Thursday, October 31, 2013

Castle Rock Cash In - Creepshow 3

While it certainly seemed like this franchise was dead, it made an attempt at a return in 2006, though this time not including Stephen King or George Romero in any way.


"I think people are being far too harsh in their dismissal of it, mostly by focusing on the fact that it had zero input from Stephen King or George Romero. To which I say, so what? The last film in the series did, and I had a lot more issues and was more often bored with it than I am with this one. So no, I have no problem with bringing in some new creators to keep the franchise alive."

Castle Rock Companion - Creepshow 2 (Halloween special!)

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - Creepshow (Halloween special!)

I decided to do something a little different this time to celebrate Halloween.  I hope you like it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Awesome Games for Awful Gamers (new video series) - Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo

This month's Castle Rock Companion will be posted at the end of the month, as it is a Halloween special.  But I didn't want to leave you empty handed on the day I normally post the updates, so I proudly present to you a new video series!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On creating video reviews

One week ago, I received a notice from that they would be deleting both of my accounts "in accordance with their terms of service."  I put it in quotes, because that's all the reason they gave, not actually explaining why they chose to do so.  It wasn't completely out of the blue, as they had been talking for quite some time about changing the purpose of their site to being a place for "high quality web series." Basically, they want to be seen as something higher in standards than Youtube.  But they also swore they weren't just looking at numbers alone, and that they were also looking for low scoring series that had the potential for growth, and that they would even help them to achieve higher numbers.

Well either that's a load of bullshit, or I have no potential in their eyes.  I'm not going to sit here and pretend that my numbers were great. I had not earned enough money from my videos for a single payout.  But I really thought my series was good, and viewership was growing, slowly but surely.  I was initially pretty upset, and then I was pretty pissed.  Because they think people who nitpick and screech are "quality entertainment" and my honest, well thought out critiques aren't.  Of course, even if they think that method of "reviewing" is stupid, they probably want to keep them simply because they make money from them.  End of story.  There are some good reviewers on there who are also staying, it's just frustrating when you look at their front page and see who they are promoting most heavily.  Ultimately, it doesn't really matter what their reasoning is, as I don't have a choice.  They're deleting my account in three weeks time.

I had started putting all my episodes on Youtube as well as Blip some time ago, mostly in an effort to expand my reach.  I've run into a couple of issues where videos got flagged as soon as they were uploaded there.  Some kind of scanner, I'm sure, that looks for content from the various movie studios that Google has deals with.  While I suppose I could dispute them on the basis of fair use, I'm the more cautious type and would prefer to not deal with that at all.  I haven't had to deal with that in months, but it seems pretty obvious to me that it could happen again at any time.  I've started primarily talking over the video clips I use, removing or lowering the original audio, and I think that goes a long way to help it but the fact of the matter is that you're still playing games to try to make things work okay rather than just producing what you want to produce.

All of this made me sit down and think.  I started doing videos because of my admiration for James Rolfe's movie reviews.  While it's always been a challenge, that was part of the appeal for me.  I've learned a lot over the past year as I worked on them.  I put a lot of time and effort into them, improving scripts, my delivery, finding the best setting in my house to record, using a high quality microphone, and even purchasing an HD camera to improve the quality of the video.

I've created thirteen episodes so far, seventeen videos, and I'm working on the next episode which is also a two-part episode.  It's the most theatrical of all of them as it's a Halloween special and I decided to do something different.  I am, quite honestly, pretty scared as far as how it's going to be received.  I'm taking a risk, and while the two people I showed it to loved the idea, that doesn't mean everyone else will.  But once again, it was a challenge for me, something new and different, and so I jumped on the chance to do it.

Youtube being Youtube, I have received occasional negative comments on the Castle Rock Companion reviews I've put up there.  I hate to be the type of person who blocks comments, because it suggests you can't take criticism or insults.  I'll admit my skin is thin, but I'm doing my best to harden it and it's not going to harden if I block everyone from commenting.  But it is an annoyance, and usually a pretty sharp contrast from any other feedback I receive.

So while I could just continue as I have been with CRC, uploading the videos to Youtube from now on, hosting the ones they block on my website as an alternative, it doesn't really seem desirable to me.  There is also the fact that, this Halloween episode not withstanding, CRC isn't much of a challenge to me anymore.  I've got it down to a science each step of the way, including the video editing.  It's time-consuming, but not difficult.  While I could attempt to come up with some kind of gimmick for each video, I really don't like it when others do that.  I have lost count of the number of reviewers I've watched where I wish they would just drop their attempts to be funny that 9 out of 10 times fall flat and just focus on the review.  They're great at reviewing, they're not so great at comedy.  I'm pretty much the same way in that respect, so I'd rather do my best to execute that 1 out of 10 opportunity and leave the rest as straight reviews.

So I asked myself, how important was the video aspect to what I was doing with CRC?  Yes, I use it to show examples of what I'm talking about, but are they essential?  Could they just as easily be talked about in written form?  In my opinion, while movie clips make a video far more interesting than just watching a person talk at you, they are not truly essential to the review itself.  Looking over the scripts I have for future episodes, most of what I discuss could be shown just as easily with a screenshot than with a video.  Images are a good thing to have in written reviews anyway, as they help break up the wall of text.

I know a part of my decision to try out video reviews way back when is I felt like some people don't like to read.  Well, having done videos,  I've found some people don't have time to watch them.  You can't please all the people all the time, so you might as well just do it in the format you want to do it in.

The number of people who follow the series is also irrelevant to me.  I love doing it and I can't stop myself from doing it.  I read a Stephen King book, I watch the movie adaptation of it, and I go over the differences and what's better in my head.  I put it out there now in case a few people want to join the conversation and discuss it.  No joke, I had a friend who wasn't aware I was doing it come to me and say she wanted to start a blog doing the same exact thing.  So clearly I'm not 100% alone in doing so, and I'm happy with the few people who do participate.

That all said, I have no intention of stopping making videos all together.  I enjoy them immensely.  Long before any of this bullshit happened with Blip, I had every intention of starting another series.  The first episode will be up on my blog tomorrow.  It's related to a type of media that Youtube is far more friendly toward, so I shouldn't have to worry about it being taken down.  What kind of comments I will get is another question, but we will see how that goes.  Honestly, I don't expect many people to take any notice of it at all in the beginning.  I've started new projects often enough that I know the score.

I'm also debating possibly doing something else, something closer to the Halloween episode I'm working on.  Probably not a comedy, but definitely something more original than a review.  I enjoyed acting in Targeted a little too much to make that a one time deal. Obviously that will take a lot of planning and a good solid idea first, but I'm planting the seeds in the back of my mind now to see what develops.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Doctor Sleep

I was excited to read a sequel to The Shining the moment Stephen King announced it. The idea of seeing what young Danny was up to after so many years sounded great. While I knew it was possible that he may have lost touch with who these characters were after all this time, honestly I wasn't too concerned. I think reading the Dark Tower series is a large part of that, because he brought other old characters back to life years after originally writing them there too.

I appreciate that the book takes a decent amount of time filling in the gaps of Danny's life from his time at the Overlook to now. I also thought it logical to see him repeating his father's sins as an alcoholic. Anyone who has seen the things Danny has could very easily turn to drink. A large part of The Shining was about how Wendy and Jack were both heavily influenced by the sins of their own parents, so it makes sense to see Dan continue that theme and journey. This time, AA plays a heavy part in his recovery, and given how King chose to include them in the mini-series adaptation of The Shining, I largely expected that.

Once again, this theme of family and personal demons is combined with the supernatural. While I can't say Doctor Sleep filled me with as much tension and dread as The Shining did, I was still very much fascinated by the villains of the story, the True Knot. They're despicable creatures, and their actions are certainly revolting at times. Perhaps because they primarily prey on children, its natural they wouldn't scare me as much as the ghosts in the Overlook, who were more than happy to terrorize the adults as well. But I'll certainly never look at winnebagos and campers the same way ever again.

 King once again builds multifaceted characters on both sides of the line of good and evil, and the heroes are made up of a good mix of characters as well. It was great to see Dick Halloran again, and I really liked Billy Freeman and Concetta among the supporting cast, and young Abra makes a great duel lead with Dan. She's got just enough moody teenage girl in her mixed with the wisdom that would come from having the shining so young. Given the nature of the True Knot, it was important to once again have a young protagonist here, and it's great to see Dan do for someone what Dick once did for him. In the book King says "life is a wheel" and as someone who often sees cycles recurring in my own life, I appreciated that sentiment.

There is one twist toward the end of the novel that I suspect some people may not like. I personally was a little disappointed by it, though I'll admit King did set up the proper groundwork in this novel for it to make sense. I'm just not sure it entirely fits with what we learned in The Shining. It's plausible, but I wouldn't have expected it back then.

Naturally, I spent some time while reading thinking about whether or not this would make a good film. I think there are some great cinematic moments here, especially with the Knot's powers, and the plot would make for a great horror thriller. The problem is that so many people think of Kubrick's Shining and the way it ends is very different. I think they would have to do another version of that film first and then this as a sequel. While the mini-series is certainly closer, I doubt most people remember it at this point to jump off from there. You also couldn't do it as a stand alone film, because removing all traces of Jack Torrence and the Overlook. Making Dan just a guy in his 30s with psychic powers and alcoholism loses a lot of the significance.

I'll be interested to see if anyone wants to try that. I know last I heard Hollywood was more interested in doing a prequel rather than a remake. Until that happens, I definitely recommend the book for fans of the original novel. While I think the book provides you with enough info that you could read this one alone, it definitely has more meaning when read in context. It's a good follow up and a good continuation of the story of the Torrance family.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Breaking Bad

There are very few shows that are fantastic from start to finish.  Some take a while to get their footing, some lose their way somewhere in the middle, and others fizzle out toward the end, but it all comes down to people usually discussing their favorite seasons and declaring which are the worst.  You would be extremely hard pressed to list a worst season of Breaking Bad.  There are tonal shifts in the series, so you could certainly prefer one over the other, but the show never once made a misstep or felt like it was dragging its feet.  It starts off strong and continues that way through to the conclusion.

The show follows chemistry teacher Walter White and one of his former students Jesse Pinkman as they create and sell crystal meth.  Walter has come to the decision to do this when he finds out he has lung cancer and very little to leave his family once he is gone.  As the series begins he knows everything about the chemistry and nothing about the business, and as you can imagine, he learns it the hard way.  He also transforms, gaining confidence he never had before which eventually turns into hubris.

I suppose you could consider the above a spoiler, but I think the nature of the show is fairly apparent.  Walt starts out becoming a kind of anti-hero and eventually turns into a villain.  If that concept doesn't sound appealing to you, Breaking Bad is not your show.   There are very few complete innocents among the characters, though the wrongs they commit do vary in degrees.  However one of the fascinating things I find about the show is that it acknowledges that none of us are pure evil either, and can often find ways to make you sympathize with even some of the more ruthless characters.  It happens most frequently with Walt in particular.  As someone who sees in shades of grey rather than black and white, I like that.

The pacing of the show is also top notch.  Most of the seasons follow a pattern, building tension that keeps you coming back each episode, but the climax often happens a couple episodes before the season finale.  This allows you to reel a bit from the explosion and also see its aftermath, giving you just enough info to lead into the next season and wonder what will happen next.  Or in the case of the final season, to wrap up nearly all the loose ends quite nicely.  While there are a few elements of uncertainty by the end of the last episode, it's reasonable uncertainty, the kind of thing you can decide for yourself how they turn out without feeling betrayed by the creators.

While Vince Gilligan's vision for the show (and the choice to make it only five seasons) play a large part in helping it to feel so complete, a large amount of credit must be given to the actors involved for making the characters feel so compelling and real.  I may have once thought of Bryan Cranston as the goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle, but I'll never look at him the same way again after this.  I've noticed that many of the performers are going on to future television projects, and that makes me happy.  They are fantastic talents and deserve everything they get.

The only problem I have with the show is a section of its fans.  This is a pretty normal problem, I suppose, as whenever people start to get fanatical about something, there's always going to be some of them that take it too far and cross a line.  In this case, where you have a character who has become a villain, it is a particularly disturbing line.  Basically, no matter how despicable Walter's actions become, these people still side with him.  I can understand this to an extent.  I found myself frequently wishing for Walter to come out on top whenever he found himself in trouble.  But I also found myself completely horrified by some of his actions, and my sympathy always sided with those he put down in the process.  As I watched the finale, I occasionally cheered out loud as I saw people take a stand or otherwise become triumphant.  None of my cheers were for Walt.  At best, he earned a smirk.  I was happy with what he accomplished by the end, but I also could not truly consider him the hero of the story.

Obviously, I'm doing my best to not post spoilers here, as I want to give everyone a chance to experience the show and its twists as freshly as possible.  However I also can't help but think that even if someone knew all the big reveals at this point, they would still enjoy watching the show immensely, because the execution is so strong.  I knew all the big deaths before I ever started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance, and they still hurt because they were done in a way to make you feel it.  I think the same holds true for Breaking Bad.

Monday, October 7, 2013


I first read the novel of Frankenstein when I was in high school, specifically my senior year which was a Women's Literature course.  I remember liking it, and that feeling that the monster was a poor, pitiable creature and Victor Frankenstein the cruel creator.  Of course, my memory also told me that Kenneth Brannagh's adaptation was an accurate one, and I found out a few years back that it was lying to me.  I finally took the time to re-read the book again, and all I can say is that my memory needs a good talking to.

Perhaps, having reached my senior year in high school, I had read enough Gothic literature that the prose within the novel didn't seem any different than what I was used to at that point.  Beyond a read of Dracula a few years back, I haven't really spent much time in this era since I left college.  As such, the first couple of chapters felt torturous as I adjusted my brain to reading the overly flowery and dramatic prose.  It was almost like reading another language.  While I did eventually settle into the patterns of speech, I never enjoyed it.

Both Captain Walton (who serves to narrate the introduction and conclusion of the story) and Victor Frankenstein himself are incredibly annoying individuals I would not want to meet in real life.  They are "emo" centuries before the term was invented, constantly whining about one thing or another.  Frankenstein frequently falls into months of illness just because he's upset.  He's also incredibly stupid, thoroughly excited about creating life and apparently completely ignorant of just how horrifying his creature looks until the moment its life finally begins, even though it takes him months to put it together.  And then he constantly excuses away why he can't tell anyone what's going on, while also flat out telling them that the murders which occur around him are all his fault.  And when the creature says to him "We'll meet again on your wedding night" his deduction is that the monster is coming to kill him.  Come on, idiot, think about that for more than five seconds, will you?

The monster, meanwhile, is not as pitiable as I remembered.  Yes, he's had a horrible lot in life, being rejected at birth by his creator and having all of humanity frightened of his appearance.  But he turns to murder and vengeance so quickly and willingly that you can't truly feel sorry for him.  His desire for a companion is understandable, but this time around I couldn't help but agree with Victor that creating another could only result in a pair of monsters to terrorize humanity, and even worse allow them to possibly reproduce and create an entire race that would take over the earth.  Making them sterile would at least solve the latter, but the science in this fiction is intentionally left fuzzy and doesn't really touch on whether Victor could fix that.

The novel is very brief, but it still spends a considerable amount of its time wandering, perhaps as Shelley tries to decide where she wants it to go next.  This is what leads to Victor's constant bouts of sickness and misery and self pity, and leaves me unable to sympathize with him in any way and just wishing for him to get on with it.  While a part of me wants to tell you to desperately stay away from this book, its brevity means you can get through it in a day if you've got the free time, and that's pretty much the only reason I say you can do so if you're curious.

Because really, the most interesting part of the story of Frankenstein and his monster at this point is how so many of us know about them and yet don't know the original story.  While some of the monster's materials are taken from morgues, he's largely created in Victor's chemistry lab, and is not the undead creature most of us think of.  The monster has no name at all, unless you want to suggest that as Victor's "child" he inherits the name Frankenstein.  There's no bolts on the side of his neck, no green skin, no rigid manner of walking, and he speaks eloquently rather than in grunts or one word phrases.  The blind man he meets has a family that lives with him, and the monster actually spends most of the time in a pig sty outside their house spying on them, and the very brief time he goes inside to try to speak with the blind man ends in disaster.

There have been so many adaptations of Frankenstein, and I would imagine there's at least one out there that tried to do so accurately, though it's not one of the ones I've seen.  Both The Bride of Frankenstein and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are close, but each makes key changes in the narrative.  Honestly, I think that is for the best.  It's simply not that strong a story to hold up on its own.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Riddick Trilogy

While I had avoided horror movies in my younger days, I'd always been attracted to what I referred to as "creature features."  Whether it was a natural enemy like the sharks in Deep Blue Sea or the vicious aliens in Pitch Black, I loved watching a group of people try to survive against seemingly impossible odds.  I think those kind of movies really primed me to enjoy slasher films before I ever watched them.  Pitch Black was probably my favorite of these types of films, at least until I finally watched the Alien series.

Pitch Black

Like many others at the time, I was very impressed with the character of Riddick and with Vin Diesel himself as an actor.  But he's not the only one giving a great performance, as the entire cast is strong and give the characters a depth far beyond the fodder they easily could be in the film.  Radha Mitchell is particularly good as she shows Carolyn's journey from selfish survivor to brave leader.

I watched the film again after not seeing it in years, and I was amazed at how strongly it held up.  While the special effects are dated, the film still looks clean and beautiful.  The tension builds at just the right pace, making us question the motives of Carolyn, Riddick and Johns before the three of them show their true colors in the end.  I also think the subject of faith is handled well, not too heavy handed but not too cynical either.  I was at the right age when I saw it to truly appreciate Jack.  Around that time I might have gone impersonating a guy myself if I thought it would make me more easily accepted.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury

Remember how The Animatrix was released before the Matrix sequels, and everyone really liked that?  It caused a bit of a trend there for a while of making these animated films that fit in between the live action movies.  This one is pretty bad.  It was directed by Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux.  Personally, I've always found his designs to be hideous, so I find this incredibly ugly to look at.  The story is also weak.  While it does help bridge the gap a little between the two films, it can be summed up very easily: the three survivors were picked up by a Merc ship but managed to get away.  Riddick sent Imam and Jack to New Mecca while he moved on to a deserted planet.

The Chronicles of Riddick

I really feel like this film is missing a subtitle.  Without one, it sounds like it should be an anthology film, like a collection of unrelated tales in Riddick's life perhaps.  Instead, it's a sci-fi action fantasy where Riddick is revealed to be the chosen one.  I didn't dislike this movie as much as some people did, but I do have to admit that it drags in parts and doesn't seem entirely sure what kind of film it wants to be.

I remember this was my first time seeing Karl Urban without his Eomer hair and beard and it seemed really weird to see him any other way.  Thanks to his recent turn as Bones in Star Trek it feels more natural.  But his character is still an odd supporting role, and his wife played by Thandie Newton is just bizarre.  I like what they did with Jack and I think there are some decent action scenes in the film, but it's also kind of a mess.

I don't think I had watched this film again until I sat down to write this review, whereas I watched Pitch Black so many times I almost had it memorized.  So I can understand why for the third film they decided to do something closer to Pitch Black, and I was happy to hear it.


Riddick does feel like a closer followup to Pitch Black, for certain.  They acknowledge both former films in the series, but in structure this is definitely the Aliens to Pitch Black's Alien, in that this time rather than a mixed group of normal people, we've now got a bunch of mercenaries facing both Riddick and the strange creatures on this planet.  But making that comparison is dangerous, because Aliens is a fantastic, strong movie, as good as its predecessor, just with a different tone and feel.  I would not say the same for Riddick.

It was a bold choice to have a large part of the beginning of the film to feature Riddick alone.  It would be easy for this part to lose a lot of people with its lack of dialogue.  For the most part though, it does manage to hold your attention.  While I'm not sure it had to go on as long as it did, I now want my own tiger hyena puppy for a pet, so clearly it built the proper connections it was supposed to.  I think it also gave us plenty enough Riddick exposure so that when the second act focuses primarily on the mercenaries, we weren't missing him so much.   And then he comes back for the third act and it's not entirely Pitch Black all over again, but it's pretty darn close.  The three acts of the film do almost feel like three episodes of a television show, but they flow from one to the other well enough to not make the film feel disjointed.

Vin Diesel slipped back into the role of Riddick almost effortlessly, and I think you can tell it's a character he really loves to play.  He is still cool, confident, and a bit of an ass while also having just enough of a heart that you can still sympathize with him as the hero.  His dynamic here with Johns the elder continues the Pitch Black story well and has just the right amount of tension.  While I was fairly confident I knew how this would end, I did appreciate the path it took to get there.

At this point, there's really one problem with the film that is really holding me back from loving it as much as the original, and it has everything to do with the character of Dahl.  I love Katee Sackhoff.  I fell in love with her portrayal of Starbuck, and I was very excited to hear she would be in the film, and that her character was going to be fairly similar.  She was made to play tough chicks, and I really hope the recent rumor of her portraying Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in some capacity is true.  So I was really looking forward to her appearance here, to see if she would play a similar role as Carolyn in the first film or maybe even be a proper foil for Riddick, since she was a mercenary.  Unfortunately, that's not really what I got.

While she's certainly capable and strong, her role is problematic.  She largely just does whatever Johns tells her to do, and when the shit hits the fan, she stays behind along with the young rookie.  I understand that she's a sniper first, but we also see she's capable of hand to hand combat and there's no reason she couldn't have gone out there with the guys.  Add to that the fact that she is leered at and has to fight off a rape attempt and various lewd comments (some even given by Riddick himself) and it just left a really bad taste in my mouth.  It's disappointing, because without this issue it is otherwise a fun, enjoyable film.
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