Movie Review: Swiss Army Man

I went and saw Swiss Army Man starring Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter fame) in the theater this past weekend.

Swiss Army Man

Summary from Goodreads:

A hopeless man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Surreal is a good word for this movie, also disturbing and flatulence.  Honestly, I could leave that one sentence and it would be my nicest review of this movie that I could give, but I guess I’ll put some effort into why I found this movie not exactly up to par with my expectations of humor and heart in a movie about disconnection and death.

Those are elements of humor and heart in this tale, but the reality of the story line grows more and more depressing as I settle into my understanding and emotional take away from it. In the end, there isn’t much to it. A man finds a dead body that he befriends and uses as a way to get back to reality. Sorta. Not really. Maybe? There are some joyous moments as Hank, played by Paul Dano, finally connects to something, in way he has not in his entire life. There are some funny moments as his adventure with a dead body takes him to surreal places. However, those moments do not mask the harsh reality that in the end it is a story about a man whose first real connection in a long time is to a dead body.

That is just depressing.

Plus, it feels as though the writers didn’t really know how they wanted to end it. I wont give away the ending, but I will say this, I expected maybe a sad ending or a weirdly wonderful one, like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World or Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind or countless other quirky and surreal movies that have heart and humor, but Swiss Army Man felt as though the writers wrote a weird ending to just to have a weird ending. Just, what is the weirdest way we can end this …. and yah lets do that weird ending. An unsubstantial ending that I felt derailed the entire journey of Hank.

I was the only one that thought this coming out of the theater. Everyone  in my group agreed it was a weird little movie, but several people loved that the ending was random and weird. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel my initial reaction was correct, that it was a non-ending in a way that was not very meaningful to the characters. And I think an entire movie that revolves around two people, one of them a dead body, should have a meaningful ending for those two people.

Interesting movie, yes. Fun to see the interactions of Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, yes. Fascinating story, yes. Weird, humorous, and maybe worth watching at home some afternoon when your brain is going strange and you need a strange movie to watch alongside your strange brain. Sure. But. .  but. . . don’t expect to have a sense of . . . anything when you have finished watching it.

What it really boils down to is that it is a movie about farting, a dead hairy bottom, and a sad man who cannot connect with reality in any shape or form. Even sadder is that as a viewer I was wholly disconnected from the characters by the writers’ and director’s choice about how the story ends.

Audiobook Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

After re-reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, I decided to check out his most recent publication Armada and found the audiobook, read by Wil Wheaton, at my public library and borrowed it.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Review via GoodReads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

This was an interesting story where a fantasy becomes reality, with a side of conspiracy theory. I did like a few of the characters, they were interesting, and I really like Zack’s mom. As a protagonist, however, Zack did not catch my interest in the same manner that Wade Watts from Ready Player One did. Plus, I’m not a big gamer so that part was only so-so for me. I have no fantasy of my little Mountain Goat Mountain game coming to life in a way that I can save the world, not even a little bit. So maybe some of my disinterest in this story is my disinterest in shoot-em-up games in general.

I did enjoy Ready Player One and Cline is a good writer, I just think some of the over arching story line of Armada was rather predictable . I guessed every single plot twist when the character was introduced, so it was more about seeing if I was right than it was about expectations that a completely new revelation would happen. It’s an interesting sci-fi story, for gamers probably way more interesting, and a decent read over all, it just wasn’t for me in particular.

Wil Wheaton does a good job voice acting, and he is excited by the genre he so that gives his voice excitement and probably one of the reasons I stuck with the book. However, he does not do voices as well as some other voice over actors that I listen to, so there were a few characters I had a little trouble keeping straight, but he does a good job overall.

If you haven’t read Ready Player One, you should it is amazing, definitely read it before reading this book to get a better idea of Cline’s storytelling abilities. You can read my review here.

Armada, is  worth checking out from your library if you want a fun summer sci-fi read based on the gaming community.

Audiobook Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1) by Jim Butcher

I borrowed the audiobook of The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1) by Jim Butcher from the local library. It is read by.

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1) by Jim Butcher

Summary from GoodReads:

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

This book made it onto my Top Five Books I Enjoyed that were Outside My Comfort Zone in 2015 post because  I generally do not enjoy high fantasy but I ended up really engaging in this story. Maybe part of this was that it was an audiobook and I did not have to keep names straight because the narrator had excellent character voices and I followed along so much easier.

Ok, so the reason I really liked this story was that there are people who can speak Cat. No joke. It is amazing because Butcher has cat psychology and physiology down pat and brings this real world knowledge to the story, giving it ground in reality even though people are living in the clouds (literally) and talking to cats! Bridget Tagwynn is one of those people and she is such an interesting character. Of a lower status than those around her, but with training in how to be a strong human being, and an understanding of how people interact and react she is just a great shining example of a strong female character that isn’t hateful or bitter. All the characters are interesting, have depth, have things I liked about them and had things I rolled my eyes about, because they are human and have a reason for being part of the story.

I’ll dare say I enjoyed this cast of characters to a greater extent than the cast of the Dresden Files. Not because I now dislike Dresden, but because this series has a wider cast of strong main characters instead of just the select few in the Dresden series. From Gwendolyn Lancaster who is a little too enthusiastic and know-how when she first arrives for training at the Academy to her cousin Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster who seems a steady sort of person, but manages to have depth as well, to Rowl, a cat, who manages to be helpful and unhelpful all of the time. A really interesting play of people and story line, masterfully told.

But I attribute my ability to read this high fantasy story with greater ease to the voice actor Euan Morton. He did an amazing array of voices and I easily followed a wide cast of characters trotting across and unfamiliar landscape. His Rowl voice is literally stuck in my head, it is that good. I really recommend this audiobook, he is a wonderful voice over actor.

There is a lot to this story that I can’t even fully get into with a review, but I would suggest it for anyone who enjoys strong characters, both male and female. and for people who enjoy adventure romps that have depth. Don’t be put off by the high fantasy, steam punk aspects, or talking cats, this story is more than the fun  setting it is about the very real and interesting characters that make up a group people who are trying to accomplish something together.

Audio Book Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

I borrowed The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman from my local library. This audio book was performed by a full cast which I always love so much!

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Summary from GoodReads:

A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

I’m biased when it comes to Gaiman, I usually find his way of writing stories and viewing life so interesting. This story definitely has it’s twists and turns and didn’t exactly go where I thought it might. At the same time the story feels familiar because it is based on fairy tales we all know and love. I do like retellings and I love a good mash-up so those aspects of the story kept me listening, plus it is a short story so it was over really before I knew it. But that was also part of the problem, there wasn’t as much development of character that I normally expect from Gaiman and the twists were OK, but not of the deep and dark and unexpected caliber that I have come to expect from the author.

Listening to a full cast is always fun, it makes telling the different characters apart easier and I enjoy hearing several people chime in on a story. No one stood out as particularly brilliant or horrible, just good voice actors giving life to  a story. (As I read the audio version of the book, I cannot comment on the supposed amazing pictures of the hardcover, but I hear it was brilliantly done.)

I enjoyed this retelling from Gaiman, but it is not my favorite of his stories. Some of the story line was predictable and it was so on the go adventuresque (that’s a word, I think?) that I didn’t get the same sense of development of character as I have from his other books. The ending was different than I expected, but not so much so I was blown away by it. While a fun fairy tale retelling/mash-up story to listen to, I’m glad I borrowed it from the library.

AudioBook Review: Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

So…. just realized I have not posted a book review this entire year. What? Some of that is because a lot of the new series or new books I was trying out at the beginning of the year did not make me excited enough about the story line to write a review. Some of it is because this year has seen a lot of changes and my reading time has diminished so I’m not reading as many books. I’m going to attempt to get caught up. (Where’s my laughing/crying emoticon when I need it?)

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill Read by Cynthia Holloway

I borrowed Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill as an audio book from my local library, it is read by Cynthia Holloway.

Summary from Goodreads:

They killed me. They healed me. They changed me. Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it was mine. I was doing fine until Chicago’s vampires announced their existence to the world—and then a rogue vampire attacked me. But he only got a sip before he was scared away by another bloodsucker…and this one decided that the best way to save my life was to make me the walking undead. Turns out my savior was the master vampire of Cadogan House. Now I’ve traded sweating over my thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan “Lord o’ the Manor” Sullivan. Of course, as a tall, green-eyed, four-hundred-year-old vampire, he has centuries’ worth of charm, but unfortunately he expects my gratitude—and servitude. Right. But my burgeoning powers (all of a sudden, I’m surprisingly handy with some serious weaponry), an inconvenient sunlight allergy, and Ethan’s attitude are the least of my concerns. Someone’s still out to get me. Is it the rogue vampire who bit me? A vamp from a rival House? An angry mob bearing torches? My initiation into Chicago’s nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war—and there will be blood.

OK, I’ll admit I picked this one because it was about vampires in Chicago. I mean what is not to love about that premise? It’s the reason I picked up Jim Butcher’s books, and I loooove those. I was also excited because this is currently a 12 book series with the 13th book to publish this year. I love finding new series and being able to binge read them. But I just couldn’t get into this book.

While there were some intriguing family dynamics that added some interest to the over all plot of girl gets made into a vampire and is trained by a really old, but extremely hot, vampire who expects submission, but Merit is a modern woman who refuses to submit, it wasn’t enough to make the series stick out from the rest of the genre. I really wish there had been a little more about the transition from being an academic whose life revolves around an all consuming thesis to becoming a vampire who has to give up that life long dream. Perhaps that is developed later in the series as sometimes it does take an author a good three books to really develop a character.

Cynthia Holloway was a decent narrator. She has a low and interesting voice. I generally do not have difficulty with narrators, I like listening to audio books and respect the hell out of voice actors. I took a class on it in Chicago and it is hard work! I do recommend listening to a sample reading before downloading and audio book if you find that some narrators turn you off the story. I do this if I’m going to buy the audio book and not just borrow it from the library.

Chloe Neill is a good writer and so this was not a bad book to read, I did enjoy parts of it, I was just wary of how much time I should continue to give the series as there were some “this has been done” parts as well. Obviously the series is popular or there wouldn’t be so many books in the series, and there are some reviews on Goodreads that suggest as a series it is quite good, so maybe I should borrow the other books in the series to see if I find the series to be more interesting than the first book.

But can we have some urban fantasy covers where the female characters are in actual fighting gear? Or even fighting? Midriffs and belly rings are hella sexy, I agree, but not exactly fighting gear. Just saying.

Deadpool: A Violent Story about Love

Deadpool was an Amazing Movie

My husband and I went with a friend to see Deadpool last week. I didn’t really know anything about the character or the movie, and I purposely went to the theater without an ounce of knowledge. The only thing I knew was that it was rated R, and for a reason, and I saw all those posts by “Deadpool” not to take your kids to see the movie. Deadpool was an amazing movie, definitely my favorite Ryan Reynolds movie, and perhaps my favorite Marvel movie.

Deadpool (2016) Poster

Summary from IMDB:

A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

******So, I’ll try not to be spoilery, but if you are reading a review of Deadpool I’m going to assume you want some information before hand or have already seen it and want to discuss what you have seen. *****

Clever and Sad

Deadpool was amazing, it was witty, clever, funny, and sad, horrible, tragic, and basically all the feels. This is my favorite movie I’ve seen Ryan Reynolds in. While I haven’t seen every movie he’s done (I don’t watch horror movies) I have  followed his career (and Nathan Fillion’s) since Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Hut and am a fan. He is hilarious. His comedic timing fits the character to a tee, which makes the character’s tragedy all that more sad and depressing.  His face, oh his face in pain, that is burned in my mind.

Ryan Reynolds is great in this movie because he is able to be both comedic and dramatic. When the two genres intertwine so seamlessly, it is not because it is an easy thing to accomplish, it is because both the writers and the actors have accomplish an incredibly hard task and made it look easy (an even harder thing to do). A really well done performance by Reynolds

The Love Interest

Morena Baccarin (of Firefly and Serenity fame) plays Wade’s (Deadpool) love interest, Vanessa. I have always admired her acting chomps and was delighted by the out of control character she plays in this film.  Wade meets Vanessa, who is a prostitute, and the two of them hit it off immediate. Both of them come from rough backgrounds (though we aren’t quite sure what that means) and are living hard lives. This connection is more than just skin deep, it goes to how deeply they end up caring for each other.

I related to this connection because I too have a hard time finding people who can relate to how I grew up and also where I am now in life. Most of my childhood friends are not in the same place I am in today, and new friends I make do not have the same background that I do. In fact, Chris is the only person who really understands both those parts of me. So I connected emotionally to their particular love story. Their love is the reason Wade makes all of his decisions, maybe not the best decisions, but everything he does ties back to how much he loves Vanessa and what he wants from life for her.

Disconnected from Violence

I did not connect as deeply to the violence. In fact, I spent probably a good five to ten minutes total not even looking at the screen, the violence was that graphic. In fact, I thought some of it was rather gratuitous. I see no reason to have a  human character flung against a billboard and then completely splatter across said board into millions of squashy pieces. Plus, the violence was generally followed by a joke.

We get it, everyone has super powers and is a badass physically. Thanks for all the blood and goodnight.  You can take my brain to sleep and deal with the nightmares.

But I was particularly disturb that the horror of the graphic violence was usually countered by a joke . To me, that is a way to disconnect from the violence rather than understand it.However, my husband and our male friend did not appear at all disturbed by the violence and it’s disconnection from emotion. In fact, I will say that no one else in the theater was having as much trouble with it as I was, I know this because I was watching the people and not the screen. So, take from that what you will.

Nudity Gone Wild?

You want to know about the nudity? Well, there is full on female nudity in two scenes and Ryan Reynolds’ very nicely toned butt is shown several times. (Technically there is a scene where Deadpool is completely naked, but is blurry and you really cannot see anything.) The two female nudity scenes make sense story wise and I was OK with them. Generally, I handle nudity much better than violence. I felt that it was appropriate to the story line and actually connected to the overall plot.

Witty Writing

When I went to see Deadpool, I was not expecting anything, except hoping for a good time. By the end of the film, I was blown away by the witty  and clever writing, and how perfectly Ryan Reynolds encapsulated that with his acting. Kudos to everyone involved in an excellent movie. Clever writing, great acting, and a love that thrives in the middle of a violent story, make for a great piece of art.

Television Review: Superstore is Super Accurate

Superstore is a comedy show currently in it’s first season starring America Ferrera and Ben Feldman with a cast of characters that can be found in any large retail establishment. A work place comedy, this show strikes the right balance of crazy co-workers and the strange things that happen when you work on retail. 

Each episode has had me laughing within seconds, but my favorite episode so far is the one that starts out with a customer still in the store 20 minutes after closing. This happens ALLLLL the time and it can be frustrating. Especially if the person is just dithering about whether or not to buy something unimportant like a trashcan. FYI, the people who come in at the last minute are always the people who have no social grace. They leave items where they don’t belong, they ask a bunch of questions, and often leave without paying for anything. So, I will admit that I just loved Mateo’s solution to the problem!

What is great about this show is that it dramatizes some things, but really it is extremely realistic about what it is like to work in retail. Bosses who are trying to do what Corporate demands, but also take care of their employees. Co-workers whose drama seeps into your own life. Customers who don’t realize that they are not unique in their inability to figure out what is going on, that they are not the only person in the store, and that staying twenty minutes past a store’s closing is super not cool.

I’m also quite impressed with all the acting. I love America Ferrera, but the other actors have a good grasp on their characters. And, while they are characters, the actors play them with a solid grasp on reality so that they do not come off as completely cartoonish caricatures of people, but reminded me instead of so-and-so who I used to work with. The setting isn’t really ever different, just the store. We have yet to see much beyond the parking lot, but I like the simplicity of it. There is definitely an understanding that retail work is a world of its own.

If you want a fun comedy to check out, give Superstore a try.