Categories
Movies Review

Movie Review – Venom

I actually saw Venom not long after it came out, and I’m a bit amused at how well it’s done.  It is a deeply weird movie. At times feels like half of it is missing.  Why does the symbiote decide to “help” Eddie Brock save the Earth?  It must not matter, because they don’t tell us!

One thing I have trouble getting past is having Venom with no connection to Spider-Man.  I get that Sony wants desperately to have a whole movie franchise, but this still feels like the wrong play.  But here we are, so is it any good?  NO!  That doesn’t mean there’s not fun to be had.  Tom Hardy has a sort of goofy charm as Eddie Brock when he’s not mumbling his lines.  Riz Ahmed is obviously having fun as the over-the-top Elon Muskish villain.  Michelle Williams has the thankless task of love interest/lawyer Anne Weying, who dumps Eddie after he steals info from her on the villainous Carlton Drake.

Eddddieeeeeeeee

The strangest character in the movie is, of course, the Venom symbiote.  Not because he’s a terrible man-eating monster (as seen on the right), but because he’s kind of a wise-cracking partner for Eddie.  The folks that listed Venom as a buddy cop movie weren’t far off.  It’s almost funny enough that you’d forget that the only way Venom doesn’t kill Eddie’s body is if Brock lets him eat people once in a while!

Look, I wasn’t expecting high art, and I was entertained.  I laughed a lot, but only half of it was probably supposed to be funny.  I *CANNOT* wait for Rifftrax to get a hold of this.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside is the latest book from Robert Jackson Bennett, who previously wrote the “Divine Cities” trilogy.  I mostly knew him from the shenanigans he, Sam Sykes, Chuck Wendig and others get up to on Twitter.  Checking out new authors that way hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Sancia is a thief, who operates out of Foundryside, a slum that exists in the gutters and buffer zones between four merchant houses.  Like most heist books, she’s damn good at her job, but powerful forces are at work, and she gets swept along.  Good thing she makes friends with a strange cast of characters along the way!

The merchant houses run the entire city, existing in a state of cold war.  Sancia is one of the independent operators, taking jobs for anyone.  Unfortunately her latest job has her stealing an object of incredible power.  The magic of this world is called ‘scriving’.  It works by convincing objects that the natural laws don’t apply to them, or do apply but in a different way.  Imagine if you could make a cart roll by itself, by scriving runes to tell the wheels that they are on a hill.  A sword can be made to think that, when swung, it’s three times heavier.  But before all that, beings existed that couldn’t just tweak, but rewrite reality as they saw fit.  And their artifacts are being found.

If you like the Gentlemen Bastards series and are looking for another heist book with a strange cast of characters, Foundryside would be a great option.  Check it out!

Categories
Movies Review

Movie Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first Jurassic Park is a classic. Plenty of tension, action, humor.  When we have fond memories of this franchise, that’s the movie we’re all thinking of.  As you move forward, they decline rapidly in quality.  Most of the good feelings you have for The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 are due to Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill.  The hugeness of Jurassic World’s success came as a bit of a shock, so despite the actual plot of THAT movie being pretty dumb there was no way a franchise-hungry production company wasn’t going to follow it up.  Which means we get stuck with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Spoilers from here on out.

“No, you’re making all new ones”

Your mistakes will always come back to haunt you.  It’s been a cornerstone of this series.  Hammond and many others make tons of mistakes, mostly out of hubris.  Why not bring dinosaurs back, what could go wrong?  What happens if the computers fail?  Or the power goes out?  Every subsequent movie compounds this, because the mistakes just get worse every time.  “Let’s bring a T-Rex to San Diego!”  “You know, that ten ton engine of murder wasn’t nearly dangerous enough, let’s genetically engineer something worse!”

That Fallen Kingdom

That brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  After yet another park fails catastrophically, we find Claire…wait, nobody’s in jail?  I know Masrani was killed, but were there NO CONSEQUENCES?  Hundreds of rich white people got trampled and eaten!  We’re expected to believe that Claire somehow cares deeply for dinosaurs?  Before this, she was a business woman, and seemed to regard the dinosaurs as attractions, no different than amusement park rides.  Then they very nearly eat her AND her nephews.  Yeah, not their fault but where in there did she become an animal rights advocate?  Oy.

A previously-unmentioned volcano threatens to destroy the dinos on the island, and Claire wants to rescue them.  Luckily for her, Hammond had a previously-unmentioned partner in the past who wants to save them too!

Everything goes wrong

Except they double-cross Claire (and Owen, who wants to go back and save Blue, the best character in these two movies) and take the dinosaurs to sell to what amounts to a bunch of supervillains.  Seriously, Arnim Zola from the Captain America movies is there and everything.  Owen and Claire (with the required cute kid sidekick) manage to thwart the bad guy (Eli Mills, who killed Hammond’s partner earlier in the movie and looks like an uncanny valley copy of Ryan Reynolds) but in doing so, they release a few dozen dinosaurs into the wild.  Of the United States.

That right there has the potential to be a complete ecological disaster.  It’s not clear if there are breeding pairs, but we’ve already seen nature “find a way” previously.  You only have to look at Australia to see what could happen.  Maybe the final movie in the Jurassic World trilogy will deal with that?  Not sure if that would have enough big dinosaur fighting action for the studio though.

Owen!

It’s not all bad, as Chris Pratt is still charming, and the cinematography is fine.  They show too much of the dinosaurs though, which has been an issue since the The Lost World.  Bryce Dallas Howard no longer wears high heels in the jungle.  Jeff Goldblum’s extended cameo, most of which you saw or heard in the trailers, is great, and is well-used.

If you can see it cheap (Moviepass, matinee) it would be fine.  If you need to refresh your memory on Jurassic World first, rent it at Amazon.

Categories
Movies Review

Movie Review – Black Panther

Just when you think Marvel’s formula is getting stale, they shatter your expectations.  Their last movie was a family drama-buddy-action-comedy, Thor: Ragnarok.  There were a few truly serious moments when you stopped to think, but you didn’t have long as you’d be laughing your ass off 30 seconds later.  It’s a big contrast to Black Panther.  Not to spoil too much, at it’s core Black Panther is also filled with family drama, but also powerful political statements.  From the drop this movie has something to say to you about the inequality that drives our modern world.

Sympathetic Villainy

Note:  from here on out, there are spoilers.

The first time we meet Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, we don’t even realize it.  He’s being told the story of Wakanda’s origin by his father, N’Jobu.  N’Jobu is undercover in Oakland, but is disturbed by what he sees happening to people of African descent across the country and world.  N’Jobu assists Ulysses Klaue (last seen in Age of Ultron) in stealing some vibranium, in order to arm oppressed African.  It’s a stark contrast to Wakanda’s isolationist ways, and brings him into conflict with T’Chaka, his brother.  T’Chaka is forced to kill N’Jobu.  Erik is left behind, and the seeds for his rage are sown.  It’s not hard to feel something for Killmonger when you see the tragedy.  Especially later in the film where you get the full picture of just what happened.

Black Panther(s)

I thought Black Panther did a great job of balancing the mystical aspects of the Black Panther mythos with the high-tech.  This far into the MCU, you don’t need to explain the mystical, it can just exist.  We’ve met gods (small G, son) and sorcerers.  It’s okay for T’Challa to go on a spiritual journey and see his ancestors.  It was a fantastic way to keep John Kani’s T’Chaka relevant for one more movie.

Killer Cast

One of Marvel’s biggest advantages has been their casting.  Black Panther might be the best example of this.  We already knew Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, as well as Martin Freeman as Everett Ross and Andy Serkis as Klaue.  Add to that the delightful Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, it’s amazing.  Michael B. Jordan OWNS the Killmonger role, to the point where it’s difficult to look away when he’s on screen.

If you missed Black Panther in theaters (it’s still in many of the larger ones, at least as of now), you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Especially if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet.  The digital copy unlocks May 8th.

Categories
Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Crosswind Vol. 1

Crosswind is an Image series written by Gail Simone, drawn by Cat Staggs, with letters from Simon Bowland.  The blurb at Image’s site describes it as “Goodfellas meets Freaky Friday” and it’s an apt description.  What happens if a Chicago hitman and a suburban housewife switch bodies?  Under Gail’s pen, you get vulgar, action-filled fun.

Cason, the brutal mobster, has to clean up a mistake made by his boss’s son, while Juniper has to get a meal ready for her husband’s boss while navigating abuse from all sides.  It’s bad enough BEFORE they get zapped into each other’s bodies, and have to regroup on the fly.

Gail Simone is one of my favorite follows on Twitter, and her trademark wit is well used here.  Cat Staggs’s art has an almost rotoscoped-realism to it, and I particularly love how she captured different mannerisms for Cason and Juniper after the swap.

Crosswind is definitely worth a read if you like any of the above.  Check it out on Amazon/Comixology.

Categories
Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Black Bolt Vol. 1, Hard Time

Volume 1 of Black Bolt’s solo series, subtitled Hard Time, is out.  Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward fulfilled the promise of the first issue (which I looked at previously) and more.  Ward says a lot about who gets put in prison and why, while not ignoring the kickass fights and teleporting dogs we all crave.

Who is Black Bolt?  Why should I care?

It’s funny, despite the fact that Marvel’s been pushing them for the past few years, AND there was a TV show (which wasn’t great) out this year, AND they are an original creation of Jack Kirby, the Inhumans still feel like a group people don’t know much about.  I think it’s because Terrigenesis is being used in place of “I hit puberty and got my mutant powers” for how to power up new teen heroes.  Everybody’s familiar with a few Inhumans, like Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl, but mostly ignore the Royal Family.

Black Bolt, the silent king of the Inhumans, can speak and shatter mountains.  His voice is a weapon so powerful that he had to be trained from birth to stay perfectly silent (he’s great at parties).  Both his status as king and his necessary silence keep him at arm’s length from most people beyond his immediate family.  This has left Blackagar Boltagon (yeah, that’s his name) as a bit of a blank slate, compared to other heroes who have been around this long.

Doing Hard Time

This series sees Bolt trapped in a crazy prison, his brother Maximus the Mad managing to switch places with him.  He hears a voice, a demand, “NAME YOUR CRIMES!  REPENT YOUR CRIMES!”  He dies, is reborn, and eventually frees himself.  Black Bolt meets his captor and speaks…but nothing happens.  He dies again, and that’s when thing really start.  The other prisoners convince him to work with them on an escape, and it’s a great cast of characters.  The most notable is long-time henchman Carl “Crusher” Creel.  He serves as a sharp contrast to the noble, remote Black Bolt.  My favorite addition to the Marvel universe might be Raava the Unskrulled, a Skrull space pirate who never learned to shapeshift, because she wants her enemies to die seeing her true face.  The book is a great balance between philosophical discussions and butt kicking.

That ART

Christian Ward’s art is gorgeous, from the inky depths of space to bright shocks of color when Black Bolt uses his power, it looks AMAZING.  This might be my favorite comic art since I first encountered David Aja’s work on Hawkguy.  Matt Fraction is actually where I first learned of Ward’s art, in their fever-dream gender-swapped Odyssey comic ODY-C.  I am so glad he’s getting mainstream work, and I sure hope it continues.

Conclusion

If you’re not afraid to think about what we do to criminals and poor people in our world in between all the smashing and crushing, check out Black Bolt: Hard Time.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis, by Andy Weir, starts out as a bit of a heist book.  Set in the first city on the Moon, Artemis follows Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara as she navigates her life as a porter, her sideline as a smuggler of contraband, and her disapproving father.  One of Jazz’s smuggling clients offers her a sabotage job with a huge payday, but as you might expect, it goes sideways in a hurry.  She gets caught between the Moon’s government and the mob in the midst of a conspiracy that has implications all the way back to Earth.

Quick Review

I enjoyed this book.  I haven’t read The Martian, but I enjoyed the movie (it is one of my son’s favorites).  Jazz is perhaps not as likable as Mark Watney, but there’s still plenty of plausible space science (and space welding, which at least one of my followers will enjoy) and intrigue to go around.  Artemis is a quick read that should satisfy people who can deal with Jazz’s smart-ass-ness and enjoyed The Martian.  Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse), by Jim C. Hines, takes a futuristic zombie-esque apocalypse and wonders – what happens if someone comes along and fixes it?  Humanity was turned into mindless, shambling monsters, but the Krakau (a squidlike alien race) decides to help fix us.  Eh, more or less.

The story follows a human nicknamed “Mops” and her motley band of space janitors as they get caught up in all manner of mischief.  And might just uncover the galaxy’s biggest conspiracy.  It’s all played for fun, and it’s nice having humans NOT as the leaders of whatever galactic alliance for a change.  We’re the big dumb muscle.

Terminal Alliance knows the score when it comes to sci-fi tropes and does enough to play with them to make it different.  Think Scalzi’s Redshirts, but not quite that obvious.  That makes it a fun palate-cleanser between bloody thousand page epics.  Recommended.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The First Law Trilogy is another series I’m late to, but I enjoyed The Blade Itself quite a bit!  This is not my first Joe Abercrombie, having checked out Half a King previously.  Abercrombie’s books tend to the ‘grimdark’ side of epic fantasy, and this is no exception.

The cast of characters

Much like A Song of Ice and Fire, the book follows several key characters through seemingly unconnected storylines.  Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian in exile from the far north.  He falls in with the wizard Bayaz, who may or may not be the legendary First of the Magi.  Captain Jezal dan Luthar would like nothing more than to fence and drink, but also gets swept up in the intrigues that are afoot.  Finally, Sand dan Glokta used to be a hero of the Union.  Crippled after a stint in the Empire’s prisons, he now spends his days torturing confessions out of the Union’s enemies (and friends) in the Inquisition.

The Blade Itself

The story takes a long time to really get started.  It’s a common complaint and I have to agree.  That being said, there was enough character building going on that I did want to keep going.  Just not at my normal ‘a book every other day’ rate. By the end, though, I was definitely wanting to find out what happened next.  I wish there was more of an ending and less of a “to be continued” feel, but I get that it can be tough to do.

If you are looking for another series to start while GRRM averages approximately a word per day on the next ASoIaF book, this is a solid starting point.  You can find it at Amazon, with a preview in the window below.  Let me know what you think!

 

Categories
Review TV

Pilot Season – The Gifted

The Gifted is a new X-Men-adjacent show on Fox, which I will explain momentarily, and it’s pretty awesome.  It’s almost too bad for Marvel that The Inhumans release around the same time, because it’s not even a contest as to which is better.

“Adjacent”

The first question with most comic book adaptations nowadays is what does it connect to.  The short answer so far for The Gifted is, nothing really.  It exists in an alternate universe where “something” has happened that has caused both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to disappear.  The rest of the mutants are just trying to stay alive, with the government actively hunting down any mutant that uses their powers and “threatens public safety”.  More than any property since X-Men: The Animated Series, they truly show a world where mutants are hated and feared.

The Story

The Gifted follows Reed and Kate Strucker, and their mutant children Andy and Lauren.  After an event that outs Andy and Lauren as mutants (Lauren knew and had been hiding her abilities), the family has to go on the run.  A major complicating factor is the fact that Reed is a prosecutor that focuses on mutant cases.  That doesn’t exactly make him a trusted figure in the mutant community.

What Works

They have a great set of actors, save maybe for the young man playing Andy (Percy Hynes White).  However, he’s got time to grow into the role.  Stephen Moyer (late of True Blood) and Amy Acker (Angel, Person of Interest) are very good as the parents, expertly showing the stress and conflict of people who had been comfortable in a life, now thrust into something very different.  The mutants are solid so far, with a mix of new characters for the show and familiar faces from the comics.  This includes Emma Dumont as Lorna Dane/Polaris, Jamie Chung as Clarice Ferguson/Blink, and Blair Redford as John Proudstar/Thunderbird.

What Doesn’t

Like I said, not sold on Andy but there’s time to grow.  Lorna’s story leans heavily on prison cliches but I’m still interested to see what happens.

Where We Go From Here

The next episode has already aired, and continues the solid presentation of this version of the X-Men universe.  They’ve nailed ‘hated and feared’ much better than the movies, and The Gifted should continue being more accessible than Legion.  I’m all in.

Categories
Review TV

Pilot Season – The Inhumans

I’ve watched the two episodes of Marvel’s new show, The Inhumans, and I’m reminded very strongly of season one of Agents of SHIELD.  With a little of the lackluster parts of Iron Fist thrown in for good measure.  It’s not great, but there is the tiniest of hope in me still that it can get there.

The Basics

Inhumans, in case you aren’t a comics fan or caught up on Agents of SHIELD, are humans who are descended from ancestors who were experimented on by the Kree long ago.  When exposed to a material called Terrigen, they mutat–*Fox kicks in the door*–er, transform in some way.  Some gain cool powers, some might just get a minor change, like a tail or cat ears.  The Inhuman royal family lives on the moon in the city of Attilan, where a rigid caste system somehow keeps the population limited…?  It’s honestly a bit unclear.

The Family

You have Black Bolt, the silent King, who has a voice that can shatter mountains, and Queen Medusa, whose can control her long super-strong hair.  Medusa’s sister, Crystal, can control the four classical elements (earth, fire, water, air).  Gorgon has hooves.  Karnak sees the flaw in all things – he’s one of my favorite Inhumans.  Triton is the acquatic member of the family.  Maximus is Black Bolt’s brother, and seems so far to have no powers from his Terrigenesis (though if they follow the comics that may not be the case).  He thinks the Inhumans belong on Earth.

What Works

They do the best they can with the costumes.  Like most shows, they don’t like covering the heads of anyone expected to emote, and that’s going to be double for Black Bolt, who can’t speak without destroying people.  I’m curious about where they are going with this, which is enough to get me watching the next episode.  I like Ken Leung as Karnak, and Iwan Rheon is good as Maximus.

What Doesn’t

The CGI is lacking for sure.  They seem to have improved Medusa’s hair somewhat, but then they work around that anyway.  Lockjaw is cute but never seems to inhabit the scene, and he’s sidelined too.  A lot of the rest of the acting is subpar, though the dialogue given to them doesn’t help.  My hope is that it improves as you get past the pilot but it’s a Scott Buck show.  There was a lot of exposition to get through, but it’s done as just static infodumps.  Even those would be okay, but the dialogue is clunky.

Where We Go From Here

I was able to make it through the early bits of Agents of SHIELD because I liked some of the characters, and was curious about the mystery of Coulson’s return.  There’s less of an “in” here because you haven’t met any of these people before.  It’s a short season so I’m probably in for the rest (especially with a Kevin Tanchareon-directed episode coming up) but I wouldn’t blame anybody who bailed.

Categories
Movies Review

Movie Review – Death Note (Netflix)

Oof, where to begin?  I come to Netflix’s adaptation of the Death Note manga not from any sort of fandom.  It’s one I was dimly aware of, but haven’t read or watched any of the anime.  I was interested mostly because of the “Willem Dafoe voicing a death god” angle.  Having watched it now, I don’t feel it was a complete waste of time but it wasn’t exactly a paragon of entertainment.

The elephant in the room

This movie is based on the Japanese manga of the same name, and when you take media from another culture and adapt it, you’ve got to be extra careful.  I’m not against adaptations like that, some great material has come about from doing just that.  However, there has to be a reason you made that move.  There’s a great example in the Hollywood Reporter story about Death Note by Rebecca Sun.  The Departed may be a remake of Infernal Affairs, but the cultural differences are a tool used in the story.  It’s different because of who it’s about.  Here, they made Light white but it doesn’t matter to the story.  Beyond seeing the Space Needle, there’s no way to tell this is even an American city, let alone Seattle.  If you’re going to change the culture the movie is steeped in, make it matter.

The rest of the story

For the movie itself, there were a few good performances mixed with some not-so-good.  I liked Lakeith Stanfield as L, and Shea Whigham fills the cop-dad role well.  And yeah, Willem Dafoe, awesome.  Unfortunately, Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley as Light and Mia fail to carry the movie.  Uneven performances combined with odd directing choices (see below) means you end up laughing at a scene that was not supposed to be funny a few too many times.

Yikes.  Light is supposed to be a genius, but beyond a little cleverness with the ending, it’s mostly lip service.  Mia is annoying as heck, and I definitely don’t see why this guy would want her to stick around.

Is it the worst thing on Netflix?  No, they keep letting Adam Sandler make movies.  But I’d have to get pretty far down the my list to think about re-watching, which is not a good sign (I re-watch stuff all the time despite the list).  Maybe just read the manga or watch the anime instead (which you can currently see on Netflix also).