Summer Movie Review

Near the start of the summer I made a big list of the movies I wanted to see over the summer. Then I didn’t end up going to see most of them. I didn’t consciously avoid the cinema, I just didn’t make time to go. So instead of having enough movies seen to make a real top 10 list, I can only remember seeing 8 movies. Assume anything else I saw would rank below these movies if just because I forgot seeing it. Honestly, with a few exceptions, I found most of the movies I saw this year flawed, if enjoyable. To the countdown

8: Star Trek: Into Darkness – I liked this quite a bit coming out of the theater, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it. It doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. It also trades a little too hard on Wrath of Khan nostalgia. Still, I didn’t hate it.

7: Oz The Great and Powerful – I don’t know, I enjoyed it, but nearly forgot about it within a month. There were definitely some really nice visuals in this that much I do remember.

6: Man of Steel – It is still a flawed take on Superman, but I can’t help but enjoy it anyway. The moments where is gets things right makes me yearn for a whole movie that gets Superman.

5: Iron Man 3 – I’ve never like the Iron Man movies as much as everyone else seems to. This was a well-made superhero movie, but there isn’t anything here you haven’t seen before. Downey, Jr is still highly entertaining and the action is passable. But it is definitely one of the lesser Marvel Superhero movies.

4: GI Joe 2 – It is dumb as hell, but highly entertaining. Bruce Willis may have phoned in his performance, but The Rock was awesome as were the ninjas. I liked it more than I should have.

3: 42 – A really solid baseball drama. I really liked Harrison Ford in this, and really the whole movie was entertaining. Just a solidly good movie.

2: Pacific Rim – There is a significant gap between movies 2 and 3 on this list. Below this are okay movies, above are great movies. Pacific Rim is like nothing else seen in theaters this summer. It is original spectacle, something that is hard to find in this day and age. It is better than any giant robot movie should be. I loved everything about this movie. The fight scenes were great, so were the monsters and the robots. This movie, people. This movie.

1: The World’s End – This is pretty much a perfect horror comedy. I guess its horror, isn’t that where alien invasions generally fall? It is the perfect complement to the other two Cornetto movies, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. I’m not sure I like this better than Hot Fuzz, but it is close. It is great to see Pegg be the screw up for once, while Frost is the together one. I love all the little details in the background, like how the names of the pubs tell what is going to happen in them or how the character’s names tell their roles in the group. I wish I could watch it again right now.

I missed a several movies I wanted to see. Most importantly Monsters University. Excluding Cars 2, that was the first Pixar movie I’ve missed since Finding Nemo. Also, after seeing it on Tarantino’s Top 10, I wish I would have seen the Lone Ranger. I’ll see both of them eventually.

As for the rest of the year, I plan to see Thor 2 and Hobbit 2. I will absolutely see those two. I might see Ender’s Game and Anchoman 2. These are iffy. I am considering seeing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Frozen and 47 Ronin. These are unlikely.

If Thor and The Hobbit deliver as they should, this should still be a pretty good year for movies. Top heavy, but good.

What I Read October ‘13

I kicked reading’s butt this month. Coming back from a series of two or three book months, I finished seven in October. I don’t think I read more than I have been, I just finished some books that I had started in previous months and read some shorter books. Only one of the books I read this month were from series or authors that I had been reading this year. I hope I can keep it up through the end of the year.

oct1

The Iron Wyrm Affair

Lilith Saintcrow

I picked this up sometime on my Kindle and arbitrarily decided to read it one weekend. It seemed like an interesting combination of fantasy, steampunk and mystery.

The setting is pretty great. It is an alternate reality Britain where all sorts of fantasy trappings are real, like some sort of steampunk Harry Potter. I did want to learn more about this world and how it works. That information is tightly guarded, presumably to keep up the mystery aspect of the story. That is all fine and good. Where this story fell apart was that it didn’t make me care at all about any of the characters. They had little chemistry with each other and they weren’t interesting on their own. That the killed the whole thing for me. I didn’t hate The Iron Wyrm Affair, but I’m not going to continue with this series.

oct2

All Yesterdays

Darren Naish, C.M. Kosemen, John Conway

This is an examination of representations of dinosaurs and how the traditional looks might not be accurate. Not that all the depictions are wrong, but in merely pointing out that there are holes in the information we use to make those pictures. Plenty of common representations of those outsides of dinosaurs are educated guesswork. All Yesterdays points out where some of these guesses are and shows alternate possibilities. It also gives us different poses and angles from the usual depictions. It is really quite thought provoking.

oct3

Sleeping Murder

Agatha Christie

Another Christie, this one much better than the last. This time, Ms Marple actually investigates and solves the mystery, instead of hiring someone else to investigate and showing up at the end with the answer despite having no evidence. There are still younger characters that do the bulk of the heavy lifting in the investigation, but Marple is involved and actually has the information to draw her conclusion

In this story, a young married woman buys a house and has flashbacks to seeing a murder in that house. She finds out that she lived there briefly as a child and that her Step-mother has been missing since about the same time. So she and her husband enlist Ms Marple to help them figure out just what happened. This story really shows why Christie is one of the giatns of the genre

The only strange part is Ms Marple’s thought that leaving the mystery unsolved is better; that they should let a sleeping murder lie. While she does have some legitimate concerns for the investigator’s safety, but that doesn’t seem to be the reason for her objection. It is not like things are worse from knowing. Still, it is just an odd note in an otherwise highly entertaining mystery.

oct4

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World

Mark Kurlansky

This was a school book of my brother’s and I picked it up the other day and just read it. It is an interesting and sad look at the history of this fish. It starts out with how and why the fish was important to the history of the settlement of North America by Europeans. Then it moves to the sad ending of modernization and overfishing. Which is of course what we did.

All throughout the book and in a special section at the end are recipes on how to prepare cod. Many of these are historical, some are more modern. It is an odd but interesting addition. I wish I had the opportunity to try some of those recipes. It also sucked to get to the end and find out the book is 15 years old and ends with some questions about what would happen going forward. I’ll have to research and find out if the conservation efforts outlined at the end of this book worked.

oct5

A Splendid Hazard

Harold McGrath

This is supposedly an adventure novel, one that ended up on my kindle after I read A Prisoner of Zenda last year. This is occasionally well written, there are some really enthralling passages. But there is no adventure. The hero’s sole bit of action is getting punched out by the villain. The villain, other than punch, only loosed a duel with minor characters at the end.

It is about a search for lost Napoleonic treasure and a possible Napoleon descendant. But they just find and map and go get the treasure, there is little conflict. The villain may have been planning to set himself as Napoleon’s heir, but he doesn’t. This is an adventure where no adventure happens. Still, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. I would read another McGrath, though I hope more would happen in it.

oct7

The Hanover Square Affair

Ashley Gardner

Another book that ended up on my kindle and sounded good enough.  This one turned out better than the one I started this post with.  This is mystery starring a former cavalry officer trying to find a missing girl.  This leads him to another mystery about a missing girl.

This is clearly a set up for a longer series, with characters introduced that do not have much of a role in this book, but have history and very obviously a future with the protagonist.  Still, Captain Lacey is a good character.  He is an honorable man in a world that is somewhat less honorable.  He sometimes comes off as rigid and maybe a touch self-righteous, but he is largely a sympathetic character.  His goodness strongly contrasts with how awful the criminals are.

The mystery unfolds nicely, but it is a little too obvious.  The answers are all there at the start, most of the investigation just obfuscates the obvious answers.  Still, it is a fine read even if I’m not rushing to get to the rest of the series.

oct6

Maps and Legends

Michael Chabon

Every time I read something by Chabon, I am hit with two separate impulses. The first is to all my writing stuff and throw it away because I will never be able to write this good. The second is to stop whatever it is I’m doing and just start writing, because even if I can’t match Chabon I might be able to manage something worthwhile.

This is a collection of essays about genre fiction. Some examinations of specific books, some reflections on what they mean to Chabon. It is thoroughly enthralling. There is a lot of food for thought here, and the recommended reading section of the back is going in its entirety on my to read list. This also reminded me that I bought a bunch of Chabon when his stuff on a Kindle sale. I’m an going to be powering through that shortly.

Next month I hope to finally finish The Lies of Locke Lamora and I am reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Also, during a recent flooding of my basement, I found a beaten copy of Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, so I will likely read that too.

Just When I Think I’m Out

The Pokemon series is often criticized for its glacial evolution. In many ways the newest versions of the game are just like Red and Blue were way back in the day. This criticism is misguided at best. While the basics remain the same, every generation brings plenty of new and different things to the series. Every generation of Pokemon is more different the average releases in series like Halo or Call of Duty. X and Y may bring the biggest changes the Pokemon series has seen yet. With Pokemon, they got the core right the first time, all the changes happen on the periphery. Until this game, the graphics have largely tried to stay true to the original games, echoing them in look. But while the look and rules of combat have remained the same, the stuff under the hood changes quite frequently.

Pokemon X/Y changes are numerous and surprisingly all quite good. First of all, they’ve added a new type for the first time since the second games. The new Fairy type is a needed change. It really helps balance the overly powerful Dragon type. Dragon being so powerful may have worked when Dragons and Dragon moves were exceedingly rare, they have proliferated and are some of the most powerful Pokemon. Now there is a surefire counter to them. Plus, it goes back and changes some old Pokemon to be Fairy type. Most of them really make sense, like Clefairy and Jigglypuff. There has also been some rebalancing to the type chart, but I’ve actually learned the type chart, so I’m not sure how that went exactly.

Another big change is to the presentation. The graphics are fully 3D now. And they look good. Pokemon Y is a genuinely good looking 3DS game. The Pokemon are no longer static sprites and animate in battle. Maybe the best part of the new graphics is the ability to customize the player character’s clothes. Being able to change anything other than gender of the player character is big change in and of itself. You can now play as a reasonable facsimile of yourself. Then there are the tighter integration of online features. No longer do you have to go to the Poke-Center to trade or battle, you can do it anywhere, anytime. It really helps make battling online easy. Plus, the new Wonder Trade feature, where you choose a Pokemon and trade is randomly with someone online is a lot of fun. It is a big step closer to the Pokemon MMO everyone always thinks they want. I’m not even going to go into Mega Evolutions, since I couldn’t care less about them.

Despite all these changes, Pokemon Y is still Pokemon. You still travel the country catching every new monster and fighting every other prospective master. You still collect gym badges and beat the Elite 4 and Champion. There is still and evil gang out to control or destroy the world. It is an addictive formula. Like I always do, I burned through the game as fast as possible. I fell in love with a handful of the new Pokemons, specifically Hawlucha and Pancham. It doesn’t have the draw of Pokemon White’s all new Pokedex for the main game, but it makes up for it with a staggeringly huge Pokedex. In fact, it is three Pokedexes taped together.

For Pokemon, the changes to X/Y are seismic. But I don’t think it is enough to convince people who don’t like the series. It’s still more Pokemon. The core is not going to change, not as long as the games still sell like crazy. And honestly, it doesn’t need drastic changes; it works as it is. Pokemon has always been really good, and it still is.