite a sprint, even without the cinders. And the panther preferred not to step into open terrain unless absolutely necessary. He could get much closer before making that trek.

The shrill crack of thunder startled the large cat. Reflexively he dove to a branch with thicker brush. It hadn't come from the sky, but from behind him on the ground. He stared silently, looking for some indication of where lightning may have struck, but nothing. He waited. A second crash. Not thunder. It sounded more like a rock splitting open. One of man's tools.

Bagheera still couldn't grasp why the jungle was so deserted; at the very least the noise should have disturbed a few birds. It didn't bode well for a larger animal like himself to survive in a place where small scavengers were nowhere to be found.


What was that? The panther scoured the grassy area where he thought the sound had come from.


There it was again.

It was similar to the sound of one of man's musical instruments. A string of plunks came in succession, slightly rising in pitch. Whatever was causing it had to be close.


The louder sound struck again, and a split second later the odd from the branch where Bagheera stood splintered. The cat sprang so high he smacked his head against the limp above him, letting out a startled roar. That was the last straw.

Bagheera lept from his cover into open air, plummeting down toward his best calculation of where the plunking had come from. He spotted the strange creature a beat before it spotted him; a tall, grey, bipedal animal with long ears and clothing around its front paws. "Yipe!" it whimpered, failing to get out of the way in time as Bagheera pinned it to the ground.

The thing stared up at him and shrugged innocently. "Eh? Wakanda forever?" it said.

Bagheera put his face inches away from the creature, trying to determine what it was. Some kind of grey panda? "What are you?" he growled.

The animal did a side glance at Bagheera's teeth. "Um, listen doc," he gestured to the area where the cracking had most recently come from. "Y'think it might be mutually beneficial for us both if you point that bear trap in the direction of a more imminent threat?"

If there was any doubt that the animal wasn't responsible for the louder sound, it was confirmed by the next strike which burst through the foliage, grazing Bagheera's shoulder. He ducked out of the way and disappeared behind a fallen trunk, leaving the creature to fend for itself.

It got to its feet grumbling. Clearly it had been hunted for some time and was getting pretty fed up with it. "Now just a darn minute!" it scolded the anonymous presence in the jungle. "You've had your fun! I demand you show yourself!"

It was answered with more loud bangs, to which the creature contorted in mid-air as if it was avoiding something that Bagheera couldn't see. It dove into the closest shrub, which seemed to explode in a cloud of leaves, exposing the animal again. Its second attempt at preservation was to hide behind a large stone. A pair of banging chipped off a few shards, but the rock stood firm. "My demands have been sorely unmet as of late," it muttered aloud.

Bagheera snorted. Compassion hadn't amounted to much, but this creature obviously liked to talk, and it seemed to have information. A little at least. Despite his better judgment, Bagheera sprang out from his cover, landing right next to the animal.

As soon as it saw the panther approach it recoiled, as if anticipating an attack. "Hold onto me!" Bagheera instructed.

The animal blinked. "Really?" It tentatively wrapped its arms around the huge cat's neck and straddled his back like a horse.

"Keep your head low," said Bagheera.

"Don't let me slow you down," said the creature.

One final crash through the otherwise silent jungle and Bagheera bolted. It was the fastest he'd run in ages. The animal on his back shrieked. "Perhaps I would care to revise my previous statement."

"You're not from the wilderness are you?"

"Not in a while. Suburbia makes you soft."

Bagheera picked up his feet and soared between a log and a low branch. He landed gently in soil dampened from the upcoming creek and sailed through the twisted path.

"I don't mean to sound ungrateful," said the creature, "but does this merry-go-round have a medium speed?"

"When we're clear of danger-"

"Yeah, I got that. The thing is, this guy's been after me the second I got here. He doesn't quit, doesn't sleep, and doesn't obey the laws of physics. He's everywhere, and he's really got somethin' against rabbits."

"And what does this 'guy' look like?"

"That's just it. I haven't seen a face or a pair of shoes or an oversized pencil. I just walked into the wrong theater and started dodging bullets."

Bagheera's sprint was starting to wear him out so he slowed to more of a quick prowl. "This is an unnatural jungle. I've met several man-creatures who have no idea how they got here."

"Oh, I know how I got here. Took the bus over to the studio. Got picked up at the gate by this doll with a blazer. Shuttled to one of the back studios. Told to go in, get comfortable. A buncha rainbow lights, and BAM! I'm smack-dab in the middle of Discovery Island with Crystal Lake's park ranger."

Bagheera should have known better than to take his eyes off the direction he was traveling in, but his passenger's excessively confusing testimony had drawn way too much of his attention. "So you're saying you actually remember coming into the jungle?"

"More like being beamed in, but yeah doc."

"And you came willingly?"

"Well yeah," the animal smirked. "I got an invitation, and you guys have the best craft service -Look out!"

Even before Bagheera could turn his head his paws stepped into open space. The jungle ground itself had opened up revealing a tunnel straight down into darkness. The panther twisted in an attempt to catch himself, but his center of gravity was already too far over the edge. He fell, taking the strange creature with him.

"Hello?" Oswald timidly called into the darkness. He'd followed Mulan's directions as best as he could, which had led him through a maze of old pavilions that were primarily being used for storage. He now stood beside the door she'd described, purple with an orange stripe, trying to see more than a few feet into the warehouse that allegedly contained what he needed. Words from a dragon.

"Come in! Come in!"

Oswald did as instructed and the door slammed shut behind him. He put his hand out to feel for shelving or whatever else might be close by. "I can't see."

"That's because you're in a dark place."

A fluttering of wings circled over his head, landing on a platform somewhere above him. Oswald fidgeted with his fingers. "Mulan sent me here."


"I guess she thought you might help me?"

"Why should you need help?"

"Because," he trembled. "Something bad has happened. And it's my fault."

Laughter. The voice in the darkness started laughing. Not a malicious laugh, but certainly amused by something in the rabbit's misfortune.

"Why is that funny?"

"You're scared."

"Of course I'm scared!" He hadn't meant to lash out but his self control had already been tested one too many times. "People's lives are at risk!"

"Some wonderful things come out of risk. And some wonderful things could never exist without it."

Oswald huffed. "Those are nice words. But right now, people are literally in danger."

"And how is that your fault?"

"Because it was my idea!"

The dragon stepped off the platform and glided to the floor, landing not too far away from where Oswald blindly stood.

"And now you wish you'd never had the idea."

This dragon was not very big at all. In fact, he didn't sound like he was much larger than Oswald. And now that the two were facing each other Oswald could make out that the dragon's voice sounded soft and almost childlike. "Yes," said Oswald. "That's what I wish."

"Do you see the problem?"

Oswald almost blurted out 'Yes' without thinking, but standing there in the darkness triggered a metaphorical understanding of the fact that he'd been so stressed about the effect of what was happening that he'd never actually figured out what the problem was. "No, I don't."


Oswald stared at where he estimated the dragon was, gradually becoming aware that this darkness was serving a purpose. "Maybe I've lost sight of it?"

A speck of light appeared in front of Oswald's eyes. He didn't know where it had come from; it most definitely hadn't been there before. It floated like a firefly, and Oswald instinctively reached out to grab it. But when he opened his hand it was no longer there. The dragon giggled again.

"It looks like that one got away from you. That happens all the time. But surely it's not the only one."

Oswald grumbled. "You're trying to tell me something aren't you."

He still couldn't see the dragon, but Oswald could just tell he'd moved closer, casually tilting his head in a friendly gesture.

"What's the one thing we always hope to never lose sight of?"

The lucky rabbit rolled his eyes. "That it was all started by a mouse."

"That can't be right. You were there before. What is it really started by?"

The answer appeared, as it had before, right in front of him. Oswald's eyes followed it as it danced in the air; finally coming to a rest on the tip of the dragon's purple snout. Then growing. Lighting up the area. The dragon smiled at him.

"Now you've got it."

Oswald nodded. "One little spark-"

"-of inspiration-" the dragon sang. But Oswald was too distracted by the flood of ideas pouring into his head to join in. Whether any of them would work or not was unclear. All he knew was the best chance of fixing the world he'd created lay within him. And for the first time he truly believed he'd figure it out.

"Yeah," the rabbit said, "I got this."

Return to the table of contents.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

S1: The Tomb of Horrors (Live Version) -Part Two

Welcome back! When we left off yesterday you had pizza and an easy out. And you didn't take either. I'm not judging you, nimrod.

The Trapped Hallway

A la Donkey Kong Country, the fake out credits run to indicate you've completed Baron Sukumvit's jurisdiction of Acererak's Tomb. But curiosity about what the key you hold is for leads you to search for an antechamber. You're now heading into the untouched portion of the maze where Acererak's skull still remains.

The first (and easiest) encounter is with the infamous pit of spikes, a nasty little trap that looks like an easy climb down/cross the floor/climb up solution. People who have played the module know better. There are two solutions to getting across, and this is the last time that will happen. One requires the player to do a vocal impression of the Prince of Persia. The other is even more surreal, and I won't spoil it here.

The Siren

Probably my favorite encounter. The original siren was a tragic figure of pure intentions. Mine is deliberately left ambiguous. Siren song is notorious for hypnotizing its listener, and she lures you into a false sense of security to the tune of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid.

"Oh you poor dear
Lost in this cave.
Sauntering nearer to glory
  or grave.
Following whispers of treasure
 encased in deceit.
High overhead solace is found
Spirits will tread over delicate ground.
Dancing along through that…

  what’s that word again?"

A. HEAT                                      B. SLEET
C. WHEAT                                  D. MEAT             (and guess which one of these doesn't kill you)

A. "Oh yeah, 'HEAT'.
Up where it's warm. Up where it's bright.
Up where you lay all day in sunlight.
Baking within. Bad for your skin.
That's how you burn..."  Very few people can be hypnotized into roasting to death. Congratulations.

B. "Oh yeah, 'SLEET'.
On with the skates. On with the skis.
Onto the lake where temperatures freeze.
Crack in the ice. Paying the price.
Never return..."  Probably one of my more tragic ending.

C. "Oh yeah, 'WHEAT'.
Out where they plant. Out where they grow.
Out where the harvest races the snow.
Bundled afresh. Into the thresh..."  Even the siren stops singing when she realizes how violent this ending is going to be.

D. "Oh yeah, 'MEAT'.
Cutlets are ground. Sausage is cased.
Scrapple transmogrified from the waste.
Premium grade. How is it made?
Not your concern..."  There are some horrors even Acererak's minions won't delve into.

The Juggernaut of Acererak's Tomb

The original mammoth-like beast of this section of the dungeon rode a massive treadmill and squashed everything in it's path. I think I found a pleasant alternative.


Three of these drains prolong disaster.
Three of these drains are fatally placed.
But one of these drains flows right to the throne room.
Now dive in with undo haste
Or else you'll be erased!
Da DA da dada da

You can't see it in the image, but the drains are labeled "Potable", "Nonhazardous", "Decontaminated", and "Inoffensive". If you were paying attention yesterday, then you'd know which way is out. If not, then I guess you have a one in four chance. Much better odds than Acererak gave you.

Return to the Throne Room

You've been to the throne room before, but only the northern half of it. This is the previously inaccessible southern half, complete with a pink horse-thing that hops over to you, backwards no less. Probably my biggest disappointment with nobody making it all the way to this slide was the fact that I took the time to learn how to speak the knight's dialogue backwards. You'll just have to imagine it.




The Demi-Lich

At last you arrive at Acererak's final resting place. Getting the door open is a complicated puzzle that you'll hopefully remember the instructions for (as well as a few words of advice for dealing with the skull itself).

In designing this game I did as much research as my desk job would allow into the history of the campaign, and I came across several interesting tidbits for how past players overcame the various obstacles. In one tournament, the players used a couple of Acererak's own cursed items against him, which left their Dungeon Master speechless. He actually had to call Gary Gygax to come down and make a ruling on whether or not the approach would work. Suffice to say, Gygax was impressed with the players' creativity and ruled in their favor.

While my version is limited to multiple choice, and thus not conducive to a whole lot of freedom, I'm proud to say that I still managed to work in a misdirection to provide a means of both defeating the lich and freeing the hoard of souls he'd acquired. I'll not reveal the solution here, but I will say that it involves a similar appearance by Mr. Gygax (sort of) to reward cleverness, inadvertent though it may be.

Instead I'm going to leave you very near the resolution, in hopes that one day I'll be able to perform the game again, and perhaps you'll be the player to conquer the dungeon once and for all. Until then, enjoy your stay among the other victims who have come and taken residence. You're in plenty of good company.

The necromancer's crypt is a trial. Uh-huh.
Enslaving those who step on the
Wrong tile.
You're in the collection.
Beyond resurrection.
And the souls started chanting some