Author Archives: Chris

The Outsider

As you know, a new Stephen King book is out, which, cool and yay. To start with, yep, I liked The Outsider. I was engrossed from basically page two or three, even though it’s more dabbling in the crime and mystery genre, a la those three books that form the trilogy that he wrote over the past few summers.

Which is fine as far as it goes, it’s not like those books failed to delve in the paranormal and existential horror that is his stock in trade. And even if it didn’t, I love him for his grasp of human psychology in the face of adversity probably more than the majority of the bare plots anyhow.

The problem with the book is that I know exactly what it was, but to explain it would be just a massive spoiler of the central mystery, which I am willing to say went nowhere near the direction I expected when I was on that second or third page, all engrossed as I said to begin with.

So, I guess comment spoiler?

Hotel Artemis

Exciting times: I saw a preview movie and can write a review that will actually be of potential use[1]. Also, this was kind of a roller coaster, so that’s cool.

See, first I saw previews for Hotel Artemis, and they were the broadly correct kind of preview that revealed very little. So, I saw art deco hallways and decor, several highly stylized characters, and without much else to hang my hat on, I was reminded of Bioshock and therefore wanted a movie that was a layered mystery with lots of weird twists and turns. Then, I got an offer on a free sneak preview for said movie, and I jumped on it. Good so far, right?!

Then, right after I bought the tickets, I saw a longer preview that made it clear this was in fact a crime movie with John Wick planes and angles, and I was immediately strongly disappointed. Not because I hate crime movies, but because I definitely wanted the original thing a whole lot more. Still, though, a preview is a preview, so there I was.

And then you know what happened? The stylized characters were all solidly worthwhile, especially Jodie Foster as the nurse. And the social commentary as setting was, well, painful, but that what’s happens when dystopia stops looking like just a place to visit. Basically, it’s that I like slice of life stories with small numbers of characters set over a small number of hours, when the slice of life is one I will not actually experience. In this case, it’s a vignette in the lives of people who have memberships to a small emergency room (with strict rules) for criminals, so there’s a place to go when things go south. And boy, do they ever.

Thanks, preview ticket!

[1] Since the movie comes out on Friday, and it is only Tuesday afternoon.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

I came into Solo with pretty low hopes. I was afraid the actor would fail and the movie with it, and… okay, no, that’s the only thing I was afraid of. The plot looked fine from previews, and Donald Glover is a national treasure, so yeah.

But, good news! The guy playing Solo was basically fine. Maybe a little too happy smiles instead of smug smiles, but I’m perfectly okay with saying that’s because the character is years younger. He played fine off Chewbacca and Lando alike. (And the other characters that were new to his backstory, but I wasn’t measuring that against pre-existing opinions.)

Other than that? Fun Star Warsy action movie, with heists and counterheists, chases and escapes, criminal syndicates… you know, the kinds of things you’d expect out of Han Solo’s backstory. If I’m being honest, they found almost no way to surprise me; I knew a lot of this story before now anyway even if it has become canon via the screening and wasn’t before. But whatever. Like I said, it was Star Warsy and fun, and I’ve been happy watching those while knowing how the story would turn out for close to forty years.

There was one thing that made me cringe, but I’m pretty sure I can just forget about it.

Ship of Magic

I’m staring at this blank screen[1] in consternation. I obviously can’t go down to my car and grab the new Stephen King book I got on Tuesday, because then I’ll do an even worse job with this review than I’m already fated to. I would normally read my next comic (even though it’s Team America, ugh), but somehow I forgot to get the 1983 issues of that registered in Comicrack[2], so now they’re sitting at home waiting for me to get there and sync, before I can proceed with this (at least there are only five Team Americas left) next book that fate and the CMRO has decreed I be subjected to.

And anyway, I only justifiably could have read one comic anyway, so it’s not like I would have bought myself very much time.

Here’s the thing. I sincerely don’t know whether I liked Ship of Magic or not. For instance, I absolutely care about what happens to these people. I am interested in the puzzles that have been laid out. (What’s the deal with wizardwood in specific and the Rain Wilds in general? What’s really going on with the serpents? Other things that would be spoilers to point out are open questions[3].) I’m interested in the world building around the slavery cultures that were halfway around the world from the events of the previous series, and the plot developments arising from that world building. So of course I liked the book, right? Look at all that delicious literature on my plate! And two books to go!

But… I’m not sure I’ve ever taken this long to read a book that I actually finished. Or felt this much existential dread while reading this or that chapter. Or taken comfort in such objectively bad outcomes, because at least they were incrementally better than what I had been reading five pages earlier. I just… and there are two more books to go.

I’ll say this much. I’m glad there’s a Stephen King book in my car downstairs, instead of the next book of this series as there probably would have been without the accidental timing of release schedules. It will give me time to sit in my room and think about what I’ve done.

[1] Okay, technically no longer entirely blank once I started narrating, but come on.
[2] Which mysteriously started syncing with my Chromebook again, hooray!!! Almost worth losing most of the functionality as a game-playing device.
[3] Amber, for instance.

Deadpool 2

So, cool story, I saw a Deadpool double feature on Thursday. Which was only five six days ago, which means I guess I’m doing better than usual? Sigh.

Anyway, I still like the first movie. I did not laugh as hard, because familiarity, but I still laughed. Later, they showed Deadpool 2, which I also liked. The short version is, it’s the same movie again. Yes, the plot is different, but it’s still Ryan Reynolds mugging for the audience and choosing ridiculous, hyperviolent solutions to problems whenever possible[1] while Colossus looks on disapprovingly.

Did I like it unreservedly? Nah, it had some problems.[2] But even though the final act was too busy and muddled[3], there was a good story in there with at least one good character arc, and also I am really very much a fan of one of the new characters. So, muddled final act, problematic plot devices and all, I still dig this movie, and I’m pretty sure I look forward to a third one. But the first one is damn near perfect, and this was very much not. Oh well! It’s still funny.

[1] Can he grow and learn? I mean, maybe. Maybe not though.
[2] Another thing I hate about taking so long to review movies, aside from the guilt factor, is that societal reaction / consensus creeps into my opinions by now, and I don’t like it one bit.
[3] The fan service got in the way of the main plot, very distractingly. (And I say this as someone who was extremely pleased by the fan service!)

Moana

Today while I was working from home, Mary turned on Moana. I saw half of it once, and the first act twice since then (all of these because I have three nieces/nephews under the age of five). This makes it kind of hard to review, and probably I shouldn’t, but it would feel good to do something on time for once, I guess.

Anyway, she turned it on as background noise to hanging out with her mom, since my TV shows are too loud or something. Result: as soon as the neighbor started lawn-mowing near the “all is lost” part of her hero’s journey (which probably has a name I could look up, but here we are), I missed some of it I guess. But kid movie, so I can’t pretend I don’t know what happened on a review scale.

So, right, Moana. A polynesian chieftain’s daughter learns that she has been chosen by the ocean to go save the world from a whole bunch of death and destruction caused by a trickster demigod named Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and she goes out on a boat to make things right. Also, there are songs.

It had some pretty silly long fight scenes to make it long enough I guess, and/or kids like that kind of thing, but as I alluded before, it’s a pretty tidy Campbellian archetypes story, with a climactic revelation that I can honestly say I didn’t see coming. And the songs were pretty good too. If you like that kind of thing, Disney usually does alright, right?

Avengers: Infinity War

Man, I screwed the pooch. It’s been what, two weeks since I saw Infinity War? In the meantime, it has been discussed to death, both with and without spoilers. Which is sad because it means probably that I can say nothing new, and anyway the only novel thing I had to say in the first place is kind of a spoiler.

But, here we go nonetheless, since I pathologically can’t just not review the things, I can only feel guilty about not reviewing them.

They have been calling this new Avengers movie the most ambitious crossover in history, ten years and eighteen movies deep. That’s not entirely right, because the first few movies leading up to the first Avengers did not foretell this. Not really. But as far as ambition goes, I cannot disagree. For the number of characters involved, none of them was ignored or given short shrift. (Not wholly true, as some characters were literally ignored by not being in the movie, but if they were in the movie, I mean.)  And the pacing was great. In a world of modern action cinema where scenes cut every minute or two, this was divided into 10+ minute chapters focusing on the characters involved from start to resolution of a scenario (or at worst, start to nadir, with the next scene fully exploring resolution). It’s hard to remember that movies[1] used to work this way, instead of snippets of individual strands that only weave together at climax.

So, A++ for ambition and execution. I also liked the plot and most of the character beats, although I understand why some people did not. Basically, my point is: if you have invested in eighteen movies and a handful of optional TV series leading toward this movie, you should check it out. They stuck the landing.

Spoiler-esque observation as first comment.

[1] Again, action / genre movies. I understand that your snows falling on your cedars always kept to that path.

Dungeon Master’s Guide (5th Edition D&D)

I honestly don’t have much to add after reading the 5e DMG than when I reviewed the Player’s Handbook. That book contains almost all of the actual rules for the game, so that’s where the meat is.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide is, for a wonder, actually that (a guide). It’s not as referency as the Monster Manual, for example, which is just a bunch of tables of monster stats in alphabetical order with flavor text next to each. But it is primarily a reference book full of ideas. “How do you want to deal with character downtime between adventures? How do you want to deal with magic items? What kind of story are your players interested in, and how do you provide them a good balance if not everyone agrees? How do you fill out the rough edges of your world, so there’s a place for the adventures to happen? How do you decide what is going to happen? How do you make sure it’s balanced to where the characters are, so they neither explode into a bloody mess nor march triumphantly through ranks of lesser beings with no challenge at all?” You know, the things you need to know to make it a good game.

Some of those details are useful to me, many more are not (because I’m not making my own world or my own adventures any time soon, for example), but I appreciate the level of detail provided. Someone put a lot of thought into this edition, and it shows. And there are things that are definitely useful, like ways to tweak the rules to make things feel more superheroic or more gritty and real. As reference books go, I’m just trying to say: it’s very solid.

Anyway, though, one thing I should have mentioned in my last review and did not: I am in awe of the genius simplicity of the advantage and disadvantage rules. See, time was, you’d have all these modifiers as a hold over from wargaming. Because, optimally, you are playing on a 3D map with 3D figures, and they are moving around in reaction to each other. So, yay, the enemy is unaware of you, good job, bonus. But boo, they’re behind a waist-high wall and it gives them some cover. Penalty! And all this stuff stacks up, right?

The way advantage works is, either because of a specific reason in the rules (surprise, enemy is immobile, character learned a cool technique that they can use only sometimes, or whatever it is) or because the DM sees a good reason why advantage should be granted due to the tactics being clever but the rules not covering it specifically, you get advantage on the roll you are making. Which means you roll your d20 twice, and take the better roll. Disadvantage works exactly the opposite, you find a reason why this is hard (your hands are covered in blood and it makes your trap tools slippery, or you’re just waking up when the fireball explodes in the middle of camp), and you roll your d20 twice and take the worse roll. It doesn’t stack where you’re rolling any extra dice beyond two, and it cancels if you would have both.

If that doesn’t sound incredibly simple and clever to you, it’s because I described it wrong. Seriously. Best rules update since they took away THAC0.

(Secretly, I still like THAC0, but I couldn’t think of an easier touchstone.)

A Quiet Place (2018)

I saw A Quiet Place more than a week ago now, but I’ve been distracted by too many other things (work, D&D, personal stuff, probably more) to remember to write a review. The short version is, it was good!

The longer version is that it was a very spare, quiet movie that indicates John Krasinski[1] has a future as a director. I mean, haha, quiet, but the truth is, it may be some of the most effective uses of sound and lack of sound that I’ve ever, um, seen. See, there are these monsters[2] who move incredibly fast and hunt by sound. So, if you make much noise anywhere, they’ll get to you in seconds rather than minutes, and if you make noise when they’re close, they’ll just get to you. Also they’re powerful and indestructible. So, life in this modern world kind of sucks.

Perfect setting for a family drama, right? This particular family has one deaf child, which made them uniquely suited for quiet communication, and they’ve done a good job of sound-proofing their pretty much everything. But there are conflicts that it would be spoilers to describe further, and there’s a new baby on the way, and they are about to have a very, very bad day.

So: yes, this is a horror movie. But I’m not sure that is the primary classification, because the interrelationships are a lot more important than the body count. Even if it wouldn’t normally be your thing, I say give it a chance.

[1] If you know him, you know him as Jim from The Office.
[2] Where did they come from? Why are they hunting? (They don’t seem to eat, only destroy.) We won’t ever know, the monsters are setting rather than plot.

Player’s Handbook (5th Edition D&D)

Full disclosure: I did not read the entire Player’s Handbook cover to cover. Because, like, there’s a section with a bunch of spells in alphabetical order, right? Except for a couple to get a flavor of the formatting, I did not read those[1]. I may have skipped other stuff too? I forget.

That said, this is a pleasing book. I last played 4th Edition, in the 2010-2011 timeframe, which it turns out was a long time ago? I liked how they handled combat, but came to greatly dislike how they handled the characters, who all seemed like smudged copies of about four types. And that’s where I have good news! Combat in 5e is about the same, it does a good job of working out timing (I mean, who goes when), positioning, movement, reactions, all of that. But the character mechanics are nearly as diverse as they were in the first and second editions, while being simultaneously streamlined[2] for ease of use.

Even better, there is a good variety of resources available for ensuring that your character has a backstory and a current story outside the adventure itself. This is the kind of modernization of the game I can definitely get behind. Obviously you could always make your character’s history as rich or as vague as you wanted, but formalized rules to assist in the endeavor are entirely welcome.

So anyway: good stuff.

[1] I want to know how to play and run the game. I do not need to read reference books. See also: why there will not be a review of the Monster Manual.
[2] A point that was driven home to me when I looked up the 1e stats for the spell Dimension Door earlier this week. It had a casting time, which I remembered, but it also had a recovery time after use and the weird AD&D conceit of “inches”, which we used to call areas. (I don’t know why? Maybe the book also called them that.) But 1″ is either 10 feet inside, or 30 feet outside (if I remember correctly), because magic would somehow work that way? I’unno. My point is, it’s possible that my longstanding desire to run a first edition AD&D campaign has been, um, misguided.