I Need More Stuff to Review

I’ve been struggling to find stuff to review every week, partly because I haven’t always had time to read new books, watch new shows, or play new games, but also partly because so much of the stuff I find these days has been out for so long it isn’t super relevant anymore. In terms of games and shows or movies, a couple of years old is enough to fade into irrelevance online. Books often have a long lifespan in the public eye, but not always, and a lot of the books I’ve picked up have tended to fall into the “cult following” area and I haven’t been able to find them online. I still review stuff I enjoy, of course, but don’t always write about it when I feel like I’ve got nothing to add to what is already online.

Which is why I’ve started asking for recommendations of books, comics, games, movies, TV shows, and media in any form. I posted on Twitter today (and have been getting so many responses it gets difficult to keep up with them all now that everyone is home from their day jobs and checking their notifications) and have gotten a lot of links to books, a couple graphic novels, some story or poetry collections, and one webcomic. I’ve gotten so many things I might need to start doing reviews more than once a week if I seriously plan to review everything. I don’t even know if that’s going to be possible, given the sheer number of responses over the last couple of hours alone.

I’m looking forward to it, though. It feels nice to be able to help out people who are launching their careers or trying to make a name for themselves on the self-publishing market. One day, I’ll likely be right there with them, trying to get exposure and reviews for my book so other people will become more interested in reading it. I hope someone else is willing to review my books then. Additionally, it’ll maybe get exposure for the other stuff I offer on my blog, the various poems and bits of fiction I post fairly regularly (still trying to get back on the “poem a week” horse and my crazy work schedule still hasn’t let up so it’s not happening), and I would love that. I love it when people read my stuff, so I can understand the excitement people feel when they see someone actually asking for books to review.

All that being said, I’d love if you recommended some things to me! Anything is fair game, at this point. As long as it is published and available for me to obtain, I will review it. Got an indie game you’re working on? Send it along! I can’t promise I’ll review it immediately, but I am happy to buy a copy and put it on my list. Know someone who is trying to launch a book series or a webcomic? Comment or email a link and I’ll check them out! All of us creative people are in this together and it never hurts to help someone out as long as you’re not putting yourself out too much. We both have something to gain from this and there’s no losers in this scenario. Except people who don’t like it when people share things they like, I guess. They lose out big time.

I don’t know if it’ll generate sales for these people, I don’t know if it’s going to get them a lot of exposure considering the relatively small number of views I get in a given month, but it’ll be a good project and it most-certainly can’t hurt.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Hilarity

Over the weekend, I went to see Jumanji at the cheap seats theater with my girlfriend. Despite the fact that the movie was out, I managed to avoid spoilers or any of the hype so my only real expectation going into the movie was that I was probably going to enjoy seeing Jack Black do the most realistic impression of a teenage Instagram-addicted girl any older man has ever done.

I want to officially go on record as saying this is not only true, it was so entirely believable that I forgot that he wasn’t actually a vain teenaged girl whose only pursuit in life up to that point had been more Instagram followers and how to take the perfect selfie. It was uncanny, amazing, and I recommend checking the movie out for this alone. You will not regret it unless you are some kind of awful person who dislikes laughter, hilarity, and anything fun. I think you will like it so much that if you watch it and dislike it (and prove you are not an awful, fun-hating, potentially-a-robot-who-wasn’t-programmed-to-understand-humor person) then I will send you my address so we can duel with sabers at sunset.

There are a lot of other really enjoyable aspects of the movie as well. The update to “modern” times was a lot of fun. Instead of being a board game, the nightmarish magic of Jumanji transforms itself into a video game for some obscure console none of the actually modern protagonists can identify. All of the new players get sucked into the video game and have to beat it in order to escape. The game world is filled with a bunch of wonderful nods to the way video games work, including NPCs with limited dialogue options, weird bits of food that are only ever called “rations,” and a really clever way to show the players how many lives they have left.

Each off the four protagonists falls into the four main high school kid stereotypes off “vapid popular girl,” “popular jock guy,” “Smart unpopular girl,” and “nerdy awkward boy.” Eventually, you learn enough about the characters to realize that they’re not just their stereotypes. The jock isn’t dumb, he just needed help with one of his homework assignments. The nerd isn’t just awkward and scared of everything, he acts confident in the things he does to cover up his insecurities. The popular girl isn’t just vain, she actually puts a lot of work into living the life she wants and has some startling insights into how people think and behave. The unpopular girl isn’t just smart, she is so worried about people not liking her that she pushes them away before they get a chance to make up their own mind. The entire movie is filled with these little moments where the characters break their molds. (Spoilers, sorta) The popular girl gives up one of her lives to save an ally without a moment’s hesitation or consideration. The jock winds up talking the nerd through his confidence issues and shows his wisdom. The nerd faces his general fear off the world and protects the rest of the group. (Spoilers, definitely, though not in the way this sentence makes it seem) The smart girl sacrifices herself to help the group win the game.

The world of the game is fun, the villain is super creepy, and the missing child is so mid-90s it almost hurts. The character stereotypes (the video game characters that the protagonists become) are hilarious. The rock acts like a small frightened boy and the only reason he doesn’t steal the show is because it has been hidden in Jack Black’s back pocket from the instant he opened his mouth to talk like a vapid teenage girl. The NPCs are hilariously only concerned with their little programs, which means that a character can explode five feet from them and they will continue to, once the dust has started to settle, hawk their “rations.”

Every character gets a moment to shine and there’s never a slow moment. Everything is incredibly well-paced and the only time I was pulled out of the story enough to anticipate what would happen next was when they had beaten the game and were going through the end of the game. Though it is a fairly simple movie that is exactly what it seems like it would be, I can’t recommend it enough. It is definitely worth two hours of your time, plus the drive to wherever its showing. Or at least a digital rental once it has been released.


The Future Looks Bright

I like to experience anything new with an open mind. However, that’s a lot easier said than done when that new thing has been shoved in your face for a year (plus or minus a year) without you ever getting a chance to actually experience it. That’s why I avoid movie trailers and most video game news sites. Keeps me calm and unbiased when I finally sit down to something new. At the same time, I’ve only got so much time on this planet, so I try to get recommendations from people whose judgment I trust so I can do my best to avoid wasting my time on something. Which is why, against several recommendations and what felt like my better judgment, I sat down to watch the Netflix original movie, Bright, with an open mind.

The recommendations I solicited and the ones I encountered on the internet were all heavy with criticism for this Netflix original movie, but I think a lot of it is unwarranted. Sure, there is plenty of room left in the story for there to be sequels, but no part of the movie felt like it was specifically left in to shoehorn in a few more loose threads for potential sequels. There were a few moments that dragged along, sure, but they were relatively short and in the two-to-five range, depending on your preferences. The story set up the world and its politics succinctly and quickly, it developed the characters and the story very well, and it had just enough ambiguity at the end to leave you wondering if there was going to be a sequel. Which means there will be one because that’s what Netflix is in the business of doing nowadays. I think a lot of people overlooked the context of the movie when they commented on it: everything has a sequel these days, even things that shouldn’t, so of course you’re going to feel like they built one in.

The world’s magic and technology were delightful and just unexplained enough to be interesting without being too vague to feel real or too powerful to feel like anything other than a deus ex machina. The magic is a central feature of the movie, but they do a good job of not addressing exactly how it works until near to the end without making it feel like they left a gaping hole in the world. When you do finally get to see it in action, you finally get to see a world whose magic is truly above and beyond what any normal person could handle. Hell, there are some Elves who may or may not be using magic to fight people and their individual power level is ridiculous even without a magic wand. It was like watching a bunch of 20th level player characters walk into a town with nothing but level 1 guards who tried to apprehend them. Ridiculous, credibility-stretching slaughter right up until the protagonists started fighting them. To be entirely fair, they do a good job of establishing just how stupid-strong the protagonists are through some excellent background shots (Orcs are super strong and tough), and a really bad-ass slow-motion scene (with a magical “all the bullets I need” gun).

Since it is a fantasy story (probably urban fantasy), I’m willing to give it some leeway when it comes to what we usually call “realism.” Some of the characters made thinly veiled references to being in a story and one such reference was even the justification for a character to do something that had an extreme (1,000,000 to 1) chance of killing him. I want to believe that was a Terry Pratchett reference, as he often had characters reference the fact that million-to-one odds basically guaranteed it was going to work out. I don’t really think it is, though. The story is too different and there are much more accessible homages to Terry Pratchett that could have been included without breaking the fourth wall, such making a few obvious links between the police and the night watch in Ankh-Morpork.

If you like fantasy, want to encourage more well-made fantasy movies, want to encourage the trend of new urban-fantasy media, or just want to tell Netflix to keep it up in general, I suggest watching Bright. You’ll never get that two and a half hours of your life back, but I definitely don’t regret spending my time watching this movie. I might even watch it again with some new people who won’t talk during the whole thing. I love my roommates and all, but c’mon.

Horror Movie

He knew his apartment did not have a good setup for horror movies, but he couldn’t resist them. His couch only fit in the living room with its back to the rest of the apartment and the room was too narrow for other chairs. Even the constant creaking of floors and the furtive sounds of movement whispering through his walls couldn’t convince him of his folly. Attendance at his viewing parties had dwindled after he moved here and now he watched horror movies alone.

He was used to surround sound from his old apartment, so he didn’t notice that not all of the sounds were coming from his home theater until the first thing fell off his counter. After fixing the mug’s handle the following morning, he kept a closer eye on his kitchen and a closer ear on the sounds of his apartment. He took careful note of every sound made by the neighbors and wrote down every creak of walls as the building shifted in the wind.

The following movie night, he was ready. It was a zombie flick he’d seen before, but he picked it because it had always sounded fake to him. As the movie went on, he noted every noise that came from behind him, glancing over his shoulder for the source. He saw a pan hanging beneath his cabinets shift in the still apartment air and noted that as well.

For three weeks, he took notes. At the start of the fourth movie, he shifted so he was sitting on the floor in front of the couch. He had his notebook ready, but he heard nothing from behind him. Once the movie was over, as he headed off toward his bathroom and bed, he heard something new.

Thanks for moving.