Friday, March 28, 2014

New Blog at Wordpress!

Hey! I have a new blog that I'll be posting all my new material on! Come check it out over at http://ericmikols.com/.

If not, that's cool too. I just want you to be happy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Once a Gamer...

Many years ago, back before I started college, I was a gamer. If you asked me to identify myself as anything, that's what I would say. Not a comic book fan, though I was, not a Christian, though I was, and not a high school dropout, though I was. I was a gamer, proud of my 8-bit heritage and my modern mastery over all video games.

The last game I ever beat.
I hit my peek with that world when I was 16 and bought a PS2. For about five years, I lived and breathed video games. My collection was great and I played all the best games and the hidden gems, from roleplaying to first-person shooters. My music collection was, and still is, mainly made up of video game remixes. My computer was built for two things, to edit videos and to play games. 

Once I started college, things began to change. For one, I didn't have the time to play anymore. Studies and work took up the priority. For another, I didn't have the money. I started school around the same time the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3 were coming out, and I certainly didn't have the money for a new system. So, it was just my PS2 and Gamecube through school, both which rarely saw any play. I think it was my second year of school that I finally beat the first Metroid Prime game.

I loved it.
Once I got to Houghton, I was done. I got rid of my PS2 and gave a friend my Gamecube. I had moved on completely. My wonderful collection of games was sold and I had more important stuff to do. It was a sad time.

It's strange that it could be sad. They were just games. Yet, I had spent a considerable amount of time with many of them. Some of them had stories that effected me on an emotional level and sucked me in to their world, like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Final Fantasy X. Many of those games were associated with times of my life, with the smells of the new seasons literally reminding me of the games I loved. 

I think, had I not gone to school and just kept working my part-time job, I would have stayed a "full-time" gamer. I would have got the a new console and played the newest games and I would have been happy doing it.

I'm glad things are different, that I went to school and was changed deeply. I would never go back to that way of living. But that part of me isn't truly dead. From the NES to the PS2, I was a gamer. I might not be able to talk about modern video games anymore, but I've got that 20 years span under my belt and can talk old school with the best of them.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, that's for the next blog.
  

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim was a good movie. It wasn't awesome or the best movie I've ever seen, but it was good.

A lot of people have complained about the dialog, and it's a just complaint. It can be pretty rough at times. But I think a big thing about the dialog is that it isn't polished to a witty standard, like the Avengers. The dialog and conversations do what they need to do and nothing else. No wry humor, no jab at the other people in the movie, just to-the-point sentences. In a two hour plus film, that can get tedious.

I think a part of that is because all the characters get along rather well. There's a lot of "you did great" talk, which isn't as funny as "you fight monsters like my chili fights my bowels...crappy!"

The rest of the movie was a lot of fun. Though there's a pretty long gap between the first robot vs. monster fight and the next, it starts getting into a high gear once all the pieces are set. The battles are huge and forceful; you feel every punch. When one pilot takes out the mech's sword, I knew I was in anime territory and happy for it. And it was funny, that these big battles still destroyed less and saved more than Superman did in Man of Steel.

I tend not to have as much to say about a movie I enjoyed as I do about one that was terrible. I usually have to love a movie to go on and on about it. In Pacific Rim's case, I enjoyed it, had fun and moved on with my life. I'd give it a B+, which seems a little optimistic but I'm in a generous mood and felt like I had the right attitude going in. The movie made me want to watch a whole bunch of mech anime, so that's a good thing. Too bad it didn't make any money; we might have got some more live action robot films.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Reading; Why Can't I Get Paid for It?

I've been cruising through books this year. I big part of it comes from my desire/goal to read through all the Hugo and Nebula winners. Considering that's about 50 books each and intermixed, there's a lot to read before that goal is reached. I also work a lot, but that actually helps me read because both jobs tend to afford me and hour lunch where I can sit in my car and read. Being given a block of time that I can and must read really keeps me focused. 

Because of it, though, I read some amazing stuff. Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man was a fast paced cyberpunk novel written before cyberpunk was invented. It's crazy how modern that book read and how well it holds the reader's attention, even after sixty years. I also read A Canticle for Leibowitz, which was another book that read like it was written only yesterday. It's a post-apocalyptic book that also speaks on the power of faith. It's one of my new favorites.
But then there's the fact that I want to read books that aren't on either of those lists, books that I just want to read for fun. How do I find time for those? Or all the comic books I devour during the week? It's nuts.

After watching the movie, I have a hankering to reread World War Z. That got me thinking that I never reread my favorite books anymore. When's the last time I picked up Jurassic Park or Neverwhere? What's the point of owning The Lord of the Flies if I never read it anymore?

Or how about all the Christian literature I used to love reading? My to-read list for those titles is getting longer all the time with no dent. I used to try to read a fiction book and a Christian book at the same time, but I've fallen out of the habit. 

One solution I've decided is to have a reread month. I don't know when, but I think I'm just going to have to dedicate a month to rereading my favorite books, or I'll never get to it. I want to do it soon, so it might end up in the fall. Maybe September of October. I makes me feel like a crazy person to schedule my reading like that, but what's a guy to do?

During this past season of lent, I decided to fast from all secular reading and just tackle Christian books, which was nice but reminded me how badly I need to read them all year. It really does strengthen my faith and spirit to have a constant incoming of teaching and conviction. 

I just read The Dragon Reborn, the third Wheel of Time book, and loved it. I don't know when I'll get to next book, but I'd like to read two of them a year so I can finish the series before I die. I'm trying to be more open to the fantasy genre lately, with both Brandon Sanderson's writing and Ursula K Guin's Earthsea books informing my choices. 

How many plain old fiction books do I ever read anymore? I just read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which was good for the most part. Michael Crichton's Disclosure also helped, but I think I need to start branching out into the normal, more contemporary world of fiction. For, I don't know, normality's sake. I don't know what that means I'll read, maybe more Jesse Stone books or books about people learning to love again. 

Since we're moving at the end of the month, I've already packed up all my books. I figured, if I could read a book a week, which I tend to do anyway, than I could leave three books out and finish them by the end of the month. First, I'm reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Then, I move on to Green Mars, which is the second book in the Mars Trilogy. And then, hopefully, I read Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man

After the move, I don't know how long we'll be living out of boxes so thank the Lord for my Kindle. I'll be using it exclusively for a while, I feel.Since I still haven't read Leviathan Wakes or The Heroes, which are both downloaded, I should be good for a bit, plus I have all those free classics like Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe to get to.

So, in summary; don't call me, I'm busy reading everything.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

World War Z

So, I found myself in the theater watching World War Z. I didn't think I would, since my love for the zombie genre has dissipated with the the whole world falling for it. But, luckily, the movie reminded me why I loved the topic in the first place and was the surprise of the summer movie season.

The movie gets into the action quickly, there's no build up to be found, just a head first dive into zombie action as the streets fill with undead. We get a tense apartment scene as Brad Pitt and his family try to make it to the rooftop and then the film's main premise takes off.

The movie and the book of the same name only share two things; zombies and a global canvas. Pitt travel's to Korea to Israel to India, looking for clues on how the zombie plague started and how to stop it. While it lacks he full scope of the book, the sense that this is happening everywhere is a boon to the film, especially in a genre that's usually stuck to lower budgets and small locations. If this is the first zombie blockbuster, it starts the concept off right.

Pitt is fine in this movie, doing surprisingly well in a zombie movie. He's the only real name actor (unless you count an edited out Matthew Fox) and everyone else works just as well. What was most surprising for me was how well the movie shifts from genuinely creepy, tense moments to full-scale mass zombie scenes. The apartment scene in the beginning is a scary one for completely different reasons than the huge chase through Israel. The plane scene that you've seen in most trailers is terrifying, even if only conceptually. Zombies On a Plane? No, thank you.

I've read on the original ending (read here if you've seen the movie) and I'm glad they made the change they did. The final scene in the lab is a creepy one and a surprise for a big budget film. It's nice to watch a movie that knows when to blow stuff up and when to let the action simmer. I think the ending still allows for sequels, though I'm not sure how ready I am for one. Sometimes, one is enough.

I give the film a B+. It's not perfect, but it gets a lot of things right and has some great moments. The zombies crawling over each other like ants has been well advertised but seeing it in the film is unnerving. A good choice for zombie fans, natural disaster moviegoers and those that like to be creeped out.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Man of Steel

It's been two weeks since I saw Man of Steel and I think I can finally write a review without going off on multiple tangents. I'm going to even try to keep the review as one post! Be warned, there are spoilers, but that's why it's freeing to write a late review.

In order to keep this review of a straight course and not a mess of angry words, I'm going to go through the good, the okay and the just plain bad, in that order.

The Good

Boy Superman, you sure are dark.
Russell Crowe- This came as a big surprise to me, especially after watching Les Miserables, In Man of Steel he's subtle, poised, smart and still an action hero. During the long/boring prologue,  Crowe managed to keep my attention with his delivery as Jor-El, giving each line a sense of foreboding as the planet was ready to die. It was nice to see him used more throughout the movie and he's one of the bright spots.

Wandering Clark- Where the Krypton prologue was stretched way too far, the bits with adult but directionless Clark is a bit too short. Watching the most powerful man in the universe go from job to job, looking for a place was actually more interesting than I would have thought. The highlight of this is the oil-rig rescue, with the whole scene having a golden age feel to it, reminding me of the old Fleischer cartoons I watched as a kid.

Henry Cavill- It took three trailers and a movie to convince me, but I think Cavill is a darn good Superman. The movie tries to make him boring and brooding, but his charm and sense of humor actually comes across well when needed. By himself, he's channeling Christian Bale, but when he's with others, you can tell that this guy really is a homegrown Kansas boy with a bunch of cool powers. To bad he's stuck in this movie.

The Okay

Michael Shannon- Half the movie, he's a yelling, weird looking dude with a strange way of talking. During the second half, when his plans are failing/failed, he's actually interesting. When he kills Jor-El (both times), I actually felt that he regretted the act. When he's the only one left after Superman stops them from...I don't know, using the Genesis project?...Shannon gives a terrific speech about his soul being gone. If this movie had been better, I would have been just fine with Zod.

Amy Adams- Here's the problem with Lois Lane in this movie. As a character, she pretty good. I get that she's a tough and dangerous reporter. She's willing to stand for what she believes in and take chances. Stand alone, as a friend of Superman, she works. But romantically, her and Superman fall flat. There's some chemistry, if you look hard enough, but it's not enough to believe these two characters are in love. I couldn't believe it when they kissed, the moment wasn't right, they knew next to nothing about each other and the still acted like they just met in a high school cafeteria. In a movie where a man can fly and punch through steel, I could stretch my suspension of disbelief far enough to buy the romance. Too bad for Amy Adams, she tried so hard to good.

The Soundtrack- I just wanted to be more optimistic and have three things to say were okay. It's not as iconic and memorable as John Williams score, but Hans Zimmer does a good job at making a soundtrack I like listening to. The main theme of the movie, the one that played in the third trailer and throughout most of this film, is cool and inspiring, building to great things. I may never own this movie, but I'm sure some of these tracks will end up on my iPod.

The Bad
This poster is more optimistic than anything
in the movie. 

Kevin Costner- I don't understand how this happened. The role of John Kent, Clark's dad, seemed tailor made for a good Costner act. Instead, we get the dumbest, harshest Pa Kent I've ever seen. Bad lessons of life that make no sense to adults let alone the poor kid he's messing up come non-stop. The big moment, where Johnathan lets the tornado take him, because he wouldn't let Clark save the dog, because he wouldn't let Clark save him, is one the stupidest things I've ever seen. It ruins Clark as a character, making him someone who lets his fear stop him from saving the people he loves and it just makes Clark's earthly parents look pathetic compared to his Kryptonian ones. This was a moment of plot driving characters and it almost ruined the film for me. Luckily, there were bigger issues coming forth.

Zack Snyder- I'm choosing to pinpoint the director because it covers a whole lot I hate about this movie. I like a few of his films, but not all, and I now consider Man of Steel to be his worst. For starters, his love of muted color pallets does not work for a Superman film. This is a character who is the most optimistic superhero in the world, who's greatest power is hope, and you surround him with grey skies, burnt oranges, and blues so dark they make Batman want to cross over. Next up, we have his action sequences. Beginning with the Krypton prologue, with video game like fisticuffs and meaningless scifi warefare, to the final fight between Superman and Zod, Snyder makes superhero action boring. There's a cool sense of "finally!" when Superman takes on Zod's soldiers in Smallville, but that goodwill is squandered when it comes to the big moments. The big, city destroying fight between Supes and Zod goes on for a long time, involves the saving of no one, shaking cameras and punching. Lots of punching. This is a fight between two people with a awesome powers and all the do is punch. Which, no matter how much damage it does or where on the screen it's happening, is just a punch and boring to watch. If it wasn't for Zimmer's score, I wouldn't know where the moment of escalation was happening, it all looked the same. If this is what I get for complained about the boring Superman Returns, then I'm sorry!

Superman Kills- I cannot and will not forgive. There's too much attached to this moment and I can't get past it. Superman snaps Zod's neck to save four people. If Superman cared that much for people, he should have killed Zod sooner, saving the thousands dead in the Metropolis skirmish. So, that reason fails to explain why he did it. Superman snaps Zod's neck because he was out of options. Perhaps if Superman stopped punching Zod and tried doing anything else, he might have thought of something. Take Zod to space, recreate the Phantom Zone teleporter, put his hand in front of Zod's eyes to keep those lasers from working, anything else that doesn't involve a neck snap. I have a friend who tried to tell me that Superman panicked, that maybe he didn't mean to kill Zod. I don't buy it. Superman isn't a character we should have to make excuses for. He's an example to look up to. He's not a that in these films.

Okay, I'm going to have to do a new post of Superman killing, it's too big for me to cover in a small(ish) review.

There's plenty of other things to complain about. We're supposed to care about the Daily Planet news team so we're worried about them during the climax but there boring and get ten minutes of screen time. The flashbacks never work in a way that Snyder wanted them to and just make for lagging screen time. There are moments when the film screams "look how believable I am" and then shows Lois scaling an ice wall in the dead of night. Sometimes, the movie is trying to be Batman so badly that it just makes me want to watch Batman. The suit reveal is meaningless, the religious comparisons were in plain sight and the end moment between Superman and the wannabe Nick Fury is funny for all the wrong reasons. It makes me sad that, after pointless violence and needlessly dark takes on characters, people clapped at the credits. It makes me sad to think that this is the type of superhero movie people want. They don't want heroism, they don't want characters we can look up, they want heroes who snap necks and brood.

A superhero.
I was asked recently why I have to be down on everything, tearing it apart and critiquing every little thing. I don't like being disappointing. I would much rather like a movie than not and I consider myself to fairly forgiving with characters I love. I like all the Hulk movies for crying out loud! But I can't forgive character assassination and that's what this movie is. There's nothing to take from this movie accept loud noises and stuff blowing up. If I wanted to see that, I would watch the Transformers movies. But superhero movies are as much about the characters as the action that comes along with them. If the Spider-Man movies were simply punching and kicking, they'd be bad. If Iron Man only blew stuff up, we would care about him like we do when he's joking and having fun. They've traded Superman's soul, his very character, for a movie where a guy can make a lot of things break.

Sigh, I'm rambling. This is why I needed to wait a few weeks.

The movie gets an F. It might not deserve it, but the neck snap ruins everything that comes before it. I'm not going to watch it again unless others make me. It's dark, depressing and there's nothing I like about Superman in it. It can make lots of money, people can say they thought it was great, but I'm staying my ground and refusing to accept it as a movie worth existing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

This is a super-late review, but I need to write it so I can review Man of Steel (spoiler warning: I hated it). 

My first inclination after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness was to not like it. The reasons for this are as followed;

Yeah, but I already saw The Dark Knight...
1. The movie is dark. Obviously pointed out by the title but the movie goes out of its way to show how dark it is. I'm worried this is the fallout out of The Dark Knight.
Now, it seems like every movie/franchise has to be a dark take on the character, be it for the better or ill. This movie rides the line and not very well. I don't think anyone walked out of the 2009 reboot thinking, "That was awesome, I just wish it was darker!" If that person was you, you won't agree with anything I say here.

2. The relationship between Spock and Kirk is forced. We know that the characters are friends, but that's because we know the previous version of these characters were friends. The movie relies on knowledge of the character's original incarnations to inform these characters. In some ways, it works. But in this movie, on it's own, it just seems rushed and unjustified. Especially with the big moment between Kirk and Spock near the end. I don't know how much time has passed since Kirk insulted Spock's mother and Spock tried to strangle Kirk, but they seem to have gotten over it fast enough.

3. Benedict CumberKhan. I understand the universe if following a new time stream, with certain things not going the way the originally happened, but how did the awesome Ricardo Montalban become the whiny Brit? I'm all for character's paths changing, but their races? I guess I don't understand timelines...

But this character is the biggest issue I had. I don't understand why you would reboot a huge and long-lasting franchise, make it new and exciting, and then basically remake a new movie. The 2009 movie was a reboot of the whole series, but Into Darkness is a reboot of a sequel. For new fans that the 2009 movie brought in, all the allusions to Wrath of Khan will be lost. For fans of the old movies, all the allusions will be weaker (Carol Marcus, Benedict CumberKhan) or insulting (the through the glass scene, Spock yelling Khan's name). It seems like this series should be finding new villains and challenges to face, not the old ones we've scene before.

Better.
Also, to the producers I have this to say; We knew it was going to be Khan back in 2009 when you said it might be Khan. We knew it was Khan when you said it wasn't going to be Khan. We knew it was Khan through the whole movie. If we knew, it's not a surprise reveal. If someone in the audiance didn't know who Khan was in the first place, then it's not a surprise reveal. All this to say, it wasn't a surprise reveal, you wasted an hour of setup, and kept the camera on CumberKhan way to long after the failed reveal. Take a magic class or something, your showmanship is lacking.

Everything about this movie seems paint-by-numbers. Foreshadowing loses all subtlety and certain deaths mean nothing when you know the reverse is around the corner. The actions scenes (especially the final chase between CumberKhan and Spock) are engaging and the whole movies seems like an excuse to do what's already been done (better) before.

But, the only saving grace that makes me likely to watch this movie again is the cast. They, despite the main plot, are still entirely likable and fun to watch interact. It's great to see all these characters further their friendship and team-building from the first movie. Everyone seems to be pulling their weight, even when the script has nothing for them to do (Chekov). And, while Kirk and Spock's friendship seemed to have taken a huge leap forward, their still great together. I hope the next movie has more to offer in terms of these characters, and it would be nice to see the trio-bond of Kirk, Spock and McCoy start to form. 

I'd give the movie a C+ on a bad day, a B- on a good.