Author Archives: Chris

Thor: Love and Thunder

The fourth Thor movie came out in, what, July? We went to see it at the drive-in, and it was good enough in an actiony explosions and rainbosenberg bridges kind of way. Also, like always, I was tired and it was a summer movie, which means starting near sunset for two (and a half, counting previews, etc) hours is a lot later than if we were watching it in, say, February. So I lightly dozed through a lot of it, which caused me to judge what I did see perhaps more harshly than I would have otherwise. This doesn’t matter to you, because I was always going to watch it again for real before writing a review, which not incidentally is why this one is six months late. But it did mean I kept putting it off even though it’s been available to me for multiple months via certain online sources run by mice.

Thor: Love and Thunder has two glaring flaws, the first of which is sort of a spoiler but not especially. So, one of all, he went off with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Endgame. But now he has his own movie. and also, they have their own movie soon. So the possibilities are that these movies a) tie into each other in some way, b) are lopsided because Thor is sharing screen time with a whole team but then isn’t in their movie at all when it comes out later, or c) are wholly unrelated, and the team and thunder god have to be uncoupled. C is bad because it means them going off together in the first place was pointless and poorly thought out, with no planning. You can guess which one happened, I trust.

Two of all, the movie itself is… I am about to say it’s pointless, which is only true insofar as the context of the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe has previously worked makes it true. It adds nothing to an overarching storyline being told in its Phase or in its collection of phases. Or if it does, what it is adding is entirely opaque. And what occurs to me is that neither of these is a flaw of the movie itself. It is a flaw in how Marvel and apparently Kevin Feige are meandering aimlessly from one plot to the next, with practically no connective tissue. This doesn’t bother me in the comics because the comics started out that way and, despite crossing over with each other frequently, rarely have giant events. Whereas the MCU was one enormous event from start to end[game]. But they can’t come out and say, hey, we’re going full comics, just making these for funsies with occasional big events (but of course regular crossovers), as it would piss the public off, after what they got out of the first ten years. But they also can’t not say it, because then it looks like this, with people hating on most of your movies because they don’t make overall sense. Which, of course they don’t, if you didn’t write in any overall sense to be made!

Either that, or Feige got infected by whatever happened when Disney contracted the third Star Wars trilogy without a plan.

Anyway, all of that to say: this was a good movie, as long as you did not have grand scheme expectations. Waititi has the same sense of whimsical fun that made Ragnarok work so well, and if it was maybe amped up a little higher, that worked for me. (I understand why it wouldn’t have worked for everyone.) Hemsworth is having the time of his life, clearly. Various callsback in miniature scattered throughout gave me exactly what I’m also getting from reading all of the comics, and in summation, I’m not tired of what they’re doing yet.

But I do wish they were more certain of what that is, or else that they’d communicate it clearly if they are. The movies are good on a case by case basis, but the overall look is just not very good, you know?

Oh, plot thing, if you need it: a bro with a religious axe to grind gets a magic god-killing sword and starts, er, killing gods. Later, he kidnaps a bunch of Asgardian children, which sends Thor and also Thor (you had to be there) on a quest to stop him from killing those children maybe and still more gods definitely. Also, there are some pretty sweet goats and really a lot of Guns ‘n Roses. And, as you can perhaps envision from the title, a love story.

Amber and Iron

It has been nearly 18 years since I read the first book in the Dark Disciple trilogy. Crazier than that, only 18 years means the review is accessible! The remaining entries of the trilogy have sat on my to-read shelf for maybe as long as they’ve each been out, yet I’m not sure whether I ever would have read them despite my intentions, except D&D[1] is finally releasing more DragonLance source material, which means I am hypothetically all of those 18 years behind on the ongoing plot of the world. (Or they reset / went back in time? I have not, to be honest, read any of the new game material yet to check.)

The downside, if you clicked through, is that the prior book wasn’t, you know, very good. One thing I’ve hoped as things go forward is that the authors were trying to bring the world back to something that makes sense, after the Fifth Age BS that TSR[2] forced on them in the late ’90s / early 2000s. Is that what is happening? I’ve only read a second book out of three, so my qualified answer is: maybe!

Amber and Iron is, on a moment by moment basis, at least okay. I consistently cared about what was happening with most of the characters (kender, monk, a handful of gods, and a, er, dark disciple), and I for sure liked some of the plot elements (the drowned Tower of High Sorcery at the bottom of the Blood Sea of Istar? yes please!). But when I step back and take a look at the story as a whole, man, it does not make a lick of sense.

Did they try to solve the vampiric cult thing? Sure, and reasonably so. Did anything else that happened make sense relative to the previous book? Maybe, but how should I know? Nearly 18 years, I believe I mentioned. Did anything else that happened make a lick of sense relative to itself? Nearly nothing, no, I don’t even know why it’s “and Iron” in the title!

And yet, perversely, I still want to know what happens next. Because it will make this book retroactively make sense after all? Could happen, but it’s not why. Because I want to know what happens to the characters? I sort of do, but that’s not really why either. Because I want to know what happens to Krynn? See, now we’re talking. I love that world in a way I love few others. It’s just always been my jam.

[1] Blah blah blah OGL controversy. For these purposes, take it as read that I super don’t care. If Weis and Hickman take Krynn to a different game system, we can talk then.
[2] Or maybe it was already Wizards of the Coast? How should I know?!

Nóz w wodzie

As you have perhaps guessed by the title, Mary and I finally watched another movie in the so-called “weekly” letterboxd dot com challenge, about which I’ve said more than enough previously. This, the seventh in the sequence and representing the beginning of November[1], was Polish Film School[2] week. I had (of course) already seen most of these, but the first film by newcomer Roman Polanski caught my eye, and we decided to give it a whirl.[3]

Knife in the Water is the beautifully shot story of a middle-aged married couple who pick up a young hitchhiker and invite him on their overnight sailboat trip, while all three constantly pick at each other. Also, the hitchhiker has a fancy(?) knife.

Okay, that was a little dismissive. It’s a three-person character study of clashing personalities in tight spaces, even though the cinematography is ironically full of open skies and broad vistas most of the time. It’s not clear why the husband dislikes the hitchhiker so much, their initial encounter notwithstanding, and it’s even less clear why he invited the youth onto the boat, nor yet why the hitchhiker accepted. Nevertheless, the premise leads to simmering emotional and eventually physical tension that both promise to boil over before the credits… well, okay, it’s 1962 and end credits weren’t a thing yet. Allow me to correct myself to “promise to boil over before the screen fades to black.”

Was it good? I believe it was. Was it in fact the first Roman Polanski movie I’ve ever seen? It was not, but only because of Rosemary’s Baby a short while back. …which, come to think of it, shares this movie’s paradoxical claustrophobia.

[1] sigh
[2] Polish Film Movement might have been more explanatory, week title deciders
[3] To translate, I was able to find exactly one of the movie options on a streaming service I have access to, and it happened to have name recognition as a bonus.

Glass Onion

Knives Out was probably the last movie I saw with Mary in the theater before Covid happened.[1][2] This is apropos of nothing in particular, just a memory from the before times. For example, here in modernity, we did not see Glass Onion in the theater at all, though it got to Netflix with surprising rapidity[3].

So there’s this tech billionaire guy, who like all tech billionaire guys on film in the past five years is probably a riff on Elon Musk. And he invites all of his friends to his private Greek island for a murder mystery weekend by way of an incredibly fancy puzzlebox. (A literal puzzlebox.) Plus he also invites the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc, which is to say Daniel Craig.

It’s hard to say more (even if it’s easy to intuit more) about the plot. What I can comfortably say is that it’s every bit as clever and as funny as its predecessor, and I would happily watch Craig and Rian Johnson make these movies until the end of time.

[1] Not the actual last movie I saw in the theater, that was The Invisible Man
[2] (Also, it wasn’t even that; we saw three other movies in between Knives Out and lockdown. Huh.)
[3] Joke’s on me: apparently it is a Netflix original that had a one week theatrical release. Huh.

Freedom and Necessity revisited

Kate Nepveu, who I think has a link on my sidebar, though I have no idea whether it is still a valid link, suggested that we do a group read of Freedom and Necessity. The idea being, well, it’s an epistolary novel, and we have all these dated letters, let’s do a read along like that one guy did with Dracula last year, or that other guy is doing with Moby Dick soon[1]. I had read the book before, but remembered almost nothing except for sense memories of the characters doing the writing, all of whom I was enamored of at the time and expected to be again.

No suspense: I am still enamored of these characters. The story is… fine? I think it holds up better under months of tension, and even then would not hold up without the strength of the characters. That said, I liked the story plenty well when I read it all in a row, so maybe the delay was harmful in that respect. It’s not like it was familiarity breeding contempt, since it’s been 15+ years and I remembered, as I said, almost nothing.

Arguably, the rest of this review is spoilers, so probably don’t read it if you could be reading the book instead.

Anyway: Kitty is delightful but underutilized, James is a cipher (even when he isn’t, if you take my meaning, absent one glaring exception), Susan is a) great all around with the exception of b) still kind of a cheat of a character[2], and Richard… Richard was actually the star of the book for me, on this read. He started out as a pampered, bemused dilettante, and ended up as someone who was capable of loving and respecting people for who they are, not for what they brought to his life. Even people who don’t own country estates, which for a wealthy British man in the 19th century seems to be saying a lot.

And I mean, okay, since many of the characters started out great, maybe the one who had to grow into it shouldn’t be the star, but… I have read the book before, little though I remembered plot details. So between that and spreading it out, I for sure had more time to focus on character development than I might otherwise have done. So you see.

It was pointed out to me that there is sequel bait in the book, and man would I read the shit out of a sequel. So if Steven Brust and Emma Bull are listening out there, which they are not, I’m just saying, you already have your first sale.

[1] Soon then, currently now.
[2] If your novel is epistolary, and then you give a character an eidetic memory, you just end up writing a novel chapter instead of a letter.

Fairy Tale

I know my reading slowed down when I had a kid. What I did not know is how dramatically my reading would slow down[1] with two kids. Nevertheless, it took me three months to read Fairy Tale, and yes, Stephen King books can be long, but they’re not “three months” long. And this wasn’t even one of the really really long ones from the ’80s.

King wrote a short story a few years back (or maybe a novella) about a kid and an old man and how the kid taught the old man how to use smartphones. Later it got spooky, but that was the core of it, the relationship between the child and the old man and the back and forth of what we have to teach each other. The first half of Fairy Tale feels like an expansion of that short story. And when you get right down to it, the second half also feels like an expansion of my somewhat dismissive “later it got spooky”.

I guess what I’m saying is, yes, King has written better stories about relationships between people, and yes he’s written better Lovecraft pastiches, and yes he’s written better fantasy novels, and… okay, no, he probably has not written a better book about a dog, even if I choked up reading the last page of Cujo aloud to my dad. But none of that is the point.

The point is, the man has not missed a step in 50 years, as far as his ability to make you care about his characters and, more than that, the worlds he creates. I still itch to know what’s going down in Castle Rock these days. I wonder if Salem’s Lot ever got reinhabited. I notice quietly that it’s been 27 years since the last time people started dying in Derry. I wonder how Roland is doing. And that spark is here. I want to see what happens when Charlie Reade decides that maybe it’s time to buy himself a jackhammer.

Best work or not, it’s still really good work. That’s all.

[1] Or arguably, it slowed down because in addition to alternating with comics, I was reading another[2] book. I can see a case to be made for that as the cause.
[2] and lately, two other

Rosemary’s Baby

So we’ve, uh, fallen behind on this movie you’ve never seen that matches a theme each week website challenge thing. Week six, where last we left off in October, was something from their top 250 horror films, as rated by site users I guess? Anyway, I had seen the top five, and six and seven weren’t available for streaming, but number eight was Rosemary’s Baby, one of those classics where you more or less already know what happens because of cultural osmosis of so many subsequent references and homages, but you never know what’s actually going to happen, you know?

The jam is this: Rosemary and her financially successful but critically failed actor husband move into an old apartment building in Manhattan, one of those places where you already cannot believe how enormous the place is[1] even before you learn that it was at some point in the [recent?] past split in half from the apartment currently housing the elderly and somewhat kooky childless neighbors. Also, they (Rosemary and her husband) want to have kids.

The thing is, you know what’s going to happen next. I knew what was going to happen next. Everyone knows! My daughter knows, and she was born this year. It’s like Rosebud, you just… know. But at the same time, it was fun to pretend I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.[2] The things I found out along the way were things I didn’t know, but probably should have.[3] And at least one thing I found out but probably shouldn’t have known, which is I’m guessing this may be the first movie that did the trope where you solve the anagram that clues you in about whatever evil thing is going on by digging out a copy of Scrabble and just fiddling with the tiles. So add that to the list of countless tropes this movie has generated.

All in all: it’s very definitely a snapshot of a different time, but it’s mostly timeless, and also it’s mostly or entirely good. I understand why it is the eighth most well-regarded horror movie on this one movie website, is what I’m saying. Solid acting, solid script, solid atmosphere, exquisite final ten minutes. Would watch for the first time all over again.

[1] But at least it’s not like Friends where, how do they afford this? Because of the financially successful acting career and all, although also one of the Friends apartments would fit in the living room of this place, so
[2] And okay, I didn’t, not exactly.
[3] The next footnote is spoilers about things I found out.[4] So don’t read it if you care about spoilers for a 55 year old movie.
[4] Like, I didn’t know she had the world’s worst husband, who among other many sub-par qualities had as his go-to excuse for something that was, uh, pretty bad, his go-to excuse for it was “I went ahead and had sex with you even though you had passed out [after eating a drugged dessert that I insisted you eat even though because I knew it was drugged].” (Like, he didn’t spousal rape her, but he claimed he did, because the alternative was worse. …although I guess they don’t sound as close together in badness in 1968 as they do now? But credit where it’s due, even in 1968 she was all “that wasn’t cool, bro” about it before shrugging and giving up instead of not being concerned in the first place, like I expected in the moment. And I didn’t know, but absolutely should have, that when she went to a medical professional for help, he would immediately betray her. And I didn’t know that the relationship with her husband would play as so loveless and mechanical, which I at least believe was on purpose? There are things in the last scenes of the movie that make me think so.

Supraland

Supraland is falling off Game Pass in a few days, which means acknowledging to myself that I’m not going to find the rest of the secret stuff I had been unrealistically holding out for before I wrote my review. The fact that I wanted to do all of the secret things well after the end of the plot is probably a good sign as to how I felt about the game, so I will say it has a lot of weird glitchy spaces in it that make it hard to tell when something is hard because it’s meant to be hard and when it’s hard because something isn’t working right. There are flaws!

That said: man, I don’t think I’ve invested in a 3D platformer this hard since Super Mario 64[1] in the ’90s. You the character are the prince of the red people, who live across the sandbox from the blue people, over which[2] very occasionally presides The Boy. And you are sent on a quest to resolve the red kingdom’s suspicious water shortage, with only your trusty wooden sword against the hordes of skeletons that for some reason infest the long, barren space between the kingdoms. Lots of fighting, lots of puzzles, lots of powerups. It’s a collector’s paradise out there, and slightly buggy or not, it’s easy to recommend to anyone who likes the genre.

[1] At somewhere in the 90-105 out of 120 stars range, I loaned the cartridge out, and my save game was deleted, even though there were empty saves available! (At least I’m over it, right?)
[2] Over the sandbox, that is, not over the blue people specifically.

Busanhaeng 2: Bando

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula is the second entry in the TtBCU[1], and even though it wasn’t on the list of Korean horror films for last(?)[2] week, I did the research and confirmed for myself that it counted (same director and writer as Train to Busan, and made by South Korean companies). So, that’s what we watched!

As discussed in the tagline, the movie is set four years after the events on the train, and in that time… well, the short version is North Korea was finally useful for something besides human misery. Since South Korea is on an isolated peninsula[3], they were able to use their otherwise pointless and/or actively evil military to contain the zombies, and then everyone else just stopped letting escaping boats in without incredibly onerous health checks of the kind that I think we’ve proven would not actually occur in the real world, but. And so, South Korea is a zombie-infested wasteland, and the rest of the world is all, “Huh. I guess that happened.” And the few people who did get out are mostly disliked refugees, so at least they got that part of how we’d behave correct.

Anyway, that’s all setting for a heist-and-redemption story precipitated by an army guy and his embittered brother-in-law being roped into a shot at 50% of the take on a truck full of money just sitting there, waiting to be taken by whoever can survive. It has every trope you’d expect and then some, but you know what? I liked it. (Arguably, that’s why I liked it?)

Thanks, Korean horror community!

[1] There is no TtBCU
[2] When I started this, we were potentially only a week behind. A lot of water has passed under the bridge between then and when I finished it.
[3] Hey, I see what they did there!

The Dark Tower (2017)

With this movie knocked out so quickly, we’re back on schedule, hooray! I mean, we are if we also watch this week’s movie this week, but at least it’s mathematically possible to. Anyway, last week’s movie theme was Stephen King adaptations, which, there are certainly many I haven’t seen, no matter what you might think. However, the most glaring hole is the troubled[1] Dark Tower adaptation from a few years ago, so, we acquired that and checked it out last night.

The problem, I think, is one of expectations. Because this is clearly and obviously not an adaptation of the book or series of The Dark Tower that Stephen King wrote. It has several identical character names, some of them attached to similar characters, even. But the driving arc of the movie is not merely different from but antithetical to the driving arc of the books. So you’ve got a fantasy movie with a built-in audience who you’ve immediately alienated, and what’s left is a movie that would appear to be impenetrable to a generic audience, even though that was not especially the case.

What I could see was a humorously slapdash attempt to make this movie the linchpin of the SKCU[2], even as the series is the linchpin of his library. And I mean, it was less a successful linchpin making and more a constant game of “spot the reference”, but it was also a fun game of that. I caught a lot of them, while being pretty certain I must have missed others. And this is not enough to make a good movie, by a long shot, but I kind of think that if they’d made a more concerted effort, it could have been pretty amazing.

Anyway, long story short: There’s a boy, Jake, and he is having apocalyptic dreams about a man in black who wants to destroy a tower, and every time he attempts this in Jake’s dreams, geologically mysterious earthquakes strike all around the world. But then Jake has a dream about Roland, who is a gunslinger, and who can possibly stop the man in black from succeeding. And then Jake gets swept up in events, and there’s a movie.

I said early on that all of the characters were subtly or dramatically wrong, and I stand by that. But if I didn’t know anything about the characters or their motivations in advance, these would have been acceptable. Idris Elba played his role well and somewhere near the two-thirds mark, they finally convinced me this really was Roland Deschaines, just from an alternate universe with a wildly divergent backstory. I guess what I mean is I liked the movie for what it was, but am sad that they squandered what it could have been.

[1] ie, it was a commercial and critical flop
[2] It is important here for me to note that there is not, in fact, a Stephen King Cinematic Universe.