Star Trek Beyond

MV5BMzQ4Njk3MTQ1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTQyODg5ODE@._V1_SY1000_SX660_AL_First of all, it’s weird that “Star Trek” has turned into an imperative verb in the new movie series. I mean, it is, right? Who is being commanded? I guess probably Kirk. (I reject the idea that the audience is the object.) And that established, Star Trek Beyond what?

Given ample use of spoilers, I could probably wax rhapsodic with theories and themes galore that might or might not fit the bill; but there’s no use in spoilers here. That said, I do have more questions. This one is more from the original series, but I had reason to be reminded of it. Given that the Enterprise‘s five year mission is to expand the borders of known space, why are they so frequently coming across Starbases? My best answer is that it’s not the random exploration we’ve been lead to believe, but instead a boring grid pattern search, such that the Federation is expanding somewhat close behind them at any given moment. Which is a sensible way to do things, but it definitely kills a lot of the cowboy mystique that has grown around Kirk’s era of Starfleet.

Anyway, though: this is definitely a Star Trek movie, and for once does not suffer from JJ Abrams’ fundamental misunderstanding of the size of space. There are other reasons to watch it, but that should probably be enough all by itself? Also, it is way, way, way better than The Search for Spock, even if I belatedly notice at least one parallel to that flick.

Ghostbusters (2016)

MV5BMTU0OTQ5NDMzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUxODMxOTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_I actually saw two movies on Thursday prior to departing for a camping trip. As usual, I have squandered my chance at a timely review of a new release movie. This happens with such reliability that this can probably never be my actual job? No, I’m kidding, there are much better reasons for that outcome than lack of timeliness. Still, though, I’m here now, so let’s talk.

Ghostbusters, right? There’s been a lot of chatter for months about this movie, mostly along feminist lines. On one side of the divide are people complaining about an all female cast of main characters taking over the reins of a major nostalgia franchise. On the other side are people who want to slap the smirk off the first group of people, because, Jesus, how is this a thing someone can justify complaining about in 2016? (I, uh, may have an opinion in this race.) For my part, my complaint from the start has been, why is this a reboot? Why not a next generation sequel? This complaint, while I have not really let it go after the fact, was never enough to keep me out of the theater.

Anyway, though, the outcome? I’m gonna stay away from plot, because you know what’s up. Four women in New York with unlicensed nuclear reactors strapped to their backs are out to solve a ghost problem. Anything less would be impossible for you to know, and anything more is best saved for the theater. But was it worth it? I have mixed feelings.

See, on the one hand, they drew so very heavily from the nostalgia well. Yes, I loved the movie unabashedly, but it’s not really easy to tell if I’ve been puppeted into feeling that way. On the other hand, and I think this is key: every moment that I walked out of the theater laughing about and already quoting back and forth with my friends was a moment that was new and fresh to the new characters. I hope it passes the test of time, and I hope any potential sequel is neither a pale facsimile of this one nor a tired retread of a plot that already exists. Because I really want to see it again already. I know for a fact there are jokes and sight gags I missed; and more importantly, I want to get some of those lines down solid, because I wouldn’t be surprised to be throwing them around in casual conversation 30 years from now, just like I do with the old lines today.

Finding Dory

MV5BNzg4MjM2NDQ4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzk3MTgyODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Remember Finding Nemo? If my website hadn’t died while I was getting ready to start this review a couple of hours ago[1], I might have more to say about whether I remember it, but apparently that will not happen anytime soon[6]. But here’s what I remember of relevance: when that one fish whose name I had forgotten lost his kid Nemo, he found another fish whose name I had forgotten to help him out. Later, a sequel!

Thanks to the power of advertising, I now know that the second nameless fish is named Dory, and of course if there was going to be a sequel, they’d keep the name scheme intact, which also necessarily informs the plot. See, Dory, as you may or may not remember from the original[2], suffers from short term memory loss. Which means that once upon a time, she got lost, and she’s been lost ever since, even though she made new friends eventually like Nemo and what’s-his-name. I mean, it doesn’t mean that, but you can intuit it from her previous state of being completely alone in the ocean.

And then she figured out she got lost, and decided she wanted to get found, and there you have it: Finding Dory. That said, it’s a Pixar film, and therefore a kid movie[4]. That said, I actually felt like it was backward from the usual kid movie formula, in a way that maybe Pixar has always tried to achieve but with varying degrees of success. Because, this felt to me like a regular movie that has some jokes and gags thrown in to appease the kids in the audience, but mostly the eyerolling can be kept to a minimum.

I’m not sure this is even a justifiable take, but my reasoning is because of how delicately the concept of a mental disability was handled. On the one hand, yes, Dory causes a lot of her own problems, and it’s clear from both movies that when she’s on her own, she’s in a lot of trouble. She relies on the kindness of others to function in the world. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t improve the lives of those others in countless ways, and the film is careful to stay aware of both sides of Dory’s coin. There’s nothing especially trite here, nor anything especially dismissive.

….okay, both parts of that last sentence are untrue, because it is, after all, a kid movie. But the things that were trite were the inevitable result of a necessary happy ending[5], and the things that were dismissive were in service of the theme. You have to hold up the ugly mirror to see past it, to coin an implausible metaphor.

Anyway, it was pretty dang good. Also, the 5 minute short film with the sandpipers (a type of ocean bird that lives in tidal regions) was freaking revelatory. Not worth the price of admission, probably, but maybe you can find it somewhere on the internets or in the future even if the main event is not your cup of tea.

[1] Not unlike my Pixel C died randomly yesterday; lesson: I should stop touching technology apparently.
[2] I did not[3]; I only remembered that her personality was quirky in some way.
[3] Perhaps ironically? Probably not though.
[4] If you don’t believe me, try sitting through the endless crap parade that informs the previews.
[5] If you think that’s a spoiler, you don’t understand much about Pixar.
[6] Outcome, now that the site is back up: I don’t have a review of Finding Nemo. So, uh, nevermind?

Would You Rather

MV5BODE3OTY0MzAtYWQzMy00MDdiLTlkOTItNzY1NWNjY2ZkNjBhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQwMjk0NjI@._V1_SY1000_SX679_AL_The difference between rich people and poor people, in a nutshell, is this: if you are rich, you can spend your money any way you want to. You can hire personal painters or musicians under the patronage system, or you can make bums fight on camera, or you can throw elaborate annual dinner parties for groups of strangers, where eventually they will play a high-stakes children’s game for your amusement. If you are poor, you can hope you find the rich person who wants to improve the atmosphere of the world to be your patron, but most likely you’ll only find the other rich people instead. Good luck!

Would You Rather capitalizes on a grimly plausible premise and a consistently recognizable cast, to maybe rise above what could have been a by-the-numbers entry into the gross-out subgenre of horror. I mean, it’s pretty by the numbers; they establish a heroine early on, and her impossible situation is of course very sympathetic, but the will she / they or won’t she / they is played out to good effect, the whole movie long. (Even the people who obviously will are characters that I found fascinating rather than mono-dimensional cardboard.)

That said… it’s still a cheap horror movie of functionally no social or historical value.

State of Emergency (2011)

MV5BMjE5OTI5ODY5OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM3MjUzNw@@._V1_Last night was random Netflixing night. Well, semi-random; I was choosing from my pretty long queue list, but still. The result was the fairly disappointing State of Emergency. See, a county somewhere in the southern tobacco belt has been quarantined after an explosion and people going crazy with rabies-like symptoms. (You know, zombies.) From there, we focus in on one man’s travails while trying to survive.

The problems were manifold. Random failures for irrelevant plot points to make any sense whatsoever[1]; undeserved character development, just for the sake of having some; acting that occasionally rises to the level of professional; briefly highlighting the zombie menace as some kind of mystery to be solved[2] and then failing to in any way go about solving it… the list goes on.

Long story short: don’t watch this. There are much better options if you need a dose of zombiepocalypse.

[1] Example: news broadcast in which an audio feed of an embedded reporter with soldiers is overlaid by random images of helicopters flying around, soldiers standing around, or an ominous explosion cloud pluming into the sky. This is all fine, but suddenly due to predictable circumstances the audio feed cuts out. That’s accompanied by the stock, looped footage that had nothing to do with the audio feed also cutting out, to a generic test pattern and “feed lost” on top of it. This has no bearing on anything at all, but the lack of attention to making the least bit of sense was repeated again and again, and it’s hard to really take a movie seriously when they’re getting little details so very wrong.
[2] As opposed to the correct way to deal with zombies in most movies, which is to treat them purely as a setting choice, no different from “at the Arctic circle” or “1940s Europe”.

The Omen Machine

512jJDaPiILEight years ago, I declared myself free from a hell of my own making. Eight years is a long time, you know? Not as good as getting a ten year chip, but pretty impressive nonetheless, right? Don’t worry, I’m not buying it either.

Yeah, I’ve done something horrible. I thought I was hate-reading, and it would be entertaining after the fact. But instead… yeah, there will be spoilers everywhere. I do this so you don’t have to even though you never would have, purely because I am stupid. Learn from Observe my mistake, and laugh well.

What happened was, Goodkind wrote more books even though the series was over. And I eventually (a long time ago, really) bought the first one. We’ll never know why, I’m sure. The Omen Machine picks up very soon after the series ended, with a purpose other than objectivism, unexpectedly! Would that I could say it was a purpose other than screeds, though. See, there’s some dude with a bone to pick[1], and via means that are not at this time particularly clear, he starts seeding minor, clear as day prophecies all over the place. Then Richard Rahl[2] spends hundreds of pages arguing with his subject nobles individually and in groups, or sometimes with his friends instead, about how nobody should pay attention to prophecy in the first place, but they all (well, his friends less so) keep insisting, “but we waaaaaaana!”, so while never changing his initial opinion, he also argues that at the very least, leave prophecy to the people who understand it, that is to say him and his friends.

I mean, nobody could have interest in all of this back and forth in the first place, but it’s really critical to note that Ayn Rand’s most commercially successful disciple is making even a partial argument from authority that his pissy strawmen should stop choosing for themselves and let the government take care of it.

Also, your faithful reviewer adds as an aside, there’s a really cool AI in the basement that can see the future and is struggling with the whys and wherefores of its existence. I am really disappointed the book couldn’t have been about that instead, you know? But that’s what Goodkind does. He takes the kernel of a good idea, and plants it in a sea of shit. Which I suppose is how gardening is supposed to work, but not everyone who understand the principles of gardening has a green thumb.[3]

[1] Who we meet for a hot minute in the middle of the book, never to return. Because, God help me, there are more books.
[2] The main character of the series, you may recall.
[3] Nice try, metaphor. Thought you were going to escape me, didn’t you?

Gardens of the Moon

51Fl5aumCbL._SL300_First thing: I’ve read Gardens of the Moon before, but I’ve never reviewed it. Some number of years ago, I tried to read it again in conjunction with the person who maintains this site for me, but he failed me, so I only got through like the first third. But now, in the wake of having gotten an Audible subscription in order to listen to the Nightvale book for “free”, I decided that maybe the thing to do is use that book a month to listen to series that I would otherwise have to reread to get caught up on.

This has as its upside that I can read new books in the meantime, and as its downside that I have been slowly, by piecemeal, listening to the same book since February. As you can imagine, that’s way, way too long to hold onto a book[1] if you aren’t previously familiar with it.

That said: these are an exemplary series. I know I like later books a good deal more than this one, but everything that was troublesome about it has been rendered fine and dandy by my general knowledge of the world, and what is left behind is a beautifully meandering prologue into what promises to be an even more beautiful story of the end of the world. As opposed to Martin, who while also writing a story about the end of the world, is writing the grim, filthy version of it.

Last, the narration: it took me a while to warm up to Ralph Lister, but in the end, it turns out he’s an incredibly talented artist. I cannot come up with as many different voices as he has done, much less keep them all straight in my head over the course of a doorstop fantasy novel. That said, the direction or perhaps assembly of the book leaves a lot to be desired. You know how scenes change within a chapter, and there’s a line break in the book to delineate it? There damn well needs to be a pause in the audio to match that, or things can get very confusing, even when I have read the story before. Man, I hope they figure that out by the next book, or, ever.

[1] I feel bad for my father now, to whom I’ve been reading It for better than two years. Um. Oops. I’ve been busy?

Warcraft

MV5BMTc1MDQ1MDI4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzgxNjg0ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_This is good, because, finally being caught up on reviews, I can finish reading the top secret book of awfulness I’ve been slogging through for the past month. (It’s possible, possible that hate-reading is a bad idea. Like, if I were mortal or something, I’d have a lot of regrets eventually.)

Note: what follows appears to have tons of spoilers, but really I’m just describing the premise as established (for the most part) in the first 20 minutes or so. Honest.

Anyway, though, yeah, I saw Warcraft on Friday. And I saw it in the way that a lot of people who get paid to do this see most fantasy movies, which is without the faintest clue of what’s going on. I played Warcraft 3 back in the day, so I know from Lich Kings or whatever, but this is apparently set generations before that. See, there are these orcs[1], composed of multiple tribes banded together into a Horde, and the one with the glowing green eyes has figured out how to open a comically oversized portal into a new world, but only long enough to send out a roving warband. See, the comically oversized portal requires death magic to operate it, and the warband is going to capture enough people on the other side to perform more death magic so the support people, you know, the orc smiths and orc farmers and orc nannies, can come across next time. Mind you, if the portal had been like 12 feet high instead of a thousand, maybe the death magic would have burned through more slowly and they all could have made it in one go? But then again, the orc with the glowing green eyes is kind of a dick, so maybe it was comically oversized on purpose so he could use more death magic.

On the other side of the portal, a bunch of humans, composed of multiple tribes banded into an Alliance (also some dwarves, and a couple of elves with comically oversized breasts who, unlike the dwarves, seem to serve no other purpose in the film) are hanging out congratulating each other on everything being peaceful for the first time in forever. Only, not so much anymore. Then the orcs and the humans (and sort of the dwarves, but decidedly not the elves with the comically oversized breasts) start fighting each other, like you’d expect in a movie named Warcraft, and in the meantime some things that make no sense at all happen, and I was prepared to throw my hands up and sound like one of those reviewers who get paid by saying that this movie was fantasy tripe bullshit, but it turns out that patience is a virtue and all the things that didn’t make sense do make sense after all, I was just missing some information at first.

Long story short, it’s a very pretty and entertaining (if maybe less entertaining than it is pretty) fantasy movie where a whole bunch of people beat up a whole bunch of other people, and several of the characters have fascinating motivations, and the ones who have dialogue without having fascinating motivations at least have a kind of handwavy excuse for why their motivations are cartoonish instead of fascinating, and pretty makes up for a lot. If you don’t believe me, go find a review of Snow Falling on Cedars written by the kind of person who gets paid for this type of thing.

[1] Okay, I lied. I had at least a few clues as to what was going on, in that I know what an orc is, while the kind of people who get paid to write reviews are allowed to pretend they don’t, since it’s been more than 10 years since The Return of the King was released.

X-Men: Apocalypse

MV5BMjQxMjY5MzU1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgyNjY0NzE@._V1_SX690_CR0,0,690,999_AL_I saw the new X-Men movie a week or two ago, and I liked it, but what with being busy and behind on internets and seriously really busy what with houses that don’t clean themselves and weddings that don’t plan themselves and jobs and the whole being an adult thing, I’ve maybe lost track of anything I might have said about it.

Apocalypse, as you will learn in the opening moments of the flick, is set in a tenuous 1985 between the recent First Class and Days of Future Past and the original X-Men movie that due to timeline manipulations may not even exist anymore. See, there’s this Egyptian guy who I haven’t gotten to in my readings of the source material[1], and now that he’s awake again, he wants to rule the world as is his wont.

And then, you know, mutanty things happen. It seems like there should be more to say, about themes or some such? Maybe I waited too long, maybe I expect more than is necessary from a perfectly fine X-Men slugfest. Either way, I’m seeing a movie tonight that I will perhaps review more timelily, and this is what you get.

Final thought: Psylocke, another character who I have not gotten to in comics, seemed kind of shoehorned in just for the purposes of costume fan service. Which is kind of lame.

[1] Unless I have? But if this dude is based on the Living Pharaoh, he is much, much cooler in this movie than in the comics he was drawn from.

Hack/Slash: Final

71itNyUBO5LAnd thus comes to an end (at the auspicious and (let’s be honest) inevitable volume 13, no less) the adventures of psycho killer killer of psychos Cassandra Hack and her longtime partner Vlad. Looking back, this is definitely a series that would have benefitted from binging, in that it started out episodic but then turned out to have a guiding arc that I didn’t spot until far too late to pay the proper amount of attention. Like, as of Final[1] I have pretty much wrapped my head around most of what’s going on, why I care about it, and what it means for the characters. But there were two or three previous books where I was definitely floundering, which is a pity, because the series ends very strongly indeed, which maybe means that it was strong back when it felt like it was a slog, too.

So yeah. If you like snarky, cheesecakey horror comics that will probably never win any feminism awards despite frequently passing the Bechdel Test, this series is probably the only example of that. Enjoy!

[1] It is important to note that there are two new volumes that have been published since the so-called final one. Not loving that, especially because it ended so cleanly.