Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan (Two Stars)

220px-jumanjithenextlevelteaserposter

Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan

(Two Stars)

Disappointing. Had the same wacked-out plot structure as Jumanji: Into the Jungle and much the same cast. Danny DeVito was a welcome addition. Lots of inside jokes and some healthy relationship vibes.

But the tone of the movie is, presumably intentional, grittier. For one thing the offensive language is much more and more noticeable.

Book Review: Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour #1) by Matt Wallace (Three Stars)

25819511

Book Review: Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour #1) by Matt Wallace

(Three Stars)

“I’ll just come right out and say I’m not good with it. It’s the difference between serving demons and being one.” “That’s a pretty fine distinction.” “No, it’s not.”

Good urban fantasy concept: down-on-their-luck muggle cooks happen onto a food service which carters to supernatural clients. Essentially a novel-length expansion of a one-line joke, but well done.

“Demons can die?” “Everything dies, little one.”

Lots of kitchen humor, which folks who’ve seen Ratatouille will get. Whether it’s better is debatable.

“All things are possible. Illusion is often easiest.”

Quibble: “How did she make the eggs.” Betrays a basic lack of knowledge about chickens; no rooster necessary for eggs—just fertile eggs. My chicken expert opines, “Roosters are nothing but trouble.”

“Business as usual. Which is to say our only god is chaos.”

Lost a star for gratuitous profanity.

I’m not sure we want to find out why a billion-dollar corporation needs a magical lock.”

Book Review: And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson (Three Stars)

7780107

Book Review: And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson

(Three Stars)

“Behold,” he said. “Something Columbus couldn’t find. The edge of the world.”

For its time, published in 1960, innovative science fiction. Characters and plot are mediocre. Pop corn for the mind then and now. Not politically correct by current standards.

“The old town’s really come up in the world, hasn’t it?” “Overnight.”

Pattern for many subsequent science fiction tales, though in most the patch of earth is displaced temporally, not spatially.

“That sums up why you’ve never been a howling success in politics. You don’t give a damn for the people. All you care about is yourself.” Refreshing; today it’s a given that Continue reading

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (Three Stars)

29661618._sx318_

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

(Three Stars)

“Gripping the edge of the console, I shouted, ‘No, no, no, no!’ and began to thump the panel. Strangely, this failed to work at all.

A fun time travel fantasy told from the point of view of a “disaster magnet” protagonist, who is too stupid to live. Unfortunately, it’s those around her who die. Fascinating to see what new ways she invents to endanger herself and everyone around her.

“Always nice to see someone who’s even more of a disaster magnet than I am. ‘Maybe we’ll cancel each other out,’ he whispered. ‘Like white noise.’ Fat chance!”

Perky, snide inner voice which adds perspective as well as humor. Clear, conversational prose propels the reader forward; that and curiosity of Continue reading

Book Review: Ordained Irreverence by McMillian Moody (Three Stars)

12510423

Book Review: Ordained Irreverence (Elmo Jenkins #1) by McMillian Moody

(Three Stars)

“I felt like the refuse of the rich and famous. If this is what it was going to be like working full-time in a church, I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

An engaging funny, and at the same time sad opening to a series about a young man becoming a Baptist minister. (The denomination is only mentioned once or twice, but it’s obvious from internal evidence.) Moody captures many internal dynamics which are true of all bureaucratic organizations, especially those with undue power an influence vested in those who have their own Continue reading

Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon (Three Stars)

39935976._sy475_

Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon

(Three Stars)

“Because never in my life have I had life’s permission to develop the taste for simple pleasures, I shall pursue dark ones.”

Historical fiction as if done by Terry Pratchett. The intriguing background for this book can be found elsewhere. Knowing it only adds the Sturgeon’s accomplishment: he wrote a book which had supposedly already been written and did so with meticulous attention to historic detail and plausibility.

“We must present you as rake, not defiler; libertine rather than lecher.” “Libertine—I?” “Men have made greater sacrifices for king, country, and career.” “And how on earth am I to find just a proper scandal?” “Manufacture it, lad.”

Though set in 1770s England, the story is something of a send up of Continue reading

Book Review: The Death and Life of Miquel de Cervantes: A Novel by Stephen Marlowe (Three Stars)

24607452

Book Review: The Death and Life of Miquel de Cervantes: A Novel by Stephen Marlowe

(Three Stars)

“But history is—” “Truth?” Cide Hamete supplied. “Because it’s documents? But why should the ledger be truer than the legend? The merely measureable truer than the truly memorable?”

Monumental effort: for both the author and the reader. Extrapolating from Cervantes’ great fictional work Don Quixote and contemporary history, Marlowe casts this tongue-in-cheek autobiography. Lots of literary and historical references.

“It’s bad enough when, in relating Don Quixote’s story, you keep interrupting yourself to tell what other characters are doing, but to be guilty of the same lack of focus in your own death and life is positively absurd.”

Marlowe recreates Cervantes style to mind-numbing effect. The reader has no doubt where the story is going—or isn’t—but the ride becomes tedious. A hundred pages could be excised and the story would be so much the better.

“To submit to fate was the folly of the weak, and in those days I worshipped at the altar of free will, the folly of the strong.”

True believers will love it. Others will find treasures among the dross.

“The first thing writers of fiction have to do is willingly—not just willingly but joyfully—suspend their own disbelief.”

Movie Review: Downton Abbey, directed by Michael Engler (Three Stars)

downtonabbey2019poster

Movie Review: Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Michael Engler

(Three Stars)

“I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.” “Machiavelli is frequently underrated.”

Disappointing. They simultaneously try too hard (to replicate the TV series) and not hard enough (to rise above that genre). This movie is more of the same; a fix for Abbey addicts suffering withdrawal, but little to commend itself to a new audience.

“Let’s not argue.” “I never argue. I explain.”

While the setting, costumes and such retain a century-old appearance; the story/stories feel more Continue reading

Book Review: Sewer Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff (Two Stars)

71846

Book Review: Sewer Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff

(Two Stars)

“But Aristotle has written—” “Forget Aristotle. [He] only covers research and development. This is consumer marketing.” “Which philosopher should I have studied to comprehend consumer marketing?” “Munchhausen.”

Absurd? Of course, it’s absurd; that’s the point. But better written than many similar tales of the silliness of modern life. Better-than-average advocacy fiction.

“So you lied to yourself.” “The first symptom of true intelligence. Selective self-deception. How’s that for a Turing test?”

Still, I don’t recommend this to sensitive, introspective readers. It’s satire, as subtle as a Mack truck. Rude, crude and full of platitudes, though Ruff allows viewpoints other than his own stage time—if only to knock down their strawmen. And lots of profanity.

“What makes war terrible isn’t that the soldiers are men; it’s that men are soldiers. Let women become soldiers—or politicians, or diplomats—and you haven’t changed war at all.”

Ironic. What actually happening in the first two decades of the twenty-first century was as improbably as what Ruff wrote. (He mentions Cray PCs several times. Many may not recognize that reference to the super-computer pioneer, killed in a stupid auto accident about the time Ruff published.) And wrong. Remember when faxes were a big deal? Remember faxes?

“Thanks to the New York Times, newspaper of record, for confirming that even in a rational universe, ‘far-fetched’ is a relative term.”

Movie Review: The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang (Four Stars)

the_farewell_poster

Movie Review: The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang

(Four Stars)

“Based on an actual lie” semi-autobiographical movie about a Chinese American dealing with her paternal grandmother’s terminal illness.

High-quality production despite the obvious small budget and lots of on-site filming in Changchun, China. Much tension and comedy as family gathers from America and Japan for a cousin’s supposed wedding.