I saw Hercules last week because it was in the 10% of shows on my Netflix queue that were neither horror nor serial. (Well, and because my girlfriend didn’t want to watch a horror movie.) I have resisted reviewing it until now because it was just so… bland.
Don’t get me wrong, I always like The Rock. And that guy from Deadwood, Swearengen, who plays his seer sidekick, is a true delight. It’s just that the plot is… I can’t say bland again. Deconstructionist is not, per se, a negative. But this particular deconstruction took all of the literal and figurative magic out of the Hercules myth and turned it into not much more than a war story. Train the troops, fight the battles, and if I wanted a Greek war movie, I’d just watch Troy again.
It ended up better than I’m describing, but not enough better to be worth saying good things about. Or maybe the wait was too long? Either way: meh. You can do better, The Rock and Swearengen and people prospectively viewing this movie.
Hey, I was right. Moirin did go to America! (Also, wow, I was annoyed at that book.) Luckily, I was not annoyed at this book, which is much more of a sequel to the first book of the trilogy than it is to the second. The downside is, after nine books in this series and countless more in its genre, I’m out of things to say. Moirin headed off to America and hung out with Incans and Mayans and Aztecs (probably only two of these, but which two?) and also resolved her destiny with a certain demon-summoner of her former acquaintance, and there were battles and politics and magic, and all of it was mostly predictable, but who cares, they were travelling to new places and meeting new people, and if you’re into that, you already know it after nine books. Nothing stands out as new and amazing, but since the last thing that stood out was an aggravation, I don’t mind so much.
So, would I recommend Naamah’s Blessing? No, for a number of reasons. But I would recommend Kushiel’s Dart unreservedly, and if you eventually got here, I’d nod to you in shared recognition, and we’d say “Cool.”
One of the cool things about Hugo (and believe me, there are many) is that it contains multitudes. It explores with uncomfortable realism how it would feel to be an orphan in 1930s Paris, forever doing the (apparently unpaid!) work of an adult, because to let it go undone is to be caught and exiled to the orphanage. It has the best use of 3D I’ve seen since My Bloody Valentine. It has one of my favorite character archetypes in fiction, the (in this case) girl who desperately wants adventure and has no idea what she’s letting herself in for. It has all kinds of foreshadowing, frequently in multiple layers. It tells a lot of the different stories swirling around Hugo, not just his own one. It has a robot! It is one of the funniest non-comedies I’ve seen in a long time, and while it’s not a “kid’s movie that is great for adults too lol!”, it is almost certainly a movie you could take your kids to, if you care about that kind of thing.
Most of all, permeating every other aspect of the movie (even if it’s not obvious at first), it is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the art of cinema. And it’s a damned good one.
Also… that girl Isabel was both the second main character in Let Me In and the girl hero in Kick-Ass? Damn.
Have I mentioned how frustrated I am by my inability to find the place on an Amazon product page where I can click that I own it and then rate it? It used to be invisible just from some browsers, but now it’s invisible from basically all of them (unless it’s actually gone), and either way, I like them being able to take my ownership and tastes into account when recommending things, and how can they take them into account if they will not let me show said tastes and ownerships them? Not, tragically, that I would be giving Naamah’s Curse a particularly high rating.
I mean, throughout the long life of the series, it has been exactly the kind of thing I go for. Travelogue fantasy in which the heroes go from place to place, exploring new cultures and solving new puzzles: I’ve been reading it since David Eddings first launched the quest for a blue rock, and despite intra-authorial repetitiveness and the increasingly rare inter-authorial ability to provide a unique new take on the genre, I’ve never not enjoyed myself. Which, lest you take me the wrong way, applies here too. It’s just getting harder to enjoy myself in this particular case when it feels less like travelogue fantasy and more like authorial insertion in order to decry the evils of fundamentalist Christianity and the Hindi caste system. Still, it’s not entirely bad by any means, and none of the bad parts were screed-like; the anvils were just a little too heavy as they landed upon my head, is all. Still, I think Moirin may go to America in the next book, and maybe that will be pretty cool?
 I have admittedly not checked Opera or, um, the text-based one whose name I forget.
 Oh LOL-cat constructed speech, why must you be so awkward to adapt to conversational English?
It is a pity that I read the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before I was reviewing things, and probably moreso that I don’t really remember what happened in it. I mean, I certainly remember the premise, that characters I would normally claim to be fictional residents of the late 19th Century have banded together to defend England and/or the world from a threat; it’s just that while I remember the characters, I don’t really remember the threat (by which I would otherwise mean the plot).
On the bright side, this has not prevented enjoyment of the second volume in the apparent series. Possibly familiar characters such as Captain Nemo, Edward Hyde, and Allan Quatermain join forces once again under the leadership of Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray to battle the forces of Mars, who are invading in a manner with which you may be familiar thanks to the narration of Orson Welles. There are twists and turns, sure, but the fun isn’t really in the plot so much as the cleverness of the concept and the character interactions. Everyone is written well enough, though I admit to some uncertainty about Hyde. Still, nothing that made me mislike anything I saw.
After the end of that story, in any event, is an extremely long travelogue explaining the various mystical locations and peoples of the world circa the turn of the 20th Century. It started out slow and dry and a bit of a beating, but then finally found the voices of Mina and leaders of other incarnations of the League throughout previous centuries, and to my surprise I found it highly enjoyable by the end. The theme is still primarily a clever integration of various fictions into the world we know, and although it is possible to get allergic to Moore’s smugness, it worked out for me, like I said. And then a few bits of fluff (including a board game!) round out the volume.
Also, there are a couple more written that I didn’t know about? I am cautiously optimistic, not being allergic to the possible smugness of the concept.
Jacqueline Carey returns to the world of Terre d’Ange in Naamah’s Kiss, set a century after the events of her previous books. The magically modified historical Europe has progressed into the 16th Century, with tales of a new world away west across the sea, but not-France seems content to rest upon her laurels as a center of love and decadence. Into this more superficial version of a country already obsessed with beauty and fame is thrust Moirin, a half-Alban girl with a capital-d Destiny, descended from the same magical small folk that gave Prince Imriel such trouble during the previous trilogy. Of course, as the other half of her descent is a d’Angeline priest of Naamah, the goddess of Love, it can be no surprise that her parentage and uncivilized mien make her an instant success. Unfortunately, she spends the first two thirds of the book on that, laying groundwork for events in future unwritten books before actually engaging in the plot of this one.
On the bright side, once that plot gets a move on, it’s really quite pleasant, racing to the far corner of the world to rescue a not-Chinese princess from a demon. If you can leave aside the iffy pacing, the book has a lot of things to like. A circle of demon-summoners, ancient Ch’in wisdom, cliff-diving, an implausible amount of lipstick lesbianism, chases, escapes, true love… y’know. Stuff a sick kid would want his grandfather to read to him. But, okay, even if it’s clearly not that funny, it did feel like something out of a storybook. If that sounds ridiculous, take it as me having accepted the characters that thoroughly, by the end. Pacing issues or not, I care about these characters and want to know what happens to them next.
 not-England, don’t you know
It’s those books where alternate-history Renaissance France is full of beautiful people who have the very best sex in all of alternate-history Europe, while traveling the world in search of adventures and things! At its best, Carey’s Terre d’Ange series takes the Eddingsian exploratory motif and tosses it with liberally applied political intrigue and a dash of romance, to the general good. (Plus, some light and occasionally not-so-light bondage wanders across the page. Y’know.) At its worst, you have Kushiel’s Mercy, which is really not that bad of a worst, if I didn’t have five other books to compare it to.
The political and (increasingly more frequent) magical plots are pretty great; unfortunately, the less spoiled about them, the better, so I can’t really elaborate. But where I would normally expect to see yet more exploration of alternate Europe and environs, most of first-person narrator Imriel’s focus is on the survival of his relationship with Princess Sidonie. Which is really just too many reflections about how dire things are and how certain he is to overcome them nevertheless, especially when you consider that he’s still traveling to three new locations over the course of the book. On a more subjective note, I had a problem with a mid-book twist in which the consistent first-person narration was broken via the introduction of a new-to-the-series character. Upon reflection, I should ought to be glad to have let Imriel’s focus take a rest, but it was just too jarring of a shift.
In the end, it’s as I said before. I was looking for a fantasy travelogue with a little romance, and I got a romance novel with a bit of travel thrown in. It was still a good book, just not quite as good as what I wanted. Mostly, it has made me want to pick up one of my unread Dave Duncan serieses.
 But check this out: the jacket didn’t spoil it either, which is awesome both for itself and for the unusualness of the event.
Something more than a year went by after I read Kushiel’s Scion, mostly because I read it so close to publication and that’s the approximate schedule for these books, before I found Kushiel’s Justice in the used bookstore. It had no cover, which has been a constant source of annoyance since; and in fact, if I’d known I would wait this damn long to actually read it, I would have left that copy sitting on the shelf. In further fact, while reading this one I learned that a friend was slightly further into the third one than I was into the second. Which was a little bit embarrassing, but I at least avoided big-huge spoilers, so yay! Anyway, though, I actually did read it, so you may be expecting a review?
Now that he’s home from college, Imriel is forced to face the truth that sent him fleeing to alternate-Italy in the first place: he’s in love with the heir to Terre d’Ange’s throne. Which doesn’t sound so bad, as he’s a prince of the realm himself, and in any event the only law laid down by their god, Elua, is “Love as thou wilt.” Things are always a little more complicated than that for Carey’s characters, though: Imriel’s birth parents (one of whom yet lives in hidden exile) hatched a plot before he was born to steal the throne for him outright. So naturally, there are a number of people who would not look kindly on his winning it through marriage.
So he and Princess Sidonie keep their infatuation secret and do their best to quell it, now that Imriel has been promised in a political marriage to an Alban princess (alternate-England, that is). This seems like the right thing to do, except that in being sensible, are they violating that self-same lone law to which they should be bound? The rest of the book is an examination of the repercussions of love, future foreknowledge, and bloody revenge, with more focus on Alba than has been provided in previous books, as well as new travels across northern alternate-Europe. It runs slow at the beginning, but I devoured the second half of the book around work in two short days: the moment past which stopping is impossible came barely halfway in, which is a pretty neat trick.
One spoiler after the cut. Continue reading
I find that I haven’t got much to say about 300. I think this is because everything that you need to know about it, you already knew long before you ever entered the theater. It’s a historical tragedy, which means that everyone is going to die. But it’s a Greek historical tragedy, which means that none of them will mind dying, because all that talk about your name being remembered down through the ages was actually true in those days, for those people. So, death and glory; the rest is just the details.
However, it must be acknowledged that the details were quite awesome. At least, they were after the plodding introductory exposition on the youth of King Leonidas of Sparta had finally run its course. Lots of cheesecake and beefcake? Check. Creepy giants and hunchbacks and monsters that would not look out of place in a Resident Evil videogame? Check. Political intrigue? Absolutely. Piles and piles of bloody violence? You’re damn right. Stilted dialogue that sounds like it could have been written 3,000 years ago? Well, but that’s kind of a feature, right? Unfortunate imagery that forces comparisons to Gladiator? Well, you can’t win ’em all.
On balance, it pleases me that these graphic novels are being written, and it pleases me that they’re being adapted. There are other reasons, but the fact that Stylized Comic-Book Movie is a genre that still feels fresh and new would be reason enough all by itself.