The Dark Tower Review

I can see why Hollywood would want to adapt The Dark Tower into a movie series. It’s seven books, or eight movies, and Stephen King’s name is on the cover. That’s an easy sell. The problem is, the source material is anything but easy to adapt. It’s thick and dense, the characters aren’t always chatty, and the books tend to get Stephen King weird.

Really Stephen King weird. His best kind, but you know, hard to put to film. To faithfully adapt this series would mean hundreds of millions of dollars, which means general audience buy-in, which means major cuts, changes, the removal of Stephen King weird, and a new ending.

At that point, why even bother?

As someone who has read and loves the series, I don’t think it’s suited for the big screen. I’m not sure I’d put it on the silver screen, either. There’s a reason King’s books are hard to adapt.

But first we have to take a step back, because calling this an adaptation is being disingenuous. The Dark Tower is The Dark Tower in name only. Yeah Roland, Jake, and Walter are here, but their characterization, their plot, and their conclusion are so different from the novels that I’m left wondering why anyone even bothered.

The Dark Tower novels are about obsession first and everything second. Roland is searching for the tower, and it’s not made him a good person. Obsession is the key word. His quest only turns cosmic and world ending in the later books, and while he’s changed some by then, he’s still obsessed. Saving the world is always less important than simply finding the tower.

The Dark Tower movie is about a young boy who is having nightmares about the coming apocalypse and his quest to stop it. Along the way, he meets Roland, develops psychic powers, and becomes the key to both saving and ending the world.

It’s a young adult movie.

I suppose the question is: Is it a good young adult movie, but that’s a hard one to answer because I don’t really know. I saw The Dark Tower a few hours ago; however, I don’t remember much. It’s very generic—or the exact opposite of the source material.

The movie runs wild with young adult tropes, such as Jake hating his step father, the step father hating Jake, bad dreams that become prophetic, black-and-white morality, Jake getting super powers, and then some generic acclimation to a new world. In the books, Jake’s entrance into Mid World is an accident; in the movie, he goes there on purpose.

It’s up to him to find and convince the last Gunslinger that there’s still hope left.

If you take the adaptation away from the movie, I suppose nothing here is inherently bad. The acting ranges from fine to Matthew Mcconaughey, the action scenes are pretty cool, and the movie is shot competently. The problem is, it never goes beyond “fine” in anything it tries to do save Matthew Mcconaughey as Walter, who is wonderful to watch.

Matthew Mcconaughey is great. He kind of reminds me of Nicholas Cage, in that he can play some really strange, twisted characters and sell it all, even if the script is rather rote.

And to give credit to The Dark Tower movie, adding more Walter isn’t a bad idea. He’s pretty much a background character in the books, an unseen agent that we’re told is dangerous but is hardly ever shown. It works to a point, but seeing him cast actual spells and go toe-to-toe with Roland does a better job of selling him as a villain. Matthew Mcconaughey is deliciously evil in the role, and genuinely threatening to boot.

The rest is, as I said, fine. Idris Elba makes for a wonderful Roland, but he doesn’t get near enough screen time. Save for a dream sequence, it takes maybe twenty minutes for him to show up, and when he does, he doesn’t always feel like Roland. He’s obsessed sure, but it’s not the forefront. He cares too much about those around him, and he’s after Walter to kill him, not for information. Plus, seeing him enter Keystone Earth so quickly doesn’t jive with me, even if some of the plot points from The Drawing of the Three do show up.

That in itself is its own mess. If you know the books at all, you’ll be seeing little bits and pieces of every novel here, typically in the wrong order and with the wrong execution. It makes for a fascinating watch, because The Dark Tower movie is by and large a Frankenstein monster of parts. Roland gets a bad infection and needs antibiotics is from the second book, Jake’s mental nonsense is from the third, breakers show up, and that’s either book six or seven, and we get a bit of Roland’s past, which is book four. I believe there are elements of five in here as well, though no wolves.

All of this makes the movie a very strange animal, especially when it comes to pacing. It clocks in at 90 minutes, but often times it feels slower than that. A lot happens—basically every young-adult story beat you can think of is here—but it’s less rushed and more…plodding.

Never once is it confusing though, and given the development turmoil, that’s more interesting than the film itself.

Also of interest is how Jake’s powers show up; or rather, it’s less that they show up and more that “The Shine” is used in other Stephen King novels, so him having it feels less plot-stupid than it really should. I was less upset with the young-adult protagonist developing super powers and more with the fact that Jake doesn’t have The Shine in the books. It’s bad storytelling, but because it’s rooted in Stephen King mythology, it gets a pass.

Which is maybe the one thing the whole movie gets right, even if it does it in the wrong way.

The Dark Tower is a bad The Dark Tower movie. It does everything wrong, from the pot to the characters. I don’t know who asked for this or why anyone bothered. As a film on its own, it’s fine. It doesn’t do anything interesting, but the action is okay and Matthew Mcconaughey is a joy. I’m not sure if I’m more offended in that it’s a poor adaptation or that it’s so inoffensive in everything it does, but either way, I’d say skip it.

Lawbreakers Open Beta Impressions

Note: This was originally published on WeTheNerdy on 7-5-17

Before we begin, it must be noted that I have never played Overwatch. The last class-based first-person shooter I played was Team Fortress 2, and Lawbreakers is an entirely different animal from Valve’s popular hat-based economy. The best I can compare it to is maybe the new DooM or Unreal Tournament, though neither have class systems. It’s all about the speed!

Because the thing is, those are really good games to be compared to.

My hand-eye coordination seems to die a little more every year, and the muscle memory my fingers once knew in high school has faded, but I still love arena shooters. I suck at them full stop, but I love them. There’s just something about the high-octane speed and the insanity that comes with big guns and even bigger explosions that’s hard to beat. Yeah I dig Halo in its various forms, but it doesn’t compete.

Lawbreakers competes.

lawbreaker screen

How it competes is with a high emphasis on verticality.  Each map in Lawbreakers has a center fighting arena with large, zero-gravity bubbles that, combined with sprinting, flying, and swinging, means everyone is zipping through the air like gun-toting dragonflies. Being on the ground feels nice because you know how to running works, but it also makes you an easy target for bullets. If you want to succeed, you best get to flying.

Granted, extra verticality does come with a few downsides, like sometimes flying off the map like a dumbass or getting lost mid fight, but oh well. At least jetpacking off the map because you’re trying to coward power away from a giant robot with a shotgun is funny.

The game’s combat and movement have an unashamedly high skill ceiling, is what I’m getting at.

Which leads me to the classes. There are eight that I can remember, but because I don’t remember their names off the top of my head, you’ll have to settle on what I call them in game.

  • Airplane Lady: She’s flies super fast and has a Gatling gun. She’s the glass cannon with a lot of cannon to her name, and my favorite to play.
  • Soldier: The soldier class. He’s got guns and grenades, and in truth, is a bit bland. I mean, he’s fun, but there are so many more interesting people.
  • Gunslinger: There are no snipers in this game, but Lawbreakers does have the Gunslinger. He’s got a semiauto pistol in one hand and a high-damage, slow-firing pistol in the other. I’m so bad with him that it’s sort of sad.
  • Rocket Man: Guy with rocket launcher, or woman. I can’t remember. He/she is another fairly standard class that in some ways doesn’t work because of how vertical this game is. Leading rockets is hard enough without people floating through space.
  • Battle Medic: A medic whose primary weapon isn’t a healing gun but a grenade launcher. Probably the most fun I’ve had playing a medic class in…forever. This is how you do it.
  • Ninja: A lady with a sword in one hand, a hookshot on the other, and a shotgun as a backup. She swings around like Spiderman, which is pretty awesome. She’s another character that’s very hard to play as, but unlike the Gunslinger, still fun despite the high ceiling cap.
  • Rowbit: He’s the tank class. His primary is a shotgun, his secondary is a bayonet on the shotgun. What he lacks in forward movement he makes up for in vertical. The dude has hops! Also fun to play.
  • Douche Canoe: Another ninja class but with more health than he needs and an insane damage output. He’s also one of the fastest characters, if not the fastest.

I’ve given every class but Douche Canoe a try, and while I do like all of them, I certainly have my preferences. Airplane Lady, Soldier, and Rowbit are probably the easiest to just pick up and play because they feel the most like arena-shooter characters. Rowbit is a lot slower than the norm, but his high health pool makes him very forgiving.

That he’s a giant robot with a shotgun is also very inviting.

The problem with the class system isn’t the system itself but the bombardment of information that comes with it. In its current state, Lawbreakers doesn’t do a very good job of introducing you to its cast. There are tutorial videos that can be found, but they stream from Youtube and watching a four minute how-to-play video isn’t fun.

lawbreaker screen2

I tried to learn as I played, but that wound up being impossible. Each character has three abilities, and some of them are on high cooldowns. They aren’t something you can experiment with mid combat. That meant Youtube videos or asking in game chat between deaths. It wasn’t ideal.

Once I did learn, however, Lawbreakers became highly addictive. This game is straight up fun. The gunplay feels great, the balance is mostly on point save Douche Canoe, and even though it’s an arena shooter, I feel like the health pools are all high enough to add some wiggle room during combat. Very rarely did I ever just explode out of the blue, and if that did happen, it was because of a special ability and not just a random rocket.

The game modes currently on display are all very team focused, which is another highlight. Yeah I love your standard frag fest as much as the next guy, but objective-based gameplay is where I shine, especially since I enjoy support classes. What Lawbreakers offers then is nice twists to capturing and delivering.

I’ve only put about six or seven hours into the Lawbreakers open beta, but I’ve come away a fan. I will be picking this thing up when it’s out next month, and I’ll probably be reviewing it too. If you like arena shooters and missed out this 4th of July weekend, I’d say keep an eye on this one. If you don’t like arena shooters, then I guess go back to Overwatch or something, you filthy casual.

The Hollow Girl

The Hollow Girl

The hollow girl
She swallowed a fly
It buzzed and buzzed
And tickled her eyes

The hollow girl
She swallowed a spider
It spun a web
Goss’mer inside her
Caught the fly
Drained the fly
Found her heart
And began to bite her

The hollow girl
She swallowed a rat
Drooled its rabies
Twitching and scratch
Caught the spider
Ate the spider
Found her lungs
And began to attack

The hollow girl
She swallowed a snake
A hissing venom
Rattling quake
Bit the rat
Ate the rat
Found her stomach
And began to serrate

The hollow girl
She swallowed an owl
The fiercest bird
Tallons that prowl
Ripped the snake
Tore the snake
Found her brain
And began to afoul

The hollow girl
Fed up and torn
Swallowed a human
A screaming worm
Humans die
Girls they smile
For the hollow girl
Was no longer hollow

Dev Blog–Scarfoam Coast: Water, Kings, and Falls

So it has once again been way too long since I updated our dev blog. It’s funny, I’m looking at that progress report from four months ago and thinking, “a lot of those numbers now read 100%.” Progress is happening, and it’s going quicker than slower to boot! All of the levels are done save some little details here and there, we have battle maps for every level but the one I’m about to talk about, we’re maybe two songs away from having a full soundtrack, and all the dialogue is done save for one final round of editing.

We don’t have a specific release date yet, but you know, soon.

However, we’re here to talk about the Scarfoam Coast, or the water level in Land of Glass. This was the level I think both my brother and myself were dreading to make, partly because we had no idea what it should look like, and partly because the water engine can be finicky to work with. It does a lot with a little, but you have to know how to make it work to get the best out of it. Thankfully, I know the guy who made it.

Also, I made him do all the water.

water4

I spent a good amount of time looking at other water levels from games and anime because I wasn’t sure where to start. The majority of this game is pretty grounded as far as magical landscapes go. Yeah a city wedged between a few active volcanoes is a stretch, but the layout itself doesn’t have any floating bridges or the like.

The rest of the levels follow suit. A city in the trees? Yeah! But it has to make some kind of sense.

The Scarfoam Coast sort of breaks that rule a bit. The big city I landed on for inspiration came ended up being Altissa from Final Fantasy, and that place doesn’t make any sense! It’s waterfalls into waterfalls into waterfalls. The city is somehow set between all the big layers of water.

I liked the idea though–a lot–so here we are. I also looked at this big water city from One Piece and maybe took some building inspiration there too.

Now, here’s a gallery of pictures.

water1water2water3water5

There’s a lot of lore to The Land of Glass that goes into making these levels; however, most of it doesn’t end up in the game. The characters take the story where they will, and sometimes that means not noticing important things or not asking the right questions.

I went into the societal structure of the Scarfoam Coast with the idea that every man is a king aboard his ship, a line I probably picked up from A Song of Ice and Fire. I like it though! What if everyone who owned a boat had a big say in the government? That would be interesting given that this is a city on the water.

That tidbit isn’t in the game though. Maybe it’ll get there between now and release, but I doubt it.

Release is creeping up on us.

Alien: Covenant Review

SPOILER WARNING: PLOT AND ENDING DETAILS FOLLOW

So I’m that weird guy at the party who, when the topic of the Alien franchise comes up, will swear up and down that Prometheus is one of the best movies in it. Depending on how much alcohol I’ve had, I’ll say it’s the best one. I adore that movie and what it tried to do, and while it may have missed the mark here and there, it ultimately is a gorgeous flick with some really compelling questions at heart.

Alien: Covenant is the direct sequel and everything its predecessor is not, which includes being good.

I’m honestly not sure where to start. It’s hard to separate Alien: Covenant from Prometheus because both try to do the same things, just one fails while the other succeeds. Both look at the Alien mythos and aim to expand upon it and answer questions, and both try to tackle themes that the previous movies never considered.

Answering questions is a very bold—and honestly very stupid—goal when it comes to horror. Monsters are scary because we know so little about them. The Alien is terrifying because it is this brutal force of space  outside our realm of thought and maybe time itself. It is the OTHER.

The Engineer, the Space Jockey, is scary because it has even less going for it. Here is this THING affixed to a chair with its belly blown open and calcified. It’s old, it’s dead, and the cargo that presumably killed it is not. Where was it going and why? Not knowing is better than knowing.

Or so I thought.

See, I believe Prometheus succeeds at answering questions first because its focus isn’t on the Alien but on the Engineers themselves. That dead transporter plays such a little role in the series that he’s fair game to work with. He’s a divergent path, and he’s why the film is called Prometheus and not Alien: Prometheus.

Second, every question Prometheus answers brings bigger and more terrifying questions to the forefront. The few hard answers we do get—and there are very few—only serve to enhance the Alien universe and make it bigger. There are devils as we have seen, but there are gods too. The problem is, they might also be devils. Kicking that question could doom more than just the bit characters stuck on LV223.

Alien: Covenant isn’t interested in asking more questions, only answering them. It doesn’t make the Alien universe bigger but smaller, and in doing so, it hurts the Alien and every question Prometheus asked in the process.

Perhaps this is why I’m so disappointed (and have hardly talked about Alien: Covenant so far in this review). I’m less upset that Alien: Covenant is a bad movie and more that it killed everything amazing about Prometheus.

We started an odyssey with Shaw and David off to figure out who created humans and why, and then we fast forward ten years and not only do those questions not matter, but Shaw has gone the way of Hicks and Newt and David has gone from morally grey to mad-scientist villain.

Alien: Covenant gives us a new cast of characters, a new cargo ship, and the mission of finding a habitable planet and planting new life. Their cargo is a thousand bodies and another thousand embryos.

That’s…fine, I guess. It’s a soft reboot away from Shaw and David, but I can work with it. However, I just need to stop again, because the goal here is just way less impactful and interesting than in Prometheus. The size of our character cast is pretty much the same, but finding God is so much bigger than just making more humans that I feel like we’ve taken a massive step backwards before we’ve even started. By scifi standards, our plot is pretty tired.

The first twenty or so minutes are also just straight boring. We get a parallel view of Walter (oi Ridley, why not name him Eric and continue the tradition?) walking through the ship and checking on his crew much like David did, only for Walter, something goes wrong long before they get to their destination. He has to wake everyone up, and wouldn’t you know it, they intercept a distress beacon.

I’m not sure if this is boring because we’ve seen it before in Alien or because the characters just don’t have anything gripping about them, but watching everyone debate what to do holds no real weight. We all know they’re going to the damned planet even if it’s literally the dumbest idea on the table.

You have a cargo of humans bound for a specific planet to kickstart a new colony of life. You’ve done scans and probably thousands of hours of research, but because this planet is closer, it’s cool to jet over and maybe live there instead?

At least the captain has faith!

The rest we’ve all seen before. We’re now six movies deep not counting the Alien vs Predator flicks, and that means that half of the Alien films have featured a different set of characters finding an Engineer ship, walking through it, and then something really bad happening.

Half of these films have had this exact same sequence. Let’s let that sink in.

The heart of Prometheus was creation, and that continues in Alien: Covenant, though in a very different way. The first had hope at its core, while this movie is just bitterly cynical and even misanthropic at times. Shaw wanted to better our understanding of the universe, and David is just a bored guy on an empty planet with nothing better to do.

His creating the Aliens through experimentation is also woefully bad for the Alien mythos as a whole. The mysterious OTHER outside of space and maybe time itself is the result of a bored dude with too much time on his hands! Real scary there.

There are, thankfully, some great moments to be found. Ridley Scott needed another few rounds of script editing sure, but man is he a master of visuals. Alien: Covenant is a gorgeous movie with some wicked-awesome monsters, and its only real flaw is that you can tell some of the stuff on screen is CGI. There’s a lot less practical work here, which feels odd, but none of it is by any means bad.

The Aliens look good, and the other creatures do too. They even bring a few nice scares to the table, though the movie is ultimately not scary or all that tense.

And despite my qualms with David, he really is the star of the show here. His interactions with Walter are especially great, shoving him somewhere into the uncanny valley with his AI-driven logic and human sociopathy. Fassbender really does phenomenal work. It is a shame that his motives don’t always work and the actual timeline of events falls apart when scrutinized for even a little bit. Or maybe he’s just not as smart as he thinks he is.

Speaking of which, if you were upset with stupid decisions made in Prometheus, you’ll have a right fit here. Yeah, Milburn and Fifield getting high and petting an alien snake ain’t smart, but they were fodder characters. We knew going in they’d die because horror movies need bodies. With Alien: Covenant, the smart people are just as stupid as the fodder.

Our ship’s captain gladly looks into a facehugger egg when David tells him to, even though David had just spent the last five minutes explaining why he was the bad guy.

“No, it’s totally safe. Please ignore my macabre museum of dissected and crucified monsters.”

“Well, I did just get done calling you the devil, but okay!”

The rest is, as I said, stuff we’ve seen before. The first act is boring scifi, and the third act is a blatant callback to Alien, though with way less finesse. At this point, I’d call it just lazy instead of homage. Act two is okay with some good scares and some fun moments with David, but ultimately it holds no weight, and the more questions answered, the smaller the Alien universe becomes.

The quest to find God died with Shaw.

I was nervous going into this movie because I knew we weren’t doing a straight sequel with Shaw and David finding the Engineer homeworld. Someone at Fox or in Ridley’s head said, “no this has to be Alien and not Paradise,” and we were bound to get something lesser in return. That David and Shaw might show up did keep my hopes up, though. I was excited.

Then this movie did literally everything I had hoped it wouldn’t. It then did a bunch of stuff I had never figured it would try because you shouldn’t have that many bad ideas in one script.

Small Favors Review (NSFW)

Note, I wrote this review for WeTheNerdy.com but like how it turned out. I figured I’d repost it here.

Also note, Small Favors is porn.

Welp, I’m reviewing a porn comic for WeTheNerdy because I wanted to see what rock bottom was like. As it turns out, it’s not regular darkness but advanced darkness, you can’t tell the men’s bathroom from the women’s, the accents are strange, the bus schedule is absurd, and I’ve lost my Gloveworld balloon. Patrick is also gone.

Okay. Now I’ve hit rock bottom.

The hardcover edition of Small Favors is 258 pages of porn, specifically girl on girl. Sometimes it’s multiple girls on multiple girls. It is 100% unashamedly porn, and binging all of it in two settings is maybe not the right way to read it. Like, it’s porn. The ideal way to consume porn is just enough to get off so you can get on with your day—in this case, that would be a chapter at a time unless you’re really quick to fire. You could potentially get a lot of mileage out of this thing if you play your hands right.

Our general plot is that Annie is a chronic masturbator, so much so that her own subconscious is upset with her. Like, deep inside she’s real mad that she keeps going deep inside herself. She’s magically sent to her inner mind, scolded for having no morals, and given a manifestation of herself to make sure she remains chaste and pure. This manifestation is named Nibble. Guess what Nibble likes to nibble on?

Girls. She likes to nibble on girls.

The best thing going for Small Favors is that tonally, it knows what it is and it wants you to enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s quirky and silly, and it does its damndest to let the world know that sex and masturbation are fun and should be treated as fun things. It’s cute most of the time, sexy some of the time, and in general…well, porn.

But it’s also a 258-page comic, and as a stuffy critic, I want more than that. Small Favors doesn’t deliver more than that. The characters don’t change, they all sound the same, and personal boundaries do not matter at all in this world of theirs. Every girl Annie and Nibble run into turns out to be a cute lesbian, and every one of them is game for all types of sex.

No one ever has to think twice about going down on someone else; thus, orgies happen at the drop of a pair of panties.

No one ever has to think twice about diseases or general cleanliness, which is why Annie and Nibble lick a stranger’s dildo clean so they can use it. The internal germophobe in me screamed so loud it woke the neighbors.

It doesn’t sound like a problem because it’s porn, but it kind of is. You can’t have the same tone and energy for an entire book without the whole thing getting old. Horror doesn’t work without moments of safety, action doesn’t work without moments of peace, and I guess porn doesn’t work without moments of actual character development.

I never knew that until today, so yeah for me for learning something new.

It would have helped if some of these characters would have at least acted surprised or questioned what was going on, because it’s not like all of the sex in this book is conventional. Most of it is, but there’s some light bondage, rimjobs, anal, and size play because Nibble can shrink, and I can’t believe Annie and Nibble would bat a thousand in that department. Like, at some point having Nibble shrink and crawl into places that people can’t actually crawl into would have to raise an alarm bell.

It would have also helped if the comic had toned down the amount of sex and made what was there last longer. It’s more a collage of parts rubbing against parts than any real buildup, and not only does that get tiring, it leaves any real intimacy at the door. For a comic that’s fine with genitals and penetration, it certainly wasn’t fine with holding a shot. One position would smashcut into another without any transition, making it more busy than sexy.

And color me white privileged, but the comic hits some creepy points that are actually pretty offputting. Small Favors opens up with Annie peeping on her neighbor and going down on herself at the same time, and while the two obviously get together later on, the idea of that just doesn’t sit right.

Maybe I’m being a prude. I certainly don’t want to kink shame anyone because hey, consenting adults and all that, but that above example is missing some consent, right?

Nibble isn’t any better. She has zero understanding of personal boundaries, and honestly, comes off as a bit stupid. It’s weird in a bad way. At one point, she’s in a grocery store and asks a clerk which wine would go best with Annie’s pussy, and I can’t help but find that a bit terrifying. It’s certainly not sexy. Like, that’s the kind of thing someone whose diet consisted of gerbils and human liver would say.

It’s also, sadly, a prime example of the dialogue on display. I think the word pussy averages out to like once every other page, though I didn’t personally count. Wet shows up more than it needs to as well. Taste too.

Finally, I once again have to wonder who this is for. It’s a $20 hardcover…of porn. Those aren’t small, and most people don’t put porn next to their Shakespeare and young-adult dystopias. You can also find better on DeviantArt or FurAffinity for free, and I’ll guarantee there’ll be more character work and better pacing.

At the same time, Small Favors is porn that works as porn and unlike Sunstone, isn’t ashamed to be porn. It’s cute and quirky, and I’m probably the only person on the planet who cares about logic while two people are taking turns licking each other’s assholes.

Enjoy your wanks, everyone.

The Quicksand House

It starts with a breeze, a shift, a squeeze, as the walls start churning, turning, and the world starts burning down around me. Falling. It is in the falling I am crawling, scrawling, trying not to falling but falling anyways, down, down, down, down, down.

The walls are quicksand.

My house is no longer a house but a falling, crumbling structure of mixed bones and broken puncture wounds of debris, of dead mice and unsnapped traps. A funny joke once, but now an echo of screams as I am falling, falling down, towards the center of the earth, the ceiling high above, the only thing left unbroken and unseen.

It scorns. Me.

I reach for ropes that do not exist. I gasp and grasp and wonder wish. I cough and sputter, choke and mutter, but my mutters are not cries or screams. The sand drowns them out. It is quick to do so. It is quick to fall, descend, fall, descend, fall.

Darkness.

There is darkness everywhere, a kindly crushing broken despair. My lungs contort and smash and crush, my mind burns and breaks to broken mush. My house has betrayed me, my body has abandoned me, and my mind, well, it’s all in the mind, now isn’t it?

It’s a shame how fast the body can turn upon itself; it’s a shame how fast the brain can burn alone withheld. It’s a shame…It’s a shame how the self can fall and fall, and the mind, well, it’s all in the mind now isn’t it?

.

I’ve been reading House of Leaves and drinking Irish Coffee all day. I’m very tired. This is what happened in the four minutes between finishing chapter 12 and taking a nap. I’m going to nap now. I hope you’ve all had a happy Easter, whether you believe in anything or nothing. I’m quite partial to nothing myself, but sometimes something is…well, something.

Please to enjoy.

A Cure for Wellness Review

The reports of body horror and gross-out sequences in A Cure for Wellness have been grossly exaggerated.

This is a problem when you’re sold on a movie as a shockfest of Cronenbergs and good ol’ Lovecraftian horror. Normally I’m not one for goreporn—I’ll never go anywhere near a Saw movie—but I already wanted to see this flick and I figured if the trailers were tame, then the seriously messed-up parts had to be something truly special.

They are not. There are also very few of them.

The plot for A Cure for Wellness is a fairly standard Shadow over Insmouth clone dressed up in a modern setting: Stock-broker Lockhart is blackmailed into going to a Swedish hospital to retrieve Pembroke, the owner of said stock-broking company. It’s shady money stuff. Lockhart then breaks his leg and winds up stuck in the hospital, which is, of course, not what it seems.

While there, he learns about the mysterious past of the place, finds out some nasty stuff, and bad things happen to him.

I’ll admit to attending A Cure for Wellness in the wrong mindset. When you’re upsold on a specific thing, you go in wanting to get to that thing right away and damn the rest. However, it’s not my fault the rest is a two and a half hour slog of basic horror. When I say this is a Shadow over Insmouth clone, I’m not lying.

From the moment Lockhart arrives at the hospital, you know there’s something wrong. Everyone has that Insmouth feel.

You also know that it’s a horror movie.

Let’s take a quick step back and look at The Shining. You know going into that novel that you’re in for Stephen King horror, that the Overlook Hotel is a bad place, and that by the end, people are going to be dead. And then you start reading and forget you’re reading a book. The Torrance family are too interesting, their characters so fleshed out that you just want to learn more. When bad things start happening, you fear for them. When the supernatural elements hit, they’re compelling, and you dive deeper into the narrative.

The book owns you.

A Cure for Wellness doesn’t do that. It’s a problem of character, because at the end of the day, no one is interesting or sympathetic enough to get you to really care. Lockhart’s a complete douche, and Hanna isn’t really around enough to serve more than her plot purpose. The only reason you feel anything for either is because they don’t deserve the crap that happens to them.

Lockhart is also plot-stuck in the hospital. I can’t tell if he’s simply narrow-minded or just stupid, but there are so many red flags about the hospital that it’s intellectually offensive when he doesn’t use any of his chances (plural) to escape without Pembroke. It never even occurs to him!

The movie tries to play at psychological horror and unreliability, that maybe Lockhart’s bad experiences are all hallucinations. It’s a good idea in theory, but it’s never executed well. Does he hallucinate? Yeah. But you can always tell which ones are hallucinations and which aren’t. You also never forget that he’s in a horror movie which takes place in a creepy hospital.

I could never suspend my disbelief, is what I’m saying.

I will, however, give the film its due. The hospital is pretty great. The place is stark white and clean, and of course everyone is drinking the water like it’ll make them live forever if they believe hard enough. It’s creepy. Once you dive a floor down to the hydrotherapy machines, you’re greeted to browns and bronzes and steampunk nightmare contraptions. It’s a hidden evil, but it’s so poorly hidden that it actually becomes interesting for it.

It gets worse the further down Lockhart goes, too.

The movie is also shot really well. I like the color pallet, and I like how creepy and suffocating many of the shots are. It’s also a movie that, when it finally gets around to playing at body horror, doesn’t pull the camera away. At all.

Sadly, there are only three of these scenes. One could argue for a few more, but they never made me uncomfortable. Two at the end are shocking for the sake of it, and neither are executed well enough to warrant anything more than some eye rolls.

The score too is very interesting. There’s a ballerina doll introduced early on and a simple melody to go with her, and this melody appears over and over throughout the flick. It’s used it in all kinds of situations, from the good to the bad, and it always comes off as just a little unhinged. It certainly works.

A Cure for Wellness isn’t what I’d call a good movie, but at the end of the day, I’m not unhappy I saw it. It’s shot well, it makes the creepy hospital work, and the score is fun. There are also some nice body horror elements near the end, even if it takes two goddamned hours to get to them.

The thing is, it’s straight Lovecraftian and I want more Lovecraftian horror in my movies. This one missed the mark, but I’m happy I supported it. The hope is that one day, instead of Hollywood milking A Shadow over Insmouth, they’ll release A Color out of Space or A Shadow out of Time. That would be wonderful.

John Wick: Chapter 2 Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 opens with a mafia gang abandoning their warehouse because they have John Wick’s car in their inventory and don’t want to be caught with it. They are then caught with it. They are never seen nor heard from again.

That folks, is what I love most about these movies: John Wick embodies the badass hero to a ridicules degree; he’s Keanu Reeves at his most Keanu Reeves, feared by everyone and plot-armor invincible, yet at the end of the movie he’s got more bruises than skin on his body. Meanwhile, I’m left going, “yeah no, this works. He’d survive three car crashes like that because he’s John Wick.”

John Wick is the goddamn Boogyman, and everyone believes it so hard that I do as well. It’s fun and exhilarating and…

And then it gets boring for the next twelve to twenty minutes. John returns to his house and is immediately solicited by someone he owes a blood oath. Apparently killing an entire gang leaves the impression that you’re back to killing for money. This oath, by the way, involves the political killing of mafia leader that John is somewhat friends with. The person guarding said mafia leader is also someone he knows and is on friendly terms with. He’s stuck though, because blood oaths have to be kept under penalty of death.

It’s a pretty standard rock-and-a-hard place conundrum, and once the hit goes somewhat south and John has a seven-million dollar bounty put on his head, it all comes off as unnecessary.

Why didn’t the movie just start there?

Honestly, I blame the world building. John Wick introduced us to the assassin world right underneath the surface of our own, and it was wonderful and compelling. The Continental is awesome. Chapter 2 goes for more and spends too much time there. It takes away the fantasy and replaces it with, well, a bit more of the same and a gearing up scene that goes on for way longer than it needs to.

Do I buy the blood oath thing? Yeah. Do I think it’s good storytelling? Not really, no.

However, I can’t really fault the movie for its world building because once the bounty is in place, everything about the assassin world becomes interesting again. It all dives back underneath the surface. We get flashes of it, from John’s interactions with strangers to the actual people trying to kill him to the old-timey receptionists handling phone calls. It reverts back to being a mystery despite how much time we spent there earlier in the movie.

But this is John Wick: Chapter 2 and that means we’re here for shooty shooty bang bang; the rest is a bonus. The good news is that the movie absolutely delivers on that front. There is no bad news.

I adore John Wick as a fighter because there’s a deep level of characterization embedded in his fighting style. He’s methodical, smart, and just damn fun to watch. Like with the first movie, it’s all about the quick double taps, because John doesn’t take any risks. If he thinks someone is going to get back up and keep fighting, he’ll put another bullet in him.

This applies to every gun he uses, of which there are many.

This characterization through fighting extends to the other assassins as well. John Wick and the assassins around them are assassins first and pragmatics second. “Friend,” is somewhere in fourth or fifth place. It adds a chilliness to everyone in the movie, and it adds a small level of tragedy too. Had things turned out just a bit different, some of these characters might have been real friends and not dressed-up, water-cooler coworkers.

For those that do go after John (and there are more that don’t than do), it feels less like a grab at money and more like a grab at myth. John is the Boogyman, and only a new Boogyman can kill the old.

The best part though is the actual cinematography. Most Marvel movies have cuts every two seconds and become messy for it, but John Wick: Chapter 2 uses long, almost slow-moving shots as John plans ahead and then kills four or five people. You can see what’s going on, and you get a real sense of scale to both his environment and his abilities. The same can be said of his hand-to-hand combat, which adds weight to the punches and kicks while also making a certain pencil scene goddamned wonderful.

The environments are great too, ranging from big and open with lots of cars to jam-packed crowds. The last one takes place at a museum exhibit that’s one part M. C. Escher painting and three parts crazy carnival mirrors. It’s way more coherent than it has any right to be.

Finally, I want to give a nod to the audio work. Maybe it’s just that I’m not used to seeing movies on the big screen with massive surround-sound speakers, but damn did this movie sound great. The car chases are audibly frantic, and the bullets pack a serious punch. Every gunshot looks stylish and just feels awesome to watch. The punches, kicks, and stabs are equally rewarding.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a great action movie that gets a bit too big for its own needs. It went from a simple revenge flick to a mafia power struggle with an expansive world, and it’s twenty minutes too long for it. Complexity is not its strong suit. Thankfully, once the first act is over, it goes back to shooty shooty bang bang, which is its strong suit.