Sunday, January 30, 2011

Twilight Chapter 21: Phone Call

1. While it’s true that a certain phone call will be central to what happens this chapter…what a stupid title as we near the dramatic climax.

2. The chapter begins with Bella waking up and watching as Alice draws a room she saw in another one of her visions, which Bella identifies as being in her mom’s house. Because I guess Meyer thought we needed confirmation that James decided to involve Bella’s mom in his little game. Even Stephenie Meyer wouldn’t try to make someone look smart by recognizing the living room in the house where they grew up and only moved out of a few months previous, would she?

3. To show you Bella’s one-track brain in action, here’s the exact dialogue where Alice tells her some of the other vampires are coming to pick her up.

Alice: “Bella, Edward is coming to get you. He and Emmett and Carlisle are going to take you somewhere, to hide you for a while.”
Bella: “Edward is coming here?”

4. Bella angsts that the Cullens can’t protect everything and everyone in her life that James could attack, with Alice assuring her “We’ll catch him, Bella.” They’ve been doing a bang-up job so far.

Because Meyer didn’t notice she thought constantly gushing over Edward’s pale, chiseled perfection was more worthy of space than believably developing the relationships between her characters, Bella fires back with “Do you think it’s only my human family he can hurt me with?”

Come off it! The Cullens aren’t her family! She’s known the rest of them a few days and her interactions with them have been even more sparse than the ones with her normal "friends." Without bothering to actually give this some time to develop it just furthers my feeling that Bella’s putting on an act so she’ll be accepted into the family so as to ensure her chances of staying with Edward. Heartless cynic that I am, I feel even more like it’s an act on account of how Edward can’t read her mind and tell how insincere she is about her interest in his relatives.

With this said, Bella goes back to her room to pretend she cares what happens to anyone besides Edward in private again.

5. The period of meaningless pity ends when Alice tells Bella that Jasper left to check out; they’re going to relocate to somewhere closer to her mom’s house while they keep an eye on her. They’ll be taking her to the airport to meet Edward’s party. Changing their base of operations to somewhere closer makes sense, but why do it before the others arrive and Bella’s able to leave with as much protection as possible? These are just my perceptions, but Alice and Jasper seem like some of the least intimidating members of the family. Alice has her precognition to possibly see any attempts by James to attack her, but the key word there is possibly. Once again, it’s been depicted as happening without her control and the reliability of what she sees is questionable (despite later books trying to make it out as one of their biggest assets). Her other protector is the one who, in the near future, goes apeshit and tries to chow down on Bella himself when she gets a paper cut because he has the least amount of control over his instincts.

Edward on the other hand can read minds and has refined his ability to the point where he uses it to find speeder traps. Couldn’t he use it to detect if James or Victoria are near and if so find out what they plan to do with a good deal more accuracy? If nothing else, it seems likely Bella would be safer being escorted to her plane by Edward’s party. It’s got three vampires in it instead of two, and those three are the super-duper strong brother who likes to fight, the one who’s been a vampire the longest and is the leader of the family, and the boyfriend of the girl they’re doing all this to protect who would probably fight the hardest of anyone in the family to keep her safe.

6. The phone call finally comes, Alice gets it and says it’s Bella’s mom. Of course it’s actually James, and I’ll go ahead and tell you he stole some of Bella's mom’s home movies and is using those to make it sound like he kidnapped her. She’s nowhere near Phoenix during any of this and was never threatened by James at all. Did he find a tape that had Bella's mom asking “Is Bella there? It’s her mom”?

For that matter, all Bella actually hears of her mom’s voice is mom calling her name in a panic. What kind of home movies do the Swans keep? “This is that time we took Bella to the beach when she was three, and that scream’s me almost having a heart attack when she nearly drowned. Ah, memories.”

Then again with what we’ve seen of Bella’s interest in self-preservation, maybe it makes sense that her mom’s recorded voice was “in a familiar tone I had heard a thousand times in my childhood, anytime I’d gotten too close to the edge of the sidewalk or strayed out of her sight in a crowded place.”

7. James of course tells Bella she needs to get away from her sparkly babysitters if she wants her mom to be okay, and asks if she thinks she can do so. When Bella replies in the negative, he answers “I was hoping you would be a little more creative than that.” Even the villain’s praising her for qualities that aren’t there.

8. James tells Bella to go to her mom’s house and call a number he left for her, where he’ll tell her what he wants her to do next. “I already knew where I would go, and how this would end,” she thinks, referring to the places revealed by Alice’s visions. But not thinking about why so much attention was called to a VCR there.

9. Bella immediately accepts she has no choice but to ditch the Cullens, walk right into James’s hands by going to the ballet studio, and die. She hopes that getting her and beating Edward will be enough for James, and after he’s got those he’ll be willing to let her mom go. For someone so well-read you’d think she’d know the villain doesn’t have a reason to keep their promises after they get what they want (again, this is something Mighty Max did much, much better in its finale than you'd expect for a show with a villain named Skull Master). And since when was this about James beating Edward? Or is that just more proof that when Bella looks at the Cullens, he’s the only one she really sees?

Like a good little victim, Bella also refuses to tell the vampires who are doing all this on her behalf what’s going on. The ones who actually know anything about dealing with vampires. The ones Bella claims to consider her new family now. Not a few books down the line when she’s finally a vampire, married to Edward and mother to a bouncing bundle of bloodsucking bliss. Right now. A touching display of faith, Bells. Yeah, I’ve been saying the Cullens aren’t all that, but that’s not what the book’s been saying.

“I had to accept that I wouldn’t see Edward again, not even one last glimpse of his face to carry with me to the mirror room.” He’s a freak. Be glad. But then, you’re a little odd too for thinking it's the ultimate expression of romance to have someone who says he's a killer break into your bedroom without your knowledge. I don't care if Edward's from a different era, he lives in this one. He wasn't magically zapped into the 21st century, after all.

“The only expression I could manage was a dull, dead look.” The way she usually looks when Edward isn’t around filling every moment with unfiltered but inexplicable bliss, then.

10. Under the pretext of writing a letter to her mom, Bella actually writes a goodbye letter to Edward explaining she loves him, she doesn’t trust his family to handle this and is going to sacrifice her life for no reason. If nothing else it shows maybe Bella is a little receptive to people’s efforts to be nice to her, at least if they’re the right people: “Tell them thank you for me. Alice especially.”

11. “I only hoped he would understand, and listen to me just this once.” When he’s shown practically no self-control and when his girlfriend is basically asking him to let her commit suicide.

“And then I carefully sealed away my heart.” Oh please! If the half of Bella’s thoughts that wasn’t rhapsodizing about Edward’s perfection wasn’t constantly moaning over one stupid thing or another, I might care when she felt torment about something bigger than not wanting to listen to her chatty "friend."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Zorro Generation Z - Crime Wave

Been a while since I  reposted the reviews of the pilot, if you don't know what the heck this is go check out those ones first.

Our return to Pueblo Grande opens on a pair of guys working a crane hauling something called “life chips.” One notes that a shipment of these got stolen the week before, which is why the pier’s crawling with guards. Not that he expects anything to happen, because it’s not like this city has enough crime to warrant a pair of wisecracking superheroes. Two unaffiliated superheroes, even.

Right on cue, a magenta submarine built to look like a shark for some reason surfaces and a bunch of ninjas jump out. The guards might have more luck fighting off the ninjas if they remembered their guns still work outside the range of a spinning kick.

The ninjas get into the crane and lower the life chips into their sub just as what looks to be ¾ of the Pueblo Grande police force shows up and fails to apprehend them before they get away. All the cops manage is to rip off one ninja’s yin-yang necklace, and since none of them notice it that was probably a complete accident. Then again, since the mayor’s also in charge of most organized crime in the city he probably hires the most incompetent cops he can find.

That's not even close to what bolos are for but...whatever.

After the insipid theme song, things resume on a beach volleyball at night. The girls’ team, led by Maria Martinez, is up 10-0. Because Diego, who’s on the other team, isn’t as aware of his surroundings as you’d hope for a superhero whose powers are knowing kung-fu and having a lightsaber, it’s 11-0 after he runs into Bernardo.

Diego passes the ball back a little too hard and it rolls to the water, where it’s stopped by a bunch of considerate surfer dudes. The leader introduces himself to Maria as Manu (that’s weird. Suddenly wish I was playing Quest for Glory III instead of watching this cartoon), and Maria gives her name in that unsubtle sort-of-embarrassed tone meant to indicate she’s blown away by his hotness. Which seems wrong for a character who’s made out to be the polar opposite of who’s-her-face from that apple book I’ve been reviewing. Manu and his buddies depart to cut some waves, bidding Maria “aloha.”

Bernardo’s magic crime alert watch goes off and the boys realize the life chip shipment was hit, so they make a lame excuse and leave. Cut to Zorro riding toward the scene of the crime. Along the way he proves to have actually done his homework on life chips, which is totally inconsistent with how he was shown before to treat crime-fighting like the same thrill ride he treats motocross as, while leaving the brain work to Bernardo. Not really sure why he couldn't glance over a block of text brought up by Bernardo explaining what they do, which is automatically diagnose the illness of whoever they’re injected in.

Diego even knows they were meant for a children’s hospital, and thinks whoever stole them must be real jerks. Which might have something to do with why they’re stealing in the first place.

Zorro finds the fallen yin-yang necklace, but the cops find him. Furthering my suspicions about the police department’s hiring process, they seriously fall for a “hey, look over there!” trick and Zorro gets away. He surmises it can’t be a coincidence that the dock workers are part of a union run by a Don Chino, and heads to Chinatown to make some inquiries. Sort of blurring the lines on what does what in this outfit.

Don Chino proves to be a guy who doesn’t look or sound Asian at all despite the pathetic attempts to give him the diction of someone who speaks English as a second language: “This necklace has symbol of El Rey Beach gang. Surfers that used to work for Chino, but not no more. Most likely they stole life chips.”

The unmistakable sign of this other gang is a yin-yang symbol. One of the most generic images used to indicate “coolness” in the world. Why do I get the feeling the people behind this thought back to when T & C Surf Designs were really hot for their understanding of surfers?

Settling back into his more familiar behaviors, Zorro steals some of his dim sun, then cracks open a fortune cookie and notes it says “You will be visited by a dark stranger. Whaddaya know, these things really do work!” Ha ha.

By the way, since we know now that the guys who stole the life chips used to work for Don Chino but not anymore, does Zorro's logic that Chino runs the union that works that dock, therefore he must know who stole the life chips make any sense?

Next day at the beach, Diego’s spying on Maria with binoculars (creep) when she meets up with Manu and his friends. And Manu has…a yin-yang tattoo on his arm! He MUST be mixed up with those ninjas who stole the life chips, there’s no other explanation! “This is not good, on so many levels.” Care to name a few? I mean, Zorro and Scarlet Whip have expressed a little interest in each other a few times, but I never got that off Diego and Maria. If you get the difference. And again, the surfer dude has a yin-yang tattoo. So?

In his little hideout Diego angsts to Bernardo about what to tell Maria, since he as Diego would never know about life chips or criminal organizations. Trying to get the character back on track, huh? His concerns make sense. So warn her as Zorro. That solves every sticking point with telling Maria what’s going on. As the resident superhero he’d have a reason to know what life chips are, know about members of the underworld, and to take an interest in the welfare of the family of local officials all in one go. And if she asks too many questions, he's a mysterious masked avenger, so he even has a reason not to give specifics.

Yeah the mayor tries to make Zorro look like a criminal, but that doesn’t really seem to work. I mean, the plot for a whole episode was hiring guys to impersonate Zorro and make him look bad. Which suggests Zorro generally enjoys a positive reputation. Why doesn’t he suit up and warn Maria?

This is even assuming Manu has a greater interest in Maria than some action with a redheaded hottie, and that having a yin-yang tattoo proves he and his friends are the ones who stole the life chips. But because this is a brainless cartoon, he has and it does, and we’d better move along before I let myself go off on another rant.

Diego gets it into his head to make friends with Manu and his gang too, but the next day he still goes up to Maria and tries to warn her that he thinks they’re suspicious. She thinks he’s jealous that she’s more interested in Manu. After warning her to watch herself again, he goes over to Manu and his buddies to try and make friends. Which Maria, being an intelligent and self-acuated woman, finds kind of hypocritical.

Saying he’s a friend of Maria’s, Diego introduces himself, points out their necklaces and says he found one just like them. Manu identifies it as the one he’s missing and not as something you could buy at any crummy gift store in a beach city. Diego says he’ll tell them where he found it that night under the pier, and not to tell Maria.

That night he tells the surfers he knows they’re the ones who pulled off the life chip heist and he wants in because he’s a bored rich kid looking for kicks. So saying, they kick him. After he manages to hold his own against the five of them, Manu thinks maybe they can do something with him. If he can surf, that is. Diego picks up the gauntlet, and agrees to meet them at Punto Muerto to show them his stuff. Have I mentioned how often the writers use the word “bro” to sound with it?

By the way, you guessed it. The bad guys of the episode are surfers. That’s why it’s called “Crime Wave.” I’ll wait until you’ve stopped applauding that stroke of genius to continue the review.

Back in the hideout Diego angsts to Bernardo because he can’t surf. Bernardo’s thoroughly amused because he already has the answer to this problem, some kind of bionic wetsuit that makes it so he can, in fact, surf. Um, when the hell did Bernardo invent that? And WHY?? Anyway, the magic surf suit works, Diego does indeed prove himself the big kahuna of the hour, and Manu welcomes him to their gang. He tells Diego to meet them at the Puerto Grande (I thought it was Pueblo Grande) Yacht Club the next night, and invites Maria to “hang” with them that night.

What's that Skippy? You think the idol's cursed?
Diego shows up at the yacht club, and for some reason walks up to Mayor Martinez’s personal yacht, which he says to himself looks like someone’s having a fiesta on it. Uh, no it doesn’t. It looks like it’s moored. That’s it. For some reason he goes aboard and finds out Manu and his buddies are hijacking the yacht. They want to be modern-day pirates, and now they have a boat to do it with. With a luxury yacht, huh? I can see it having all kinds of unregistered weapons because it belongs to the crooked mayor after all, but the episode advances nothing of the kind. And seriously, a yacht as a pirate ship?

How many fiestas can you find in this picture?
They even kidnapped Maria after she helped them get on the boat. Not so tough without her laser whips, is she? Even though she’s wearing a backpack that obviously has all her Scarlet Whip stuff. What kind of pirates are these guys that they didn’t take it away and go through it for anything valuable?

Just so you know, I didn't skip any scenes. Manu says Maria helped to get them onto her dad's boat, but not why. Did their relationship get more time in the original script? Did she somehow know they were crooks and hoped to capture them? We'll never know.

Seeing as they plan to dump Maria now that they have her dad’s yacht, Diego tries to warn them that they, you know, robbed from “the powerful and very dangerous” Mayor Martinez, implying there are at least widespread rumors he’s not quite the man of the people he pretends to be. Manu’s sure Martinez’s bark is worse than his bite, and just to tie everything up with a neat little bow, adds that if Don Chino paid them what they were worth before, maybe they wouldn’t have to steal life chips and backstab their former bosses now.

In order to get away so he can become Zorro and save Maria at the same time, Diego pretends to throw her overboard and talks her through being a good hostage. The surfer ninja pirates follow them chanting “Heave-ho!” Who the hell says that anymore? They make a break for it and swim to shore, where Maria says she’ll stay so she can change to her superhero identity, and Diego asks no questions and runs off so he can change to his. And Maria’s never going to think about how uncharacteristically heroic Diego was, how he used her as a weapon against a bunch of ninja pirate surfers as a matter of course, and how he ran off just before Zorro showed up.

Once suited up Zorro angsts to Bernardo about how he’s supposed to get back out to the stolen yacht to round up Manu and his buddies before they can pull off their first aquatic robbery. Bernardo immediately has a solution, a shell that fits around his motorcycle and turns it into a jetski. There’s even a special gimp suit that goes with it. Why the hell doesn’t Diego know about any of these things? Does Bernardo enjoy seeing his friend get all stressed out when he can’t find a solution? I know they’re teenagers but they’re also the self-appointed protectors of a city where the same guy who runs the police runs the crime, too. Maybe they should be a little more professional about this? The “witty” banter doesn’t necessarily have to stop, but the guy doing the legwork should know what all his options are.

By the way, they're in the back of a semi. Where the hell is this thing rising up from?

By way of contrast, watch some Kamen Rider W. Not only are the heroes kind of goofy while still being professional about their self-appointed responsibilities, it’s about five million times more entertaining than this show. They even have a gizmo that plugs into their motorcycle to turn it into a jetski too, and manage to make it cool.

You even learn what an anomalocaris is, so it's educational too!

Zorro picks up Scarlet Whip, who was just waiting on the beach and not commandeering a speedboat or anything to take care of this on her own. Why did she even suit up if had no way of getting back out to the yacht? She tells him how the life chip thieves are out on that boat like he'd have any other reason to be out there with a jetski. They do get back to it and start having it out with the “pirates.” Scarlet Whip, of course, takes on the two girls among the group. Whip points out to one Sheila that Manu got while the getting was good, leading her to dismally exclaim “To think I was gonna lend him my surf wax.” There’s a double entendre in there somewhere.

Oh crap...Zoobilee Zoo!
They’ve soon rounded up the evil surfers and a police launch that already picked up Manu pulls up to collect his friends. Zorro even found the life chips on the boat, and carves a Z into the side before he and Scarlet Whip zoom away.

A surprisingly partial newscast reveals how the life chips were returned, “thanks to the courageous efforts of Zorro and the Scarlet Whip.” So if they’re generally regarded as heroes, why couldn’t Zorro warn Maria before, again?

Since wronged crime bosses like to keep things personal, Mayor Martinez is seen back on his yacht, about to make Manu and the other evil surfers walk the plank. Whoa, that’s not dark at all for a supposedly-humorous kiddie superhero cartoon.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Twilight Chapter 20: Impatience

1. Things are hazy when Bella wakes up in a cheesy motel room. What? They didn’t hole up in a 5-star hotel? But being as showy and luxurious as possible always worked so well!

“When I woke up I was confused. My thoughts were hazy, still twisted up in dreams and nightmares; it took me longer than it should have to realize where I was.”

Not having Edward around to anchor your fragile universe is rough, huh kid?

One thing she does remember is the vampire kids driving “at more than twice the legal speed.” You mean how they supposedly always drive? Not just Edward, which is why they have such luxurious cars? And how did they never get caught, if they didn’t have their resident telepath around to spot cops?

Also, I love the line “I didn’t have enough emotion left to be surprised that we’d made a three-day journey in one.” Ha! Bella Swan! Emotion! Can’t you just choke on the enormity of that oxymoron!

Or some kind of moron…

2. By the way, the vampires assigned to keep an eye on Bella are Alice and her boyfriend Jasper. If they’re willing to send a pair who are coupled up on a particular job, I wonder again why Edward’s not there too. There’s been so much frakking angst in this book already, I really don’t like that the answer is so they can angst some more over whether the other’s okay.

3. Trying once again to make Bella look sympathetic, she angsts about how she’s supposed to live with herself if any of the Cullens (but especially Edward) get hurt or killed dealing with James and his gal pal. “None of you should be risking yourselves for me--” For once we agree, Miss Swan.

Alice tries to calm her down and forget about her “wholly unnecessary worries.” Even though the one thing Meyerpires are vulnerable to is other Meyerpires. And James and Victoria are actually in practice when it comes to fighting.

Alice goes on to say Edward wandered through life alone for a hundred years before meeting Bella. If he’d been alive that long with no reason to keep living, even one as pathetic as having a girlfriend like Bella, you wonder why he waits until the next book to find a reason to piss off the vampire police so they’ll do him the favor of ending his meaningless existence.

4. Bella does calm down some, but notes she can’t trust her emotions with Jasper around because his power is to control people’s moods. He has good reasons to do so, keeping Bella from freaking out during a trying experience and saving me some anguish by keeping her angsting to a minimum, but man. What’s so great about these people who invade and control the minds of others without permission?

5. “As the afternoon wore on, I went back to bed, simply to have something to do. I hoped that by myself in the dark, I could give in to the terrible fears that hovered on the edge of my consciousness, unable to break through under Jasper’s careful supervision.”

I knew it! I knew it all along!! She does do this to herself on purpose! Look, Bella doesn’t have to be out there, helping them track down James, but she can at least try to have a little faith that her flawless Adonis who’s perfect at everything will be able to do what he says he’s going to do.

This whole frakking chapter is literally Bella sitting in a hotel room, worrying. It takes a hand way steadier than Stephenie Meyer’s to make something like that worth reading.

6. Bella finally stops wallowing in her angst long enough to ask Alice what the others are doing, exactly. She replies that one group--the one with Edward--is going as far north as possible before they have it out with James, while the other is going as far west  as they can to lure Victoria. Wait, wasn’t James supposed to be hunting Bella? Why is he chasing her boyfriend instead of the group that supposedly has her?

Also, wasn’t part of the plan that some of them would stick around Forks so Charlie didn’t think they’d kidnapped his little girl? To hang out in Forks a few days at least to foster that impression. Has it been that long? It said they made a three-day trip in one, and then about a day passed during the waiting before this. Did Meyer forget that part of the plan? Did she forget how she wanted us to think Bella’s special because she came up with a plan even a bunch of natural hunters respect?

7. Because Meyer evidently can’t write anything other than long, droning conversations, Bella asks Alice how people become vampires, figuring she’s got a right to know. I’m sorry, what? She’s been accepted by a group of vampires, but how does it follow that she’s entitled to know how she becomes one herself? If they intended to bring her into the fold, they probably would’ve. Unless she thinks they were lying to her about all the good she’s doing Edward.

Ignoring how Bella has no survival instincts and might do something incredibly stupid with dangerous information like how to become one of them, Alice explains more things about what it means to be a Meyerpire. Such as how “like a carnivorous flower, we are physically attractive to our prey.” Even though Meyerpires, unlike carnivorous flowers, can easily outrun and overpower pretty much any possible prey, so there’s no reason for it.

Plus, how often is anyone besides Bella ever lured in enough by a Meyerpire's unearthly beauty that the Meyerpire could've attacked the person if they'd wanted to? Sounds like just another thing to make the Cullens as awesome as possible.

“We have another fairly superfluous weapon. We’re also venomous.” The venom is carried by the bite (and apparently all of a person’s bodily fluids become this venom after they become a Meyerpire), and it debilitates rather than kills, turning the victim into a Meyerpire themselves if left in the victim's system for a few days.

“As long as the heart keeps beating, the poison spreads, healing, changing the body as it moves through it.” Uh-uh. If it heals, it’s not poison. That’s just stupid.

The problem with biting someone and letting them complete the change into a Meyerpire is that once the victim’s been bitten, the scent of blood is in the Meyerpire’s nose and they’ll be compelled to just keep feeding until the victim’s dead. Yes, I truly believe that will become an actual problem generating real tension.

8. Alice’s power suddenly decides to work, and she sees a room with mirrors and a long bar across them. She also sees James playing a VCR. Only Bella recognizes the room from Alice’s vision as a ballet studio. Not really polishing the Cullens’ reputation here, Meyer…

9. Neither does the part where Edward calls to check in and deliver the news that James seems to have realized they were trying to trap him and slipped away. No the heroes shouldn’t be perfect and automatically able to handle anything in a good story, but this makes it seem like the Cullens are great in everyday situations but when it’s crunch time and they’re up against someone with the same advantages they’ve got, they’re not so hot after all. That is, it's more false advertising than making the characters imperfect.

Also, Victoria’s back in Forks, but Edward assures our heroine that her dad will be safe with Esme and Rosalie looking out for him. Rosalie. The one who hates Bella and thinks it’s stupid that they’re going to all this trouble to protect her. Who said as much to Edward’s face last chapter.

10. Since they know James’s plans somehow involve a dance studio, and there’s one really close to the Swan household in Phoenix where Bella used to go as a kid until she (what else?) whined and got her mom to let her drop out, James might involve Bella's mom.

So yeah, he does want Bella. Why the hell did the Cullens figure he was playing right into their hands when he wasn’t pursuing the group that was supposedly transporting Bella before?

Bella calls home and leaves an urgent message for mom to call her at the number of their motel room. Then she settles in to worry about her mom in addition to the assorted Meyerpires.

Pardon me, but if they're so sure James has been able to find out where Bella’s mom lives (through sneaking into school and looking at her records, they figure), what’s to keep him from breaking into her house, checking her messages to see if Bella called and finding out where they’re hiding her? Maybe she used one of the vampire kids’ cell phones, but all it says is “the phone,” sounding like the one that comes with the room.

And Meyer had been making the Cullens so clueless to let Bella look smart…

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Twilight Chapter 19: Goodbyes

1. They get to Bella’s house, and Emmett, one of Edward’s brothers, vanishes into the darkness to scout the perimeter. Bella finds his absence “anguishing,” since she doesn’t know when she’ll see him again, has known him for maybe a day, and hardly got to know him at all in that span of time. Too little, too late.

Bella gears up for her tearful tirade where she tells Charlie she’s going home to Phoenix. “This wasn’t going to be pleasant.” Why can’t I shake the feeling she was going to enjoy it though, the standoffish little brat?

2. As she goes in Bella assures Edward “I love you. I will always love you, no matter what happens now.” Because they like a few of the same musicians.

Bella also adds “Keep Charlie safe for me. He’s not going to like me very much after this, and I want to have the chance to apologize later.” Whoa that’s kinda out of left field. Since when does she not resent him for trying to be a good father? Or is this to make it seem like she appreciates her dad in front of Edward so he’ll be more likely to invite her to become part of his family?

3. Bella spends about two pages doing what she does best, which is whining and crying when the world doesn’t revolve around her. Charlie tries to get her to calm down and help her out, but now that it’s part of the plan Bella has even less motivation to listen to his attempts to be a good parent than usual. Forgive me for not going into more detail, I’m sick of listening to Bella whine in general. I don’t feel like paying attention when she’s doing it on purpose. I’ll mention Charlie says Bella’s mom’s coming for a visit, because her new husband is having trouble getting signed out in Florida, and if he doesn’t they’ll be moving back to Phoenix.

“ ‘Just let me go, Charlie.’ I repeated my mother’s last words as she’d stalked out this same door so many years ago.” How the hell does Bella know what her mom’s last words were to Charlie when she walked out on him? We don’t see much of Bella’s mom but she doesn’t seem like the type to have started ranting about her worthless ex-husband in front of her beloved daughter. And if she had reservations about Bella moving out to Forks, it was more about the place and the simple fact that darling Bella wouldn’t be around, not that Bella would be living with that waste of oxygen she made the biggest mistake of her life by marrying.

Charlie and Renee’s relationship doesn’t seem nearly venomous enough for Bella to know exactly how their marriage ended. It's not as if Bella would remember. She was a frakking babe in arms when it happened. Although I wouldn’t put it past Meyer to say Bella was some kind of super baby who can actually remember things from her infancy.

4. As Bella leaves and starts the drive back to the Cullens’ place, Edward just switches places with her so that he’s driving. “The truck didn’t swerve an inch.” Because Edward’s perfect.

“ ‘You wouldn’t be able to find the house,’ he explained.” Because it’s impossible for him to trust the girl that he loves with all his unbeating heart and soul, who’s supposedly possessed of a very quick mind, with directions. Did the Cullens build the road to their house so only a vampire could possibly drive down it or something stupid like that?

The vampire kids state that James is following them, in case we forgot the point of everything that just happened. “My plan suddenly didn’t feel so brilliant anymore.” Maybe that’s because it never was.

5. As they drive, Edward jokes that he had no idea she was so bored with Forks. Maybe he was trying to be humorous to calm her down a little, but she replies that she was verbally hitting Charlie below the belt with all seriousness. So what was the point, Meyer?

6. Bella whines about why James would want to hunt her of all people (yeah, yeah), and after saying it sort of is her fault for smelling so good to vampires, Edward finally explains basically what a “tracker” means in regards to vampires. To be completely fair (which, believe it or not, I try to be), it’s what you probably thought. It’s a vampire who lives specifically for the thrill of the hunt, and the fact that Bella’s under the Cullens’ protection only makes her a more tempting target to James.

Edward isn’t happy because their only real option will be to kill James. “Carlisle won’t like it.” And he’s almost an actual character!

When asked how they plan to do that, Edward explains the only way to be sure is to rip James apart and set fire to his remains. So basically vampires are so awesome that the only thing that can kill a vampire is other vampires? Jeez Meyer, could you try to be a little less swept up in your characters’ awesomeness?

7. Bella asks if James is still following them. “Yes. He won’t attack the house, though. Not tonight.” Um, why? There a couple good reasons, but damn it, a decent writer would tell you what they are.

8. Laurent, who was hanging out with our villain James earlier, is already in the Cullens’ house when they get there. He’s trying to get in good with them, though, because James and the other invading vampire are crazy and he was safer pretending to be on their side. He’s too afraid of James to actually help them, and plans to “head north -- to that clan in Denali.”

I thought it was supposed to be really weird that the Cullens are a group of vampires that stay in one place (remember the "honest curiosity"? That was this guy). Now he’s going to head somewhere he knows another group of vampires is living?

Oh, and again Alice doesn’t walk, she dances. And for some reason her eyes flickered “unwillingly” to Bella, even though I thought Alice was supposed to like her and care about keeping her safe for some reason.

9. In a moment that literally made me groan, Edward's mom pushes a button on a keypad and big metal shutters start sealing up the house. Meyer, did you think you were writing a comic book or something? Who installed those? And did they think maybe it wasn’t worth the time and money when they could only realistically stay in Forks for a couple years before people would notice the kids had finished high school, but weren’t going to college or getting jobs and had to move on? Of course not. They've got money for whatever stupid or needlessly extravagant thing they need. Let’s not even get into where Bella and Edward have their honeymoon.

10. In a ploy to distract James, Edward “commanded” Rosalie (the one who doesn’t like Bella) to trade clothes with Bella. She of course doesn’t understand why they’re going to all this trouble over a ninny like Bella (testify, sister). How could Edward not know Rosalie’s the only one who doesn’t like his girlfriend? It’s plenty obvious to me, and I’m not even telepathic. I find it incredibly hard to believe Edward could be so clueless as to ask Rosalie to do something like this even if he’s got enough respect for his foster family not to be reading their minds (something I don't remember Meyer saying one way or the other in the first book).

He asks Esme to trade clothes with Bella instead, and she says yes right away. Why didn’t he just do that in the first place?

Without even waiting for Bella’s acknowledgment, Esme takes her upstairs and trades clothes with her, then the Cullens grab her by the elbows and carry her outside. Which just goes to make her look even less capable of fending for herself in any capacity. Our heroine.

11. Bella realizes “with a stab of fear” that's Edward in the group that's going to be going up against James. Would she have noticed this if Edward wasn’t going out to do the actual fighting? And why exactly isn’t he in the party that’s sheltering his girlfriend? They’re doing this all for her sake, and he’s obsessed with her to the point of sneaking into her bedroom while she’s asleep. Isn’t it likely to affect his game, not having instant access to knowing where she is or if she’s okay? He's not the patient type

12. Alice has one of her visions and sees Victoria, the other evil vampire, following the group with Esme acting as a decoy. They act like this is a sign they should go ahead with their plan. Even though they’re trying to sucker James, not Victoria, and this would seem to indicate they haven't fooled him, because he’s not following the group they want him to follow.

13. Bella’s all sad that the Cullens have to do this on account of stupid old insignificant her, “the tears streaked noiselessly down my face.” Since when do tears make noise at all?

As Alice and her boyfriend Jasper get Bella to take her to supposed safety, Jasper assures Bella that she’s wrong, she’s totally worth all this. He doesn't tell her why that’s the case, of course, because the only answer is she’s the author’s avatar and Meyer says she’s worth it, so she is.

Alice asks if she can carry Bella out to their car, and I’m kind of starting to like her because she’s the only person who doesn’t treat Bella like a talking piece of furniture. Most of the time. Even if that’s what Bella deserves.

Monday, January 17, 2011

DuckTales: The Quest for Gold

I can’t properly summarize DuckTales on this blog for people who’ve never seen it. If that’s you, buy the DVDs and come back when you’ve enriched your life after watching a few episodes. For the rest of us, when you think “DuckTales videogame” chances are you think of the one on the NES where Scrooge is bopping around five levels using his cane as a pogo stick. While there's no canes as pogo sticks in this game, there's an actual reason to be rounding up all those treasures.

Flintheart Glomgold, Scrooge’s number one rival, has convinced Dime magazine to have a contest to see who should be Duck of the Year. Whoever raises the most money in a month will be the winner.

Now, there are a couple of ways to go about getting the money, like diving into Scrooge’s money bin to look for rare coins or investing in stocks. Or you could do what you’re supposed to do and get your feathery butt out of the office to go treasure hunting.

There are a couple different modes of gameplay, the first of which being the flying minigame required to get from place to place. You have to watch out for clouds that spin you around, balloons that drop cartoonishly heavy objects on you, power lines that slingshot you back and lightning bolts that guarantee you’ll crash. And if you crash, you’ll lose valuable time while Glomgold’s free to snatch treasures before you can. Unless you find the Bombastium that Gyro can use to make a teleporter, letting you skip this sequence while opening up the risk of ending up somewhere you didn't intend.

The easiest of the minigames is nature photography, where you play as Webigail taking pictures of exotic animals like pink elephants or tigers with flowers instead of stripes. You have to be careful not to take pictures of regular animals or run out of time before you run out of film, because unlike the other areas you only get one try at these. Whereas if you fail at any other type of location, you get to try again while only losing a day of game time.

Then there’s mountain climbing, which involves watching out for boulders, bears, and Beanie Beagle as you climb ledges, picking up diamonds for a little spare cash but trying to get to the big money at the top. You’ve even got three “lives” in the form of Huey, Dewey and Louie in case one goes falling off a precipice. I found the experience of playing these platform levels with a keyboard a little twitchy, and it to be a tad too easy to accidentally walk off a cliff when I was trying to walk to the edge and turn around to jump to a higher ledge. Or not just turn around but take a step past the area where I can jump to that higher ledge.

There’s cave exploring which is a bit on the boring side. You’re going around, trying to avoid entering rooms with pits and constantly avoiding an oddly human mummy while trying to find the treasure chest. There are pools of slime that are (somehow) supposed to be a clue that a pit is in a nearby room, but they tend to be chained together, and sometimes contain pits themselves, so they’re really not that much help in locating pits. Or maybe I was just doing it wrong.

My least favorite mode was always the jungle exploring one. You can make your way to the treasure through tree branches, but it’s hard to get the hang of jumping from one tree to the next when playing with a keyboard. You can ride hippos like boats along the bottom of the screen, but they can sink into the water at any time and you’re leaving yourself wide open if a bird happens to fly by and knock you off because you could well have no handy branches to escape onto. And despite using the same sprites as the mountain levels, the boys don’t actually have grappling hooks.

Gameplay aside, the game designers obviously did their homework when coming up with locations, companies to invest in, and treasures to find, as quite a few were featured in episodes of the cartoon. Like the crystal donut from “Superdoo,” the Duck a la Orange from “Duckman of Aquatraz,” and the swamp from “Sweet Duck of Youth.” And before every treasure hunting experience, Huey, Dewey and Louie break out the all-knowing Junior Woodchuck Guidebook for a hint on the upcoming sequence.

While it’s by no means a deep game, for its time Quest For Gold offers a surprising number of options when it comes to modes of play. While they can get repetitive after a while, for fans of the show it can be fun amassing treasures from their favorite episodes and discovering new ones the writers never included. Not to mention seeing your pile of treasure dwarf Flintheart’s and prove Scrooge got to be the world’s richest duck for a reason.

Golden Sword of Dragonwalk

R.L. Stine rose to prominence with his Goosebumps books after I stopped visiting the “young readers” section at the local library, but his stuff was showing up while I was still going once a week looking for the latest literary thrill. Like one involving a golden sword in a land where dragons walk…

You’re paying a visit to Grandma Carmen’s house, and the only thing on your mind is spending the day exploring all the awesome secret passages and locked trunks. Of course, what always happens when you’re looking forward to a day of fun? That’s right, Grandma Carmen promised you’d babysit Stacy the neighbor kid. And what’s even harder than having fun when you’re dragging around a whiny kid? Vanquishing the forces of evil while you’re dragging around a whiny kid, of course!

The first secret passage you explore with your oh-so-helpful companion takes you to the beleaguered kingdom of Dragonwalk where the wizard Merle hands over the kingdom’s legendary golden sword. Right before three dragons (a big one, a little one and one in the middle) swoop down and try to chew up the village where you arrived. The sword has the power to…make you a good sword fighter, but the secret to beating the dragons is picking the right order to fight them out of a list of six. You’re probably saying to yourself, “that sounds pretty dumb.” And it is. It probably wouldn’t improve the way you look at it to hear your reward for beating the dragons is a wish the little girl who ran for the hills makes for you, would it? Didn’t think so. In fact you get sent back in time to before you entered the passage, meaning the dragons you just killed are still alive and still terrorizing Dragonwalk. Nice one, Stacy.

Fortunately, assuming you survive the fight with the dragons or opt out of it in the first place, you can experience the “main” quest of the book which is a little less dumb. You find another secret passageway and a dying knight who hands over the golden sword and his mission to save Dragonwalk from the evil wizard Ravenhurst. This quest adds a little extra depth because you get to pick one of three sidekicks to help out when a magic sword isn’t quite enough: Elkar, a knight, Chalidor, an apprentice magician, and Bendux, the Dragonwalk version of Bill Gates who bribes monsters into not eating him.

You can read the book yourself to find out which one’s the best, but the most interesting is Elkar. After you guys are catching a breather in the aftermath of a fight with a killer tree, an elf comes by and steals his sword. The elf thinks he’s struck it rich, but finds out the sword won’t go anywhere without its owner and Elkar was on the varsity elf-kicking team.

Stine contributed a couple books to the Wizards, Warriors and You series back in the 80’s and it feels like he was covering a lot of the same ground in this book. That is to say when you run into a frog knight or giant lizard that wants to spill your blood, the book asks you to pick a random number or figure out what time it is and that determines whether you kill it or not. Reading at night? Tough noogies, you’ve been turned into a frog. You’re about to be eaten by a dinosaur, pick a number from one to ten! Picked even? Uh oh, you’re in trouble, but maybe your buddy can help you! Chose Elkar? Flip a coin!

If it sounds like a lot of what happens to you is determined by random elements or variables you decided on a long time ago, it should. So like in Wizards, Warriors and You, you actually don’t control what happens that much.

So is Golden Sword of Dragonwalk entertaining? If you’re willing to live without a sense of coherence or control. Seems like people thought the kids going nuts over the Goosebumps books would, because like Stine’s other Twistaplot books it was re-released at the height of his popularity to squeeze a few more bucks out of those squealing kids.

The Video Avenger

TRON. Captain N. People seem to love ‘em or hate ‘em. Same with another book from the Twistaplot series of days long ago, The Video Avenger.

Twistaplot was one of the many series that sprang up in the mid-80’s hoping to get a piece of the Choose Your Own Adventure pie. Most of the Twistaplot books were pretty stupid, but The Video Avenger is…well, less stupid than most.

As a reward for eating 4,789 cheeseburgers, you’ve won an all-new super awesome computer with 64K whole bytes of RAM! Just as you’re thinking of all the fun you’re going to have playing Deathbeam Dinosaurs on this puppy, you open it up and find out it’s a supercomputer with a voice and brain meant for that top secret lab down the street. You’d think a government lab that needed “high wire fences and armed guards” wouldn’t be using the same shipping service to move their evil AI’s around as a fast food company. Or that a sentient computer would be designed to trap people inside it by beating them at videogames.

Before you can say, “I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad,” you’ve been zapped into the cockpit of a rocketship getting blasted at by a multi-headed dino. That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

If you were expecting to be transported into a realm where games are real, though, you’re in for a disappointment. Instead, if you manage to escape the Deathbeam Dinosaurs, which doesn’t take long because it’s hard to write a fun dogfight scene, most paths involve you running around in the shiny innards of the computer ducking its guards and looking for a way out.

The main problem with The Video Avenger is how it misrepresents itself. From looking at the title, cover and glancing over the “how to read this book” page on the inside, it looks like a swashbuckling adventure that’s kind of fun and a little whimsical. Not a book where you’re a basically helpless in a battle for your life with an electronic madman where the first slip-up could be your last. “You will compete with the machine in all kinds of games and electronic challenges. Make the right moves, and you will have a lot fun,” indeed.

That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting characters lurking inside your new computer. The Gladiator was a pretty nasty piece of work, and the encounter with him involved a light saber battle which was a childhood dream for many. There’s Cluster, your telepathic copilot, and the Glitch, a valuable ally who has no business being in an ultra-advanced self aware computer. And of course everyone else who played the computer and lost before you.

Maybe they’re why if you do end up in another game, it usually means you can look forward to a messy death in the immediate future. Then again, you can look forward to a lot of messy deaths, period. This computer may not have anything on its chips and bits bigger than tormenting kids after luring them in with their favorite videogames, but it’s not screwing around. The sheer volume of nasty endings to good ones may not really be that high for these books, but it really helps the feeling that the computer knows what you’re up to and enjoys toying with you.

So while it’s annoying that The Video Avenger ends up being less about playing videogames from the inside and more about beating a demented computer before it can zap you into binary code, the stories of you trying to escape are if nothing else pretty cohesive with a decent atmosphere.