Author Archives: Chris

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.

Last Shift

Mary was out of town for a couple days last week, so at one point I pulled a random movie off my Netflix watch list, which as will surprise nobody is like 90% horror. Last Watch was good as a mood piece, but very hard to make sense of if you find yourself paying the slightest bit of attention to the plot.

See, there’s a rookie cop, and it’s her first day (well, night) on the job, and she shows up at the precinct, only to find it empty of everything except office furniture and fluorescent light. Which, that was maybe cool when I was playing Resident Evil 2, but not for a movie? But it’s okay, soon someone else shows up to tell her she has to man the station overnight, until a hazmat team shows up to take away unsafe materials from the evidence room, after which the whole place will be shuttered and she’ll take up normal duties at the new station down the street built to replace this one.

So, fine, she starts her solo last shift at the station, and then… well, y’know, there’s a movie in there somewhere. And it’s appropriately creepy and jumpy and chock full of variously predictable and unexpected events. Y’know, a horror movie. The problem is, by the time I got to the end of the movie, I found that the premise retroactively made no amount of sense whatsoever. So if that would bother you, then don’t do it. If you could mostly get by on the mood part? They did a good job, other than the writing!

Bullet

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Honestly, that would probably be the right place to stop the review, but I just want to complain more, I so do[1]. Spoilers for Bullet, an Anita Blake novel from maybe 2010?, are a free-for-all from here on in. I will mostly be describing the first half of the book, mainly because the second half goes off the rails and becomes all but indescribable.

Scene one: Anita and her main squeezes (so, like, four of them?) head off to an art school dance recital, partly to reintroduce the characters but mostly so Anita can get a dose of guilt from a four year old and his catty mother about how much sex she has, and with how many people.

Scene two: one of the four dudes I mentioned earlier is in a snit because another one of the four dudes I mentioned has been refusing to bang him, since Anita might not like that. They decide to have a six-way (another dude, who has been on the outs with Anita but who is important to the local power structure, showed up to help) to prove to the pissy guy that he is loved.

Scene three: No, wait, they were all compelled to have the six-way by a dead vampire progenitor who it turns out isn’t dead and wanted to use the lust sex magic to take over Anita’s body and live again. But they noticed in time and stopped them, hooray!

Scene four: Some werelion that is pissy Anita won’t pick him exclusively (instead of the two vampires, two wereleopards, and werewolf that made up 5/6 of scene two, not to mention the random other folk she does on the regular) shows up and has beaten some of his pride members nearly to death since he thought maybe she’d banged them too. She uses some of her sex magic to save them before they die, only a vampire who uses death magic has showed up remotely to make them eat each other instead, and in the process of using her sex magic against his death magic, we devolve into instant full on orgy, which nobody can remember when they wake up.

It is important to note that maybe 12 hours have passed so far.

Scene five: That one werelion is still pissy, and picks a fight that results in a lot of people getting hurt, and someone else dying (maybe one of those four people from the beginning?! oh noes), and Anita shoots him in the face so much that he cannot heal from it, what with his head being fully destroyed. Presumably it is this scene from which the title arises? I have no way of knowing.

Scene the second half of the book: Anita is numb from the horrors she has seen, which are apparently just scene five? I’m numb from the horrors I’ve seen too, which comprises maybe rather more of the book by volume. Anyway, the remainder of what happens, in no particular order, are that she exercises off her aggression / numbness[2], finds out about someone taking out an open assassination call on her and the main vampire and the werewolf, uses creepy necromancy powers to drain the lives of some volunteers to save someone else (which makes sense that she would gain a lot of power from that) and then uses inverse creepy necromancy powers to refill the lives of the people she had mostly drained (which makes her completely nonsensically filled up with even more power, instead of drained herself), finds out about a rotting vampire in Atlanta that has gone mad and started killing everyone, and bangs a lot of weretigers because that will be important to them having enough power later to defeat the progenitor vampire that was apparently supposed to be the plot of the book; only after 400 pages of various people negotiating poly relationships, the author realized the book was too large to get bogged down in plot resolution.

It is important to note that maybe 28 hours passed total, and certainly not more than 36. It is also important to note that I have aged five years from the life-draining powers of this book. I didn’t read the third Robin Hobb assassin book partly because Mary was behind (she’s very much not, anymore) and partly because I wasn’t sure I could take more misery.

Well, I am now looking forward to misery that the author intended to induce, since it will be a nice change of pace!

[1] I’ve complained about Ms. Hamilton’s authorial ticks at length, so I shan’t do so again, especially when there’s plenty else to worry about.
[2] Yes, both were a problem. Don’t look at me!

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I saw the MCU[1] version of Spider-Man nearly a week ago, which is becoming an uncomfortably common trend. I kind of have my job to blame, but maybe the ability to write and post from work (thanks, wifi hotspot!) will put a kibosh on all this. Then again, considering the degree to which my workload is about to increase, maybe it won’t.

Almost everything I want to say about it is along the lines of “How cool was it when…” or “Did you notice the easter egg about…”, which is problematic mainly because all of those things are spoilers. What’s not bad is that it means the movie was extremely cool and fun for me, and probably would be for you as well.

In any event, this borrowed as heavily and as obviously from Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man as most of the rest of the MCU has done from respective other branches of the Ultimate Marvel series, which as you will know from years of my reviews of Bendis’ work, I strongly approve of. Peter is a good kid who’s in over his head but who has the potential to be forged into the moral center of the superheroing world. Not yet, though; for now he really is a kid, and it will be fun letting him do that for a little while.

Also: Michael Keaton hit it out of the park.

Also also: the title is kind of… like, yes there was a Homecoming Dance, and I suppose it featured heavily in the high school life of one Peter Parker and his various friends, but seriously, they named a movie after the fact that they finally negotiated the rights to bring Spider-Man back under the Marvel umbrella instead of where it has languished in Sonyland for decades. And that’s just silly insider baseball stuff. Come on, guys, give me a real title for the next one.

Also also also: Spider-Man is straight up my favorite superhero, so it’s possible I’m biased on the praise I have provided today. Do with this knowledge what you will.

[1] Marvel Cinematic Universe, ie all the stuff under the Marvel Studios brand, ie Iron Man, The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD, etc.

Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain

After Tim Seeley wrapped up his Hack/Slash series, some other folks decided to pick up the torch, I guess? I’m a bit disappointed that they were not more successful at it. Partly because it means this probably really is the last book, and partly because it’s nice to see Cassie Hack treated as a fully realized character, instead of as a fully realized character who is obliged to dress like a goth pin-up for no internal reason.

But mostly because Son of Samhain could have been a legitimate next chapter. The supernatural serial killers, the Black Lamp society, all of that really is over. But the literal monsters that we never knew until know were lurking behind the scenes? They’re tired of playing second fiddle, and the new war lurking over the horizon’s horizon promises to be bigger than anything Cassie has faced before. Basically, if Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural had a crossover in a world where nobody had ever heard of either of those things, this is what it would look like. And that’s not a bad space to be in!

Plus, the literal meaning behind the slightly metaphorical title promised to unlock even more never explored chapters of Cassie’s future life. Not to mention that the child himself was reasonably cool, too. Alas.

 

Royal Assassin

I’ve been sitting on this review for better than a week, because I just have no idea what to say. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I could easily sum up Royal Assassin in a single sentence. But that sentence would just be incredibly spoilery, and I’m not sure how else to talk about it without doing that. So here I’ve sat, not writing anything, but instead turning it over and over in my head, since Mary is still like half a book behind me so I can’t start the next one yet anyway. And I honestly might wait longer, gorging on comics all the while, except that my newest device is having touchscreen problems and I’m maybe about to have to ship it off for repairs, so, uh… yeah.

The thing about Assassin’s Apprentice is that it’s dark and grim from start to finish. The Fitz starts off as an unwanted bastard, learns of his secret royal parentage (but in the “still totally a bastard” way, not the “gonna end up the king of everything” way that usually happens in fantasy), trains to become an assassin (I mean, like you’d expect. It’s right there in the title!), and makes friends and enemies along the way. In the end, he faces a challenge and comes out beat up badly, but successful.

(There’s more to the review behind this cut, because my god the spoilers just explode everywhere.)

Continue reading

Deadhouse Gates

It has been a stupidly long time since I finished listening to Gardens of the Moon. Literally over a year! Like, how is that even possible? (Answer: obviously, I don’t spend enough time listening. Particularly, what should be an obvious commute activity is mostly taken up by a radio show that I continue to enjoy greatly.) But: I did finally finish my reread (relisten? both are technically incorrect) of Deadhouse Gates. I definitely reacted differently from last time, and I’m not sure why. I mean, I have guesses, but there are a lot of variables, so.

The primary thing is, the Chain of Dogs. I have always remembered that tale, and I know it made a huge impression on me even then, due to documentary proof. This time, it took pretty much last place. I was most interested in Fiddler and Kalam’s quest to have an, um, discussion with Surly. As for Felisin’s path… I would be better able to discuss my new reactions if I remembered what my old ones were, but I definitely found her sympathetic despite her best efforts. But yeah, Duiker and the refugees: either knowing the outcome in advance deflated the tension entirely, or else something about the performance undercut it. I’d bank on the first one, though.

As usual, most or all of the secondary and incidental characters were fully realized (as honestly is the world, despite my sometime inability to fully understand what I’m seeing). Including one Iskaral Pust, upon who I partially based my most recent RPG character. I very much look forward to continuing, and I suppose I can, now that I’m not behind on reviews again. Maybe I’ll do a better job on the speed, this time?

I’m pretty sure my friend Kenn had read at least a handful of these prior to his consecutive reading of the full series, and I’d be interested in whether his thoughts parallel any of mine, here, assuming he remembered the individual volume well enough. Alas, he has no way of knowing that this review exists.