Archive for December, 2011


Fright Night

Fright Night

Beware vampires named Jerry...

“That is a terrible vampire name. Jerry?” – Charley Brewster

The original Fright Night (1985) is one of the greatest vampire movies of all time. A teenager named Charlie suspects his next door neighbor Jerry is a vampire but no one believes him. While trying to prove his claim he finds himself in over his head and seeks the aid of Peter Vincent, host of Fright Night. Somehow the pair manages to destroy Jerry the evil vampire and save the neighborhood. The concept is pretty simple but the execution is what made this such a great vampire movie. The film draws as much inspiration from old horror movies as it does from the modern cinema of the 1980s. The movie is smart and terrifying while also being equally humorous in healthy doses. Tom Holland made a masterpiece. Anyone daring to produce a remake was taking a very big gamble because the original set a very high bar.

So when I learned about the remake to be released in August of 2011 I was both excited and scared at the same time. I got a little worried when I learned Craig Gillespie was going to direct, a man I knew nothing about and early investigation he had spent most of sixteen years directing commercials with a few other films I had never heard of. I am not against giving mostly unknown directors a shot at big movies but I was nervous about Hollywood giving him a chance on a movie like this one.

Marti Noxon was the saving grace who encouraged me to keep an eye on this film and really give it a chance. Her resume as a producer and writer is a long and distinguished one including such popular shows as Glee, Madmen, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Those last two are what gave me the most hope.

As the cast became known to me I knew the movie was heading in the right direction. Anton Yelchin (Charley Brewster) has been acting for quite some time but I was most familiar with his work in Star Trek (2009) as Chekov and Terminator Salvation (2009) as Kyle Reese. Collin Farrell (Jerry) is well known to most movie goers and Toni Collette (Jane Brewster) was a great addition to the cast. Imogen Poots (Amy) was excellent in 28 Weeks Later (2007) and she is the kind of actress that I think should do more work in the horror genre. I was even happy to learn that Chris Sarandon was going to make an appearance in the movie which makes him the only actor to appear in all three Fright Night movies (he appears in flashback scenes in the second one). And last but not least I believe David Tennant was a brilliant choice to play Peter Vincent.

They had all the right pieces to make a great movie but did they accomplish their goal? I think they did.

Fight Night (2011) does an incredible job of capturing the feel of the original movie while updating it to the 21st century. The vampires in this movie are sexy and terrifying at the same time. Unlike the original Peter Vincent (his name is a play on famous actors Peter Cushing and Vincent Price for those who don’t know) who would fit perfectly well in any Hammer film the new Peter Vincent looks more like Criss Angel, the pop icon of modern magic and illusion (or “bullshit” as Peter puts it in the movie). The movie did an excellent job of capturing the essence of “teens” today without falling into the trap of too much angst or melodrama. The writing did not disappoint and the special effects were quite excellent.

The movie also does an excellent job of establishing itself as a different kind of vampire movie when compared to the current status quo for vampires in movies and television (Twilight, The Vampire Diaries). While Fright Night‘s vampires are more than capable of seducing their victims they are more likely to fang out and start ripping their victims to shreds. The movie takes an early shot at Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series as Edd and Charley search for their lost friend Adam when Edd gets mad that Charley would even imply that he had read those books. I also could not help but notice the vampire Jerry had a love for apples but only the green kind, not the bright red ones which appear on the covers of Meyer’s books.

The new Fright Night not only managed to live up to the original but I feel it improved on the franchise because it updated the story for new generations of movie goers. If Hollywood stops now I am a happy horror movie fan but if they announce a Fright Night Part 2 remake I will be the first in line to see it as well.

Rise of the Planet of the ApesRise of the Planet of the Apes released in theaters on August 5, 2011 but I did not see this movie on opening weekend. I did not see it in the weeks following opening weekend when the crowds would be thinner and it would be easier to secure the best seat in the theater. I didn’t even rush to see it once it finally came out on DVD. So why did I finally take the time to watch this movie late last night on Christmas Eve? Because I was sitting on the couch watching my wife wrap presents and I was bored. Why wasn’t I wrapping presents? Trust me, no one wants me to wrap presents. It isn’t a pretty sight.

Honestly though that isn’t the reason I waited so long to watch this movie. I love the original Planet of the Apes and I am amused by the sequels. One would think I would be excited about another movie in the franchise but the wind was taken out of those sails back in 2001 when Tim Burton gave us his vision of Planet of the Apes starring Mark Wahlberg. The movie was okay but it seemed like Burton was paying more attention to the myriad sequels rather than the original which is the heart of the franchise. Burton’s movie just felt… wrong. Not to mention the ending of the movie was such a discombobulated mess of the story it ruined much of what the movie had to offer. This movie was just one more addition to the horde of horrid science fiction remakes, prequels and sequels which have plagued audiences for the last couple decades. So when Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco came out this year let’s just say I was less than excited to see it.

Unfortunately, now I am forced to concede that I rather enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Actually I would go as far as to say that I am very, very happy with the results. Without delving into the political undertones of the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems to make its own statements about corporate control of the masses and tell an interesting and even touching story about how our world became the world we know from the original Planet of the Apes movie.

James Franco plays Will Rodman a scientist who is searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease which crippled his father, played by John Lithgow. Experimental viruses plus chimpanzees equal the perfect recipe for apes who are as smart if not smarter than the humans around it. A stronger strain of the virus is introduced which not only elevates the mental capabilities of the apes it brings about the downfall of mankind. It is the perfect concept for a science fiction film but a concept does not always make a film great. The heart of this film centers on the relationship between Will and his father as well as the relationship Will develops with Casesar who he sees as his son. Surrounding Will’s relationship with his father and his son are these artificial constructs which prevent Will from protecting and helping the ones he loves. Standing outside these constructs is nothing less than freedom from everything that modern civilization represents.

The movie is thought provoking, entertaining and all in all an excellent addition to the Planet of the Apes franchise. Next to the original this is the best movie in the entire series.

Eclipse PhaseEclipse Phase, the Roleplaying Game of Transhuman Conspiracy and Horror, has been hitting all the right notes since its release in August of 2009. In 2010 it won three Ennies medals for Best Writing (Gold), Best Cover Art (Silver) and Product of the Year (Silver) while also winning the Origins award for Best Roleplaying Game of the Year. Posthuman Studios, LLC has a lot to be proud of.

The artistic elements of the game are impressive. The concepts of the game are expansive and tap into areas of science fiction which are quickly becoming more and more popular. The mechanics of the game are solid. The sheer volume of the narrative gamers can immersive themselves in is mind boggling. Eclipse Phase is awesome. Eclipse Phase is… intimidating.

For everything this game can boast about the one thing it lacks is the ability to allow players to give a quick once over of the core book and jump straight into their first game. The scope of the game and sheer volume of unique terminology makes much of the book difficult to access without spending some serious time with it.

Posthuman Studios LLC addressed those issues with the release of the Eclipse Phase Quick-Start Rules (QSR) in PDF format and with the release of the same product for Kindle users. The QSR parsed down the setting and the rules making them much more easily for new gamers to absorb.  This was exactly what the game needed to introduce new gamers to Eclipse Phase and it is offered free of charge.

To further expand on availability Posthuman Studios LLC has made the QSR available for Print on Demand through DriveThruRPG. Costing only $7 plus shipping and handling it is now easier for gamers to bring the QSR to the game table while also providing access to game stores who want to provide the product to their customers as well.

Gamers and game store owners interested in purchasing printed copies of the QSR should visit DriveThruRPG or go directly to the Eclipse Phase Quick-Start Rules listing for purchase options.

For more gaming news follow me on Twitter @Akodoken or add me to your circles on Google +.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Guilty Pleasures (1993) was written by Laurell K. Hamilton and is the first novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Anita Blake is a tough as nails Animator (necromancer) who moonlights with the St. Louis police department dealing with the cases they are not equipped to handle, namely the kind involving blood sucking vampires. In Anita Blake’s world vampires and other supernatural creatures not only exist but they have come out of hiding as well. In the United States of America the vampire community has fought for and won rights under government law which makes life for a vampire hunter like Anita difficult at times.

In Guilty Pleasures the vampires of St. Louis have been targeted by a murderer who has a taste for only the most powerful vampires in the city. Anita hunts vampires because she fears them and the last thing she would ever want to do is help them find the killer but she quickly finds she has little choice in the matter.  Nikolaos, the most powerful vampire in St. Louis, sadistically manipulates Anita into taking the case. When Anita is mortally wounded by a vampire which cannot control itself she is saved by Jean-Claude who “gives her part of his life force” (also known as Marking) making her more resilient than your average human. Nikolaus wants Anita to find the murderer but there is something else the thousand year old vampire wants as well. She wants Anita.

Anita narrates her own story in the first person which adds a great deal of depth to what would normally be considered your typical supernaturally charged action thriller. Through Anita’s eyes we are immersed in the terrifying world of vampires, undead and were-creatures which Hamilton eloquently constructs even while we are swept along at neck break speeds. Hamilton surrounds Anita with colorful characters which works well with the fast pace of the narrative. Willie McCoy, the polyester wearing vampire middle man, only appears for five pages at the beginning of the novel but when he shows up later on he feels like an old friend come back for a visit. Hamilton is a master of constructing memorable characters with very few words.

Anita is a great character because she is such a strong woman who fits naturally into her own skin. She does not struggle with her identity, she is who she is and that is a refreshing change of pace in literature featuring female protagonists. Where Anita runs into conflict is where and how she chooses to express her sexuality and who she wants to develop relationships with. She attracts men of all kinds but she is very particular about who she lets into her private life. She is attracted to Jean-Claude but he holds power over her and Anita will not allow herself to be subjected to a life as a vampire’s servant. She and Phillip share a common, traumatic background and in a strange way she is attracted to that but she cannot allow herself to succumb to the trauma of their experiences like Phillip has.

Ultimately Anita needs to be strong because Hamilton is not going to show her any mercy in this book. The horrors which Anita confronts would drive most mortals insane but she finds a way to overcome and fights her way towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Pity the vampire that gets in her way and be ready to clean up the mess when she is done.

Why I Don’t Hate Twilight

Twilight

Twilight

Twilight is trendy right now. Hating Twilight seems to be just as trendy as well. Generally it is hard not to think of people as existing in one camp or the other but personally I stand outside the dichotomy. I don’t hate Twilight. I don’t love it either but I don’t hate it. People find it strange when I say something like that because they know me. I make all the usual jokes about sparkly vampires. I like to talk about the differences between a sexual encounter in Twilight which ends with a joke about a ruined pillow and a sexual encounter in an Anita Blake novel by Laurell K. Hamilton which ends with shattered collar bones and brutal scars (both physical and emotional) which will be carried for life.

I poke fun at Bella who goes catatonic when “her man leaves her” and groan at the Twilight trailers for the movies. That goes double for the trailers for Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2 because Twilight fans are fooling themselves when they say “I don’t know how they are going to handle that book in one movie. So much happens!” Trust me, the movie studio could have easily filmed that story in a single movie but then they wouldn’t be milking every penny out of the hordes of Twilight fans out there. They did each of the novels in the Lord of the Rings series as a single movie. I know they could have done the same with Breaking Dawn.

But I don’t hate Twilight. To be blunt, Twilight is a great gateway drug.

Vampires have been around for a very long time. Long before Bram Stoker gave Dracula to the world (in 1897 for the record) the creatures of the night we generalize as vampires had already been making appearances in cultures all over the world for thousands of years in various forms. Even if we limit ourselves to literature we are still talking about a century or two of exploring the dark world of the vampire. Compared to all that Twilight really is just a drop in the bucket so we need to start thinking long term about what we are going to do with all these new vampire fans after Bella has lost her appeal (even if she does smell SOOOOOO good).

However, Twilight is not the only vampire in town. In cinema the sparkly vampires are keeping company with the much darker “No God!” vampires in movies like 30 Days of Night and the frightening young vampire Eli in Let the Right One In. In literature authors like Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter), Charlaine Harris (The Southern Vampire Mysteries a.k.a. True Blood on HBO) and Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files) are all exploring the realms of vampires and other supernatural creatures. On television The Vampire Diaries (which began as a series of books for young adults back in 1991) is certainly tapping into the Twilight fan base but as the show continues to thrive it is growing beyond its humbler beginnings. White Wolf Games has been celebrating the essence of the vampire since 1991 and in celebration of twenty years in the World of Darkness they released the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire the Masquerade this fall. Inevitably some of those Twilight fans are going to look beyond Edward and ask themselves, “What else is out there?” We will be there waiting with open arms, ready to show them where to take the next great step in their journey.

Unfortunately, that will be a difficult bridge to cross if we burn it long before the Twilight fan base finds themselves ready to cross it.

There is no simpler way to put it. No one is asking you to love Twilight. I don’t love Twilight. However, we need to find a way to stop hating Twilight because sooner or later Twilight will be a thing of the past but our community will still exist. It will be a better place if we can find a way to ease these tensions and welcome all these new vampire lovers into the fold before it is too late. Our community can benefit in the long run. So because of that hope I have for the future of our community I don’t hate Twilight. I hope maybe some of you can find a way to stop hating Twilight too.

A Dance with Dragons

A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five

While sitting down to write this review I wondered about the core theme of this book and how it contributed to A Song of Ice and Fire series. Much like the pieces in a game of cyvasse the characters in this series are always moving around and interacting with each other in interesting ways. While this makes for interesting storytelling it does sometimes leave readers grasping when it comes to pinning down the central theme of each book.

So what is the central theme of A Dance with Dragons?

It took me a bit to come up with an answer to that question. I traced each character through the novel and followed each thread of story until I realized the most prevalent aspect of this book is that every character was going from one place to another (sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically). Each character was trying to get from “here” to “there” and like every great thread of story in this series Martin has insisted that no journey consists of a straight line between A and B.

Tyrion is on a journey to reach Daenerys. Actually, a lot of people are on a journey to reach Daenerys. Daenerys is trying to find her way to peace for Meereen. Cersei is trying to find her way back to power. Jon Connington wants to return home and restore his honor. King Stannis is trying to claim the strength of the north and leads his army towards Winterfell to take it from the Boltons. Lord Commander Jon Snow seeks a way to save the Realm from the Others and it seems like the only way to that goal is through his allies.

By the end of the novel some find their way and some do not. I would tell you more but that would be cheating. However, their destinations are not the essential core of this novel. Those sweet fruits are being saved for the final two books in the series. This novel is about the journey and the inevitable truth that none of them are really prepared for what they will face along the way or what they will find at the end of the road.

Tyrion, so wise to the ways of the world, learns that he is less a player in the Game of Thrones and more a piece which is being moved by the real players. However, he has potential and he can become a player if he so wishes. Daenerys teases that “she is just a young girl” and does not understand the affairs of statehood and warfare but learns the hard way that she may have actually been as naive as the part she played. Now instead of “never looking back” she must “go back to move forward.”

So the journeys of “character development” are even more important than the literal journeys taking place. Meanwhile, Martin weaves his characters back and forth so their threads become tighter and tighter as the narrative progresses. Readers should be aware that their favorite characters may or may not find their destinations in this novel but they will all be richer characters for it in the end.

Do I have any complaints about this book?

Unfortunately, I do. More so than any of the other books in this series Martin’s editing skills have gotten sloppy. In most cases I can ignore editing errors but this book is full of them. Even overlooking the minor ones this book is plagued by characters who change gender (according to the pronouns) and cases where things are just amiss. His name is Tormund Giantsbane, not Tormund Giantsbabe.

I digress because I do not want you to think I did not enjoy this book. I loved this book! I love the entire series and I hope it is not five years before we get to read The Winds of Winter.

“Valar Morghulis.”

“Valar Dohaeris.”

 

Oren Sands

Never trust a sellsword!

Oren Sands was born Oren Falonmar, youngest son of the Falonmar merchant family of Velen. Like all members of his family he received the finest education his family could afford but even from an early age he longed for a sword in his hand more than letters and numbers in his head.

Upon his ten and eighth name day Oren’s father gifted him with The Island Beauty, one of the finest sailing ships in his father’s fleet. A life at sea was not the adventure he longed for but he accepted the ship and promised nothing less than leal service to his father. However, as a ship’s captain Oren was reckless. He chose only the most dangerous routes across the Sea of Swords and braved any storm no matter how violent it may be. When attacked by the pirates of the Nelanther Isles he could laugh and draw his blade. Though he and his crew never lost their ship they often lost members of the crew. It soon became difficult to find sailors for his vessel as his ill reputation spread.

Until the day he lost the ship in the Shining Sea. His first mate warned him against challenging the dark storm sweeping across the horizon. It was like nothing they had ever seen before, surely the furious get of Umberlee herself. Oren would not listen.

Days later Oren washed up on shores of Calimshan. His men were dead. His ship was lost. His family was dishonored by his foolish behavior. It was there on the shore that he was found by The Golden Sons, a company of sellswords marching their way up the coast.

He has brought shame to his family name so he abandoned it and became Oren Sands, a fatherless child of the Calimshan desert. He signed his new name to the lists of the mercenary company and pledged his service for two years. They had many uses for a young castaway who knew his letters and numbers but Oren was more interested in showing them what he could do with his sword.

Two years later…

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&D Character Builder ======
Oren Sands, level 1
Human, Fighter (Slayer)
Human Power Selection Option: Heroic Effort
Occupation – Merchant (Diplomacy class skill)
Theme: Mercenary

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
STR 18, CON 10, DEX 16, INT 10, WIS 10, CHA 12

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
STR 16, CON 10, DEX 16, INT 10, WIS 10, CHA 12

AC: 17 Fort: 17 Ref: 14 Will: 12
HP: 25 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 6

TRAINED SKILLS
Athletics +9, Diplomacy +6, Endurance +5, Streetwise +6

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +3, Arcana +0, Bluff +1, Dungeoneering +0, Heal +0, History +0, Insight +0, Intimidate +1, Nature +0, Perception +0, Religion +0, Stealth +3, Thievery +3

POWERS
Basic Attack: Melee Basic Attack
Basic Attack: Ranged Basic Attack
Mercenary Attack: Takedown Strike
Human Racial Power: Heroic Effort
Multiple Class Attack: Power Strike
Fighter Utility: Berserker’s Charge
Fighter Utility: Battle Wrath

FEATS
Level 1: Heavy Armor Agility
Level 1: Heavy Blade Expertise

ITEMS
Scale Armor x1
Broadsword x1
Handaxe
Adventurer’s Kit
Climber’s Kit
====== End ======