Author Archives: Chris

Goodfellas

Last week on the letterboxd dot com weekly movie, the theme was Remembering Ray, as in Liotta, who died earlier this year. Since Goodfellas is a  film knowledge gap for both of us, it was a no-brainer for the week.

The movie is a mostly straightforward biography of Henry Hill[1], a mafia outsider (in that he was only half Sicilian, and therefore not eligible to be the real deal) who nevertheless lived a lavish, crime-filled life from his teens onward as (along with also not-Sicilian Robert DeNiro) a hanger-on to Paul Sorvino as a godfather type and Joe Pesci as an up and comer in the family.

Only, nobody uses the word godfather, or mafia, or even mob. “Family” comes up a fair bit, but not in the way that any of the characters are related or talked about being related, because it’s not that kind of family. All the same, comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable, because, well. What I will say is that this movie is almost certainly a better depiction of mob life in the ’60s and ’70s. I mean obviously, the guy who wrote the tell-all autobiography probably knows better than the guy who wrote a book that he basically made up from start to finish, but still, you can tell that a movie made up of a series of vignettes about life, love, laughter, and larceny is going to be more true than a movie with foreshadowing, visual themes, and a throughline about inevitability.

All of which to say, yeah, I think The Godfather tells a better story. But I’m glad I finally saw this one, because I should have had it in my repository long since. The only really sad thing is that I can’t hit up Jeff and talk about it now.

[1] In addition to Goodfellas being one of those movies that everyone has seen, Ray is also in the starring role, which made the choice even easier.

Field of Dishonor

A thing worth noting is that I have only the barest memory of the plot of these Honor Harrington books. She’s supremely competent, and always correct in a ’90s hawkish conservative kind of way, and half the book is other people talking about how awesome she is. I read The Short Victorious War, let’s see, basically six years ago[1].

At that time, I correctly predicted that Field of Dishonor would immediately follow from a timeline perspective, while incorrectly predicting that I would therefore read it any time soon. The book is, as I also predicted, a complete deviation from the series so far, in that it’s 100% political (well, and personal), but 0% military, except insofar as it’s military politics. This is never quite offputting, but boy does it bring into sharp relief how much everyone (except the bad guy, obvs) in the book thinks Dame Honor is the absolute bee’s knees.

Despite the percent of the book dedicated to lavish praise of the main character (and despite the fact that Weber has decided that to be an effective conservative icon, one must be rich as well as titled, and therefore dumped nearly nine figures into her lap), there was ample intrigue and suspense to keep me entertained for the entire book, with one exception, which I am forced to drop below the cut due to spoilers for the finale and epilogue.

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La llorona (2019)

Earlier this week, I learned that letterboxd dot com[1] has a multi-year project where each week there’s a theme, and you watch a movie which a) fits the theme (okay, obviously) and b) that you’ve never seen before. Also earlier this week: the 8th year (season?) of this project of theirs started. After a brief discussion with Mary, we decided to go for it, and thusly, here we are.

Week one, Central American Independence Week, is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. La Llorona, then, is at first glance a slow moving court procedural in which an aging, arguably dying, Guatemalan general is on trial for genocide of the Mayan peoples in the early 1980s. That is, there is some time spent in court, but the majority of the first third of the film is the various members of his dead-eyed family wandering around their villa, berating the staff[2], resenting the protesters encamped outside their front door, and debating quietly among themselves whether the charges are true.

And that’s pretty much an entire movie in itself, of a certain character study ilk. Will the general’s wife learn about herself her complicity (or, if she already knows deep down, will she decide that it matters)? Will the general’s daughter make a choice to explicitly reject her parents for their unforgivable crimes (perhaps the least of which is, possibly, egregious interference in her personal life)? Will the general’s granddaughter become, by association, as dead-eyed as everyone else in the family or will she maintain her innocence? This could easily be the direction of the small slice of life that has been presented, unless, of course, you know what the llorona is.

Ultimately, the arrival of a single replacement maid to pick up the slack left to the housekeeper after the rest of the staff quit back in act one does not actually result in a different movie than the hypothetical one I described above. She just pushes the outcomes into a different groove than they otherwise would have proceeded along.

Recommended for fans of character-driven dramas that need to dip their toes into the horror genre, or for fans of horror who need to dip their toes into the character study genre.

For the curious: I chose the French poster of this movie because the version I watched was distributed by a French, um, distributor.

[1] A movie-based social media network, apparently? Like here, if people actually showed up, and also had their own review sites.
[2] Who for some reason want to quit now that their boss is on trial for the genocide of, to a first approximation, their people.

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Someone, who I am married to, likes to scavenge the lists of what is leaving Game Pass when, and then freaking out taking special notice of what is about to leave that she’d like to play. Which is how I ended up doing a shared speed run[1] of the first volume of the Plague Tale series[2], Innocence.

Of course, this also means that unless it comes back to Game Pass, this review does nobody any good, since while it was more than good enough to play, it was less than good enough to spend forty dollars on. (Unless you are suddenly really concerned about the sequel I suppose, which I then hope for your sake is worth more than sixty dollars. …or it will be on Game Pass as a day one release, so.)

The game is a probably faithful (in tone if not in detail) romp across Middle Ages western France, wherein a fifteen year-old daughter of nobility along with her five year-old brother become refugees fleeing the Inquisition, and the English invaders, and the omnipresent plague-ridden rats, most of whom are more than they seem. It starts as a sneaking and hiding game, but as the siblings continue to survive (thanks, checkpoints!), they gradually learn the skills needed to survive at a better than “on the run” level.

Too bad, then, about Hugo’s unresolved chronic disease.

[1] When I say “speed run”, I don’t mean a seventeen minute glitch fest, I mean like 20 hours because we both want to find all the things in an otherwise 12-15 hour game and are only so skilled on top of that, but also we can only play violent games at night, in our limited sleep time, so that was a lot to deal with in like a week. I’m still exhausted.
[2] Was there a planned Plague Tale series? I have absolutely no idea. But there’s the name scheme for it, and also there’s a sequel coming out in October, so, signs point to yes.

Barbarian (2022)

To get it out of the way, Barbarian is not a dark fantasy piece like I originally thought from my very vague awareness that a horror movie with that name existed. What it is, I think, is an early entry in an upcoming wave of airbnb-themed horror movies, in much the same way that Hostel kicked off a wave of vacation-themed horror movies.

I hate to say even that much, as this is a movie that pivots a lot of different ways, but so far I’ve spoiled you only for genre and the first 120 seconds of the film, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Well, except for the part where I’ve also said it’s not a straightforward… anything, really. So go see it, if pressure cookers are your kind of thing.

If you do see it (or don’t care about impenetrable spoilers), more below the cut.

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Bitter Fruit

Eventually, I liked the plot for Bitter Fruit. Cryogenically frozen bioterrorists first rebuild the Celtic empire[1] and then plot to wipe out most of the already dregs of humanity that yet remain, a hundred years past the nuclear holocaust that already basically marked the end of the world. Luckily, we know who can probably stop them! (Oh, this is a Deathlands book, if you didn’t actually know yet who could stop them.)

I say “eventually”. While this was not the first book in the series to have a new author, it was the first book where I noticed. Characters subtly out of character[2], a big change in the way book transitions work[3], and most damning, a possible change in the gender egalitarianism of the series. I’m reserving judgment on that last bit, as one data point is not a trendline, but all the same, none of the female characters have ever used sexuality to extricate themselves from danger before this author, so. (The main male character has at times tolerated sex while in danger, which I suppose is technically rape, and also I do not object to using sex as a tool in the toolbox when required. I’m just leery of it from a first time to the series author, after having spoken so much about the quality of the books to date.)

Worst news: this new author will be popping up frequently for a little while. Man I hope someone smacks him around and sets him straight.

[1] Well obviously empire is not the right word here. People isn’t what I want though, and kingdom is nearly as wrong as empire is, albeit a little less inadvertently snide.
[2] Just because you call a dude laconic, if he talks all the time and in much more detail than he used to, I’m both going to notice that and also judge you for not having known what laconic meant in the first place, nameless (unless I went to wikipedia and checked again) Deathlands farm writer!
[3] Instead of “end a book, pick up the next book immediately where the prior book just ended”, this was “end a book, skip forward by about three chapters of what I would have expected to read, but those three chapters wouldn’t make any sense at all if they’d been written, which I guess is why they had to be skipped, but since I noticed, you didn’t actually accomplish much.”

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Speaking, as I was, of video game adaptations in general and the Resident Evil series of such in specific, it seems only natural that I would have remembered and thus watched the reboot. (But also I really need to finish Resident Evil 5, the video game. I’ve only been trying for years upon years.)

In a counterfactual world where a six movie series starring Milla Jovovich as Alice never existed, here is what I would have to say about Welcome to Raccoon City: It’s a pretty good mashup of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, the video games, which makes sense as those (and 0 and 3, not mashed up here) all cover approximately the same 72 hour period during which really a lot of things happened. There are a lot of iconic images and moments, and all in all it is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of those two games. The games are of course still better, but what else could you expect out of a game adaptation?

However, those movies do exist, and they exist as an object lesson in why, if you intend to adapt a game, you need to take the premise and go in a new direction, something that maybe surpasses or maybe doesn’t, but at the least tries to be different. With books, faithful can be amazing, but with games, you’re in control of what happens as you play, so faithful is a bit flat, you know?

Uncharted (2022)

I really like the Uncharted game series; for a while, it was probably what kept me buying new Playstations, and you can see that they have not released one lately by my lack of a PS5.

So when they made a movie based on the series, and starring Peter Parker in the role of Nathan Drake, I naturally ran right out and was skeptical, because video game movies are always bad. Always.[1] Also, for a variety of reasons it has been difficult for me to go to movie theaters of late. But Uncharted (the movie this time) landed on Netflix just a few months after release, unexpectedly, and here we are.

So, how was it? The thing about the Uncharted games is, most of gameplay is shooting (or maybe sneaking past, but it’s basically not possible) bad guys or navigating tombs and cliffs and things that involve narrow ledges and contorting jumps and indescribable upper body strength. All of the treasure hunting and decoding and knowledge and the like comes in dialogue while the game is being played or else in cutscenes. Which means that the series is in fact eminently suited to a movie adaptation.

And… they did alright, you know? It was weird seeing someone quite so young in the role[2], but all the treasures and legends and maps and weird secret keys and the like just work for me, you know? I watched National Treasure, for god’s sake, and this is maybe less over the top insane than that, but also more sincere, mostly on the (surprisingly buff!) shoulders of Tom Holland playing a young, not yet entirely jaded Drake. I had fun, and if there’s a sequel as the movie strongly, strongly implied there will be, I will make a point of watching it too. Maybe sooner, even.

[1] Not always.
[2] The movie character Nathan Drake was 25, whereas the game character has always coded as mid-30s to me.

Lords and Ladies

I haven’t read any Pratchett in a minute, which, okay, what else is new regarding literally anything else I also read? But nevermind that. I’m trying. Plus, there are so many comics I also read, which you don’t / can’t even know.

Lords and Ladies is another Discworld witches book, quite nearly back to back, and also following right upon the heels of Witches Abroad[1] insofar as this chronicles what happens when they return home. Which[2] is: a Shakespeare pastiche, where Magrat finds that she is to be made queen while the other two witches deal with the kinds of creatures that appear on midsummer night. You know, fairies. And as any Dresden fan knows, they ain’t to be trusted.

The book was moment to moment at the quality I expect from a Pratchett book, even at a 30 years remove as I seem to be. And the pastiche itself was dandy. But the book started off with this underlying implied theme about how people should talk to each other instead of keep each other in the dark, which after the Wheel of Time is a theme that is near and dear to my heart.

…but then at the end, they said, nah, this worked out fine without any of that pesky telling the truth and keeping our friends in the loop stuff, and that has left such a bad taste in my mouth that I’m retroactively meh on the book.

[1] I read WA six years ago, even though it’s two books back. Sheesh.
[2] I held out as long as I could

Hack/Slash Resurrection: Blood Simple

I appear once again to have come to the end of the adventures of one Cassandra Hack, Esquire and her associate, Vlad. I don’t know if this is the end or not, but I’m definitely happy that there was no attempt at a grandiose Ending. It just feels like the kind of series that should trail off. Maybe it can be picked up again someday and maybe not, but I like that the possibility exists, and that even if they never come back, she can still be wandering America, looking for more slashers to dispose of, and we’re just not hearing about it anymore.

Blood Simple, despite everything I’ve just said about endings and such, seems in retrospect (i.e. now that I know it’s the last book) to have concerned itself mostly with tying up loose ends. The first bookend to the set revisits Cat and Dog Investigations, consisting of a teen wunderkind and her demonic skinless dog-thing named Pooch, as they (and Cassie and Vlad) look into a haunted house at the behest of area psychics, followed by our heroes and Vampirella versus a vampire town that maybe I should have recognized from previous Hack/Slash tales when it wasn’t a vampire town yet, but I did not, and then the closing bookend is Cassie versus censorship.

All in all, the book was fine. I’ve read better (the first half of the original run, before it got too far up its own ass with convoluted continuity and too big bads) and worse (the recent Vampirella crossover, for example, which really was bad at these characters, but also I do not remember Son of Samhain fondly), and maybe someday I’ll read better or worse again.

But I don’t think I expect to.