Into the Woods (2014)

MV5BMTY4MzQ4OTY3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjM5MDI3MjE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_This is tricky. I do not want to write a review of a Stephen Sondheim musical, partly because I do not feel qualified to review musical theater in greater depth than whether I liked it, and partly because I’ve been familiar with Into the Woods since my choir friends performed it in high school. So, suffice it to say that I like the musical a great deal, even if I can never, ever remember the last 20 or 30 minutes of it.

That said, how do you review a movie when the plot is off the table? Acting? It was all fine; I especially liked Chris Pine’s princely manpain, and Johnny Depp’s excellent cameo was well served by being only a cameo. Special effects? Well, all the staging and sets were pretty great, but the few times special effects were employed, they were…. not so much. I don’t feel like this is a thing that should be cared about, really, of a stage adaptation? Either way, though. Clearly nobody screwed up the singing, and yes, it was a very faithful adaptation.  So, if you like that kind of thing, this is a really good example of it! And if you do not, well… it’s a musical, so you will continue to not like that kind of thing, but it’s also a damn fine fairy tale mashup. If for some reason that matters.

The Walking Dead: A New Beginning

81muWBd8JoLI have been saying for years (that is, maybe four or five books ago?) that Kirkman is running out of scenarios and needs to go ahead and let this series find its ending. That whole period, though, has been devoted to the same extended storyline, which ended in pretty fine form last time. So this book, ironically named A New Beginning, is exactly what I’ve been waiting for: the chance to find out if I’ve been right or not.

And you know… I was prepared to be wrong. I really was. Months have passed, possibly short years, and the promised community is well on its way to being everything that was promised. This story could have been a coda. It could have, better, contained exactly the kind of bombshell change of status quo I no longer believed Kirkman capable of, via a plot twist I never saw coming. Instead… nope, it’s a new turn on the hamster wheel. I’ll keep reading the series, and I’ll keep being glad that the TV show has surpassed it, but I cannot really contain my disappointment, either.

He came so close to proving me wrong.

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man – Revival

51sHdZFm72LAs of Revival, I’m current on the Ultimate universe again, at least as it is released in collected formats rather than monthly. I hate to go all mysterious, but I also hate spoilers, so my review will consist of a short, open letter to Ralph Macchio or Stan Lee or whoever is in charge these days, and if you choose to read very much between the lines at all, you’ll be able to tell what I’m talking about and have your review, and if not, you’ll avoid your spoilers. In any case, I hasten to assure you that Bendis is still writing this series, and he’s still doing a great job, and I’m still eager to know what happens next. (Seriously, seriously eager.)

Dear Stan Lee or Ralph Macchio or whoever is in charge of Marvel story development these days,

You guys. Seriously. I cannot really take this anymore. I was unhappy when I learned the news in the first place, skeptical for a good long time thereafter, and only fairly recently have I come to terms with what you did. It was a big, bold, ballsy move, and it has paid off in more ways than I would have guessed back when I first knew it was coming.

I can imagine myself coming to terms with this too, not least because it gives me back what I want. But it’s not fair to the new guy that has been developing so nicely, and it’s also maybe not fair to the creation you’ve all been developing for the past 15 years now. I’m just saying, be careful.

No, that’s not true. That’s the least part of what I’m saying. What I’m really saying is this: pick a side. Stop fucking with me. I want clear answers, and I want to feel reassured that they’re really the real answers, and I know goddamn well that’s a ridiculous thing to expect from the comics industry, particularly around this kind of story development. Nevertheless, I can’t really take it anymore, and there we are.

You should know, though, that (like I told my so-called audience a few paragraphs up before the letter started) I did like the book, and I do desperately want to know how things turn out. Just because I’m roller-coastered out doesn’t mean I don’t want more. Also, holy shit with how cool J. Jonah Jameson was. It’s been a while since my jaw dropped reading one of your books. (And almost always because of Bendis. Hold onto that kid, okay?)

Sincerely,
The guy that runs this blog

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

MV5BMTYyNzUxMzc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDE3MDM3Mg@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_This is weird. On the one hand, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a perfectly serviceable spy movie, in the fish-out-of-water subgenre. It hits all the right beats, it has compelling stakes, both international and personal, and it’s a story worth telling. On the second hand, it’s also a perfectly serviceable Tom Clancy prequel never written, if for some reason you didn’t like that The Hunt for Red October covers the same territory or (more likely) you cannot successfully launch a new franchise reboot while treading international political waters that are 25 years out of date.

The problem is that, despite both of these things being true, the confluence of them feels unnecessary. I mean, I’m completely fine with a Jack Ryan reboot and I hope it worked out and there will be more, because I liked the characters and the premise and I want to see more. Nevertheless, if they had not tacked the name onto the title, I never would have felt like this was a Clancy ripoff. It just did not, in ways I cannot easily express, feel like a Tom Clancy story. This is not, per se, an indictment. Like I said: pretty good movie. I just feel weird saying I liked it without saying that it was also inexplicably branded.

If there are more, I think I hope they feel more Clancyish. Because otherwise, what was the point, really? Oh, but before I forget: Kenneth Branagh did a great job of acting a character that deserved a bigger arc. I cannot speak to his direction because, clearly, the film has left me bewildered for reasons that are unrelated to its factual quality.

Pontypool

MV5BMTYyNzUxMzc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDE3MDM3Mg@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_How to write a review of something that you’d prefer to say literally nothing about, and in fact regret having put genre tags down for? It’s a tricky conundrum, is what. Well, that’s not fair. It’d be very, very easy if I didn’t care whether you watched it, but the truth is that you should, because it’s a very intriguing premise and execution.

Pontypool is, aside from being a movie, a very small town in Ontario. I know this because about twenty minutes into the movie, I looked it up out of curiousity. From my ability to extrapolate Google Maps into the real world, it should have maybe one stop light that goes to flashing after sundown. Four square blocks? Big enough to have a radio station, which is relevant in that the entire course of action occurs in the local AM station, where smooth-voiced news host Grant Mazzy, um, reads and hosts the news on the morning after he has an inexplicable encounter on a foggy road during his commute. For the rest… I want to say nothing, but I can’t justify saying nothing, so I’m going to quote the opening paragraph of the movie, which is Grant broadcasting on a day recently prior to the day the movie takes place. If you can dig the quote, I reckon you will dig the movie.

Mrs. French’s cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. “Have you seen Honey?” We’ve all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like Culotte. That’s Panty in French. And Piscine means Pool. Panty pool. Flaque also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine, in French Panty Pool, drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French’s cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birthdates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to each other. It’s a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well… it means something’s going to happen. Something big. But then, something’s always about to happen.

Mr. Mercedes

81b6KKuWQ3LBack while I was only reading comics because the site was down, I remembered that a new Stephen King book was being published in November. But when I went to buy it, I learned that a different, slightly less new one had been published over the summer, completely escaping my knowledge. So, like, oops?[1]

Mr. Mercedes is basically a crime novel. It portrays the game of cat and mouse between a retired police detective and a locally infamous mass murderer who was never caught. Obviously I cannot say more about it than that, because the rest is deep into spoilers territory. But King has not lost the voice that keeps me coming back year after year for more, and I’ve always said it doesn’t have to be horror to make it work. I started to add dark fantasy or dark science fiction, but then it occurred to me that mysteries are dark by their nature[2], so maybe it does have to be dark. Maybe it doesn’t and just always is anyway? It’s not for me to recommend the man fight against a formula that obviously works.

[1] This is the kind of thing that very few people would judge me for.
[2] Well, adult mysteries are, anyway. Encyclopedia Brown and (usually) the Three Investigators[3] are allowed to be less dark, because, kidbooks.
[3] Oh, man. Why aren’t those on Kindle? Or are they? I’m torn between a Wikipedia / Amazon investigation and the urge to run the other way and keep my memories delicate and precious.

Unicorn Being a Jerk

51rt0NUfXwLMy girlfriend got this book for Christmas from her brother, and I read it myself over the course of about five or ten horrified minutes. You see, on the one hand, Unicorn Being a Jerk is an extremely accurate title. On the other hand… every time I thought I had a handle on how big of a jerk Unicorn was, I would turn a page and learn that I was the Jon Snow of this book.

If your reaction to things too horrible to look at is laughter, this is the book for you. If not… at least it’s short and there isn’t a whole lot of text? I suppose if you were kidnapped and forced to read it against your will, you could kill time figuring out the correct timeline of Unicorn’s life and how all the events relate to each other.

But, yeah, it was pretty funny.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

51wAAzcD2uLAs you probably know if you’ve spent much time on the internet over the last five years, there’s a bizarrely drawn website about (mostly) childhood, dogs, and/or mental health called Hyperbole and a Half. What there’s a slight chance you don’t know is that the creator of that site has also released a book compiled partially from what’s already on the internet and partially from new essays.

She’s funny, often relatable, and the book reads quickly. I’m not sure you’ll get a deeper insight into the human condition, although if you’ve never dealt with depression, maybe you would learn something? But people often don’t, if they haven’t seen it themselves, so maybe not. By and large, it’s a humorous essay book, and they all cover the same thematic ground. The specific circumstances of this one? Yep, funny.

I do really wonder about her self-image, though. Her drawings are all on par with each other, rough but good enough that you can tell there’s some real talent going into them. The dogs start out looking like caricatures of bad dog drawings until you realize how well she captures different poses and moods. All of the people look like people, and so forth. Except, her self portrait is of a worm with a blonde sharkfin, wearing a tubesock. This is universally true, every time, even amidst other perfectly normally (but still roughly) drawn people. It’s obviously a stylistic choice, I just… like I said, I cannot help wondering what it means, on the inside. The answer to that question does not, as far as I can tell, reside within this book.

But it’s still worth reading!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

MV5BODAzMDgxMDc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTI0OTAzMjE@._V1__SX1859_SY847_So, right, I watched all three movies in the Hobbit trilogy on Monday, as you know. Since that was more than 24 hours before initial release, I’m a bigger jerk than usual for taking so long to review, and plus also I burned my thoughts on the series as a whole during the previous review about the second movie. So, what can I say about The Battle of the Five Armies without repeating myself and without spoilers of any significance?

Well, lessee. I was, all in all, satisfied with the way things went. All character arcs, both the previously published and the newly contrived, ended on satisfactory notes. All the effects and battle scenes were extremely cool, as was the unexpected Billy Connolly. Unlike the previous movies, there were no scenes that felt gratuitously long, just for the sake of showing off. So, all the people saying this is the best movie of the three? They’re right. It has no new flaws, none of the major flaws of the previous two films, and all kinds of really cool, climactic things happen.

That said, I have one more thing to say about the series as a whole: The overlap between the end of the second movie and the beginning of the third… no, not overlap, but the dividing line. Could not be more awkward if it tried. I know why you can’t just release an 8 or 9 hour long movie, all of a piece. And I know why ending the second movie in the “correct” place would have generated massive confusion as to why there needed to be a third movie. But, man. So awkward.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

MV5BMzM4NzA0OTM2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjYzNTU2OQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_So, disclosure: I saw this movie a couple months ago on cable, but since I saw all three movies in a marathon on Monday, have never reviewed this one, and it would be weird to review two out of three, here we are.

Of course, The Desolation of Smaug is hard to review in this context as well, piled in as it was within 9 or 10 combined hours of movie. So I guess it’s a good thing I had seen it one time before. And… so, okay, if you’ve read the book, you more or less know what happens in the movies, right? So I can say things like the scenes in Mirkwood made a little more sense than I remember[1], or the barrel ride to Laketown was just ridiculously hyper-extended, and you’ll know the flavor if not the details of what I mean.

That said, before I move into more (but still light) spoiler territory, it is incumbent upon me to mention that as part of a continuous unit, the stretched out scenes, where they existed at all, did not bother me as much as I had remembered from October. There should still probably be two movies here instead of three, but given the Hollywood constraints Tolkien didn’t have to deal with[2], they’d have probably been two oddly paced movies. So perhaps this wasn’t so bad.

Anyway, as far as differences between the book and what’s on film, I have two comments. First, the love story. Was it shoehorned in? Yes, absolutely. Not in a way that made it feel unnatural or unbelievable, just in a way that made no nod to necessity. But The Lord of the Rings had a love story, and S. Morganstern notwithstanding, nobody writes kidbooks that contain both adventure and a love story. So I see from Jackson’s perspective why he felt it was necessary for balance purposes. I mean, barely, but I see it.

Second, Gandalf. It really seems like someone should have realized that you don’t capture him and then leave him to hang out until one of his friends rescue him. Yes, yes, this is a longstanding trope, and yes, yes, Tolkien needed him out of the way of the plot sometimes, since he is functionally a deus ex machina in himself, if left to his own devices. But man, when you have the same circumstance and outcome twice in consecutive book series, either you are David Eddings or you need to feel bad about yourself the second time.

So, that was the second movie.

[1] Because, really, how hard is it to stay on a damn road?
[2] To wit: motivation. You can tell kids in a kidbook that the goblins and orcs are chasing the dwarves all over the place just because goblins and orcs are bad guys who do that, and it’s good enough. But he wanted to make a) not a kid movie that b) tied into the Lord of the Rings in all the ways Tolkien knew about and Bilbo did not. So you have to[3] establish leader orcs with names and motivations and backstories to the main character, and have them interact with the Necromancer’s long term plans, even though you know they’re just going to be thwarted and it ultimately will all keep until your sequel movie filmed 60 or 80 years later, in 2001.
[3] Or, okay, you don’t have to, but clearly that’s what Peter Jackson had in mind, and I don’t begrudge him the behind the scenes portions, since they were relevant to explaining things like why Gandalf is missing all the time, plus, like I said (or maybe haven’t said yet, depending on how you personally interact with footnotes), tying into that sequel.