Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Do No Harm"

I don't normally dabble in fanfic these days--if I write fiction, I'm going to try to sell it, and I've always considered fanfic to be a labor of love by definition--but I certainly have done so, and since it's already Thursday and I haven't written my Monday entry, I figured I'd show one of my efforts that never showed up anywhere else. Jump behind the cut for a Ten/Martha story called, unimaginatively enough, "Do No Harm"!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

When I Stopped Caring About the Oscars

I was a little stuck for a post idea today, because I'm assuming you aren't interested in "Why Boxers Are the Cutest Dogs in the World, Oh Yes You Are, Oh Yes You Are!!!" (We've been spending our last several Saturdays looking at rescue puppies.) I thought about doing my Oscar picks...but then I looked at the list, and realized that a) I had absolutely no idea which way those withered old prunes at the Academy would vote, since it seemed to have no correlation at all with the actual quality of the films, and b) I had absolutely no ability to care, since I had no respect for the decision-making ability of the Academy and no longer view an Oscar as any kind of sign of a film's quality or lack thereof.

So instead I'm going to talk about when that started and why.

Let's take a quick trip back to 1996. I'm in college, I'm a lit major, and Kenneth Branagh's 'Hamlet' is in limited release. The film pretty much only did a limited release; it was so damn crazy prestigious and ambitious they couldn't get most theaters to show it. A four-hour long unabridged, uncut adaptation of 'Hamlet'? Every scene, every line of a Shakespeare play? Yeah, that's not going to Mall of America 14. The only theater in the Twin Cities to even show it was the Uptown, an independent arthouse theater that showed prestige films and foreign movies. I didn't care about any of that; I just knew I had to see this movie. It was 'Hamlet', my favorite Shakespeare play, as performed by Ken Branagh, who'd done previous adaptations I liked a lot. (I forgive him his casting of Keanu. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.)

So off I went, one cold January day in 1997, to see 'Hamlet' when it finally got around to Minnesota. And I was stunned. The film was lush, it was vivid, and it was spectacularly dynamic--there are scenes in the play that I still feel like I never truly understood until I watched the Branagh version. (His treatment of the "get thee to a nunnery" confrontation with Ophelia, for example, is absolutely astounding and explains Hamlet's abhorrent treatment of her in terms that the audience can understand--he thinks that she's in on Claudius' full conspiracy, not recognizing that she's being used. Which is entirely in keeping of his murder of Polonius and his actions throughout the play.) This was, in short, a magnificent experience.

About halfway through, the heating broke.

Let's repeat this: The heating broke, in January, in Minnesota, during a four-hour movie. And I sat through it anyway. And the next day, I went back out and saw it again. The heating still wasn't working. I didn't care. That is how good Ken Branagh's 'Hamlet' is--I will watch it in sub-freezing temperatures.

The Academy nominated it for four awards. It was not nominated for its direction, for any acting awards (despite having a cast that included Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet and Richard Briers as well as Branagh himself) or for Best Picture. All it got were two technical nominations (Art Direction and Costume Design), Original Score and Screenplay. It lost three of those to 'The English Patient', and the fourth to 'Sling Blade'. Let's repeat that--what is arguably the greatest work of literature in the history of the English language, in the eyes of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,  somewhere in the same neighborhood but not nearly as good as "Forrest Gump Meets Psycho". (Actually, more like "Psycho II".)

After that, I just couldn't respect their decision-making abilities any further. I watched the awards a few more times (most notably a psychologically-scarring night out in 2002 at a cinema grill in Raleigh that "livened up" the commercial breaks with their amateur variety show. Emphasis on "amateur".) But ultimately, the show isn't entertaining when you don't care who wins, and I don't.

There are other "WTF?" moments in the history of the Oscars, like their inexcusable failure to nominate 'WALL-E' for Best Picture or their snub of 'Pulp Fiction' in favor of the overhyped 'Forrest Gump'. But 'Hamlet' is always going to be the one that sticks with me. So yeah, it'll probably be 'Lincoln' or 'Argo' or something that wins 'Best Picture', or possibly 'Django Unchained' simply because someone will have decided that Tarantino deserves a "make-up" Oscar for the one he should have gotten. But it won't matter to me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Must Resist...Urge to Troll!

I've been reading "Manboobz" again. I really shouldn't, because it's depressing as all get-out to realize that there are real, genuine human beings out there so damaged and broken that they blame their mental image of women for all their problems (and frequently seem to be about one step away from snapping and committing a horrific act of violence) but the site also provides a valuable dose of perspective on these people by pointing out that no, they are not moral crusaders or oppressed masculinists or anything other than pathetic, lonely men who haven't figured out yet that the reason they can't get laid is because women don't like guys who hate women. (Funny that.)

And then there are the pickup artists. I admit, those are my favorite posts on the site, because I'm slowly developing a theory that the entire "pickup artist community" out there is basically composed of all those guys in high school who bragged about how they got laid every single night, explaining to virgins how it was done because virgins were the only people who wouldn't spot their total lack of knowledge about what an actual naked woman looked like, only it's ten years later and they're still doing it. Seriously. It would not surprise me if there was not a single one of these guys who had ever even spoken to a real life flesh-and-blood woman in a social context, and their entire "game" consisted of them repeating tips they'd heard from some other pickup artist and boasting about how well they worked for him so that people didn't start accusing him of being a virgin. (Or gay. Unsurprisingly, these guys are homophobes as well as misogynists.)

And so I am fighting the urge to troll. Because it occurs to me that if you're dealing with an entire group of people who a) have no knowledge of what they speak, and b) cannot, even for a second, admit said lack of knowledge lest they be exposed as frauds, it might be kind of interesting to pretend to be a pickup artist and see just how big a lie you can get away with spreading. You know, start going into their forums and insisting that the hardest part of picking up a woman is making sure that afterwards she doesn't inject you with her paralyzing venom, allowing her to implant her eggs in your stomach. Or stating that the external breasts are nice, but it's not until the woman gets aroused enough for her second set of breasts to unfold from her hidden hip pouches that you know you've got her turned on. Nobody would call you on it, because they'd all be afraid if they said you were a liar, a chorus of voices would suddenly say, "Oh, you didn't know about the hidden breast pouches? Geez, no wonder you have a hard time getting a second date."

The flaw of this, of course, is the same reason why I'm having an easy time fighting the urge. I'd have to spend time around pickup artists in order to make the whole thing work. And, well...these are the sort of people I avoided in high school, and y'know what? They haven't gotten any better with age.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Defense of 'Moonraker'

'Moonraker' has somehow, over the years, become reviled as an example of everything that went wrong with the Roger Moore era of James Bond (which has, in turn, become reviled as everything that's wrong with the Bond franchise, but in this case that's more or less correct so I won't call that out.) It's supposedly an example of relentless camp and bad comedy, nothing but a blatant attempt to cash in on the 'Star Wars' fad by putting James Bond in space. Even 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' commented on it in Season Six, when the Trio use it as an example of why Roger Moore sucked in their running argument as to which Bond was best. (Which is something of an irony when people use the claims raised in that argument, as it's intentionally placed there as an example of people who get into silly and pointless arguments where there's no real "right" and "wrong".)

In fact, it feels like most of the people complaining about 'Moonraker' really just saw that scene in 'Buffy', because the camp that most people complain about is actually pretty seriously toned down compared to 'Octopussy' (probably the campiest of the Moore movies.) Really, the movie hangs together pretty well; Bond is saved only once by an improbable gadget (the gondola that the Trio complain about) ...which is about on a par with 'The Spy Who Loved Me', universally held up as an example of the best of Roger Moore's Bond work.

And while 'Spy' is good, 'Moonraker' is a step above it simply because this is just about the only Bond movie where the female love interest is demonstrated to be intelligent, capable, and isn't also the peril monkey. It's not perfect--we get Corinne Dufour, who's victimized in a pretty misogynist scene--but Holly Goodhead, the scientist/CIA agent, is smart and every bit as competent as Bond and plays a key role at the end instead of just sitting there and going, "OK, James, it's time for the man to step up and be heroic!" And she's played by a smart actress, which isn't true in 'Spy'. Barbara Bach is wooden, vapid, and utterly cannot do her part justice, and is the weak link in that film.

And 'Moonraker' has some great action sequences--the opening skydiving fight is spectacular, the swordfight is great, and while it does require some suspension of disbelief to imagine that there are space Marines in the Bond universe, the battle itself is staged incredibly well. Jaws is well used from his opening appearance through to his hiring as Drax's replacement heavy ("Oh! Well, if he's available...") to the end. I've always liked Jaws; he feels like he's a character from another series of films about a morally-ambiguous indestructible cyborg mercenary that just didn't get made in our reality, and he's used well here.

And Hugo Drax is awesome. I repeat--Hugo Drax is awesome. He is the best Bond villain in the whole Moore era, a visionary idealist who's clearly unimpressed with Bond's suavity and charm, and handles the whole bother with dry wit and skilled managerial delegation. I love his every scene and every line, and he's actually better than Goldfinger, which is not easy.

Of course, there are quite a few other Moore Bond films, but I immediately disqualify 'Octopussy', 'Live and Let Die' and 'The Man With the Golden Gun' on the grounds of cringeworthy racism, 'A View to a Kill' suffers from the fact that Moore is clearly too old to be playing the part by that point, and 'For Your Eyes Only' criminally misuses Julian Glover, one of the best actors to ever be a Bond villain. Really, the only competition is 'The Spy Who Loved Me', and 'Moonraker' beats it handily.

So yes, if you can't accept laser guns alongside jetpacks, invisible cars, lasers aimed at your Bond movies, I don't think I'll be able to convince you of how good 'Moonraker' is. But I know which of us is missing out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fun Games I've Played Lately: Red Dragon Inn

We've finally been getting back into tabletop gaming in our household after a long period of inactivity--for years, my friends and I played 'City of Heroes' when we wanted to do stuff together, because a) we all liked being superheroes and b) co-operative games felt more like our "thing" than competitive ones; then, when my wife moved in, there were always scheduling issues (I worked nights, then she worked weekends and nights, then our roommate worked nights...) But now everyone is working weekdays, and we have Saturday nights free to game. And 'City of Heroes' is temporarily unplayable. (I refuse to believe it is anything other than temporary.)

So we've been playing some of the games I've accumulated over the years. Including my most recent purchase, 'Red Dragon Inn', which is just fun. The basic premise is that you are one of a party of adventurers who has just returned from an epic dungeon crawl, replete with gold and high on life. As such, you do what adventurers everywhere do when they're full of cash and on an adrenalin go to a tavern and you gamble, carouse and brawl until you pass out or get kicked out.

In this case, that's literal. Every character starts with a stash of cash, a Fortitude score of 20, and an Alcohol Content of 0. Every turn, you play cards that help you win (or cheat) at gambling, (probably) accidentally injure your friends, and keep you (marginally) sober in the face of a seemingly endless supply of drinks given to you by your friends/opponents. If you ever run out of gold, or if your Fortitude score ever equals your Alcohol Content, you are either kicked out or pass out. Winner is the last one standing.

The mechanism is clever; each player uses their own deck, custom-made to reflect that character's strengths and weaknesses. Gerki the Sneak has plenty of cash-grabbing cards, and unsurprisingly he's the best of all of them at gambling (and cheating.) Deirdre the Priestess has healing magic that keeps her Fortitude up, but isn't really that good at staying sober. Fiona the Volatile is tough and hearty, but loses money quickly; while Zot the Wizard is a well-balanced character with a little of everything (and a psychotic rabbit familiar named Pooky.) The sequels, which can be combined freely with the original game, add other characters to the mix.

But what's best about the game is the sense of fun involved in the design. The art is spectacular, giving each character a personality that seems to come right off the cards. The card names give you a vivid idea of what's going on in the game; countering a drink with Fiona's "This is just the thing to polish my armor!" or injuring someone with Deirdre's "Oops! Sometimes my healing spells just wear off!" evokes the sort of punishing camaraderie you see in a role-playing group. (Or, in the case of cards like, "Oh no! Pooky's on a drunken rampage again!", just how freaking weird roleplaying games can get sometimes.)

It's a perfect "end of the night" game, best played among people who aren't too competitive, and we'll definitely be picking up the sequels. If for no other reason than one of them actually lets you play as Pooky.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Wish

I wish I could have met Michael O'Hare after having seen the first season of 'Babylon 5'. I wish I could have told him that he had a real gift for playing the straight man; some of his best moments in the series come when he's playing opposite Jerry Doyle's Garibaldi, pretending to be oh-so-dignified and above this kind of silly behavior, but with a tiny little secret smile that lets you know he's in on the joke.

I've said in the past that I felt really lucky to be able to tell creators like Don Rosa, Gene Colan, and Al Feldstein what they meant to me and how much I think of them as creators and as people. It's always sad to realize that no matter how many people you can share that with, there are always going to be some people that you never get the chance to talk to.

Remember that, when you're at the next convention and you see someone you admire passing by. There's not always going to be the chance to do it again.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

If Series Set In the Modern Day Were Written Like Sci-Fi Series

1. The main characters' tastes in music would all tend towards 18th century classical music. Occasionally, characters would get into arguments over one person's preference for Mozart over Bach, which the other dismisses as "just noise".

2. Foolish characters or great wits would be referred to as "a regular Thomas Betterton/Elizabeth Barry"; a particularly wacky or comedic situation would be referred to as "like something Thomas Sheridan would have come up with."

3. At least one character would have an eccentric fondness for leyden jars or spinning jennys, building them in his spare time as a quirky character touch.

4. At least one character would have a desire to travel by paddleboat, horse, or railway carriage, feeling that cars and planes "lack romance".

5. Characters would frequently and casually analogize events in the present-day as being "somewhat akin to the Treaty of Westminster helping to cause the Seven Years War". Nobody would ever need the Treaty of Westminster explained to them. Nobody would ever confuse it with the Treaty of Westminster that ended the Third Anglo-Dutch War, either.

6. In a related issue, people would recognize the Prussian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian flags on sight.

7. Everyone would exclusively quote Shakespeare. EXCLUSIVELY.

8. When not wearing their professional outfits, people would dress in slightly more utilitarian versions of waistcoats, ruffs, and powdered wigs. (The powdered wigs would be smaller, for example, to show the changing times and fashions.)

9. Sports fans would follow cricket, boxing or horse racing, and would occasionally express a longing to be able to travel back in time to the days when Lumpy Stevens beat John Small only for the ball to pass through the wicket without being disturbed. They would, on occasion, insist that the sport was better before they added the third stump to the wicket.

10. If anyone ever did reference a modern-day piece of pop culture, whether in the form of music, books, comedy, theatre, movies, or television, it would be only in reference to an actual celebrity in that particular field visiting them. The celebrity in question would never actually perform in their chosen field, but at least one character would always have been a fan.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Top 5 Things I'm Looking Forward To in the Worlds of Warcraft Movie

1. The preview screenings, which last fifteen minutes before the projector crashing. Everyone is asked to try watching from the beginning again to see if they can replicate the problem.

2. The first screening, which is filled with epic battles, fantastic special effects, and a whole bunch of jerks shouting spoilers for the ending in the lower-left corner of the screen.

3. The spectacular ending, in which the heroes take on the evil Naxxaramas...and all wipe within the first minute. Then, in voice-over, the leader of the group explains to everyone that there's going to be new footage next weekend, in which they gear up by running some dungeons and getting some potions, and tighten up their tactics for the next run.

4. The disastrous piracy problem due to Blizzard's trumpeting of the ease and smoothness of their bit-torrented download system.

5. The DVD, in which the heroes win only to find out that the level cap has gone up, their gear that they worked months to get is now obsolete, and they have to pay fifty bucks to fight the next villain.