Inside Out

One of the things I don’t usually get to do is go to the movies, so whenever I finally get around to watching one, it’s usually only after it’s been out for a while. My wife working tonight, so my son and I checked out Inside Out.

The last major Disney/Pixar thing I saw was either Frozen or Big Hero 6. Frozen, for all that everyone made about it, was kind of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, the animation was fantastic, and I really enjoy most of the characters, but I’d kinda been expecting more due to the hype. I really like the twist, a lot, but the really big deal seemed to come from the way it flipped certain standard Disney conventions on its head. Great job, but, I think there were some other gaps. Also, lots and lots (and LOTS) of singing. Music is a big part of Disney movis, but usually something I more tolerate. If I recall, Frozen holds the record for the Disney movie with the most music. Doesn’t help that EVERYONE loved it and was pumping it through the radio (and my son had to hear Let It Go at least twice whenever we were in the car).

Big Hero 6 was just kinda blah. Some great Sci-Fi ideas, something was off with the pacing.

Inside Out though, man, firing on all cylinders. I’m seeing Pixar invest in more and more sequels, which kind of got me thinking they were running out of original material, but they went back to the well for this one and brought back a gem. Up took you on an emotional rollercoaster, basically laying waste to the watcher within the first five minutes, but this is a marathon. Few and far between the stories that can display emotion in such an eloquent way, have a fantastic message, and at the same time walk you through some of the basic, fundamental aspects of our understanding of the way the mind works.

It also helps that I took to the concepts they were illustrating. If you’ve read Sorcerer Rising, there are some familiarities. Virgil just has giant serpentine demons instead of, say, comical men in bowties.

Hm, I should put Al in a bowtie.

 

Dracula Untold and Vampires in Virgil’s World

I wanted, so very, very much, to hate this but it actually doesn’t look half bad. Did Dracula need an origin story? No, certainly not, and definitely not as the hero, but it looks like it’ll be better than Maleficent or I, Frankenstein. I have yet to see it, but if the trailer and reviews are any indication, it was horrible. At least Frankenstein’s Monster is a bit sympathetic, I don’t know how they screwed it up so badly.

Trailer for Dracula Untold on TrailerAddict.

I’ve been wanting to write a short story about Vampires for a while, and this just might have goaded me into action. I hate that Vampires have lost their monstrous quality, that the only dynamic anyone wants to tell anymore is that of the sympathetic, abused, misunderstood, glittery, romantic immortal. Even in stories like Underworld, where the vampires are the baddies, they’re really just guys that fangs and guns that are a bit tougher. They downplay the raw power, the awe, of a legend that has haunted mankind for millennia, crossing across nearly every culture. At least with this, they seem to have gotten the Sorcerer aspect of that right.

From a purely emotional level, I think my favorite portrayal was Salem’s Lot. King said he wanted to portray the vampire as a monster, a ravenous unthinking beast, barely contained and concealed behind the facade of an elegant and dignified noble. It wasn’t a curse, not to the vampire, but the true source of his power. He celebrated that but was intelligent and stylistic enough to know that each had its place and time. This is a complete opposite from, say, a werewolf which is usually victim to their other self. Vampires, Dracula in particular, were rarely the victim, always in charge, unstoppable, a force of nature.

That’s a true villain of the night.

So, I’m gonna try and crank out a short story. Who knows how long that’ll take, but I’ll send it out in my email but may put it on the site as well. Like everything else in Virgil’s world, it reflects my favorite aspects of fantasy and how I see things, and in this case I want everyone to know how I feel.

I think I’ve got a fun take on how Vampires should be.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Part of the reason I wanted to have a blog was so I could go nuts when I have moments like these. Usually, it’s long after the thing I’m excited about has faded from relevancy (I don’t go to the movies too often) but not this time. Just to be clear, I spoil just about everything below.

I didn’t expect much when I went to see the second Captain America movie. I was one of the few who didn’t really care for the first one (I actually preferred Thor). They did a lot more with him in the Avengers, but even then he just wasn’t as interesting as the other characters.

So believe me when I say I am surprised, not only to say it is great, but is also my favorite Marvel movie next to the Avengers. It topped Thor, the Hulk movies, even Iron Man. And in comparison to the Avengers, that’s just because the Avengers was damn near perfect.

One of the things they’ve always tried to do with Cap was have him be a man outside his time. Not only in interests and knowledge, but in his view of the world. He’s a genuinely good, sincere character that never feels self righteous or hokey. Well, not too hokey, and usually then it’s only for genuine comedic effect. They really draw this out in the movie. There are some serious themes, with a government agency riding the line between protection and tyranny, and Cap takes a genuine look at this. There’s a great part where Nick Fury points out some of the the things Cap’s unit did in WWII. Not only doesn’t he deny it or reason it away, he admits that he’d done hard things for reasons he thought were right. He acknowledges that some times the horrible things Fury is contemplating are justified, but the motives always need to be considered.

What this movie did better than the others though was in the action. From the very first scene, with Cap effortlessly clearing the boat of terrorists, to every time he throws his shield, he comes off as a superior fighter with a truly kinetic display of skill. They do a good job of balancing things too, because he never feels too strong, just the perfect human specimen, the potential of humanity incarnate. That’s great because with all his power, he’s still weaker than the rest of the Avengers and yet somehow feels stronger.

The plot was better too, and tied really well into the Agents of Shield. To see this government agency that tied this whole endeavor together actually be a nefarious scheme was genuinely unsettling. Robert Redford does a great job, because up until the point he meets with the Winter Soldier, I was truly unsure whether or not he was the villain. And then when he was, it was refreshing to see an intelligent, efficient plan with a cogent motive. There was no mustache twirling or grandstanding, he barely even monologue. He had a plan and he did everything he could to see it through, driven by an eerily convincing argument that brings home many of the things we are seeing in the real world. If this isn’t an analogy for drone warfare and the NSA, I don’t know what is.

The only real negatives I could assign are minor. Scarlet Johansson does a serviceable job but her portrayal of Black Widow is more capable in the Avengers and sexier in Iron Man 2. The Winter Soldier didn’t quite live up the hype either. He really isn’t important enough to warrant the subtitle, and in a movie where everything is just so much more interesting, his blank stare was boring.

Overall, this was a great movie. Cap has finally come into his own and I can’t wait to see where they take things for the next Avengers and the third installment.

 

Zombies and Frozen

I watched two things this weekend, one with my family, the other one without. The first was Frozen, the second was the Walking Dead finale.

I’ll let you figure out which was which.

I’m going to talk about the Walking Dead first, because there are spoilers for Frozen embedded deep in this post and I’d be more worried if someone read those than any spoilers for the Walking Dead.

The finale was…frustrating. It was great the way Darryl rejoined the group and Rick and Michonne slaughtered the Claimed folks. Rick has always been a character that was an extreme badass of the best kind…the type that doesn’t have to constantly prove it. The best moments in the series were when he shot that guy in the bar (Nebraska man…), killed Shane, and last night when he ripped that guy’s throat out with his teeth.

Because in the Walking Dead, people are made of playdo and that’s possible, but you get my point.

That was all great and then they arrived at Terminus. I don’t know why, but I honestly expected that place to be safe. I guess because I knew there was a colony that came up after the prison, I assumed this would be a fill in for that. They did a great job of building the tension. Things were too nice, too calm, and too civil. As it is, I’m still not entirely sure the Terminus folks are evil. They didn’t kill anyone, just locked them in a boxcar and took their stuff. Bad, sure, but not the worst and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some BS reason. There was a lot of herding activity with them purposefully pushing them in a certain direction.

Of course, there was also the room filled with candles and no one with a cult vibe is ever good.

The internet has a year to stew on it so I look forward to the theories.

Now to Frozen. There will be SPOILERS!!

It was good, but I find myself debating about how much I enjoyed it. It’s certainly one of the most unique Disney movies, with a twist that just about knocked me on my ass. Up until that point I kept asking myself where the villain was. Sure, the Duke was obviously not a nice guy but he seemed like such a weak antagonist for a studio that has turned out some of the best of my childhood. The worst villain Disney has ever produced was the hunter from Bambi and look how that turned out.

So when Hans ends up being the villain, I was completely surprised. The genius of that moment wasn’t even the turning the Prince into a bastard. We’ve seen that before. The genius was in Disney using their own tropes, the themes and cliches they themselves have utilized over sixty-odd years of filmmaking, to make you assume Hans was the good guy and the Duke was the badguy. He even had an accent. Disney villains always have an accent.

Then there is the fact that it has two leading ladies, who are both fabulous and flawed, who friggin’ own that movie. Anna proves herself pretty capable and highly entertaining, with Kristoff just kinda tagging along for her shenanigans. Elsa is just as strong and possibly the only good Disney character who is, like literally, an unparralelled badass. I read that she was originally supposed to be the villain and I all I can think is that it was good she wasn’t because she would have wiped that dinky little country off the face of the planet.

I liked all the other characters as well. Kristoff is, frankly, obviously insane from his troll captors and I even liked the little snowman.

What I didn’t like was the music.

Apperently, I’m the minority on that. Sorry.

It just didn’t mesh well with me. Elsa’s song is good but the whole rest of it was forgettable to me, lacking a lot of the energy and charm that makes Disney musicals fun. It’s very well voiced, simply unnecessary. I had sorta hoped this was a trend, that we were leaving the music behind as it was growing dated, but I think that was just a bump in the road, especially since I believe Frozen had more music time than just about any other Disney movie.

All that said, it’s a great direction for Disney to be moving in. Like Tangled, it uses its own legacy, all the qualities we’ve all grown up on to breathe new life into these stories and make them something new. Tangled did it with some of its humor, Flynn Rider being the only character in Disney to notice and question the cast’s tendency to break out into song. Frozen did it in a much more important way, by making the sibling relationship more important than the romantic one, in fact, making the romantic one the antithesis of the character’s goals. That whole aspect was very well done and a huge success.

I look forward to the next story Disney turns out.

Mass Effect 3 Rewrite

I…I don’t think I ever wrote about the ending of Mass Effect 3.

Huh.

I didn’t just sit up in bed and think that. Forbes had a post detailing a fan’s 118,000 word rewrite of Mass effect 3. To give you an idea, Sorcerer Rising is right around 125,000 words. Anyway, it is available as a PDF, a ridiculously large PDF, and does a really interesting job of bringing it to a similar, but different, conclusion.

I’ll admit, I’m still torn over the ending. On one side, I want to respect the creator’s right to end their creative work however the wish. On the other, I think that same creator does have the responsibility to fulfill the promise they’ve made to their fans. And, frankly, if you were expecting a yee-haw, kick all them aliens to hell, go back and marry your alien princess (totally would have married Tali), well, you were going to be disappointed. It hadn’t built up to a happy ending really. It was just too big of an issue.

That said, the DARKNESS that was the third game was very different in tone and truly failed to take advantage of all the things that’d been built up in the first two. All the characters from the previous games were very formulaic one off visits and I hated, absolutely fucking hated, building the catalyst. It was a facebook game, filled with boring, grayish numbers. The only exception I really see to this is how you approached the Geth and the Quarians. I also did enjoy seeing Jack again, especially since I hated her in 2.

There is a certain promise given in any creative work. I’m in the midst of creating it with my work. You’re going to have certain expectations for Virgil and his world. Sometimes, I will…violate those expectations, to say the least. For the most part though, I want to be a steward of that good will. I want you to enjoy my work, in other words. I don’t know a lot of people that enjoyed Mass Effect 3. There are many works that aren’t supposed to be enjoyed, Schindler’s List come to mind, but was Mass Effect really one of those? I don’t think it needed to be that dark, I was all about marrying my alien princess and sending the aliens to hell.

Let me give a point of comparison on this. I enjoyed Mass Effect, bought it when it first came out but never beat it. The second one was completely off my radar until they started releasing videos on how the classes would work, at which point I got interested. I bought it, beat it in a week, went back and beat the first one, then beat it like five more times.

Seriously. I love Mass Effect 2. It could do no wrong. If they would release DLC chapters outlining a whole new third game on the second’s model, would buy em’ in a second. Anyway, I’ve only beat Mass Effect 3 once. I tried going through a second time with a different class and it was kind of a slog getting through the story and the bs side quests. I spent most of my time in the multiplayer, which I was actually a really big fan of. Spent more time doing that than I did playing COD: Ghosts.

That’s a bit of a different conversation though.

In the end, I felt like the ending was a bad move. It left a bad taste in my mouth for the franchise. This is where business meets art, and in this case both really fall on that side for the ending. It left a good majority of the players, reader, viewers, disappointed and hurt the product as a whole. Sure, people bought the patches meant to soften the bitterness of the ending, but I’ll bet you would have made more with another game without this ending than with the DLC that repaired it. And the real expectation that failed was the cookie cutter nature of it. It felt like fan fic. I hate to see a good ending, a bad ending, and a neutral, hate it even more when none of them took into account any of the individual decisions we made with characters, side quests, or major plot points. And for those that say that all the Mass Effects always funneled down into that single ending, well, they had to with 1 and 2. Those were going to have sequels and you couldn’t make a completely different story to facilitate multiple endings. But this was the end. This was the one opportunity to branch in as varied and multiple endings as you wanted.

It was lazy.

I want to blame this on EA, but I don’t think that’s fair. EA had Bioware during Mass Effect 2 as well.

Like I said, I’m still torn.

Maybe they were being artsy and it went over everyone’s head…