Thursday, August 21, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Familiars (6)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Familiars (6) by Reaper

3.0 out of 5 stars That Familiar Show reviews the Hawk, August 21, 2014

This review is from: Familiars (6) (Toy)

Tal: Well, it finally happened. This is the final episode of "That Familiar Show."

Mal: It's your fault we've been cancelled.

Tal: MY fault? How is this my fault?

Mal: Can we just talk about the familiar today?

Tal: Fine. Introducing the rare and definitely interesting HAWK. It's a HAWK. It FLIES. It's standing there on a ROCK.

Mal: The problem with small flying familiars is that they have two profiles: sideways, which means they look like oblong lumps, or full on with wings out.

Tal: This happens rarely in real life -- it's more likely the creature has its winged tucked at its sides -- but all of these options would be rather boring.

Mal: Which is why this hawk appears to be standing on a rock with his wings outspread.

Tal: I think the hawk is flashing me.

Mal: You think everything is flashing you.

Tal: I'm a satyr, give me a break.

Mal: You never let me forget. Speaking of never letting you forget, let's talk more about how this is all your fault.

Tal: You know, the hawk's posture is similar to the bat familiar we reviewed earlier.

Batman: I was just going to say that.

Mal: GASP!

Tal: Oh great, he's back.

Batman: I'm Batman.

Tal: We know.

Mal: I KNOW!

Batman: This hawk reminds me of somebody I know...

Hawkman: Yeah, it reminds me of Batman.

Batman: Want to get out of here?

Mal: Totally.

Tal: Oh great. Well, that leaves me and...

Hawkman: Want to get out of here?

Tal: Uh, no thanks.

Hawkman: I was talking to the hawk.

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Familiars 2 (6)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Familiars 2 (6) by Reaper

3.0 out of 5 stars That Familiar Show reviews Reptus, the Winged Serpent, August 21, 2014

This review is from: Familiars 2 (6) (Toy)

Tal: Welcome to the first installment of "That Familiar Show"! And boy are we kicking things off with a doozy. I'm Talien, your favorite satyr paladin.

Mal: And I'm Maleficent, your least favorite half-fey/half-fiend sorceress. No not that one. I'm the original. Anyhoo, today's familiar is Reptus, the winged serpent!

Tal: Really? Reptus? That's a bit obvious don't you think?

Mal: What? What's wrong with Reptus?

Tal: Calling your winged serpent "Reptus" is a bit like calling your frog familiar "Froggy" and your bat familiar "Batty" -- it's does a disservice to the familiar's other special abilities, like being able to fly.

Mal: Is this how this show is going to be from here on out? We're going to argue about names?

Tal: Fine, go ahead.

Mal: Are you sure? Are you finished?

Tal: Yes. I'm good.

Mal: Okay. It may be that Reptus is named after the cult classic "Q: The Winged Serpent," a movie about a believed to be an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl making in New York City. Not so silly now, hmm?

Tal: Uh huh. I'm sure wizards will tell monsters that as they're being devoured: "But Reptus is inspired by a film nobody saw!" Turns out there are winged serpents in D&D -- they first appeared in the 2nd Edition Al Qadim supplement and then later in the Forgotten Realms. You can get them with the Improved Familiar feat.

Mal: However you use him, Reptus will keep on providing flanking, evading damage, and sharing touch spells...

Tal: While you ignore his awesome heritage.

Mal: His nome de plume, you might say.

Tal: Nope. Wouldn't say that.

Mal: I can see now that agreeing to do this show with you was a mistake.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: 47 Ronin (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD with UltraViolet)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

47 Ronin (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD with UltraViolet) Blu-ray ~ Keanu Reeves

3.0 out of 5 stars Zombie Boy apocalypse, August 8, 2014

“47 Ronin” is based on a true tale about samurai who went to insane lengths to exact their revenge when their daimyo was disgraced. Masterless, they pretended they were drunkards and craftsmen, all in a bid to avenge their master’s honor. When the plan did go into effect, all but one of the samurai died, judged too young by the Emperor to commit seppuku. “47 Ronin” is very, very, very loosely based on the original tale, and features far more monsters, magic, Zombie Boys, and Keanu Reeves than the original source material.

The shame of it all is that the original 47 Ronin tale is an engaging story of fatalistic honor without any embellishment. But this is Hollywood after all, who associates Keanu with all things Asian – in the same way Tom Cruise somehow ended up being “The Last Samurai,” Reeves is thrust into Japanese folklore. The scriptwriters at least worked hard to make him fit with the cultural aspects of a mythical Japan – he was trained by the Tengu, the long-nosed bird people who supposedly taught martial arts in the mountains. Folklorists have sometimes associated Tengu with Westerners who may have settled in the mountains in Japan, so it makes as much sense as any other explanation that Reeves’ character hails from there.

The story hews loosely to the original tale, except that the bad guy has a witch at his disposal (who is actually a shapeshifter), and supernatural foes abound: animated suits of armor, the aforementioned tengu swordsmen, and of course oriental dragons. You get the sense that this film was meant to be an Asian version of "Lord of the Rings," and at least when it comes to special effects it succeeds.

But it’s not a film about Keanu Reeves. American audiences aren’t likely to be happy with what amounts to an ancient Japanese form of suicide-by-cop, in which our collective 47 ronin willingly go to their deaths by flouting authority with the sole purpose of avenging their master’s honor. This is a beautiful film, but it’s not an upbeat one.

Also, Zombie Boy speaks a handful of words and appears for less than 30 seconds in the movie. His inclusion is cynical marketing at its finest, which is perhaps part of why audiences punished “47 Ronin” so severely. It’s a film marketed all wrong trying too hard to gloss over a strong story at its core. Wrong audience, wrong approach, but still a visually engaging film.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: Knights of Badassdom [Blu-ray]

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Knights of Badassdom [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Peter Dinklage

2.0 out of 5 stars Biting the LARPing hand that feeds it, August 8, 2014

You can see the appeal of a film like “Knights of Badassdom” to a crowdsourcing geek audience. It’s got heavy metal, role-playing games, and live action role-playing games. Add in Peter Dinklage as a player named Hung, an “Evil Dead” homage, and gratuitous shots of Summer Glau’s rear-end in fishnet stockings and you’ve pretty much got a hit on your hands. Or you should anyway. Unfortunately, “Knights of Baddassdom” looks like it was filmed in a day and due to sloppy editing, never really rises above a hodgepodge of geek bait.

Joe (Ryan Kwanten), a heavy metal rock singer who has a decent job as a mechanic, gets dropped by his hottie girlfriend who is more interested in a man with career aspirations. I’d like to point out that at no point in the film is being a mechanic apparently considered a viable career, one of the insidious aspects of a film like “Kings of Badassdom” – apparently being a mechanic means you do nothing all day but goof off.

Downtrodden, Joe is bolstered by his two friends, the aforementioned Hung and Eric (Steve Zahn). And by bolstered they roofie him with a combination of drugs and booze, dress him up in armor, and drop him off at a Live Action Role-Playing game (LARP).

One thing “Knights of Baddassdom” gets right is how LARPs actually work. It takes great glee in making fun of the supposed epic nature of the LARP conflicts, despite the fact that they’re essentially taking place in a park and a parking lot, respectively. Unlike other movies about LARPs, “Kinds of Badassdom” makes it a point of showing that referees are an important part of the game. Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson) is an egomaniac, invoking shades of “Zero Charisma,” who is endlessly mocked for being caught masturbating to the picture of a succubus from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. This is a thing – original D&D books frequently showed women’s breasts in art, and it was often the first exposure young boys had to nudity (ah, the days before the Internet).

These two plot points -- lusting after a fictional monster and breaking up with an awful girlfriend – come to a head when Eric uses a real mystical book written in Enochian to accidentally summon a succubus that takes the shape of Joe's girlfriend. Hilarity ensues.

The succubus goes around having sex with people (for some reason, this always happens off screen, despite the frequent use of swear words, drugs, and alcohol abuse) and then killing them by tearing out their hearts and eating it. Our heroes are called on to become true heroes by using actual weapons (totally not allowed in a LARP) to defeat her.

Of course, things get worse before they get better. The problem is they get unbelievably bad when the succubus turns into a huge demon who proceeds to slaughter half of the LARPers. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could have a happy ending after that, but “Knights of Baddassdom” hopes you don’t notice, and culminates with a rock battle that proves bards really are the most important member of the party.

It’s the execution that suffers. The rock music isn’t that great. The demon looks like a guy in a monster suit, which is a real problem when everyone else looks like guys in monster suits. The demon has a big, vaginal-like opening that looks like it was probably supposed to do something in the movie, but never does. It’s all very Freudian and not particularly rewarding.

The other problem is the women in this film. There are just two: Summer Glau, who only joined to keep an eye on her mentally ill cousin (and frequently dodges the same branch, a scene used twice in the film) and “the bitch” girlfriend, in the form of a succubus on the night of their prom. The phrase “bitch” is used frequently, and despite the bevy of female LARPers in the background, not one of them has anything to do besides die. The one other female who has a speaking part cheats on her boyfriend after having a threesome and then promptly makes out with the succubus in the middle of the woods, despite the fact that she’s spattered with gore. This film doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test, it didn’t wake up on time to even take it.

“Knights of Badassdom” has a pro-gaming message that’s undermined by its attempt to create stereotypes of characters: the slacker/rocker who is a lot more successful at life than the film gives him credit for, the athletic hottie who has almost nothing to do besides be the future girlfriend, and the “bitch” who has a philosophy that LARPing is a waste of time -- a theme the film subtly endorses. According to "Knights of Baddassdom," the only people who are good at a LARP and deserve a happy ending are the two people who didn’t want to be a part of it in the first place.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Guardians of the Galaxy [Blu-ray]

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Guardians of the Galaxy [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Chris Pratt

5.0 out of 5 stars 'Farscape' meets sci-fi 70s album covers, August 6, 2014

It's hard to know what to expect from a movie about abducted-by-aliens schlub-hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), bloodthirsty barbarian Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), talking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper)...and oh yeah, talking tree Groot (Vin Diesel). Groot is the least weirdest thing about this gleefully absurd film, and it's thanks to the 70s soundtrack that it all gels together like a retro sci-fi album cover.

At a glance you might think that the emotional heart of the film would be Quill, who was abducted by aliens shortly after his mother died. But it isn't, because Quill's the least important character of "Guardians of the Galaxy." It's actually about friendship and family, despite the wildly varying differences between the unlikely heroes -- or if we're being honest, criminals. Everybody has a sad sack story that they bring with them, and they gradually come to realize that when the universe is at stake, being a self-absorbed violent psychopath will lead to a very short existence. What starts as a simple plot to sell an orb for profit turns into a galaxy-spanning threat as Kree radical Ronan (Lee Pace) gets hold of the Power Infinity Stone with the intent of destroying the Nova Corps home world of Xandar. And thus our ragtag band of misfits are forced together by circumstance and their own stupidity to finally stop surviving and start standing for something more important than themselves.

If that was all "Guardians" was about, it would be a fun film but merely a rehash of what's gone before, notably "Farscape" and "Star Wars." But Peter Gunn's style is indelibly stamped on it, using music against gonzo backdrops to make the movie a love-letter to 70s tunes. It's a joy to watch.

Every character spits out their sob story in paragraphs of dialogue, but the movie clicks along so jubilantly it's easy to swallow. This is how we learn each character's back story, which amounts to: "I had a messed up family life." When they all realize they have this in common, they start to form their own family -- even Groot, who manages to convey more with his only catchphrase "I am Groot" than Quill and Gamora put together.

Of all the characters, the centerpiece couple -- Quill as womanizing rogue, Gamora as damaged antihero -- are unfortunately the weakest. Pratt tap dances the line between being a doofus and a believable rogue but frequently stumbles into goofball territory. Zaldana plays her usual archetype of violent maniac in a tiny, sexy package, but her conversion to good guy status is the least believable of the bunch because we don't really feel her internal pain nearly as much as we see Quill's, or hear Drax's, or witness what was done to poor Rocket's body.

The movie's most poignant scene is not between the two aforementioned humanoids, but between Drax and Rocket. The two don't get along -- Drax calls Rocket a "thing" at some point -- so when they are both sitting together, overcome with sorrow at the loss of their families, Drax tentatively, cautiously, but gently strokes Rocket's head. The reaction from Rocket (I must emphasize, a CGI ANTHROPOMORPHIC RACCOON) feels incredibly real. In that single moment we capture Drax as the father he once was and Rocket as the damage soul he is. Gamora and Quill got nothing on these two.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" isn't perfect -- the friendship message is a subtle as a punch in the face -- but it's 100% dedicated to being fun. What more could you ask in a summer flick?