Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Mutant Sunset

The New Mutants (Josh Boone, 2020) isn't the complete disaster I expected. Blending the superhero and horror genres makes the difference, transforming a generic superhero coming-of-age story into a mildly interesting, claustrophobic chiller. Tonally, the film is, at least, consistent; this time around, the mutant teens study not in a palatial mansion, but an abandoned ruin, and rather than the sympathetic Professor X, their mentor is, essentially, a mad scientist. It's all very gothic and rusty, with a few effective freakout moments. 

That the characters feel true to their comic book origins also helps, as do the performances; the actors do pretty well with a bland screenplay, and their abilities are captured quite faithfully by the visual effects. It's also nice that this is the first mainstream majority-women superhero team to appear in film. (It would be nice to see more of that; there's no reason Disney or Warner couldn't assemble a mostly-women team of Avengers or Justice Leaguers.)

The plot, however, is by-the-numbers teen angst; there's a nice kid, a mean kid (good at heart, of course), a blossoming romance, rebellion against authority,  awakening adolescent sexuality, and finally the necessary teen bonding, the resolution of their inner turmoil through the conquest of horror, and finally the promise of further adventures (a promise surely to be broken, now that Disney is taking over production of the X-Men films). 

This is not to say that The New Mutants is good; merely that the filmmakers avoided a Dark Phoenix-level catastrophe. And so the Fox X-Men films go out with a reasonably dignified whimper.

Friday, November 20, 2020

"I'm Allergic to Peanuts!" Said the Prankster

One day in the future, when it's safe to gather in restaurants again, I'd love to try the following gag: 

Before we enter the restaurant, I stuff a few peanuts up my nose. I think I could fit at least one peanut in each nostril; perhaps even two or three per nostril. 

Then, I order something with peanuts in it. 

I enjoy the dish normally. But as soon as the server comes around, I start to look a bit ill and frightentened. "Oh gosh," I ask, "Does this dish have peanuts in it?" 

When the server says "Yes," or even "I don't know," I yell "I'm allergic to peanuts!" And then I sneeze the peanuts out my nose and onto the dish. 

Of course I would leave a generous tip for the server.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Passing Grade for Passchendaele

Paul Gross’ Passchendaele (2008) starts off strong with a gripping, evocative, and even artful small-scale battle in the muck and rubble of a ruined small town. I had high hopes for the film based on this sequence, but once Gross’ character winds up back on the home front in Calgary, the artistry and power of that opening is replaced by a not terribly compelling story of young love and PTSD  that feels like a TV movie of the week. The film does pick up a bit when the story moves back to the battlefield, but even then the filmmakers fail to show why Passchendaele was such a milestone moment in Canadian history. Instead, we get an obvious and awkward homage of Christ’s carrying the cross to his doom, for no particular reason that I can see. 

It’s not that the film isn’t competently made; the performances are solid, and the melodrama is fine, if not ambitious. But it’s too bad that Gross couldn’t sustain the excellence of the opening sequence throughout the rest of the film.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Dread Pirate Rogers

Yo ho ho, the pirate with a heart of gold, Dread Pirate Rogers. This one did not come out nearly as cleanly as I had hoped, but on the other hand, my ambition is increasing, so I shouldn't be surprised that more complex challenges will take more time to complete successfully. I'm pretty happy with the skin tone, the ripped pants, and the shirt; the chest is okay; the sword is messy and the sash is just a mess. I probably should have painted it something other than black, but I thought it would work well with red. Maybe, but it also obliterated the detail...

I figure Dread Pirate Rogers fell in with a really despicable lot, and is now looking for a way out. But first, he needs some loot to finance a less-troubled lifestyle...

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Atari Binder

During its all-too-brief golden age, Atari produced some pretty evocative artwork for its hardware and software products. The most visually arresting art was found on their video game packaging and instruction manuals, but even the staid 400/800 documentation binder was designed with the same art style. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Game of Khafka-esque Proportions

Caverns of Khafka took seemingly forever to load on our Atari 410 Program Recorder, but it was worth waiting for the software to load from magnetic tape. Your goal in this diabolically difficult game was to make your way through a deadly maze overflowing with different traps, monsters, lava pits, and other obstacles. Sean and I played this game until the cassette wore out. That was a sad day. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

An XElent Computer

We retired the Atari 400 after several years of yeoman's service, replacing it with the more powerful Atari 130XE in the summer of 1987. This was the computer that carried me through my first two years of study at the University of Alberta, and it was also the computer that, combined with the Atari XM301 300-baud modem, pulled me into the world of electronic bulletin board systems, or BBSes. Before the Internet became a mainstream service, BBSes were the destination for early adopters of the world of online communications. Edmonton's BBSes were limited to discussion rooms and primitive file sharing, and most of the ones I visited could only support one visitor at a time, since most people back then had only one phone line. 

My favourite games supported by this computer probably would have been Rescue on Fractalus, Ballblazer, Preppie, Karateka, and Star Raiders II. 

Sean and I retired almost all of our Atari hardware a couple of years ago to help create more space at Mom and Dad's place. I rescued this manual, among other Atari detritus. I was going to recycle it, but Sean will take the materials into his care instead. They're certainly fascinating artifacts of a lost era. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Few Finer Than Miner 2049er

Miner 2049er was a top-tier game for the Atari 8-bit line of computers. Sean and I and our cousin Darwin poured hours and hours into this charming platformer. You control Bounty Bob, a Mountie who must reclaim an abandoned mine by touching all the platforms on each level of the mine. Simply walking over the platform tiles does the trick, but you have to avoid deadly radioactive monsters, falling from heights, being crushed by pulverizers, beaming into a monster while using the teleporter, and accidentally blowing yourself up by using too much dynamite for the level with the cannon. Bounty Bob's death animations were particularly satisfying and cartoonishly gruesome.