Friday, November 25, 2011

The Muppets

After 11 years, the new Muppet film has arrived!  After some really great promotional parody trailers, I finally got to see the new film on Wednesday.

The short, non-spoiler version is that this is a film for anyone who has ever loved the Muppets.  I'm not sure if it will bring in new fans, but there's definitely a lot there for those of us who have grown up with them and truly love them.  Go watch this movie!

Now to get spoilery:  I went to the first showing of the day, and as soon as I arrived at the theater I was wishing I had gone to the midnight showing the night before instead.  And I do mean as soon as I arrived - I walked up to the ticket machine and had to dodge bouncing screaming children who were with the woman at the other machine beside me.  Fortunately this particular rambunctious group ended up sitting on the opposite side of the theater from me, but the audience was easily 75% kids.  It's because of this that I can easily say this is not a movie made for children.  While it is certainly suitable for all ages subject matter, it tackles a lot of bittersweet topics that were flying over their heads.  I know this because I could hear them all talking while I was trying to pay attention.

This movie is the story of Walter, the ultimate Muppet fan.   From the moment he first saw The Muppet Show, he really connected with them and wanted to be a part of it.  It's pretty natural for that to happen, seeing as how Walter is in fact a puppet.  But it's also clear that Walter is sitting in for all of us who have grown up with these characters and miss seeing them on a regular basis.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the movie for me was this general idea that the Muppets were has-beens that no one cared about anymore.  All the television studios deny them their chance to host a telethon because "they're not celebrities."  They only end up getting a spot because a reality show is cancelled at the last minute.  There's a joke where Rico Rodriguez asks Kermit "Are you one of the TMNT?" and Selena Gomez admits she doesn't know who he is, she's just there because her agent suggested it.  I really don't think all the kids that were in that theater with me were only there because their parents dragged them.  Muppets From Space didn't come out that long ago.

Beyond that premise, there's a lot of fun to be had here.  All the Muppets feel right and there's a ton of great jokes.  I'm also impressed by the number of obscure Muppets they managed to feature.  Though its pretty clear they were mostly focusing on The Muppet Show days and not on some of the more recent Muppets.  Clifford and Bean Bunny have disappeared, Rizzo doesn't have a single line in the film, and Pepe's time is very short.  But Uncle Deadly gets to play a major role so I guess you just have to take the good and the bad.  They are very much a huge cast of characters at this point, so it's natural some of them are going to get left out.  Also, don't expect to see any Sesame Street cameos like we used to, as the two properties are now owned by separate companies.

The celebrity cameos are great.  For some strange reason I was expecting a Lady Gaga cameo, I guess because of her Kermit dress I thought it was an eventuality, but they didn't go there.  However we do get to see Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, John Krasinki, Sarah Silverman, and Zach Galifiankis among others.  Perhaps the best cameo came during the song "Man or Muppet" where we see a human version of Walter.  I had no idea that was coming and I was really excited to see who they chose (though apparently I was the only one in my theater to think so.  Boo!) and I won't spoil it for you. 

Speaking of which, I thought most of the songs were really good.  They use both popular songs and original show tunes, and I think they have some future classics among them.  "Life's a Happy Song," "Me Party," and "Man or Muppet" probably stand out the most to me.  The only one I thought was really bad was the villain's rap number, and I think that was awful on purpose.  At least I really hope so.  I found myself unable to stop myself from singing along when The Muppet Show theme song started.  And yes, when it came time for everyone to sing "Rainbow Connection" I had tears spilling down my cheeks.  It really is a beautiful tribute to what the Muppets are all about within the movie.

I can't stress enough that you need to go out and see this movie now.  The current climate being what it is, if this movie doesn't have a great opening weekend, Disney is going to think no one cares about the Muppets anymore and we won't get a sequel.  And I need more Muppets in my life!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Muppets From Space

Since Gonzo is my favorite Muppet, it should be absolutely no surprise that I love this movie. It is actually a large part of the reason why I decided to go against my original "no more marathons" rule, because I wanted a chance to defend the film. I've heard people say this is the lowest regarded of all the Muppet films but personally I just don't see what the problem is.

The goal of the movie is to explain exactly what kind of "whatever" Gonzo is, and of course the logical answer is that he is in fact an alien. While Jim Henson may not have been involved with this project, it's clear to me that his team knew how to carry on in his absence. There are celebrity guest stars, pop culture references, appearances by all the major Muppet characters, and tons of great humor. This is also where we meet Pepe the King Prawn for the first time, and he's a welcome addition to the group and perfect partner in crime for the sneaky Rizzo. I also really enjoyed seeing Clifford and Bean Bunny from Muppets Tonight appear even though that show had been cancelled at this point.

One of the things that sets the movie apart from a lot of the others is that it doesn't use original songs, but instead a lot of soul and funk tracks. I suppose if you somehow don't enjoy that style of music it might bother you, but frankly I'm a little worried about anyone who doesn't enjoy the sounds of James Brown or Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Beyond Pepe and our always lovable Gonzo, the best character in the movie is Bobo the Bear, playing lackey for Jeffrey Tambor. Nearly everything he says in the movie is quotable. Whether he's trying to calm Tambor down from one of his many fits or trying to comfort Gonzo before the government plans to remove his brain, he's just great. Tambor himself is also a lot of fun as the rather sensitive, angry man who has been misunderstood his whole life.

I love the scenes of Rizzo in with the other lab rats being tormented by David Arquette, and the Shawshank Redemption send up as they make their escape. The rest of the Muppets breaking in to rescue Gonzo and Rizzo are also great, from Animal chasing Kathy Griffin (who later falls for him), to Fozzie insisting on washing his hands after using the bathroom even though it removes the invisibility spray, and the "Doctor" "Doctor" exchange as they try to remain in disguise. Really, there aren't any bad scenes in the movie for me.

While it doesn't really match the tone of the earlier movies, I think that's expected given the time period.  Expecting this film or the upcoming The Muppets to be exactly the same in tone as the early films would be an unrealistic expectation.

Perhaps my only complaint is how generic Kermit is. Like Mickey Mouse before him, he's lost much of his personality to become the "oh golly" good guy leader. I suppose part of this comes from a desire to not muddy the memory of Henson himself. Or it could just be that this is supposed to be mostly Gonzo's film and therefore Kermit doesn't get much to do. 

I think the real test will be how they portray him in the new film.  I'll tell you what I think about it tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Muppet Treasure Island

Before I begin my review, I should probably admit that I've never read the book Treasure Island, and that I don't have the strong fascination with pirates that some people seem to have.  I like them well enough, but talk like a pirate day is a very annoying day for me.  My main other source of exposure to this story was Treasure Planet, which I largely felt was a snoozefest. 

I had only seen this movie once before, and my memory told me I liked it.  I don't know if it was my mood this time around or what, but I had a really hard time paying attention.  It started off strong - I really liked Billy Connolly's performance and the silly chase that occurs at the inn, but by the time they got to the ship I was starting to get bored.

Tim Curry does great as Long John Silver, and as far as I'm concerned any day we get to hear him sing is a good day.  Kevin Bishop is passable as Jim Hawkins, but I think without Gonzo and Rizzo as his sidekicks this would be a very dull story.  A large part of it is also that so many of the Muppets feel like they're just playing cliches of themselves within the context of the story, so it lacks a lot of heart, even if there are some funny lines here and there.  Fozzie, for instance, plays a rich idiot who has an imaginary friend who lives in his finger.  I know Fozzie's jokes are pretty much always designed to make you roll your eyes, but you're also supposed to feel sorry for him when no one laughs at him, and that just doesn't happen here.

The songs are for the most part passable. I think my favorite is "Cabin Fever," just for the sheer zaniness of it all.  It's the kind of silliness this movie desperately needs more of.  I think the Henson Co. was scared to take too many liberties this soon after Henson's death. Adapting an established story really just makes this film lacking, and makes it barely a Muppet movie at all.  Between this and The Muppet Christmas Carol, I would choose this one anytime; but that's really not saying much because I don't really like Christmas movies.

Fortunately, after some time off, the Henson Co regrouped and decided to work on an original story.  Tomorrow I'll discuss Muppets From Space.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I have this theory that everyone has their own personal favorite version of A Christmas Carol.  I know there are some out there who just love the story and love seeing it adapted in any form, but for most of us, there's probably just one you prefer and seeing any other version just feels like treading water.  My own personal favorite version is Mickey's Christmas Carol, which I was recently surprised to find is only 26 minutes long.  That may go a long way in explaining why I really have little patience for other versions of the story.

I don't remember seeing the Muppet version when it came out.  I bought this around Christmas last year, hoping the timing would get me in the mood.  I literally turned it off around the 15 minute mark and put it away.  For the sake of this marathon though, I was committed to watching it all the way through and giving it at least a fair shot.

Surprisingly, even though I was dreading watching it and put it off for as long as possible, I actually did enjoy it.  Michael Caine plays Scrooge, and this is really his movie.  He takes the character from miserly to remorseful to reformed well.  The story felt a little simple at times, both barely showing us why Belle leaves Scrooge and then having him very quickly reform when he sees Tiny Tim, but for what is mostly a children's story I suppose that is all we need.

Beyond Statler and Waldorf playing Marley & Marley and Gonzo and Rizzo narrating, this isn't so much a Muppet movie as it is A Christmas Carol told using puppetry for the Christmas Spirits.  Sure, Kermit plays Bob Cratchitt and Robin is Tiny Tim, but they are very much those characters and not really themselves at all.  Fozzie is also largely absorbed into his role as "Fozziwig," with the only real trace of his characterization being the fact that he runs a rubber chicken factory and is heckled by the Marleys very briefly.

The spirits, however, are great.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is a small girl, and she floats beautifully, as if she was underwater the whole time.  The Ghost of Christmas Present is a full body puppet with strong similarities to Santa Claus, and it's neat to watch him age as his time with Scrooge passes.  The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come manages to not be too scary as to give children nightmares, but still has an air of creepiness to him, with his lack of face and overly long arms that point ominously.

Going from watching the older films to this one, Kermit, Waldorf, and the Swedish Chef sounded very different.  Dr. Teeth and Rowlf, the other two characters Jim Henson voiced, don't have speaking parts at all from what I remember.  Statler, originally voiced by Richard Hunt who had also passed away before this film was made, is also noticeably different.  If you watched this on its own I'm not sure how noticeable it would be.  They all do a decent job of at least trying to sound right.

So, I have to admit, this isn't as bad as I was expecting it to be.  Granted, if I had been doing this marathon any other time of the year, I probably wouldn't have been able to stomach it.  That's the problem with Christmas films; they're simply not something you can watch any time of the year.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the other Muppet adaptation of a story, Muppet Treasure Island.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Muppets Take Manhattan

PhotobucketPlease allow me to Kermit flail and yell "Yaaaay!" because we have come to my absolute favorite of the Muppet films. There's something about the idea of the Muppets trying to make it big on Broadway combined with the many funny gags through the film that I just absolutely love.

You could probably argue that this movie is a rehashing of The Muppet Movie, in that this is a story of the Muppets trying to become famous. However it's clear that the Muppets are meant to be acting here, rather than playing themselves.  Add to that the fact that their characters also act in the play at  the beginning and end of this film, and we've got a nice set of layers here.

Kermit is the main focus of the film, interacting with most of the human main characters while the other Muppets play supporting roles or execute one off gags. The idea that Kermit stays behind while the others go work jobs to make ends meet is perfect, allowing the story to move along via Kermit while we get to see great funny bits like Rowlf being told how to take care of "Snookums" or seeing Lew Zealand throw fish at patrons in a 3D movie theater.

As an 80s child I also can't help but be extremely happy while watching the Muppet Babies scene. Even if you don't have any fond memories of that show, it's really just absolutely adorable. I remember as a kid being really impressed by Piggy's desire to be so many professions. Yeah, I took things pretty literally back then. 

I also really love the moments in the film when Kermit has amnesia. The doctor bending his face and limbs every which way is hysterical, and I love his literal ad campaign idea. Also, I can't prove it, but it may be the inspiration for the movie Crazy People. Perhaps the best part of it all though is when he begins to laugh at and mock the idea of he and Piggy being in a relationship together. Beyond the puns: "Maybe you expected me to go HOG-wild? Perhaps you could bring home the BACON!" his tone just really makes it. Also, don't we all kind of wonder what he sees in her anyway? I certainly don't think I could ever be in a relationship with a diva like that.

You would expect a movie that features characters trying to make it on Broadway to have good songs, and this one does not disappoint. "Together Again," "You Can't Take No For An Answer," "Saying Goodbye," and "I'm Gonna Always Love You" are all classics in my mind, and I think "Somebody's Getting Married" plays in my head any time I attend a wedding.

Perhaps what makes this movie shine so much is that Frank Oz took over directing duties, allowing Henson to focus on just being Kermit. I watched a Henson interview on the disc and I was impressed with how he had nothing but praise for Oz and gave him most of the credit for this film.  He was definitely a humble man who wasn't afraid to let the members of his team show off from time to time.  If there is any celebrity death that has really hit me hard, it's Henson.  I feel like he helped to raise me as much as my parents did.  Sadly, this is the last Muppet film Henson was involved with before his death.

I know it's a little early for Christmas, but since I'm doing these in chronological order, we're going to have to talk about The Muppet Christmas Carol tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Great Muppet Caper

I have little to no memory of The Great Muppet Caper as a child.  My memories of the bicycle scene tell me I saw it,  but it's not one I watched very much and therefore don't really have any nostalgic feelings for.

The movie starts out really fun.  Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo are all riding in a hot air balloon, and Fozzie asks why.  Kermit explains it's because they needed something for the opening credits.  The three of them continue to joke while the credits go by - my favorite part being how Gonzo is very excited at the idea of the balloon coming down for a crash landing.

When they do eventually land, they're on a movie set made to look like New York City, and  the song "Hey, a Movie!" begins.  It's a lot of fun and catchy and shows off the self awareness and fourth wall breaking we are in for for the rest of  the film.  Unfortunately, once the plot begins, the movie screeches to a deafening halt.  I'm guessing that after the origin story of the first film, they weren't quite sure what to do for a sequel.  Unfortunately I can't approve of their choice.

Kermit and Fozzie are playing identical twins for some reason, and the two of them are reporters along with Gonzo as their cameraman.  They get fired because they didn't report a diamond being stolen so they decide to win their jobs back by figuring out who stole it.  Because that's how that works, right?  Along the way they run into Miss Piggy pretending to be the rich woman whose jewels were stolen, and all the other Muppets are conveniently living at a cheap hotel in London together.  Piggy gets framed for the theft, and it's up to the gang to prove her innocence.  They do this by breaking into the place where an even bigger diamond is being stolen, supposedly to catch the thieves red handed.  Piggy breaks out of jail to also stop the thieves.  Even though this would all logically look like they were guilty, somehow they win the day anyway.

Don't get me wrong, a little nonsense never hurt anyone.  But I've never seen the Muppets act this stupid before.  While there are great one liners scattered throughout the film, the plot really ruins it.  The movie is very low on cameos and Charles Grodin and Diana Rigg don't make for good human leads in the movie either.

The main highlight of the film, in my opinion, is the cycling scene.  To this day, it is still amazing to watch the Muppets on bicycles all by themselves, and to be completely honest with you, I'm not sure I want to know how they do it.  Much like a magic trick, learning the technique would probably take away a lot of the wonder of this moment.  The song playing here, "Couldn't We Ride," is also the only other worthwhile one of the film besides "Hey, a Movie!", in my opinion.

I wonder if Miss Piggy fans get a lot more out of this movie than I do.  I find my favorite Miss Piggy is giddy Miss Piggy.  We see her here when Lady Holliday offers her a job, but for the rest of the film she's either Diva Piggy or "Hiiiiyah!" Piggy.  I do enjoy the latter, but once again she doesn't act that way until close to the end so it's hardly worth it.  Also, the idea that Charles Grodin's character basically falls in love with her at first sight is just very weakly handled and uninteresting.

Fortunately, a much better Muppet movie was on its way after this one, The Muppets Take Manhattan.  I'll see you on Monday for that one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Muppet Movie

I know I had said I wasn't  going to do any more marathons, but apparently I'm too much of a sucker for this kind of thing to completely resist them.  Out of all the movies this year, The Muppets has been the one movie that has me the most excited.  The puppet scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall had me feeling fairly confident that Jason Segel could pull this off, and so far none of the trailers or ads are giving me much doubt.  I'll find out for sure how wrong or right I am next week!

It's safe to say I literally grew up on the Muppets.  My parents have always told me that even as an infant, I used to sit there in rapt attention watching The Muppet Show.  The fascination continued all through my childhood while I watched Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Babies, Jim Henson's Storytellers, the films, and the many, many television specials that used to air in the 80s.  It continued into my teens when I was exposed to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth for the first time, saw Muppet*vision 3D at Walt Disney World, and watched shows from the failed Muppets Tonight to even the occasional episode of Bear in the Big Blue House.  It's built an appreciation for puppetry in all its many forms for me.  Since it would take a very long time for me to go through everything the Jim Henson Company has created, I'm sticking to just the Muppet specific feature films for this marathon.

Watching The Muppet Movie again it became clear that this movie is as much about Jim Henson's vision as it is a silly tale of how the Muppets met each other. It's often very hard to not associate Kermit with Jim Henson himself, and the fact that Kermit is going to Hollywood not to become rich and famous, but to make millions of people happy, feels very much like it must be Henson's own reasons for getting into show business.  I've always considered "The Rainbow Connection" to be the perfect summary of Henson's vision and dream for the world, even though it was technically written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher.  It is pretty much impossible for me to hear this song without getting a bit choked up these days.  It asks us to believe in magic and to not be afraid to follow your dreams, and it's something I know about all too well.  I've heard the voices calling my name, too.

This message is laid beneath a silly story of how the Muppets became famous.  I love that they all seem to become fast friends the moment they run into each other, as if they were all destined to be together in the first place.  It's a sentiment that Gonzo's song, "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" expresses beautifully.  These two songs along with "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along" are much more mature concepts than someone would probably expect from what we now regard to be a movie for kids.  The fact is this movie, like much of Henson's other work, is more kid friendly than it is tailored directly toward them.  When I was little I loved watching Gonzo fly with his balloons and Animal eat seat cushions or grow huge, but as an adult I can appreciate the bittersweet moments of the film all the more.

The main conflict of the film, that a man named Doc Hopper wants to use Kermit as a spokesperson for his fried frog legs restaurant, feels largely irrelevant because it is.  It serves to create some fun gags and keep moving the story forward, but there really isn't much else to it.  Even their quest for Hollywood success isn't a real challenge because as they arrive at the producer's office, he literally just stares at them for a moment before offering them a "standard rich and famous" contract.  It's the gags and cameos that make the film worth watching, there's no doubt about that.

Such great cameos they are too.  Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Carol Kane, Dom DeLouise, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor.. no matter how brief the moment, they all really shine.  It serves to give the movie a similar feel to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or Cannonball Run.

I can't help but feel that it's almost pointless to try to sell this movie to anyone.  If you're a Muppet fan, you've no doubt already seen it and most likely love it.  If somehow you did miss out, it's definitely worth checking out no matter how old you are.

Tomorrow I'll be talking about The Great Muppet Caper.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Getting to the end of a series is both sad and satisfying all at the same time.  For Harry Potter, we know we're in for an epic showdown, but also some major losses along the way.  I'm just going to say that this entire entry is a spoiler and if you're behind in the series you really shouldn't be reading it.

Now that I've finished the entire book, it's safe to say that it is a strong book and a very fast read in the best way possible.  Finishing one chapter, I was immediately ready for the next.  While there was some slight meandering in the beginning while they wandered and Harry angsted about Dumbledore, it all pays off in the end and stays an action packed thrill ride.  As such, this second movie is also very strong.

It's hard to judge either the book or the film on a stand alone basis, as they are both largely dependent on what you had already seen.  There's really no point in watching the movie or reading the book without the preceding installments, and I noticed that Rowling did not bother to recap anywhere in this book like she had in the past.

The best way to describe the latter half of the book is a mixture of heartbreaking and heartwarming moments.  We see Percy reunite with his family and show himself as a true Gryffindor with a Weasley sense of humor, we see Neville rise above his painful past and become a true hero, we see Molly take down Bellatrix like a pro, and we see Harry of course get the upper hand over Voldemort.  But then we also have to lose George, Remus, Tonks, and Snape.  We also see the Malfoys act like themselves, which somehow manages to incite both emotions at once.

In the case of Percy, it's unfortunate that we don't get to see that moment in the film.  I can understand why, given that his subplots have been completely left out of the films entirely, but it's such a great moment in the book that I would have liked to seen.  It also seems to mean that George has to die off screen, which I don't feel is exactly fair.  However that moment when Ron rushes over to his family, seeing George lying there, is a fitting tribute if there ever was one.  And Percy can be seen in a few scenes, so it's clear all those moments happened, they were just off camera.

On the other hand, the movie does more for Remus and Tonks than Rowling did.  I still have not forgiven her for killing them off.  Her excuse that she didn't want to but had to in order to prove that an orphan could have better luck in a better environment is just ridiculous.  Teddy gets such a throwaway moment in that epilogue that I really don't see the point.  Anyway, giving Remus more lines, and seeing Tonks and he extend their hands toward each other as the battle begins really meant a lot to me, and I appreciate their efforts.  By comparison, that sentence in the book where she says it looks like they were sleeping is just a cruel joke to me.

Another thing they added, and this may seem silly, but I liked that the cornish pixies were in the Room of Requirement.  The idea that Lockhart would have stashed them there after his foolish attempt to use them in lessons is just perfect, even if it means the poor things had to die in the fiendfyre.  Another small but wonderful detail - as Harry, Hermione, and Ron head to the boathouse, they run into a giant, being reminiscent of the troll they fought their first year, then the spiders from the forest, then a werewolf, then dementors.  It's something that could very easily be viewed as corny, but I think it runs perfectly and works as a great tribute.

I have to say that Snape's death scene and also the moments in the pensieve are also so much better executed in the film than they are in the book.  Perhaps it is because book Snape was enough of a jerk that we have a harder time feeling for him, where as Alan Rickman has always played Snape in a way that you knew he cared about Harry.  It's funny how what felt so wrong in The Half Blood Prince film now seems to work so well here.  His memories, particularly that moment where he holds Lily in his arms, are just so bittersweet and heartbreaking.  His death also made me jump in my seat several times, it's just so wonderfully executed.  The sounds say so much more than showing us Nagini attack him ever could.

If there are two reasons I'm glad I went and saw the film on opening day in the theater, Molly and Neville are it.  Cheering along with everyone else while Molly screamed "Not my daughter, you bitch!" and seeing Neville both stand up to Voldemort and then kill Nagini was a wonderful moment to be a part of.  Even watching it again alone, the scenes held a lot of power.  I think Maggie Smith also brought so much strength and fun to Professor McGonagall that she really shines through in so many scenes as well.

 Oddly I don't have too much to say in regards to Harry himself.  I seem to recall that I figured out that he was a horcrux not too far in to the book, and it seemed almost inevitable that he would have to die.  The prophecy kind of suggests as much to me.  That said I was very sad to watch Harry walk into the forest the first time I read the book.  Hearing him ask Sirius, "Does it hurt?" is also very heartbreaking.  There is a part of me that feels a little let down by the fact that Harry speaks to Dumbledore after his "death."  It felt like a cheat, I think. The hero is supposed to be making his own decisions without his mentor at that point.  However, I suppose you could argue that being all in Harry's head, it wasn't really Dumbledore at all.

I'm just going to come out and say that I hate the epilogue.  I know why she did it, as she's clearly very protective of her creations and she doesn't want other people continuing the series in a way contrary to her vision of how things ended up for Harry and friends.  However, it all comes out overly hokey and I just don't like it.  Not many people really marry their high school sweetheart and live happily ever after, especially not two sets of best friends like that.  And as I said earlier, the throwaway comment about Teddy is just stupid and pointless.  In the movie it's even sillier, because they didn't want to use other actors and all they really did was give the current ones bad hairstyles.  Everyone in my theater was laughing as each character was shown on screen because they looked so ridiculous.  I'd much prefer to see the series end with the three of them on the bridge, their whole future ahead of them.

Also, do you think it's fair that Ginny had so little say in what to name their children?  "Kid one is named after my father and godfather, kid two is named after two of the professors who helped me, kid three is named after my mother... well okay, I guess we can make her middle name your friend, because she's my friend too..."  Bad Harry.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists

I originally wrote this review in February 2010 and posted it on Good Reads.  I'm about to start reading the second book in this series, so I thought I'd clean this up a little and post it over here in the meantime.

For those of you who are unaware, Ravenloft is a gothic horror based setting for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Primarily in the 1990s, a series of novels were produced within this setting.  The Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels were selling very well, so it was logical for TSR to want to branch out into a set of gothic horror tales.  The convenient thing about Ravenloft was that it is essentially a "pocket dimension" into which characters from other dimensions can find themselves by chance.  This allowed them to take characters who, if not familiar themselves, came from familiar worlds, and dump them into this new one.  Vampire of the Mists is the first novel in the Ravenloft series.

I think I was about 15 the first time I read this book, and I absolutely loved it then. The main character, Jander Sunstar, had such an effect on me that I wanted so desperately to hear more about his adventures before becoming a vampire, and I frequently used his name when given the choice to name characters in video games.  I had borrowed the book from my then boyfriend and so post break up I no longer had access to the book. Noticing it on the cheap used recently, I decided to pick it up and see if I still would love it as much as I did.

This is by no means a perfect book. I think the fact that this is Christie Golden's first novel shows through, but I also think a lot of it is not her fault. Being the first of the series, she was tasked with largely introducing us to this world and its main character, Strahd, who for all intents and purposes is Dracula. As such, his story bears a strong resemblance to the Dracula we know from the films, and in a way Jander is nothing more than Jonathon Harker with a twist. It's interesting to me that his origin has some similarities to the Bram Stoker's Dracula film, which was not released into theaters until one year after this book was published.

The changes and twists make all the difference for this novel. Jander is a gold/high elf who was turned into a vampire while still living within the Forgotten Realms universe.  His elf breed bears a strong resemblance to Lord of the Rings elves in manner, and Jander does not forget his ideals once he is changed.  As an elf he worshiped Lathander Morninglord, the god of dawn.  I know by now we've all seen the vampire trying to do good so many times that it's become cliche, but I would like to point out this novel pre-dates both Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and Twilight by a great number of years.  For me at least, the fact that he is an elf and not just a vampire cursed with a soul or whatever the Twilight reasoning is keeps the concept feeling fresh here.

Jander is carried by the title mentioned mists into Strahd's kingdom, following a woman he has fallen in love with. He initially makes friends with Strahd, but it doesn't take long for Jander to realize that he and the count do not see eye to eye.  The time line in the book feels incredibly rushed at certain points. We follow along on a daily basis, and then jump 10 to 15 years in the future suddenly. I think you could make the argument that this is to signify what life is like for an immortal, how fast time can pass when you live forever. But it can also be momentarily jarring to the reader. It also means that characters are introduced and then quickly disappear, and some characters don't enter the book until quite late and yet you're still supposed to be attached to them. To Golden's credit, she does create characters that are likeable enough for you to care.

While I would not go into this book expecting a masterpiece, I think anyone who enjoys fantasy and gothic horror will enjoy the book.  Christie Golden did write at least one more story of Jander, within the story collection Realms of Valor.  She's also written two more of the books in the Ravenloft series as well as Star Trek, Starcraft, and World of Warcraft novels.

I happen to own Realms of Valor as well, so I pulled that out and read the short story, "One Last Drink" last night.  The story is set within the Forgotten Realms universe, at an unspecific amount of time before Vampire of the Mists, where Jander has already become a vampire. Within the laws of this universe, vampires must obey the commands of the vampire who sired them, so while Jander is trying to do good, he's forced to do the bidding of a rather Lestat-like vampire.  The story is set within a tavern in one night where his sire Cassius wants to slaughter everyone inside and Jander does his best to save them, along with the help of a moon elf fighter and a human bard/priest.  This was written two years later, and unfortunately I can't say her prose has improved.  It's just a little too flowery at times.  However I think she does a great job presenting action scenes without getting overly technical, and you get attached to the characters even in such a brief exchange.  Realms of Valor also contains stories that star Drizzt Do'Urden and Arilyn Moonblade, two of my other favorite characters in the Forgotten Realms universe.  It's worth picking up if you can find it as it gives you a decent taste of all these characters (and more) that you can then go try their novels if you find one you like.

The next novel in this series is Knight of the Black Rose, and features possibly the most well known character from the Ravenloft series of novels, Lord Soth.  That same boyfriend who let me borrow Vampire of the Mists read this book and absolutely loved it - while I was using Jander as a chosen name, he would usually use Soth.  For whatever reason I never read the book myself back then, so I'm anxious to see if it will live up to the hype he gave it or fall flat.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My X-men Collection, Part 2 (video)

I aim to improve with every video I do.  For this one I tried using a script and kept to it, for the most part.  I hope it helps keep things a little more focused.

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