The Many Origins of Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Earth One was easily the most I’ve ever anticipated a Wonder Woman comic. Coming from a writer that is considered by many, myself included, to be the best scribe in the industry, Grant Morrison, and drawn by Yannick Paquette, an artist that he has already had excellent collaborations with, their take on Wonder Woman’s origin story was a book to look forward to. A few months before that book hit the stands, DC Comics began publishing a digital first series about Wonder Woman’s origin, this one written and drawn by Renae de Liz, best known to me for the comic adaptation of the Last Unicorn. That was not a book I had any real attention to picking up. A new Morrison book is a treat worth savoring, but a digital origin by a somewhat unfamiliar writer/artist did not excite me.

Then I saw a few preview pages of the Legend of Wonder Woman. De Liz draws with a clean, clear line. (Aided greatly by colorist/inker/husband Ray Dillon) Her art is detailed without being cluttered and expressive without being too cartoony. It is just a joy to look at. Seeing what the art had to offer was enough to get me to drop a dollar a week on the book. I wouldn’t regret it. I have read a lot of Wonder Woman comics. A few years back I read the entirety of the second volume of her solo title, the one that started with George Perez’s much loved run on the title, over a few months. I have read most of the third and fourth volumes as well. There have been quite a few very good takes on the character during that time, but none of them made Diana herself as interesting a character as the Legend of Wonder Woman does. It takes the recurring elements of the various origins the character has had, keeping the important parts and arranging the other pieces into a modern and appealing take on the character.

The Diana of Legend of Wonder Woman is a wonderful protagonist. That book has managed to free her of the expectations of what Wonder Woman must be and simply tells a story about a character. In the first couple issues, the young Diana is inquisitive and restless. She is very aware of her duties as the Princess of Themyscria, but also chafing against that role. Being born of the island, she is one of the few that sense the corruption that is creeping through the island. She convinces Aclippe, the greatest of the Amazonian warriors, to train her, showing her dedication and resolve. This is a strong character, but not a perfect one. This is best illustrated in her conversation with her mother, when Diana finally realizes that her mother also chafes against the restrictions placed on her by her position, but has enough respect for the laws of her land to work within them, that her mother cares enough about Diana’s happiness that she is willing to allow to go her own way to an extent. It is just great storytelling.

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The more I read and became engrossed by the Legend of Wonder Woman, the more my feelings for Wonder Woman Earth One changed from anticipation to something more like dread. Not that I expected the book to be bad, but I was afraid the higher profile of the book would overshadow the excellence of the other work. Grant Morrison’s work rightly gets a lot of people excited, but it seemed unlikely that his take on Wonder Woman would eclipse Legend of Wonder Woman in quality even it if steamrolled it in awareness.

WW Earth One was pretty much everything I expected it to be. Morrison tried to stay true to the earliest of the Wonder Woman stories, including weird almost subliminal sexuality, and Paquette’s art is as lush as always. It sets the story of her origin as a trial and pits her against the other Amazons after she returns from man’s world. It is an interesting and through provoking work that is not entirely successful in its aims.

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They are two interesting works to compare and contrast. They both return to the Golden Age origins of the character, but they bring forward different elements. Earth One is very interested in the implied sexuality of Marston’s version. His version of Paradise Island is a slightly twisted sci-fi lesbian utopia, with a healthy dose of bondage. The undertones of the original comics are made explicit in Morrison’s take. That aspect almost overwhelms the rest of the work, even though it does have some things to say about gender, sexuality and even race. Legend of Wonder Woman continues the trend of excising the bondage, instead opting to keep things like Amazons riding giant kangaroos. It is simply a cleaner, clearer take on the material, one that sets up more stories with an all ages bent. It also does a much better job of creating a Diana that is a believable and relatable protagonist.

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The books do share the same barebones story. USA pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island and the young Princess Diana wins a challenge to be allowed to be the one to return him to his own land. Elsewhere they differ greatly, but that through line remains consistent. They also both bring back a character that has consistently gotten short shrift in modern comics: Etta Candy. The two takes are only vaguely similar, but both versions of the character are highly entertaining. Etta is a short, stout little ball of energy. He incarnation in Legend is especially charismatic, taking the new to the world Diana under her wing and guiding her through life in America.

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As part of DC’s Rebirth initiative, the Wonder Woman book is being taken over by fan favorite writer Greg Rucka. He is going to be doing a Wonder Woman Year One story. I am certain that Rucka will do good work on the book, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I’ve just read the best possible Wonder Woman Year One in Legend of Wonder Woman. I doubt his take will even approach the flawed complexity of Morrison Earth One version. Still, I can’t be too disappointed. There are at least two more Earth One volumes planned and in between starting to write this and finishing it DC has given Legend of Wonder Woman a second volume. I wait with bated breath.

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Central Intelligence

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How much one enjoys Central Intelligence depends on how much they enjoy watching The Rock or Kevin Hart. This is not the movie to convert non-fans, but it lets both actors do their thing with a modicum of enjoyment. The movie’s biggest problem is that it never commits to being one kind of movie, instead meandering somewhat among several options. It is saved, however, on the strength of the performances of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, both of whom are excellent here.

Hart is Calvin Joyner, a former High School phenom who is unsatisfied with his life 20 years later. The Rock is Bob Stone, former bullied fat kid who has remade himself as a towering mountain of a man. Bob idolized Calvin in school, and since, and on the eve of their 20 year class reunion comes to him for help; because Bob is in the CIA and needs Calvin’s accounting expertise. Things then go through the usual spy movie tropes as Bob and Calvin work together to overcome their problems. There is nothing particularly new or unexpected here, but what is her is well executed.

There are some problems. For the most part Central Intelligence is sweet. It is a comedy that want’s viewers to like its characters. Calvin is the one person, including the teachers and the principal, who stands up for Bob in his most humiliating moment in High School. Throughout the movie he is shown to be a genuinely good person. Bob is a bit of an unknown, but is largely sweet if more than a little daffy. That tone works, except that the film occasionally drifts into mean spirited Happy Madison shit. (There is a resemblance, if only superficial, to the straight to Netflix Adam Sandler and David Spade misfire The Do-Over, a comparison that makes Central Intelligence look all the better) This is exemplified in Trevor, played by Jason Bateman, who was Bob’s bully in high school and remains a unrepentant bully 20 years later. While there is reason to have that plot, it sticks out tonally from much of the rest of the movie. I don’t know if I love or hate that the two plot threads of this movie, the spy stuff and the reunion, are never connected. It would be ludicrous for them to tie together, if the bully were to be the villain or something, but the two threads are literally disconnected from each other.

At times, the film closes in on having some genuine heart. When the two of them break into their old school and see the shrine to Calvin’s accomplishments, he lament how disappointing his life is and you can almost feel it, but the film bounces off that and moves on to something less compelling. The same goes for Calvin’s marital troubles, which start as though they are going to important rather than just the fodder for a couple of scenes and to be forgotten by the end.

The highlight of the film is Johnson as Bob Stone. Both in the action scenes, which are actually quite good, and in his still trapped in high school persona. There is something undeniably delightful to hear The Rock wax on about his love for unicorns (” ‘corns are the deadliest mythical beast), Twilight and Sixteen Candles. Johnson manages to sell it all. He is a CIA agent how has never lost his hopeful, childlike innocence. He likes what he likes and who are you to tell him to change?

I walked out of the theater mildly disappointed in Central Intelligence, but the more I think about it the more I like it. The better its good moments seem and the bad one sort of fade from my memory. Still, it is far from a perfect film. I would like to see this duo team up again. There is some chemistry between the motor mouthed, diminutive Hart and the gargantuan Rock. This movie gives them just enough to work with to be worth your checking out, at least for those who are already fans.

***

Love & Friendship

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Most Jane Austen adaptations focus on the romantic aspects of her work. They distill the comedies of manners to that component, with the humor taking a backseat to the passion. I do not believe they are wrong to do so, but that does inevitably lose something from the books. With Love & Friendship, a lose adaptation of Lady Susan, Whit Stillman goes the opposite way. It drains almost all notions of actual romance from the work and focuses on the humor. The result is a magnificently funny period comedy that overflows with wit and charm.

Love & Friendship stars Kate Beckinsale as the widowed Lady Susan Vernon, a woman who is determined to find fitting husbands for herself and her daughter. Of course, her definition of fitting is not exactly the same as what society expects. Lady Susan is a bulldozer running roughshod over the stilted and polite society in which she is trapped. She is charming and charismatic and thoroughly terrible. She is also surrounded, largely, by fools and innocents. Among them is her sweet and earnest daughter Frederica, whom Susan believes is an idiot, and their suitors.

Lady Susan is toying with the young, as in close to her daughter’s age, Reginald DeCourcy. Possibly she intends to wed him, perhaps she is just toying with him. Her affections are also engaged elsewhere. For Frederica, it is the completely vapid, but rich, Sir James Martin. Lady Susan plots and schemes her way through the movie, generally operating several steps ahead of everyone else, beating them at a game they don’t realize they are playing. Lady Susan’s one friend is Alicia Johnson, who has the misfortune, according to Lady Susan, to be married to a man “too old to be agreeable and too young to die.”

There really isn’t much of a plot; the film is all about the interactions between the characters. Lady Susan goes to stay with her late husband’s brother and there she tries to arrange permanent situations for her and her daughter. She flouts custom and manners, all with the goal of securing her place in mind. Save for her sister-in-law, most of the character are blind to how she manipulates them. Even when they appear to have her caught, she turns the tables on them, right up until the end.

The movie shines with its dialogue. The best moment is likely seeing Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) treat being asked “how do you do?” like he was forced to answer the riddle of the Sphinx. Beckinsale shines as she verbally twists all the other characters around, never once showing an ounce of remorse for any of it. What was most delightful, and shocking given that this was based on an 18th century novel, is that in the end Lady Susan is not punished. She doesn’t necessarily triumph, but neither is she ruined.

After watching a string of big budget failures, there is something wholly delightful in the simple intelligence and humor of Love & Friendship. Well directed and superbly written, you are not likely to encounter a finer comedy this year.

*****

25 Years 25 Games 10: Sparkster

At least one more time (and likely two) I am going to have to push Super Mario RPG down the line and move on to another game. This time it is the much underrated Sparkster from Konami. Rocket Knight Adventures for Genesis is something of a cult classic, one of the few good games to come out of the overwhelming desire to copy Sonic the Hedgehog in the wake of that game’s release. Unfortunately, while RKA has a darling critical reputation, I don’t think it stuck that well in terms of sales. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, when Konami put out the largely very good Rocket Knight for PS3 and 360, that I learned that not only did the game have a sequel, it had two separate sequels, one for the SNES and one for the Genesis, both named Sparkster.

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Sparkster for the SNES plays very much like the original game. That is a very good thing, because Rocket Knight Adventures was a very good game. This time Wolf people have attacked the possum kingdom and Sparkster must fight them off. Sparkster can jump, swing his sword and charge up his jet pack and shoot across the screen. It is a simple, yet very effective moveset. Most of the game can be accomplished with a the simple ‘A’ jumps, ‘B’ shoots style pf play, but to truly get the most out of the game you have to master the rocket pack. This is a game made for mastery. One can set the game on easy and get through it with only a vague understanding of its mechanics (that is largely my strategy) but learning the ins and outs of the controls is necessary. Plus, the game does that terrible thing where it hides content behind difficulty levels. Not just the ending or something, which is understandable, but full levels of the game are inaccessible on certain difficulty levels. That fact made me switch from easy to normal after my first attempt at the game, but even playing on normal is not enough to see the true ending. (Which I watched on youtube because fuck that) I would assume it is an attempt to hamper the rental market, but it mostly just punishes players and games these days have wisely moved away from this sort of thing.

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The level design is inventive and built really well on the protagonists powers. The big one it the ricochet with the rocket pack. If you boost into a wall, you will bounce off. If you boost at an angle, you will bounce off at a corresponding angle. Knowing how to angle your boosts are necessary to getting the most out of the game. There are a few levels that abandon the traditional control scheme or set up. On had the player riding on the back of an ostrich or something as it speeds through the level with limited control of where it goes. Another is just a full on vertical shooter that morphs into two giant robots punching each other in space. They aren’t what the player came for, but they are amazing on their own way and more entertaining than frustrating. Otherwise, it is just pitch perfect escalation of the concept.

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It looks and sounds great, though. The graphics are truly outstanding, especially the backgrounds. The sunset in the pyramid stage is the SNES aesthetic at its finest. The game looks and plays like pure joy.

Honestly, I like Sparkster more than the other two games in the series I’ve played. It isn’t quite the Mega Man 2 to Rocket Knight Adventures Mega Man, but I do think it improves on that game (which I haven’t played in years) in several ways, not the least of which is graphically. It is also better than the 2010 game, which had its heart in the right place even if it didn’t quite capture the magic. I have yet to play the other Sparkster, though. It seems unfair that this game has been all but forgotten in talk of the SNES’s great games. It does not quite belong in that top echelon with Super Mario World or Mega Man X, but it slots nicely in that next level down with Donkey Kong Country and Kirby’s Dreamland 3.

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What I Read May 2016

There is a theme this month, and that theme is Lois Lane. I was interested in the non-fiction book Investigating Lois Lane, but when I went to buy it I encountered a pair of Lois YA novels, so I snapped them up as well. And that took care of most of my book reading for the month of May. I really hope there are more of those YA books to come, they were very good.

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The Big Heat

William P McGivern

My local library had a sale, and I picked up a dilapidated copy of this, along with a half dozen other books, for about a quarter a piece. This is just a lean, muscular noir piece, turned into a well-respected movie. A police detective looks into a case despite being warned off, which gets his wife killed. He then resigns from the force and gets revenge. There isn’t anything especially unique about this story, but it is reasonably well told.

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Investigating Lois Lane

Tim Hanley

This is an insightful and illuminating look at the history of one of comics’ most prominent characters. Hanley takes us through the creation and evolution of Lois Lane, both in the comics and in other media, from the start of Action Comics up to the present day. There is a lot of good stuff in there, especially for fans of the character or even just Superman. It shows how her strengths as a character seemed to show through despite the stories she was in frequently undercutting her. I don’t want to just regurgitate the information found in the book, but it did give me plenty the think about and some stories I want to track down.

Tim Hanley writes in a clear, engaging style and while this isn’t the most intellectually rigorous subject matter he does make some thoughtful points. I did grow somewhat annoyed about how often it came back to the idea that Lois’ stories were being put on the backburner for Superman’s when these stories were taking place in a book titled Superman. Lois’ biggest problem, as displayed by this book, is that she is a supporting character. Still, there are a lot of great and plenty of terrible stories that Investigation Lois Lane can inform you about.

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Lois Lane: Fallout

Gwenda Bond

This book, and its sequel are pretty much perfect. Gwenda Bond takes Lois Lane and perfectly reimagines her as a high school student, albeit one in a world that has a touch more science fiction than our own. Lois is a 16 year old army brat whose family has relocated to Metropolis. She has a reputation for getting into trouble, usually by sticking her nose into tricky situations to help people. She quickly does the same at Metropolis while joining the Daily Planet as a correspondent for their youth blog. Also, she has an online relationship with a mysterious boy from Kansas who she met looking into this mysterious flying man her and her father saw while driving through the state. She is basically everything you could want from a teenage Lois Lane.

In this book, she gets entangled in a plot that uses at risk kids in some sort of experiment to develop a hive mind, only the hive mind isn’t being shut off and they keep recruiting new kids. They are doing this using a sort of VR video game that all the kids are playing. Lois, along with her fellow young journalists, investigate and try to get to the bottom of things, all while she tries to seem like she is following the rules to keep her dad off her back. It is amazingly fun.

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Lois Lane: Double Down

Gwenda Bond

As soon as I finished the first one I went back in for seconds. I am a huge sucker for the Superman mythos and characters, and this is one of the better takes on them I’ve encountered. This time, Lois helps out a couple of her new friends. One, Maddy, has a twin who is having some problems after she went to a mysterious research lab in order to earn a few extra bucks. The other is the son of the disgraced former mayor, who has recently been released from prison. While they investigate how the Mayor can appear in two places at once, they also look into why Maddy’s sister is having blackouts. As impossible as it seems, the two cases might be connected.

This book is a delight. Since it doesn’t need to spend the time on set up, it really gets to dig into Lois, as well as her friends and relationships. Readers get to know more about the protagonist through how she deals with her friends, her problems and her romantic issues with the mysterious SmallvilleGuy. While the weird sci-fi plot never relents, the book really lets the reader get to know its protagonists. While I am far from an expert on the genre, it is easily one of the best YA books I’ve read.

Comics

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American Barbarian

Tom Scioli

This was a belated Christmas gift (thanks Buge) that I tore into really fast. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. On its surface, American Barbarian is the finest Kirby pastiche. It is a world where no idea is too big or too crazy to be put on the page. It reads like a half joke, but you can’t help marvel while you laugh. Meric, the titular red white and blue haired barbarian, seeks revenge on the giant evil Pharoah Two-tank Omen for the murder of his family in a post-post-apocalyptic world. Every page contains more and more amazing stuff. Tom Scioli has crafted something here unlike anything else you can find, and it is amazing. Writing about it is hard, since even thinking about it makes me as giddy as if I’d just eaten a bag of sugar.

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Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye

Grant Morrison/Cameron Stewart

This is not actually a collection, because I don’t think a collection exists for this mini-series, but I read it as one series and it deserves to be considered. This one picks up sometime after the original Seaguy and continues that story. At the end of that story, Seaguy had his memory wiped and was given a new partner. But he keeps seeing the ghost of Chubby the Tuna and having vague memories of his previous adventures. The villainous Seadog does his best to remove the threat to his idyllic world that Seaguy poses, but Seaguy keeps coming back. I don’t really want to get deeper into it than that, that would spoil the surreal fun of this series. It is definitely worth reading, Morrison is a master and Cameron Stewart is likewise great.

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Superman: Kryptonite

Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale

Realizing that even with a purchase earlier in the week, see the next entry, I had not encountered wide swathes of the recently departed Darwyn Cooke’s work, I picked this up in a comixology sale. This has Cooke writing, but it is drawn by Time Sale. I liked this, but it is strange. It starts off as one thing, a story as close as Superman gets to noir, before shifting into some full on sci-fi stuff by the end. It is not an elegant transition. I still really enjoyed the story, but it is not as great as I’d hoped it would be after the first two issues. The story supposedly details Superman’s first encounter with Kryptonite, but it also tells a story about a new Metropolis business upstart and an interstellar entity. Clark, Jimmy and Lois are tasked with figuring out what is up with a supposedly reformed mobster as he opens a casino and gives tons of money to charity. Meanwhile, someone is messing with some Kryptonite while showing Clark visions of the past on Krypton. While the story doesn’t quite work at the end, it is still looks great and reads fine. Definitely worth a look.

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Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

Darwyn Cooke

I picked this up, along with the other three Parker books, just days before Cooke tragically passed away. I’ve read plenty of other things written or drawn by Darwyn Cooke, but if the other Parker books maintain this level of quality, then they might be his masterwork. His art is wonderful, distinctive and creative. His works with limited colors in this book, and what he does use is excellent. Then there is the story, which is simple and nearly perfect. Parker has a kind of seductive competence to him; he is cool enough that it is easy to forget that he is basically a monster. He is a sociopath. The only thing only slightly redeemable about him is that most of the people he deals with are just as bad as he is. Still, thanks to Cooke’s mastery, you do end up sympathizing with him for most of the book. This is good, good stuff.

Warcraft Review

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I am not going to sit here and try to tell anyone that I am a big fan of the Warcraft games. That was true many years ago, when there were only two such games and I counted Warcraft 2 among my favorite video game experiences. But with Warcraft 3 and especially WoW, the series moved away from my interests. Still, I am a big fan of fantasy movies in general, so I had some anticipation for the Warcraft movie. That proved to be misguided, as Warcraft is a turgid, self-serious and simply dull affair that does nothing to leverage the possibilities of the games into a watchable movie.

The most obvious point of contention is movie’s visual effects. They are ever present and unignorable. As far as I can tell, it is never the intent of the film’s effects to present a realistic world, instead an attempt to translate the decade old visual style of WoW into something vaguely resembling live action. The Orcs are cartoonish hulks with hands bigger than their heads. The humans, while being the live action portion of the film, are decked out in the most absurd accoutrements. The overall effect is something out of a particularly garish cartoon, with a simultaneously strong sense of style and absolutely no personality.

It accomplishes that dubious feat the same way it bungles its story; by lavishing solemnity on the most generic of fantasy tropes. It takes all of the barebones ideas of Lord of the Rings, the orcs, wizards, noble kings, etc., removes all the unique and thought provoking elements and treats it all with the utter gravity of a Shakespeare tragedy. Giving a general plot outline is almost treating this movies story with too much respect. Orcs cross a gateway into the human’s world, escaping their own dying world, and start a war with the humans. After initially being shocked at their new enemy, the humans fight back. There are infighting factions and double crosses galore before it builds to an ill-defined final battle.

Treated as a fun fantasy romp, this could have been a delight. Instead, it plays it all as seriously as possible. It expects all of its viewers are intimately familiar with the minutiae of Warcraft lore, so merely saying a character’s name should tell the viewer all they need to know, but that doesn’t work for the uninitiated. It could have been saved with exciting, inventive action sequences, but those are not offered here. While indistinct CGI battles rage in the background, the movie’s heroes are more interested in talking amongst themselves on the battlefield. That stupidity reaches its apex at the film’s climax, but it is persistent throughout. Battles rage, but the heroes only have the most cursory interest in them. The best of these sorts of movies use the action scenes to cement character traits, like Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy using his rocket boots to various effects, but there is almost none of that here. Orngrimm Doomhammer does use a hammer I guess, but getting any sort of read on what that character thinks is next to impossible.

Warcraft is a movie that is garish, self-serious and inordinately stupid. Perhaps my opinion would be different if I already cared about this world and these characters, but the movie does not give a reason for the viewer to care. It treats its very existence are revelatory, as though everyone watching is waiting with baited breath to see Lothar and Durotan, as though they are not characters crafted on a completely generic fantasy template. The only thing this movie accomplishes is to impress upon the view of its sense of self-importance. That and it made me want to dig out my copy of Warcraft 2 and play that again.

*1/2

Now Playing May 2016

Beaten

Run Saber – wrote about it here.

Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse – wrote about it here.

Ongoing

Super Mario RPG – I keep promising, but I keep putting this off. I don’t know why. I like the game, I like it a whole lot. AS is obvious by the emptiness of this post this month, I just haven’t had the time to play much of any game, let alone get enough time to play through an RPG on an actual TV. I will have it finished shortly this time.

Bravely Second –

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When I am finally able to finish this I will have a full write up, but this game is really good. I liked the first one enough and this one seems to have fixed almost all of the problems that game had. I can’t say for sure if it fixed the single biggest flaw of that game, having to beat it five times to get the real ending, but it has improved the rest of it. The new classes are a lot of fun so far.

Upcoming

Kirby Planet Robobot – I have a well-established record for liking Kirby games. I loved the last game on the 3DS and this one looks like more of the same in all the best ways.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE – I am pretty nervous about this game. The idea of a SMT and Fire Emblem crossover was hugely exciting, but this game seems to have taken the worst parts of both franchises. I’ m still in, but I’m not as excited for it as I was for my idea of it before I actually saw it. Still, I haven’t given up all hope that it will be worth playing.

Illusion of Gaia – I am getting on this sometime on June. I’ve just got to get my old TV working so I can play it on my real SNES.

Sparkster – After Super Mario RPG and Illusion of Gaia, this is my next SNES game.

What I Watched May 2016

Movies

30 for 30 Fantastic Lies – Another of ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentaries, this one about the Duke Lacrosse rape scandal that turned out to be not at all what the prosecutor claimed it was. It is a chilling look at what can happen when the system is abused. ****

Captain America Civil War – review here. ****

Journey to the West – A Stephen Chow directorial effort that tells the opening portion of this classic tale. Chow’s movies are frequently possessed of an almost manic energy, but that turns from an asset to a problem in this movie. It is nearly impossible to get a handle on the tone of this movie. It goes from jokey fun to gruesome violence and back forth repeatedly, making for a disconcerting viewing experience, even as it is largely enjoyable. ***

The Forbidden Kingdom – This is an obvious attempt to make a kung fu movie palatable to a wider western audience but jamming a white guy in to be a main character. The real highlight should be the combination of Jet Li an Jackie Chan, but so much time is spent with the less interesting main character. Still, when the movie lets its real stars it is highly entertaining. The fight as they meet for the first time is good fun, as is the finale. That is what this movie delivers; despite some disappointments the movie delivers a lot of fun. ***1/2

Detective Dee and The Mystery of the Phantom Flame – This is essentially a Chinese version of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies. It has an eccentric detective at the center of a big mystery, with his investigation interspersed regularly with action scenes. I didn’t take to the mystery as well in this, maybe because it is easy to miss nuance when you are reading subtitles, but I like the fights just fine and the rest of it was plenty good. It is a touch too long, clocking in at over 2 hours, but I enjoyed it throughout. ***1/2

Pleasantville – I realize that this movie’s playing with color and black and white is mostly just a cheap trick, but I still love it anyway. It isn’t a subtle movie, or one I would want to watch over and over, but for it is still really great. I like everyone’s performances and the trick with the color is a really good one. ****

Legend of the Drunken Master – This should come as no surprise, but Jackie Chan is delightful. I’ve only experienced old Jackie Chan, but in his prime he was truly amazing. The fight scenes in this are something else. Each one is completely delightful; inventive and creative and just entertaining. The comedy bits at other times don’t work quite as well, but the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. I really, really like this movie. ****

30 for 30: One Magic Moment – This film takes a good long look at the Orlando Magic team of the mid-90s, examining how they were built and how they rose to prominence before falling just as fast. It is really interesting. The crazy events that had to happen to get a team in Orlando and then for them to get successive #1 draft picks is like a story book. It all went right up until it all fell apart. Shaq and Penny led the Magic to the NBA finals, but soon after that Shaq left for Los Angeles and Penny got hurt, returning a shell of his former self. Suddenly the team of the future was no more. It is a fascinating, yet sad story. ****

God of Cookery – Another Stephen Chow movie, this one about a corrupt celebrity chef who has his business empire taken from him and must work to be a true God of Cookery. It again combines nuttiness with some genuine darkness, but this time the weirdness easily wins out. It can be truly hilarious, but I don’t know that I like it as much as Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer. The cooking showdown at the end is a thing of brilliance, though. ***1/2

Darkman – I can’t say I am a huge Raimi fan, if only because I detest almost everything that can be classified as horror, but I did like his Spider-Man movies. Someone recommended I watch this as well, which is some strange horror/superhero/revenge movie combination starring Liam Neeson. I didn’t hate it, but neither did it really grab me. The plot is actually really simple, a man survives an attempt to kill him and gets revenge on his would be murderer. It is just done with a lot of insanity thrown on top. In theory it sounds good, but I never managed to care even a little bit for any of the characters. ***

X-Men: Apocalypsereview here. **1/2

Five Deadly Venoms – My recent infatuation with Kung Fu movies led me to this, which was sold to me as a cult classic, but I can’t say I liked it all that much. There are a couple of good fights, but it seems like the movie spends way too much time indulging in the torture of one character and other stuff that is just inconsequential to the main storyline. I still enjoyed it more or less, but it just didn’t feel like enough. ***

TV

Poirot S11 – This show, always good if a little stilted, grabbed me more with this season than with most of the previous. I don’t know if that is more on the quality of the episodes or just mood I watched them in. It has always been a solidly produced series, but S11 was especially good by my reckoning.

Lady Dynamite – There is something aggressively weird and off putting about Maria Bamford’s Netflix sitcom. Co-created with Arrested Development’s Mitch Hurwitz, Lady Dynamite tells a story of Maria’s (TV’s Maria that may or may not have any real resemblance to the real Maria) fall and her recovery as she deals with being bi-polar. So it sets up a bunch of kooky, yet still real feeling characters and she has some crazy experiences.

X-Men Apocalypse

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The X-Men film series is an odd duck. It has survived apparent franchise killing failures, back to back in X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and turned a reboot into a very X-Men like retcon of the series history. Throughout all of this, the movies have kept a more restrained take on super heroics than something like the usual Marvel film. X-Men Apocalypse goes into full superhero mode, with mixed and confusing results.

After a brief opening in ancient Egypt that shows something of an origin for the titular villain, X-Men Apocalypse picks up some ten years after Days of Future Past, or at least ten years after the past portions. In that time, everything has changed once again. Mystique is now a famous hero who works to save mutants by herself, Xavier has restarted his school and Magneto has disappeared to Poland to live a quiet life. Those are the three characters that have driven all of the reboot movies and they continue to do so here. I don’t know, though, how much their characterization is a continuation of what has come before and much is just endlessly repeating the same thing. Xavier, Magneto and Mystique all seem to bbe all but repeated their arcs each movie. While that is true to the comics, it makes for a somewhat frustrating viewing experience.

Really, X-Men Apocalypse is a big mess.  It feels like three different movies mixed in a blender.  Magneto’s, Xavier’s, Mystique’s, Apocalypse’s and the new kids’ stories don’t all mesh together.  There are just a few too many plot threads for all of them to get the attention they need.  The ones who suffer the most for this are all of the new mutants.  There is some insight into Cyclop’s character, or at least his relationship with his brother, but every other character introduced in this movie is a non-entity.  They take up quite a bit of run time, but they are not developed at all.  The same could be said for Apocalypse and his horsemen. Even Magneto’s character arc doesn’t go that many places.  He processes his grief enough to decide he doesn’t want to kill absolutely everybody.

Flaws notwithstanding, X-Men Apocalypse is still fairly enjoyable. It wins some points for being a fun sort of nonsensical and silly. It aims for grandeur and misses, but it ends up in a not unenjoyable place. The young mutants seem interesting; even if they are not given the time to fully develop. And there is something to be said for the sheer level of apocalyptic destruction that goes on in this movie. At no point do Apocalypse’s methods appear to help him achieve his proposed goals, but again that is just the movie staying true to the comics. Still, for a film series that has not hesitated to stray from it inspirations, it is sad they could get this character right even for the movie. The whole film is something like that. It is all wasted potential. The only things this movie does close to right are the things it has been doing over and over since this first film. I don’t need to see the conflict between Xavier and Magneto play out again, I’ve seen it enough. Hopefully, the next film can find some new ground to explore and maybe not bungle that exploration quite so badly.

**1/2