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.

Castlevania

Castlevania on Netflix is out, written by Warren Ellis, R-rated as fuck as they say.

I'm an oldest-school Castlevania player, but dubious of all videogame adaptations (people used to complain about Uwe Boll, as if Bloodrayne was any worse than Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter). And so far it hasn't changed my opinion: The dialogue is painful, like a bad translation from Japanese text boxes, with a little goat-fucking humor. The plot's told in jump-cut scenes. The art's nice, but has minimal animation until the fight scenes; those are rendered in gory detail.

But the plot gets moving in episode 2, and I like the squalid medieval atmosphere. The Speakers are poorly explained, but giving any backstory for magic-users is a huge improvement. By the episode 4 (end of this season), Trevor Belmont's whininess has mostly stopped, and he starts being the whip-cracking hero we know, just enough to face a classic Castlevania sub-boss.

★★★★☆ which could have been higher if the start wasn't so slow and awkward.