Peace Talks

The first thing to say about the new Dresden Files book is, unfortunately, damned near the only thing to say about it. Peace Talks is half of a book.[1] I don’t mean that it ends on a cliffhanger, although it does that. (And I think it may be the only book in the series that has ever done that, including Changes.) I mean that things I want to talk about, although they would be spoilers, I can’t. Well, I could in person, if it were a TV show and we were on the same episode, or if the person I was reading along with was on approximately the same chapter.

But I can’t say that Harry’s actions lack [spoiler here] in a review of the book, because maybe they stop lacking that spoiler a few chapters from now, in the second half of the story. That’s what I mean when I say it’s half a book. The main plot advanced to a cliffhanger, which is fine, and one interpersonal plot actually found resolution that has been waiting for something like sixteen books, which is, uh, pretty awesome. But the mystery of the week plot is just as big of a mystery as it was when it came onto the scene, and the other interpersonal plots are just as half-baked, and how do I review the book when I don’t know whether my complaints will be addressed in the second half of it or not, until I’ve read that half?

[1] The good news is, less than 60 days until the second half is released.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

I first read Good Omens while I was in college, I reckon, based on recommendation and the brand recognition of one Terry Pratchett. So, years before I’d read Sandman or otherwise knew anything about one Neil Gaiman. Finding it now, of course, I would be ecstatic about the collaboration between two such giants, with possibly Gaiman tilting the scale even more?

Anyway, though, I think I only read it the once, which is to say 25 years ago[1], so once I recently learned there was a television adaptation, well. I think I saw all of the first episode rather than part? But for sure no more than that before I acknowledged that I would probably get more out of the show with familiarity, and anyway I had recently finished my current Malazan listen and was in the middle of a Hobb trilogy, which made it impossible to read the next physical book in the Malazan world anytime soon, so hey, time to switch audiobooks to something immediately useful!

“Immediately.” Ha.

Because, you see, a bit over halfway through this fairly short book (12 and a half hours), I no longer had a daily commute. Or much reason to drive literally anywhere at all, but especially in the car by myself. (Good god, my podcasting queue has swelled.) This is probably the least meaningful side-effect of Covid (to me personally I mean, much less to you who reads these words), but it doesn’t stop it being annoying.

But all that to say, I finished the damn book finally, and I do have a handful of scattered thoughts:

  1. Although clearly dated from a technological perspective, the story is otherwise still more timely than not. One supposes that this will always be true of the apocalypse?
  2. The casting of David Tennant as Crowley was an inspired choice. Having just heard the book, I can backfill him into my mental image at any moment and he works perfectly.
  3. The narration, as almost always since I started listening to these, was a) mostly excellent with the caveat that b) the producer or director or sound engineer or whoever makes the choice to edit out pauses needs to be given a crash course in how books are presented. It is always a good idea to let the reader know that a tonal shift of some kind has occurred, whether it be change of viewpoint character, narrator, or scene. Just a second’s pause to let us know something changed. Why is this so hard?
  4. I wish I had a good way to know who wrote what. My instinct is to assign plot to Gaiman[2], humor to Pratchett, with biting social commentary split between them. But of course I have no way to really know.
  5. That said: the four other horsemen subplot goes ultimately nowhere at all and accomplishes nothing except humor, but not nearly enough of that to justify its existence. So I wish I knew who to blame there.

Anyway, it’s a good to occasionally great book, even thirty years after publication, and I’m pretty excited to watch the adaptation now. Six episodes, which seems like plenty enough? We’ll see! …well, I will anyway. It’s not like I’ll eventually report back or anything.

[1] goddammit
[2] This is not a shot at Pratchett’s plotting, nor is the other a shot at Gaiman’s humor. It’s just that it does feel like a Gaiman-style plot overall, and also he does not focus on things being specifically funny, in the general sense.

Gwen

So there’s this movie called Gwen, in which Gwen and her sister and her mother, and also her father (in flashbacks mostly), wander around the hills of 1850s Wales, either being happy when they’re all together or moody and atmospheric and brooding when they aren’t. Also, some other things happened?

The sad part is, I’m not even joking. I watched this movie a day or two ago[1] and kept trying to pay attention to it, but realized at the end that I legitimately had no idea what had happened, outside of my description above and one or two specific events untethered from any ongoing narrative, like, oh, those neighbors died of cholera, or, huh, all the sheep are dead.

So instead of writing a probably unfairly empty review saying that, I watched it again this afternoon. This time, I felt like I really had watched the whole thing, and I for sure picked up a lot more. Is it all a land grab? Is the mother crazy? Or possessed? Is there a mysterious third party causing all these problems? Like, there was nearly enough plot there to mix in with the moody atmosphere[2], but then I watched the climax of the movie, and, uh… what?

So I went and found the Wikipedia summary of the movie, and sure enough, I missed nothing at all. The stuff that happened is just the stuff that happened. Which is to say there’s a subplot I did not mention above because it did not seem to be the main driving force of the film, but then haha surprise I guess it was.

I think I’m trying to talk myself into having hated the movie, which I did not do. I’m not even unhappy I watched it twice. But it is for certain not the movie that I wish it had been. Because what I understand this to be is a tripod of beautiful and unsettling and prosaic.

[1] I don’t even know which. Time, man.
[2] Folk horror, they’re calling it. The Witch is another such example, and at least there I understand why that appellation applies? This was also a limited cast, moody photography, and minimal dialogue, but I’m not sure that makes it “folk”, in the sense of folk tales I had previously assumed.

Boar

Australia: home of drop bears, kangaroos that, if they get tired of beating you in boxing, can just eviscerate you, snakes that you die after a handful of steps trying to walk away from, rabbits the size of volkswagens, spiders that I can’t even, and now a boar the size of a Sherman tank. Plan a visit, we have lovely brochures and you will only spend a third of your vacation time in transit!

The only real problem with Boar is that (and here I am speculating as to the cause) the director’s family was too dang large. Because there are like four to six groups of characters running around doing things while this boar stalks them, and any time you start to feel connection to the characters, the scene changes away from them for twenty minutes, and then once they finally come back to start getting killed off, you’ve forgotten why you care.

I think the boar may have been the hero of this movie, and I just missed it until now?

But seriously, a slightly leaner movie with half the size of the cast and the remaining characters spending more time getting developed and/or running away would have been perhaps brilliant. Plus, they had the guy from Wolf Creek who I now assume is just cast in all Australian horror by default, because why wouldn’t he be, and an enormous giant of a man whose last name is probably Ayers, since I would describe him as the Australian Rock. (I briefly thought he might be the hero of the film, but then he betrayed me by playing and singing along to “Ice Ice Baby”.)

Frozen II

I am legitimately confused to report that I never reviewed Frozen[1]. I mean, I saw it. I even remember that where I saw it was at Laylah’s old house in San Marcos, maybe the spring after it came out? I liked it well enough, not that whether I loved or hated it ought to have influenced my intent to write a review. And the thing is, I was counting on that review to help me with this one, for what I trust are obvious reasons.

See, I liked Frozen II. I have said elsewhere that it is probably the best sequel Disney has ever made, and also that this is damning with faint praise[2]. It’s just that… I guess I just wasn’t there for the plot? It was fine, it just didn’t grab me. And in the meantime, the characters and situation were less subversive, the running joke about Kristoff’s [spoiler] was more humiliation cringe humor than actually funny to me, and the music was nowhere near the instant ubiquitous genius of the original.

I will say that Kristoff’s ’80s power ballad and the first big number in which Anna’s lyrics combined with the external events to create an instance of Greek chorus levels of foreshadowing rarely seen in modern cinema? Those were pretty great.

[1] Here I refer to the Disney movie, not the ski lift horror movie, which I did review.
[2] Fight me. Or at least, tell me an actually good Disney sequel, and here I am explicitly disallowing properties that they have purchased elsewhere. It only counts if it’s a legitimate Disney style of movie. The previous best sequel holder was one of the two Aladdin sequels, probably? I forget which.

Bloody Birthday

Bloody Birthday is one of the best standalone ’80s horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. See, there are these three kids who were all born on the same day, during an eclipse. And now it’s ten years later, and those three kids are stone cold killers. Do you really need anything else?

The answer is mostly yes, if what you need is a series of pretty good kills, gratuitous teen sex, gratuitous peephole of Julie Brown’s[1] bedroom, an extended game of cat and mouse between three 10 year olds and their babysitter but in the opposite direction of usual, and the nerdy sidekick from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, a show which let’s be honest nobody remembers ever existed, in the darkest, most hardcore role of his career.

Or, if you need an astrological reason for the soullessness of the murder trio, man, the answer was no, you did not need that, and especially I did not need that. That is five minutes of dialogue and footage I will never get back, during which the murder kids could have found another teen sex to coitus interrupt with another creative weapon. Alas.

[1] Earth Girls are Easy and “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”, not the VJ.

The Ranger (2018)

Sometimes, a movie is exactly what you expect it to be from the poster. Which is nice in terms of proper expectation setting, but is pretty damn tricky in finding something meaningful to say outside of the picture already being worth a thousand words, or in this case 77 minutes of celluloid[1].

The Ranger, then, is the story of a bunch of asshole kids hiding out in a national park after they did some crime, and also the pink-haired final girl has history with the park ranger.

The best thing was all the park regulations as murder one-liners. The worst thing was the dark history, because it was ultimately meaningless. Like, I’m sure the writer had some idea of what was supposed to be there, but it dd not translate at all. Result: schlocky slasher fun that should have aimed for fewer pretensions, alas.

[1] haha jk I’m sure this was digital. Come on: 2018.

The Healthy Dead

So yay, I finally finished my Malazan short novels collection, which you may remember (although, notably, I did not) I wasn’t so sure about continuing, because of a certain moral brokenness to the second story. So, good news: the third story was not like that. (Bad news: since I read those two out of order, I can’t consider the trendline broken.)

The Healthy Dead was, however, pretty silly. It staked out a position against zealotry related to exercise, good eating, and other aspects of bodily morality, and then… do you know how sometimes authors can draw up fully-realized characters on both sides of an issue and let them fight it out, and while you maybe know the author’s opinion, the debate as written was a fair one? This was not that.

It was also, thankfully, not axe-grindy, since it was written for comedic value and largely worked on that level. But you can definitely tell, underneath it, that the axe exists to be ground. Plus, Erikson’s inability to write good bit characters in his short work continues apace, which is bizarre since he is one of the best I’ve seen at fleshing out throwaway characters in his longer work.

My best guess is that he is so enamored of Bauchelain and Emancipor Reese (and I suppose of Korbal Broach, in a different way (I hope! For my part, it was nice to not see much of him in this story)) that he jealously guards them from losing the spotlight to any minor characters in their own stories.

To sum up: this is a cute little story with almost nothing to recommend it save the force of personality of its main characters, but as I usually tend to like them, that is enough to recommend it to me. But I’ll remain perfectly happy to get back to the big story.

Living Dark: The Story of Ted the Caver

As alluded to recently, the movie I watched last night was based on a creepy internet website from let’s say 2001. Living Dark, as both said website and the subtitle of the film proclaim, tells the story of Ted the Caver, when he found a tiny passageway leading to an untouched, or “virgin” as the caving community would have it, series of caves, and decided to get in there and see what was on the other side.

The movie, necessarily, has more going on than just someone’s caving blog would. There’s a family drama tied into it, and, later, a resolution to the cave exploration. The resolution part is the problem. Partly because I liked it better when [spoiler removed] did it, but mostly because I liked it better when the website did it. There’s always something to be said for letting your imagination run away with you, and unspecified supernatural phenomena are a great way for that to happen. However, it is also something easier to get away with in text than on film, so I understand why they had to do something more specific here.

And within the constraints of an answer, this was a decent answer and outcome for a creepy cave movie to have. But the website is better.

If It Bleeds

I don’t know if you know this about very small children, but they take up a lot of your time. That’s not the only reason the number of books I’ve read in the past month totals one, but it’s definitely high up on the list. But: when Stephen King arrives on my doorstep, I persevere and do the thing.

If It Bleeds is a novella collection whose stories are each largely concerned with mortality. Which is certainly timely, although I’m not sure it’s what I would have asked for as my leisure reading during the [first?] summer of Covid-19. But it also makes sense that an aging prolific author is thinking about death. Like, natural causes death, not horror fiction death, which to be fair he has always been thinking about.

The title story has the least to do with this theme; it is instead another Holly Gibney mystery story, and I liked it, but it’s hard to feel like it belonged. But weighing in at half the length of the book, it was good to not overstuff it into a full-sized book, and it had to go somewhere? As for the other stories: The Life of Chuck was the most ambitious, and while I don’t think it quite hit the mark, I have a lot of respect for the story it was trying to tell. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone continues King’s fascination with the dark cracks in modern technology through which supernatural horror can slip. And Rat is yet another in a long line of stories about authors in dire straits. But, well, write what you know, I’m told? And he is pretty good at that particular topic!

Anyway: if you ever thought he had it, he’s still got it.