Looper – a review

That was different.

I often hear that leaving the theatre as a shorthand for “what the what was that?!”

I just saw Looper and I’m having a similar reaction.

The movie stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as a killer (looper) named Joe, Bruce Willis as Joe from the future and Emily Blunt as a mom caught between the two.

Loopers kill men sent back in time. Basically the bad guys of the future dispose of their trouble in the past.

When Joe fails to kill his older self the movie plot is set in motion.

The movie is action packed, but isn’t really an action movie. It has sci-fi niftiness, but tries not to be about the sci-fi.  The director does a lot to try and ground it with scenes set in diners and farmhouses that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1960s.

My biggest issue with the piece is that Joe is mostly a jerk.  Using the word jerk is putting it mildly. And yet the movie expects you to be rooting for him. The main reason to do so is that old Joe is a bigger jerk. Normally I’m cool with unsympathetic leads, but this one rubs me the wrong way.

That aside the picture is pretty cool. The scenes with the two Joes all work. And Gordon Levitt and Emily Blunt have good energy. You’ll walk out of the movie wondering about their choices and whether there were other ones to make. The action, when it does happen, is very nice. Quick and surprising. And you can watch the characters think during the action.

My main goal in seeing this movie was to catch another flick by director Rian Johnson. My brother told me that Johnson thinks of himself first as a director and second as a writer. I’d have guessed the other way around. Still both directing and acting in this movie are darn nifty.

I’m not sure what you think this movie is. But is you can set aside preconceptions, I think you’ll like the experience.

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Wheel of Time Reread finished!

I started in August and finished on Wednesday.

I can say I still like this series and I’m stoked about the final book coming out in January.

I’ll talk about the four eras of books, the strengths and flaws on the series and the items left to resolve in the final instalment.

I see four eras to the series.

First is the original trilogy. Eye of the World, the Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn. These are the greatest books in the series. Each has a conclusive climax and a focus on Rand before others. ( although Rand is not POV for much of TDR, he remains the focus). They could be read as a whole and then put down. Millions of plot threads don’t get resolved, but the core works.

Then comes the next three books. The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, And The Lord of Chaos. The series changes as the main characters all separate at the start of TSR. Even now they’ve never all come together again. Instead of one main plot with side plot, the books now have 2-5 main plots. Rand continues to be the main focus with strong arcs in each book. This is where the world and the scope grows. Many of the coolest elements are explored here: the Aiel, Tel’aran’rhiod, the Ashaman, the split of the White Tower. The Forsaken become a larger influence. The sense that the series is endless starts, but each book is still pretty nifty.

Then books 7-10. Crown of Swords, Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart, and Crossroads of Twilight. The wait between books grew. Many plots are started in COS that remain unfinished until Knife of Dreams. Rand loses the spotlight. Often he still does a major act, but sometimes it comes out of almost nowhere. COS and WH are the better books. COS gets to start all the plots. WH has more Rand and a firm purpose and main plot. But POD and COT are just not good. In both books nothing happens. COT is worse because it recovers the days in WH again and just goes nowhere. Also frustrating is many of the plots hold little interest. Perrin and Elayne and Nynaeve often have adventures that you just can’t care about. Finally the supporting cast grows to dizzying heights. Each plot has about 10 central characters.

Knife of Dreams stands alone. I’d put it in era 2 as far as my enjoyment and construction. The plots in 7-10 all get some closure. A ton happens. It was pretty cool.

Era four is the Sanderson books. It is hard to classify these. Sanderson writes differently than Jordan while trying to maintain plots, themes and characterization. I think he is successful. He greatest flaw is that he doesn’t evoke emotion as well as Jordan. His benefit is having many great scenes to show including long awaited maturation from all three male leads.

The greatest strength of the books is the world building. Tolkien is the only fantasy author with a vision and scope of similar size. Cool elements continue to be introduced throughout. Cultures, magic, history, and geography – a smorgasbord of awesome.

The action is great. Clear, taut and exciting.

The writing and imagery are vivid and evocative. Sometimes it is clunky. Jordan will never be called the best wordsmith but he achieves his purposes well.

Finally, the books satisfy the demands of what I’m looking for in Epic Fantasy without just being derivative. WoT just does fantasy well.

Outside of era 3 the flaws of the series are mainly characterization, some themes, and surprise climaxes. While Jordan has complex character arcs for each character, they move glacially. Worse, he often relies on a short hand of quirks to portray characters rather than their actions and decisions. It is especially visible with the female characters. Finally every character seems to share stubbornness and a complete lack of self-understanding.

Jordan also uses themes of gender roles and lack of communication and trust that often fall flat. The themes themselves are ok, but their constant repetition grows very annoying. You often want to shake the characters and yell, “just talk to each other already!”

In the 3rd era, those flaws are exacerbated by the lack of plot momentum, the giant casts, and as a result nothing but those flaws seem visible.

In books 1-6 and 11 the strengths far outweigh the flaws. In 7 and 9 they balance. In 8 and 10, the flaws seem paramount.

The Sanderson books can’t be judged be the same ruler. He is better at character and plot. His strength is also world building, but it is less obvious in WoT than Sanderson’s own books. He is pretty good at action although not quite Jordan’s equal. SAnderson’s flaw is not creating as great an emotional response.

Ok. Here is the end. Spoilers follow. I’m going to talk about the elements still needing resolution:
– meeting everyone up
– retrieving the Horn
– final conflicts with the Forsaken
– dealing with the Seachan and Mat’s marriage
– the climatic encounter with the Dark One
– answering many outstanding mysteries and prophecies
– resolving Rand’s fate
– other denouement (like the fate of the Aiel and the ultimate fate of the main characters)

There is still a lot to do, but most is now aimed solely at the climax of the series. Oh boy!

Weekly Recap

The Public Speaking course:  It can be rated truly awesome on the scale of awesomeness.Two weeks left.  Sigh.  I’m already more than half-way done.

Friday gaming – I haven’t quite settled into my new character yet.  Sigh.  I don’t quite know his core yet and I’m not sure how he acts in different situations.  Dano keeps running adventures with two separate but parallel tracks.    I like it.  This one had zombies, vampires and big bad magicians.  James had a good moment or two facing down his evil brother.

End of Watch – Decent cop drama.  It is trying too hard to be a great cop drama and that drags it down a bit.  The best part of the movie was a trailer for something called 7 Psychopaths which looked great.  The most curious happening was a parent that brought three kids in to watch the movie.  It was a solidly 14a rated affair with vile language and scenes meant to disturb adults.  The kids were under 10 and to my mind had no business in that theatre.  Think of bringing a kid to Boyz in the Hood or Scarface.

The biggest news this week is how tidy my home is becoming.  Andi has been helping out for four days so far.  The difference it has made in my house is tremendous.  Soon I will not feel same having a guest over.  I won’t feel like a potential candidate to appear on Hoarders.  Yay!

I’m on the final Wheel of Time book now.  I should be finished tomorrow or Wednesday.  Then I have four months to wait until the release of the last book.  I did not time that properly.  🙂

And that is the news that is fit to report.  Watch out for

Weekly Recap

Well.  Well, well.

I spoke about gaming and my course already.  Those were the big highlights last week.

Comics were good.  Stumptown was awesome.

I saw ParaNorman as a movie.  It was not good.  We are in a weird doldrums for movies.  The upcoming Oscar winners are playing at TIFF and the local theatres are showing dreck.  It is the dumping ground you expect January and February to be.  Todd is sad.  This makes Todd speak of himself in the third person.  No one wants that.

Perhaps most exciting Andi has agreed to help me organize my house.  Yay!  She started today and did a lot of work.  Sadly it barely dents the horrid mess I have.  But I’m hoping after this start the next days will make a bigger impact.  I certainly can’t disagree with the progress she has made.

I still have work to do tonight.  Four notes to write.  The physical ones I’ll put off until the morning.  The virtual ones need to go out to my teaching group tonight.  So I need to do those next.

This afternoon and evening has been uncomfortable.  I’m not feeling well at all.  With teaching tomorrow I need to be out of the house for a large portion of the day.  Please, please help me feel better over night!

I was eaten by zombies and other stories

Here are the top moments from our ongoing Dresden Files RPG adventures.  The campaign and system has been pretty exceptional at providing memorable moments.  These might be slanted towards moments I was involved in…

  1. Jean is eaten by zombies – Jean was not the brightest.  When exiting a church he is attacked by zombies.  Had he simply retreated into the church he would have been safe, but instead he took the fight to them with a chainsaw.  5 zombies went in and 2 came out, but they took Jean’s brains with them.  Hah, fooled the zombies.  No nutrition there!
  2. Sam is paralyzed – Jeff loses his temper and control of his magic.  He wields an entire minivan as a giant hammer, but more than the evil beastie (a spectral billy goat) gets clubbed.  Xin and Sam are also underneath the van when it hits.  Xin walks away with bruises, but Sam may never walk again.  Fortunately he can still fly.
  3. The mad bomber what bombs at…and again and again and again – A time travelling attempts to blow up the party several times.  Awesomely he jumps backwards in increments from the future while the party just lives their lives.  Every time the bomber appears he is just a little less blown up than the time before.
  4. We’re gonna need a bigger skidoo… – A giant man-swallowing fish terrorizes a movie set on the frozen surface of a lake.  The climax was like a bigmedium budget motion picture with explosions and flying skidoos and slo-motion.  The anti-cimax as the party tries to collect a grill-able trophy is one of the more gruesome scenes I’ve GM’d.
  5. Freddy couldn’t have had crazier dream logic – Sam goes into the dreamtime to face the evil nightmare faerie leaving his body behind and under guard by the party.  But when a portal opens, Sam’s dreamself steps back into the real world too.  Suddenly there are two of him!
  6. Jean has a sniper rifle – The mad cultist is ready to sacrifice his party guests.  The group is locked out by a reinforced door with only a small window to view the impending ritual.  Fortunately, it turns out Jean carries a military sniper rifle with him in his bag, so the window provides little impediment to ending the threat.
  7. James eats a nurse – James isn’t all bad.  But he isn’t all good either.  An early casualty is a nurse in a hospital during our first or second adventure.
  8. Taking it to the man – If there is an authority figure in Edmonton, the party has gotten them upset.  Most often the police – both the EPS and the RCMP are not big fans.  But they’ve also crossed the supernatural power structures too including their own superiors: Heimdall – Guardian of the Ways, Heinrich – the Winter Wolf, Poppy – the Warden, and, of course, the Premier.
  9. The saga of Ronald Cardinal – the party was there for his beginnings in the early days of Fort Edmonton when he was possessed by a demon.  They were there at the height of his power when he allied with another demon and gained some powerful mystical artifacts.  And they were there at the end although the spoils of the fight were claimed impressively by the Winter Wolf.
  10. Whatever happens next – who knows…

Leadership and labels

I took a course on leadership this week.  Four mdules: leadership philosophies, leadership styles, followership and leadership paradoxes.

I disliked the first day of the course.  There were three reasons.  First I tend to be quiet in new situations and I felt that to be effective in the course I should be more outgoing and so I was annoyed with myself.  Secondly, the facility, while having disabled access was an old converted seminary and the access was skin deep.  Getting around and using the kitchen and washrooms was a challenge.  But the teacher, staff and students were very helpful.  Third, the course involved many activities.  In the first day’s activities I was only able to partially participate.  Partly it was due to my disability and partly because I could not see an effective approach to the problems.  Again, I was annoyed with myself.

The 2nd day of the course was much better.  I was better prepared to deal with all three obstacles.  I participated more and made constructive contributions to the day’s activities.

However, I am deeply conflicted about the course itself.  The two main modules were about identifying your leadership style(s) and the types of followers you have.  I’ve been deeply conditioned to believe that applying labels to myself or others is always a mistake.  A person is always more complex than the set of attributes that are bundled under a label.  But once you have a label for something you tend to stop looking for those other complexities.  In the worst cases you find yourself interacting with the label instead of a person.  When applied to yourself, you can unconsciously limit yourself to options that fit your perception of belonging to your label.

So when we spend to days trying to find the labels that apply to ourselves and those we lead, my first instinct it to just throw the whole thing away.

The information on leadership styles was a bit more nuanced.  The focus there was not to identify your leadership style, but more to identify those ones at which you are weak so that you can further develop them.  The course also emphasized that style is situational and needed to be shifted from task to task.

But the followership was very much label based and I do not see how I will effectively use it.

Meh.

Next week?  Back to the normal grind.  Yay!

ONI Press

Bad Medicine. It is OK

The Sixth Gun. It is quite good.

Courtney Crumrin. It is very good.

Stumptown. It is awesome.

ONI Press is a comic company and the comics above make the majority of their monthly publishing schedule. Stumptown just restarted this week after a long break.

Their only other monthly title is Wasteland. I don’t know how good it is.

It is fairly amazing the quality coming out of that small company.

If I were to stop all but 5 titles, I’d keep Stumptown in that top 5.

I wonder what would make up the rest of that list? Hawkeye certainly. Rachel Rising? Saga? Probably those. I’d be torn on the last one.