Archive for September, 2018

This is Halloween 2018

September 29, 2018

As summer ends, the shadows begin to creep again as darkness gains power. A chill wind starts to blow through the streets and people start to think about jackets in a futile attempt to battle the cold. Yes, winter is coming but before it can a different sort of cold is coming. This has nothing to do with temperature but everything to do with spirits and impending doom. The leaves are the first to fall and then the insects start to disappear. We start to stay inside a little more. The time is just right for frights.

On Monday, October starts and here on this blog that means the start of Halloween. In my life, I embrace Halloween year round but I truly celebrate it during the entire month of October. That means the blog gets very Halloween-centric in two days. As of this writing I am still working out a proper schedule based on availability and my own desires but so far the schedule is working out like last year. I was a little concerned about doing so much but it feels so effortless as I get more and more excited.

There will be 13 movie reviews going up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  These movie reviews are mostly spoiler free and are as much about my thoughts and experiences as they are about the actual movies. So far, I am reviewing movies that I genuinely enjoyed so I do not want to spoil them for you.

On Thursdays, I will be doing my regular Media Update feature but all of the movies or shows I am reviewing will be Halloween-themed somehow. As usual, these will be extremely non-spoilery and are just my first impressions on whether or not I would recommend them. Each Thursday, I will also post the schedule for the next week so you know what to expect each day.

On Saturdays, I will be continuing my fan fiction/alternate universe story series Aftershocks. This third installment will be titled Playthings which may give you some indication as to this chapter’s villains and references. The series is built on me often not mentioning characters names especially not trademarks because I find that fun to do. Granted, I feel like the references are easy to guess except maybe the villain of Chapter 1 and a cameo in Chapter 3.

On Halloween itself, I will be reviewing two movies that have some sort of connection with each other.

Halloween is important to me and this is a challenge I dreamed up and have let evolve over the years. I have gotten better at movie selection and overall production so I am excited to see what this year brings.

The first week’s schedule is as follows:

Monday October 1 – The Final Girls (2015)

Wednesday October 3 – The Neon Demon (2016)

Thursday October 4 – Media Update on Stephen King stuff

Friday October 5 – The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Saturday October 6 – Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 1

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Media Update 9/27/18

September 27, 2018


Rampage

I hung out in quite a few arcades in my youth and, frankly, I would visit one if they still existed in Baltimore. One of the cabinets that first drew my attention was Rampage, a game where you play as giant monsters and you just wreck everything. When we got the game on NES, my brothers and I played it a lot more. It became one of those iconic games that were just fun to zone out and play. Only once did we “win” the game. When I heard that the Rock was making a live-action movie based on the game, I was surprisingly all in. The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson, makes everything better and there looked like there was a lot of big monster action. There was plenty of great fun as a giant gorilla, a giant crocodile, and a giant wolf literally rampaged across the USA. The Rock was great as usual and carried the movie on his back as usual. I especially really believed his relationship with George the gorilla. What I had not expected was that there would be other fun performances in the movie. Joe Manganiello has a small part but it is always good to see him. Jeffrey Dean Morgan played a charismatic yet complex character who always kept me guessing. Naomie Harris proved herself to be a good partner for The Rock, balancing out some of his sillier moments. On the other end of the spectrum, Malin Akerman was a delightfully over the top villain who stole every scene she was in. This movie was not anything to write home about but I had a lot of fun watching it and they left it open for a sequel that I would be open to. As of today, it is the highest reviewed video game movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes (at 51%). I definitely recommend it but sit back and watch the silliness.


The Dragon Prince

When I first saw the artwork for this series, I immediately liked what I saw but I was not sure if it was a video game or a show. Thankfully, it is a show. I immediately felt an Avatar: The Last Airbender feel to the show from the first few minutes. This makes sense as the head writer and director from that show, Aaron Ehasz, created this show. Like that show, drama and humor are carefully mixed together in a very natural but entertaining way. The world building really impressed me as the show went on and more details were revealed. It felt like a blend of a good video game and a good fantasy novel series. Each new detail was really cool to learn and figure out how it fits into the narrative. The art direction is really exciting and I was pretty inspired by a lot of the choices. The gist of the series is that it mostly involves a conflict between humans and elves. The humans have been confined to their part of the continent because they invented dark magic. I really liked the magic system they laid out and I am excited to see more of the system and its implications revealed. I also really liked the characters as none of them are perfect paragons and I am excited to see them attempt character arcs. I definitely recommend this one as well.


Tremors: Cold Day in Hell

I have been with the Tremors franchise since the beginning. The first movie was a fresh look at monster movies and kind of reinvented characterization usually used in that subgenre. This is now the sixth movie and I have certainly enjoyed the ride. Kevin Bacon dropped off after the first film but all of the movies have the fun Michael Gross as hunter/prepper Burt Gummer. The character has so much momentum six movies in. He feels like the Tremors franchise version of Fin Shepard in that he is a somewhat ordinary guy who is really good at killing the monster in the title. Last time he hunted graboids in Africa but this time he is summoned to the Canadian Arctic to deal with them. As with the previous movie, he brings along Jamie Kennedy as his sidekick/son. Normally, Jamie Kennedy is too annoying but he is alright in this. Jamie-Lee Money is introduced as the daughter of Kevin Bacon’s character from the first movie and she becomes part of the next generation of monster hunters. Tanya Van Graan plays a female scientist who starts out skeptical but quickly helps lead the crew in their adventure. The rest of the cast is filled with quirky character actors who have their charm. The action scenes live up to the craziness that the franchise has always held. I recommend it as it felt better than the last one.

Weekly Music:
The Stunners – We Got It

Judas Priest – No Surrender

The Breeders – Cannonball

Christine and the Queens – Girlfriend

Kumiho – Loverman

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Giant Monsters”
– I kept watching The Blacklist Season 5
– I kept watching Iron Fist Season 2
– I kept watching Bojack Horseman Season 5
– I kept watching Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 2
– I am caught up on Critical Role again

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: 30 Day Challenge Pt. 4

September 24, 2018

WILPW

12 – Favorite PPV or Event of All Time


Wrestlemania XXX

This pay per view happened as I was kind of getting back into WWE and pro-wrestling in general. I had watched the occasional Raw but I had never really bought any pay per views in the past. When I was little, I watched them at my friend’s house or I watched them on VHS later. This was the first pay per view after the dawn of the WWE Network The main centerpiece was the story that had drawn me back into the game. Daniel Bryan has always been one of my favorite performers. His in-ring skills are amazing and he has such heart and fire that it is difficult for anybody to deny him. And yet, WWE seemed to hold him down until the build-up of this pay per view where they could not hold him back anymore. In this event, he beat Triple H in a one on one bout that earned him a ticket to a triple threat for the heavyweight title against Batista and Randy Orton. Defying all odds, Bryan defeated everyone and I was buzzing about that story for months afterward. It also had a six-man tag featuring the Shield who turned face for the first time, allowing us to cheer them. The Undertaker’s legendary 21 – 0 Wrestlemania streak was finally broken by Brock Lesnar in a move that eventually helped both of their stories. Bray Wyatt and John Cena had a solid match with plenty of fun signature moments from both of them. Finally, AJ Lee won a Diva’s battle royal in what was probably the first death knell of the Diva’s division.


Survivor Series 2001

Alright hold on, this is a very underrated event in my opinion and it is my runner-up. This was the (merciful) end to the Invasion angle where the Alliance finally fell to the WWF. The pay per view settled or unified every title (except for the Hardcore title). While the story was kind of lame throughout the angle, I felt they were able to distill the best elements that were left to them in this pay per view. Also, it has some of the most solid actual wrestling of the era. The main match is Team WWF (Chris Jericho, Big Show, Kane, The Rock and The Undertaker) vs. The Alliance (Booker T, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Shane McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin). That match is chock full of great talent and they all worked so well with each other. Also, I love the drama of that match type. Two of the best tag teams in the game (The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz) had a great match in a steel cage. At the time, I thought that Trish Stratus was the pinnacle of women’s wrestling. Two old friends, Edge and Test, faced off. William Regal is so underrated and he had a great match against Tajiri. It was also past the criminally short matches of the Attitude era.

13 – Favorite Finisher


Yes! Lock (Daniel Bryan)

In the past, it felt like submission holds were often used to ratchet up the tension in a match instead of ending the match. With the rising popularity of MMA and the concept of ‘tapping out’, submissions became more of a thing. Nobody makes submissions as exciting as Daniel Bryan. The move has caused competitors of all sizes to submit and has won him the WWE Heavyweight title. It was previously called the LeBell Lock named after Gene LeBell and it is a legitimately painful submission. Eventually, it was renamed a couple of times to reflect the leader of Yes! movement. Bryan looks vicious while he has an opponent locked up and his transitions into are beautiful. It is much better than his previous submission Cattle Mutilation which was harder to get into. The best and most exciting finishers can be hit at any time, causing a surprise in the match that leads to a satisfying conclusion. On top of that, you get the imagery of the opponent in anguish as Bryan vigorously nods his head as if telling them to go ahead and tap.


Sweet Chin Music (Shawn Michaels)

My runner-up comes from back before a time when half of the WWE roster started to use a superkick as a signature move. Shawn Michaels had two variations of the move. The most famous is that Shawn would knock the opponent down and then he would stomp the mat as he ‘tuned up the band’ and, as his opponent got to their feet, he would kick them in the face. The other version was the ‘outta nowhere’ version where he would just kick his opponent in the face. The move worked whether Shawn was a face or a heel and it never failed to get me excited. As a heel, Shawn would use the move as a vicious knockout blow while his opponents were already defeated. As a face, it was a move that he would struggle to hit that would win the match at the last moment against a tougher opponent. The unpredictable nature of the move made it great for creating dramatic moments either on purpose or by mistake. One of the most notable uses is his famous “I Love You” moment with Ric Flair which made him look like an executioner.

Also, off the top of my head, I love the Helluva Kick, The Stomp, Kinshasa, The Rock Bottom, The Stone Cold Stunner, and Bed of Roses.

Top 11 Favorite Disney Villains Pt. 1

September 22, 2018

Top 11

Obviously, I am adding a SPOILER WARNING here but for eleven movies that you should have seen by now. There are still a few Disney animated films that I have not seen but these are my favorite based on how important I think they are but mostly how much I enjoyed them. Some, like the Evil Queen and Malificent, have become more iconic to me in later materials but this is based solely on their appearances in Disney films.

11 Syndrome (The Incredibles 2004)

Syndrome did not start out as a villain. He used to just be Buddy Pine, a boy who was a huge fan of Mr. Incredible. He geeked out over his favorite superhero but his fandom started to become unhealthy when he started to take it farther. He tried to convince Mr. Incredible to accept him as a sidekick and in the process, endangers himself, others, and causes trouble for Mr. Incredible. As a result, Incredible gets frustrated and has Buddy taken away from the police and rejects him. As a result, Buddy grows resentful and bitter and changes into the super villain Syndrome. Since he could not become a hero, he decides to kill all heroes so that he can finally be the only hero. Whether intentionally or not, Syndrome represents the worst parts of fandom. First, he becomes such a fan that he tries to insert himself in Mr. Incredible’s life and career. He is rightly rejected because his sudden appearance causes complications. Second, he becomes bitter by being rejected instead of just going off and doing his own thing. He could have forged himself as an impressive hero and earned respect as Mr. Incredible’s peer eventually. Third, he grows to hate the thing he loved because it is not how he envisioned it. He is played with annoying perfection by Jason Lee as a sociopathic, toxic young man.


10 Ernesto de La Cruz (Coco 2017)

Ernesto was a famous musician in Mexico who became an Elvis-level celebrity, with elaborate stage shows, costumes, and backup singers. He died in a stage accident and he is still mourned and practically worshiped at least by the people of his hometown of St. Cecilia and probably the rest of Mexico. However, like a lot of celebrities, the public does not know the whole story. In truth, Ernesto does have a lot of talent for performing but had little imagination. He dreamed to become a celebrity for the fame and fortune and not at all for the love of music. Fortunately for him, he was able to convince his friend Hector to join him on the road to stardom. Hector was truly gifted and was able to write many beautiful and popular songs. When a homesick Hector wanted to go back home, Ernesto killed him and took his songbook for his own. This is especially despicable because, if Ernesto asked, Hector might have given him permission to play his songs as Hector had given up on being a star. In the afterlife, Ernesto remains a big celebrity but he still only plays the songs Hector wrote. When he meets Miguel, Hector’s great-great-grandson, he sees another Hector he can exploit. However, when Miguel proves as difficult as his ancestor, he tries to take him out too. Ernesto is arrogant and uncaring but deep inside he is also afraid of his secret getting out, desperate for fame, and jealous of men like Hector. He is willing to ruin or kill anybody who opposes him and thinks nothing of exploiting the people around him. He is played by Benjamin Bratt with Antonio Sol doing the singing. His performances makes him smarmy but it makes you believe that he could convince others to love him.


9 Scar (Lion King 1994)

Scar is the brother to Mufasa, the ruler of the Pride Lands which is an area around Pride Rock which is somewhere in the African wilderness. They both belong to a pride of lions who have passed down the title of ‘king’ from father to son for generations. In the event that his brother were to die, he would become king but that was changed when Mufasa and He observed the birth and early childhood of his brother’s son Simba with obvious displeasure. Scar always wanted to be king and resented that his brother became the monarch of the area. He was forced to resort to the lesser role of adviser to the king. This is a role he is obviously not satisfied with. He befriends some of the scavengers of the land and stages a coup by murdering his brother and convincing his nephew that it was his fault. In Simba’s absence, Scar rules over the Pride Lands as a cruel dictator instead of the benevolent monarch that his brother was. Scar is largely based on Claudius from the play Hamlet who envied his brother’s life and killed him and took it over. Scar is much like any bad bureaucrat who believes they know what is best but do not actually have any good ideas. Scar and his cronies over hunt the Pride Lands and the environment suffers and a once thriving area suffers. Scar holds no illusions that he is what the Pride Lands need. He is gleeful about being cruel to get what he wants and uses fear to control his subjects. Jeremy Irons is really good at being unapologetically evil and slimy which became kind of a theme for his career around that time.

8 Gaston (Beauty and the Beast 1991)

Gaston is the most handsome alpha male in the small town where the heroine Belle lives with her father. It is never explicitly mentioned but he is a town hunter who provides meat for the town. As a result, he seems to be idle often and he also seems to be independently wealthy as well. He is accompanied by his assistant LeFou who he treats horribly. However, he seems to treat everybody in town pretty horribly.  Gaston gets it into his head that he is the town’s most eligible bachelor, an idea that is reinforced as many women in town pursue him and flirt with him. As the most eligible bachelor, he believes that he deserves Belle as his wife. To get this clear, he believes that he <deserves> Belle as an award for being the most handsome and the strongest guy in town like she is some award. When Belle repeatedly turns him down, he cannot accept it and remains in denial as if it was some sort of game she is playing. Instead, she is not interested because Gaston is a pig and has no chemistry with her because she is a dreamer and an intellectual and he is shallow. When Gaston finds out that Belle might be falling for somebody else, somebody ‘unattractive’, he flips out and lets toxic masculinity completely take over. He tries to blackmail her into marrying him but when that does not work, he decides to kill her potential suitor. When he is defeated in combat, he is granted mercy but he still refuses to believe that he has lost his chance at Belle and attacks only to be accidentally killed by the man he was trying to kill. He is the patriarchy made flesh and he dies, still raging about not being the winner for the first time in his life. He would have lived if he had just accepted that one girl in town did not want to kiss him.


7 Judge Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1996)

Frollo is a judge and minister of justice in Paris, France. He presides over the Palace of Justice and he uses them to both keep the peace and further his personal agenda. Like a lot of the most misguided religious people, Frollo is prejudiced. He believes in a ‘natural order’ but that natural order involves Christianity and nothing else. If you are not Christian, then you are guilty in the eyes of Judge Claude Frollo. Specifically, he has a vendetta against gypsies because they are heathens in his eyes. They flaunt their non-Christian lifestyle and seem to make a mockery of society. In the beginning of the movie, he accidentally kills a gypsy woman and is shamed into adopting her baby. However, her baby grows up with a hunchback and a disfigured face so Frollo treats him like an abomination. Years later and his goal has become to discover the Court of Miracles, the Gypsy sanctuary, and destroy it and murder them all. Yes, this is a Disney film. When a Gypsy girl, Esmerelda, defies him in the middle of the city, it enrages him and his twisted mind fixates on her. He hates what she is but he finds that he also lusts after her and racism and bullshit guilt clash in his head. He pursues her across the city terrorizing, torturing, or murdering anybody who he thinks might be hiding her. When he is questioned by his captain of the guard, he sentences him to death for insubordination. When Esmerelda refuses to sleep with him, he tries to kill her too. When all of this fails, he tries to kill the young man who is supposed to be his son. He only dies because his religious mania makes him see the face of Satan which frightens him into death by falling. He is an unstable man who got further destabilized and twisted by his religion and it ultimately killed him.


6 Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog 2009)

Dr. Facilier is a fortune teller and general voodoo practitioner for hire (also known as a bokor) on the streets of New Orleans. Bokor are usually supposed to serve the loa (or voodoo spirits) with ‘both hands’ meaning they work for good and for evil. However, Facilier apparently was somehow connected with dark loa who are much more proficient in dark magic. So, Facilier became accustomed to being in control of dark powers through his ‘friends from the other side’. Of course, he also seems to be indebted to these loa and trusting in them ultimately proves to be his undoing. While these dark powers may have influenced him into a wicked life, it seems that he did not start off so good anyway. He mentions being descended from royalty but he has obviously fallen on hard times as he tries to swindle tourists and locals on the streets of New Orleans. He has formed a grudge against the wealthy of the Big Easy and actively works against them, seeming to believe he is owed wealth and power. This is a direct contrast with Tiana who works hard for everything she has and is not looking for handouts. He built an infamous reputation around town and is left with the desperate and the ignorant to prey on. He shows that he is very willing to curse or kill to get what he wants and what he wants is to rule New Orleans. Facilier cannot grant himself boons through his magic and so he manipulates others by giving them gifts whether they want them or not. He does not care who gets hurt as long as he satisfies his own desires and pays his debt to his dark masters.

Media Update 9/20/18

September 20, 2018


Mayans MC

I really liked Sons of Anarchy and I realized when this show was about to premier that I had never watched the rest of it. The drama surrounding a club of bikers exposed me to kind of a new culture that I had never really been exposed to. When I lived in New Jersey, bikers from Orange County would drive through every so often and I have also encountered them on the way to West Virginia. However, I never really had much experience with actual bikers. Sons of Anarchy added a Shakespeare flavor to a show about gun-running bikers. So far, Mayans feels even better. The show is about a south California chapter of the Mayans, a biker gang mostly made up of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The show has elements of Sons of Anarchy but it already has conflicts with the FBI, the Cartels, Mexican citizens, and other gangs. The Mexican cartels are the perfect villains as everybody knows how brutal they are in real life. JD Pardo is great as the star of the show, EZ Reyes, a man who is trying to get his life together by any means necessary. Edward James Olmos plays his father, a butcher, who he regularly goes to for advice. Daniel Pino plays the head of a Cartel and is an interesting twist on what you would expect from such a character. The rest of the cast is really great and I am waiting to see who is going to stand out and become more important. The show does not rely at all on the plot of Sons of Anarchy and it definitely stands on its own. I wholeheartedly recommend it.


Boondock Saints

I had heard a lot about this cult classic not long after it came out but I never got a chance to watch it. Back then I did watch the documentary about it called Overnight. That details how much of a jerk the director/writer of the movie is and how quickly a person can firebomb their own success. After watching the movie, that documentary is even more fascinating to me. I say that because it was a lot of fuss over a movie that is not very good. I suppose it is kind of like The Room but for action movies. Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flannery play brothers who are spurred to action by the story of Kitty Genovese and a bar fight with Russian mobsters. They decide to just murder as many gangsters and criminals as they can. They are quirky but mostly uninteresting as characters. They are joined by a bumbling friend David Rocco who is kind of like a character from a bad SNL skit. The highlight of the movie is Willem Dafoe who plays an FBI agent who is absolutely out of his mind. His performance is so nonsensical that it is hard to look away. Without him, the movie would have been bland dialogue (in delightful Irish accents) punctuated by gunfire. However, it felt like each of his scenes was written by a different person. It felt like the movie did not know whether it was serious or a parody and it kind of just happened. I do not recommend it but I am glad to get a cult classic under my belt.


American Vandal

Like most people, I witnessed the explosion of popularity of the podcast Serial and its fresh approach to detailing a criminal investigation and the facts of a case. The crux of that podcast was to present all of the facts and then ask questions. The podcast itself proved nothing definitively but it was eventually enough to gain Adnan a second trial. This mockumentary feels like a loving parody of that style. Much like Serial, this is the story of somebody who was accused of a heinous crime but there are questions about the guilt of the accused. Right off the bat, there are a lot of parallels between the two stories that made me smile. It is enough that I will say that listening to Serial enhances the viewing experience. Instead of a murder, Dylan is accused of spraypainting dicks on every single faculty car at his high school. As the show unfolds, more details are brought to light and each point of data is measured to see if it makes Dylan look innocent or guilty. In the story, the documentary is being made by two members of the AV club who begin to question the established story. The performances of everybody are so good. Everybody plays it with a straight face so the humor comes from situations and more realistic strangeness. More than the humor, I found myself wanting to watch the mystery get solved. I started to pick up clues before the characters saw them and so far it is very satisfying. I definitely recommend it.

 

Music of the Week:
Ariana Grande – God is a Woman

RISE OF THE NORTHSTAR – Here Comes The Boom

Fozzy – Burn Me Out

Twice – What is Love?

YG & Nipsey Hussle – FDT

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Not Quite Within the Law”
– I started watching The Blacklist Season 5
– I started watching Iron Fist Season 2
– I started watching Bojack Horseman Season 5
– I kept watching Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I kept watching The Good Place Season 2
– I started watching The Mae Young Classic 2

The Shield of Tau Pt. 2

September 17, 2018

“You should go back home to Lita,” Numa said. “You have a big day tomorrow.” She relaxed in her seat at the inn her family ran. She always felt safe and at home there.

“She is still doing her weekly component shopping, I think,” Jace said. “It takes forever and she knows how boring it is so she does it with her wizard friends.” He held out the bottle of Deneirian whiskey that he had been drinking from, offering a drink to Numa.

She pushed the bottle away gently and then thought better and took the bottle and set it back down out of Jace’s reach. “I’ll remind you that I’m on duty here and I can’t drink with you,” she said. “Besides, it’s unseemly enough that you are hanging out with a human. I can imagine the talk if you are seen drinking with one.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Jace said that, waving the question away with his hand. “Elves and humans are allowed to talk to one another. Besides, you’re my friend. Your family gave us shelter when the blink dogs came.”

“I remember,” Numa said with a shudder. “That guard shoved you and you and Lita through the door but that other girl didn’t make it.”

“Miza,” Jace said with a shudder. Even five years later it still felt bad saying her name. He was grateful that he had not looked back in the chaos and seen her shredded by the blink dog. It was bad enough hearing it. “The worst day ever.” As soon as he said it, it felt like an understatement.

“The silver lining is that it was the day you met Lita, right?” Numa asked.

“Of course,” Jace said. “It’s also the day that I first swung a weapon and hit an enemy.”

“Which led you to where you will be tomorrow,” Numa said. “The Grand Festival of Battle.”

“Yes,” Jace said. “Tomorrow. The Placements of the Tau. The final step toward my future. In front of the Lord of Tau himself and also everybody I have ever known.”

“You’ll do fine. Where do you think you will be assigned?” Numa asked with a smile. “Hopefully not the border.”

“I have no idea,” Jace said. “I just want to serve. I’ve always wanted to serve. The incursions have started to get worse again.”

“Do you think you might get tapped to investigate those?” Numa asked.

“I’m sure that won’t happen,” he said. “The incursions must be magical in nature and I have no aptitude for magic. I would definitely not mind protecting the city from the invaders.”

“You would be good at it,” she said. “and it would be good to stay close to Lita’s shop.”

“Those are basically the reasons I have for wanting that post,” Jace said with a laugh. “You’ve summed it up nicely.”

“The gift of speech is one of my best skills,” Numa said. “Oh! By the way, I might be able to watch some of your matches.”

“How are you going to manage that?” Jace asked with some surprise. “No offense.” The last was added in quickly.

“No,” Numa said. “I understand what you meant. My family was selected to help with the food for the event so we’re closing down our kitchen for the day.”

“Nice,” Jace said. “I will look for you in the crowd. You can stand with Lita.”

“I’d love to,” Numa said. “I so rarely see her these days since we are both so busy. But you need to go home, Jace. Sleep before your big day. Besides, we need to close for the night soon.”

“I have received your message loud and clear,” Jace said as he stood up. “I will try and spot you tomorrow.”

Numa walked him to the door with a smile. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Your destiny and my snacks.” Which earned her a laugh from Jace before she shut the door on him.

Jace walked down the street, briefly walking along a line of stones to test how drunk he was. He concluded that he was probably fine and he walked home through the cold air. He opened the door of what doubled as he and Lita’s home and her enchanting shop. He paused and sniffed and he could quickly tell that the shop was closed for the day. All he could smell were stale reagents and parchment. As he climbed the stairs to their small apartment, he could hear that Lita was home. He stepped through their front door and closed the door firmly behind himself.

“My husband,” Lita said, coming from the kitchen area. “Welcome home.”

“My wife,” Jace said with a smile. “How was your shopping?”

She shrugged. “It was routine,” she said. “It will be delivered the day after tomorrow. I’m in no hurry since I will have the shop closed tomorrow. I stopped by Marian’s to consult about an upcoming project.”

“And how did that work out?” Jace asked. He slipped his jacket off and hung it up.

“Do you really want to hear about mundane issues about my job instead of talking about your big day tomorrow?” She asked with a sly smile which drew a smile out of him. “Are you that nervous?”

“Yes,” Jace said. “I know how hard I’ve trained but I don’t know what I will face tomorrow and what I face determines much of the rest of my life.”

“Oh husband,” Lita said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, you will find a way to protect people. That is the fate you’ve chosen. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I will love you and I am proud of you.” She moved over to him and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back happily and pulled her close. When they had both had enough, at least for the time being, they broke the kiss and held hands. He looked down at his wife’s ink-stained hands and smiled. She was so smart and they had grown together so close.

“I love you, Lita,” he said with a smile.

“I love you too, Jace,” she said. “I am happy to spend eternity with you.”

“And I’m happy to spend it with you,” Jace said. “Shall we go to bed?”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Lita said. “Tomorrow is going to be a full day.”

In the Shanti Desert Pt. 2

September 15, 2018

Saara woke up slowly and she felt a bit like she had when she had fallen off a second story balcony during her second heist. She felt even worse when she contrasted that happy memory of freedom with her current predicament. She was laying on her back and she could see a stone ceiling above her. A young man who had been silent so far knelt down and pressed a hand against her shoulder and the pain lessened a bit and she felt like she could move again. She started to sit up and the young man gently pushed against her shoulder and prevented her from sitting up.

“I think he wants you to take it easy,” Arana said. “I have a feeling that he’s right. You passed out pretty hard.”

“Where are we?” Saara asked.

“After you passed out, I was able to create a magical shelter for us and we dragged you in here,” Arana said. “We’re on another plane. A sort of pocket plane.”

“Wow,” Saara said and she was genuinely impressed. She looked up into the eyes of the young man who was watching her intently. “And who are you?”

“He doesn’t actually talk,” Arana said. “We’re not even sure he can. His name is Adir and we hired him out of the Temple of the Winged Lady. He’s a great healer.” Adir nodded and smiled at that. He took her hands in his and gently helped her to sit up. Her head spun briefly but then she was alright.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” Saara said.

“As far as I can tell,” Arana said. “You held that protective spell longer than you should have and it drained a bit of your lifeforce. You have to be more careful.”

“Why are you being so nice?” Saara asked. Adir handed her a small clay cup full of liquid. She sniffed it and concluded that it was water. She took a big sip and she was proven right.

Arana shrugged. “For better or for worse, we’re on the same team now,” she said. “Also, you did kind of save our lives.”

“Where is everybody else?” Saara asked. She looked around and saw some of the group’s supplies but no camels or carts. There were a few boxes stacked near a door. There were rugs layered all over the floor and several bedrolls laid out. It was like a camp but the three of them were alone. She felt a little vulnerable all of a sudden.

“They’re out scouting for possible leads on the treasure,” Arana said. “Don’t worry, we’re safe in here. You have to have permission to enter my mansion. I’m not sure if any power on the material plane could force its way past that rule.”

Almost as if on cue, a large person pushed open the door, accompanied by wind and sand and then firmly shut the door behind themselves. Their face and much of their upper body were wrapped in cloth. Saara instinctively tried to gather her magic but it hurt so badly that her vision went dark for a moment. Adir held onto her hand to calm and steady her.

“Relax,” Arana said. “Like I said, they have to have permission and he has permission.”

“Who?” Saara managed to ask, her everything still hurting.

The man pulled the cloth wrappings away to reveal a simple red face mask. However, this caused Saara to instinctively flinch again. The Red Faces were known throughout Kofrain as the most brutal and efficient of law enforcers. They were rightly feared by the guilty and the innocent alike. The man slipped the mask off, revealing a rugged yet handsome face and a casual smile only partially obscured by facial hair.

“I am Sabri and I am the boss here,” the man said. “I bought your contract and I am sorry that we have not met until now.” He walked over and extended his hand and Saara shook it gently, she could tell he was strong. Instead of watching his face, she found that her gaze was drawn to the red mask hanging from his belt. “Ah, it is a little scary. A relic from a past life. I have changed my ways since then but the mask’s reputation is hard to pass up. It saves me so much time in negotiations especially.”

“It is nice to meet you,” Saara said. “I suppose.”

“How is your patient doing, Adir?” Sabri asked. “The workers in this room are the most versatile and useful that I currently have. We need to protect my investments.”

Adir gave Sabri a thumbs up signal but then qualified it by waving his hand in a ‘so-so’ movement which kind of made Saara nervous. Adir shot her a brief reassuring smile and a calming gesture.

“Let me guess, does she only need rest then?” Sabri asked.

Adir nodded in response.

“How many nights?” Sabri asked, his eyes narrowing.

Adir held up only one finger which made Sabri smile and nod.

“Excellent,” Sabri said. “You saved our lives and you won’t even delay our mission. Soon my men will locate the first marker that will lead us to the ruins that I found the last time I was out here. It can’t be far away now.”

“Then what?” Saara asked and Arana gave her a sharp look. Saara did not really care, she was already an indentured servant, there was not much to lose and Sabri seemed nice enough.

“Then you and my other three acquisitions help me get through the ruins to see if we can’t find any treasure,” Sabri said.

Saara nodded but then paused and counted on her fingers. “There’s only three of us here. Well, unless you’re counting yourself as an ‘acquisition’.

“There are five people in this room,” Sabri said and laughed softly when Saara looked confused. “I suppose it is safe to reveal our final participant.” He walked over to the pile of crates and pulled three keys from around his neck. He unlocked three locks on one of the crates and opened it.

“Oh, is it time for me to come out?” A voice from inside the crate said. “I was just about to fall asleep again, your accommodations were just so thoughtful.”

Media Update 9/13/18

September 13, 2018


Countdown

On a whim, I decided to watch this movie over Labor Day Weekend because it was the weekend of All-In and Dolph Ziggler is big on Raw again. For those who don’t know, “Dolph Ziggler” is the stage name of Nick Nemeth. He has been part of the World Wrestling Entertainment machine for at least a decade now. I knew that he had done some stand up comedy on the side so I wanted to see what his acting was like away from the ring. Turns out it is actually pretty good. The movie is about a rogue cop (Nemeth) who is about to be fired for being a loose cannon cop when he is drawn into an extortion plot involving a kid strapped with explosives. So this time it’s personal. Literally. He is in a race to find the boy and save him from the explosives all the while being opposed by his fellow cops and Russian criminals. Along the way, there is an action sequence and chase sequence in the backstage of a WWE show so we get great cameos from stars like The New Day, The Usos, Brock Lesnar, and Rusev. Also, the police captain is played by new Mayor of Knox County Glenn Jacobs (aka Kane) who is imposing but not the greatest actor. Oh well. Ziggler is joined by Katharine Isabelle, a tough internal affairs cop who is forced to tag along in order to save the kid. The movie is actually pretty tense and, although it is cheesy, it was a lot of fun to watch. Give it a shot and just relax and watch it.


Brick Mansions

I have previously expressed how much I like Luc Besson movies both as a writer and a director. Even his worst movies are more entertaining than most movies and he is really good at building strange and exciting worlds. This one is based on one of his earliest movies (which I have not seen) but it really captured my imagination. It has probably the most likely and believable future world that I have ever seen. The setting is called Brick Mansions, an area of Detroit that was built for newly rich citizens. However, a financial collapse happened and the area was abandoned and taken over by squatters and criminals. Eventually, Detroit just walled that neighborhood in and no longer provided it with law enforcement or emergency services. The movie is basically just a buddy cop film between Paul Walker and David Belle and an excuse to watch them engage in gunplay and parkour. In fact, David Belle’s parkour is both a plot point and a running joke. They are up against a gangster played by the RZA at his most charming. What I liked most is that everybody’s motivations in the movie make sense and they all make believable choices. It is a fun throwaway action film with a pleasant plot and I definitely recommend it.


Hitman

I never played any of the Hitman games so I am not really aware of how much plot they contain. In the movie, Timothy Oliphant plays a member of an elite group of assassins who are raised from childhood to be the best at combat. I have a few issues with the aesthetics of these “master assassins” who are all bald and have barcodes tattooed onto the back of their heads but I guess I need to take that up with the video game franchise. They did the best they could with this movie and it shows. I was prepared to just enjoy the action and hate everything else but I was wrong. One of the best decisions is how they modeled the movie on the style of Luc Besson. I definitely got some Leon vibes from the movie in the best ways. Also, casting Timothy Oliphant was a great choice as he has natural charisma that shows even when he is trying to be emotionless. Olga Kurylenko is a relative innocent whose lively demeanor draws more emotion out of Oliphant. Dougray Scott plays an Interpol agent who has been pursuing Oliphant for years and is a fun plot element. Robert Knepper plays a villainous agent who is also chasing Oliphant. It is a fun romp that is basically just an excuse for awesome gunfights and martial arts combat. I also recommend it.

Weekly Music:

Jay Rock – Win

Slipknot – Sulfur

Bebe Rexha – I’m A Mess

Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin – I Like It

Air – La Femme D’Argent

 

Weekly Updates:
– This week’s theme is “Deadly Pairs”
– I started watching Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I kept watching The Good Place Season 2
– I watched more Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 2
– I watched more Disenchantment Season 1
– I went back and watched some Charmed episodes I had missed
– I watched more Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 1

Taldonta Atlas Pt. 2

September 10, 2018

ContinentD

Khull
Orcs 56% Half-Orcs 25% Tieflings 10% Humans 6% Half-Elves 3%

The Kingdom of Khull is a large country full of desert and scrubland near the middle of the Emerald Continent of Taldonta. Since Orcs are almost certain to maintain a constant violent relationship with the other races on the continent, many decided to seize land inhospitable to less rugged races where they formed their own kingdom. This kingdom is undoubtedly ruled by one person, the Warchief, and everybody else is more or less on equal footing. With orcs, the strongest often rules and makes the rules so aside from the Warchief, the most brutal often keep the others in line. Their thoughts are constantly bent on war with their neighbors but it has been a long time since an actual war has taken place. Their southern neighbor is Shera which has built a tall wall all along the border to provide some relief from these vicious creatures as has The Bremid Empire. After its founding, the Kingdom of Khull opened its borders to any goblins, kobolds, tieflings, and even humans who wanted a new home. The newborn alliance worries the rest of Taldonta. The people of Khull have largely given themselves over to the darker gods and have created a religion that leans heavily on blood sacrifice.

Koshain
Humans 46% Half-Elves 14% Tieflings 12%
Elves 10% Half-Orcs 10% Dwarves 4% Halflings 3% Gnomes 1%

Koshain is a fair-sized desert nation ruled over by a King in the most fertile part of the desert, made so by magic. However, the nature of the desert nation’s isolation of urban centers means that local officials have more direct, actual authority over day to day matters. This has led to widespread abuse of power in the past. Examples include using prisoners for dangerous work, heavy taxation, harsh law enforcement, and even renting out prisoners to private interests. As a response, the criminal population is able to depict themselves as rebels. Public opinion is divided on the subject, usually along economic class lines, and the King seems to either not care or actively supports the corruption. There is a nomadic community that travels to stay separate from the government. Treasure hunting is a popular career and past time.  Another interesting tidbit is that the people of Koshain have evolved a fashion that often incorporates face paint and/or masks.  Originally, this was intended to block the harsh sun but it became a sign of status for the upper class and a way to hide identities for other lower classes.

Lavell
Dwarves 54% Goliaths 15% Humans 9% Half-Elves 7%
Elves 5% Gnomes 4% Half-Orcs 3% Halflings 2% Tieflings 1%

Lavell is mostly useless to surface dwellers. Not only is it a very mountainous region, it is also a fairly icy land as well. There are very few settlements on the surface and it is one of the few lands without an elf or human government. Instead, Lavell is ruled over by dwarves who, of course, live underground in massive cities. Because of the cold and barren climate, the other races have been welcomed into the dwarf cities where elves and humans are rarely comfortable. The citizens of the country pride themselves on being hardy and surviving what should have been an inhospitable land. There is very little trade and very little diplomacy especially since their closest neighbors have a difficult time traveling to the city entrances. Technically, Lavell has no central leader and is ruled by the leaders of the cities.

Mekar
Half-Orcs 30% Humans 23% Dwarves 20%
Half-Elves 10% Halflings 7% Elves 5% Tieflings 4% Gnomes 1%

Mekar is not really a country per se. It is a land whose borders were defined by people wanting to avoid and let alone the barbarians, druids, and monks that mostly reside there. This is a completely wild and lawless area but not in an inherently evil way like Khull. Most people who grow up in the region or move there just want to be left alone. Those who venture out of that region are usually seeking new challenges. There are a few monasteries in the mountains of Mekar and several monk traditions originated from there. Many monks issue forth from those monasteries to wander the land either cast out or to put their martial arts skills to good use. Most other residents of Mekar are largely nomadic and hard to pin down. Of course, there is usually no reason to go in and pin them down anyway.

Shera
Humans 46% Half-Elves 24% Elves 10% Dwarves 12%
Half-Orcs 5% Halflings 8% Tieflings 6% Gnomes 3%

Once known as the Kingdom of Shera, this place is mostly farmland, forest, and swamps. That is not to say that it is not civilized, it just lacks the diversity of biomes that Eloria has. Sherans are not completely unlike Elorians. The main difference has been formed by their more recent history. Years ago, the King of Shera decided to forgo all previous treaties and attacked the Kingdom of Eloria in a bid to gain all of the shipping resources of Eloria. As has been stated, that war was interrupted by Vistra’s forces and those forces killed the entire royal family of Shera. Liam III, the King of Eloria, decided not to annex Shera in the absence of their royal family. The grateful Sherans formed a Republic and they are now ruled by a council made up of the Mayors of their cities and various intellectuals. The new government reestablished treaties with all of its neighbors (except for Khull, of course) and work toward a brighter, more peaceful future.

Vedel
Humans 64% Half-Orcs 12% Half-Elves 9% Tieflings 6%
Halflings 5% Elves 3% Dwarves 2% Gnomes 1%

The people of Vedel are very superstitious and fairly resistant to outsiders which is why they erected a barrier around themselves. It is hard for a tourist to get in and it is apparently hard for tourists to get out as few have. The few that have reported on that land have reported a land of castles, put-upon villages, and a sort of gray feeling all over. A land steeped heavily in the feudal system, the people have no power and the nobles and royalty have all the power with extreme prejudice. The division between classes is also very rigid and many commoners could go their whole lives without seeing a single noble or royal. There have been rumors of vicious and exotic monsters within the walls as well.

#AndNew Pt. 1

September 8, 2018

(Non-Pro-Graps fans might need this handy glossary)

Gabriel climbed out of the cab and walked past the crowds entering the arena wearing merch from the show and saw how clearly excited they were. He paused for a moment and looked over his shoulder at the crowd and imagined they were wearing one of his shirts. He had been a pro-wrestler for five years but imagining that stardom never got old. He stepped into an alleyway so he could get around the back of the arena which is where he ran into a security guard at the door. The guy had a clipboard and a stern expression but Gabe watched as several performers he recognized got checked in and the stern face briefly gave way to a smile each time. He adjusted the duffle bag on his shoulder and headed for the door.

“Can I help you?” The guard asked.

“I’m here to, uh, perform,” Gabe said. “I’m on the card tonight.”

“Your name?” The guard asked. He looked skeptical.

“Jason Knight,” Gabe said.

The guard scanned the clipboard and then looked back at Gabe. “I meant your shoot name.”

“Oh,” Gabe said. “It’s Gabriel Thompson.”

The guard checked off something on his clipboard and nodded. “Go on in, sir. Just some friendly advice: there is a dress code.”

Gabe looked embarrassed and nodded. “Thanks for the tip,” he said. “I forgot about that. I’m new.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll hear all about it inside,” the guard said. “Just get into your gear as soon as you can.”

“Thank you,” Gabe said and he stepped inside and started to walk in search for where he was supposed to go. Finally, he saw a guy standing next to a board with papers on it. A few people were starting to crowd around the board. Before he could get a look at the board, the guy waved a hand in his face.

“Hey,” the guy said. “You’re a fresh face. Are you Jason Knight?”

“Yeah,” Gabe said. “Reporting for duty.”

“The name’s Brett Cooley,” the guy said. “I’m in charge of the talent back here.”

Gabe suddenly recognized the guy. “Holy shit, yeah, I recognize you. You’re ‘Diamond’ Rick Cameron. I used to imitate the Diamond Kick in my living room when I was a kid.”

Brett smirked. “Yeah, kid,” he said. “Now everybody’s doing it like it’s a normal move. Are you here to mark out are you here to work?”

“I’m here to work,” Gabe said, pulling himself back together. “Who have I got tonight?”

Brett took a deep breath. “They told you that you were coming in as a single?”

Gabe nodded. “Yeah, they said I was keeping my gimmick.”

“Well, there’s something you need to learn quick up here in the big leagues,” Brett said. “Things change. Shit happens. You’re tagging instead.”

“Oh,” Gabe said and he took a beat to manage his expectations and bounce back. “Who am I tagging with?”

Brett pointed at the board at a sheet of paper which was obviously the booking sheet for the night. It read like a schedule and Gabe scanned the page for his name and unexpectedly found it at the very top. He had thought he would be somewhere in the middle. Then he saw the word Dark next to that match which meant that he was not even going to be on television. Again, he managed his expectations. This was made easier when he saw the name Seth Powers. He had worked in the indies once or twice with Seth and he liked him. They were going up against The Nightmares, Jimmy Cable and Freddy Lang, and that was a good thing too.

“Good luck, kid,” Brett said. “Go get dressed, you’re on first.”

“Thanks,” Gabe said and stuck out his hand for a handshake and Brett smiled and nodded as they shook hands and then Gabe was following the signs to the dressing room.

Things had been moving fast for him. He had enlisted in a wrestling school a little over five years ago. He had broken into the indies a little later and he had performed in high school gyms and indoor soccer arenas. He had paid his dues and eventually he made his way up to bigger crowds until he got invited to a tryout for the big time. The tryout had apparently gone well and here he was making his big debut. Sure, he was in a dark tag match instead of debuting on television but he was ready to continue to pay his dues and get over with the crowd. He shook off the bad vibes of the little bit of a rude awakening and mentally prepared himself to be professional.

He walked into the dressing room and set his bag down and walked around the room and shook everybody’s hand. It was just something you had to do and, in professional wrestling tradition was important. He shook hands with guys he did not recognize, people he was a fan of, and people who he had grown up idolizing. He did it all in a respectful way and tried not to mark out too much. Finally, he came upon The Nightmares and Seth huddled together with legend Ron Castle. Gabe shook their hands and then sat down.

“Good to see you, kid,” Castle said. “We were just talking about the match. What’s your finish?”

“It’s a sitout lifting double underhook facebuster,” Gabe said.

“What a mouthful,” Castle said. The Nightmares chuckled at that and Seth even grinned.

“I’ve been calling it the Knight Driver if that helps,” Gabe said with a smile. He glanced at Seth and then looked back at Castle. “Are we going over?”

“No,” Freddy said. “But I’ll sell that move like a champ. Make you look real good.”

“Thank you,” Gabe said.

“I’ll make the save,” Jimmy said. “Then we’ll move on to you getting ol’ Seth tagged in. I’ll drag you off the apron and put you in the leg slicer on the floor so you can’t get in and make the save for Freddy putting Seth in the crossface.”

“The rest of the match will be called in the ring,” Castle said. “You alright with that?”

“I can handle that,” Gabe said.


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