Spoiler Free Review of The Forest

The Forest felt like it squandered a lot of potential. It’s a movie that felt as if it really could have been scary if handled differently.

Natalie Dormer played twin sisters, a wild-child school teacher (Jess) who went missing from her teaching post in Japan and her more grounded and stable sister (Sara). Once Sara finds out that her sister was seen going into the infamous Aokigahara Forest, she wastes no time flying to Japan to find her. She meets up with a journalist named Aiden (played by Taylor Kinney) who introduces her to a guide (Michi) familiar with the forest.

The tone for the majority of the film felt more like a thriller than a supernatural horror. There was a lot of running around in foliage with the characters acting disproportionately afraid of the surroundings compared to lack of things to be afraid of. What few actual scares existed were often pulled solidly from American rehashes of Japanese horror. And of course Japanese schoolgirls abounded.

I’ve seen Natalie Dormer’s performance praised as the redeeming quality of The Forest, but I sadly feel compelled to disagree. While I’m usually a fan of her work, her performance was wooden and at no point did I ever believe she was playing two characters. There was regular Natalie and then Natalie with dyed black hair. Taylor Kinney as Aiden was the more memorable and compelling performance.

The ending was, ironically, the part I enjoyed most, since I often find that even good horror films often fail to stick the landing. There was a memorable and bittersweet twist that was by far the most successful part of The Forest.

For anyone curious about Aokigahara itself, there’s a Japanese documentary up on YouTube. I originally watched because I saw several people claiming that it was a much more respectful film about the subject matter, but in all honestly I’m a bit skeptical about how well it succeeded in that regard. It appears on Vice, a YouTube channel that’s big on documentaries with click-baity titles and intentionally sensationalist subject matter:

 

 

Rey Continues To Be Left Out Of Star Wars Merch

Please note. This post contains major spoilers from The Force Awakens.

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Hasbro has struck again with their release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Monopoly set. The film’s central protagonist was not included in the figures. Instead, Darth Vader–who does not appear in the film–and Luke Skywalker, who is only in the film for roughly 30 seconds and has zero dialog, are among the choices.

A Hasbro spokesperson took to Twitter in response to the criticism and claimed that Rey was excluded so that her final battle with Kylo Ren would not be spoiled. They did not deign to elaborate exactly how her figure would spoil this one scene, or why they couldn’t conceive of a way to include her that didn’t do so.

It seems like a flimsy excuse, especially as Rey has two other weapons–her staff and the blaster Han Solo gives her–which her figure could have wielded in lieu of the lightsaber she uses in her showdown with Ren. It’s especially galling in light of the fact that fear of spoilers hasn’t hampered the release of Kylo Ren merchandise in the slightest. That’s probably by virtue of the fact that it’s not in any way, shape, or form necessary to divulge even a single plot point when selling a toy. And, as previously stated, she wields not one but two other weapons besides the lightsaber.

Rey has also been left out of the Millennium Falcon playset (ie, the ship she repaired and piloted), which features Chewbacca, Finn, and BB-8, and multiple other sets have her replaced with generic stormtroopers.

This is sadly business as usual for non-princess Disney characters. Black Widow has been excluded from the majority of Avengers merchandise; a LEGO set went so far as to replace her in the scene where she rides a motorcycle out of the jet by Iron Man, the guy who doesn’t need a motorcycle because his suit is capable of flight. Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy had even less merchandise, troubling in light of the fact that the raccoon and tree were deemed more worthy of representation.

Girl Genius Webcomic

Girl GeniusI must have been living under a rock to explain how I missed such an amazing story for so long.  Girl Genius is a long-running web comic featuring the plucky hero Agatha Clay, a student at the somewhat sinister Transylvania Polygnostic University.

The Girl Genius story grabs you from the start by setting up a lot of intriguing questions about the setting. No slow buildups here! It’s straight to the action and loads of questions about how the world works and the characters’ relationships to one another will keep you flipping the pages.

It’s billed as a “gaslamp fantasy” though I have to admit I’m not 100% clear on how this differs from steampunk. There’s lots of clockwork men and the usual trapping of steampunk.

Owing perhaps to its roots as a traditional print comic, the art is gorgeous and highly detailed. It is way above and beyond what is often seen in web comics, especially the backgrounds.

The main character at first appears to be Hermione-ish, though she quickly reveals herself to be more of a bumbling diamond in the rough.

By far my favorite part of this series is the delightfully grim humor. One of the punishments we see early on is the habit of Transylvania Polygnostic punishing people by leaving them in giant jars like bugs on the school ground.

As a friendly heads up, Girl Genius is not tailored to younger readers. Per the creator’s website:

Oh, and please be aware that we recommend Girl Genius for an audience of teens and up. Why? Wel, let’s see…..we have lots of running around in Victorian underwear, ocasional inuendo, a certain amount of violence and the occasional “damn!” Wil this deprive us of future happy meal toys? Probably. Are we having fun making our story our own way? Oh, yes! A lot of our readers still say they read GG to their kids, (and, of course, our kids like it,) but now you can make an informed choice. Thank you!

They publish printed graphic novels if you’d like to support the creators. And if you get hooked on the story, you’ll be delighted to know that there is an RPG in the works. However there is no ETA at this point.

It’s a wonderful read that I highly recommend; I’m extremely happy to have found this gem, even if I’m terribly late to the party.

Tanis Podcast Review

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of The Black Tapes podcast. I was thrilled to discover that the same creators have another podcast in a similar vein called Tanis.

This show revolves around a podcaster, Nic Silver (who is a familiar name to Black Tapes fans), who begins unraveling the puzzle around a mysterious concept known as–you guessed it–Tanis. I think much of the appeal lies in the main character’s reason for delving into the mystery of Tanis. He explains that the internet has often made it seem as if there’s no real sense of mystery left in the world; some time on Google can make you an expert in almost any subject imaginable. With information so readily available, he is excited to find a mysterious subject that can’t be Googled.

Nic is occasionally joined by a hacker named “Meerkatnip,” who is his primary source of information about the Tanis mystery, as almost nothing about it is readily available on the internet. The two have good on air chemistry and play well off one another as they travel further down the rabbit hole. There’s also a few guest appearances by Alex Reagan.

In terms of technical details, they have the same high production quality that was a hallmark of The Black Tapes. It’s nice to hear professional quality recording in podcasts and it genuinely helps with the sense of immersion.

From the official site:

Tanis is a bi-weekly podcast from the creators of Pacific Northwest Stories, and is hosted by Nic Silver. Tanis is a serialized docudrama about a fascinating and surprising mystery: the myth of Tanis.

Tanis is an exploration of the nature of truth, conspiracy, and information.

Tanis is what happens when the lines of science and fiction start to blur…

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that where The Black Tapes has a more straight up horror feel, Tanis is a bit more focused on the mystery. While there is a lot of danger and supernatural elements, it’s not necessarily scary in the way The Black Tapes is.

 

FanMail December Box

FanMail December Box

Previously I reviewed my first FanMail subscription box, with fairly mixed results. I decided to give it a second try.

In all honesty I was even less impressed with the December box. Full disclosure: I was ambivalent about the concept of subscription boxes in general, so obviously that is coloring my impression to a large extent.

In lieu of actual jewelry there were a few cheap pins:

Buttons

Instead of a cute handmade soap like in the previous box, there was a single lip balm so generic it could easily be mistaken for something you’d get for $0.50 from a grocery store check stand:

Lip Balm

The clothing is a Baymax version of a “Free Hugs” shirt. This is something I would never even consider wearing outside. If you like being touched by strangers, I guess this would be a great way to encourage it:

Free Hugs

The Lumberjanes comic was welcome, as I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now:

Lumberjanes

I did like the stuffed toy that came with this box. It’s from PuppyCat, the most successful Kickstarter for an animation project and the 4th most successful Kickstarter overall:

puppycat

Overall I just don’t feel like the box is worth it. In a day and age when there’s so much stuff available to suit any geeky taste, I don’t see the appeal in paying to get a box of stuff where less than half the contents appeals to me.

Can You Survive The Star Wars Holiday Special?

I decided that this was the year I was going to sit down and make myself watch this most infamous entry in the Star Wars saga, the two-hour Holiday Special that aired only once.

It’s so horrifying that it’s…er, well, no, I can’t actually claim it’s good.  But it’s the sort of trainwreck a person really should see at least once in their lives. What’s the point of living if you never see an Imperial Guard with a 70s porno ‘stache and Maude breaking into a song and dance routine to chivy alien patrons out of her bar?

The amazing part is that I live-tweeted the entire experience and didn’t lose a single follower. Your mileage may vary and I suggest having a drink or two beforehand to get a pleasant buzz going. Here it is, the Star Wars Holiday Special. May the Force be with you (trust me, you’ll need all the help you can get!):

Emo Kylo Ren Is Possibly The Best Fictional Twitter Account Ever

Kylo RenI’ve been struggling to get my Force Awakens fix in creative ways, as a girl can only shell out so much cash to see it on the big screen.

Enter the Twitter account that stole my heart: Emo Kylo Ren (Yes, yes, I can hear some of you asking how that’s any different from regular Kylo Ren. Hush.). The tweets I’ve chosen to include here are spoiler-free, but be aware that the account regularly contains hints about very major spoilers. If you have seen TFA, rest assured most of his best tweets are hilarious plays on some of the big reveals we got.

Kylo Ren 2All tweets are from the perspective of a school-aged Kylo Ren who pairs “emo kid” references with Star Wars people and events.

Kylo Ren 3In the few days since launching, Emo Kylo Ren has skyrocketed to 140K followers. As a general PSA, if you spend a lot of time on Twitter and haven’t seen TFA yet, be careful when you see people retweeting his stuff, because as previously mentioned there are a lot of spoilers.

10 Things The Force Awakens Got Right (Spoiler Free)

1.) Abrams struck the perfect balance between highlighting the old cast while handing off the reins to the new generation.

2.) BB-8 got right everything that Jar Jar flubbed. He was a cute character that added humor and charm with loads of appeal for younger viewers, but he was never grating or obnoxious. Part of his success was the use of subtle visual humor rather than noise or big flamboyant gestures.

3.) The puppetry used for the aliens was phenomenal and gave The Force Awakens a real, lived-in feeling. They also blended seamlessly with the few times CGI was used to supplement or replace them.

4.) The villain displayed the petty aspect of the Dark side. He was a lot like I imagine Vader was when he first took on the mantle of his new identity.

5. Building on #4, nobody whined. I can confirm that The Force Awakens had a zero tolerance policy for whining. I suspect Abrams coached the newer cast members on how to act in scenes where they’re supposed to appear young and recalcitrant without the infernal, infuriating whining that made both the prequels and many of the early scenes in ANH with Luke so grating to watch.

5.) We got to see another side to the stormtroopers. They are omnipresent in the original trilogy, but we never got to see the humanity of these iconic figures until now.

6.) The New Order looked even more visually stunning than the original Empire.

7.) There were plenty of female characters, in both major and minor roles. Female aliens. Female pilots. A female villain. Females everywhere. It was glorious.

8.) The space battles were amazing. I must confess, in recent years I’ve become bored with a lot of fight and action scenes in blockbuster movies. They’ve all started blending together. But The Force Awakens kept them short, sweet, and visceral. The occasional bone-jarring boom of Star Destroyer cannons was also a wonderful addition to break up the normally high-pitched sound design of Star Wars space battles.

9.) The original cast members were allowed to show their age.

10.) The Force Awkens felt like Star Wars. I try not to hate on the prequels because plenty of people I genuinely like are huge fans, but to me those films just never felt like Star Wars. Everything in the Force Awakens, from the more subdued color palette to the characters felt like they were truly born of the Star Wars saga.

 

 

Xena: Warrior Princess Gets A Reboot

Word just broke that the long-rumored Xena reboot has finally materialized. While Lucy Lawless doesn’t seem to be involved in the project, Sam Raimi is back at the helm.

I admit that I had a lot of qualms about the idea of a Xena reboot when I first heard about it several months ago. Xena was one of my favorite shows growing up, and there’s a lot that could have gone wrong with a reboot if the project was handed off to the wrong people. Xena was a show that revolved around a layered and deep friendship between two women, and had a remarkable amount of diversity. Sam Raimi never shied from casting black actors, unlike many Hollywood types in his position who create a whites-only narrative behind the flimsy–and ironically inaccurate–excuse of “because historical accuracy!!!”

Learning that Javi Grillo-Marxuach (known for Lost, The Middleman, Helix, and seaQuest) is also signed on has given me quite a bit of hope for the series. I find this quote from the Cnet article I linked above particularly reassuring:

Let me give you an itty-bitty peek at the store by telling you a few words you won’t be hearing from me: Grim. Gritty. Dire. Depressing.

I’ve made no effort to hide how I’m bored of and exhausted by the 2edgy4me grimdark “not afraid to GO THERE” trend that has throttled the creativity and joy out of so many properties in recent years. If the Xena reboot will build on the fun and adventurous spirit of the original ahow, then I’m all for it.

My deepest desire is that they keep the balance between two differing types of feminine personalities: Xena the ass-kicker and her more diplomatic counterpart. So often in TV, movies, books, and games, women are left with one female character and a mass of male characters. As no single female character can speak to every female audience member, there’s often a very unsatisfying attempt to create a generic “strong female character” while the male characters are given distinct and unique personalities that set them apart from one another.

Xena never strayed into that territory because with abundance of female presence, there was something for everybody. The women were all allowed to be different and have their own flaws and strengths. Some were soft and quiet, some were loud and aggressive, some driven by love, some driven by vengeance, and many were blends of traits that were commonly attributed to women or men. It’s a theme I genuinely hope will continue on in the new series.

PS: Dear God I hope they bring back Joxer the Mighty. My fangirlism for Ted Raimi is just as strong at 30 as it was when I was 13.

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage

Santa's RampageI reviewed Viscera Cleanup Detail several months ago but I’ve been waiting for the holiday season to roll around before diving into the Christmas extra, Santa’s Rampage.

Santa’s Rampage is the jolliest time you’ll ever spend while knee-deep in elf guts and reindeer chunks. This time around you’re an elf tasked with cleaning up the fallout from Santa’s killing spree at his workshop in the North Pole. (Rudolf…doesn’t make it. I’m so sorry). Anybody who’s a fan of Weird Al’s The Night Santa Went Crazy is sure to love this gleefully gory holiday nightmare.  His Christmas At Ground Zero and BNL’s Elf’s Lament are also great songs to listen to while playing.

Santa's Rampage 2

As it’s just extra content for the main game, there’s sadly only one level, but at the same time that keeps the concept from feeling repetitive or stale. For those who enjoy a challenge there is an achievement for clearing the level without damaging or incinerating a single Christmas item. Overall it’s a short and sweet addition for fans of Viscera Cleanup Detail and it’s something I look forward to making into a personal tradition to get in the spirit of Christmas.

And because I just couldn’t resist:

The Middleman

I enjoyed Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s short-lived TV show The Middleman but never got around to reading the graphic novels they were based on. Recently I rectified that oversight and I couldn’t have been more delighted.

The MiddlemanThe Middleman centers around a main character of the same name and his sidekick Wendy. Wendy is an artist picking up odd jobs to supplement her almost nonexistent income from painting. When her temp job is quite literally obliterated by a giant tentacle monster, she gets thrown unceremoniously into the world of The Middleman, a former Navy SEAL turned fighter of fantastical beings who lives by the motto, “Fighting evil so you don’t have to.”

The series is slightly campy and lighthearted, an homage to an older generation of comic books where the good guy is a dashing model citizen.

The art is black and white but highly detailed. There’s a fusion of old and new styles. The Middleman and many bit characters have that Silver Age feel to them while Wendy feels distinctly modern.

The pacing is tight and never drags nor feels rushed, and the characters all have good chemistry and play well off one another.

Tales From A Galaxy Far, Far Away

As another installment of the journey to The Force Awakens, Disney Lucasfilm Press released four stand-alone novellas by Landry Q. Walker. All are subtitled Tales From A Galaxy Far Away, and are part of the same series as The Perfect Weapon.

All four are compact stories that take place far outside the purview of the main Star Wars film characters and storyline. As they’re so short, I decided to review all four here instead of creating individual posts for each story.

All Creatures Great and Small: First up, we have a tale with a unique concept. It centered around an elderly storyteller with an affinity for communicating with small creatures. It had a Jim Henson vibe that I found particularly enjoyable. The hero was a very original choice in a franchise that’s usually dominated by swaggering blaster-wielders and powerful Force users. There were also plenty of fun and funky alien pets for the Star Wars fauna lovers to enjoy. This was definitely my favorite of the four tales.

The Face of Evil: This was by far my least favorite of the series. Everything about it fell flat. The lead was a cardboard cutout with motivations that were hard to believe. All her decisions defied logic. The ending was extremely obvious from early on and it just felt cheesy when the dramatic reveal was made. There was also a really bizarre attempt to cram in a Frankenstein parody, complete with a hunchbacked assistant supposed to be an Igor stand-in aiding the mad scientists who used bolts of lightening to bring life to their monstrous creations. There was no protagonist and nobody for the reader to actually care about.

High Noon of Jakku: This was an enjoyable read that chose a unique take. It opens with a show-down between the constable of a small barren town on Jakku and a rogue droid before pulling back to unfold the tale of how the two came to face off. There was a distinct Western flavor that was a bit reminiscent of Firefly. It was a droid-heavy story, which is always a big hit with me personally.

The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku: Finally we have the story with the closest ties to the Prequel trilogy. There’s many references to the Clone Wars peppered throughout, which makes sense as this story has its roots there. As it was driven by the concept of the mysterious fate of a long-lost treasure, there wasn’t an abundance of characterization. The characters felt pretty flat, owing in part to the fact that there was a bigger cast of main characters than in the other stories; nobody got much time for the audience to connect with them.

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