Men In Black: International

In most ways the fact that Men In Black International landed with a widely ignored thud was predictable. Yes, it has two movie stars in Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth at the front, but I get the feeling that no one wanted this. It is continuing a series that, for all that the third installment was quite successful, seemed to have run its course. It is also continuing that series without any of the cast that made that series a hit, a problem for movies largely sold on the mismatched buddy cop pairing of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Which is why I was surprised that MiB: International was actually quite fun.

To be clear, the movie isn’t breaking any new ground, nor does it appear to be trying particularly hard. Instead, it jumps into the playground set up by the previous movies and just sort tells a story in it, relying on the charm of its stars to really sell things. The only real difference between this movie and the original is that you’ve seen all of this before.

The weakest part of the movie is its nested opening. It starts in 2016, when Agent H and High T (a joke that certainly doesn’t get old), played by Chris Hemsworth and Liam Neeson, arrive at the Eiffel Tower to repel an alien invasion. Before we see them victorious, we cut to 20 years earlier, when young Molly witnesses an alien and her parents getting their minds wiped by Men In Black agents. Then it cuts to the present, with the now adult Molly trying to join the Men in Black. It is more disorienting than it needs to be, though all of it is relevant by the end of the film.

Without spoiling much, Molly, played as an adult by Tessa Thompson, does eventually find the MiB, gets recruited as an agent, her designation being M, with her first mission sees her sent to the London office, for training and because O thinks there is something wrong there. While there, she is teamed up with Hemsworth’s Agent H, whose reputation is some combination of prodigy and wash-out, to first babysit an alien dignitary and then investigate why that alien was attacked. That investigation takes them around the Mediterranean and the Middle East as they learn about a renewed threat from the aliens that H and T defeated at the start of the movie. This is compounded by M learning that there is a double agent within the London branch and not knowing who that is.

The movie mostly coasts on the charm of Thompson and Hemsworth, and a movie can get pretty far on their charm and chemistry. Hemsworth, as always, is much more interesting as a talented, overconfident screw up than just a traditional hero, and Thompson works as the level headed outsider. It is like a strange inverse of the Smith and Jones pairing, with the experienced agent being the brash one and the newcomer the calmer one. At times the movie hints at a romantic pairing between the two, which us unsuccessful and does not work. The movie also kind of loses the secretive nature of the organization. It is still nominally secret, but that secrecy is hard to maintain with how blatant they are about the alien’s existence at times.

Men in Black; International is perfectly serviceable summer fare. It is light, charming and not insultingly stupid. It is a movie I have a hard time seeing as someone’s favorite, but it is also a hard movie I have a hard time forming any truly negative opinions about. It is just a sort of comfortable middle ground of quality.

**1/2

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Yesterday Review

Yesterday mostly wastes an interesting premise telling a largely enjoyable little love story. Sure, it is just as much Boomer nostalgia bait as Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, but Yesterday tries something slightly interesting. Yesterday plays with an alternate reality concept and a little with the nature of fame. It ends up being just slightly more on the side of a success than a failure.

The high concept premise is that after a worldwide blackout, everyone except struggling musician Jack Malick forgets about the Beatles. Armed with his memory of Beatles songs, he begins to sell their work as his own. There are a lot of fertile story telling ground to go from here, about separating the art from the artist, about the specific circumstances around the Beatles success, about the effect art can have on the world. Yesterday is not interested in any of that. Any other blackout difference are only there for jokes.

Instead, Yesterday focuses on the stillborn romance between Himesh Patel as Jack and Lily James’s Ellie. She has operated as his manager and roadie for him for years, but once he starts to be a success with the Beatles music, their paths diverge and he has to choose between being a rock star and her. He keeps choosing stardom, until the end. There is a lot to criticize about this development, but I found that the love story largely works. It is clear from the beginning that both of the characters love each other, but both are afraid to jeopardize the friendship they have for the romance they might have. It is not a new story. But I find that it works in the context of movie, if only because Lily James is adorable.

A lot of the movie’s humor lands, especially Kate McKinnon as Jack’s new manager/Svengali. She doesn’t have any illusions about being there for anything other than the money, outright telling Jack that she doesn’t care about him, he is a product to her. Also, his incredibly incompetent and drugged out roadie Rocky is a lot of fun as he bumbles though just about everything.

The way the movie deals with the music is also fraught. It just takes that someone showing up with about two thirds of the Beatles’ hits would immediately translate into musical stardom as assumed. It does not acknowledge the passage of time between when The Beatles were popular and now. People would love the music in this alternate reality because they love it now.

There are also some just plain strange turns. Like a late movie encounter with a couple of other people who remember The Beatles and a visit with a man who gives some insight.

I am being somewhat harsh on what is, for the most part, an enjoyable little trifle. Yesterday is an excuse to watch a little romance while hearing a lot of Beatles covers. It succeeds on those very limited terms. Any other implications or insights are completely beyond the scope of the movie, making it feel more disappointing that it is.

***

Rocketman

There has certainly been a little run of musician biopics lately, with the unaccountably successful Bohemian Rhapsody followed up by Netflix’s trashy, but probably better made despite the music not being as good The Dirt. Now comes Rocketman, a biopic about Elton John. Rocketman is the best of the bunch, but that is damning with faint praise.

The obvious comparison to Rocketman is Bohemian Rhapsody, a comparison that can only make Rocketman look good. Bohemian Rhapsody did a shoddy job telling a good story, but floated along on the good vibes of some truly excellent music. Rocketman attempts a similar trick. However, Rocketman incorporates music into the film fully, turning the biopic into a musical. Characters break out into song and songs replace dramatic moments. That helps hide the fact that otherwise this is a bog standard musical biopic.

I don’t mean to make light of the struggles that the real Elton John faced in his life, but if you were to list musical biopic cliches, this movie hits about all of them. Elton is a musical prodigy who struggles to connect with his parents. His dad seems to hate him, his mother is caught up in her own stuff. He meets up with a musical partner, starts to get famous and really gets into drugs.

Rocketman makes Bohemian Rhapsody’s success feel all the more underserved. This movie almost certainly will not be winning awards like Bohemian Rhapsody inexplicably did, even though it has a better star performance and is simply a better made movie. Bohemian Rhapsody is a pile of shoddy editing (I know it won best editing at the Oscars; inexplicable), inaccuracies, and biopic clichés that are soldered together with fortunately excellent music. I don’t know that Rocketman is accurate, because I don’t know Elton John’s history as well and I knew Queen’s and I didn’t know Queen’s all that well. But otherwise it is better than that previous movie.

Rocketman, at the very least, seems to know that what people came for was the music. So it turns a fairly standard biopic into a straight up music. Not as in that there are scenes of performances, which there are, or montages, also here, but it makes tells the story with music and actually has it characters sing outside of the performances. It works. The movie keeps throwing another Elton John hit at the viewer every 15 minutes or so, helping disguise the most standard musical biopic story since Dewey Cox.

I said up thread that this movie has a better star performance than Bohemian Rhapsody, and no offense to Rami Malek (whose win was less baffling, but no more correct), Taron Edgerton does a better job as John than his all affect turn as Mercury. Plus, Edgerton sings.

Rocketman isn’t a great movie. Again, but for some excellent music there isn’t much here to really recommend. But the music is the reason to make a movie about Elton John. As a delivery vehicle for nostalgia, there are worse ways to go about it.

**1/2

Crash and Spyro

Caught up in a bout of nostalgia and suddenly having a bit of spending money, I decided to buy Spyro Reignited, the PS4 remasters of the original Spyro the Dragon games from the PSX. I remember really enjoying those games, or at least the first one and a demos of the other two, and haven’t really touched them in almost twenty years. Going on Amazon to buy it, I discovered that at that moment it was actually cheaper to buy the Spyro remasters bundled with the Crash Bandicoot remasters than it was to buy them on their own. I played less of Crash Bandicoot back in the day; I borrowed Crash 2 from a friend for a while and had a Crash 3 demo, but I while I remember enjoying them they didn’t leave much of an impression on me. But I still went the route of buying both, and I’m glad I did.

I’m not glad because it turned out the Crash Bandicoot games are better than I expected. I’m glad I did because it was simply fun to relive some teenage experiences. Honestly, I think the PSX/N64 generation gets short shrift. For the most part, the games don’t seem to hold the same nostalgic charm as their 2D predecessors and the limitations of the consoles make it hard to go back to them at times. There are exceptions. The idea that Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time are all-time greats is etched in stone. A lot of PS1 RPGs are still well regarded. Every system has classics; what I am looking at are the also rans. Sure, people love Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2 on the NES, but you’ll also find people who love games like Shadow of the Ninja or Power Blade. People seem to have a lot of time for mid-list 8-bit and 16-bit games and I don’t see that same affection for early 3D titles. No one is singing the praises of Syphon Filter or Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.

Honestly, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon fall closer to the classics than the also rans in people’s memories, at least in my circle. But they also don’t get a lot of mention. There is a gap. I am guessing a lot of this is my subjective experience, if people really didn’t remember Crash or Spyro, why did their games get remasters? They were kings in the late zenith of the mascot platformer. Sonic ushered that age in, and 16-bit systems are littered with colorful animals having adventures. They didn’t really go away until well into the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox days. I remember Microsoft trying desperately to find such a mascot, attempts like Blinx the Time Sweeper, before realizing it was unnecessary. For four or five years, while the PSX ruled the gaming world, Crash and Spyro were on top, facing off against Mario and Banjo from Nintendo.

I remember those days fondly. I was definitely a Nintendo kid, though I did eventually have both a PSX and a N64. I was adamant that my mascot games were better than those on the other system. I told myself that while salivating over all the jrpgs that were hitting the PSX. Sure, they have Final Fantasy VII and Wild Arms, but I’ve got Banjo-Kazooie. It was nonsense, and it really only lasted until I got my own PSX and could play those games. By that time I was a little late for the early action adventure games, but I still played them some and was familiar with them from studious reading of EGM.

So while I didn’t play a lot of the games, I remembered Crash Bandicoot fondly. Here’s the thing: speaking only as to the first game in the series because I haven’t gotten to the others yet, Crash Bandicoot isn’t very good. Or at least, the remaster is not. It is colorful and charming and intermittently fun, but it is also sloppy, imprecise and limited. I am not sure the sloppy controls were part of the original game, but it feels like they were. When in the console wars trenches, I would poo-poo Crash Bandicoot for not really being 3D. Honestly, that is one of the games strengths. When everyone else was trying, and mostly failing, to be Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot carved out a smaller, more manageable niche. It puts everything in a tunnel and while still polygonal, does away with any sense of exploration. That is fine. I actually really like that about the game. It is the closest to being a classic platformer done in 3D around. The problem is that the game isn’t actually all that good. It is hard, especially when jumping in and out of the screen, to tell where you are going to land. Also, it is hard to tell how the game is going to interpret how you are going to land. Sometimes, you bounce on the turtle, sometimes you land directly in front of the turtle and are immediately killed. I gave up on the game at the Road to Nowhere level. The game is just not equipped to deal with the precise jumping that level requires, which means tons and tons of frustrating deaths and I don’t have time for that. I might go back to Crash Bandicoot eventually, but not until after I finish the other five games in this collection. I still have some fondness for Crash Bandicoot, but sometimes the past belongs in the past.

Counter to that is the first Spyro the Dragon. I know it is a game that came along a little later than Crash Bandicoot, but Spyro is a classic worthy of canonization. It is clearly taking a lot of cues from Super Mario 64, but also not just trying to be Super Mario 64. The quadrupedal, winged protagonist is one way the game has its own feel. Spyro holds up, largely I think thanks to its simplicity. While it Spyro the Dragon is clearly following in the footsteps of Mario 64. Spyro has an effective but not particularly expansive moveset. He can breathe fire and he can charge. Those two skills set up the bulk of his options when dealing with obstacles. Some enemies must be burned, some must be rammed, others can be dealt with by either. The game slowly starts layering these together, with rooms filled with a mix of enemies, some that need to be dealt with one way and some the other. It adds in enemies that change form. It really taxes the player’s ability to recognize the threat and deal with it.

The only other skill in Spryo’s arsenal is the ability to glide. A second press of the jump button allows the little winged dragon to glide around, greatly expanding his mobility. This is where a lot of Spyro’s tricky platforming comes in, with much being tied to his ability to get somewhere high up and float to a place he could not reach before. There are also supercharge lanes, which propel Spyro to ridiculous speeds with his charge, and using those to launch him to distant, otherwise unreachable hidden areas. That is essentially the one expert technique in the game. The rest of them are just the moves that you have at the start continuing on.

Wisely, the game makes almost none of the difficult sections of the game mandatory to getting through it. That is in contrast to the strictly linear nature of Crash Bandicoot. In Crash, you have one level in front of you and the ability to replay the levels you’ve previously beaten. In Spyro, new stages unlock as you cross completion barriers. Sometimes you can’t go on until you rescue 50 dragons, sometimes it takes a certain number of found gems. It effectively gates the player without ever forcing the player to bash their heads against a particularly tough challenge until the player decides to walk away from the game instead.

With both Crash and Spyro, the remasters look great. They do that excellent trick of looking like you remember the games looked rather than actually looking like the games did look. Because your memories are not accurate. Nintendo did this with their 3DS Zelda remakes; they still look like N64 games without actually looking like N64 games.

The PSX/N64 generation was a time of great experimentation, as everyone struggled to understand how to make polygonal games. Some took to it like a duck to water, others struggled themselves out of existence. The great disparity in quality of games I think has lead people to discount a lot of games from that era. The small handful that are recognized as classics still get love, but most of the rest are ignored and forgotten. Spyro and Crash are right on the edge; I don’t see people sing their praises with the Ocarina of Times or the Metal Gear Solids, but they aren’t really forgotten; they did get modern remasters. But if games that were as popular as these were are as little thought of as they are, it does not bode well for the mid-tier stuff behind them. I’m done with Spyro the Dragon (and got my first platinum trophy with it) and probably done with Crash Bandicoot. I’ve got two more of each. After a few weeks off I’ll revisit Spyro 2: Ripto’s Revenge and Crash 2: The Wrath of Cortex to see how these two series evolved after their first outings.

Late Night

Late Night follows the general outline of a romantic comedy. The twist is that this pairing is not a romantic couple, but a boss and employee. Though the movie follows that familiar shape, they are not romantically linked at all. It works surprisingly well.

Emma Thompson stars a Katherine Newberry, the long-time star of a late night talk show who the new studio head is forcing out of her role. She doesn’t make a great first impression, she seems very complacent and a little disinterested in her show. She has never even met most of the writers that work for the show. When it is brought to her attention that she has no women writing for her show, she instructs her producer to hire a woman writer to fill a newly opened vacancy. Mindy Kaling plays Molly, the new writer who gets that job. She is a recent blue collar worker who aspires to be a comedian and idolizes Katherine.

There are struggles. Molly struggles with her new job, getting to know the ins and outs of her profession and dealing with a lack of respect from her coworkers. Katherine, newly reinvigorated about keeping her job, struggles to understand a new generation. Soon it becomes clear that Molly, who is a fan of Katherine’s older, more successful material, is one of the best at helping Katherine connect with the audience she is seeking without coming off as condescending.

It really does mostly follow a rom-com structure. They meet and initially clash. Then they learn how well they work together. Then there is a third act separation, where they both try to get along without each other before the big reunion near the end. It is a platonic rom-com. The structure works surprisingly well, largely thanks to the performances of Kaling and Thompson. Thompson seems like a real late night host in her cadence and comfort on stage. She is also believable demanding and slightly out of touch. Kaling is terrific as the peppy and generally upbeat newcomer who, for the most part, refuses to let the vagaries of the job get her down.

It really succeeds by making its two lead roles fully realized people, even if no one else it. Katherine has a history, a husband who is succumbing to an incurable disease and some indiscretions. Molly is a little naive but not stupid. She is inexperienced, but she is also hardworking. She refuses to be talked down to, but does not refuse to learn. The understanding between the two of them feels natural. I also like that the change that Katherine has to go through is not changing who she is, but simply doing better of showing who she is, a skill she seems to have lost through her struggles with her husband and his disease, and just simply growing old. It isn’t that she needs to dumb down her show, as the first instict is, but to more clearly communicate its goals.

Late Night is also a comedy that at least seems to have something to say. It isn’t deep or profound, but there is a message here about sex and age and class. It doesn’t beat the viewer over the head with a message (which can be a very good thing, see Sorry to Bother You), but it is undeniably there. The movie is just a solid, refreshing bit of summer fun.

****

1000th Post

This is the 1000th post I’ve written on this blog. Well, 1000th post; I did do a month of strictly image posts about 8 years ago. With this milestone approaching, I’ve been looking back on what I’ve written and thinking about what I want to do in the future. My first thought was to just close up shop, disappear as unnoticed now as when I started. If I had some other outlet, I might have done that. But I’ve got a half dozen posts ready to go in the hopper, so at least for now I intend to keep plugging away. So here are 1000 words reflecting on 1000 posts.

What I’ve written over the last 8 or so years is different from what I imagined. What I imagined was me doing what all the popular sites I was reading were doing all by myself. At first I wanted to do TV reviews in the style of the AV Club, but I was getting in on the end of that train; the AV Club even cut back on their TV reviews not long after. Early on I outlined an ambitious plan to do recaps of my favorite shows, a list that is remarkably similar to what that list would look like today, and I got through a season of Futurama. The problem is that they were all comedies, shows without meaningful serialization or plot to examine. Writing about comedy shows is harder than I imagined; explaining jokes is not interesting and it only serves to make the jokes less funny. Without a lot of plot or character development, there wasn’t much to analyze. I always had an idea to start that back up again, likely focusing on different shows, like the CW DC shows, but I really don’t think I will.

I will continue to write about TV, though. I am intending to do more in depth writing about TV seasons as they end. Too often I write a short blurb in monthly post about how much I enjoyed a TV show and add a bit about writing more about it later, knowing that that will never happen. I want to try to make it happen. Also, I want to get some words down about my favorite shows, even if they aren’t episode reviews. I’ve already done that for a few (like Parks and Rec and The Office) but I will get to more. My movie reviews aren’t exactly what I intended when I started, but I am reasonably happy with them. I don’t see how I do them changing, though again I do intend to write more about older stuff.

My Video Game Archeology series was me biting real hard into Retronauts shtick, but even when I started people were moving to YouTube for video game stuff. That is one that might see a return. I’ve got a list of 8 and 16-bit (as well as a few N64/PS1) games that I’ve always wanted to try; it is entirely possible I might go back and give that a go. Otherwise, I will stay the course with my dwindling video game playing and writing time. This blog ended up being a lot more contemporary than I intended. I wanted to write about the things I loved, and at the time I was more inclined to spend time with old favorites than seek out new ones. For nearly a decade I replayed some of my favorite games at least once a year; the trio of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and Suikoden 2. I’ve mentioned the list of posts I intended to write that I made up before starting this blog before. (I’ll share that list below.) Keeping in mind that I made that list circa 2010, there is a lot on there that I have no idea what I intended to write about and a lot on there that I no longer have any intention of writing about. However, there is very little on that list that was new at the time, especially in the video games department.

I wrote about sports for a time, but my time as an intense sports fan is kind of past. Shake-ups to the college sports landscape, revelations about head trauma in the NFL and the like have kind of put me at a bit of a distance from sports that I didn’t feel in my early 20s. I still watch plenty of basketball, football and baseball, but I can’t honestly say that I care like I used to. Some of my favorite sports memories have happened while I was writing this blog, even if I didn’t write about them. I started a thing about baseball and the Royals after the 2014 season ended in a World Series defeat, and I had another one after the 2015 World Series victory. But I couldn’t really get my thoughts into words. I’m not saying I’ll never write about sports on this blog again, but look how long it’s been since I did.

I don’t have a lot to say about books and comics, I will keep writing about them as I read them and that’s about it. Maybe some more in depth features, maybe not.

I also don’t know that I’m proud of my work on this blog. In preparing for this post, I thought I would go back and find my favorite things that I’ve written, forgetting that I hate everything I’ve ever written. I can pick out some favorite experiences, if not posts. Book: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Movie: Mad Max Fury Road. Game: Breath of the Wild. I don’t know that any of those are my best writing, but those are the best things I’ve written about.

Having the blog was a way to make my time working at jobs that didn’t matter seem less pointless. But my work isn’t so pointless anymore and I don’t know that my writing has actually improved. So who knows what the future holds.

Continue reading

What I Watched June 2019

Movies

Backdraft 2 – I don’t know why someone thought we needed a sequel to mid-tier hit from the 90’s; we didn’t. This movie is shockingly competent, if not especially good. I mean, it is full blown nonsense and I can’t recommend it to anybody. But I kind of enjoyed a bit. **

Hot Fuzz – Yup, I still love it. *****

Murder Mystery – I can’t remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed an Adam Sandler movie. This movie almost leans into the criticisms of Sandler movies being an excuse to take a vacation on the production company’s dime, but it somehow works. There just appears to be more effort put in here, on the scripting and directing, than other movies. It isn’t the best mystery I’ve ever seen, but is just kind of works. This movie isn’t great, but I think it is slightly on the side of good. ***

Good Sam – Just a straight up Hallmark romance movie. I watched it for Tiya Sircar, who I knew from The Good Place. There is no reason to watch this movie. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes, but I don’t know why you would. **

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – This movie kind of sneaks up on you. This movie does a good job of keeping the viewer’s sympathy in between Martin and Candy. Martin’s character could have been more hateful, but you see from the start that he is actually a good guy who is getting stressed. Candy’s is kind of insufferable, but even early on he seems like a generally decent guy. The whole movie just worms its way into your affections. There aren’t many Thanksgiving movies, but with one this good do we need any others. ****1/2

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – This movie holds up shockingly well. The turtles still look good; those are some excellent special effects. Maybe there is too much nostalgia for me to adequately judge this movie, but I think it is genuinely excellent. ****

Wheels on Meals – Hey, you know who is great? Jackie Chan. You know who else is great? Sammo Hung. One final great thing: this movie. It is just so full of energy, such great fight choreography. The fight near the end it just excellent. I loved this movie. ****1/2

Rocketman – Read Review here.

Yesterday – Read Review here.

Late Night – Read Review here.

TV

Documentary Now S3 – I’ve really liked everything I’ve seen from this series. The third season expands things somewhat. Instead of all of the fake documentaries involving Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, there are a lot of guest stars, from Michael Keaton to Cate Blanchett to John Mulaney. There is also still a lot of Fred Armisen. These are still pitch perfect fake documentaries. They are funny, but there is also a humanity there. Even the subjects that are the source of comedy get a touch of empathy before the end. This show is just pretty much everything I want out of television.

When They See Us – Is this a TV mini-series or a nearly four hour movie broken up into smaller chunks? It doesn’t matter. What it is is one of the best things you can watch on any screen. When They See Us tells the story of the Central Park 5, a group of young black and Hispanic boys railroaded by the New York police and wrongfully convicted of rape and assault. This show digs in and tells the story from their heartbreaking perspective. It shows how the cultural climate of the time, egged on in part by a degenerate con man, a rapist himself, who called for their death before any evidence was shown, helped lead to this miscarriage of justice. It shows the struggles of their families as they try to get through it. It shows how the stigma followed them afterwards until they were able to prove their innocence. It is wonderfully acted, wonderfully shot, and completely heartbreaking. This is just one of the best things of the year.

Good Omens – I really wish I had encountered this book, and more Terry Pratchett in general, when I was younger. I’ve got it on my kindle and expect to enjoy it when I finally get around to it, but judging by this show it is something that would have really made an impact on me as a teenager. If I was prepared to handle it; there is still some part of my very conservative, fundamentalist Christian upbringing existing that recoils at the blasphemy here. I unabashedly love this show. Michael Sheen and David Tennant are great as the central angel and demon who are trying to prevent the apocalypse that is supposedly the plan of both sides, motivated by concerns like how hard it will be to get a good meal when all the humans are dead. Around them are a ton of other interesting, and more vital to the eventual outcome, characters, like the young woman with the book of always correct prophesies or the new witch-hunter who has problems with technology. The central conflict rest on the shoulders of a normal young boy who, it turns out, is the antichrist. It is a perfect combination of cleverness and irreverence.

Jessica Jones S3 – I’ve got a big post-mortem about the entire Marvel Netflix project in the works, waiting only on me finishing the third season of Daredevil, so I will have more to say about this there. For now, I’ll say that season 3 of Jessica Jones is a bounce back after the near disaster of season 2. It does have a complete dud of a villain, but the conflicts between its primary cast are good and believable. I don’t really like where it left things, but that is where it had to leave things after the season that was.

Hanna – I really can’t say why I stuck with this to the end. It’s not bad; it is actually quite well produced, but the show never really clicked with me. The central plot, of genetically engineered super-soldier that just happens to be a young girl, is a lot more interesting in theory than in practice.

What I Read in June 2019

Even though I had the whole month with no school to take up my time, I still only managed to read two books in June. A large part of that was that I got the idea to do a chapter by chapter read through of a book, kind of to try that format of reread out, and discovered it slowed my reading speed to a crawl. I might still go through with the project, though it will be different than I intended since instead of reading a chapter or two of a book I barely remembered, I blew through the first two books of the series. I will finish that series, see below, and probably another book or two next month, including a book I’ve been reading for more than a year.

The Scions of Shannara

Terry Brooks

I was a big Brooks fan for a couple of years about a decade and a half ago. Since then I’ve grown solidly disinterested in his stuff. However, the “Heritage of Shannara” series, in my mind, was the part of his overarching Shannara saga that was the good part. This quartet of books have long been on my reread stack. They were going to be (and maybe still will be) the subject of an ongoing feature on my blog as I reread them. Spoilers: I am not coming out of this reread with as strong affection for these books as I went in with.

Scions meanders. It is primarily an adventure tale, with a lot of hooks that should excite me, but it feels so much like just generic, bargain basement fantasy. Everything is so obvious. If a character appears evil, they are evil. Characters might be deceptive, but the book never is. It kind of kills the suspense and intrigue that feels like it should be a part of the book. Everything is just so on the surface. The Four Lands are in trouble, and the shade of the Druid Allanon has called the children of the Shannara bloodline to try to save it. They are Par Ohmsford, who has the ability to sing illusions with the wishsong, and his brother Coll, Wren Ohmsford, about whom nothing is learned in this book, and Walker Boh, the Dark Uncle is as yet vague magical powers. They are each given a task, and the book follows the brothers as they attempt to recover the Sword of Shannara. Its fine, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of meat on these bones.

The biggest disappointment is a story hook that almost always lands for me but mostly didn’t here; the conflict between brothers Par and Coll. Usually, that sort of conflict is really my thing, here I don’t get a strong enough feel for the characters to make it work.

The Druid of Shannara

Terry Brooks

The second book does not fix the problems I had with the first book in this series. Honestly, it sort of abandons everything set up in the first volume. Yes, it deals with some of the same characters, but this feels like a side story. Walker Boh was given one task; this book that focuses on him has him dealing with a very different task. It also continues with very obvious characters. There is no development or change for anybody.

The book starts with the mystical King of the Silver River creating an elemental ‘daughter’ Quickening and sending her out on a quest. That quest will help Walker Boh accomplish his own, separate quest. Walker is one of the three people that Quickening needs to accomplish her goal. The others are the somewhat despondent Morgan Leah, who lost his magic sword in the last book, and Pe Ell. Pe Ell is introduced as an evil assassin. And that is what he is. The end, no moral. The book mostly seems an excuse for Brooks to play up the post-apocalyptic nature of the world, and to sow the seeds to connect Shannara to another of his book series. His best stuff is coming up with disgusting and unfathomable monsters that the heroes can’t fight. He does just enough of that here to keep the quest interesting, even if it feels inconsequential.

Now Playing June 2019

Beaten

Yakuza 6 Read about it here. Goodbye Kazuma Kiryu

Spyro the Dragon – I’ve got the Reignited Remasters. Full post coming soon.

Ongoing

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth – I hate to say this, but I am not really feeling this game. It kind of feels like the worst of both worlds when combining SMT/Persona and Etrian Odyssey. They tried to jazz the map making up with some of Persona 5’s style, but they succeeded only in making the whole process infinitely more tedious. The game starts you with the Persona 5 crew, understandably, minus the characters you’d actually want to play as (meaning no Makoto) and one strange, atonal addition. The game also just inundates the player with pointless text. Everything is over-explained and every character feels the need to pipe up at every opportunity. I don’t see how adding two more games’ worth of cast is going to fix things. I’ve just unlocked the Persona 4 crew and this has not improved. The battles at this point, when I don’t really have a lot of skills to work with, have been slogs.

Crash Bandicoot –

I gave up on this about halfway through and I have a sizable post about it in the pipeline. I was playing the PS4 N-Sane Trilogy remaster. I hope the sequels are better.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – This is very much a modern open world game. Strong shades of Assassin’s Creed. It is also, apparently, a modern WRPG. Experience levels, skill trees, the works. The only thing that differentiates this from Bioware’s stuff is in how it is presented. I am liking it; I just cleared the first chapter and the world has opened up. I could see myself losing a lot of time in this game.

Judgment – I think I’ve made it perfectly clear that I love the Yakuza series. A game in that world, but you instead play a lawyer turned detective who is investigating crimes sounds like the best thing in the world to me. And maybe it is, I haven’t played enough of Judgment to decide one way or the other. I will say that it doesn’t make the best first impression. I just finished playing Yakuza 6, and this game clearly shares a lot of DNA with that one. However, in putting in the new investigation elements, it feels like it has fractured the experience. Things just feel a lot less fluid than they do in Yakuza. The most obvious example is running. In Yakuza you hold a button to run; in Judgment you push a button to essentially toggle run on and I have yet to find a way to stop running outside of stopping moving altogether.

Upcoming

Sword Coast Legends – I enjoyed the time I spent with this last year and I’m tired of it taking up space on my PS4 harddrive, so I think I am going to rush through it before I really get into Judgment.

Wii Game – I had Epic Mickey on here a few months ago and I might make another attempt at that. I’ve also got a solid list of games I have either never played or barely played.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – I was long intrigued by this game, but when I finally bought it I barely got started on it before kind of just giving up it up. I want to get back to it. I have several other PS3 games I’d like to knock off my backlog, so I might try something else out.