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Hack/Slash: Dead Celebrities April 16, 2014

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hackslash_vol10I must have picked the wrong order of books or something, no way I’ve read enough graphic novels lately to get two about Cassie Hack as close together as this. Oops I guess? Weird crossover successfully dealt with, Cassie is back to her old tricks. Which are still mostly episodically dealing with jungle goddesses and revenge-seeking parapalegics and incursions from other, more rapey dimensions. Luckily, this is exactly the kind of thing I want out of my Rebellious Teenage Girl and Her Giant Deformed Sidekick literature.

The main plot, as you may have partially gleaned from the title, revolves around a recent rash of murdered celebrities. Which is only so interesting, even when tangled up with Cassie’s own fascination with, and experience of being (albeit only in limited circles), celebrity. Except for the parody portion, which was fantastic. Even if the rest of the book had been horrid, I would have been satisfied because of Lady-Gaga-by-proxy Art Projekt, whose entire career is to support her master’s thesis in sociology. And since the rest of the book was, instead of horrid, lots of cheesecake-laden fights with rampaging murderers and/or murderous rampagers, yeah: still a fun series!

Ultimate X-Men: World War X April 8, 2014

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jpegIf the last several volumes of Ultimate X-Men had been bad, that would be one thing. I’ve seen them through bad stretches before, and if I do again, I’ll probably be able to work that out too. It happens. No, what’s so especially frustrating is that both the individual plots and the overarching one, finally brought to its climax in World War X, have been really quite good. Personal stories with high stakes, good interactions with the ongoing stories in the Ultimates, and the central mystery of why someone as powerful as Jean Grey has been so deftly used, or why she let herself be used, or why she’s turned so suddenly power hungry and maybe evil, plus also the mystery of which one of those it even is.

Except, and I say this with no opprobrium for the actual story of the battle between Jean Grey’s Tian and Kitty Pryde’s Utopia for the future (or the soul, if you’re feeling especially poetic) of mutantkind; that story was perfectly dandy and even pretty cool in places. Except: there’s no payoff. Not only do I still have no idea what made our Ms. Phoenix go off the deep end, there is really no hint that it was supposed to be hard to swallow.

Which renders the whole exercise not only frustrating, but at least a little bit retroactively pointless. Ugh. At least with Reed Richards, I know what happened. This is just bad characterization, going back basically all the way to right after the Ultimatum wave. Which means Jean Grey has been a plot-driven puppet for like four years. Ugh.

Which I guess I already said once before in that paragraph. But jeeze. Usually these are perfectly serviceable. Hell, I liked the whole stretch right up until the end, when I found out there wasn’t actually anything there, right? Okay. Done complaining.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier April 8, 2014

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MV5BMjM2NzUzNzQwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQ1MDkwMTE@._V1__SX1217_SY911_Argh, this movie. Here’s the problem, in a nutshell. I saw it in a double feature with the first one, as a premiere event before opening day. And I had no idea how to review it, because literally anything I could say that delves into character motivations or why some characters work and others do not, and how…. anything at all would be a massive spoiler. So instead I’ve sat here for days, letting the review get stale, still just as stuck with nothing to say. It’s hateful is what it is.

Instead, I will talk about the event. Even though it’s probably all stuff I’ve said before. See, I’ve certainly discussed how much I love the Alamo Drafthouse out of Austin, and I know I’ve talked about my excitement that it finally came to Dallas. What I only believe I’ve said (but have no proof, short of 12 seconds’ worth of research that clearly isn’t going to happen) is how thrilled I am by the Dallas location’s management. These guys are as genuinely excited about their movie events as the original management in Austin, and not to leave out that they’re as excited as yours truly. It’s not the single most comfortable theater experience I’ve had, and it’s nowhere near the most high-tech or immersive. But I can always be certain of the quality of the audience, and I can always be certain of the quality of the staff, and I can always be certain of the quality of the event. More to the point, I can always be certain that every film I see there will be worthy of being called an event.

I’m pretty passionate about this chain, is what I guess I’m saying. And yes, the new Captain America movie was no exception. Where else do you get to watch animated Baron Zemo from the ’60s dancing around in glee after being reminded that maybe Paste Pot Pete can help him get the mask off his face from where it’s been glued for twenty years, during the half hour pre-show entertainment?

Okay, that plus the cut I’m about to put in here should be plenty enough spoiler space. Screw it, everything hereafter is for people who saw the movie or else want to be sad.

(more…)

Side Jobs April 2, 2014

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Side-jobs-by-jim-butcherIn awesometimes news, I’m a mere two books behind in the Dresden Files series now. In less awesometimes news, that will change in less than sixty days when another book comes out. Plus also, Side Jobs, being a collection of short stories across the course of Harry’s story so far, did not actually advance the story more than a smidgeon beyond the massive cliffhanger ending of the prior book. Which I read a year ago?? And I wonder why I can’t get caught up.

I don’t think it particularly has a unifying theme, but since the stories were written over the course of eight years or more, there’s no reason why it particularly should have one, is there? Still, my mind craves this kind of thing, and found (or more likely was handed by the author, since he introduces each of these stories in a page or so) this: in contravention of all available evidence, not everything that happens to Harry Dresden and his friends has world-shattering impact. Sometimes there’s just a lost girl or a stolen batch of mead or a… okay, it’s honestly a lost girl a lot of the time. Which is maybe a bit of a bummer, because it’s a lot easier to accept the sexism from Harry than it is from Butcher. But then again, noir as a genre is Women-in-Danger-heavy. So I will handwave this for now, since at least Harry keeps growing as a character. But man do I wish my mind didn’t crave this kind of thing.[1]

In any event, all of the stories were diverting, most of them were pretty darn good, and my favorite of the bunch, The Warrior, even got me in the emotions at one point near the end. I will say that the two narrators who were not Harry[2], while distinct in voice from him, were not really distinct enough; not for my tastes, and certainly not to sustain a story much longer than what he wrote. But then, I’ve always kind of assumed that Harry’s voice is much closer to Butcher’s than not. As complaints go, the fridge thing bothers me quite a bit more.

[1] In all sincerity, I had not noticed the trend yet when I started that paragraph.
[2] Thomas Raith once and Karrin Murphy once, if you wanted to know, and if you don’t know who each of them is, I really can’t imagine why you wanted to know in the first place.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man No More March 26, 2014

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jpegWithout this Cataclysm event coming up, I could see myself being extremely excited about the direction in which Bendis is taking Miles Morales’ story. …okay, that’s not fair. I still am excited about it, I just hate to see it get put on hold for a big giant event that he should by rights be at the fringes of (I mean, unless the earth is destroyed? That would change my opinion drastically and unpredictably), or even worse, get partially canceled / re-written. Perhaps what I am saying is, I wish Bendis was at the helm of the whole universe, so I could trust that this particular aspect won’t get railroaded somewhere dumb.

Anyway.

Stan Lee originally wrote this story (well, title) for issue 50 of Peter Parker’s run, published in 1967. Pete was tired of being Spider-Man because his life was always one terrible event after another, and something something Aunt May’s heart, and long story short, Marvel could not go more than 1/3 of the pages in any given comic without the hero being in costume, so you knew something would change his mind by early in issue 51. (In this case: Kingpin.) Bendis’ take on Spider-Man No More! is interesting to me for quite a few reasons, but chiefly because of the vast gulf of difference between Then and Now.

Miles went through a fairly major life event at the end of the previous book, as a result of which[1] he’s put away the uniform and the web slingers to resume a normal high school life. And then, boom, a year passes. A year! Because Miles, unlike non-Ultimate Peter Parker, knows how to commit to a decision.[2] Of course, it’s still a comic and the past always catches up with you, but unlike Stan Lee (however much I appreciate all that he’s done), this was handled thoughtfully, with false starts and denials before the inevitable outcome, and I do not feel that Miles is on a whiny pogo stick. I definitely think, as I already said back in that top paragraph, that he and Spider-Woman are on an excellent path with a lot of potential, and I hope I get to see how that turns out.

[1] I bet you could see this coming.
[2] Also because really a lot of events have been happening around the rest of the world, between mutant rights and new American civil wars and so on, and it’s nice to see that, if Miles is not going to be involved in those events, the editorial staff came up with a good way to explain why not. Plus, it’s good getting him a little bit older. Also, for those taking notes, this indicates that somewhere in the range of 2.5 to 3 years have passed since all the mutants and superheroes started appearing on the scene back in 2000-2001 when all this Ultimate folderol began. (Contrast: regular Marvel time, as checked against Peter Parker’s schooling process, has spent maybe 6 years of time between 1961 and 1979. So the scales actually match up pretty well!)

Taken 2 March 23, 2014

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MV5BMTkwNTQ0ODExOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU3NDQwOA@@._V1__SX1537_SY747_Ran out of TV to watch, didn’t feel like going anywhere, and I live in a streaming utopian future where I have access to almost as much human entertainment as I have to human knowledge. (Not in my pocket, so much, because who wants to watch a movie on a 5″ screen?) So, I poked around to see what was showing on my various Roku channels, and spotted Taken 2. I was talking about that just recently, so, hey, why not?

It’s exactly what you’d expect out of a straightforward sequel. Liam Neeson is still a CIA-skinned Jedi Master who goes globe-trotting on occasion in order to overturn kidnapping scenarios involving his family. If you saw the first movie, or if you’ve seen any movie where spies and bad guys chase each other around European cities, there’s really nothing you need me to tell you about it. It’s a mostly competent example of the genre with occasional plot holes big enough to drive a stolen taxi through, but that isn’t really a big deal because the next explosion two scenes from now will take your mind right off of it.

Premise, if you care: remember how Neeson plowed through the kidnapping ring to rescue his daughter last time? An Albanian family wants revenge for one of the trail of bodies he left behind, so when Neeson’s family vacations in Istanbul, the time is ripe to strike back. And you’ll never guess who gets Taken, Too! Haha, I kill me. But seriously, no Chekhov’s gun goes unfired, no Chekhov’s grenade pin goes unpulled, no Chekhov’s learning permit goes unviolated. (Actually, that’s not fair, her father was in the car the whole time.) But the raw point stands. Excess is here, right where it should be, and I’m going to put a little effort into finding Taken 3 now that I know these people follow the rules of sequels.

The Walking Dead: All Out War Part One March 22, 2014

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Wd-cover-Vol20-dressedsmThe problem with reviewing All Out War isn’t the usual one where, oh no, the series has gone on for twenty volumes, how am I supposed to talk about what’s going on now without massive spoilers? Either I care less about spoilers than I should, or else something about these books doesn’t cause the typical problem. No, the problem with the review is the same thing that’s a strength of the book. It doesn’t really feel like a new book at all, more like just a new comic. That makes it sound like the storyline hasn’t progressed, and it definitely has. It’s just that the last few books, pretty much ever since Rick was asked to remove protectionist warlord Negan from the world, have felt a lot more like a single coherent storyline than the Walking Dead used to.

I reckon that the title reveals both a) that the plot is going as I’d anticipated and b) that they’re taking a little longer to get there than they could have. Which is fine. In a case of becoming more wishy-washy than ever, the strength of Negan’s character (which, yes, continues to compel) and the strength of the current plot are buying me enough goodwill to no longer hope it wraps up soon. Intellectually, I know that’s why Kirkman needs to wrap things up on this high note more than ever, but, screw it. If he doesn’t, I’ll cave and stick around for a while until the high points come back yet again.

The Troop March 22, 2014

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cover32021-mediumI’ve had an advanced reading copy of The Troop sitting on my reading devices since last fall. It’s probably fair to say that I’ve misused the entire purpose of Netgalley’s project by waiting until a couple of months after the book was released to actually read it. So, um, my apologies to the people who set that up and possibly to the author who, were this going to be a favorable review, might have lost out on literally ones of avid readers as a result?

I can’t decide if I’m being unfair. I know that my most negative impressions of the book were early on, when I hadn’t gotten used to the weird random capitalization errors and other iffy editing that I’ve never seen in physical ARCs I’ve gotten before, in used bookstores or whatnot. But I really don’t think that’s all it was. Which, to explain more, I should probably talk about the book. See, these Canadian boy scouts head off to a small island somewhere off the coast of, um, Canadia, where they can live out their various Breakfast Club stereotypes in nature. And that would have worked out the same way as it always does, I guess, with some fire building and some rock throwing and some hiking marching songs and whatnot, except for the extremely hungry gentleman in the speedboat who lands on the island a few hours later, and the apparently-Canada-has-a-navy quarantine blockade of the island that quickly follows.

You can see why I was into that premise, I’m sure. The execution, though… here’s what it looks like happened, although if you’d asked me, I would have said that the entire purpose of an editor is to prevent something like this. It seems like the author got better over the course of the book. The characters (well, the ones who were still alive) got incrementally more, you know, real, and the plot got tighter and more tense, and by the end it felt like a pretty interesting story had happened, but man, that rocky start. I’m really not convinced I’d have gotten past 10%[1] if I hadn’t felt guilty about running late. Which, in retrospect, is a pretty dumb way to look at it, since I would have felt obligated to put out an honest pre-release review if I’d read it on time, and should have taken the opportunity to not care since I waited too long anyway.

Plus maybe they fixed the first third of the story in post?

[1] Page numbers are weird in the future.

Veronica Mars March 18, 2014

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MV5BMTQ4MDc0Mjg4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODk3NjYyMTE@._V1__SX1217_SY911_I don’t even know how to review this movie properly. Which is to say, outside the context of a three season television series that you may not have seen before. Inside that context, it would be a breeze, believe me. But outside, there are two giant stumbling blocks in my way. One is how immediately immersed I was in the world, just as though I’d never left, without any of the pesky (albeit brilliantly accomplished) ten minutes of introduction to all the characters you wouldn’t know about if you’d missed the show in the first place. This lack, in addition to highlighting my lack of objectivity, serves to introduce the second stumbling block, which is that I spent a minor chunk of change on the kickstarter for the movie. Having been funded by fans, there’s a really good chance that it’s not my failure to separate out my sense of homecoming and look at it externally that’s the problem. They know where their money came from and who their primary audience would be, and I think maybe it’s not concerned with newcomers in the first place. So, I’ll give up on that angle and move on.

Do you even know they made a Veronica Mars movie? Fan or not, if you missed the kickstarter, it may have slid under the radar. Anyway, it released last weekend, and you can theater it or stream it. (I think I get a bluray eventually?  But it was streaming in this case, as I live in ye olde future.) If you are not a fan of the show through inaction, you’ll get a lot more out of the show than the movie, at least until later. If you are not a fan of the show through choice, you sadden me. If you are a fan of the show… here’s that really easy review I promised you a while ago.

You know how I said it immediately felt like a homecoming? That was not a clever riff on the fact that one of Veronica’s reasons for returning to Neptune is her ten-year high school reunion. (The main reason being, of course, a murder.) Because, really, it felt like no time had passed at all since the last episode I watched. And okay, not remembering much of what happens in either of the latter two seasons meant I was playing a little bit of catch-up, but not much, and not in a way that took me out of the joy of coming home. By the end of the movie, I was ready for a new season or a new movie either one, and pleased as I could be that the door is wide open for that. So: you should really go see this movie, or stay home and see this movie, or whatever it takes to convince them to do it again soon. If not for yourself, do it for me. Aw, who am I kidding, seriously, do it for me, and I’ll hope in turn that you enjoyed yourself while doing it.

Because I am a good person.

Non-Stop (2014) March 11, 2014

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MV5BOTI3NzcxMjkzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY0NTQ0MDE@._V1__SX1217_SY911_Liam Neeson made another action movie. I could say something pithy about that being enough information for you to decide whether to see this one, but since I never even saw Taken 2, it feels disingenuous. Okay then.

I guess the most important thing to say is that Non-Stop never tries to be a good movie. Here’s the example that immediately leapt out at me. After being refused a drink that would have been at least his third of the morning by the stewardess with whom he clearly has some kind of past and receiving unauthorized and also extortionate texts from a mysterious figure who could be anybody at all but probably isn’t air marshal Liam Neeson himself or the redhead sleeping next to him, and who promises to kill a passenger every twenty minutes if his demands are not meant, Neeson pulls out his watch as instructed to set a 20 minute timer, so he will know the mysterious figure is serious. He looks at the time on the watch, clicks a single button on the side, and boom, instant 20 minute countdown timer. From one button on a wristwatch. Because that’s plausible.

Like I said. They’re not aspiring to good. What they are aspiring to, and succeed at, is tension. If you didn’t spend at least a minute suspecting each passenger on the plane, you were not watching the same movie I was.  Here I include the other air marshal, the pilots, the stewardesses, and the obligatory passenger of Arabic descent. (Well, okay, I lie. I actually didn’t suspect him, because come on. I’m never clear on whether the exception that proves the rule is a real thing, or something people say when they didn’t expect there to be an exception and were caught off-guard. But this is definitely one of those two situations.)

Anyway, long story short: sure, it wasn’t a Good Movie. But I’ve watched Good Movies that were bigger wastes of time, and it’s still the time of year when pickings are slim, so hey. Which reminds me, does anyone know if Taken 2 was any good?