Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review, Part 2 of 2: X-Men: Days of Future Past: A hate so big it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty

Part Two of the review. Part One can be found here.


We have a brief intermission where "Trask" (so obviously Mystique that he might as well be wearing a "Hi, my name is Raven!" nametag) goes into his office to read his secret files. This is otherwise a great scene, with some nice moments like Trask's voice coming from Mystique's lips. She finds that he's killed and analyzed a number of her friends from the earlier movie, and asks his secretary to print up his itinerary at the Paris Peace Accords. The only minor complaint I have about this scene is that it's almost a beat for beat retread from the similar scene from Singer's X-Men II. "Hi, Sir, how are you?" "Fine, thanks, just getting some files from my office." Looking for files, oops, almost discovered, evade discovery through clever use of powers. I think I'll feel better if I call it an "homage".

We cut to the three amigos (Beast, Professor X, Wolverine) entering a house outside of DC. Pietro's (okay, fine, in the movie he's called Peter, but at least they kept Maximoff for his last name) mom asks them what he did now and offers to write a check to make them go away. They say they just want to speak to him, so she lets them in. They cross a very worn welcome mat, which was another of the minor details that really made the movie come alive, and head down to the basement.

Pietro is so much fun. Gloriously frenetic, zipping around, bouncing off the walls, playing Pong against himself, picking pockets at super-speed. There were so many ways for this to go wrong (and he really looked like such an astounding douchebag in the promotional material), but he's as entertaining as the filmmakers think he is. Our heroes convince him to help them break into the Pentagon in order to break out Magneto. 

Our heroes are in a tour group, and the guide mentions what happens to be my favorite bit of trivia about the Pentagon, that there are twice as many bathrooms as it needs, because it was built during Segregation. Beast arranges a distraction by piping in Sandford and Son into the security feed, and Pietro steals a security guard's uniform and breaks out Magneto by vibrating the glass at superspeed.

They encounter some security on their way out through the kitchen. Magneto is just going to stab everyone to death, but Quicksilver triggers his Long-Second watch (Again with the Trancers references, Josh? Really?) and super-speeds through the opposition.

It's astounding, one of the very best action sequences I've ever seen, perfect from concept to execution. 

And we have to part ways with Pietro, lest he steal the rest of the movie. While I think he was ultimately unnecessary to the narrative of the movie, his scenes were ridiculously entertaining. He also gets a great line: "They say you can manipulate metal. My mom used to know a guy who could do that." Magneto is Quicksilver's biological father in the comics, though he left their actual upbringing to a humanoid cow. (Comics, everybody!)

Together, Magneto, Wolverine, Beast and Professor X fly to Paris. Xavier asks him why he killed JFK and Magneto claims that JFK was actually a mutant and that he was trying to steer the bullet away from him. My first thought was that Magneto was playing Xavier, because he knew by then Xavier couldn't read his mind, but I think that the background material does imply that Magneto was actually framed.

He and Charles get an argument on the plane over the ocean, and Magneto's powers start tearing at the metal around him. My friend Frederick thought that Wolverine was going to cold cock him with the glass ashtray we'd been shown previously, but I'm glad he didn't. I think that's what I like about the series. The villains are never easily overcome. Magneto's own actions bring about his downfall. And, as sympathetic as he is, he is the villain of the piece. I described him in the earlier post as being possessed of "A hate so big it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty", and while he is acting to protect innocent people, he's perpetrating monstrous acts to do so, and at the end of the day, that makes him a villain.

They arrive in Paris and barge into the meeting where Mystique is going to kill Trask. She had arrived there impersonating a Vietnamese general, but unfortunately, her cover's already been blown, because Trask happened to be carrying a mutant detector. Mystique fights off the mundanes, but the good guys prevent her from killing Trask. Stryker, Trask's bodyguard is tased in the course of the fight, and as he lies convulsing, Wolverine recognizes him as the man who will graft the adamantium on his skeleton and is paralyzed by the flashback. Thus he's unable to act when Magneto tries to kill Mystique, because he knows it's her blood that will be used to create the invulnerable, adaptive Sentinels of the future.

He fires once (in a nice bit, he pulls the trigger with his powers after the gun has been knocked from his hand), but she leaps through the window to avoid it. He bends the bullet after her. There's a big fight as Magneto tries to kill her, Hank hulks out into the Beast and almost drowns Magneto in the nearby fountain and the whole clusterfuck is caught on hundreds of cameras.

The world reacts predictably, and Nixon approves the Sentinel program. (Another of the throwaway details that I liked was a picture of Nixon and his wife on his desk.)  Mystique's blood is recovered from the battle site in Paris.

Mystique tracks down Magneto, pulls him into an alcove in a subway station and threatens to shove a shiv of something plastic in his brain. He explains, quite reasonably in his mind, that he was trying to save the mutant race, but since they already have her blood, there's no reason to kill her. Mystique is, unsurprisingly, not entirely persuaded by this line of argument, but she's mollified enough not to kill him.

Magneto has seen the schematics for the Sentienels, and he knows that they would be immune to his powers, so he intercepts them en route to their demonstration in DC and laces them with steel torn from up from train tracks. This metal impregnation goes all the way to their electronic brains, allowing Magneto to control them.

A word on the Sentinels, since this review isn't long and meandering enough. I'm not entirely thrilled with the look of the movie Sentinels, either the the 70s robots or future version, but given the choice between this

or the purple and magenta monstrosities of the comics,


 I'll take what I can get.

Once they return to the mansion, Xavier kicks the junk and regains his powers, but loses the use of his legs. He's frustrated again, but after a pep talk from Wolverine and his future self, he tracks down Mystique in Washington, using Cerebro. I noticed that the helmet was the only thing with dust on it. Where did it come from? I always assumed that Cerebro was in some kind of clean room.

Xavier, Beast and Wolverine travel to DC. Xavier uses a mind trick to get them past security and Wolverine is pleasently surprised that he didn't set off the metal detector.

Nixon unveils the Sentinels on the White House lawn. They're loaded with live ammo, because apparently we have learned nothing from ED-209. Meanwhile, Xavier is scanning the crowd for Mystique. She's disguised as a Secret Service agent and just as she's about the assassinate Trask, we hear her thoughts, "This is for you, my mutant brothers and sisters." I just love that. It no longer makes sense to go after Trask. That ship has sailed and the Sentinel Program is going to go on without him. But she really believes that she's helping her fellow mutants, which reminds me of another line I really like: "His was the most dangerous morality of all. He was a misguided idealist."

Elsewhere, Magneto raises an entire stadium (Wikipedia tells me it's the the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium) and starts levitating it towards the White House.

When watching this, I didn't see how this worked into his plan, which I had assumed to be control the Sentinels into firing on the crowd and showing they couldn't be trusted.  But that's not gradiose enough for Magneto.

He drops the stadium around the White House as a barricade, then commandeers the Sentinels. Nixon and Trask are hustled off to a safe room, along with Mystique, still in her disguise, but she's betrayed again by Trask's mutant detector. Magneto tears the building apart, looking for the safe room. Mystique escapes the clutches of the secret service and grabs Stryker's plastic gun. (I really like that he had the foresight to bring one once they knew that facing Magneto would be a real possibility.)   The three amigos try to stop him, but they're bringing bone claws to a stadium fight, and it's no contest. Magneto orders a Sentinel to obey its original programming and it goes after Wolverine, but Beast draws it away. Then Magento throws some junk at Wolverine before deciding to stop dicking around, whereupon he crucifies him with rebar and chucks him into the Potomac.

Meanwhile (I think? Douglas Adams was right. Determining tense is difficult when time travel is involved) in the future, the Sentinels have located the X-Men at the monastery.  There are a zillion of them, and the best the X-Men are going to be able to do is hold them off as long as possible.

I don't know if this a better action sequence than Quicksilver's, but I'm a sucker for doomed last stands. One, by one, defenders are overwhelmed and killed.

Back in the present, Fassbender Magneto pulls the panic room out of the White House. With a gesture, he turns all the cameras towards himself, and gives a "You were right to fear us" speech and prepares to kill Nixon with the whole world watching.

Won't someone think of the children?!

Nixon comes out and offers to sacrifice himself if Magneto will spare the rest of the panic room. Before you can say "Hmmm...that seems rather uncharacteristic for Richard Nixon", he transforms into Mystique and shoots Magneto with Stryker's plastic gun.  It looks like Magneto's going to kill her, so Beast, who's still tussling with that Sentinel, spikes himself with a dose of his mutation-suppressing serum. He no longer registers as a mutant, so the Sentinel turns on the two other mutants in the area, Magneto and Mystique. Magneto sees it coming, and waves his hand at it with casual disdain, taking it apart with a gesture. This momentary distraction provides an opening for Mystique, who yanks off his helmet, allowing Xavier to shut him down. The whole sequence is very well done.

Xavier then manipulates Magneto into standing down,  and then allows him to flee, because he will certainly be executed otherwise. Public sentiment turns back against mutant genocide, because a mutant saved the president. I don't find that entirely convincing, because they were clearly, at least in part colluding with each other, and having one nice mutant on hand hardly offsets the presence of another mutant who is willing to destroy humanity and can pick up stadiums with his mind.  I'll buy into it, though, because I like what they're selling.  We see in a paper that Trask was arrested and the Sentinel program scrapped.

The dark future is overwritten with a bright new one, where everyone has found a job teaching at Xavier's school. Even Cyclops and Jean are there. I loved this ending. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a redeemed Magneto also teaching a class.

Xavier asks Wolverine the last thing he remembers, and Wolverine tells him, "Drowning". The next thing we see is a police boat dredging Wolverine out of the river back in the 70s.. The captain hands him over to Stryker, and it appears history will repeat itself, with the adamantium being bonded to his bones once again, but Stryker's eyes flash yellow and we see that he's Mystique.

For the obligatory post-credits scene, we see a horde gathered in the desert prostrating themselves, chanting. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but I assume it was "En Sabah Nur", which is what Apocalypse went by back in the day. He assembles a truly gargantuan pyramid with his telekinesis, while four horsemen watch from atop a dune.

I loved it. There are minor quibbles that come with any kind of project of this scope, but it's my new favorite superhero movie, because it captures the glory of what it means to be human, and to be superhuman.

Review, Part 1 of 2: X-Men: Days of Future Past: Fight the Future

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past on Memorial Day, with my friend Frederick. We arrived early to get good seats and we were chatting and making general small talk, and he asked if this movie was based on Cable's story. I said that no, it's from a different X-Men parallel future storyline. X-Men continuity is a mess. As I mention in my review of X-Men: First Class, the series is now is over 50 years ago, and it would be a miracle if it remained snag-free. However, the movie, like its predecessor, distills what works about the source material, discards the rest and interprets what remains through the lens of modern movie-making. The result is an outstanding film that, while complicated, is never once confusing.

As a result, we saw a ton of previews, which I will now review first, because I'm sure that's what everyone came here to read. (I'll label the part where the review of the actual movie starts, so you can skip down if you're no inclined)

The Previews

The World WarsSo, I made the same joke that everyone does when I saw the History Channel logo on the screen. "Ha ha! More like Hitler Channel, amirite?" And this seems, certainly interesting in concept, examining how the actions of the principal actors of WWII were shaped by their experiences in WWI. However, it's the History Channel, so we're going to get everyone from the Bush Administration to serve as a talking head, as well as "reenactments", including one, which, if I've interpreted a very brief clip correctly, that makes Adolph Hitler look like an action hero,  firing at the camera with a one-handed shot from the hip.

Hercules The Rock!  He's always so much fun in a movie! This is a going to be grea- Oh, Brett Ratner directed it. Never mind.

Edge of Tomorrow:  Looks like a promising sci fi action movie. However, it stars Tom Cruise, who is 50 years old and four feet tall, and I'll never understand how he gets himself cast for every other action movie. He's like an extremely good looking hobbit. Frederick later quipped that he expected Cruise to insist on starring in the next Expendables.

When the Game Stands Tall: A football team wins a bunch of games in a row! But then they lose one! I hope the aliens from the Edge of Tomorrow come over to this movie and vaporize every one of these Friday Night Lights rejects.

Lucy: This looks extremely good. It perpetuates the "Humans only use 10% of their brain power" myth, but it looks so good that I'm willing to forgive that. Scarlett Johansson plays a woman implanted with a device that allows her to utilize 100% of her brainpower. She's an outstanding actress with the right direction, and it looks like Luc Besson is going to bring that to the table here.

The Expendables 3: We're only up to three? Really? I thought we had that many in 2013 alone. The first movie had a clever gimmick, but it needs to die now.

Kingsman: This is Lucy for Dudebros. It looks terrible.  I see that it's based on a comic by Mark Millar. Neither Colin Firth nor Michael Caine can save it.

Another Planet of the Apes movie: While it's possible that someone I know has seen one of these movies, I have never heard anyone express any kind of opinion on any of them, ever.

Guardians of the Galaxy: I worked three years in a poorly trafficked comic store, and mostly just read comics for eight hours a day. Never once did I read a copy of Guardians of the Galaxy. Ah, this is Firefly done right. This trailer, and presumably, the movie that goes with it, remember that movies should be fun.

And now, on to the main event!

 X-Men: Days of Futures Past Movie Review

Here's a recolored image of the movie poster as my way of saying thanks for reading through that earlier section. 

Nice groovy 70's vibe to it
I'm not even going to attempt to do this review without spoilers.


We open with a couple scenes to establish the reality of this crapsack future. Killer robots called Sentinels have almost wiped out mutants, and mutant sympathizers live in ghettos. But the surviving X-Men fight on!

On our team we have

Kitty Pryde: Shadowcat, though I don't think anyone calls her that. She was the character who went back in time to change the past in the original story, and while there was a little bit of nerdrage about the change on the Internets, I think the change is for the better.

Her mutant powers include phasing through solid matter, some kind of Trancers-style time travel where a target's mind is sent back to inhabit his earlier body, and being Josh's make believe girlfriend. Ellen Page has always been outstanding in everything she's ever done, and, while she doesn't get much screen time, she's predictably great here.

Colossus: It was nice to get Daniel Cudmore (and his cool armoring up sound) back for this movie, even if his super powers have dwindled to "being punched by Sentinels".

Sunspot: Back when I was a kid, we lived a couple houses away from Bob Sharen, who was, at the time, a colorist for Marvel Comics. (He's now an artist of a different sort, and you can see his other work at his website at Earthlight studio. Hi, Bob! I'd be extremely surprised if you remember me!) He gave us a ton of comics, and a lot of them had Sunspot, and I remember thinking that Sunspot was a much bigger deal than he actual was. Still, he had a neat look and an interesting power set (how often do you see super-strength without invulnerability?)

Warpath: Pretty generic hero with super senses, and probably some super strength if he thinks that knife is going to be any good against the Sentinels. The combination of his name, costume and powerset are perhaps a bit culturally insensitive in 2014, but at least he's not Silver Deer.

Bishop: I was heavily into comics when Bishop was introduced in 1991. Though he's a kind of the stereotypical 90's anti-hero, having held memberships in "X-Treme Sanctions Executive", "Xavier's Security Enforcers", and "X-Treme X-Men", I've always liked him. He's got a neat powerset (absorption and redirection of energy) and a distinctive look and it's always nice to see more people of race in comic books. It's worth noting that his movie incarnation makes quite a bit more sense than his comics version. Comics Bishop could fire blasts of whatever energy he had just absorbed straight from his body. And yet, he always carried a big ray gun wherever he went. What was the point? The movie version shows a feed from his body to his gun, implying that he can't project the energy on his  own without some kind of focusing device.

Blink: We had a character named Blink in our Pen and Paper superhero campaign. Our Blink was a teleporter, but also a dude.  I quite liked Blink. One of the things I disliked about the super-fights in the Avengers was that they showed so little imagination. They were people doing things people do, like throwing or punching, but faster or better. Blink's power is to open a portal from one place to another, much like the video game Portal. It completely changes the dynamics. It's interesting and engaging and the visual presentation of her powers is stunning

Iceman: It's really nice to see Shawn Ashmore return. I was never a huge fan of Iceman, but Ashmore is pretty great with the role.

The group fights the Sentinels, but everyone but Kitty and Bishop are killed. As the Sentinels approach the pair to finish them off, Kitty and Bishop vanish. A group of Magneto, Wolverine, Professor X and Storm (no biographies for these guys, since they're so well known) rendezvous with all of them in China. (I really liked some establishing shots of Sentinels atop the Great Wall. It seemed to show how complete their domination was.)

It turns out Kitty's group has been rewinding time in order to avoid the Sentinels. What she was doing with Bishop was sending a message to his past self, saying, "Hey, Sentinels are coming. Don't hide in that place." He warns everyone, so they aren't where they they would have been/will be when the Sentinels attack, history is rewritten, and we get everyone back again.

They want to send a message much further back than they usually go, all the way back the assassination of Bolivar Trask in the 1970s.  Mystique assassinated him, was captured herself, and her blood was used to engineer the new adaptive Sentinels. Wolverine is the only one who can survive the journey, so he goes. We awakens in his new body to the strains of the "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". Turns out he was banging the mob boss's daughter while he was supposed to be bodyguarding her. Three goons in outrageous 70s mafia leisurewear arrive, Wolverine makes a half-hearted attempt to talk them out of the fight, but he doesn't really care, because he's reasonably confident on how it's going to play out if push comes to shove. He pops his claws, which are bone instead of metal, which I thought was a surprising bit of continuity porn until I learned how big a role William Stryker was going to play. Spoilers, they fight, Wolverine wins, and gets his car.

We cut to Bolivar Trask is giving testimony before a Senate subcommittee about the mutant menace, but even though he quotes from Charles Xavier's thesis on human genetic mutation, they pull the plug on his funding.

It seems like every review of this movie has an observation somewhere along the line that "Every actor was good, but actor X stole the show!"   There were certainly no bad performances anywhere to be found. I think Peter Dinklage as Trask is actor X in that equation for me, as he most consistently stole the scenes he was in, but I'll qualify that by saying that he was rarely opposite another main cast member.

Wolverine finds the X-Mansion in disrepair, with only Hank McCoy and Professor X in attendance.  The Good Professor is in full-on Lieutenant Dan mode, hopeless, drunk and unshaven. McCoy is periodically hairy too, transforming into the blue-skinned Beast when angry. That change didn't work for me. I liked the awkward nerd from the first movie, but his transformation from gangly scientist to brightly colored superhero is so specifically the Hulk's schtick that it's hard not to think of him that way, and it's a little distracting. Wolverine beseeches the Professor to help, but finds that Charles has just given up after so many of his students had been drafted and killed in Vietnam. 

Meanwhile, Mystique rescues several drafted mutants in Vietnam, among them Havok, Toad and this guy with whom I was previously unfamiliar, Ink, who, like everything else in this movie, had a superlative visual aesthetic. The mutants were going to be shipped away for experimentation at Trask's firm, but together they fight off the contractors (including a young Major Stryker) and she gets them on a chopper headed home. It's nice to see the ladies rescue the boys once in a while.

Wolverine convinces the Professor to help, but they decide they're going need Magneto's help, not because he's a powerful mutant, but because he's the only one who can reach Mystique and persuade her to turn away from Trask. I liked that, that even among these super-humans who can lift stadiums and control minds from across the world, it's the human element that's most important.

Of course, since Wolverine's power is stabbing things, the Beast's powers are being pretty strong and pretty tough, and the Professor traded in his telepathy for the unbeatable powers of super-walking and alcoholism, they realize they're going to need some help. Wolverine knows a guy...

Continued in part two of this review, which can be found here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Man, I really need to post something

Before I lose the attention of the three people who read this blog.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Sense of Wonder

I remember, long before Lily was born, Jen was applying for a position as a naturalist, and the application form listed a number of different age groups and asked her describe experience teaching to each of those groups, as well as what aspects she most enjoyed about teaching to those groups.

Jen felt confident about the position, because she was able to give a specific and detailed answer for each category. The one which struck me and which remains to me to this day was her answer and young school-age kids and the "sense of wonder" with which they view the world.

I hadn't spent much time with kids since I was one, but I see now that Jen was right about this, as she was about so many other things.

I love that Lily has this sense of wonder, and I hope she holds on to it as long as she can. She's so sincere about everything she does, and she can't wait to show off the drawing of her roller derby super hero who fights crime with the aid of an army of helpful plants. (Daisy Doom)

She's enthusiastic about her garden, as you can see in this gif, where she poses with a string bean.

See that little kitten with her? That's Kitty. Lily has a thousand stuffed animals, and I don't really remember how Kitty came to live with our family. You can find those guys at discount stores or the local supermarket, and we (or Lily's Oma) likely picked her up from one of those places.

Lily loves Kitty. How much does she love Kitty. She wrote this poem for Kitty. I think it might be the most painfully earnest thing I've ever read,

Two things:

  1. It's an acrostic, where the first letter of each line spells out a word when taken together.
  2. I think I was eighteen before I learned that poems didn't have to rhyme.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 5: "I bet his hair is greasier than Joffrey's..."

We open with Tommen getting crowned. He's wearing such a flat expression that he looks like a Targaryen.

Cersei approaches Margaery, whom I will henceforth refer to as "Natalie", because I can never remember how to spell her name, and I always have to look it up and paste "Margaery" into whatever I'm writing. Cersei is rather frank. Joffrey was crazy, but she still loved him because he was her son. My favorite scene with Cersei and Joffrey was near the beginning of the series, where she's bandaging his wound after he was mauled by a dire wolf. He's afraid that he's a coward, and she reassures him that he's not. I could believe that she really loved him. Even the most monstrous of us are human beings.

It's a really great discussion. Natalie says all the right things, and is perhaps a bit nervous that Cersei is acting so rationally. It's pretty clear that Cersei is still jockeying to hold on to some power, but it's one of those instances where being a decent person will get her closer to her goals, so that's what she's doing. It's a nice bit. It's really nice to see two women talking together, which is something that occurs far too infrequently in media.

Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, Dany is like "Waaaaah, queening is hard!"

Her accent is weird. It reminds me of Brad Pitt in Troy, where his accent wasn't quite British, but that affected accent that Americans use when portraying characters from ancient times. No, that's not true. It's the accent of something who only had old VHS copies of the Princess Bride, and who taught herself English by listening to Christopher Guest as Count Rugen. Much like every other aspect of her performance, it's awful and distracting.

Plus, when I'm finished watching one of her scenes, I feel like it's sucked away one year of my life.

I love how wikiquote characterizes her reactions.

Jorah Mormount: Joffrey Baratheon is dead. Murdered at his own wedding. (Daenerys stares at him in amazement)
Barristan Selmy: And we've taken the Meereenese Navy, Your Grace.
Daario Neharis: The Second Sons took the Meereenese Navy.
Daenerys Targaryen: (sharply)Who told you to take their Navy?

Here's how she looks when she's staring "in amazement"

and here's how she looks when she's speaking sharply.

Lady's a chameleon!

I hear more emotion from the voice that gives me turn by turn directions when I use the navigation on my phone. "Turn left on Schultz av-en-nue. Your des-tin-at-tion is on the right."

It's the usual "Aren't we the best?" self-congratulatory circle jerk I've come to expect with scenes featuring Daenerys and her man-harem, but there is one funny line in the scene, where Daaaaaaaario tells her that he took the Mereenese navy. When she asks he why he did this, he answers "I heard you like ships."

He's such a monumental tool.

She totally deserves him.

We cut to Sansa and Littlefinger approaching the Aerie. Sansa looks about two feet taller than Littlefinger.

We meet Aunt Lysa and her son Robin. They're crazy. Then again, her sister kidnapped a dwarf, so maybe there's something wrong with the Tullys. Turns out Lysa was crazy for Littlefinger, and she poisoned her husband at his behest. She's all like, "Exposition turns me on. Let's fuck," and he's clearly disgusted by the whole thing.

They get their bow-chikka-wow on, and it's awkward for Sansa in the suite below.

The scene changes to Tywin and Cersei. Tommen's wedding is scheduled for a fortnight, with Cersei's wedding to Ser Loras to follow another two weeks after that. Cersei is, again, suspiciously reasonable. Tywin tells her that they need these weddings, because their mines have run dry and they need the money the Tyrells will bring in order to pay their debt to the Iron Bank of Bravos.

The scene ends with Cersei observing that Tywin is acting to protect the legacy of the Lannisters and asking "What does Tyrion deserve for lighting the future on fire?"

That moustache is punishment enough.

We get a short scene with Arya reciting her list of names of people to kill. Something seems a bit off about this scene, because the Hound doubtless would have heard the list before, and it shouldn't require explaining at this point in their relationship.

Lysa Arryn has a nice chat with her niece, and comes completely unhinged after two minutes. She tells Sansa to stay away from her man, because her boobs belong to Littlefinger and Robin alone. Sansa eventually convinces her crazy aunt that she's still a virgin, and Aunt Lysa tells her that she'll be married to Robin. Won't that be a treat?

Then we get a wonderful scene with Brienne and Podrick, with the pair riding along and Podrick barely managing to control his horse. These two are fun.

Next scene, the Hound wakes, and seeks out Arya, who is practicing her swordplay. Maisie Williams begins a flip, the camera cuts away to obfuscate the identity of her stunt double, and then returns to show Maisie sticking the landing.

Ugh, that was awful. Never do that again.

The scene is somewhat redeemed by the hearty laugh the Hound has at her expense.

Sandor Clegane: The hell you doing?
Arya Stark: Practicing.
Sandor Clegane: What, ways to die?
Arya Stark: No one's going to kill me.
Sandor Clegane: They will if you nance around like that. That's no way to fight.
Arya Stark: It's not fighting. It's water dancing.
Sandor Clegane: Dancing? Maybe you ought to put on a dress. Who taught you that shite?
Arya Stark: The greatest swordsman who ever lived. Syrio Forel, the First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos.
Sandor Clegane: [scoffs] Braavos. Greasy-haired little bastard, I bet. They all are.
Arya Stark: What do you know about anything?
Sandor Clegane: I bet his hair is greasier than Joffrey's cunt.
Arya Stark: It was not.
Sandor Clegane: Was? He dead?
Arya Stark: Yes.
Sandor Clegane: How?
Arya Stark: He was killed.
Sandor Clegane: Who by?
Arya Stark: Meryn Trant. That's why Ser Meryn--
Sandor Clegane: Meryn Trant? The greatest swordsman who ever lived killed by Meryn fucking Trant?
Arya Stark: He was outnumbered.
Sandor Clegane: Any boy whore with a sword could beat three Meryn Trants.
Arya Stark: Syrio didn't have a sword. Or armor. Just a stick.
Sandor Clegane: The greatest swordsman who ever lived didn't have a sword? [laughs] All right. You have a sword. Let's see what he taught you. Go on, do it for your Braavosi friend. Dead like all the rest of your friends.
[Arya stabs him with Needle, but the sword won't penetrate his armor and Sandor smacks her in the face]
Sandor Clegane: Your friend's dead and Meryn Trant's not 'cause Trant had armor and a big fucking sword.

This was really pretty nifty, and calls back to both an episode of season one, where Jorah got in a fight with some random Dothraki, as well as the books, where good armor is consistantly portrayed as a very large advantage.

And thirty minutes into the episode, we open on Oberyn Martell, writing poetry for one of  his daughters.

This had so many good lines. I really like Lena Headey's performance, showing Cersei as sincere in her grief, but scheming, just the same. And Oberyn is amazing, as always. When Cersei asks him to walk with her ahead of her large entourage, "May I show you the gardens?" "I couldn't very well refuse a royal escort" "No, you couldn't."

Regarding Tyrion's trial:

Oberyn: "We will have a trial and we will learn the truth."
Cersei: "We will have a trial, anyway."

When discussing Cersei's daughter, who was sent to Dorne for her safety.

Oberyn: "You have my word. We don't hurt little girls in Dorne."
Cersei:"Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls."

Cercei asks him to send a gift to Sunspear for her daughter, and he agrees.

Then we get another scene with Podrick and Brienne, where Podrick sets a rabbit on fire, because he's never cooked before.

 He admits to Brienne that he's never done much done anything other than to pour Tyrion's wine and kill the odd member of the Kingsguard. I think I'm going to like their scenes a lot. They're probably the most fundamentally decent characters in the show.

And for the end of the episode, Locke the Superman is poking around Craster's keep. He sees Bran and the rest of the middling kids, but when he returns to report to the rest of the Night's Watch raiding party, he neglects to mention that.

We get some conversation between the kids, and I like the bit with Bran and the tree.

Then Owen comes in and gets ready to rape Meera right there. More rape, how delightful. Time to flip that "Game of Thrones has gone X days without depicting a rape" sign back to zero.

But then the Night's Watch attacks.Locke sneaks into the tent, and asks Bran to identify himself. Bran is silent, but doesn't flinch when Locke slashes one of his paralyzed legs, so he knows he's got his boy. He leaves with Bran, who takes over Hodor's body, breaks free of his chains, runs Locke down and breaks his neck.

Out, damn spot!

Damn! The Starks are the good guys? The Lannisters never mind controlled a dude to kill another dude.

And I'm kind of halfway joking here, and it's certainly justifiable self-defense to kill your kidnapper. I'm reluctant to make the comparison, because rape is something that really happens to people and mind control isn't, and I don't want to diminish the seriousness of the former. One is real, and one is pretend.

That said, what Bran did is a pretty tremendous violation of Hodor's personhood. There were plenty of animals Bran could have warged to do the deed. Hodor is clearly confused and devastated. That's a shitty thing to do to a person who calls you a friend.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow is facing down Owen. Jon has his sword, Owen has two knives. Owen's the better combatant, and soon has the advantage against Jon. He breaks out a variation of the "You learned to fight in a castle" accusation Bronn levelled against Jaime last week. It's such an odd thing to say, and even less applicable here. Whatever Eddard Stark was, he was a practical man, who loved his children. I am as certain as I am about anything, that he would never had them tutored in swordplay that wouldn't have real world application. I think the better explanation is that Owen's simply the superior fighter and his shorter weapons are more suited for the close quarters of their encounter.

He's winning, and he takes Jon down and prepares to finish him when he's stabbed in the back by one of Craster's wives. When he turns on Craster's wife, he's stabbed in the brain by Jon Snow, which was one heck of a called shot.

Aim for the medulla, Fox!

Bran and company split, and then Jon's crew teams up with Craster's wives to burn down the keep.

Pretty great episode, big improvement over last week's. Would have liked to see my girlfriend or Olenna, but you can't have everything.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Do you want to summon shoggoths?

Maybe about six months ago, Lily was looking through my collection of Munchkin cards, because the art is a combination of creepy and cute that really appeals to her. She would occasionally ask questions if she didn't understand what was going on with a card.

She asked what an Elder Sign was. She understood that there was a joke here, but she didn't quite get what it was. I explained an Elder Sign as a kind of a symbol that keeps certain monsters away. In the absence of such a rune, the guy was just using a sign with "Elder" written on it to smack some monsters.

She thought that this was just about the funniest thing she had ever seen. She wants to share this joke with everyone, because she's certain that they'll find it just as funny as she does.

She was talking to my stepmother, and began the conversation with "You know what an Elder Sign is, right?", because she just assumed that adults all sit around discussing this kind of thing when kids aren't around.

I recounted this all on Facebook, and my friend/Cthulhu GM Eric offered "Do you want to summon shoggoths" (sung to the tune of "Do you want to build a snowman?" from Frozen) in the comments. He later expanded it to a post in his own blog, and I'm linking to it, because, like Cthulhu Munchkin and Eric himself, it's the perfect combination of creepy and cute.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 4: "Meanwhile, back at the..."

This was a really boring episode. I would go far as to say it's the worst episode of the series so far.

I don't always keep good track of the sequence of scenes I don't find interesting. I'll remember that there was a bit with Bran, but did it come before or after the scene with Gilly? To combat this tendency, I noted every time there was a change of scene, whether I found it interesting or not.  That's why my notes this week look like

Jaime and Bronn
Jaime and Tyrin
Granny Tyrell
Castle Black
Jaime and Cersei

We open with "Why kant Grey Worm read", where he is practicing the common tongue with Missandei. Daenerys "I have plenty of black friends" Stormborn enters the scene, looking unaccountably smug about the whole thing, but at least Emilia Clarke added a third expression to her repertoire, to go with "Gnashing teeth" and "Opium Haze".

Grey Worm infiltrates the city and this is just the epitome of everything I hate about the  Daenerys storyline. More cartoonishly evil villains to topple, more slow, telegraphed verbal softballs for the main characters to smack back.

Slave: We have no training, no weapons.
Grey Worm dumps a bag of swords on the ground.

Not that the call and response type of exchange is inherently bad, but it's overused and poorly used with Daenerys, almost to the exclusion of other types of conversation.

Ser Barristan: Your Grace, may I have a word? The city is yours. All these people, they're your subjects now. Sometimes it is better to answer injustice with mercy.
Daenerys Targaryen: I will answer injustice with justice.

That one was especially terrible. Not only does it not seem like something Ser Barristan would say, it's phrased in such a way that no one would ever say it, and it only exists to clearly and artificially set up her reply, which really, is the only response to such tormented wording that would make any sense. It's awful.

We close with Daenerys posing for a soft focus glamor shot above the city.

(This would look great on my Trapper Keeper)

See also Protagonist flaws.

That was awful, but at least it's out of the way.

We cut to Bronn and Jaime dueling.  Jaime is getting better, but, when he catches Bronn's blade in a bind, Bronn reaches over, detaches Jaime's artificial hand, and smacks him with it.

 It's all done so leisurely, I'm surprised that Bronn didn't pause to scratch his nose at some point in the process. That's a scene that seems to go against what had been previously established. Jaime has been a professional warrior for a quarter century. A good portion of it was in ceremonial duties, but still he was renowned as one of the greatest warriors in the seven kingdoms.

Jaime Lannister: You're a rare talent. When you're fighting cripples, anyway.
Bronn: You learned to fight like a good little boy. I'll bet that thrust through the Mad King's back was pretty as a picture. You want to fight pretty or you want to win?

I'd argue that Jaime always fought to win. Something like this might trick Ser Loras (though even he was cagey enough to use a mare in heat against the Mountain's stallion, so maybe not), but generally, a predictable dirty trick against a top talent in a field is unlikely to catch him off guard. (Sorry, that's one of my pet peeves)

Also, that hand came off pretty easily. I thought it had straps or something, but it pops right off like Bronn poked an eject button.

It leads into an exchange I like, however,

Bronn: Your brother ever tell you how I came into his service?
Jaime Lannister: You stood for him in his trial by combat at the Eyrie.
Bronn: Aye. But only when Lady Arryn demanded the trial take place that day. You were his first choice. He named you for his champion because he knew you would ride day and night to come fight for him. You gonna fight for him now?

That leads directly to a scene with Tyrion in the dungeon. It's pretty good, as are all scenes with Tyrion, but no great shakes. Tyrion gets a line about the calling themselves the Kingslayer brothers, which made me laugh.  Of note, Tyrion says that Sansa's not a murderer, yet, and the scene cuts to the person most richly in need of murdering.

Littlefinger looks only slightly less smug than Daenerys as expounds on his evil plot. I hope that Tyrion's line was foreshadowing, and that Sansa gets him.

We cut to Granny Tyrell, who confirms to her granddaughter what Littlefinger implies, that she pulled a stone from Sansa's necklace and used it to poison Joffrey. It seems a little foolish to say it out loud, in the very location where she advised Margery to employ discretion, but it's for our benefit and not hers, so I'll let it slide.

We get a scene in Castle Black where Jon is training some recruits, and man, we're all over the place this episode.

Then it's Cersei and Jaime, where she's distant and formal with him, and Jaime is all butthurt over it, and it's presented as if he's the wronged party. So, that's how they're going to do it.  I understand that the entire season has been filmed before the first episode aired, and that's not going to give the staff the chance to correct their error in the previous episode.

Then, it's Tommen and Margery. Tommen is really, really boring. Robert is not his father, but I don't think Jaime is, either. It's probably a mannequin, or a piece of cardboard. Fittingly, this scene takes place in his bedchambers, because it makes me want to fall asleep. Margery sneaks in and Zzz...

Still, the scene had a bit more pussy action than I was expecting.

Ser Pounce

Another scene with Jaime and Brienne. Jaime charges her to complete his oath. He gives her the sword (I like how balances it. That's a nice touch of verisimilitude).

She names it Oathkeeper, and Brienne's so cool that she gets to name her sword. She inherits Tyrion's squire, and Podrick is always fun. They could have a really interesting dynamic, but since it promises to be entertaining, we don't actually see it this episode.

More Harry and Snape up at the wall. Oops, I mean Jon Snow and Ser Alliser, who have a staring contest, and spawn a thousand slashfics in that moment.

Jon's been rubbing me the wrong way this season, and it think it has its roots in his sullen, sulky testimony in the beginning of the season.  If he's calling the wildlings "the free people" during his testimony, it's not unreasonable to at least entertain the notion that he's gone native. (Also, genial old Maester Aemon coddling him past all reason really reminded me of Dumbledore doing the same, which probably prompted the Potter parallels.)

"This is Torchwood, Gwen."
We cut to Craster's keep. I didn't realize that Karl was Burn Gorman (from Torchwood!).
He seemed halfway familiar, but I kept thinking back Percy, the sadistic guard in the Green Mile. I like him a bit more now that I recognize him. He's so evil that he drinks from a Lord Commander Skull Goblet. When Craster's last son is born, Burn gives it to the White Walkers.

We have a scene with Bran, where everyone sits around being boring for a couple minutes before they're captured by Craster's goons.

We close with White Walker riding a zombie horse back to take the baby back to some magical zombie conversion site where a a well-dressed White Walker makes him into a zombie baby. It's weird, and a strange note on which to end the episode.

No, Oberyn Martell in this week's episode. That made me sad. No Melisandre or Tywin or Hound or Arya, either. That also makes me sad.