Chimes at Midnight (2013)

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Seventh and latest in the October Daye series about a fairy-human-halfling who works as a sort of detective/knight and solves cases that most of fairy wouldn’t touch. This time an attempt by October to stop the Goblin fruit drug from getting openly trafficked (a drug deadly only for halflings and humans, last mentioned in the fifth book of the series) backfires when the queen exiles her and she has to expose her claim to the throne as false.

The whole animosity thing between October and the queen was present from the first book, but I didn’t really expect everything to go fubar quite this fast or even this aggressively. I’m not sure if McGuire intended there to have been more back story why the queen hated her (apart from the one thing where October helped her out and said so to everyone), but at least it grew into an intense conflict with an interesting outcome. In terms of overall setup, its a big game changer, since now all the major powers in October’s vicinity are allies or positively disposed to her, which changes a lot of the dynamics. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

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The critical reaction to this one last year was pretty dismal, the major reason I didn’t watch it until now, and somehow I wonder what those critics were smoking. As far as action movies go, it’s pretty good. It’s a modern spin on an old fairy tale (which is actually the origin story told in the first few minutes) that together with a few minor changes introduces an entire mythology surrounding evil and good witches, which is the background for the twins of the original story to become major witch hunters equipped with lots of neat steam punk weaponry.

In a welcome departure from most modern action movies, the violence is quite visual and doesn’t hold back: heads get squished and stomped and there’s lots of gore and blood, which really makes me long for the days of old without its PG13 movies. Overall, lots of fun, and I still wonder what crawled up the combined ass of the movie critic scene to give this one so bad reviews.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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They should have gone with title of the book this one is based one (All You Need Is Kill), which seems much more appropriate than the generic title they went with. Not as good as the book, but different enough to feel like it’s is own thing (sleazy soldier dies and wakes up again and again and forges himself into a super-weapon against an alien invasion while saving his love interest) and the first time in a long time that I enjoyed Tom Cruise in a movie again.

This is the kind of smart, extravaganza action movies that seems to have gone out of fashion (apart from all the superhero movies), something with not much to say but with a good, even smart script that doesn’t assumes the audience is dumb, one-note but convincing actors, tight pace, explosive action scenes and the occasionally fun moment.

Ashes of Honor (2012)

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Sixth in the October Daye series about a fairy-human-halfling who works as a sort of detective/knight and solves cases that most of fairy wouldn’t touch. This time an old fairy acquaintance discovers he had a daughter with a mortal and his daughter has gone missing, either run away or worse.

This is probably the closest the series has to a filler episode initially, which starts out low-key and with no real personal stake for October, but events soon spin out of control and stakes become world-threatening all over again (doesn’t feel like filler anymore once this happens). The whole question – will a halfling chose mortals and die or chose fairy and has to live their whole live as a second class citizen – rises its head again, but at least the powers October gained in the third book allows halfings to survive either option, which sadly doesn’t solve all the problem posed by the question.

The book also brings back a villain from the second book, who has never taken stage before but was extensively referred to.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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Since Bryan Singer is working on the X-Men movies again, things have markedly improved. The Vaughn directed X-Men: First Class was pretty good already, but this sequel not only shows what happened afterwards but manages to bridge the movie with the old trilogy and pulls off a (second) soft-reboot (after first class) of the entire franchise that erases the worst mistakes of Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand without completely erasing it.

The result is impressive, a fresh and intense spin on the Days of Future Past comics (itself a X-Men spin on the Terminator movies). The whole time-travel to change a bad future from happening is so overdone in superhero comics it’s not even fun anymore and I’m not sure how often the X-Men alone did a variation on exactly that same plot, but Singer’s movies still makes it exiting again (it also helps that the future Sentinels look pretty damn great and feel like a real threat) and offers a lot of potential for more sequels.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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The sequel to 2011′s Thor is better in pretty much every aspect: the action scenes look bigger and more gorgeous, the pacing is much tighter despite a similar running time and with the boring origin story out of the way the plotting really has more things to work with. The biggest game changer, one that informs a lot of the story and also strengthens Thor’s characterization is Loki’s change from big villain to ambiguous ally. Arguably his actor is better than Thor’s, but the best scenes are still those with both of them in it, playing off on each other.

Story-wise, this is about the leader of a race of dark elves who fought all-out war against the Asgardians in the past. The dark elf leader sacrificed his own people to flee and fight another day, and that day finally has arrived.

He’s also searching for a magical super-weapon that will be decisive in his fight and Thor together with Loki try to stop him. So, a sort of generic super-villain, but his visuals looks great (and the dark elf super-technology shown) and his actor really manages to make him look menacing and dangerous.

One Salt Sea (2011)

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Fifth in the October Daye series about a fairy-human-halfling who works as a sort of detective/knight and solves cases that most of fairy wouldn’t touch. This time two sons of the Undersea fairy queen have been captured and everything points to the land fairies. War between the two realms seems inevitable and to complicate things even more, October’s human daughter has also been captured along the way.

Stake-wise this is pretty big, but what I enjoyed even more was the depiction of the undersea, that felt like an interesting place for stories in its own right. We also learn more about the sea-witch’s background and one major character bites the dust to allow October some more character growth.

One neat touch of the series is how each book is self-contained, but each sequel contains spillover from previous cases and the actions in previous books have consequences felt in later books. Here one of the two big villains is one who helped out in the previous book (though whether she’s still the sub-boss here is debatable, at least she has more screen time) and her antagonism to October was present from nearly the first book. We see more of October’s human daughter and one important decision late in the book mirrors similar events in the third one, but with a different outcome that feels quite poignant.

All in all, another solid entry in the series.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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The original Captain America movies was always a bit different from the other Marvel superhero movies in that it took place in the past, in a period where he could be presented with complete sincerity and not look utterly ridiculous, but his shift to the present posed the problem of how to do that in the modern day. The Winter Soldier found a pretty good answer: fit him into the center of a conspiracy reaching back to the groundwork built in the original movie and cut him off from all his resources, without trying to make some cheap allegorical shots at present day politics.

The end results is fascinating, feeling like a cold war era spy movie (captures that paranoia quite well) that somehow happens to take place in the presence and which has Captain America in it and manages not to look stupid. Also lots of action. It’s fun how the Captain America movies are better movies on their own than both Iron Man and Thor, which is something I would have never expected.

RoboCop (2014)

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This remake of Verhoeven’s 87 ultra-violent hit movie looks a lot slicker and cleaner, but all the subtle and not-so-subtle change have only weakened its impact, make a full-fledged satire with lots of action for easy consumption into a movie that doesn’t knows what it wants to be and settles on the easiest option: some action, some cheap TV drama and some simplistic anti-corporatism messages without really knowing why it’s doing that (which means it completely lacks any understanding why the original managed to capture the zeitgeist of its time) and without having any real convictions. Looks slicker, but is a lot dumber and inept and most of all, boring.

Late Eclipses (2011)

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Fourth in the October Daye series about a fairy-human-halfling who works as a sort of detective/knight and solves cases that most of fairy wouldn’t touch (victims weren’t important enough). This time a close friend of Daye gets poisoned and everything points to a close associate of the man who once forcefully transformed her into a fish for ten years.

Has the usual strengths and weaknesses of the series, with Daye being mostly a fun viewpoint character, who at times can get on your nerves but never really annoys. This is one of those books with a rather small scale, but you never feel like this one is just for filler, it’s just as exiting as those where the whole world seems to hang in the balance. The end shows a development that was hinted at from the first book, with the daughter of Daye’s sire having grown into what you expected her to be from the beginning.