Tag Archives: fantasy

Solo: A Star Wars Story

I came into Solo with pretty low hopes. I was afraid the actor would fail and the movie with it, and… okay, no, that’s the only thing I was afraid of. The plot looked fine from previews, and Donald Glover is a national treasure, so yeah.

But, good news! The guy playing Solo was basically fine. Maybe a little too happy smiles instead of smug smiles, but I’m perfectly okay with saying that’s because the character is years younger. He played fine off Chewbacca and Lando alike. (And the other characters that were new to his backstory, but I wasn’t measuring that against pre-existing opinions.)

Other than that? Fun Star Warsy action movie, with heists and counterheists, chases and escapes, criminal syndicates… you know, the kinds of things you’d expect out of Han Solo’s backstory. If I’m being honest, they found almost no way to surprise me; I knew a lot of this story before now anyway even if it has become canon via the screening and wasn’t before. But whatever. Like I said, it was Star Warsy and fun, and I’ve been happy watching those while knowing how the story would turn out for close to forty years.

There was one thing that made me cringe, but I’m pretty sure I can just forget about it.

Ship of Magic

I’m staring at this blank screen[1] in consternation. I obviously can’t go down to my car and grab the new Stephen King book I got on Tuesday, because then I’ll do an even worse job with this review than I’m already fated to. I would normally read my next comic (even though it’s Team America, ugh), but somehow I forgot to get the 1983 issues of that registered in Comicrack[2], so now they’re sitting at home waiting for me to get there and sync, before I can proceed with this (at least there are only five Team Americas left) next book that fate and the CMRO has decreed I be subjected to.

And anyway, I only justifiably could have read one comic anyway, so it’s not like I would have bought myself very much time.

Here’s the thing. I sincerely don’t know whether I liked Ship of Magic or not. For instance, I absolutely care about what happens to these people. I am interested in the puzzles that have been laid out. (What’s the deal with wizardwood in specific and the Rain Wilds in general? What’s really going on with the serpents? Other things that would be spoilers to point out are open questions[3].) I’m interested in the world building around the slavery cultures that were halfway around the world from the events of the previous series, and the plot developments arising from that world building. So of course I liked the book, right? Look at all that delicious literature on my plate! And two books to go!

But… I’m not sure I’ve ever taken this long to read a book that I actually finished. Or felt this much existential dread while reading this or that chapter. Or taken comfort in such objectively bad outcomes, because at least they were incrementally better than what I had been reading five pages earlier. I just… and there are two more books to go.

I’ll say this much. I’m glad there’s a Stephen King book in my car downstairs, instead of the next book of this series as there probably would have been without the accidental timing of release schedules. It will give me time to sit in my room and think about what I’ve done.

[1] Okay, technically no longer entirely blank once I started narrating, but come on.
[2] Which mysteriously started syncing with my Chromebook again, hooray!!! Almost worth losing most of the functionality as a game-playing device.
[3] Amber, for instance.

Moana

Today while I was working from home, Mary turned on Moana. I saw half of it once, and the first act twice since then (all of these because I have three nieces/nephews under the age of five). This makes it kind of hard to review, and probably I shouldn’t, but it would feel good to do something on time for once, I guess.

Anyway, she turned it on as background noise to hanging out with her mom, since my TV shows are too loud or something. Result: as soon as the neighbor started lawn-mowing near the “all is lost” part of her hero’s journey (which probably has a name I could look up, but here we are), I missed some of it I guess. But kid movie, so I can’t pretend I don’t know what happened on a review scale.

So, right, Moana. A polynesian chieftain’s daughter learns that she has been chosen by the ocean to go save the world from a whole bunch of death and destruction caused by a trickster demigod named Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and she goes out on a boat to make things right. Also, there are songs.

It had some pretty silly long fight scenes to make it long enough I guess, and/or kids like that kind of thing, but as I alluded before, it’s a pretty tidy Campbellian archetypes story, with a climactic revelation that I can honestly say I didn’t see coming. And the songs were pretty good too. If you like that kind of thing, Disney usually does alright, right?

Avengers: Infinity War

Man, I screwed the pooch. It’s been what, two weeks since I saw Infinity War? In the meantime, it has been discussed to death, both with and without spoilers. Which is sad because it means probably that I can say nothing new, and anyway the only novel thing I had to say in the first place is kind of a spoiler.

But, here we go nonetheless, since I pathologically can’t just not review the things, I can only feel guilty about not reviewing them.

They have been calling this new Avengers movie the most ambitious crossover in history, ten years and eighteen movies deep. That’s not entirely right, because the first few movies leading up to the first Avengers did not foretell this. Not really. But as far as ambition goes, I cannot disagree. For the number of characters involved, none of them was ignored or given short shrift. (Not wholly true, as some characters were literally ignored by not being in the movie, but if they were in the movie, I mean.)  And the pacing was great. In a world of modern action cinema where scenes cut every minute or two, this was divided into 10+ minute chapters focusing on the characters involved from start to resolution of a scenario (or at worst, start to nadir, with the next scene fully exploring resolution). It’s hard to remember that movies[1] used to work this way, instead of snippets of individual strands that only weave together at climax.

So, A++ for ambition and execution. I also liked the plot and most of the character beats, although I understand why some people did not. Basically, my point is: if you have invested in eighteen movies and a handful of optional TV series leading toward this movie, you should check it out. They stuck the landing.

Spoiler-esque observation as first comment.

[1] Again, action / genre movies. I understand that your snows falling on your cedars always kept to that path.

Aftermath: Empire’s End

If you are looking for a book that explains why there’s wreckage all over Jakku in The Force Awakens, then Empire’s End is the book for you! If, however, you are looking for information on where Leader Snoke and the First Order came from, well, you’ll hear somewhere between one to five percent of that story, tops. (Which to be fair, at least until the trilogy of movies is over, you had to know that nobody would be allowed too close to direct backstory, in case the writers wanted to do it on film instead. I mean, you had to know that, right?)

On the bright side, I’m still very much enamored of the characters in this trilogy, and it’s nice to see someone telling a full-sized story in the Star Wars universe where Skywalkers are relegated to a side role at best. (There have been other such stories prior to 2015, but really not very many.)

Just in case there’s confusion, I should note that the book does a lot more than explain Jakku wreckage. But it’s the third book of a trilogy, so why go crazy with spoilers? It continues to do well what the other books also did well: present a living, breathing galaxy reacting to Palpatine’s demise and the birth of a new Republic, while telling a personal story about several people on both sides of the lingering conflict. In other words, if you care about Star Wars, this has star warsy stuff worth caring about.

Annihilation

Thanks, random invite to a sneak preview from Alamo Drafthouse! The last one of these I got was for Mother!, which I liked quite a lot. This time, Annihilation. Which, like the last one, is pretty hard to describe, but unlike the last one, doesn’t hold together quite as well on reflection. That’s not a big criticism, mind you. I really liked Mother! a lot. Just not in a rewatch it kind of way, whereas this one I think I could.

See, Natalie Portman, because reasons, is going on a mission into a weird area of land called the Shimmer, in which (per the sentence long description on IMDB) the laws of nature don’t apply; and also previous missions have not ever returned. From there, a movie length mind trip[1][2] ensues, in which Natalie is accompanied by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jane the Virgin, and the Valkyrie on a quest to solve the mystery of the Shimmer.

That’s quite enough to say, I suppose. It’s nice to see a movie with very few men just a few days after seeing a movie with only one white person. It would be I guess nicer if it didn’t also have the feeling of being bread and circuses while I ignore the shitshow outside.

[1] As you can tell from the poster’s color palette alone
[2] One reason for a rewatch, besides that I’m not afflicted with underlying disturbed feelings from this movie, is that I know I missed a lot of things and would find the second time rewarding towards deciding if I think they stuck the landing or not.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Did you know that they are still making Harry Potter movies? It’s true! But I got distracted and never actually saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them until now. (Not Black Panther like you’d think. I tried, but all the theaters with assigned seating were sold out down to the front rows today, so I still don’t get to go until Monday. That’s like five days of avoiding spoilers, you guys. Then again, I managed to go more than a year with functionally no spoilers on this Harry Potter thing I’m nominally reviewing, and that includes steadfastly ignoring the newest third of the Harry Potter exhibit on the Warner Bros. studio tour.)

So, a thing worth mentioning is that this technically was not a Harry Potter movie, seeing as how it was set in 1927, some 50 odd years before the boy who lived was even born. There’s this guy Newt Scamander, who wrote a book called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and this is a story of him hanging out in America with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts, back when nobody really liked them (the beasts, not suitcases) and they were illegal to have instead of worthy of being studied and written about, and also there was a pre-Voldemort wizard bad guy that everyone is nervous about.

So if you care about cool magical creatures (you should) or how American wizardry differs from British wizardry in time as well as space (maybe you should?) or about characters who all share a sense of wonder about this whole magic thing even though they were born to it instead of being thrust into it as a cipher stand-in for the reader, and also they all care about each other and have genuine undeniable chemistry, both as actors and as characters (you definitely should, as this kind of thing honestly doesn’t happen that often), this is the movie for you. In a way, it’s better than its source material.

Not that I don’t like Harry Potter, but chosen ones who learn about the universe as the reader or watcher does with constantly ratcheting stakes are kind of a dime a dozen these days, whereas successful post facto world-building is a rare gem indeed.

Bright

When I was in LA in mid-December, I saw posters everywhere for a Netflix movie called Bright, starring Will Smith. It was to be released in like a week, but I had never heard of it before that weekend. No idea why, really. I mean, I suppose the fact that 90% of LA billboards are advertising for the screen instead of like 20% here in Dallas could account for part of the reason?

Anyway, it looked interesting. See, it’s the modern world as we know it, except orcs are the stand-in for the downtrodden classes, elves are the stand-in for the wealthy and powerful classes who don’t want to be bothered with having to acknowledge that there even is an underclass who got a raw deal, and humans are the stand-in for, y’know, whoever fits in between the two extremes I just detailed. Oh, also, there was a Dark Lord a long time ago, and people hate orcs because they were on his side then. Institutionalized racism at its finest, folks!

And, frankly, that’s the problem with the movie in a nutshell. Someone decided that, oh, cool, we can highlight the massive race and class problems in America by using fantasy race stand-ins! …and then they didn’t really do anything else with the idea except point at it over and over again. For example: at one point, cop Will Smith and his orc partner (who is the first ever orc policeman, and if you guessed that both every orc and every cop hates him, then you already see my point here) are interviewing some hispanic folks in a house, and they’re speaking Spanish, which Will Smith knows and the orc does not. But it’s okay, because Will Smith doesn’t speak orcish when they’re in the orc gang hideout, and, oh, wait, why do elves speak elvish and orcs speak orcish, but humans have all the same languages we’re already used to since it’s regular earth? It’s possible this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it’s just so damned shoddy!

Anyway, yeah. Buddy cop movie with high tension between the nominal buddies, and there’s a lot of magic floating around via all-powerful wands that most people can’t touch without just exploding to death, and of the people who can, mostly they’re only elves, but also the world is so shitty that people would go ahead and grab a wand anyway if they were just laying around because hey, if you don’t explode, cosmic power is yours for the wishing. And I’m pretty okay with that as a setting, but man, the clumsily (and, worse) lazily-handled race stuff ruins the whole thing for me.

But I hear it did well and there’s a sequel, so maybe they can focus on Dark Lords and magic next time, or at least have someone set them straight on how to not build ridiculous caricatures that we’ve all seen before. (I should say: the opening credits of the movie highlight the tensions and problems of both their world and ours extremely well, so much better than the plot or dialogue ever came close to.)

Aftermath: Life Debt

Life Debt is the second in a trilogy of books that falls between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens in the new Star Wars continuity. I have more of a feeling than I originally had that I will learn very little about how we got from there to here, after having read this book. That’s disappointing, but not enough to take away from my enjoyment of the book for itself.

The cool team of rebels (or whatever you call them instead when the Empire is kind of defeated although not entirely but for sure there’s a replacement or at least alternative government in place) from Aftermath is back, to do Princess Leia a favor. See, the new Republic government is focused on fighting the Empire over systems with tactical or political value as they gradually try to put out the flames, instead of on who is suffering; and one Han Solo owes a Wookiee of his acquaintance a free Wookiee home world.

Only now they’re out of contact, and Leia asked those people I mentioned from the last book to go find him. And thus, a plot! Also, there’s some seemingly (but I’m afraid ultimately not) relevant byplay among the Imperial remnants, trying to figure out who will come out on top and how they will crush the new Republic, you know, like you’d expect them to want to do. Wake me up when one if them is named Snoke and I’ll care more about where that part of the plot is going.

But the laser battles and ship battles and infiltration plans and whatnot? Definitely still Star Wars, and that’s fine by me.

Blood Follows

There is one problem with publication order, and that problem is when small run publications are later gathered into collections. Well, to be fair, it’s not a problem with reading; you just read the part of the book that contains the story you were reading in publication order, and then put it down until later. But it is a problem for me specifically, since I include links to the book I read from, and yet the book I read Blood Follows in is not strictly the original book itself, since it’s a collection. Like, it’s fine now, but what about when I have the same cover and the same link for the next story I read from this collection? (It turns out I used the cover of the original small batch publication, so that may help a little.)

(It’s possible[1] I’m thinking about this too much.)

So, in Memories of Ice, one of the subplots I did not mention was that of the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. This is because despite touching on the main drive of the story at several points, they really have nothing to do with anything that’s going on. Despite that, they are fascinating characters. Well, the one who murders people and uses their parts to build constructs in pursuit of some nebulous goal that may not rightly exist[2] is not especially fascinating. But the one who accompanies and protects the crazy one because it gives him a chance to further his own necromantic research, and who presents as a polished and urbane yet evil supergenius in the vein of Dr. Doom, he is fascinating. And their manservant, Emancipor Reese, is usually played for comic relief, but in a way that makes you care about him. He’s stuck in a situation, and making the best of it. (Well, trying and mostly failing to, whence comes the comedy.)

Anyway, though, Blood Follows. This is a short book that gives an answer for why these characters were in the main sequence book: because Erikson is as fascinated by them as I am. We join our characters several years earlier and half a world away. Emancipor Reese has just lost another in a long string of employers to unfortunate death (this time at the hands of a murderer stalking the streets of his city for the past fortnight), and he needs to find a new job fast, lest his wife and probably non-biological children think even less of him than they already do. Also, there’s a reasonably cool police detective type trying to solve the murders.

By and large, this is a story that you will care about if you care about the characters you already knew, and otherwise, you will not. In part this is because Erikson is a far worse mystery novelist than he is a fantasy and war novelist. In part, it’s because even to the extent that the mystery worked, too many characters emerge as major players in the final act, and it is seen through the eyes of someone who has just as little idea of what’s going on as the reader does. This can work in the first book of an epic series, if your reader trusts you and in the meantime the story is written masterfully. It works a lot less well when the story is barely a hundred pages long and the things the reader didn’t really understand revolved around characters he (by which I mean I) doesn’t really expect to encounter ever again.

This isn’t to say I didn’t like it. It is to say that if I wasn’t already invested in the world and the main characters, I probably would not have, though.

[1] probable
[2] That is, I don’t really think he has an endgame in mind (nor that, even if he does, I’ll ever learn it). It’s more like he’s playing with legos to see what he can make.