Monthly Archives: March 2011

Powers: Supergroup

Superficially, the fourth volume of the Powers series appears to have borrowed heavily from the Fantastic Four mythos. Sure, the government-backed group is named FG-3 and has only the three members such a name would imply, but the long history between its members, their popularity, the wealth and merchandising, the times when the team is in some kind of interpersonal crisis? All quite familiar. The good news is that the similarities really do fall apart once the plot of Supergroup has proceeded beyond the surface. Down there in the muck, the story is chock full of dark conspiracy, several stripes of bravery, and some pretty big changes to the series’ dynamics, all while inching closer to the as-yet unrevealed underlying truths of the Powers world.

Which is a good thing: only four books in, and already most of the recognizable secondary characters have bitten it. Either Bendis intended to show a world in crisis all along, and this is a good way to make his character realize it and start working towards the solution, or else this kind of change is the only way to slow down the grinding wheel of destruction and give us a chance for alternative storylines. I think I prefer the former but expect the latter, since there are quite a few of these books left. But at least my interest in them is renewed by this solid entry, so, we’ll see!

The Wise Man’s Fear

51tfhkACppLAfter what has perhaps been an unreasonably long time, the first of two sequels to The Name of the Wind came out earlier this month. It’s neither the longest I’ve waited for a sequel nor the most excited I’ve been for one to come out, but for a second book in a series and/or a second book ever, it is both of these things. And then, over the several weeks I took reading it, not to mention the several internet-famous people who had advanced reading copies, really a lot of people have gushed extensively about how good of a book it is, even better than the original.

All of which has conspired to make me nervous about my review of The Wise Man’s Fear. As expected, it continues the infamous Kvothe’s recounting of his life story to the biographer who had come in search of him, a story that contains magic, growing fame, bandits, faeries, revenge, chases, escapes, and quite possibly true love. And the thing is, on the one hand, I thought it was a fantastic story, with all kinds of internal and external twists, interesting and reasonable character development, and a storyline that, while just slightly uneven, is all the more believable for that; I was never bored, but neither was I ever rolling my eyes at the sense of it being a story rather than a man’s life. Kvothe himself has grown just slightly unlikeable, a sense I never got from the first book. But I don’t mind, because the bravery of the choice has paid off, and Kvothe-as-narrator seems slightly more reliable for showing his worse moments to us.

For all of that, there’s the other hand, where I didn’t find it to be a better book than the original, nor did I find Rothfuss’ prose to be as revelatory. Since I find both to be every bit as good as before, that seems like plenty enough praise in itself, and more than I’m used to, at least among the rarefied air of very good initial attempts. All the same, when I compare this review to the several others I’ve seen, I feel like I’m selling the book way too short. Maybe everyone else is like me, and the fact that a second volume is as good as a great first one is so unusual that it feels like it’s even better just by not having the expected drop-off in quality.

Battle: Los Angeles

I went into Battle: LA only really knowing two things. 1) It was going to be an alien invasion movie, somewhere in the range between Independence Day and Skyline. 2) Michelle Rodriguez has never in the history of cinema survived to the end of a speculative fiction movie. (Well, okay, and 2a), Michelle Rodriguez is in this particular example of cinema.) I didn’t really need to know any more than that, since, y’know, if aliens invade, things will explode, and that pretty much is enough to satisfy me on the time-and-money aspects of things.

I feel obligated to say a little more than that to you, though, not least because I already know of at least one person who would have benefited from altered expectations. The main thing I didn’t know that maybe would have helped is that it’s unlike Independence Day or Skyline in important ways. Where ID4 was a nation-spanning inspirational take on the concept and Skyline was a giant, overflowing sack of crap, this one owes more of its existence to Black Hawk Down. Gritty, hard-bitten marines have been sent to rescue civilians ahead of a massive bombing run, with only the faintest idea of what they’re up against, and the situation is portrayed pretty realistically, which is to say, with a great deal of grimness and doom in the air. But also aliens, so, y’know, that is probably easier to deal with than local insurgents. At least, it was for me, the viewer.

Couple of random thoughts to close with. The first is, if such an invasion did occur, on a rapid timeline? We’d be so boned, what with our military forces scattered all over the world. I guess that’s what happens when your nation is the most powerful one around and hasn’t faced a threat on its soil in 150 years. I’m glad the movie wasn’t about that, as it would have been a lot more boring, but I couldn’t help thinking it. The second is potentially a spoiler, depending on your viewpoint. I think not, but now you’re warned. Anyway, the second one is that I did have a brief moment of chilly fear, when one of the invaders was dragging an injured fellow out of the line of fire. These aren’t Star Trek humanoids with bumpy heads to distinguish them from us, not by a long shot, and it made the fight a whole lot more real to me, very suddenly, when the bad guys — however… well, there’s a reason why the best word in my lexicon right now is “alien”, and however unprovoked their villainy — have friends and families and care about each other too.

Take Me Home Tonight

Sometimes, I think a movie gets made mainly for the soundtrack. You could make a case that Forrest Gump is such a movie, honestly, though of course it has other charms. And similarly, I don’t really mean anything derogatory about the movie attached to the soundtrack when I say that about Take Me Home Tonight.[1] But they did just make a really big deal out of all the songs of the ’80s they were able to cram in there. As for the movie itself, well, for the most part, you’ve seen one teen sex / coming-of-age comedy, you’ve seen them all. Will Topher Grace manage to get the girl while learning something valuable about himself before the events of this crazy night are through? Will his sidekick have zany unrelated adventures that push the limit a lot further than anything the main character and his chick[2] do, because their centrality to the plot makes them somehow more pure to the audience?

Though I did find it interesting that they used the  (anachronistic?) Gen-X and -Y trope of children never managing to leave home. Maybe kids in the late ’80s were already doing that? But it sure wasn’t getting portrayed yet, so it was noticeable and odd and at the same time clearly (to me) an attempt to make modern viewers of the same age able to relate. Which, while not precisely a revelatory moment in cinema is at least a slight variation from my original claim that you’ve seen them all, right? Plus also, I’m pretty sure that Anna Faris comes-of-age during her 25% of the plot, so that’s cool, even if nobody can think of another example for me!

Oh, and additional things to say real quick, I strongly approved of proto-goth and barely recognizable Michelle Trachtenberg, and strongly disapproved of the anti-gravity bangs sported by some 60% of the female cast. Remind me why that happened, again? I just don’t get it.

[1] Bizarrely, I don’t remember that particular song ever getting played. I wonder what that means?
[2] There should be more coming-of-age comedies where the chick is the main character. Are there any? Do chicks not come-of-age?[3] I have seen at least a couple of sex comedies where the chick is the main character, though I can’t remember what right now.
[3] Obviously they come of age. The hyphens represent the fact that I may be thinking of something that is peculiarly male and 20th/21st Century American and is not therefore broadly applicable, and hence the lack elsewhere.

The Roommate

The Roommate was one of those movies where you absolutely knew what you were going to get, right? Sure, there are all kinds of thriller sub-genres, but once you start narrowing down, the plot is going to start getting predictable. If you’re in an obsession thriller, such as Fatal Attraction, and you see a small fuzzy animal somewhere around the main character? Prepare to cringe. And if you’re in a lesbian obsession thriller[1], such as Single White Female, and you see a boyfriend somewhere around the main character? Prepare to cringe about that too, although probably not in the same way. Because, seriously, and with all due respect to Steven Weber, but I feel worse about the bunny.

Not that knowing what you’ll get is a bad thing. Sometimes, it lets you take the time to appreciate the performances all the more when the plot is devoid of surprises. Take our obsessor, Leighton Meester. You might appreciate the dead stare she affects when she is angry, but that’s nothing half as creepy as the bloom of hope in her eyes every time she thinks she’s done something that this time will finally, finally get the obsessee to understand that she’s been right all along and this really is the way things are meant to have been. Of course, sometimes knowing what you’re getting leaves you with the time to ask too many questions, too. It’s always an interesting thought exercise to determine how the police will react to these events. Will there be enough witnesses for her to feel comfortable explaining what happened? Must she run away, her life forever shadowed by the tragedy even though she won? And this type of movie never addresses those questions, so if it leaves you with the time to ask them, and you can’t come up with satisfactory answers? Well, I at least think that’s a bad sign. Probably great numbers of people won’t ever mind, though.

That’s cool, I’m sure I’m wrong sometimes too, so no reason to beat them up about it.

[1] I hesitate to narrow the field in that way. It’s not that the characters in obsession thrillers necessarily want sexual relationships with the objects of their obsession, and it’s certainly not like that is the prescribed way for the obsession to start. It’s just that once the obsession exists, there is always always a sexual element to it.

Drive Angry 3D

Remember that time when Nic Cage gave up the idea of having a serious film career and just started making drive-in flicks? I guess from one direction people might be guessing any year out of the last five, and from the other, people will insist it hasn’t happened. For my part, I definitely hope my memory is correct and would point to the current year as the bearer of that happy event. Mind you, I haven’t seen Season of the Witch yet, but surely I will? And I don’t need to, to realize it is probably even more B-grade than that fantastic Drive Angry, which I have seen.

Thumbnailing it, our Mr. Cage breaks out of Hell to chase down the man who kidnapped his granddaughter, accompanied by muscle car enthusiast Amber Heard (who you won’t quite remember as having one of the six speaking roles in Zombieland) and pursued by accountant William Fichtner (who I bet has been in some movie I reviewed, but right now I only remember him from mid-decade television). But aside from the car chases and explosions and various gunplay, I can describe a single scene which will make it entirely clear what kind of movie this is.

So there’s John Milton[1], having sex with a waitress (as you do), and a sizable group of satanic cultists break into the motel room to kill him. A several minute gunfight and melee ensues, and when the bloodstains and gunsmoke have settled, Milton has at no point exited said waitress. That? That right there is commitment to the moment.

[1] Nic Cage’s character, for some reason.

Toll the Hounds

One of the very few problems with the Malazan Book of the Fallen is that, like The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the title of the series is kind of a massive spoiler. But since it’s ten books long, and with approximately that many ancillary books published or on the way, I suppose it’s pleasant to at least have an inkling of what you’re getting into. And yet, at no point (well, okay, at very few points) does the series wallow in its bleakness. The death and tragedy serve as contrast for the heights that humankind (well, personkind, as there are lots of non-humans around, and most of them reasonably immortal to boot) can aspire to. Toll the Hounds alone covers camaraderie, duty, leadership, self-sacrifice, and even that old semi-Vulcan saw about the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many.

Okay, and the other big problem I have is the same problem I have with every sizable series; it’s impossible to review after a certain point. Nevermind that he’s not really in this book nor that I have yet to draw in my mind a clear diagram of who is on what side of the war against him, why he among all the unlikeable gods needs to be fought, or even what he actually wants: you don’t even know who the Crippled God is! And, okay, reading over that, it doesn’t sound like I do either, and maybe that’s a valid place to start, when you consider that I’m thinking about this review in terms of an absent character. But I have nowhere to go from there either that doesn’t lead me down the same path of worries about how much is too much to repeat again and again and also where would the spoilers lie?

But, okay, I think the theme of this book is dissolution. It happens literally  during the climax, more than a few times, but that’s not really what I’m talking about; it only serves to reinforce my point. Dissolution of conspiracies, of the bonds of friendship, the decay of skills once proudly held, of family ties, and from several different directions, intent to dissolve the whole of civilization itself. (Obviously that cannot happen in the eighth book of a ten book series[1], though I am impressed by my belief that it could really be the direction the series is going.) And if that sounds bleak, just like the series as a whole does from the title, I will say again that there’s a lot of good happening, and that it is served all the better by the high contrast against the bleakness of a theme celebrating entropy’s inevitable victory.

I’ll say it again, and probably one or two more times after this, but you really ought to read Gardens of the Moon. It’s a good start to a thusfar amazing journey.

[1] Sure, it can happen in the first book of a series of any duration, if the post-apocalyptic is what the goal was all along. But not four-fifths of the way through anything, is my point. Later or earlier, okay.

Unknown (2011)

My favorite show that you’ve never heard of[1] was called Nowhere Man. It aired on UPN in like 1996 or something? It was about a photographer who took the wrong picture, and in between entering and exiting the bathroom at a celebrity event, his entire history is erased. From the internet such as it was then, from public records, from the apparent memories of his family and friends. And the plot was pretty much him finding people who could help in one way or another, piecing together the whys and wherefores of his fate in an attempt to either undo it or at least get revenge by exposing whatever they so desperately wanted hidden. And, okay, the problem that conspiracies always have is how much easier it would be to just cap an ass, especially since it could be done at the same time as he’s being erased, right? But that doesn’t matter, because the concept is way way too cool to nitpick about.

Thusly Unknown, in which Liam Neeson has a four-day coma caused by a taxi wreck, only to discover that he has been completely replaced. Does the biotechnology conference he was scheduled to attend make this a corporate espionage story? Does the Saudi prince backing said conference make it a terrorism story? Does the seemingly airtight proof that both he and the man who has stepped into his shoes simultaneously have make it a psychological identity story? Does the fact that he’s Liam Neeson make it an explosive action story? These are questions with which I was largely uninterested, and that is because of Nowhere Man. Nobody knows who he is except him, and he has to find a way to prove it, right? Then yeah, those other questions don’t matter anymore; I’m in.

[1] There was also Profit on Fox, which aired for three(?) episodes, making it about equivalent to a full season on UPN’s first year of existence, in my estimation. But those two are definitely my favorites that fit the criteria.