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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 May 13, 2014

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MV5BOTA5NDYxNTg0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE5NzU1MTE@._V1__SX1217_SY911_Can I just say I’m really happy that Spider-Man got rebooted? I would not have predicted feeling that way, but after two movies into the current franchise, it is become more and more clear to me that Tobey Maguire’s take just didn’t really cut it. It’s true, Peter Parker has a really hard life; but he’s not a sad, mopey person, and that’s what we got out of the previous trilogy. (Yes, the second movie starring Doctor Octopus was still incredibly done every step of the way, and my realizations do not take away from that in the tiniest regard.)

There are plenty of things that work better about this new series. I’ve already mentioned how the seeds of sequels are planted here and there and all over the place, just as though it’s a living, breathing world in which all relevant information doesn’t happen in the same segment but instead gets spread out over time. Comics weren’t episodic in the 1960s at the latest, TV has stopped being episodic as of the 1990s, and if serial movies can make the transition? All the better for me! (And, I would argue, the viewing public in general, but nothing pleases everybody, regardless of how much it ought to do.)

As for the movie in question? Clearly, I am still okay with the basic structure and with the way the characters are being acted. Gwen Stacy is a strong, modern woman who actively contributes and makes her own damn choices[1], Spider-Man runs at a quip a minute, Oscorp is a creepy company that has its tendrils into everything, etc., ad nauseum, this is Spider-Man done right nearly as much as Marvel is doing its own properties right in the expanded Avengers franchise; my only complaint, if any, is that they aren’t all in the same world, as God and Stan Lee intended. And the story is pretty good too! Nearly everyone is paying for the sins of the past, sins none of the players actually committed. It’s not a new plot, but it’s one you can’t really go wrong with. Plus, usually that plot doesn’t star Jamie Foxx as a being of pure electrical energy with an inferiority complex. It’s cool, you can’t go wrong with that plot element either.

[1]  Which, okay, Mary Jane was doing by the 1960s also, and I guess you can see yet another reason why I’ve always been enamored of these comics.

Jack of Fables: The Big Book of War May 11, 2014

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51HD3y3QFQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_So, it happened the way I thought! (You know, thanks to the twin powers of authorial foreshadowing, logical consequences of previous actions, and foreknowledge of the subsequent book’s title. ….er, triplet powers.) Sure enough, all those inter-related Literals (who are living representations of various literary terms[1]) have proceeded with the war against each other to determine the fate of the Fables, who they all agree that they dislike immensely but apparently hate each others’ Final Solutions enough to shed each others’ blood rallying for their own specific cause.

You can imagine how that turns out for the Fables, I suppose, since this is a story and not real life. Plus also, there’s good old deceit-filled, beanstalk-climbing, always-has-an-angle Jack fighting on the side of himself, which is to say that he doesn’t want all the Fables to be destroyed since he is one and all. So: big war? Cool. Deeper understanding of what’s actually going on? Definitely cool, even if there are still pretty big gaps. Overall: it is 100% clear that the Jack stories just aren’t nearly as good as the main sequence Fable stories, and in fact that Jack himself is starting to be as unlikable to me as he was probably supposed to be all along on top of it; but still, they’re diverting enough to keep reading. (It helps that I know there aren’t many left.)

[1] For example, probably one of them I haven’t met yet is named Foreshadowing, and either knows what will happen soon or drops hints about what will happen soon without actually knowing that’s what he or she is doing.

Marvel 1602: New World April 30, 2014

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250px-1602_New_World_coverWhat do you get when you take the stable of Marvel superheroes, transplant their existence 350 years into the past (and initially across an ocean, but I think we all knew that wouldn’t last) and have the whole concept authored by the only comic creator ever to win the World Fantasy Award? Something that is, in all sincerity, pretty damn cool. What do you get when you follow-up on the aftermath of that first outing, using a completely other author that I’ve never heard of? Well, it’s a good thing I mostly like and am pretty familiar with these characters, at least.

New World, predictably, continues the story of the people of Roanoke, now that all of existence is no longer under dire threat. Instead, they have to deal with way too many “Witchbreed”, which is to say people with powers, and rampaging dinosaurs, and slimy land developers, and metal-suited men bent on revenge for historical wrongs. None of which was especially disinteresting, but the white man vs. indian plotline was trite and the rest didn’t hold a candle to its source material.

Most criminally for a story half of whose character arc was focused on Virginia Dare, she was barely present. I mean, she was there, working through her own “should I use my powers?” crisis, but that’s literally all any of her scenes were. “It’s too dangerous! I mustn’t! Should I?” Then, later, she decided. No process, no journey, just bad event leads to crisis leads to indecision leads to decision. Nothing reflective, no synthesis, nothing at all that would involve the rest of the plot, or some visible internal character growth.

I’ll say this, though: it’s nice that I expect comics to provide me with that. Hooray for a lot of people who are out there doing things right!

Allies April 25, 2014

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alliesOn the one hand, I knew intellectually that the second half of the Fate of the Jedi series had been sitting on a shelf collecting dust[1] for a while. But it’s quite another hand indeed to go back through my previous four reviews in preparation for this one to discover that I read them between 2009-2011. And yet, I want to reread the Malazan series before tackling the last two books, or Sanderson’s series before opening its book 2, or Rothfuss before the finale comes out. I wouldn’t have time for this if I wasn’t working 50 hours a week! (Although, to be fair, a good portion of my reading does occur within those hours, so I don’t have it as hard as it sounds.)

Another uncomfortable realization I had while scanning these reviews to catch myself up is that the series is deeply flawed. Or possibly the Extended Universe itself is deeply flawed? Well, at least the future half of it, by which I mean the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and his Extended Family. Which, when you get right down to it, is the flaw. But I said plenty enough about that last time; all I mean to convey here is that 2011 me was pretty persuasive and is still right.[2]

The funny thing is, even though I was aware of flaws in Allies just as I had been in the previous members of the series, that did not stop me from enjoying myself. This time, the weird outlying thing was slavery. Don’t get me wrong, the various people in the various far-flung reaches of the galaxy should ought to be free. And maybe the fact that it hasn’t come up until now, right in the middle of a story that is very much about other things is exactly the point? It’s not like you’re going to catch me saying “too soon”; if anything, it’s millennia overdue and I can’t help wondering why the Jedi have never done anything about it before, even though I know the answer.[3] But structurally, even if it is the point from a “the world/galaxy/whatever sure is messy about its timing” perspective, it’s weird to bring it up as a third of a book’s topic at the midpoint of a nine book series, when other than acknowledging its existence in the galaxy, Star Wars has literally never[4] talked about this topic before.

So, okay. Structurally odd, like I said. But the treatment was handled well and clearly tied into the future of the series even if not its past. And everything else? I’ve probably mentioned that the Jedi are under a dark cloud because of their failure to prevent the latest previous Sith incursion, right? Well, not only is that political stew getting worse all the time, but in the meantime Luke has allied[6] himself with a whole armada of newly discovered Sith, because of… well, it’s honestly not that important why, in the scheme of things. Jedi going insane, massively overwhelming evil in the middle of a nest of black holes, you know the drill. “Dawn’s in trouble? Must be Tuesday.” Like that.

But it’s Star Wars, and even bad Star Wars…. no, you know what? There’s some craptacular Star Wars out there. But even structurally unsound, problematically repetitive Star Wars is still fun. That’s all I’m really trying to say.

[1] Oh, how I wish I meant this less literally than I do.
[2] On the bright side, the announcement of an Episode 7 has halted all production in that direction, such that three years later, I’m only the rest of this series plus one more book behind. Probably because they can see all their carefully crafted continuity about to come crashing down around their ears. ….which is probably the best news the Extended Universe has had in a long time. Or maybe I’m just cynical. But seriously, 2011 me was pretty smart about this.
[3] Wildly insufficient numbers is the answer. I mean, spectacularly insufficient. Though probably not insufficient to have been the shining beacon leading the way for everyone else.
[4] Well, that I’ve seen. And okay, I have not consumed all the Star Wars out there that is to be consumed. But I’m way over half, which is more than probably anyone else you know.[5]
[5] For values of “you” whose initials are not ZD.
[6] Oh, hey, maybe that’s where they got the title! Nah, I kid, there were a number of unlikely alliances throughout the story.

Hack/Slash: Dead Celebrities April 16, 2014

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hackslash_vol10I must have picked the wrong order of books or something, no way I’ve read enough graphic novels lately to get two about Cassie Hack as close together as this. Oops I guess? Weird crossover successfully dealt with, Cassie is back to her old tricks. Which are still mostly episodically dealing with jungle goddesses and revenge-seeking parapalegics and incursions from other, more rapey dimensions. Luckily, this is exactly the kind of thing I want out of my Rebellious Teenage Girl and Her Giant Deformed Sidekick literature.

The main plot, as you may have partially gleaned from the title, revolves around a recent rash of murdered celebrities. Which is only so interesting, even when tangled up with Cassie’s own fascination with, and experience of being (albeit only in limited circles), celebrity. Except for the parody portion, which was fantastic. Even if the rest of the book had been horrid, I would have been satisfied because of Lady-Gaga-by-proxy Art Projekt, whose entire career is to support her master’s thesis in sociology. And since the rest of the book was, instead of horrid, lots of cheesecake-laden fights with rampaging murderers and/or murderous rampagers, yeah: still a fun series!

Ultimate X-Men: World War X April 8, 2014

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jpegIf the last several volumes of Ultimate X-Men had been bad, that would be one thing. I’ve seen them through bad stretches before, and if I do again, I’ll probably be able to work that out too. It happens. No, what’s so especially frustrating is that both the individual plots and the overarching one, finally brought to its climax in World War X, have been really quite good. Personal stories with high stakes, good interactions with the ongoing stories in the Ultimates, and the central mystery of why someone as powerful as Jean Grey has been so deftly used, or why she let herself be used, or why she’s turned so suddenly power hungry and maybe evil, plus also the mystery of which one of those it even is.

Except, and I say this with no opprobrium for the actual story of the battle between Jean Grey’s Tian and Kitty Pryde’s Utopia for the future (or the soul, if you’re feeling especially poetic) of mutantkind; that story was perfectly dandy and even pretty cool in places. Except: there’s no payoff. Not only do I still have no idea what made our Ms. Phoenix go off the deep end, there is really no hint that it was supposed to be hard to swallow.

Which renders the whole exercise not only frustrating, but at least a little bit retroactively pointless. Ugh. At least with Reed Richards, I know what happened. This is just bad characterization, going back basically all the way to right after the Ultimatum wave. Which means Jean Grey has been a plot-driven puppet for like four years. Ugh.

Which I guess I already said once before in that paragraph. But jeeze. Usually these are perfectly serviceable. Hell, I liked the whole stretch right up until the end, when I found out there wasn’t actually anything there, right? Okay. Done complaining.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier April 8, 2014

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MV5BMjM2NzUzNzQwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQ1MDkwMTE@._V1__SX1217_SY911_Argh, this movie. Here’s the problem, in a nutshell. I saw it in a double feature with the first one, as a premiere event before opening day. And I had no idea how to review it, because literally anything I could say that delves into character motivations or why some characters work and others do not, and how…. anything at all would be a massive spoiler. So instead I’ve sat here for days, letting the review get stale, still just as stuck with nothing to say. It’s hateful is what it is.

Instead, I will talk about the event. Even though it’s probably all stuff I’ve said before. See, I’ve certainly discussed how much I love the Alamo Drafthouse out of Austin, and I know I’ve talked about my excitement that it finally came to Dallas. What I only believe I’ve said (but have no proof, short of 12 seconds’ worth of research that clearly isn’t going to happen) is how thrilled I am by the Dallas location’s management. These guys are as genuinely excited about their movie events as the original management in Austin, and not to leave out that they’re as excited as yours truly. It’s not the single most comfortable theater experience I’ve had, and it’s nowhere near the most high-tech or immersive. But I can always be certain of the quality of the audience, and I can always be certain of the quality of the staff, and I can always be certain of the quality of the event. More to the point, I can always be certain that every film I see there will be worthy of being called an event.

I’m pretty passionate about this chain, is what I guess I’m saying. And yes, the new Captain America movie was no exception. Where else do you get to watch animated Baron Zemo from the ’60s dancing around in glee after being reminded that maybe Paste Pot Pete can help him get the mask off his face from where it’s been glued for twenty years, during the half hour pre-show entertainment?

Okay, that plus the cut I’m about to put in here should be plenty enough spoiler space. Screw it, everything hereafter is for people who saw the movie or else want to be sad.

(more…)

Side Jobs April 2, 2014

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Side-jobs-by-jim-butcherIn awesometimes news, I’m a mere two books behind in the Dresden Files series now. In less awesometimes news, that will change in less than sixty days when another book comes out. Plus also, Side Jobs, being a collection of short stories across the course of Harry’s story so far, did not actually advance the story more than a smidgeon beyond the massive cliffhanger ending of the prior book. Which I read a year ago?? And I wonder why I can’t get caught up.

I don’t think it particularly has a unifying theme, but since the stories were written over the course of eight years or more, there’s no reason why it particularly should have one, is there? Still, my mind craves this kind of thing, and found (or more likely was handed by the author, since he introduces each of these stories in a page or so) this: in contravention of all available evidence, not everything that happens to Harry Dresden and his friends has world-shattering impact. Sometimes there’s just a lost girl or a stolen batch of mead or a… okay, it’s honestly a lost girl a lot of the time. Which is maybe a bit of a bummer, because it’s a lot easier to accept the sexism from Harry than it is from Butcher. But then again, noir as a genre is Women-in-Danger-heavy. So I will handwave this for now, since at least Harry keeps growing as a character. But man do I wish my mind didn’t crave this kind of thing.[1]

In any event, all of the stories were diverting, most of them were pretty darn good, and my favorite of the bunch, The Warrior, even got me in the emotions at one point near the end. I will say that the two narrators who were not Harry[2], while distinct in voice from him, were not really distinct enough; not for my tastes, and certainly not to sustain a story much longer than what he wrote. But then, I’ve always kind of assumed that Harry’s voice is much closer to Butcher’s than not. As complaints go, the fridge thing bothers me quite a bit more.

[1] In all sincerity, I had not noticed the trend yet when I started that paragraph.
[2] Thomas Raith once and Karrin Murphy once, if you wanted to know, and if you don’t know who each of them is, I really can’t imagine why you wanted to know in the first place.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man No More March 26, 2014

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jpegWithout this Cataclysm event coming up, I could see myself being extremely excited about the direction in which Bendis is taking Miles Morales’ story. …okay, that’s not fair. I still am excited about it, I just hate to see it get put on hold for a big giant event that he should by rights be at the fringes of (I mean, unless the earth is destroyed? That would change my opinion drastically and unpredictably), or even worse, get partially canceled / re-written. Perhaps what I am saying is, I wish Bendis was at the helm of the whole universe, so I could trust that this particular aspect won’t get railroaded somewhere dumb.

Anyway.

Stan Lee originally wrote this story (well, title) for issue 50 of Peter Parker’s run, published in 1967. Pete was tired of being Spider-Man because his life was always one terrible event after another, and something something Aunt May’s heart, and long story short, Marvel could not go more than 1/3 of the pages in any given comic without the hero being in costume, so you knew something would change his mind by early in issue 51. (In this case: Kingpin.) Bendis’ take on Spider-Man No More! is interesting to me for quite a few reasons, but chiefly because of the vast gulf of difference between Then and Now.

Miles went through a fairly major life event at the end of the previous book, as a result of which[1] he’s put away the uniform and the web slingers to resume a normal high school life. And then, boom, a year passes. A year! Because Miles, unlike non-Ultimate Peter Parker, knows how to commit to a decision.[2] Of course, it’s still a comic and the past always catches up with you, but unlike Stan Lee (however much I appreciate all that he’s done), this was handled thoughtfully, with false starts and denials before the inevitable outcome, and I do not feel that Miles is on a whiny pogo stick. I definitely think, as I already said back in that top paragraph, that he and Spider-Woman are on an excellent path with a lot of potential, and I hope I get to see how that turns out.

[1] I bet you could see this coming.
[2] Also because really a lot of events have been happening around the rest of the world, between mutant rights and new American civil wars and so on, and it’s nice to see that, if Miles is not going to be involved in those events, the editorial staff came up with a good way to explain why not. Plus, it’s good getting him a little bit older. Also, for those taking notes, this indicates that somewhere in the range of 2.5 to 3 years have passed since all the mutants and superheroes started appearing on the scene back in 2000-2001 when all this Ultimate folderol began. (Contrast: regular Marvel time, as checked against Peter Parker’s schooling process, has spent maybe 6 years of time between 1961 and 1979. So the scales actually match up pretty well!)

Taken 2 March 23, 2014

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MV5BMTkwNTQ0ODExOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU3NDQwOA@@._V1__SX1537_SY747_Ran out of TV to watch, didn’t feel like going anywhere, and I live in a streaming utopian future where I have access to almost as much human entertainment as I have to human knowledge. (Not in my pocket, so much, because who wants to watch a movie on a 5″ screen?) So, I poked around to see what was showing on my various Roku channels, and spotted Taken 2. I was talking about that just recently, so, hey, why not?

It’s exactly what you’d expect out of a straightforward sequel. Liam Neeson is still a CIA-skinned Jedi Master who goes globe-trotting on occasion in order to overturn kidnapping scenarios involving his family. If you saw the first movie, or if you’ve seen any movie where spies and bad guys chase each other around European cities, there’s really nothing you need me to tell you about it. It’s a mostly competent example of the genre with occasional plot holes big enough to drive a stolen taxi through, but that isn’t really a big deal because the next explosion two scenes from now will take your mind right off of it.

Premise, if you care: remember how Neeson plowed through the kidnapping ring to rescue his daughter last time? An Albanian family wants revenge for one of the trail of bodies he left behind, so when Neeson’s family vacations in Istanbul, the time is ripe to strike back. And you’ll never guess who gets Taken, Too! Haha, I kill me. But seriously, no Chekhov’s gun goes unfired, no Chekhov’s grenade pin goes unpulled, no Chekhov’s learning permit goes unviolated. (Actually, that’s not fair, her father was in the car the whole time.) But the raw point stands. Excess is here, right where it should be, and I’m going to put a little effort into finding Taken 3 now that I know these people follow the rules of sequels.