Fables: The Great Fables Crossover

71deB1atlsLThe thing that makes very little sense about The Great Fables Crossover is that it was categorized as a Fables rather than a Jack of Fables trade. From a character sense, there’s no denying that every character crossed back and forth freely between the serieses, but from a plot perspective, the threads of the ongoing Fables plot (which as you will no doubt not recall is the aftermath of victory against the Adversary) barely budge, whereas the threads of the ongoing Jack plot are finally completely wrapped up, leaving one to perhaps wonder why Jack still needs two more (three more?) volumes of his own.

Be that as it may, the stories are still pretty great and the stakes have never been higher. When you have a guy who can (and plans to!) end reality and start over with just a few strokes of his pen, well, I suppose it’s no wonder that a plot is getting wrapped up. You know, one way or another.

I feel ever so slightly bad that I’m being a bit cavalier as to the outcome of the endeavour, but there are two things to consider. First: granted how very meta characters based on literary concepts are in the first place, I think it’s fair to say that all of creation being wiped out and written anew is a possible outcome that could still allow for more stories to be told. Second, and far more relevant: I am staring at 17 subsequent Fables trades that I have not yet read on my shelf. It’s hard not to be cavalier under the literal weight of that metaphorical onslaught on my psyche.

Jupiter Ascending

MV5BMTQyNzk2MjA2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjEwNzk3MjE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_While choosing which poster image to use for this movie, I came across the knowledge that its original release date was mid July. I’m not sure if it was pushed back from 2014 or pushed up for this year, and honestly, it doesn’t matter. Either way, a lot of what you need to know about the movie is contained in that simple fact. Summer blockbusters that get moved to February are flawed in a way that the studio did not expect.

Jupiter Ascending is deeply flawed. It reminds me of nothing so much as a book adaptation where the director was so focused on cramming as much cool scenery and as many important events into the allotted running time that they forgot people who had not read the book would be seeing the movie, and might need some hint as to what is actually going on in and around all these cool places and events.[1] But no, it’s from an original script.

That said, everything eventually does make sense, it’s just that things are told out of order, and not in a way that would be excused by the audience learning what’s up alongside Mila Kunis, like they did with Neo in the Matrix. I think it’s destined to be a cult classic if enough people give it the time of day over the next couple years, and not because it’s bad (or at least, not just because it’s bad). See, it’s like this. If you want a movie that has the grand unified theory of conspiracies, including everything from the Reptilians to the Greys to Elisabeth Bathory just for starters, this is that movie. And a movie like that, if done even half competently[2], is going to get a cult following. Mark my words.

(Shameful admission: I kind of dug it. Maybe because Mila Kunis was named after the smart member of the Three Investigators?)

[1] And believe me, it’s a very, very pretty movie, if perhaps not quite as cool as the Wachowskis expected it to be.
[2] Cheap shot or not, half competently is pretty much right on the nose.

The Interview (2014)

MV5BMTQzMTcwMzgyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzAyMzQ2MzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I want to say that The Interview was helped a great deal by the North Korean hacking incident and all the related press. After all, I probably would have skipped the theatrical release, and yet I saw it last week instead. But, then again, I didn’t see it at the theater, and I assume they don’t get nine bucks or whatever when it’s streamed on Netflix. So, y’know, probably some kinds of press are bad press after all?

Which is to say, other than all that money they probably lost, the only obvious difference between the two timelines is I saw the movie and have to write this review. And… it made me laugh quite a bit. I’m not precisely recommending it with that statement, but if you’re not allergic to the type of movie Seth Rogen and James Franco would make, I can definitely say that the movie is a lot deeper than the previews for it indicated. And the previews are why I would originally not have bothered to see it by now. So… I guess I am recommending it after all? Yeah, pretty much.

At least, it definitely didn’t feel like a waste of time. And can you ask for more than that? Not very often!

The Last of Us: Remastered

51xISdGnMhLWhen I became vaguely aware of The Last of Us, I didn’t know very much at all. There’s a man and a girl, and they are making their way through a $zombie-infested landscape. Otherwise, the only remaining things I knew were that the genre was survival horror and that people had a great deal of praise for the game.

Having reached the end of my two-or-so-week run through the game, it is difficult to let myself say much more than that to you, the prospective player. It is entirely worth playing, and it is entirely worth playing unspoiled. The plot, the characters, and the setting all beg to be revealed in their own time. That said, I can throw you at least a few bones.

Is it grim and bleak? Sometimes. Never, I think, pointlessly. Every scenario reveals something important about the gameplay (at least, during the first quarter of the game before things normalize after you’ve seen most everything the gameplay has to offer), the setting, the plot, or the characters. Often multiple such important things, but always something. I think it’s fair to say there’s nothing wasted. And, to come back to my original point, while any $zombie setting or survival horror game will have bleakness to it, the bleakness is definitely not the point, nor is it incredibly common for that matter. The most obvious superficial comparison to my plot thumbnail above is The Road, but this is definitely not that, shared genre or not.

Does it look grim and bleak? Not at all! Yes, the ruins of civilization are all around, but everything is going back to nature, so if anything there’s far more brightness and greenery than usual, with occasional moments of sheer beauty. You know how New York City looked in Will Smith’s I Am Legend? It’s like that.

How was the world-building? Doled out sparingly on both the micro and macro levels. I cared about the explanation of events from a science fictional as well as from a personal perspective. That guy Ish and his notes about what happened to him outside Pittsburgh. Did they just tail off naturally, or did I miss a climactic reveal? Either outcome works thematically, and I wish I had the kind of time that would let me play through again. Not to learn the answer to that question, but to learn the answers to dozens of minor such questions.

How was the gameplay? It was the weakest aspect of the game, not because it was bad, but because it was nothing new or innovative (the Thief series has much better sneaking mechanics, and Gears of War and its successors have much better 3rd person combat mechanics, to toss out two obvious examples), and the rest of the game has, as far as I can tell, no weak points.

I can’t talk about the characters, or the events, or the climax. Yes, spoilers, but really because I’d be here all night. But man do I want to sit over some rum and geek out about basically everything that happened with someone else who played this. I still don’t know precisely how I feel about the way things turned out, and I won’t for a good long while, but this for sure: it was so, so good.

Also, the related shorter story Left Behind that was included in my download? Loved it too, and for all the same reasons. The seemingly unrelated multiplayer versus option? Don’t see any compelling reason for me to find out if that’s good, because it entirely misses the point of everything that makes this an amazing game, and I wish everything didn’t have to be multiplayer these days, frankly.

Oh, okay, I did think of one weakness to the game. There are no decisions to be made about the plot. In a way, I think there should be, even if only once or twice. In another way, though, I think the characters are fully realized enough that nothing could have happened differently than it did. Still, I know there are people who think it a weakness to have no control over events beyond whether you had to reload and replay the last little bit of combat or not, and it’s only fair to mention this aspect.

But the movie in between the bits of tactics and strategy is, as I may have already said once, so good.

Revival

51bE7-Wac9LI’ve been glaring at this screen metaphorically for a few days now, although literally for less than five minutes tops. But like, when you know the review is sitting there, unwritten, and you even know why, and it’s not a simple reason like a broken site or a boring reason like you’ve been too busy or too lazy, but instead it’s a really good reason like you know exactly what about the book you want to praise, but to do so would be a massive spoiler? That’s glare-worthy, is my point.

Because Stephen King’s latest book, Revival, does (successfully!) something I’ve never seen attempted before. But it does it at such a slow build that you’re most of the way through the story before you know what sub-genre the story is properly classified in. And I’m quite convinced that knowing in advance would kill the impact, because everything going on in the early days is a fantastic story in its own right[1], and if you’re waiting for the Big Thing, spinning your hand irritatedly and it keeps not happening, you’d end up hating the whole book, without any kind of justification.

So, y’know, it’s cool. Go read it, if you like Stephen King. If you don’t, you’re possibly wrong about that, but this is not the book I would use to convince you. Either way, first comment is a mood-destroying spoiler for the book in which I reveal the genre. So, that’s a warning about that.

[1] Family drama, religious drama, rock and roll, and carnies, for starters. King just gets small towns, and the 1950s/60s, and tragedy. Or else I’ve been tricked into thinking he has, since to be fair I’ve never really experienced any of those things myself. (Well, at least not on a brutal scale, in the latter case.)

Into the Woods (2014)

MV5BMTY4MzQ4OTY3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjM5MDI3MjE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_This is tricky. I do not want to write a review of a Stephen Sondheim musical, partly because I do not feel qualified to review musical theater in greater depth than whether I liked it, and partly because I’ve been familiar with Into the Woods since my choir friends performed it in high school. So, suffice it to say that I like the musical a great deal, even if I can never, ever remember the last 20 or 30 minutes of it.

That said, how do you review a movie when the plot is off the table? Acting? It was all fine; I especially liked Chris Pine’s princely manpain, and Johnny Depp’s excellent cameo was well served by being only a cameo. Special effects? Well, all the staging and sets were pretty great, but the few times special effects were employed, they were…. not so much. I don’t feel like this is a thing that should be cared about, really, of a stage adaptation? Either way, though. Clearly nobody screwed up the singing, and yes, it was a very faithful adaptation.  So, if you like that kind of thing, this is a really good example of it! And if you do not, well… it’s a musical, so you will continue to not like that kind of thing, but it’s also a damn fine fairy tale mashup. If for some reason that matters.

The Walking Dead: A New Beginning

81muWBd8JoLI have been saying for years (that is, maybe four or five books ago?) that Kirkman is running out of scenarios and needs to go ahead and let this series find its ending. That whole period, though, has been devoted to the same extended storyline, which ended in pretty fine form last time. So this book, ironically named A New Beginning, is exactly what I’ve been waiting for: the chance to find out if I’ve been right or not.

And you know… I was prepared to be wrong. I really was. Months have passed, possibly short years, and the promised community is well on its way to being everything that was promised. This story could have been a coda. It could have, better, contained exactly the kind of bombshell change of status quo I no longer believed Kirkman capable of, via a plot twist I never saw coming. Instead… nope, it’s a new turn on the hamster wheel. I’ll keep reading the series, and I’ll keep being glad that the TV show has surpassed it, but I cannot really contain my disappointment, either.

He came so close to proving me wrong.

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man – Revival

51sHdZFm72LAs of Revival, I’m current on the Ultimate universe again, at least as it is released in collected formats rather than monthly. I hate to go all mysterious, but I also hate spoilers, so my review will consist of a short, open letter to Ralph Macchio or Stan Lee or whoever is in charge these days, and if you choose to read very much between the lines at all, you’ll be able to tell what I’m talking about and have your review, and if not, you’ll avoid your spoilers. In any case, I hasten to assure you that Bendis is still writing this series, and he’s still doing a great job, and I’m still eager to know what happens next. (Seriously, seriously eager.)

Dear Stan Lee or Ralph Macchio or whoever is in charge of Marvel story development these days,

You guys. Seriously. I cannot really take this anymore. I was unhappy when I learned the news in the first place, skeptical for a good long time thereafter, and only fairly recently have I come to terms with what you did. It was a big, bold, ballsy move, and it has paid off in more ways than I would have guessed back when I first knew it was coming.

I can imagine myself coming to terms with this too, not least because it gives me back what I want. But it’s not fair to the new guy that has been developing so nicely, and it’s also maybe not fair to the creation you’ve all been developing for the past 15 years now. I’m just saying, be careful.

No, that’s not true. That’s the least part of what I’m saying. What I’m really saying is this: pick a side. Stop fucking with me. I want clear answers, and I want to feel reassured that they’re really the real answers, and I know goddamn well that’s a ridiculous thing to expect from the comics industry, particularly around this kind of story development. Nevertheless, I can’t really take it anymore, and there we are.

You should know, though, that (like I told my so-called audience a few paragraphs up before the letter started) I did like the book, and I do desperately want to know how things turn out. Just because I’m roller-coastered out doesn’t mean I don’t want more. Also, holy shit with how cool J. Jonah Jameson was. It’s been a while since my jaw dropped reading one of your books. (And almost always because of Bendis. Hold onto that kid, okay?)

Sincerely,
The guy that runs this blog

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

MV5BMTYyNzUxMzc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDE3MDM3Mg@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_This is weird. On the one hand, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a perfectly serviceable spy movie, in the fish-out-of-water subgenre. It hits all the right beats, it has compelling stakes, both international and personal, and it’s a story worth telling. On the second hand, it’s also a perfectly serviceable Tom Clancy prequel never written, if for some reason you didn’t like that The Hunt for Red October covers the same territory or (more likely) you cannot successfully launch a new franchise reboot while treading international political waters that are 25 years out of date.

The problem is that, despite both of these things being true, the confluence of them feels unnecessary. I mean, I’m completely fine with a Jack Ryan reboot and I hope it worked out and there will be more, because I liked the characters and the premise and I want to see more. Nevertheless, if they had not tacked the name onto the title, I never would have felt like this was a Clancy ripoff. It just did not, in ways I cannot easily express, feel like a Tom Clancy story. This is not, per se, an indictment. Like I said: pretty good movie. I just feel weird saying I liked it without saying that it was also inexplicably branded.

If there are more, I think I hope they feel more Clancyish. Because otherwise, what was the point, really? Oh, but before I forget: Kenneth Branagh did a great job of acting a character that deserved a bigger arc. I cannot speak to his direction because, clearly, the film has left me bewildered for reasons that are unrelated to its factual quality.

Pontypool

MV5BMTYyNzUxMzc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDE3MDM3Mg@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_How to write a review of something that you’d prefer to say literally nothing about, and in fact regret having put genre tags down for? It’s a tricky conundrum, is what. Well, that’s not fair. It’d be very, very easy if I didn’t care whether you watched it, but the truth is that you should, because it’s a very intriguing premise and execution.

Pontypool is, aside from being a movie, a very small town in Ontario. I know this because about twenty minutes into the movie, I looked it up out of curiousity. From my ability to extrapolate Google Maps into the real world, it should have maybe one stop light that goes to flashing after sundown. Four square blocks? Big enough to have a radio station, which is relevant in that the entire course of action occurs in the local AM station, where smooth-voiced news host Grant Mazzy, um, reads and hosts the news on the morning after he has an inexplicable encounter on a foggy road during his commute. For the rest… I want to say nothing, but I can’t justify saying nothing, so I’m going to quote the opening paragraph of the movie, which is Grant broadcasting on a day recently prior to the day the movie takes place. If you can dig the quote, I reckon you will dig the movie.

Mrs. French’s cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. “Have you seen Honey?” We’ve all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like Culotte. That’s Panty in French. And Piscine means Pool. Panty pool. Flaque also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine, in French Panty Pool, drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French’s cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birthdates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to each other. It’s a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well… it means something’s going to happen. Something big. But then, something’s always about to happen.