Monthly Archives: September 2008

Lakeview Terrace

The only serious problem with LakeviewMV5BMTI0MzI0NDI4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk4ODk3MQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_ Terrace was the advertising campaign. It went from Hey, cool preview! to Why didn’t that movie ever come out? to I am so tired of these previews, hooray that the movie finally being out means I’ll never have to see them again! Maybe there was a delay in the release? Dunno. Anyhow, I’d pretty much written it off, but last Wednesday I found myself with some time to kill, and it was the best fit for my schedule and interest level. Which is good; I would have needed closure.

Surprisingly, and to the film’s benefit, it’s not really the boilerplate thriller it appeared to be. Sure, all that ratchety tension stuff is in there, and played quite well on all sides. But mostly, it’s a character study about two people who simply don’t like each other. There are all kinds of proximate causes: racism features heavily, but jealousy, loneliness, power imbalances, and family values differences all play their roles. But I really think the underlying issue is that some people just can’t stand each other, and these two had the misfortune of living next to each other. (Well, and the misfortune of Samuel L. Jackson being just enough off-kilter to turn it from the typical coldly polite avoidance into a constantly escalating conflict. But make no mistake, the other guy[1] was carrying around plenty of his own contributory macho bullshit.)

I think what really impressed me, though, was that despite all of that, SLJ was frequently sympathetic. Not, y’know, a lot, but more than enough to take him out of the caricature territory one expects from his boilerplate thriller character type. To balance that, the travails of Not SLJ and his wife were mostly disinteresting; real and depth-creating, just like SLJ’s sympathetitude, but it just never fit the tone of everything else that was going on, at least to me. Still, minor quibble in an otherwise above-average experience.

[1] Not Samuel L. Jackson, I think, is what his name is?


Pratchett’s seventh Discworld novel was markedly funnier than the previous volumes, and much more consistently funny at the same time. So that was awesome. Unfortunately, it wasn’t funny enough to mask how muddied the rest of the book was. Pyramids has a core theme, about the dangers of stagnancy to the human condition. It’s just that the execution wandered all over the place, making it almost impossible for me to really see that theme until nearly the end of the book, and even worse, making it almost impossible for me to really get into the plot, whose point I still probably missed.

But the increased skill at humor made up for a lot of that, and I still have to say that on the whole the series is unquestionably improving, still. I believe I’ve read the next book before, and possibly as my entry into the series some 20 years ago. So that will be potentally interesting!

Ex Machina: March to War

I’m headed toward the impression that maybe Ex Machina doesn’t know where it’s going after all, which would bother me less, I think, if I didn’t have the excellent Y: The Last Man series by the same author to compare with. As it is, March to War still delivers on sometimes thought-provoking and always entertaining post-9/11 political content, so I can’t complain very much; and it will only help matters if I lower my future expectations.

In this fourth volume, if you wonder, former superhero and current New York City Mayor Mitchell Hundred must deal with political protests of the war in Iraq and a new terrorist attack on his city, and an annoying radio personality as a framing device for a flashback to the time that he had an archenemy with a surprising and complementary power. So that’s pretty good stuff? Yeah, it is.


So, it’s been too long since I saw this movie, plus also I’m tired of being behind on reviews and also also I am semi-limited in time to type right now? So quick and dirty is what you get. Which is kind of the opposite of the movie itself, in that the plot was gradual and thoughtful in the majority of possible ways. I’d been kind of expecting an actiony movie from the previews, but it was still quite good even despite the breaking of expectations.

The always excellent Don Cheadle portrays an arms dealer and devout Muslim caught up in a raid on an alleged terrorist camp, who is then left with few choices but to join his fortunes to a different, more committed terrorist group as they plan to carry out a reasonably devastating attack on U.S. soil. Only, of course, there is more going on than that. Like I said above, though, the upside to the movie is how thoughtful it is. There are bad guys, but probably a lot fewer than you might think from the plot description. And the primary theme, unsurprisingly, is betrayal. Which makes it a fairly bleak movie, yes, but quite good for all of that. I doubt it’s in the theaters anymore? But you might want to catch it on DVD at least. Like I said: Don Cheadle? Always excellent.

Ultimate Iron Man

To my surprise, the copy of Ultimate Iron Man I found used a few months ago is unlisted at Amazon. I had intended to say that it’s practically unfindable, which probably says more about my perception of Amazon’s ubiquity than of objective reality. Nevertheless, I did find it and read it, and in a continuation of recent comic trends, it’s written by someone who’s far more famous for doing something else, in this case for writing Ender’s Game. So that’s good, right?

I mean, it’s not like it’s bad. I’m not convinced it really matches what’s going on in the rest of the Ultimate universe, which may or may not matter. Instead of a re-envisioned telling of the Iron Man story (as portrayed well but with a lot of room for expansion in the Ultimates books about which I’ve raved so extensively), we’re given a straight origin story, one that has nothing in common with the 1960s version. I shouldn’t ought to complain about that, but the others have drawn so heavily from the well that this stands out. What is worse, though, is that it’s really not all that heroic, neither literally nor in scope. It’s mostly corporate espionage coupled with biological industrial accidents, disguised as a coming-of-age story in which not much age is, er, come of.

Maybe it was kind of bad after all? It just really didn’t go anywhere, the suit felt like a tacked-on afterthought, and then it failed to have an ending. I guess I’d read the sequel if it fell into my lap, but only because I know it won’t be very long, as is the wont of these kinds of books; and because maybe the next bit would have an ending. Still and all, I kind of hope it doesn’t fall into my lap. I could use the time rereading Ender’s Game, for example.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Public Scrutiny

Spider-Man, right? Short review: still awesome.

Slightly longer review: in Public Scrutiny, Peter has to deal with identity theft, romantic troubles, and bullets. I’m having more and more trouble being able to describe why that works so well, when it looks so dumb on the page. There’s just something about this normal, everyday kid who wants to save the world now that he can, except he can never seem to catch a break. I guess that at the same time as you’re rooting for him, you can’t help but feel better about yourself?

I should say that, despite the short review above, this is the weakest volume so far. It’s still better than most of the Ultimate X-Men I’ve read, though, except for a plot hole large enough to drive an armored car through, regarding the web fluid. I guess it would be a spoiler to elaborate? But trust me, it was ridiculous.

Pilgrimage to Hell

Over the past year or more, I have become more and more intrigued by a pair of series by a mythical author, James Axler, that I keep seeing on the shelves at Half-Price Books. The problem is, they run back several years, and of course the first one is never available. Right? Right? Wrong, as it happens! Not only did I find the first one, I found the first one of the older series. Unlikely, and yet I am standing here before you today to swear it is all true. The odds of finding the other first book, or this second book… but still, one takes what one can get.

Pilgrimage to Hell was written in 1986, and except for failing to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, it handled the next dozen years fairly well. And then, of course, nuclear apocalypse provides the stage for our story, a century later. The face of North America is drastically changed via biological and chemical weaponry in the South, dramatically altered weather patterns in the Southwest, nuclear bombs along faultlines having effectively removed the West Coast, and so on. Pretty much every aspect of life is ruled by what guns you’ve been able to maintain, find, or buy. Which is why the Trader and his army are so well-regarded and so feared; he has made a career out of finding hidden caches of weapons, munitions, vehicles, and gasoline that predate the Nuke, and then taking them around and selling them to help people protect themselves from the environment, the mutants (both human and otherwise) and each other.

Of course, despite the sci-fi underpinnings and overtones, at heart it’s one of those men’s adventure type things that spends entirely too much time describing the make and model of a gun being used, the quality and quantity of brains being expelled from an exploded skull, the heft, curvature, and coloring of a pair of breasts. But surprisingly, there’s a pretty well-told tale underneath all that, with Jungian archetypes all over the place. I’m serious: this guy Ryan finds a girl who knows how to get to a utopian promised land beyond the Deathlands, has the Trader as a father figure who (spoiler alert) is not long for this world, and goes through a giant metal door in order to take his first real step along the path to this utopia, but only after defeating a guardian beast who is (and I’m still serious) named Cerberus. So, okay, it’s a hamhanded usage of Campbell’s resonance road-map, but that still leaves a lot of room for being fun and interesting in the parts of the map that aren’t as detailed.

I don’t know if I exactly recommend it, because you probably already know exactly what intersection of enough apocalypse porn and sufficient lack of gun porn is right for you[1]. But for my part, it was a pleasant surprise that leaves me forced to keep on searching for the later volumes.

[1] Please note: as far as the porn porn, except for the lead chick being described in lusting detail, the women are each and all as capable as the men at every turn, so it probably isn’t nearly as bad along the feminist axis as you were expecting, and pretty much unique among books in this category that I’ve read for being so evenly written.