Tag: thriller (page 2 of 6)

Requiem for the Masquerade


Courtesy Highmoon 

Has it really been 20 years?

Obviously it has, since the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade is coming. I’m definitely interested, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which the time I spent playing that game both on the table and in live action. This pending milestone, plus my current re-read of Niven & Barnes’ Dream Park, has me thinking back on those times I donned a suit for a purpose other than a job interview.

Masquerade was a fun and engrossing game world, but it wasn’t without its flaws. A diverse set of clans for power specialization and fluff flavors coupled with an intriguing take on old vampire legends made it appealing right out of the box. The premise of it being based on ‘personal horror’ was fascinating as well, to me: what does this change, these powers, mean on a personal level? How hard will you fight against these new instincts, this new society, to hold on to the person you were? How far will you go to make a place for yourself among the other creatures of the night? These questions, to me, were far more important to me than any number of filled-in circles on a character sheet, especially in retrospect.

There’s a part of me that wonders if I left a good amount of this really juicy storytelling material unexplored. When I first became acquainted with the game I was still developmental in both my abilities for telling tales and my maturity in handling character beats. To put it another way, I was all about the circles. As time went on I did delve into some of the deeper issues but more often than not, real life found a way to upset the pace I was setting for myself in an ongoing Masquerade game.

Then came Requiem. I haven’t played it anywhere near as much as Masquerade, although I did get a great taste of it when I met Will Hindmarch. The questions are still there, but the answers felt odd, in a way. There felt like there was a clean disconnect between who a character was after becoming a vampire, and who they were before. Maybe it’s just me, but the pitch and timbre of the ‘music’ of Requiem felt a bit more avant-garde than that of Masquerade.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great stuff in Requiem. I adore the fact that they did away with cookie-cutter villains, letting player factions and politics become the crux of the drama in gameplay. The change to clans felt a bit odd to me; while I acknowledge it adds potential diversity through bloodlines, it also seemed like an overcomplication of an aspect of the game that didn’t need fixing, in my humble opinion. The obliteration of the Cainite history, and most history for that matter, felt like the least-welcome change. Traditions, tales and lore added depth and a sense of weight to the condition of the players: You are a product of all that has come before you, and it’s up to you if you follow in those bloody footsteps or strike out on your own. In Requiem, any ties to your past or your lineage is tangential at best. There’s less pressure on the player… fewer questions asked.

I’ve long felt that the perfect vampire game (at least in the World of Darkness) lies somewhere between these two settings. The Cainite history, august lineages of the clans with their centuries of infighting, betrayal, absorption and breakaways and deeper personal questions from Masquerade coupled with the faction politics and cagey-yet-social nature of the Beast from Requiem seems like the best of both worlds. Then again, that could just be me. Either way, the characters continue to be the focus of any decent story, and when it comes to the World of Darkness, they’ve been fascinating for 20 years and hopefully will continue to be so for many more years to come.

Header image courtesy Highmoon’s Ponderings

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Law Abiding Citizen

Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


As a generally enlightened culture, we are fascinated by the concepts and procedures of justice. We debate what is in society’s best interest, study those who act against that interest and determine ways in which those parties can be dealt with. It’s the reason Law & Order is one of the longest-running shows on television. However, the lament of many an individual with a mind geared towards justice and perhaps even honor is that the system established by our culture is fraught with loopholes, caveats and legal prestedigitation that allows criminals to escape what might be considered their just rewards. Enter righteously motivated and occasionally unhinged vigilantes, from Batman to the Punisher, from Paul Benjamin to the Boondock Saints. While most of these heroes operate outside of the system, Law Abiding Citizen goes a step further by taking on the system itself.

Courtesy Overture Entertainment & Doctor Popcorn

Clyde Shelton is a tinkerer. He’s making a quiet living with a few inventions with his wife and daughter when his home is invaded. Stabbed and forced to watch his family murdered, Clyde then sees months of time and millions of dollars trickle away as his lawyer, hotshot Nick Rice, brokers a deal with more vicious of the two attackers, Doyle, that sends the partner to Death Row while Doyle himself gets a slap on the wrist. Clyde is a little upset about this turn of events. Ten years later, a series of gruesome but highly coordinated events begin to take place, and it soon becomes clear that Clyde has a bone to pick with not just his attackers, but the system that let one of them walk away. It slowly becomes apparent just how dangerous Clyde really is, and Nick is the only person capable of figuring out Clyde’s next move, provided Clyde isn’t actually three moves ahead.

From the standpoint of composition and flow of story, there’s really nothing objectionable about Law Abiding Citizen with one noteable exception. Kurt Wimmer, creator of the exceptional Equilibrium, is good at this sort of intelligent, vengeance-minded scripting. F Gary Gray’s got good directing chops that give us clean scenes and realistic framing. None of the actors seemed to be phoning it in or gnawing overmuch on the scenery. There’s nothing earth-shattering in any of these elements, but neither are any of them bad enough to warrant a mention. It’s a character-driven movie, rather than being fueled by explosions and cleavage, so it was already winning points on that basis alone as it ran.

Courtesy Overture Entertainment & Poptower
A little something for the ladies.

One thing of note, and a big part of the appeal of the story, is just how insanely prepared Clyde seems to be for most of the movie. Take this as your obligatory spoiler warning before I actually get to discussing the end, but from the start of the film up until about the 90th minute, Clyde comes off as a diabolical mix of Hannibal Lecter and Hannibal Smith. He’s intelligent, well-spoken, resourceful and very angry, yet he’s polite when he needs to be and is careful to never tip his hand. It’s like in handing the unrepentant Doyle a plea bargain, Nick Rice accidentally created a supervillain that Lex Luthor would love to have on his payroll if he wasn’t worried about Clyde taking over the business. The extent and execution of his actions reaches that level of impressive deviousness.

The other thing that stood out from the very beginning is this movie’s setting. Call me sentimental but I’m kind of in love with Philadelphia. Considering most of the tension comes from in and around City Hall, which is an exquisite stone building in the heart of a bustling modern metropolis, it was all sorts of eye candy for me. In addition, the prison scenes were shot in the old Eastern State Penitentary, commonly noted as a haunted attraction in these parts. Though I have to wonder what William Penn, the Quaker atop City Hall’s clock tower looking down at most of the city’s buildings, would make of all the explosions in his town.

Courtesy 49th Parallel
“Damn kids these days…”

Okay, last call for those wishing a spoiler-free experience to get out. I’m going to talk about the ending, now, and in retrospect it’s kind of pissing me off. So for most of the movie, Clyde is the sort frighteningly prepared and thorough villain that you can’t help but admire because the guy’s thought of everything. Then he seems to forget things. Like for example, when he sets the bomb for the mayor and Philly’s other top brass, why did he not include a motion sensor at the bottom of the case, activated after he leaves, so that it’d go off if it was moved? And why was his lair unprotected? When Nick and Chief O’Brien (yes, he had another name, and no, I don’t feel like looking it up) break into the place, they flick switches, pull covers off of equipment, so on and so forth. There isn’t one mine, no traps, not a single remote security measure, not even a tripwire! I was throwing up my hands in disgust! I mean, it’s one thing for the villain protagonist to be so smug he gets hoisted by his own pitard, but this was just downright stupid!

In the end, Law Abiding Citizen kind of let me down. I was along for the ride and enjoying it, wondering who was going to die next and how. The realism of its setting and execution pulled me in, but when the ending took a turn for the idiotic it hurled me back out again. What started out as an interesting and entertaining introduction to the origins of a truly menacing and intelligent character became a major disappointment. I’m inclined to say queue it up but shut it off after the first hour and a half. You may be saying, “But I won’t know how it ends!” My response is: Badly. Very, very, very badly. I don’t mean in terms of what happens to the characters, I mean in terms of the last dozen pages of the script getting fed to an angry badger before the scenes get shot. It’s mangled, abused, completely out of sync with the rest of the movie, kind of damp from drool and boy does it smell funny.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


When I was studying English at university, I came across a revelation. It was a place full of distractions that could sap the time and energy of the unwary student, and deadlines do not often change based on a hangover or waking up in an unfamiliar place. However, it is possible, under those circumstances, to produce a paper that seems to have been adequately researched even if it was not. I, however, never made the grand assertion that anything I threw together at the 11th hour contained information that was entirely factual. That sort of claim is best left to other authors. Like Dan Brown, for instance. It’s something overshadowing all of his books, as well as the two adaptations of novels to films as of this writing — The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Of the two, Angels and Demons is better. I didn’t hate it. That would require interest and energy that the movie doesn’t really deserve or earn.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

At the Large Hadron Collider, an experiment to harvest antimatter goes exceedingly well, resulting in three clear Pringles cans that magically contain the annihilating substance. One of them is stolen. Meanwhile, in Vatican City, the Pope has died and the cardinals of the Catholic Church are gathering for Conclave, the sealed conference in which they choose the new head of the Church. However, four of the favorites for the throne of St. Peter have been kidnapped. The only clue anyone has is a strange image that seems to be a word – “Illuminati.” Shown the antimatter container’s dying battery and given a ticking clock, the Church turns to someone they know who can unravel the mystery – Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon.

Shedding the embarrassing mullet he sported in his first outing as Langdon, Tom Hanks gives the protagonist his particular form of everyman charm. He places the professor squarely between the quiet earnestness of Ewan MacGregor and the rather seething menace of Stellan Skarsgaard. In general, the performances in Angels & Demons don’t go over the top and do what they can to lend some much needed plausibility to the plot. I do have to say that I was initially disappointed that Audrey Tautou wouldn’t be joining us this time around, but when I saw how superfluous the role of ‘the girl’ was I was glad she didn’t waste her time.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
The Catholics definitely know how to liven up a congregational meeting.

Director Ron Howard shoots this movie and frames his scenes rather well. The action is clean, the actors sincere and the dialog uncontrived, save for the occasional spiral into false fact. Dan Brown, from what I understand, is a practicioner of what I will call “shock schlock” – writing that is mediocre at best framed in devices like bad research or a flimsy reinterpretation of classic horror creatures. The marked difference between what the audience knows or expects and what appears in the book is meant to stir up controversy and thus raise interest in the book, thus increasing sales. It’s entirely possible Brown had this purpose in mind when he claimed all the historical “facts” he cites to be “true.” The problem is, they’re not. A quick Google search clears up the inconsistencies that, for me, pretty much ruin the narrative.

Take Galileo, for example. In the film, Langdon tells us that his assertion that the Earth moves around the Sun caused the Church to bully him into recanting his works and releasing books that retracted his earlier writings, only he also released a book in secret that contained “the Truth” and founded the Illuminati. The implication of this Truth’s existence isn’t as damning of the Church as it is in the DaVinci Code and nobody tries to kill Langdon over heliocentricity the way they did over the idea of Christ having a child. The Church has only a limited number of assassins, you see. Anyway, it was a glaring error that threw me for a loop. Let me explain.

Painting by Christano Banti
Painting by Cristiano Banti, 1857

Galileo Galilei was called before a papal court in 1633 on suspicion of heresey. When Galileo, a devout Catholic, discussed his work with Pope Urban VIII, His Holiness told Galileo to go ahead and write out the arguments for and against heliocentrism, but not to advocate it. Instead, he framed the argument as a narrative definitely in favor of the Earth’s movement and gave the view of the Pope through a character taken by his audience to be a simpleton. In light of this unintended slight, the Inquisition demanded Galileo recant his advocacy. He didn’t. For this he was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life, his books were banned and publication of further works forbidden, and he died alone, penniless and blind. Oh, and the Illuminati? Not founded until 1776.

This is just one example, but it permeates both this work and The DaVinci Code so deliberately and thoroughly that I can’t help but feel Brown is being systematic in his use (or abuse) of history. I do try to judge a film on its own merits regardless of its source material, but there’s so much heavy-handedness in these works it might well have been typed out by someone wearing medieval plate gauntlets. Just as Stephenie Meyer uses defanged vampires and sullen, lackluster werewolves to teach her audience about abstinence and the righteousness of traditional marriage, Brown uses falsified and mis-interpreted historical documentation to elevate science to a sort of divinity while demonizing people of faith. Any faith. But especially Catholicism. He’s one strained metaphor and misquoted date away from having Langdon sparkle in the sunlight.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

While Dan Brown seems to be doing his utmost to drive a wedge between science and the Catholic Church, even after the big reveal at the end, the movie doesn’t seem interested in choosing a side. It presents the conflict and depicts the lengths to which the Church may go to defend itself, albeit in a much less heavy-handed manner than The DaVinci Code. Ron Howard’s aim appears to be balancing things out so that the film, on its own narrative, doesn’t declare one side good and the other evil. There’s a truth in that, as while Angels and Demons follows the trend of Brown’s work in using intellectualism to undercut the tenants of faith, Langdon’s presence ends up protecting the very faith he struggles to accept. Not for himself, mind you. He still seems to scoff at anybody who’d even consider the idea of a divine presence, let alone an invisible man controlling every aspect of creation, a viable one. And considering the nature of the work, that’s Brown’s sarcastic, “oh you’re such a child” smirk we’re seeing, not Langdon’s.

To their credit, the screenwriters, actors and director of Angels & Demons manage to keep the messages of the movie from overriding the narrative. The problem with this is, without the deliberately inflammatory nature of the sentiment running under Brown’s prose, there isn’t much here. It feels far too mediocre to illicit the sort of reaction Brown was likely going for. I’m not certain if Brown is deliberately trying to pull people away from the church by painting them as a cadre of supervillains or if his aims are just to make a quick buck with some “shock schlock,” but Howard and his cast completely destroy whatever aim he had by rendering the story of his first Langdon adventure entirely without teeth, power or even much energy. It limps along for its 150 minute run-time, never really rising above the mire of its source material yet treating that material like it’s an embarrassment. Which, let’s face it, it kind of is. Angels and Demons, for all of its star power and bestseller basis, simply can’t be arsed to care enough to tell a good story.

And if it can’t be arsed to care, I can’t be either.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


I’m going to go out on a limb and make an assumption about you, the person about to experience this review. If you’re above the age of university graduation, you’re working a job you don’t particularly like. Chances are, instead of being in a place where you do something that not only pays your bills but fuels your passion, you’re in a position where one need is getting fulfilled while another is getting neglected. I know it’s not going to be true for everybody, but for the majority of people interested in seeing Falling Down, the miasma of soul-crushing modern urban life coupled with negative daily experiences like a commute and estranged family are elements that are familiar, painful and a means to forge immediate empathy with a man who, despite his politeness and intelligence, isn’t necessarily a very good person.

And yet, he’s our protagonist.

Courtesy Alcor Films

His name is William Foster, but most people will come to know him as “D-FENS”, the vanity plate on his 1979 Chevelle. Said car has a busted air conditioner and we find Foster sitting in the car, stuck in Los Angeles traffic on the hottest day of the year. For reasons not immediately explained but revealed bit by bit throughout the story, D-FENS abandons his car and declares he’s going home. He walks from one part of the city to another, encountering little annoyances that most people deal with or accept with at least some measure of restraint. It’s quickly clear, however, that D-FENS is unrestrained. Something has snapped deep within this man, and he is lashing out at whomever gets in his way. Store owners, gang members, by-standers, anybody. He begins his walk unarmed and seemingly harmless. As time goes on, the stakes get higher, his arsenal grows and a legacy of battered individuals and urban legends spring up in his wake. He doesn’t care. He just wants to go home.

Every step Foster takes not only takes him closer to home, but further down a very dark and disturbing path and brings us closer to a full understand of what made him the way he is. Thanks to a tour-de-force performance by Michael Douglas, we see Foster not as any sort of hero and, by the end, he barely qualifies as a decent human being. What’s chilling about him is his single-mindedness, his ironclad determination to complete his journey and his deep resentment for anyone who tries to belittle or downplay his rights or his ambitions. This could literally be any one of a million people who work a job for most of their adult lives only to be told their position is no longer economically viable, are rejected by the people they love and get confronted by personal irritants at every turn. It may feel at times like D-FENS is being set up by some mischievous god, but the fact is that none of the people he encounters, with one exception, are better or worse by a large degree than he is. They’re all selfish, self-involved and angry about something.

He just has more guns than they do.

Courtesy Alcor Films

This film was marketed, for the most part, as a revenge flick in the vein of Charles Bronson’s many stabs at the action genre. But many stories in that style, from the ongoing urban reclamation of The Punisher to the faith-fueled rampages of the Boondock Saints, have an atmosphere of fantasy about them, the sort of juvenile wish-fulfillment that still exists deep in the heart of movie-goers like myself who remember and, in some cases, cling to the frustrations of growing up in a hostile environment and longing for ways to fight back. Falling Down does show us what could happen when an ordinary man indulges in that wish-fulfillment, but it plays the results 100% straight and never, ever lets us forget that what D-FENS is doing is wrong. The police get involved right away, and it’s in this that the blurbs and posters fail, as the movie only gains its true depth and examination with the addition of Sergeant Prendergrast, played excellently by Robert Duvall.

Courtesy Alcor Films

The differences between Foster and Prendergrast may at first seem jarring. Foster is a cold, driven, frighteningly intelligent and very bitter man, while Prendergrast is kind, considerate, quietly looking forward to retirement and seems a bit like everybody’s dad. However, these two men are separated only by the thinnest of lines. Both deal with frustrating situations and inconsiderate people, but while Foster is acting out at all times against all comers, Prendergrast takes what he can on the chin. He doesn’t lash out unless it’s necessary. When it is necessary, he doesn’t hold back. But his restraint, in stark contrast with Foster’s lack of it, underscores the utter depravity of D-FENS’ actions.

At one point, Prendergrast points out that everybody makes choices. In dealing with a spouse, in pursuing a goal, in facing a situation that drives us up the wall with anger, we make choices. Some choose to deal with the situation as best they can, rolling with the punch and looking for an opening to push through to something better. Some fold completely under pressure and harbor resentment for later. And some pull out a gun at the fast food counter when they ask for breakfast at 11:34 AM when restaurant policy says breakfast stops getting served at 11:30. Most reasonable people would take a deep breath and order from the lunch menu instead.

Courtesy Alcor Films
“I don’t want lunch. I want breakfast.”

And yet, as unhinged and wrong as Foster’s actions are, we cheer for him. We delight in the revenge he takes on the cold, unfeeling world around him. We might even picture ourselves doing the same thing in the same situation. We would likely even consider ourselves in the right, as Foster does. Yet as the weight of his actions hurtles towards him, and Prendergast tracks him down, he comes to a chilling realization that’s been clear to us as outside observers practically from the start. “I’m the bad guy,” D-FENS says. “How did that happen?”

From writing to direction, from acting to shot composition, this is an excellent film. The downward spiral of Foster and the mounting aggravation of Prendergast mirror one another perfectly, the motivations of Foster are revealed at a great pace and the action never feels unrealistic or contrived, with one or two exceptions. It’s fun to watch and deeply engrossing at the same time. While we chuckle at D-FENS struggling with a rocket launcher, we also may see ourselves in his sullen, grim and bitter demeanor. Falling Down holds a mirror up to our lives and asks us how much we see in the reflection. It’s less a revenge flick or action thriller than it is one of the most badass exercises in self-examination I’ve seen in quite some time. It definitely belongs on your Netflix queue if you haven’t seen it before.

Here we have evidence that Joel Schumacher can, in fact, make a damn fine thriller. I still want to take a bat to his knees for Batman & Robin though. And then I’m going after the idiots who don’t give subtitle options on certain Netflix Instant selections. Now I have to wait a week or two to review Oldboy. Would a hammer be more appropriate than a bat? Or maybe a chainsaw. Wait, is that a sword hanging over…?

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


This review marks the one year anniversary of ICFN’s podcast component, and to celebrate this, uh, monumental occasion, this review is being written and voiced by me, Danielle, aka that wife Josh always talks about. You’ll probably notice some stylistic differences between the two of us, too, so try not to get your panties in a twist when I’m not as polite as he is. Fair warning.

Anyway, I had originally wanted to do something old and loved that I haven’t seen before, so I could shit all over everyone’s nostalgia because, let’s face it, most cult classics are pretty terrible. However, we’d already watched Black Book before Josh thought to tell me this was the one year episode so here I am, reviewing yet another fucking World War II movie. Yay.

Courtesy Fu Works

Now, I love World War II. I own a collection of books on the subject. Schindler’s List is the best movie that ever has been — and probably ever will be — made. Reich 5 is one of my favourite of the Infinite Worlds. So when even I am so fucking sick of this shit that we put off watching this movie for like a month and a half, you know it’s bad. Josh only picked this one up because MovieBob recommended it in some review or other, which made me even more skeptical, as he and I seem to either really agree or really disagree on most movies. But we’d put it off long enough and we needed to watch it for Netflix to send us anything else, so we finally bit the bullet and now, here we are.

The movie opens in ’50s Israel, where we meet two women – Ronnie Nolastnamegiven, a tourist, and Rachel Stein, a schoolteacher. They happened to be friends from Holland who haven’t seen each other since the war. After doing some catching up, Rachel, played by the very lovely Carice van Houten, goes off to contemplate how they met and how she ended up in Israel, and the movie starts for real this time. It’s nearly the end of the war, but that hardly makes things better for Rachel, who’s hiding place was just blown up and is now trying to flee the country. Needless to say, shit goes pear-shaped and after everyone she ever knew or loved is murdered by Nazis she joins the Resistance. If you’re starting to think she’d make a good JRPG protagonist, you’re not alone.

Courtesy Fu Works

From there on out, it’s pretty much your standard World War II spy movie. Stein is a woman, so obviously she can’t fight, and instead seduces a Nazi officer, but of course she falls in love with him, and someone is selling their group out but they don’t know who, blah blah blah… There are more twists than you can count on one hand and only one is at all surprising, but even that takes forever to get to and forever to resolve. Having the movie go on for so long after the war ended was a mistake. At one point of hilarious self-awareness, van Houten sobs “Will it never stop?!” I was wondering that myself.

Given the pretty unoriginal premise, the film relies almost completely on the actors’ performances, which are admittedly great pretty much across the board. One scene with Theo, played by Johnny de Mol, was absolutely ridiculous and just made me laugh, but I don’t know if that was the actor or the retarded dialogue he was being made to spew forth. All of the characters except Stein, Müntze and Akkermans are pretty much impossible to feel any sort of empathy for because they’re vehicles for World War II drama archetypes, not actual people, and even those main three aren’t too interesting.

Courtesy Fu Works

So, should you put Black Book on your Netflix queue? If you’re looking for a solid period drama, Schindler’s List is better. If you just want to see Nazis getting killed, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and should just queue up Inglorious Basterds and its loose interpretation of historical accuracy. If you want to see Carice van Houten whip her tits out with alarming frequency, you could do a lot worse than Black Book. But really, just do a Google search for screenshots. There are plenty, trust me. … Ahem.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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