Monthly Archives: October 2008

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Crossover

If it seems like ages since I’ve hit the Ultimate Fantastic Four series, that’s because I’ve been trying to get all my other series into balance so I can be on pretty much the same volume number in all three and not have to think as much about where I am in any given one (and with the fourth slot reserved for short term series, if you care). Having gotten back, I was immediately struck again by how very much I hate the current artist. Luckily, the rest of Crossover was pretty good.

Mark Millar has his hands all over Marvel’s Ultimate universe, it seems, and I’ve had extremely positive reactions in some instances as well as pretty negative reactions in others; in this case, I am cautiously optimistic. He helped his case with extreme pandering, admittedly. The book starts off with zombified Marvel superheroes[1], and then it dovetails into a story about the Submariner that seems to be predicated on the idea that he genuinely is as much of a pretentious git as I personally find him to be, thoroughly unlikeable in every way. The only downside is that both stories fly by too quickly to really get involved in. Which, upon reflection, was one of my more minor complaints about the previous volume, also [partially] penned by Millar.

The book wrapped up with a reasonably effective *dun-dun-DUN* moment that might have been more effective still if I had caught the intended reference. On the bright side, it definitely worked for your “new” reader here, which at least partially indicates that their attempts to be accessible to whole new generations are succeeding.

[1] Apparently from an alternate universe largely identical to the modern version of the comics I was reading from the ’60s, back before I got too busy to do so.

The Bonehunters

It’s true, I’ve been reading the same book for the past month. Which, wow, this is not traditionally my way. I guess I’ve been actually that busy, on top of, of course, how very long the book is. And make no mistake, The Bonehunters is yet another extremely long book in Steven Erikson’s extremely long fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Despite the apparent lessons of the ’90s, this is not a warning. For one thing, he has consistently released a new book every year, and now has only two left to complete. For another, this is pretty much better than any of the doorstop series you may be thinking of right now. It feels like it might be objectively better than any of them, but I’m not quite prepared to go that far.

The Bonehunters wraps up a lot of the plotlines from the first two books of the series in order to clear the way for the rapidly approaching confrontation between the Crippled God and those who oppose him. Of course, the sides aren’t as clear as that sounds; there are a lot of people whose side is still unclear or undecided, and many more whose side is unclear to them as characters although not to me as a reader. And sure, that’s part of what makes the series continue to be dense at best and actively confusing in its ever rarer worst moments; but at the same time, it’s one of the series’ greatest strengths. There are almost no unlikable characters! Writers talk about the fact that there are no people who consider themselves to be “the bad guy”, but these are among the only books I’ve read that really manage that self-image over such a large cast, and also among the only books that manage to make almost every character compelling, whether noble or base, ascendant or tragic.

I’ve said before that I want to reread the series because it has been so dense and so long, which together conspire to make me think I’m missing things. And I probably am, but not enough to take away from my exceptional regard for each book as I read it. All that said, though, I found a new reason to want to reread the series: it’s pretty much my favorite story-arc being published today, and maybe period. (I have pretty high regard for a couple of episodic series too, but that really is a different genre entirely, in terms of commitment.)

The Gardens of the Moon. Pick it up. Trust me on this one, even if it seems implausible as you read it. You’ll thank me later.

Max Payne

What I loved about the video game Max Payne, aside from its playability, was the noir element. They played it very straight, enough so to be clear that it was done from love of the genre, but they played it so far over the top that it was parodic and hilarious at the same time.[1] When you get down to it, that’s what makes a good game: something that’s as fun to watch as it is to play.

It’s for that reason that I was excited to see the movie Max Payne. The previews covered all the old territory, enough to make me want to play the game again too.[2] And in the end, I think it was the high expectations that were the failure. The noir was in there, but not nearly enough to suit me. The videogamey elements were mostly good rather than laughable, though there were bits near the end that, um, not so much. And the plot was perfectly serviceable, but rarely moreso.

In short, Detective Max Payne has obsessed over the murder of his wife (and child?) for the past two years, despite any real leads. He’s drifted away from his partner and his wife’s friends, despite their best efforts. But with help from vengeful assassin and (of course) femme fatale Mona Sax, the case is about to break wide open. It won’t cost Max anything much, either. Just his career, the lives of most anyone close to him, and quite possibly his soul.

Honestly, it really was good, if you disregard the inevitable video game moment. But it wasn’t cheesy enough to be awesome in that sense, and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for as a serious flick. Alas.

[1] Kind of like Brust’s treatment of the Three Musketeers series.
[2] I mean, I won’t on a PS2 from seven years ago when I have this many new games floating around, but another sequel would be fantastic. Maybe even an updated remake?

Quarantine (2008)

There is an extent to which horror movies are in a rut. They mostly fall into three types right now: Japanese horror in which ghosts of small children with blank faces, badly maintained hair, and black eyes rush out of closets or wells or otherwise enclosed spaces to destroy your soul; torture films in which reasonless men capture vacationing teens and gradually vivisect them, usually without consequence and with no more than one survivor; and apocalypse horror in which some event has turned the world (or our diseased and dead brethren and sistren) against us. Frequently, these types will borrow tropes back and forth from each other. And of course there are movies coming out that play against these types, such as the Saw films. But the rut is visibly there now, over a decade beyond when Scream first invented the post-modern horror film, pulling the genre back from the brink of irrelevance.

The good news, though, is that the rut is nowhere near played out, and still provides far better quality than at any point since the 1970s.[1] If anything, the cross-pollination between the types is improving things and keeping no one rut from getting all that deep. All of which is the long way around to mentioning that I saw Quarantine last week, I suppose, but the state of the genre is often on my mind as I think about what I have to say in these reviews. It’s undeniable that I’m excited to be seeing so much good quality coming out after I spent the ’90s in a video store wasteland being mocked mercilessly by all the people around me who weren’t able to see the potential I was so certain was there.

But, yeah, Quarantine, which as it turns out snagged tropes from across both aisles, was mostly a cross between the apocalypse type and a less common but very influential type I haven’t got around to mentioning yet, the camera-is-a-character type. Y’know, Blair Witch or Cloverfield. A plucky local-market TV reporter[2] is on overnight assignment in a fire station when a 911 comes in about a woman screaming and otherwise behaving bizarrely in an apartment building. Fire and police are dispatched, with the camera doing ride-along duty, to discover all the inhabitants milling around, confused over the late night and the fuss. And just when they realize that things might be more dire than a mere disoriented elderly woman can account for, they also discover that the entire building has been sealed off, with nobody allowed to enter or exit upon threat of lethal force. And then the phones are jammed. And then, things start to go horribly wrong.

The one downside I should mention is that Quarantine is far more interested in the ride than the destination. This doesn’t really bother me much, because the confusion, sense of betrayal, and mounting-terror-as-character-study of the handful of people who are more than cardboard cutouts are more than enough to keep me happy. And although the movie eventually provides something akin to answers, that move is very cursory and unlikely to satisfy anyone who needs a Reason behind Events.

Anyway, I guess it’s like I said back at the beginning. This is well-trodden ground, and it has nothing much new to offer. But what it offers is certainly entertaining and still manages to pull in enough disparate elements to not feel copied, unlike the bad days of the ’80s that nearly killed the genre in the first place. Although I could wish someone had handed the reporter chick a paper bag at some point, or possibly a calming slap. ‘Cause there are a number of minutes of hyperventilating that are impossible to listen to, regardless of how realistic the action might be. I’m not sure what that number is, and it might vary from person to person. But it is at least two minutes shorter than the number portrayed by this otherwise delightful little film.

[1] Which, okay, sounds unimpressive, but then again movies in general haven’t been around all that long, so calling this the Silver Age of horror to the Golden Age of the ’70s really isn’t such faint praise as it might look at first glance.
[2] Who you hopefully know as Deb Morgan from Dexter.

Eagle Eye

Last week, I watched a show in which a self-aware computer AI spread ominous shadows over a dystopian future. Later, after the Sarah Connor Chronicles was over, I also watched Eagle Eye. No, I’m kidding, Eagle Eye was pretty good, and it knew better than to trod the thematic ground so well covered by the Terminator series. Instead, it split time between tension-filled thriller/action and Big Brother dystopianism, which is subtly different in that Big Brother only craves control, not humanity’s demise.

Into this scenario leaps Shia the Beef, 20-something slacker twin of a talented military intelligence officer who has died in a car crash just days ahead of massive infusions of cash and terrorist paraphernalia, all of which is mistakenly sent to the living twin. And just seconds ahead of the feds, a woman’s voice on the phone starts giving Mr. the Beef instructions that he had best follow, lest he face certain death. Throw in an equally frantic chick under similar constraints, and then: rollercoaster engaged. And honestly, it was pretty darn good. Sure, I had to turn my brain down a little bit and enjoy the ride, but there was only one major plot hole, which is fewer than most action/thrillers, so. If candy is your thing, this will be better than most such offerings.

Sex Drive (2008)

Awesomely, I got to go to another screening yesterday after work. Well, technically, after leaving work early with broken glasses and a giant headache, and more closely after 750ml of 9.0% alcohol in the form of a pretty tasty Belgian, Allegash Tripel Reserve.[1] My point, though, is that movie sneak previews are awesome, even if I mostly only get to go to the ones for comedies; maybe more awesome for that, as I would often skip them if I was paying.

Every preview I’ve seen for Sex Drive has reminded me deeply of John Cusack’s The Sure Thing, enough so that when I saw it was based on the familiarly-titled book All the Way, I just assumed it was the same source material. But that book turns out to be modern and the movie an apparent straight port of it. So I guess not. But still, they look very much alike, y’know?

The plot is probably exactly what you think it is, preview-unseen. Sensitive Everykid drives across the country to meet an internet hottie, accompanied by his worldly evil-angel-on-the-shoulder friend and the unrealistically hot girl-next-door who somehow isn’t surrounded by guys, but who nevertheless only sees the lead character as a friend; plus, unsurprisingly, he has hopeless feelings for her. Hijinx and life lessons ensue! And honestly, there’s not a lot to recommend it above any other movie of this type; it’s funny, and that’s enough. (Also, there is one thing to recommend it above the herd: Seth Green makes a seriously awesome turn as a wise-cracking Amish man. Easily worth the price of a paid admission, much less mine.)

[1] Because my bar is right down the street from the theater. That, my friends, is convenience. (It turns out that I like having a bar, which is a surprise to me, but there it is. I spent most of my time there reading, which possibility may explain the appeal.)

Choke (2008)

I saw Choke last Sunday, and… well, it’s not so much my schedule that has delayed the review as my inability to find anything to say about it. It’s just that it defies description. I mean, I can write down a sentence, and it will be factual; that’s not a problem. It’s that I despair of any ability to really capture the essence of the thing, so that you can judge for yourself if you want to see it or not. I’m pretty sure you should want to, but that’s really beside the point.

Choke is a black comedy about a sex-addicted historical re-enactor who is trying to come to grips with his mother’s failing mental faculties, while pointedly not trying to come to grips with his personality defects; he acknowleges these[1], but revels in them. See, and that’s my point: there’s no way you really know what the movie is about from that description. You don’t know that Victor is potentially a partial clone of… well, I can’t ruin that surprise. You certainly couldn’t guess that it’s at heart a sweet movie that is the biggest cheering section for all of its characters’ happiness, despite how impossible that probably is. You might have a better idea if you want to see the movie now; at least, I hope so. But no way did it come from the description, because that was a tangled, misleading mess, despite being completely accurate in every way. But at least you had fair warning!

[1] Among them is a penchant for intentionally blocking his windpipe with food, in the hopes that the person who does the Heimlich will, in the long run, give him money. Plausibly, this is the source of the title.