#Review: WONDER WOMAN

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I meant to get this written a bit earlier, but this ended up being a much busier (or at least much more tiring) week than I’d originally anticipated.  Keep something in mind, though; this is my review after almost a week.  So this is after I’ve had time to think about the movie for a while and let it roll around in my head for a bit.

I’ll be direct: I’ve hated almost every DC movie released since 1989.  Nineteen eighty fucking nine.  The only reason for the “almost”?  I never saw Catwoman— because why the hell would you?– and I did not hate Suicide Squad, mostly because I didn’t care enough about any of the characters in the film to properly hate it and Harley Quinn was fun to watch.  I got home from Batman Returns way back in 1992 and ranted about it at such length and such volume to my parents that my neighbor actually came over and asked me to cut it out.  My parents live in a house.  The last several DC films have been so bad that I refuse to even admit that the characters they are supposedly about are even in the movies.  Man of Steel wasn’t about Superman.  Batman Begins was about some sort of sword-fighting ninja dude who isn’t a detective and doesn’t give a wet shit about human life, and by the time Alien Jesus v. Wing-Rat Psycho came around, he was literally branding criminals so they’d get killed in jail.  Fuck that.

That fuckin’ movie actually had the word Justice in the title.  Was there at any point any concern with justice anywhere in that movie?  Ever?  Nah, of course not.

Wonder Woman is probably the best superhero movie since Superman and Superman 2.

Why “probably”?  Because I’m not capable of watching Iron Man or Avengers with any sort of objectivity.  I need to watch Civil War again; when that came out, I called it the best Marvel movie; I’m not sure it’s held up to me as well as they have.  Wonder Woman is so much better than the rest of DC’s film product in the last thirty years that we shouldn’t even refer to it in the same category any longer.  It’s like saying that out of this giant pile of shit the carefully plastic-wrapped apple on top is the tastiest.  Of course it is; it’s the only fucking apple.

Proposal: that, from now on, the remainder of the DC murderverse films (and those not formally part of the murderverse as well, such as the execrable Superman Returns, which revealed him to be a deadbeat dat) be referred to as murples.  Only Wonder Woman gets to be a movie.

Damn near 500 words in, so I probably ought to get to the “why” part.  It actually isn’t all that complicated, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it:  Wonder Woman is actually a hero in this movie, who does heroic things and whose primary motivation is to save people.  The first time we see Diana in full Wonder Woman getup, she’s charging– against the advice of everyone around her— across No Man’s Land straight into rifles, mortars and machine guns to save a French village full of strangers who she has never met.  It’s an outstanding moment; the best in the film and one of the best superhero reveals I’ve ever seen.

Why is she doing that?  Because they’re there and they need help.

This, you see, is what superheroes do.  And what Wonder Woman gets right that literally no DC movies and not enough of the Marvel films have gotten right is that it remembers that its main character is supposed to be a superhero and so she acts like one.

There’s more, of course, but that’s the core of my love for this film and everything else is really window dressing.  Gal Gadot is phenomenal; I really wasn’t into the idea of her playing this character (I’m still on Team Gina Torres) but turns out I was at least as wrong about that as I was about Tom Holland playing Spider-Man.  The other standout from the movie is Robin Wright as Antiope and, while most of Lucy Davis’ lines were in the trailer, she steals every second that her Etta Candy is on the screen.  Chris Pine is exactly what he needs to be and no more.  And Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru is creepy as fuck in another role that doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time.  The opening bits on Themyscira are fantastic; I want to see more of all of that, Antiope in particular.  I mean, c’mon:

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(I have, in case it’s not clear, no serious complaints about the film.  About the closest I can get is that the CGI could be a bit better in parts.  But whatever.  Graphics barely even register to me anymore.)

A word about setting the film during World War I instead of World War II:  I think it was a brilliant idea.  Why?  Because Wonder Woman fights against the idea of war itself.  Her role is to be as an ambassador for peace before any other moral good.  And, much unlike WWII, World War I is a perfect examplar of the utter pointlessness of war.  It strikes me every time I read a history book about it: World War I was a war fought for nothing.  Literally nothing.  Not one person who died during that war died for anything.  And yet millions of people died horrible deaths and millions more were wounded.  It actually dilutes Wonder Woman’s anti-war message to put her into World War II, because fighting to stop fascism is actually a cause.  So as much as I’d like to see Wonder Woman punching some Nazis, I think it was a solid change to make to the story.

The big question, of course, is whether this means I’m going to have to see Justice League when it comes to theaters.  I’m still leaning toward no, as nothing I’ve seen from the film makes me think that the word justice is going to belong in the team’s name and there’s going to be more Alien Christ in it.  But the fact that Wonder Woman even got me to consider seeing Justice League?

If that’s not a solid reason to see the movie, I don’t know what possibly could be.

#REVIEW: RIVER OF TEETH, by Sarah Gailey

31445891I wanted to like this book so much.

So, here’s the premise of River of Teeth, and tell me if you aren’t chomping at the bit to read this motherfucker after you hear it:  It is a true fact that in the early 20th century the US Government actually planned to import hippopotamuses into the delta of the Mississippi in order to raise them for meat.  This didn’t actually happen, because are you kidding, of course it didn’t.

In River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey backs that timeline up by a hundred years or so and then gives us an alternate history where it actually happened.

And, like, you’re in, right?  Look at the damn cover.  Cowboy adventures on hippos.  How could you not go buy this immediately and read the hell out of it?

And for a while, it’s cool. Hippos have been in the US for long enough that we’ve domesticated them into a few different breeds (I’m good with the idea of breeds; less so with the “domesticated” idea, but whatever) and so there are, like, meat hippos and ridin’ hippos and one that, honest to God, appears to be some sort of ninja stealth attack hippo, and each of the main characters has their own hippo that they have a relationship with and ride on and are bonded with.

So, that premise gets you through about the first third of the book, and you’re still super excited, and then the cracks start to show and it becomes pretty clear that the utterly fantastic premise was all the book had, and maybe it was worth reading anyway, I think?   But the following things all happen:

  • The hippos get sidelined for big chunks of the book because you can’t get hippos into buildings and such.  The hippos are cool!  Make this a road adventure so that the hippos are around more often!
  • The book is weirdly structured; the author was clearly trying to write to novella length and had a bit more story than that so the actual Big Adventure part is sort of unfocused and gets resolved really abruptly.  There’s also a weird scale thing happening where it’s never clear at all just how much open land they have to work with; it could be anything from a few acres to several square miles. That’s a big difference when you’re hunting hippos!
  • Speaking of: the Mad Caper is almost an afterthought for most of the book.  There’s a big Putting the Band Together sequence that is well-written and neat until you realize that it’s never really clear why any of these characters are necessary for the Caper to occur, or for the most part what their roles are intended to be– especially once the Caper occurs and it turns out to have been the least complicated plan of all time.
  • The main character Wants Revenge from a certain other character for, no shit, burning his hippo ranch to the ground and killing all his hippos.  Cool!  Motivation! And then a third character kills the object of revenge at about the 2/3 mark of the story for cheating at cards and well I guess that storyline can sorta fizzle.  Sure, things like this might happen on earth, but they’re not narratively very interesting. There’s a reason the bad guy never randomly dies of a heart attack or a car accident halfway through the story.
  • One character is inexplicably hugely pregnant.  The parentage of the child is kept in the dark until it is Suddenly Revealed, at which point no one cares, because we don’t know these characters so why does it matter who they were banging before we met them?  Also, the pregnancy is ignored whenever convenient.
  • Another character is French, which is fine, except the accent she’s written with is ‘orribly annoying and involves huge numbers of apostrophes.
  • And then there’s Hero.  I feel crappy complaining about Hero, but I’m gonna do it anyway.  Hero is… trans?  Maybe?  Nonbinary, somehow?  Genderqueer?  Unconcerned?  Who knows, but Hero is referred to with plural pronouns throughout the book, including by characters who have never met them prior to referring to them as “they.”  And we are never told why.  Now, I have an entire race of characters in my Benevolence Archives book who don’t conform to gender binary and use specialized pronouns, so maybe I ought to shut up here?  But the combination of constant plurals with a deliberate refusal to ever actually describe Hero is insanely annoying. Hero even gets into a relationship with the main character at one point!  They have sex, I think!

And here’s where I break away from the bullet points, because they’re going to become unwieldy:  there’s nothing wrong, obviously, with including nonbinary characters in your book.  I recommend it, in fact!  My favorite book of the year so far features a trans main character!  But give me some way to hook into these characters, or at least to picture them.  And as much as I hate to complain about historical accuracy in a book about people riding hippos, I feel like no one in the mid/late 1800s who has never met Hero is going to look at Hero and automatically call them “they” without even asking any questions.  Similarly, the love relationship: Hero flirts with the main character throughout the book and they eventually end up in bed together.  Cool!  Except that when they meet Hero immediately tries to poison him.  It’s not so much “trans (maybe!) character gets a love interest” that I have an issue with– that part’s fine– but I don’t know how many romantic relationships begin with attempted murder.(*)

I’m gonna keep an eye on Sarah Gailey, guys, because the cool things about this book are really cool, and the writing in general is fast and snappy and it’s a fun book.  The issues with it are mostly issues of authorial control; I feel like if she had been writing a full-length novel a lot of the issues might have gone away.  One way or another, I’m disappointed with this one, but I’m pretty sure I’m still in for her next book.

(*) Okay, I’ve referred to Rhundi holding Brazel at gunpoint on their first date repeatedly in the Benevolence Archives books.  But y’all haven’t seen the whole story yet.

#REVIEW: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

32075671One of our local radio stations does a bit called Group Therapy in the morning, which is usually airing just as I’m driving the boy to school.  The general pattern is this: they pose a problem, submitted by a listener, that should generally be easily dealt with by anyone with an average middle schooler’s level of sophistication and emotional intelligence.  They do not provide enough information about the problem to allow listeners to give useful advice, and people who like hearing their voices or names on the radio submit useless advice on Facebook or on the air so that the person involved can do whatever they were going to do anyway.

I’m going to start listening to Pandora more in the morning, is what I’m saying.

This morning’s problem was as follows: a parent’s 11-year-old has stolen their credit card, for the second time.  It wasn’t made perfectly clear, but it seems that as of the time of the advice-asking, the boy still had the card.  He had used it to buy $50 worth of drinks and snacks from a local convenience store and not to, say, order hundreds of dollars worth of electronics from somewhere, which is what you’d think most kids would do with a credit card they’d stolen.  Anyway, this parent had reported the card stolen, and apparently under the (incorrect) idea that the police would show up if the kid attempted to use the card again– which, yeah, right— was wondering if he/she should just talk to his/her kid or let the police “scare him straight.”

And all I could think of, listening to this, was that the person asking for advice and every single one of the dumb motherfuckers providing (generally approving) advice for the latter piece of advice had to be white.  Because every black parent in America knows that you do not let the police anywhere near your child unless someone is guaranteed to die if you don’t.  There are no optional encounters with the police.  Fuck, I’m white and I live in a nice neighborhood and I’m never calling the police again unless somebody is under serious immediate physical threat.  And you’re gonna call the police on your baby because of a $50 credit card bill?  Your privilege is not only showing, it’s leaking out of the dashboard of my car, and I ought to be able to charge somebody to clean that shit up.

(Leave aside the ridiculous notions that 1) the police care about a $50 fraudulent credit card charge because they have nothing else to do and 2) they have time to help you with relatively routine parenting decisions.)

Which brings me to Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, or THUG for short.  The title of the book is a Tupac reference; Pac was fond of the backronym, explaining, for example, that “nigga” stood for “Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished.”  “Thug Life,” to Tupac, meant “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and the meaning of that phrase is discussed throughout the book.

The story is told through the eyes of Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old black girl.  Starr is the sole witness when a policeman murders one of her oldest friends during a traffic stop.  Her friend, Khalil, was unarmed and unresisting when he was shot.  The rest of the book spins out from that one moment; the different sections are even dated by it: “Three Weeks After It Happens,” and such.

You can probably predict the overall story beats from the premise, right?  America knows this story pretty Goddamn well by now, and the tension here is less from what happens (anybody want to put money down on whether the cop is exonerated by the grand jury or not?) than how the people in the book react to it.  Starr herself is a fascinating character; she lives in a rough neighborhood but her parents scrape and save to send her to a private school 45 minutes away, so many of her best friends aren’t black and she thinks of herself as being two different people, one at school and one at home.    Her uncle is a police officer, her father a former gang member.  Khalil himself has a complicated backstory, and the book dives into the inevitable attempt by the media and the police to slander him and make him responsible for his own murder.  For a large portion of the story Starr’s school friends and her (white) boyfriend aren’t aware that she’s the anonymous witness the news keeps referring to, and the way she reacts to their treatment of Khalil’s death is complex and fascinating.  Her navigation through the web of relationships and identities she’s struggling with throughout the book is a pleasure to read.

I recommend books here all the time; I rarely bother to review anything I didn’t love unless I think I can hate it in an entertaining way, but it’s not terribly often that I use the word important to describe a book that I’ve read.  You need to read THUG, and you need to get THUG into the hands of as many other people as you can, particularly young people.  Angie Thomas’ writing is crisp and clear, Starr herself is a wonderful character, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more work by this author.  Go read this book.  Do it right now.

In which I waste a whole bunch of my time: a #review of IRON FIST

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I have said this before, both on this blog and elsewhere: if you are ever compelled, as a writer in any medium, to create a scenario where your characters are complaining about how dumb your plot is, it is probably time to stop and think very carefully about what you are doing.  If you are writing a show called Iron Fist, about a man whose job it is to be the Iron Fist, and the very first line a character says upon meeting him is “You are the worst Iron Fist ever,” you may be doing something wrong.  It is possible to write a good story about a hero who is terrible at being a hero.  But if you do that, then that’s what your story needs to be about.  You can’t have a hero who is terrible at being a hero and have your story be about something else.  The fact that he or she is terrible is going to take center stage and ruin everything else.

Enter Iron Fist, whose writers clearly do not read my blog.  This post is unnecessary in a whole lot of ways; it took me a while to get through all thirteen episodes– mostly because, again, the show’s awful– and everyone who binged it right away has already weighed in on how bad it is.  They’re all right.  But maybe there’s someone out there who isn’t attuned to the geek press all that much, but reads me for some reason.  Someone who might be saved.

Please don’t watch this show.

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And this doofy shit is the main reason why.  Now, let’s be clear about a few things:  there was a lot of fooferal when the show hadn’t quite come out yet about the fact that Marvel cast a white guy as Iron Fist instead of racebending the character and casting an Asian person instead.  I am sympathetic to those concerns, to say the least.  But even if you’re going to cast a white guy as Iron Fist, because the comic book character is white, Finn Jones is just about the worst possible choice to play the role.  He is awful; awful in every way, he is written to be awful, and the man himself does nothing to corral or channel(*) his character’s intrinsic awfulness.  There is nothing Finn Jones does in this show at any point that is convincing.  He cannot do kung fu, he cannot emote beyond an infantile shaking rage, he absolutely cannot spout anything even vaguely resembling Buddhist philosophy (and I choose the word “resembling” quite deliberately) without sounding like a hipster doofus, and he never once comes off as heroic.  Iron Fist is a sulky hipster doofus with PTSD and all the emotional stability of a ten-year-old.  He is awful.

So is every other white man on the show, by the way.  The show can’t have anyone keep a personality or a set of motivations straight for more than an episode at a time, and there are never ever ever any consequences for anyone’s actions, to the point where there are giant holes blown in one character’s dojo’s ceiling at one point so that machine-gun ninjas can drop through (don’t ask) and those giant holes and broken windows and such are never mentioned again.  Characters display magical powers in one episode and then forget they have them.  Characters are killed, thrown into fish tanks in someone’s home, then never mentioned again.

You could cut every white male character completely out of the show and nothing of any significance would change, at all.  They are, all of them, awful.

Let’s talk about these three:
tmg-article_default_mobileMadame_Gao.jpgI’m having a hell of a time getting the HTML to cooperate, so forgive me, but these three are the only thing that makes the show even vaguely watchable.  Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, should have been playing Dani Rand.  Or, alternatively, you could grab this drunken-master badass here– his name is Lewis Tan and he actually auditioned for the park– and have him play Danny Rand.  Between the two of them they are responsible for 100% of the interesting fight scenes in the show.  Every single one.  They are also both maxresdefault.jpgbetter actors than Finn Jones. Wai Ching Ho also returns as Madame Gao, and she’s amazing for every second she’s on screen even if her character’s motivations (and abilities) are more than a little bit of a mess.  The fact that the show had these three people in it and more or less ignored them so that Jones could whine about how tough it is to be white and immensely wealthy and oh also one of the best martial artists in the world but MY PARENTS ARE DEAAADD!!!!
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It’s terrible.  But I think I said that.  I think the only thing that could redeem it is if I watched it again, liveblogged every episode, and then turned it into a chapbook to sell on Amazon and made a million dollars.

(*) So, Iron Fist’s powers come from channeling the power of his “chi” into his fist, making it Like Unto a Thing of Iron, as the comic books used to say all the time and the TV show never does.  TV Danny can’t do that.  I have quite a few Iron Fist comic books, and even more where Iron Fist isn’t the main character but shows up, and I swear to you that Finn Jones does more wanking about his chi in this thirteen hours of show than Iron Fist has done in his entire forty-year history as a comic book character previous to the show coming up.  Comic book Danny Rand’s powers just work, basically whenever he wants them to.  TV Danny Rand’s chi must be balanced, charged, recharged, harnessed, centered, purified, unblocked, hell, every verb in the English language gets applied to Danny’s chi at some point or another; I’m surprised he never has to Smurf the fucking thing.  And hearing him talk about it never stops being ridiculous.  Mostly his powers just don’t work, and mostly his powers don’t work because, in one way or another, he’s an embarrassment to his order and to his job.  He’s the worst Iron Fist ever.  Really.

I hated this damn show.

On movies I want: I saw THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

24f6204e7a529a196605512d65a151e9.jpgLast night I reviewed a movie that I consider sort of unreviewable because the act of discussing it will make it impossible to properly enjoy it.  Tonight my wife and son and I went to a movie that doesn’t need a review: the Lego Batman movie.  You already know what you’ll think of the Lego Batman movie.  You already know whether you’re going to see it.  Chances are you know what thought of the Lego Batman movie, and could write this review for me.  And chances are you’re right about all those things.

After leaving the movie, I was thinking about what I’m always thinking about when I leave a Batman movie, which is that I will never get the Batman movie that I want.  Batman has been the star of a comic book called Detective Comics since nineteen thirty goddamn nine.  That was a really long time ago.  There have been approximately three hundred Hollywood films with the word “Batman” or some variant thereof in the title since then, and some of them actually had Batman in them.

Can we get a damn mystery Batman movie, please?  One where he has to actually solve a crime and act like a detective?  I mean, hell, they’re basically making one of these things every two or three years and seem likely to be planning to continue that until I die.  Can I get one of those to be a detective movie?  Bonus points (this will never ever happen) if it’s a noirish piece and actually set in the 1930s or 1940s.  You can still end the movie with a slam-bang action sequence, just make all the stuff before that be quieter and give me a Batman who uses his brains and not his gadgets and ninja skills.  Yes, Batman Begins, the movie about black-wearing-ninja-sword-fighting-not-Batman-angry-guy, I’m looking at you.

Don’t take this as a criticism of Lego Batman, by the way.  There’s nothing wrong with it; as I said, it’s exactly the movie I thought it would be (perhaps a bit more clever) and is probably exactly the movie you think it’ll be.  But gimme just one dark, shadowy, film-noir Batman crime movie where he has to slink around and detect some shit and doesn’t do a lot of punching.  I promise it’ll still make money.  Please?