What I'm Watching: Dark Crystal (2019)

So, I love the original movie; I loved Jim Henson's work, maybe Labyrinth more than Dark Crystal but they're both amazing. The Mystic/Skeksis split, dying races of Gelflings and Podlings, weird monsters, nothing is stationary or normal, Froud's fairy paintings brought to fuzzy life, it's all lovely. I've read a little of the fanfic/expanded universe stuff but not much.

This story is mediocre prequel fanfic with good production values, but not up to the level of the movie.

In this, there's only blatantly evil Skeksis rulers, guarded by Gelflings and served by Podlings, both so stupid they don't see the gloating, scheming, whinging, and stealing of their masters. The Skeksis are as nasty as in the movie, but somehow made a cult where they're all-powerful, all-giving, but that's so transparently false it's just nonsense. This show would've made far more sense if they were still the Ur-race at the start, and the events of this, the corruption of the Crystal to drain life, is what makes them split.

The Gelflings are all ruled by queens and princesses, but still seem to put males in charge of everything else. They can use telepathy/"dreamfast" which is mostly shitty CGI blur effects, much like Avatar, except when the plot requires they be too obstinate or stupid to verify facts with each other. Females in this can actually fly; Kira in the movie just glided. There are seven clans, but only 5 are relevant to the plot so far: rich bossy Vapra, swamp rednecks Drenchin, warrior Stonewood, gypsy trader Sifa (very racist Roma caricature), underground Grottan.

The Podlings are either grovelling servants, or really stupid sub-Humans (somewhere between filthy hobbits and how Eastern Europeans are portrayed in fantasy).

A Fizzgig creature is immediately met when the underground heroine reaches ground. It has legs and a weird gaping non-muppety mouth. We see a bunch of these during the series, they're semi-tamed?

The Spitter is not quite a Garthim. And mostly it's really shitty CGI.

Aughra knows too much and is too stable to be the weirdo of the movie. She didn't make her own orrery in this, it's a "gift" from the Skeksis. And then implausibly she goes for a walk, crosses way too much of the world in an episode, and spends a lot of time doing nothing. The Mystic we finally meet is useless, and does not talk like a Mystic.

The land seen in CGI scenes is very Earth-like, if a bit more spiky mountains. There's a lot of shitty CGI lens flares, glowy things, and purple crystal screen filters, like the Abrams Trek movie but with more realistic characters than his muppet Kirk.

The puppets look good, but many are emotionally blank most of the time. The females especially can't flex their faces much at all, so they seem to be dead-eyed staring into the void for long stretches. The walking scenes are very badly done, like everyone from the Muppet Show and Jim Henson are long gone.

The fight scenes with Gelflings look awful because they can't actually hold blades, and can't be shown being struck. Even Hup, the stupid Podling wannabe-Paladin with his wooden spoon, is more menacing than the Gelflings.

There's at least 4 parties and it takes until E04 before any of them meet up, and they immediately split again, slowing the plot down. Rian is a lame protagonist, veering from braggart to coward as the scene demands, never being worth your time. Deet and Hup are pretty good, I like them even if they're incompetent. The princess is just annoying and gets everything handed to her. The hunter party have no characterization, they're just felt bodies.

★★★½☆ — And this is being generous. I really want this to be better than it is. It's very pretty when the lens flares aren't in the way. But the basic competence isn't there.

Harry Potter Contains Actual Curses and Spells, Says Local Idiot

"These books present magic as both good and evil,
which is not true, but in fact a clever deception.
The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells;
which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits
into the presence of the person reading the text"
—Dan Reehil, soi-disant "reverend"

This is a thing an adult Human, supposedly in charge of "educating" children, wrote in the 21st Century. This person actually believes that magic and evil spirits exist, that a series of children's books actually let you violate physics and produce effects with no cause by waving around a stick and saying some Latin doggerel. Which is at least consistent if stupid, since Catholic doctrine is that saying Latin doggerel over wheat crackers and wine turns them into manflesh and blood. If his lunatic premise was correct, we would be in the middle of a magical apocalypse the likes of which the Book of Revelation would say is "too much, man". Any child in this idiot's care is being misinformed and mentally abused.

Stop treating this nonsense as if it's a valid opinion. End religion. Ban the Bible, or at least replace it with Asimov's Guide to the Bible. Read more fantasy novels with the understanding that they're fiction.

What I'm Reading: Lord of the Fantastic: Stories in Honor of Roger Zelazny

"I took it with equanimity, however: I've long known that fortune's a whore and life itself a kind of stupid muddle. I am not a religious man. Far from it. I hold, if anything, a belief which I believe was once ascribed to the Gnostic: that Satan won out over God, not the other way around, and the Dark Prince runs things in the dismal and disastrous way that suits his nature. I knew that everything was just chance and bad luck, in a universe in which things were stacked against us and even our ruling deity hated us."
—Robert Sheckley, "The Eryx"

Great little anthology, Walter Jon Williams' "Lethe" in particular hits a Zelazny note (not the first time; his Ace Double "Elegy for Angels and Dogs" sequel to Zelazny's "The Graveyard Heart" is fantastic), "The Eryx" is the kind of wiseass story Sheckley told in all his work, with a little Zelazny mysticism. Some of these are more poetic fantasy than I'm really into, but that was also Zelazny's thing.

  • Lethe, by Walter Jon Williams
  • The Story Roger Never Told, by Jack Williamson
  • The Somehow Not Yet Dead, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
  • Calling Pittsburgh, by Steven Brust
  • If I Take the Wings of Morning, by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
  • Ki'rin and the Blue and White Tiger, by Jane M. Lindskold
  • The Eryx, by Robert Sheckley
  • Southern Discomfort, by Jack C. Haldeman II
  • Suicide Kings, by John J. Miller
  • Changing of the Guard, by Robert Wayne McCoy and Thomas F. Monteleone
  • The Flying Dutchman, by John Varley
  • Ninekiller and the Neterw, by William Sanders
  • Call Me Titan, by Robert Silverberg
  • The Outling, by Andre Norton
  • Arroyo De Oro, by Pati Nagle
  • Back in "The Real World", by Bradley H. Sinor
  • Mad Jack, by Jennifer Roberson
  • Movers and Shakers, by Paul Dellinger
  • The Halfway House at the Heart of Darkness, by William Browning Spencer
  • Only the End of the World Again, by Neil Gaiman
  • Slow Symphonies of Mass and Time, by Gregory Benford
  • Asgard Unlimited, by Michael A. Stackpole
  • Wherefore the Rest Is Silence, by Gerald Hausman

Sword and Sorcery

"I was actually tired of sword-and-sorcery as the genre then existed. I admired the work of C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Fritz Leiber and continued to respect the vitality and invention of Howard, but I had little time for the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, whom I regarded as bad popular children's writers whose moral attitudes were highly questionable and whose particular syntheses had none of William Morris' vision, Howard's manic originality, or Leiber's sophisticated flair. I was, I suppose, bored with the form itself. So when Carnell commissioned the first Elric story I decided I would try to do something as different as possible from everything which then existed."
—Michael Moorcock, introduction to "Tales of the White Wolf"

What I'm Watching: Castlevania S2E6-8

Finishing Castlevania S2, here's where all the slow burn finally pays off. And then back to slow burn.

The stand-up fight Carmilla's been plotting finally comes up, and… I'm a little dubious how powerful an undead Bishop (Matt Frewer!) can be given that in life he couldn't keep one vampire out of his church. But it's a really solid plan.

The Humans and Alucard finish dicking around in the vault, and then magically screw everything up for everyone, and have fun storming the castle. If I remember my boss fights correctly, the trick is to evade the fireball and whack him in the face three times. They don't go according to that plan.

But then there's a whole ep left. So everyone says goodbye to Alucard for a long time, and spends more long times deciding what to do next, and the surviving vamps work out their next moonlit holiday plans, and some very implausible violence—even considering what we just saw—sets up the lunatic as a new big bad.

Season 3's been announced, and there's plenty of vamps to stake, plus Dracula never remains dead.

★★★★★, altho I'd like the pacing to be faster, and I miss Godbrand.

What I'm Watching: Castlevania S2E1-5

Like Castlevania S1, the art is fantastic, but the animation varies from nearly Hanna-Barbera to perfectly smooth, mostly in combat scenes.

Much of the first few eps are in Dracula's court, with his hilarious Viking vampire subject Godbrand ("I like boats! I'm a fucking Viking! We're supposed to make boats out of things!"), slutty & scheming Carmilla, the human forgemasters (necromancers, more or less) Hector (a spoiled brat with… pets…) and Isaac (harsh disciplinarian religious lunatic). And we see much more of Dracula's character and his rage at humanity. Make no mistake, I'm sympathetic to his culling, not so much to the random way it's implemented.

In contrast, Belmont, Sypha, and Alucard are pathetic. Sniping at each other, barely have any plan. They sit around and do some research, they're very reactive. The Humans are the antagonists of this season, the Vampire court are the protagonists.

The idiots (Trevor, Alucard, Godbrand) all speak like Warren Ellis, noted drunk, misanthrope, and vulgarian. The others are some of his better writing, intelligent and broken in various ways.

The plot takes quite a while to get anywhere, but for the most part it's enjoyable. FAR better start than S1 had.

Up to S2E5 now, I'll watch the rest tomorrow.

What I'm Watching: Errementari: The Blacksmith & the Devil

What a charming film. Basque, with maybe the worst dubbing I've ever heard, so put it on English subtitles and Basque language. Lovely real-looking run-down sets, especially the forge, dark cinematography but not cyan/orange.

Set in early 19th C after the Basque lost their independence. Follows a blacksmith with a temper, a bizarrely fortified forge, and a deal with the Devil. The scarred, orphaned girl, Usue, is adorable, mean, and hilarious. The government fop isn't just there to rob the smith. The priest is a mean, conservative old bastard, the innkeeper and his grasping cronies deserve the bad ends they're all coming to, the town children other than Usue are brats. The demon Sartael is excellent, both makeup and mythical behaviors.

Cast, writing, and design are all perfect. The ending is very old-school D&D problem-solving.

Reminds me a lot of The Witch, or City of Lost Children, in this half-real, half-dreaming style and the grotesque people.

★★★★★

What I'm Watching: Disenchantment

The new Matt Groening cartoon, at long last! Surely after 4000 years of the Simpsons, and a few seasons of Futurama over the 30-some years it was on and off and on and off, has taught him how to craft a tightly-wound, kickass cartoon!

Imagine the Dark Ages. Imagine plague, filth, terrible rulership by inbred aristocrats, superstition, religious lunatics praying to gods who aren't there, conquest by savage barbarians… Oh, what fun. Well, it could be. If anyone wrote "jokes" for this.

There's a princess Bean, who apparently you're supposed to sympathize with, but she's loathsome, the kind of shitty inbred mass-murdering spoiled aristocrat you'd hate in real life. An Elf named Elfo, because why even bother trying to make a joke (they did name an elf who left Elfland "Leavo", which was almost funny… Then beat it into the ground with "Returno"). And a shadow demon "Luci"… ugh… which everyone agrees is her cat. Nobody has a personality, just a one-beat repetitive routine. Bean wants to get drunk. Elfo is a goody-goody who wants to date the princess, but of course never will. Luci says "evil" things like "get drunk". It's like a world made of the NPCs from a CRPG. They walk in circles saying one of a few recorded lines.

The plots are tedious and unoriginal, even by the standards of extruded cartoon product like Simpsons. There's an occasional fight, which would at least change this from boring to some kind of adventure show? But they're short, slow-paced, lot of talking in between the occasional axe swing.

In comparison, watch an episode of Berserk, and you'll see great art, giant swords cleaving people apart, a fairy sidekick who's not awful, in a world far darker than this but far funnier, too. I'm fairly eager to see Castlevania S2 on Oct 26. I'm still watching thru the Godzilla anime, which is dumb as hell but amuses me at least half the time.

With anything Groening touches, of course, we need to talk about sexism and racism, see the Problem With Apu. In this case, the boring fantasy kingdom shows male honkies in charge, a few black (or blue & froglike) people off to the side. Women other than Bean are entirely subservient, medieval European gender roles followed 100% up through S1E5. The black vizier is of course evil and perverted; like, how could you expect otherwise from Matt?

I'm disenchanted with Disenchantment. It might be the dullest thing I have ever seen. I would ask Netflix for my money back, but, you know, watching other stuff.

★☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Bright, Longmire, Magicians, It Comes at Night, Fortitude

  • Bright: Shadowrun 2017, crossed with Alien Nation and Training Day.

    "Everywhere I go, why have Orcs always gotta be the bad guys?" "Don't look at me, man, Mexicans still get shit for the Alamo."

    Well, the racist assholes have a point with the Orcs. I dislike the green-pale streak makeup, and they just have penis-noses instead of proper pig-noses. They're doing properly menial and militant work, but I got no sympathy for the species. Elves are as graceful and psychopathic as you'd like. Other than a single shot of a Centaur, and mention of Dwarfs, no others of the "9 Races" are ever brought up. Humans of every color seem to have no beef, since they can "Other" the non-Humans.

    Somehow culture & tech are the same as our 2017, despite a massive war against a Dark Lord 2000 years ago; I think the Dark Ages starting 400 years early and full of magic races would change things. Shadowrun had the excuse that magic and monsters were gone for thousands of years (since 3113 BCE), until the Sixth World started (in 2011 CE).

    Almost all the secondary chars are awfully written, and parts of the plot just dangle and vanish.

    Reasonably good fight & chase scenes. The Magic Wand ("a nuclear bomb that grants wishes") is a good McGuffin, but far too OP.

    The fighting skills of even high-level Elven mages are overstated. Maybe the Elven assassins, sure, but a mage without her Wand?

    Mostly I enjoyed it, but it's basically a B-movie with a huge budget. Hawk the Slayer is a better film. Netflix is already working on a sequel, with Will Smith coming back.
    ★★★½☆

  • Longmire: Final season was adequate, but almost entirely resolving dangling plot threads from the characters, not standalone cowboy/Indian rez mysteries which is what I started watching for. Lou Diamond Philips as Henry Standing Bear has very little to do, and semi-useless NPCs spend a lot of time on screen. Even so, the Cheyenne (and one Crow) characters and politics are worth watching it for.
    ★★★☆☆ for S6, ★★★★☆ or more for S1-5.

  • The Magicians: Pretty young rich white people (PYRWP) discover they have magic (no Hagrid) and are spared the hardship of going to Harvard or Yale. Whiniest of the PYRWP discovers his favorite fairy tale book is real, so doesn't mind that his only friend is kicked out. Token minority is an unbelievable asshole who should get cancer of the hate organ. Ice princess, catty slut, and gay slut PYRWP follow whiny boy and token asshole around despite their average Intelligence, Wisdom, & Charisma scores of -6. Gay slut kinda grows on me as he has some self-awareness. Ice princess has unrealistic expectations of her whiny, mentally ill "boyfriend".

    Magic school rejects turn on each other like New York rats with less empathy. The magic system is nonsense which exists only to show cheesy visual FX and make hedge mages behave like crack junkies.

    Racism is overwhelming. Don't be black in this show: SPOILER: Black Dean is blinded & hands maimed. A black magician goes catatonic & is "mercy killed". In S2 the four PYRWP all get crowned as kings and queens, while the token asshole gets his hands cut off like a slave in Columbus' Hispaniola or the Belgian Congo. I don't know if this show is made by actual Nazis or just ignorant honkies.

    But the plot saves this from being a total train wreck. I love the fairy tale world gone bad and the broken kids who went into it; it's not TOO fairy-tale but doesn't operate according to reason. The villains are there for good reasons, and are willing to do anything. Everyone uses what shitty skills they have to solve problems.

    With a totally different cast and less entitled, racist premise, this could be a good show instead of a hate-binge.

    This also matches somewhat with the magic school RPG I've been designing, tho the PCs aren't required to be PYRWP, and my magic system isn't finger-twiddling gibberish.
    ★★½☆☆

  • It Comes at Night: After a deadly plague, taking in tenants is a bad idea especially if you're paranoid. Excruciatingly slow and often repetitive, setup as something like a monster movie but it's not at all. Like The Road without the sense of camaraderie, adventure, and hope. Credit: The racially mixed cast is not abused for racism.
    ★★★☆☆

  • Fortitude (Amazon): Arctic outpost town, surrounded by hungry polar bears. Norwegians funding a hotel, wrecked by local problems. "We have no crime. So we don't know if he's a good sheriff or a bad sheriff." The latter, it turns out.

    And then there's a really weird murder. Kinda deliberately like Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure with only a very little humor. I don't like anyone but the crazy old guy and the American investigator, everyone else is self-destructive in annoying ways. And yet… Still going. Good winter viewing. As the emergency gets worse, people get worse to each other, which is what I like to see.

    Accents are all over the place, London English, but then there's Irish, American, and some spectacularly bad Russian-like English, some of which are supposed to be Norwegian. I watch too many subtitled Scandinavian crime dramas to be able to tolerate this lack-of-translation bullshit anymore.

    I dunno if having Frank and his son, the only black people for 1000 miles, who SPOILER REDACTED, is racist but it's not great.

    Very unhappy with their "Next Time" spoilers right BEFORE the fucking credits with no warning. Hate you, stupid Sky TV producers who do this shit.
    ★★★★½

I don't want to be harping on the racism, it's not my fight, but it's so obvious in some shows. I feel like the last few years have had more non-white characters but treated them with far worse racism than before.

There's a lot of sexism, rapes, and sex-shaming in The Magicians and Fortitude, too, but I have a hard time telling that apart from "normal" TV prudery where all sex except in obedient 1950s marriages is Bad & Wrong.