The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

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The kind of movie that is pleasant to watch with good animation and likeable characters, but not very memorable overall. It’s sort of a buddy comedy about two dogs who have a rocky start when their owner presents one of them as the housemate to the other, who tries his best to get rid of the new dog.

There’s really nothing there that leaves a stronger imprint: it lacks a major villain to focus the plot, the central character relationship works but isn’t exactly original and the movie can’t ever decide what it wants to be and jumps from scene to scene and fills it with moments that on its own are quite amusing, but never really cohere into a strong plot or engaging experience.

It’s a nice, short time-waster you’ve forgotten the moment you step out of the cinema.

Deadly Class #21 (2016)

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The recent 21st issue of Deadly Class, an extremely well-crafted and well-drawn series about a school of young killers, who are all sorts of fucked up due to their very fucked-up upbringings, ended one of the more violent and deadly recent story lines with one of things I utterly hate when authors do it. It’s one of the very few things that make me stop cold right there, and usually I struggle through even if the writing is a major atrocity towards literacy, but killing your main character, that is a no go.

It’s different when you have more than one main character, but if a story is build around one major viewpoint, and if you kill that character (and Remender didn’t just kill him, he offed most of the other more established side-characters in the process) and replace him with a side-character who hasn’t been that well-established from the beginning (nope, tattooed, mysterious killer-girlfriend is not good enough for that), then what we have basically is a different story set atop the one I liked in the first place.

Sorry, it’s not me, it’s you, many other more interesting things to read.

Nankoku Shounen Papuwa-kun (1991-1995)

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A few years ago a I played a short, well-done SNES platformer and since then always wondered what the plot of its source material actual amounted to, as it is full of bizarre characters and other weird stuff that doesn’t make a lot sense. Turns out, the original 7-volume manga is one of the worst mangas I ever read.

It starts amusingly enough as more of a gag-manga interspersed with some action, but as the series went along (like a lot of shounen series) slowly focused more on action and plot. Sadly, the character designs, never much varied to begin with, became a big problem the moment more and more characters turned up, as a lot of them look very similar which makes it hard to identify who is speaking or to whom. The later volumes had parts where I utterly gave up trying to figure this out.

Added to this the plot is extremely ridiculous and preposterous, meandering and it looks like a lot of stuff is just made up on the spot. Characters exchange loyalties on a whim and often you aren’t sure who exactly is allied to whom right now and fighting against whom. The later volumes gave me the impression that either the mangaka working on it did it out of contractual obligations or because she had used up all the ideas in the early volumes and just threw more and more inane ideas at the paper in the hope that some of it would stick. What a mess.

I Am Providence (2016)

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Like most of Mamatas’ books this is a rather short one, though even at that length it felt more tedious than I hoped it would. It’s a murder mystery against the background of a convention of Lovecraft fans, and while I didn’t care much for the main plot or the main character, the description of the convention and mainly its attendees was captivating enough to string me along till the end.

My biggest problem with the book, and this may be by design, is that the main POV, Colleen, became increasingly and unhealthily fixated on solving the murder of her one-time roommate, and occasionally it felt forced how Colleen kept at it, when a sane person would have just left. Sure, amateurs who solve crimes in lieu of the police are a staple of fiction, but (again not sure whether accidentally or by design) Colleen didn’t strike me as the greatest detective, though her powers of observation when it came the other con-goers were more insightful and amusing.

Another thing was that half of the time I felt like a lot of things were references to something and I was missing context to understand what they implied, as I’m neither a con-goer nor a Lovecraft/horror fan.

That said, the book had one highly quotable line “Fandom is the social network of last resort“, that succinctly summarizes the books whole approach.

Deadpool (2016)

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Deadpool’s success would not have been possible in a world where Marvel and Fox hadn’t spammed the world with countless superhero movies and Warner Brothers slowly trying to get in on the act. Yes, Deadpool works as a stand-alone and can be enjoyed even if you’ve never seen another superhero movie or even know the genre, but like always, context matters.

And the context is that Deadpool came out at just the right moment when people where starting to talk about the glut of superhero movies, of getting tired and when even second-rate garbage like Civil War was hyped to high heaven and praised like the coming of another great Marvel Movie Universe installment, when it was even worse than Batman vs Superman.

Deadpool’s plot isn’t complex, it’s an origin story (rather different than the comic origin) mixed with a minuscule romance focus and later on a save-the-princess plot. The only thing it has going for it is a self-awareness about being a movie, and a superhero one at that, and then taking a piss on the genre and its characters.

It’s not even a great action-comedy, most of its moving parts are references and it has none of the more subtle insight into people that make other comedies work so well. The villain is cardboard, almost all of the characters are, but the baseline is funny enough, especially Reynolds himself. And since it came out at just the right time, it packs more punch than it would a few years earlier or later.

The Perdition Score (2016)

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The Perdition Score is the ninth entry in the Sandman Slim series of urban fantasy novels. It’s one of the weaker entries with Stark fighting or trying to fight Wormwood, an all-powerful, well connected organization on Earth, heaven and hell that is part high-level conspiracy, part organized crime syndicate, part magic-backed cult. They also bet on all of Stark’s previous confrontations and profited majorly from that, as they basically own gambling on supernatural power plays.

While this sounded like an interesting threat compared to the more in-your-face enemies Stark faced in the past, one if its major problems is that Wormwood doesn’t actually have any counterpart to Stark in terms of raw firepower. An almost faceless organization is all nice and well, but most of Stark’s part adventures where fueled by conflict with singular enemies. This might explain why this ninth entry felt so meandering and toothless.

Every long-running series runs into the been-there-done-that syndrome, but TPS has a very strong case of it with Stark going to hell, again, and doing lots of things that just felt like a retreat of old material. At least the ending was interesting and gives me hope that the next part does something more intriguing.

The Rock (1996)

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Action-vehicle with Nicholas Cage as the specialist who has to part-time as an unlikely action-hero and an old (though still impressive looking) Sean Connery as a world-weary, experienced action-hero character who is hunted by his past. All characters are larger than life, villains, good guys, even Alcatraz as the location where most of the action is taking place.

It’s not a movie where you want to look too closely at the plot, but if you can get beyond that, you get a nice thrill ride that works at least once, though subsequent viewings have reduced appeal. Still, Cage’s manic energy paired with Connery’s stick is a match made in heaven and even when you know just how unlikely everything is, you still want to suspend disbelief just because how amusing their dynamic is.

Flying Witch S1 (2016)

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There’s a kind of anime show that uses a supernatural background, often a secret society of witches or something similar (e.g. Windy Tales), to highlight the splendor of mundane existence. It’s kind of ironic that some of the best slice-of-life shows, shows that by definition lack any kind of overarching narrative and just look at the experience of day-to-day living, deploy that kind of backstory, and yet it often works.

Flying Witch is about a young witch who having reached the age of 15, where witches should become independent according to the rules of their secret society, goes to live with some relatives, as her parents aren’t quite sure she can handle being completely self-reliant at that age.

What it amounts to is a city-girl coming to life in a rural area, though this aspects is less important for the show than you would expect. It’s merely a series of rather low key events, simple things like gardening, following a cat during the day, meeting a few of the more supernatural characters in the village and stuff like that. It’s hard to sell the show as being great at anything specific, but on the other hand its just extremely pleasant to watch if you’re in the mood to see nice people doing mundane stuff without any overt melodramatic elements.

It’s a show that is oddly compelling despite the lack of tension and any larger plot developments. And I think that’s its selling point, not purely because it’s different, but because it gives us something most shows don’t, that the quiet, slow, simple moments of our lives are neither pointless nor boring.

One-Punch Man S1 (2015)

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The success of One-Punch Man is easy to explain, though hard to replicate. It’s a parody that makes fun of western superheroes and typical shonen jump manga series, yet at the same time one-ups the typical action scenes from the shows and comics its parodying. This makes it a show that is a joy to watch even if you aren’t into any of the things its parodying, as it works well on its own.

And the gimmick of the show, which initially sounded extremely limiting to me, the main hero can beat almost any villain with one punch (and by beat I mean transform them into a puddle of blood), forced the series creator to come up with a never-ending stream of unique and interesting villains.

It’s really impressive how the show manages to not feel repetitive at all and makes every new action scene exiting to watch. Some of it comes from the fact that it kind of references other material and then manages to do it even better, but some of it comes from the fact that there’s no filler. The overarching plot moves at a breakneck pace and fires a rapid volley of ideas and jokes at the viewer that almost always hit the mark and don’t give you the chance to get bored.

Jason Bourne (2016)

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If we discount the non-Damon fourth Bourne movie, then it’s been almost a decade since the last proper Jason Bourne movie. And at this point in the series we’ve reached the point where we go into the movie not with giddy or fearsome anticipation at seeing another sequel, but in the state of mind that makes us wonder why. Reminds me a bit of the fourth or fifth part of the Die Hard franchise.

It’s not so much a question of whether the movie is any good, the real question at this point is, why bother at all. What else is there to tell.

Turns out, for a completely unnecessary sequel, there’s a good baseline competence at work that makes the movie work (more or less). While the plot is somewhat far-fetched even for a Bourne-movie, it’s not completely off the rails material. It’s definitely not a great movie, but at least I got what I expected. The action scenes are intense and carry the same kind of energy as those in the previous movies, there’s a palatable threat and it actually ties in with previous movies. The only thing I really disliked was the fridging of another female character to motivate Bourne, but sadly it’s not the first time the series has done this.