Monthly Archives: May 2005

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror

The Stupidest Angel41sZwL1CraL is another entry in the set of books that can be read over the course of a mostly lazy midafternoon, or a one timezone flight, say. On top of which, it’s reliably funny almost throughout. It’s recommendable on those bases alone, but it even has a few other things going for it, such as quirky characters who, due to the length of the book, cannot possibly have time to wear out their welcome, plus a plot twist tailor-made for my personal enjoyment.

By and large, though, the plot isn’t the point; the point is just the laughing along the way. In sum, it’s a week in the life of a forested NoCal village on final approach toward Christmas as the characters deal with murder and the romantic problems it can bring to couples, the violent and bloody loss of a child’s seasonal innocence, a dysfunctional nod to O. Henry, and of course an angel with perhaps the worst plan ever to fix things. If you have an empty hour or three, check it out. Sometime later, I’m going to glance at the author’s (Christopher Moore) other books, I think.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

I am jumbled, and I wonder if I oughtn’t wait until another viewing. But screw it, first impressions are important, on top of which it’s one of my few first shot times, so I’ll take it. And then cheat by first talking atmosphere. I know I go on about the Alamo Drafthouse mystique, but it was in fine enough fettle tonight to run down. Someone went to the effort of editing up the Cartoon Network Clone Wars endeavour down to its essential “here’s the bits that are related to the movie” bones, and then showed it, interspersed with all kinds of Star Wars filmed coolness and uncoolness, from Troops to Anakin Dynamite to a Muppet Show appearance to the Turkish Star Wars rip-off to the much maligned (and rightly so!) 1978 Christmas special. A very pleasant way to pass a couple of hours while waiting for the last big event movie of quite a while, and I commend them once more.

Then, there’s the movie itself. The scroll cleared the screen just in time to drop into an unrelenting action spectacle with all the right touches of humor and explosions alike. And then… well, things got a little wooden. Never bad, but never quite great. Motivations that were a hair off, decisions that very nearly made sense, enemies that were inches south of believable. Nothing enough to make me stop enjoying myself, but so much that came close to working perfectly that I had to be disappointed when it didn’t. The real irony I think is that it was the longest Star Wars movie, yet really needed another ten or twenty minutes of scenes expanded in just the right ways to achieve the brilliance it was in sight of.

That said, there’s a moment that I choose not to ruin[1] in the main portion of this review past which everything comes together again. It’s still never quite as perfect as that opening sequence, but the complaints from that moment on are nits to be picked, not faults to regret. It’s a hell of a thing, to know essentially everything that’s going to happen (not due to spoilers but to the logical consequence of having already seen the galaxy twenty years down the road from that moment) and still be kept on the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen next, if there’s a way out of it, how it came to this. For that, I’ll offer Lucas my thanks and my kudos. When he got to the important part, he made it work.

If you watched the other two movies, like or dislike, go ahead and see this one, at least the once. Even with the mis-steps, it’s worth it.
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The Cestus Deception

A week or so ago, I got caught up in Star Wars excitement despite myself, and snagged a Clone Wars novel at Half-Price Books, the second one I’ve read now. The whole idea is the thing where they can do some guided merchandising, build a bit of storyline between the two movies, and just generally synergize. Still, though, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. (See also how I’m writing this from a line I’ll be sitting in for the next ten or eleven hours in order to see that one movie at the back half of the two I previously referenced.)

In any case, I finished The Cestus Deception a couple of nights ago, and have now found time to leave general impressions. They are largely the same as the impressions I had of Shatterpoint last year. You’ve got your exciting lightsaber duels, only with Obi-Wan instead of Mace Windu (also a tentacly-headed Jedi named Kit Fisto), an army of Force-sensitive bio-droids being manufactured to kill Jedi, and also lots of clone troopers. They are busily being humanized even as the Jedi are slowly being crushed by the pressures of the War. You have to admire Palpatine’s strategy; he’s put them in this impossible position where if they sit back and do nothing, everyone hates them, but if they step up and do what needs to be done in order to win the war (like force the cessation of Jedi-killing droid manufacture if it can be handled diplomatically, and I think we all know that it cannot), they get their hands dirty and nobody trusts them anymore. Much like Shatterpoint, this is more of the dirty hands storyline. I really hope the movie tonight touches on some of this theme before things start going bad, so that it’s understandable where the popular lack of support came from. If not, well, at least there are lots of people with the talent to make it clear in non-movie places, and I can just take the whole thing as one piece. Frankly, I’d rather be able to rely on the movies for everything, though.

House of Wax (2005)

So, wow. I can honestly say that I did not expect what I got out of my trip to the movies this morning. House of Wax looks on the surface to be a typical teen slasher pic, with vaguely recognizable male leads (unless I was a 15 year-old girl, in which case I’m pretty sure I’d have posters of them all over my bedroom) and more recognizable female leads (since my house is mostly packed for moving already, I can safely remain mute on this particular topic) all chosen for their relative shirtless hotness, and then sent out into the killing fields for 90 or so minutes of blood-splashing fun.

Don’t get me wrong. It absolutely was every bit of that. It would have to be, in order to achieve an accurate description as ‘American horror, subgenre teen’. But it had several other points of interest. First, I’m noticing a shift in the killer rationale. It used to be, all you had to do to get dead in one of these movies was engage in any of underage drinking, drug use of any kind, or pre-marital second base. These days, it seems like you have to be an asshole first, and then all that other stuff just impairs your judgment instead of being casus belli themselves. I like this, because the killer is then a bit more human.

Additionally, it looks like some people are finally getting it through their heads that it’s time to get back to the root of what made horror movies in the 70s and 80s great. I started out feeling like I knew who would live and who would die, of course, because the trends have gotten way too easy to spot. But by the halfway mark (before anyone actually had died, you understand), I was no longer confident in my picks at all. That’s a good feeling, because it also serves to make everything feel a lot more real.

Most of all, though, from the opening frames, I never felt like they held anything back. Every iota of promise the movie had, it delivered on, including a scenery-chewing finale worthy of Nicholson being directed by Scorsese (although perhaps not in precisely the way you think I mean). Well, almost every iota. There were essentially no boobies, despite half of the female cast being best known for them. (And the topical Paris Hilton jokes were both few and transparent to future viewers who may not get them.) Still, though, I’m prepared to call this the best American horror movie since Scream, or Scream 2 at the outside. (I purposefully leave out Japanese horror and British horror (well, Shaun of the Dead, anyway) to make this comparison. Still, though, it’s high praise. If you see one horror movie this year… well, probably see Dark Water. But if you see one non-Japanese horror movie this year, pick this one. Because it was really, really good.)

Sethra Lavode

One of the problems with having a booklog is all the books that you had read just before you started chronicling all the books you read, that probably were the very books that led you to say, ‘Hey, there are books out there that people deserve to know about!’, and thus inspired you to get started on such a singularly self-involved project as a booklog. (I know what you’re thinking. ‘You read crap books all the time, nearly constantly in fact, and how dare you pretend that this is something people deserve to know about?’ Well, I do think that very thing, because I have to warn people of the bad stuff too. It’s just that serving as an object lesson wasn’t sufficient impetus, in the way that flagging down the really good books has been.)

My point, which I assure you I have one of, is this. I’ve finished the last published Dragaera book, The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain (or as the publisher insisted it be renamed, Sethra Lavode). The author has explored the recent history of this world extensively: in nine first-person books chronicling the rise to prominence, subsequent fall, and so much more of Vlad Taltos, an assassin and businessman in a world where he is a second- or possibly third-class citizen; in a single book that I haven’t yet read about Vlad’s people; and in five books written in the Alexandre Dumas historical style (and in fact directly ripped off from the Three Musketeers and later books, though gradually less directly over the couse of the story) about the people in whose world Vlad moves. Sethra Lavode is the final novel of the latter group.

As with the Vlad novels, the voice of the author is the most distinguishing characteristic. In this case, the voice is that of one Sir Paarfi of Roundwood, a historian of no small renown in his own time, who has been at work on the historical cycle for a matter of some three to five centuries. (Dragaerans are a long-lived people.) As with all of the previous novels, I knew essentially how the story must end, and was so able to immerse myself completely in the telling of it. I found that Paarfi has become a much more settled and sedate author, even as his personal life has gotten ever more glamorous and, dare I say, wild. Honestly, I’m not sure I approve. The Paarfi who wrote The Phoenix Guards would never have followed the story so strictly or with so few of the divergences that made him famous in the first place. Still a very good book, just not quite up to the standards I could wish for it to hold.

As for people who have not read any of these books, or few enough of them that my review doesn’t make sense: Sorry about that, and the best thing for you to do is read them, and then see if you agree. I promise, you really do want to.

xXx: State of the Union

…then, at the end of the weekend, after everything had been packed up, loaded, and unloaded, I caught the final Sunday night show of XXX: State of the Union, only to find that it was not a porn flick with characters that are meant to represent real people, like the First Lady and Vice-President, but instead have made-up porno names, like Laura Bush and Dick Chainy, and so forth.

Based on the facts behind the thoroughly forgettable action film genre, that was supposed to be the start and end of my review. Unfortunately, XXX was so pedestrian that just by having a script that made a lick of sense on its own behalf, instead of being a thinly veiled excuse for the next eXtreem stunt, it became a sequel that surpassed the original movie. That’s a rare enough occurrence that it deserves the recognition.

Samuel L. Jackson was phoning it in, which happens a lot these days. It’s nice for him that he can still look more talented than most people on the screen while doing so, but sooner or later he’s going to have to be cast in a good role again, or else devolve into permanent self-parody. (John Malkovich is also always teetering on this brink.)

Also, if you do see it, and the last few lines of the movie strike fear in your heart as they nearly did in mine: I’m pretty sure they were making fun of themselves, and not actually sowing the seeds of another sequel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What better time, I figure, to see a lot of movies than when you’re supposed to be doing something else entirely? This weekend, for example, I was supposed to be putting all the non-essential bits of my life into boxes, so as to then move the boxes to storage spots, and therefore have less to take care of over the next few weeks. All of which I did, you see, but I also saw movies.

First, I got to the head of a line that only ended up forming a few minutes before start time, because of how I cleverly picked a movie that started before most people got off work, and thereby avoided the opening day mega-crowds. Which there may well not have been, though I hear it did the best of the weekend, a victory for sci-fi movies everywhere, says I. In particular, because it has a horror movie to contend with next week and so cannot possibly maintain first place two in a row.

The upshot of all this meaningless preface is that I saw The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy unreasonably early in the release cycle to only now be reviewing it. Except, see, for the packing and loading and moving and unloading that I had to accomplish. Plus, there was tiredness. In any case, my bad.

I’m going to say, Good Movie. It didn’t quite nail the bureaucratic morass hilarity of the opening scenes, but it proceeded to lampoon it thoroughly throughout the rest of the movie, so that was pretty cool. It certainly welcomed the unfamiliar viewer with open arms, but had enough new jokes to provide more than just comfortableness for the initiated. The romantic subplot was expanded, which I didn’t mind on the face of it, but I also didn’t find that either lead could really pull it off.

Additional thing: Adams wrote in a new villain character. This did not bother me as much as it was supposed to as a loyal reader/viewer/listener/player/whatever, I think. Really, I liked it a lot, because it added another facet to the whole ‘each “book” should end with tremendous ease-of-use toward having a sequel’ thing that Adams has always had going for him. Which sequel I’d like to see, because when you get down to it, watching everyman Arthur Dent react to the galaxy in all its myriad insanity is fun. I do have a concern over the whole Douglas Adams died and will not have writing credits on future sequels aspect, though.

The problems: It was merely good. Probably this is true of the books as well, and I just don’t know by having avoided them lately. Certainly it’s not a problem for going to see it, because, well, things that are good are worth seeing. But it’s not good for longevity, either in the individual sense or as the basis for a series of movies. That said, lots of not-at-all-good movies have spawned sequels, so. And also, the opening and closing dolphin song was kinda terrible, in the made me want to claw out my eardrums if only that would end the pain sense. But I can avoid it on any future viewings. I will avoid it on any future viewings, unless I’ve been strapped down like a prisoner being forced to listen to Vogon poetry.

On a completely irrelevant note, I was not shown the expected Serenity trailer before the movie. How dare they?