Crimson Peak Review

crimson peakCrimson Peak is everything I’ve been hoping for from a horror movie in recent years. And yes, I’m calling it a horror movie, despite all the admonishments warning audiences to, “Think of it as a Gothic romance; if you see Crimson Peak expecting a horror movie, you’ll be disappointed!”

Crimson Peak is indeed a horror movie. It’s a wonderful horror movie that relies on characterization, plot, and scenery to capture the audience’s interest. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, torture porn, shaky cinema verite wannabe camera work, or any of the other annoying tropes so many horror movies have been coasting on for years. Like the horror films of old, it trusts the audience to be entertained even during quiet, reflective scenes.

There are, in fact, some extraordinarily brutal, visceral scenes, with plenty of gory detail. The entire point of the movie, however, is that when they happen the audience is shocked and taken by surprise, because the director doesn’t dedicate half the movie to them. Violence happens to characters, rather than characters existing solely to have violence done to them.

The main cast of Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain (a Gothic romance name if there ever was one), and Tom Hiddleson were beautifully complimented by the supporting roles from Jim Beaver and Charlie Hunnam. Burn Gorman, a pleasant surprise for Torchwood fans seeing this film, managed to bring quite a bit to the film despite the brevity of his role.

Edith, played by Wasikowska, is an aspiring writer who gets caught up in a whirlwind romance with the charismatic yet somewhat grim Thomas Sharpe, played by Hiddleston. She eventually finds herself in a dire situation at Sharpe’s mansion, with his jealous sister Lucille trying to constantly punish his new wife ever so subtly for invading her homestead.

If I had to make one criticism, it would be that Hunnam’s character, Dr. Alan McMichael, seemed to drop out of the movie for an extended period to the detriment of the plot; his role in the end would have felt more organic if he’d had more to do in the middle. It was quite disappointing, as one of his earlier scenes introduced a fascinating angle on the ghost story. It could have added quite a bit of interest and excitement if it had been built upon.

Overall, however, it was another masterfully done film by director Guillermo Del Toro.

 

Minecraft Story Mode Disappoints

I’m incredibly unhappy to be writing this review. I like to think I had reasonable expectations for this game. I was expecting a simple, fun game that built on the beloved Minecraft world. The only aspect it really delivered on was the simple part.

Minecraft: Story Mode doesn’t actually feel like a game. You can easily go several minutes without being prompted to do anything. That would be annoying enough, but that’s the least problematic aspect. There’s only two things you are ever prompted to do: pick from one of three responses to another character’s dialog, and press random buttons to speed along an action that the character will perform.

The trio of dialog options, which claim to direct the story, are entirely optional. You read that correctly. You see, your time to respond is very limited, and if you take a second too long to respond, Minecraft: Story Mode will just keep going without your input.

The other way you play the game (I use both ‘play’ and ‘game’ loosely here) is that occasionally a character will break down blocks or build stuff (it is Minecraft), and you ‘help’ them. But for some utterly baffling reason, you don’t use the normal Minecraft controls for these actions. You get prompted to hit random letter keys or the arrows for actions like building or breaking down blocks, and the characters perform their actions in a way that feels strangely disjointed from your button mashing.

There also seems to be little rhyme or reason to when you’re required to actually do something. These intervals of activity happen so sporadically that one is often a bit startled when the movie stops and you’re asked to make the character walk for a few seconds or briefly interact with something in the environment.

In all honesty, if they were going to go this route, I wish they’d taken their lead from Lego and just made an actual movie using the Minecraft setting. I bring up Lego specifically, because I’ve seen people defend Minecraft: Story Mode as a “kids’ game” and admonish everyone not to judge it by unfair standards. Yet Lego also makes video games based on simple building blocks targeted at young audiences–arguably younger than Story Mode’s “10 & up” rating–and their games are delightful to play for people of all ages. Just because a game has a young audience in mind is no excuse to dumb down the gameplay to such an extent. Kids, even young ones, are capable of much more than Story Mode gives them credit for.

iZombie Is Back For Season 2

(Light Spoilers)

iZombie made its return with plenty of drama and mayhem. Liv, on a batch of grumpy old man brains, spent most of the episode grousing at hipsters and giving the impression she was just barely containing the urge to wave a walker over her head while yelling at kids to get off her damn lawn. I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t give her a wardrobe to match the attitude; some high-wasted trousers and suspenders would have added the perfect touch. The final reveal in the murder case was surprisingly poignant.

Sadly, there was less humor to be found on the home front for Liv. Her mother and brother hate her for not donating blood when he was on the verge of death following the events of the season finale. However,┬áLiv’s choice to just refuse to donate blood to her deathly ill brother rather than make up an excuse feels a bit forced. She could easily have lied about having a blood-borne disease of some kind. Her mother even offered her a an excuse in the form of accusing her of doing drugs. Family tension is a great tool for creating drama, but it should make sense; the audience should never feel the hand of the writing team deliberately injecting conflict where none seems like it needs to exist.

Blaine is back, cured from his zombie condition by Liv in the season finale, and takes a savage delight in showing off to her how much he can now revel in simple human pleasures like food again. It’s poignant how Liv’s method of eliminating the threat he posed has had such benefits for him; surely she must be thinking of all the murders her committed, the harm he did to Blaine and her brother, and how little he seems to be suffering his ‘punishment.’

Clive, unhappy with the loose ends in the investigation of the Meat Cute Charcuterie explosion, seems to be poised on the verge of receiving actual character development in his quest to get answers. With the exception of his undercover cop episode, he’s a character that essentially ceases to exist outside of the murder-of-the-week interludes. I’m tentatively hopeful that the writers intend to finally let him in on Liv’s big secret.

Liv has a familiar face–to the audience–as a roommate in Peyton’s absence. While it is guaranteed to be a great source of tension, I do hope Peyton returns and brings a bit of gender balance to the show. Like Veronica Mars, it has a great female lead who interacts only sporadically with other women.

Geek Girl Pen Pals

geek girl pen palsFeeling nostalgic for the days of receiving snail mail? Of looking forward to mail carriers dropping off something besides your latest online purchase?

Geek Girl Pen Pals is the solution to your woes. Users can sign up to be paired with a pen pal from anywhere in the world and exchange postcards, letters, or packages of all kinds. Despite the name it’s not limited to girls, and you can specify if you only feel comfortable being paired with pen pals of the same gender.

Every month a new ’round’ begins on the 15th. Users will only be paired with one pen pal per round, but they are free to apply during the new round each month for another pen pal. When applying, one submits a list of 5 interests, and the site admins will try to pair the applicant with someone who shares as many of the same interests as possible.

There are four age groups: 13-17, 18-22, 23-29, 30+. Users will always be paired with pals in their age group. (I won’t comment on how old it makes me feel that everyone over the age of 30 is lumped into a single bracket; I’ve accepted that once you’re past 29, young people categorize you as practically ready for a senior home.)

There are themed months, with the upcoming October-December themes being Dark Fairly Tales, We Love The 90s, and Time Travel.

Get Your Exercise The Geeky Way Part 2

This time, instead of focusing on a single method, I rounded up a variety of workout tools, apps, accesories, and more to add nerdy flair to your fitness routine.

geekworkout11. The Imperial All Star shirt is one of many great workout tops by Geeked Out Fitness.

 

 

 

geekworkout22. Vitality Potion Water Bottle by Geeked Out Fitness.

 

 

 

 

3. Zombies, Run! app. Available for both iPhone and Android, this clever app is essentially a game you play by being active. Your goal is to collect supplies needed to survive the zombie apocalypse.

 

4. If you get your exercise on treadmills or stationary bikes, you’ll love these World of Warcraft treadmill videos. You’ll go on a tour of Azeroth without ever leaving home. Bonus: recently the uploader added a Wildstar version.

 

geekworkout55. This Captain America Duffel Bag is perfect for a small gym bag.

 

 

 

 

 

6. Geek-themed workout videos are a must-have for any geek’s fitness routine. I’m partial to this X-Men HIIT workout, but the uploader has about twenty other themed videos including Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Minecraft, and many more.

 

7. If you’re not quite fit enough for a challenging HIIT workout like in the previous video series, this Zombie Step Aerobics workout is fun, funny, and good for a beginner.

 

geekworkout98. This Harry Potter circuit training workout from Pinterest is kind of like a drinking game, only with exercise instead of booze (okay, I know that sounds a tad disappointing, but bear with me guys). What I love best about this is you can take this basic principle and apply it to any movie or TV show to add some exercise when you park in front of a screen. It’s also a really good way to get kids interested in fitness.

 

 

 

geekworkout3 9. I love this Run Like Ron Weasley shirt from Stride Fitness Apparel, another great shop with a variety of geeky workout apparel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you haven’t read my post about walking from Bag End to Mordor, be sure to check it out.

LARPs: The Series

Live Action Roleplay. Arguably one of the geekiest hobbies, even by the standards of geeks. This hilarious series by Geek & Sundry chronicles a band of LARPers and their adventures, all done with amazing production values. The audience gets to know them both in and out of their game world.

The humor manages the fine balance between poking fun at some of the sillier aspects of LARP without ever looking down on the hobby, or more importantly, the people who enjoy LARP.

Terminology is handled well throughout the series; various terms are explained quickly without detracting from the flow of the episodes, so people unfamiliar with roleplaying jargon can get up to speed without bogging down the story for viewers who are better acquainted with the source material.

The series is really held together by the knockout performance of Jon Verall as the GM. Like the Game Master of any good RP group, he really sets the mood, and in the show he’s also the straight man the audience can relate to as he tries to herd the others as their shenanigans constantly threaten the plots.

My only real complaint would be that I’d have preferred more emphasis on the game’s storyline with less real-life interludes. It’s not so much that they were long, but rather the episodes are fairly short to begin with, leaving very little time for the in-game action. But even with that minor quibble, it’s still an excellent watch.

 

Wildstar Goes Free-To-Play

Wildstar is launching its free-to-play service on September 29th. Debuting in June of 2014, the MMO–created by a sizable portion of former World of Warcraft employees as well as developers from other popular games–originally required a $15 per month subscription fee. After much initial hype, subscription numbers never really held strong.

The free-to-play option has a number of restrictions, ranging from character slots, auction listing, the ability to form circles and invite other players, to priority of access to Customer Support. For players who want all the perks, “Signature” accounts are offered at the old price of $15 per month.

wildstar feature table

The full list of game features effected by free-to-play account status can be found here.

Like Warcraft, Wildstar is divided into two factions, the Dominion and the Exiles, with a fairly balanced set of races. Each has a cute and cuddly short race, a human or human-like race, a big and fierce race, and the choice of either robots (Dominion) or mechanically-augmented zombies (Exiles).

Expect server access to be severely impaired and congested in the first few days, possibly weeks, like launch of any major online game. Weekends will likely be congested for a few weeks beyond that.

 

Furiously Happy: A Second Memoir from the Bloggess

Taxidermy monstrosities. Fainting spells in the stirrups at the gynecologist’s office. Wild adventures in the Australian Outback while dressed in a full kangaroo furry suit. Chronic illness, both mental and physical.

What do all these things have in common? They’re all part of the day-to-day life of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess. Furiously Happy, the highly anticipated follow up to her first NY Times best-selling memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, is a joyfully funny book for both old and new fans.

Depression sucks, and lies. So does anxiety. Lawson never shies from either ofFuriously Happy these realities. But Furiously Happy is her commitment and call-to-action, a refusal to let either condition triumph. Full of whimsy and slice-of-life vignettes from a wonderfully bizarre woman, this memoir is at times poignant, at others silly, and often a hearty combination of both.

Furiously Happy was borne of a moment when Lawson, already having had a tough year, was handed a letter explaining that one of her close friends had died. At a cross-roads, she decided she could either surrender to despair or declare a fierce fuck-you to the abyss and make a concerted effort to not just survive but be furiously happy.

Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”

Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between “surviving life” and “living life”. It’s the difference between “taking a shower” and “teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.” It’s the difference between being “sane” and being “furiously happy.

As someone who suffers from both depression and severe, almost crippling social anxiety, I feel infinitely less alone and like a carnival side show when I realize that so many people read and relate to struggles like hers. And it helps immensely to be able to point to a book that tackle the subject with so much humor and good will when people who don’t suffer from mental illness want to get a better understanding.

Star Wars: Shattered Empire Spoiler Free Review

Star Wars Shattered EmpireLaunched as part of the “Journey To The Force Awakens” multimedia campaign, Shattered Empire begins in the final moments of Return of the Jedi and takes off from there. A fast-paced space battle kicks the story off before the familiar post-Death Star celebration begins.

The story is divided fairly evenly between the original cast and the new. It was interesting and well-paced. It’s weakness is the ending, which honestly didn’t feel like a logical stopping point. If it weren’t for the tiny words “to be continued” at the bottom of the last panel, you’d have no clue the issue was about to end. While I think the series will be strong overall, the individual issues are likely meant to be read in a single sitting.

The art is gorgeous and remains strong throughout. Building on the theme of balancing the old with the new, the colors struck a balance between the more subdued tones of the McQuarrie-inspired original trilogy and the bright saturated look of the prequels and Clone Wars series, without favoring one over the other.

The final three issues of the four issue series will be released on October 7th, 14th, and 21st.

As a final note: Ewok-haters beware that they have a fairly substantial presence. Also, please grow a heart and learn to love the furry little guys. They’re cute and murderous, the two very best things anything can be.

 

 

Agent Carter Is Fierce And Fabulous

Agent CarterAgent Carter, subject to a criminally short 8 episode run in its debut season, is now available on DVD.

Originally it sounded like a tough sell. Peggy Carter of Captain America was a likable enough character, but she had no super powers and much of her role revolved around supporting Steve Rogers. Many wondered not only how she could star in her own series, but who would be the supporting cast when the bigger names were obviously going to be reserved for the movies.

Agent Carter, I can happily report, managed both feats astonishingly well. Peggy is presented as a capable woman experiencing what many female soldiers faced when World War II ended and gender roles snapped back into their rigid standards with heartbreaking ease. A realistic, if at times frustrating, world was built around her by the writers, filled with realistically flawed coworkers who struggle to understand why she wants to continue working as an agent of the SSR when she is relegated to picking up lunch orders and answering phones.

A solid balance is struck between intelligent and rewarding character development and the sort of fast-paced action scenes the audience would expect from a Marvel production. Agent Carter is thrust into a world of espionage and highly trained assassins when she is asked to help Howard Stark–Iron Man’s father–clear his name after many dangerous inventions are stolen and sold on the black market, making him a suspect of treason. Edwin Jarvis (another name familiar to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Tony Stark’s virtual assistant) is tasked by his employer Howard Stark to assist her in the task of clearing his name.

One of the most pleasant surprises about Agent Carter is that she’s never presented as–nor does she ever claim to be–better than “typical women.” Never once do the writers put forth the tired trope about most women being vain and useless, while the female lead is set apart from the vapid masses by her willingness to be “one of the guys.” She owns her femininity, and is given several positive female friendships. Agent Carter is a series that quietly but firmly shows that women are often held back in a professional setting because men–either willfully or even without intending any malice–underestimate the competence of women who refuse to strip themselves of anything overtly feminine.

Agent Carter is easily one of my favorite entries set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I hope you will all enjoy it as much as I have.

Incidentally, this post was originally supposed to be titled, “Agent Carter DVD Release Is Fierce And Fabulous,” but sadly Marvel wasn’t willing to put much effort into the DVD or Blue-Ray sets. The Blue-ray set has a small featurette. The DVD set has a blooper reel. It’s a substandard product but I bought it to support the series and show Marvel that there is a strong consumer interest in continuing it. I hate being put in the position of either rewarding a business for charging full-price for a few episodes and fewer bonus features, or sending the message that Marvel should cut its losses and cancel the show.

 

Get Your Exercise The Geeky Way With Audiobooks

Many of us could do with a bit more exercise. Jobs and hobbies are more sedentary than ever, and getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day does a body good.

But, ick. Starting is hard. I tried putting together playlists of my favorite songs to make all that time hitting the pavement more fun. When that didn’t take my mind off the sweating and the little aches and twinges that feel so much more dramatic when you’re exercising, I tried making playlists of cloyingly upbeat and sugary pop songs. I tried “motivational” songs the one from that old Gatorade commercial. None of it helped. Exercising was still the most unpleasant part of my day.

Then, on a whim, I bought the audiobook for Rosemary’s Baby, and after just a few minutes of listening, it changed my workouts forever. Whereas I used to dread lacing up my shoes and stepping outside on a hot day, soon I grew to regret seeing my house come back into view, because it meant the story was over for the day. When Rosemary’s Baby ended, I picked up The Hobbit, and at that point the habit really solidified.

I’ve traveled with the boys of middle earth, roamed the Hogwarts castle, faced down zombie hordes, and enjoyed epic battles of various flavors all while walking and running around local parks and nature trails.

Currently I’m enjoying the original Star Wars radio drama in celebration of all the new Star Wars news coming out. Aside from starting off in the bleak, oven-like desert landscape of Tatooine, going to a galaxy far, far away is great for when you want your mind elsewhere during exercise.

A few helpful suggestions for getting started:

  1. Always listen to a sample of the book you’re buying; some narrators can just rub you the wrong way.
  2. Unless it’s a big favorite of yours, try new books instead of one’s you’ve read before. Part of the motivation to get out the door is to find out what happens next.
  3. Ask your local library if they offer audiobook downloads. While many libraries still rely on CDs, many others have partnered with sites like Overdrive.com to offer digital audiobooks.
  4. Radio shows aren’t as numerous but there’s some real gems out there. Two of my favorites are Cabin Pressure and Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully.
  5. Use reasonable common sense for the sake of your well-being. If you’re exercising outdoors, don’t be oblivious to your surroundings.

Reviewing, Honesty, and Personal Preference

Source: Luana Spinetti
Source: Luana Spinetti

The other day I began reading a book with the intent to review it for the blog. But…I hated it from the very first page. Reading it was a misery and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the story. It got me thinking about reviews and how personal preferences shape the choices we make when deciding to write them.

I tend to critique movies more harshly by virtue of the fact that once I’m sitting in the theater, it’s frustrating to be forced between the choice of suffering through a stinker or throwing out my plans for the night. I’m there, comfy in my seat, and nomming on popcorn and sipping beer, so I’m darn well going to finish the movie and tell people what I think about it.

With a book, it’s a lot less trouble to just return one I’m not enjoying, so mostly I only end up reviewing books I enjoy for the most part. Not to say I don’t have anything bad to say about the books I review, but they do very much tend to lean to the positive side.

I’m left wondering which is the more honest approach for reviewers to take.

As a writer who aspires to be a published novelist, part of me leans towards wanting reviewers to lay off books they know aren’t for them. But the reader in me, who often spends hundreds of dollars a year on books, wants to see both good and bad reviews before I make purchases. It would certainly be hard to get even a rough idea of what a book is like if nobody who disliked it bothered to review it. Yet another part of me chafes when I see a book, movie, or show I really enjoy torn apart by someone who obviously isn’t a fan of the genre.

There’s also the unfortunate tendency for some writers to make a name for themselves specifically by ripping apart films or books with (supposedly) clever snark that entertains more than it informs. They gain followings who tune in not to get an idea about whether or not they should see or read something for themselves, but to enjoy watching someone’s hard work get ruthlessly mocked in front of an audience.

This phenomenon is always at the front of my mind when I write a really negative review. I try to tone down the tendency to inject clever put-downs, because while I’ll admit to wanting a decently sized audience someday (what blogger honestly doesn’t dream of that, deep down?), that’s absolutely not how I want to build a readership.

At this point, I have the luxury pick and choose whatever I feel like reviewing. But I’d like to eventually progress to getting paid to write for other sites. It’s part and parcel of the job description of a content creator to report on what the editors tell them to. Writers have to come to terms with the idea of occasionally sitting through something they detest while trying to pick out at least a few redeeming qualities.

I suppose the solution in that case is to put oneself in the shoes of both the artist who made it and the paying customers who want to know the pros and cons of something before making a purchase, and to try to strike a balance between the two.

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