Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 2)

When the writer brain is tired

Over the weekend, I spent some time painting part of the inside of the house as well as doing other “chores”. Very little writing was done because, to be honest, the writer brain was tired. I’d spent the week before doing prep work for the next several projects, as well as updating my promotions plan and more. So, because I didn’t have the brain power to read or write, I watched movies. To be specific, I watched some really bad movies. The lesson learned was I really do need to pay attention when my friends tell me a movie is so bad you don’t even want to watch it when it’s free on TV.

The first was a short, perhaps part of a series. I’m not sure and not interested enough to find out. The premise wasn’t unique by a long shot. The world is coming to an end soon and it is up to one martial artist to prove himself worthy and to save us all. We’ve seen it a million times. The difference this time was that the martial artist was an African-American government agent of some sort. The plot itself wasn’t bad but the fight scenes were so poorly choreographed as to be laughable. Anyone knowing anything about fighting, much less martial arts, would be able to spot the problems with what they were doing. Because of the way these sequences were filmed, the tension of the fights, the excitement that comes with a well-done fight scene was lacking. If the short had been anything longer than half an hour, I would not have kept watching.

The second was the first of several movies I watched — or tried to watch. It was the new version of Ghostbusters. Now, I loved the original. It was fun and didn’t take itself seriously. This new one, nope. I didn’t think it possible to make a movie with effects worse now than they were 30 years ago but you can. And they did. The writing was anything but inspired and it was not funny. Sure, I may have smiled, slightly, in a couple of places but it was nothing close to the original.

There were some talented actors (male and female) in the movie and that is what makes it such a crime. I blame Hollyweird for not being creative. It is easier to take something that was a hit years ago and remake it or rebrand it ot whatever. The problem is, that rarely works. We’ve decades of examples the bean counters should have looked at but didn’t. All they saw was that the original worked so surely this would.

Nope and nope and nope. The best thing about the movie was knowing it was over and I had the option of deleting it from my DVR. Which I did.

The biggest disappointment was another movie I’d heard was a disappointment but I had to see for myself.

Independence Day: Resurgence had the potential of being awesome. The original, despite screwing the science up so badly, was a fun flick that I have watched more than once. Part of that was the “we can and will prevail or die trying” attitude of the main characters. Part was the relationship between some of the characters. Then there was the comic relief of Randy Quaid. There was enough fun in the movie as well as explosions and evil aliens, etc.

This new installment. Nope and nope and nope again. If I had paid to see it in the theater, I’d have asked for my money back. The acting was, on the whole, second and third rate. The plot, which could have been great, was predictable and, there’s not way around it, If they explained what happened to some of the characters from the earlier movie, I missed it. (I think I dozed during part of the film. Either that or my mind shut down out of self-protection,)

It comes down to this, if you are going to do a sequel to a much-loved movie — and it doesn’t matter how cheesy the movie is — you need to do the original justice. You can’t simply slowly stroll through the plot and hope folks will stay with you just because they expect aliens and explosions at some point. For example, the original ID4 opened with that great sequence of something passing by the moon. You saw the footprints on the surface and the flag and then it was darkened as something very big and ominous passed by. That immediately signaled something big was about to happen and it might not be a good thing. In the newest installment, you don’t have that. There is no hook, nothing to keep you — or at least me — interested.

So, in a way, I guess the weekend viewing was a lesson for me to remember as a writer. Hook the reader right out of the gate. On that happy note, it is time to get to work. Later!

Readin’ and Writin’

Five or so years ago, I wandered into an online discussion where a wannabe writer was doing a perfect imitation of a stubborn two-year-old. You could see this person stomping his foot, arms folded across his chest and all but threatening to hold his breath until he turned blue. The reason wasn’t because he’d gotten a bad critique. It was much more basic. This wanna be was pitching a fit because he didn’t understand why others were telling him it was important to read.

Yes, a writer didn’t understand why it was important to read.

But it gets better. This writer, and I use that term loosely, didn’t understand that it’s important to read the genre you want to write. Now, on the surface, the excuse might seem reasonable. According to this person, they were afraid their “unique” voice would be contaminated by anything they might read. We tried explaining that the voice wouldn’t be, not if it was solidly entrenched in the writer’s mind. We explained how a writer needed to know what current trends and tropes were. There was more and none of it got through to this wanna be. He kicked and he stomped and he pitched a fit before gathering up his toys and going home, figuratively. What he did was leave the group and not return.

It isn’t the only time I’ve encountered writers who truly believe they don’t need to read in the genre they write. When asked, some give similar answers to the writer above. Others will say they don’t like reading that genre. That last answer always throws me. How can you write a genre you don’t like to read? I guess some folks can but not me.

And I do read. Mind you, I don’t always read the genre I’m writing WHILE I’m writing. That’s one of the nice things about writing in several different genres. While writing sf, I can read mysteries. While writing mysteries, I can read sf. You get the picture.

It is rare to find me without reading material close at hand. I love e-books for that reason. I can read on my phone, my tablet or my laptop. Six or eight months ago, I bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader. I had always loved my e-ink Kindles but they had the drawback of not being lit. It meant I had to have an external light source at night or in ill-lit areas. Friends had suggested a Paperwhite and, when it went on sale, I splurged.

I’ll be honest, I loved the lit screen. What I had problems with was the touchscreen. I missed the page turn buttons and it wasn’t always easy to get the control bar to come up. It was me, not the device. But it kept me from using it as much as I would have. So I continued reading more often than not on my tablet — and getting the accompanying eye strain. (More on that later)

Earlier this week, I was wandering through Amazon and saw they had the Kindle Oasis E-reader with Leather Charging Cover for sale where you could pay it out over several months. I hesitated. The price of the Oasis was still much more than I wanted to pay for a dedicated e-book reader. I could buy a cheap Chromebook or a decent tablet for it. But, the pull to buy it was there. It was the reader in me. I wanted to read a book — and, yes, and e-book is a book — without the distractions offered by tablets or laptops or phones.

So I did some research and talked to some friends who already owned the Oasis. Finally, after a couple of days of back-and-forth, I ordered it. I knew I could return it if I decided I didn’t like it. So I waited for the delivery to arrive, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

All I can say is, “WOW!”

Even though the screen is the same size as the Paperwhite — or near enough to make no difference — the actual footprint of the Oasis is much smaller. With the leather charging case, included in the cost of the reader, it feels more like a “real” reading experience. Better yet, the case has navigation buttons. Actual buttons.

But there is more to set it apart from the Paperwhite. Like its predecessor, the Oasis has screen lights. What makes it better is the number of lights on the Oasis number more than on the Paperwhite. Coupled with the glass screen instead of paper, it helps make the text appear sharper. The overall lighting of the entire screen seems to be more uniform than on the Paperwhite. Better yet, because of the smaller size and weight, I find myself taking the Oasis with me everywhere and I am reading more than I had been.

And that brings me back to my previous comment about eye strain. Like most writers — heck, like most anyone who works in an office — my days is spent looking at computer screens. A couple of years ago, my mother’s retinologist talked with her about how the flickering of screens (admittedly much better now than in years past) as well as reflection off of a computer or tablet screen, is a prime cause of eye strain and headaches. He preferred she read using an e-ink display. He preferred e-ink over print as well.

While working on my last book, I realized something. I wasn’t reading as much after I finished writing for the day. It didn’t take long to realize a big part of it was eye strain. After hours at the laptop, my eyes hurt and my head hurt. Changing the lighting or where I worked helped a little but the source of the problem was still there — the screen.

Since getting the Oasis, I’m back to reading. So I’m keeping the Oasis and going to give the Paperwhite to my mother. And I highly recommend for anyone who finds themselves not wanting to read e-books after a long day at the computer to consider one of the e-ink readers. Amazon has a line of them as do other merchants. Besides not having the reflection problem tablets have they have the added benefit of no distraction. No email. No games. No internet. You simply get lost in your book.

What a wonderful way to spend a few hours.

Series ends

No, not mine. This post actually came about because I read a book last night that represented the end of a series. Usually, if I’ve stuck with a series all the way, I feel regret to see it end. In this case, not so much. The reasons why are things I hope I can keep in mind as I work on my own series and bring them to an end.

I’m going to start by noting that this series is one of several from a best selling and traditionally published author. I started reading this particular series from her by accident. How, you ask, did that happen? Easy. I wasn’t careful when checking her Amazon author page and wound up buying one of the books in the series when I was actually looking for a book in another series.

That’s problem number one. The series titles (two different series) were close enough to cause confusion, at least to a sleep addled, pre-coffee brain. But, that’s okay. I enjoyed the book. Not as much as others she’d written but not every book can be hit out of the park.


What I came to wonder as I read the books in this particular series is simple. The series was set in the same town as another series. The characters from that series made appearances in the new series. Some of the characters in the second series were related to characters in the first.

Okay, that’s fine. I’ve seen it happen before and it has been done well in some cases and not so much in others. This series, unfortunately, would have done better (in my opinion) by completely removing it from the first series. There were simply too many similarities between characters and plot points. Add in the same basic setting and, by the end of the series, it felt as if the author was just phoning it in.

I get falling in love with your characters or setting but you can’t do it at the expense of putting out new and interesting material.

There were two other issues I had with not only this series but the other one. When you write a book, or books, where your lead female character is initially a strong, independent woman, don’t turn her into someone who no longer is capable to looking after herself just because a man has now come into her life. Sure, having a partner, male or female, will change a person’s life and how they think about things. After all, you are no longer the only person you have to think about when planning a course of action. But going from independent to dependent without cause is one of the surest ways to drive readers away.

I will admit, the author didn’t do it as much in this second series as she did in the first. For one, the women in this second series were more flawed than in the first. However, that made it all the more glaring when she did it in the last couple of books with the most independent of her female characters. Especially in the last book. Suddenly, the one woman who had been the rock turned to anything but, at least for the first half of the book. The foreshadowing of the earlier books in the series led to one secret, but it was minor. There had been nothing to prepare the reader for the real “weakness” in the character. Considering the relationship between her and the other characters in the series, this threw me out of the book.

I guess this is all a way of reminding myself of what not to do when I start wrapping up my different series. The last book needs to be as satisfying — if not more so — than the first. Otherwise, the reader will hesitate to buy anything else from that author. I know that, after two series endings that were disappointments because of the way the characters were developed and the plots were rolled out, I will hesitate to buy anything else from this particular author. Sort of the old “fool me one, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” adage. I hope none of my readers ever feel that way.


If you have ever wondered what an author most wants, it’s reviews. So give an author a gift today. Write a review and post it to Amazon and, if you are so inclined, on your blog or Facebook. It really does help.

Awesome Review

I rarely link to or post  a review from Amazon but I couldn’t pass up this one. Pat Patterson is one of those reviewers who always tells it like it is. He also, when the mood strikes, can give you a review that is so full of humor and snark that you smile even as you wait for the shoe to drop. Needless to say, I always look forward to him reviewing my work and hold my breath until I see what he thinks. That’s especially true with Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2).

So, you can imagine my excitement this morning when I saw this comment in one of the Facebook groups we’re both in.

“I have to make this note, and then GO TO BED! “Dagger of Elanna” by Amanda S. Green is so richly written, its a feast. GREAT things are afoot!”

I hoped that meant he would like the rest of the book but, paranoid writer that I am, I still held my breath until I saw his review go live on Amazon.

I  obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

I was hooked from the first scene. Actually, I suppose I was hooked BEFORE the first scene, since I read the first book in the series, ‘Sword of Arelion,” and loved it. But here’s what hooked me:

The book opens in a winter-soaked woodland. Through the biting cold and snow trudges a poor, pathetic man, who wonders if he will be able to reach a place where he can get warm before he freezes to death. He worries about his horse.

A sympathetic character, right?

WRONG!! He’s an evil murderous creator of monsters, sent on a mission to spy and assassinate. He’s NOT a nice guy!

Well, he has a family, and he’s afraid for them as well, but still: it’s a great curve ball. I was all set up to be sad at the poor dude, and was somewhat shocked to find such a soft intro brought me face to face with such a bad guy.


More than what it tells us of this particular person is what it tells us about the nature of the deep, secret Bad Guy: he is inclined to use blackmail and threats to loved ones to motivate people he finds in his grasp.

On the other hand, we have Cait. She is the actual hero, no fooling, of the book: a paladin of sorts, with the divine marks of power and favor on her. She has been made third in command of the Order, based on the clear approval of the Lord and Lady, who are the ethereal Good Guys.

At the end of the last book, Cait was still without memory of her origins. Her first recollection was waking up in a slaver’s tent. However, she gets it all back in this episode. Not going to reveal what it is that she learns about herself, because I don’t want to spoil things.

In one well-written scene after another, bad guys get vanquished; people of weak-will get to find their courage; assassins of various good guys are foiled, and good people discover the eternal truth that if you do well, your reward is a tougher job.

The book is HUGE; 591 pages, I think. It drags not at all, though. It has a great storyline, and the characters have enough depth to make them real.

Reviews like this are part of why I write. I love knowing I’ve taken a reader on a journey he enjoyed. So, Pat, thanks so much for the awesome review.

You can find Pat’s blog here.



Dishonored 2 – Initial Impressions

I am a gamer. It is one way for me to blow off steam and to escape from the muse when she won’t leave me alone. One of the games I purchased based on a recommendation from my son was the original Dishonored. It took me a while to get into the game. Stealth games aren’t ones I usually do. I’m more of a kick down doors and shoot/stab everything in sight. But, once I finally sat down and got into the game, I found it to be every bit as great as my son had said. Since then I have replayed it several times, looking at the differences between the high chaos and low chaos gameplay/plot.

So, when Dishonored 2 Limited Edition – PlayStation 4 became available for pre-order, I didn’t hesitate. I placed my order and began to anxiously await the release date. That date is officially today but, because of the pre-order, I received my copy of the game yesterday.

Now, I ordered the physical copy instead of the digital download. Even so, as with so many games these days, there was still a huge download that had to be done before the game was playable. As I waited for the download to finish, I did a little research to see what the initial reactions to the game happened to be. (Note, even though the link above is for the PS4 version, I have the PC version.) What I found was that there were a number of PC users who were having problems with the game. Worried, I checked my stats against the minimum requirements and breathed a sigh of relief. Until others started saying they had rigs similar to mine but who were having problems with things like slow cursor movement, frame rate slowing to a crawl, etc.

But I wouldn’t panic. I kept reminding myself that this rig is less than a year old and has no problem playing any of my other games. Still, once the download was done and as I started the new game, I worried. I’ll even admit to holding my breath. Which might not have been a good thing since the load screen is longer than I anticipated. VBEG

From the beginning, it became clear that the devs wanted to make Dishonored 2 a good game. There is a tutorial with Corvo and Emily to reacquaint you with basic movement and combat controls. You can skip it if you want but I recommend you go through it because there are a few minor changes. Then you get into the story. I’m going to try to be spoiler-free, so I won’t comment too much on the story. I will say this, if you have not played the Doud DLCs for Dishonored, do so.

Also, it doesn’t matter which way you played Dishonored. Unlike Mass Effect, where you choices had an impact on the following games — except when it came to the end of ME3 — the devs and writers for Dishonored 2 have devised their own canon which appears to basically follow the low chaos version of the game. (At least, that is how is seems so far.)

For this first playthrough, I am playing as Emily. I am also trying to go low chaos — of course, that is hard to do in the first chapter, before she gets her powers. Besides, I can’t help being a bit pissed off for her. So if I killed a few of the bad guys, I felt they deserved it. (Okay, I’m a bloodthirsty bitch.)

I will admit that I’m having a hard time adjusting to the new voice actor for the Outsider. There was something sinister about the original Outsider’s voice that is missing in the new one. However, it isn’t more than a little distracting. I’m sure that by the time I’m further into the game, I’ll have adjusted to it.

The heart makes a return this time as well. It still helps you find bone charms, etc., and it still gives insight into your surroundings. But there is a twist where it is concerned. One that can be a bit creepy if you let yourself think about it, especially if you are playing as Emily. I won’t say anything more — yet.

As for having problems with the game on the tech side, I haven’t. At least not yet. Frame rate seems to be running steady. I will say, if your rig is at the low end of the recommended stats, you will need to do some tinkering with your settings. The game can be a resource hog. But it is well worth it. The visuals are stunning. The story, at least so far, is interesting and I can’t wait to finish the work day so I can get back to it.

I will say to take you time, even in the first chapter when you are doing your best to avoid the bad guys. Explore the area. As with the original game, there are multiple routes you can take to get to your destination. But, if you take the time to look around, to go into buildings, etc., you will get a more complete gaming experience and more of the holes in the backstory will be filled quicker.

Over all, after playing the game for a couple of hours, it is everything I had hoped for a more. I have to give it to Bethesda and Arkane Studios for not dropping the ball. Of course, they may do just that later in the game but I am more than optimistically hopeful that they haven’t.

One word of warning. If part of your pre-order includes the free soundtrack download from Amazon, there is apparently a problem on Amazon’s end. The email you should receive says to refer to the download code — except there is none. Some folks tried downloading it and wound up being charged. Amazon is aware of the problem and working to fix it. For those who were charged, they are refunding the payment and giving them the appropriate download code. I’m going to wait a couple of days and see if they have the problem fixed. I recommend everyone else do the same.

Now, time to get to work so I can get back to gaming sooner, rather than later.

Fall has come and so have the shows to avoid

I’m not a big TV watcher. However, I spend most evenings in the den with my mother as she watches TV. Usually, I’m either gaming or writing and can ignore what’s on the boob-tube. Last night was the exception as we tried watching a couple of of the new shows that we had DVR’d earlier in the week.

First up was the remake of MacGyver. I’m old enough to have watched the original with Richard Dean Anderson when it was first run. I enjoyed the show for what it was, fluff. But it had humor and, more often than not, decent writing and acting. I wish I could say the same for the new version but I can’t. I was ready to turn it off after the first five minutes. Instead, Mom watched it through and that’s approximately 40 minutes of my life I will never get back.

As my friend Nicki put it on her blog this morning, there are few if any redeeming qualities to the new show. She hits it out of the park when she criticizes the acting, writing and directing of the show. Let me give you a few examples.

In the first few minutes of the show, Mac has infiltrated a society do in order to steal a weapon of some sort. Of course, he doesn’t really know what he’s stealing and his first real challenge is that he needs more than the single fingerprint he managed to lift from one of the bad guys. Oh, and in doing so, he goes from being a guest to one of the staff by simply removing his suit jacket. Then he wanders into the kitchen and knows exactly where to find the duct tape and other odds and ends he will need.

He finally manages to get into the “really secure room” and finds the object he was after — only to pull an Indiana Jones and lift it from its container only to discover doing so turns on an alarm (I was praying for a boulder to roll into the room and smash him by this point). In rushes the first armed guard — and Mac manages to avoid being shot by lifting a silver serving tray and holding it in front of him to stop the bullets.

Not once did the security type realize he was emptying his clip into a serving tray and shoot lower, which would have been center mass in Mac’s body, but Mac never showed the impact of the shots hitting the tray. Elbows locked, feet planted, he held that tray in front of him and not a single bullet penetrated or rocked him.

After beating that guard up, another comes in with two guns — guess he was the bigger, badder bad guy because he had two guns — who emptied both clips at Mac who jumped behind a sofa, iirc. When the now empty clips hit the floor, Mac was up and — yep, you guessed it — throwing the same silver tray he had used to block the bullets from bad guy number one as a frisbee to take out bad guy number two. Then, with the tube of biological whatever, he rushes to make his mistake. Only to have the really bad guy catch up with him and his team and shoot him and his girlfriend.

Oh how I was hoping that seeing Mac shot and falling into the water far below meant the show was over less than 10 minutes after it started.

But no. Now we find it was a flashback or something and Mac has been sulking — er, mourning — his girlfriend. Now his boss (and here is yet another slap in the face of the original. Then Mac and friends worked for a non-governmental agency. Now they are working for a really super secret governmental agency that some hacker chick who is in prison knows about and who they make a part of the team to take over for the girlfriend everyone thinks is dead even though no body was ever recovered) is there with a job for them. You guessed it, Mac is off to get back the biological whatever he lost in that first mission.

It doesn’t get any better. The final action sequence has Mac realizing he can’t stop the bomb in the back of a truck that is attached to the biological. So he grabs the seemingly fragile tube with the biological in it and creates a parasail of sorts to escape the speeding truck before the bomb goes off. Of course, he does wind up hitting the pavement hard and rolling but, miracle of miracles, the container holding the biological doesn’t break. Nor does Mac even check it before the military folks arrive with containment safeguards for it.

Not. Enough. Liquor. In. The. World.

The next one up in the DVR queue was Designated Survivor. I can say it was better than MacGyver but only because at least part of the cast could actually act. However, omg, there were problems with it.

The basic setup is that there is always one member of the Cabinet who does not attend the State of the Union Address in case something catastrophic occurs. In this case, it was Kiefer Sutherland who, we learn, had been asked to resign his post just hours earlier. He had decided to do so but had not yet told the president. So, while he is at some other location, watching the president’s speech on TV, the Capitol Building is blown to bits.

Now, the designated survivor is close enough to the Capitol that he can walk to the window and look outside and see the flames. Then he is bundled into a waiting SUV (along with his wife. His kids are elsewhere. Kids being the cute little girl who is too old for her own good and teenaged son who is the rebel and out selling drugs at a club) and taken — you guessed it — straight to the White House just minutes after the Capitol has gone up in flames.

Oookay, here is the first issue I had the show (we won’t discuss having the DS so close to the Capitol that they could be caught in the fallout if a dirty bomb went off or the fact he was above ground and not in a bunker somewhere). The White House is approximately 2 miles from the Capitol Building. If someone has just blown the hell out of the Capitol and you are still trying to figure out what is going on, I don’t think the Secret Service is going to rush you that close to what is effectively Ground Zero. That is especially true when another bomb is found in the rubble. What happened to checking to make sure there is no such danger at the White House?

The Sutherland character is pretty namby-pamby for most of the show. He grows a spine — maybe — after he hears a speechwriter railing against him being president while they are both in stalls in the bathroom. There is the obligatory evil military man who is already planning on removing Sutherland from office. After all, he wasn’t elected president.

Oh, and in the magic that is Hollyweird, they were able to locate and ID the president, the vice-president and all members of the Cabinet in attendance at the State of the Union in a matter of minutes because Sutherland is informed by his Secret Service escort that he is now president. Amazing how quickly a scene can be searched and forensics checked, isn’t it?

I will at least give this one another shot. As I said, the acting was better and I want to see how they handle most, if not all of Congress having been killed as well. As for MacGyver — nope. Not gonna watch that one again.

Sometimes the original really is better

(I am getting back to the blog. It’s been slow, more so than I wanted thanks to an upper respiratory bug that has kicked my butt for more than a week. The how-to series will continue next week.)

We currently live in an age where the so-called creative types in Hollywood, New York and London seem to be at an end of original ideas. Instead of new movies, TV shows or plays, we get retreads and “new treatments” of old favorites. Some work but, more often than not, these re-dos fall flat on their faces. Look up movies like “Land of the Lost” with Will Ferrell for an example of one that fell even more than flat.

Soon, the History Channel will redo “Roots“, the pre-eminent mini-series of the last century. I’m old enough that I can remember sitting in the living room with my parents watching the 8-night event. This new imagining of it will probably be good — at least it has a cast of actors who can, well, act. But I am worried about how it will be changed to fit the political and social commentary of today.

And that brings me to the reason for this post. Last night, I went to see Cabaret in Dallas. The Cabaret making the theater touring rounds today is not the Cabaret of then 1970’s or even of the 1990’s. Oh, much of the same music is there. It is still set in pre-war Berlin. The characters are the same, at least in name. But the differences. Oh, the differences.

I knew there would be changes. Those changes were what made the revival of Cabaret such a talked about show back in the ’90’s. The Emcee, the character immortalized by Joel Grey in the original staging and in the movie, was portrayed in the revival by Alan Cummings. Gone was the evil, asexual character, replaced by a character that was anything but asexual. More than that, the evil exuded in the original characterization was replaced by debauchery. For the first time, Cliff’s bisexuality was made clear as well. Different takes for a different generation.

Fast forward to last night. I went into the night wondering if I would like the show. I’m a follower of the adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, you can improve something — and you should. But redoing something just for shock value isn’t my cup of tea. Still, curiosity had me going in and hoping I would enjoy the performance.

And I did, but with reservations.

Overall, it was a very good performance both vocally and when it comes to acting. But it felt like a watered down version of the musical. Gone was the haunting performance of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” The performance last night lost so much by being performed by one of the “working girls” instead of by the Aryan youth. As noted earlier, the evil that was the Emcee was missing and, with it, the sense of impending doom. Gone, too, was the 19 year old Cliff with his innocence. Instead, the male lead was older, wearier and more worldly. Worse, in my eye at least, Sally was broken from the beginning. There was no hope for her or in her and you knew it.

The result was a show where you knew from the onset that no one would get out unscathed. Worse, you knew the characters knew it as well.

But the major problem with this version of the musical is that despite some inventive and very effective staging, the heart was removed. By scaling back so much of the dialog and removing some of the songs, a lot of context is now missing. For those who aren’t familiar with the story and the time it’s set in, much of it would not make sense. I have to wonder if that is part of the reason the performance was one of the worst attended I’ve been at in recent years.

One thing the change in the Emcee’s character accomplished was the shock factor. Not in his sexuality. Not in his over the top performance. No, the impact moment came not when Sally returns to the Kit Kat Klub and sings “Cabaret”. That impact moment came just before the final curtain fell when the Emcee removes his leather coat so reminiscent of Gestapo coats to reveal the striped “pajamas” of someone sent to one of the death camps. Affixed on his top was the yellow badge marking him as Jewish and the pink triangle marking him as a homosexual. The ending moment was a flash of light, a jerk of his body and then he stood there broken and dead and no one in the audience could doubt what it meant.

But that came almost as an afterthought. The whole impending doom of the growth of Nazi power in Berlin felt missing. The town was a character but its history had been diminished somehow.

Still, I find myself recommending the musical. The performances ranged from good to inspired. The vocals were excellent, even if the mikes needed to be adjusted a couple of time. But, if you go, don’t expect the Cabaret of Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. If you aren’t familiar with the history of 1930’s Berlin, especially the time around Kristallnacht, grab at least the highlights. It will help you understand the backdrop of the play.

Houdini and Doyle – review

Earlier this week when I was setting up the DVR schedule for the family, I noticed a “new” show on Fox. Now, I’ll admit up front that I don’t watch much network TV and even less from Fox. But the title of the show, Houdini & Doyle, intrigued me enough to read the description and then to set the DVR to record. Last night, we sat down and watched the first episode.

The basic set-up is simple. In 1901 London, the Metropolitan police find themselves investigating certain cases that aren’t quite your run-of-the-mill crimes. Is there are real supernatural element to them or what? The police are stumped, so they call in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who most definitely do NOT want to write another Holmes mystery, and Harry Houdini. Doyle believes in the supernatural and Houdini does not. In fact, when brought in on the mystery of the murder of a nun, Houdini bets Doyle that he proves there is no supernatural element at all.

To round out our investigative team is Constable Adelaide Stratton. Our first glimpse of her finds her deep in the basement of the station, typing away. When she is brought to the chief constable’s office to be briefed, Houdini looks at her and dismisses her as “the help” — oh, he doesn’t say so outright, but he asks her to bring him a cup of tea. When the introductions are made, he is surprised to learn she is a “real” constable. This is the first of several encounters between Houdini and Stratton where Houdini proves himself to be an “ugly American”, crass enough to show he thinks women beneath men. Still, that is softened a bit in a scene where he is giving his mother a birthday party and his love for her softens him.

The mystery itself is entertaining. A young nun finds the first murder victim and sees what she thinks is the ghost of a young woman who, we are to learn, died as a result of ill-treatment of others there. While Houdini tries to find a mundane explanation for what happened — he leans toward robbery — Doyle looks at the supernatural, including visiting a medium (and we quickly learn this is not a new behavior for Doyle). Stratton sort of walks a thin line between them. She wants to prove herself to be as worthy as any man. Unfortunately, being female in a man’s world, that is a difficult road to hoe — as shown at the end of the episode when her supervisor tells her that he assumes she must be sleeping with Houdini since Houdini told him how well she had done on the assignment. Because of that, he would keep an eye on her and, as soon as he had proof, not only get her booted out of the constabulary but he would make sure she never found work as a copper again.

Overall, the episode was enjoyable but nothing earth shattering. The banter between Doyle and Houdini grinds at times. Doyle is a bit boring and stodgy with hints of something else, as in when he talks about the supernatural or when he goes to the medium. Those scenes give us more of his background, more of who he is, than anything else in this first episode.

Houdini is more than a bit of an ass. Cocky, condescending and more. Yes, he’s a talented magician or illusionist but there is no give to him, or at least not that we see until at least halfway through the episode. In some ways, he is the pesky little brother you wish big brother (Doyle) would beat into a pulp. Worse, the chemistry between the two didn’t really start to gel until the last third of the episode.

As for how the two main male characters deal with Stratton, Houdini basically dismisses her. Part of that, we begin to see later in the episode, is just him. He can’t admit someone might have been better than he at something, even if his life depends on it. An example of this occurs in the second half of the episode when Stratton saves Doyle and Houdini from drowning after they had been locked in to a flooding area. Houdini had been trying to pick the padlock and failing. Time was running out and along came Stratton to save them. When she points out that she did save his life a little later, Houdini’s response is to quip something along the lines of “my dear lady, I have been escaping water traps six times a week for years.” The dismissal is clear — but, by then, the viewer is starting to get that maybe, hopefully, it is more bravado than anything else. If not, Houdini is going to drive viewers away.

There is more connection between Stratton and Doyle. Not romantic and not sexual tension, at least not yet, but some understanding. That keeps her from becoming just the political and social mouthpiece for the show — although we do get a few quick speeches from her about women’s rights, etc.

The mystery is pretty good, although I figured it out before the reveal. The explanation of the “supernatural” element, which turned out to be mundane, was a bit of a stretch. Not because of how plausible or implausible it might be but because there was no real groundwork laid for it.

What will have me tuning in for the next episode was the very last scene of the show — was it groundwork for a change in opinion for Houdini or was it the foreshadowing of another mystery? Inquiring minds want to know.

Overall, I’d give the show a “B”. It has a great premise but has not lived up to its potential yet. If it doesn’t start picking up next week, it will be like most shows on network TV: watched once or twice and discarded as a waste of time.

We’ll see.

Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

I don’t often take part in beta tests for games. One reason is I don’t usually have time. Another is I hate opening my laptop up to software that hasn’t been fully tested yet. But when I had the opportunity to take part in the closed beta test for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4, I jumped. Then I prayed I would be one of those lucky enough to be chosen. I was and I’ve spent several hours since then playing the opening sequences of the game as well as some optional missions.

All I can say is if the final game is as much fun as the beta test version, it is going to be a blast.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, this is the follow-up to Mirror’s Edge, one of the best games I’ve ever played. Considering this game is so very different from most everything else I play, that’s saying a great deal.

Short version, the game takes place in a quasi-dystopian future (funny how so many games take that approach — not). The main character, Faith, is a runner. Runners take to the rooftops and are the parkour heroes of the future. Mirror’s Edge was more a game of tactics and evasion than a run and shoot. I know a number of folks who played the game without ever using a gun and who prided themselves on trying to find ways through missions without engaging the enemy. And, no, this is most definitely not a stealth game.

Mirror’s Edge also had the advantage of having been written by Rhianna Pratchett. The follow-up, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4 does not include Pratchett. In fact, much of the original team is gone. That could be problematic. Other games that have had such major shifts in personnel from one game to another have suffered. For the little bit we saw in the beta test, this one does not. Of course, I say that with reservation since the beta only lets us see a couple of missions.

So, what do I think about Catalyst? I loved it. The controls — and I was playing on PC — were intuitive and easy to get the hang of. I liked the fact that the tutorial wasn’t all at the beginning and staged as such. There was some character interaction and then “training”. Even after that, you received another mission which included some more training as well as completing a mission in the process.

Yes there were glitches. This was a beta test after all. The voice to video synching often reminded me of a badly — very badly — dubbed Japanese science fiction movie. The mouths would move and the subtitles would appear and then the voice would sound. Load screen sometimes froze or it felt like they did because it took forever to move from one to another. But it was nothing compared to some finished games I’ve played and hated.

This is a beautiful game. I wanted to spend time I don’t have just exploring the city. The fact that you can go off-track is something I enjoyed and I look forward to being able to do it in the finished product.

My recommendation is simple. If you enjoyed Mirror’s Edge, you need to check out Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4. If you like games that let you use figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B, this is your game. If you want to use your wits to avoid the enemy or if you want to confront the enemy, you can do it with Catalyst.

I don’t know about you, but I will be pre-ordering the game and waiting anxiously to be able to play the full game.

Review — Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I’ve mentioned before that my way of destressing from life and from writing is to game. There are times I thank my son for getting me into gaming and other times when I curse him. As I finish my first play through of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, I thank him. This has been one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in a long while.

First things first, I played this on  a PC. Most of my gaming is done this way these days. While there are a few games I’d like to play that are platformers only, there aren’t enough to justify buying yet another gaming system, much less two.

I’ve played other Assassin’s Creed games. Liked some, loved one and others left me pretty much going “meh”. I will admit going into Syndicate, I was more than a little leery. So much had been made of the fact that you could now play as a female for much, but not all, of the game. Then there was all the half-hearted cheering because Ubisoft had put a trans-gendered character in. There were cheers for having such a character but jeers because it was a non-playable character. (For those who haven’t played the game, or who didn’t read the bios in the database, I’m talking about Ned Wynert.) To be honest, other than making the world more representative, the fact Ned was a trans male didn’t play into the game at all.

Then there was the opening screen where Ubisoft welcomes players to the game. I groaned and wondered what I had gotten myself into when it came up. “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.” All sorts of visions of politically correct ideologies and feminist agendas filled my mind. Even when people whose opinions I trust said to play the game, I wondered if I had been led astray.

Without giving away spoilers, I will admit there was an inordinate amount of evil white males in the game. All but one of the mini-bosses, for lack of a better word, were male. Only a couple of the gang leaders you had to defeat were female. Evie Frye, the female protagonist, is more of a thinker and more worried about consequences than her twin brother Jacob, the male protagonist. In fact, Jacob is a bit of an ass and Evie spends a lot of the game “cleaning up” (her words) after him. That may have been the writer’s attempt to show sibling rivalry but it fell sort of flat to me. I would have preferred them working together rather than at odds with one another so much of the game.

Visually, the game is stunning. It captures the feel of Victorian England. My rig didn’t have any problem handling the specs and that was a definite plus.

The controls were easy to reacquaint myself with and I rarely ran into one of those lousy camera angle problems you get with so many games.

As for the media for the game, I chose to buy a physical copy. I purchased the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – Gold Edition – PC. This included the game as well as the season pass. That meant I was immediately able to install the Jack the Ripper dlc and The Last Maharaja dlc downloaded last week. Unlike some of the problems the XBOX and Playstation gamers had with their gold edition downloads, I had no issues getting either. Also, buying it this way saved me more than $20. That is a big plus as is the fact you don’t have to play through Steam. Yes, it connects to Ubisoft but you can play off-line and it is easier to configure the game to do so than it is through Steam, imo.

As for the game itself, I enjoyed it a great deal. I have yet to play the World War I extension or the Jack the Ripper dlc, but the former can’t be played until you beat the game and the latter can be played any time. I did play The Last Maharaja and, while good, it isn’t the best dlc I’ve ever played. I am glad it came as part of the season pass and I didn’t pay another $10 for it. Still, you do get some goodies during the missions and as a result of completing the dlc. So it is well worth playing.

Admission time, I did not go for 100% completion. That’s a new one for me and I might go back later to do so. The problem for me is there were too many escort missions and the like. That sort of grinding, especially when you have already maxed out on leveling up, means you are grinding for nothing, especially if you don’t like those sort of missions.

What I did like was being able to switch between the characters of Evie and Jacob. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Evie was more of a stealth character while Jacob was more of the fight ’em and kill ’em. I found myself playing as Evie more often when I was able to choose which character to play. Ubisoft did, however, make it impossible to play as one character throughout the game. Some missions required one character while others demanded the other. That was something I enjoyed.

So, will I go back to play the WWI and Jack the Ripper sections? You bet. I want to see how Ubisoft handled the WWI bit since you play as a new character. From everything I’ve heard, the Jack the Ripper dlc is probably one of the best Ubisoft has done. Besides, the idea of playing the same character 20 years later intrigues me.

So, were there negatives to the game? Sure. I’ve yet to play a perfect game. From time to time, the vocals didn’t quite match up to the mouth movements, reminding me of a badly synced foreign film. During the final mission, Evie is out of her usual outfits (that you earn or buy) and in a ballgown. Clearly the game designers had issues with how she should move. They got the hip swish in but from the waist up, she was like a Barbie doll — little to no movement, arms at a weird angle, etc. But that was minor when compared to all the good in the game.

Some of the missions could get very frustrating if you were trying to hit the additional goals. Timing meant everything in those missions and after several desynchronizations in a row, it was tempting to simply kill the nearby enemy instead of trying to sneak past them. (Okay, I’ll admit I did that on more than one occasion.) There were times I wanted to reach through the screen and smack Jacob because you knew all the work you’d done with him to “help” someone would come back to bite him in the ass.

I’ll also admit that the final boss battle was a big let down. Not to the point of the original ME3 letdown but a letdown all the same. It was too easy and too quick.

I am hopeful that Ubisoft follows this up with another high quality game and have hopes that is what is happening since they aren’t rushing to put another game out right away. In the meantime, I will play the dlc and keep my fingers crossed.

Final recommendation: this is a must have for anyone who is a fan of the series. For those who haven’t played the series before, I recommend this as a great way to spend time in Victorian England.


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