Passengers (2016)

It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.

Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
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The Unwritten: The Wound

To actually review this, I need to go back and read my last review and see where I thought things were left. But in the unlikely event that it changes nothing, I’m giving it a go now. Don’t be surprised if none of this text actually makes it into the final version, though!

What bothers me about The Wound is that the War of Words felt like a turning point at the time. (Unless I’m wrong and it did not, see first paragraph above.[0]) Whereas, after having read its sequel, it now feels like it was instead an ending, yet now Carey is writing more books regardless. Don’t get me wrong, he has a lot of leeway with me[1], so I’ll keep going for a while yet.

So, the specifics. A year has passed since the big climax, and the world is… weird. Tommy cults, contagious schizophrenia, a quest to save fiction[2], not to mention the general “world going down the toilet” pre-apocalyptic events you’d expect in a good story / over the course of the next couple of years of real life, before things get legitimately awful. Plus also, the world of Fiction, which I had forgotten is a real thing that really exists and to which an assassin had been sent several books ago, is under the same threat. Because despite having won the war last book, Tommy’s world is still in a lot of trouble and he still needs to save it.

And don’t misunderstand me, all of that is fine! Unless it’s an open-ended plot with no planned ending, solely designed to sell more comics. Because those eventually fall apart, and even though this one isn’t yet, I’m so suspicious that it would ruin it for me even before it becomes bad. Which maybe it wouldn’t anyway? Because of how Carey really is pretty reliable. I mean, did you read Lucifer?

[0] So, weird thing: I was actually exactly right and did not need to retcon the review at all. Which means the sausage got made in full view.
[1] …and even if he didn’t, look at how many times I’ve wanted to kick The Walking Dead without ever quite doing it.
[2] Okay, that one is pretty much par for the course, as it’s what the whole series is about. But the quest being out in the open is new.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is weird. First of all, yes, I saw Rogue One over the weekend. Of course I did! And I liked it. Yet, I have been avoiding this review like the dickens, and I don’t know exactly why. My best guess is, I liked it better than it probably deserves. The first act was scattered, and the second act was solid enough[1], but the third act was 100% predictable due to its inevitability. It’s hard to drum up much care about characters whose arcs you already know when you sit down in the theater, you know?

Nevertheless, I did care about them. I cared about all of the new characters[2] and I cared about watching the journey, and I didn’t mind the CGI faces very much, and basically everything that happened was good. Hell, even the music! Not composed by John Williams, and it still felt like a Star Wars score. Which is good, 2016 being the way it has been.

Anyway, that’s my point. It was part hot mess, part incapable of surprising plot twist, and could easily be accused of leveraging nostalgia for everything left that was any good. But screw it, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and a thing that feels like a Star Wars movie is going to be unavoidably good. Hell, it was better than The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Also: I feel like they earned the title, and I was not confident I would feel that way.

[1] albeit with a missed plot hole that you could drive a Star Destroyer through[3]
[2] except maybe the insane terrorist guy on Jehda? I gather that maybe he’s in the Rebels cartoon that I haven’t watched any of, and maybe it would be easier to care about him if I had? But I did not, at all.
[3] Plot hole in comments, due to spoilers.

Choices of One

It’s the day after a big Star Wars release, so naturally I have a Star Wars review, about a story set in the early days surrounding the original movie, just like you’d expect me to have. Oh, wait, haha no, I haven’t actually gone to see any movie yet. Probably later this weekend? But my schedule, my wife’s schedule, and sellouts to places that have assigned seats conspired to keep me away last night. Even less likely than that, I wasn’t really thinking about this being release weekend when I picked up Choices of One to read last week.

This Zahn novel is set between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back, and stars the big four plus also Mara Jade, Thrawn, and Pellaeon (and, oddly, no droids). The rebels are looking for a new base (which is commonly understood to be the only thing they did between those movies), Jade is looking for traitors, and Thrawn is looking for, um, I dunno. This is clearly a book introducing some long term Unknown Regions / Thrawn plot that will never reach fruition under the Star Wars Legends label, despite the foreshadowing provided here.  Anyway, they all intersect out near the edge of known space, when plot involving air battles, gun battles, laser sword battles, and familiar stormtroopers occurs.

I know I’m being glib here, as a way to avoid spoilers. So, in all seriousness: it is no surprise that Zahn still knows how to write Star Wars, and I look forward to some decades distant day when Will and Zeynep go through this book in far more depth than I have or could do.

Fables: Witches

Moving: awesome for getting to live in a place you like better than the previous place you lived, but terrible for not falling way way behind on book series that you are reading. Case in point: The new Fables collection picks up right after they banded together to save all of creation that had been threatened by developments from the side series about Jack Horner, and that is not a record of what had actually been going on in the main continuity, which means they are resuming a plotline I last read about three years ago. Awesome.

I mean, I guess it’s not that bad? I remembered the two main plot points addressed in Witches, both of which are of course themselves massive, massive spoilers since by the time you’re fourteen books into a series, any notable development gives away lots about things that would be spoilers for previous books. So, without getting into those specifics, I can say these things:

1) Frau Totenkinder, who you will recognize better as the witch from Hansel and Gretel, is just as cool as she always has been within these pages. (Most of the other titular witches are entirely worth reading about, but she’s the one with the highest badass factor, is what I’m saying.)
2) The winged monkey that has always been a bit player in the series as the magical archives librarian, at least I think that’s more or less what he is, turns out to be very cool, in a reader insertion kind of way.
3) Not that he’s the only game in town, but the new bad guy is pretty dang cool. I think I hope he lasts longer than I expect him to.

I’d say I’ll do better at keeping caught up with this, but who would I be fooling?

The Short Victorious War

It’s been a while since I’ve read an Honor Harrington book, and I honestly couldn’t say why. I mean, I know why I haven’t in the past let’s say year and a half, what with finally packing up my house and moving, and then getting engaged and planning a wedding before getting my books all the way unpacked from the move. But it was four years before that, and that is the part I cannot especially account for. Honor books are fun! Step one: space bad guys decide to be bad guys. Step two: space good guys leave Honor in an untenable position due to political wrangling or misplaced tactical / strategic thought that notably disagrees with whatever Honor correctly thinks instead. Step three: big naval space battle, which is somehow exciting despite being spread out across hours and hours instead of the 15 minutes of a Star Wars space battle[1]. Step four: Honor wins and gets lots of begrudging accolades from the people she just proved wrong. What’s not to like?

That said, this is the first book that has ended in such a way that I kind of want to know what happens next immediately. So while I understand not reading it that soon after the last one, I still can’t explain the fullness of the gap. Oh well?

Here’s what you need to know about The Short Victorious War: it is foreshadowed by a history lesson from which the title is drawn, in which Imperial Russia tried to take on Japan just a brief time before the glorious Communist revolution. So when the space bad guys proceed in chapter one to plan their own short, victorious war against the space good guys in order to settle down the proletariat, the outcome of the book has already been decided. However, getting there is basically hilarious on the space bad guy side[2] while maintaining the typically entertaining Honor formula on the space good guy side. Plus also, space romance!, if that kind of thing is your bag.

The reason I think I am especially excited for the next book is because it ended on the kind of cliffhanger that leads me to expect things to pick up weeks later instead of the typical years later, plus also I expect the formula to be broken. Which is always more exciting than knowing exactly what will happen, despite how entertaining the road to it might be.

[1] I think this is because of the ratcheting tension.
[2] Leader of the space bad guy revolutionaries is named, and I swear I am not making this up, Rob S. Pierre.

Thankskilling

mv5botczmdy2njq5nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzeznzy5mg-_v1_Off of a dare[1] on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, I turned on Thankskilling while setting my fantasy football line-ups. I ended up watching all sixty-six minutes of the feature due to Mary falling asleep on the couch before I finished my research.

I had said, after watching the first 100 seconds, before the title drop, that they had accomplished pretty much the perfect iteration of that title in distilled movie form, and that I bet the rest of the movie could not stand up to it. It turns out, I was right.

[1] I was bet that it had worse dialogue than Troll 2. Nnnnnnnope.

Army of Darkness Vs. Hack/Slash

81dqwq1jflAs of this writing, my new job and then the world’s pre-eminent boardgame convention have kept me too busy and/or access-blocked to do much in the way of reviewing. Well, no, that’s not right. As you can see, I’ve been reviewing, I just haven’t been posting them. The previous one, I think about a movie I saw a week or two ago, has been sitting in my inbox for days waiting for me to punch up the HTML and then post it. On the (let’s say) bright side, I haven’t had time to fall farther behind, so I’ve got that going for me at least.

Remember when I read the conclusion of the Hack/Slash series, about a teenage serial-killer killer who was opposed by the shadowy cult responsible for all those supernatural horror slasher guys that gleefully dismember summer camp teens? Like I said then, it turns out more books have been written even though the story ended. I appreciated, therefore, that the plot of Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash went out of its way to acknowledge this. Cassie Hack is retired, dealing with the mental trauma of her losses, and living the least intense life she can find. Until, you know, Bruce Campbell[1] shows up to get her to team up with him to fight against the Necronomicon and its army of Deadites.

Like all good team-up / crossover comics, they fight each other as well as common enemies; and like very few team-up / crossover comics, they change along the way, paving the road for future events. Well, I mean, Cassie does; I have no idea about Ash due to lack of familiarity with his comic, but since growth is anathema to the on-screen version of the character, it’s probably fine that he did not appear to. Also, I’m pretty sure there will be future events in store for Cassie’s life. I have no idea how many, though. If so: probably they will continue to contain explosions of bloody gore, supernatural mysteries, and lingerie cheesecake.

[1] I mean, not literally Bruce Campbell. It’s actually Ash from the Evil Dead movies and that new show on Starz, but you probably already knew that. For the record, he’s still young Ash, no more than a few years after Army of Darkness. He is apparently the topic of a different comics series I do not (and probably will not ever) read.

Doctor Strange

mv5bnjgwnzaznjk1nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzq2nji1ote-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_I know that Doctor Strange occasionally crosses over with other characters in the Marvel universe. I mean, maybe someday he’ll be at the heart of a big crossover event, but as of 15 years of Ultimate comics and 20 years of mainstream comics, he has only ever been at the fringes. And this is a thing that makes a lot of sense! Except for the artifact of history that Stan Lee decided to build a stable of shared characters in the early 1960s to compete with what DC had been doing, there’s no way anyone would say Strange fits into Marvel. Different genre than anything else they publish, and an entirely different style to boot. The only thing that comes close is Thor, and that’s only because they both share a love of stilted declamations.

Do I have a point, here? Maybe. See, as promised in a blink and you missed it scene in The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios has dropped a Doctor Strange film onto an unsuspecting[1] public. And sure enough, there is no apparent connection between it and any other movie they’ve made, at first glance[2]. But this is fine, because unlike some Netflix series I could name, Avengers Tower is prominent in the midtown skyline. Even better, both the characters with names and dialogue and the pedestrians in the background are becoming more comfortable with the bizarre turns of events that occur with increasing regularity in their world, just as befits a maturing familiarity with superheroes. I would not have thought to be so appreciative of a touch like that, but I don’t think I would have thought to expect such a touch in advance, and yet here we are. Normalcy. I dig it.

Anyway, all that’s about the world and setting. The actual movie, though? See, Stephen Strange is the best neurosurgeon in the world, but after a series of unfortunate events related (mostly) to his personality, he finds himself seeking alternative answers about his place in the world. It took Stan Lee and Steve Ditko maybe three pages to establish all of this before turning Strange from a doctor into a sorcerer, and it took the movie a good 45 minutes. Now, don’t get me wrong, Lee has never written under the auspices of “show, don’t tell”. Man loves to tell approximately as much (and as floridly) as PT Barnum did. But at the same time, 45 minutes is a lot of celluloid to squeeze out of three pages. Maybe there is some kind of middle ground? Like, I would never say they should have skipped the origin story entirely, because who has heard of Doctor Strange?

The good news is, that’s the only bad thing I have to say about the movie. It is a feast for the eyes, and moreso in 3D (unless that kind of thing makes you ill), and if the plot is a little bit bog-standard good v evil for modern Marvel, to be fair fantasy and spellcraft kind of lends itself to that. And even so, it’s far more nuanced than you might think from what I’ve said. Not-apparently-a-Baron Mordo in particular is fully realized in a way that never would have been predictable based on his turn in that same initial Lee/Ditko comic I mentioned before.

Tl;dr go see it, they’re not out of juice yet.

[1] I mean, if you discount years of announcements and months of previews. Look, nobody asked you.
[2] At second glance, this is completely untrue, but only because the writers made an effort to relevance that I cannot decide if I appreciate or oppose. That is in full on spoiler territory, however, so I shall say no more.

Shadows of Self

51elu7hcehlBack when I read The Alloy of Law, I said it was a feature that my brain had already erased everything except the broad outlines of what had happened in the Mistborn trilogy. This is because the characters are living 300 years in the future created by their new god, and most of what happened in the short months or years during which the old empire fell and he rose are already the stuff of half-remembered legend instead of researched historical fact.

Well, now that I’ve read Shadows of Self (at a glacial pace that reflects how busy I’ve been these past months[1] rather than anything about the book or my enjoyment thereof), I can safely say that is no longer a benefit. Because the characters definitely remember things like kandra, which are a race of shapeshifters that require other living things to not be formless balls of glop (at least I think that’s right), and also they need metal spikes to have intelligence. And they are also god’s butlers or angels or something, serving both the old god and the new. I mean, not right now, but respectively[2]. Oh, and one of them has maybe gone crazy.

This is the first book of a trilogy, I guess? Or maybe the second of a quartet, I’m not sure how to tell the difference yet. It’s definitely good, and good to see Wax and Wayne and Marasi back in action. Both because I already liked them and because they continue to grow and backfill and change. On top of both plot and characters I approve of, it’s a book about identity, class politics, and freedom vs. servitude. And maybe even alien invasion?

I mean, probably not the last thing.

[1] What with losing a job, then maybe not losing the job, then continuing at said job while waiting for a new job, then losing the job again, then finally getting a new job after all, oh and also getting married. (Plus witnessing the plausible collapse of an inclusive, just society.)
[2] Don’t get me wrong, I apparently picked up on all that eventually, but it definitely felt like I shouldn’t have been playing catch-up.