Flower

41MZscmDiuLHaving covered the media I consumed whilst packing and then waiting in the airport for hours on end to die, violence and bloodshed hounding me from every quarter, it feels only right that I should have found a calm, meditative game like Flower to ease my mind as my weekend in the wilds of Danville, CA progressed. And it feels all the more right that I was playing a game in which dull, lifeless yellowed or grey fields should transform into lush greenery under my expert controller-tilting when you consider how similarly yellowed were the steep hills surrounding the house on all sides. (But seriously, there’s something incredible about the sunlight, and especially the afternoon’s last gleaming, on those too steep hillsides, dotted now and again with lone trees.)

So, there’s this game for the various Playstations (I did it on the 4, but there are other options) in which you are the wind, and you move flower petals around. And… that’s the whole game, basically. If your gust of wind passes over a new flower, you get one of its petals, until you are eventually a whirling maelstrom of color and delight, rushing across the landscape, transforming it as you go. Then later, there are some blasted urban cityscapes, and, let’s face it, if it were not so calm and beautiful, it would be an environmental screed.

But, while it did not end up feeling screedy, it was certainly environmental, and there’s really not a whole lot else to it, except for being pretty. Still, it was fun. Or maybe I was just very amused by the ten-year-old with whom I was sharing the controller and his claims of knowing how to embrace the flower. At first, it was a zen koan that deepened my attachment to the game; by the time I realized that “embrace the flower” was simply code for “I’m playing this game better than you are”, the attachment already existed. The more positive Amazon reviews say that the game has a different, deeply emotional, experience available to each player. I suppose this counts as that?

Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand

511fl0IJPOLThis is, what, the fifth Ultimate universe crossover event? Well, probably more even than that, but it’s certainly the second really big one, after the Ultimatum, which is cool because now I can start marking time from this instead of that. Based on the cover of this and many past books, I think it’s fair to say that if the Ultimate universe can even survive[1], this is certainly an event which changes everything, an event after which nothing can be the same!

And, okay, it’s a fair statement to make, right? The last time nothing could ever be the same, something like a third of the major and minor heroes died because Magneto flooded Manhattan and froze Europe solid. That’s some pretty hardcore destruction, and it certainly went after the highest density of heroes, with predictable and already-mentioned results.[2] If that sounds hardcore, then you can only agree that a confrontation with the literal purple-hatted Devourer of Worlds would be rather more Cataclysmic, right?

So, yep. Dire odds, check. Requirement for every single superhero to band together against total destruction, check. Desperate gambles, heroic sacrifices, senseless tragedies? Check, check, check. And of course, for anyone who’s been paying attention the last couple of years, we all know there’s only one person who can defeat Galactus, right? That’s some added conflict right there.

Like you’d expect, Bendis’ stories have the biggest emotional punch, but there’s really not a single bad moment anywhere in this event, which is far more than I can say for the muddled, incoherent mess that the Ultimatum storyline became. Let me say it like this: at the end of a story that featured significant amounts of Rick Jones, I do not currently despise Rick Jones. That? Is impressive storytelling.

And, y’know, it was valid claim after all. Nothing will ever be the same.

Probably.

[1] Spoiler alert: probably it can?
[2] Although, who could have predicted that the single largest impactful moment would have been the meeting between Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom in the epilogue? Honestly, it’s still not clear to me whether even the authors are aware of just how instrumental that was to subsequent events.

The Purge

MV5BMTU0OTE1Nzk2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE5NDY0OQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_The number of things I have to review since this time on Thursday of last week is frankly astonishing. First up, The Purge, which I was reminded of when advertisements for the first of what I presume will be half a dozen sequels starting airing on, I don’t know, the radio? Somewhere, anyway. Then, for a wonder, the first movie of whatever series you happen to be thinking of[1] was actually available for free on my Roku search during the timeframe in which its sequel was dominating the media. Thanks, HBOGo!

Anyway, it’s the near future. Like, ten years from now. And the “new founding fathers” have instituted an annual 12 hour purge, in which all crime, up to murder[2], is legal, with the exceptions that you cannot use “class 4 and above weaponry” and that there are some small number of government officials who are immune. Of course, the hammer falls hardest on those without the monetary wherewithal to hide themselves behind gates and walls, but this is all good because between the shrinking indigent population and the annual catharsis, crime is way down and people feel safe all the rest of the year. Pretty much everyone digs it! Except for people who have been negatively affected, of course, and they hardly count.

Into this morality play is dropped Ethan Hawke, his inexplicably raven-tressed Lannister wife, his needlessly over-sexualized schoolgirl daughter[3], and his moral son, who drops the lot of them in a kettle of boiling fish, or some such metaphor, when he lets a nameless, terrified, and conspicuously black young man into the house after hearing the latter pleading for someone, anyone, to help him. The stage set, about 15 simultaneous games of cat-and-mouse begin. Can the injured young man be trusted? Is it suspicious that the schoolgirl’s boyfriend has picked tonight of all nights to have a man-to-man discussion with Ethan Hawke about his relationship with Hawke’s daughter? What about the people who injured that other guy in the first place? How far with Hawke go to defend his family? Will it be too far? Will it be far enough? Isn’t Lena Headey usually tougher than this? Will the neighbors band together against the external threat? If so, which one(s)? Pretty much the whole movie is Choose Your Own Adventure: Bloody Morality with Racist Overtones edition.

It seems heavy-handed on paper, but I honestly thought it was pretty effective. 1) Because like it or not, there’s no way to tell what anyone’s motives truly are, especially on a night when there are no legal consequences. 2) Because, even if you do want to take a moral stand, or at least a stand geared toward trust rather than betrayal, there’s no guarantee that circumstances will allow you that luxury. Nobody should be put in the position of valuing one life over another, but “should” is also a luxury that we aren’t always allowed.

[1] In this case, it should probably be The Purge, though.
[2] Except rape, right? Right? RIGHT? Because what possible good would that serve, even if you can come to a truce in your mind that the rest of the plan has some kind of upside? The movie did not really address this question at all, which was probably better news for my peace of mind than if it had.
[3] If she had not stayed in the schoolgirl uniform the whole movie, it would not have been even a third as blatant, I don’t think.

The Way of Kings revisited

51WC999OnyLOn the one hand, there are so many new books I want to read right away, and I kind of resent the need to go back and read a book I’ve already read just to remember what would be going on in the sequel, now that it’s finally out three and a half years later. And then I think about other books I want to reread also, actively because I haven’t in a very long time rather than passively so that I’ll remember what’s going on as per that prior sentence. Not to mention just how much rereading I’ve done over the past couple of years.

All of that to say that (despite all my complaining), wow, The Way of Kings is still extremely good. Intriguing characters with real problems (I mean, besides the end of the world), highly alien setting with reasonable extensions of human societal development as a result[1], moral dilemmas, secrets to be explored, and of course exciting combat and magic sequences. I don’t think it would hold up to the kind of attention I paid Jordan’s opus, but that’s a reflection of how I’ve changed more than anything else. Which is why it’s nice to have followed along on the Tor reread as I dug through this one. Well, it was up until the last quarter of the book or so, when suddenly the authors and a lot of the commenters had read the new book and I had not yet. Bleah.

Because, seriously? It’s not all the details they teased out of this book that astonish me, although there are some pretty astonishing things being teased out. Someone translated runic script on a couple of the late book drawings? Someone else identified who all of the faces are in the chapter icons, associated them with thematic elements laid out in the otherwise bare glossary, and then proved how those faces / themes fit the chapters?! Are you kidding me? So, yes. Pretty meaty stuff, and kudos to Brandon Sanderson for that much depth and attention to detail at every turn. But then there’s all the connections they have drawn to his other works, which are all set in the same universe[2] and contain a same wandering character as well as the same pantheon of cooperative and opposed gods, some alive, some dead, spread out in the various corners they have decided to stake out and world[3] around with. Although I’ve read like 3/4 of his output, I would never have had the faintest clue about any of these interconnections. Which just makes me want to go back and reread all the rest of his books too, and if I resented the time for this, how am I supposed to find time for that?

Curse you, Sanderson!

[1] And if it seems like this alien of a world shouldn’t have humans in the first place, I’m nearly positive that’s by design and may well be addressed, implicitly or explicitly.
[2] Cosmere, they call it, and apparently the people on this book’s world, Roshar, are aware of said Cosmere and aware that travel to other places is possible. Answering how that can be is another missing piece I look greatly forward to acquiring somewhere down the line!
[3] Plausibly, world is not a viable verb? Then again, maybe it is. I’ve never Mormoned, so I can’t be sure.

Edge of Tomorrow

MV5BMTQwODI0NDM5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzkwNTY3MTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Man. I am so slow at watching / reading / playing anything at all, this year. So slow. It’s driving me a little bit crazy, although I have read really a lot of comics from the overly dense mid 1970s. I’m looking rather forward to a lot of titles starting to collapse by 1977 or so. However, this is not about that.

This is about Edge of Tomorrow, in which Tom Cruise plays the main character in a video game, stuck on an endless escort mission to get Emily Blunt (who used to be the main character in the previous video game to which this is the sequel) into close proximity with the boss fight, so that she can save humanity. Despite what a misery that would be as a player or to live through, it actually works pretty well on the big screen. Which you presumably knew it would, since you already know what an excellent movie Groundhog Day is.

If it feels like, between my thumbnail sketch and my acknowledgement of the very clear forebear, I’ve given away too much? Well, a) I like to think there’s enough depth in the movie (character studies, sfnal exploration of the possibilities, new and improved explosions, etc.) that it’s not actually as simplistic as that thumbnail, but then also b) it’s still a summer action movie. So maybe it is that simple, and all you’re going for are the broad sketches and explosions. If that’s the case, I offer up as my defense that I gave you one half of a detail beyond what the previews did. Either way: it’s more good than bad, as most Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicles are. So that’s cool.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414Hard to believe, yet true: over the past fourteen years, there have been seven X-Men movies, all in the same continuity, and all including Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. 20th Century Fox is doing nearly as good of a job as Marvel Studios. That’s really pretty impressive, all in all. (I mean, okay, the actual movies have not been as consistently good, but it’s nearly impossible to credit how much better special effects have gotten in the not quite a generation between then and now.[1])

All of which brings me to the seventh such movie, Days of Future Past, which is named after what I understand will eventually be a really important storyline that I’m still probably more than a decade from reading. That said, I’m not so sure it’s very similar to that storyline? It is, however, extremely cool and handles time travel pretty well, both philosophically and structurally. I don’t want to say much about it, because of spoilers, but the title already gave away time travel and the end of The Wolverine already gave away the Sentinels; so I will only add that I thought the Sentinels were handled at least as well as the time travel was, and probably quite a bit better.

What was handled best of all, though, were the characters. The movie is, more than anything, a sequel to First Class, which was already heavily character driven. All of the dangling conflicts are brought to fruition in satisfying ways, and what more can you really ask? Well, that the characters also be fully realized, but I think they are. (Speaking of which, the scene with “Peter” in the Pentagon? Definitely the best characterization of him I have ever seen, and all without a word of dialogue. Bravo!)

[1] That makes it sound like I’m saying the special effects are the only flaws in early or for that matter middle X-Men movies. I’m not saying that, but having watched the first one a week or so ago, special effects are what stuck out to me as the second biggest flaw, just barely ahead of pacing[2] and way behind upscaled 480p, which it turns out is eye-hurtingly unwatchable in modernity. At least, it is if there are any special effects happening.
[2] Because, seriously, half that film was spent on Liberty Island! Climactic battles should not feel draggy. And don’t even get me started on treating Rogue as a major character in one half of the flick only to leave her as a damsel in distress for the other half. That she was rescued by a mixed team instead of a big strong man helps a bit, but not really enough.[3]
[3] Talk about being in the wrong review, right?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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

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

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

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.