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What I'm Watching: Rings of Power part 2

(I had this series of toots in my notes, apparently didn't publish. Whoops.)

Previously on Rings of Power

SPOILERS















Galadriel continuing to be a badass, but shitty diplomat, is one of the best blundering D&D PC portrayals. Again has less than fuck-all to do with the book character, and I'm here for it.

Dwarf: "I am a Dwarf an I'm digging a hole." Mostly in his parental relations; I know the feeling. But it's not built up much before this, was much cut from this ep?

"Don't go to middle earth, it is a silly place." I am deeply bored by Numenor's politics, and whiny little Isildur. A swordfight breaks it up but then back to yakking. Elf-king's a bastard; where did I last see him? Oh, right, Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Humans are 50% evil, 40% neutral, 10% good. Elf & Dwarf are pretty cute, tho. The one relationship in this given any love. New armor is all very shit except Galadriel's plate, which looks OK except dangling chain bits.

One thing is clear from this series: Elfs are assholes. Everything is their fault in the first place, and then you have to give them all your stuff and die for them because OH, wouldn't it be TERRIBLE if they went back to HEAVEN? And they ran that scam in the first age, they're running it again now, and they'll run it again in the third age. Isn't that great? Nobody ever learns to say "fuck off, Elfs". The one blacksmith who does is mocked by the evil vizier.

Arondir Elfpants' fighting withdrawal is a little goofy, very Army of Darkness. But then the peasants try a High Plains Drifter defense and it's obvious shit. Where did these incompetent peasants learn to shoot bows & stab with spears as well as trained Orcs (and untrained evil men)? Then deus ex machina, Numenor knows exactly which shitty peasant village to rescue. Yeah, map magic but it's still bullshit, the entire region must be at war.

Adar: "We have a heart. We deserve a home." Galadriel: "Genocide is good, because you are bad! Waah!" Yeah, that tracks. The thing the main LotR books & series couldn't quite articulate, because Tolkien believed in "lesser races". Queen is nice to peasant Bronwyn for all of 30 seconds until she can put a man of royal descent on the throne. Fuck royalty, kill all kings.

Fun fact: The initial survivors of Pompeii who didn't get off the island all died from pyroclastic heat in the next day. There's no Humans or Orcs surviving Mt Doom. DOOOOOooooom! Also I survived Mt St Helens (hundreds of miles away), and I can guarantee you it just shat grey ash on the ground, it didn't apply an orange filter to everything. Fuck Hollywood cyan/orange. I haven't mentioned the fucking 'obbits, because they do nothing, the wizard did nothing.

Elrond lurking around the Dwarfs, "Man king" lurking around the Elf court, 'obbits and wraiths lurking around the wizard, Queen lurking around the sea captain. None of these are good ideas. Clearly everyone would be better with their own, and the Elfs would all sail West, and there'd be no wars without them picking fights. So many preachy "nobody seen the trouble I seen" speeches.

The Three Rings of Power scene should've played the Airwolf theme, in honor of the greatest "engineers worship their creations" scene of all time.

Endless flute playin' music as 'obbit can't go off the track. I 'ate 'obbits. Uh, and showing NZ square pastures delimited by trees, which seems unlikely for empty woods.

Pacing really sucks, there's as usual 4 eps of content in 8 eps of streaming, would get ★★★★½ if it was edited down, barely ★★★★☆ as is.

Compare it to The Witcher. S1 was excellent, Cavill likes being Geralt, the plots were largely from the books, bit disorganized, should've just followed the Surprise. S2 was meh, went off-books, Cavill sorta saved it. S3 was off-books shit by the incompetent producer, and S4 won't have Cavill. It's down >50% from S1, instead of building audience.

Rings of Power succeeds where it goes off-book. Except the 'obbits. Murderhobo Galadriel was fun.

Public Domain Monster: Mouseling

Mouseling (Swords & Wizardry stats)

HD: 2d6, AC: 6[13], Attacks: Nip (d4) or Weapon (d6), Save: 16, Morale: 8, Move: 12, Align: Chaos, CL/XP: 2/30.

Demi-humanoids with mouse-like features, no more than 3' tall. Surprisingly robust and rubbery, they can survive being stretched, dropped, bounced down stairs, hooked with cargo winches. As characters, they may be Thieves (max Level 6), Fighters (max Level 4, HD d6), or apprentice Magic-Users (max Level 3). Giant-sized attackers have a –4 penalty to hit them.

Mickey Mouse

Mouseling Thief 2, Special: musical animals, CL/XP: 3/60.

Wannabe riverboat captain, and musician. Relentlessly cruel to other animals, and can use them to make musical instruments. All who hear this performance must save vs Paralysis or be stunned until the end of the peformance, or 2d4 rounds.

What I'm Reading: Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds

A couple years ago, when this came out, I read like a paragraph, and then realized I needed to reread the entire Revelation Space sequence (2000-2003), including the Prefect (2007) & Elysium Fire (2018). I haven't at this time reread Chasm City (2001), even tho that's the best book of the series, and the one you should read as an introduction IMO; nor the short story collections. Distraction and scattering in my tsundoku has made that a longer reread than expected. Short review of the series: Mostly great. I got bored rapidly of a lot of Absolution Gap's annoying child who is more than she seems. Scorpio the Hyperpig gets way too much page time. The Prefect books are very cop procedural, in a shitty colonial police force with too many powers over Demarchist citizens. For all the books, I like the tech and setting details, and weird corrupted AIs are always a favorite feature, and body horror/lunatics like The Captain.

Inhibitor Phase (2021) shows a big difference in tone from the decades-earlier books. There's a lot more concern with personal relations, with "feelings"; I don't mean this in the cliché "hard SF fans want equations not emotions" way, just that murderous old Humans & Hyperpigs who haven't previously shown much emotion, explaining themselves to each other, are out of character.

It starts with an isolated colony trying to hide from the Wolves (black cubes, Inhibitors, etc), willing to commit genocide on anyone dumb enough to seek refuge. Miguel, their leader, does not earn much respect from me then, or later when he has to deal with an intruder, or in the hundreds of pages of his whining "I'll keeeeel you!" that follow. "Glass", his captor/guide/nemesis, isn't a lot better, wrapping a few moments of basic humanity in long stretches of emo edgelady transhuman (she's not quite a Conjoiner, but more than most Ultras) contempt for baseline humans. The other people we meet, on or around doomed Yellowstone, are just as terrible; the Pigs aren't as bad, but they don't do much.

Finally halfway thru we get a classic Reynolds heist/assault that goes very wrong. It's… overly familiar. I really should have reread some of the short stories, because I think much of it is in there. There's some deliberately gross torture, the fights are cinematic but not entirely sensible.

The final section's an update of Ararat from Absolution Gap, with unusual behavior from Pattern Jugglers; nothing is explained because nobody knows. Glass and Miguel undergo changes, much as Sylveste and others do in Revelation Space. More interesting outer-space piloting scenes, made easier by the Plot Coupons earlier collected. An alien ship heist at last, and Glass-ish now has too much knowledge. Scorpio/Pinky gets to say "what?" a lot (and I don't think his lifespan and survival at this point is plausible). Another cozy emotional feelings ending.

Most Reynolds I blast thru in a sitting or two, this took many days, I'd often hit a wall of annoyance at feelings or vacation time. Off and on it gets back to the main plot and I'm interested again.

★★★½☆ - unfortunate, since I love the earlier books, and needed more closure than this.

Much of the future from here has been plotted in Galactic North and other short stories, Humans scatter and do well and poorly for a while, with less Wolves on their backs. There's another Prefect book, Machine Vendetta, coming next year, presumably backfilling the end of the Belle Epoque. Hopefully he can stay more on topic?

Moo! LambdaMoo.

Re the lispygopher chat, just a few thoughts longer than a toot.

I played the hell out of MOO back in the '90s, as well as ran my CircleMUD (D&D-like combat-oriented) for a while, and my own CloudMUD system which was a Java chatter with rooms you could put images in. I have my more recent in-development-maybe VRMicro project which reduces it to sprites walking around reading files in a 2D memory palace.

Terms:

  • MUD: Multi-User Dungeon. A server runs a virtual world, you connect with a chat client, interact with it like interactive fiction but with other people. These vary from MUSH/MUCK chatters, to MUD which was adventure-oriented.
  • MOO: MUD Object-Oriented. Users can create their own objects, script them with a fairly powerful LISP-inspired system.

I'd love to have one back, and I've even recompiled LambdaMoo locally and it works, BUT.

Moderation then was awful, and on the Internet now it'd be disaster. See My Tiny Life but imagine millions of cybercriminals and trolls.

MOOs require you to moderate objects, rooms, & scripts as well as people. You need several staff 24/7, who are calm, serene, at least competent hackers, with the wisdom of Solomon, and the righteous fury of Judge Isaac "Hanging Judge" Parker. It's an impossible task to make safe.

The technical side is also tough. Nobody really wants telnet anymore. In theory you could make a distributed one with Spritely Goblins or something else, but I haven't seen a practical example of:

  1. Shared server state,
  2. Someone owns their own developments,
  3. Multiple clients contributing,
  4. With moderation.

All those parts are important.

What I'm Watching: Monarch Legacy of Monsters

Eagerly awaited, because we have a long tradition of great Godzilla TV shows

It alternates between a 1950s origin story, and 2010s post-G-Day. Somewhere in between is Kong Skull Island.

SPOILERS














In 2010s:

"San Francisco was a hoax. I have a podcast." is the most realistic reaction here. Love the Godzilla evacuation plans & defenses, missile turrets on overpasses. Tokyo's taking it seriously.

First ep is setup and family drama. Cate (Anna Sawai from Pachinko) is kind of stiff and useless, except when she's freaking out at her PTSD, flashbacks of Godzilla from the trailer.

Her half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) is a jackass, emotionally closed jerk with no useful skills. May (Kiersey Clemons) the expat haxxor is the only modern character who has their shit together.

Monarch starts to show up, with slightly implausible network access. Why are all the secret files blacked-out redacted? Actual secret files are not blacked out, you only get that in publicly-released versions.

In 1950s:

Leland Shaw (Wyatt & later Kurt Russell) really needs to carry heavier weapons, a pistol does not cut it. Wyatt's not one of nature's good actors, but he's adequate and carries "I am my father but softer". The black eye he starts with tries to butch him up some, but he'd never be Snake Plissken.

Dr Miura's (Mari Yamamoto, also from Pachinko) not super plausible, woman doin' it for herself 20 years early, clearly writer ignoring setting. Weird how two people with completely different maps line up exactly right. What are the odds the scale is the same‽

Bill Randa (Anders Holm, later John Goodman!) as proto-Monarch is sus. Creepy guy in the jungle with impossible backstory. Miura should avoid him but as we know does not. The romance here is incredibly weird, fake, and gross, mainly because Anders is one of the most unfuckable humanoids I've ever seen. Shaw looks away like it's skeeving him out, too, but I think it's supposed to be romantic tension.

By ep 2 we finally see a new kaiju!

In 2010s:

Cate really needs to learn the first thing you do when a creepy dude stalks you, is stay in a public area and scream for police, not throw away all your stuff and get kidnapped. But Monarch creep Tim & his French ninja assistant Duvall really suck at investigation, interrogation, and extraction.

The hero party find the wise old mentor and join the main quest. At this point in a JRPG the title screen rolls.

Monarch does not come off well in this, they have resources and yet are utterly incompetent.

I like the two monsters we see, even if they're very bad CGI composed into the scenes like Roger Rabbit. The enclosed space monster attack looks better; less ambitious is better when you're not skilled. Maybe it'll ramp up the monster visibility & quality later? I'm OK with it if they lean into bad FX.

I've definitely seen worse season starts, but I expected more, since Matt Fraction's supposedly writing for it. Well, turns out these first 2 eps are by Chris Black (Desperate Housewives), and Matt's only writing one ep later.

★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Renfield

I'm not doing the 31 days of horror thing this year (look at news, I'm no longer in the mood). But a few will be seen, and today's is Robert Kirkman's Renfield (2023).

So Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult, the shitty young Beast from X-Men) is attending 12-step codependency meetings to get out of his century-long contract with Count Dracula (Nic Cage, not phoning it in for once!). Quincy ("Awkwafina", no shit, some youstube performer who can't spell "Aquafina" or her real name) is a young traffic cop who keeps having run-ins with her nemesis, junior gangster, murderer of her father, all around asshole, Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz, Parks & Rec), son of Bella Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo, aka Avasarala! Finally some talent!).

And this starts off light, then gets some pretty amazing fight scenes; all digital cartoon nonsense, but really fun. Limbs & blood everywhere. Renfield in this is improbably powered up by eating bugs, like a mass-murdering Popeye with yellow eyes.

Nic Cage plays Dracula right on the edge of camp, but pulls it back to menacing Prince of Wallachia impaling enemies level. No joke, the best Dracula since Klaus Kinski, beats the pants off Gary Oldman or Leslie Nielsen. The "Dracula Powers" are beautifully done. Nobody does the bullshit of "oh it can't be Dracula, he's a fictional character" or worse, "what's a Dracula‽ I've never heard of this!", they live in a world where both the story & history are real.

Every fantasy RPG referee needs to watch this to see how to use Dracula to kick your ass. Watch all the fights again and again to see what a high-Level undead does to low-Level mortals.

Storming of castles, predictable and unpredictable fighting techniques (I laughed out loud at a… disarming… scene), dirty cops & mob straight out of Batman, it's got it all.

It's rare to see a vampire movie walk the line of humor, fights, and horror Dracula. Most only manage one, often none. Like, Lost Boys has comedy (Frog Bros), great fights and vampire dark dream, fantastic soundtrack, but the Master is as lame & unthreatening as a high school principal. Nic walks in a room with a top hat, cane, and fur coat, and you know he's gonna bleed you.

There was no noticeable soundtrack to this, except some incidental music and ska played by victims, and I think part of a My Chemical Romance song.

The film escaped from the "Universal Cinematic Universe" catastrophe, and is the one good thing so far to come out of that.

I slightly dislike the happy ending epilogue, there should be more of a price for heroism or everyone would do it?

★★★★½

Fallout Friday Music

"New" music as in two newish albums†, a bunch of 1990-era remasters. Still sounds like the current collapsing dystopia.

† (there's an upcoming Ministry album, but only one track has been released)

What I'm Watching: Who Is Erin Carter?

Over on 'flix, somehow the English were allowed to leave their island and film in sunny Barcelona! Alas, they don't use a lot of local talent. Two of the actors are Spanish-English, one is actually Spanish, the rest are all very British and in many cases so pasty they can't have been there more than a few days, the show's in English for the most part.

The first few episodes are dull but building a bit, Erin (Evin Ahmad) is a substitute schoolteacher who came here with a child, married a nice Spanish nurse Jordi (Sean Teale), wacky divorced cop neighbor Emilio (Pep Ambròs); the latter two are the only ones who can have a convincing conversation en Español. Bitchy rich neighbor Penelope (Charlotte Vega) is the scene-stealer, everything she does is so arch and hilarious. There's a ongoing tragedy of her life that's playing in the background scenes, and she should really be the star of her soap opera. Her final scene (she's fine; minor spoiler but nothing could ever harm or defeat Penelope) is just awesome. Like WTF show are we watching? Who's this Erin chick?

Back to the buildup, there's a holdup Erin foils with excessive skills and what passes for an accidental kill. Then a chick knife fight, which isn't amazing but it's something. Why does Margot know & hate Erin? Pretty soon one murder leads to a favor and Erin's… not a schoolteacher.

There's a strong vibe of A History of Violence, la femme Nikita (or the dozen shitty remake/ripoffs), and by the end a lot of John Woo homage/ripoff/why do mooks always hide behind explosive barrels? Flashbacks give us some context, and the spooky horns person seen in child Harper's dreams & pictures.

Erin's skills and toughness start at "buff soccer mom" and rapidly escalate to Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgement Day + The Killer. Most people around her keep trying to fuck her over and take the kid, and do not have plot immunity. There is one incredibly cool, classy kung fu fight in a dress. Keep watching for that. It is the entire point of the film to make this fight happen. The final big warzone is more John Woo. Hug, "take care of OUR daughter", BOOM.

The few parts set in England are dark, grim, dirty, and horrible, warehouses and alleys, treachery and distrust and neglect, like just the worst underground dystopian shithole (film what you know). Barcelona is infinitely prettier. It's a very incidental setting initially, with a honkie-populated suburb and English-speaking school, but they do get better at using it creatively and showing local flavor later. The car chase through tight streets and a lot of empty boxes & water jugs flying around is great fun. Escapes from buildings always involve parkour over pretty rooftops. This is a "come visit Spain!" puff piece, but they should spend time on history of Catalonia if they want to get more Spanish tourism investment funds.

At no point did the writing, dialogue, or cinematography match the intent. This is pretty much exactly the kind of awesome schlock the great Godfrey Ho made, but now they (writer is Jack Lothian?, revolving room of directors) are using impoverished British "talent" in reasonably-priced exotic locales, for overseas streaming sales.

Budget would ruin this. Skill would ruin this. There's at least two plot holes never resolved (both money related). The pacing was slow to start, then ZOOM. No time for bleeding! Can they make more of these? Same girl or anything else of similar design. One hundred schoolteacher ninja movies, I'm there for it.

★★★★½