Witches Abroad

513Bs4HYbmLI seem to be reading more lately? I dunno. House is more unpacked than not, and things that are left to do, I cannot really progress on without outside interference. Either way, I’ve also been reading more of the partial series I have scattered all over the map, instead of new stuff. In a way that’s good, because progress, in a way it’s bad because there’s so many things I still have no idea about even though they’ve been talked about lately. That is the problem of lacking infinite free time, I suppose.

So I read another Pratchett. In Witches Abroad, he studies the nature of fairy tales, mirrors, and family relationships[1]. Mostly the nature of fairy tales, though the characters say it’s the nature of stories. That said, the characters are analogues for the Fates, so any story they’d be in would have fairy tale elements nearly by definition. See, this one fairy godmother (only distinguishable from any other witch, so far as I can tell, by her possession of a magic wand) died prior to handling all her affairs, so she sets the witches from Wyrd Sisters[2] on a quest to wrap things up. So they head off to Genua, which is to say New Orleans, and proceed about their appointed tasks.

I know I’m very near the threshold where these books are basically always of high quality, so it’s nice to be able to say that yep, this one was really quite good, very funny throughout and with the characters who are currently my favorites. Yay, Discworld!

[1] The last one is a bit of a stretch, in that it’s not untrue but also in that most of these books have been about family to some degree, especially if you accept “the family you choose” as fitting the paradigm.
[2] Who I suppose will be henceforth known as the witches in any of the Discworld “witches” books.

Much Ado about Nothing (2012)

MV5BMTgxNjQ0MjAwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI1NDEyOQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Legend has it that when Joss Whedon was filming The Avengers, he was forced by union rules into a two week break. During that break, he decided to adapt, direct, and score a Shakespearean comedy, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. (Okay, technically, probably only the principle photography happened during the fortnight and the rest came before and/or after, depending on what would make sense. But I have no way of knowing it didn’t all happen during his vacation, so!) It being the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, the Alamo Drafthouse has been showing lots of adaptations lately, and Monday night, off we went to sup on the fruit of this legend.

Despite my utter lack of qualification to review Shakespeare, I’m kind of forced to by circumstance. The acting is as good as you’d expect[1], and the direction was modern and noirish, both of which displayed some… well, I can’t tell if flaw is right, but it probably is, and that’s my English Lit degree focussed on mid-millennium British masters bias showing. So, let’s say, displayed some flaws in Bill’s work and then see if I prove my case.

Much Ado about Nothing has two plots. In the first and far superior one, two acid-tongued frenemies reunite after the fellow of the pair returns from campaigns abroad, and their friends trick them into either falling in love or admitting their real feelings for each other[2]. As far as I’m concerned, this story has no problems and is basically 100% hilarious. In the second story (which contrary to my ordering appears to be the main plot of the thing and the source of the title), the prince sets up his best friend with their host’s daughter after the friend has fallen in love at first sight, but the prince’s bastard[3] brother arbitrarily decides to interfere in the pre-wedding proceedings.

That story… well, first it does the “we love each other after five minutes because we’re both so very pretty” thing that Shakespeare parodied in Romeo and Juliet, only this time he plays it straight, which while not a story-breaker is certainly an odd choice. But then when John the Bastard enacts his evil plan to make it look like the host’s daughter bangs random people on the verandah every night, the prince’s friend doesn’t just break up with her, he publicly humiliates her at the altar. Which, you know, some people are assholes, and that’s fine. But her father joins in on the humiliation, and that’s less fine, although I’m forced to acknowledge that virginity in the 1500s was more important than family, however insane that sounds.

But least fine of all is that she wants him back and everyone sets about proving her innocence to win him back. I mean, the innocence, sure, but she wants him back??? That’s too skeevy, even for the 1500s.

But okay, that’s Shakespeare and the 1500s, and what can you do? It’s central to the plot, and however delightful Benedick and Beatrice are, whether in banter or askew courtship, there’s not enough there to fill both reels. The biggest failure was Joss’s alone. At the big wedding scene in the finale, the prince’s friend (now penitent and set to marry the host’s other female ward by way of apology for embarrassing the first daughter unto death[4]) says that he’ll marry whoever he’s been asked to marry, even “were she an Ethiope”, while the camera lingers on a black lady standing nearby, who we had never seen before and, the movie ending some five minutes later, were certainly never to see again. And it’s like, I get what he was going for, “look how uncomfortable this line that Shakespeare wrote is, you guys!” But it just didn’t work. I can’t really explain why, scenes that were far worse have worked far better for me[5], but after my gasp of shocked laughter acknowledging what Whedon had pointed out, I couldn’t really agree that it was worth the scene existing.

But these are, if not nitpicks, certainly neither of them enough to detract from how wonderfully presented the so-called backup plotline was. Lovely film, would watch again.

[1] I mean, yes because they’re all Whedon alums, but also because it’s Shakespeare. I assume it’s that people won’t submit slipshod quality if it’s the bard rather than that his writing is so good, people are forced to be better actors.
[2] Reader’s / viewer’s choice, really. Take your pick.
[3] Bastards are evil by virtue of their ungodly births. It is known.
[4] Because, 1500s. JFAM, the past, what is wrong with you?
[5] Tropic Thunder springs frequently to mind. “What do you mean, ‘you people’?” “…what do you mean, ‘you people’?!”

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love

815fU8q1ldLImplausibly, I’m like six years behind on the Fables series of interwoven comics. At least, it seems implausible to me? There’s probably no good reason why, though.

From Fabletown with Love marks the second spin-off of the main series, this time focused on Cinderella. Who, awesomely, is an international interdimensional spy in the top secret employ of Fabletown’s law enforcement / governing apparatus. Aside from that premise, though, there’s nothing much to talk about here. It’s a first book, and mostly all that is established is her credentials. So, if you like the Fables series generally, no reason you wouldn’t like this, and also no reason you’d be six years behind like some people I could name. If you don’t, I don’t see this one winning you over.

Unless you really like spies, and that’s what’s been keeping you away until now, I suppose?

The Walking Dead: No Turning Back

517KPsoOcxLFor a wonder, the latest Walking Dead has a title that isn’t trite and a storyline to match. No Turning Back chronicles the aftermath of Rick Grimes’ meeting with the latest, direst threat to his community. See, everyone is scared and reactionary, because of the spoilers at the end of the last book. Now Rick has to decide how far he will go to hold it all together.

Which, y’know. Yet another big threat, I’ve seen all that before. Rick struggling to decide whether his soul or his community’s safety is more expendable, that’s the kind of human drama I can still get behind. I’d be annoyed that the question isn’t resolved in this volume, but if it had been, it would definitively be in favor of him not taking some action that crosses The Line, so uncertainty is the best I could have hoped for.

Downside: still more books coming.

Moon Fate

51B5enw1nlLApparently, the Deathlands series is completed, at 75 books, as of sometime last year. That’s kind of cool, because it implies that I might ever finish[1]. Not a habit I’m used to, what with Marvel comics that have been published continuously since 1961 with no end in sight.

I’m not sure that has any special relevance, but I learned it while doing research into the author of Moon Fate. (James Axler is a farm name, you see, assigned to any number of actual writers in the series, but not a real person in his own right.) The sad reason for this research was that there was a tonal shift so drastic, I briefly hoped there had been a change of the usual author to explain it. Here’s an implausible number of words about that.

Weirdly, even now, I can’t tell if I’m being unrealistic. In thumbnail, Ryan Cawdor is returning from the events of Chill Factor to rejoin his friends, but due to a series of the kind of tragic event that is so typical in a post-apocalyptic hellhole, they end up split once more, with he and his girlfriend captured by vengeful mutant “stickies”, so called because they are part of a common lineage in the Deathlands whereby their arms are covered with incredibly strong octopus-like suckers, strong enough to strip flesh right off any “norms” they might come in contact with.

And here is where problem one crops up. Normally stickies are, in addition to being strong and violent death machines, quite lowly ranked on the intelligence scale. Which is fine, killer mutants are a staple of any nuclear holocaust. But they were lead by an especially intelligent throwback to humanity, who of course was a figure from Ryan’s past. I don’t mind that they had a bad time together and the stickie wanted revenge. I mind that, after going to all the trouble of making him a leader who was intelligent and strong-willed enough to organize his troops instead of the usual ravening hordes, the story still treated them as mindless enemies. A story where the mutants could also be human would have been much cooler.

In any case, not enough to put me off the story, but then there was a rape scene in which a female stickie took Ryan into her quarters for to satisfy her carnally. And… I mean, there was only the one mostly human throwback, so I’m not saying I have a problem with the run of the mill mutant being a grotesquerie. And if the rape scene had been reversed, with lead female character Krysty Wroth being the victim, that wouldn’t have been any better, for all kinds of reasons. Still, the scene where Ryan was being forced to perform oral sex was just relentlessly anti-female, in a way I have thusfar thought this series was better than. And like I said, I read over the caveats and feel like I’m being way too sensitive about this; because yes the scene could have been left out entirely, but once you accept its presence, I can’t really see anything unrealistic about it. All the same, it felt skeevy, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

Third, not that I much care about this, and especially in comparison to the other two, but I have no earthly idea what the title had to do with anything at all.

Anyway, leaving aside those complaints, the book was at least a nice change of pace from the standard “teleport somewhere, right a wrong, move on” template the series quickly fell into. I mean, yes, that is technically exactly what happened, but the trappings were all different, what with resuming from a split party, visiting friends, and staying in town for months rather than days or hours.

[1] Given that this book is #16, I’m already 20% of the way through!

The Witch (2015)

MV5BMTY4MTU2NjMyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzUwMDk4NzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_For reasons not known to me, The Witch was brought back into broad release this weekend, and I finally managed to find company to see it on Monday night (extremely late, but that’s what 5 hours of energy in a tiny bottle are for). It’s a thin movie, lacking quite a bit in plot and premise, but extremely meaty on execution. All of the actors were solid and believable, even when their motivations or reactions to what was happening around them bewildered me, and the young twins were just incredibly creepy.

In case you don’t know anything at all, this is a moody 17th century piece about an isolated family dealing with a number of severe setbacks all at once, as the last dregs of harvest season threaten to give way to winter. They may or may not (but definitely will) suspect deviltry and witchcraft is behind the string of ill fortune, and then… but, like I said, it’s a thin movie, so any “and then” I could follow this up with pretty much completes the film.

Between the lingering shots of the small farm and the forbidding forest beyond it, the total isolation, and the spare, screeching soundtrack, it feels like horror by way of the ’70s art film scene, or maybe Kubrick if he’d ever made a movie where every single shot failed to contain an onion’s worth of hidden meanings. Other than an ending that outstayed its welcome, I have basically nothing bad to say about this self-described New England folktale. Mood, acting, and cinematography can carry a thin plot a long way.

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind

513Coa7zVcLUntil a credit card error combined with an email filing error caused me to miss several issues in a row (and I was already months behind on actually reading them even then), I collected Buffy and Angel comics set after those shows had ended. In addition to those, a handful of Firefly comics were released, but these were not of the full-sized sequel variety the others had been. A three issue follow-up story with only one spoiler of any consequence, and a second batch about which I, perhaps tragically, remember nothing (but it was past stories instead of future), and then by the time the third set happened, I had already had the card failure of which I speak, I guess?

Leaves on the Wind is not only the fourth collection; it is also, finally, a full-fledged continuation of the story with (I believe) more to come. In addition to the fruits of that spoiler I mentioned, mostly this one is about the fallout of the big revelations broadcast by Malcolm Reynolds about the Reavers and how they relate to the Alliance; you know, the ground covered in the movie. There are people who don’t believe a word of it, people ready to start a whole new revolution, people looking for all kinds of bloody revenge. You know, the usual.

Definitely worth reading, but read Those Left Behind first.

Aftermath

51EAv3L9PGLSo, the one good thing about a new Star Wars timeline is I’m only one book behind now, right? Haha nope, there are already like six books, plus seasons upon seasons of animated television I never got around to watching. Oops.

Aftermath is set in the months after the Battle of Endor, in the midst of the rise of the New Republic. The main thrust of the story is a group of folks who find themselves on-world for a secret meeting of the remnants of the Empire, who are trying to figure out what their next step is now that the head has been removed from the snake. Some of the aforementioned folks want to get word out to the Republic fleet, of course, but for the most part, there are as many agendas as there are characters. (Which is, I reckon, as it should be.)

Then, blah blah speeder chases and dog fights and laser battles, you know how this stuff goes. What made the book interesting (besides that it kicked off a new continuity, I mean) was all the vignettes about the state of the galaxy scattered throughout the book, none of which were in any way related to the main plot. I don’t mean to imply that the 50 some odd books I’ve read in what I think they’re now calling Star Wars Legends did not end up making it feel like a lived in galaxy, with trillions of sentient beings going about their lives. But something about the concerted effort Wendig put into making his new continuity feel immediately as lived in was very successful. Not to mention appreciated.

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone is going to get anything deep and meaningful out of these books, but it was good enough that I’ll keep looking for them.

10 Cloverfield Lane

MV5BMjEzMjczOTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUwMjI3NzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Friday was movie day, as occasionally comes around. And unexpectedly, 10 Cloverfield Lane was the new movie of the weekend. I’d been interested in this since I heard about it, and the lone preview I’ve seen helped that interest along, so.

Short answer: I liked it. But, here’s the problem with naming your movie after Cloverfield[1]: if the new movie is a direct sequel or shared universe sequel or prequel of the original, then the tension of the unknown is greatly reduced by this knowledge. Yet, by contrast, if the new movie is not directly related in some way to the original, then you’ve squandered this reduction in tension for no apparent reason. Or, even worse, tried to trick people into thinking they should be worried about the tension of the unknown when they shouldn’t be. No matter which thing is going on, my real point is this: if your audience is sitting there thinking about relationships to other movies and whether they make sense or even exist instead of fully paying attention to the movie you made, probably the title should be different.[2]

In a valiant attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m not saying which of those possibilities occurred, but I’m definitely saying I was thinking about this more than I would have liked. Especially because, late act revelations that the movies are linked or not, this one easily had the legs to stand on its own. The first 5-10 minutes in a nutshell: The second most successful alumnus of the old NBC soap opera Passions wakes up to find herself chained up in a fallout bunker by creepy John Goodman, but the good news is that “chained up in a fallout bunker by creepy John Goodman” is currently the safest place she could possibly be, because the world is ending. Just ask creepy John Goodman!

Who wouldn’t want to watch that movie, I ask you? I’ll tell you a movie you probably haven’t seen that this was a spiritual successor to: After.Life. Man, I should watch that again. For at least two three reasons.

[1] Really, after any previous movie whose tension relied in part on the unknown; this point is broadly applicable.
[2] Or else if you did it on purpose to get people into seats and that’s the only reason, you are a bad person who should feel bad.

Z 2135

51r4bMhNxML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Once again, my review material comes from the author’s afterword. This time, apparently, the authors of Z 2134 were disheartened by people who gave them crap for gleefully stealing from popular literature to mish mash their dystopic zombie-laden future. The goal for Z 2135 was to amp up the characterizations and the plot turns and prove everyone wrong while once again exciting their true fans.

Well… first of all, the series suffers from Harry Dresden disease. Despite being named after the year in which it occurs, everything took place over the course of two or three weeks, just like last time. Which doesn’t actually matter, but I always side eye that kind of thing a little. Otherwise? The characterizations were fine, but nothing to write home about. The plot turns are frequent and dramatic, that I’ll grant. In the end, though, the problem is that there’s hardly anyone to like. Sure, the teenage couple are nice enough, but the kid brother is too annoyingly indecisive to really latch onto, and while the government were always the bad guys, of course, I ended up with no interest in the rebellion either.

So there’s just this one family in the whole world that’s especially worth a damn? That makes for a pretty lonely world, even if they figure out a way to win in the third serial novel that doesn’t reward either horrible side of the struggle and only the innocent bystanders.

I mean, I’ll read it.