Review of “The Sinner” (season 1)

* D

“The Sinner” is an 8 hour crime/drama miniseries. Cora Tennetti (Jessica Biel) brutally murders a man she doesn’t know. Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) becomes obsessed with figuring out why, despite her full confession to the crime and guilty plea in court. He soon discovers that she has forgotten two months of her memories, and over the course of the series, the mystery of what happened is unraveled.

The two main characters in The Sinner are interesting, and the twists and turns of the plot work well. I found this series very difficult to watch. Almost all of Cora’s backstory, as well as the side story of Ambrose’s relationship with his wife, are concerned with abusive relationships and their long term effects, a subject which I find depressing.

The upside is a fairly good crime story, with a solid detective in Ambrose. Pullman is easily the outstanding actor, but as Cora, Biel manages to walk a line along the edge of mental instability that leaves her character not entirely unlikable. Several of the supporting roles are well executed, particularly Abby Miller, who plays a police woman who must balance her job with her friendship for Cora’s husband. While this wasn’t my thing, if you like a crime story that is drama heavy, it might be for you.

Posted in movies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: “Venom: Dark Origin”

* * C

“Venom: Dark Origin” collects Zeb Wells’s five part origin story for Venom. I’m a fan of Venom. I like the idea of human/alien symbiosis. For example, star pilot Granger in Brian Stableford’s Hooded Swan books has a very cool relationship with his symbiote. I hadn’t seen an origin story for Venom, so I thought I’d give the book a try. Unfortunately, I found it mediocre at best.

The first chapter covers Eddie Brock’s childhood and college years, showing how he has always wanted to be important, and culminates with a visit from Spiderman. The second chapter tells the story of his rise from intern to reporter as he covers a serial killer. Chapter three deals with Eddie’s infection by the symbiote, and is dull.

Chapter four finally lifts the book out of the dolldrums. It begins with a brief story involving the symbiote surviving on a hostile alien planet, and ends with Venom attacking Mary Jane. In the fifth chapter, Venom battles Spiderman, predictably loses, and is trapped. Presumably, you are intended to wonder where the story will go next, and where Venom’s cage is.

I found Eddie’s origin story uninsipiring. Rather than being a good but flawed man who turns to evil, he is portrayed as weak, petty, and power hungry from the get go. The symbiote’s back story is good, but too short by far. It should have been interleaved in the first three issues. Finally, Eddie’s blaming all of his problems on Spiderman seems irrational, and is not well motivated. All in all, this book has little new to say about Venom.

Posted in books | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: “The King’s Blood”

* * * B

The King’s Blood is Daniel Abraham’s sequel to “The Dragon’s Path”. It follows the characters from the first book: Cithrin, Marcus Wester, Gedar, and Dawson. Claire (Dawson’s wife) and Master Kit are added as viewpoint characters in this book. The fantasy element, which finally appeared at the end of the first book, takes a more prominent role in The King’s Blood, but remains one plot thread of many.

Abraham continues to focus primarily on his characters, but the plot slowly winds to a juncture of several threads, making the end of the book more satisfying than the first two thirds. I actually liked this volume better than the first, and intend to read the next installment, The Tyrant’s Law. There are five volumes in the series. If the quality doesn’t drop of, I may stay until the end.

Posted in books | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review of “Black Panther” (mild spoilers)

* * C

black-pantherIt pains me to say it, but Black Panther was just OK. I really liked the first half of the film, which first introduced the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, then had T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) hunting the vibranium thieving Ulysses Klaue (Andy “Gollum” Serkis) and meeting up with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin “Watson” Freeman). Lupita Nyong’o is solid as his love interest Nakia, and I liked his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) as Wakanda’s Q.

The second half of the film introduces T’Challa’s cousin Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who has some of the worst writing in the film. His Oakland hoodlum seems very out of place in the film, especially since he is supposed to have attended West Point and become a highly successful soldier in the US military before being trained by the CIA as an insurgent. This half of the film delivers a lot of spectacle, and a heavy dose of morality, but for me, it didn’t live up to the first half.

The film looks beautiful. The moral message, that neither isolation nor conquest is good, and that one should help others, is a good one. I found Killmonger’s anti-colonialist message preachy. Another thing I disliked was that all of the Wakandan men were disloyal to T’Challa, which seemed very untrue to life, since Killmonger had just showed up out of nowhere. The film was entertaining, but for me, it didn’t live up to the hype.


Posted in movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: “The Dragon’s Path”

* * C

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham is endorsed by George R. R. Martin, and I can see why. It’s in the same “Sword and Palace Intrigue” subgenre of fantasy as Game of Thrones. The one major fantasy element in the book is limited to the prologue and the last few chapters, almost making this a historical romance set in an alternate universe.

The multithreaded plot follows several characters: a once great mercenary, the ward of a bank, a minor nobleman mocked by his peers, and the childhood friend of the king. Their stories slowly intersect until the tale reaches a satisfying conclusion, but not before a city is burned to the ground and a plot to kill the king’s heir is uncovered.

If you like palace intrigue, you may like this book more than I did. I found the payoff worth the effort, but this wasn’t the best read I’ve had recently. I’ve now read and reviewed the sequel, “The King’s Blood”, which I likedbetter than this book.

Posted in books | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Prelude”

*  D

gotg-v2-preludeGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Prelude is another anthology of GOTG stories, this time put together to promote the upcoming (at the time) film. There is no attempt to form a cohesive story in this book. The contents are as follows:

  1. A short graphic novel covering the events of the first film.
  2. An old Stan Lee Avengers issue featuring the Mantis, who is also featured in the film. The character in the Avengers issue bears little resemblance to the character in the film.
  3. The first issue of Stan Lee’s Guardians of the Galaxy, set in the 31st century. Of the current guardians, only Yondu is featured (apparently, he’s been retconned back into the present in the films). The villain is Taserface.
  4. A two issue mini arc GOTG crossover with the discount avengers (led by Hawkeye). Gamora is kidnapped by Nebula and delivered to an Ego like planet being, Kindun, for crimes she committed as a child.

Having seen the first film, its recap doesn’t add anything. The old Stan Lee content is interesting, but hasn’t aged well.

The Brian Michael Bendis mini arc is unoriginal. The crossover with the discount avengers is particularly bad. Hawkeye somehow brings down an alien ship with an arrow. Spiderwoman is a complete moron. Some character called Manifold teleports the guardians and the avengers to rescue Gamora, providing some reason for having the discount avengers involved in the story at all. This mini arc made me want to avoid both the BMB GOTG run and the discount avengers.

Posted in books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: “The Eagle’s Gift”

* * C

I really enjoyed Carlos Castaneda’s first two books, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and  A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan. Unfortunately, The Eagle’s Gift, Castaneda’s sixth book, is not nearly as good. Like his earlier works, it’s written autobiographically. In the Eagle’s gift, Carlos meets with the apprentices of his master Don Juan Matis.

The first half of the book is an account of Carlos and Don Juan’s other apprentices searching for a way into the third attention, a sort of Nirvana like afterlife. They begin to remember things that happened to them on the left side, an alternate reality. The second half of the book is a series of “remembered” experiences with Don Juan’s warriors that Carlos claims took place in this alternate reality and that he had lost all memory of.

Florinda, one of Don Juan’s warriors, gives a glimpse into Castaneda’s views on the differences between men and women:

“I am a woman, and that gives me a splendid advantage. I’m not accountable. Being a woman, I’m not compelled to secrecy.”

Through Florinda’s lips, he also tells you what he thinks of physical beauty:

“Beauty is a demon that breeds and proliferates when admired. If you … find those who are beautiful, you find the most wretched beings imaginable. Be unwilling to go along with their idea that they are beautiful and because of it, important. You’ll see what I mean.”

Castaneda is clearly reaching for the kind of mystical narrative that made his earlier books so fascinating, but The Eagle’s Gift for me falls flat. Much of it seems mundane, and the constant theme of “What is this? Oh now I remember all these things I’d forgotten” starts to feel like a trope. I haven’t read Castaneda’s third book, Journey to Ixtlan. Hopefully its more like the first two, which were really interesting.

Posted in books | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment