Author Archives: Chris

Knives Out (2019)

As you cannot in any way ascertain from my shoddily maintained review site, it’s been a little while since I saw any movies, and so when Thanksgiving and its multiple days off and/or light work load came along, it thusly became movie time. Of course, that’s been nearly a week, so I can not remember what other movies were in contention anymore, only that what we actually saw was Knives Out, a (per the previews) rollicking mid-century Agatha Christie style whodunnit country house murder mystery.

And, okay, except for the part where it’s a modern setting instead (which means, alas, no butler), the previews run to the accurate. Which is nice, in that a) they looked pretty great, which of course explains how I got here, but also b) there was not the slightest sliver of a clue about the eventual outcome. The premise is basic enough: rich old mystery novelist turns up dead after the night of his 85th birthday party, and either everyone or no one is a suspect, with no one taking an early lead because of how he appears to have cut his own throat.

Obviously, I can say no more about the plot, but I can say a fair bit more about the movie, which is mostly this: you can tell that everyone involved had an incredibly good time. Most especially Daniel Craig playing against type as a consulting detective whose biggest action scene is a jog through the woods, and Chris Evans playing against type as an entitled asshole whose negative qualities are thoroughly masked by being hilariously above the rest of his equally entitled family. If I find a way to phrase that better I will, but I’m not holding my breath. “We’re all entitled assholes here, but the fact that you think none of you are and it’s really only me makes you, in some ways, worse, and in all ways worthy of my scorn-filled sarcasm.”

Yeah, that’s only barely better, and it needed the first part to make even as much sense as it does. Long story short: he is A++ at being the polar opposite of Steve Rogers, and I can dig it.

And anyway, those are just the two I chose to mention. I could go on, but there’s no point. Just go see it, unless you hate the genre, because it does not surpass genre at all. It might just have brought the comedic side of the genre to its peak, though.

Zombieland: Double Tap

I think this is the worst I’ve ever done. I’m over 90% sure I haven’t missed any reviews and this is the only old one, but damn. Did I read a book and later forget? Probably not, since I take my Hobb slowly, and because of the standard refrain of busy busy work towne, not to mention a board game convention and other various life distractions. Then again… uh-oh, I’d better check the Deathlands stuff. I think that was only while camping and has already been addressed.[1]

But seriously. This is awful. I also have not been updating Librarything with my possessions for like the past year maybe, and okay I actually haven’t purchased much either, but still, that is also a huge problem. I wish I could see an end in sight to this situation, but…

Also, though, at some point probably in October maybe, I saw a movie. Which was the ten years later sequel to Zombieland. And that ten years is definitely a thing. It is completely fair to say that Double Tap is an unnecessary sequel, and I went in with appropriately low expectations. Which is nice, because while it was unnecessary, it wasn’t unwelcome. It’s a zombie comedy meditation on the idea that your chosen family can require just as much work as your real family, and that putting in the effort can be worth it.

Of course, that’s an easier sell when the world’s population has plummeted and whatever family you’re holding onto or pushing away may be the last chance you have at it, but extremity, like wine, is a place where truth lives.

Also, it was still pretty funny.

[1] Update: oh good, that’s the previous review. But now I’m mildly wondering if I read a graphic novel in between. I’m… pretty sure not?
[2] I honestly don’t know whether that’s a good thing. Never saw it.
[3] That, on the other hand, is definitely a good thing, and explains Rosario Dawson’s character entirely, start to finish, soup to nuts. Which is totally a real thing that people have ever said.

Crossways

As usual, a weekend in the woods means another Deathlands book[1]. I don’t have a lot to say about it, because it was extremely transitional. Also because reviewing these is starting to feel a little like reviewing individual issues of comics? I think the latter is more true because this one was transitional. Like, when you have a really good four to six issue Spider-Man or Avengers run, and they’ve set up hints about what will happen next that’s big, but in between there are a couple of episodic villain of the week bits, with maybe two panels each dedicated to “no really, the next story is about to happen”? This is that but in book form.

And don’t get me wrong, the aggregate story is not hurt in the least by the transition, but there’s not a lot to say about it, nevertheless.

They’re still teleporting around, there are still dropped hints about teleporting Samurai too, plus a cast change and the first seeds of the big story that will follow whatever resolution occurs with the Japanese teleporters. Also: Crossways has enough dining establishments in a row to make me realize I can’t really wrap my head around either the economy or the distribution chains that would make some of the dishes they are making on the regular possible.

This last bit makes me sad, because I don’t want to accidentally ruin the series thirty books in by overthinking whether the world is plausible.

[1] Except I didn’t actually read a lot, and then took the rest of the month to finish. At least I am reading, unlike in August.

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

I’m going to start in a couple of weird places. First, a word about Amazon. I understand that it has turned into something of a flea market, like, from an observational perspective. This doesn’t bother me because I can mostly tell what I’m buying and what I’m not. I hear people talk about counterfeits, and I believe it, but I’m either okay at this or lucky, and either way, yay. I bring this up because I just saw something unpleasant while preparing for this review. The link I found for The Hidden Kingdom indicates that it’s not Prime eligible and is being sold by a third party vendor, which is fine as far as it goes, except that it also shows the notification that I bought it from this link in 2013. When it definitely was Prime eligible and being sold directly by Amazon. Is that as messed up as I think it is? It seems deeply troubling. But where else am I going to buy, well, everything except food?

Then, a word about covers. I’m not a stranger to covers of comics collections that I read being only adjacent to work safe, and it’s not especially difficult to work around it. If I happen to have time for a reading break, it’s easy to read with the cover concealed, and when I do not I can just flip it over. So I’m a little annoyed that this book shows a different issue cover on the back side, which has an equivalent amount of Rapunzel nudity, only this time a kitsune is making out with her. Not a big help guys! And then, worse: the issues in this series were both written and penciled/inked by women, but the covers of the issues… you guessed it. Brotown. (The one to-be-fair is that the kitsune makeout scene cover is basically lifted straight out of the issue in question, but that doesn’t really alleviate much of my logistical or sexist concern. I don’t like being put in the position of having to come out against nudity in art, but, damn.)

Okay. That was a lot of words about not the book I’m reading. Cool. Moving on.

And then haha I didn’t move on, I did something else and later forgot I never finished the review, and now a month has passed. Super cool.

So, uh… there’s Rapunzel, right? And she’s on a quest to revisit her past between her early days as the adopted daughter of Frau Totenkinder[1] and her current days as a refugee in Fabletown[2], insofar as a) she wants to find her missing child that has been lost to her since its birth and b) she has been summoned by the past anyway, to Japan where the Japanese-style fables implausibly ended up while fleeing the expansionist emperor guy who used to be the bad guy of the series. Because that’s a lot of where she spent her time between child loss and fleeing the empire thing. Was in the land of Japanese fables. Before they went to Japan.

I am nailing this.

Then there’s also a one-shot wherein a tree lady dates a fox. With unexpectedly ominous hints about the future!

[1] Somehow, it never crossed my mind before to look up what the “toten” part of Totenkinder means in German. That’s awesome.
[2] This is a flashback, set some years before the series opened back in Fables #1.

The Institute

It’s nice to have read a book within a reasonable timetable for a change. I mean, sure, The Institute came out nearly a month ago, but I’ve only been reading for a week or two. (I think?) Since I’ve been taking a lot longer than that lately and for shorter books to boot, I’ll gladly accept the win.

My last impression is one of sadness. Because, okay, anyone can just be walking down the street and get plowed into by a bus van, and bam, lights out. That is the way of the world. But this is the first time I’ve seen an author photo of Stephen King and thought that he looked old. Which means there’s a time limit outside the confines of happenstance.

If I were terribly clever, I would now tie in the plot or theme(s) of the book into this sense of impending loss. And okay, maybe I could at that[3], but I don’t want to get too deep into spoiler territory. So, instead, let’s start over.

My first impression of the book was… well, okay, it has a pretty confusing intro. I say confusing because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the visible plot of the book, as judged by the cover. And, in retrospect, this is 100% awkward. I don’t mind, because I will give the man a lot of leeway, but if you are really interested in the structure of writing, yeah, I cannot say this is a stand-out entry.

My middle impression of the book was extremely favorable! See, there’s the hyper smart kid, one of those people who is a supernova in a world of candles and light bulbs, right? I’ve met one or two of them, and while I don’t consider myself a dope, I’m smart enough to know the difference between me and someone like that.[1] And via a few dozen pages of plot events occurring, he finds himself in a prison for children who have certain small talents.

Everything else follows from here. Why was he taken? What do they want? What can he do about it? Everyone wants to compare this book to It, because the main characters are mostly children, and… I mean, that’s a true point of overlap between the books, but man are they nothing alike. And almost none of the things I love about that book are present here either. Some of the kids are outsider types, but some are not, and it is certainly not the meat of their friendships. There’s no sense of the sweep of a dark and disturbing history[2], no slice of small town life through a lens as warped as conservative ideology paints our mid-century past, only warped in the opposite direction. In all the ways that make that book matter, they’re nothing alike.

Which is not to say I did not like The Institute. It’s a lovely adventure story with characters I cared about. But it’s a fun book, not a great book. Which is okay! It’s just irritating to compare the books on the basis of “kids vs evil”.

Long story short: I hate writing reaction reviews, and I’m sorry that either of us had to sit through this one.

[1] Also, happily, it means I don’t have to dwell on how King didn’t write him nearly intelligently enough, what with the twin excuses of how would I know the difference past a certain point, and that, supernova or not, he’s still twelve.
[2] Although if the book were twice its length perhaps there could have been. This is not a thing I can recommend, though.
[3] Anyway, after further consideration, the thing I was thinking of doesn’t even really work.

The Walking Dead: Rest in Peace

I’ve been saying since… well, at least since the end of All Out War, that there are ways in which the Walking Dead as a series has outstayed its welcome. I kept reading because I still cared about the characters, but the story? Well, it has become at least a bit repetitive. Who was Negan but a better take on the Governor, and at a larger scale? The Whisperers were a good variant, but still ultimately not very different. And now the Commonwealth was gearing up to be a here we go again, but this time it’s different because, um… it’s geographically even bigger than the previous times?

You see my point, which is, come on Kirkman, get it together and find a new take or a conclusion.

What I did not expect (although the title perhaps should have been a giveaway[1]) was that, as of Rest in Peace, I’d learn that he has been listening to me and the story is now over. Of course, that was five years ago, but still.

With the benefit of hindsight: there have been too many characters to reliably keep track of, but except for that it was a pretty good five year continuation, and a quite satisfying end to the story, containing all the elements I personally deemed essential and pretty well sticking the landing. Go team zombie!, I guess? I mean from a literary tradition standpoint, not from a spoilers about how the story ends standpoint. That it ends at all is the one unavoidable spoiler in this post.

[1] Actually, it sort of was? Also, it’s a large volume. Between those, I had to check the collection info, and it ended at #193, so, nah, no way they don’t go to at least issue 200, for a big momentous event of some kind. Right? Right.

Bloodlines

I know mostly all I do is complain about being behind and/or working constantly. But here’s my point. I read another Deathlands book, right? This is the book I take camping because I might finish one or two over a long weekend, all while helping with a giant fireworks show plus explosion, and also getting up to who knows what all manner of shenanigans. (I mean, I know, but this is a public forum, of however limited readership.)

It took me a month to read Bloodlines. A month. Something has got to change, somehow. There are too many books in the world for me to take a month on a book that has otherwise taken me a day.

Also, you might argue, there are too many books in the world to read the Deathlands at all. And, well. Maybe, but this is an old argument. Especially now that this book has turned the entire series on its head. Because up until now, this has been nonstop science fiction for people who think they are gun-and-sex apocalyptic enthusiasts. (Or, if you’re me, occasional gun porn for people who are apocalypse-and-sex science fiction enthusiasts. But unlike the people it’s actually for, I’m not fooling myself.) But as of this book, they have thrown horror into the mix.

Specifically, Louisiana vampires. How weird is that? But let’s be honest, it’s the mid 1990s now (adjusted for publication date), it was a weird time.

Does this mean that around 2010 the series will introduce comic superheroes? (I’m pretty sure it definitely means that around 2003, the series will introduce zombies. Maybe sooner.)

 

 

It Chapter Two

Remember that time where they took my very favorite book and made it into half of a movie? Somehow, that was two years ago. Good news: the name pf the sequel is in fact fine.

It Chapter Two does what was promised: we pick up the story a generation later, with the adult characters coming back to Derry to do what they promised, if there was a need. Pennywise is back, and he must be faced again in an apocalyptic showdown. But not before a lot of revisiting the past, both with additional flashbacks that sated my need for more scenes from that wholly non-idyllic summer of their youth and with the kind of revisiting the past that adults more traditionally do, gawking in disbelief at how the things that seemed so big and important now seem so small and far away. But with monsters.

I’ll never really be able to explain why the source material for these movies is so powerful to me. Because the above reads like it’s meant to be a joke, and not even a well-enough crafted joke to justify having made it, when the truth is I meant it sincerely. It’s like, King’s meditations on small town mid-century American childhood ring so true to me. And I know I’ll never actually know, because I was never there, two different ways, but it generates the kind of nostalgia in me that powers a political party. Except he tells the truth via his metaphor, because in fact everything was just as bad then as it is now. There’s a monster who comes back every so often to devour children.

Literally? Metaphorically?

Yes.

But I digress. The last thing I’ll say is that although it took me an hour or so turning it over in my mind, I’ve decided that they stuck the landing. It has a very strange climax, which could not possibly translate to a screen. At least, I don’t think so. I know that everyone made fun of the television series ending, which held onto the literal half of the book’s climax and scrapped the metaphysical version entirely, even though it’s a 50/50 split. This movie, on the other hand, leans about 80/20 metaphysical/literal, which also I think loses something, but does play up the difficulty inherent to a climactic battle with a being that is only slightly literally real.

One thing you will not see the people of 2019 saying is, “Seriously? After all those transformations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just a big $spoiler? Seriously?!” When people said that in 1990, they at least had the virtue of a semi-valid complaint. Barely. So, it’s a good thing to avoid.

Anyway. I think the kids did a better job than the adults, mostly, although I cannot deny that the adults did an excellent job of selling that they were the same people 27 years later. I also need to give props to Bill Skarsgård, who has supplanted Tim Curry in my mind’s eye as who Pennywise is. That’s impressive.

Not a bad way to spend three hours, although next time I won’t do it at an 11pm show after a 12 hour day at work. (I hope.)

Ready or Not (2019)

Here’s how you can tell you’re too far inside an industry: when I watched Ready or Not, I had no concern about the deadly game of hide and seek[1] (after all, the rich are different from us) nor about old stories of demonic deals for wealth (that’s just how you get rich), but it really bothered me that they were rich enough to have that kind of sprawling Victorian estate, full of secret passages for servants (and also not incidentally still full of servants) based on creating board games. I guess in real life it’s feasible that the brothers Parker, back when there were only like six boardgames to choose from[2], really did get outsizedly wealthy, and as a result this makes perfect sense. But man does it feel wrong based on my experiences watching a board game in development / following other games with at least a layman hobbyist’s knowledge of the industry.

If you can get past all that, though (I could, and my friends who are actually developing a game apparently could as well, so you should have no trouble), this is a movie that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and gore. To explain the setup a little more clearly than I probably already did, there’s this wealthy family, and on the night of your marriage into the family, you have to play a randomly selected game, in the old style. Like Old Maid, or checkers. Nothing that qualifies as a boardgame even by post WWII standards. And as long as you don’t pick Hide and Seek, that’s as far as it goes. But every generation or so, a sacrifice is required…

The reason it works is because both the writing and casting are top notch. I want to go into it more, but I try not to ever spoil more than the premise, and to elaborate further has all kinds of character and joke spoilers; not plot spoilers, because horror movie genre conventions almost always trump plot, and in the rare occasion where genre conventions are subverted, I would still lie and say there’s no plot to spoil, because anything else would itself be a spoiler again. Long story short, if you like things that are funny and aren’t allergic to violent deaths, this is a good way to spend a couple of hours.

[1] Fun fact: this is not the first hide and seek horror movie named Ready or Not. I’m guessing it’s the better one, though.
[2] Although the same percentage of them were Monopoly

Grave Peril revisited

Last week / weekend was a big driving vacation (let’s say) to GenCon. Which was cool and completely exhausting but I think pretty cool, but I’m really disappointed that I never managed to do anything much towards getting in on any games. I will be a little choosier about getting involved with something on the next con with signups that I go to. (Which is probably most of them, but not so much BGG.)

None of that is important, of course, except for how it left time to finish an audiobook during the drive, hooray! Grave Peril is I think the book where Butcher found his footing, at least from a plotting perspective. It’s not that the plot of the book is outstanding in some way. If anything, it’s a little bit overly convoluted. What I mean is that I’m finally seeing the seeds of a long term story for the series, as of this book. Not “oh, hey, these characters come back later” so much as “oh, wow, that felt like foreshadowing for things I read in the most recent book or two”. Also, this being a reread, I should probably elaborate along a few axes, below a cut perhaps? Sure, why not.

But first: timeline update. This one is set almost exactly a year after the last one, so we are now in October of Year 1 (granted a starting point of May (I think?) of Year 0). We are first introduced to Michael as well as to the concept of a holy sword of God, which… I’m still not sure how I feel about angels and demons co-existing alongside fae and being from the outer realms. But it hasn’t made me want to kick the books down the stairs, so I guess that’s alright?

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