Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Clash of Kings revisited

The truth of the matter is, good reasons or not, I really didn’t review the book very well last time. So I guess this isn’t so much a revisitation as an actual, um, visitation. (But with less ghosts/aliens than that.) So, here’s the thing about A Clash of Kings: the series no longer has shock value. Okay, that is almost certainly not true, but it no longer has shock value based on the paradigm-shattering events of the type seen in the first book of the series. Not to say that shock value is necessarily a benefit in the first place, I just find it impossible to think of the opening salvo to the series without the issue of expectations rearing its head. But in the second book, expectations have finally been set, and it’s time to see what will happen.

And what does happen? War. I suppose the title implies as much? But for my money, it’s some of the truest, grittiest war out there. I don’t mean the battle scenes, although I loved them, particularly the climactic battle of [spoiler elided]. I mean war and its effects on a pre-industrial society. Sure, we are seeing everything that happens through the viewpoints of lord, ladies, knights, or the children of the above, but that doesn’t mean they cannot see and be affected by (physically as well as emotionally) the devastation to the peasantry going on around them. If I had to pick a theme for the book, it would be simply that. War is hell.

I should add that I’m shocked by how very little happened. With very few exceptions, every character arc was advanced incrementally in terms of both geography and growth. None of it was the least bit unimportant, don’t mistake me, I just thought I’d see more. All of this tells me that the third book will be an even bigger deal than I had remembered, so that’s cool. (But seriously, this is a good book; I know it sounds like I’m describing the chess-positioning of some middle/late Wheel of Time books, and that’s not it at all.)

Incidentally, protected spoilers in the comments.

Bridesmaids (2011)

I’m going to show my premise here, as it seems kind of important to the rest of the review. I’ve seen a goodly number of Judd Apatow productions at this point (though, bizarrely, still not the earliest big hits that put him in the spotlight after Freaks and Geeks was so soundly ignored), and while I’ve never felt any solid connection to his male ensemble buddy cast members, I understand that there are apparently wide swathes of the male populace who identify intimately with their particular brand of shenanigans. The upshot is that, having seen Bridesmaids, I am willing to take on faith that this is how some significant segment of the female populace behaves among themselves at times when I can’t see it happening.

And see, that is anthropologically interesting if it’s even partially true, because I have no [moral] way of observing how women might tend to behave when men are not around. And Hollywood is notoriously bad at giving this kind of thing any airtime.[1] So, until told that nobody knows any people like this, I’m going to assume it’s probably somewhat valid, and therefore the movie is interesting instead of merely funny.

Which, make no mistake, it really is. See, Annie’s life is a mess. She hasn’t figured out relationships, the economy has destroyed her small business dreams, and for whatever reason, she really doesn’t seem to have many friends. And right when she hasn’t yet acknowledged much of this, much less come to terms with it, her best friend has gotten engaged and named her maid of honor. Only, the rest of the bridesmaids are Lillian’s friends, and therefore strangers to Annie. Plus, the rich and pretty one seems to be replacing Annie as Lillian’s best friend, which is exactly the kind of shit up with which she will not put. Escalating tensions plus a series of unfortunate events bring Annie’s life to a crisis point, after which… I guess this being a comedy, saying “nothing may ever be the same!” is a little over-dramatic? But even though I never stopped laughing, the emotional tension was very real, a feat which impresses me separately from the mostly high comedic quality. Also, it has that not-as-weird guy from The IT Crowd in it. I approve of him! (And his show, for that matter.)

Anyway, don’t go see it for the anthropology, even though I’d be intrigued to see other people’s reactions. Do go see it because it’s funny.

[1] There’s even a term for that, which I know I’ve mentioned here before.

Super 8

So, the thing about Super 8 is that you’re not really allowed to talk about it. There are these kids making a movie in 1979, as you do when you are kids and have a video camera and a friend who wants to make movies and video games haven’t been invented yet. And while they are at the train station filming a scene, they accidentally witness a pretty huge train wreck. All of this is in the teaser trailer from like 18 months ago, right? Anyway, after the wreck, things get mysterious, and that’s all I’m going to say.

What I suppose I am allowed to talk about, though, is the reactions it has been getting. I’ve seen people say that it implies there used to be magic in the world, but you have to go back in time to get it because now things are way too mundane for a big adventure. I have a little bit of sympathy for this, I do. Because I’ve thought to myself that if I had been older in the ’70s, I might have been one of those people making a Chainsaw or an Evil Dead, so I’m already a little predisposed to see the ordinary, everyday magic of widened possibilities in that era moreso than in this one, where you have to be slick and polished to even get any word of mouth going. (That’s not true, of course, but most of what I’ve seen for which that wasn’t true was just terrible. And clearly it wasn’t always thus.) But when I watch this movie, I don’t see anyone saying the magic has gone out of the world. I see someone saying, this is what the world was like when I was a kid. Of course, I also notice the freedom of movement and association those kids have versus what I expect kids today to have, and I wonder. They’re in a small town, and maybe things haven’t changed all that much? But if things have changed, we’re the adults now, deciding what kids of that age are doing, and if the magic of 30 years ago is absent these days, there’s really only us to blame for it. But for now, I think it’s mostly a difference of place than time, and that the young writers and directors of today will still be finding magic in their own childhoods as we near the middle of the century.

On a more technical level, I’ve also heard people make comparisons to Goonies or Gremlins. While those are both fine movies, I didn’t tweak to either comparison myself, except at the most superficial level. No, what it immediately made me think of, and I never found myself disagreeing later, was a sweeping Stephen King small-town epic, along the lines of It or Under the Dome. Only, presented on the screen far better than any of those have ever been. You may be aware that’s pretty high praise.


What’s that, you say? You want to see a really, really weird movie? Let me recommend Audition, in which an aging Japanese widower mocks up a TV show in order to get girls in to audition for one of the parts, when in reality they are auditioning to be his new girlfriend. And… well, the thing is, anything beyond the premise is a spoiler, including honestly the ways in which I have categorized the type of movie. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure we both know you aren’t gonna go see this, so I am obligated to make this a conversation by elaborating. If you are in fact planning to see it, therefore, please disregard anything below this paragraph. (Oh, and my short answer is that it is worth seeing, I’m not trying to trick you over here.)

So, there are a number of open debate topics around the way the movie played out. First, there’s the widower guy. His whole plan sounds really damn creepy in a one-line sentence, no denying. And he is clearly entrenched in what is apparently Japan’s paternalistic relationship culture. But I couldn’t bring myself to look too unfavorably upon him, because despite his wealthy-version-of-a-stalker means, his heart really did seem to be in the right place. So I wonder if I’m taking that all wrong[1], and one of the points of the movie is that he did in fact deserve… well, okay, that’s too much spoiler even for me.

And then there’s our star auditioner, about whom… well, she is in fact my biggest open question. The only solid hints of her history we get seem to be from the perspective of someone else’s hallucination, so she is by and large a complete cipher to me. Does she believe herself wronged by, well, various people? Has she been extensively wronged in the recent and/or distant past? Is she simply insane? Is it a hefty combination of all of the above? Perhaps it’s okay that I don’t know, and perhaps, as per my footnote below, she plays a role instead of a character. I hope not, as it’s the same trap that her role is being used to punish, if so; just a different angle on it.

Anyway… by and large, the thought exercise presented here was better than the movie itself. Probably this is because it bucked my expectations via its near glacial pacing, and for no other reason directly related to the plotting or acting. But even if I’m objectively right, I will never call a movie that put this much contemplation into my brain anything less than good.

[1] For one thing, I started to say that there’s no counter-example in the film of someone interacting with the opposite sex on more equal footing[2], but then I remembered that his son seems to do fine. And while I will be the first to take notice of how meeting people only gets harder as time passes, there are still reasons to believe his counter-example is central to the themes of the film.
[2] Heh.

Green Lantern

Going into Green Lantern, I knew very few things about the character. He does stuff in space, and he can do anything at all with his magic ring, unless what he is opposing is yellow, in which case he’s completely powerless. (DC, you know, about which I know little enough except for their very majorest characters.) My point is: yellow? Really? High budget effects or not, I wasn’t very hopeful. Yellow.

I’m not sure, but I think that may have been the movie’s saving grace. It had a lot of “gee, whiz” coolness going for it, don’t get me wrong, but the plot was really quite predictable, and the origin story fell flat for me when they spent half the movie establishing that Hal Jordan isn’t reliable and needs to grow up to realize his potential, and then had the turn-around occur on a dime for the flimsiest of reasons. So while I can’t say that it was one of the great comic book movies, it easily surpassed my tragically low expectations.

I mean, yellow!? I’m not saying yellow lameness was absent from the movie, but either they fixed whatever made it especially horrible in the comic, or else I’ve had a misguided notion of how things worked all these years. Either way, really. What’s important is nobody painted a baseball bat yellow to defeat the otherwise cosmically powerful good guy.

X-Men: First Class

MV5BMTg5OTMxNzk4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk1MjAwNQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_Do you know what is embarrassing? When you get about halfway through a review and then realize you forgot one that should have come first. And it’s all the worse in this specific case, because you-the-reader will now inevitably think that my forgetting is a knock against X-Men: First Class rather than a reflection of the truly massive amount of overtime that is happening to me and the correlatively massive lack of sleep that is also happening to me. But my point is, while I only finished that book last night, I saw the X-Men movie on Saturday, aka 40 hours of work ago. And you know, I liked it.

The tricky part is figuring out how to say why I liked it. I’ve seen several one-line reviews, some positive, some negative, some thoroughly tangential, and every single one of them is correct. January Jones either made no attempt to inhabit the character of Emma Frost, was incapable, or the character was flatly written[1]. Some of the mutant powers are really pretty stupid. That was unquestionably the funniest f-bomb in superhero history. And this was very likely the best X-Men movie, or at worst tied with the one about Weapon X. If you can ignore the fact that the villain and his Hellfire Club failed to ever really make it clear what was the underlying purpose behind their efforts to drive Kennedy and Kruschev to World War III, the spectacle of the thing alone will carry you through most of the movie. And when you are able to add to that the interrelationships between the characters who are not quite yet Professor X and Magneto and Mystique, and especially the tragic relationship between humans and mutants that has led to some of Marvel’s best collective writing over the decades, I guess you’ll be able to see why it is so easy for me to say I liked it.

[1] I haven’t gotten to Emma Frost in Marvel continuity, and in the Ultimate continuity, like in this movie, the character is too much of a cipher, relying on what people “already know” about her to flesh out the missing pieces. (Or January Jones was indeed terrible. Beats me!) My point, anyway, is that I have no way of knowing the cause; maybe Emma Frost is just a terrible character and that’s why nobody seems to be able to make me get it, instead?

A Game of Thrones revisited

thrones22I know it looks like I decided to read a book because a TV show about it was on.[1] And, okay, that turns out to be minimally, tangentially accurate. Really, I was just going to start three or four books in to get myself more or less ready for the new book in July. But it turns out that it’s been five to six years since I’ve ready any of these, and after one of my friends started reading and discussing with me based on the strength of the show and I realized I had forgotten quite a lot, I decided to enh, screw it, and go ahead and pick up the whole thing. (Sadly, at this rate I will be a few weeks late for book five.)

All of that said, I don’t know how much I have to add to A Game of Thrones over my previous review. What has mainly struck me about this book is that in the midst of so much impending doom and so many horrible acts, there is really a lot of nobility. Any scene that contains the intersection of Jon Snow and a sword, for example. That, and that it’s well-written. My complaint about the prose from last time really does vanish the moment I’m not reading it aloud. Which is fine; not everything can be created solely for its rhythms. And contrary to previous unreviewed complaints I and others have made, each reread brings me more and more to terms with the fact that there just aren’t really any frozen zombies in this book, at least not relative to the promise of the prologue. I would recommend it unreservedly if there was nothing but wildlings and mammoths beyond the Wall, which just makes any zombie sightings delicious desserts atop an excellent meal.

Oh, and one other things that cannot be said often enough: fuck Gregor Clegane, right in the ear. Preferably, with Ice.

[1] Not incidentally, said TV show, widely not known as Article-less Game of Thrones, is really quite good. I think they are poised to make one very large mistake in the midst of a host of brilliant casting and editing choices, and even though said mistake is large if it happens[2], the fact that there’s only one is pretty impressive.
[2] It’s not too late!

The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II is the perfect sequel, in that the exact same movie was made for a second time. Everything I liked about The Hangover, I liked here too. It’s not that I like humor based on other people’s discomfort. I do sometimes, but to a pretty limited degree. What I really like is humor based on situations that are spiraling out of control. And if waking up in a room in Bangkok with no memory of the previous night, a severed finger, a missing wedding party member, and a stray monkey isn’t out of control, not many things would be.

Still, after that, the untangling what actually happened and trying to make sure the wedding goes off and finding all kinds of hilariously horrible situations along the way, like I said, same movie. So there’s hardly anything to add. I just dig the genre, is all. (And I hope that I never have anyone like Zack Galifianakis’ character in my life, ever. I like the idea of inexplicable, out of control adventures in my life, I do. I just want them to be accidental. And not involve frozen mountain passes or blood-thirsty, one-eyed warlords. Already covered those.)