Tag Archives: review

Geek Book Review: Liar’s Blade

liarsbladeI just finished reading Liar’s Blade, one of a batch of Pathfinder Tales novels I got recently. This is a line of novels set in Pathfinder’s Golarion game world.

This is a well-crafted novel, not standard tie-in fiction fare by any means. It’s a story of a scoundrel named Rodrick and his magical intelligent sword, Hrym. They get hired by some weirdos to go across the River Kingdoms and Brevoy to get some mystery artifact.

The writing is good, with less of the tortured translation of game rules into prose than is customary (I hate that…). The banter between Rodrick and Hrym (and to a lesser extent with their other traveling companions) is really fun.  The two people who hire them, the dour priest Obed and his freaky companion Zaqen, remind me of the tag-along bad guys from the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path, who we affectionately referred to as “The Boner Squad” – Shadow Count Sial was the dour one, and then if you kinda combine the perky Laori Vaus and the chain devil into one person, you get a bit of the same dynamic.

Rodrick as a rogue was a well-realized character.  He wasn’t uber competent or a hopeless schlep, and he was avaricious but not vicious, scheming but occasionally letting his emotions get away with him. And Hrym is pretty funny, he’s a sword made of living ice who can’t really remember all of his millennia of life; he’s fond of sleeping on piles of gold coins and of Rodrick’s “twisty little mind.”  In the afterword Pratt credits Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser as the inspiration for his two characters’ adventures, and the main characters’ bromance in Liar’s Blade definitely puts one in mind of Leiber’s characters.

The travelogue through the River Kingdoms and Brevoy is also nice. The fight scenes aren’t anything to write home about, but since Hrym is super-magical many of the fights end quickly with a blast of ice magic, so we don’t have to dwell on many of them.

I’ve read a half dozen of these novels and this is definitely the best-written. Liar’s Blade is very entertaining, I give it 8 goblins out of 10!

Geek Book Review: The Big Book Of Adventure Stories

Big Book of Adventure StoriesI was in the library and saw the lurid cover to the left and figured what the heck, there might be something in there good for a laugh.

What I found was awesome.  It’s like a Penguin book of pulp classics, if Penguin wasn’t so stuck up that they didn’t have such a thing!  This massive 874-page tome contains everything from stories I read in high school English like “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Soul of a Regiment,” “To Serve Man,” Jack London’s “The White Silence,” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” to representative stories from just about every pulp property you’ve ever heard of, from Tarzan to Zorro to Sheena to Buck Rogers! It’s a complete canon of pulp adventure fiction.

I’m not well versed in the pulps and so had never read the original stories for many of these – some yes, but others I know know through movies or general cultural osmosis. You have in one volume Lady Fulvia, Conan the Barbarian, Khlit the Cossack, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Peter the Brazen, The Spider, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Wandering Smith, Singapore Sammy, Beau Geste, Zorro, Hopalong Cassidy, Buck Rogers, The Cisco Kid, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, King Kong, Bulldog Drummond, Aubrey St. John Major, Allan Quartermain, and more! Plus stories by Clark Ashton Smith, H.G. Wells, O’Henry, Philip Jose Farmer, Sax Rohmer, and various other luminaries. Great, great stuff.

This is an awesome collection.  I may have to find and buy a copy; I already have recommended it to friends who have bought copies. I owe my library so much in fines now, it took me a good while to churn through this – it’s big and in small print.

It’s funny, the presentation is really over-lurid – the cover above, and it’s broken up into internal sections like “Future Shock,” “Yellow Peril,” and “Megalomania Rules”… I mean, perhaps it’s against their spirit to take pulps too seriously and present it like it’s a Penguin book but I really didn’t expect the sheer amount of truly great writing this book was going to contain from its cover. Otto Penzler did a great job with this too – it’s not all the “most famous” of each author’s works; there’s a generous selection of “never published before” in here too.  I am going to have to check out more anthologies this guy’s edited because he knows what the hell he’s doing for sure.

Ten Year Old Girls Review Rise of the Runelords Miniatures

I had my new minis out from yesterday’s post-purchase initial review of the new Wizkids Pathfinder Battles Rise of the Runelords minis. (My that’s a long name.)  Go there to see the pictures for context. My daughter and one of her little friends saw them and decided to give me their opinions on them.  It was hilarious. Here’s as much as I could capture from stream of consciousness 10 year old girlspeak…

Storm Giantess: “She looks like she’s about to do something to me.”
“Cut you into pieces?”
“Yeah.”

Ogre Brute: “Looks like trollface meme guy.” <brief interruption where they tell me I’m so uncool and not up with the hip new things and we have to Google trollface. He does.>

Mash-fell-knocker (their pronunciation of Malfeshnekor):  <in a high voice> “Who’s a good doggie, who’s a good doggie, who’s a good doggie?” <in a harsh voice> “I kill you!”
“He looks like a monkey with elf ears.”
“He looks like a mix between a bat, a dog, and the ‘My precious’ guy from Lord of the Rings.”

Lucretia: “Her hair and eyes look evil.  She’s kinda bald but pretty. She must be the queen of something.”
<imitating Lucretia>  “You must obey me or be cut into pieces!”

Lyrie Akenja: “For Pete’s sake woman, put on a shirt!”
“Put on a shirt!  Put on a shirt!  Put on a shirt!” <chanting together>
“She has a wand, what is this, Harry Potter?”
“Oh look she has a kitty!”
<a long discussion on the pros and cons of kitties ensues>

Ogrekin: “Looks like Invader Zim with a muscly body and something on his head.”
“Looks like a bodybuilder with a messed up face.”
“Yeah, his face is jacked up.”
“Is that a baby rattle he has?”
<i do have to admit the ogrekin’s weapon is underwhelming, needs more meat on it>

Faceless Stalker:  “It looks like a beast that paints itself.”
“Put on some clothes!”
“His weapon looks like a spoon.”
<reading the base> “6 of 65!  Wow!  Good job for nothin’, guy!”
<this is a pretty weak mini, I agree with the girls>

Wraith: “Tornado man!”
“He kinda reminds me of the Statue of Liberty!”
“I know!”
“He’s not the Statue of Liberty, he’s the Statue of Liberty’s torch.”
“Yeah.”

Goblin Commando on Goblin Dog: “Oh look it’s a gremlin!  It’s a gremlin riding a puppy.”
“He looks like the guy from that book… Origami Yoda!” <I feel pain and regret that apparently kids nowadays don’t know Yoda except via derivative media.>
“He looks like the gremlins from that movie where the girl’s little brother gets taken and she has to marry someone and they attack her face!”
<a long Q&A ensues where I try to figure out what movie she’s talking about>
“Yeah, Labyrinth!”
“I’m bored, can we go play Littlest Pet Shops now?”

RPG Movie Review: The Wild Hunt

I was bored and looking through Netflix for something to watch, and it recommended to me The Wild Hunt – an independent movie where Canadian LARPers go a little mental. It had won a couple film festival awards, so I figured what the heck.

The setup is that Erik, an Icelander in Canada, heads out to a big ol’ LARP weekend in the woods to try to get his worthless girlfriend back. He’s not a LARPer but his brother is really big into it; Viking heritage, Norse sagas, the whole bit. The whole batch of LARPers are very, very, very serious about it – it almost converts over into cool, actually. You have other movies like Role Models where the people are into LARP but it’s still very cheesy and you’re like “whatever, diversity yay, ponce around all you want,’there’s nothing wrong with that’, but eek.” But here they are all so into it and put a lot of work into it – if you can make LARP seem cool, this movie comes closest to doing it.

It’s a pretty interesting  movie. It starts out weak mainly because of the unsympathetic main characters – Erik is a certifiable wuss, his girlfriend is a bitchy whore, and the initial crop of LARPers you meet are reasonably insane – but evens out its keel once you get to know more of the (better, and more interesting, frankly) secondary characters and they quicken the pace. It’s a low budget thriller set in an isolated setting where romantic hassles etc. end up cascading into Lord of the Flies. The ending is a lot more dark and brutal than I would have expected from the first act. About a third of the way through, I wasn’t sold and wondered if I should bail, but after seeing the whole thing I’d give it a 5/10, decent.

Of course some roleplayers are worried that this will “demonize the hobby.”  To that I say bah, many of the movies/TV shows with killers, they are doctors and lawyers and cops and moviemakers and other such. It should just be a rush to see your own niche thing breeding killers for a change. And it’s not like anyone will actually be afraid of this happening for real; they’re Canadians for God’s sake.  Everyone knows Canadians can’t kill anyone; they don’t have the constitution for it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Eight

One week isn’t enough for Fantastic Fest!  No, it’s a week and a bonus day.  And good thing; I saw my favorite two movies of the fest on this last day.

After a week of being in a movie theater, and often getting about 3 hours sleep between the late showing and getting in the early morning ticket line, I started to get sick.  A fistful of meds kept my sinuses in line till afterwards (I’m still suffering even now…)

14 Blades (8/10) – Donnie Yen stars in this period HK martial arts movie.  It’s well done and showcases some of the Mongol type areas.  Nothing too new and unique, but it was solidly executed – which made it better than the higher profile movies of the fest, True Legend and Legend of the Fist.  Duty!  Honor!  Kung fu!  All that good stuff.  It has light supernatural elements; occasional wire-fu and one baddie has a cool “evade death blows and leave a garment hovering behind” ninja trick kind of thing.

Red Hill (8/10) – Ryan Kwanten from True Blood stars in an Aussie film by Patrick Hughes.  It’s a constable’s first day on the job in a small outback town, Red Hill, when there’s a prison break and an infamous criminal from the town gets loose.  The locals freak, and are sure he’s coming back…  What could have been a straightforward slasher movie instead has a big twist, and the movie keeps tension without dragging.  We were all pleasantly surprised by this one – it’s not great, but it’s quite good.  [Side note - my gay friends that lust after Kwanten in his Jason Stackhouse role are concerned that he is not as dumb, and therefore not as adorable, in this part.  Fair warning.]

13 Assassins (9/10) – Now that’s a movie!  Takashi Miike gives us a samurai movie in the vein of Seven Samurai.  There’s a bad noble who has the favor of the Shogun, and a bunch of samurai are recruited to take him out before he goes and plunges the entire country into chaos.  The bad guy is Caligula bad, and the 13 samurai are cool – it’s hard to take a large cast like that and make them all distinct but they did a good job of that.  The entire latter part of the film is the 13 taking on like 200 guys in a town they’ve turned into a kill zone.  It is awesome.

Sound of Noise (9/10) – I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I heard from people that really liked it so I gave it a go.  It’s a Swedish film about guerrilla musicians and the tone deaf cop from a famously musical family who’s after them.  That description doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s quirky, fun, musical, dramatic, and more.  I hope more people get a chance to see it.  It gets my nod for best of the fest.

And that’s Fantastic Fest 2010!  I’ll do a recap next, but there were a lot of movies and the vast majority were very good.  I’ll be there next year, and since I managed to score a VIP badge I’ll be able to get some sleep!

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Seven

Son of a bitch.  I just wrote up a huge long post and WordPress ate it.  Sorry, I’m not going to do it all again, here’s the highlights though.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (7/10)

  • HK movie starring Andrew Lau
  • Sequel to Fist of Fury (Bruce Lee) or its remake Fist of Legend (Jet Li)
  • Starts off strong with kung fu WWII action scene
  • Then goes noir with a lot of hanging around a nightclub unsubtly called “Casablanca”
  • Masked avenger subplot a la Black Mask, but should have either been cut or gone into more, it was an odd thing to be a small sideline
  • End fight scene in Japanese dojo a shout-out to earlier Fists movies, but wasn’t nearly as good
  • Starts strong, then goes downhill

Bedevilled (8/10)

  • S. Korean movie, didn’t know what to expect based on blurb and pic
  • Self absorbed bitch Hae-won living in Seoul goes back to the island she grew up on, which has only about 9 souls living on it, eking out a 12th century subsistence lifestyle
  • The men abuse, the old ladies enable, and the one woman friend of Hae-Won, Bok-Nam, and her daughter are the ones to take the brunt of it
  • Hae-won keeps to her “not my problem” policy as bad things happen
  • Slow build and then in the last act the payback begins
  • Very well done movie, not a typical slasher/revenge movie, great indictment of those who stand by and won’t speak up when others are doing bad things

Red (8/10)

  • Based on Warren Ellis graphic novel
  • Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren are retired secret agents who get provoked by Karl Wagner et al. and have to swing back into action
  • A straightforward but well done comedy actioner, much better than the “Expendables”/”A-Team” kind of crap we’ve gotten lately
  • In theaters soon – heck, I may go see it again when it comes out

The Last Circus: Balada Triste (3/10)

  • Strongly hyped by Harry Knowles (AICN founder, FF co-founder) in slavering terms
  • Balada Triste = Sad Trumpet
  • Spanish film by Alex de la Iglesia about a kid whose clown dad is killed in a battle during Spanish Civil War, which is fun
  • Forget that and skip forward, now he’s a sad clown and working for a circus, he falls in love with a circus performer who has a violent happy clown boyfriend
  • He gets his ass beat
  • Both he and the other clown get all deformed and have Joker transformations
  • They fight over the “sad strumpet” a lot and are all surreal
  • I want to cut myself
  • Some people justified the movie’s weaknesses because of its “compelling imagery” but just because you’re Spanish doesn’t mean you’re Guillermo del Toro
  • Q&A indicates that Knowles loves this because of the comic book references
  • Worst film I saw at the fest, agreement on that assessment from the people I was attending with

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Six

Day 6, I wasn’t going to mess around – I put down five movies like they were unruly hookers.

First up, the awesome Rare Exports (8/10).  Scandinavians have weird myths, and this one delves into the early Swedish myths of Santa Claus – think less “jolly old Nick” and more “demented goat-beast.”   It’s the tale of a boy and his (modern day) reindeer-ranching village as Christmas approaches.  Some Americans (those goddamn Americans are always behind it) are blasting up on a nearby mountain, and it appears wolves have eaten all the reindeer…  But then you find out that the mountain may be where the natives froze and buried Santa because he was so nasty….  And next thing you know there’s fifty naked old guys running through the snow chasing a little boy.  This was a very enjoyable movie, it never goes over the line to slasher horror but you really think that any minute it’s going to…

There was a cool short before it, Unholy Night,  that similarly deals with the Icelandic Santa myths, in which there are 13 Santas, one of which is named “Meathook.”  You can imagine how that ends up.  They want to parlay the short into a film with all 13 Santas.  Sounds like a winning idea for a one-season Showtime special to me!

Then it was time for Mutant Girls Squad (6/10), the newest from the three Japanese psychos behind Tokyo Gore Police, Robogeisha, and Be A Man! Samurai School.  It’s Troma-esque schlocky gore.  I didn’t find it too engaging.  It was better than last year’s Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl at least, but there’s only so far the sophomoric imagery takes you – “Girl with a chainsaw coming out her ass” and “Girl with katanas coming out of her breasts” were two of the characters in this flick.  It was enjoyable in a middle school kind of way for the first hour, and then I got sleepy.

Next was a real high point, Drones (9/10) – like Office Space, but with aliens!  Kinda.  A true low budget success, we get a tale of intergalactic domination told only with office workers in cubicles.  The writing is the real star here, and the film is clever and engaging.  The protagonist, “Brian”, discovers in short order that both his best friend and his girlfriend are alien infiltrators, but from different races that oppose each other…  But it doesn’t go all “Bros vs Hoes,” it’s a good-hearted film where the characters pull together.  Very, very funny.  We all came out of that showing reinvigorated and chatty.

Then we watched The Dead (7/10).  Fair warning, the people I was with liked this film less than I did.  They shot a zombie outbreak movie in Africa, on the border of Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso.  An American military man involved in some brushfire war there gets stranded when a zombie outbreak happens.  He travels across the country, teaming up with a local military man for much of the journey.

This film just didn’t have the bite it should have.  First of all, “zombie outbreak” is only about a 6 on the 1-10 scale of fucked up shit that happens in that part of Africa every day.  The filmmaker shied away from showing any of that, possibly out of ultra sensitivity to the inevitable charges of racism that would follow.  (They talked about some of the Internet nimrods that are already tooting that horn; there is absolutely no reason for it but people like to bring themselves some measure of fame by crapping on other stuff.)  Second of all, they talked about the transformation of the main character from selfish to altruistic over the course of the film, but the movie I saw doesn’t support that one bit (that he was that selfish, or that he changed).  I did like how the people in the movie weren’t all “turn on each other and be more dangerous than the zombies,” that’s such a cliche now; seeing even disparate people band together despite their differences (besides black/white, they were on opposite sides in a war a day ago) in the face of such a threat.

A side note, they started this movie way before Resident Evil decided to have its newest incarnation in Africa, so no copycat charges please.  I think some of the problem may be that they just couldn’t get some of the scenes they wanted in the can; between customs delays and bribery and being held at gunpoint and knifepoint and suffering from dysentery, they really had a hellish time trying to make a movie in Africa.  There’s a scene where he finds a baby and gives it away to some soldiers about one minute after; the director expressed his frustration that they wanted to do more with that but just ran up against the limits of their time in country.

Finally, we had Rammbock (9/10), a German zombie outbreak movie.  A sad sack going to bug his ex-girlfriend gets caught up in an outbreak and he and several other residents of the townhouse barricade themselves in and have to help each other.  This film also had a fairly positive view of human nature post-zombie, though there was the one “Mr. Twitchy” who endangers everyone by being a big selfish tool.

I thought their take on the zombie outbreak was a very compelling one. It’s a disease, and the result is 28 Days Later style fast-zombies, but you find out that being bitten isn’t 100% fatal, and that an infected’s immune system might fight it off if they stay calm and avoid adrenaline rush.  So you have a reason to not just kill anyone bitten, and a reason to be seeking after sedatives and other McGuffins.  It opens up a lot of interesting avenues that the now-traditional zombie disease closes, and I’d be interested in seeing more riffs on it.

It was also clever in that all their attempts for random townspeople to confront zombies with violence end badly – they really have to use their brains, they don’t all go Ash like so many movies depict.

This was one of the best days of the fest!  But even better is yet to come…