Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dodos died for a reason - they were too slow

Hey so The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. was the first book I started reading this year and it took me until July to finish it because I fucking hated it.

Which is a little shocking considering my well-documented appreciation for Neal Stephenson. Nicole Galland co-authored the book and while it's tempting to blame her for what I didn't like that's not really fair because a) I've never read her other stuff and so I couldn't tell you if I like her style or not and b) most of what I didn't like felt like Stephenson bits that weren't landing.

I really dig maximalism done well but this felt like maximalism done badly - it became a slog, it got boring.

Maybe that was because it was supposed to be a journal and collection of documents and the bits of Stephenson's style I like the most are in the narration. Maybe it's because the majority of the book is from the perspective of a character who I feel is really poorly written. Poor Dr. Stokes. I wanted her to be really well written, I wanted to like her - it's clear she was supposed to be sympathetic but she was written as indecisive and insecure and passive-aggressive in a way that was really frustrating to read.

Also the big bad of the book feels poorly developed and everything sort of dissolves into a nonsensical rush in the last 50 pages. Plenty of people have talked about Stephenson's denouement allergy and the fact that he likes to cut things off right after the climax and maybe this book illustrates why that's the case - everything after the last big action scene was kind of shit.

Anyway, long story (and jesus it was around 800 pages and it was a slog for once I'm sympathetic to people who think he's long-winded and dull) short I didn't like this book and actively resented the time I spent reading it and should have stopped after the first hundred pages didn't grab me because I don't feel any better having finished it except that it won't drive me crazy for not making the effort.

Fuck this book.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Fixing Flaws

So up until about a year ago if you asked me about the character Thor I'd go off on a several-minute rant about exactly why I despised him in the comics as well as the MCU. He was too straight-faced, he got caught in really stupid traps, he put others in danger because he was too trusting. It was like someone gave a credulous three year old lightning powers and a hammer.

I've been relaxing about Thor in comics for a while - Squirrel Girl was largely instrumental there - but I'd maintained my apathetic-to-actively-aggressive attitude toward the MCU Thor. The Thor films seemed tedious and overly earnest, the character was inflexibly THOR, confused Asguardian who doesn't understand you silly hu-mans.

Ragnarok fixed that for me. Thor gets to be really silly. Thor gets to talk about his ridiculous history with Loki. Thor puts his foot in his mouth talking to people who are equally godlike and immortal. Thor experiences consequences.

I loved what Ragnarok did for the character of Thor and I actually appreciated Loki's opportunities for growth as well.

The rest of the film, well, that wasn't stupendous. Almost everything involving Hela was tedious and frustrating to sit through, the time on Sakkar seemed to drag on and I actually didn't like the Grandmaster character at all (not as in he's a bad guy and you're not supposed to like him, as in he wasn't even fun to watch and the "whee I'm so zany" writing seemed really forced) though the post-credits scene was pretty great. The "save my people because Asgard is my people, not a place" thing was actually a decent motivation and they pulled it off well.

I also liked the other gladiators and enjoyed watching them but they were perhaps a bit too silly. They weren't awful, just maybe a bit misused or overdone? "Fuck off, ghost" is a great line but "Oh, my god, the hammer pulled you off?" is maybe taking the jokes a bit too far.

The movie as a whole wasn't really that fantastic (it did look great), which is a shame because Taika Waititi is fucking fantastic and I want him to make so many more movies, but it did loads to rehabilitate the character of Thor for me and I'm really glad for that.

     - Alli Kirkham

Monday, April 30, 2018

Flawed mythology

Hey go watch this video:

Okay that basically sums up my thoughts on Disney's Hercules.

I rewatched this with my sister recently and was really surprised at how manipulative the film was, especially because of the tone problem that Lindsay Ellis discusses so much in that linked essay.

There were at least two moments in the film where I was crying in spite of the cynicism I know was at the heart of the production and the zany song and dance numbers that bracketed the pathos-heavy parts of the film. It's fuckin weird to go from bright and shiny winning battles at Olympus to Meg bleeding to death internally while Hercules watches her die. That is dissonant and unpleasant but it happens so quickly that you can basically ignore it.

It's a weird movie.


The songs are pretty great (not Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast great), the animation looks fantastic and the character design is some of Disney's strongest.

I first saw this film as a child when it was released with a big hullabaloo at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. El Capitan does lots of Disney premiers - they'll set up movie-themed obstacle courses, include a kid's candy combo with a screen-printed cup in the cost of a ticket, and hand out little goodie bags of tchotchkes. I'm pretty sure I still have my deck of Hercules cards somewhere. I know I went through a labors-of-Hercules-themed bounce house.

I've got some pretty solid nostalgia linked with this flick, but even that isn't enough to fix the broken parts.

     - Alli

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jeff Goldblum's shining chest

I recently re-watched Jurassic Park with my family and hot damn is that a good movie.

Some things are obviously a bit dated (the conflict with the park computer system is ridiculous in retrospect but I get that most folks in 1993 had no idea what computers or operating systems did) but the dino effects aren't and really that's a huge chunk of why the movie holds up.

But I think the bigger reason that the film still works and is so resonant is because of how well the characters and their relationships are written. Ellie and Alan are still fantastic, Alan's growing closeness to the Hammond kids is still organic and sweet, Ian Malcom's mania and prophecy is still hilarious and hilariously skeevy. These are great characters and I like watching them get chased by dinosaurs. That's the only reason I can forgive Jurassic Park 3. I still like seeing Dr. Grant run away from toothy monsters. Incidentally that's why I can't forgive Jurassic World - none of those characters are fun to watch surviving, and somehow it's not even fun to watch people getting eaten in that movie.

It's well known as an exciting movie, a scary movie, an exhilarating movie, but on this rewatch I realized just how charming Jurassic Park is. There's more sap to this film than just the stuff wrapped around ancient mosquitos but you hardly notice because your heart is pounding so hard. But Hammond is charming (and all the more terrifying for it). Alan and Ellie and Ellie's cajoling of Alan is charming.

These characters are so cute, so loveable - even the reprehensible Dennis Nedry is frustrated and lost and does little things that make us like him, even as we loathe him.

Anyway, it's still a great movie and the raptors are terrifying. Go watch Jurassic Park.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hello Goodbye

So I read The Crow for the first time in like 2003 and there's a line in it that turns out to be a lyric from a song by Robyn Hitchcock that goes "It's a Raymond Chandler evening at the end of someone's day, and I'm standing in my pocket and slowly turning grey."

I didn't know what that meant at the time and to be honest I still don't know what it means but I've got a better feeling for it now since I've read a Raymond Chandler book for the first time.

I'll start out by saying that I liked it. I read The Long Goodbye and it's a fine book. It's a fun mystery and it's sordid and smoggy and feels like Los Angeles and that's a vibe I can get behind.

I could do without the racism that pops up occasionally and smacks me in the face.

And that's really my main criticism of the thing. I liked the book, I enjoyed the story, Raymond Chandler had an unbearably brilliant way with metaphors. And there's some racism that totally snaps me out of the mood and makes me not want to read it for a while.

You know when I'm reading Huckleberry Finn I expect racism. Racism is a big part of that story and seeing Huck and Jim face the racists around them doesn't surprise me and destroy what I was feeling because the point of the story is to criticize racism.

But when I'm reading Raymond Chandler I'm expecting sleazy Los Angeles and dramatic people and Marlowe being a cool cucumber in a hot desert, so when I'm suddenly reading his thoughts about big black men chasing white women I've got to take a step back.

Again, it was a good book. I liked it. There were lots of good things about it.

But this was something that I was in no way expecting that made it frustrating to continue reading.

I will probably read more Raymond Chandler but I guess I'll be doing so with something of a cautious eye.

     - Alli

Many Monsters

Pete Von Sholley is an excellent storyboard artist who has worked on dozens of films and TV shows. And he loves monsters. He also happens to be a customer at my job so I had the uniquely lovely opportunity to discuss monsters with him and of course jumped at the chance to contribute to the kickstarter for his latest book, Pete Von Sholly's History of Monsters.

The book went to print late last year and I've only just now had the chance to sit down and read it. It starts with a few pages describing the monsters you'll see on the art plates in the rest of the book and then it's off to the races with the art.

There are 21 plates in the book featuring hundreds of monsters from the dawn of human myth up until the monster movies of the last few years.

While I do appreciate the earlier plates and their exploration of what different monster myths might have looked like it's the later plates from the 60s on that really tickle my fancy - a lot of which is simply down to the fact that I get to have fun recognizing monsters. There's something delightful about seeing fifty monsters on a page and getting a little jolt each time you recognize a particular set of fangs or a pattern of mangy fur.

I really appreciate some of the more unusual choices as well - one of the later plates features a monster from the movie Evolution. That movie wasn't particularly popular and that monster was only on screen for a couple of minutes so it's great to see this extremely creepy but frequently forgotten face among images of cenobites and predators.

If you're a monster geek I'd say picking up the book is well worth it - it's a great collection from someone who has had a major hand in bringing many monsters to life.

     - Alli

Creeping in Castle Rock

Is Gwendy's Button Box the first Castle Rock story in the Kingiverse that's co-written? I'm not sure and at the moment I don't want to google it, but the novella is a creepy little tale by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar that I both enjoyed and was horrified by, which is the best that can be expected when you're dealing with King.

The story is uncomfortable in that it makes you feel the weight of responsibility put on our titular Gwendy, and as she grows familiar with the eponymous button box so do we - it's an object of obsession and control and we become nervous about its use and fate.

The book is short, which places it in a good position relative to some of the other Castle Rock stories. I think the novella format is perfectly suited to our jaunts to the creepy little town. The Body and Sundog are stronger works than Cujo, certainly.

It may well be that Castle Rock is such a known quantity (though not monstrous like Derry) that we don't need to get to know the setting - all you have to understand is that the story takes place in the sleepy little village and you already know the history of misery behind the place.

Bad things have happened here but it is not a bad place.

Anyway Gwendy herself is fantastic and I'm always happily horrifed when we get a visit from the dark man. I never know what Flagg is up to but I can rest assured that nothing good is going to come of it.

Which is exactly what happened here and why I'd recommend picking up the book to see what's going on for yourself.

     - Alli