Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

51wAAzcD2uLAs you probably know if you’ve spent much time on the internet over the last five years, there’s a bizarrely drawn website about (mostly) childhood, dogs, and/or mental health called Hyperbole and a Half. What there’s a slight chance you don’t know is that the creator of that site has also released a book compiled partially from what’s already on the internet and partially from new essays.

She’s funny, often relatable, and the book reads quickly. I’m not sure you’ll get a deeper insight into the human condition, although if you’ve never dealt with depression, maybe you would learn something? But people often don’t, if they haven’t seen it themselves, so maybe not. By and large, it’s a humorous essay book, and they all cover the same thematic ground. The specific circumstances of this one? Yep, funny.

I do really wonder about her self-image, though. Her drawings are all on par with each other, rough but good enough that you can tell there’s some real talent going into them. The dogs start out looking like caricatures of bad dog drawings until you realize how well she captures different poses and moods. All of the people look like people, and so forth. Except, her self portrait is of a worm with a blonde sharkfin, wearing a tubesock. This is universally true, every time, even amidst other perfectly normally (but still roughly) drawn people. It’s obviously a stylistic choice, I just… like I said, I cannot help wondering what it means, on the inside. The answer to that question does not, as far as I can tell, reside within this book.

But it’s still worth reading!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

MV5BODAzMDgxMDc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTI0OTAzMjE@._V1__SX1859_SY847_So, right, I watched all three movies in the Hobbit trilogy on Monday, as you know. Since that was more than 24 hours before initial release, I’m a bigger jerk than usual for taking so long to review, and plus also I burned my thoughts on the series as a whole during the previous review about the second movie. So, what can I say about The Battle of the Five Armies without repeating myself and without spoilers of any significance?

Well, lessee. I was, all in all, satisfied with the way things went. All character arcs, both the previously published and the newly contrived, ended on satisfactory notes. All the effects and battle scenes were extremely cool, as was the unexpected Billy Connolly. Unlike the previous movies, there were no scenes that felt gratuitously long, just for the sake of showing off. So, all the people saying this is the best movie of the three? They’re right. It has no new flaws, none of the major flaws of the previous two films, and all kinds of really cool, climactic things happen.

That said, I have one more thing to say about the series as a whole: The overlap between the end of the second movie and the beginning of the third… no, not overlap, but the dividing line. Could not be more awkward if it tried. I know why you can’t just release an 8 or 9 hour long movie, all of a piece. And I know why ending the second movie in the “correct” place would have generated massive confusion as to why there needed to be a third movie. But, man. So awkward.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

MV5BMzM4NzA0OTM2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjYzNTU2OQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_So, disclosure: I saw this movie a couple months ago on cable, but since I saw all three movies in a marathon on Monday, have never reviewed this one, and it would be weird to review two out of three, here we are.

Of course, The Desolation of Smaug is hard to review in this context as well, piled in as it was within 9 or 10 combined hours of movie. So I guess it’s a good thing I had seen it one time before. And… so, okay, if you’ve read the book, you more or less know what happens in the movies, right? So I can say things like the scenes in Mirkwood made a little more sense than I remember[1], or the barrel ride to Laketown was just ridiculously hyper-extended, and you’ll know the flavor if not the details of what I mean.

That said, before I move into more (but still light) spoiler territory, it is incumbent upon me to mention that as part of a continuous unit, the stretched out scenes, where they existed at all, did not bother me as much as I had remembered from October. There should still probably be two movies here instead of three, but given the Hollywood constraints Tolkien didn’t have to deal with[2], they’d have probably been two oddly paced movies. So perhaps this wasn’t so bad.

Anyway, as far as differences between the book and what’s on film, I have two comments. First, the love story. Was it shoehorned in? Yes, absolutely. Not in a way that made it feel unnatural or unbelievable, just in a way that made no nod to necessity. But The Lord of the Rings had a love story, and S. Morganstern notwithstanding, nobody writes kidbooks that contain both adventure and a love story. So I see from Jackson’s perspective why he felt it was necessary for balance purposes. I mean, barely, but I see it.

Second, Gandalf. It really seems like someone should have realized that you don’t capture him and then leave him to hang out until one of his friends rescue him. Yes, yes, this is a longstanding trope, and yes, yes, Tolkien needed him out of the way of the plot sometimes, since he is functionally a deus ex machina in himself, if left to his own devices. But man, when you have the same circumstance and outcome twice in consecutive book series, either you are David Eddings or you need to feel bad about yourself the second time.

So, that was the second movie.

[1] Because, really, how hard is it to stay on a damn road?
[2] To wit: motivation. You can tell kids in a kidbook that the goblins and orcs are chasing the dwarves all over the place just because goblins and orcs are bad guys who do that, and it’s good enough. But he wanted to make a) not a kid movie that b) tied into the Lord of the Rings in all the ways Tolkien knew about and Bilbo did not. So you have to[3] establish leader orcs with names and motivations and backstories to the main character, and have them interact with the Necromancer’s long term plans, even though you know they’re just going to be thwarted and it ultimately will all keep until your sequel movie filmed 60 or 80 years later, in 2001.
[3] Or, okay, you don’t have to, but clearly that’s what Peter Jackson had in mind, and I don’t begrudge him the behind the scenes portions, since they were relevant to explaining things like why Gandalf is missing all the time, plus, like I said (or maybe haven’t said yet, depending on how you personally interact with footnotes), tying into that sequel.

All-New Ultimates: Power for Power

51Cmme49xoLI have mixed emotions about the All-New Ultimates. For one thing, well, there just aren’t a ton of familiar characters left alive in the Ultimate universe, and most of the ones that are left moved on to the Future Foundation. It’s not that I don’t want to see Spidey and his Amazing Friends battle street crime, it’s that it seems silly to shoehorn them into the Ultimates, just so that team is still “alive”. Same plot, different title? I’d… well, I’d still have some complaints.

Because, all of that said: I’m not sure I saw the point of Spidey and his Amazing Friends the Ultimates taking on street level crime in the first place. I mean, okay, the gangs seem to have powers, at least a little? And there are leftover renegade scientists from the Oscorp and Roxxon days finding new ways to screw people up. So on paper (heh), it’s a reasonable conflict. But: the Serpent Squad? Really? Which is me complaining about how the villain side of the equation is just as depleted as the hero side. That’s a structural complaint, but I also have a related plot complaint, which is that it seems like I should have heard of any of these gangs before, if they’re supposed to be a big deal now.

But then, all of that is balanced by the team’s make-up. Spider Woman, newly christened as Black Widow, is the leader. Then there’s Spider-Man, Bombshell, Kitty Pryde, and Cloak and Dagger. You’ve heard of maybe half of those, which is why my point is not coming across, which is that the Ultimates is comprised of four ladies and two dudes, neither of whom are white. Get these people some actual villains and storylines, and I could find myself very excited by what Marvel is doing right now.

Also, just give Jessica Drew (that is, new Black Widow) her own title, already.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

71E+64So-kLAlthough not the concluding third day of his Kingkiller Chronicles[1][2], Patrick Rothfuss has recently released a book set in that world.[3] The Slow Regard of Silent Things is about a week in the life of one of the residents of, um, that magic college place not named Hogwarts where Kvothe is known to hang out. Which description is proof that I’ll need to reread these books once the finale is announced.[4]

But anyway, it’s about Auri, who hides from everyone and has reminded me just a very small amount of Lazlo from Real Genius if he were a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but without the sexual connotations. Which throws me headlong into what I had thought I was going to be edging towards. See, I have this website, where I write reviews of things. Although it’s dressed up a bit in the theme I have chosen, there’s really no connection between what I use it for and what it is named. It’s just that back in the ’90s, I really wanted a domain, and the domain that I wanted the most was the one named after my very favorite character in all of Sandman[5].

The upshot of which is, except for my reviews of the actual Sandman books, Auri in this story is the closest I’ve ever come on my website to finding Delirium in the wild, as it were. She is by turns breathless with happiness, reckless as lemmings, crushed under by the weight of the world, determined as any hero, or hopelessly lost at sea. I smiled with her and my heart broke for her, sometimes at the same time. I guess my point is that I cannot imagine a story more calculated to enchant me, personally. I cannot say that I identify with her, or even wish that I did. But as with Delirium herself, I wish I could heal her.

But I guess a point of those stories is that perfect delight cannot long survive the world.

[1] Spoiler alert for footnote 2
[2] Total number of kings killed thusfar: zero
[3] Also, the author’s afterword indicates there’s a short story I missed sometime in the past year or two. I kind of hate how easy it is for that to happen. Thanks a lot, compilations!
[4] On the one hand, I like not waiting for a series to be complete before I read it. On the other, I resent having to reread books by the time I’m getting near the end, since I’d rather just have the knowledge stored up and read new stuff instead. But my memory is not so eidetic as I’d like. It is a conundrum!
[5] And high in my top five favorite fictional characters, period.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

MV5BMTA2OTM5MjQ0OTZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg3MzcyMDEx._V1__SX1859_SY847_The Hunger Games books, as I have said elsewhere, had a glaring flaw: I eventually stopped liking the narrator. As I have also said elsewhere[1], the movies have taught me that this is because of how much Katniss Everdeen doesn’t like herself. The third book has been split into two movies[2], and at least in this first half, the trend of Jennifer Lawrence portraying a much better Katniss than she ever portrayed herself through her narration continues like gangbusters.

See, there’s this civil war going on, right? Over the last two years’ Hunger Games, Katniss has demonstrated (accidentally? on purpose? does it matter, though?) that the Capitol can be fought, so now people are fighting back. Plus also there’s a secret rebel army that was lightly foreshadowed and a big propaganda war and all kinds of things that would be pretty big spoilers, so trust me: plotwise, it’s pretty okay.

But mostly what I have to say is more praise for Ms. Lawrence. Because, well, here’s the thing. I am quoting past me, after having read the entire trilogy: “the movie will succeed or fail on the strength of their Haymitch actor alone. That guy? He’s compelling.” And you know what? Woody Harrelson has done an outstanding job. But I was so very wrong, and it’s because I didn’t think Katniss could be redeemed. Instead, when I watch these movies, I see the character that the people of the Districts fell in love with, not the self-loathing, self-doubting emotional mess from the books. And the fact that she still lashes out with the same anger, collapses with the same grief, capriciously flits from one of her two men to the next and back… it was never about her actions, it was about her emotions, and this is a character I can get behind.

There’s still a movie left, but if it succeeds as well as the rest have, this will be my favorite adaptation of a series by a long mile. It kept everything good and jettisoned everything bad, and that pretty much never happens.

[1] At least, I think I have in print? Certainly I have aloud.
[2] I find myself wishing this was less common. It’s cool and all that, to my two year old memory, they are filming every scene in the book. But book adaptations are an art, and while I have nothing to complain about regarding this particular film, it nevertheless seems like a bit of a cheat to not have to go to the effort of actually adapting the book after all. Plus blah blah blah cynical money-grubbing studios, I suppose.