Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Monday was random movie night, and the random movie I ended up seeing was Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is about, well, honestly the title is not wrong, you know? You see, some amount of time has passed since Frances McDormand’s daughter was killed, and she is unhappy with the speed of justice, so she takes matters into her own hands via the powers of advertising!

It is my understanding that this movie is not being well received in the liberal community because it is making heroes out of really terrible people. I don’t think that’s right at all, though. It is a movie about people who either are outright terrible, or are deeply flawed but recognizably trying to do right, or are too consumed with their own problems to remember to care about anyone else. (Or, at best, they are the people being hurt by the three people I just described.) So, right, it is a movie about those people, and their attempts to do the right thing.

I’m assuming that’s what is disliked, that they are clearly trying to do the right thing. That is a little too shades of grey in a political climate where we would prefer everything be as cartoonish as it is in the news right now. I have two reactions to that: 1) People in real life mostly are not cartoonish, despite the implausible reality of the current news cycle. 2) If someone is trying to do the right thing, that does not mean they’ve been given a redemption arc. Even if you accomplish doing the right thing, which is not guaranteed, one right does not make up for years of wrongs. Sometimes years of right don’t.

Anyway, I’ve gotten very far afield of what this review should have been, which is why I hate so much that I’ve gotten bad at writing reviews before I see other responses to a movie (or really anything else I review) before I’ve formed my own. I don’t like responding to responses instead of to the thing itself, because it always ends up dumb, like this did.

I would mostly not recommend the movie, although it is at times extremely funny, because it’s also extremely dark, and mostly people know better than I do if they would like that. But if you would, you probably will.

The Walking Dead: A Certain Doom

Remember that time when people were in danger from zombies instead of each other? I mean, you don’t, because that was like 15 books ago, and nobody but me has read anywhere near that far in the Walking Dead. The good news is, if you jumped back into the series with A Certain Doom, it would feel like you’d never left? A herd of like a million zombies will make them dangerous again, yeah.

I can’t say a lot, as usual, but I’ll say these two things. One, another point where the series probably should have ended has been reached. Two, I do appreciate the ongoing attempts to redeem a character who is entirely irredeemable. Like, sometimes you can do things so terrible that it doesn’t matter how hard you try for the rest of your life. Except, the fact that you never stop trying maybe counts for something towards your memory? I don’t know how this works, but I’m a big believer in redemption, so a situation like this is uncharted territory for me.

Sleeping Beauties

I have been reading the new Stephen King book for like two months, which is just strange. I mean, there were various reasons behind the delay. I’ve been really busy at work all the time, for one, and a shoulder injury made me loathe to carry it around, for another. (I mean, the injury was not entirely debilitating, and neither is this the biggest book ever printed, but the two factors did not play well together.) These are all true facts, but at the same time, I don’t think any of them was the real problem.

Sleeping Beauties tells the story of a world without women, more or less. They’re all here, but once they fall asleep, they get shrouded in a mysterious cocoon and don’t wake up. (Well, they do, for brief periods, if you are too insistent; but that’s a bad idea.) Half the story deals with the world’s, which is mostly to say men’s[1], reactions to this sudden new reality, mostly via the small Appalachian town that acts as the setting. The other half deals with the supernatural underpinnings of the event, and what this all means to the women who are cocooned away.

That first half, wrapped up in a hypothetical reality, no matter how potentially troubling, is where the book shines. There are heroes and villains, small petty vindictive bullies, understandable antagonists, helpless children, and everyone in between. Stephen King has always been a deft master of interweaving motivations, and nothing much has changed in this regard. The second half, in which spoilers abound, is… well, it’s two things.

I don’t know much about Owen King[2], but I do not assume that he is what of this book I didn’t like. At least, not specifically. Because, the first thing is, King’s biggest flaw in my estimation is that his explanations sometimes get too big for him[3], and end up unsatisfying. That’s less true here than in some cases[4], but still highly visible. Intertwined with this is the second thing which is: two men are not really qualified to write about how women would deal with the spoilers I’m not going into. This is not my feminism talking, although it could be; it’s more that the outcomes on the page simply didn’t feel true to life.

Anyway, I still liked it. But it is definitely flawed.

[1] There are definitely a lot of women striving to stay awake, and they matter to the plot. But not, thematically, to this half of the story. If you find that to be some measure of problematic, know that you are not alone.
[2] The default author’s son, and co-writer of this book, in case you didn’t use the mouseover text.
[3] This is not the proper phrase for what I mean, but I cannot figure out something better.
[4] For example, Under the Dome, which would have been better if no explanation had been offered. The only worse answer I can think of is the one the TV show came up with.

Thor: Ragnarok

The problem with reviewing a new Marvel movie is the same as the problem with reviewing a new Dresden Files or Vlad Taltos book: too much accumulated past knowledge is required.That is, the only way to come close to getting a coherent thought out of me is if I assume you are aware of everything that has come before. Otherwise, I’m bound to spoil for previous movies.

For example, Thor: Ragnarok, which is not only the third Thor movie, it’s in the high teens for total Marvel Cinematic Universe movies overall. And okay, they don’t all of them interweave so tightly that you would need all the movies under your belt, but it’s still something like five or six, just to cover all the returning characters.

So, screw it, I’m doing that spoil for previous movies thing. See, the first Thor movie was about learning how to be worthy. Thor starts off as a bro, and needs to be a hero instead. Cool. The second one was about family (and also a little bit about the eventual Infinity War that we’re not quite to, yet, but that’s plot, and I’m talking theme here). Like, Loki is still a bad guy, or at least a mischief guy, but the brothers are brothers again and don’t have to spend so much energy on hating each other. It was nice!

This third movie is about becoming an adult. Training wheels are off, the end of the world Asgard is at hand, and Thor (and whoever else is willing to side with him; telling you in advance would be, well, telling) has to figure everything out for himself. Which, not bad for a dude who was a bro like six years ago. I mean, assuming he succeeds. But trying is also pretty cool. Bro Thor from 2011 would not have even tried to do anything except maybe tug on Odin’s arm, unless it was to charge forward blindly and get himself killed in the first thirty seconds.

So, that’s what the movie is. Remaining things to know are that it was almost more comedy  than action movie; that it has my personal favorite use of a Led Zeppelin song; that of course it was good, although at the same time it’s hard to know how to trust my opinion here anymore[1]; and that… no, I take it back, anything else I could possibly say would definitely be spoilers. Go see it!

[1] I mean, I didn’t like the Inhumans series, so at least I know there’s a bottom to this well of good faith.

Blade Runner

Today I learned I’d never seen Blade Runner before. I’m honestly not sure how that happened? Nevertheless, I think I was right to want to watch it before the sequel.

It will be hard to talk about this without spoilers, mainly because I’ve known so much about it myself, long before seeing it. I guess I will not worry about it much, in order to get some sense impressions out of the way. 1) Deckard isn’t a replicant. This was easiest to determine, because every replicant in the movie had, at one or multiple points, a weird yellowy reflection in their pupils, and he never did. 2) The replicants themselves were mostly sympathetic; they were dealt a raw hand and seemed to be trying to find a way out, and I respect that. At the same time, they were murderous enough to make the blade runner role seem like a reasonable one instead of an arm of the state focused solely on keeping down someone who might otherwise come to dominate humanity. (See also the Sentinels in X-Men.) In fact, the biggest flaw the movie had was exactly that: there was no reason given why the replicants were so murder-happy, and it was a little too easy. 3) Gaff (the guy played by Edward James Olmos who was apparently Japanese for this role?) was a total enigma to me, and I think I was supposed to get more out of him than I did, or maybe I just need to watch it more? Whatever, it was worth commenting on.

And, uh, I guess that’s all? A mistake I see I’ve made is assuming you are all familiar with this. In case you aren’t: Blade runners are special cops trained to hunt down replicants, who are no longer allowed on earth after the most recent version committed some offworld murders and are now seen as glitchy / broken / whatever you call an android when you for some reason don’t think it capable of independent morality.

Which reminds me of a little more to talk about after all I guess. Like, what happened to earth? That’s not fair, in retrospect, because of a spoiler I won’t go into, but the majority of what we see is a perpetually rain-darkened shithole where nobody is happy or particularly seems to have much of anything to call their own. Every surface is covered in advertisements, which, okay, that’s valid 2019, but the majority of the ads are inviting people to leave the planet and go somewhere better. And it seems like most people who could leave have already. I’m not sure I have a point, I’m just interested in the backstory of this world. All the parts of it, really. But the part we got was pretty good.

Fool Moon revisited

I wish I could say I am horribly backlogged. That would be amazing next to the reality, which is that I just haven’t been doing much of anything. Too busy at work, too busy fighting with my broken comics collection, too busy watching TV. I mean, I’ve done other things in there I’m happy about, but finished books and new movies are not among them.

However, I have been on some road trips lately, and thus finally completed the second Dresden book, Fool Moon. As promised before, my running total indicates that six months have passed since the last book, and therefore, um, six months total.[1] Which is to say, October of year zero. Or at least fall instead of spring? But I think I remember October being right.[2] Also, and apparently I didn’t mention any of this before, but James Marsters (who you may be more familiar with as Spike) does a perfectly serviceable rendition of Harry Dresden’s narration. I mean, better than that, all in all. But occasionally he pronounces familiar words strangely, and on top of that I have an unreasoning love affair with the voice of Paul Blackthorne, despite him only performing 13 TV episodes (that are widely panned) before I had otherwise really ever heard of these books. That will always be the voice I hear in my head while I’m reading.

So yeah, that came out heavier against Spike than I meant it to. He really is good, he’s just not what I want. It’s okay, I’m sure I’ll come around more and more. (Especially since as of the second book he mentions chapter transitions, instead of the nonstop wall of text that the first one was.)

As for the story? I was just slobbering all over it the first time I read it, and this time that was not the case. Partly because it’s no longer a delicious new treat I’ve never had before, partly because I no longer have as big a pile of recently consumed Anita Blake to compare it to, and certainly partly because I’m better at spotting Harry’s character flaws than I was then. He absolutely got people killed under the guise of protecting them, and what’s worse is he hasn’t yet learned that it was his fault[3]. He may have said the words, but you can tell.

Otherwise, the main thing I look forward to in the series is when Murphy starts wanting to beat up Dresden for things he actually did, instead of things she unfairly blames him for doing (or not doing). There’s plenty of that to go around, without the misunderstandings about things he couldn’t possibly have thought to mention at the time.

[1] Later, this running total thing will be more useful.
[2] You know how I said reviewing audiobooks is problematic for me? This is what I mean.
[3] It’s also possible I’m just older and wiser than I was, then? In any case, this doesn’t make me dislike the book, or even Harry. Flawed people are mostly better; that said, it’s been a minute or three since I picked up a new Honor Harrington, hasn’t it?

Mother!

I wonder if I’ve reviewed a Darren Aronofsky movie before? I know I’ve seen one, so… oh, hey, I could check![1] And, there it is. Black Swan. Which a) I liked quite a bit, and b) I successfully predicted Natalie Portman’s best actress Oscar for that one. Go me!

To get it out of the way: Jennifer Lawrence is not going to win an Oscar for Mother! This is not a slam on her acting ability in general (which in fact is long since demonstrably solid), nor her performance here; it’s just not the kind of movie that I expect to be an Academy darling. It’s also not the kind of movie I can say virtually anything about. Here’s the blurb from imdb: “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”

That is an incredibly accurate description of the movie, that leaves aside the… I was going to say rising tension, but it’s more like ratcheting dread. A thing I thought during the first half of the movie that I still agree with now: Lawrence is basically portraying an introvert’s hell.

The surreality grows on a logarithmic scale (which to be fair is certainly a similarity to Black Swan), and I think I have no way to predict who might or might not like this movie. Me: it was nothing like what I expected, and I think its writer/director is entirely too impressed with it, but all the same, I thought it had its charms. (For one thing, both Lawrence and Javier Bardem were solid leads, despite what I said earlier about acting awards, and Michelle Pfeiffer was nearly perfect.) Mary, on the other hand, loathed it. So, y’know. Watch at your own risk?

Super annoying-to-me coda to this review: I saw the movie on Wednesday night, in a moderately exclusive Alamo Drafthouse preview showing. And then I’ve been so busy working that I couldn’t review it until post-release. Which is at least only today, instead of a week ago like usual. But: argh!

[1] Okay, inside baseball: yes, I realized I could check before I typed that faux realization, BUT, I realized it after I asked the question. So that counts, right?

The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse

Change of pace!

I think I want to run a game, but I haven’t figured out what yet, since nobody wants to play 1st Edition AD&D. A while back, I got the first in the End of the World series on a whim, knowing it would be a series, and that their hook (aside from multiple scenarios per book, each such book centered around a different theme) is a game system that allows you to play yourself, just as the world is beginning to end. In this case, due to one flavor or another of zombie apocalypse.

So, the system? Is a little overly complex, for my taste. And okay, a careful reading of the previous paragraph makes me sound like I’m high, but the fact is, familiarity and nostalgia forgive a lot of complexity. But much more importantly than that is whether your simple, elegant system is successful at being simple and elegant. This one might be, if I’m comparing it to a game from 35 years ago where every rule is an edge case, but I’m comparing it to a homebrew system I stole from Ken Kofman like 20 years ago, and by those standards, this one is pretty hacky. So, y’know. (Also, I’m a lot pickier about rulesets these days, when nostalgia isn’t a factor.)

The far more important part of the book, therefore, was the 75% that followed the rules, in which five apocalyptic scenarios were explored. Each section has the player POV description, a description of what’s really going on, multiple plothook ideas, NPC/monster stats, a timeline of the apocalypse from minute one to year three or four, and then a post apocalypse section for roleplaying into the world that exists beyond the end of our world.

These? Were mostly good. I think there was only one scenario whose genesis and result I liked both of, but that doesn’t mean it would be impossible, or even especially hard, to mix and match. For reasons of potential game spoilers, I won’t go into what their scenarios actually are, but there were definitely some pretty good ideas scattered throughout the thing. Enough to make me want to buy more books in the series, if I can ever find them used. I doubt I’d run another zombie game? My only really successful GM experience was from one, so it’s probably better to try something different.

But I do love me a good apocalypse, so.

It (2017)

I feel like maybe It should have had a name that will make its sequel in a year or so make more sense. Because, as is, it seems like it will appear to be a sequel, while in actuality it will be the second half of a coherent whole. I mean really, now, It 2? I hope not!

This is what you came here for, right?

But seriously, I think it may be broadly known among the readership here that It, by Stephen King, is my favorite book. I even, unjustifiably, like the ABC miniseries from lo these many years past. Sure, it’s under television guidelines, but it tried very hard to be a faithful adaptation. All the same, the idea of a multi-part cinematic version struck me as a pleasing idea, something I could maybe point to as “yeah, that’s why I like this book so much” without expecting someone to put in the time investment of a doorstop horror epic.

Mostly: this is that movie. It could have used another 45 minutes or so to breathe and allow the kids to be small town kids on their own for the summer, give an idea of what the oppressive horrific atmosphere was taking away from them. (And to allow some of the references to be built into the plot instead of just there to make sure ItFan117 was satisfied that their pet reference got made.) But all in all, it definitely did what I wanted, and I’m excited to see the second half. Hell, I may even watch this one again, but since I still haven’t seen The Dark Tower yet, that feels hard to justify.

That said, I do have some real complaints, and they are not the result of my pet fanboy moment being missed or misrepresented. Unfortunately, they are kind of all huge spoilers. So, I’ll put them in the comments.

Last thing: the acting / direction of those kids was seriously good.

EDIT: Having now posted my spoiler complaints in the comments section below: seriously, do not click through or read those unless you want third act plot destroying spoilers. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Assassin’s Quest

So, I have read a Robin Hobb trilogy. I definitely in a way had expectations that were met, but mostly I still think I didn’t. If that makes as much sense as I think it does, well, I blame the malort but will also elaborate by way of apology.

Assassin’s Quest starts off the way you’d expect, as a good old-fashioned revenge story against a man what done someone wrong. Fitz has been poisoned, betrayed, beaten, and ultimately murdered, and he ain’t gonna take it anymore! (I’m being flippant on purpose, partly to downplay and/or avoid spoilers, but also because it occurred to me while thinking about this that you could tell the same story if you are Quentin Tarantino, albeit with a spectacularly different outcome.) And that difference of outcome is I suppose the point, since about a third of the way through, Fitz’s quest changes suddenly and unpredictably from assassination to magical travelogue, and eventually, well, it would be all kinds of spoilers to explain, but if you are wondering whether the meat of the trilogy is resolved in one way or another, the answer is yes.

I liked the book, and in fact the trilogy as a whole (although the book less so). Pacing issues are the main reason, and again most of the rest would be a spoiler. But at the same time: if I care enough about characters in a story to be unhappy about where they end up, that is more of a positive thing than a negative. Which is the elaboration I promised above.

I’ll read more.