Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Fallout 2016

Yet another Holiday season has come and mostly gone, we still have New Years after all. It's been one astoundingly odd year so it's only fitting that my family Christmas was also a bizarre take on classic traditions. Here's the thing, I was one of several family members who had to work a security post this weekend. That meant Friday had to be something of a makeshift Christmas Eve complete with fine eats. Saturday was work and yuletide horror flicks, Sunday was more work accompanied by the antenna TV holiday marathon. And finally Monday served as our proper Christmas with gifts and eggnog.
Oh, and before we get away from the topic of traditions, I finally followed through on something I've wanted to do for a few years. We were watching the Santa Clause Conquers the Martians episode of Mystery Science Theater which is well known for the Patrick Swayze Christmas song. They mention decorating a bar stool and I remembered that I still had one set of lights and some gold pearls on hand. A few minutes work and behold my new Saturday night err (sorry bout the Road House lingo) Christmas thing. Certainly it would've been easier to wrap the chair in lights just like a tree but I decided to do some sort of draping action. Definitely going to keep this up for years to come.

Sad as it may seem, it took me two whole paragraphs to get to the point of this post. I'm actually here to show off all the goodies I received for Christmas. Maybe this is somehow in bad taste given all the need felt in the world today, but if you were looking for socially conscious articles you wouldn't be visiting cosmicsparky to begin with. Honestly, I usually donate some good toys to the various drives, but every time I shopped around this year yielded lame toys at bad prices. For someone who likes to maximize their spending to giving ratio, it didn't work out. Suppose I'll be making some New Years cash donations instead. Alright, let's get on with the gifts.

Probably the most prominent gift as far as future use is concerned came from my sister. She's gotten hooked on Society 6 this year and didn't miss the opportunity to utilize the site for her gift giving. She got me this trow blanket of space sharks with laser eyes. Admittedly this is a pretty fine representation of what's going on in my head most nights but what about the blanket itself? Being winter I'm usually crazy cold going to bed which results in too many sheets and being a sweaty mess in the morning. I was actually able to stay warm and dry using just this one piece of cover, huge win there.

A few days before Christmas I got package in my name, which is never a surprise for me, except this wasn't something I'd ordered. My brother and Sister-in-law got the full line-up of Cowboy Bebop Funko Pops for me. It was a little expected as Funko is something of a shared hobby between him and I. Still; these were the only Pops I got this Christmas so it's a good thing they're fine pieces.

Onto a few smaller goodies. My oldest sister and niece both went with arts and crafts as their gifts. That's where the Unbreakable quote picture frame and Christmas tree dice plate came from. Most of the family doesn't work on crafts for other people so it's a rare occurrence to receive presants like this. It's pretty cool to show off some items entirely unique to my Christmas, so you'll understand if I blow a large raspberry in your direction. Should note the tree plate is also painted on the other side so it can be hung as a decoration.
Got one Star Wars novel, look for that review sometime next month as I have another one to work on first. Also got a new wallet which is probably for the best as my old one was getting funky. This one has a zipper and while I appreciate the approach towards security, the added noise is gonna drive people nuts whenever I obsessively check the contents of my wallet.

More on the entertainment front we have Rise of the Tomb Raider thanks to my other brother. Really looking forward to playing this but I've gotta wrap up Final Fantasy XV first. Guess that makes for some extra incentive to get my butt in gear. Also got the first season of Agent Carter, and Death Wish on blu-ray because no celebration is complete without Bronson.

Lastly there's always one hobby that takes the taco. Last year it was a comical amount of Funko products. This year everybody doubled down on giving me board games. It's a little odd since so few of them like to play with me but who am I to complain? My sister and brother in law gave King of New York, while my mother is responsible for Kanagawa and Android: Mainframe. Those three titles would be enough new gaming goodness to hold me over for a while but there's more. I also participated in the boardgamegeek secret Santa exchange again this year where I actually had a good Santa who gave me Elysium and Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Beyond that, I also picked up a stack of clearance priced expansions from Amazon while doing my Christmas shopping. I'm practically drowning in cardboard chits by this point.

Numbers wise, I didn't receive as much stuff as last year but I'd say there's a healthy spread of practical and impractical gifts in this years haul. No duds or socks so that's a major plus. What I find odd is the utter lack of horror based items. Can't say it's a problem however since I've already got something like 25 movies to cover over the coming Saturdays.

So that was my haul, how about yours? Anything surprising, or maybe even terrible? I always enjoy hearing about the wealth of gifts out there. As for the site, you should see at least one more post before the new year, and then we'll most likely start 2017 with Sentai and Star Wars. I made some pretty good progress this year on multiple fronts despite all the circus antics and dying icons. I have big plans moving forward and I wish you all the best luck in turning 2017 into something worthwhile.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Star Wars Book Club: Smuggler's Run

Boy howdy was it ever a great weekend to be a fan of Star Wars. I'm sure you all know of the massive opening for Rogue One. Even though that film is the hot topic at the moment, and I would really love to talk about it, I don't want to be the guy who drives a topic into the dirt, that's what the rest of the internet is for. Instead I spent my time after the film to finally wrap up the second season of The Clone Wars as well as finish yet another novel. This time we're returning to the Journey to The Force Awakens line that previously brought us the abysmal Weapon of a Jedi. Will this installment fair any better? Let's find out.

Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka is the tale of what Han Solo and Chewbacca do right after the events of A New Hope. Taken alongside Rogue One I was treated to the bread that makes a sandwhich out of the original film. I actually had a little more trust going into this as I've encountered Rucka's work before, and while not always to my style, he at least seems to know his craft.

Right outta the gate I have to give this book a massive compliment for it's pacing. A common complaint of mine towards these new expanded universe novels is how much time they waste getting to the point. Even some of the better paced installments will often take at least one odd detour that slows everything to a crawl. That's not the case at all here. In fact this book almost goes too fast. From beginning to end it stays on point and never wavers from the main plot.

Adding to the increased pace is a story line that almost matters in the larger shceme of things. Taking place immediately after A New Hope, we learn that Han didn't take the opportunity to leave and pay off his debt to Jabba the Hut as originally intended. Instead he's brow beaten into taking a desperate mission for the rebellion when one of their key members is in risk of being captured by the empire. In the process of this mission Han and Chewie are officially labeled as members of the rebel alliance, helping to explain why he's still with the group when Empire Strikes Back begins. I'm still not completely satisfied as to why Han never took a quick chance at paying Jabba and getting at least one monkey off his back. Maybe one day we'll be treated to a story of him failing in that regard.

Another nice element to this tale is it's service as something of a love letter to the Millennium Falcon. As one of the great vehicles in fiction it's comforting to read passages about the smuggler and wookie's love for their ride/home. It reminds me just a bit of the importance of Baby in Supernatural. It's more than just a means of transportation, it's a member of the family.

Something that doesn't work as well this time are the villains. During the mission, Han and Chewie are pursued by an unremarkable quartet of bounty hunters along with an Imperial Intelligence officer by the name of Beck. None of them are all that impressive. Beck has potential but the book is too short to allow for much growth on her part. There is a chance of her appearing again down the line so I guess there's always hope she'll be a proper threat someday.

Similarly to the villains, supporting characters are pretty flat. Whether it's traveling bar owner Delia, or the rebel Ematt whose name I had to look up, he made that much of an impression. Basically this is a straight up Han and Chewie tale with no room for anyone else to have much of a personality. If you're alright with that, the other characters shouldn't pose much of a problem.

Overall there's little holding this one back from being a decent read. It successfully captures the voices of it's leads and provides quick and fun entertainment. The only real issue is the lack of anything more meaningful to the tale. Recall that even the fairly weak Heir to the Jedi had moments of emotional insight for Luke, nothing like that here. None of these events shape the characters. It's just a straightforward adventure. Even so, with one crazy short book, Han Solo has knocked both Luke novels down a notch. Way to go you old pirate. Let's adjust the leader boards accordingly.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
4. Tarkin by James Luceno
5. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
6. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
7. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
8. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

I've already got another book on the way so expect another review shortly. In The meantime I'm really hoping to get some more articles out here and other avenues. I know it feels like I've been a bit absent recently but I just keep getting caught up in other projects. In fact, I recently completed a write up on my experience helping out the Freakshow Film Festival back around Halloween. Check it out if you'd be so kind. I should be back with something before Christmas, so keep your eyes pealed.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dekalog Three, The Sadist Christmas Special Ever

Happy holidays, everybody. I'm finally back after what feel like why too long. Once again I found myself with positively too many things to take care of within any rational amount of time. Most of it is my own fault for taking on too many side projects. Plus there's some extra wasted time thanks the security job having the distinct disadvantage of making me physically ill these past two weeks. I believe it's a reaction to something in my guard shack which means I have to devote some of my down time to fending off illness and finding solutions to stop it from happening. Oh, and did I mention I'm deep in Final Fantasy XV...yeah, like usual I've gotten myself wrapped up in too much at once but I'm starting to get on top of it all.

I suppose being overwhelmed is something of a holiday cliche by this point. Many folks tend to find themselves burred up to their eyeballs with excessive tasks, often impeding their enjoyment of the season. That's a recurring theme in plenty of holiday entertainment, but let's face it, that's usually just trivial stuff. What about when you're having a genuinely crappy holiday? Well that's a theme I want to tackle by talking about possibly the most depressing Christmas special of all time, Dekalog three.

Chances are there's a good many of you with crossed eyes at the moment, wondering what on Earth Dekalog is or how there manages to be multiple of them. Dekalog was a late 80's mini-series for Polish television from acclaimed director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It spanned ten episodes, each a morality tale based loosely on one of the ten commandments and focused on residents of one apartment complex. There's also a mystery man who appears in most episodes as an observer to major events. While most of the praise for this series is well earned, it's not without a few weak points, episode two in particular is something of an artsy fartsy misfire. When the series is on point though, it's stellar and they don't get much better than three. I've been revisiting/finishing the series recently thanks to a nice Blu-Ray release from Criterion, sadly I can't offer up any screen caps from it on my puny laptop. Let's not worry too much about eye candy and just focus on the story.

It's Christmas Eve in Warsaw. The largely catholic populace is in full swing celebration with visits from Santa, midnight mass, all that jazz. Rather fittingly the first line of dialogue is spoken by a drunken man who can't find his home. We're introduced to two seemingly unrelated individuals. Janusz is a family man doing his best to make this a proper holiday. Ewa is a lone woman who pays a melancholy visit to her dementia/Alzheimer suffering aunt. The two people make eye contact during midnight mass offering a big clue towards their shared history.
Turns out the two of them had an affair years ago, before a mystery call to her husband sent the whole thing belly-up. Tonight she claims that same husband has gone missing and she needs Janusz's help in tracking him down. Thus begins a whirlwind tour of a cold and quiet night through Warsaw, as the pair visits morgues, drunk tanks, and the like in search of her husband.

During the long search we get some not so subtle hints that there's something else going on. It seems Ewa wants to keep her ex-lover out all night, but for what purpose exactly? The answer to that is pretty damn brilliant but more important is the onslaught of emotional baggage the two of them huck at each other, especially when they play chicken with a tram car. I mean these people have a hell of a time shaking off that nasty break-up.

It all sounds petty depressing, doesn't it? Believe it or not this ends up as one of the more uplifting entries in the series. Things get dark, that's for certain but by the end it seems as though everyone's a little stronger for the ordeal. That's why I think it sits among some of the top tier Christmas entertainment. Much as we'd like our holidays to be nothing but merriment and joy, there's always a strong chance of things turning to shit. The best seasonal tales reflect that, whether it be a man tormented by spirits and regrets in A Christmas Carol, or a violent hostage situation in Die Hard. Overcoming great challenges either emotional or physical is such a more universal and touching theme than magic babies or flying livestock.

Did I just go way off topic? Yes? Ok, so what I'm getting at is how Dekalog Three may be the perfect Christmas special for anyone having a hard time. There's a harsh reality to the whole feature that's relatable to almost anyone yet the setting of post communism Poland makes for something alien which perks your interest. You can empathize with the flawed characters yet learn by judging their mistakes and foibles.

One of my favorite touches, after the pair has already visited so many grim locations, most recently a drunk tank manned by an abusive official, they end up at the train station where the plot twist will reveal itself. Before that happens they meet a station worker stuck with the shitty duty of working overnight into Christmas morning, but does the situation have her beat down? Heck no, she rides around on her skateboard to stay awake. The sight of a young upbeat individual interacting by two regretful people at the end of a long night really helps to illustrate different ways of coping with a bad holiday.

So yea, if you can manage it, check out at least this episode of the Dekalog, so far it's my favorite with one and five running closely behind, though I recommend those only if you wish to curl up in a ball for a while. It could be just the item to offset uplifting tales like Scrooged without resorting to the bevvy of killer Santa movies. Not that those are bad, mind you, I love me some killer Santa but it's always nice to have a high class alternative.

Well it seems like things are starting to run on schedule here again. I should have several updates up before Christmas morning and this isn't the only place you'll find me this month. Currently I'm putting the finishing touches on a post for Dread Central, and am writing up an article that will hopefully launch me on yet another site. Keep your eyes pealed. Until then, be good little boys and girls and don't play chicken with trams.