Mini Reviews

The Great Gatsby (book) – millions of school children likely hate this book after being forced to read it. But it is quite good. It is short and punchy and moves. The plot is predictable except for one plot twist. But it is about character and setting and theme more than plot.

Its greatest strength is the language. Fitzgerald writes and conjures.

Its greatest weakness, IMO, is that all the characters are weak. Their flaws are their defining traits – never their strengths.

It has one of the best and saddest last lines in all of literature. Go look it up. Or read the whole book and get there naturally.

Oblivion – packed to the brim with sci-fi goodness and yet it was dull.

The movie presented itself as a big action, dramatic visuals, neat concepts type show. But it really wanted to be a thinking man’s sci-fi. But there weren’t new ideas to ponder and debate – there was just the setup for the next plot twist. But it moved too slowly.

I did enjoy it. But it was no Matrix.

Now I will spoil the plot twists.

Spoilers – gonna give some space

List of sci-fi tropes in show. Incomplete:
– aliens
– the aliens are after our water
– the aliens are machines
– memory wipe
– the robots will turn on us
– oops, working for the bad guys
– the guys we thought were the bad guys and aliens? Those are the human resistance.
– clones
– “Nuke them IN orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. “

Best Comics

A co-worker asked me the other day which are my favourite comics. In some ways this doesn’t happen enough. I love to talk about comics. In some ways it is an awkward question. My answer in never Superman or Spider-man or any other title most folks recognize.

“Huh?” Is the answer I get.

Anyway I won’t give a list today. I did one not long ago. You can check it out.

Here are some current titles I’m digging:

  • Locke and Key
  • Avengers Arena
  • Saga
  • Hawkeye
  • Snapshot
  • Fatale
  • Young Avengers
  • Wolverine and the X-Men

Plus I still like the Bendis oeuvre. It is mostly the same every week. Same strengths and same flaws. And his X-men stories are going nowhere. But I enjoy them all regardless: Uncanny X-Men, All new X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ultimate Spidey. His Icon stuff is flakier: Scarlet, Powers, Takio.

No DC on my list. I’m still enjoying the Vertigo books, but the core 52 isn’t grabbing me. Wonder Woman is a near miss for my list.

For today, that is all

Movie Quote Mashup

I think I only manages to make about half of these funny.

1. The dude abides – Ghandi
2. You had me at Hello – The Exorcist
3. Get your stinking paws off me. You damn dirty ape. – King King
4. We’re gonna need a bigger boat – Titanic.
5. I’m walking here! I’m walking here! – The Hobbit
6. You can’t handle the truth! – Saw
7. There’s no place like home. – Psycho
8. What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. – See no evil, hear no evil
9. I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse. – Indecent Proposal
10. There can be only one – Alien
11. I’ll be back. – Return of the Jedi

Got funnier ideas than mine? Or more quotes? Let me know

The Hobbit :An Unexpected Journey – A review

Note: I did not see the movie in HFR or 3D. Unlike every other review of the Hobbit, there won’t be any talk of the new technologies.

Note 2: This review contains spoilers.

The first fantasy book I remember ever reading is The Hobbit. My parents had shelved their copy under the assumption that a small boy would one day want to read it. Considering the course my life has taken reading that book must be considered one of the formative experiences of my life. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a grander, more epic tale, but The Hobbit remained my favourite.

The Hobbit has elements to make a good movie. A strong core character, exciting action and one of the best villains ever put on paper. But it has more elements that won’t work. It doesn’t adhere to a classic act structure. Instead it has a series of episodes. They culminate in a strong climax, but the adventures don’t really grow. In fact during the most cinematic portions of the climax, the Battle of the Five Armies, the main character is unconscious and misses it. Bilbo may be a strong main character and Thorin gets some development, but the rest of the characters including the other 12 dwarfs and Gandalf are basically stock characters.

Thus, even after the success of LOTT, I observed the announcement and production of the films with a large measure of trepidation. More so when I heard that there would be three movies instead of one. The Hobbit would be an epic to rival LOTR despite never having enough source material. Additionally it is marketed as a prequel to LOTR. Tolkien had LOTR in mind when he wrote the Hobbit. He seeded ties between the two stories most notably Bilbo, Gandalf and the ring. But The Hobbit isn’t a true prequel.

Wow. That was a lot to say in order to reach the point. All my worry is for naught. The movie is excellent.

Let’s hit my fears. The length – the length is achieved is two ways. One they have allowed scenes to breathe. The early scenes in Bag End included the full diner party including two dwarfish songs. I cannot think of any scene abridged. Secondly, they added material relating to the Necromancer of Dol Goldur. This plot was hinted at in the book. It is the true beginning of the LOTR saga. Here that material is developed. Both work well. The pacing of the movie is uneven – slow at the beginning and packed at the end. But it is never boring. I loved the immersive qualities of the beginning and the time taken to achieve it.

That brings my to the second fear. Making it a prequel. Emphasizing the Necromancer certainly moves in that direction. But the material works. It makes the overall plot more complex and dark, but not too complex or dark. Really, my fears here are realized. But, I repeat, it works.

Stock characters – Beyond excellent work by Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin are nicely developed by Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage. The rest of the dwarves are given the quirks they have in the novel and the length of the movie gives the actors time to bring them to life. Dwalin, Balin, Fili and Kili in particular have great moments and personality. Bifur, Bofur, Oin and Gloin also get a little time. Ori, Nori and Dori round out the group. They probably had bits too. I just need to watch it again. 🙂

Episodic structure – two ways. First they gave it a normal three act structure. The opening. Then the trolls, orcs and Rivendell are linked. Finally the third act from the entry into the Misty Mountains until the end is a giant series of linked action scenes. Next they emphasized the theme of home in each act to give a strong through line.

Ok fears done. What else does the movie do well?

It is fun. It is exciting. It is scary. It is funny. It is gorgeous. It is true to the book, but also cinematic.

It is pretty darn awesome.

Fun? It captures the thrill of the book. It has word games and riddles. Stone at sunlight and danger in the dark. There is magic and wonder.

Exciting and scary? More so than the books there is a constant feel of peril. The trolls are the most humorous, but even they are scary. The introduction of a head evil Orc works particularly well.

Funny? Quite. All the humour of the book is there. Additionally, there is humour in reactions and sight gags. The dwarfs are hilarious without losing their nobility. I’m not sure how that was achieved.

True and gorgeous. These elements are brought forward from Jackson’s work on LOTR.

And Gollum is great. As everyone expected.

I give this film a very positive rating. Huzzah.

Goodbye Karen

Today DC Comics announced that Karen Berger is leaving Vertigo. Her final day won’t be until March, but it feels like the end of an era. In fact it is.

I don’t really know the Vertigo history, but I know Berger was crucial to the founding of the imprint. And since its founding she has been Vertigo’s strongest editorial voice and leader.

Editorial voice is a weird term. Vertigo is known as being a place for distinctive creator owned work. Works as varied as Sandman, Fables, Preacher, The Losers and The Invisibles. Berger didn’t even edit all the books I just listed, but she did oversee the line. Vertigo was about creators, experiments, and a strong commitment to the work.

Berger is also known for editing many of the British creators: Moore, Morrison, Delano, Gaiman, Ennis. Bringing that new viewpoint into the comics is surely notable. Not all the British titles were Vertigo launch. Some had completed before. But most were retroactively rolled into the imprint for later printings.

And printings – before it was guaranteed for all titles, Vertigo led the charge in having titles collected and reissued in trade paperbacks which were kept in print nearly perpetually.

Strong editorial insight, vision, leadership, a new publishing paradigm, strong recruiting and a dedication to providing creators with new voices a place to express them. That is a lot.

Vertigo isn’t done when Berger leaves. But it won’t be the same anymore.

Unless Berger decides to retire, her unique talents will surely be in demand. I hope to see more projects emerge under her stewardship. Something new and exciting. That would be the best results of this news.

Cold Days – a review

Cold Days is the new Dresden Files novel by Jim Butcher. My review should be spoiler free for the novel itself, but if you haven’t read Changes or Ghost Story then there are huge spoilers for those books.

The Plot

Harry Dresden awakes in Actis Tor and assumes his duties as the winter knight. Faerie Winter is a dangerous place and Dresden has already made enemies here in previous books. There is thread one. Then Mab, the Winter Queen, assigns him his first task. And we have thread two. Of course, a mission from the treacherous is probably not what it seems. Dresden can’t take it at face value and this thread three. Unsurprisingly, Dresden’s task takes him back to Chicago. Here are the last two threads. The first as Dresden encounters friends from his previous life. The last as it turns out that there is a supernatural “bullet” threatening Chicago and the entire Midwest.

Does it seem like a lot? Well that is just the surface. The various plot threads circle and intertwine and separate again. None are isolated and eventually they all come together. And none of the plots are what they seem at first blush. Dresden’s investigation of Mab in particular expands the scale and threat of the Dresden files dramatically.

Dresden’isms

Things I like is a Dresden book that are present:

  • Dresden is in way over his head
  • Dresden pontificates about doing thing the smart way, but ends up blowing stuff up
  • Faeries are not nice. (Except for Toot)
  • Dresden gets beat up. And then he gets beat up a little bit more

Ghost Story seemed like a bit of an experiment. This book is really a return to the series strengths.

I’m not really writing this review for a Dresden newbie. Book 14 of the series is a bad place to start. Go back and start with book one.

For those who are invested in the series – there is a lot to enjoy.

New elements

One of the nice aspects of the series is that every book the world building is expanded on. In this book that expansion is quite dramatic. That was easily the best part of the novel. Seeing the old bits was comfortable. Seeing the news ones is exciting.

After Changes, it was hard to imagine that the scale could grow. But it does. Boy, does it ever. And the huge status quo changes there is almost matched during the climax of Cold Days.

Disappointments

Some minor annoyances. Although the scale and scope of the Dresden universe grows so much, Dresden still solve problems in much the same way as book one. He punches them in the face or shoots a well timed Fuego (or thematically Infriga). It seems to me that at this point most foes should need more than a face punch.

Ghost Story was about learning about choice and that Dresden always has one. For much of Cold Days that lesson seems to be forgotten. Right into the denouement, the theme of being forced into a role continues.

Next, I realize it is part of the genre Butcher is using, but Dresden’s insistence to try a play the lone wolf is annoying. It means that every time Dresden encounters another character there is an angsty paragraph or two where he worries about involving them and getting them hurt. Sometimes a whole scene. Every. Time. Just once I’d like him to just be thrilled when someone gets involved.

Other stuff

It is book 14. Who needs a review at this point anyways? Butcher is not my favourite author (though he is always enjoyed) but this is my most awaited book of the year. Why? Because everyone reads this. I have a least 5 friends reading it tonight. By the end of the weekend, I will surely not be the only one finished. I look forward to discussing the plot and action with them in a spoiler filled fashion.

Stay cool!

The top two: Comics Should Be Good posted the last of the top 100 runs of all time

Three parts of this list.

First the top two.

2. Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin’s X-Men – Yes. The awesome era of Xmen. I said earlier that the acme for me is the Paul Smith run. But this has Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past and other stories that make the comic what it is today.

1. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman – And this is my #1 run as well. 🙂 I need to match up with the list somewhere.

Ok. Let’s make my own personal top ten.

1. Sandman by Neil Gaiman
2. Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
3. Astro City by Busiek and Anderson
4. Hell boy by Mike Mignola
5. Fantastic Four by Waid and Weiringo
6. Fables by Bill Willingham
7. Ultimate Spider-Man by Bendis and Bagley
8. Stormwatch by Ellis and Raney
9. Quantum and Woody by Priest and Bright
10. Bone by Jeff Smith

I’ve got two runs on my list that weren’t on the CBSG. Stormwatch is my personal favourite Ellis. As one of my favorite writers he’d show up again a couple more time in a top 20 list. Q&W – there were very few comedy works on the official top 100. But I giggled my way through issue after issue. This also was the time of my perusal of Usenet and this was big there.

Which brings me to my third part of the post: notable stuff missed. This is just a quick list from my shelves and from my brain and from comment lists on CBSG.

Priest Black panther
Macgregor Black panther
Losers by Diggle and Jock
Gruenwald – the list was weak on Gru stuff. Cap the biggest one missing. Bet that would make Dave’s top ten.
Michelanie – like Gru, he seems under represented.
Grell – especially Green Arrow
Matt Wagner – Grendal, Mage, Sandman Mystery Theatre
Rogers Blue Beetle – some much goodness
More Byrne – alpha flight, namor – and more besides
More PAD – super girl, young justice, aquaman
Older dc – Swan superman? And pre-Marvel DC.
Judge Dredd – or other items from 2000 AD.
More manga – only one manga book on the whole list.
Tintin, Asterix et Obelix – or other European classics
The tick and
Tmnt – the indie boom was more than just Cerberus
Wonder Woman runs –
CrossGen – ruse, way of the rat
Simonson FF
Busiek Thunderbolts

The list show a Marvel/DC superhero and a new comic bias. These make sense. And that matches my own collection and top ten list. But they are easily discernable biases nonetheless.

Still I loved this list. Thanks to Brian Cronin and all the readers and voters on CBSG.