Speaking of Reindeer

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  But it’s just not quite complete without reminding everyone to go check out some weirdtastic Finnish reindeer drama:

 

Niko 2Reindeer Drama

You can’t always strike gold when absently perusing Netflix, but sometimes, you might strike…reindeer?

Don’t strike reindeer, though.  That’s terribly rude.

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Niko posterReindeer Drama: Part -1

After seeing the second movie, tracking down the first became a necessity.

It does not disappoint.

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Glory in their madness, and have a happy new year!

 

Bene scribete.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Anatomy of a Candy Bar

GOTG_teaser

 

I’m not really a huge comic book person, but I have thus far enjoyed what Marvel Studios has done with its cinematic franchise, committing to a combined setting that links all the films together and gives them a larger feel than they would otherwise have alone.  That said, although the tenth entry is the least connected to that shared universe yet, I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the first to live up to that sense of wit and charm set by the studio’s stellar initial outing of Iron Man.

It’s not perfect, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I don’t know that I can quantify precisely why I enjoyed it so much, but it’s just so delightful that you may as well call it a big, tasty – kind of sweet, kind of nutty – candy bar in movie form.

 

Awesome Mix Tape #1You’ve got the rich, chocolate coating of some fantastic visuals and CGI.  Take a break from the dark and dour – this is comic-book colorful at its finest.  Atop that, there’s a sprinkle of mixed nuts in the form of a catchy 1970s soundtrack.  Not exactly what you’d expect with science fiction, but the songs are well-chosen, have a story-relevant presence, and add to the quirky vibe of the film.  “Come and Get Your Love” is one of those songs that periodically seems to pop into my head at random, so there was a strange sort of pleasure in hearing it kick off the title sequence.  And “Hooked on a Feeling” has been stuck in my head all week – thanks, Marvel.

Next, we have a layer of sea-salted caramel that provides the standout flavor of off-kilter fun and humor throughout.  It’s a nice, consistent layer – this is a fabulously mirthful movie.  The characters are all memorable and entertaining, pulling off a constant stream of smiles and a good spread of bust-out laughs from start to finish, which is a handy feat to accomplish (again, I’d say the original Iron Man is the only other Marvel flick to succeed there).

RocketThen, at the center of our confection, we have a curious core of treacle named Rocket – an unconventional secret ingredient that complements the rest better than one might expect and really makes the whole thing pop.  I guess there are two reactions you could have to the notion of a talking raccoon bounty hunter in a live-action space romp: you can throw up your hands and say “O.K., this is a bit too ridiculous,” or you can sit back, buy into the craziness, and marvel (…yeah, I said it) at just how realized the scene-stealing little furball is.  Rocket could have easily been a one-note gimmick, and in the hands of most writer/directors probably would have been, but James Gunn (who admits to a little favoritism) instead gives this computer-animated unhuman character fully-fledged protagonist status, the like of which has only really been done (at least effectively) in District 9 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes – but unlike Christopher Johnson (and Guardians co-star Groot), Rocket has to avoid an uncanny valley in resembling an actual animal, and unlike Caesar (and Guardians co-star Groot), he has to speak a whole lot more than a three-word sentence containing his name.  But chocolate and treacle can mix pretty well, as it turns out, and the CGI is at its most impressive with this raccoon; he’s wonderfully expressive, and the film isn’t shy about showing him off and getting up close, even giving him half of the movie’s more emotional moments and nearly as much screen time as lead real-world-occupying-object Chris Pratt.  This scruffy, snarly, smartass little critter isn’t relegated to the role of cutesy sidekick, but is all the more adorable for it.

Ronan the AccuserOf course, as with any big-name sweets there are chemical preservatives and empty calories to consider, like aliens that make Star Trek races look imaginative and a central conflict that can be politely described as stock.  Compelling antagonists have never been a strong suit of Marvel films, though (perhaps with the exception of Loki, but only in the first Thor), and to be fair, the primary arc was really more about this group of characters coming to terms with each other than it was them actually guarding the galaxy.  Lee Pace, at least, deserves credit for the effort he put into what little he was given to work with as bad guy Ronan, his excellent delivery providing his uninspired dialogue with more weight than it deserved.  And I did appreciate the self-awareness of Quill’s quip that the MacGuffin had a “Maltese Falcon sort of vibe.”  (>^-‘)>

Finally, we mustn’t forget the nougat – that mystery substance that holds everything together.  Call it a Disney touch, comic book excitement, or Star Wars magic – hard to say exactly what this special stuff is, but I suppose you don’t need to know to enjoy it.

 

So, yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fresh, unique, satisfying cinematic candy bar.  It makes me happy, and though it may not be the most nutritional thing ever, damnit if I don’t want another bite.

 

Bene Scribete.

Christmas Time is Reindeer Time (Probably)

Looking for some classic Christmas entertainment to liven up the holidays?  Of course not – you can find that anywhere.

Looking for some crazy Christmas entertainment to crazy up the holidays?  Well, then, might I prescribe a double dose of Finnish reindeer drama?

Behold the magical insanity that are these films:

 

Niko 2Reindeer Drama

You can’t always strike gold when absently perusing Netflix, but sometimes, you might strike…reindeer?

Don’t strike reindeer, though.  That’s terribly rude.

(View Post)

 

Niko posterReindeer Drama: Part -1

After seeing the second movie, tracking down the first became a necessity.

It does not disappoint.

(View Post)

 

 

They really do need to make more of these (if for no other reason than these reviews are always bringing in web traffic…  (>^-‘)> ).  Get on it, Finland!

And to the rest of you, have a wonderful Christmas!

 

Bene scribete.

Public Service Announcement: “Goldfish Mac & Cheese”

Goldfish "Mac & Cheese" display at Wal*Mart

Goldfish Mac & Cheese?
Beware, my friends – it’s a trap;
Sadness lives in here.

 

I suppose I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of dry-box macaroni and cheese (really, Stouffer’s frozen stuff is the only pre-made kind of any sort I find to be worthwhile).  The other day at the grocery, however, I saw that Pepperidge Farm had decided to throw its hat into the game, and at that very moment I was apparently hungry enough to think, “Hey, Pepperidge Farm makes some really good stuff (mmm, Milanos), so this might actually be decent!”  It was a long day, and Goldfish Crackers in creamy pasta-y form sounded kind of good, all right?

…stop judging me.  (>^-‘)>

Anyway, I was feeling adventurous enough to try the “pizza” kind, so I whipped up a batch thereof.  The smell…was frightening.

And then…and then I tasted it.

Now, I don’t know in whose mind this substance could taste like pizza.  Or cheese.  Or food, for that matter.  No, the flavor was more akin to dark, tangy, bitter misery.  To wit, if you were to subtractively combine Top Ramen with Totino’s party pizzas, this would taste cheaper still.  I tried to drown it out with pepper and garlic, but even so I was only able to stomach a few bites before throwing the rest away – something I am typically loath to do with any food, no matter how inexpensive.

But as those few bites sat upon my tongue, I found myself wondering who “Goldfish Mac & Cheese” could possibly be for, as I was unable to imagine any person who would simultaneously actually exist and enjoy its taste.  Even if I were to expand my consideration to theoretical people, and the basis for one such theoretical person (from which all other characteristics were derived) proposes that he is someone who would enjoy “Goldfish Mac & Cheese”, I can only conclude that he would also hate it.  It just made me angry at food in general for the rest of the day.

So I guess all I’m really trying to say is that, if you happen to find yourself in a position where you might consider putting Pepperidge Farm’s “Goldfish Mac & Cheese” into your body, well, you’ve just got to not do it, that’s all.

 

Bene scribete.

Prisoner 721

Prisoner 721 by Aaron Lowry

 

I read this neat little novelette a few weeks back, and figured its merits deserve a shout-out.

Prisoner 721 is, simply put, about a restless inmate who takes it upon himself to teach his prison’s artificial intelligence system how to analyze and interpret visual art.

My favorite thing about this story – what I think makes it – is that it’s told in first-person from the perspective of the AI itself.  Exploring the internalization of a ‘mind’ like this is always a fascinating exercise in thought, and Lowry does a great job of conveying the machine point of view in a unique, believable manner (the “X% chance of Y” trope may be a bit overused, but it has its pulp charm).

The setting, primarily regarding the AI’s role and regulations, is well thought-out, so the scenario evolves in a natural way that doesn’t require sacrificing consistency or technical plausibility for the sake of the plot (a definite plus for any science fiction piece).

It’s a clever, quick, worthwhile read, and you can download it for free on Smashwords, as well as most major eBook retailers.  Check it out!

And take a closer look at that cover – how cool is that?

 

Bene scribete.

Reindeer Drama: Part -1

Last month, I talked about a Finnish animated film depicting complicated family turmoil among flying reindeer.  It was a sequel to a movie entitled Niko and the Way to the Stars – one which, after being exposed to the second, I found it necessary to track down.  Having successfully done just that, I suppose it is only appropriate that I should follow up here.

 

Niko poster

 

The animation isn’t as sharp as in the second film, but it’s still pretty decent, and the detail they squeeze in despite the low tech is impressive at points.  The English dub is mostly serviceable.  But we’re not here to talk about the technical details…

As you may recall from last time, our little protagonist Niko’s parents have split custody of him in the sequel, and mom shacks up with a new caribou.  This left me with certain expectations of some kind of rocky reindeer divorce occurring in the first.  But the reality, as it turns out, may be even better.

Let’s take a look at the Wikipedia page for Santa’s reindeer.  Niko has an entry on it.  It states, and I quote, that he is:

 

Prancer’s illegitimate child from a one-night stand with a regular reindeer.

 

That…is awesome.  I mean, there’s just something kind of fantastic about the blunt, offical candor of a statement like that when considering the subject matter.  And aren’t those links helpful?

So, how do flying reindeer by-blows happen?  When the film begins, Niko is already aware that his father is one of Santa’s crew, but his mother refuses to tell him which one.  She also openly admits to him that she never bothered to tell his dad that he exists.  Real nice.  She explains that she got cozy with him one night when Santa’s sleigh “broke down” nearby (I’ll pause a moment to let you consider what constitutes the ‘engine’ of this particular magical flying sleigh, and subsequently the implications of this claim).  Smooth, Prancer.  Smooth.

Anyway, on to the story.

While gallivanting around in preadolescent reindeerhood, Niko is spotted by a prowling wolf, who naturally wants to turn him into not being hungry anymore.  Niko, being a little reindeer, runs back to his herd for protection.  The wolf, being a predator, follows.  Rather than killing the crap out of this singular wolf, however, the adult reindeer opt instead to run away forever, because apparently they are terrible at being large spiky-headed hoofy-legged animals (there’s a reason wolves hunt lone ungulates in packs).  Since the herd is now displaced, it decides collectively to hate Niko for leading a wolf to its territory.  Since little reindeer don’t like being hated by everyone they know, Niko decides to run away during a snowstorm and track down his father.  Niko’s mother at first wants to go after him, but she is easily talked out of it by another reindeer, deciding that letting her son’s squirrel sidekick try to find him and bring him back safely is good enough.  Reindeer mom of the year.

When Niko finally makes it to Santa’s workshop, he confronts the flying squad in their reindeer tavern (yes, that’s a thing).  When he asks if any of them remember hooking up with a normal caribou one Christmas night, they tell him that he’ll have to be a lot more specific than that.  This means exactly what you think it does.  Santa’s eight are hotshot rock-stars in the reindeer world, and they don’t shy away from picking up a few groupies here and there.  You know, that…actually makes too much sense for raillery.  Niko clarifies his mother’s identity and drops the bomb that one of them is his father, but their response for the time being is feigned ignorance and wholehearted denial.  Why does nobody want this adorable little reindeer kid?

 

RNDR FCE!!!

That face. It’s glycerin.

 

Let’s talk about the villain.  Ooh, let’s!

He is the leader of a pack of wolves who’ve fallen on hard times.  His goal is to eat Santa’s reindeer.  Because – are you ready? – he believes, for no discernible reason, that doing so will grant him their ability to fly.  And then.  He aims to eat Santa Claus himself.  And then.  He intends at last to take Santa’s place so he can FLY AROUND THE WORLD AND EAT EVERY CHILD EVER ON CHRISTMAS.  I–ghh–bvv…  This is possibly the best and most insane motivation I have ever seen for an antagonist in a Christmas or children’s movie.

Then, there is a pink poodle who is inexplicably lost and on her own in the north pole, and even more inexplicably knows the way to Santa’s secret workshop.  She runs into the wolves and they make her lead them there.  The one semi-intelligent non-jerk wolf in the group, likely realizing his pack is entirely male, runs off with her.  Now I want to see what a woodle (a poolf?) looks like.

I could go on, but there’s simply too much and I can’t describe it all coherently.  Just find it and watch it.  It’s madness.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with seven more things you should know about Niko and the Way to the Stars.

 

  • Niko is the same size and seems to be only slightly younger in this than he is in the second, which takes place at least a year later.  I’m guessing this is because, as the son of Prancer, who is ostensibly immortal, he ages much more slowly than a regular caribou would.
  • The ermine randomly breaks out into song in this one, and is generally psychotic.  I guess they dropped that particular direction for the second.
  • Why is Vixen male?  At least Donner and Blitzen have German accents.
  • Niko’s squirrel morbidly creates snowsquirrels of his wife and kid to keep himself company, because the real ones were eaten by wolves.
  • The gateway cave to Santa’s workshop is a perilous Indiana Jones-style death trap.
  • At one point, when Prancer gets knocked out, the squirrel sodomizes him with an icicle to wake him up.
  • Toward the end, Santa’s reindeer warp into outer space with the wolf leader, and then drop him from orbit (maybe that’s the way to the stars?).

 

Bene scribete.

Reindeer Drama

So the other day at my sister’s place, while scrolling through Netflix in search of something ridiculous to watch, we stumble upon this curious item:

 

Niko 2

 

We initially click on it because we think we’re looking at a two-headed reindeer (alas, it was only a small reindeer being ridden by a smaller reindeer).  But then.  But then!  We read the description:

 

On Christmas Eve, young reindeer Niko’s world seems shattered after his mother remarries and he’s blamed when his new stepbrother is kidnapped.

 

I don’t even…  Reindeer drama?  What?  How could we not watch this?

Anyway, it gets better.

It turns out that the eponymous Niko can fly because his real dad is Prancer.  Prancer.  Do you get what that means?  One of Santa’s magical caribou couldn’t make his reindeer marriage work, and is now an every-other-weekend dad.  I can’t get over how starkly…modern that notion is given the context of a kids’ Christmas story about flying reindeer.  And the giant “2” on the cover tells us there was a movie before this one – was it about little Niko suffering through his parents’ (one of whom, once again, is Prancer!) messy reindeer divorce?  I like to imagine so.

The movie begins with Niko returning home from a visit with his dad to find that his mother has shacked up with her new cari-beau (…O.K., that was awful).  If that weren’t enough to dump in a kid’s lap overnight, the new guy has a younger son of his own, and mom is already pregnant with another.  Yet this isn’t even a wicked stepparent thing – the stepdad is a really nice guy.  Am I seriously watching a mature portrayal of split-family dynamics in a reindeer cartoon?

Niko himself is grudgingly adorable (even with his strangely reptilian nose).  You’d think, being the only flying reindeer in his herd, that he’d be a typical acceptance-craving misfit protagonist.  But, no.  Enjoying solitude, he envies the life of a hermit he meets, and actually utters, in chipper earnest, “I wish that nobody knew I existed.”  Yikes!

 

Some reindeer

That’s pretty f-d, kid

 

The central conflict is mostly forgettable (aside from its own strangeness), involving a wolf who for some reason lives in a high mountain cavern with a bunch of eagles who for some reason carry her around and are her devout servants.  This wolf, we learn, wants revenge on Niko for apparently having killed her brother in the first film (I presume as a way to lash out against his parents’ split-up).

The film is Finnish, and while the visuals were expectedly not on par with the Pixar/Dreamworks standard, I’d place them only one tier down.  There was some interesting detail (the reindeer, while still hyper-cute-ified, looked more like actual caribou than any other animated reindeer I can think of), the wingless flight physics were oddly amusing, and the mouth-sync looked to be re-rendered for the English dub.  No one could seem to agree on how to pronounce the names, though.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this; I suppose I just enjoy incredulity.  So should you watch this thing?  I don’t know.  But yes, you probably should.

I’ll leave you with five more things you should know about Niko 2:

  1. I feel like it takes place in a world where humanity has disappeared, but the reindeer have taken over running Santa’s shop because they don’t know any other way of life.
  2. When you finally do see Santa, he is wearing a starry-night cape.
  3. There is an ermine (not a particularly endearing ermine, but an ermine nonetheless).
  4. For some reason, Niko learns how to go starship-style warp-speed at the end.
  5. All of this is about an animated kids’ magical flying talking Christmas reindeer movie that was actually made, and exists, here on Earth, in this reality.

 

Bene scribete.