The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
I first saw this book mentioned years ago in the blog of Greg Weisman, who created Disney’s Gargoyles, and have been curious about reading it ever since. I finally got around to it recently and I really enjoyed it. A NY Times bestseller for ten months in a row, this purports to be an autobiography of the early years of Merlin. The “true story” behind the legend, if you will. It moves along at a nice pace and has a real sense of verisimilitude about it. The period detail feels authentic, even though the author confesses in the afterward that the “history” she consulted is not taken seriously by legitimate historians. Still, the only truly fantastic element in the story is Merlin’s clairvoyance. Stewart wrote three more books in this series; I went out and bought the first sequel before I was even halfway finished with this one.
I only saw one new movie in May and that was Zootopia, but I ended up seeing it an almost unprecedented two extra times in the theater- I just went every $5 Tuesday. I found it to be a good movie to see when I needed cheering up, and I need cheering up pretty frequently. I’m even thinking of seeing it at least a fourth time before it leaves the nearest second-run theater.
I was not expecting to like the movie as much as I did. As I said in a previous journal entry, I was a little nonplussed by that initial teaser trailer, which tried too hard to explain the premise, like Disney's marketing department was afraid audiences wouldn't understand the concept of a world populated by talking animals, even though you would think that's the sort of thing that would be very familiar to anyone who has grown up with cartoons and kids' books. More than that, I had my doubts about the way the plot was focused so heavily on the fact that they are all animals. Why put that at the forefront?
Normally, when Disney has made cartoons about anthropomorphic animals in the past, they haven't made a big deal out of it. The characters on Duck Tales or Tale Spin could just as easily have been human. You never see a story about racial tension between the ducks and the dog people in Duckburg. But I guess that just means that the makers of this movie found a unique take on something I'd long taken for granted. In this case, the fact that this was a world inhabited by sentient animals was absolutely essential to the plot. They clearly put a lot of thought into what such a world might be like and how it would function.
On top of all that, it was really entertaining and funny and I even got a little choked up near the end in spite of myself. The message felt very timely for today’s environment. It’s maybe my favorite movie that I’ve seen in the past couple years.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
This is very loosely based on the graphic novel JLA: Earth 2. The beginning is pretty similar- a good version of Lex Luthor convinces the Justice League to go to a parallel universe to fight their evil counterparts that are terrorizing his world. After that, however, things go off in a pretty different direction, which I am totally fine with, as I did not care for the comic that much.
I remember buying the graphic novel years ago from a bookstore at the mall- the bookstore no longer exists. It looked interesting, but it was shrink-wrapped, so I couldn’t flip through it ahead of time, and then when I got home and read it, it was kind of a letdown (although I did dig the evil Super Woman; I thought she was sexy). For starters, it was too short to fully flesh out stuff that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Even now that I’m more familiar with the DC universe, there’s still stuff that I can’t quite get my head around.
On a superficial level, I'm not the biggest fan of Frank Quitely's artwork. He's twenty times better than me, but I think something about his style makes me a little queasy.
What really unsettled me was that in the graphic novel, the Justice League find that they can’t effect any permanent positive change in this alternate universe because it’s part of their natural law there that evil wins out over good. This is a depressing thought, but it’s also nonsensical to me. I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense when the rules that govern the superhero genre usually dictate that good will triumph, but I don’t buy good and evil as literal forces in the universe. Also, I can’t quite understand how a world where evil is lauded would not completely fall apart. I mean, yeah, there are a lot of evil, corrupt, selfish people on our planet, but the universe in this story makes only slightly more sense than Bizarro world, even though it's an interesting notion.
I guess I'm reviewing the book more than I am the movie. The movie ditches all the crap I didn't care for from the book and it makes for a less cynical story and a better one overall.
Justice League: The New Frontier
By coincidence, I happened to watch this movie based on Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel only a short time before news came out about Cooke’s illness and death. Unlike Crisis on Two Earths, this stays pretty faithful to the source material.
I’m not as big a fan of the graphic novel (and by extension this movie) as I’d like to be. I really like Darwyn Cooke’s artwork, which has a cheerful, cartoony, retro vibe. It really seems to fit this story, which takes place mostly against the backdrop of the witch hunts of the 50s. The basic idea is to imagine what things would have been like if the politics of the past had had a more direct influence on the superhero characters of that era.
One of my biggest criticisms is that the story relies too heavily on the viewer’s/reader’s foreknowledge of these characters. To be fair, if one isn’t a DC fan, why would they be watching this movie or reading the graphic novel? But to give an example, if for some reason, you didn’t happen to know who Aquaman is, his appearance right near the end might seem to come out of nowhere and make no sense.
I’m also not crazy about the main antagonist of the piece, which is a giant flying sentient island that shoots dinosaur-like monstrosities from its orifices. We’re not given a very clear idea of what this thing is, except some ancient lifeform that evolved separately from other life on the planet. This Lovecrafitan behemoth doesn’t really seem to mesh well with the retro tone. Is it supposed to be a metaphor for something? I don’t get it.
I told someone that I didn’t think that this movie was really scary, but then I started thinking about it right before I went to bed and I had to leave on the bathroom light on all night as sort of nightlight.
A single mother reads to her high-strung son from a mysterious children’s book. He becomes fearful that the creature in the book is going to get him and then weird things start happening. This movie made me want to never have kids. This poor lady’s son can’t give her a moment’s peace. I hated this screaming brat during the first part of the movie. However, I started to feel more empathetic towards him in the second half. I was a little concerned that all his problems were going to be explained away as being the result of supernatural forces, but there was a little more to it than that. I’ve heard it said recently that all horror movies are allegories. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but if one were to try to make a case for that, they couldn’t find a better example than this film. I’m not even sure there really was a monster or if it was all in their heads.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
I went to see the Rifftrax Live: MST3K Reunion show last month. I wasn’t at the actual event in Minnesota, but it was broadcast live in various theaters. There was a really good crowd at the one I went to, and something about seeing something funny with an audience makes it even funnier. Possibly the best way to see a comedy is with an audience. I mean, I saw Johnny English in a crowded theater on a weekend, and even though that’s not the greatest comedy of all time, it was one of the better experiences I had going to the movies because everyone was laughing so much. At this Rifftrax show, I was legitimately worried about not being able to breathe because I was laughing so hard. I laughed more in just the first couple minutes of that show than I did throughout the entirety of Neighbors 2, which barely elicited a “heh” here and there.
Would I have laughed more if I had seen Neighbors 2 with a really big crowd? I dunno, maybe. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie just because I hardly laughed, even though that’s what comedies are supposed to make you do. Halfway through the movie, the thought popped into my head that I could walk out and I probably wouldn’t have been that bothered about missing the end. But it’s an okay story and I’m not really sorry I sat through it.
When I went to see the first Neighbors, I was sure I was going to completely despise the frat that makes life hell for the family next door, but I could empathize with them a little more than I anticipated, even though they were the ones who were in the wrong. I had a harder time liking the sorority sisters in this movie. They make it sort of an equal rights thing, but what are they fighting for that’s so important? Their right to have raucous parties and do drugs?
I will say that there was a scene towards the end of the movie that nearly moved me to tears. Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne start crying and it almost got me crying, too. I think it was supposed to be funny, but it was also kind of a touching scene as well.
The Legend of Tarzan
This was probably one of the better Tarzan-related things I’ve seen, not that I’ve seen a lot. I haven’t even read the original book and I actually have a first edition copy around here somewhere. My dad called me up and recommended this movie to me, so I figured I might as well check it out. It was pretty enjoyable. It’s not a movie that’s going to leave a lasting impression on me, but I can’t think of anything bad to say about it. I liked Peter Skarsgard’s intelligent Tarzan more than Johnny Wiessmuller’s, who struck me as being a real simpleton. This doesn't have much to do with the movie itself, but one thing I really liked was the end credits song by Hozier, “Better Love.” When I got home, I went to YouTube and listened to it practically on a continuous loop.