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Tweets from 2015-07-26 to 2015-08-01

Tweets from 2015-07-19 to 2015-07-25

Tweets from 2015-07-12 to 2015-07-18

Tweets from 2015-07-05 to 2015-07-11

Tweets from 2015-06-28 to 2015-07-04

Film review: As Above, So So

As Above So Below PosterAs Above So Below

This film follows a group of renegade explorers as they dive into the Paris catacombs looking for buried Alchemist treasure.  It’s a creepy movie that plays on the extraordinary claustrophobia of underground spaces, and makes excellent use of the first-person camera genre (though it never proposes the means by which the audience came to see this footage).  A few thoughts:

  • I wish screenwriters would look up the name of another Alchemist.  Nicholas Flammel is probably sitting somewhere right now scowling at the way he gets brought up over and over again.
  • The first hour of this ninety-minute movie was great.  It had a growing sense of dread and creepiness that really works well.  The last thirty minutes, not as much.
  • The film’s best points are its great use of the first person cameras.  The limited view we get is excellent, and makes for a frightening experience as we try to understand what the people are seeing behind the person whose camera we’re using.
  • The spiritual component of the film is interesting too — the idea that the movie makes the alchemist’s philosophy a key component of the story is great.  There are some moments that are downright weird, but you come to understand why they happened the way they did.  That said, the film isn’t as precise about the nature of the metaphysical haunting stuff as I’d like it to be.  When they propose a ‘system’ for how things work, it feels to me like they should really work that way.
  • This film reminded me a lot of The Descent, another excellent ‘trapped underground’ movie with an even weirder ending.  (In 2007, here’s what I wrote about The Descent: “A surprisingly enjoyable horror movie that became startlingly LESS scary when the monsters showed up.  Disasterous spelunking and solid character development don’t need hungry Gollums to spice things up.  I haven’t felt such claustrophobia while watching a film since DAS BOOT.”)  Both films figured out how to make being in an enclosed space scary, but didn’t figure out that they could leave out the creepy supernatural stuff.  Being underground is scary enough.

Ultimately, As Above So Below is a fine B movie with a creepy premise and solid execution.  It doesn’t really stick the landing, but you’ll enjoy the fall.

Here’s a trailer you can watch if you want to spoil literally every key plot point.

I inadvertently took June off from blogging

It’s been a busy month around here, working on writing projects and creative projects and, well, work.  In all that time, I’ve just fallen off the blogging train.  Sorry about that!

Quick updates:

Not much reading this month.  I read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.  It was good.

Plenty of gaming.  It was my birthday this month, which became a gameapalooza, and should keep me sated for a while.  Here are the games I got, along with my impressions of them:

  • Gates of Arkham expansion for Elder Sign.  Wicked hard, but fun so far.
  • Titanic the board game.  Haven’t played it yet.  Looks like it will likely be fun as a novelty more than as a game to play a lot.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.  Funny game that will be great in a big group.
  • A Netrunner expansion.  Haven’t had a chance to dig into that yet.
  • Galaxy Trucker.  Really fun so far — looking forward to more plays of this.
  • Agricola.  I can’t wait to try this one.
  • Cthulhu’s Vault, a kickstarter that showed up right around my birthday.  A storytelling game that looks cool.

Wow.  Lots of great gaming ahead.  I’ll try to get back to blogging more regularly.

Tweets from 2015-06-21 to 2015-06-27

Tweets from 2015-06-14 to 2015-06-20

Tweets from 2015-06-07 to 2015-06-13

Tweets from 2015-05-31 to 2015-06-06

On Game Design: Go Play Outside

I wrote a little bit over at Rattlebox Games about playing games outside:

This might be a bit of a conundrum.  The old stereotype of nerds huddling inside on nice sunny days isn’t entirely without merit, in part because of all the valuable cardboard bits our games have — we don’t want chlorine from the pool on them!  But just because you’re in fresh air doesn’t mean you need to leave the hobby at home.

Read the rest…

Head on over there to see what I wrote.

May music roundup

It’s been a good month, music-wise.  The albums I listened to were all pretty good, with a variety of styles that kept me on my toes.  Here they are:

Emusic

  • Great Big Sea, Play – This album was an instant hit for me, as it is the album GBS was touring for when they recorded their amazing live album Road Rage.  It’s cool to hear the studio versions of these songs I know so well.  On top of that, I got to know some songs that weren’t on the live show setlist, especially “Seagulls” and “Recruiting Sargeant,” the latter of which is a depressing tale of hundreds of young men who went to World War 1 and didn’t come back.  “Beggar Dude” is a weird last song that turns on a repeated refrain of “do dah dah.”
  • The Soul of John Black, A Sunshine State of Mind  – A nice mix of soul and blues sounds with a contemporary feel, I like this album quite a bit.  The more bouncy tunes like “Johnny Bear (Give It To Me)”, “Shake it Off”, and “Lemon Tree” are joyous looks at the world, while the smoother songs like “Beautiful Day”, “Lenny Love Cha Cha”, and “Summertime Thang” are fine love songs.  My favorite, though, is “Magic Woman,” which lands at the venn diagram in the middle of the songs on this album.  Very enjoyable.
  • Don Giovanni Records Sampler – A mix of songs from this publisher.  Lots of straightforward alt rock that didn’t do a lot for me. There are a couple standouts like “Swan Dive” from Waxahatchee (which is more of a meditative ballad) and “Old Friends” by Noun.  I’d also point to “Switched On” from Stormshadow as a miss, for me.
  • Pete Seeger – four songs. All pretty much standard fare, though “Souix Indians” sure didn’t age well.  Yeesh.
  • Garfunkel and Oates, three songs from Slippery When Moist – “Google” is a funny take on online dating, and “Go” is a longer version of their show’s theme song.  I like the re-take of “I Would Never” shifted into the realm of science class too.

DanC Best 2014 – Every year, my friend Dan sends out a compilation of the music he’s been listening to.  It always takes me a while to get it into the mix, but it’s a delight once I do.  Here are a few favorites

  • “Shake it off” by Taylor Swift – The woman knows how to write a catchy song.  It’s good.
  • “Rattle My Bones” by The Secret Sisters – good harmonies, good rhythm.  A little close to modern country for my taste, but on the right side of that divide.
  • “Home” by Dolly Parton – I like this song a lot.  A good tune to put on a “feeling bummed, want to feel better” playlist.  Parton talked about this song in her interview with Jesse Thorn on Bullseye, so it’s fun to hear it in full.
  • “The Trailer Song” by Kacey Musgroves – full-blown country, but damn funny.

and a few songs that didn’t work for me.  These are songs that grated on me every time.  I really didn’t like:

  • Suzanne Vega, “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain” – two moments (one singular, one repeated) drive me nuts in this song: the mention of Macklemore wanting to “pop some tags” and Vega’s urging that you have to go on stage because “page or the stage is the cage for that tiger rage that you feel.” Like fingernails on a board.
  • RuPaul, “Sissy That Walk” – This is a catchy song, with good humor (his voice pops in from the side at :16 to scoff “bitch!”) and a nice message.  I like it as I listen until it gets to the chorus.  Right after RuPaul says “Now Sissy That Walk,” there’s this weird break with an electronic beeping sound and this weird pattern.  AWFUL.
  • Toni Braxton, “Sweat” – I just find this song annoying.

Anyhow, it’s always great to have another DanC compilation to listen to.

Tweets from 2015-05-24 to 2015-05-30

Broken Time

Broken TimeBroken Time
by Maggy Thomas

When Siggy gets a job at an interplanetary supermax prison, she doesn’t know she’s going to become a conversational pal with a pair of serial killers.  Or that this relationship will hinge on the fact that she’s one of the few people who has encountered time pockets more than once.  Also, ballroom dancing.

Broken Time is an odd book, with lots of interesting ideas but not tight enough to work well.  A few thoughts:

  • There are a bunch of great ideas and sketches of great ideas that the book doesn’t follow through on.  Among the ideas we don’t learn enough about: a Lost Fleet that is trapped in time, showing up occasionally to attack a planet long after the war is over and an interstellar economy that’s brutal and punishing but we only hear about a little bit at the beginning of the novel.  The book also features an alien species, the speedies, who move far more quickly than we do.  It’s a cool premise that could also have had more attention.
  • I like the novel’s focus on Siggy’s interest in ballroom dancing, and it has a nice payoff later.  The novel also takes some solid narrative steps to give Siggy the skills and ideas she will need later.
  • The references to differences in planets gives the book the feel of grandeur, but in practice the planets don’t get enough descriptions to really show how they’re different.  Siggy might just as well have been in two different cities or countries on Earth.
  • I like the insight that in times of war, we will do whatever it takes, including science that destroys the people it aims to help.
  • Last, it’s a little off-putting how much Siggy’s job in the supermax prison feels like The Silence of the Lambs.  From the hallway she has to walk down (passing rude and awful prisoners to get to the most horrible one) to his temperamental interest in her to his habit of standing very still, one can’t help but see that famous film.  Adding just a few touches to make it feel different would have helped this part of the book a lot for me.

Overall, this wasn’t my favorite.  It took a long time to capture my interest (I actually said “If I don’t like it a lot more tonight, I will put it down”), but the main character is nicely developed and the book focuses more on her character than on techno-wizardry.