Author Archives: Chris

Z 2136

As you have no reason whatsoever to remember, I read the previous two books in this trilogy sometime in the last year or two I guess? And they were perfectly cromulent serial schlock. Hunger Games plus zombies, only a little light on the good half of that equation; and if I’m being honest with myself, probably they could have done a better job copycatting the game aspect of the equation. But still, if I don’t pause and think about the hundreds of better books on my to-read shelf, there was nothing wrong there.

As of Z 2136, consider that trend broken. And I mean, broken just really badly. This is the worst book that I’ve ever managed to finish. The writing didn’t change, and the already established characters were still, y’know, fine I guess. But the new viewpoint characters and the change in plot direction were just abysmally bad. Here’s my point, which I will need to entirely spoil the surprise ending of the second book plus I guess all of this one to make, but that’s okay because, seriously, do not read these books:

There were three main characters in the series, a father and two children. The father was part of the government apparatus but also had sympathies with the rebels who didn’t like living in six dystopian cities even though the walls kept the zombies out. Later, he killed his wife via mind control and was put into the zombie hunger games. Later still after learning the truth, his daughter was too. None of that really matters except that it’s an establishing shot for the shock ending of Z 2135, in which the father is executed, Ned Stark style. And then in the afterword, the authors were all, we weren’t really planning on this, but we decided we needed a big cliffhanger, so here you go!

Which leads into the third book, where one annoying guy is transformed into a raving lunatic, while another bad guy is transformed into a new father figure to replace the one they killed and then apparently realized they still needed. Result: half the book is spent on the motivations and travails of new characters about whom I already didn’t care, only now everything was so weird and forced that I actively hated them instead of just not caring much. Then, later, the book just kind of grinds to a halt instead of having an actual ending. Everything I’ve seen indicates this is a trilogy, which is a relief since Amazon would probably have already sold me book four at 99c before I knew how horribly things turned out; but I lost control of that sentence, and how I meant to end it was “but if I didn’t have these outside sources, I would be quite certain they were planning on writing more.” Because while it was not a cliffhanger demanding more story, it also was not the end of a story.

If everyone had died, that would have been more emotionally satisfying. First, because everyone never dies, and I’m pretty sure any real zombie apocalypse is much more likely to turn out that way than the way they always do turn out. But mostly because, fuck these people. They basically all deserved to die, and the ones who didn’t are at this point acceptable casualties in my vendetta.

Kong: Skull Island

I feel bad about this, insofar as it implies things that are not true. See, I saw the new Kong movie like 10 days ago, on opening weekend. And yet, no review! The implication, of course, is that I didn’t care for it, when the implausible truth is that I just completely forgot to write anything. (I mean, I remembered once or twice while being busy with other things, but basically not at all until I finished the book I’ve been for some reason reading, and then remembered, wait… uh-oh.) So now here I am, both late to the party and simultaneously devoid of credibility.

Through such predicaments I forge ahead! Here’s the deal with this movie. It’s a monster movie, and those are always, at heart, as dumb or as cool as you think monster movies are. Of course there’s no uncharted island in the Pacific populated by humans co-existing with giant prehistoric beasts. Of course there wasn’t in the 1970s when this is set, either, even though it’s mildly more plausible from a “we haven’t charted every square meter of the world yet” angle. And either you’re the kind of person who nods at what I’ve just said and goes on with your day, or you’re the kind of person who says, I know there isn’t such an island. But wouldn’t it be cool if…? On top of that, it’s a Kong movie, which means that an oversized ape is going to fight oversized non-ape monsters and helicopters, and some people are going to respect him while others want to use him, and he’s going to have a soft spot for diminutive blondes. All of these things are inevitable, and you’re either cool with them or you’re not.

My point is this: if you are cool with those tropes and inevitabilities, this is a spectacularly executed example of the genre. Samuel L. Jackson, in one scene, portrays Captain Ahab as well as I believe he has ever been or will ever be portrayed, and John C. Reilly’s character would be enough to carry a lesser movie by himself. (The leads are pretty good too? But with less to work with script-wise, since they are busy being leads.) Plus sexy special effects, an Apocalypse Now visual sensibility without getting bogged down in being anything like Apocalypse Now as a story, and a post-credits scene that has me salivating for this movie to make back enough on its investment.

The Shallows

The Shallows is a straight up woman vs. nature tension movie. One sentence premise that fills an hour and a half of breath-holding and making the same motions the actor is making, as thought it would help her. Remember Frozen? The one that’s not a Disney movie, I mean, where the kids are out skiing and they get trapped on the ski lift at the end of the weekend and have to figure out how to survive the weather or the fall with no help coming? This is like that more or less, but with surfing instead of skiing and with, er, different challenges.

It’s definitely a what you see is what you get kind of flick, and would be moreso if I had not avoided a really obvious one word spoiler just to prove I could. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, though obviously I should be playing video games instead. Still, gave me a chance to listen to the Blues Brothers soundtrack while writing this, so I guess it’s not a bad trade.

(I’m not kidding about that doing stuff for the imperiled character thing, by the way. I was saying for her in Spanish the things she was yelling in English, as though my lesson would help her learn anything or let the people she was yelling at comprehend any better. You know, as you do.)

Logan

So, another X-Men continuity movie[1]. Logan is set in 2029, which is somehow only 12 years from now. I think there are maybe two or three things I can say about this movie, without getting into territory I’d rather avoid. I mean, it’s basically impossible to review anything without spoilers[2], so I always try to limit myself to what you’d know within 5 minutes (or 1-2 chapters) anyway, but sometimes it’s more than that, and this is one of those times.

The first thing is, this is a movie that doesn’t fuck around. Wolverine has always killed people, which is unusual enough for a comic book setting, but he’s never killed people the way he would kill people, you know what I mean? Here, he definitely does. Which is useful as a calibration tool for the rest of the movie, is my point. The second thing, I’ve already said in one of the footnotes anyway, so if you are trying to avoid spoilers more than I am (which maybe you should!), you can miss that easily. The third thing is that the movie is about something. I think it’s been a while since the theme of a film has shone strongly enough for me to care about mentioning it. (Or maybe they’re always so obvious as to not be worth mentioning?)

Anyway, this is a movie about responsibility. It is the lens through which nearly every character views things. Like, I don’t know if everyone is right about what responsibility has or has not accrued to them, nor whether everyone is right about how they do or do not discharge that responsibility. But it permeates every decision, and it’s a strong theme for a strong movie. Which reminds me of a fourth thing I can definitely say, which is that the three lead roles are acted exceptionally well. Nobody will look at this movie when the 2017 retrospective awards season comes along, but I think maybe they will have made a mistake, when they do not.

[1] As opposed to the rest of Marvel continuity, since the Disney people made a deal with the Sony people to share Spider-Man, so now there are only two such continuities extant.
[2] I picked the poster that most reminded me of The Last of Us, because the movie put me in mind of that. Which is a spoiler if you’ve played that game or know of it, but explaining that the correlation is by no means perfect, or even necessarily strong, would itself be a spoiler. This is hard, is all I’m saying.

A Cure for Wellness

A thing I’ve learned from movie-watching is to not go on vacation in Europe. I mean, remember Hostel? Or the second Hostel?

A Cure for Wellness, to be fair, is not about idiot backpacking teens with Eurorail passes. In fact, what it reminded me of for the first half hour or so was Dracula. (The book, I mean.) There’s this guy, probably not named Jonathan Harker, who is sent by his investment firm into the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company CEO from a health spa thingy, except it’s in a castle at the top of a mountain overlooking a subtly wrong village, and, okay, once he gets there the comparison mostly falls apart; after all, instead of an empty husk of a castle with a gothic warlord in a red dinner gown and the most elaborate updo of, I’m prepared to say, all time, it really is a health spa thingy. Or maybe a sanitarium? Or maybe a hospital? It’s fair to say that basically everyone there is getting treatments, no matter whether the issue is a nervous breakdown or a broken femur or just a couple weeks of downtime in a spa.

Also included: history lessons, vitamins, catacombs, a nubile ingenue, and eels. There is a plot, and it’s not a bad plot. It is not, I would posit, two and a half hours worth of plot? But that’s okay! The movie is not here for plot. It’s here for atmosphere, and it’s been a good long time since I’ve seen a horror movie with this much atmosphere. So, yeah. Check it out.

 

Jack of Fables: The Fulminate Blade

So, this is the other Jack of Fables. After saving all of existence, Jack Horner has entered a kind of retirement. But his son, Jack Frost, is still wandering around the Fable worlds, trying to make a name for himself as a hero. This is a disconnected-from-everything-else book about that.

The Fulminate Blade is a literal thing, a kind of lightning sword that is the only thing that might kill a giant in the sky who stands accused of stealing gold and virgins from the kingdom below. You know that time (not pictured in any particular Fables book, but well known I think within the fables themselves) when Jack Horner climbed a beanstalk and fought a giant over an egg-laying goose with a chemical imbalance? This is like that, but a) science-fictional more or less? Amazon says it’s the far distant future of the world of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. That may be true? I can find no evidence of it in the text, but as guesses go: sure, it could be. Why not? …and b) with a lot more intrigue, from every direction.

Unrelated to any of this even moreso than any of this is unrelated to the rest of the Fables storylines: I’m pretty much done with Walter Mitty the miniature Blue Ox. Even one page per issue is two pages too many. Luckily, the Jack of Fables spinoff series is wrapping up soon!

John Wick: Chapter 2

I don’t remember thinking John Wick was going to be amazing. It was just an action movie that looked pretty cool, y’know? But then I saw it, and the purity of motive and clarity of purpose have stuck with me ever since. So, when they told there was going to be a sequel? Damn right I’m gonna see it!

Which I have, and apparently on opening weekend to judge by the crowds. So, okay, cool. This means they will make back their budget and do chapter 3, which is fine, because I want to see that too. Still, that’s not what I’m here to talk about, so let’s get to it.

The thing about Chapter 2 is… all actions have consequences. Since this is a movie about the consequences of the original, of course the purity has dried up. See, there’s this guy who helped Wick get out of the game, before the events of the first movie. And now that he’s apparently back in, said guy decides to call in the favor. The thing about an organized criminal underworld, with its declared neutral spaces and its own economy and its codified rules about favors owed, is you know whatever the favor is? It’s not going to be pure. It’s going to be complicated and messy, and that mess is going to get on you. Which I like to think is why Wick retired in the first place. He finally found a chance for thing to be clean and orderly, and he took it.

Not anymore, is my point. This is not to say I didn’t like it. It was stylized and hilarious in the same ways the first one was[1], and I care enough about what happens to John Wick to look very much forward to another sequel. (And I have some good ideas about how that sequel will go, let me tell you.) I just cannot say that I liked it as well as the first one; that, I would recommend to anyone who is okay with the genre. This, I would recommend to people who really liked the first one, but would not bother to talk about it otherwise. Y’know?

[1] Only, seeing it in a full theater made me realize that mostly people do not think these movies are as funny as they are. I wonder which of us is wrong.

Ancillary Justice

Rumor has it, Ancillary Justice won a lot of awards when it came out a few years ago. This is fair enough, because it ties a well-written take on an intriguing sfnal concept (that would be a spoiler for the early book to reveal, see footnote [1] below cut) to a good story that, to nobody’s surprise who has read the title, is deeply concerned with justice on both personal and imperial scales, and it wraps that package up in meaningful social commentary on the topic of gender and identity.

I should probably read the other two? I’m not sure how much they will further address cool sfnal concepts and meaningful social commentary, but like I said: the story was good too. Problematically, I own neither.

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Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

I’ve reviewed, let’s see, four of these movies before. All of them except the first one, which predates my presence here by a couple years. And I’ve mostly liked all of them! (At least, as far as I can remember. I didn’t actually check any of the reviews, but that time when I rewatched the whole series in advance of the most recent movie but this one is pretty fresh in my mind too. So, I liked them is what we’re saying. If you have time to prove me wrong, feel free!)

The nominally final chapter, though? Like, the bits and pieces of new world building were cool, and I don’t want to give them up. But the plot was so damn linear. Alice gets in a fight, she gets a mission. She gets in another fight, she moves toward her mission. She gets in another fight, she gets a little closer to her mission. And so on. None of them felt this bland before!

I’m sure I’ll give it another chance when it’s time to marathon the whole series, but until then, I’m pretty disappointed in a mediocre capper on such an otherwise reliable sequence. Cool graphic design on the poster though, right?

Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile

A very long time ago, I read an already out of print self-published book about a military guy’s shortly pre- and mostly post-zombie apocalypse diary. It was, you know, fine? I said then and have been vindicated now that it needed a little more copyediting than it got, but otherwise.

Beyond Exile begins immediately where the previous book left off. Our intrepid military hero and a handful of other survivors have found safety in one of those old nuclear silos you might want to buy as a home, only in this case it’s abandoned because of current events instead of just being decommissioned like usual. Much like last time, the book starts with lots of logistics. Let’s use radios to find other people. Let’s fly this plane we have to nearby (to southeast Texas) airfields and look for supplies and other survivors. Perfectly fine diary fodder, but as a book, not much is going on.

Not that there aren’t pieces of worldbuilding along the way, and not that the, er, day by day trials and tribulations are not in themselves interesting. The real flaw here is that the narrator’s affect is so flat and journalistic that it’s difficult at any point to get truly invested in his life, much less the lives of anyone else around him. Once he ends up in a situation that qualifies as beyond exile, the narrative picks up a little; but even then, this is the kind of book where, instead of being engrossed by his situation, I was constantly pulling up Google Maps to follow his progress and see how close to realism he was getting.

I do not have the third book (there’s more than a third book in this series now!), and despite it being once again fine, I had no particular interest in reading more. Until the last five pages had a plot hook so tempting that I really want to see where the worldbuilding goes now. It would be a mistake, I know this in my heart. But still.