Archive for the ‘Exalted Movie Mondays’ Category

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Exalted Movie Mondays – Equilibrium

November 22, 2010
Gun-Fu, Suckas!

Equilibrium

I doubt many of my readers need to be told about Equilibrium, but it deserves its own spotlight here. On the off chance that you haven’t heard of the movie, it’s a small film that got very little publicity back in 2002. However, it is an excellent film, and well worth the watching if you haven’t seen it, yet. Starring Christian Bale, Equilibrium has been called (fairly), “A Brave New Fahrenheit 1984.” It’s The Matrix meets Ray Bradbury, with a touch of poetry and more than a little awesome.

The basic premise of the movie is that, in the future, we have created a drug called Equilibrium, which removes all extremes of emotion. No longer are we plagued by fear, hate, or violence, but neither are we permitted love, imagination, or creativity. Of course, there are those who refuse to take this drug, and they are hunted down by the monomaniacal State. These execution squads are led by the Tetragrammaton Clerics, half priest, half ninja, all emotionless. The story follows one such cleric, as he comes to understand the truth about his order, and must make difficult decisions about his family, his faith, and his world.

The story is not terribly original, but Bale’s performance in the lead role is positively exquisite. Like Neo from the Matrix Trilogy, he seems cold, aloof, and emotionless throughout the performance, even when the climax draws him out of his shell. Unlike Neo, Preston should be emotionless. His whole life, he’s been taking a drug that chemically neuters his emotions. He has a reason to be emotionally stunted. Neo just comes off as whiny, while Preston seems like a sociopath… making him all the more terrifying to the people on the other end of his gun-fu.

(Also, this movie has gun-fu. Why aren’t you watching it yet?)

All in all, the most Exalted things about this film are the stunts, and they will provide you with all manner of fodder for your stunts in-game. The themes of stunted emotion, brutal oppression, and potential redemption could play out well in an Underworld game, with the Abyssals playing the part of Clerics. Mostly, however, you’re just going to enjoy watching it. It’s got some seriously spectacular visuals, and Taye Diggs turns in one of his best roles ever. Especially watch him for the effects of Equilibrium.

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Exalted Movie Mondays – Nomad: The Warrior

November 15, 2010

This movie was recommended to me by none other than Dean Shomshak himself. Due to a small glitch in my planning (i.e. Veteran’s Day and the accompanying lack of mail), I almost didn’t get this film in time to review it today. Fortunately, I managed it, and I’m glad I did. Nomad is an excellent movie, and illustrates a number of excellent Exalted themes.

The basic plot takes place on the plains of Asia, with two peoples, the peaceful Kazakhs and the war-like Jungar, struggling over the land. One man, seeking the heir to Genghis Khan’s legacy, finds a child who is destined to unite the Kazakh tribes. This child and his adopted brother grow together, love together, fight together, and, in the end, must meet their destinies together, whatever those may be. The fate of the Kazakh people rests in the hands of the Ablai Khan.

This struck me as nothing so more than two warring kingdoms set in the Shogunate of Exalted, the time after the Usurpation, but before the Scarlet Empress fought back the Great Contagion and the Balorian Crusade. Oraz, a Sidereal, seeks the fated heir to one nation’s hope, raising and training a pair of Dragon-Blooded to lead the Kazakh people against their war-like neighbors. Mansur and Erali are Dragon-Blooded, sworn brothers, stronger together than either could ever be apart. The remainder of the characters are heroic mortals, caught in the passions of a handful of Exalted and dragged along, some to victorious heights, some to crushing defeat.

There are some issues with the film. Half the characters speak English, while the other half are speaking some Asian dialect, most likely Kazakh (though, since I do not speak Kazakh, I have to presume based on the dubbing options). This makes for some awkward dialogues, where one person is clearly dubbed and the other is speaking natively. It means that, no matter which audio track you use, sometimes people are lip-syncing. Also, the appearance of cannon in the movie is something built up, a major plot point, but in the end, the cannon don’t really make a major difference. The final, climactic battle is… underwhelming.

And yet, despite all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It’s an excellent depiction of a culture that gets entirely too little screen time. While most people make sweeping period pictures about Americans and Europeans (sensible, considering those are usually their target audiences), it was very pleasant to see some of the similarities and differences in Nomad. I have no idea how accurate the piece was, but it was certainly enjoyable.

Despite the movie’s few failings (a wretched waste of Mark Dacascos, for one), I recommend it to anyone who wants more insight into the Shogunate of Exalted, or anyone who likes period movies. It’s an enjoyable historical epic, and both Mansur and Erali are pleasant, likable characters, something seen all too rarely in protagonists these days. It’s not a wuxia flick, but it doesn’t need to be.

Thanks, Dean. I’m glad I watched this.

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Exalted Movie Mondays – The Dark Knight

November 8, 2010

This movie has been a while coming, but it’s worth the wait (and Orrin, you can hush with your snarky.  I’ll be happy to make a little fun of this movie in just a minute).  The Dark Knight is the latest in the live-action Batman franchise(s), and it’s one hell of a movie. Sometimes considered the film that killed Heath Ledger, it’s also the film that made him a star. Moreover, it has some excellent Exalted influences.

The basic synopsis is that, in response to the appearance of the caped crusader, criminals are stepping up their game or getting driven out of town. The Joker is the answer to Batman, crime’s one hope of answering Gotham’s arms race. At the same time, Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, is a shining beacon of hope, Gotham’s new White Knight, and Batman’s hope that maybe he won’t have to be Batman forever. When Dent and the Joker meet, however, catastrophe follows, and Gotham has to rely, once again, on its Dark Knight.

The movie is about Batman, but this review isn’t. Screw Batman. The most novel thing Christian Bale brings to this movie is a distinct scratching sensation in the throat and a desperate need for some kind of lozenge. This review is about the Joker and Harvey Dent, two of the most interesting and Exalted characters in Batman’s continuity. Sure, Batman is a Night Caste with abandonment issues, but we don’t care about him. The villains are always more fun.

The Joker is probably the single best Scourge/Fiend Infernal I have ever seen in my life. He is a pure anarchist, a madman out to blow up the world because it’s fun. He dons and doffs roles like masks, playing the mob against the cops, playing Batman against the mob, and turning the citizens of Gotham against one another, all for sport. His origins are a mystery, his mind is shattered, and yet he plays the finest con games and Machiavellian schemes I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. He is the spectacle of the film, a man without rules, whose only goal is to make Batman break his own rule. If Batman kills the Joker, the Joker wins. If Batman doesn’t kill him, he continues to kill others, and the Joker wins. It’s a fine game and a spectacular vice in which to trap the obsessive-compulsive crusader.

Harvey Dent, on the other hand, starts the movie as a hero, the shining hope of Gotham. If anything, he is a Solar, or at least a hero with the potential to be a Solar, shining bright as the dawn and promising better things for the citizens. However, anyone who knows the name Harvey Dent from Batman mythology should recognize that, by the end of the film, Aaron Eckhart is going to become the nefarious Two-Face, a bitter man with all his hope destroyed by the Joker, reduced to a lunatic bent only on revenge against the ones he feels let his world be annihilated. He is, in the end, an Abyssal, a nihilistic force of chaos set loose on Gotham by the Joker himself as his ultimate jest against Batman and the city.

I cannot recommend this film enough to people. Ignore the parts you dislike, but Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is an historic, iconic moment, something that will be discussed among comic book fans for decades to come. It’s worth it for him alone. And I apologize in advance for “the Batman voice.” It’s truly, truly horrific.

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Exalted Movie Mondays – Big Trouble in Little China

November 1, 2010

So, this is a movie my roommate has been suggesting for quite some time, probably because it’s one of his favorite movies of all time. I can’t really blame him. John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is an excellent movie, and while it doesn’t automatically fit into the Exalted mindset, it can be made to fit with very little effort.

Kurt Russell plays Jack Burton, a truck driver (with some of the best lines in cinema history) who gets pulled into a supernatural slug-fest in San Francisco. His friend, Eddie Lee, is meeting his new girlfriend/fiancee straight off the plane from China, but when she gets kidnapped by Chinese gangsters, the pair get pulled first into the seedy underworld. Little do they know that the evil David Lo Pan is behind the entire thing, and this supernatural monster is out to make Eddie’s girl his own!

Most of the characters in Big Trouble are not Exalted. Egg Shen is probably a Sidereal of some sort, and the Three Storms are probably outcaste Dragon-Blooded. Eddie Lee works entirely too well as an enlightened mortal (with a little Terrestrial Martial Arts) to be anything else, and Jack Burton himself is probably the best example of a heroic mortal ever. Even Lo Pan, the villain of the entire debacle, is some manner of ghost, trying to restore himself to life.

And yet, the film shows the struggle of mortals when they get pulled into the struggles of supernatural beings. Lee and Burton have to make a lot of difficult choices, putting themselves at great risk, just to recover Lee’s girl. Nevertheless, they both choose to risk life, limb, and sanity to recover her (oh, and Jack’s eighteen wheeler, too), which is the kind of self-sacrificing high adventure emblematic of heroic mortals.

Big Trouble manages to draw from the same source material as Exalted, especially the kind of hokey, Hong Kong action movies of the Shaw Brothers, but instead of making it more serious, it makes it less serious. Including Kurt Russell as an out-of-his-element Western action hero in an Eastern action movie makes it all so much easier to draw those kinds of comparisons. It’s worth watching, if only for the 1980s feel of the whole thing. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to laugh, both at the movie and at themselves.

Also, there’s totally an erymanthus in it!

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Exalted Movie Mondays – How to Train Your Dragon

October 25, 2010

So, if you’re not familiar with How to Train Your Dragon, I really can’t recommend it enough. It’s a Dreamworks picture, which means you can count on quality, but beyond that it is probably the best Dreamworks picture I have had the pleasure of watching.

The basic plot is not a stunningly new iteration: a young man who is striving to fit in with his culture’s social mores has to decide between blindly following tradition or acting on new knowledge that makes those traditions outdated and dangerous. Hiccup, the protagonist, is raised in Viking culture which prizes slaying dragons. However, when he befriends one of the most dangerous dragons, he has to convince his people that they could work with the beasts rather than kill them.

The portrayal of the dragons is amazing, and the monster designs are adorable. Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, is clearly the product of Chris Sanders, and if you’re familiar at all with Lilo and Stitch, you’ll recognize his influence. Toothless possesses a number of feline characteristics, and if I could have any one dragon from the movie as a friend/pet, it’d be him. This is not to say the others don’t have their own charm, but in the end, Toothless makes the movie.

Hiccup represents a number of well-known Twilight Caste tropes, being the character who uses his mind instead of his muscle. As you can imagine, this does not endear him to his Viking peoples. On the other hand, his father (voiced by King Leonidas himself) is clearly a practicing Solar Hero Stylist. I have never been so happy to watch a man punch out a dragon before.

In the end, I recommend How to Train Your Dragon because it’s an excellent Exalted resource, especially for stunt fodder and character interaction, but more, I recommend it because you will fall in love with it immediately. It just came out this last week, so grab a copy from NetFlix, Blockbuster, or Redbox, but however you do it, prepare to own a copy. It’s really just that good.

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Exalted Movie Mondays – Hellboy

October 18, 2010

When my roommate and I discuss movies we’d watch on a loop, there’s not many that come to mind. Hellboy is one of them. If you’re not familiar with it, the comic is perhaps one of the best comics on the market today, especially considering my love for monsters and folklore. It’s produced a number of spin-offs, most of which are good, but we’re here to discuss the movie.

Like any comic book movie, Hellboy starts with his origin. This is the story of how he came to be the character we all know and love. It starts with his adopted father’s adventures during World War II, and follows all the way up to the modern day, where Hellboy learns of his true nature, and learns that he must choose whether or not he is a destroyer or a savior. It investigates the nature of humanity and heroism, and it does it all while punching neat monsters.

Hellboy is probably THE single best Infernals story ever told, which is probably a part of why I love it so much. In fact, the closing lines of the movie (possible spoiler alert) are: “What makes a man a man? A friend of mine once wondered. Is it his origins? The way he comes to life? I don’t think so. It’s the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.” This is, fundamentally, the entire Infernal “redemption” plot, such as it is. It’s not about becoming something other than what you are, but about embracing what you are and what you choose to do with that. It’s not about how you got your power, but about what you do with that power, the decisions you make.

It doesn’t hurt that Hellboy is obviously using Infernal Monster Style. Hell, the writers have called that “Hellboy Style,” and for obvious reasons. Their inspiration was quite apt. He’s probably a Slayer, considering how much of his life is dedicated to fighting (and how poorly he takes to authority that isn’t himself), but regardless, he’s a heroic Infernal.

Even if you’re not big on the Infernal thing, the supporting cast has some excellent performances to deliver. Abraham Sapien, the fish man, is a Lunar (maybe a beastman Sidereal, considering his psychic tendencies). Elizabeth Sherman, the pyrokinetic, is a Fire Aspect. John T. Meyers is a heroic mortal, and a damned fine one at that. The entire group works well, though the focus is obviously Hellboy.

While the movie makes a number of changes from the comics (for example, in the comics, Abe is not psychic, and Liz is not romantically involved with Hellboy), the changes support this particular telling of the story. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in Exalted, which probably includes you if you’re reading my blog.

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Exalted Movie Mondays – Iron Man 2

October 11, 2010

For those few of you who haven’t seen Iron Man, or are somehow unfamiliar with the titular character’s story arc, this review of the movie’s sequel may not do very much for you. If nothing else, however, I hope it will encourage you to go see both movies (preferably in order). They’re well worth the price of admission.

As a brief recap, Tony Stark is a genius inventor and owner of his father’s company, Stark Enterprises. After an incident in the Middle East, Stark invents a unique prosthetic to keep himself alive, a prosthetic that evolves into superior battle armor. However, Stark has plenty of enemies, and one of them, Ivan Vanko, has returned to seek vengeance. If that wasn’t enough, Stark’s own armor seems to be slowly killing him, and the time he has to find a cure may not be enough.

If the cast for this movie weren’t enough to get you into the seats (what’s wrong with you?), the cinematography, special effects, and script are all equally well executed. Also, Scarlett Johansson is in it, which means you need to see it. In the last couple years, Scarlett has managed to bump Sandra Bullock off my top three Hollywood hotties list (sorry, Sandra!).

As far as Exalted goes, there’s always some debate on what Tony Stark would have been had he been an Exalt (because, as it stands, he’s a heroic mortal). In the comic books, he’s much more of a financial and corporate figure, so I’d actually have placed him as an Eclipse with Craft Favored, but in the movies, he’s definitely a Twilight. His business is always second to his inventions, and that’s the kind of distinction that makes a particular Caste stand out in my mind.

It would be easy to say that Vanko is just the Abyssal version of Stark, but he’s not. They’re not two sides of the same coin, they’re the same coin that took two different paths. If Stark is a Twilight, then so is Vanko. He’s dedicated to destroying Stark, but he’s not a villain: he’s a hero viewed through a broken lens. He believes he’s in the right, and that Stark is actually a monster who needs destroyed. The movie doesn’t give this particular dichotomy much treatment, however, instead focusing (reasonably) on Stark and his conflicts.

I thoroughly recommend both Iron Man movies. There’s a third on its way, as well as an Avengers movie in the works, so for fans of Marvel, keep your eyes open. If Marvel keeps making movies of this caliber, we may get some amazing Exalted Movie Mondays ahead.