Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Don’t Buy Star Stable Online

I am actually even deeper in this wagon than Ginny, but I was willing to hold stuff up until I had my Nuzlocke up to replace it. (Also, since there has been a minor site reconstruction as a result, it seemed like a good post to come back with, more on that next week.)

As I’m sure you all are aware of, I have gotten very disenchanted with SSO (Star Stable Online) since I originally started playing. Heck, I was the one who got Ginny involved. I found the game originally in under-grad, and then once I graduated, I found an ad, remembered how much fun it was, and bought the game. Ginny getting involved was an organic part of the process–I’m a casual, story-driven gamer, she is much more involved than I am in gaming mechanics but pretty much the same way, it was something fun we could do together.

The purchase of the game should have been our first red flag. It always took me two or three tries to get any kind of transaction to take, and Ginny had even worse luck. I think part of offering a game on an international level is being able to function in that country for purchases. It was a pain in the ass, to put it mildly, and I had to stay on their tails to get it resolved if I made the purchase during the week. If I made it during the weekend (you know, when most of their specials were going on?), I was on my own.

But we got it purchased, and for a while, we had fun. There were regular story updates, even if some of it was really weird, and Ginny and I had a game we could play together. We even started making the avatar into different personas, and then they turned into characters of their own. We admittedly got a little lost in what quest we had to do to keep going at one point–both of us only had so much time and energy in a day, especially with me working full-time, and the game’s story isn’t exactly laid out in a logical fashion. (Not to mention, it’s front-loaded as all get out. Like way more than any kid’s game should ever be. The crazy insanity of Zelda games is in the middle/end, people, not the beginning!)

Cue the second problem with the game, which I’ve ranted about before (not that it matters now). Nothing matches. Like, even things that belong to the same set don’t match. It’s bizarre and painful. I don’t know if they aren’t keep swabs, or if they don’t have someone on staff who is like me and can tell if colors are more than two or three shades off by hairs. (I’m terrifying.) Just, way to drive me nuts. Not enough to drive me from the game.

The big turning point for me was when the intro to the game changed (which was about when Moorland got its makeover and Josh changed). Suddenly this goal that the character had, as weak as it was, to attend this special academy (I’ve lost the name to time) was gone. And with it, I felt like we lost a lot of drive as a character. Why were we at this camp that was not very camp like? How could we be Aideen reborn when nothing let us actually be a hero? To make matters worse, story updates started dying out. Instead, it was frequently special events and new horses being announced, maybe a new area, but nothing was being resolved.

I thought maybe if we were patient, it would get better. They would dangle something in front of me–like something advancing what happened with Marley and his brothers and the Baroness…only to get something about horsemanship so appallingly wrong that I spent HOURS afterwards ranting at Ginny about it. And that’s with me giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. In addition to that, we discovered that story we had already completed was now changing, with no way for us to replay it. So sometimes when a character seemed out of whack to us, it was because we were playing with the original personality rather than the blandness that exists now.

By this point, I am disillusioned. Like, it had been fun originally to sort of mock the ridiculousness of some of the scenarios, but now I was looking at them from a writer’s stand point. And I was disturbed. As writers, we have a certain level of responsibility. Not a lot, but enough. Keeping the story straight and logical is part of it. So is showing civic responsibility. Giving a young teenager kerosene and a match? Or carrying a torch on horseback across the country side? Not so much. And I can’t even begin to touch on all the plot holes, we’d be here all day.

The game became a giant stress ball of disappointment to me. And that was the exact opposite side of the relaxing activity with Ginny that it was supposed to be. I had to stop playing to prevent myself from bursting into tears on a regular basis as each update, I was only going to be disappointed again. I thought maybe, maybe there was just something going on behind the scenes. Give it five years, and I could come back and it would be my game again. I hoped. If nothing else, it gave me more time to focus on my own stuff, and to start designing a dream-game with Ginny rather than playing a game that wasn’t fun anymore.

But now there’s the latest bomb dropped. See, I was what is referred to as a lifetime Star Rider. It means I shelled out twice (if not three times) as much as what I would ever pay on a video game in order to never have to buy it again, and that’s just for the game, not the extra Star Coin packages I would buy for myself around the holidays. This is versus their subscription rates, which go for varying amounts of time and rates.

Except Lifetime doesn’t mean lifetime, apparently. Instead of deactivating free players who have never paid for the game ever and have had accounts for years, they instead free up server space by deleting accounts that haven’t logged on in two years. Including Lifetime.

Ya’ll, I don’t know how to even explain to you how I feel about this game. I guess because at this point, I am completely apathetic. I found what I thought was a fun, inviting game for a casual player that didn’t require me to have five to six friends who also played. Instead, it turned into a money-grabbing, greedy corporation that I can no longer support in any way.

My SSO Diaries and other reviews will be up until Sunday, when I will be back with another blog post, and I’ll be taking those down. As much as I love the traffic they bring me, and get all nostalgic sometimes, I just can’t continue to offer free publicity for a game that I don’t think is worth the time or money to play.

(But don’t worry if you are super attached to Misty. She has been revamped into a new character that is much more rounded, and has a lot more personality. I’m hoping for Ginny and I to start a new blog for her and the rest of her friends/world in 2019.)

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Review: Mistress of Thieves

Hey everyone, sorry there was a bit of a delay on this one. (Check out my social media for the full story.) I was a little unsure where to start in the Kindle Store, to which the answer is not on the app if you are looking for the self-published section, but I stumbled upon this one after a lot of digging among the traditionally-published crowd, and thought it was worth a shot!

In Mistress of Thieves by Carrie Summers, Myrrh is an up-and-coming freelance thief who’s lost her only true friend. The city guards finally captured her mentor, an aging rogue and the closest thing she had to a family. He’s dead now. She’ll be next if she doesn’t figure out who betrayed him. As she begins her search, she’s double-crossed by a fellow freelancer and sold out to a shadowy new crime syndicate. With a sack over her head and wrists tightly bound, she’s delivered to the lair of the syndicate’s boss, a man named Glint. Certain he intends to kill her, Myrrh is surprised to learn that he has other plans. An unrepentant scoundrel, Glint is as charismatic as he is complex. And he has information about her mentor’s disappearance that will upend everything she thought she knew about the city’s underworld.

So this was a surprising amount of fun! It seemed like it was going to be super dark and grim, but the writing found ways of inserting some humor that made me grin without making the main character an idiot–actually, she’s rather brilliant, if impulsive at times. The second person point of view was sort of iffy for me, I don’t particularly like it, but it was done well enough that you eventually tune it out. It wasn’t as strongly fantasy as my usual taste, but there was enough that I can see how it ended up in this section rather than anywhere else.

The characters’ backstories were well-done, as was the balance of the cast. Myrrh was fun to follow, though I’m disappointed we didn’t learn her real name yet. Considering the crap that went down, I think if she had told Glint her real name, it could have had a deeper emotional wound…but the writer might also be saving that for later, so you know, I’m okay with it. Nab was friggin’ awesome. I was like, “Oh, little kid to look after, the cute bait.” And then he actually appeared and was a smart brat and I was like, “Okay, not what I expected, but BETTER!” I love realistic kids, especially when Myrrh gave it right back at him. Glint’s backstory was a lot…smaller I guess?…in terms of scale than I was expecting, but it worked, and I totally get it if the world is meant to stay focused here.

The romance was actually done well. It wasn’t something that started in the story, it felt organic in terms of how it built, and when the plot twist is revealed, it added another stab to the heart without having gone to super cliche levels. I also didn’t feel like it took over the story, and it didn’t completely eat up Myrrh’s goals. That thrills me to death. In fact, I think it hurt Glint more than it did Myrrh, which is a nice role reversal. In a similar vein, the female characters were more plentiful than usually shown in thieves’ guild type settings, and I loved the variety. We had more than just the geisha assassin (as the trope is called) and the girl thief, and what we saw was fun. I hope we see more of them.

My only complaint is so minor, and relates entirely to the fact I bought the book on Kindle. The large city that the book was set in was broken down by districts, bridges, and a river. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the layout right in my head (it’s not numerical like you’d think!), and that left to me getting a little confused. Now, Tamora Pierce’s Provost Dog series is very similar for the first two books, and I had less of a problem. That’s because I own physical copies, and it was a lot easier for me to toggle to the map in the front. The Kindle version of Mistress of Thieves not only sticks the map in a kinda weird spot, but I don’t have a Kindle-Kindle, I use my Android phone (which is not the biggest thing ever), so setting bookmarks sucks. As a result, it was halfway useless to me as a reference.

This was a fast but fun read that I enjoyed. It kept the plot simple without getting really convoluted or losing itself down subplots, and it kept true to its characters, even if that meant the ending wasn’t your typical Happily Ever After. Overall, I highly recommend it, and I hope the sequel that comes out next week is just as good!

…Just get the physical copy. 😛


Review: Criminal Minds Season 13 Episode 17

I have discovered something, the past couple years. Namely, that I am incapable of watching and keeping up with a show for an entire season. So that leaves me with limited options. Either I binge the season once it’s over, which is a waste of a weekend if I have a full weekend to spare, or I find a show that doesn’t require me to see every single episode of what’s going on, without getting completely episodic. Criminal Minds is a perfect example of the latter.

That being said, they made a grave mistake. The episode last week was in my home town. This is going to get ugly.

(Note: This is not a serious review of the show as a whole, it’s too long and much like Law and Order: SVU, I have mixed feelings on later seasons. I might do it as a series or something at some point, but not right now.)

So I didn’t even make it three minutes in. The first victim pulled up to his house, and I was like, “Okay, I might buy there being a house like that on the north side of Guymon. Maybe. But where do you think we have that many trees?” Fun fact: the Panhandle has SOME trees, but it’s mostly in residential areas, and between the drought and ice storms, a lot of those were dead and chopped down by the city.

…The clown under the bed did scare the crap out of me, not gonna lie.

I’m curious where the BAU flew INTO. There isn’t an airport in Guymon, the closest they could get is either Liberal (doubtful) or Amarillo (more likely), and either way, you are in the car for at least another 45 minutes or two hours. But we skip that, “who doesn’t have an airport, pbbbth…”

We see an overview shot of Guymon, and it’s this neatly spaced out grid, small town, fancy admin-type building, and I’m like, “Uh, no.” I based Imyl off of Guymon, okay, and it is STILL too neatly laid out, I am not even joking. Guymon is an illogical sprawl of a place, and Main Street is very tightly packed in terms of space…sort of. (Okay, the big municipal building is on a block by itself, but it is SOLID BRICK, none of this fancy molding.) What boggled me the most though, was the literal street. Guymon is famous (or infamous) for Main Street being brick. Not pavement, not any type of concrete. Brick.

It’s becoming painfully obvious that no one has done their research, here.

The inside of the police station and the hospital got a pass, I’ve never been in one and the other was close enough. But then we get the second victims. Another nice house. More trees. I’m sorry, maybe I’m biased because I (literally) grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Guymon, but come on! We are not that well off!

Finally, it’s winding down. They are getting enough clues, we are seeing bits of our villains–yes, clowns, circus life fell apart. Okay, fine. I’m even going in my head, “I can think of a couple of fairs, they could maybe get work there?” But nope. We go…rodeo? I’m sorry, someone actually thinks rodeo clowns are actually clowns? Oh honey, no. No, no, no. Trust me, they are not the same thing at all, and being a good clown in no way preps you for what a rodeo clown does. Rodeo clowns are, predominantly, bull wranglers on the ground. Just bad, bad, bad, bad. Someone is going to get hurt.

But we’re going to a rodeo! Guymon has one of the largest outdoor rodeo arenas in the country, Pioneer Days literally is a HUGE DEAL in Guymon (we haven’t seen hide or hair of it, but I will give them leeway), and it goes on for a full week if not longer depending on slack, surely this will be right.

We go to this piddly little arena that I swear could barely host my play-days. Just, just, what is this, I don’t even! And underground rodeo, whaaa? I’ve never heard of this. People hosting roping events for some cash or running play-days, sure, but no one pretends these are rodeos. There’s no point when there’s a huge friggin’ rodeo every year! Color me boggled. (Ginny, btw, was laughing at me by this point.)

At this point, I was very obviously done. Did the ending make me sniffle? Of course it did. But I didn’t see anything really tying it to Guymon, and they definitely didn’t do their research beyond some cursory scans for stuff they could use in the show.

If nothing else, this really disenchanted me with the newer seasons. I swear, the older ones weren’t this dumb. Or at least I hope they weren’t.


Review: Love Never Dies

This is joining, “She Slays Monsters,” as a sort of weird review, but I’m been obsessing, so here we go. Note I’ve listened to the original cast recording, and watched the Australian production, soooo. I have opinions.

Love Never Dies picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. Still alive, Eric has relocated to Coney Island with Madame Giry and Meg, running a carnival/side show titled Phantasma. But he is unable to forget Christine, and when opportunity comes, he brings her to his new home. But both Eric and Christine have a secret they are carrying that will change the lives of Madame Giry, Meg, Raoul, and Christine’s son, Gustav. Things aren’t quite settled yet, and Christine will have to chose again…and face the consequences.

People have very strong feelings about Phantom. Some can’t tolerate even the first five minutes of this musical. And you know, I see their point when I listen to the original arrangement. It dragged, badly, with tons of chorus numbers, it made Madame Giry into a monster, confirming that Eric is too violent to deserve a happy ending, and it kept spoiling the ending! Even if people can stand Phantom (and some can’t compared to the book), the sequel tends to give them hives.

That being said, Love Never Dies was rearranged at one point, easing the plot issues, and it also helped make Eric more approachable. Are there still holes? Oh yeah, plus new ones. They cut out important information, such as that Eric has been helping Meg learn to sing (which explains why she is not just dancing anymore), and it emphasized how she was trying to get the Phantom’s attention at her mother’s urging. The production I watched also didn’t have Meg dancing enough, so that was a bad casting call I think, since the character is a trained ballet dancer and would retain at least some skill. Overall though, the restructuring of the musical made it something that those who love the musical of Phantom can appreciate too. Even the original writers and composers agreed that it was better, so proof that editing is important!

The setting of Coney Island was…both fitting and weird? It’s a very obvious place for Eric to hide, in a side show and carnival type setting. It’s somewhere he is familiar with from his childhood and he can blend in there easily. Madame Giry and Meg are the oddballs as far as fitting there, and it takes a lot of plot wrangling to get Christine and Raoul there for the meeting of all the players. That being said, I can’t think of anywhere else this could be set, so by process of elimination, it must be the best place for it. I felt like the music at least helped with the contrast, the songs Meg sang, particular “Bathing Beauty,” what Madame called vaudeville trash in the original and made me snort in laughter, helped contrast with Christine’s opera, showing just how far they’d fallen/shifted around.

Oh, characters. I feel like Raoul pulled a 180, and whether or not it makes sense…sort depends on your experience with the prequel. I had to watch it a couple of times and THINK about it, and realized that what happened was a disillusionment. Raoul believed himself in love with Christine (when he was just infatuated), believed himself to be this big hero (because he was the society favorite between him and Eric), and even won in the end…only to realize he didn’t love her, he wasn’t ever going to be as important as Christine, and so he forced himself to keep winning. Christine, in return, finds herself in a trap of her own making. She went with the society choice, especially considering how intense and violent Eric can be, only to have it all fall apart underneath her and she’s trying desperately to keep it all together.

Eric of course is the defeated villain, but rather than focusing on revenge, he still wants his original goal–Christine. Madame Giry is trying to recoup what she has lost by manipulating her daughter, and Meg… Meg fell for it and can no longer stand herself, so she wants Eric to rescue her like she thinks he rescued Christine from being another girl in the chorus, not realizing Christine’s talent and heart aren’t something that can be learned. It  makes the ending very bittersweet for everyone. As for new characters, the trio of “barkers” makes less sense in the rearrangement than it did in the original, and overall Gustav is very bland, but considering the fact he’s ten, I am betting there is some limitation there.

So what about the plot? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, not a lot of surprises. Even when you cut the spoiler-ridden stuff out of the original scripts, you figure out a lot of it before it happens. I do like the conflict that is shown between Raoul and Eric, and how it shows how time has affected these characters–Raoul is still trying to be the hero and is aggressive in stance and words, but Eric is more willing to let his words fight rather than physically engage until it is defensive. And Meg’s little bit before Christine performs really helps highlight how defeated she is. The ending drags though, even when cut. I honestly think it still needed work to pare it down.

Overall, I think this musical can be watched. Do you have to watch and make sure what version is being performed? Oh yeah. But if it’s the Australian rearrangement, I highly recommend at least trying it if you liked Phantom of the Opera as a musical. It is entertaining, and if nothing else, as a writer it’s a good example of what editing can do to change how a story is presented.


Review: Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox

I liiiive! (Finally done being sick and through the hard part of all my dental work, ugh.) And to start us off is a review of a book series that is quickly going to become one of my favorite series, so you can bet as new books are released, I’ll be reviewing them!

The first in the Amaranthine Saga, Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox begins with the title character, Tsumiko, coming into a surprise inheritance from relative she didn’t even know existed. It is the beginning of her introduction into a world that the rest of humanity is just becoming aware of–that of the Amaranthine, also known as the Rivven. To her surprise, she is a powerful reaver, humans who work alongside both humanity and the Amaranthine to insure peace between the two. And to make things awkward, aside from a new home, she also inherits a person–an Amaranthine butler named Argent. But Argent is no willing services, and foxes are not to be trusted on either side. Tsumiko will have to find her place in this new order of things, as will Argent, though neither is what they would expect.

So, confession time. I read the “original” version of this, that being the fanfic that the bare-bones-basics of the premise came from. I even follow forthright’s blog here on WordPress, so you know I’m a fan. ^_~ That being said, I tried to take a step back and look at this story with fresh eyes. It was a lot easier than you would think. While I can see some of the core characteristics haven’t changed, Tsumiko, Argent, even Sansa and Michael have taken on enough changes that they became their own persons. The world building was also sufficient in that regard to help separate it.

The part that stole my heart the most was the plot. I went in with a very vague knowledge of what was going to happen, but didn’t know how well it would translate to original. Lo and behold, forthright did some amazing work bringing something new to her long time readers. It deviated down some fun ways (I squealed at Gingko’s relation to Argent, for example), and it also added some substantial bones to what was otherwise a very fluffy story. I was caught up in what was going to happen next completely. I think one thing that still bugs me is the rogue dragon(s), but I figure those must be series questions. The climax was also not quite what I would have wanted. I don’t know if the pacing was off, or if its because there were two different “big” problems that had to be resolved in a particular order rather than together. Either way, the third act felt too long.

(Ginny is probably about to call me a hypocrite, but mine doesn’t go quite as long, leave me alone. :P)

Like I said previously, the characters personalities were solid, without depending on their fanfiction counter parts. I had a lot of fun with Argent’s double speak, and even in deciphering the cats’ personalities. Even the religious overtones weren’t overbearing, and I think bringing a different faith in helped break it away from its source material. That being said, as strong as they were in personality and dialogue, there was some lack in the character descriptions. Sometimes it was better than others, such as with the Amaranthine. But aside from being petite and I assume Japanese, I don’t know much about Tsumiko’s looks! This may seem a little picky, but I like to know exactly what I’m dealing with unless the writer is purposefully trying to make it where the reader can insert themselves into it.

Worldbuilding wise, I wish we had gotten some more in England. While Stately House got given plenty of time and attention, as did the surrounding area, England felt like a very rushed pass-through. Same at Akira’s dorm, though at least that served a solid purpose (and my feelings for it are probably link to my feelings over the climax). The Amaranthine culture though was very well developed. It took a second read through for me to grasp everything that I was reading. I really liked how there were very few blanket answers to how things worked too considering how varied the Amaranthine were in types. But even they didn’t have perfect knowledge, which kept them from getting to ridiculous, Tolkien elf territory.

Overall, this book was a delight. I highly recommend it for multiple reads, as new details will be constantly making themselves known, and the characters themselves don’t grow old, just more faceted. Here’s hoping the second is just as big of a success.


Review: Descendants 2

Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’m still determined to keep reviewing this movie series (I’m…ignoring the animated shorts unless forced). I was pretty hyped for this movie, especially as the actors kept saying how great it was turning out. And I see what they were talking about! I’m just…not as sure I agree?

Descendants 2 takes place months after the first film, with Mal and Ben firmly in a relationship…and very much in the public eye. When Mal suffers from anxiety over the level of pressure, there’s an inevitable fight that leads Mal to assume that she has made a mistake, returning to the Isle. Unfortunately, she and the other villain kids left some enemies behind when they turned good, and they will take any opportunity for revenge. The other VKs will have to convince Mal to return, and learn that they are both from the Isle, and from Auradon, and they can’t just abandon either side.

In a lot of ways, I can see why the cast and crew were so sure the sequel was a stronger movie. The story was much tighter this time, with a constant sense of suspense and the character reasoning was apparent to the audience. It was also not afraid to make fun of itself and the cliches of fairy tales, such as true love’s kiss. I was really excited by the show of growth in Mal’s powers, and I hope that is continued to be played with. Auradon seems determined to shove all the magic out, which is annoying, but Mal’s magic keeps asserting itself, so I’m hoping that will end.

New character wise, I feel like we’re beginning to drown in them. I’m not getting enough to be invested in all of the characters, and it forces the old characters to stay in their little story-boxes rather than having a chance to keep up the arcs that were started in the first film. In particular, while Carlos got more of a show this time and Evie got a little bit too, it was very much a focus on the new characters, Mal, and Ben. If the third film is going to introduce even more to the line-up, some cuts are going to have to be made. It took three viewings for me to catch that Lumiere was even present in the film, besides being a name drop early on, which while admittedly more of a nod than anything, is very telling to me.

Appearances, the bedrooms took a change again, which if you count the animated series for sake of argument, that means there have been three different looks to these bedrooms. Consistency apparently means nothing. (I have a feeling that because they are using this one castle that gets used for everything as their primary shooting location for the school, it’s made things extra difficult.) The costumes were great, and I like that there was a character reason for the Mal hair changes, which in trailers had me going, “WTF?” There were some cool details to the costuming, though, and unlike some of the outfits from the original film, these all seemed to be more in-line with each character. (Okay, some of it was still awful to look at, but that’s teen fashion in general sometimes.)

I think where I ended up disappointed the most was with the music. Some of it was great, things that continued the type of music from the first movie. Those, I was happy with. But much like the random Broadway music that had me going, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE,” this time it was the hip hop. I did okay with the battle-song between the two groups, Uma’s group and the VKs…barely. Uma’s villain song on its own though just made me cringe. I guess they were trying to make use of the talents they had available, but it just didn’t work for me. Of course, my dislike of most hip hop is a well-known fact, so unless it really makes sense or is done in such a way that it works (like Hamilton, I will admit), then I would rather it stay out of my stuff.

The ending was full of sequel bait. Uma’s little repeat of the, “You didn’t think that was the end of the story, did you?” line, Dizzy getting invited to the school, Evie having a list of similar kids who deserved a second chance. This could go really well for the franchise…or rather poorly. It sort of depends on what direction they keep going with it. If they cut down the characters and stick to a little more consistency in terms of sound, I think it will continue to be the success that it has been. The characters are good, the actors are good, the story is finally where it needs to be. Hopefully, it won’t backslide in the third movie.


Review: Underworld Blood Wars

Coming back to my werewolf/vampire staple with the latest entry into the franchise. This one felt like it finally bridged the gap between the first two and the fourth movie, giving me what I always look for as far as twists to the plot that I don’t see coming, while at the same time feeding into my expectations.

Underworld Blood Wars takes place an unspecified time after the end of Awakening. Selene is still on the run from Lycans and the vampire covens alike, as the Lycans continue to want possession of her daughter Eve, and the vampires want vengeance for the death of the previous Elders. For safety, Selene is not even aware of where her daughter is, to her own personal pain, and she even separates from David until forced to rely on his help. However, a new leader among the Lycans, Marius, is threatening even the limited safety of the remaining covens. A tentative alliance is struck…and then broken as truths come to light that may be the key to the future for the vampires.

Starting with the story, I felt like this was a good balance between the run-and-fight-when-cornered feelings and the direct battle confrontations that we’ve seen in all of the previous films. I also found that the backstabbing and flip-flop alliances returned, which always makes me happy since it gives a lot of potential for surprises depending on character (which I’ll get to). But we didn’t loose the depth of feelings that are always so subtle in these movies, which is more my cup of tea than anything. Selene still feels lost as a mother and especially without Michael, we have some closure at least with Michael to my eternal relief, David’s conflict between his duty to his bloodline and his feelings about Selene are told more in the silence and between the lines than straight out which is great. Even the reveal at the end with Eve, that she was stubborn and ignored her mother’s orders, makes me sooo happy.

I do feel like the world building is getting bloated at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the delving into Amelia’s backstory in this film, because I feel like Amelia has always gotten short-changed. Even the Nordic coven itself didn’t necessarily upset me, because it just makes sense that there was one group of pacifists in a war like this on one side. It was the way they decided to give Selene a power boost in this film, this idea of “going beyond” and hibernating under the ice… It was just weird and not explained well, vague mostly to keep from having to explain how it worked. There are better ways to give the character a bit of a boost to be able to work around a stronger enemy. Similarly, it felt like the nerfed Selene when convenient for the plot, and then made her this demi-goddess when needed. Consistency is important! They are also raising the gore factor in the films higher than I am necessarily comfortable with. The series has always been high on gore and gross, but this one nearly made me gag in the theater.

Character-wise, you have two groups: the veterans from previous films, and the new ones. I’ll start with the veterans. We didn’t see much of Eve or Michael, but in the case of the latter, he also got nerfed for the sake of plot. I’m happy about the plot being resolved, but honesty demands I point it out. Selene finally seems to be finding her groove again after being frozen and finding out that she has a kid. We saw some of the in control, Death Dealer and natural leader, that we have always known her as, but when she let that mask down a little, we also saw the hurt woman that she was. David grew a little bit from angry, whiny Luke-Skywalker-type into a leader in his own right for the majority of the film. What bit of angsting there was…was completely understandable. It reflected the growth that was going on with two other characters, his father Thomas and the deceased Amelia, who had a chance to actual show bits and pieces of who they are under the cranky people they usually come across as.

New characters…oye, there were a lot, like there always are. I like that we had two types of female characters–both schemers, one is the politician and one is the spy-soldier, and then the wise warrior. Most of the female characters had massive agency in this film, and were either using male minions or working in a partnership. I like it. Meanwhile, the males sort of suffered a little from a lack of depth being shown. They were either good soldier-boys for the coven, or they were the biker-reject soldiers for the Lycans. The main two of these camps, Varga and Marius…eh. They were pretty much one note the entire way through. And Varga, I had slight issues with…if only because I’ve seen Bradley James as two characters so firmly in my head, I had a very hard time breaking him out of them (King Arthur, and he’s our fan-cast for Scorpius Malfoy).

As a note of wicked story/character glee of mine–The new Elders are a flip from the previous ones. While the first set were Marcus, Viktor, and Amelia, the new group is Selene, David, and the new character introduced, Lena. David is the youngest, and is almost the blood-tie nod, which is usually a role reserved for a female character. Lena and Selene have centuries of experience on him, and we know from the way David has acted that when push comes to shove, he’ll defer to Selene. It still feels more like a balance of equals than the last three had, but I just love that two of the three are now female badasses.

Underworld is probably always going to be a movie that tugs at my geek strings. It has all the things I love in films (okay, and some things that I don’t necessarily like, but can tolerate in the name of getting everything else). They are, supposedly, already working on more for the series, and if it follows in the vein of Blood Wars, I am going to be just as eagerly waiting for it. Just…lay off the super vague world building.


Review: Justice League-The Flashpoint Paradox

There are two animated movie versions of the Justice League making the rounds, and you can tell them apart by animation styles and who is voicing Batman. One of them has touched on an alternate reality plot line that caught my interest on YouTube, and I just had to watch it.

The Flashpoint Paradox centers around the Flash–Barry Allen–as he is hit hard with the loss of his mother on his birthday. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself in a different timeline where she lives. Not only that, but Gotham is not the city he remembers. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, but instead his father Thomas. It seems like it wouldn’t be half bad, except there are other ripple effects. The Amazons and Atlantis are at war. There’s no Superman, and Cyborg works for the government. It’s a mess, and Barry needs to get back to his own time to make sure this doesn’t happen there. But there’s a trick to it, and it’s going to make him realize how important his own actions in his world are.

So, if you didn’t catch it, the whole Thomas Wayne as Batman was the thing that caught my attention. It was a very different Batman, and one that was sort of weird for me to adjust to. Yet it was very fascinating to see how the change, of Bruce dying instead of his parents, led to his father taking up the same mantel that his son would have. And then to counter that, we have a very different Joker. I do wish we had gotten to see Martha Wayne as the Joker in full rather than the little scene that showed who she was going to become after losing Bruce. I’d rather have that confrontation than the little fight with Yo-Yo. But the differences between Thomas and Bruce were cool to see and surprise Barry with, and I was all tearful at the end with what happened there too between them.

I also thought the war was very poorly explained. I mean, I followed along with it, but there was a certain level of random involved too. It also seemed really contradictory to Wonder Woman’s and Arthur’s characters as we know them. I mean, half the point of the Amazons living on their island is they are no longer going to be involved in the world of Man, and suddenly they are conquering Europe? And Atlantis was supposed to be a secret, even from the Amazons, so that even further makes no sense. And as for the affair? Just…ewww. This is probably something that the comics had the time to explain well, but the movie didn’t and it was rushed as a result.

Character-wise, there was a lot to cover and very little time to do it. It left a lot of things feeling rushed, as they try to show what this world did to all the characters but struggled to keep the story going at a good pace. Thomas, Cyborg, and Flash were the ones who really got the chance to show who they were. Everyone else was cardboard flat, and we could have done less with them. It might have involved restructuring or changing the comic book story, but since there was a time issue, focus was obviously desperately needed. Or maybe even dividing the movie into two parts, though that would make selling it more difficult. Either way, something was needed. I also felt like the reason why Flash couldn’t enter the speed force was pretty obvious as far as the source of the differences, despite them trying to cover it up and explain it as something else.

There was one thing that was shown well, and that was the world-building. Even if it was bloated with characters, the differences in the time streams were both obvious and organic. Chains of events led to the differences, a rippling effect of one thing being off. I like that when they went to save Superman, he was the buff farmboy we were expecting but a scared young man who was under developed due to lack of time outside of his containment. Batman was older and it showed, as was the amusing way they went with what happened to the Wayne fortune. Again, the war was poorly explained, but the effects it had on the world were well shown, even down to Cyborg’s enhancements. I get why they wanted to show everything, because it is all very interesting to look at and see what small changes can cause.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and it actually helped me appreciate the Flash more. He has never been my favorite DC hero (which admittedly, I deal with Wally West more than Barry), but this helped me appreciate him a little more. It also added a new layer to my love of all things Batman, which really didn’t need the feeding.


Review: Barbie Movies

Specifically, I am talking about what are referred to as Season 2 through 4 of Barbie movies on Wikipedia (I wasn’t born when Season 1 happened).

This may seem like something ridiculous for me to be watching as an adult, but believe it or not there are a lot of us who grew up with Barbie who enjoy watching the films if only to see what they’ve gone done did now. And to be honest, the evolution itself is pretty entertaining, and I like where it is going. For direct-to-home movies, the animation is never that bad for the time periods it is being produced in, and honestly I feel like while some of the story elements are goofy, the movies show how the brand is continuing to grow and try to not only appeal to girls, but help them find their voices and confidence.

The second “season” of films show their age the most–these films started coming out in 2001, when CGI animation was still figuring itself out. It did however set the tone as different from the prior two films by being in a different style. Most of these early movies, done from 2001-2009, were based either off of fairy tales or ballets, with a few originals thrown in that matched the theming of the mystical and fantasy elements. Even if the stories themselves are familiar, the writers didn’t approach them the same way and really worked to give the Barbie character agency rather than being the end goal like most fairy tale heroines are.

Examples include Rapunzel, where rather than always staying in the castle, she finds her way in and out of the tower on her own. One of the original stories, The Magic of Pegasus, has a princess go out to rescue her sister, herself, and other princesses. If anything the boy who comes along serves the role girls usually are relegated to–the practical one who only serves to help the hero. Even the rendition of The Three Musketeers works hard to show that these girls can be feminine and powerful at the same time. (Okay, I am a sucker for war fans, what can I say?)

The third season (2010-2015) is where they started reaching out to modern stories as well, almost entirely original with some being in fairy tale settings but with modern elements. This is where they really had fun with what they could come up with. While some sort of irked me for being rather shallow, such as A Fairy Secret, I did like this idea of there being a greater world that they were playing with in some of the films and others I thought really played around with traditional roles and made them fresher. The Pearl Princess was amusing with the fact that the main character used her love of dress up to find a good job that would suit her, and the traditional dork character was a hero in his own right.

There was also more variation in Barbie’s personality depending on the movie. She had definitive flaws, skills, and overall wasn’t nearly as grating as normal. For example, Kristen from The Pink Shoes was a talented dancer…she just couldn’t stick to the choreography, a flightiness to her personality rather than there being something necessarily wrong with other people’s opinions. While the end result is Kristen still getting to be a star ballerina, it isn’t for a traditional role with traditional choreography she would have to learn, but rather an original production that she would have a voice in. Similarly, Alexa in The Secret Door is shy and lacks confidence in herself. The movie is about helping her find out that she can do what her duties require of her as a princess, without calling her wrong for feeling shy sometimes.

The new fourth season (2016-Present) hasn’t had much going on so far, but it’s showing that they are going even farther out of their comfort zone (to my approval) and into some elements that really need more girl representation. It’s a fact that when it comes to things like space adventures, spy thrillers, and even video games, that male characters are usually the hero, and the girls are either the goal or they are the damsel in distress still. Even Bond Girls aren’t considered as good at their job as the male leads. But the Barbie movies are taking what they did with season two and applying them to these genres. In particular, I loved Starlight Adventures for what it was–middle-aged power hungry man had to get smacked down by a young woman who had this thing called environmental conscientiousness and morals. One of the upcoming movies is also centered around video games, which I am all for.

If you think Barbie movies are for little girls only, you are sadly mistaken. They aren’t too bad to watch on a lark on your own, nothing worse than a Disney movie, except these have the emphasis on girl-power where it belongs. The animation is increasing in quality as they go, and the stories are amusing. Give them a shot before you completely write them off, since there are plenty to choose from.


Review: Boycotts and Barflies

…Okay, some background. I read this story when it was still a fanfic, specifically Twilight fanfic back when I thought the books were silly fluff reading for the age demographic that I still technically was in (a.k.a. before the train wreck that is the last book) and I loved it for what it was. Now that it’s original… Well, I’ll get to that. But now you know there’s history.

Bella Swan Grace Parks and her three friends are sick of endless dates with men who don’t meet their standards. Their solution? A boy boycott, for six weeks until the New Year. Well sort of, they are still allowed to flirt and go on group dates (so the bet is sort of pointless). It’s all in good fun, until Grace meets Edward Michael Andris and his friends meet hers. Surprisingly, the boys are also on a bet of their own–this time to meet “nice girls” and no longer allowed to date the girls they meet while bartending, casually referred to as barflies. Hijinks ensue as everyone remains determined to win the bet…or are they?

Okay, so romance novel: likelihood of some of this happening is non-existent. It’s merely a tool to set the two main protagonists against each other so they have conflicting goals. And between it and family interference, it actually works for…most of the book. She even had a really good idea for the bet exploding in everyone’s faces. The problem that no one caught in the fic’s transition to real publication, is that the ending just sort of…coasts. The conflict at the end where we find out not only what the boys have been up to but supposedly Grace’s two best friends just blows over in favor of a romantic night out. There’s no satisfaction with that. These girls lied to her, the boys lied to her… It shouldn’t end that easily, even if it was supposedly to help Grace realize her own worth.

Speaking of self worth, there are some good points and there are some bad points to characters in this book. On one hand, the dialogue and the banter between characters is hysterical. I’m not completely sold that the ages fit the dialogue, but I am willing to hand wave it because it is funny. And there is good chemistry between all of the characters, and delaying any actual sex scenes means it avoids the trap of being so heavy with them that it’s uncomfortable to read. I even appreciate the fact that the fact most singles can’t afford to live by themselves is acknowledged, so unlike most romance novels finding places to be together is a real challenge.

On the other hand… A lot of the issues with the Twilight characters carried over, even with the filing off of the serial numbers. The friends aren’t fleshed out enough or given enough flaws to make sense. The fact Grace is so insecure isn’t ever really explained well besides pretty fish in a small pond that got transplanted and hasn’t moved on yet. (BTW, this sort of insecurity is common in teenagers, but we tend to grow out of it in our twenties.) And maybe this is me knowing the source material like I do, but I don’t think the serial numbers were filed off enough. They tried, I give her credit for trying, but I could still see what it once was. Considering how she had set up the fic, it was hard to take it to original fiction and leave it still intact enough for her fanfiction audience while being separate enough that no one saw the original fandom unless they were looking.

The thing that I think irks me the most is the way the guys treat the girls they pick up at the bars and the way they are written. It’s painful and horrible disrespectful to women in general. It was sort of nudged at being inappropriate by the fact the girls were sort-of-sort-of-not barflies by definition and the guys were forced to re-evaluate it, but still. The term itself bothered me. As did the way these girls treated the boys they went out with. It’s one thing to find the date boring, but really, a dinner date is hard to be entertaining if you aren’t an entertainer by nature. One of the girls is admittedly shallow and won’t go on a date with someone who isn’t high on her personal taste list. Both sides were equally painful, at least from my standpoint, and really had the potential to cause a lot of hurt feelings and didn’t because the author didn’t want them to.

Much like its source material, Boycotts and Barflies ranks as a good lighthearted read that is amusing as long as you don’t look at it too closely. It suffers some from being prior fanfiction that transitioned over to original fanfiction, but it did so to hold on to its humor. The more you reread it, the more it starts to wear, so maybe save it as a once every three or four years thing.