What I Read June

I managed another couple of books in June as it dawned on me that with my summer schedule, I am going to have no more free time than I did during the semester.

ABC Murders

Agatha Christie

I am not going to pretend that I have a lot to say about this Hercule Poirot mystery. Christie plays around with POV a lot in this one, but otherwise it is another of her mysteries. This time someone is apparently killing people based on the alphabet, Alice Ascher of Andover is killed, followed by Betty Barnard of Bexhill. Each time the killer sends a letter to Poirot, taunting him. Poirot, with the help of Hastings and some of the family members of the deceased, sets out to solve the murders. The identity of the killer isn’t readily apparent, though the general status of the culprit is pretty obvious. It is really good.

Guns of the Dawn

Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is really interesting, though I don’t think it quite follows through on its premise. It starts as kind of Austen-esque, or maybe more like Thomas Hardy, story about an impoverished noble family trying to deal with the changing times, including the fact that the eldest daughter has married below her station and war has broken out. Soon, her husband buys a commission and not long after the lone son is drafted. Eventually, women are added to the draft and the protagonist Emily is off to war.

There is a lot going on, with the home drama and the WWI style war that the protagonist is sent off to, and most of it works on its own terms. The problem I had with it is that it doesn’t really manage to meld the two halves together. The war is the war and home is home, while Emily as a character is definitely affected by what she has experienced, I don’t feel like the home portions of the book get adequate resolution. Maybe it is just that I actually found that portion more interesting than the fighting. I wanted to see how the characters personal lives played out, the grand designs of countries are far less interesting to me. It almost feels like the back quarter or so the book need to be the back half for to deliver a satisfactory conclusion.

I still highly recommend Guns of the Dawn, it is doing something different from most books of its ilk and both of its separate threads are worth reading in their own right.

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What I Read May 2018

With class getting out for the summer, I finally got a chance to do some reading. I read through a couple of books about the Supreme Court I picked up because my Con Law class but hadn’t had time to read and one mediocre fantasy book I picked up out of a discount bin.

A Man Betrayed

JV Jones

I don’t know what possessed me to start reading a book series with the second book. That’s what I had with this trilogy, the second and third books I picked up for buck each at a used book store. It is fun, but largely generic fantasy. Jack is a castle baker who has mysterious parentage and mysterious powers (no points for guessing that he is probably a prince). He has escaped a castle with Melliandra, a noble’s daughter who doesn’t want to marry a mad prince. There is also Tawl, a knight who apparently failed in his quest to find some young boy (no points for guessing that boy is Jack) and Nabber, a young thief who idolizes the knight. After Jack and Melli are seperated, all of the characters save Jack end up in the powerful city-state of Bren.

There isn’t a lot new or special here; it is mostly going through familiar beats in the typical fantasy story. That is actually kind of comforting, though, when I haven’t managed to read much new in what has long been my favorite genre. It is very much from the same school that birthed Game of Thrones, the kind of fantasy that focuses on the ugly aspects of made up semi-medieval life. That probably explains some of my indifference to this book. That and not having read the first book. This is fine.

The Brethren

Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong

A look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court in the 70’s, written while many of the Justices in it were still sitting, compiled with the secret help of Justice Potter Stewart. It follows the Court starting with Warren Burger taking over as Chief Justice. It is a rather unflinching look. None of the Justices are spared an at best humanizing look. William O Douglas comes off as selfish and condescending, but also frequently brilliant. Thurgood Marshall looks disinterested and lazy, but also personable and caring. Byron White is inscrutable. Harry Blackmun is conscientious, but indecisive. The one who comes off looking the best is William Brennan, though he is not shown to be without fault. Burger, though, comes off looking completely terrible. I don’t know that I’ve read a more unflattering portrait of a man. He is intellectually dishonest and just dishonest in general. As the book goes along even his ideological allies seem to turn on him personally.

That humanizing look is what makes The Brethren work. It shows the Supreme Court Justices as people as they try to decide the cases they see. They are sometimes petty, sometimes sometimes honorable, but always people. It makes for an enlightening and entertaining read.

Becoming Justice Blackmun

Linda Greenhouse

This biography looked almost exclusively at Justice Blackmun’s papers to tell a short version of his story. It briefly details his youth and his life before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, but it is mostly about his time on the Court. A large portion of it is about Roe v. Wade, one of Blackmun’s early opinions that he came to represent. He also drifted to the left as he sat on the bench, joining Justices Brennan and Justice Marshall to form the liberal block of the court in the 80’s. It also details how his relationship with Chief Justice Burger disintegrated, going from them being childhood friends in Minnesota to being called the Minnesota Twins when Blackmun joined the court to them barely speaking by the time Burger stepped down. It is a rather slight biography, it works mostly as a supplement rather than a thorough examination. It is well written and a very readable biography, but it too short to have much depth. Still, it is very worth the read.

Suikoden V: Opening

I am replaying Suikoden V; it seems impossible to me that this game is more than a decade old. I’ve recently been looking back on the PS2 era very fondly as I find myself increasingly out of sync with modern video games. It seems more and more that the games I like are on the margins of the gaming landscape and are slowly but surely disappearing. This feels odd to say with games I love, like Breath of the Wild and Monster Hunter World selling tons of copies, but those are more the exception than the rule. Over the last decade or so my interests have slowly but surely faded from prominence. Alternatively, maybe the stuff I liked was never really that popular. The Suikoden series, and Suikoden V in particular, are perfect examples of that. I consider Suikoden II to be on of the greatest games ever made, and while it is well regarded, it was always rare enough that many people haven’t even heard of it, let alone played it. The series seemed on the verge of breaking out in the PS2 era, but by the time Suikoden V was released in 2006 the PS3 was coming fast and a backwards looking game like it was almost perfectly designed to be ignored by the zeitgeist. Which it was; the game is more of a footnote for the series and the genre than anything else and I have long found that to be a great injustice.

Suikoden V is an awkward game that doesn’t get a lot of love. It tries to turn back to what people loved about Suikoden II after the largely disliked fourth entry in the series, but managed to feel cheap, untested, and unfinished. Still, there is a lot about the game that I genuinely love. I plan to write a lot about it; I have at least three posts planned as I work my way leisurely through the game and am likely to expand that to five or so. This post is going to be about probably the most maligned part of the game; its long, slow opening. Suikoden V does start slowly; depending on how one counts it, the game doesn’t really start for about 5 hours. On this playthrough it took me nearly 7 hours to get past the coup that serves as the game’s inciting incident. However, I think that becomes one of the game’s strengths as it goes along.

I have never been an opponent of games with slow openings. I will get into arguments with people who judge Zelda’s based on how long the games takes to give the player a sword. (Skyward Sword is mad underrated) Especially in the context of story heavy JRPGs, I think games that take few hours to set the table for a 70 hour game are usually using the player’s time wisely. I will point to the Persona series for games that do this well. A lot of Persona 4 happens before the player gets to the dungeon crawling. I don’t think any game does it much better than Suikoden V though. Yes, it takes more than half a dozen hours before the game puts the player in control of the usual Suikoden stuff like planning big battles and recruiting the members for the army. But those first few hours are not without their fair share of interesting gameplay and all of the story and character stuff it sets up makes the rest of the game all the more interesting.

There are essentially three parts to Suikoden V’s opening; a trip to survey the demolished town of Lordlake, the Sacred Games to choose the princess’s spouse and the trip to the sacred springs for a pre-marriage ritual. Each of these impart important knowledge on the player. The first shows how powerful the protagonist’s mother, Queen Arshtat, is with her Sun Rune. It shows the power she wields, or how that power wields her. It also lets the player know that something is wrong. Then there are the Sacred games, which more fully flesh out the political situation in the Queendom of Falena. It shows how the systems are corrupt and backwards, as well as how effective the eventual villains, the Godwins, are at manipulating things. Then there is the trip to the baths that is more character focused. It shows how much many people around the royal family have sacrificed to effect even a small change on the status quo, a change that is currently on the verge of disappearing. And after that, the game kicks into high gear.

These hours of set up are necessary to make the game work. If the game doesn’t give the player the opportunity to see the protagonist’s family and how they relate, then the loss of that family would have no sting. It is vital that players see how the Prince interacts with his sister the heir, with his mother and father, with the various members of the Queen’s Guards, including his ever present bodyguard Lyon. You meet the womanizing Kyle, the playful Miakis, the cold Zahhak and the nakedly ambitious Alenia. The core cast really makes it all work. There is the protagonist the Prince. He is always joined by Lyon, his young bodyguard who is soon revealed to have a mysterious past that Ferid, the Queen’s husband and father of the protagonist, saved her from. Then there is newcomer and all around badass Georg Prime, who’s amazing skills and lack of familiarity with the country each serve a purpose. And lastly is the Prince’s aunt, Sialeeds, who alternates between carefree playfulness and sardonic bitterness. Knowing what Sialeeds (more on her in a later post) has given up makes events that happen 30 or so hours down the line feel all the more tragic and inevitable.

It is not like the player is not playing the game at the time. Yes, the game gives the player no control over the party or any real access to the word map, but there are three or so dungeons in those first few hours and the protagonist should end it around level 20. It also introduces players to close to a quarter of the game’s extensive cast. (This is Suikoden, with its 108 Stars of Destiny) What makes it feel not a lot like really playing is that this is the largest portion of the game that gives the player access to Georg, one of the stars of the game and a brokenly badass fighter. He is unfairly good in combat, and seeing him make short work of every enemy you come across does a lot to sell him as the ultimate badass that he is, but it also means the fights don’t have a lot punch, as he can make short work of anything.

The game could have artlessly told the player these things; that is essentially how Suikoden I operated. That game got by on brevity; it can be completed in little more than a dozen hours. Suikoden V is attempting (I would say succeeding) in telling a story with more depth and nuance. It achieves that depth by slowly introducing the player to the world and the important characters in the drama to come. I can see how it could be off putting for new players, but anyone who sticks with the game through it is in for a treat.

Solo Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a movie that seems to be completely mistaken as to what is strengths are. And it has quite a few strengths, it is mostly a very good movie. However, it repeatedly takes the time to emphasize its weakest elements, bringing everything else to halt to give the viewer time to roll their eyes.

Solo tells the early life story of the most popular character in the Star Wars franchise: Han Solo. It shows a bit of his youth on Corellia before he joined the Imperial Navy, which he then left for a life of adventure and crime. Theoretically, it tells the story of how he came to be the man that young Luke met in that cantina in Mos Eisley in the original Star Wars. Pretty quickly, Han is separated from his love interest, meets and bonds with Chewbacca, and gets tangled up with all-around scoundrel Tobias Beckett and his crew. Beckett owes money to Dryden Vos, and Han is tied to him. After a series of heist and schemes, Han is left with just Chewie as he continues his adventures.

What didn’t work for me were the attempts at fanservice. The movie seems determined to give the viewer answers to questions nobody asked or showing them things they’ve seen before, but pretending it is meaningful. It is the bad version of what The Force Awakens did so well. The movie pauses for a second to let the music swell as Han and Chewie get behind the controls of the Millenium Falcon for the first time. It adds nothing and the viewer already knew what was going on. That has nothing on the groaner that is the movie showing how Han got the last name Solo, the answer to a question that literally no one was asking. Honestly, the movie came close to losing me right there.

Luckily, it recovers with some excellent action scenes. The war scene is brief, but it mostly works. However, the train heist is wonderful. It has enough moving pieces and feels truly momentous at times. You can almost see the tragedy that it becomes as soon as the plan is outlined. And the raid on the Kessel mines is solid as well.

It also brings in quite a few interesting characters. Beckett is Han’s future, the cold hearted criminal that is not necessarily evil, but certainly out only for himself. Han and Chewie are pretty great. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t really feel like Harrison Ford, but he does good work anyway. Han’s love interest Qi’Ra works, though the movie seems to hold her final character work for a theoretical sequel. The highlight is Donald Glover as Lando; he does great by the character even if the movie isn’t really sure why he is there. The same goes for is droid co-pilot, L3, who is a lot of fun even if the movie can’t decide if she is important to Lando or just another tool.

There are structural problems with the movie, mostly it seems from pulling things back and forth through its troubled production. In many ways its is not unlike Justice League, a movie whose tone and characterization varied wildly from scene to scene. The general thrust of the movie seems to be intending in getting Han from a similar place as where Luke started to the Han that we met in Star Wars. But it never really gets there. He is naive and optimistic through most of the movie. Even at the end he is doing something heroic. Instead of showcasing the character development from Star Wars, it sort of negates it. Han was apparently always a good guy, there is no change. This is despite most of the movie working to strip of any optimism he might have had.

While the seems do show, the movie is still very entertaining. I had some similar problems with Rogue One. In fact, I might like this movie more than Rogue One; I am certainly going to revisit it more often. It is something of a mess, but I liked a lot anyway.

****

What I Watched May 2018

Movies
Avengers Infinity War – read review here

Super Troopers 2 – read review here

Overboard – read review here

The Rachel Divide – The woman is delusional, but this documentary just makes you sad for her poor kids. **1/2

Candy Jar – A movie about two high school debate rivals who are forced to work together for a team competition rather than compete individually. Lessons are learned and kids grow up. It isn’t anything particularly new or original, but it is moderately entertaining. ***

The Week Of – Adam Sandler and Chris Rock are the dads of two youngsters about to get married. In this comedy (?) they learn heartwarming (?) lessons about family. I didn’t care for it. **

You Only Live Twice – Other than the completely baffling yellow face at the end of the movie, this is a really entertaining Bond movie. I wouldn’t put it quite as high as From Russia with Love or Goldfinger, but it is still good. There is an honest to goodness volcano lair at the end. ****

Diamonds Are Forever – This one, on the other hand, makes everything feel kind of tedious. It just feels sloppy. **

Live and Let Die – Uncomfortable racism aside, this is an excellent start to Roger Moore’s run as James Bond. It is a lot of fun. ***

The Man With the Golden Gun – Christopher Lee is great, but just about everything else about this movie is a complete mess. Terrible Bond girl, goofy sound effects, a super disappointing ending to Bond and Scaramanga’s showdown. Disappointing. **

Deadpool 2 see review here

Solo – review coming soon

The Kissing Booth – Another movie about growing up. This one really didn’t work for me. It seemed to be all over the place. **

LA Confidential – Wow, this is a good movie. Everything works together perfectly, with three cops working separately to solve a crime with roots within police force. Leaving Kevin Spacey aside, the cast is great. A lot of good work from Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. Just a great movie. *****

TV
Arrested Development S5 – I never thought Season 4 was as much of a disappointment as most people seem to found it, but there is undeniably more magic to this show when it can actually get the whole cast together instead of the scattered nature of the last season. It still isn’t quite to original run levels of quality, but I don’t think that is currently possible. Arrested Development is still really good. I can’t wait for the back half of the season.

Lost in Space – It takes too long to all the characters together and really get good, but this reboot of Lost in Space is solid. The biggest problem I had with this show is that the family is kind of dull. That isn’t a big problem when the other characters are around, but the first couple episodes, where it is mostly just the family, drag on a bit. Once Dr. Smith and Don West join in things pick up considerably.

The Flash S4 – The season almost redeemed itself at the end, but it really couldn’t make up for how terrible it’s central villain was. After the last two seasons of just godawful main villains, I hope the show abandons the device and tells mostly self contained stories next season. The show is still really enjoyable from an episode to episode basis, it just needs to figure out its season structure.

Bob’s Burgers – I recently wrote about this show. The most recent season continued its long run of excellence.

Brooklyn 99 – Cancelled and then saved, this show has rapidly become a favorite of mine now that I can watch it regularly on hulu. I don’t know what to say about it; it is really good and really funny.

Evil Genius – A true crime documentary about a bank robbery turned murder. A group of people conspire to rob a bank. Part of the plan involves tying a bomb around the neck of the man sent in to actually rob the bank. Questions remain as to whether or not that man, who died when the bomb went off, was a part of the conspiracy or an unwitting dupe. This show explores how this horrific crime came about. It is pretty good, though I think it could have been shorter.

Trollhunters S3 – I want to have more to say about this show than I do. Its real good. This third season takes some swings, but as its the end of the series that is to be expected. It loses a little bit of is charm in the plot, but remains a very entertaining cartoon. They also find time to set up an always planned spin off series. This last season does a good job of both wrapping things up and opening the door for new stories. This series is well worth a watch.

Now Playing May 2018

Beaten

None, I had finals.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I’ve played through the big opening segment, which I have a post about going up soon, and I have to say the technical flaws are dragging the experience down for me more than I expected. There are just too many instances of characters joining the party, with a blurb, only for them to leave two rooms later, with another blurb. The menus are a mess. It is in a lot of respects a really badly put together game. I still love it anyway.

Pokemon Crystal – I’ve been playing this. If I manage to finish it, it will be the first time I’ve finished a Gen 2 Pokemon game. I’ve failed several times with Silver and HeartGold and the like. Mostly because Gen 2 are the worst set of Pokemon games. Getting to go back to Kanto is great, but the level curve is messed up, the map sucks and the Pokemon distribution is terrible. Still, there is something overall just great about the Pokemon series that makes them compulsively playable.

The Alliance Alive – I am really starting to lose interest in this. I love the art and graphics and the SNES vibe to the story. Let’s be honest, though, SaGa style leveling is terrible, it has been terrible since FF2 and it is still terrible today. It adds another level of randomness that leveling didn’t need. I get the idea behind it, but it has never worked. I’ve got other games to play, but the positives about this game might draw me back despite that.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – Eventually I am going to take my PS4 back from my brother, and then I will play this. Eventually…

Super Mario Galaxy – I am trying to get back to this, but my summer schedule is somehow more full than my schedule during the semester.

Deadpool 2 Review

I didn’t like the first Deadpool all that much. It was a pretty rote superhero origin that was very smug about being aware of that. For all of its claims of being different, it’s only possible claim to originality was its humor, which wasn’t particularly original or, in my opinion at least, funny. So fans of Deadpool should take my review of the sequel with a grain of salt, because I am not predisposed to like it. I am also in possession of a movie pass account and can go watch it without having to pay, so I went ahead and watched and saw Deadpool 2. I didn’t like it.

I’ll start with the positives. Ryan Reynolds remains perfect for the role and does a great job when the material doesn’t let him down. Josh Brolin should be a lot of fun as Cable, hopefully a movie soon will give him the chance to actually play the character in some meaningful way. And finally, Zazie Beetz’s Domino steals every scene she is in, which are not coincidentally most of the worthwhile scenes in the movie.

The story fall completely flat. It is internally inconsistent and it shifts from to attempted pathos clumsily enough to make neither part work. The movie wants viewers to care about Deadpool’s emotional journey, but only during certain scenes. The rest of the time it is just more fodder for mockery. The problem is that is spends a significant amount of time setting up what are supposed to be emotional beats, only for them to fall completely flat. It pulls a stunt so cretinous and ham fisted in the first ten minutes that made it impossible to engage with the movie afterward. A movie that was actually as aware of itself as Deadpool 2 smugly pretends to be would have been able to navigate between both. Look at something like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, which are both parodies that actually get the viewer to care about their characters. Deadpool 2 merely lampshades that it is engaging in the tired tropes of the genre before wholeheartedly engaging those tired tropes. A movie that was actually as aware as Deadpool 2 wants to be might have noted the dissonance between Deadpool’s mission to stop Firefist from killing and his methods of accomplishing that mission involving blatantly killing dozens of bad guys.

It also largely isn’t very funny. This one I am sure will not be the majority opinion. Deadpool 2 is essentially an episode of Family Guy with superheroes. It gets laughs not by having jokes but by reminding viewer of other things they have seen. Did you know that Josh Brolin played Thanos in Infinity War? Because Deadpool does and isn’t calling him Thanos a great joke? In the movies favor, there are plenty of funny jokes; it is just that the movie is determined to have three jokes a minute even if only 1 of those jokes are funny. I found it tiresome.

Deadpool 2 is also an ugly looking movie. It really just looks bad a lot of the time. The CGI Colossus should be getting called out for looking like crap, the same goes for another CGI character. Some of the action scenes looked fine, when they weren’t over relying on dodgy effects or the joke of Deadpool getting mutilated. Most notably is one big sequence with Domino showing off her luck powers, which belongs in a much better movie than this.

I was likely never going to like Deadpool 2. I have never been particularly fond of the character and I found the first movie just as tiresome. I did hope that the addition of more characters to carry some of the load would help, but they don’t get the opportunity to do so. This is Deadpool 2, not X-Force, so Deadpool rightly remains the focus. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’ll won’t be back for a third.

**

Overboard Review

The original Overboard succeeded despite its dodgy premise on the charm of its stars, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. That appeal would be hard, if not impossible, to replicate. Still, this new Overboard made an excellent attempt. Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez aren’t quite Russell and Hawn, but I don’t know how this movie could have done better. Overboard is a mildly enjoyable diversion; never offensive, but is also never quite funny enough.

This Overboard switches the genders of the put upon worker and rich jerk who stiffed them. Derbez’s Leonardo is a rich playboy who refuses to pay Faris’s Kate, a single mom working multiple jobs while in nursing school. When he falls off his yacht and ends up with amnesia, Kate pretends he is her husband so she can force him to work off his debt. Lessons are learned before Leonardo inevitably remembers who he is and there is a reckoning.

I am somewhat familiar with Anna Faris’s work, but it is easy to forget how great of a comic actress she is. Her timing is always perfect and her face is perfectly expressive. She gets a lot of lesser material over just on her delivery. She is great. I was not familiar with Derbez, though I intend to watch last year’s How to be a Latin Lover, which is on Hulu, after watching this. He is likewise very good, though he spends a lot of movie being vaguely confused at what is going on around him, and he has really good chemistry with Faris.

My problem with Overboard is that is just isn’t all that funny. It isn’t that it is full of bad jokes, it is just that it repeats a lot of jokes and a lot of them were only marginally funny to begin with. The other problem is that it kind of skips over Leonardo building a relationship with Kate and her kids. There are a few, mostly effective scenes, but there is more showing the start of growth and then finished growth without showing the actual growth. Like with him teaching Kate’s youngest daughter how to ride her bike. There is a scene where he realizes she can’t ride a bike and then a scene where she is riding a bike and says he taught her, but the movie never shows him teaching her. It does things like that a little too often.

That said, I mostly enjoyed Overboard. It is pleasant and manages to not to sink under the nature of its central conceit. It makes Leonardo enough of a jerk that his punishment feels earned and makes Kate desperate enough that she doesn’t appear to be completely sociopathic for engaging in the deception. It almost works. Which is how I feel about the whole movie; it almost works.

***

Super Troopers 2 Review

I love Super Troopers. It was maybe my favorite movie for a couple of years in high school. I stuck with the Broken Lizard guys after that, going back to Puddle Cruiser and generally liking Club Dread and Beerfest. That is why it hurts so much that I didn’t really enjoy this late coming sequel much at all. It’s not all bad, but there really isn’t much there to recommend about it.

I hate to call a movie unnecessary, because when it comes down to it, what movie is really necessary, but that is the charge I’d level at Super Troopers 2. It is basically running back everything from the first movie. The only really new thing added on are the Canadian jokes, but I’d hesitate to call any of that material “new.” If I wasn’t fairly certain that their hearts were in it, I’d say this movie was made out of some sort of obligation. It is just more of a thing we already had.

All of the characters are back and mostly as you remember them; the goofy Foster, the sardonic Mac, the intolerable Farva. Each has their place and each fills their niche fairly well, except everything is pushed just a little too far. Farva used to be an asshole who didn’t know how to tell a joke, now he is completely awful. He is just more. That is true of some of the other characters, like the Captain. They haven’t really changed, they are just more. The balance is not quite right.

The little new that this movie brings to the table doesn’t really work. The crew, fired from the jobs for what is cryptically called “the Fred Savage incident,” the gang all gets a job working around a town that was recently discovered to be part of the USA instead of Canada, replacing the squad of Mounties that previously worked the area. There are jokes about hockey and Canadian accents while the movie mostly replays the plot of the first movie. It feels overly familiar.

The movie does work when they are getting into some newish hijinks, like when Mac and Foster rig up the radio to shock Farva everytime he talks into it, or the bit where a pair of the cops pretend to speak French to some Americans. But more of it, like most of the unnecessary callbacks and Thorny’s fascination with a female viagra, just don’t really work. It sits there inert.

Despite my complaints, there is still something that makes me want to like the movie. Just something about its genial silliness that makes it hard to hate, even when the jokes aren’t really landing. If someone told me they loved this movie, I would shrug and accept it. When it comes down to it, my biggest problem with it is that its best bits are merely echoes of the first movie. If hadn’t seen that one so much, then this one might not feel so unnecessary. And I hope its success lets Broken Lizard do something new and interesting.

**1/2

What I Watched April 2018

Movies

Logan Lucky – I think I appreciated this heist movie even more after seeing it again. It isn’t doing anything that special, but it is perfectly entertaining. ****

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – This is the best comedy. It was available for free on Amazon Prime (or maybe Hulu) and I needed to relax for 90 minutes. Steve Martin and Michael Caine are both great and Glenne Headly is perfect as the glue that makes it all work. Really, just a completely excellent movie. *****

The Godfather 2 – It’s real good, I don’t have anything to add. *****

Captain America Civil War – This movie doesn’t really work for me. The villain’s plan is ludicrous and it mostly is just working to get the heroes split on either side. Iron Man comes out looking terrible and while the big airport fight is fun in a lot of ways, the fighting is actually kind of dull. It isn’t bad, I just don’t love it. ***

Thor Ragnarok – I decided to go back to this before Avengers Infinity War hit. I think I like it even more on a rewatch than I did the first go round. The culmination of the Thor/Loki relationship alone made the movie worthwhile. I’ve got brothers, though admittedly none who have transformed into snakes before stabbing me, and seeing the developments in that relationship were relatable. Also, it is really funny. *****

TV

Black Lightning – It is rare for a show to come out as fully formed as this one. From the minute it started, Black Lightning knew what show it was and it was fully that show. There was no flailing about with any of its characters or its concepts; it just told its story. There were some minor missteps, but for the most part it was just one of the most assured and well considered TV shows around. I don’t mean good like I say the other CW superhero shows are good, that they are fun bits of pulp that are just solidly entertaining evening fare. This is legit one of the best shows on TV.

Legends of Tomorrow S3 – Legends took a leap from S1 to S2 by jettisoning a handful of characters that weren’t working (and one of their best in Captain Cold) and bringing in better replacements. It also just solidified the kind of show it wanted to be. I didn’t expect a similar leap in S3, but I still got it. The show has really settled into a solid niche as the big goofy superhero show while also doing a great job of exploring its cast. While the show keeps rotating members of the cast, the core just keep getting better. This is the most fun superhero show around.

The Office – I finished up. Even the bad stuff is good stuff.

Monk – There is something admirable about the purity of Monk to me. There aren’t enough straight up detective shows these days. Even Psych, which I loved, kind of dropped that angle in the last couple of seasons, to the show detriment. Monk was never anything but a mystery of the week show and it was great for that. Not quite Colombo great, but still great.

Superhero Shows – Other than the two the finished up, Flash and Supergirl are back. The Flash somehow keeps getting worse at season long villains, but most of the rest of the show is going just fine. Supergirl is still solidly good. Also, I watched the first episode of Krypton and liked it fine, I’ll get to the rest of it soon.