mackknopf: (Disclaimer)
I went to PlayOnCon 2011 IV yesterday, hosted at the Birmingham Marriott out on Highway 280.   I went it around 2 p.m. and only stayed about two and a half hours.  I didn't have nearly as much fun as I did last year, when it was at a hotel in Irondale.  They didn't have any tabletop games I wanted to play (it was mainly Pathfinder, a Dungeons & Dragons variant); I didn't feel like playing a boardgame in a crowded room; I didn't see any card games (last year someone roped me into a few rounds of The Great Dalmuti, which was enjoyable); and the miniature wargames (Warhammer 40K, etc) looked nifty but are not my cup of tea. 

I did think about bringing my Call of Cthulhu books, a plushie tentacled Cthulhu as a prop, and maybe a handwritten sign in the Open Gaming room  that said "Want to go insane, die, or kill your friends?  Play Call of Cthulhu!"  I probably could have gotten a decent crowd for a con game and just run one of the adventures I own, but that would have been work.  I wanted to play in a game of some sort, not have to always run, even though running is usually more fun for me.

But there was no World of Darkness, Savage Worlds, Paranoia, or really anything but the Pathfinder stuff.   There weren't even any live action games going on for background color, surprising to me.  There were some interesting and amusing costume players, particularly the girl dressed like Alice from American McGee's Alice, with blood all over her dress, and a plastic butcher knife.  I didn't quite have the nerve to ask anyone to pose for photos, but they probably wouldn't have minded (since after all they dressed to be noticed).

There were no movies being shown, and Japanese animation wasn't being viewed until later in the evening.  I saw one fiction writing panel, but it was by Mercury Retrograde Press, which looked perilously close to being a self-publishing "vanity press."  Noteably, the company doesn't pay you up front for the books they publish.  PlayOnCon needed a real writing track with some better known authors.  Also, it could use some Guests of Honor to contribute their presence (no sign of them or any real celebrities, even minor ones).
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mackknopf: (Books)

This was one of the books I received as a birthday present on Friday.  Part one of three, it is compelling, gripping, and deeply disturbing.  I do not recommend it unless you want to read what comes across as a waking dystopian nightmare.  Basically, a group of amnesiac teenage boys are trapped in a giant maze and must get out.  It's like being in a Hell, where you're periodically tortured, but you can't find the exit. 

What's worse is it strongly resembles a recurring series of my bad dreams where I'm trapped in a world by myself or with a few friends, steadily losing them as I advance.  I often end up alone.  Every time I get close to being free, it turns out to be an illusion.  This usually resolves by either a confrontation with some monster (the Devil, demons, zombies, you name it), death in the dream (semi-permanent), or waking up. Occasionally I rise to consciousness, then fall back into sleep and the dream resumes.  To avoid that, I have to take some serious steps to get to a full waking state (like showering, taking my medicine, actually leaving the bed, etc.).

Avoid at any cost.  This should have been labeled a horror book, not Young Adult.  Now I have fresh material for my subconscious to process and return to me, unfortunately.  Those dreams of mine do resemble the gnostic concept of breaking through successive illusions (example: "The Matrix" series of movies).  Christianity and some versions of Buddhism have hells in them, too.  However, I don't particularly believe in Hell as a place of punishment.  I was raised Episcopalian (which doesn't dwell much on Hell), not Baptist, so I'm not sure where those dreams are coming from.  The author of The Maze Runner, however, does reveal why the kids are in this maze.  It's a grim revelation and sets up what happens in the next two books, which I won't be reading.

mackknopf: (Typing Away)
"Did the natives surrender?"

"They did not."  -- Nameless flunkie to Kang the Conqueror after meeting the Avengers.

If you're not watching The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, why aren't you?  I suppose I will accept the following answers: you have an irrational dislike of superheroes, your cable or satellite service doesn't get Disney XD, or you've let your inner child grow old and gray.  For the rest of you, definitely check this show out!  It has provided some of the purest pleasure on television that I can remember in some time.  Even Kristin said she would like the Avengers -- if she was a ten-year-old boy.  Okay, that's not the best recommendation on the planet, but I'll take what I can get.

Christopher Yost  is the lead writer.  He has written episodes of the cartoon X-Men: Evolution, as well as arcs of the comic books New X-Men and X-Force.  Earth's Mightiest Heroes provides entertainment for all ages, in my opinion.  It's clean enough that a kid can watch it, but well plotted enough and with such good dialogue that adults can also enjoy it.  The voice actors are uniformly excellent, and the characterizations are spot on.  The cast includes a host of heroes and supporting players from the Marvel universe, along with a team core.  The recurring heroes include Tony Stark the futurist, the gruff and inwardly conflicted Incredible Hulk, the stranger in a strange land who is Thor, the regal Black Panther, Hawkeye the ex-SHIELD agent, the engaging Ant-Man and Wasp, and of course, the noble Captain America. 

But don't worry, other supporting characters show up as well from all time periods of the comic's history. There are minor changes.  For instance,  Nick Fury is now a black man, a good idea probably borrowed from the Ultimate Marvel universe (don't worry, none of the bad writing was brought over, only that).  Continuity comes from a mix of classic Avengers comics and new plots from more recent stories.  Longtime readers of the various comic book incarnations should immediately feel at home.  The show seems firmly set in a wider Marvel universe, with cameos by villains of all stripes, alien heroes like Captain Marvel (a revised version, though). SHIELD is running national security; international terrorist groups are rampant; prisons have been built in the Negative Zone (though no superhuman civil war has yet happened); and even the Fantastic Four have made a background appearance.

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mackknopf: (Books)

I'm so suggestible.  Read one book about zombies before bed, and I'm sure to wake up from a nightmare somewhere in the middle of the night.  Eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich when my stomach growled around 1 a.m. probably didn't help.  Like Snoopy in the Charlie Brown episode where he eats five pizzas and a milkshake, then dreams he's a sled dog  in Alaska, I am prone to all sorts of weird imaginings after raiding the refrigerator post-midnight.

Last night I started reading Feed, by Mira Grant (the pen name for Seanan McGuire, author of the October Daye books).  It is an action-filled political zombie horror thriller.  Of course I dreamed I was fighting off zombies.  I remember thinking I didn't have any guns, and that my sword was going to be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of monsters.  Then I woke up and had to remind myself that as of yet there is no reanimation virus or dawn of the dead.

Read more... )
mackknopf: (Movies)

I avoid giving away the plot twists as much as possible, but I do discuss anything shown in the preview, and I do tell what the basic premise is.  If spoilers show up, I'll use a "cut" so you have to deliberately click to see more.  Now allow me to preface with a quote from Chuang Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and Taoist:  "I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke.  Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?"

If this mystery interests you, then you will probably like Christopher Nolan's movie "Inception".  For my part, I was mostly bored and waiting for it to end.  Movies, in my opinion, should not go on for three hours unless they are (say) on par with "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Lord of the Rings".  What we have here is ostensibly a treatise on dreams, and your tolerance for that will depend on how much you are fascinated by them.  I take that back.  While I loved Neil Gaiman's work on "The Sandman" comic, and symbols and meanings of dreams always interest me, this movie is just not bizarre enough to feel like it truly is about dreams.

Possible spoilers this way )


mackknopf: (Movies)

I just watched "Something Left, Something Taken," a piece of short animation.  Click here to see it yourself.  This is a ten minute comedy, somewhat dark, about a couple on vacation who take a ride from the airport that may be going where they don't want to go.  It is written and designed by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata.  The film is set in San Francisco, so I had to watch!  I still miss that city, as well as Berkeley (but not Oakland).

Roger Ebert recommended it on his Ebert Club Newsletter.  The newsletter is for paying members only, though it's a mere ten dollars per year.  I'm reposting the video because it had options to do so, and it's not proprietary to the club letter, which assembles links and footage of interesting previews, shows, shorts, and old movies.   I really enjoyed this video.  People who watch crime scene investigation shows like Bones or the CSI series may find an additional chuckle here.

mackknopf: (Weird)

It reminds me of a short story by Neil Gaiman called "Snow, Glass, Apples", publicly available here.  Neil's work is a dark little piece that turns the traditional fairy tale on its head.  Emily Short collaborated on an interactive fiction game that is also dark and deals with some of the same themes.  The game is called "Alabaster."  Go download it.  Please.  It's free, she wants you to read it.  In your heart of hearts that likes the chill of the night and the pleasant frisson of being just a little afraid, you want to read it too.  Is it hard?  No.  Can you play it over
again with enjoyment?  I think so.

What are interactive fictions, or IF to be concise?  They're games of make-believe where you see an environment only in words, where you respond by typing in more words.  Oh, that sounds tedious and complicated.  Look.  It's a game of words and mystery.  This one even has an introduction for people who've never played the type before.  Are there pictures?  A few.  Usually they're the sort you make in your head, but Alabaster has page illustrations. 

You might have heard of Zork, the Infocom company, or Adventure.  People have been writing them for decades, and there's even a little online community to support those who do.  I even tried writing such a game in elementary school at the computer lab.  Since I could barely program, I believe I got as far as sketching out the first few rooms.  (In words, mind you.  I never got to the programming part.)  I wanted to implement Alice in Wonderland as a text adventure game, but my imagination far outstripped my abilities then.  I've tried to choose better matches for my art and ability these days, though computer languages will likely never be a feather in my hat or a string to my bow.

Read more... )

mackknopf: (Movies)

"Up in the Air", starring George Clooney, is the parable of a man who builds walls around him and who divests himself of anything he can't conveniently fit in a backpack or piece of luggage, like relationships.  The question the movie asks is whether he'll change and if he can, and what his choices teach the rest of us.  Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, works for a company whose sole purpose is to be hired by other businesses to go around and fire people, because the owners of said businesses don't have the guts to do it. I assume the company is entirely made-up, because I hope there are no real-life services like that. You might find it traumatic or prophetic, depending on how you feel about the economy, and whether you're in danger of being laid off (or actually have been).  The screenplay is based on a book by Walter Kirn.  Many or most of the actors who are fired are people who had actually been laid off in real life, and who answered a casting call for a documentary.  They could either respond to the firing procedure as they actually did, or as they wished they had done.

The axe-men company temporarily grounds its employees under a new business model of firing through online real-time video chat. You put a laptop with Skype (or whatever) in the other company's office, and the axe-men company will fire them long-distance. Bingham says that this lacks humanity and the personal touch, and so is given a few weeks of travel back on the road to compare his approach with that of the inventor of the online method.  One of my friends said Clooney is a bloodless actor, but I disagree.  He gives a good performance in "Up in the Air" as a man who has built an emotional wall around himself, free of most relationships other than the very casual. The breaking and cracking of his fortress, however, and whether or not he rebuilds it, is what is so interesting about the movie. It's a story about modern human relationships more than anything else.

Clooney also comes across as a suave lady's man. The women here are devastating in their roles, though, and quite strong characters.  When he meets someone (Alex, played by Vera Farmiga) who describes herself as a counterpart of him, only with a vagina, the romantic interaction becomes fascinating.  The other, non-romantic, foil for Clooney is the younger woman, Natalie Keener as played by Anna Kendrick, who wants to fire people online.  She wants to be the new version of Ryan Bingham, only she has second thoughts over the course of the movie.

"Up in the Air" isn't quite a drama, satire, or comedy, though it partakes of all of those.  I highly recommend it. 

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