Sequels-Living Up To The Name

I recently, and probably against my better judgement, watched a movie called Piranha DD, the sequel to the 2010 movie Piranha 3D (which was itself a remake of the 1978 film, but that’s neither here nor there). I was idly interested, since the 2011 film was somewhat entertaining. The same cannot be said for this one.

Some people feel that a good movie shouldn’t have sequels, or at least only one. They argue that degradation can occur, especially if the cast and crew are not the same. The storyline can be disrupted and whatever universe or canon has been established will suffer, they claim. This isn’t always true; the Harry Potter films changed directors often and were all fairly entertaining. However, it’s a solid rule for a reason. If proof is needed, I give you the Highlander films.

Piranha was not on the same level as Harry Potter, of course. It’s not even on the same page as the Friday the 13 films or Nightmare on Elm Street. Piranha was a gleefully honest film. The previews and trailers promised gore and nudity, and it did deliver. You can’t hate something for being true to its nature and its promise, after all. The blood and mutilation were so intense that I was actually a bit horrified. Riley Steele and Kelly Brook more than supplied the promised skin.

Which is how we arrive at Piranha DD, the followup. It had none of that at all. Oh, there were blood, and topless women, but not the same spirit. Blood and breasts are what made the first one noteworthy and gave it whatever small fame it had, and it’s how the second one was given permission to be made, I’m sure. But it did not hold true to that promise, and when you’re making a sequel you have to dance with the one who brought you. If you can’t, why do it, unless you just want to coast on the name?

There are some quality actors in the film, such as Danielle Panabaker, Katrina Bowden, David Koechner, and of course the always incredible Ving Rhames. Christopher Lloyd lowered himself to appear in both 3D and DD, and Gary Busey raised himself to have a cameo. That being said, they do not help, and in fact make the sub par quality of the film more stark by appearing. You can’t sprinkle glitter on a dog turd and call it a cupcake.

BlackRabbit’s #CBR5 Review #5: The Alloy Of Law by Brandon Sanderson

When I saw this sitting on a shelf, I was initially very hesitant. I was introduced to the Mistborn series by my friend Tovah, and I plowed through the first one based on her recommendation. However, nothing about it grabbed me.The magic system in it seemed clumsy and the characters didn’t seem relatable. I did finish the trilogy, hoping it would improve, but no dice. I don’t know what changed with this new book. Maybe Mr. Sanderson altered his style in some way. Maybe I’m a different person now. All I know is that Alloy of Law is a good read.

Set hundreds of years after the Mistborn books, society and technology have moved on. The rare and powerful magical gifts of Allomancy, in which a person can “burn” a bit of swallowed metal for various abilities (pewter for strength, or tin for supersenses) and Feruchemy, in which a person may “store” something from themselves in a bit of metal for use in a in a tight situation (such as weight or healing) have become accepted and known. This system didn’t really work for me in the previous books, but here they are much more integrated and seem more well-explained, making the actions and abilities of the characters easier to follow. Granted the heroine of the first books had 14 powers to play with, while each member of this society has at the very most two, and are called Twinborn.

The protagonists are Waxillium Ladrian, a son of a noble clan who headed out to the “Roughs”, a lawless area, to escape his family and society. He returns home to discover that the city is much more dangerous than he expected, and he must use all of his powers and skills to survive. His assistant is Wayne, his former deputy.

Sanderson’s dialogue is easy and informative, painting the people and settings with spare color while giving you enough gaps to allow your imagination to do some work. There’s even some philosophy thrown in by the title drop. The action is likewise well-done, and if the magical system wasn’t so dependent on description instead of visual effect this book would be an excellent movie. it could still be done, of course, with some careful reworking, similar to the Dresden tv series.

Wayne is in particular a great character. His background is touching and believable, and his personality is charming. The funny repartee between himself and Wax is worth enjoying especially.

I would not be myself if I didn’t mention the bad guy. His identity is a minor revelation in the story, but suffice it to say that his motivation is very compelling (especially these days) and his gift is made out to be downright terrifying, enough that the heroes are honestly unsure of their ability to even slow him down, much less thwart him.

It’s a fun, fast adventure that will keep you reading. The Mistborn books were not favorites, but this one is a much better story. Not worth its weight in gold, perhaps, but I’m willing to say silver, at least until I’ve seen the sequel.

The Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman

I’ve always liked villains. When I first read The Hobbit, the characters I was most interested in were the Necromancer, even though he was only mentioned in passing, and of course Smaug. I enjoyed reading everything about that crafty old dragon. The illustrations in my copy looked very much like the  Rankin/Bass film, now that I stop to consider it, and the pictures of Smaug were amazing.

The same holds true of The Eyes of the Dragon, Watership Down, and many of the other books I’ve read: the bad guy holds the most interest for me. This isn’t always true; I’ve read American Psycho and Patrick Bateman is pretty repulsive. But a charismatic, interesting antagonist will always be my favorite character, and you don’t get much more fascinating than the Napoleon of Crime.

Kim Newman is an excellent author, and I would recommend him to anyone. His trademark in the Anno Dracula series is a near-impossible amount of crossovers with almost any other book, movie or TV character who could fit into this literary time and space, and to do it so well that it feels natural. The same happens here, and with an equal amount of talent and creativity.

This book is basically set up as an actual historical document, a mirror to Watson’s journal, with Sebastian Moran as the narrator. He describes how he came to meet the Professor and several of their “adventures” together. Newman’s gift for painting vivid characters is in full force, and he indeed makes Moriarty a dangerous person here, well able to contend with the Great Detective. Moran is likewise well-made, an entertaining combination of  the educated professional killer and a crude thug (and I’d be very pleased to see Moran introduced in some form to the BBC show, but that’s neither here nor there). He is very much Watson’s mirror as well, commenting on English society and being baffled by Moriarty’s work while showing his own ability.

The stories, however, are not counterpoints to Sherlocks’ tales, but rather separate adventures, though similarities to the cases are evident. That being said, the cases are themselves interesting, especially with the subtle undercurrent of brutality and evil that the two villains bring with them to every assignment.

And with any Newman novel, the footnotes and list of references are amazing and well worth reading on their own, if only for the “Oh, that’s who it was” you’ll be murmuring  after every one. You may also be flipping ahead to check them when a particularly interesting name, place or incident is mentioned. It may also cause you to add several books to your next shopping trip or movie night. If one of them isn’t by Newman, you’re missing out.

BlackRabbit’s #CBR5 Review #3:The Bad Popes by E. R. Chamberlin.

I’ve gone to religious schools all of my life, and over time my interest in it has only increased. From the myths of the ancient Greeks to Scientology, I’m fascinated by any system of organized belief you could mention, because of the foibles and innate complexity of people and the way that drives us try to make sense of a sometimes senseless world. If that sounds pretentious, it’s not meant to be.

This book is one of my favorites, and is #3 on my Books To Save From A Fire. (I’ll have to make a list someday.) It has a snazzy red cover, quality paper inside (trust me, there’s a difference once you feel it) and even golden edging on the pages. Packaging is important, after all, and this book just screams “venerable.” I’m sure the newer prints have done away with all of that, and it’s fine, but there’s few books on history I’ve seen that just looked “historical”. Nor is this a “hard” historical book. I have only an amateur knowledge of history and political science, and I found it very smooth going. He doesn’t talk down to you, but neither does he require that you know anything before starting.

Once you get into it, though, the true fun begins. Chamberlin’s writing style is clean and serious, and yet vivid and not above the details in the lives of the various popes. He makes their lives and the deeply complex tangles of politics that they encountered both inside and out of the Vatican comprehensible without dumbing it down or being disrespectful to the office, which could have been very easy considering the behavior of some of it’s holders.

Likewise the issue of religion is not often mentioned, except as the force that gave the Popes their power and influence. Indeed, the point made by Chamberlin and reinforced by the later pontiffs was that the Pope was indeed a temporal prince in many respects, commanding armies and playing the political game with as much skill and getting his hands as dirty as anyone else, often with more fervor because he could not pass it on to his children.

The famous Borgias are among the folks who make an appearance, which should spark the interest of any fans of the BBC and Showtime series. But there’s so much more here; the backdrop of their lives is examined in such a way that the Borgias are seen as being products of their time, not unusually amoral or sadistic but just trying to be “the bigger fish.” Cesare Borgia himself knew perfectly well that he was making enemies, and worked to make himself able to resist their attacks when his patron (and father) Pope Alexander VI eventually died, simply because he was the son of a powerful man. Had they been secular Italian nobles, it would have been much the same.

This book has much to offer, in other words. It’s not just a desription of a “murderer’s row” of bad (and sometimes sad) men, not just a historical narrative, or even, as I’ve said before, particularly pro- or anti-Catholic. It’s a refreshing dip into a time and place that continues to affect the modern world, as well as a reminder that things don’t really change in politics. And the cover is spiffy as well.

How Bad is Good?

We all have them. Like an embarrassing relative, the movie, book, game or TV show you keep hidden from the world, lest you burst into flames of ridicule. Whether it’s Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, Flash Gordon (AHHHH!) or something on SyFy, they’re out there. And like the old saying that there’s someone from everyone, there’s also someone who likes whatever you don’t.

However, that raises the question: why? Is it nostalgia, that tricky little bastard? I’m one of the aforementioned Flash fans, and I love that movie to death. But when I tried to introduce it to some friends, it did not go over well. On the other hand, they have likes that I don’t. But nostalgia can be so deceptive, and let us down so easily. We’ve all gone back to things we loved as a child that just didn’t hold up later in life.

How bad is too bad? I’ve seen my share of bad films as well, both through the filter of MST3K (without which I would not have survived) and on my own. What’s the tipping point between “I am dumber for having watched that” and “Hey, that was hilarious and fun, even if the budget was pocket change)”? It seems to be a fine line and vary from person to person. Is it just different strokes? More masochistic tendencies?

And yet, some of that “borderline” entertainment goes big. Look at Evil Dead. No-name director and actors make a cheap horror film about people trapped in the woods. The bargain bins are full of people who have tried to imitate it. What was different? Something appealed to enough people to bypass the “bad” and make it a cult classic and cultural touchstone for a lot of people. And sometimes we just want to turn off our brains and shamelessly indulge ourselves in something that will not require any kind of response. The problem there is if it’s too terrible, it will provoke a negative feeling and ruin everything.

It can’t be learned, because very talented and educated people don’t manage to pull it off consistently. It has to be an intuitive spark, something that can’t be labeled or found in a classroom. Like anything else, some people have it more strongly than others, a gift for connecting with people. The same way someone can write a song or a story (or a blog) that will make you laugh or cry or think. It’s that word, sympatico. It just strikes a chord. Maybe it’s a good thing it’s not more common. That way we enjoy it all the more when we find it. But don’t let that stop you from picking up some bargain bin entertainment along the way.

BlackRabbit’s #CBR5 Review #2: Watership Down by Richard Adams

It’s not just about bunnies.

Well, they’re included, but it’s so much more than that, at least to me. This is a book that deeply shaped my outlook on life to a large extent, and given that I figured it also inspired my name online discussing it was only logical. So this isn’t as much a review as it is a recommendation. Skip this down to the 5th paragraph if you just want the review.

I’ve been a lifelong and voracious reader for as long as I can remember, back to when I started outstripping my mom when she would read to me at night. It got so I’d not be able to tell where we were going on yearly family vacations because I had my head in a book. One of the most repeated phrases I heard growing up was “Put down the book. Try to do it with two hands.” I walked with books nearly everywhere (and still do, which is not always wise). Hell, if I could figure out a way to cheaply laminate them, I’d shower with them too. I’m also fast, which means I go through them quickly. Just eat ’em up. Mostly Hardy Boys mysteries, a few comics, pretty forgettable stuff, except for the Hobbit and LOTR, King (Eyes of the Dragon was my first all-night reading binge).

But Watership Down was different, and I’m still not sure why. when I started it, I really got sucked in. It was my first can’t-put-it-down. The story just grabbed me and didn’t let go. I think it hit me so hard because I was just entering my teens, when I was getting aware of a wider world and the struggles that could face me. I’d made good friends, and recognized the bonds of the characters in the book. Moreover, the viewpoint of the rabbits was so unlike my own in other ways, and yet similar, that it forced me to look around my own surroundings as they did. I’d seen rabbits before, of course, but I’d not thought about what life as prey might be like. It was an eye-opening experience for a young man.

As far as reviewing it….I’d almost say I’m not qualified, but that would be easy and unfair to anyone, myself included. The writing is simple and vivid. Every scene is painted in strokes that can be quickly visualized. The characters, too, are sharply drawn and tidy. Everything fits neatly within the framework of the story and it’s larger picture. You never once forget that they are rabbits, animals with an alien view and reaction to the world, and yet they are made sympathetic enough that you can (hopefully) understand their fears, struggles and triumphs. Individuals together can accomplish amazing things is also a central theme, and one that likewise influenced my thinking for years to come. Heady stuff for a teenager.

The story also made me reflect on my theological beliefs as well. In the rabbit’s world, everything is out to get them. Everything could be a risk or an enemy, and that’s a cornerstone of their psychology. I’m not, and have never been, a religious person by any means but reading this book also made me understand the reassurance faith can have for those in difficult circumstances. Given that I’ve gone to religious schools all of my life, this was an eye-opener. In essence, this book awoke my empathy for other people to a large extent. It also made me want to live underground, but that’s probably not a common reaction.

Watership Down is at the top of my book recommendation list. I push it (gently) on anyone I meet who I think would be interested. I’ve reread it multiple times and never gotten bored or disappointed, the way you do when you come back to a favorite to find it’s changed for the worse after time. Perhaps those old feelings and revelations are coloring my view of it. Possible. But I’ll still maintain it’s a great read, a classic, and will put it up against anything else.

A fun note I did not know till later: all the geography is accurate and the paths and landmarks described can be found and walked.

My Take on Ethics

Ethics are defined as a system of moral principles, or the way things ought to be. It deals with values, as opposed to facts. Now, I could go into things like meta-ethics, and hedonism, and virtue ethics, and consequentialism, but no one really cares about them, and neither do I.

Obviously, ethics play into many other concepts. Strong ethics plays into having good character, for example. Ethics affect a great deal of how we act, think and feel. It narrows or widens our options, as well as influencing how others treat us in a variety of ways. If I know you are a trustworthy person, for example, I’ll be more willing to be friendly to you or to tell you something I might not otherwise.

Why should we be ethical while working? We shouldn’t abuse that expectation. You expect the bank teller to count your money properly or the guy selling food not to spit in your drink. You don’t know them, but you trust that they won’t do it. And that trust is what makes the world work and interactions between people possible.

And if the threat of reprisal is the only thing keeping you from doing something bad, then I feel sorry for you. That means you’d do what you want if no one could stop you, and that’s kinda scary. An ethical system cannot be imposed from without – that’s not how they work. If you’re forced to behave a certain way, it won’t be genuine, and therefore problems will arise. Ethics tell you how to take “informed risks.” Bear in mind that “ethical and lawful” is not the same thing, much of the time, and that bending the rules is not inherently bad.

We mainly should be ethical not because of what other people think, , but because it is the right thing to do. Acting in an ethical way is all about choices. Do you step up and take responsibility for the mistake? Help out someone even though it’s out of your way? Take on a harder job so someone else will have it easier? Ethics also prepare you to be more successful in everything you do: people can spot a fake a mile off, and so if you’re genuine, you will draw them to you and show that you’re trustworthy. So really, it’s in your own self-interest to be ethical, quite apart from the moral aspect.

There’s also the question of what’s ethical. Obviously, different people have different ethical frameworks. So how can a group of different people reconcile their beliefs in order to keep things moving smoothly? That’s simple: reach a consensus on what everyone agrees is wrong, and try to find an equitable compromise. We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.