Man, did this movie felt like a generic product. The character design screamed anime formula. The story felt generic too (it even had this extremely annoying tendency of many anime series of recent years where some magic techno babble is used to explain some concept integral to the story, which is the worst kind of info dump you can do).
It’s about this kid who finds out he’s just a placeholder for a dead guy and that one day his remaining life will go out like a candle. There are demons, good guys (or gals) fighting them and so on. Now our kid finds that all out, is rather shocked and then helps one of the good gals to take care of one of the bad guys.
It’s not really boring, most of time I thought it was nice to watch (apart form the one bit that is absolutely necessary for every generic anime, where the good and naive hero has to make some righteous speech that is just nauseous to watch). But overall it’s pretty forgettable fluff. Might be that the original novels from which this has been derived are much better, but I wouldn’t know. Watch one time for the nice action sequences (but even those feel generic, as if I’ve seen them already a thousand times elsewhere).
I watched Paprika and another movie with a similar theme, Cell, merely two weeks apart. Both share a similar theme, using a technological device to enter the dreams of other people. Like always, the difference is in the details. Cell isn’t by far a bad movie, but compared to the complexity and elegance of Paprika it felt slight. Too plain and unimaginative the main story arc, too simple-minded the moral lessons. Sure, Paprika suffers a bit from that too, near the end, the whole duality stuff, but overall the rest is just so good that it made me forgive its weaknesses easily.
There’s the main story about finding out who is using the dream-entering device to manipulate people. Then there is the little, subtle plot arc about two of the main characters, which becomes rather important near the end. There’s the plot about the cop who can’t let go of the past. And more stuff, like the true nature of Paprika. And while this sounds far too much going on for just one movie, I never felt that the movie was crowded.
Typically for a Satoshi Kon movie dream and reality flow into each other, only this time it happens literally. The pace of the movie was swift, never slowing down, making it feel like a tour de force, but this, too, is typical for a Satoshi Kon movie.
The first thing that stood out about the movie was how slow TfE was. Which, occasionally, works for and not against a movie, when you have a director at the helm who knows what he is doing. Sadly this wasn’t the case this time. Due to the languid pace TfE was a tedious watch. Another problem was that the movie couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be an epic fantasy or, like the source material, a character-driven story on a much smaller scale.
In the end, doing neither of it right, TfE turned out to be a generic and dull movie (kill the evil wizard, ho ho) with neither the opulence you expect from epic fantasy nor the well developed characters and character interactions you expect from character-driven plots or even the endless action sequences you get in some generic but still entertaining fantasy movies.
And what the fuck was with the patricide near the beginning? This was just stupid and never made much sense.
I thought I already had done everything to get max enjoyment from this movie. Scaled back my expectations, shut of most of my higher brain functions. Still, I can’t really say I enjoyed it, but neither was I disappointed. I felt more like a zombie, clinically checking my own reactions to the movie. Part of my mind was astonished at how many cliches you can stuff into a movie, as if someone had made a checklist of them and tried to integrate as much as possible. I have to admit that I’m really not picky when it comes to action movies, but I haven’t seen a movie by Bay that I liked. His movies just rub me the wrong way. It’s not that I dislike them, that would imply that I have a strong emotional response to them, but his movies just leave me stupefied.
Well, I liked the last sentence Optimus Prime uttered at the end. But overall, just meh.
04/2011: I re-watched the movie together with the sequel (first time), because I had nothing better to do (okay, that’s not true, I just wanted to know if the movie was really as bad as I remembered (it was)). It’s all kinds of bad: the teenage romance subplot really badly mixes with the Transformers plot about finding the cube gimmick (and feels really painful to watch, it’s soap opera level romance), the main character is sort of a Worst Of nerd/geek cliches (all the weaknesses, none of the usual strengths of these stereotypes (he’s just our average boring and horny teenager)) and so on. Characterization in Transformers means every person is a walking stereotype (the tuff soldiers, the government guys, the football buffs at high school, etc.), how they act and talk has been done a thousands times before, there’s nothing you haven’t seen exactly the same elsewhere.
That said, visually it’s a feast. I really like the design of the Transformers, integrating both aspects of the animated ones with some new elements that make them looking much more…organic is an appropriate term, but it’s more how living robots would look like than mere constructs. The don’t exactly look biological, but their design is sleek and elegant, always is motion (transforming and changing from moment to moment) and yet robust and massive. The canon of the original series always argued that both Autobots and Decepticons were always machines, but one neat way to look at the Transformers is as the end-point of a meat-alien-civilization that went machine and forgot its past. At least to me it looks like a more convincing explanation that the canon-creation myth of the Transformers. Especially considering all those singularity-huggers who can’t wait to upload their minds into whatever post-human construct they find (and the Transformers in this movie look considerably post-whatever they once were, if you follow this line of reasoning).
Another fix-up novel that doesn’t work very well. The basic idea is that members of three major religions from Earth have gone to another world (God-Does-Battle) and live in moving cities. These cities are big and impressive technological marvels that wander over the surface of their world, guided by expert systems that makes them expel every denizen who isn’t pure in the name of their chosen moral standards.
As can be expected, sooner or later everyone got expelled and the cities now move devoid of any occupants, while the descendants of those expelled live outside, often attacking the cities for various goods. The story begins at a time when it’s apparent that the cities itself have lost the ability to repair themselves and are beginning to die off.
The cities are one of the coolest concepts in SF and Bear clearly had the skill to flesh them out very well and make them feel real, but beyond that there’s not much to recommend. It’s as if Bear had this cool idea, started writing and then realized that he actually had no real story beyond “the cities are failing” plot. Like sometimes in fix-up novels, the single stories are individually more interesting than taken together.
The ending is a typical case of the author not knowing how to end the book and making a cop-out. If he actually had planned to end it this way from the start, it’s a rather poor decision for ending a book. Still worth reading for the seeing the concept of these moving cities realized, but don’t expect more than that.
Alcahest is a simple action game with some (very) rudimentary RPG elements (you gain levels and your life and magic points can increase during a playthrough). You are the chosen one who is destined to destroy the evil Alcahest, but before you reach him you have to defeat a big cast of other bosses.
While the overall story is cliched (you even have to free a princess), the execution of it is mostly well done (or simplistic enough not to mar the gameplay). The narrative is even mirrored in the level progression, as you don’t merely visit various landscapes to tick off the usual ice-fire-wood-mountain areas you typically encounter in those games. Instead finishing each area forces you to another area. No free roaming nor exploration, just killing legions of enemies in each level until the plot moves you further along.
The game feels at times a bit repetitive and especially the infinite respawn of simple enemies can be quite annoying. Sometimes you even get the chance to solve some simple puzzles, but mostly its fighting. Fun for one playthrough, but that’s it.
As the title implies, the second part of the Manifold trilogy is about space. To be more exactly, about the Fermi paradox, which is rooted in the question why no aliens have yet shown up, despite the fact that there’s so much space, so many possibilities for life to arise on other worlds. Baxter doesn’t give just one, but actually two answers, a hard and a soft one (in this context it does mean there’s a way to escape the soft one, but the hard one is nearly inescapable, at least for some time).
It’s hard to explain, but the soft one reminded me of some plot elements of David Zindell’s Neverness and the hard one of some plot elements from Greg Egan’s Diaspora (something that’s happening far too often in recent times, I obviously read too much or the pattern matching part of my brain is running amok). I won’t say much more, since I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, because discovering the ideas and concepts is most of the fun.
Despite being about space, the actual plot covers a lot more time than the plot in the first book. Manifold Space isn’t as concise in telling its story as Manifold Time was, everything is sprawled over eons. This makes it sometimes more exhausting to read and reminded me in that way a bit of Stapledon’s Last and First Men. It’s a bit like a future history of the Earth. Don’t expect a nice future with an enlightened mankind, this is after all Stephen Baxter, who doesn’t seem to have much hope in mankind in the long run.
Still, to me it was fascinating, even if it lacks character development, even more than Manifold Time. Surely, the characters in the book grow and change, but over such long time spans that it doesn’t really feel the same like watching a typical character change. It’s more like watching riverbeds change their course over eons.
by Glowie . (Download)
playable on Ubuntu: ./fdepths
There was a time when I looked upon roguelikes with some sort of incomprehension. Why still creating games with ASCII-graphics, when you can use real graphics? What’s the appeal? And then some day it clicked. Playing roguelikes at times feels a bit like reading, a part of your mind is constantly layering simple symbols with more layers of sensation, pictures, smells, sounds. It’s like a skill, while a first-time-player of roguelikes and an advanced player may look upon the same thing, they actually don’t view it the same way. One of the them is simple seeing symbols and tries slowly to translate them into dungeon walls, monsters and everything else. The advanced player doesn’t need translating anymore, his mind providing everything to instantly create a fully grown world in his mind.
So far, I haven’t talked much about Frozen Depths, which is a very simple roguelike. Go down fifty levels to kill some evil, and then try to get the hell out of there (which is nearly impossible to do without cheating, the rising heat kills you too fast). The theme, as the title implies, is about a dungeon that gets colder with every level. The deeper you go, the more you have to pay attention to avoid freezing to death. The rest is standard fare, kill things, collect items, explore, go deeper. Every ten levels you have to face a boss demon. Overall, a nicely done game.
Characterized with just a few words, this can be called a fun and light read. Which would be no strange to say about the works of other authors, but John Barnes books have a tendency to be never really light reads, even if they feel like that on the surface. But this time there’s really not much more to it, but I still enjoyed this one. It reads a bit like a typical Heinlein narrative (of his earlier books) married with an interesting future that is sparely decorated, but leaves enough hints for some really interesting background plots.
Since this is just the first of a trilogy it makes me eager to rush through the next two to find out what happens when the galactic court decides the fate of the human race. Jak Jinnaka, the hero of the book has to save his girlfriend who’s really a princess, while he himself has been trained to be a secret agent his whole life. Sounds silly, but Barnes makes it work. Like I said, it’s fun and light, but even doing that well is not easy, and was in the mood for something like it.
by Bernie . (Download)
This is a short but very nicely done platformer that plays like similar games of the SNES-era. Mind you, due to it’s shortness, it has a very steep learning curve. The first levels are very easy, but with every new level you gain new abilities. And far too soon you’ll need to have perfect control of these abilities to advance in the game at all. For some of the later levels you need to have a very high frustration threshold. But the excellent graphics and the neat style of the game makes it fun to try and try again.