The New Doctor's New Clothes

So, the emperor is basically naked.
 
It took me two seasons of on-again, off-again viewing to figure it out, and it pains me greatly to say it because he's been such a fun emperor in times past (and times future!) but, oh my, that's pretty naked.
 
Further stretching the metaphor, his outfits have ranged from simple-yet-serviceable to extravagant-and-exhilarating, I have adored many of them, and envied not a few! Lately, however they seem to run somewhere between threadbare and last-year's-fashion. Very recently I began to worry that the Emperor's Clothier might have a supply-side problem.
 
Nope. Or rather, yes, the clothier has a problem. He's not supplying any clothing at all. The Emperor is, in point of fact, stark naked. And in case you haven't closed the loop already, what I'm saying is that the season 8 premiere episode of Doctor Who, "Draw Breath," starring the brilliant and versatile Peter Capaldi as the latest incarnation of the nigh-immortal, eponymous time lord, was awful.
 
I don't mean to imply that those who loved it are somehow blind to the emperor's nakedness, but let's crank up the A/C a bit and see whether this supposedly well-appointed fellow shivers, and okay, maybe I AM implying something.
 
Also, I'm declaring this metaphor broken. I don't have an A/C knob to turn up, and I don't know what Doctor Who would look like with the metaphorical shivers.
 
I can, however, list some of my complaints:
 
SPOILER ALERT
 
(and with that out of the way...)
 
The conceit of "Deep Breath," (Season 8 Episode 1) was that the Doctor experiences emotional distress when he regenerates, because all of his friends can no longer see him, the real him, through the new skin. This is a GREAT IDEA. And then it got told in the most ham-handed way possible, so that this truly touching bit of human truth gets lost as it knocks about in re-hashed robots, other people's trademarks, and the requisite eye-candy dinosaur.
 
In short, the episode squandered a brilliant character insight that can ONLY be executed on when  a new Doctor arrives.
 
I knew I was in trouble when the Doctor was ranting about the bedroom, and I thought to myself "sleeping in a bed would be more enjoyable than this." Sure, I was tired, but I've stayed up late watching recorded programming on many a night.  That, by the way, was about the time that Sandra stopped sitting up straight, and opted to lie down on the rest of the couch. Wise woman.
 
There was clever dialog scattered here and there throughout the episode, but it felt like shiny bits of pretty wrapping paper taped haphazardly to an anvil--the anvil being the cluttered, confused plot and its numerous call-backs to episodes I have enjoyed. Being reminded of a fun thing is not the same as delivering a new fun thing.
 
Back to the new metaphor: with enough of the shiny bits you can convince folks to admire the wrapping, but when this bundle gets launched from the satellite on its way to my TV screen it is supposed to glide in, not lithobrake into the Yucatan and kill off the dinosaurs.
 
(It was a big anvil. Made of old stuff. And there WAS a dinosaur. And another metaphor snaps from over-extension.)
 
The dinosaur! It featured prominently in the adverts and teasers, but it was too big to be believable. Sure, it HAD to be too big because Moffat needed it to cough up a Tardis, but if you're going to blow the CG budget on something that shiny, you should at least use it to good effect. The dinosaur coughs up the Tardis, bemoans its lonely fate (as translated by The Doctor, who speaks the language of grossly oversized tyrannosaurs), and then burns to death. End of dino.
 
Another squandered opportunity. The dinosaur could have been used to point up the "see beneath the skin" conceit, but only if it did more for the plot than deliver the Tardis and then turn into a greasy, burned clue.
 
On to the trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax (aka lizard lady, the maidservant, and the Sontaran): I like these characters. Strax delivered some of the best comic relief in the episode, even if doing so did ding his character a bit. Using the relationship between Vastra and Jenny to discuss non-traditional familial relationships was clever, but felt really forced. Maybe that's the sort of thing that they'll do better in future episodes, but I don't think I have any future episodes in me.
 
Why not?
 
One word: Daleks.
 
The teaser for the next episode showed Daleks. Honestly, I don't care about Daleks. I understand that it might be too expensive for them to just discard a bunch of props because the writers have moved on to new things, but every time they come back to Daleks I feel like I'm supposed to be surprised and terrified and thrilled, but all I really am is bored. Very bored. And disappointed.
 
So I'm done. At least until someone who is NOT a hard-core fan comes to me and says "hey, you know what? This one episode from the middle of Season 8 is huge fun. Capaldi chews scenery like an Eeetabrox, and oh, the Eeetabrox are these really cool, brand new aliens...." and then I'll tune the person out while making a note to myself of the episode number.
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I can't really say that I enjoyed Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but I paid attention all the way through. This was one of those films which proved objectionable pretty quickly, but which was chock full of visual and structural storytelling techniques I wanted to absorb.

I guess my experience was a little bit like stepping up really close to a painting in order to see the paint rather than the picture.

Regarding the picture: the movie earns its R rating with violence, nudity, language, and drug use. The final line of narration, tells us that Sin City leaves its stain on everyone, and that pretty much summed up my experience.

Regarding the paint: Structurally, it's a neat sort of palindrome. Story A begins, Story B begins, Story C begins and ends, then Story B ends and finally Story A ends. Visually, it is brilliantly composed. We move freely from hyper-realistic black-and-white scenes to heavily stylized silhouette animations, and we cover lots of middle ground as well. Each shot works in very strong support of the story. And as stories go it's horribly dark, and it's never actually happy, but it's powerful and well told.

I saw the 3D version, and I think the 3D added a lot. Looking way up as naked Josh Brolin gets blown through a window, and then tracking him down... well, the 3D really sold that for me.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was not really that much fun for me, not in the usual sense, but I reveled in the art. It clears the Threshold of Disappointment, but only barely. I may study stills or scenes from it at some point in the future, but I never actually want to watch it again.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

GenCon Indy 2014

This was probably my best-ever year at GenCon Indy. With bullets:

  • The Wallrike scooped me up at the airport, saving me cab fare, helping me sort out a housing snafu, and basically being excellent company.
  • The Kokomo Irregulars had the booth completely loaded and assembled by Wednesday at noon.
  • I got all of my Massively Parallel bonus story rows penciled on Wednesday by dinner time, while sitting in the awesome booth.
  • I got to hang out with cool people all weekend. Some of them are name-droppable. Some are awesome people whose names only carry cachet with the folks who are privileged enough to have met them.
  • How many books did I draw in? I don't know. Pretty sure it was "hundreds."
  • My panels went well, with only one exception, and that one went so far off the rails it made for great commiseration fodder.
  • Our booth did better sales-wise than it has in any prior year. 15% better than our next best number, and up 25% from last year.
  • I learned important stuff from Jim Zub, who is a great boothmate, a brilliant writer, and a very savvy industry insider.
  • I came home energized, and I got work done the very next day. No con-crud, no post-convention blues, no problem.

The one blemish on the experience is that this year the one game I managed to play was "D20 roll-off" in which you sit down at the bar and roll dice to see who rolls better. And really, this is the blemish every year. I don't get to play games. When I'm away from the booth, I'm not making money. Sandra sent us some handy bar graphs that showed just how much money we weren't making when Jim, Tracy, and I had to be away from the booth.

BoothGraphSat2014

Adding to the blemishy darkness of this is the fact that while we had plenty of players interested in testing the Schlock Mercenary role-playing game, we never were able to align ourselves for a table and some dice.

Back to the positive notes: Symposium! If you're a writer, and you want to attend panels in which writers talk intelligently about writing, and do so with the understanding that they're talking to an audience full of writers, you should seriously consider attending GenCon Indy just for the Writing Symposium. It has attracted an all-star cast, and when the panels are over there are a million things to do. Marc Tassin has done an outstanding job of growing the symposium over the last three years, and when I talked to him about it I could see that he's committed to continuing to improve it.

(crossposted from howardtayler.com)

The Expendables 3

Per my Twitter feed, The Expendables 3 is better than either of the first two installments in the series. The first was goofy and ridiculous, and not in great ways. The second took itself too seriously, and ended up being goofy, ridiculous, overblown, and clumsy. This one, though, struck just the right balance for an action movie. I had fun.  

The film does not clear my Threshold of Awesome, however. The predictable dialog really wore on me, especially when a character was pausing for dramatic effect, and I knew what he was going to say next. Also, the final act's conceit was one of those ridiculous supervillain tropes -- in this case it's the one where our bad guy has lured the heroes into a trap, and instead of just pouring overwhelming force into the kill box, he starts the timer on an explosive.

What follows that countdown is purely predictable, but it also shapes up to be a nice fulfillment of all the movie's earlier promises. They shoot all of the things and do all of the stunts and we have our huge cast of readily-recognized hitters finally working together.

The stand-outs for me in this film were Ronda Rousey, who made a much better transition from MMA champion to actress than Gina Carano did, and Antonio Banderas, who was hilariously awesome.

The Expendables 3 comes in at #15 for me for the year thus far.

(Cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Introducing Howard Tayler... DOT COM

I know, I know... dot-coms are so "turn-of-the-century," so "last decade." 

Trends and missed boats notwithstanding, howardtayler.com is a thing now. It's the hub for all the stuff I do. It's like putting all of my eggs in one basket, only without the actual risk associated with dropping the basket.

The blog here under Schlock Mercenary will still feature my movie reviews, important announcements, and assorted posts I think readers of the comic will enjoy. Howard Tayler dot com will have all kinds of stuff on it, including everything I post here, and feeds from the comic, from Writing Excuses, and probably other stuff. Recently I posted a single panel Sherlock Holmes comic, and an attempt to write horoscopes

Should you feel inclined to subscribe, you can use http://howardtayler.com/feed/ with whatever RSS aggregator you currently use. 

You can also subscribe to just my reviews using http://howardtayler.com/category/reviews/feed/, which will ensure that you don't actually have to check the comic in order to discover my critically important opinions on a particular film.

This site, schlockmercenary.com, will be getting an architectural overhaul soon, and that may change the way its own RSS feed works. We'll try not to break anything, but if there is an omelette to be made, we'll let you know where to find new eggs before we break all of the old ones. Does that satisfactorily tie into the eggs-in-one-basket metaphor?

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