Monthly Archives: September 2011

Marvel Zombies Return

Remember how the Marvel Zombies series used to be about A-lister characters with cosmic powers, devouring every scrap of food in their reality from one end of the universe to the other and back again? Acknowledging that this was pretty cool, someone decided to get a whole bunch of authors together and write a sequel to that book, so we could find out what happened to them all when they got tricked into another dimension, safely out of the way of the very few survivors of their home plane.

As with most of the series, Marvel Zombies Return is, if not great, absolutely good enough. In some ways, it may have been the most satisfying entry in the series to date. It certainly had the funniest single scene I’ve ever read in the series, and it answered, if not the driving question I’ve had all along[1], at least another very important question concerning the genesis of The Hunger. Plus, you know, all manner of intestines are ripped apart, girlfriends are accidentally eaten, and Hank Pyms are mocked for being prime douchebags enough to stand out in a world full of remorseless killing machines. I can dig it.

[1] “What is the nature of The Hunger as a religion?” For various reasons, I don’t expect to ever find out, at this point. That said, there are at least two more books in the continuity that I have yet to read, and maybe closer to two and a half.

Killer Elite

Did you ever see that movie where the spy has a moment of clarity and retires before the job destroys his soul, but then someone (probably his girlfriend, but someone) gets kidnapped to use as leverage against him, so he’s sent off to do one last job, and it’s not a job he wants to do, but dammit, he’s a professional, and anyway, there’s someone counting on him to succeed. Killer Elite is that movie, except the spy is a British Jason Statham[1], there are more antagonists than just the kidnapper[2], and the someone is Robert De Niro instead of a girlfriend. So, you know, if you like that movie, this is a perfectly viable version of it.

[1] Odds are excellent that he is in fact British all the time, not only at this moment. Who can ever know for sure?
[2] Actually, this is a pretty meaningful distinction, and is the main thing that keeps the movie from being one you’ve seen multiple exact copies of before. So, yay that!


star_wars_fate_of_the_jedi_backlash_frontcover_large_uz9CMVYuUc5x3R7While trying to remember the name of this book so I could find a link on Amazon, I determined that the series is almost completed, despite my not even having reached the halfway point. Does this mean I’ll suddenly start reading a lot more Star Wars books? Y’know, probably not, it’s not like anyone talks about them such that I have to avoid spoilers; if anything, I’m the one who’s guilty of them. It’s hard to avoid spoilers in my own reviews, because the continuity is so massive now. When I talk about Ben Skywalker’s brief period as potential apprentice to a Sithlord who happened to be his cousin, you’d be all like, “Wait, what? What Sithlord? What cousin? Since when is there a Skywalker named Ben?” Kind of enormous spoilers for events like 10 books ago, and yet necessary backstory to understand some of his motivations in Backlash, as he and his exiled father[1] try to prevent the Sith apprentice they are following from both returning to her leadership with news of a very powerful Dark Side creature they all encountered in the last book while simultaneously helping to end a long-standing wrong on the planet of Dathomir. Oh, and while laying the groundwork for future romance, I predict!

It’s funny how much this series reminds me of an episodic TV show like Burn Notice, or episodic book series like the Deathlands. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the connective tissue in which we are apparently to learn the Fate of the Jedi, politically as well as spiritually[2], is certainly interesting. And the non-Jedi politics are also a thing about which I… well, okay, I mostly don’t care who’s in charge, and the maneuvering is a little infantile after having just re-read the entire Song of Ice and Fire series to date over the summer, but I still rarely get tired of that kind of fiction. And you can always count on Han and Leia to get up to interesting things, regardless of what the story is notionally going to be about. But after two long series in a row, one with twenty books about extra-galactic invaders and one with nine books about that Sithlord, an episodic series with connective tissue feels a little bit like stepping backwards into the mid ’90s when none of the authors had a plan or any kind of interaction with each other as they stumbled from one event to the next to another one two years in between the first two, in the days after the fall of the Empire.

And don’t get me wrong, they only let pretty good authors write these books now, and they all collaborate extensively, so it’s not like I’ve read an actually bad Star Wars book anytime this decade. It just still feels weird to have so much looser of a plot arc than usual, is all. I find myself hoping for some kind of societal collapse, which I know is not okay, because billions of sentient beings would die or fall upon dire straits. Nevertheless, the wild and woolly days of the Empire, with scattered, ineffective Jedi and a struggle against overwhelming odds were a lot more fun than these struggles to maintain the status quo. Whatever the Jedi used to be in the Old Republic, they aren’t that anymore. Too many people remember too many failures, and as long as books keep being written in this time period, there’s never going to be a generation of peace during which they come to represent the old days, so forcing them to weather scandal after emergency just makes them look more and more small and sad, and I’d rather see roaming Jedi deciding what’s best for each situation on an individual basis than an Order that is as decayed today as the Senate was during the last days of Chancellor Valorum’s reign.

Huh. This is not the review I expected to write.

[1] Oh, you know. Don’t pretend.
[2] You may recall that a) they are on the outs with the current government after the big Sith thing I mentioned earlier and that b) some of them are going crazy, with virtually no rhyme or reason and certainly with no cure.

Drive (2011)

Drive is going to fill one and possibly two niches this year. It will be the best movie that many people never bother to see, and it will also be the best movie that many people saw accidentally, expecting it to be a cheap Transporter knock-off. In either case, it will almost certainly be underappreciated. There’s this guy, played by Ryan Gosling, who seems to be drifting through life at a huge remove from everyone else. While they are hiring him to be a getaway driver, or clumsily mentoring him[1], or paying him for movie stunts, he just seems to observe it all, sometimes with a slightly bemused smile, more often laconic and blank-faced. Which is a pity, because those rare smiles give a window into his inner life that implies more pure joy than most characters convey with reams of dialogue and spontaneous jigs.

But when an accident of geography entangles him in the lives of his pretty, world-saddened neighbor, her son, and her imprisoned husband, well… I don’t want to say much, since you already know that he’ll be in for the drive of his life, or else what a terrible name for a movie. I guess it’s like this. If that sounds like a set-up for the client-of-the-week section of an episode of Burn Notice, it should. But the fallout is a lot less like Michael Westen’s always slick solutions and a lot more like the 1970s era cinema that inspired Quentin Tarantino. But, okay, do you know what Drive is the most like? I hesitate to say this, because it will so easily be construed as less than high praise, but, it reminds me of nothing so much as what someone could have easily written as the plot progression of a mission arc in a modern Grand Theft Auto game. Mostly imprintable anti-hero? Check. Conflicts with cops and other criminals alike as events spiral out of control? Check. Sympathetic characters humanizing the proceedings? Most definitely.

I’m not surprised by the Fresh Air reviewer who said it was the darling of Cannes this year. Movies like this just don’t get made anymore, and lucky us that someone failed to realize it.

[1] Enough good can probably not be said about Bryan Cranston, so I will not try harder than I just have.


You know that movie where everything goes wrong in the worst possible way, and it’s a really funny movie, so you call its genre black comedy? What do you call the genre when that happens, but it’s not even slightly funny, a little bit? Because Bellflower, named for the street on which its events take place, may be one of the grimmest movies I’ve ever seen. (I rule this not a spoiler, even though it’s the kind of movie you should go in knowing as little as possible about, because of how the first minute or so of footage does nothing but show consequences that will be forthcoming.) On an eponymous street somewhere in what is probably the Valley part of Los Angeles, there are these two guys who are building a flamethrower (among other things) in order to be prepared for the inevitable post-apocalyptic future, in which they plan to wander the earth as, if you will, road warriors. And then they make friends with these girls, and then…. yeah, that’s about the point where I have to stop.

Don’t rule it out out of hand just because I said it was extremely grim. It is, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll be thinking about it (not its grimness, but the whole) for a long time after it’s over. Well, that’s not absolutely fair, most of my thoughts have been from a psychological angle, and if you don’t think those thoughts, I guess you possibly won’t be after all? Oh, I will say this one more thing, though: it is definitely not a date movie, regardless of how accurate my “romance” tag is.

Contagion (2011)

MV5BMTY3MDk5MDc3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAyNTg0Ng@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I do not have a whole heck of a lot to say about Contagion, but that is mainly because it is so well-packaged that it does most of its speaking for itself. First, you take a ridiculously powerful cast (well, it’s also extremely large, so I guess the dilution might make it a merely powerful cast, but then again, through the powers of homeopathy, it may instead be the strongest cast imaginable), then you put them into a terrifying script where an unknown disease is running rampant through pretty much the whole world. But it’s not like The Stand, because instead of proceeding to tell a religious story, they tell the story of how the world might really look in such a circumstance. Sure, it wasn’t a horror movie, but it was tense and dramatic all the time. But it was also really damn scary.

Hack/Slash: My First Maniac

Get this: a prequel. Well, okay, those happen all the time I guess? But get this: I didn’t actually buy My First Maniac from Amazon. See, local comic store that buys failed local comics stores was having a massive superhero comics overstock sale, and I went in on 80% off day, where I picked up a couple of the more recent Powers, Kick-Ass in hardcover, not Red Son because I tragically failed to find it, and also a Cable collection from the ’80s that my boss apologized about later because he hadn’t been serious about me getting it. How was I supposed to know?! He’s been reading this stuff way longer than me, yo. Oh, and since all of that was still only like $15, I picked up the newest Hack/Slash volume that I had not known existed, since some online company failed to put it in my gold box or even my daily “you should buy this!” emails. Yay for supporting local businesses, right?

Anyway, Cassandra Hack is back — all the way back, in fact, to her first adventures, before she even went out on her own to hunt supernatural baddies or met up with that cool sweetheart of a deformed guy whose name I cannot currently remember but that possibly starts with a V? See, her mom was the lunch lady, and after having seen her daughter Cassie take too much abuse at the hands of the other kids, said lunch lady started slaughtering the school kids and serving them up in the next day’s lunch line. Which, okay, I’m sure that happens on a more-or-less monthly basis somewhere in the world, but after she got caught and committed a particularly gruesome suicide rather than go to jail, her revenant corpse came back and started slaughtering kids at Cassie’s new school, to protect her all over again. And now that she knows about the world that lies behind the world, it’s time to cowboy up and do something about it.

If, you know, she can just find another example of the genre, and prove that her mother wasn’t just a fluke in existence and ability-to-be-killed-by-her alike, and hold onto her angst hard enough to not get distracted by offers of friendship, and find sufficiently goth-revealing clothing to create a legend with. Spoiler alert: she somehow manages that last one, despite the odds.

Shark Night 3D

When[1] you watched Snakes on a Plane, did you catch yourself thinking, man, this movie is perfect, but I wish it didn’t have one of the coolest people on earth in the lead role, because, you know, that is just way too cool, for this movie. And also, maybe, I don’t care if it’s this specific title, it could Spiders in a Barn or Badgers on an Easement or Sharks in a Lake, whatever, just give me my monsters and tell me where they’ll be! And perhaps you also thought, wait, I don’t understand why there was thoroughly gratuitous nudity in this movie, I’d rather watch a movie where it would make sense at several moments throughout to script to have naked college students but then keep them essentially clothed instead, just to completely invert the paradigm.

If so? It’s pretty sweet to know that someone intimately involved with the creation of Shark Night 3D reads these reviews, because there can’t be very many people in the world with that thought process, for it to have taken 5 years to create this particular cinematic gem. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, though at least several of the character motivations do. My favorite part of the movie is when the main chick character tells the main guy character a story about how her ex-boyfriend tried to murder her, only she didn’t notice that it was attempted murder, and she still hasn’t noticed it as she’s telling the story, and the guy listening to the story doesn’t notice either. …and then the film goes on to never actually admit it at any later point, too, even though it also doesn’t explicitly deny it in a shocking twist where Sara is in fact the Shark Queen or something and has set up the whole situation to feed her children.

Y’know, come to think of it, that would have been pretty bad-ass. But this movie was okay too. Incidentally, the most shocking and horrifying moment of the film follows the credits, in case you were considering taking it in at this late date.

[1] Yes. When you watched it. Not if. Don’t make me come over there.

Marvel Zombies 4

This sequel to Marvel Zombies 3 (as opposed to the series in general, because the third volume went off in an entirely new direction, you see) is interesting not for being a good zombie story (it was not bad, but it was also not good), but for being an archaeological study of the period of Marvel that I’m reading right now. The main characters are chock-full of the Marvel horror experiment: Morbius the Living Vampire![1], Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night, Simon Garth, the [voodoo type of] zombie, Man-Thing, Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan, and, okay, some witch chick that I haven’t yet heard of. But my point is, these characters are wandering in and out of all kinds of crossovers with the comics I am reading (June 1976, now), and have titles of their own that all started since 1974. I am honestly surprised at how many of them have stuck around, though there are certainly changes, as I think there would have to have been. ‘Cause, really.

Alas, after all the interesting set-up that I speculated might be coming from the previous volume, Marvel Zombies 4 was a pretty straightforward fight to avert apocalypse. That certainly has its place in comics, unquestionably, but after setting up the MZ continuity to relate to horror and destruction and the existential angst of wanting to be a good guy but virally failing, watching some world fight off an incursion without any examination of the deeper causes of things and without… well, okay, in their defense, the book where we lose is already written, so putting that scenario on a new world is redundant. But I still say that using the MZ world as a springboard for “look, an apocalypse to avert!” is too, and I guess that’s why I was disappointed. Man, I wish they’d used the space to explain what the fuck is actually going on instead. Particularly if they’re going to insist on giving it religious overtones in the first place. Religious overtones = “there is a responsible party”, not “random happenstance in the universe, what are you gonna do?” So use that, Marvel Zombie authors!

On the bright side, the end of the book contained black&white issue 1 of Tales of the Zombie, which was a lot grimmer and a lot more nudity-filled than I expected a Marvel title to have ever been. Plus, it was pretty decent, even without its own more direct version of well-timed archaeology. I still won’t mind just watching these characters interact with my superhero continuity instead of actually reading about them too, but I’m at least getting a clearer picture of why people would have.

[1] I mean, they don’t themselves use the exclamation point as part of the name, but I cannot see how to say that without planning on being excited about it, and so.

White Night

I’ve reached a crisis point in my reading of the Dresden Files. See, there’s always (by which I mean starting in the third book or so) been a long-term story being told, and I know this. Plus, there’s always been continuity, and I know this too. But until White Night, I’ve been able to pick up each new book and just read it, and remember enough about the previous continuity and the long-term story to do just fine. Now, though…

Don’t get me wrong, I remembered enough to keep up with Harry Dresden’s rampage through the spirit world in response to the recent murders of magic-sensitive women, that took him through several trips down memory lane and culminated in, as usual, mostly everybody but Harry winning big[1], but there was at least one world-shaking revelation that lacked the punch I think it should have had. And I know it’s only going to get worse. So now what?

If there were a lot of books left, obviously I’d just read them. But the truth of the matter is, I’m only a few behind now, and there are (I believe) quite a few to come, as yet unwritten. So if I were to rush it now, I’d just have the same problem in October. So I guess I’ll just stick with what I’m doing? (I do kind of wish I could do online research without fear of massive spoilers, though.)

Oh, anyway, I did want to say that I continue to be intrigued by Harry’s emotional ups and downs. Struggle with sexism? Sort of. Really, he embraces it, but I have the impression that the more he talks about it, the more he is trying to figure out a better way. Anger issues? Big time. Too much paranoia (or justified fear) to work well with others? Oh, my, yes. But he’s still unquestionably a good guy, and that’s what I like best about him. The nuances. He’s an interesting, interesting person.

[1] At least he continues to win small.