Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Six of Crows after hearing great things about it from friends. I flew through it, and then immediately had to pick up the sequel. It was an incredibly compelling fantasy adventure about plucky young thieves pulling a daring heist. I loved the characters SO MUCH, which my other complaints about the world building and plot even more frustrating. Characters this great deserve the best sorts of books to inhabit, and this wasn’t quite there.

To be blunt, the world building felt lazy. Identifying the inspiration for the different cities and cultures was too easy. If there’s going to be such obvious parallels, I want it to do something interesting with these relationships, lampshade it in someway that feels clever, instead of just using stand-ins. The mishmash of fantasy and steampunk had the possibility to be awesome, and it is cool, but it never really differentiates itself.

I was also frustrated by the muddled politics of the story. It’s possible that I’ve been reading too much China Mieville lately. Not every book is going to be built out of a strong underlying socialist ideology, nor should it be that way, but having something solid underneath helps. These books had some nice Robin Hood aspirations, and wanting to be damage the profits of those in power instead of the lives of ordinary people, but it’s never clearly articulated. It seemed like Bardugo was trying to make a larger point, but didn’t want to straight out say it, which is very valid, it’s generally not a great idea to have your characters talk about the moral of the story. But because of weak world building and an emphasis on characters the meaning got lost.

The three main ships were obvious from a quarter of the way through the first book, which isn’t a bad thing because I was rooting for all of them. But then only one of the relationships wound up being satisfying for me. I understood why Bardugo left them where she did, but I didn’t like it, and wouldn’t have done it myself. The strength of the book is the relationships, and it felt like they were shortchanged at the end. (Killing a character does not automatically make a story more sophisticated or deeper. I’ve seen this problem in YA before, and it bugs me so much).

The thing is, that despite these complaints, I loved reading both books. They were so much fun, and the characters were so compelling, and I wanted to see what happened next. It’s a very fun adventure to be in, even if some of the underlying mechanics were flawed. Also, I’m reading this as a twenty-four year old writer with an English degree. They’re YA books. If I was the intended audience I bet most of the things that bother me would not have been a problem. They’re very cool books, get them for the kids in your life to read before they grow up to be picky old grumps like me.

Hell or High Water

When I started reading reviews of this movie I knew I’d have to go see it with my dad, because my dad likes Westerns, and he likes Jeff Bridges, and all of the reviews said it was very good. It finally got to the cheap theater by our house, and we went and saw it, and it was everything I hoped for.

It’s modern, and very much set in this moment of financial crisis, but it still has the spirit you want from a Western. The landscape is there, and the music. It’s a compelling story that plays with traditional western tropes, but does enough to be different, and there are some very excellent performances. Highly recommended.

Rogue One

Friends, I loved this movie so much. So fucking much. I’ve seen it twice already, and will probably go again when it gets to the cheep theater. I love it.

I grew up with Star Wars, and I’m the age where I watched prequels as an uncritical child, and actually love them too. Star Wars movies don’t have to be good for me to love them, but Rogue One is. It’s really, really, really, good. It feels more like a war movie, but it’s still Star Wars, fully a part of that world. I love every single new character so much. The ending was devastating but also perfect.

The reason why I never wrote about The Force Awakens last year is because I didn’t have anything smart to say, I just loved it. I may love Rogue One even more? It’s more original, and has absolutely captured my heart. Star Wars, man. Nothing but Star Wars.

Fences

I don’t think I would have seen this as soon after it’s release, but my girlfriend and I decided to go to a movie to get away from our families on New Years Day, and seeing Rogue One three times would have felt silly. So I let her pick, and she loves Viola Davis, and this was great.

It’s based off an August Wilson play, and it definitely has that sort of heavy theater dialogue. The language is great, and it’s well staged, but the film could have done more to utilize the fact that it is a film and has those tools at its disposal. The real amazing part is the performances. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are both as incredible as you’d expect them to be. All of the supporting characters were great as well. (The fact that Viola Davis is going to compete the supporting actress Oscar is hilarious category fraud, but she’s going to win, so good for her.)

It’s great acting, a well written story, well worth your time. Best of all, it was not playing a board game with my parents.

watch more movies

last year I didn’t go into the year with any media goals. I wound up reading almost 100 books, and while I would have liked to get the last six, eh. I got very close, and am going to be happy with that.

This year I am going to be more intentional! My new years resolution is to watch more movies! Which is a kind of sad goal, on some level, but oh well. This will be good for me. I like film, and I like talking about it, and thinking and writing about it, and I want to make it a larger part of my life.

“Watch more movies” is incredibly vague, and as such should be easy to satisfy, but also offers little guidance. So I’ve come up with some things to aim for:

  • I have a list of movies I want to watch. Right now there are 138 things on it. I would like to cross 1o0 things off that list, and to have it under 100 by 2018.
  • I’m going to try to see all of the films nominated for best picture before the Oscars happen, unless something I really really don’t want to see gets nominated.
  • When I was younger and video rental stores was a thing we used to pick an actor and watch everything available in a row. I miss this. So I picked one actor, and one actress, and I’m going to try to watch everything they’re in that looks interesting that I haven’t already seen. I feel silly telling you who, like I’m confiding super obvious crushes on famous talented people, which I am, but feeling silly is good. Also, they’re both beautiful and I love them? It’s Julianne Moore and Adam Driver, and I’m super excited for Todd Hanyes movies I haven’t seen yet, and Paterson.
  • Go see more stuff, because going to the movies is fun, especially at the Trylon or the Walker, because they have cool weird stuff.

We’ll see how this goes? Wish me luck.

La La Land

This was a really fun movie, but I’m not sure if it lived up to the hype. I don’t know if living up to the hype would be possible considering how many incredible things I heard about this movie. None of those incredible things are wrong, per say, it’s bright and bubbly, it’s charming and sweet, very colorful. It just doesn’t add up to a whole lot. It’s fun, but I’m not sure what the lasting impression was. The music was good, but not exactly memorable. The ending was muddled. It kinda seemed more preoccupied with being a charming movie and showing us a good time than actually saying anything. Which isn’t bad, necessarily, but also, I expect something more substantial from a film in best of the year talks. This was a blast, you should go see it if you like musicals or Hollywood charm, but I don’t think it’s life changing or anything.

Moonlight

This was a beautiful sweet film. My sweetheart and I saw it on the day after the election, and it was a perfect reminder that there are good things in the world. It’s the story of a boy in Miami, growing up and dealing with his mother’s addiction and his own sexuality.

All of the acting is excellent, the visuals are stunning. Go see it, it’ll make your life better. I don’t really have a lot to say. I’m going to see it again. I’m rooting for it to win all the awards possible. I think it’s a beautiful movie, and an important one. It really did make me feel better about the universe. I know that’s an odd thing to say, but it’s true. Go see it.