Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Night in the Lonesome October

I have been vaguely aware of A Night in the Lonesome October for ten years or better, but it’s really hard to find a copy, so I’ve never read it. However, I finally did find one earlier this year. Which I suppose is pretty obvious, as, review! I have always been told, during the span of said vague awareness, that the appropriate way to read the book is day by day throughout October, to coincide with the chapters which are each their own day. And so I was gonna do that this year, but then on top of it, some people I know decided to do a reading-club-style daily read at the same time, so I also got to discuss as I went. This does not, per se, take away from my review thoughts, because the talks were mostly about the plot revelations and not much at all about theme. Still, it will turn out to have an influence nevertheless.

Because mostly what I learned is that it’s the kind of book about which the less you know going in, the better. If I had my druthers[1], I would not even have read the jacket text explaining the setting and plot outline. Which, well, makes it tricky to give much of a proper review of what’s going on, is my point. In short, a group of animals (including the book’s narrator, a dog named Snuff) and the humans they are attached to have gathered in the English countryside in October in order to perform an apparently supernatural task. And they are not all on the same side. And so the book gradually unfolds the nature of the task while exploring the motives and, of course, actions of the participants. I know this sounds boring, but I can guarantee that the majority of characters are compelling, and the plot is old-fashioned October horror. And probably that you’ll be happy not knowing more.

[1] Real word? You decide!

Ex Machina: Ex Cathedra

The Ex Machina series has been, at every point, stingy with its distribution of information. Why did this one Mitchell Hundred guy (and his nemesis Pherson) get powers? Is someone pulling the strings? What is the end goal? But this stinginess has been basically okay, because the character and political interactions fill up a lot of time and entertainment. What is currently weirding me out, therefore, is how Ex Cathedra doesn’t really seem to fit any of the established patterns.

Honestly, it’s enough out of bounds that I wonder if I need to reread the book. It’s happened before with stuff this short, that if I’m just not all there on the day I read it, I have a bookfail. Anyhow, the majority of the book is taken up by Hundred’s acceptance of a requested audience with the pope, in Rome. So, there’s religious talk throughout, but less political than you’d expect. And the flashback scenes about Hundred’s career as the Great Machine, pre-politics, have no apparent tie-in with the rest of the story like I’m accustomed to seeing. On what I’m gonna call the bright side, it had the weirdest vision I think I’ve ever seen in a comic. The final one-shot storydid have nice character development, but the main plot has left me scratching my head.

Ultimate X-Men: Magical

As much as I’ve enjoyed Robert Kirkman’s work in The Walking Dead series (and anticipate enjoying his work with Marvel Zombies), I must perforce be all the more disappointed by what I’ve seen of his Ultimate X-Men run so far. Magical initially expanded upon the character that I liked least in his first book, the Kirkman-created Magician, whose mutant power seems to be the ability to do, y’know, anything. Quelle fromage, as the French say.[1] So, after three issues of that chunk of disappointment, we proceed into the Annual, in which Kirkman continues his systematic destruction of Nightcrawler, who has always been one of my favorite characters. I guess there’s a whole Marvel committee that approves of this stuff and possibly even suggests it, and that therefore my blame is somewhat misplaced. Nevertheless, I do not approve. Also, the dialogue continues to be sporadically stilted, in that superhero-declamatory way that by rights should have been discontinued in the 1950s at the latest.

All in all: blech.

[1] Most likely, both the claim and the grammar/spelling are inaccurate, and that’s well before you delve into the translation.

Ultimate X4

So, I’m learning as I go that there are still a lot of small time Marvel Ultimate titles that I have missed because they were either never released as graphic novels, were deemed insufficiently relevant and/or good and/or long, or in one case maybe took so long to be completed that the landscape has moved on. Dunno, really. The relevance to all of this is that I’ve just read Ultimate X4, a two-issue crossover in which the X-Men and Fantastic Four are manipulated into brief combat over the theft of Cerebro, a mutant-detecting machine developed by Professor X. And while I can imagine the story being written for world-changing relevance or being provided a gripping an in-depth plot, I can’t see either of those ever having happened with only two issues’ worth of material. Pity.

The book is padded by an incredibly dense but informative (and at least for me, timely) encyclopedia of the characters and groups inhabiting the Ultimate universe as of 2006. If read out of order, it would be way too full of spoilers, but it worked as a pretty good refresher on the at this point vast number of graphic novels I’ve read in this series over the past couple of years. Which pretty well saves the book for me, especially since the story part was so very, very short.

The Invention of Lying

I know that October isn’t really the right time of year to watch comedies. I mean, it’s really a pretty straightforward process. October and February are for horror, November is for family movies and James Bond, December is for OMG-Drama, spring (and September? I’m not entirely sure where September fits) are for comedy, summer is for action blockbusters, and January is for movies that honestly shouldn’t ought to have been released. But, okay, Hollywood doesn’t always do the right thing, and also sometimes I am in the company of people who have an aversion to this or that type of movie. In this instance, despite there being a couple-few horror movies left for me to catch up on for the month, I ended up seeing The Invention of Lying.

Imagine, if you can, a world in which humans never learned how to lie. I mean, not about anything. They don’t even have that polite society filter that keeps them from saying whatever crosses their minds. And Ricky Gervais is one of this world’s losers, near the bottom of the genetic lottery, and almost out of job prospects despite talent, because of nothing more than unfortunate luck. And in this moment of disaster, a neuron fires in a way that has never happened before, and he, y’know, invents lying. Next thing you know, he has achieved fiction andreligion, not to mention a ton of cash, yet despite all his efforts, he cannot win what he wants most of all: the love of Jennifer Garner. The rest, well, romantic comedy, I guess? Will he learn a valuable lesson, will it come too late, etc.

And you know, it was funny, and it was sweet, just as you’d expect. It was even funny for a regular funny movie, so quite a bit moreso than the usual romantic comedy. (It may have been sweeter than usual too, but as I had been rendered tipsy earlier in the evening, I do not fully trust my opinion on that matter.) The one thing I didn’t like was the religious angle, because it seemed, well, a little cruel. I mean, in the movie it wasn’t at all, but there was still this underlying snicker, like even though Ricky Gervais isn’t a jerk, probably whoever invented religion the first time was. And I figure that as many good religious people as there are, it didn’t have to be that way at the start. My headspace on this point may be all jumbled, I admit. It’s not like I disagree with the underlying point at all, I just don’t think it needed to be mean. So, there’s that?

Zombieland

So, okay, Woody Harrelson versus the zombiepocalypse. There’s no chance I was not going to love this movie. Calibrate accordingly.

Well, nah, honestly I’ll be able to calibrate Zombieland pretty well my own self. Because is mostly was not one of the classic Romero zombie movie types where the zombies are a setting in which to cleverly satirize the American condition, I won’t be endlessly and high-falootin’ly describing the literary-cinematic influences and depth of the work, like I might be inclined to do in different circumstances. No, it was a pretty straightforward road trip movie, wherein our cast of characters must learn to trust each other and grow into a tight knit community by the end. Just like every road trip movie, is what I’m saying. Except for the part where road movies don’t usually have zombies, a hilarious running schtick about the rules to survive in Zombieland, or did I mention really a lot of zombies being fought by Woody Harrelson?

Seriously, what part of that premise isn’t pure gold?

Dragons of the Hourglass Mage

The final volume of another Dragonlance series has at last arrived, and I am forced to admit to a lack of objectivity about Dragons of the Hourglass Mage. Because, as the cover and unwieldy title alike imply, it is mostly about Raistlin Majere, and I don’t really get tired of that guy, at least not when written by Weis and Hickman.

Pretty much, the book details the lost month in the original Chronicles between when Raistlin left his companions to die in the Blood Sea of Istar[1] and when he reappeared at the series climax to tilt the balance against the Queen of Darkness[1], in order to further his own ambitions via a freer world. It may contradict some of the other main sequence canon, but never in very noticeable ways. Plus, since the character study continues to fulfill everything I’ve sought out of the series in the past twenty years, I don’t really care. Things in the story include a secret resistance in the heart of evil’s lair, an assassin kender, a plot against the gods of magic, and perennial Dragonlance favorite Lord Soth, the death knight. Unless you also really like the psychology of Raistlin Majere, though, it’s okay at best.

[1] Sometimes, when I have not typed the words out in a while, I forget just how standard-fantasy these books can get.

The Final Empire

51E+7V-PDyLAt long, long last, I have found copies of some of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. Sanderson, you may already be aware, is about to publish the first of the concluding volumes to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Naturally, therefore, I’m interested in seeing how his previous writing style goes. And awesomely, I can report that Elantris was not a one-hit wonder.

The Final Empire tells the story of an indentured people that have been held down for a thousand years partially by the ruling noble class but mostly by the Lord Emperor, an immortal god-ascended man who once saved the world from a vague being known only as the Deepness, and by that man’s Inquisitors. It doesn’t help the enslaved skaa that the nobles are not only propped up by the regime, but that some of them also have magic powers derived from burning ingested metals and related alloys, such that they can see better or have more strength than normal people, or even influence emotions. Skaa women with whom the nobles dally are immediately killed to prevent the talents from entering that population, though of course it’s not a perfect system…

And then, there are those who have not the power to burn one metal, but the power to burn them all. These Mistborn are virtually unstoppable, except in combat with each other, or with the Lord Ruler’s Inquisitors. A skaa Mistborn would be the most dangerous creature the Final Empire has ever encountered. And though I bet you can guess what happens next, the story has twists and turns galore to keep you guessing at every moment. And after a full-blown stand-alone conclusion, there are still two more books worth of supposed awesome ahead of me!

Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding Citizen is, in addition to being a frequently good movie, kind of a comparative sociology experiment. So there’s this guy, and his family gets killed in a home invasion. Then later, DA Jamie Foxx cuts a deal with one of[1] the two invaders because he doesn’t think the case is strong enough to get both of them. Later still, the guy whose family got killed puts together the best revenge package imaginable.

Anyway, sociology, right? This is true in a few ways. Firstly, it marks a clear divide from what I’m going to call a generation ago, in the ’70s. Back in those days, when Charles Bronson’s wife and daughter were raped and/or murdered, he would never have even let the law get involved in the first place, and the audience would have been with him the whole time, no matter what he did. Of course, Chuck would never have gone after innocent people, so that’s an important possible distinction. Also, though, I learned something important about audience dynamics. It seemed to me that the moment when people finally turned against the guy, saying his revenge had gone too far, was when he killed the cute blonde chick. I know that the media has already demonstrated this sociological tidbit, but seeing it in live action and furthermore knowing the writers had planned to evoke the audience turn? Little bit weird to realize it this fully.

By and large, it’s a decent flick. Marred by some unfortunate (and worse, wholly out of place) sexism, but if you leave that scene out of it, you’ve got a pretty great combination revenge flick and tension thriller. If I knew how I’d feel about it without having actually experienced the plot, I’d watch it again.

[1] The worse one, though in fairness he probably could not pick who would make the deal?

Paranormal Activity

On Thursday, I had never heard of Paranormal Activity as a movie, even though it has apparently been out since 2007. On Saturday, I watched it, knowing nothing more than what I’m about to say here: spooky stuff is happening in a house, the residents set up cameras, and then bad stuff happens. Delving only slightly more, the girl has been haunted by something spooky for her whole life, and this is the latest iteration thereof.

I can’t exactly say it scared me, although there are circumstances under which it could have. For one thing, the audience would have needed to not be present. On the bright side, I traded potential fear for guaranteed amusement. There really is something awesome about listening to ripples of shock and fear spreading through 500 people at your back that brightens your day! Another fear-conducive circumstance would have required me to live in an alternate universe where The Blair Witch Project had never been made. And in some ways I would prefer that alternate universe, because this would have been far scarier than Blair Witch was when I saw that movie under the precise circumstance I describe. All that said, the movie really was pretty affecting, with slowly building tension that transformed into dread and quite a few “oh shit” moments.

I guess the best thing I can say for it is that, unlike the majority of movies I see these days, I forgot to mentally write my review as I was watching, because I really did want to see what unexplained and maybe-scary thing would happen next.