Tag Archives: fantasy

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

After recently rewatching the other two Narnia movies[1], I have now proceeded to watch for the first time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This was one of young me’s favorite books, in retrospect because of how it involves episodic exploration of unknown parts in which random events occur. Examples: captured for slavery! found invisible monsters with weird tracks! cursed dragon hoard!

And I guess what I think is, without a cohesive throughline, that’s a bad look for a movie? Because “we’re sailing to the edge of the world and also looking for some lords who went this way before, because of some plot thing or other with green mist that frankly none of us[2] can be bothered to really remember well” is not a cohesive throughline. But it’s a perfect long-form episodic throughline, where you talk about the so-called main plot for maybe five minutes every other episode but mainly focus on the island of the week.

As far as the nuts and bolts of the movie… Aslan: mainly around to tell Lucy she should like herself for herself instead of wanting to be glamorous and older, and to take all the credit for making Eustace[3] a better person, even though let’s be real, it was finally having a friend that turned him around. Because Reepicheep is the best mouse, is what. But despite an interlude about heaven and who deserves to be there and when, the Christian trappings of this movie were… no, I’m doing this wrong. Christian trappings were all over the place, but at the expense of any actually useful Jesus values like forgiveness and loving your neighbor.

Ugh. Christian trappings. Goddammit.[4]

[1] They’re… not great. Like, my reviews might speak well of them? My counterpoint is “seeing this book for the first time on a screen” is its own special thing that takes away from noticing that it’s still only okay. And here I refer only to the first one. The second one is nowhere near as good as that.
[2] Okay, maybe me more than them. I would normally here say, well, maybe I was just too busy with work to pay attention. But I watch really a lot of TV and a good number of movies while working, and actually keeping up with the main plot has never been a problem before. So there’s a decent chance that the lack of new sequel was for a good reason.
[3] Eustace is a Pevensie cousin who is a right twit, until later when he is improved by the power of Narnia. If Aslan wanted to teach a Pevensie a lesson, it should have been teaching Edmund that, you know what, you were a right twit once upon a time too, so maybe cut a bro some slack? But CS Lewis is more offended by girls who want to use make-up and date than he is by toxic masculinity, and so here we are.
[4] get it

Wonder Woman 1984

So, I got HBOMax, finally. This is good, as there are a pile of shows I want to watch, and bad, as where will I find the time? But the tipping point, of course, was the release of WW84[1]. If you are looking for a comics movie that leans really hard into the four-color aesthetic and into being a comics movie, look no farther!

I said (unless someone else did, but I’m pretty sure I did too) that Into the Spiderverse was the first movie I’d seen that felt like reading a comic, and that is still true.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of MCU movies that lean really hard into both the comics aesthetic (anything with Thor) and comics sensibilities (anything with Peter Quill). But this is the first DC movie I’ve seen that did so.

It’s not that the plot didn’t make sense, like I’ve heard plenty of people claim. It hung together quite well, start to finish, with only one big complaint on my part[2]. But everything that happens relies of accepting that the logic of comic books is not the logic of the real world. Things happen that are not really magic, which is what a lot of people rely upon to suspend disbelief; instead things happen that rely on accepting that comics science is not the same as our science (much less when you mix science and magic together!), and that is maybe a harder proposition.

In a nutshell: what if we fast forward Diana to, say, the ’80s, where she is working at the Smithsonian on the strength of her knowledge of artifacts and like 130 languages (living and dead), and also she still isn’t over Steve Trevor yet 70 years later? And then she runs into a magic rock at the same time that a mousy new co-worker and an oil tycoon with a secret also run into said magic rock? And then the writers lay down a righteous comic book plot over these facts, with nary a care in the world for if it could even mildly happen or be fixable back to some kind of status quo that allows her to show up in Dawn of Justice even if it could happen in the first place?

In the end, that kind of thing either makes you want to punch some writers, or it’s your bread and butter. It wasn’t particularly good, but it was pretty damned amazing.

[1] Weird thing, with weird corollary. The movie is never referenced in any way besides WW84, at the start and end. Likewise, Diana Prince has never been referenced as Wonder Woman in either of these movies. Was she in her other DCCU appearances? I have literally no way of knowing!
[2] And that was more science-based than plot. Technically a spoiler: if you are going to electrocute someone for something, then you have to electrocute them for doing something equally electrocutable 30 seconds earlier, or else you don’t get to electrocute them now! Consistency, that’s all.

The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book[1].)

This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.

What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.

It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.

[1] Outside of a specific reading schedule

Mulan (2020)

I am growing ever more cynical, a fact of which I am not fond. Especially in a world where I have offspring. (Which this one seems to be.)

The thing about Mulan is, it’s a good movie. It’s got a good heart, a lot of fantasy Chinese combat[1], a cast full of characters worth empathy on virtually all sides of the conflict, and a message worth embracing. I never saw the original animated version, nor do I know if it is based on any actual legend? But there’s a girl, and a war, and a conscription. One male from every family to join the Emperor’s army and save China from, y’know, the Bad Guys. Except in the case of the girl’s family, the only male is her father, still crippled by the last war. So, rather than let him go to a certain death, she takes his place!

Plot twist! (or not), it turns out the Chinese warriors in the age of the Middle Kingdom[2] aren’t cool with the idea of womenfolk fighting, and they will almost certainly kill her if they find out her secret. This is the heart of the movie, and it is also where my cynicism springs to the fore.

The problem is this: as much as I liked the movie, and wanted to like the movie, I couldn’t bring myself to believe in the outcome. This is what 2020 has done to me, I guess. Ugh.

It’s good, though, and it’s okay to be heartwarmed instead of cynical, if you can swing it. I mean, it’s not like it’s only heartwarming, for that matter. Every beat in the movie is earned, even if I didn’t believe it. The failure is in me, and my willingness to be open to the magic of people watching reality play out in real time and change their opinions as a result.

[1] for which there is a term but I forget what it is. I thought it was wuxia, but that does not imply fantastical elements, only the martial arts themselves.
[2] This is a term I have plausibly heard, or possibly made up, and which in any case could have nothing whatsoever to do with the time period in which the movie is actually set. I just want to sound informed without doing any work. The truly sad part is, in the time it took me to type this, I could have just looked it up instead.

Frozen II

I am legitimately confused to report that I never reviewed Frozen[1]. I mean, I saw it. I even remember that where I saw it was at Laylah’s old house in San Marcos, maybe the spring after it came out? I liked it well enough, not that whether I loved or hated it ought to have influenced my intent to write a review. And the thing is, I was counting on that review to help me with this one, for what I trust are obvious reasons.

See, I liked Frozen II. I have said elsewhere that it is probably the best sequel Disney has ever made, and also that this is damning with faint praise[2]. It’s just that… I guess I just wasn’t there for the plot? It was fine, it just didn’t grab me. And in the meantime, the characters and situation were less subversive, the running joke about Kristoff’s [spoiler] was more humiliation cringe humor than actually funny to me, and the music was nowhere near the instant ubiquitous genius of the original.

I will say that Kristoff’s ’80s power ballad and the first big number in which Anna’s lyrics combined with the external events to create an instance of Greek chorus levels of foreshadowing rarely seen in modern cinema? Those were pretty great.

[1] Here I refer to the Disney movie, not the ski lift horror movie, which I did review.
[2] Fight me. Or at least, tell me an actually good Disney sequel, and here I am explicitly disallowing properties that they have purchased elsewhere. It only counts if it’s a legitimate Disney style of movie. The previous best sequel holder was one of the two Aladdin sequels, probably? I forget which.

The Healthy Dead

So yay, I finally finished my Malazan short novels collection, which you may remember (although, notably, I did not) I wasn’t so sure about continuing, because of a certain moral brokenness to the second story. So, good news: the third story was not like that. (Bad news: since I read those two out of order, I can’t consider the trendline broken.)

The Healthy Dead was, however, pretty silly. It staked out a position against zealotry related to exercise, good eating, and other aspects of bodily morality, and then… do you know how sometimes authors can draw up fully-realized characters on both sides of an issue and let them fight it out, and while you maybe know the author’s opinion, the debate as written was a fair one? This was not that.

It was also, thankfully, not axe-grindy, since it was written for comedic value and largely worked on that level. But you can definitely tell, underneath it, that the axe exists to be ground. Plus, Erikson’s inability to write good bit characters in his short work continues apace, which is bizarre since he is one of the best I’ve seen at fleshing out throwaway characters in his longer work.

My best guess is that he is so enamored of Bauchelain and Emancipor Reese (and I suppose of Korbal Broach, in a different way (I hope! For my part, it was nice to not see much of him in this story)) that he jealously guards them from losing the spotlight to any minor characters in their own stories.

To sum up: this is a cute little story with almost nothing to recommend it save the force of personality of its main characters, but as I usually tend to like them, that is enough to recommend it to me. But I’ll remain perfectly happy to get back to the big story.

Blue My Mind

Another week or so, another movie or so.

This time, a not-particularly-horror movie that combines teen angst bullshit[1] with a modicum of weird body horror, which for the most part seemed out of place, to be honest? 15 year old Mia is going through puberty, which means she doesn’t like her parents, does like the mean girl clique at school, and wants to have all the sex and drugs and cigarettes it is possible for a nearly-legal German teen to have.

But also, strange things are afoot with, uh, her feet. And the family goldfish. What can it all mean? Was she adopted like she thinks, or did she just fall in with the wrong crowd, like her parents think? Does the body horror have any place in this movie? I can answer that one: no, but it did give them a way to wrap things up, instead of just trailing off into disaffected adulthood like most people making “bad” choices end up in fiction. So… yay?

I’m carefully avoiding the spoiler at the center of Blue My Mind, mostly because it was impossible to not know it from the presentation on my streaming service of choice, and the expectation that it would turn out to matter is mostly what ruined the movie for me. Counterpoint: I probably wouldn’t have watched it without that expectation. Counter counterpoint: would that have been so bad?

[1] but no body count

Fool’s Fate

I have not finished many series lately. The Walking Dead wrapped up a few months ago, and before that… I don’t know. It honestly might have been the Wheel of Time. Which is going back nearly 10 years I think? One conclusion to draw from this is that I have really way, way, way too many started but unfinished trilogies on my to-read shelf. Another is that there are definitely people who need to do more work on finishing their series, and here I am looking mainly at GRRM. But I think the first conclusion is definitely a relevant one, is all I’m saying, and maybe I’ll do something about that in the next months.

That turned out to be a bigger digression than I thought. Because, I finished Fool’s Fate yesterday, and, okay, that is not technically the end of a series. Maybe it was at the time, and then Hobb decided she could write more after all? I don’t know, but I know someone told me that it felt like the end of the series, and that this person was 100% right. If nothing else were written in this world, I would be… honestly, I’m so satisfied that to some degree I’m concerned about there being more written.

The first trilogy ended with the plot crisis averted, but the character crisis fully embraced, and that’s kind of how I’ve thought of Hobb’s writing as a result, despite evidence to the contrary since. The second trilogy ended with both plot and character crisis averted, but with the acceptance that the world was still turning.

[Because of the author, mild spoilers lurk below.]

Continue reading

Mandy (2018)

Then I saw Mandy, and that… that was quite a thing. See, Nicolas Cage and his heavy metal-loving girlfriend Mandy live in the woods, idyllicly discussing things like what their favorite planet is and why her father made all the neighborhood kids kill baby starlings when she was young. Then, one of those weird ’80s Satanic cults comes to town, and the leader has eyes for Mandy. Except, unlike most ’80s Satanic cults, they can summon actual biker demons. Result: things go predictably awry for Mandy.

The only thing left for Nic Cage to do is borrow a crossbow and forge a weird halberd-shaped axe[1] out of a single piece of metal and go seeking bloody revenge. And… you know what, the problem with a concept this over the top is that they were too restrained. What this movie wanted, no, yearned to be was a rock opera. With characters straight up singing at each other while having their chainsaw swordfights. Is there such a thing as a metal opera? I’m guessing the answer is probably not, and that we came as close as we ever will with Mandy.

It’s a letdown, is what it is.

[1] Look, I know what you’re thinking. A halberd is an axe. But what I’m saying is, it’s a regular-sized axe, not a polearm, but with a halberd-like head for some reason. I guess the reason is because that’s what shape of mold he had lying around?