Taking Calendars off the Calendar

To quote Professor Farnsworth: "Good news, everyone! Bad news!"
We will not be producing a Schlock Mercenary Monthly Calendar for 2016. The 2015 calendar sold well enough with other merchandise to not be an outright loss, but the books and slipcases were what carried last year for us.
This year we're looking at the Planet Mercenary production schedule, and we simply cannot justify taking time out to make a calendar when the project for which we've accepted money in advance is not yet complete.
We're also delaying our print run of Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication until after we've got Planet Mercenary queued up for print. This hurts a bit more, because not having a new book out in time for Christmas shoppers is the very definition of "leaving money on the table," but again, having accepted money in advance for a thing that is not yet finished, I cannot in good conscience spend time on other projects—not even profitable ones.
There's an update over on the Planet Mercenary Kickstarter page if you'd like more details on how that project is going. The salient point? It is keeping me busy enough that the only other business activity I can justify is the daily updates on the comic. The movie reviews? Okay, I can't really justify those, except to say that going out to see a show helps refill the well on the other stuff, and I might as well tell you how the show went.
This morning was spent on Mayhem cards for Planet Mercenary. This afternoon I have a week of comics to pencil and ink. This blog post is happening in the cracks, and the crack is swiftly closing...
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

The Last Witch Hunter

As direct-to-DVD movies go, The Last Witch Hunter is surprisingly oh wait I saw this in the theater.
I had fun, but here I am a day later trying to write a review, and the movie has already faded into the meld-haze of urban fantasy "hidden world" films in which a badass protagonist fights ultimate evil. Why did this even get made?
Maybe because Vin Diesel is a giant nerd, and wanted to make a sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre movie that he got to be in?
Look, I had fun during the film. It cleared my Threshold of Disappointment (unlike the OTHER Vin Diesel film I saw this year) and was interesting enough that I did not finish my popcorn or my soda.
But it was predictable, and sloppy, and took shortcuts, and could have been a truly memorable, outstanding addition to a crowded field full of similar things. Here's a bulleted list of sins which, had they not been committed, could have allowed this film over my Threshold of Awesome.
  • Shaky-cam during cool action
  • Shaky-cam as a "oh no we're getting slaughtered" device
  • Shaky-cam
  • Cliché dialog as a shortcut for selling us an emotional state.
  • Immortality as a boon/curse, which (gasp) can be taken away.
  • Betrayal we all saw coming.
  • Why didn't you just lead with that?
  • If you have little vials of "detect magic," you should be using them all the time, or you should be explaining that they are expensive/rare.
  • Man of few words who seldom shows emotion
  • Because he's tortured by memories
  • Which we are going to have to sit through
  • But it's okay because they're central to the plot.


It's a long list, I know. A great many genre movies commit these same sins, and are mediocre-to-bad as a result. It's a good thing I like Vin Diesel, and an even better thing that Rose Leslie (who I'd never seen in a film before) shone the way she did in a cast full of bigger names.
(Note: If there is a sequel that has ZERO Vin Diesel, and is all about Rose Leslie's character Chloe taking up the Witch Hunter mantle despite being herself a witch, I would pay opening night fancy-seat money. No, wait... just give her a franchise of her own, without the baggage of this film.)
That reminds me:
  • A non-immortal character who is interesting, and who we care about, whose very existence as "killable" is supposed to make us tense 
The Last Witch Hunter enters my list at #20 out of #30. Do I recommend it? When it hits Netflix it might make for a great excuse to have the TV on while you knit something. If you've got movie money to spend, though, there are many much better options.
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Presented Without Context



Pan and Goosebumps

If you're going to re-imagine a bit of written fiction through film, and if you plan to treat the source material as canonical inspiration for an amendment of that same canon, you're setting a high bar for yourself.
Goosebumps clears it.  Pan does not.
I'll grant that Pan had a higher bar to clear, what with Barrie's work being a century-plus-ten-percent old. Still, Goosebumps has been part of the popular consciousness for many moviegoers' entire lives, so for those folks, both have been around for as long as they can remember.
Pan was clumsy. It was a very by-the-numbers origin story painted over the top of the heroic monomyth, and as others have already said, its biggest mistake was giving us a Peter Pan who was kind, brave, and heroic. That's not really who Peter Pan IS. Not really.
I have neither time nor patience to enumerate the other mistakes. Pan was pretty, but it made an absolute mess of its mythos, and was head-scratchy and disturbing in the wrong ways ("why did they even MAKE this movie?") rather than the right ways ("oh, this says so much about the parallels between innocence and evil...")
Goosebumps, on the other hand, went way out on a limb and gave us a single meta-story in which all of the Goosebumps stories share canon.  To its infinite credit, I did not think of Jumanji even one time while in the theater. If you're going to borrow a high concept, this is a sure sign you're pulling it off correctly.
Goosebumps is more of a spooky-action-comedy than a "horror" movie, but the trailers make that pretty clear. Yes, there are creepy dolls and jump scares, but there's also a lot of running around and successfully DOING things, which makes everything less horrible. The performances were all solid, and Jack Black was very entertaining to watch.
Fun-wise, Pan enters my 2015 list at #26, below the Threshold of Disappointment. Goosebumps comes in at #17, which is respectable, but still not above the Threshold of Awesome.

ARK: Survival Evolved Tree Forts and Dinosaurs

I love playing co-op games with my kids. When I looked at ARK: Survival Evolved (currently in Early Access on Steam) it looked like just such a thing. When I dug into it and learned that I could host a LAN server in my house, and edit The Island to be a bit less deadly and a bit more generous, went all in with my sons.
Before long I had all four of my kids playing with me, and each other.
Currently my girls are the heavy hitters, training mobs of small dinosaurs, and then marching them into harm's way. The game's A.I. spawns some tough beasts, but short of the epic boss battles (which we have not bothered with), and the Alpha T-Rex (which we haven't run into), nothing stands for long against Keliana's swarm of dilophosaurs and dimorphodons, or Gleek's hopping mob of giant frogs.
Keliana and I did run into a bit of trouble with our expedition from the north-east river mouth, but that wasn't her fault. I shall now tell you about it.
We  attempted to bring 24 tamed dinos and one tricked-out crafting raft southwest through narrows and swamps. We discovered, after it was too late to turn around, that the size of our mob and the size of our raft made the trip extremely tedious. It didn't get dangerous until I got fed up and decided on a side trip.
My plan was simple. Ride Terry, my pteranodon who kept fouling the raft's travel, from our mob's location at the western edge of the Eastern Plains east and south to a platform we'd been building in the middle of the Eastern Forest. There he'd be high, dry, and safe. I would then parachute back, timing my glide to get me most of the way to safety. It's a high platform, and I'd seen my son make that kind of glide before.
(Note: The logic that goes "I saw my son do a thing in a game so it is a thing I can now do" has never gotten me into trouble before, I swear.)
A dimorphodon named Zed was following me and Terry. Unfortunately, Zed fell behind, and I forgot he was there. I landed Terry safely, lined up my jump, and leapt back the way we'd come. My chute popped perfectly, and my glide was going to be LONG. Then Zed caught up, flew straight at me, and fouled the lines of my chute.
I dropped fast. Not killed-by-the-fall fast, but definitely short-of-my-goal-by-80% fast. I landed in a boulder-filled vale just to the west of the platform. The vale's only other major feature besides boulders was hungry carnivores. I emptied my shotgun into a 'raptor, then finished it off with a pike only to discover that a carnotaur had stopped quarreling with a pair of sabertooths, and was charging me.
Carnos charge in straight lines, and turn poorly. I used the terrain to my advantage, and attempted to lead him back into his sabertoothed foes. It worked perfectly, except for the part where they decided to share a meal. I now had three carnivores chasing me.  I almost ran headlong into another sabertooth, but it leaped and I ducked, and then I kept running.
"Keliana, where are you?"
"North of that purple light. There's a cliff between me and you. You'll need to go around it."
I turned and checked to see how close pursuit was.
I screamed.
The game does a really good job of getting predators right. They don't roar or screech unless they're fighting. They come at you teeth-first, and quietly.
I had a perfect view of three sabertooths, one carnotaur, and behind them, just starting to take interest, a pair of tyrannosaurs who I may have run a bit too close to without noticing them.
The nice thing about video-game cliffs is that if they're not sheer, sometimes you can cheat them, running sideways and down, and landing without having broken your bones. I did this, knowing that my pursuit could do the same thing.
I splashed through shallows at the base of the cliffs, and then saw that I was being charged from the front by a velociraptor. It was over.
Then I saw that the velociraptor had a saddle on it, and there was a woman in the saddle.
"I've got you, Dad!"
I missed what happened next, because it happened behind me. I did get game alerts telling me that my tribe's pets were killing things, but they went by too fast for me to count. I saw exactly zero flashing red alerts, which meant that Keliana had killed everything chasing me without taking any casualties.
That's my girl.
The title of this post includes the words "Tree" and "Fort." I'll spare you the extended description of the  tree fort my kids and I built on the edge of the Writhing Swamp, and post a nice screencap instead.
Are we playing this game the way it was meant to be played? If the online PVP tournaments are any indication, we're doing it all wrong.
I base-jumped into a pack of carnivores and got rescued by my daughter, who was riding a velociraptor.
Wrong is fine.
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)
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