AEL: SBCG4AP, Gotham By Gaslight, The Thirteen-Gun Salute, Solo, The Emerald City of Oz, Batman Ninja, Great Expectations, the second half of War and Peace

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People — We’ve discussed already how I am about video games, and here’s the opposite end of the spectrum. This series is damn near perfect. I replay it when I get to missing my friends from Free Country USA particularly severely, and it’s such a wonderful way to get immersed in their weird world and reconnect with them.

The humor is spot-on, with almost no jokes repeated from pre-existing content. (The one drawback, of course, is that the ability to click on things over and over again leads to a tedious repeat of jokes that get less funny each time.) Everyone is perfectly in character, and both the writing and the voice acting is excellent. The story of each game fits the world to a T, and makes for an interesting experience to make your way through.

The gameplay is smooth and enjoyable, and the puzzles make sense while not being completely obvious: nice multi-step puzzles that are more than just elaborate key-for-door boredom. I think the designers were overly optimistic about the player’s desire to find all the collectibles, and I never go into the photo booth after the first time, but since that’s extra content to begin with, it matters very little. Oh! But getting to design your own Teen Girl Squad issues is so much freaking fun.

So, yeah. These are basically the perfect video games for me, and I love them forever. Oh, Strong Bad. How I miss you.

Gotham by Gaslight — This movie was enjoyable, but essentially fluff, which is ironic for so dark a story. It was fun wondering who the Ripper would turn out to be, and I thought it might have been cool if, as in life, we’d never found out for sure. But I did like the eventual reveal.

It also would have liked to see the Joker in this setting. I kinda wished for every single character to have a cameo just so I could see their designs. Batman’s design was so awesome. I wanted more steampunk — I wanted more of a lot of things — but I drank in Batman’s goggles and high collar and everything every moment he was onscreen. The animation did have the usual flat/computer mismatch, though, and the facial animation in particular was weird and jarring. Also, the voice acting in this one was especially bad.

I enjoyed the optimistic ending. It was kindof hilarious that he collected three Robins all at once.

The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian — I kinda feel like Jack’s removal from the service would have had more weight in terms of the series as a whole if it had lasted more than one book. I was very happy for him to be reinstated, but it happened so quickly (in series terms). We dragged out 1812 for, like, six years; why did we blaze through this event so rapidly?

Anyway, was I supposed to pick up on who actually assassinated Leadword and Wray? Or is that a mystery for a later book to solve? Because I felt like I missed something. It’s deliciously creepy that Stephen and his friend dissected them.

The characters in this series are pretty decent about gay people, for their time period. But the narrative never seems to treat gay people well. They always seem to be villains or die, or both. That’s pretty annoying.

Solo — I never actually liked Han all that much, because I find that “rogue with a heart of gold” is often a cover for “asshole that thinks he has an excuse,” and I wasn’t surprised that he and Leia didn’t work out. However, I didn’t dislike him in this movie, so good on that. I found the actor’s acting perfectly acceptable, too.

Overall, nothing deep or world-changing in this movie, but it was enjoyable from beginning to end. I liked how Han’s backstory was exactly to scale with the rest of his life — we didn’t jump back fifteen years and find out that he was involved in ALL THE IMPORTANT THING EVAR the way some backstories do. His friendship with Chewbacca was well set up too.

I liked that they didn’t kill Qi’ra (I absolutely expected them to), but rather had her be a very believable self-serving semi-villain with understandable, realistic divisions in loyalty.

L3 was… problematic. I really liked her, of course, but it rubs me the wrong way that the only activist character is 1) played for laughs, 2) killed, 3) the first female droid (in the main movies) as if for a cheap parallel to feminist activism, and 4) the only activist character in the entire movie canon, leaving us with the pretty clear message, “The only person that’s ever cared about these issues was that one lunatic droid, and she’s dead now, so we can forget about it.” P.S. Stealing her programming is creepy as shit.

So yeah. Good movie — far better than the somewhat inexplicable rumors claim — but flawed as most movies are.

The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum — Another of my favorite installments in this series. Possibly the best, in story-construction terms, so far. Even the random encounters had their proper place and didn’t really bother me, and that’s saying something for Oz. The back-and-forth narration between Dorothy showing her aunt and uncle around Oz and meeting some of its inhabitants she hasn’t before and the Nome King’s machinations was really well set up. Rigmarole Town one of the most legitimately funny moments in the entire series. Ozma and Dorothy obviously going to get married eventually (co-rulers of Oz, yo). Solution clever at the end.

Batman Ninja — WHAT.

This was an extremely funny movie and I enjoyed it very much, but I wish the trailer and/or the description weren’t so misleading. If I had known going in how parodic the movie is, I wouldn’t have been so confused throughout the first quarter or so.

A lot of the time it felt like all the cutscenes from a video game with the intervening gameplay removed. Sometimes the main animation style even looked like cutscene animation. Sometimes it was breathtaking, but sometimes it was like cheap 3d models. It was interesting and fun to switch among animation styles, but the really sketchy one (during the Joker-farmer scene) was difficult to follow.

I wish Selina’s voice hadn’t been so high-pitched. Japan always gives female characters that are supposed to be sexy high-pitched voices, but I feel like Selina should have a deeper, more sultry voice. None of this was at all serious, though, so whatevs. I liked Joker’s voice pretty well.

I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard as when the monkeys formed a giant Batman. What an incredibly bizarre, hilarious movie.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens — This is the second time I’ve read this book, and I still love it, but I miss the huge freaking surprise of finding out where the eponymous expectations came from. The second time through I at least am like, Well, duhh; of course it wasn’t Miss Havisham. But, man, back when I first read it…

Most of what I have to say concerns Miss Havisham. She’s one of those female characters written by a man that has her mind broken by being jilted, and I just don’t know if that’s ever actually happened in real life ever. Despite being a fascinating character to read about, she still consistently annoys me because of this.

However. This time through I noticed a striking similarity between Miss Havisham and Denethor. Of course characters that die by fire must always remind me of Denethor, but that’s only the most superficial similarity. Aspects of character were so reminiscent here that it gave me shivers. In particular, the scene in which Miss Havisham accuses Estella of being cold and Estella replies that she is what Miss Havisham has made her and wonders what more Miss Havisham wants from her (I was going to quote the scene here, but it turns out to be longer than I want to shove into this entry), compared with the scene in which Faramir reports to Denethor of his recent doings and Denethor is particularly unfeeling toward him… I had a throbbing of heart at the emotional similarities. The situations, of course, are entirely different, but in emotions and pride the characters are such spiritual siblings that I can’t help wondering whether Tolkien wasn’t specifically inspired by Dickens in the creation of Denethor.

Beyond that, I just want to mention that it’s interesting to get an alternate ending in a book from this era. Alternate endings are something I associate with modern times, and DVD releases in particular. I am satisfied with both endings. I really just want Estella to be happy. She’s another one of those female characters, like Little Emily, whose story has the potential to be even more interesting than the story being told, but who gets pushed aside for the sake of the main, male character. Oh, Dickens.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (second half) — Actually technically I’m not quite finished with this book, but I don’t know that I’ll have any more comments to make, so this is probably a wrap here. I’ve kinda gotten burned out on it even with other books in between the segments I divided it into, and I was somewhat appalled when it was like, “Epilogue — Part 1 — Chapter 1 — Seven years passed…” and realized that the freaking epilogue is an entire volume and I still had three hours left on the audiobook (at 1.6x speed).

I have no patience for the ongoing existential crisis of all the freaking men in this book. Like, Andrei? Just die already. And Pierre, ugh. I like Pierre — I really do — but the way he wanders in and out of events in the story and can’t figure anything out until almost the very end is really frustrating. And the sexism with which the book was written makes all the female characters a bit tiresome (and poor Maria is still so abused). My new title for the book is Dear Everyone, Stop “Falling In Love” With Natasha.

I did, however, like seeing Natasha demonstrate some organizational talent. Hopefully she’ll be able to help Pierre with the logistics of his philanthropic desires (assuming he retains them).

In multiple places throughout this book, Tolstoy fixed on an idea such as the inevitability of war and hammered the fuck out of it. It got really old really fast, and every time I started to get the feeling he was getting hold of another such idea, I would groan out loud. He says the same thing over and over again in only slightly different words, and it’s incredibly tedious.

OK, so, Napoleon. I broke down and read an actual nonfiction book in the middle of this book, Napoleon by J. Christopher Herold, because a lot of fiction I read (and, in fact, am in the middle of reading right now) is set during that time period, and I figured I should probably know more about its true history. Somewhat to my own surprise, I enjoyed the nonfiction book very much, which I think was in part due to the somewhat snarky tone of the author. But the point is that I knew what must be coming in the second half of War and Peace, and that was fun.

I feel like Tolstoy was unnecessarily disparaging in his descriptions of Napoleon. Napoleon was extremely interesting to read about and a fascinating historical figure, but does anyone have any illusions about him being a good person that did good things? It is really necessary for any author to go out of their way to make him look bad? Doesn’t his entire history speak for itself on that score? I found that kinda weird.

Anyway. I’m happy for several of the characters at the end of War and Peace. I particularly liked the scene with Pierre and Natasha and Maria connecting on such a good emotional level together. I’ve enjoyed this book, but I’m also pretty happy it’s drawing to a close at last. It’s just so damn long. I think next time I’ll try to divide it up even further and see if having even more books in between segments (I regret not noting where in the audiobook files the different parts started and ended) will help.

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