Monthly Archives: February 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island is one of those movies that Hollywood (in the collective, generic sense) manages to abuse badly and thereby annoy me.  The previews have been going for at least six months, with the obligatory gap in the middle when they realize that they don’t know when they’ll release it after all, and hadn’t they better wait and find out? But then, after the gap, right back to the same previews as before. Plus, separately, the previews themselves were horrid and revealed to me everything about the movie.[1] Still, good cast led by a good director and in a beautifully dreary setting means that for the bargain price of a free day-ahead sneak preview, I was more than willing to go see just how it turned out, regardless.

And do you know, there was a period in the middle-to-late section of the movie where they actually had me doubting my preview-based conclusions? Ultimately, I found myself correct all over again, just like I’d known from the start, but despite everything, I did not walk out of the theater pissed, nor even mildly annoyed save at myself for getting briefly suckered. Because, the journey really was the worthier part, this time around. Turns out that, just as with rewatching an old favorite, knowing the outcome doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the ride. Oh, and speaking of engrossing and well-acted psychological thrillers, I’m nearly positive that I recognized at least two interior sets from the incredible Session 9.

[1] Look, if you know what I mean by this, they’ve probably already done the same to you too. If not, just don’t go looking for it, I guess?

Frozen (2010)

There’s this movie, Frozen, that you’ve never heard of. I had never heard of it before it showed up on my list of ‘movies to see on a Wednesday afternoon’ last week. And even though I found the idea of college kids trapped on a ski-lift during a winter storm to be extremely compelling, pretty much nobody else did, at least by appearances; I’m pretty sure it won’t even be showing in area theaters anymore by tomorrow. What’s cool, though, is that for movies that nobody much has heard about, I get to be the representative of the film in a way that my review of, say, Avatar holds no comparison to. And it’s not like this is uncommon for me; I watch a fair number of movies that are outside the mainstream. But only every once in a while do I see a movie that people maybe haven’t heard of, but should still actually watch.

Except, I’ve already told you most of what you need to know about Frozen, and where does that really leave me? I mean, the plot is kind of predictable. Of course they’ll get trapped on the ski lift in some unlikely way. That’s the premise! And of course they’ll have moments of rescue that are dashed away. That’s the genre. But eventually the reality of the situation sets in[1], and then you have a compelling glimpse at physical danger, emotional collapse, and the ways that people react in the face of death. And even before that reality hits, the film is at times brilliantly shot. I shouldn’t spoil the scene I’m thinking of, as it’s quite affecting. But, like the rest of the movie, it really drives home the tagline, which I will repeat here instead of relegating it to mouseover text as usual: “No one knows you’re up there.” In a way, that simple fact is more terrifying than all the snowstorms, fifty foot drops, and razor-sharp cables in the world.

[1] Interestingly, at least to me, I think this happens for the audience before it happens for the characters. Or maybe it is just my personal experience with a superficially similar situation that made me sensitive to it.

The Walking Dead: Fear the Hunters

I hope the Walking Dead series is nearing its conclusion. I hope this because I’m getting a little bit tired of trying to figure out who is who, as the characters get more haggard and similar and there’s no color palette to tell them apart with. I hope this because, as of Fear the Hunters, the majority of characters have finally made it into survival mode, and I no longer have that much concern about whether or not they’ll be okay, but only about in what manner they will succeed. Most of all, I hope it because I fear that Kirkman is running out of new stories to tell. The push-and-pull between survival at any cost and the dignity of retaining human goodness? Rick’s[1] band of traveling survivors versus unseen and unknown human horrors to match and surpass anything that zombies could possibly dish out? I have, as they say, both been there and done that. And the thing I really hope is that I don’t get to a point where the stories bore me. It hasn’t happened yet, but without some kind of fundamental shift (or else that conclusion), I can smell it on the wind.

[1] Although, here’s a twist. I don’t think the book addresses last names anymore, and I know I don’t recall the main character’s. Between the lines and in the silences, it is nice to know that the story still has progression, even if it’s starting to feel played out on the surface.

Ultimate Iron Man II

One of two things happened between my readings of Ultimate Iron Man and Ultimate Iron Man II. Either the writing got a lot better, or I relaxed about the continuity weirdness and accepted that this whole prequel thing could be true after all without breaking anything that has happened later in Tony Stark’s timeline. Regardless, the upshot is that I got to enjoy this book lots more, and yay for that! Despite being labeled and numbered as a new series, it picks up right where the last one left off; Tony is using his new experimental armor to fight against bad guys and his father is in jail, framed for the murder of a rival arms manufacturer. The story adds in a few new twists that work well as prequel fodder, including government agents who want Tony’s new “robot” and continued visits to the pre-Richards Baxter Building. But mostly it’s a straightforward murder mystery set at the highest levels of corporate espionage and global terrorism. The man inside the Iron Man suit may be far more powerful than I’m comfortable with, but his story is always funny and never boring, so I can cut a little slack on my complaints this time.

Card has still come nowhere near a connection point between this ongoing origin story and the Tony Stark that joined the Ultimates way back in the second issue of that comic, and I suppose now that the Ultimate series has ended and been rebranded, perhaps he never will. Despite my previous complaints, I have to be a little disappointed by that, as the characters were really starting to pop. At least I’ve got something like 40+ years of main sequence Marvel continuity to read, so I don’t have to feel too sad about it.

Ultimate Power

I have thought about mentioning for a few books now as it kept getting coming up (but then ultimately never did so) that things have changed within S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that is mostly concerned with terrorism, superheroes and supervillains, and the management thereof. Good old Nick Fury, one-eyed ass-kicker extraordinaire, based on Samuel L. Jackson for the appropriate level of badassery right out the gate, has gone missing and is no longer in charge of the Ultimates or much of anything else. And people keep talking about how weird it is that he’s missing and wondering if he’ll ever come back. I had been expecting something along the lines of Ultimate Power to come along and explain this to me, and not only was I right, but it turns out I should have actually opened it earlier in my readthrough; who knew it came out in a hardback version first? (Must definitely re-order these books correctly, once I finally have the missing X-Men volumes back.)

Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is working on a promise to change his friend the Thing back to human form, because being a giant rock creature is just not very pleasant for some people, even when they’re stronger than just about everyone and practically indestructible. As part of that project, he sends a handful of probes into several parallel dimensions[1] in search of scientists willing to assist him, against Nick Fury’s explicit orders. Naturally, moments later[2], angry superheros from one of these other dimensions[3] appear to arrest Reed, because his probe nearly destroyed their planet. Being a stand-up guy, he agrees to be arrested and tried; being a master tactician with Marine sensibilities, Fury immediately mounts a rescue operation including pretty much every good character in the Marvel universe. And then, you know, things explode or generally go down in strange ways.

The story was pretty okay if you can get past only being able to follow the two-thirds of it that involved Ultimate characters. But it had massive continuity problems. Because, all the people wondering where Nick Fury has gotten to, in other books? They were in this book to see. Also, there’s a completely inexplicable appearance by a character who, last I knew of, should not have been available for this particular event. But writers sometimes do things because they’ll look cool without worrying about whether it makes much sense. And this did look cool.

[1] Not unlike the N-Zone that he was running teleportation tests through when he accidentally created his group’s superpowers in the first place.
[2] Probably, it took longer? Comics as a medium can fail to properly express the passage of time.
[3] I took a little while to catch up here, as none of these characters was familiar. Apparently, they are meant to be a crossover from a different current Marvel series about the Supreme universe, in which all the heroes are ripped off from DC. It is not clear to me why this would be compelling, but there you go.

The Walls of Air

At an unreasonably slow rate, I have gotten to the second book of the Darwath trilogy, The Walls of Air. And as a chapter in that series, it was pretty good! Characters and relationships developed, plot advanced, the world and its history gained a little more clarity. All the things you would want out of an ongoing story. It’s just that, as a book alone, it had issues. (This right here is where my penchant for staying away from reading groups of books all in a row meets with occasional failure.)

Our romantically entangled heroes split into two groups, with wizards Ingold and Rudy off to seek the assistance[1] of the wizard school at Quo, whose residents may have the knowledge and/or power to fight the Dark, while city guard and former grad student[2] Gil and widowed Queen Minalde stay behind with the last vestiges of the kingdom of Darwath at the ancient Keep of Renweth, renowned for being able to keep the Dark Ones out. Rudy’s arc is both the slowest and the most necessary, as by the end of the book, it actually seems like he might have grown into a useful element in the story, instead of being only an observer to Ingold’s awesomeness. Gil’s arc deals with the acquisition of knowledge, which she does with the same single-minded determination she throws into her guard duties. Minalde’s arc is about growing into leadership and Ingold’s arc is about learning to rely on people who are not himself. Like every middle book of every trilogy, things seem far worse by the end than they did at the beginning, but glimmers of new hope are still out there.

The problem I had, I think, was the pacing. I feel like there were maybe 100 pages of text devoted to plot, and not that much more devoted to character development. Rudy grew a lot, as I said, and Minalde grew a little, but Ingold’s changes were incremental at best (a problem with someone who starts off so strong) and Gil didn’t particularly change at all. Then again, she hardly needed to. My point, I guess, is that when the plot status is hardly different at the end of the book than where it started, and only one character has undergone major changes? It feels like things could probably have been tightened up. Still, I should say that this was something I thought about but rarely during the course of the book; it’s only that I have so little to say while reflecting on it now, and I think that this pacing issue is the reason.

[1] Should I back up a step and mention that society is collapsing because underground-dwelling, shape-changing, light-averse beings known as Dark Ones have burst forth from beneath major cities to mostly slaughter humankind? Consider it mentioned!
[2] Should I also mention that Rudy and Gil[3] are from California, brought by Ingold when he was saving the royal heir during the first modern attack by the Dark, last book? I guess I already have, in a way.
[3] Jill? Gill? I wish I had any idea how that’s meant to be pronounced!

Beautiful Katamari

I really don’t know how to review Beautiful Katamari in a way that would be any different from my original review of Katamari Damacy. It has equivalent zaniness, equivalent gameplay, an equivalent plot, a different but equivalent J-Pop soundtrack, significantly fewer Lego people observing the zaniness, and a higher number of goals than to merely make the biggest Katamari possible. But for the most part, they made exactly the same game as they have done over and over again since the original was released, in the tradition of the best slasher horror movies. And that’s all I have to say about that.


As horror movie season dawns upon us, I find myself with fewer exciting choices than I’ve recently grown accustomed to. (But definitely not none! The upcoming Crazies looks like it could be good enough to make up for some of this lack. Nothing will make up for missing Horrorfest this year, but when they don’t actually have a screen anywhere within 200 miles, I pretty much have to give up. I’ll host my own Horrorfest weekend once the DVDs appear, I suppose, and my concessions will be cheaper and have a broader variety! Also, alcohol.) One of these less exciting choices, to forcibly drag myself back on point, was the yet-another-vampire-movie Daybreakers. Luckily, it turns out that I misjudged it based on the previews, and it was a vampire movie in the same way Night of the Living Dead is a zombie movie: as window dressing for the plot.

Ten years after a fluid-transmitted vampire virus was unleashed upon humanity[1], dystopic societal collapse is the order of the day. Humans are nearly extinct and the lack of food supply means that vampires are already starting to follow, although their method is less pleasant than simply being dead. In the midst of this three-way social (and sometimes more literal) war between privileged vampires, their starving and grotesquely transformed underclass, and the final, hunted humans, Ethan Hawke is an ethical scientist in search of a blood substitute that can save his people and not incidentally the humans as well. The plot has twists and turns and is basically interesting, but it’s overshadowed by the sociology of the vampirism and its ethical implications. The disease started accidentally, and I’m sure some people were converted accidentally in the first days. But it eventually turned into the kind of thing that some people were doing by choice, and that some people were forcing on their friends and relatives rather than watch them gradually change from dominant species to sole food source of the new dominant species. And, meanwhile, as that food source grew scarcer and scarcer through the combination of death and transformation from food to hungry mouth, there was the new sociology of class warfare, as vampires watched themselves slowly being doomed to the same violent and hideous fate as the too-poor-to-buy-blood vampires they had ’til now been shunning.

It’s a rich cornucopia of discussion fodder: is it evil to choose immortality[3] knowing that it will be at the expense of people who did not so choose? How about once enough people are choosing it that you’re nearly certain to be killed as food, instead of only maybe? Would you consider saving someone against their will? Would you compare it to rape instead? How much would you help the poor if not helping them meant they turned into ravening monsters that tried to kill you a lot? Would you death penalize them despite their lack of complicity in these attacks? And all that stuff is just the background. So you can see why the actual storyline would kind of pale by comparison. Honestly, the only part of the movie I didn’t like that much was when, past the climactic revelations, it turned into a bloody horror film for the last five minutes or so. It was simply too much of a let down on what had up to that point been an incredibly rich premise.

[1] You can probably work out just exactly how it is transmitted, if you have ever been aware of any vampire lore.[2]
[2] If you have not, 1995 me is rolling his eyes at you, while 2010 me is ever-so-slightly jealous.
[3] This leaves aside the question of whether there was ever immortality to be had. The disease had only existed for ten years, and although people did not age anymore during that period, it’s not a nearly large enough sample period to extrapolate from, says me.