Author Archives: Chris

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first thing I did upon preparing for this review was to look up my review of Jurassic World. Thankfully, it came with correct opinions already firmly in place: the treatment of the female lead was abysmal, the children were badly tacked on, the dinosaurs and action disaster portions were exactly what I wanted them to be. So, it was a flawed film that I can understand would have been far worse to people who were unconcerned by the primary focus.

Therefore, I have pretty good news! The recent new sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has the same strengths and virtually none of the flaws of its predecessor. We pick up with the same two lead characters three years later, deciding what to do as the world learns that Isla Nubar[1]’s volcano is no longer dormant, and all the dinosaurs are about to go extinct, y’know, again. I’m not going to pretend there’s much tension as to their decision, but having established that some people are going to an exploding island to rescue some dinosaurs from oblivion, I’ll leave the plot at that instead of delving into any details of the remaining acts[2].

But so my point is, none of the old flaws. That’s awesome! I’m not claiming it’s a Bechdel ready film (although it honestly might be), but it doesn’t kick feminism in the crotch like last time. The kid is not annoying, and furthermore is actively relevant. (Spoiler: there’s a kid.) A thing I don’t know but wish I did is whether any of the previous sequels captured the same sense of wonder as those original herds of dinosaurs in the very first movie did for teenage me. Like, maybe they did not, but maybe they did and I just forgot because it was not the first time anymore? Which means maybe I’ll forget this too, but I had some sense of wonder, at least by proxy, when the paleo-veterinarian encountered her first dinosaur in the flesh. (Second spoiler: there’s a paleo-veterinarian.[3])

Which is, ultimately, the other really good thing about this movie besides that it fixed its progenitor’s flaws: Fallen Kingdom has an emotional core, around the literal fact of dinosaurs dying and dying out. Not only did I care about some of the characters, I absolutely cared about the dinosaurs. (Not just the one with a name.) I’m sad if this movie isn’t doing well, because it deserves to be.

Even if Jeff Goldblum was badly tacked on. (Third spoiler: Jeff Goldblum was badly tacked on.)

[1] the island off Costa Rica where the park(s) used to be, before things(es) went wrong
[2] …which is more than I can say for the trailers. I really hate movie trailers.
[3] I’m not thinking very hard about how you get that doctorate / degree sans practical application training. I’m also judging you if you are thinking about it very hard.

House of Chains revisited

It is hard to believe that when I read House of Chains, I was so far ahead of the curve that Tor had only published the first book in the series so far, and I was still buying Orbit copies, usually from amazon.co.uk. And yet now, thirteen years later, I still haven’t finished the series yet. On the bright side, that’s what this is all about, innit?

Since I have read this one, yep, audiobook. And they changed performers! I’m extremely torn here. Unlike what the reviewers on Audible’s House of Chains page will tell you, Michael Page is not terrible. He’s not quite as good as Ralph Lister from a range perspective, but at least he pauses for half a second between point of view character breaks in the text, instead of reading onward like an automaton regardless of the tonal / plot differences that should be apparent right then, not 30 seconds later when I finally figure out what just happened. On the downside, Lister pronounced everything exactly the way I always have, whereas Page is wonky on some of the names (which could be a difference of opinion) and on some of the terms (which 100% could not be; Soletaken is not pronounced sole-uh-tawk-en, and I will die on that hill). It’s an unfortunate trade-off, even though I think I like the pacing correction more than I dislike the other bits.

Spoilers from here on, I reckon, since this is after all a reread. Continue reading

Road Wars

Vacation nearly always equals Deathlands. And on the bright side, I didn’t run out of book before the plane landed, if only by about 20 minutes of reading.

Downside: Road Wars was the worst of these books in a while. It was not exactly bad, yet while it’s weird to say that I have standards for these books, it also turns out to be true. See, this is the culmination of an ongoing plotline from the past multiple books, in which the two main characters have learned that their old mentor from the first book is not dead of radiation cancer like they’d thought, and head out to find him. This results in a series of episodic encounters that may pay off in future books, while their friends who stayed home and their mentor (and the friend who found him) in old Seattle each have their own adventures. The problem being that these stories are split apart for dramatic effect, yet could not possibly have happened across the timetable in which the main characters are travelling from the friends to the mentor, across 1500 miles of nuked wastelands.

None of the individual stories were bad, and at least one of them was not merely fine but engrossing. Nonetheless, the skewed timelines bothered me really a lot, and took away from most of what was going on.

Still, light entertaining post apocalyptic fluff is not a genre I will soon tire of, and this was only relatively bad. Still far better than, for example, the last Anita Blake I read.

Small Gods

When people talk about Discworld, they say that the first books are uneven (which is true, but not in a way that bothers me) and that if they were to recommend a place for people to start, it would be with Small Gods. I now understand why that is, although I’m not sure how I feel about it for my own recommendations.

Like, on the one hand, this is a brilliant book that puts into words a lot of my thoughts about the institutions of religion and the tug of war they have with the concept of faith. I would happily recommend it to any person who likes social satire and has an open mind. It is a masterpiece of its genre. But on the other hand, it is so thoroughly divorced from the majority of Discworld novels I’ve read so far that it feels strange sending someone here for their first foray into the series. To the extent that it really is the same world, the smaller part falls into using the setting as a keystone for the brilliant satire I mentioned[1], and the larger part is artificially shoehorned in[2]. On the third hand, I have no idea what I would point to instead? Although Mort, or the first Guards book or the second Witches book all seem feasible. Or maybe the very first book, not because it’s first, but because it’s hard to accept any other Rincewind book later when compared to the other options, if you don’t have an attachment to him by starting there. (Also because Nethack.)

Long story short, I’m glad I read this, and I’m sad it took me so long. Learn from my example, if you haven’t read it yet!

[1] The shape of Discworld as religious tenet vs observable fact. The Turtle Moves, y’all.
[2] The ubiquitous food vendor guy really did seem like, no, you guys, look, it’s still Discworld. See? He’s right here, cutting off his own nose!

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?