Author Archives: Chris

The Ruin of Kings

This was a strange experience.

First, the fact that I got into a new fantasy series on release day of book one. Who does that?? Nobody, is who. But I have a friend whose business is book stuff (recapping mostly), and I read the first quarter or so of the book online via her recaps, and it was enough to make me want the book after all. So, I am a fool and here we are.

Second, the way I read it. Which was very slowly, for no compelling reason. The last handful of chapters, in which everything is rushing towards climax and upturning everything you thought you knew? That should have been a voracious two hours instead of the two weeks it was in fact. When I say I’m just not good at reading anymore, I think what I mean is that my job is draining too much out of me, and that it actually has nothing to do with reading. At least I’m still soldiering on, instead of becoming, at this late date, a wildly different person than I have ever before been. Slow is good enough, I guess?

That was a lot of words that were largely not about The Ruin of Kings, so I guess I need to shift gears.

The first thing to understand… no, I already covered that. Book one of a projected five book series, and it was released a couple of months ago, maybe? So, you are warned. The first non-warning thing to understand is that this is quite a bit more intricate than the average. Part one is told in a series of disjointed parallel flashbacks, and it lasts for 90 percent of the book. Then, part two goes completely off the rails, which I am going to deem not a spoiler because if an epic fantasy doesn’t go off the rails in the last few chapters of the first book, that is what would be a spoiler to mention. I mean, really now.

The second thing to understand is that the reliability of the narration is highly questionable. I already know that the book benefits from a reread to go back and untangle truth from falsehood from error, and I’m willing to bet that this will be true again after subsequent books in the series. Maybe not, as it’s… well, I’m not sure what stand-alone even means in this context. There is obviously more story to tell, and it is equally obvious that the central conundrum of the series has barely been scratched, and at best mostly revealed instead of just partially. (Or in error. As you can see. I’m not sure yet.) But at the same time, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion after a satisfactory arc, both for the principle characters and for the principle events. So I was going to say that it’s fairly stand-alone, and this could result in the final outcome being trustworthy and not to be rewritten in the future. But I honestly expect my perspective to shift more rather than less.

Anyway. It’s a good book, and it’s separately a well-constructed plot, about which I remain interested right now, and would probably read the next book immediately if I had it. It is not so good that I would willingly encourage anyone to read it knowing that it isn’t finished. (There are maybe two books that I would, and maybe only the one, so that’s not really a knock against this. It’s just mean to make someone read a story that might never end, or might outlive its author.)

If you do read it, though, Leigh’s reread is still going. So that’s cool.

Midnight Tides revisited

I feel like I have been listening to Midnight Tides for over a year, which is almost certainly not true? (I could check, but meh.) And it’s “only” 35 hours long, while the next one is 42 hours. That, frankly, is terrifying. But on the bright side, the narration is much much better than in the last book. Oh how I hope that trend continues, though early reviews I’ve read indicate not.

Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about the book on my relisten… all of which were already covered when I first read the book, it turns out. Also, they were probably articulated much more eloquently than I’m capable of lately, which is just sad-making. Like, I think I used to be good at this? Oh well.

So, this foreshortened review will focus primarily on the Tehol and Bugg show. I’m fine with Korbal Broach and Bauchelain, and in fact that is the next book I’m reading in the series, according to publication order. (Actually reading, since I never did before.) But if Erikson were to go back in time and chuck the whole thing and just write a series of farces[1] about Tehol Beddict and his manservant, I would read those all day long.

(But this grand, sweeping tragedy is also worthwhile, I guess.)

[1] Or, ooo. Doubly so if they were all espionage farces. Where are these books??

Us (2019)

As foretold in prophecy[1], I have gone forth and seen Us, so that you don’t have to!

And, okay, it’s no surprise exactly for me to end up thinking you probably should see it anyway. But the uncomfortable squirming in the seat as the plot unfolded that is always what I’m looking for as a bare minimum for horror is exactly what most people want to avoid in the first place, so I should say more.

Thing one: despite what I thought going into the movie, the previews did not spoil the whole thing. They were stage-setting to provide enough knowledge and no more, exactly what a good preview should be. There’s a lot more meat here than I thought, and that is great news.

Thing two: this is not as good as Get Out. Which is okay, that movie was downright fantastic. I will say[2] that it did a thing I found pleasing and a little impressive, especially for the genre. The thing about Get Out is that it is a specific kind of horror, that only a black man (well, okay, person, but I do think it was a little more specific than that) in America can experience. Sure, it’s amplified to make its point, but its point is a distressingly common one that shouldn’t need to be made, and yet here we are. So, all of that said, a thing that I especially liked about Us is that it is not specific to race. This story could have had any characters in the main roles and had the same effect. No, bear with me, I’m not saying what you think I’m saying about “Good job, Jordan Peele, for appealing to a whiter wider audience.” Screw that, a) he can appeal to whatever audience he wants and b) white people have more to take away from Get Out than black people do in the first place; they already live there, like I was saying earlier.

No, my point is this: even though this movie could have been about anyone, it had four black people in the lead anyway, and that’s awesome.

Thing three: all that said, yes, it was creepy and squirmy as all heck, but it fell apart in the final act, both structurally (relying on ten minutes of exposition to explain how all this happened is never a good idea, and way less so in horror, where frankly no reason is usually the best reason) and thematically (it would change so much of the rest of the movie to get a different ending that it would only superficially be the same movie at all, but man did that ending undercut almost everything else that happened), and that just makes me sad.

Mostly because of how good the first two acts were.

[1] Well, in the comments section of someone’s social media account. Close enough.
[2] Content warning: white guy talking about race stuff.

Captain Marvel

I’ve tried to stay away from reviews of Captain Marvel, much as I try to stay away from reviews of most movies before I see them, but a little moreso this time. There’s too much going on for me to not want my opinion to be unadulterated, and especially since I didn’t see it for nearly a week. That said, I saw a couple reviews, and sure enough, this will be somewhat in response to those.

The first review was effusively positive, putting this near or in the top tier of Marvel movies over the past 11 years. I do not find that I agree with this, from a structural perspective. The origin story was approximately by the numbers, and the fish out of water elements that would have made it unique were blunted by a ’90s greatest hits soundtrack that pulled me out of the story every ten minutes[1]. There were twists, some predictable and some not, there were cool fight scenes, there were cool character beats. I absolutely liked it, but on the whole, it was merely fine.

Except. That’s not perfectly true, because context does matter, and boy does this movie ever have context. It’s the first Marvel movie (and nearly the first superhero movie; I can only think of one recent example[2]) with a female character in the lead. The other review I saw was mostly[3] talking about Brie Larson’s flat affect and not very sexy outfit. I cannot decide whether it’s sadder that the affect comment is factually incorrect, in that she laughed and smiled and got sad and angry pretty regularly, or that this was complained about in a published review even though the script lampshaded a “you’d be pretty if you smiled more” scene, right at the beginning of the second act.

My point is this. Captain Marvel is a great movie and a great Marvel movie, not because of the plot or the acting or the effects, but because Carol Danvers is unapologetically powerful and (this is separate, trust me) unapologetically strong.That shouldn’t be enough to elevate a movie from fine to great, but until the proposition stops being a controversial one, it will be.

[1] It’s not even that I dislike ’90s music. It’s good! But it was presented as “look how ’90s this music is! Because we’re in the ’90s and this is a prequel. Set in the ’90s. Get it?!”
[2] Hmmm. There’s also Tank Girl and arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It depends on how narrowly you proscribe the genre, I suppose. This is where years of Marvel comics reading is making me accidentally snobby, it seems.
[3] To be fair, which I’m somewhat disinclined to do, it may not have been mostly. It’s possible I got fed up and quit reading instead.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

A thing to know about the Fantastic Beasts sequel is, it has no sympathy if you don’t particularly remember (or especially none if you didn’t see) the first movie. This message brought to you by my attempts to penetrate the main focus of the action for about the first half of the movie.

See, there’s this guy that everyone is trying to find (Grindelwald and cronies, American and British aurors, young Dumbledore and our hero Newt) in Paris, and that was fine as far as it went, but it would have been nice to have any idea why he mattered. Eventually, I remembered dim spoilers for the previous movie that brought it into focus, but like I said, the script for The Crimes of Grindelwald did absolutely nothing to help me in that quest.

In the pros column, I enjoyed seeing the wizarding world of France, more beasts = cool, and the picture was beautiful (thanks, new 4K TV!). Also, the movie was significantly better than I expected. In the cons column, to form a real opinion, I need to rewatch it with a better idea of what’s going on the whole time, and probably to rewatch the first one right before that. Which is annoying, but not the worst thing that has ever happened.

Anyway, if you’re still into Harry Potter and especially if you liked the first movie of this… trilogy? Let’s say trilogy. Well, if those things apply to you, you already saw this, since it came out months ago. But, you were correct to do so! (And you’re welcome for the validation.)

Happy Death Day 2U

At the very beginning of Happy Death Day, while the Universal logo is appearing, they did something clever. It hitches like a record scratch and restarts, twice, before proceeding. Just enough to let you know what you’re getting into, right?

Happy Death Day 2U starts with a mild similarity, in which the hitch splits the screen in two, and then in three. Which, if you don’t know what they’re going for, I guess it would be a spoiler to tell you? But anyway, my point here is mostly to say that I believe the science fiction slasher movie is wholly untrodden ground, and they deserve props for this alone.

Except for the slight genre shift, though, the movie follows an extremely important rule of horror movie sequels, first spoken by Joe Bob Briggs more than thirty years ago[1], and here I am paraphrasing: Just make the same damn movie as you did the first time. (In some ways this movie takes the advice even more literally than is typical, but that stands to reason.) But yeah. Starts on the same day the last movie ended? Yes indeed. Follows (mostly) the same characters who are faced with (essentially) the same problems? Aye. Rule: followed!

The plot is so full of holes that it would more properly be referred to as a colander, but neither movie takes itself very seriously, so that’s fine. Plus, the more serious parts are actually thoughtful and touching, which gives them even more leeway as far as I’m concerned. As long as they keep the same cast and (I presume) writers/directors, I will cheerfully watch (and probably rewatch) these movies in perpetuity.

[1] Citation needed.[2]
[2] Haha, beat you to it. It’s possible I could find it, if he was writing for the Dallas paper that still exists and if they have internetted their 1980s archives. I first read it in a book of collected columns, so.

Ship of Destiny

Considering how direly the trilogy started, I am surprised to find myself unequivocally liking the Liveship Traders trilogy better than the Farseer [Assassin] trilogy. The downside being, it will be hard to get into why without spoilers for both trilogies. So I’ll do that below the cut.

The quick and dirty here is that Ship of Destiny was a fine conclusion to a rollicking adventure of a trilogy, even if the titular scene was maybe a little contrived. I look forward to reading more books in this world, though maybe not for a year or so? I really do read them distressingly slowly.

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Fido

First things first: ugh, commercials. Like, I dislike them, sure, that’s fine, so does everyone. But there’s a qualitative difference between a show made with commercial breaks in mind, and a movie. Hell, even old school movies on network television, they had people with talent who selected break points as naturally as possible. Modern streaming services with commercials, though… man. It’s just so bad.

Anyway, though, I did watch a movie, despite the many travails involved. Fido exists in relatively unexplored territory: this is the zombie post-apocalypse. Humans won, at least sort of? According to the instructional film at the beginning of the movie, our species continues in walled safe zones, controlled by ZomCon, who has also developed a collar to keep zombies under control. Upshot: sure, the world’s a mess, but in the places where people are alive, they’re thriving. Zombies keep the houses in order, they keep the factories running, they keep the parks clean, and so on, leaving everyone else free to live out their 1950s utopia.

Enter one lonely neglected boy and one newly acquired zombie manservant, mix in a few hilarious mistakes, and there you have it. Black comedy, with zombies! But seriously, it was pretty funny. It was for sure the funniest Carrie-Anne Moss has ever been.

It Stains the Sands Red

Obviously, they can’t all be winners. But what hurts is when I can see the way to… okay, that’s an unfair claim. It Stains the Sands Red was never going to be a winner. Let me start over.

See, there’s this zombie apocalypse in progress, as usual. And there’s a Vegas stripper who finds herself crossing the desert, trying to reach an airplane to a beach in Mexico, where for some reason things are safe? Best not to dwell on that part, I’m sure. The thing is, there’s a zombie following her across the desert, for the reason zombies do such things.

All of this is the core of a pretty good movie, right? Minimalist cast: one protagonist, two foes (the zombie and the desert), and from there it’s just endurance and determination. Whoever has the most, wins. And if they had made a 70-75 minute movie with that core, I think I would have gotten past my first act eye-rolling and accepted it for what it was.

Instead, they added a pointless plot complication in the second act, and also a pointless third act to resolve the complication. So, on the whole, ugh. And while that’s not my only complaint, it’s the only one that doesn’t have big spoilers. So I’ll leave it here, wishing they’d made the movie I can see in my head instead of the one I could see on the screen.

El Cadáver de Anna Fritz

You know those movies where people make one or two bad decisions, and things spiral irretrievably out of control?

The Corpse of Anna Fritz is just such a movie. See, there’s this really popular young actress, and she dies at a party. Later, a morgue attendant lets his truly douchetastic friends know that her body has arrived at his hospital, and they of course want to see her. Once they do, well, mistakes are made, and then that spiralling out of control thing happens.

It’s difficult to say anything else, because spoilers for the journey really removes any need for this movie to exist, and everything vague I can think of to add is either too clever by half or unintentionally offensive to myself, and therefore probably others. Possibly both at once.

I will say, although this has probably already been covered in paragraph two despite my vagueness toward the end, that if you don’t like things that are disturbing, this is not for you.