Movie Review: The Great Wall (2016)

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The Great Wall (2016)

So even adhering to my no-spoilers rule, there is so much I could talk about in this movie that I could vomit words at you for days and still, somehow, find more. I’ll try not to do that. But where to start?

Let’s try with what it says on the tin.

“The Great Wall tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure.”

The opening covers, also, how long the wall took to build and asks the question: what were they trying to keep out?

I’m sure there are a lot of mythos about why the Wall was built, and some were true and some possibly weren’t. No one currently alive lived in that time period, so no one can say accurately that any myth or legend is wrong, only improbable.

We do know a lot of people were hunting for black powder at the time the movie is set, and anyone who brought it home would have been set up for life, which is what starts are opening scene: possibly the only white guy in the movie and his cohort are heading for China and dealing with bandits along the way.

And that’s one of the things I love about this movie. Not because it’s got diversity– and let’s be realistic here, a movie set in China about Chinese legends is about Chinese people, so the Chinese people don’t count as part of the diversity for the movie, the non-Chinese people do– no, that’s not it. But the movie deals with very serious, realistic hazards of the time period: bandits, long stretches of limited supplies, and how very dead you can be if you lose your food. Also the hazards of native fauna.

Although native is somewhat subjective, given the movie…

The ‘elite force’ in the movie is a massive army based entirely on the Wall, which I can gleefully tell you without spoiling makes an amazing fortification. That’s part of the reason the wall exists, right? Fortifications. The army is carefully designed and fully functional, and if they existed in that context today, nobody would dare dream of invading China. Or, you know, anywhere else with similar fortifications.

I kind of want to build those fortifications. Between those and the army, they’ll make a mean reference for tabletop campaign.

I think everything the people in this show pull off is within the human limits, given proper training and equipment. And I mean a lot of proper training. Please do not watch this movie and then try it at home. I’m serious. If you want to try some of this, go find proper methods of doing it. Bungee jumping, wall climbing, learn you some martial prowess. And then remember that even this army doesn’t do it without safeguards unless they have no choice.

The graphics for this movie were superb. I know a lot of it was computer generated and much of this likely took place in front of a green screen, but unless you know for sure which is generated and which is animatronics, it’s unlikely you’re going to guess it. I can’t say for sure animatronics are in this movie, but considering the huge comeback they’re making, I also can’t say they aren’t. Terrifyingly everything in this movie looks real enough, and plausible enough, that I should be very suspicious of alternate realities where they went over and filmed this nonsense occurring.

The plot of the movie is good too. It’s not a “hero from another land” — or at least, not in the traditional sense. Sure, he’s great at warfare. Sure, the movie focuses on him. But all movies have to have a lead point of view somehow, even if that’s just you. And it’s unlikely actual traders would have gotten very far, why not send a mercenary who knows how to fight and keep himself alive?

The characters are real, intrinsically human instead of two-dimensional cookie cut-outs. And for William, the POV character? His redemption arc is pretty solid.

Bonus for those of you who get twitchy? No romantic subplot!

–Natasha
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Shop Rec: Rawr Dragon Creations

One of the things I like to do when I can’t make my words behave is go window-shopping. I can’t actually buy anything, as I’m currently broke and out of space (what I wouldn’t give for a Bag of Holding,) but every so often I come across truly interesting bits of trivia or absolutely amazing shops. One of those shops is Rawr Dragon Creations.

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Rawr Dragons sculpts itty bitty desktop critters by hand, meaning there are no two pieces exactly alike. According to research, a lot of her dragons are inspired by plucking d20s out of a hat, which goes to choose a color scheme and then spirals outwards from there. Sculpting isn’t my area of expertise, so I can’t go to say much about the process, and I hesitate to ask the artist in case they accidentally leak a trade secret!

Although they do post a lot of in-progress works, so you can see dragons taking shape piece by piece. I probably wouldn’t be able to do anything half as good, so it’s a good thing Rawr Dragons is doing it instead– the artist has way more experience than I do, and every day of it shows! I think one day I might have to save up some money and buy a piece. You know, right after I get a display case. I wonder if she’d sign a card and ship it with?

Of course, there probably wouldn’t be a large market if she did just one type of dragon. I understand the above is a ‘curler,’ and isn’t she a beautiful thing? I can’t even start on how delicate the fins look, and ‘delicate’ isn’t usually a thing I associate with sculpting. Usually you think strong flower vases or something, but I think the edges of these might cut me if I ran my finger along the edge! How cool is that?

Look at this little guy? Wouldn’t you love to find him in the pumpkin patch? Speaking of.. Apparently Rawr Dragons has one of those too. I think these are keychains? But they’re super cool for leafy little orange emoticons. I’ll take the little one in the back, second from the left!

I’m not sure what the going price for Rawr Dragons’ work is right now, but even if it’s a little out of your price range, it’s definitely super cool to go browse! Take a peek, and tell her I sent you!

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

On the list of new age remakes I was leery about, Beauty and the Beast sat pretty high. It wasn’t the most special of my Disney Princess phase as a child, but it was important— and it colored much of me as an adult, up to and including my ‘objects have personality’ obsession.

Disney covered a lot of my formative years, alright?

But I probably shouldn’t have been the least bit apprehensive. The remake was amazing. They did some minor changes, rearranging the song layout and adding and removing some of them to better fit the video. Other minor issues were done, such as with the town, trying to add more impact to why Belle was such an outcast, I suppose. It did well.

Keeping with my No Spoilers, I can’t detail to you a bunch of why I liked this movie. However, you might have heard that they changed the Dress. The dress I can talk about, because it’s been all over the internet, and it’s gotten a lot of flack. But honestly, the new movie’s dress is gorgeous. Simple pictures cannot do it justice, and it feels more like Belle to wear something like this than the traditional ballgown from the animated version. It’s covered in real gold leaf; it’s not simply yellow. I recommend watching it in high definition on the big screen, but if you have to wait until it’s out on disk, HD is probably a must.

Disney says that they’re going to do some more remakes, and I heard the rumor that the next one is Mulan. With Mulan being my favorite, I confess to being worried about it– but Beauty and the Beast has alleviated some of my fears.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed (2016)

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Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Following the story of Callum Lynch, descendant of Spanish Assassin Aguilar, the Assassin’s Creed movie provides another installment of the series of the same name, as well as marking the first Blockbuster– but not the first movie of the franchise, which gleefully sprawls from a whole slew of video games to novels, comic books to fan-made movies and animated shorts.

The Assassin’s Creed series has proven to be a durable sort to cover multiple media, and good enough to attach deeply to many multitudes of people throughout the world. But while we’re not here to talk about the series on the whole today, just this one movie, there is a little context you have to know about it.

Assassin’s Creed is based on the idea (among other ideas) that through the use of specific technological advancements, the lives of our ancestors can be re-lived by tapping into the genetic memory they pass down through our DNA. In Assassin’s Creed, the machine that lets us do this is called the Animus. Chiefly the Animus is built and used by the Templar Order, who are at war with the Assassin’s Brotherhood and.. uh. Well. What they’re trying to do overall is a little fuzzy, and I wont spoil what they’re trying to do in the movie because of my no-spoilers policy.

Which is, incidentally, why no one has seen this review yet, even though I bought and watched this show weeks ago. I was just way too excited and couldn’t figure out how to discuss the movie without spoiling something. So I had to sit on myself or risk word-vomiting to the whole world. Which would have been downright unacceptable.

So I can’t talk overmuch about the plot.

But I can talk about how much I love what they did with it. I admit to having been a little unsure originally, because game to movie adaptions are done with about as much skill as book to movie adaptions, but this turned out really, really well. The movie manages to stand alone, though having context of the games and novels enriches the flavor somewhat. The technological progression is done well, too– I was glad to see how the Animus evolved. I was also glad they picked a character who hadn’t got much play in books, games, or comics. It really gave us a chance to flesh out the world somewhat, and it has permitted fans to continue world building on their own without feeling like all their work has been sabotaged by the creators.

As to graphics, well. My brother could probably tell you more about how smooth it is between real film and computer generated graphics in the movie, but if I didn’t know that there’s really just some things we can’t pull off in real life yet, I wouldn’t have any idea there were any comp-gen. Scene transitions and how it’s set into the show are really smooth and seamless, which just goes to show how far we’ve come in the film age.

For an Assassin’s Creed movie, there was significantly less blood than I thought there might be. Less is more, show don’t tell, are both good descriptors, and the movie did well on both points, providing just enough of an info dump– spread out far enough, no less– to give the viewers an understanding of the overall history for the world the movie is set in. It makes it accessible for the people who’ve never touched any of the rest, which is extremely important from a marketing standpoint.

That said, don’t assume it’s safe just on my word about it. If you’re unsure if you want to watch it, you can always have a trusted friend watch it first to make sure nothing will cause any issues. Or if you’re worried about your children, you can always watch it to ensure it’s at a grade you’re comfortable with them watching. But I do highly recommend this movie, both to hard-core fans and newcomers alike.

–Natasha

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Book Review: Red Giants and White Dwarfs by Robert Jastrow

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Red Giants and White Dwarfs by Robert Jastlow
Published by: Signet Books, The New American Library, Copywrited 1967, 1969, first printing June 1969
Review Date: 3/16/2017

So this is a… fifty year old science book? It’s not a work of fiction, that’s for certain, and it covers scientific topics and details I missed, somewhere in my schooling, assuming that it was in my schooling at all. Although it does manage to break it down into words I can understand, since the topics are quite often somewhat beyond me. I didn’t do well in science class. Which doesn’t mean a lot to a bunch of people, but being able to understand the science as Jastlow writes it, despite it being a little outdated by modern design, is still a huge accomplishment for me. So he did well just on that venue alone.

However, I’m not sure any of the science is wrong. It is science we’re talking about, after all. Nothing he mentions in the book feels anything less than established fact, except where he points out that he’s mentioning theories. And even admitting the potential for being wrong is a huge step in the right direction. I’ll have to do some research one day to see if any of the mentioned theories panned out one way or another. Even though, as it’s a book about how the solar system was made to how human beings came into existence, and we haven’t had a lot of breakthroughs in those factions of science, it’s probably not far off the mark even today.

If you enjoy old science books, or you like seeing how people viewed the world fifty years ago, or you just really, really want to see how a well put-together science text should be, I highly recommend this one. (Bonus! It’ll also help you decide how to make a magical textbook, too.)

Jastlow does good work. I should check to see if there’s anything else he’s done. I’m awfully curious.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Vampire Academy (2014)

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Vampire Academy (2014)

So. Where do I begin. Does this have a book? I hope this has a book, it would be great, I want to read it. There is so much content in this movie that I would love to see expounded upon, from the way Moroi society is structured to the training course the dhampir go through during school and the nuances that permit them to exist at all, and how, exactly, the Strigoi came into being.

So, this movie is about Rose, a young dhampir charged with protecting the last of one of the twelve royal houses, and as we start out, they’re kind of on the run. A few years ago the majority of the family was killed in a car accident, and feeling entrapped at school, Princess Lissa and Rose escape from the vampire/dhampir boarding school known as  Saint Vladimir’s. But now the rest of the dhampir guard has caught up with them and taken them back to the relative safety of the school.

I use relative because this is a movie about vampire politics, and Saint Vladimir’s is a high school for vampires, and everyone knows that the most vicious people in the world are teenagers.

So there are three brackets here.. well, four. There’s the mortals, there’s the secret undead and semi-dead society of the Moroi and their dhampir guardians, half-vampires sworn to protect the Moroi with their lives, and then there’s the Strigoi, more vampires.

The apparent differences between the Moroi and Strigoi start with the diet: Strigoi will feed and kill, because there’s power and freedom in it, while the Moroi take enough not to gorge themselves but more importantly do not kill while they do it. Any Moroi who takes a life during feeding becomes Strigoi. Moreover, the Moroi have elemental magics, while I’ve seen no evidence of that in the Strigoi.

The dhampir do not have magic, and it takes “five of us to kill one of them” – that is to say, about five dhampir to kill one Strigoi, who’s meal-plan gives them +50 strength and -15 charisma, plus about three hundred percent of “you no longer have a soul.” But back to the core of the movie.

Aside from the politics and high school shenanigans, Rose and Lissa’s life still manages to not be normal even for their variety of life. Their taste in men, for instance. Lissa is attached to the school pariah, who’s parents turned themselves into Strigoi and who everyone is sure will follow in their footsteps. Meanwhile Rose is crushing on the new school head dhampir while they’re both attempting to keep Lissa safe. The romance is a low-key plot point in the movie, it doesn’t get played up a lot and it isn’t thrown in your face too obviously for most of it– you know, aside from that moment when it becomes important, because Plot Point? Come on, it’s a movie about high school.

I would have loved to see some more fleshing out of the characters, but considering the plot of the movie, the required pacing for aforementioned movie, and the way it circles primarily around Rose and her attachment to Lissa, fleshing out the rest of the cast would be a little tricky, so I understand that they gave us as much as they could in the time constraints. Not many people are willing to sit down for four hours and just watch TV, nor do they have the time to, and even fewer people are willing to sit down and watch it over a period of time when they could do it all at once. Ergo the reason we have so few mini-series, I suppose.

I do like the interplay, what little we could find. I hope I can find some more of this universe to sink my teeth into.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Little Door Gods (2016)

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Little Door Gods (2016)

I had the wonder of watching this movie despite being incredibly sick, and I will likely watch it again and again for the rest of my days.

Little Door Gods is about two brothers, a pair of guardian spirits, during a time of financial crisis in the spirit world– a crisis born of human neglect for the Gods. As humans lose faith, the crisis increases. Many spirits lose their jobs and even their homes! What is a spirit to do? The humans do not need them, so they do not remember them– and if they do not remember them, they do not honor them. It’s not like there’s a way they can force them to need the Gods again.

I do love this movie. I have so many good things to say about it, and so few I can’t tell you without spoiling the movie for you. If you read any of my reviews, you know that I will not do that one.

But some things I can do: I can tell you this movie has a great set of moral teaching. It teaches patience, and how to adapt to change. It teaches mortality, or a strain of it, I suppose. It teaches vengeance, and how it hurts, and who it hurts. It teaches humility, and honoring your ancestors, and love of family.

This movie depicts more morals than I have seen a number of Western movies for a long time.

I don’t know of it in English. I watched it with English Subbing, and I’m sure some of the nuances I missed because I don’t speak the language its audio is in. That didn’t stop me from being endlessly entertained by all the little pieces of the movie, the dialog between characters, and the little bits of the mythology I could understand. It was beautiful, and I would love to see it– and many more like it– become common things to watch and enjoy.

–Natasha

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