Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

During the credits for Detective Pikachu, I learned that the movie was based on a video game of the same name, which I had not been aware existed. So I guess this is technically a video game movie? Well, I guess Pokémon in general are from a video game, so that’s not really a revelation after all. Nevermind.

This is a kidmovie, mainly inasmuch as Pokémon is a kidgame. The good thing about this is that it doesn’t really reveal its colors until the too-neat denouement, and if I’m being realistic, lots of movies are wrapped up with a bow that are not strictly speaking aimed at kids. Still, this was, and its too-neat bow-wrapping was definitely kid-oriented.

Except for that, it turns out to be really good? Well, important caveat: if you like the tiny pokemen upon which its hat is hung. I am just barely the target audience for this movie, mostly because of all the Pokémon Go I’ve played. But they did an incredible job both of making the creatures that I guess replaced animals in the evolution of this particular world seem completely alive and real and part of the scenery, and also of giving those creatures personalities that were, at least on a per species scale, unique and identifiable. Okay, the last thing sounds less cool than it is, because there’s not much involved in making a monkey pokeman act like a monkey. But trust me: they did an amazing job of bringing the world to life, in every particular.

The plot? Well, our hero, Tim Goodman[1], who has given up on his dreams of being a Pokémon trainer to start a career in insurance, goes to a place not literally named Pokémon City to investigate his policeman father’s mysterious death. Well, no, to settle his estate, there’s no way the guy I just described would be investigating anything, except that his father’s Pokémon partner (everyone in the city has one, it’s not a cop thing) is Ryan Reynolds wearing a pikachu suit and a detective hat. Together, they… well, you know. Like I said, it’s a kidmovie at heart. It’s just a really excellently executed one, if you are down with the P.

[1] No, really.

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.

Avengers: Endgame

I went to see the fourth Avengers movie on Friday afternoon, right after work and thusly before it was feasible that my on-call duties this weekend would interfere. (As it turns out, it has been non-stop smooth sailing, but I had no way to guess that then.) Obviously I can’t talk about the movie, because, well, you know.

So, the tickets I wanted to buy were sold out before I knew they were on sale. Not literally sold out, but the useful seats were, I mean. So I’ll have to go a second time[1] to see the Alamo’s version. None of this is the point. The point is: after I couldn’t get the tickets I wanted, I sat around for a few weeks waiting for the problem to solve itself, and then ended up not being able to get out of my on-call this weekend as previously referenced. The first time I knew for sure what show I would be able to make was Friday earlier in the afternoon. BUT: there’s this theater a few miles away attached to a mall, only the mall has been closed for years and is in the process of being torn down. Nobody goes to this theater.

So, I was able to get tolerable seats about two hours in advance, and went to a 5:30 show. When we got to the parking lot, it was… well, it’s not a huge lot, most everything beyond the theater’s entrance to the mall is fenced off. Also, what lot there is has not been well taken care of. The upshot of all this is that there are a limited number of spaces, yes, but there are a much more limited number of spaces that have been repainted anytime since the mall died. The upshot of that is that all of the good spaces were already taken, at only 5pm, and man can people not park straight without lines. Some lanes got gradually narrower, eventually dwindling into nothing; some lanes were only a little crooked off into the distance but with one random car blocking half the lane for no good reason. It was a mess and a madhouse. At 5 in the afternoon on a Friday at a mostly dead theater.

Someone not me said that this is plausibly a once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe even a once-in-an-ever) event, where the 22nd film over the course of 11 years tells one complete story. From my anecdotal evidence above, there are a lot of people who know that, even if they don’t have the same words for how weird and rare and wonderful this is.

The big question, then, is will these people be satisfied? Man, I don’t know. I started to say more, but then I realized that it would be by my considerations hugely spoilerish, so I will drop a follow-up comment below the review. Which I haven’t actually done yet; this is just a story about the time I went to see Avengers: Endgame.

And now: my review.

They stuck the landing.

[1] don’t throw me in that briar patch

The Ballad of Black Tom

As a part of the ongoing series, Chris Reads Books Years Past When People Were Recommending Them, sponsored in this case by Tor who had the ebook on offer for free a few months ago, I present: a review of The Ballad of Black Tom.

I guess this is what they call a novella. I’m not sure how many pages it weighs in at, since the Kindle only tells me what percent is left, but it’s maybe a hundred? Anyway, it focuses on a 1920s Harlem hustler musician who attracts the wrong kind of attention from, well, pretty much everyone. A creepy voodoo(?) lady in Queens, a beleaguered millionaire in Brooklyn, and of course the cops. Oh, and casual 1920s racism of the type unintentionally documented in the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, who I should say both figure heavily in the thematic ground the work covers.

I accidentally understand from research that this is the story The Horror at Red Hook, retold from a different perspective. This reminds me that I want to read more Lovecraft, while simultaneously cautioning me that, man, maybe I don’t want to after all.

The Walking Dead: The Rotten Core

I feel bad using the horror tag by default on The Rotten Core, simply because it’s a Walking Dead book. Because this is I think the most political the series has ever been. Not to mention, and this will be a spoiler, so in the unlikely event you are worried about that, skip to the next paragraph: not only did nobody die to a zombie attack in the book, but I’m pretty sure this is the first book where that’s true. I may be wrong, but it’s for sure the first book where it stands out.

Anyway, the political thing. I mean that both in terms of the treacherous political waters that are being navigated, and in terms of how in your face actual political stances are. Which is… maybe less true than I think.

See, the people we know in their many local-to-Virginia/DC communities are now in discussions and mutual goodwill tours with a much larger, much more stable community to the west, called the Commonwealth. And it’s not exactly bold to come out against the idea that people are to be frozen in their social status for the foreseeable future / but really the rest of their lives. At the same time, coming out against a police state is… well, it at least shouldn’t be a bold position either, but hi, 2019!

I guess it’s good to see Kirkman actually reinventing the series a little bit after all, because, well. The same plotline for the fourth time in a row would be a bit much.

NOTE: I have not ruled out that this will become the same plotline in a row for the fourth time.

The Ruin of Kings

This was a strange experience.

First, the fact that I got into a new fantasy series on release day of book one. Who does that?? Nobody, is who. But I have a friend whose business is book stuff (recapping mostly), and I read the first quarter or so of the book online via her recaps, and it was enough to make me want the book after all. So, I am a fool and here we are.

Second, the way I read it. Which was very slowly, for no compelling reason. The last handful of chapters, in which everything is rushing towards climax and upturning everything you thought you knew? That should have been a voracious two hours instead of the two weeks it was in fact. When I say I’m just not good at reading anymore, I think what I mean is that my job is draining too much out of me, and that it actually has nothing to do with reading. At least I’m still soldiering on, instead of becoming, at this late date, a wildly different person than I have ever before been. Slow is good enough, I guess?

That was a lot of words that were largely not about The Ruin of Kings, so I guess I need to shift gears.

The first thing to understand… no, I already covered that. Book one of a projected five book series, and it was released a couple of months ago, maybe? So, you are warned. The first non-warning thing to understand is that this is quite a bit more intricate than the average. Part one is told in a series of disjointed parallel flashbacks, and it lasts for 90 percent of the book. Then, part two goes completely off the rails, which I am going to deem not a spoiler because if an epic fantasy doesn’t go off the rails in the last few chapters of the first book, that is what would be a spoiler to mention. I mean, really now.

The second thing to understand is that the reliability of the narration is highly questionable. I already know that the book benefits from a reread to go back and untangle truth from falsehood from error, and I’m willing to bet that this will be true again after subsequent books in the series. Maybe not, as it’s… well, I’m not sure what stand-alone even means in this context. There is obviously more story to tell, and it is equally obvious that the central conundrum of the series has barely been scratched, and at best mostly revealed instead of just partially. (Or in error. As you can see. I’m not sure yet.) But at the same time, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion after a satisfactory arc, both for the principle characters and for the principle events. So I was going to say that it’s fairly stand-alone, and this could result in the final outcome being trustworthy and not to be rewritten in the future. But I honestly expect my perspective to shift more rather than less.

Anyway. It’s a good book, and it’s separately a well-constructed plot, about which I remain interested right now, and would probably read the next book immediately if I had it. It is not so good that I would willingly encourage anyone to read it knowing that it isn’t finished. (There are maybe two books that I would, and maybe only the one, so that’s not really a knock against this. It’s just mean to make someone read a story that might never end, or might outlive its author.)

If you do read it, though, Leigh’s reread is still going. So that’s cool.

Midnight Tides revisited

I feel like I have been listening to Midnight Tides for over a year, which is almost certainly not true? (I could check, but meh.) And it’s “only” 35 hours long, while the next one is 42 hours. That, frankly, is terrifying. But on the bright side, the narration is much much better than in the last book. Oh how I hope that trend continues, though early reviews I’ve read indicate not.

Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about the book on my relisten… all of which were already covered when I first read the book, it turns out. Also, they were probably articulated much more eloquently than I’m capable of lately, which is just sad-making. Like, I think I used to be good at this? Oh well.

So, this foreshortened review will focus primarily on the Tehol and Bugg show. I’m fine with Korbal Broach and Bauchelain, and in fact that is the next book I’m reading in the series, according to publication order. (Actually reading, since I never did before.) But if Erikson were to go back in time and chuck the whole thing and just write a series of farces[1] about Tehol Beddict and his manservant, I would read those all day long.

(But this grand, sweeping tragedy is also worthwhile, I guess.)

[1] Or, ooo. Doubly so if they were all espionage farces. Where are these books??

Us (2019)

As foretold in prophecy[1], I have gone forth and seen Us, so that you don’t have to!

And, okay, it’s no surprise exactly for me to end up thinking you probably should see it anyway. But the uncomfortable squirming in the seat as the plot unfolded that is always what I’m looking for as a bare minimum for horror is exactly what most people want to avoid in the first place, so I should say more.

Thing one: despite what I thought going into the movie, the previews did not spoil the whole thing. They were stage-setting to provide enough knowledge and no more, exactly what a good preview should be. There’s a lot more meat here than I thought, and that is great news.

Thing two: this is not as good as Get Out. Which is okay, that movie was downright fantastic. I will say[2] that it did a thing I found pleasing and a little impressive, especially for the genre. The thing about Get Out is that it is a specific kind of horror, that only a black man (well, okay, person, but I do think it was a little more specific than that) in America can experience. Sure, it’s amplified to make its point, but its point is a distressingly common one that shouldn’t need to be made, and yet here we are. So, all of that said, a thing that I especially liked about Us is that it is not specific to race. This story could have had any characters in the main roles and had the same effect. No, bear with me, I’m not saying what you think I’m saying about “Good job, Jordan Peele, for appealing to a whiter wider audience.” Screw that, a) he can appeal to whatever audience he wants and b) white people have more to take away from Get Out than black people do in the first place; they already live there, like I was saying earlier.

No, my point is this: even though this movie could have been about anyone, it had four black people in the lead anyway, and that’s awesome.

Thing three: all that said, yes, it was creepy and squirmy as all heck, but it fell apart in the final act, both structurally (relying on ten minutes of exposition to explain how all this happened is never a good idea, and way less so in horror, where frankly no reason is usually the best reason) and thematically (it would change so much of the rest of the movie to get a different ending that it would only superficially be the same movie at all, but man did that ending undercut almost everything else that happened), and that just makes me sad.

Mostly because of how good the first two acts were.

[1] Well, in the comments section of someone’s social media account. Close enough.
[2] Content warning: white guy talking about race stuff.

Captain Marvel

I’ve tried to stay away from reviews of Captain Marvel, much as I try to stay away from reviews of most movies before I see them, but a little moreso this time. There’s too much going on for me to not want my opinion to be unadulterated, and especially since I didn’t see it for nearly a week. That said, I saw a couple reviews, and sure enough, this will be somewhat in response to those.

The first review was effusively positive, putting this near or in the top tier of Marvel movies over the past 11 years. I do not find that I agree with this, from a structural perspective. The origin story was approximately by the numbers, and the fish out of water elements that would have made it unique were blunted by a ’90s greatest hits soundtrack that pulled me out of the story every ten minutes[1]. There were twists, some predictable and some not, there were cool fight scenes, there were cool character beats. I absolutely liked it, but on the whole, it was merely fine.

Except. That’s not perfectly true, because context does matter, and boy does this movie ever have context. It’s the first Marvel movie (and nearly the first superhero movie; I can only think of one recent example[2]) with a female character in the lead. The other review I saw was mostly[3] talking about Brie Larson’s flat affect and not very sexy outfit. I cannot decide whether it’s sadder that the affect comment is factually incorrect, in that she laughed and smiled and got sad and angry pretty regularly, or that this was complained about in a published review even though the script lampshaded a “you’d be pretty if you smiled more” scene, right at the beginning of the second act.

My point is this. Captain Marvel is a great movie and a great Marvel movie, not because of the plot or the acting or the effects, but because Carol Danvers is unapologetically powerful and (this is separate, trust me) unapologetically strong.That shouldn’t be enough to elevate a movie from fine to great, but until the proposition stops being a controversial one, it will be.

[1] It’s not even that I dislike ’90s music. It’s good! But it was presented as “look how ’90s this music is! Because we’re in the ’90s and this is a prequel. Set in the ’90s. Get it?!”
[2] Hmmm. There’s also Tank Girl and arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It depends on how narrowly you proscribe the genre, I suppose. This is where years of Marvel comics reading is making me accidentally snobby, it seems.
[3] To be fair, which I’m somewhat disinclined to do, it may not have been mostly. It’s possible I got fed up and quit reading instead.