Tag (2018)

At the end of December, I had a new experience! I have now watched a movie on an airplane. Benefit of not flying Spirit, I suppose.

I remember thinking the previews for Tag looked, well, good isn’t the right word, but entertaining and/or funny. Plus, I like tag. Too bad I didn’t do what they did, I might be more accustomed to necessary cardio. So anyway, there’s this group of friends who, as kids, played an essentially non-stop game of tag. And now as adults, they set aside one month of the year to continue the tradition. This, I think, covers all of (or possibly a little more than that) the “based on a true story” aspects of the film.

What’s left is Ed Helms and the guy from The New Girl and Hannibal Buress (I don’t know who he is) and (somehow) Jon Hamm on a quest to finally tag Hawkeye from the Avengers, who has never been tagged in the entire span of time they have been playing, for what I think are pretty obvious reasons. He’s definitely playing in the wrong league here, is all I’m saying. On the other hand, it’s nice to know what he was up to while absent from Infinity War.

There are a couple of subplots, but the meat of it is watching grown-ass men playing a ridiculously over the top kid game. If that doesn’t work for you, this won’t either. As for me: it was a better way to spend a flight than I’ve spent most of mine, so.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

True confessions time: as of yesterday afternoon, I was four reviews behind. I have got to stop with this! But anyway, I tell you that mainly so you don’t think it took me until mid-January to see the latest Spider-Man movie (non-MCU).

Well, fuller disclosure still, I originally didn’t plan to see it at all, since animated plus non-MCU made me think it was a Sony kid movie instead of a serious comics movie[1]. But then early reviews were generally positive with a non-kiddy slant, and so there I was.

Into the Spider-Verse tells the origin story of Miles Morales, who you will remember from too many of my reviews to link to of Ultimate Spider-Man, after that time when Peter Parker got killed. Bendis did a good thing when he provided the Marvel Ultimate universe with a replacement Spider-Man, not just because Peter Parker had been the most important character in that continuity and the hole was painful, but especially because he provided someone who matched modern New York’s demographics. Not only does it embrace a broader audience, but it frees up a new story space, instead of just ending up with a clone[2] of the original.

I guess I jumped rather far afield. Anyway, the movie tells Miles’ origin story by way of Dumbo, while also introducing a concept I am decades from reading in print, about all the various earths where all kinds of other various people were bitten by radioactive (or genetically modified, or whatever) spiders, resulting in all kinds of new and bizarre Spider-People. This maybe sounds silly, but the Kingpin[3] and his crew are collectively such a powerful threat that the cross-dimensional team-up actually feels necessary.

Also: the little things they did with panel composition and lettering and the spider-sense were… a friend of mine said that he walked out of this movie with the knowledge that he had not previously seen a comic book movie, he had only seen movies about comic books. It really shows that the people who made this love not only the stories, but the medium as a whole. I really very much hope there’s a Miles sequel forthcoming. He deserves one, and so do we.

[1] I, uh, look. Shut up.
[2] It is important, comics being what they are, that I point out I mean clone in a metaphorical sense. Although a literal clone would be just as pointless.
[3] Oh, right. Kingpin is the big bad. He’s so much more effective here than he is in Netflix’s Daredevil. It’s not that Vincent D’Onofrio does a bad job, it’s that the Kingpin is a larger than life figure who translates to live action far less well than most other supervillains have done.

You Might Be the Killer

So, let’s say you run a summer camp, and let’s say it’s been a really bad night at the summer camp, with teen counselors dropping like flies, and someone is about to try to burn you out of the cabin you’ve bolted yourself into. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and call your friend who works at the video store and get some calming, helpful advice!

This is the premise of an apparently off-the-cuff Twitter conversation between a guy who sometimes writes Star Wars books and another guy who I forget what. Which I think makes You Might Be the Killer[1] the first movie developed on Twitter? That by itself was enough to make me want to watch it. I had been a little sad about the spoilery nature of having read the conversation, but it turns out to cover not much more than the premise, which is kind of summed up in the title in the first place. I’m pleased to report they found room to maneuver, is what I’m saying.

But then they put it on Shudder, and I have a subscription to that! ….which was probably about a year overdue, if I’m being honest with myself, so thanks Joe Bob for forcing my hand last summer. Anyway, it’s a slasher comedy starring Fran Kranz (from The Cabin in the Woods) and Allyson Hannigan (from all kinds of things at this point, don’t act like you don’t know), and while it’s not quite the genius that I wanted it to be, it’s still pretty damn fun.

[1] I may have exaggerated about the calming effect of the previously mentioned forthcoming advice.

Halloween (2018)

Let’s be frank: there was very little chance of me not liking a Halloween sequel starring Jamie Lee Curtis. While I think Alien is the best horror movie ever made, I think that Halloween II is the best horror movie sequel ever made. And the original is in the top five anyway, probably number two.

Biases: acknowledged!

Given all that, I am of course a little disappointed that Halloween II got jettisoned from the canon. I understand why they did it, and I even approve. I think I’m willing to pretend that the one disputed fact is in line with these movies but that the events in the hospital are still canon. Because, it was so good.

Okay, enough about other movies. I appreciated a lot about what was going on here. They used the same font for the credits, of course the same music / composer, once again the only credit for Michael Myers was The Shape, there was even a dollhouse that I’ll swear was modeled on the original Myers home. What I’m saying is I appreciate attention to detail, and the moreso for the forty years gone since the original premiered.

Mostly, I liked the heart of the movie, this unstoppable collision between Laurie Strode and the boogeyman. It reminded me of Aliens in that way, now that I think about it. So, y’know, good company. And there’s a bit of style in taking the exact name of the movie that you are a sequel of. Halloween, and its sequel, Halloween. I dig it.

Emerald Fire

I haven’t read anything but comics in about a week, because I’m behind on this book review. The irony is, of course: in what world am I worried about the quality of a Deathlands review that nobody cares about?

Emerald Fire was a mixed bag. I liked the setting (somewhere in Central America, for a change of pace) and the idea of helping local tribes against slavers trying to keep a silver mine running. I probably should mind the “American saviors of helpless natives” trope, up to and including the part where the albino kid was worshipped as their god. But that was overshadowed by the part where our heroes were nobly disgusted by all the ritual human sacrifice.

It’s like, in-world you’re descendants of the people who blew up the world, and your home stomping grounds treat life as cheaply as the rotgut that passes for liquor; and from the reader’s perspective, you’re a subgenre mashup of two barely respected literary forms. In each of these cases, you’re not good enough to cast aspersions at other cultures.

Of course, the problem here is, now I’m forced into the role of apologist for cultural relativism and human sacrifice, and that’s not very exciting for me. But man were they being holier-than-thou about it.

Oh, hey. One other random thing, regarding the cover. I wonder if they had this in mind for an earlier book, but it wasn’t ready in time or something like that? Because two books ago, there was definitely a fight with a giant mutant crab. There equally definitely was nothing crablike in this book. So!

Ground Zero

Sometimes the title of a Deathlands book will make me scratch my head in puzzlement, since it seems like they just took a couple of random words, one of them semi-complex, and strung them together, irrespective of the plot of the book. Other times, such as Ground Zero, I’m pretty well on board.

See, our heroes have landed in what used to be Washington DC but is now simply referred to as the Washington Hole, what with how many missiles were aimed dead center of the seat of American government. So there’s a blasted pit several miles wide, a new volcano, Lake Potomac, and villes all around the pit where people still live and do business, since it was after all a populous area, pre-nuke. Yeah, ground zero works just fine.

That said, it’s really just a string of largely disconnected events, though I guess the second half of the book is tied pretty well together. Highlights include the most powerful mutant seer anyone in the series has ever met, a creepy zoo of rare oddities, a pivotal tornado, more signs of the samurai that rumors say have been all over the place lately, and most rare and wondrous of all, a bartender who remembers our heroes fondly from encounters past.

Fairest: Wide Awake

There’s another Fables series, apparently, which makes this I think the third spin-off? Fairest looks like it will be an anthology series focused on famous female fables, and I’m perfectly happy with that idea. (My first thought was, why can’t these stories just go in Fables instead, but I get that Willingham probably has some kind of master plan for where the plot is going. It has certainly been a plot-dense series to date! So I guess a spin-off is the only place to tell side stories.) At the same time… man, this is a lot of books.

That griped, Wide Awake tells the latest story of Sleeping Beauty aka Princess Briar Rose. Well, it also tells her origin story in an Arabian Nights inspired flashback sequence, and everything that happens will probably eventually bear on the main series, as will the single issue story about Beauty and the Beast that rounds out the book. ….all of which makes me wonder if a new anthology series was necessary after all, again. Probably it was? Man, I dunno. I’m glad the dude has so many ideas, but I’m still six years behind!

Elevation

Elevation is an unusual Stephen King book, by multiple measures. First, it’s tiny. Barely over a hundred pages, and it’s a small factor book on top of that. I’m not saying he only writes doorstops, but this is just barely north of novella-sized, almost certainly shorter than, say, The Mist.

Second, it’s… I started to say it’s overtly political, but that’s not true. To be overtly political in this climate, you have to go a lot farther, and I’m not sure you can do it in written fiction, period. His politics have been pretty clear to me for a number of years anyway (and thank goodness I don’t hate them, because man, that would be a blow), but as far as I can remember this is the first time I’ve seen them bleed into his work, and in such an obvious manner.

Third, it’s definitely not horror (which okay is not super unusual for King, and especially lately, but it’s still what he’s known for). There is a central mystery which is well outside normal experience, but it is the least interesting part of the story. The meaty parts are about what it means to be a good neighbor[1], and about the rot at the heart of Smalltown, USA (both conscious and unconscious) and whether it can change, and about the things we leave behind.

Anyway, I liked it. Not a bad way to spend a lunch break.

[1] I’ve never tried to be a good neighbor. Don’t misunderstand me, I want to not be a bad neighbor, and have definitely tried to do that. But I never really cared about who lived near me, much past junior high. Maybe if I were less suburban and more rural, I would feel differently.

Shadowfall

By now you know the Deathlands drill, or have been ignoring reviews of the series and will ignore this one too. The main things that stand out about Shadowfall are the introduction of a new ongoing antagonist (a mutant hypnotist who collects hair, nominally for the sale of wigs) and the inversion of the usual formula, where the ruling baron of the area is typically a power-hungry sadist and tyrant who needs to be toppled.[1]

A thing I found interesting is that this was one of the few places where… let me back up. See, Krysty (the redhead who can sense the limited future enough to warn of impending doom, or else have a good idea of whether her friends are safe or not in real time, over long distances) has been wanting Ryan (her boyfriend, the one-eyed leader of the traveling group of… heroes? mercenaries? I guess ronin would be a pretty good analogue[2]) to settle down somewhere pleasant and make babies. The thing I found interesting was that this was one of the few times since she’s wanted this that they voluntarily left a locale where settling down would have been feasible, and she didn’t say a single word about it.

The thing you should find interesting about this is that the lack of consistent characterization is a noteworthy outlier.

[1] Power vacuums are not really a problem for our heroes, since they will be teleporting somewhere else by the beginning of next book at the latest.
[2] Appropriation being what it is, I should first note that this is my assessment, nobody has said anything like that in the books (not that they wouldn’t, because really, this is mid ’90s authorship[3], but they didn’t), and second note that I really can’t think of an American cognate for ronin. The only thing close is some Westerns tropes, but most of those are lifted wholesale from Japanese samurai / ronin stories and dressed up with six-guns and leathers in the first place, so you see my problem.
[3] There have been hints in fact of some probably but not definitely Japanese people popping up in weird places and slaughtering folks, which I expect to pay off in a book or two (and which may be what put the lordless samurai comparison in my head in the first place, come to think of it). None of this would be relevant, except that they’re being referred to as Orientals, which by 1995 really should have been out of common usage. So that’s been an annoyance.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Werewolves of the Heartland is an untethered to specific continuity[1] side story featuring Bigby Wolf and, well, it says it right there in the title, don’t it?

See, there’s this city in Iowa fully populated by werewolves, and although that isn’t precisely why Bigby is in town, it quickly becomes the main reason. Not least (but not, I think, most either) because they’re tied into his past days murdering Nazis during World War II. Having established all of this in the first two issues, the rest of the book is how he solves the problem.

Good if: a) you really like Bigby as a character, or b) you want to see as many possible variations on werewolf boobs and dongs as you can imagine, although in this case that’s going to be approximately one example each. Tons of nude werewolves / untransformed men and women, but only one type of anatomy per sex. It was honestly distracting.

Bad if: a) you expect anything that happened to have future plot consequences or b) you don’t care for the new artist for this side project. Which I suppose I’ve already alluded to above, but the uniformity of figure drawing from the neck down was not the only thing I took issue with. These are crude representations, as a stylistic choice rather than a lack of talent I’m sure, but man is it not my style. Oh, or c) if you are reading the book in public, say at the DMV while trying to get your vanity plates transferred to your new car. Because, damn that’s a lot of boobs and dongs.

[1] Okay, it falls under the third full plot in the series, which is arguably over now but may just be winding down instead; too soon to tell, but it could be placed anywhere in that multiple book region[2].
[2] Real life timing wise, it is around 2012, which resulted in a funny (to me and maybe three other people) reference to the ABC show Once Upon a Time.