Thursday, August 27, 2015

Crossover review Fantastic Four.

Fantastic Four
Shitastic Snore

Crossover review! Hey guys I know I usually review books but for a buddy of mine who goes by General Havoc, I'm reviewing a movie instead. He runs a pretty good and fun blog of his movie reviews. I do recommend them and you can check them out here. I volunteered to see Fantastic Four, against his advice, as he was planning on skipping it. Someone had to see it though and he jumped on Jupiter Ascending for me so fair is fair. So I went to see the movie against the advice of my family, my friends and my doctor. I should really start listening when everyone lines up to tell me not to do something. Anyways on to the review.

I was told repeatedly that this film was a celebration of the comics. Well I saw damn little of the comics in this movie. The opening with Reed Richards and Ben Grimm is frankly tedious and eye rolling. Little Reed wants to be the first man to teleport organic matter (you know teleporting inorganic matter would be pretty damn revolutionary as well just saying) and announces this to his teacher and classmates. His teacher reacts to one of his students showing an interest in become a scientist by shitting all over him in front of his classmates and telling him to write a report on a “real” career. Really? I mean seriously, the kid before him chattered that he wanted to be a NFL quarterback. Bluntly Reed had a better chance of growing up to be a scientist working on teleportation then that kid but no one shit on him. This displays one of the few consistent themes in this movie, any authority figure who is not named Storm is unreasonable and dislikes our main characters... For reasons.

The opening does show us how Reed and Ben met but frankly it's a waste. We're fed formulaic origin stories (Ben is alienated from his family who makes a living from their junkyard, Reed can't stand his stepfather) and a wacky child genius who is rejected and misunderstood. Hollywood, I know you love unreasonable authority figures who piss on our “heroes” for no reason but... Do a decent job with it or don't do it. We jump to Reed and Ben as high school seniors in a science fair, where they show off their device and are disqualified for.... Reasons. This is so tired and hackneyed and cliched and they don't do a damn thing with it! It's just there to make Reed temporarily put upon! Why have this shit in your movie if you're not going to do anything with it?

Although the teacher does have a rather nice sneer. Reed is then offered a scholarship by Sue and Johnny Storm's father, Doctor Franklin Storm. By the way for those wondering, Susan is adopted. This isn't turned into a thing. Which I view as a good thing honestly.

Ben having served his betters for years is told thanks a lot now toddle on back home like a good servant. Seriously this one burned me. In the comics Ben Grimm puts up a front of being a rather dim guy, but he met Reed in college, they took classes together. Yes, Ben is not in Reed's league but seriously who is? Regardless Ben Grimm is a fucking pilot who was good enough for fucking NASA! How is it a celebration of the comic books to take away all of Ben Grimm's skills and abilities and reduce him to Reed Richard's Igor and good luck charm? It turns their relationship from one of two men with different gifts and skills who regard themselves as equals to one of Reed graciously condescending to dribble crumbles to his friend who gave him spare parts. I would bitch about the movies getting rid of Ben's military service (he was an air force pilot before being accepted by the space program) but Marvel has got me fairly well covered with Captain America, Warmachine and Falcon. This treatment of Ben stands out all the more considering Susan Storm is turned into a scientist who while not as smart as Reed is still shown to have impressive intellectual gifts. Johnny Storm is shown to have good hardware and basic engineering skills. In the original story Sue was along literally because she and Reed were knocking boots and Johnny got to come because he was the little brother of Reed's girlfriend. So everyone got upgraded expect for Ben who got downgraded and there wasn't any reason for I can see. It added nothing to the story, it gave us no new information on Ben's character. So why have this in your movie if you're not going to do anything with it?

Then we have Victor Von Doom, expect we don't. Because I don't know who the hell this guy is, but he ain't Doctor Doom. I don't know what is Fox's problem with actually getting one of the most Ionic and Memorable Comic Book Villains ever made right but it seems they can't bare to simply give us Dr. Doom. In this movie Knock Off Doom is a withdrawn painfully introverted “genius” who will make cow eyes at Susan Storm for about a 1/3rd of the movie, which I'll go into in a minute. They drop Doom's characterization for something completely different, jettison his background and origin for something completely different and then (say it with me now) they don't do anything with it! Why even name this guy Doom? He's got nothing to do with Doom! For that matter they'll take him out of the movie and only bring him back in the last 20 minutes or so because someone pointed out they needed a bad guy and a superpower fight. So there's no build up, no foreshadowing, just Doom being lost on Planet Zero (Spent all night coming up with that name didn't ya fellas? ) for a year (gonna cover this to) and brought back where he immediately starts killing people because of crazy. To be fair if I thought I had escaped this movie and was dragged back in, I'd be pretty pissed off to.

I mean first of all... How to do put this? Doom runs a country bitch! He is a sovereign ruler with resources and abilities on par with the Fantastic Four despite not having any superpowers expect for the ones he steals from any cosmic being stupid enough to get close enough to him! He's epic, grand, petty and spiteful with an ego that would make gods suggest he needs to tone it down. Worse of all, at least half of the time he can back his shit up. They run from this like vampires from day light, which only enforces that this movie is at best uncaring of it's source material or at worse ashamed of it. Which a comic book cannot be. Comic book movies can be a lot of things, as Marvel has gleefully proven that with movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Winter Soldier and even Ant Man! But they cannot be ashamed of the comic books they spawned from. The sooner Fox figures this out the faster they'll stop making shit superhero movies. I had believed between X Men first class and Future's Past they had figured it out. I was clearly mistaken.

But let me get back to this thing. The movie tries to set up a Reed, Susan, Victor love triangle. It fails. Firstly because Reed is made painfully awkward, to be fair, I was worse in high school but christ I don't want to have to watch it. Second the actors have all the chemistry together of a pair of granite rocks. Seriously I would believe Reed being in love with Ben more. Thirdly and this will surprise you gentle readers, the movie doesn't do anything with this plot! Seriously why bother with these tired cliches if you're not going to bother doing even a cliche ending to them? It's like someone told them all movies must have a romantic sub plot but they weren't sure what romantic and plot meant. Hell, it's not settled by Susan choosing to be with Reed or anyone admitting their feelings. Victor drops his half formed crush on Susan Storm to commit himself to genocide. Frankly all I could think at that point was at least someone in this movie was committing to something!

We have a montage after Reed is recruited to build a device to jump to a planet in another dimension, because space to old school or something I guess? Despite the fact we live in a world where space travel is rapidly being privatized and there are an increasing number of organizations showing up to push back those boundaries, so a movie about people going to space would be reverent and pretty cool. But nope! We're teleporting to another dimension for reasons. I guess this could be a call back to the Negative Zone, again they don't do anything with it! When they successfully teleport a chimp to and back, they're told that it's time bring NASA in and you'd think they were told that we were gonna build a new Gitmo there or something. So Reed, Victor and Johnny decide the only adult thing to do is get drunk and hijack the teleporter and do it first so they can be in the history books. Reed drunk dials Ben, because they need him to become a bad CGI rock monster. They go bad things happen, Sue gets blasted because she walked in and tried to help. They are then turned over to the military and Reed flees because the military is bad. We now skip a year. So we have two time skips and a montage. I'm not saying that time skips are bad, but I am saying that so many in a single movie suggests to me that you need to go back to the story board. During that time skip Ben starts doing missions for the military, which is bad for reasons. The military develops ways for the Susan and Johnny to control their powers and Johnny decides he wants to go on missions to, this is bad for reasons.

The government and the military are treated as these sinister monsters who will surely destroy our heroes if left unchecked, but what do they do? They develop suits to help bring Susan and Johnny under control. I'm not a fan of these suits honestly but it's a minor plot point. They try to conduct research to understand Ben's condition and send him on missions for the US Army. When Susan says no, no one pressures or threatens her to make her do it. No one does this to Johnny either and after a year he gets ready to volunteer and everyone freaks out. Yes, clearly the stuff of villainy! I mean the most villainous person here is Doctor Storm's coworker in a suit who keeps referring to them as subjects behind their backs. But hey, an adult might be sent on a military mission of his own free will! That's awful! Speaking as a veteran of the Marine Corps? Fuck You.

But seriously why all this build up about how they can't trust the government or the military and then have the said government do... Really nothing at all that seems that sinister to me. At worse they took advantage of Ben to save other troops lives, but I guess our lives don't count. But hey, it doesn't matter because they do this build up and then... You guess it, they don't do anything with it. Instead Reed who spent the year in Central America trying to rebuild the teleporter. They don't do anything with this either. Nor do they do anything with the fact the Ben is angry at Reed for taking him on a mission that turned him into a big orange monster and then fucking off to the jungle. They. Don't. Do. Anything. With. This.

It's all resolved with hand waves at the end of the movie, where they and Not-Doom have this really... Generic, mundane let down of the a fight, our heroes turn around to the military who gave them the training and equipment to win and tell them, hey we're done working for you. You're going to give us a huge fuck off lab, fund us to whatever amount we want and we're not going to share our work with you or do anything for you at all! Because you're evil. For reasons. Now give us everything we want! It's an ending that reeks of the worse of Baby boomer entitlement where authority exists only to give you everything you want but fuck you having to do anything or... you know... give anything back. The movie closes and I am left with this. The best part was the Star Wars Trailer and the knowledge that no one ever said they were the fantastic four in this film. So they're not even the Fantastic Four In Name. Thank God for small mercies.

But I am left asking, why is it so hard to do a film about the F4? It's a simple concept, it's a family that loves to explore and push back the boundaries of knowledge and must at times fight against the new threats that exploration revels. Instead Fox continually keeps trying to turn them into a generic superhero team, stripping away anything interesting or special in favor of movies that tell stories by waving about tired old cliches and then putting them down to wave another set of tired old cliches. So I have to close this review by asking the same question I've been asking throughout. Why have the rights to the Fantastic Four, why fight and scheme and sweat to keep those rights... If you're not going to do anything with them?

Fantastic Four gets a 2.25 for Lazy Writing in the extreme, barely coherent story telling, flat acting and utterly mediocre CGI and fight scenes. I was frustrated and bored throughout this movie, go see Ant Man again if you have to do to avoid this or Man from UNCLE or anything else!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Seedbearing Prince by Davaun Sanders

The Seedbearing Prince
by Davaun Sanders

Disclosure, I know Mr. Sanders from work. We were members of the same training class and I learned he was a writer while talking to him over a variety of subjects. Finding out that he had written pretty near to an entire series, I had to take a look. Especially when he told me this whole series sprang from the most vivid dream he ever had.

The Seedbearing Prince is Mr. Sanders first book and the first book in a series. Let me first discuss the setting because it is amazing! It is new! It is interesting! I find myself yelling at the book “wait, wait go back and tell me more about shit!” It's not medieval Europe with a new coat of paint! The setting is the World Belt, a star system where the planets and dwarf planets (or whatever we're call them these days) are linked together by what seems to be a super dense asteroid field. I mean so dense that some of these asteroids have atmosphere and life on them, to point that creatures know as Rage Hawks fly from asteroid to asteroid in search of food and nesting grounds. As you might guess standard science has been beaten up and thrown out of town more or less. I mean we have an asteroid belt with a functioning ecosystem.

Now they have space ships called transports to carry people and cargo from world to world but sometimes they need to send messages quietly and quickly. This gives us one of the most metal occupations to show up in these reviews, men who make their living by letting themselves be shot off at high speed (using high tech artifacts called portals or jump points) into an asteroid field where they use grapple hooks and wing suits to basically spiderman across a moving asteroid field! Let me state that at this point I don't care what science has to say about how possible this is, it's just awesome. The worlds are all independent with their own cultures and governments, all these governments are bound by a set of treaties overseen by an interplanetary organization named after their headquarters, the massive space fortress called the The Ring. The Ring hosts a number of groups working together to keep the World belt safe and going. The Preceptors are scholars/scientists, the Defenders are the military order so on and so forth. There is an entire system here with Shard, our main character's home world being part of it. Shard is a farming world, who provides many world with large percentage of their food (the World Belt doesn't appear to be a purely capitalist system, the Shardians don't seem to be making a lot of money on this for example) they're a very rural people as a result but honestly seem like nice people. There are also some nice cultural bits (such as a festival) while we're on Shard for people like me.

Just from my first read through, I would say that that Mr. Sanders has done some work in thinking through this setting, or at least more then some people I've reviewed here. At the same time, he avoids a cardinal sin of fantasy and science fiction writers everywhere, he doesn't explain things to death. He has a story to tell and you'll get what information is reverent to the story. Which frankly is likely the best way to do these things, as a lot of people get bored silly when someone explains how things work. I know for example in say David Weber's books, especially the later ones, I tend to skip the pages and pages of explaining how missiles and anti-missile systems work But this isn't a Weber review so I'll stop here. I will say that instead of over dwelling on things however, Sanders rushes us past some parts of the setting. This is a shame. For example the world of Aran is a hot, dry world but manages to avoid being 'Arabs in space' the story gives us glimpses of an interesting culture but we're kinda hurried along. I can understand not wanting the plot to drag down but there is such as a thing as rushing as well. I don't think this will annoy to many other readers though, as most people I run into aren't as enthralled with cultural details, but I honestly want to know more about dry Aran, freezing Suralose (a planet the characters barely spend a day on!), the city world of Montollos and the fortress ship/station of The Ring. How are they governed? How does trade work? How are families organized? What are the differences world to world? How do they say farewell to their dead and welcome new births? None of these are part of the story and I'm just going to have to hope he writes some appendixes or something.

The characters are well written and fairly enjoyable. When I first started reading, my thought was that Dayn (our hero) would be another Luke Skywalker, a farm boy wishing for more but not really doing anything about that wish until events take the choice from him. I've found these characters can get annoying if badly written, I've often wanted to smack a couple of them for one thing or another. Dayn avoids this by being proactive. He pursues his dream of being a courser, one of the crazed men and women who grapple and glide across a freaking asteroid belt! He's gathered the gear, he practices in secret, he has a plan to head out and declare for it and he sticks to that goal. Despite, everyone and everything getting in his way. In fact Dayn here is actively driving the plot having found the magic macguffin (called a seed) in the course of his training, which he does by going to the one place everyone else tells him to avoid. Dayn is not a prophesied figure here, nor is he from a blessed bloodline or some such rot. He's a young man whose drive and attempts to realize his dream have pulled him into a much wider world then he was previously aware of and into events that he had considered much to large to ever concern him.

I even like Dayn's family, usually the families in these stories are dysfunctional in some manner or the Father is the kind of person who can't stand the idea of his children having dreams and desires that he wouldn't have. While there are family conflicts and Dayn does catch familial disapproval when he does something reckless and foolish (and being a teenager he does) but it's never over board and Sanders does manage to give you a sense that this is a caring family where the members actually love each other even when they're being complete idiots. So I do feel I need to stick in some kudos here for Dayn having a reasonable and pretty good father in his life who isn't absent, drunk, abusive, neglectful or Darth Vader. It's something I would like to see more of.

We have Lurec the Preceptor, who bluntly is a nerd but not an annoying one. Lurec doesn't let himself be pushed around and is willing to stand up for himself and Dayn despite not being very physically capable. That's okay though, Preceptors are suppose to be scholars and thinkers not soldiers. That's what Nassir is for, a grim, closed mouth Defender, who frankly is rather cranky and sometimes gets up my nose. He reminds me of a couple of Sargent I didn't care for while I was in the Marines. Nassir is a Defender, a kind of super soldier trained (created?) from volunteers in The Ring. They exist to fight the antagonists of this series (we'll get to them). Nassir seems to regard his post as Dayn's bodyguard more or less as a punishment, despite being told how important this job is and why. The Defenders in general are portrayed interestingly, we're shown them repeatedly refusing to raise their hands against the people of the Belt, but at the same time they come off as distant, cold, disdainful and in some cases paranoid to the point of violence. We're also shown Defenders who are friendly, social and tolerant as well (such as a minor character named Eriya that I liked). The people of the Belt have mixed feeling towards their Defenders and I can see why, but they're going to need them.

Because of the antagonists. The World Belt was once a much nicer place, but something happened and now it isn't. One faction named the Voidwalkers withdrew beyond the World Belt to plot and basically be bad people. The Voidwalkers that appear in this story hit me as kind of cross between Ring wraiths from Tolkien and a Games workshop Chaos Space Marine. They're dark, mysterious and often wrapped in shadow. They can have horrifying effects on the mind of men and women, making their very presence a weapon. They can hide in plain sight and have many agents lurking in the cracks and corners of the societies of the World Belt all working to bring about the down fall of the system and it's worlds. They ride great and terrible monsters that most men cannot stand against. They come clad in armor and through forgotten sciences have access to technology and powers beyond the understanding of their opponents and are as a result of that disdain of their enemies because of that. In fact we often hear them referring to the people of the World Belt as Degenerates. Despite all this they are mortal and Sanders manages to make characters out of them. While they have limited time in the limelight, they are shown to be human beings who can think, plan, feel and unfortunately for Dayn love and hate. This keeps them from being to cliche, I think. The Voidwalkers work to their own ends and manage to be threatening without being invincible, doing enough damage to retain credible threat status. We see them slap around Defenders and drive entire companies of men into screaming madness for example. However, they do get hurt and even killed, letting us know that whatever else they are, they're at the bottom of it all mortal men. Which makes them more interesting then formless spirits of malice that others

Over all I really enjoyed the book with only a couple minor issues. I felt that we didn't really get to know anyone expect our main three and even then we didn't really get to spend to much time with Nassir or Lurec. We meet a lot of people who come in and out (and in some cases come back) and we honestly don't get to spend a lot of time with them. Which is unfortunate. We also run through a lot of the setting, Aran stuck with me, as did Shard but much of the rest of the setting is taken at a run. If I have a complaint I would say Sanders should slow down a little. Not by a lot, the story is well told and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Seedbearing Prince is a good science fantasy story in an interesting setting with likable characters in a story that's interesting and managed to avoid cliches I thought were going to be part of the story. I enjoyed reading it until the final page. However the pacing needs a bit of work and we could use more character development for people whose names aren't Dayn. I also have a bug up my nose about the ending but I'm sure the next book in the series will fix that (there are 3 books published already). Because of this The Seedbearing Prince gets a B+ and I'm pretty hopeful that the next book will get into the A range.