Netflix Notes 2

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Been making my way through some good viewing recently and thought it was time for another edition of CT's Netflix Notes.

Bobby
I've long looked at RFK as the ultimate "what coulda been" for recent U.S. History. I was looking forward to this movie, but I should have read a bit more about it before viewing because it wasn't about RFK as much as it was about the lives of several different people and how they all came together on the day RFK was shot. It was kind of in the same style as Crash or Magnolia in that most of the stories didn't connect with one another until the end but different in that nothing much happened in Bobby.

Masters of the Universe

I got this one in anticipation of a future blog entry. I'll be saying more about this later.

Next
Entertaining premise and well-executed for the most part. In some ways, I felt like it could have been longer and flesh out some more of the character's backstory. In other ways, it went on a little too long. The movie's ending had been ruined for me, but despite that, I still enjoyed it. Maybe liked it even more knowing how it ended.

Illusionist
It's hard to not compare it to The Prestige because it came out about the same time, both are about stage magicians, both have some twists, both have some romance/revenge things going on, and both feature comic book movie actors in leading roles. It's an okay movie that's made better by the performances of the cast. I often wonder why Rufus Sewell doesn't get more work.

High School Musical 2

Sometimes on family movie night, you make compromises. In this case, we didn't strive for a movie that made us all happy, we instead went for one that made us all unhappy. I wasn't that big a fan of the first one, and the second one is a sizable step down. Even the message for kids seemed out of whack.

Enchanted
Sometimes on family movie night, you make compromises and it all turns out okay. This was a pleasant surprise. Maybe I wasn't expecting much, but the premise was the classic "fish out of water" tale where a cartoon princess becomes a real person in the middle of modern-day New York City. It was well-executed and the worlds mixed together nicely. I recommend this for anyone trying to find something the whole family can enjoy. Especially if you have girls in the house.

Beastmaster
I viewed this on Netflix's browse instantly feature on my day off of work. This was one of those movies I had never seen in its entirety. Only caught bits and pieces on TV every now and then. Fun movie and Marc Singer rocks. And after having watched Masters of the Universe, I was thinking about how this is such a better He-Man movie than what He-Man turned out to be.

P2
I must have missed something here because I was expecting a clever little independent film starring the upcoming G.I. Joe's Scarlett as a girl trapped in a parking garage on Christmas Eve. About halfway into it, I realized that this isn't the kind of movie I like and should have just stopped it and rewatched Die Hard.

Stardust
I think I want to like Neil Gaiman more than I do. Neverwhere and Mirrormask both sort of felt a little flat to me and yet I gave this a shot anyway. And, there was a lot that I liked about it. It had some good moments. I actually laughed out loud a few times and had fun watching it. But, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

Jurassic Park III
I'd seen the first two and wanted to complete the trilogy. Now I can check that box off, but that's really all I got out of this movie. It was worse than II and I didn't figure that was possible.

Television wise, I got Futurama: Bender's Big Score and enjoyed the trip back to see Fry, Leela, Bender and the gang. I polished off MI-5 volume 5 and found myself continually disappointed in the recent volume despite a mostly enjoyable fourth volume. I watched a disc that had a random selection of Maverick episodes on it. Great stuff. Also watched the entire first and second seasons of News Radio on "Watch Now." Funny show. Sort of a WKRP for the 1990s. And finally, I've begun a foray into watching Magnum PI. I'm just seven episodes in, but I'm enjoying it already and look forward to being able to have some good talks with Jeeg about one of his favorite 80s shows.

Do you have Netflix? Add CT as a Netflix friend and keep up with what he's watching through the Netflix community tab.

Walrusfield

3 comments
They don't even know me and yet, Drew Goddard, Matt Reeves, and J.J. Abrams apparently sat down several months ago and decided to make a movie just for me. Cloverfield is what they came up with.

BEWARE!! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THIS MOVIE OR DON'T CARE.

I'm going to try to use some tricky spoiler text as to avoid causing anyone to accidentally read something they don't want to. Select the text below so that you can read it.

Story

There are no new story ideas. That's why we get the constant barrage of rehashes and remakes. But in Cloverfield, we get a new way of telling the classic "monster attacked New York" story. Instead of following Will Smith or Harrison Ford, we're focusing in on "guy at party #1, guy at party #2, girl at party #1 and so on." No bulging muscles. No chiseled features. No one of extreme importance in the big story. The big story would follow the general in charge of the military, the scientist who comes up with the monster's achilles heel, and the guy who flies a jetpack carrying the correct payload to the exact right spot in order to kill the creature.

Maybe all of that happened at some point in the story. Maybe not. The point is, this time the story is told, we focus on the extras or background characters. Because ultimately, those people, the everyday folks running away trying not to get stepped on...that's us.

I love me a good James Bond or Indiana Jones character, but it's all fantasy. It's all escapism. It's fun to imagine, but that's not me. So centering the story around the "common man" immediately makes this a much more engrossing piece because I identify with those characters immediately.

The screenplay is brilliant. The conceit of the movie is that we are viewing a videotape, beginning to end, and on this tape is everything from normalcy at a friend's going away party to mass chaos with a monster attacking the city. This is told completely from the point of view of this one camera. The only cheat is that these events are being taped over a tape from a previous day. As a result, there are slight skips in the action where the previous events come through giving brief flashbacks and ultimately giving a fantastic ending to the piece.

There's about 20 minutes or so of exposition. And just as I'm beginning to think it's gone on too long, the action begins. The movie never lets up. Only on a couple of ocassions does it slow down enough to let the viewer breath slightly. Those moments are filled with poignancy. A great scene takes place in the subway terminal. The four main characters we're following at this point have just scene mass destruction and they've scene people they know die including on guy who was a brother to one and a boyfriend to another. Here, Rob receives a call from his mother and must tell her that her other son has died. It's done in a very subtle way as the camera doesn't capture all of the conversation or all of the grieving. Just enough to allow us to put ourself in the place of those characters and feel the grief with them before it's time to move forward again.

Our group encounters smaller creatures that have infested the city. One of the characters gets bitten and something horrible happens to her later. But we're never exactly sure what. In fact, there are many mysteries that are never explained in the movie. And the fact is that none of it matters. You are given everything you need and slightly more. Instead of pointless technobabble you might get from Jeff Goldblum or Matthew Broderick, the characters watch their friend explode and they freak out. We never know how or why because as we follow these regular people, we learn that they're not important enough to the big story to need to know why.

The ending is superb. And it's here that we find out what this movie has been all about. Rob and Beth had a fight. Beth left in a huff and Rob spends the night trying to wade through monsters, bullets and debris to save this girl. And he saves her, but in the end, it appears they both die. And in the end, that might have been okay because at least they were able to tell each other "I love you." In the face of it all, it was enough for them to just be able to not leave things on a bad note. The camera stops recording the events of the day the monster attacked and we see the final seconds recorded from a day weeks ago with Rob and Beth. Here we see that they were at one time happy.

This ending is made even better when it was pointed out to me that off in the distance of one of the final shots, an object falls from the sky into the ocean hinting that maybe we're seeing the origin of the monster right here. Even when we're happy, be on your guard because terrible times may be ahead. And when you are angry, don't sabotage your relationships because you never know how things may truly end. Valuable lessons from a monster movie. The kind of lesson that I don't think we would have gotten from the Big Story.


Presentation

I said so much about story, but there's so much to say about presentation, too. This was executed perfectly. Do to the nature of what it is, I can see where some might not like it. The handheld aspect was at times difficult to deal with, but the shaky aspect kept the tension levels high by throwing the viewer off and not really allowing very good glimpses of the monsters.

The acting was great. I loved that it was cast with unknowns. There was no score which placed more pressure on the rest of the parts to fill the emotions needed. The special effects were great and seemless. The fact that this was shot on a video camera probably helped keep effects from needing to be perfect.

My opinion of this movie continued to soar all day as I thought about it. Thanks Goddard, Reeves, and Abrams for making this movie. You know what I like.


Story Score --

Presentation Score --

I'm giving it the rewatchable walrus making this the first perfect movie on Nerd Lunch. I can't wait to watch this with the commentary on and look forward to my next viewing after that.

NO JOE!

15 comments

Well, I'm out. Sure, I'll probably Netflix it, but after seeing the most recent pictures from the live action G.I. Joe movie, I've essentially had it confirmed for me that Stephen Sommers is indeed not making a G.I. Joe movie. It looks to be Doom II. Or Batman's Bat-Patrol. Or something that could be completely awesome (probably not), but is decidedly not G.I. Joe.

I vividly remember my birthday and Christmas of 1982. My birthday is in November and I was turning six that year. I got a teaser for what was to come in Christmas. I believe I received a Cobra guy or two, but I specifically remember getting the VAMP jeep with driver Clutch and an additional figure, Flash. At Christmas, I got several more figures and vehicles and a big Treasury edition version of G.I. Joe #1. These weren't just regular Army guys. They all had personality. Each one was unique. And there was this one guy in particular who stood out. He was wearing all black and his face was completely covered, just like the bad guys, but he was a good guy. And in the comic, he didn't speak. Such a mysterious character.

Snake Eyes would go on to be one of the most recognizable characters from the line and a fan favorite. In the comics, a story of his was the first comic I remember seeing that was a "silent" comic. That is, no word balloons in the entire issue. In the initial cartoon mini-series, Snake Eyes again showed his coolness when he took on almost the entirety of Cobra by himself and befriended a wolf a short while later. The new outfit with the visor added a nice bit of flair to the ensemble. The action figure that look inspired was a figure I long sought after and never obtained.

In the 80s, ninjas were a big deal to kids my age. Snake Eyes and additional Joe characters caught the wave and the ninja elements were a huge part of G.I. Joe in both the toys and comics. There was a line of "Ninja Force" action figures and the last few issues of the comic essentially promoted Snake Eyes to "lead character" and emphasized the ninja stuff more than the military stuff.

Of course, while this all happened, he consistently wore some iteration of the all-black outfit. Meanwhile, everyone else dressed the in camo or wetsuits or whatever. Snake Eyes was the only one who wore all black.

So, the new pictures from the live action movie come out and lo and behold, EVERYONE is wearing black. Well, Cover Girl is wearing the special G.I. Joe Urban Camo jammies, but the others have all black. So Snake Eyes looks just like EVERYONE ELSE!!!

I don't get it. It's not hard. G.I. Joe is not like super heroes where they have to wear form fitting outfits. They're wearing pants and shirts and stuff. Regular Army clothes. Maybe with a bit more color and variation from person to person, but stuff that you can buy at the local Army surplus store. Give me a couple hundred bucks and I could dress all of them (except Scarlett and Snake Eyes) to look more like their action figure counterparts than the filmmakers could.

And while I don't get the body armor, maybe there's some need for in the story. Still, why does everyone have to wear all black? Maybe Snake Eyes should wear bright green fatigues now. Seriously, would a little more color have killed them?

Oddly Shaped Dice: Predator

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I love Predator. It offers a blend of action and sci-fi that reaches a level of awesome matched only by its cousin, Aliens. With that bias, it's not too surprising that a Predator based scenario was on my to-do list when we were running d20 Modern one-shots several years back. As fate would have it, I never got around to running the Predator scenario, but I still remember how I was going to pull it off.

Arnold as Mjr. Dutch Schaeffer

The plan was to bill the adventure as a "normal" military setting. The player characters would comprise an elite special ops team sent on a rescue mission to find another missing unit. The mission description along with a few of the character names from the movie would have been the only initial clues given. With our group, I would have to be careful to preserve the reveal since our friend and gaming buddy, Dirty Dave, is also a huge Predator fan.

Just like the movie, the players would find that the first team had met an untimely demise and gradually discover signs that more is going on in the jungle than meets the eye. An initial combat encounter with rebels or banana republic soldiers would also be key to get the players into the flow and establish the characters as total badasses.

After that the real fun would begin as the Predator would start a set of increasingly aggressive encounters with the party. Depending on the number of players, my plan was to use one or two Predators from Michael Tresca's Cazador de Trofoes campaign setting. Against a team of soldiers (advanced class) sporting a mix of heavy firepower, a Predator or two would have produced some entertaining chaos. Such chaos would likely result in several dead PCs, but there's little downside to that in the one-shot format.

Admittedly the endgame would require a deft touch to do well, but I think either a final, to-the-death confrontation with the Predator or a narrow escape via helicopter could be a satisfying conclusion.

Steam-operated Death Star

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I just ran across another site that's got some art doing Star Wars, Steam-style. These are illustrations done by a guy named Eric Poulton. Looks like there's some neat stuff on the blog as a whole, but what really caught my eye was the Death Star.

I'd love to see a really good direct-to-DVD animated movie to come out that's in the Steampunk genre. Maybe the only way to get that would be something like an "alternate Star Wars universe" series. Preferably put together by someone other than Lucas.

Steam-operated Lightsaber

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Another batch of customized action figures have gotten my attention. And again, these were made by the same guy who did the Victorian-era Justice League figures I referenced awhile back.

He's produced a set of Steampunk-style Star Wars action figures. I think my personal favorite is the reinterpretation of C-3PO.

I like these mostly for the potential story they tell. I have to acknowledge that Star Wars probably played a large role in shaping the way I come up with stories. Not the movies, but the toys. There were several characters that had action figures but maybe only had two seconds of screen time. Yet, I would get the toys anyway. So characters like Walrusman, Hammerhead, Greedo, Dengar, IG-88, and Lobot would become more interesting than Luke, Han, and Leia because they weren't bound by what was seen in the movies. These guys could have a whole series of adventures on my bedroom floor and none of it play into nor contradict the Star Wars canon.

I remember rewatching Star Wars when I was in high school after having not seen it for a long time. It was probably around the time they came out again for the first time. I wasn't impressed. The movies didn't live up to my memories of wacky adventures where Zuckuss and Snaggletooth would take on the Cloud Car pilot and R5-D5.

I eventually gained a huge respect for the first movie and what it was. I appreciate the attempt to tell a story in a style mimicking that of the 1930s serials. But the sequels and prequels don't count in my mind. A while back, in a comment to a post that I can't seem to find, fitz asked me what I consider to be the canon of "Star Wars." For me, it's just the first movie with the potential of what was to come or what preceded it being more entertaining than what was shown.

And that brings me back to these custom figures. Star Wars has always been about the potential for me. And looking at these Steampunk Star Wars guys, I have to say, they have potential.

Getting the Band Back Together . . . Again

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Working on another benefit gig for my buddy Mark, who has a touch of the cancer.

The notion is to team up the Dr. Wu Horns (which at this point includes anyone who ever worked with that defunct R&B band . . . it's sort of like the Defenders) with our buddies the Poprocks, 70s/80s dance band extraordinaire.

So . . . this will be work, because there will be new tunes to learn, but it will also be a nice change of pace, hopefully for everyone involved.

Welcome to Nerd Heaven. Here's your accordion.

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Many of my music-related posts have little connection to the nerdery which is our prime directive here at Nerd Lunch, but this one’s different, because if you go down to the crossroads where Music meets Nerd . . . there, you shall find an accordion.

Yeah, I’m thinking about buying a button accordion. Awhile back, I visited an accordion museum in Superior, Wisconsin. It used to be a church, and now it’s home to over 1000 accordions . . . quite literally a shrine to all things squeezebox. We caught a performance, and the curator introduced the performers like it was Carnegie Hall. I was impressed.

On further research, I have learned that every different style of music which involves the button box has its own preferred (or sometimes prerequisite) style of box. Cajuns play a one-row, four-reed key of C. Irish music uses a two-row, two-reed B/C, while English folk uses a D/G. Tex-Mex favors a three-row two-reed G/C/F, zydeco often goes F/Bb/Eb (more of a horn-friendly key). So there’s no one-size-fits-all option here.

So I’m leaning towards a three-row, two-reed A/D/G . . . in this case, the Hohner Compadre, purportedly a good starter’s box and available in a number of nice colors. It plays comfortably in the keys of G, D, and A, which are all very popular keys in old-time fiddle music. While it’s an unusual choice for Irish, it’ll work. Seems to be a good jack-of-all-trades box.

Part of this is an exercise in alternative history. German settled in Texas and Louisiana in the 1800s, and they brought their accordions with them. Mexicans and Cajuns both adopted the button box, as did Louisiana Creoles, and some unique forms of American roots music evolved. Now what if more Germans had ended up in Kentucky and West Virginia, and the button box had made its way into the Appalachians, where there was an incredibly rich tradition of English, Scots, and Scots-Irish music? What if some of the early black blues and string band players had gotten a hold of an accordion? [Leadbelly played some concertina, as a matter of fact.] I have a notion that some of these other raw forms of American roots music could’ve made for interesting hybridization with a squeezebox.

And there are contemporary players like the Texas Tornadoes and Great Big Sea who use the button accordion in essentially a rock context, and I like the idea of playing some box on a John Hiatt or Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams tune...

Oddly Shaped Dice: Swashbucklers

4 comments

Another RPG one-shot I'd like to try is a historical swashbuckler. Too many RPG sessions turn into exercises in accounting --- players worry about their limited resources, play it safe, and end up forming the traditional semicircle around the bad guy and keep hitting him until he's dead. I prefer characters who take risks and show some panache.

First question would be the time period. Lately, I'm back to reading the Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraisier, ripping yarns about a Victorian British Army officer and his adventures defending Queen and Country, so the 19th century is an option. Caribbean pirates and 17th century musketeers have the advantage of familiarity. Were I a more ambitious man, I would maybe try something during the late 1700s and the Age of Revolution --- the PCs are secret agents working for Jefferson's Illuminati. Something with Irish and Scots rebels during the Jacobite Rebellion would make for great accents around the game table and a terrific soundtrack, but I don't know much about the period.

The new Star Wars Saga Edition would actually provide an excellent starting point, rules-wise. A company called AEG did a d20 book called "Swashbuckling Adventures" which had a lot of problems (a poor grasp of the d20 mechanics, and a setting that threw Vikings, Robin Hood, musketeers, Zorro, and Napoleon together), but it certainly had some material worth mining.

Superwalrus Returns

2 comments

Superman Returns Poster For no good reason, I decided to grab Superman Returns on a recent visit to the local library. I already knew that CT had no kind words for it and now I can partially comprehend why.

Story

I appreciate the attempt to start off in the middle of something and avoid repeating the origin story, but the plot still started off very slowly. Luthor's scheme for world domination was at least original, but the writers didn't give even a hint of explanation as to how Lex knew what he did about Kryptonian crystals and meteorites. Everything, and I mean everything, about the Superman-Lois Lane relationship was weird and bad. George Lucas must have phoned in some ideas he had leftover from the Phantom Menace.

Presentation

The special effects were very good, but not great. Some of the pure CGI scenes were very obvious on the high resolution of a computer monitor. The soundtrack was pretty good and I was glad they used the original theme by John Williams. The acting performances were nothing to write home about, even Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Luthor was rather pedestrian. Faithful depictions of the characters or not (I'm not the one to know), I didn't engage or empathize with any of the characters.

Story score--

Presentation score--

I definitely cannot give the rewatchable walrus. Heck, I didn't even make it through my first viewing on normal speed. About halfway through I kicked WinDVD into time compression mode in order to get back 45 minutes of my life.

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