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WIB: Jan 18-24 Plus Book Club Backlog

March 1, 2015

Only two books that week: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, a reread for me, and UnSouled, the third book in the Unwound “dystology,” whatever that means.

Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves was a book that came to me at just the right time, the first time I read it years ago. I was back to community college after years away from education, and there were things here and there that I’d forgotten or never learned properly. Like many adults re-embracing education, I was a snob, and Truss’s snobbery appealed to me. Not so much upon rereading for my online book club. Truss is high-strung and high maintenance; her descriptions of how things works, however, is excellent in its clarity. But I’m no longer the kind of person who feels like the entire civilized world is coming to an end because of a misspelled sign. I have met too many people who have been through a broken American education system to think we’re all starting from the same place and therefore should end in the same place. I do, however, think that if you’ve got internet access and you’re not talking to your friends (but rather, say, a forum or whatever) you should probably go for clarity and lack of typos.

I dunno; I just don’t care anymore.

Moving on, Neal Shusterman’s Unsouled is a great third-book-in-a-four-book series. Like many of those, it’s a bit forgettable in the timeline because it’s a FOUR BOOK SERIES. (Five if you count the novella I skipped.) Just when you think things will end, you realize there’s a whole other book ahead of you, and it’s a mixed blessing because you want to carry on with these characters but four might just be the limit of a dystopian series–I mean, a dystology. (Eh.) I really enjoyed the series and while this one doesn’t have the punch of the first one (or the last, which I’ll talk about when we get there), it does what any good middle of a story does and keeps progressing and entertaining.

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Another book club I joined last year was through Meetup.com, and is another speculative fiction book club.  I am sad that I can’t always keep up with these guys, because they are great people and the selections are good and the discussion’s good.  But they’re really far away and they meet at restaurants, and that’s gas and food we couldn’t always afford last year.  Still, I made a few of their meeting for books I’d read before, and books that were new to me too.  Here are the new ones:

Max Barry’s Lexicon is a great idea that doesn’t quite turn into a great book. Having already read Jennifer Government a while back, I knew Barry wants to be funny a lot, but Lexicon is slightly stronger and slightly less silly.  It’s less of a satire and more, at times, like an earnest novelization of a script Barry hasn’t sold yet for an action movie about the (magical) power of words. It’s a fun, fast book with slightly more depth than the usual fun, fast book, but Barry still hasn’t made it to my must-read list.

John Scalzi’s Redshirts is a odd little book. Hilarious parody of old science fiction shows soon turns to something surreal, almost experimental, and heartwarming. The newest crew members of the Intrepid are pleased as Punch to be assigned to such a prestigious starship, but soon find that the Intrepid is not like other ships. For one thing, high-ranking crew members never seem to die, but the lower ranks are killed off by the score during bizarre incidents and away missions. The new guys need to figure out what’s happening and how to make it right before they’re the next to go. I had such a great time with this book.

We also read some H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers short stories around Halloween. I hadn’t read Lovecraft in maybe about a decade, and then only the one small collection. I couldn’t remember a thing, except a story where a monster finds out it’s the “human” one and everything else around it is monsters? Something like that. This time around, I read “Call of Cthulu” (I think?) and I know I listened to “The Haunter of the Dark” on hppodcraft.com. Such a good reading it made me sad I’d already read “Call of Cthulu” rather than listening to their version. I could live without the racism, which people often excuse because of the age but no, there were lots of people who weren’t racist like Lovecraft back then. Chambers was an influence of Lovecraft’s who I’ve heard has gained popularity lately by being featured in the show True Detective or whatever it’s called, but I don’t know it so I can’t be sure.  But I guess if I ever watch the show, I’ll maybe pick up on something, because I read a few of the first stories in The King in Yellow, which I liked as much as Lovecraft, really.  The only reason I didn’t keep on with it is because I ran out of time.  I’m sure I’ll go back one day, maybe next Halloween.

So that’s the books I read for that book club.  Next time: time travel, more grammar, and yet another book club.

Gotham: So wrong, so right

February 17, 2015
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[Spoilers up through The Blind Fortune Teller.]

Let’s imagine two worlds called Good and Bad, divided by a thin border. The inhabitants of this world are personified television shows. Some television shows live in the world of Good, some only in Bad. Some are in Good but sometimes accidentally wander into Bad when they aren’t paying enough attention. Some are in Bad yet somehow manage to trip into Good’s territory occasionally. Some shows are built on the border and we give them about a season. Gotham plays hopscotch on the border while everyone yells at it to come back to Good, where it’s nice and safe. Gotham ignores them.

“Uneven” might be the nicest word you can apply to Gotham. Despite its pre-built mythology and a truly stellar, talented-as-heck cast, Gotham makes more mistakes than it has any right to, yet when it’s good, it’s so very, very good that the fans are thus far unwilling to give up the fight.

This week’s episode, “The Blind Fortune Teller,” is a perfect example of Gotham throwing together its usual hodgepodge of mess and mastery. In it, we find new couple James Gordon and Leslie Thompkins out on a date at that place people in Gotham always go for dates: the circus. Specifially, Haly’s Circus, home of the Flying Graysons.

I held my breath through the Graysons’ performance, because we know that eventually, it doesn’t end well. But this performance goes off without a hitch, until the end, when there’s an acrobat/clown melee.

ACROBAT/CLOWN MELEE. This is why people watch Gotham.

We find out that a snake dancer named Lyla has been seeing men from the circus’s version of the Hatfield and the McCoy legend. (I once saw a commenter on a website who said they were from one of the families, and that they hated the perpetuation of the myth, which is why I use the word “legend.”) The Graysons and the Lloyds have been fighting since “before the Great War” over the theft of a horse, and it seems that the snake dancer, Lyla, is another excuse to fight. But then Jim uses Lyla’s snake to find her–

HE USES LYLA’S SNAKE TO FIND HER–

and she’s been murdered. Each side is blaming the other, and the only real love match between them, John Grayson and Mary Lloyd, has let the feud come between them.

So far so good, sort of. John and Mary are a bit over the top, but this is a show that just had an acrobat/clown melee, so they get a pass.

Then a creepy old fortune-teller–male!–tells Jim and Lee a cryptic message that he says Lyla told him from the beyond. Lee decides she knows what it means later, and insists they stop having a lovely meal together, that was supposed to be followed by sex, and go hang out in a park filled with homeless people in the hopes that they will stumble across something. They do, because Gotham writers are ridiculous, and although it’s supposed to be a red herring, meant to make Jim believe it was some sort of Satanic cult that hasn’t been around for a decade, Jim magically figures it all out in a moment so we can go on with the rest of the show. See, the blind man, Cicero, must have helped someone cover up the murder, but who? And why? Well, obviously, Lyla’s illegitimate child must be his, of course. It can’t be because of any other reason.

The kid, Jerome, then goes full-on Joker and admits to killing his mother, laughing manically, etc etc. Cameron Monaghan is perfectly cast in this role. He creeped me the heck out. BUT! it was too much. And this is where Gotham fails over and over again. It’s like someone stood over Monaghan and said, “Give me MORE! Give me MORE!” as if this would be the only scene he’d ever be in. And maybe that’s true; I don’t really read a lot of casting spoilers. But if Gotham were serious about building a world, rather than handing us one on a really obvious plate, it would’ve held Monaghan back. He would’ve been more effective with half the performance.

Meanwhile, Fish Mooney’s being held by parts pirates (is that a reference people get?) and no one was yelling at her to give more this week, so she was perfect. Jada Pinkett-Smith: the only woman who can give a rousing speech on freedom while standing on a man’s back. Mooney’s always on the camp side of things, but it’s almost always worked for her. Evoking Eartha Kitt has worked for her so far. She’s even wearing a catsuit, basically, although she’s got a shirt over it right now. I mean, look at her. She’s Catwoman. Can we find out her real name is Patience Phillips, and undo the damage done?

Meanwhile meanwhile, Barbara finally comes home in this episode, as well, to find Selina and Ivy camped out with Fruit Brute. She basically shrugs it off–

SHE DOESN’T EVEN GAF THAT THERE ARE TWO KIDS LIVING IN HER APARTMENT–

and decides to figure out what to wear to recapture Jim’s heart. The kids give her advice, which she takes because why not? (and they’re not wrong; that outfit was trying way too hard), and then sees Jim and Lee making out and is a Sad Panda.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, Oswald sucks at having a club, so Zsasz offers a reprogrammed Butch to help out. But reprogrammed how? At what cost? We’ll find out later. But for now, it’s heartbreaking that Butch seems so…not like Butch.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, the Baby Batman goes to a meeting of his board to call them out for possibly illegal shenanigans. These are the same people (I guess?) that will one day think of him as too much the playboy to be Batman? I know there have been competent CEO Batmen before, but it never seemed to gel with the idea of the guy who was too frivolous to be taken seriously.

That’s a lot of stuff going on in one episode, and who knows if I missed anything. I don’t THINK so though.

The worst part about this episode, I think, was Lee. Like Barbara, they seem to have taken a character fairly set in her first appearance and made her do whatever the plot needs, which is basically the opposite of how you should write anytthing. I was reading this interview with Lee’s actress, Morena Baccarin, and this quote jumped out at me:

IGN: Do you know why Leslie is so gung-ho about doing what’s right? Do you know her backstory yet?

Baccarin: Actually, I don’t know. We haven’t discovered that yet. They haven’t told me too much so far. I kind of get things revealed to me slowly. But she’s somebody who really stands up for what she believes in and has a strong set of morals. She’s not a goody two-shoes or anything like that. I mean, she understands how things work in the city and how things sometimes have to get done. But I think she’s also trying to live in a world that she wants to live in and can be proud of. She’s not somebody who’s too precious about things. She can get down and dirty, and she does. And she wants to be a part of whatever force can make the city a better place.

First off, the first part of the question is stupid, IGN. But we’re going to let that be. Look at what Baccarin says about her character. Lee is so far from that in this episode. “Precious” is exactly the word to describe her. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Doctor but without the quirky clothes. Given that Gotham‘s got a “multiple time period” thing going on (see: the cell phones, the clothes, the cars, the cereal), I wouldn’t even mind if they’d introduced Lee as quirky, but they didn’t. She went from assertive to a thrill-seeker in a few episodes, doing unprofessional things (!) with Jim giving in at every turn (!). Why? Because she’s so cute? Sigh.

This is truly the Barbara problem all over again. I believe I said in my review of the Gotham pilot that Barbara seemed to be one of the few characters where they had a handle on who she was, but that turned out to absolutely not be the case. Read Baccarin’s words again. “We haven’t discovered that yet.” “They haven’t told me too much so far.”

Look, I can get them not giving away plot points, but Baccarin should have a strong grasp on her character’s personality from the get-go because the show should. But they don’t. And it’s annoying to me that the women of the show seem to get this treatment more often than the men.

Barbara is a train wreck, but she was never a consistent train wreck. One week she was fine being a cop’s fiancee; the next she wasn’t. One week she’s dedicated to making things work; the next she’s left him and gone to her ex. We didn’t know her well enough to see WHY she was making these choices; by making them senseless to the viewer, they can’t be anything but that, and it’s sloppy and lazy of them.

Montoya is the same way. I was fine with her thinking Gordon was on the take, because lots of cops in Gotham are on the take. But then she was like “Oh, we can’t! Oh I guess we can. Now get out of my house” and all that. Poor Montoya. That character deserves so, so much better.

Gotham needs to get it together, but the fans keep saying that and it doesn’t happen. It’s hard to deal with this week by week. I wish the show had gone into a long winter hiatus, took its time, and planned better, but it didn’t. The best we can hope for is that the showrunners start reading the reviews, and listening to the fans, and get their shit in order. Until this week, they’ve been losing viewers every week because the show won’t stabilize. I feel sorry for the new viewers from this week, because they weren’t getting Gotham‘s best. But then again, I’m starting to wonder if they ever will.

More dating tips from The Flash

February 15, 2015

Previously on The Flash, we learned how to let your friend know you have more than friendship feelings for them. In last week’s episode, “The Nuclear Man,” we continue the streak (heh) of healthy dating choices as Barry goes on a date with a decidedly not-comic-book-canon Linda Park.

Spoilers and whatnot follow.

I. Love. Linda. Park. I loved her and Wally together in the comics I could get my hands on from the library. I loved her goofy crush on Flash in Justice League Unlimited.  And I really, reallllly love this version of Linda, who is decisive and assertive but not unwilling to change her mind when offered new information.

Seriously, I’m trying to think of another woman on television who is as assertive when it comes to dating as Linda Park who also doesn’t come off as predatory or laughable, and I can’t. Now part of me is wondering if the “cougar” in the Joe & Cisco subplot was purposely to direct our attention to what a predatory woman really looks like on TV, thus deflecting any sexist bullshit that Linda would’ve gotten.  As it was, after Linda did all these great things, like making the first move and giving Flash her contact information in “Crazy for You,” and in last week’s episode being clear about what she wants sexually and from a relationship, there was STILL a guy in the comments (at io9, maybe?) who thought she must be secretly some sort of villain, because she PUSHED SO HARD FOR A SECOND DATE.

Oh, okay. I guess a “good girl” wouldn’t do that?

I’m going to have to disagree with that whole concept.  Good girls are clear about what they want when they feel they can safely say so, which makes Linda Park great. She wants Barry, so she suggests they skip dinner for a make-out session, and he readily agrees. Sexy, sexy consent! When he ditches her for “work,” which he decides not to call work (good call even if he was only fumbling; she is a reporter), she lets him know flat-out that her time is precious to her and the thought of having half an evening isn’t what she’s looking for. God, did I love this. She’s not a walking TV stereotype, with the underlying whine of “Girlfriends are nags, amirite, bros?” She’s a person with strong, reasonable opinions. Not everyone wants to date someone with a cop’s hours.

Also, Linda’s reporter sense is tingling in this episode, and I love that too. What’s going on? She turns to Iris, Barry’s bff and her co-worker, and Iris, REASONABLY, thinks maybe Barry’s tripping up on those old feelings. You can get mad at Iris for it, and say that maybe she’s acting in her own self-interest, but it really is the most reasonable conclusion to come to, especially since (as I mentioned in that last post) Barry is a pretty emotional guy. So Iris maybe does the wrong thing by telling Linda that Barry has just dealt with some unrequited feelings, especially since Linda is smart as a whip and realized immediately that the recipient of those feelings is Iris. Our Girl Linda certainly wants none of that either. So she calls it off with Barry, and reveals her sources like a reporter (ETHICS IN SUPERHERO TELEVISION), and there you go. Except Barry really does like her, and it’s The Flash stuff he’s hiding, not his feelings for Iris.  He confronts Iris for dishing what he considers to be inaccurate dirt–new possibilities really do help erase old feelings that never got off the ground anyway, but he could be fooling himself, and under the bandage called Linda Park might be a wound, but I HOPE NOT BECAUSE THAT STUFF IS BORING–and then does something demonstrative at Linda’s work, convincing her that Barry is the kind of lovable/sexy goofball she probably does want to spend more time with. Cool. It wasn’t a huge declaration of anything. It was ghost pepper-eating, which called back to their conversation about spicy food on their first date. It’s a clear way of saying, “I was paying attention” and “I am serious about wanting to have fun with you.”

Okay, it was at her work, which is less cool, but frankly, you kind of have to with her because, as she says, she works a lot.

So Barry again hits the non-Flash, relationship stuff out of the park (heh). He’s a bit slow on the uptake but without that, we’d have no drama, and what’s a CW show without drama? I’m just happy to see an assertive female character on my new favorite superhero show, and things being played out as reasonably as television lets them be.

Barry/Linda <3

I Came for The Wall, I Stayed for the Intrigue: How to Get Away with Murder

February 9, 2015
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Although I talk about television as much as I talk about books lately, it’s usually that my shows have source material in books somewhere and I can justify writing about them in what’s technically a book blog.  How to Get Away with Murder has no source material that I know of.  However, I did watch it because of a comic book.

Actress Viola Davis, who plays the lead in the show, has recently been cast as Amanda Waller in the DC Suicide Squad movie.  Waller, thanks to the DC Animated Universe (DCAU), has long been one of my favorite characters.  A woman who is older, black, and heavy-set who is allowed to be awesome is a rare thing in the comic book universe.  Waller has no powers; or, more accurately, her power is the power of the government, with all the positives and negatives that entails.  She is never truly villainous, and she’s one of those rare, wonderful antagonists that almost never needs to lie, because she is so very often right.  Even when she’s wrong, the principles she stands for make her right.  She’s a woman who represents the very understandable fear of the government as it pertains to all these people with superpowers.  To The Wall (as she’s called), it doesn’t matter if the powers are used for good or for bad; all power has the ability to eventually corrupt and therefore they must be kept in check.  She runs the Suicide Squad, a rotating group of villains that pay off their debt to society with dangerous covert missions.

The DCAU’s version of Amanda Waller (as voiced by the awesome CCH Pounder) is amazing.  She is a tough woman who has had to be tough to get where she is.  She is the kind of woman that doesn’t give much away, not about her life (she’s called “Mrs. Waller,” but we never see Mr. Waller), not about her feelings.  She’s got that act-like-a-man thing that worked so well in politics in the past, but probably won’t last much longer.  She wears skirts, but they don’t make her look attractive or good.  Those are not things she feels like she has to be to do her job.  In fact, the skirt is a mislead.  “Here is a lady,” her clothes say.  “Here is a woman,” her actions say.  It’s all part of playing the game.

She’s the kind of woman who knows for decades who Batman is behind the mask and doesn’t play games with it–but she will use that information if she has to.  She’s the kind of person who eventually changes her mind on who Batman is and what he means and how he’s made.  (I’m going to leave it there, because you should watch all of it, including the Epilogue.)  She’s everyone’s antagonist, but she and Batman have a special relationship.  They both begin from a place of paranoia that they believe is necessary to create contingencies to protect a world from powers it’s never had to deal with before.  There’s a reason Batman keeps Kryptonite in his utility belt, and it’s the same reason Waller has her job.

It’s hard to find specific antagonists in the world of comics.  It’s easier to find the heroes, especially when they get their own titles.  I haven’t read a lot of Waller in the comics because I’ve found it difficult to find her in the comics at my library, but I am highly attached to her character and enjoy when she’s on the page.  One of the reasons I didn’t read The New 52 is because they made her young and thin, and that’s ridiculous for a world with so little diversity as it is.  I’ve heard that actresses have played her in things I haven’t seen (later seasons of Smallville, Green Lantern maybe?), and I’m incredibly disappointed with her portrayal in Arrow, but now we have the Suicide Squad movie, where she’s going to take a front seat.

I was Team Oprah when the rumors started going around about the casting.  She has the weight to play the actress–and I’m not being rude here.  Her dramatic chops are fantastic, although the public tends to forget that after years of her talk show; physically, she’s as close to The Wall as we’re going to get from Hollywood.  But they announced Viola Davis.

I had no idea who this woman was, except peripherally.  I’d probably seen her as an extra or guest star about ten years ago, on SVU or Judging Amy.  But I didn’t see The Help.  I don’t even know if I made it all the way through the pilot of The United States of Tara.  I had to find out if this woman could do justice to The Wall.  So I turned to her latest series, How to Get Away with Murder.  I’d heard the buzz, and Mahasin loves it.  I decided to give it a shot.

Before anything else, let me say that Hulu and ABC finally did something right with this show.  It was getting so much buzz that they decided that instead of having the last five episodes available, they’d keep the first episodes going through the first run of the series.  This meant people like me, who don’t have broadcast TV, could jump in any time before the repeats and still manage to catch up without missing a thing.  I’d be watching a few more shows this season if other networks had thought to do this.

Now on with the show.

Davis plays Annalise Keating, a smart, tough Philadelphian lawyer who teaches classes as well as takes difficult cases.  She’s a woman who does not like to lose; she is a woman who will do anything not to lose.  She uses her cases to teach her students.  She explains how she does what she does, and why.  To her, the law isn’t a game, but it isn’t set in stone either.  It’s malleable.  She’s a sculptress.

Every year, she picks a group of four to be her interns and then works them near to death.  This year, she picks five: rich dudebro Asher, who embarrasses himself nearly every time he speaks and generally has no idea; Wes, a really nice guy who got in on the waiting list, which immediately makes him mockable to his fellow students; Michaela, an upwardly mobile young woman who loves being smart and being the best; Connor, a gorgeous gay man who will seduce any man to get what he wants; and Laurel, who looks around her and sees people with less than her and wants to fight for them.  Every week, we watch them aid Annalise in her high-unwinnable cases, and fight each other for the head of the class, watched over by Annalise’s associate Bonnie and the vaguely mysterious Frank.

This is all really interesting on its own, but one of the students at the college has recently been murdered, and it sets off a chain of events that lead to Annalise and her students becoming more intimate with the case than they ever expected.  From week to week, the story twists and turns, being told in flashforwards and flashbacks and the present-day cases that show Annalise for the legal powerhouse that she is.

On another show, Annalise would be cold and hard and never anything else, until maybe a breakdown.  But this show never does that.  It shows Annalise as a woman who is both able to mask her feelings and embrace them entirely, yet we know she is so smart that it’s possible every tear is a lie.  In the first episode, I kept waiting for her to reveal all her actions as manipulation, and it doesn’t happen because Annalise is not some stock character moved around like a puppet on screen.  She manipulates, yes, but she doesn’t stop feeling because of it.  It might instead affect her more.

Viola Davis is utterly brilliant as Annalise.  One moment she is cold as ice; the next she bares her soul and you want to sob for her, with her, while still being terrified that Annalise is playing you, the viewer, too somehow.  In That Scene, the one that has won her all the awards, I was bowled over.  I mean, I could’ve fallen to the floor, it was so overwhelming.  And as a white woman I don’t even BEGIN to understand the ramifications of what Davis was doing.  And, more importantly, here’s a woman who made that scene what it was: not just by being the actress in it, but by making certain choices that I hate to detail, because if you haven’t seen it and you will…well, I’d like to save that moment for you.

So, all that said: I am on board with Viola Davis being The Wall.  I am beyond on board.  On top of all that talent is a woman who is not traditionally thin and beautiful; she’s gained a little weight in all the best places over the past two years (from what I can tell from Googling red carpet events), giving her the kind of body that can be made blocky-looking with the right clothes.  She’s got a lovely face that with the right wig looks full.  While we may not be getting a hefty Wall, we won’t be getting a slim one, and for that I am grateful.

But then there’s all that talent too, and I am screechingly happy about this casting choice.

Now to try to find a way to warm to Jared Leto, and figure out who this Margot Robbie woman is…

Agents of SHIELD and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe

February 2, 2015
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We comic book nerds are constantly mourning the fact that the rights to many Marvel characters are in different hands. In fact, these hands, currently:

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Although Marvel has managed to do great things with the characters whose rights they retain, there’s still a hole in the fans’ hearts that everything isn’t being pulled together at once.

Mostly? It’s Spider-Man and the X-Men. The flagship money-maker and the mutants. And while being without Spider-Man in the Marvel U is sad, it’s something we can live with, because he’s one character and he can obviously hold his own even without interacting with anyone else. But as the MCU grows larger and larger, the lack of mutants has been felt more and more. It’s one thing to have a bunch of accidents that lead to powers, or “Gods,” but without the X-Men, Marvel isn’t whole.

This was most obvious at the beginning of the television show Agents of SHIELD, where a team is assembled to deal with all the change that’s been happening in the world since smart people and aliens have decided to make a new world. They have little to do that feels like it’s important, except track down one guy who suddenly has powers. This does lead to much bigger things, but the show really gets going–ask anyone–when it’s finally allowed to connect to the larger universe after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Still, something is missing. Let’s call it that “X-Factor.” (HA.)

Marvel has decided to deal with that issue by basically substituting The Inhumans for the X-Men. The Inhumans, a team I barely remember anything about although I’ve read about them in tons of stories, are, um, some people with powers. Aliens? I forget. Uh, but their powers come from something called Terrigen Mist, and are everything from a world-shaking voice to, um, lots of hair?

Look, all I really know is that Crystal and Quicksilver get married. And there’s a big dog.

Don’t get me wrong, some fans LOVE the Inhumans, but they don’t have the name recognition, let alone the emotional attachment, that the X-Men have. And they don’t have the Big Metaphor that the X-Men have always managed to represent: the Other, the Civil Rights Movement, homosexuality in America, the Holocaust. Take a situation where people have felt lesser, and you can put the X-Men in there (except slavery, and even then you could probably write a paper on how the X-Men and the Morlocks are basically like being able to pass and not being able to pass as white over the centuries–has anyone written this paper? I’d love to read it!). The Inhumans can bring powers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s not the same as filling the gap that comes from a lack of mutants.

I think one of the biggest problems is that the MCU had is that it hadn’t addressed this lack far sooner. If you compare the MCU to the DC television universe, well, DC has actually paced everything much better. They began with Arrow, a man with no powers, and occasionally having him run up against some science-based powers as time went on. But once they decided to add Barry Allen, the Flash, we’re suddenly inundated with powers–along with scientists, inventors, and criminals who want in on this new world. That took, what, three years? Not even. Ten years into the MCU and we’ll be seeing that The Inhumans movie, by the way. Meanwhile, if you want to keep up, you’ve gotta watch Agents of SHIELD. Except Marvel, ABC, & Netflix decided to hold off putting the show’s first season–which started with little praise before the Captain America movie set off some real stakes for the team (and we learned the actor who plays Ward needs more than being written as “generic hero-dude” to make a facial expression)–up for streaming until it was too late for the large amount of Millennials/Gen Xers living “Netflix/Hulu-only” to catch up to season two before the episodes disappeared into the Nowhere between Hulu and Netflix. Once again, people like me, who haven’t had television service in years and relies only on Netflix and, now, Hulu, can’t keep up with a universe that’s building a huge chunk of its world on television.

What a mistake.

So now I get to spoiler-dodge, and I’m not the only one of my friends doing so. I could pay for the season pass, but I’m still not the kind of person who’s interested in owning things without a physical copy. But this isn’t about me, although I think it’s important to note that I’m one of many in a small but growing demographic that the industry is ignoring.

With so many people NOT watching Agents of SHIELD, will The Inhumans make it into the MCU in such a way that people are going to care? Will they be in, bit by bit, in the next few movies to prepare the way for their 2018 movie debut? Or is Marvel putting all their eggs in the Agents of SHIELD basket?

I love that Agents of SHIELD is now connected to the larger universe, but are about 22 episodes a year an investment that people really want to make?

I put a lot of faith into the people behind the MCU, but they misstepped not making Agents of SHIELD a mid-season replacement so it began after Winter Soldier, they misstepped by not giving the binge-watchers time to catch up to season two before the premiere (although DC almost did the same thing with slightly more time with Arrow), and I don’t think The Inhumans are a misstep so much as they are a misdirection–look at the powers over here and you won’t miss the X-Men!

Sorry, guys, I DO miss the X-Men–or, at least, I miss the Big Powers and the Big Emotional Connection I have to the X-Men characters. The girl with all the hair isn’t going to cut it for me. Or the dude who can’t talk.

But maybe the big dog will.

Amending my 2015 reading goals slightly

January 31, 2015

The libraries where I live now have a, to me, unusual way of dealing with new books.  They won’t lend them for the first six months.  Even where the catalogs are shared between libraries as part of a consortium, you have to physically go to a library to pick up a new book if you want it.  You can’t just put a hold on it unless the library where it is is your “home library.”

Sometimes I wonder what the point of a consortium is.

Anyway, given that my “home library” is the smallest in the area, with a tiny budget for materials, I’ve decided to change my “new books are November (previous year) to (this year)” policy to “new books are June (previous year) to (this year)” until I live elsewhere or the policy is changed.  It’s just too difficult to get a brand-new book from a library that only acquires a few at a time.

I don’t think it will matter much.  I’ll still be driving to the other library when I need to, and I have a good relationship with the library staff so that if I suggest something not as me but as a librarian, I am taken seriously.  But in case I need that buffer, it’s now there.

WIB: Jan 11 – 17 Plus Book Club Backlog

January 30, 2015

Another week, another set of books read!

My worry with Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman is that nothing in it would be very secret to me–or anyone else who’s read the Wikipedia entries on Wonder Woman and her creator, William Moulton Marston.  This actually turned out to be true.  Despite that, Lepore does an admirable job piecing as much together as she can from the secretive, and often dishonest, group that led to the famous comic book Amazon.  She fills in the story, including the first-wave feminist movement that inspired Marston.  Not being a regular reader of non-fiction, I can’t say whether my feeling that the book could have more cohesion is a fair assessment, but sometimes it felt there was so much about Sanger not only because of her connection to Marston, but because at least that information was available.  Unlike with Marston’s crew, who, frankly, lied their butts off all their lives.  But once you read the book, if you didn’t know already, you’ll know why.

That said, this book is a wealth of information all in one place and a very good read.  Even as someone who knew a chunk of the story beforehand, I found The Secret History of Wonder Woman to be engaging and interesting.

Next up, I read two of Marc Sumerak’s Power Pack books: Pack Smash, a Hulk team-up; and Big-City Super Heroes, a Spidey team-up.  For those who don’t know, Power Pack is a team made up of young kids, the Powers, who were given, uh, powers by an alien.  They then go out and be superheroes.  Power Pack was the creation of an editor, not a writer, but it doesn’t matter, because these kids still work.  The ’80s made them, but there’s something timeless about kids being thrilled to have powers and siblings working together for the greater good.  When I think of eighties’ characters that seemed too, too eighties , I think of Skids and Rusty.

rusty-skids

Those pants though, Rusty.

But I digress.

In this new telling of Power Pack, the siblings have moved to New York and are trying to figure out their place in the world, while hiding their abilities from their parents.  Power Pack has always been all-ages, and this series would be great for kids not yet ready for all the murdering in the MCU.  Plus, the Spidey story is a hoot, with Peter Parker finding himself turned into a kid.  I’ve heard this series isn’t in the regular continuity, but who cares?  Power Pack always works.

And now for the book club backlog.

My online book club is very dear to my heart.  It originally began as an off-shoot of a Livejournal community for book nerds, and then about eight months ago moved to Facebook.  The move was awkward but necessary; almost every one of the book club members was done with or barely using Livejournal.  The biggest problem so far has been a lack of good poll options.  But otherwise, the transition has been smooth, although the make-up of the group has changed significantly since we added our friends.

The way the book club works is that we suggest and then vote on twelve themes for the year.  After that’s done, we move on to suggesting books within the themes, and then vote again.

Our January theme was Mystery, and we read A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the first of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures.  It’s half What We Love about Holmes and half Problematic, but that’s what happens when you go back and read older authors, I suppose.

Our February theme was Juvenile Literature, and we read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  It was a reread for me, and I’ve since read the graphic novel version as well. It’s one of the truly scary books out there for children, as well as being interesting and imaginative.

Also in February, I finally picked up another copy of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a selection from a previous year that I’d never finished, and finished it up.  It’s a great book, as I detail here.

March brought us LBGTQI Month, and David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing.  This is an important book.  Not a perfect one.  But it’s the story of two ex-boyfriends trying to break the world record for longest kiss, the boys and men around them meeting, breaking up, loving, and the Greek chorus of men who died during the AIDS crisis.  Without the latter, the book would be adorable; with it, it’s a stark reminder how easily we forget the past.

April was Non-Western Literature, and we all gave up on The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.  If we wanted to read about some guy cheating by sleeping with a younger girl, and justifying it to himself because, you know, he’s a guy, we didn’t have to go outside Western literature to do so.  We were bored with it when it took place here, so taking place somewhere else didn’t give it a pass.

May was Non-Human Perspective with Richard Adams’s Watership Down.  I may have been the only one in book club who’d never read it before.  It’s a very good book, and I don’t know how I’d feel if I’d read it as a child.  As an adult, I was only willing to give it three stars, probably for…oh, here we go.  Here’s what I said about it on the book club page: ” I could’ve lived without the nature porn, especially the entire, poorly-written page about how day isn’t night, and honestly, the man is at his best when he’s not trying to be flowery, literally and figuratively. He’s a good storyteller but a bad writer, I think, and that’s especially highlighted in the mythology/folk tales of the rabbits, which are some of the best bits of the book. It took me a while to realize that these folk tales couldn’t be very old at all if the trickster was dealing with automobiles and guns.

Hazel was really good but his believe Fiver/don’t believe Fiver thing got old quick and I was happy when he finally stopped doing it. Fiver was interesting but I don’t like magic in my reality, which is what Fiver’s psychic or divine abilities were for me. The language was interesting. The fact that there aren’t supposed to be metaphors makes my Lit brain hurt.”

June was Beach Reads, with The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman, a chick-lit book that got mixed reviews from the book club.  It was called a good beach read, fast and light, but others had problem with the manipulation and infantilization involved in writing a list for one’s daughter life goals.

July was Books to Movies with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which I’ve covered on this blog several times before.  This time I’ll talk about the movie.  My husband half-watched it from behind his laptop in the TV room and said it was boring and awful.  All I could see were the gaps that would’ve made it a coherent story.  I remember loving it the first time I watched it but I didn’t have a critical eye on, but this time I was like, “It’s nice to see some of these things, but it would be better if this movie didn’t leave out huge, important things, or even little, important things.”  Great performances from the actors though.

August was Superheroes with Soon I Will Be Invincible, which I also spoke of last time.

September was a big of a free choice with Books I Never Read in School.  I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I had read at least part of The Little Prince in French class, but not in English.  I didn’t find it as charming as everyone else in the entire world, I suppose.  Treasure Island was more fun than I expected, if a bit rushed.  Stevenson says he wrote it in a weekend.  No kidding.

October is Banned Books Month (well, sometimes it’s September) and we read Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.  Most of us believed it should’ve been banned from schools for being sexist, racist, and obnoxiously written.  How many times can a man say “cedars” and “snow” in one book?  I think it’s like sixteen times in the first chapter alone.  Also, there’s little sense that the author understands how truly awful his lead male is.  I’ve read reviews where this book is said to have “a beautiful love story,” but I cannot for the life of me figure out who that love story is between.  Is it the stalker lead?  Because, JESUS.

November was Spin-Offs with Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, a retelling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective.  Penelope is a shade in the Underworld who is “living” in our present, which muddles the story a bit, I think, but it gives her a modern voice and enough distance to be an unreliable narrator.  The book club was mixed on whether they enjoyed it, but everyone I think found it at least interesting.

Finally, in December, we had Nostalgia Month, reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  Everything old is pathetically being worked toward again today, and this book has a diverse cast AS IF IT WERE NOTHING, because back then, it was nothing to have a diverse cast.  How sad is that?  It’s a great mystery, if a bit of an odd duck because it doesn’t feel like anything that would be published as juvenile lit today.  The funny thing is, I’d forgotten reading it, but I must’ve read it at least twice because once I started, the details were all so clear to me, including who’d done what (but not necessarily why).

I had some extra time and read some other nostalgia-for-me reads, including Dragons in the Waters, probably L’Engle’s worst novel (but still okay); the Wrinkle in Time graphic novel by Hope Larsen, which has its pros and cons and some lovely art (stick to the book first); and the first three Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the DamnedInterview, which I’d loved at 12 but shunned by 21, was the most surprising re-read to me.  I’ve read some older, Gothic-y horror since then and I have to say, Rice really does a great job of recreating that style.  Lestat, which had always been my favorite, seemed surprisingly slow-paced for what it was trying to do.  Queen of the Damned seemed more repetitious than I remembered, but was still a very good read.  Not sure if I want to move on and reread the “middle” books so I can read Prince Lestat, though.

Next up: More current books, more book club back log.

WIB: Jan 4 – 10 Plus Book Club Backlog

January 19, 2015

2014 was the year of Too Many Book clubs.  As I worked to balance my job hunt with my husband’s sudden career change, a move, and my volunteer work, I decided to do something “fun” like join a book club.  Except somehow, one book club became four book clubs (on top of the one I’ve been running online for years) and it got ridiculous.

I’m back down to two, both of which I run.  One is the online one which reads all over the place, and the other is the speculative fiction book club that’s hosted by my local library.  Today’s backlog will be the selections from the speculative fiction book club.

I’m going to do them in order, because the two books I read during the week of January 4th are related to the book club.

Our first selection was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which we chose because I was reading for my online book club as well.  It was a reread for me, and ultimately was not as engrossing for me as the first read.  This doesn’t make it a bad book by any means.  But the slow reveals are best when you go in unknowing.  Our “picky” member didn’t finish it, I don’t think?  The only man in the group back then said he thought he’d have to turn in his man card for reading it, but he enjoyed it, and the other member of the newly-formed club enjoyed it as well.  So that’s three thumbs up for the alternative history novel that was turned into a bad adaptation (which I’ll discuss when I do the online book club selections).

Next, we read Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, another reread for me that didn’t even hold up a little.  This pseudo-literary novel about a supervillain is just crap.  Bad writing of female characters, incredible inconsistency, and by the time things started to be good, the whole thing was over.  It got a lukewarm reception from the group as we tore it a new one in our discussion.  I hear Grossman is coming out with another book this year, maybe, and I’m thinking of giving it a chance if I have time.  I’m not sure why.  I guess because this was his debut, and I expect better things now.

Our next selection was Larry Niven’s Ringworld, a book I absolutely did not finish, which I discussed here.

Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta was next.  Our male reader shunned the format (graphic novel), and our other readers had read the book or seen the movie but not both.  I was the only person who’d done both.  We were a little puzzled which woman character was which sometimes, and felt that there are far more characters than necessary to tell the story.  There’s so much going on, but it is still incredibly powerful stuff, such a reflection of its time.

After that, we moved on to the classic The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, suggested by a member of the book club who adores Wells.  It was a first-time read for me, and I really loved it.  I’d never seen any of the movies or anything, so all I knew was that there’s a time machine and that there are Morlocks, creatures with which I am far more familiar in the X-Men universe than in its own.  I thought it was a fast, compelling read, with many interesting ideas.  I am more interested than ever to read Wells’s work.

The next month’s selection was the young adult novel Unwind by Neal Shusterman.  It was recommended by a member of the book club who couldn’t actually make the meeting, and then another member had read the wrong selection due to a missed meeting, and then our third member didn’t finish the book, with left me being the only one who read the whole thing.  The one who gave it up didn’t like the immediacy of the first person or the immaturity of the narration, but I didn’t even really notice the tense and the immaturity of the narration made sense to me since we’re following three young teenagers.  I noticed that the sentence structure is even more simplified in the chapters with the perspective of the youngest character, so I figured it was the author’s intention and I gave it a pass.  Truly, the narration may make up for the terrifying premise: children can be retroactively “aborted” by their parents before the age of eighteen in a process called Unwinding, where each part of the body is donated to a living person.  As the book moves to its horrific ending, the immaturity of the characters perhaps has been a blessing.  The book can be read alone, which is why we read it, but I moved on to the sequel (and was the only one in the group who finished that one)…which brings us to the first full week of this year.

Unwholly is the second book in what I was hoping was a trilogy, but it looks like a fourth book came out last year.  (My library doesn’t have it!)  Shusterman brings his A game and the second book is stronger than its predecessor.  The characters who made it through the events of the first book move on to more adult responsibilities, which bring their own challenges, and the climate of the country is reaching a tipping point.  I am currently reading the third book in the series, and hope it will be as good as this one was.

Finally, my last book of the week and the book club’s selection of this month was Elantris, Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novel about a world whose magic has twisted, the prince who must solve the problem before it overwhelms him, the holy man who may have to allow a massacre, and the princess who basically tries to bring feminism everywhere she goes.  When fantasy isn’t set in the present day, I usually check out, but this book kept my attention on every page.  The made-up languages are minimally used and understandable in context, the mystery of the loss of magic is compelling, and the heroes are all wonderful.  The book is mostly paced well (although I think he could’ve cut quite a few repetitions of description of pain), and has a retro feel to it, like it could’ve been written in the late ’80s or early ’90s.  Maybe that’s a sad indication of where we are with feminism right now, but there you have it.

So that was the week in books.  Next up: superheroes and the selections of the online book club.

 

Spider-Man 3: Not nearly as bad as I remembered

January 10, 2015

Look, I’m not going to lie to you.  It’s not a good movie.  And it was indeed a franchise-killer.  But when my husband and I went back and re-watched it last night, we both came away with this: inside that train wreck is a great movie.  You’d just have to do some seriously creative editing to get to it.

You can see that Raimi adores Sandman, and so do I.  Every time Thomas Haden Church was on the screen, my husband would shake his head in awe of how perfect he was for the role.  It’s not his only his acting, which is quite good, as a man who is not especially clever but he is especially unlucky, or at least that’s the only way he can see his life.  Church’s portrayal of a working-class guy who finds himself in over his head with his beloved daughter’s medical bills is heartbreaking, mostly because Church doesn’t play any particular guy.  He’s Any Guy.  But no, my husband was primarily impressed with how Church’s looks are perfect for the role.  Stick that sweater on him, and he’s a ringer for the classic cartoon face.

And while my bestie tut-tuts at the graphics, I found the Sandman ones, especially when he’s not huge, to be exceedingly effective.  Even knowing that Marko will be okay when half his face comes off doesn’t stop me for shuddering for the poor guy, and the scene where he’s first emerging from the sand, post-accident, is haunting.  “Haunting” is probably the perfect term for Sandman’s storyline and Church’s performance, and you can tell this is where Raimi put his everything.

Unfortunately, that’s only about 1/5 of what’s going on in the movie.

Next up is Harry’s story.  So far, Harry Osborn has been a great character too.  He was a kid whose father alternately ignored and berated him, throwing him just enough love-crumbs to keep the poor kid coming back for more.  He snagged the most popular girl in high school after graduation, even if he did it without discussing it first with his best friend.  You could say it goes either way there.  He was being inconsiderate, but in a way he was being the lesson he wanted Peter to take: you can’t passively want something and hope for the best.  You have to make things happen.  He’s a good-looking guy; he hangs out with the class geek because he likes the class geek and because being rich and new alienated him in that working-class Queens high school.  (Finally, someone said “Queens” in this one, which I don’t know that they did in the other ones.)  Away from his dad, Harry’s a great guy.  Around his dad, he was a mess and even a bit of a jerk to Mary Jane, who ended their relationship and hey, whatever.

His father’s murdered–he thinks by Spider-Man–and he takes up his father’s role admirably.  Despite the fact the movie ignores how much power the board had, Harry steps in.  Maybe they want a figurehead who isn’t an asshole and a cowboy scientist.  And Harry does a great job.  He often comes off phony, but he’s also a kid playing a role: CEO.  But that smile and the earnestness under the phony gets to everyone, even Otto Octavius.

So at the end of Spidey 2, Harry finds out that his best friend is the man who murdered his father.  He decides to dose himself with the same stuff his dad used, which of course drives him a bit mad.  Not as mad as his dad, though, I think.  Too bad the people behind the movie didn’t deal more with that.  Instead, they put him in the most appalling outfit, which makes him look like The Winter Soldier on a snowboarding trip, and create a pretty great action sequence which leaves Harry with…amnesia.

Fine, I will even accept that.  What I cannot wrap my ahead around is the way Franco plays Harry-the-amnesiac like an adorable toddler.  It’s really off-putting.  Also, we aren’t even sure if Harry remembers that his dad died or was told it.  “My dad died, right?”  Um…yes.  But do you REMEMBER that?  Not the Spidey part, but the dad dying.  His amnesia isn’t dealt with; it’s plotnesia.  And Franco being a sweet toddler is just not the right way to go.

His adoration of Peter and MJ, though, is sweet as can be, and also muddies the “what does he remember” waters.  Does he know them as a couple?  Does he remember a time when he and MJ were together?  What if he had woken up and remembered only right up to the moment he discovered his father’s body, that incredibly traumatic moment?  That would’ve made for a far more interesting movie.

But instead, we get goofball plotnesia/goofball Harry, and…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, in Pete and MJ’s relationship, Mary Jane is singing on Broadway, but she isn’t great.  She’s not bad, but she isn’t Broadway great.  I can imagine a world where this happened.  You get so excited about your production you don’t even realize your star isn’t quite right.  But MJ loves the singing as much as the acting, and she tells Peter on opening night that she wishes she could sing every night of her life.  He’s glowing for her, good old Pete, her most adoring fan, and he’s been Spidey long enough that he’s found a good balance between the superheroing and the MJ-worship.

MJ is her usual insecure self; notice that in the first couple scenes with her she says “Was I good?” several times and even “Tell me you love me” to Peter even though she knows he adores her.  They’re simple little lines that remind us that MJ is hella needy.  But that’s okay, because things are perfect.

Until everything stops being perfect–MJ gets terrible reviews and is replaced–and nothing can fill that neediness.  Suddenly, her biggest fan is not enough and she finds fault after fault with him.  Peter isn’t supportive enough; he relates thing to himself and that’s not him talking about her.  (Yes, he’s technically making it “about him” but only in the sense that he is empathizing.)  She can’t bear hearing about how he’s not in a bad place anymore because she’s not ready to believe that anywhere but this place of pain exists.  She’s a jerk, but you can’t say it’s inconsistent if you’ve picked up on how insecure she’s been through all the movies.  As I’ve said before, Dunst makes it difficult to read the insecurity because it’s all pretty-girl-next-door with her acting.  But it’s all in the writing.  Because I didn’t put it all together before, MJ’s blow up seemed too blow-uppy.  But that’s ridiculous.  MJ is a drama queen.

And then, about a day later (seriously), she kisses TODDLER-BRAIN HARRY.

That’s…pretty gross, MJ.

I know Harry is paying her more attention, but he’s still kinda acting a bit young, so could you just not??

Anyway, she gets mad at Peter for talking about Spider-Man again when she wants to talk about her–basically, he doesn’t know she’s been let go so he thinks she’s more worried about her fame than her future.  She doesn’t tell him because she’s too busy turning her upset into anger at him, because at least that’s something she can control.  Long story short (too late), she ends up singing in a jazz club AS IF SHE’D NEVER BEEN AN ACTRESS TO BEGIN WITH.

Oh, come on, girl.

But hey, still in character.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, Peter has this great life, and people adore Spider-Man now, so he’s on cloud nine and wants to propose to Mary Jane.  His Aunt May gives him a talk and her ring, which he almost loses in the Harry fight.  He’s doing great in school.  The only tiny little wrinkle in his life is that there’s a much better photographer at the Bugle who wants a staff job.  And Jonah (who my husband thinks has been much neutered in this movie, but I like that the tables have turned and Miss Brant is basically running him now, like their whole workplace lives have gone on between the second and third movies) pits Peter and this Eddie Brock against each other for not the best photos of Spidey, but Spidey doing wrong.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, the Venom goo comes down from space and is ignored through half the movie.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, Gwen Stacy is in EVERY PART OF PETER’S LIFE FOR NO GOOD REASON.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, it turns out that there were TWO men on the scene of Uncle Ben’s death, and the one that actually pulled the trigger was…Sandman.

nope

This is a retcon of the worst nature.  Why Sandman and Uncle Ben?  Why?  So that Pete can take off his face mask for YET ANOTHER PERSON?  Isn’t it just as sad if these two people are connected by nothing at all?  Maybe even more sad, and also making Manhattan feel like the populated place it is?

It’s AWFUL.  It’s STUPID.  It’s HORRIBLE.  It’s worse than Snowboarding Goblin.  It’s worse than Amnesiac Harry, because it’s absolutely unnecessary.  It’s even more unnecessary than Gwen Stacy being in Pete’s class, AND a model, AND the girl he rescues oh so heroically, AND the daughter of the police chief, AND a good enough public speaker that they let her basically lead an entire NYC gathering, AND his secondary love interest.

AND ALSO the Venom goo attaches itself to him, making him kinda grouchy and then a total douche, and makes him dance down the street and show off for Mary Jane.

Okay, here is the ONE PLACE where I have changed my mind about the movie: the jazz club scene.  It’s fine. Why?

1) Peter doesn’t sing.  I thought I remembered him singing.

2) Peter plays the piano BECAUSE AUNT MAY SAYS IN THE SECOND MOVIE SHE USED TO GIVE PIANO LESSONS.  I’d forgotten she said that between the second and third movies being in the theater (and I think that’s fair; it’s literally one line), and hey, motherfrakkin’ continuity.  There’s no way little Petey got out of piano lessons when he was a kid.  Add in super-human dexterity and I can imagine him being quite good indeed. (Now.)

3) As my husband put it, “It’s the one time that Peter Parker–not Spider-Man–puts the powers to use for himself.”  It’s Peter showing off, being agile but not super-humanly agile.  (You might argue with me on that, but have you seen this video?)  It’s cheesy, but we JUST SAW a scene where he is walking down the street being ultra-cheesy and putting off women, because that’s what Peter thinks is cool.  EVERY TIME Peter wants to be cool, he misses the mark entirely.  He’s dorky, and it’s endearing, but he doesn’t get that unless it’s MJ saying it.  And even then, he probably doesn’t believe it.

4) It’s jazz, so improvising for the musicians makes more sense than any other genre.

Anyway, he eventually rejects the Venom costume (“It turned into FABRIC?  That doesn’t make any sense.” -Hubs) and oh yeah, at some point accuses Brock of Photoshopping, which he totally did to get the staff job.

And, OH RIGHT, Gwen is Brock’s girlfriend.  Until she isn’t.  I guess she dumps him for the Spider-Man photo?  Since Spidey saved her and all?  But we don’t know, because the Venom storyline moves at lightning speed, shoehorned in like whoa.

So Brock is all “PARKER TOOK MY LIFE!”, never once accounting for the fact that he has a fine career ahead of him in graphic design if he can fake a picture so well an entire newspaper doesn’t notice, and he and Venom bond in like ten seconds.

Then MJ is kidnapped, Peter recruits Harry, who’s remembered/gone evil since MJ kissed him and bolted, and Harry’s all NO WAY until his family butler was like “I cleaned up the body.  He killed himself.”

Um, that’s…nonsense.  Total fucking nonsense.

And then he becomes Harry again, and they take down Sandman and Venom and then Sandman, all sad, goes away on the wind, which is great, except they had to have a talk about WHY UNCLE BEN???

What am I missing?  Probably 100 other things.

So what did I learn?  I learned that Bruce Campbell is TOTALLY playing the same guy in every movie, and it’s hilarious to imagine this guy learning to fake being French to get a job at a nice restaurant.

I learned that this movie has so many good things in it that the bad become more devastating in comparison.

I learned that inside the horrible Spidey 3 is a great movie, with only two villains and a major rewrite of one (Harry).  I get why Venom was pushed into this one–Maguire’s contract was up, yes?–but it should’ve just had Eddie in a minor role.  Gwen should’ve been taken out entirely, and Pete should’ve taken the ADORABLE Ursula as his date, because, frankly, in my husband’s words, “I think she’s the real hero of this movie.”

POSSIBLY THE FRANCHISE, HONEY.

I wish the amnesia had been fake.  That probably would’ve made the Harry stuff way better.  And ditch the brain damage stuff.  It’s weird and doesn’t work with the MJ thing.  SO GOOD Franco is creepy awesome Franco, and Evil Harry deserved better than amnesia and Plot Butler.

Honestly, that’s it.  If you rewrite the amnesia, ditch Gwen (put her in the audience when Spidey gets the key to the city and have everyone be all “Awww! She’s alive in this movie universe!”), keep the MJ play drama and make Harry play on all those insecurities they’ve been writing into her for three movies, rather than like 1 line after he reveals how eeevil he is, but have everything resolved some NON BUTLER way and have the two of them fight Sandman together…awesome, yay, perfect Spidey 3.  Okay, maybe not perfect, but definitely worth the franchise.

I’d say “Next up…The Incredibles!” but honestly, we watched it tonight and it’s such a perfect movie I have nothing to say except that it made me even more excited for Tomorrowland. I don’t think I picked up on HOW retro-futuristic The Incredibles was the first couple times around, but I can see how well that’s going to translate to Bird’s next movie.

sogood

The Week in Books: Dec 28, 2014 to Jan 3, 2015

January 5, 2015

Contains mild spoilers.

Patternist series by Octavia Butler: Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, Survivor, and Patternmaster

I read this series in a bit of a wonky order, and I’m not sure on the exact dates of all of them because I read the Seed to Harvest compilation (and a copy of Survivor from a nearby library), and Goodreads sees that as one book.  I started with the first book published, which is also the one that finishes the series: Patternmaster.  I’d heard from the internet that Wild Seed, the first book chronologically but the last published, was one of Butler’s best works, and that the last book in the series seemed too simple in comparison.  So I thought that moving through them by publication order would be a good idea.  I soon found that it was a bit confusing, and against my usual reading habits, so after reading Survivor (because I thought it came between Wild Seed and Mind of my Mind for some reason? or at least Clay’s Ark? and because I was afraid the library wouldn’t renew it), I went back to the beginning and finished out the series in chronological order.

Patternmaster is a short, fast-paced story of an Earth ruled by telepaths, and a conflict that rises among two exceptionally powerful ones.  Like much of Butler’s early work, the sentence structure is simple even if the world is a difficult one to be thrown into, but the clarity of her writing eases that a bit.  Butler wrote the stories she wasn’t seeing in the science fiction world, with questions that many white authors weren’t asking: What is freedom?  What is slavery?  What are the costs of these things?  In this part of the series timeline, telepaths enslave those without powers, as well as those with weaker powers than their own.  It’s a cruel world, where one’s wife can be taken away from you for not being strong enough, and mutated people, called Clayarks, are terrifying predators.  Butler’s world is fully-realized but it’s the conflict that drives the story.  It’s alien without being about aliens, with the same sense of a very, very different future than we imagine that Wells gave us in The Time Machine.

I do recommend reading Patternmaster first, because it’s such an early book, and it does not give a satisfying resolution to the series (as I’m sure Butler intended).  Instead, it’s so very much its own story.  We’re not really used to reading books set in the same world in that way, are we?

Now to go back to the beginning, because why not? Wild Seed is the story of a man named Doro who cannot die, and a woman named Anyanwu who shapeshifts, giving her longevity.  Much of the book takes place in Africa before it comes to the New World.  Doro is already incredible ancient, and has developed a distance from the human race, even his own children, whom he breeds together for a purpose that even he doesn’t fully understand. Anyanwu is not interested in being bred, but he threatens her family, and she becomes part of an experiment that forces her to fight her way to some form of equality.

Mind of My Mind takes place in the modern-day world, with Doro’s experiments coming to fruition in a way he was never expecting, and the seeds of the world to come.  And that’s all I’ll tell you about THAT.

Clay’s Ark is a very different story.  It tells the very focused story of the people that one day become “Clayarks,” cannibalistic mutations. It’s a brutal story–I’ll warn you right now, there’s a lot of rape–but Butler mostly keeps her distance from the characters.  I’ve had problems reading Butler rape scenes before, but this book didn’t bother me nearly as much.  Or maybe I was just used to it.  Rape is a topic that Butler deals with often.  It seems to fall under her questions about freedom and slavery.  Makes sense to me.

Survivor is about one of the ships that left Earth after the Clay’s Ark virus mutates or kills much of the population.  Butler did not led it her “Star Trek book,” declining to have it reprinted.  I don’t really understand why; it’s an interesting book about religious people on a planet with a preexisting alien species that is at war, and how the humans get stuck in the middle of that war.  Specifically, how one woman becomes a prisoner of war who takes to her adopted culture.  Maybe Butler felt that Alanna’s adaption is too easy for one of her books?  (Jo Walton, who wrote last year’s amazing My Real Children, discusses the book in more detail here.)

And then we’re back to Patternmaster.  As I said before, Butler doesn’t bring the story around full circle or anything like that.  It’s just set in the same world.

Then I started the new year off with Deeply Odd, the sixth and penultimate book in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz.  My daughter and I adore the first book, Odd Thomas, but since then we’ve been in it for Odd, not the plots, which could never match that first book.  This latest one–until the last book, which comes out soon!–has a plot that reminds one of the first book, and it is just as creepy.  Really, really creepy.  But unfortunately, Koontz writes Odd going on even worse tangents about pop culture and the like than ever before, and he writes as if he doesn’t quite have Odd’s voice down anymore.  Can an author grow too old for his character?  Oddie has a bit of that boy-out-of-time thing going on, which is why Spider-Man era Tobey Maguire would’ve been perfect to play him in a movie, but in Deeply Odd, sometimes he sounds downright crotchety.  Also, the plot is pushed ahead primarily by the hand of God or something, at least the Forces of Good, and so the on top of tangents, and a lot of repetition, and Odd being alternately like someone’s grandfather who’s addicted to Fox News and like an idiot child who despite all he’s been through never seems to get anything anyone says about the supernatural that isn’t a straight fact, we’ve got a story that builds tension but never seems like bad things are going to happen to our lead.  I guess after you lose the most important thing in the world to you in the first book, all you have is your life to lose, and there’s still another book left.  But we are introduced to a very cool old lady, and a child–look, why are all the best characters in this series outside of Pico Mundo female?  It’s all Wise Old/Young Lady everywhere you turn.  They’re all psychics and sages and whatnot.  Color me uninterested.  I’ll still be reading that last book, but most likely only ever getting a copy of the first one, which wraps up nicely at the end, so I get closure.

Finally, I used a gift card from the holidays to purchase some graphic novels: Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Captain Marvel Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Fables: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham.  I did not expect to love the Marvel books as much as I did.  I thought I’d like them, boost the sales and all that, remind Marvel that there are a lot of women reading their books.  But I fell in love with them–with Kamala Khan, who loves superheroes and loves that she’s accidentally become one in the midst of a complicated enough life; and with Captain Marvel, who I know mostly because she was the one who gave Rogue her other powers, but made me laugh so much that I was still going “Teehee” here and there for the rest of the night.  Cubs in Toyland was also excellent, if a bit rushed.  It felt like it could’ve been its own miniseries, really, rather than just a storyline where other things had to fit in as well.  I am always surprised when Fables is still as good as it ever was, and I really need to stop that.

Next up: some backlog, Marvel remedies a lack of superpowers in their cinematic universe, and why I liked Ascension.  Yeah, I said it.

 

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