Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS

MV5BMTM5NDUwODA2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDg5MDgyMQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_After probably decades of waiting, I have finally seen Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. I can’t say exactly how I knew to be looking for it, but the mostly likely candidate is Joe Bob Briggs, who I’ve certainly mentioned before. Odds are good you’ve never heard of this movie, so: Ilsa is the warden of a German prison camp / medical facility during World War II. She regularly receives shipments of prisoners, mostly women, most of whom she uses in experiments designed to prove that the pain tolerances of women far outstrip that of men. The goal of these experiments is to show the German high command that women should be allowed on the front lines.

Which is in its way a shockingly progressive topic to be bandied about in a ’70s prison exploitation flick. And that right there is the heart of the film: the dichotomy between a highly feminist script in which there are (nearly) more Bechdel moments than breasts, and the sheer number of exploited breasts in said script. Not to mention tortured, murdered naked bodies, prisoner rape scenes, and the ongoing subplot in which Ilsa takes the male prisoners into her bed and then castrates them for not satisfying her fully. Everyone is exploited every which way, in ways that it was once or twice even hard for jaded old me to watch, and yet… it’s hard to explain. It’s not a good movie, nor I suspect would NOW find it particularly laudable despite the merits I have described, but it’s powerful, and not simply for having a number of very strong, fully-realized characters in situations that are very probably not particularly sensationalized, much as I could wish it were otherwise. There’s the core of a really amazing story there, buried under layers of schlock, titillation, and graphic violence.

It’s just as well that the two or three sequels are much harder to find than even this was, as I suspect all pretense of exceeding the the grasp vanished, as with most sequels of powerful ’70s exploitation films. But I’ll still watch them if I can find them, because… well, it’s a compulsion, really.

Conviction

51PsKh7O1yLYep, still on pace to clear out my current pile of books, or at least most of the series I’ve already started but which are possible to finish. Conviction is the seventh in a nine book series, which means things should start coming towards a head. And I cannot dispute that exactly this has happened. The Jedi have meddled in politics to the extent that they seem poised for the same downfall orchestrated by Palpatine decades ago, Luke Skywalker seems poised to pull a Whiskeyjack at any moment, the fragile truce with the Sith has ended in a spectacularly bad way, and the slave thing from the last couple of books is… well, okay, that’s about the only thing that is going well. Long story short: while it’s hard to credit a Lucasbooks storyline ending in disaster, this one feels a lot more likely than the time extra-galactic entities invaded or the time yet another Jedi-turned-Sith started yet another galactic civil war.

Anyway, though, none of that is particularly important. I’m focused on the title of the book, instead. See, conviction has a couple of meanings right off the top of my head. There’s the one about a guilty judgment being rendered in court, and there’s the one about having a strong principled reaction to a topic. Both of these could plausibly apply to the book. On the one hand, a leftover plotline from the previous Sith civil war series is the trial of the Sithlord’s apprentice, who was manipulated into murdering a very old, very popular Imperial admiral. As you might imagine, this is the book wherein the trial wraps up and a verdict is handed down. But then also, you’ve got the slavery thing and the foolish Jedi political gambits thing and also you’ve got Vestara Khai, who I’ve previously mentioned is a present day Sith apprentice who is gradually being turned toward the Light, or at least it seems so. Plenty of space for the principled stand kind of conviction in any or all of these situations.

And seek it though I tried, I could not really find any obvious example of the latter in any of those slots. Which means that the entire book is named after an event that was maybe 5% of the current book and which has been maybe 10% of the series as a whole, and seems to have no real bearing whatsoever on anything that’s actually going on out in the galaxy meanwhile. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to report that what I’ve considered a dangling thread from a previous series is actually pivotal to this one instead? But man, there’s no clue that it will be, except for the literary one that it’s in the books at all. It may be a bad sign, that not being enough to satisfy me.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

81Evx+k+qaL._SL1500_So, I’ve never played a Metal Gear game. It is plausibly the video game series about which I know the absolute least, in fact. I knew there was some guy named Snake who uses stealth and explosion tactics as needed to do military missions, and that’s about it. But Ground Zeroes was free on XBox Live and I have a new console, so, hey, why not?

Now I have learned that Snake is the occasional head of a South American third wheel uneasily placed between the US and the USSR during the Cold War, who uses those stealth and explosion tactics I mentioned earlier. In this particular game, he uses them to infiltrate Guantanamo Bay in 1975 and rescue two of his teenage proteges from the CIA prison camp onsite. Also, something about his group having nuclear capabilities and being inspected by the UN tomorrow, so he’d better do his rescue mission fast? I cannot tell if I was supposed to feel like a bad guy, nor if I would have felt less like one if I’d played the previous games.

What I do know is that it was damned short and did not leave me craving either the sequel or the many preceding games in the series. Gameplay was fine, but the storyline was definitely not friendly to newcomers. Which may be my fault? It honestly is weird that I know nothing about this series, but nevertheless, here we are.

Hercules (2014)

MV5BMTQ4ODA5MTA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjMyODM5MTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I saw Hercules last week because it was in the 10% of shows on my Netflix queue that were neither horror nor serial. (Well, and because my girlfriend didn’t want to watch a horror movie.) I have resisted reviewing it until now because it was just so… bland.

Don’t get me wrong, I always like The Rock. And that guy from Deadwood, Swearengen, who plays his seer sidekick, is a true delight. It’s just that the plot is… I can’t say bland again. Deconstructionist is not, per se, a negative. But this particular deconstruction took all of the literal and figurative magic out of the Hercules myth and turned it into not much more than a war story. Train the troops, fight the battles, and if I wanted a Greek war movie, I’d just watch Troy again.

It ended up better than I’m describing, but not enough better to be worth saying good things about. Or maybe the wait was too long? Either way: meh. You can do better, The Rock and Swearengen and people prospectively viewing this movie.

Fantastic Four (2015)

MV5BMTQ4MzY2ODI5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDYyNDAwNTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_It’s kind of astonishing, how different of a viewer I am today than I was ten years ago when Fantastic Four came out. I mean, am I more sophisticated as a viewer of movies? Probably not at all. But as a viewer of comic book movies… well, that is definitely another thing. I’ve read like 3500 comics from the ’60s and ’70s, and another 800ish in the Ultimate Marvel series in the modern era. I have definitely formed a lot of opinions and learned a lot of knowledge over those ten years, is what I’m saying.

Now a Fantastic Four reboot has come along, and I actually feel qualified to talk about it this time. (That review in the link above? It is rough and unpolished like nobody’s business.) Unfortunately… man. Sure, they’re no Marvel Studios, but 20th Century Fox is good at making X-Men movies. They were even pretty okay at making Fantastic Four movies, last time. But this? It was pretty enough and it wasn’t actively awful, but it is not what I would call a good movie.

They did a lot of things right. The Storm family dynamic was great, and the friendship between Ben Grimm and Reed Richards, if it was not entirely earned without another significant chunk of footage, was nevertheless well-acted and felt entirely real. Victor Von Doom was delightfully self-interested. Really, every character was great. But the plot was just so awful. Origin story: mostly good, except for the part that was insulting and either a) also made no sense or b) was more insulting than I think. Supervillain arc: utterly wasted and with no understanding for the character. Middle act between these two ends of the movie: okay, that part was pretty good. But not nearly good enough to make up for the failures.

I should say, there were scenes from the previews that did not actually occur in the film. So maybe the director’s complaints about studio edits ruining his vision have merit? All I know is, I did not care for whomever’s vision actually made it to the screen.

Hack/Slash: Dark Sides

71Fg3NXPbBLAmong many reasons for my quest to stop being behind on ongoing series is how much I hate unavoidable incidental spoilers. Example: since I have purchased ahead on volumes of Hack/Slash (habit from when the Amazon gold box used to offer random small discounts on things I was likely to buy anyway), I know that the series is drawing to a close.[1] This presents certain problems with my ability to justly detect foreshadowing.

I like to think, for example, that if I had seen the destruction of Cassie Hack[2]’s ubiquitous nail-studded baseball bat with “Kiss It” burned into the shaft at the hands of a maniac wielding a flaming sword, I would have maybe speculated that it was a sign that the odds eventually run out. But then again, I wouldn’t have, because Dark Sides was an anthology edition with multiple stories authored by people other than series creator Tim Seeley, so really I would have just expected to see it back in action next book as an at most side-mentioned replacement, more likely as an ignored continuity glitch.

But, you know, none of the stories were too bad and all of them advanced the main plot that has been building over the last two or three books (Vlad’s history and Cassie’s, er, complicated relationship with the harder-than-usual to kill Samhain, I explain as though anyone actually cares), so I can’t complain. Well, I can complain about yet another crossover with a differently-skinned cheesecake vs. monsters comic, because those never entertain me much or convince me to check out whatever comic is being crossed over with, and are instead just a huge waste of my time. But that was only one issue out of five, so.

[1] Well, sort of. Apparently it’s also starting back up again? But that’s more or less beside the point.
[2] I point this out in basically every review, but: you remember her? Gothy pin-up girl who wanders the country with her partner Vlad killing supernatural bad guys, like a parallel comics version of the Winchesters if Dean were hypersexualized and Sam stood around looming over people.[3]
[3] Ah, Supernatural jokes that maybe two people reading this will appreciate. I kill me!

Cold Days

5146UKREBPLSee? I said screw it, I’m catching up, and that’s what’s happening! You can measure in months instead of years since I read Ghost Story, and yet here we are, right back to Harry Dresden. Downside of Cold Days: every single thing I could say to set the stage is a massive, massive spoiler for previous books, and it’s only going to get worse.

The Dresden Files have definitely reached a tipping point. This is the book where Butcher has set the stakes and the stage. Lots of small books could still be written if he wants, but damned if Changes doesn’t continue to prove the accuracy of its title time and time again. Example: I dropped the noir tag from this book, because Harry Dresden isn’t really a detective anymore. I think he might still act as one sometimes, but his roles in the world have definitely changed. It would be weird if that aspect was the one that pushed you away from the series, but it’s definitely worth noting that it’s not the same series anymore.

Buckle up, I think it’s only going to get bumpier from here. Also, an oblique spoiler: the title continued to amuse me, start to finish. Very, very cleverly done.

Ant-Man

MV5BMTc3NzgxNTM0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMwMDI5MzE@._V1__SX1859_SY847_Saturday was a day of two movies. Hooray! The second one was, finally, Ant-Man. To get it out of the way: it was a) definitely relevant to the overall story progression of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and b) good enough in its own right. Also, to get the other thing out of the way, it’s about a guy who can shrink to the size of about a flea or a bit smaller, and also he can talk to ants, and he uses these powers to be highly stealthy, mobile, and also to be unexpectedly strong[1], and then he has to deal with a supervillain tailor-made for said powers. Like you do.

There. Now to the meat of it. See, in comics, there are two people who have been Ant-Man. (Well, that I know of.) The first of them, Hank Pym, is one of Marvel’s first characters. The second, Scott Lang, I have not actually gotten to yet. The movie is about, well, technically both of them, but the point here is that it’s mostly about the one I don’t know. Which means, virtually no preconceptions! Paul Rudd was damaged and charming, and the character was entirely likeable. The plot was heisty and heroic and if it was often predictable, it made up for it by never being boring.

My complaints about Hank Pym are spoilers, but the fact that I have complaints can be put down to the fact that he’s a known jerk of a character. (Unlike Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, who is objectively as much of a jerk on paper, but people always seem to like him anyway. This has nothing to do with anything, I’m just complaining about it.)

Anyway, pretty good movie. Worth seeing, especially if you’ve been watching the other ones. Spoiler thing about Hank Pym in the comments.

[1] Something something physics: space between atoms is reduced, increasing density and therefore retaining the same strength in a much smaller package; you know, comic book science.

Trainwreck

MV5BMTQ4MjgwNTMyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc1MjI0NDE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_A thing that initially confused me about this movie is that it’s classified as a comedy. Which, yes, Trainwreck is definitely that. But it’s got an edge of seriousness throughout. Like, the times when you are cringing because something awful and embarrassing is happening, you’re not simultaneously laughing despite yourself (or staring around wondering why the rest of the audience is laughing); the serious parts are serious. It seems like the classification would be comedy and drama both, but the reason it isn’t, I think, is the same reason the entire thing clicked into focus for me the moment the credits started rolling. Because, directed by Judd Apatow.

Obviously a lot of what goes into a successful comedic drama is the writing, and I concur with what I’ve heard going around about Amy Schumer (also the star) being a comedian to keep an eye on. But leaving aside the writing/direction/acting percentages of what makes a movie work, there’s no doubt that Apatow attaches himself to this exact kind of movie. By which I mean, the kind that starts off as a comedy about bad people failing, and turns out to instead have heart and be about flawed people trying.

There’s no way I can think of to describe the plot that doesn’t make it sound trite and formulaic. Maybe that’s because it is? Still, though, it came across better than that to me. Also, Amy Schumer? I bet she gives good stand-up. She definitely gives good romantic comedy, which is sort of what this is. Only, y’know, less trite.

Vortex

51OaY2ueMYLOkay, I got fed up. It’s time to actually catch up with all my old partial serieses. At least this time I’m only a little over a year between books, instead of three? Anyway, right. Star Wars. Luke and his son Ben versus ancient evil older than 25,000 years of civilization, plus also uneasy Sith alliance, plus also Jedi Order in political quagmire, plus also slavery.

Vortex is totally a middle of the series book. Plots advance in retrospectively inevitable ways (at least, if you want the series to ever end, and at the two-thirds mark, turning a corner was something that had to happen), Sith apprentice Vestara Khai continues to be the best thing about the book, and… you know what, something just occurred to me. I think the series may be trying to finally take a hard look at the difference between the light and dark sides of the Force.

Because, look. It’s easy to say Sith are evil and Jedi are good, and that’s the Lucasian end of the debate. And that kind of works if you also say that there are only ever two Sith, because of how they hoard their power and their trust. What would be the point of a non-evil apprentice if you yourself are evil? But when you expand it to a society (the Sith used to be a species, even if that is no longer particularly the case), well, everyone isn’t evil. Not possible. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fuel your power with anger instead of peace, and of course not all anger is evil. Righteous anger is a concept that exists for a reason. So on the one hand the series is showing multiple Sith, all of whom are shaped by their society, some of whom are evil, but some of whom are looking for revenge for probably real slights at most, understandably mistrustful of their longtime enemies at least. And on the other hand, the series is also showing Jedi who have reached different but clearly ethical conclusions about an intractable debate, and then being forced to proceed.

If Jedi can disagree unto death without either of them going “dark side” and Sith can assist in preventing the ascension of an insane god out of enlightened self-interest instead of going “light side”, then the Force is as complex as it ought to be. I’m amused that a fundamental change in how the Force is understood by Jedi and Sith alike might be on the verge of occurring in a timeline that will collapse this December.