Monday, November 23, 2020
Sunday, November 22, 2020
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.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Friday, November 20, 2020
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
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
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
Monday, November 16, 2020
Sunday, November 15, 2020
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
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.
Friday, November 13, 2020
Thursday, November 12, 2020
Even though I wasn't clever enough to do more than scratch the surface of Infocom's 1987 text adventure The Lurking Horror, the game's dread atmosphere, chilling surprises, and pervasive sense of doom made it one of my favourites in the genre.
Infocom games were famous not only for their excellent writing and clever puzzles, but for the "feelies" they included with their games, such as this guide to the university you explore in the game.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Here is all that remains of Sean's copy of Autoduel for the Atari 8-bit computers. It's a thick manual rich in complexity and lore, back in the days when computer games often included not only really well-produced manuals, but also maps, keyboard or joystick inserts and attachments, reference cards, and, best of all, little tokens and toys that represented something you might encounter in the game.
Autoduel itself was a fantastic game, based on Steve Jackson's popular Car Wars strategy game. The premise is simple; you start out with $2000 and need to buy a car to start "auto duelling" in the arena or on the highways of the northeastern USA. Sean and I played that game for years, until at last the disc stopped working.
The road to fun with this game got off to a rocky start, however. Sean bought the game with birthday and Christmas and allowance money he'd saved for quite some time, and the first copy we bought was defective. Sean and I returned to the computer store in Heritage Mall where he'd purchased Autoduel, and the proprietor refused to help, claiming we were returning it under false pretenses and had pirated a copy of our own before returning it.
This is one of the few times I've gotten really, really angry in public. All I remember saying is "He's ten years old," in quiet fury. The man behind the counter grumbled and muttered a little more, but in the end he exchanged the defective copy of the game for a fresh one. Thankfully, the new copy worked.
Incidentally, Sean and I recently Kickstarted the latest edition of Car Wars, so at some point in the future, when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, we'll get together to reignite the spirit of a game we really loved back in the 80s.
Monday, November 09, 2020
This morning, Sylvia informed me that I've been talking in my sleep again. According to her, this is what happened:
"Do you really want pizza at three in the morning?" I asked, waking her.
"Yes," she said, playing along, thinking I was joking.
"Okay, but I don't think anyone delivers this late...what do you want on it?" I asked.
I picked up my phone and prepared to order online. "Spinach, bacon, feta, and fresh tomatoes?"
"Earl, what are you doing?" Sylvia said, alarmed, realizing that I was actually about to order. "You're sleeping!"
"Oh," I replied, and put the phone down.
But shortly after, I piped up again. "Why do you want Rice Krispies squares? I don't think we have any."
Sunday, November 08, 2020
I finally watched The Lion King today, expecting greatness given the film's position on many best-of lists. But the film left me cold. I felt nothing for any of the characters except mild annoyance, the music left me unmoved when it wasn't actively annoying me, and I felt the story was not only generic but told in the laziest possible way.
I didn't always feel this way about Disney films with singing, dancing, and talking animals: I remember enjoying Lady and the Tramp and Robin Hood back in the 70s. Therefore, I don't think it's my general indifference to animals* that's affecting my enjoyment. And it's not as if there's anything wrong with the animation, the screenplay, the music, the editing, the performances, or any of the other factors so important to film. I recognize the artistry and competence of the creators.
Sometimes a film clicks for you, sometimes it doesn't, I guess. Hakuna matata, as they say.
*By "indifference," I mean that I feel no particular affection for animals in general. However, nor do I wish them harm, and I recognize that not only are they vital to our ecosystem, they also deserve respect as living creatures for their own sake.
And yet, for reasons I don't understand, I simply don't feel the emotional bonds that most people form with animals, no matter how cute those animals may be. I feel a lot of guilt about this and I've spent my life trying to change it, but that fundamental bit of humanity just seems to be missing in me.
Saturday, November 07, 2020
Friday, November 06, 2020
|Muckraker Peter Kent.|
My friend and colleague Meric Moir has another podcast up; this time, he shepherds a band of adventurers through a bone-chilling train ride to Hell in "3:10 to Salvation," an adventure for the latest revision of the Deadlands roleplaying game. I play a supporting role as muckraker Peter Kent. Spoiler alert: I spend most of my time in the adventure taking photos of the action, but I do have a moment of derring-do later on.
Thursday, November 05, 2020
Wednesday, November 04, 2020
Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Monday, November 02, 2020
Nearly devoid of colour, entirely devoid of actors save the urgent but dignified offscreen message from the far, far future (voiced by Tilda Swinton), the film yet bursts with the full flower of life, or at least the implication of it, generation upon generation of an ever-changing humanity that in the hour of its doom calls back to us.
Strange that a film capturing just a single landscape as its visual component, with no humans at all visible--merely our monuments--manages to capture the importance of human connections in such a compelling way. A worthy companion to Olaf Stapledon's epic.
Sunday, November 01, 2020
I read that it takes about 24 hours for this stuff to cure. This will become important when I finish applying Green Stuff, because it means I'll have to wait for that 24 hours before I start adding sand, rocks, grass, and other materials.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
First, I primed it in black.
Second--and this step is actually still ongoing--I'm conceptualizing what I want this lump of plastic to become. I've decided that I want to transform the Droid Factory into a small tropical island, perhaps with some man-made structures left behind by a dead civilization. I see a sandy beach, some grass, perhaps a water feature comprised of a waterfall and pond. Some palm trees and tropical foliage to fill out the island, and perhaps the entrance to a cavern.
My next step will be to choose which of the Droid Factory's assorted peaks and valleys to shave down or fill in, and which to adapt into natural variations in the terrain. I'll use Green Stuff for that, my first effort with the celebrated modelling clay.
Once I've created the general shape of the island, I'll lay down soil, sand, grass, and other materials to disguise the plastic. I'll start shaping water features, maybe a little pit of quicksand, perhaps a bog, maybe an outcropping of rock, and perhaps some ancient ruins.
Then I'll move on to more ambitious tasks, like the cavern entrance and water features. Finally, the trees.
How's all this going to look? I guess we'll see.
Friday, October 30, 2020
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Monday, October 26, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Friday, October 23, 2020
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Here's a cute little gem from the National Film Board: Island Paradise, a straightforward made-in-Canada boy-meets-girl story set on Prince Edward Island. There's nothing truly groundbreaking or special about this short film, but it does feature some lovely footage of the island as it was in the 1950s. And the finale is a bit of a surprise.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Don Siegel's Hell Is for Heroes (1962) is the bleakest, starkest war movie I've ever experienced, with an ending that leaves you as sick and empty as you should feel after watching a film about possibly the greatest humanitarian calamity of our age, if not all our shared history. Steve McQueen is one of a handful of American soldiers who stumble across an entire platoon of Nazis. The only reason the Americans aren't wiped out instantly is because the Nazis think they're facing a force of equal size. What follows is a hushed cat-and-mouse game as the Americans use a number of clever tricks to fool the Nazis into thinking that assumption is correct.
It goes about as well as it can, which is to say that one by one the Americans die badly. One man has his hands blown off by a land mine; another has his intestines torn out and lives long enough to scream "My guts! My guts!" for a few minutes before dying in the midst of his comrades, who are completely unable to save him.
In the closing minutes, McQueen's character makes a last-ditch attempt to save the day by throwing satchel charge into a pillbox. He manages it, but is shot in the back as he retreats, and the Nazis toss the satchel back out of the firing slit. Knowing he's going to die anyway, McQueen uses his dying breath to grab the satchel charge, cradling it like a baby, and roll into the pillbox, killing himself and the Nazis within.
In the meantime, a platoon of American troops has finally arrived, and the film ends with the battle still raging. Every main cast member is gone; only the anonymous masses are left, fighting over some worthless hills. It's as disturbing an image as I've seen in film, and an instructive one.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Friday, October 16, 2020
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Here is a cabinet. I painted it brown with red doors and copper fixtures. As you can see, a little red spilled from the door to the cabinet proper. Perhaps it's actually a bloodstain and this isn't a cabinet, but a mimic disguised as a cabinet. Or maybe the cabinet was booby-trapped and injured someone trying to get in. There, now I don't have to fix it.
Monday, October 12, 2020
The first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks concluded a few days ago. Despite my initial reservations at the idea of a comedic Trek--let alone a comedic Trek that would be treated as canonical--it turns out that Lower Decks is my favourite Star Trek offering of the 21st century.
Lower Decks is the story of four low-ranking officers posted to the USS Cerritos, a starship assigned to so-called "second contact" duties--that is, they fill out the paperwork and perform all the other non-glamorous work of establishing formal relations with new civilizations in the wake of more prestigious "first contact" missions like those carried out by the Enterprise.
The four officers are rebellious Beckett Mariner, suckup Brad Boimler, obnoxiously cheerful D'Vana Tendi, and engineering nerd Sam Rutherford. They're supported by a stoic bridge crew: Captain Carol Freeman, First Officer Jack Ransom, Security Chief Lieutenant Shaxs, Chief Medical Officer Dr. T'Ana, and Chief Engineer Andy Billups.
Naturally, each of these characters has their own comedic quirks. Mariner tends to fly off the handle, sometimes violently; Boimler's ambition gets him into embarrassing predicaments; D'Vana has to endure the stereotypes associated with her Orion heritage; and Rutherford has a cybernetic skull implant that sometimes goes haywire. The senior officers have their own foibles: Freeman clearly has a chip on her shoulder with regards to the lack of prestige of their mission; Ransom is a comedic mix of the less savoury traits of Captains Kirk and Riker; Shaxs is even more prone to violence than Worf ever was; and Billups is a bit of a sad sack. My favourite character, Dr. T'Ana, is a Caitian, the humanoid cat species introduced in the first Star Trek animated series; but instead of presenting as a sexy stereotype, the "feline fatale," as it were, T'Ana is a crotchety, potty-mouthed alley cat. She's clearly good at her job, but has no patience for her patients, as it were.
The show's humour mixes slapstick, self-parody and referential humour, and situational gags. The writers do an excellent job in finding the humour in the franchise's inconsistencies, logical leaps, and absurdities, poking fun without being mean. There's also plenty of fun to be had in the character interactions and the way they navigate the challenges presented by the A and B stories, a structure we haven't seen since the glory days of 90s trek (TNG, DS9, and VOY).
The show doesn't ignore story in favour of jokes--far from it. To my great surprise and delight, Lower Decks achieves a rare feat: it improves with each episode, thanks in great part to the strength of the stories and the growing confidence and ambition of the writers. It all culminates in one of the best season finales in Star Trek history - a finale with real jeopardy, high stakes, huge changes to the show's status quo, plenty of clever humour, and special guest stars that show up with great fanfare, but organically; their appearance makes perfect sense given the story.
Best of all, Lower Decks captures the original Star Trek spirit by portraying a future where people care about right and wrong and make decisions based on the greater good for everyone. I find both Star Trek: Picard and and Star Trek: Discovery quite cynical about Star Trek's ideals; their showrunners, to my mind, can't really bring themselves to believe in Gene Roddenberry's original utopian vision, so the Federation we see in Picard and Discovery is corrupt or flawed in some fundamental way. Not so Lower Decks. The animated series isn't naive about the Federation or the difficulties of maintaining utopia, but these showrunners clearly believe that Federation ideals are worth not just examining, but upholding.
My one complaint - and it does ease off as the season progresses - is that the showrunners lean a little too heavily on references to the old shows. The references are, by and large, clever and appropriate, but they're so numerous that it reminds the audience just a little too much that this is just a show, and so are all the other Star Trek series we love.
Thanks to this first season, I'm now more excited for more Lower Decks than I am for the next seasons of Picard and Discovery. Not only is the show funny, not only does it feature great characters whose stories I'm invested in following, but it feels like coming home to the grand old days of 90s Trek.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Friday, October 09, 2020
Thursday, October 08, 2020
Wednesday, October 07, 2020
Tuesday, October 06, 2020
I started by priming the plot and headstones, then painted the ground brown. I then added a layer of dark green, then painted the flagstones and finished grave grey. I added some black paint to the dirt piles to make them look like rich, loamy soil. Then I painted the newest coffin light brown and HAND PAINTED a cross onto it. Sure, it's only two straight lines, but my hand was steady and I think it looks pretty darn good. Next, I painted the headstones grey and glued them in place. Somewhere along the way I painted the rocks a sort of dull silver, but I'm not sure if that really works. After that, I spread glue on the green areas and laid down some grass and moss basing material. Oh, and I filled in the cross on the finished grave (which came premade, as part of the model) with copper paint. Finally, I applied a dark wash to the headstones, dirt piles, and gravesites.
If I had more room, I'd be shooting these properly with my SLR in my little mini-studio. That'll have to wait until I finish my major COVID-19 project, rearranging my HQ.
Monday, October 05, 2020
Sunday, October 04, 2020
Here we have a 28mm scale flying saucer, complete with a grey alien at the helm. You can't see him because after I painstakingly painted the alien and the ship controls, I glued the clear dome to the saucer. Well, it used to be clear, until I fumbled and got glue all over it. Sigh.