Category Archives: Books

Book Notes: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I‘ve seen a few reviews (online and from friends as well) that Divergent has lackluster worldbuilding, with not enough back story to explain why the world is the way it is. Now, I’m a total sucker for worldbuilding, so that had me worried, but I was intrigued enough by the concept that I plowed into it anyway.

That concept is that the society is divided into five factions based basically on personality – the brave and bold are Dauntless, the honest are Candor, the peaceful are Amity, the scholarly are Erudite, and the selfless are Abnegation. Every child chooses at the age of 16 whether they want to stay with the faction they were born into, or change into a new one, based on aptitude tests that supposedly show which one they naturally fall into. Our heroine Beatrice, born into Abnegation but uncomfortable there, turns out to be equally suited for multiple factions, making her Divergent, which is dangerous to the status quo. She keeps quite about her divergence and joins Dauntless; much of the book is taken up with the brutal training she and other initiates must go through to become full Dauntless members. Of course, things must come to a head, and it turns out that there’s an insidious conspiracy by one faction to take control of the others and Tris is the one to stop it.

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The Roundup: August 20

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile.

Current Film

You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids’ Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem? by Luke Epplin at The Atlantic

I find the fact that so many kids movies have a super-obvious and condescending message irritating in the first place, but that so many have the same message with no counterpoint is really getting old. It’s one thing to encourage kids to dream, but another to set unrealistic expectations without helping them learn contentment.

In addition to disparaging routine labor, these films discount the hard work that enables individuals to reach the top of their professions. Turbo and Dusty don’t need to hone their craft for years in minor-league circuits like their racing peers presumably did. It’s enough for them simply to show up with no experience at the world’s most competitive races, dig deep within themselves, and out-believe their opponents. They are, in many ways, the perfect role models for a generation weaned on instant gratification.

Why Kick-Ass 2 Creator Mark Millar’s Rape Comments Have So Many People Angry by Kristy Puchko at Cinemablend

Response to the Mark Millar story I included in last week’s roundup.

Secondly, rape and decapitation are not the same. Both are horrible acts of violence, sure. But the latter is not one that causes people to ask, “Well, what was she wearing when she got decapitated?” There’s no victim blaming inherent in decapitation, but more to the point decapitation is not a thing that people fear in their day-to-day life the way that many women fear rape.

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On Row Three: Skyrim, Horror, Remakes and More(Pop)

I haven’t been keeping up very well the past couple of months at mentioning what I’m posting over on Row Three (aside from the crossposting of the DVD Triage and Film on TV posts, which are always posts here and there at the same time), so there’s a good chunk of them here, some of them a wee bit out of date. Sorry about that. But just in case you missed any of these posts over there, here’s some of what I’m been yapping about.

This is a film I saw at Cinefamily back in August almost by accident – it was a Wednesday night so I was volunteering, but they were showing this as part of a Cinespia-co-sponsored series of trippy films instead of their usual Wednesday night silents (in fact, I think the Wednesday night silents may be pretty much dead at this point, except for the monthly Silent Treatment series). I was a bit put out by there not being a silent, and I was planning to leave as soon as the movie started and my volunteering duties were over, but I found out it was directed by Milos Forman, and I’ve liked his other films, so I decided to check it out. So very glad I did, because I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I’ve been meaning to post this particular scene, of a young hippie showing a bunch of parents how to smoke marijuana.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since I finished playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion back in, like, 2007. In other words, several years before Skyrim was even announced, I was dying to play this game. And so far, it’s pretty much everything I’d hoped it would be – almost exactly like Oblivion but with a few refinements (many of them pulled from Bethesda’s other major current-gen game, Fallout 3). I’ve been too busy with life to get much further in the game than I when I wrote this, but I’m no less eager to get home every night and try to spend a few hours in Skyrim.

Near the end of October, Cinefamily had a live band called Nilbog (presumably after the town in Troll 2) come in and perform their covers of classic horror scores, from John Carpenter to Bernard Herrmann to John Williams to Goblin, and after hearing them perform the music from Suspiria, I couldn’t get it out of my head and had to write this post about it. Mostly just an intro to the clip, though, which contains the first several minutes of Suspiria and already indicates just how important the Goblin score is to the feel of the film, and to the sound design of it in general.

I read this novel on Kurt’s suggestion, in a chat thread on Row Three about sci-fi novels. I had mentioned really enjoying Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and explained a bit about the plot, which involves a monastic order based on science rather than religion, but still incorporating a lot of elements from church history that I recognized and found fascinating. Kurt said I had to read A Canticle for Liebowitz stat, and he was totally right – this 1959 novel postulates a post-apocalyptic world in which a monastic order is the only thing saving the scientific writings of the twentieth century, and following it through the next several hundred years as the world rebuilds. Fascinating stuff for both sci-fi and history fans.

It’s easy to rail against remakes and despair that Hollywood never has any new ideas, but remakes have been around as long as movies have, and not all of them are bad! Here’s fifteen that are, in fact, not bad at all. They may not all be better than the originals, but I think they all deserve to be seen on their own terms, and they come from throughout Hollywood (and indeed, world cinema) history.

Rewatching Jaws recently reminded me how much I enjoy the quiet moments, the character-driven parts in between the shark attacks. Spielberg is so great on timing in his movies, but also at giving us something to care about and chew on besides the thrills and scares themselves. This scene with the three disparate shark-hunters in the boat drawn together (and to some degree, separated) by their scars is a perfect example of the vibe that Spielberg, Benchley, and the actors create so perfectly, making Jaws far more memorable than most creature features.

This evocative short played at Cinefamily before a Silent Treatment feature several weeks ago, and I was transfixed by it. It’s a very unique kind of animation that uses a box of thousands of pins that you can push in and out to create shapes when a light is shone on it from the side. I can’t imagine how difficult and time consuming creating this must’ve been, but it’s bizarre and gorgeous and creepy.

I told you some of these were really old – obviously we’re back at the beginning of October now, with a list of classic horror films that are light on gore, but heavy on atmospheric creepiness. I love horror films like this, and even though October is done for this year, it’s never too early to plan for next year!

The Comics: Batman, Superman, Supergirl, Oh My!

Almost got it down to doing this weekly! There’s two weeks included in this update, maybe I’ll get it done every week going forward. Fingers crossed. A lot of good ones this week, with a few more third issues upping the ante from the second. Still a few relative disappointments, though. I didn’t flip through any this week, though, so kind of a smaller grouping than I’ve had before on here – only the ones I actually bought in print. I’ve really been enjoying noticing all the different at styles on display here – everything from the straightforward and cocky Birds of Prey to the bold lines of All-Star Western and Wonder Woman to the painterly looks of Supergirl and parts of The Flash. Obviously the quality of a book depends on both the art and writing, but it’s great to see so much variety just in the look. Makes it more interesting to pick up the next book and check it out.

Batman #3

Batman continues the trend of my being super-impressed with third issues after being slightly underwhelmed by the second issues. That’s not true in the case of all books, but there have been several so far. Last month, I enjoyed the book well enough, but the whole thing with the Council of Owls came out of nowhere really abruptly, which turned me off. This book explores that more fully, in a way that’s really engaging and worked for me really well. It also seems like it’s going to tie into the mysterious town council in All-Star Western. I STILL can’t tell Bruce apart from the politician guy, but the writing is so strong in this series and this issue especially that I’m fine with the somewhat generic square-jawed male face that everyone seems to have.

All-Star Western #3

They must’ve gotten the memo loud and clear that there was too much damn narration in the first issue of this, because this one pares it down to almost nothing again, relying on really eye-catching bold-lined drawing to move the action forward rather than narration or dialogue. There’s a little of that, mostly dealing with Jonah Hex’s outlier status, and his unwillingness to stay in Gotham City no matter how much he may be needed. At the beginning, he and Dr. Arkham take down the Religion of Crime members who had captured the guy at the end of issue #2 (possible tie-in with Batwoman and/or Batman?), but it does get a little confusing when two other groups of bad guys turn up – not sure how or if they’re connected to the others, or if they’re just part of Hex’s rock-em-sock-em lifestyle. In any case, this book is a blast to look at, lots of action, and I love the bold look of it.

Justice League Dark #3

The plot thickens in this issue, as we get the first real glimpse of what Sorceress is all about – apparently the Justice League Dark’s protection of June Moone is what’s bugging her, because she needs her for some reason. More good character interactions here, with Constantine and Zatanna, Deadman and June Moone, and Shade and his illusion girlfriend (here rendered with wonderful hideousness) all getting time. Straight-forward but often lovely art here, and the story and situations are definitely living up to the “dark” part of the comic’s title. This is one of the more thematically adult titles of the New 52, and I’m really glad I started picking it up.

Supergirl #3

The art style in this issue is VASTLY different than in the previous ones – a little more finished-looking and painterly, a little less quick and kinetic. That’s effective both because this issue is much less fighting and much more plot and character stuff, and also because frankly, it looks way better. The previous issues I was having fun with the action, but this one, I wanted to slow down and actually drink in the look. Storywise, we get a bit of Superman explaining his mission on Earth to Kara, but she leaves him despite his protests and promptly gets captured by a gazillionaire who works outside all governments to investigate extraterrestrial stuff, and hence wants to test Kara’s physical limits. Some echo here of Action Comics #2, but a little less mean-spirited on the captor’s part – he’s not sympathetic, but he just seems more clinical than anything else. He definitely has an agenda, though, and I’m curious to see what it is. And I hope they stick with this art style.

Superman #3

I may be fully turned around on the Superman title – I really disliked the first issue, but grabbed issues #2 and #3 just to see, and wow have they been a lot better. Less whiny monologue, more actual action and depth. This one really starts delving into the question of how many bad things happen in Metropolis simply because Superman is there – obviously something brought up by the anti-Superman journalist McCoy, but it’s definitely weighing on Superman’s mind as well. The ice monster part is fine, but honestly not as good as the first half of the comic (which also includes some nice shout-outs to Action Comics #1). There are some dialogue-heavy parts, but they’re much better written than the first issue was – even if this one does have still have a couple of cringe-worthy lines (“you’re heading for a meltdown!”…really?). I’m glad I didn’t give up on this one initially.

The Flash #3

I’m continuing to enjoy this series at a relatively low octane level. It’s solid, and there are always certain parts, certain panels that really grab me, but I’m still not totally into the military/clone/whatever storyline. This one does have an intriguing flashback that may explain some of the backstory to Manuel’s situation, but mostly I liked it because the painterly art style is really pretty. Meanwhile, an electromagnetic pulse has hit the city and Flash is trying to do what he can while also looking for Manuel…the biggest problem with this issue is this disjointedness. Is he saving people as Flash? Is he looking for Manuel as Barry? Did the guys who have Manuel sent the electromagnetic pulse? There’s a lot of stuff happening this issue, so it’s fun to read, but I’m having real trouble connecting it all together, which lowered my overall enjoyment.

Justice League #3

Justice League adds Wonder Woman this week, who has apparently been working with the Pentagon, who has also been trying to keep her out of trouble and off the streets, unsuccessfully as it turns out. So I guess there’s no connection between this and the individual Wonder Woman comic – I mean, none of the others really seem to have a connection with their individual comics either, but at least they feel like they inhabit the same world here as in their own titles. We’ll see how the integration works over time. I didn’t love this entry as much as the first two, as it gives a bit more time to large-scale action scenes against hordes of the demon creatures instead of the fun character interactions of the first two issues. Looks like the origin story for Victor/Cyborg is coming along, though, and I hope that connects to our main story more soon, because jumping between them is a little jarring. One by one the team is being assembled (one more gets teased by the end), and I hope the focus stays on the characters and not on the faceless action.

Wonder Woman #3

Three issues in, and I STILL don’t totally know how I feel about this book. This one is mostly taken up with Diana learning her true parentage and the circumstances that led to her birth, which result in her severing ties with Paradise Island. Still, she’s unlikely to join Strife, which is what Strife seems to want – although, her name being Strife, maybe she just wants to sow discord among the Amazona? In which case, mission accomplished. I’m not sure what her end goal is, and this issue has almost NOTHING to do with the current Zeus progeny problem (the girl who caused all the hullabaloo in the first issue is barely in this one at all), but I’m assuming that will take center stage now. This issue I noticed particularly how much of the story is told strictly through images instead of by dialogue, and I really like that aspect – especially since there are a few dialogue sections that hardly make any sense.

Birds of Prey #3

Big thing here is Poison Ivy joins the group. That’s…interesting. And not without its hurdles, as the first altercation is between her, Ev, and Katana. But there are bigger bads afoot, apparently, and after a captured stealth soldier explodes, they all go after some prominent politicians that are probably the next targets. But the next head-bomb victim may be someone even closer to them. This continues to be fun but not very deep, and the art is pretty plain, take it or leave it. The writing is decent, though, if a bit throwaway.

Aquaman #3

The fight from the previous issue continues, focused on Aquaman vs. the one really big Trench monster. There’s some good action here, but nothing as kinetic as some of the other books. After they deal with that, Aquaman and Mera go to find out what the things are from a guy he knew as a kid – they had a falling out when Aquaman wouldn’t show him Atlantis. I’m kinda anxious to see Atlantis myself at this point, since they won’t shut up about it. But instead they head for the Trench. I wasn’t too enamored of this issue; it was just all right.