My Second Infinity War Post

The first part of this post is light spoilers only. Heavy spoilers below the picture.

The weirdest thing about Infinity War is that I can’t tell if it’s a good movie or not. I won’t know if it’s a good movie until the sequel comes out. So it’s going to be more than a year before I know if I like it or not. That’s a hell of a thing to do to a fan.

What I can say about it is that it’s bold. This is a movie that says, “To hell with backstory. If you want to know who these people are go watch the other movies we made.” It’s a film which, given the entire universe to play with, sets a fight between the two most OP Avengers and two of Thanos’ Black Order on a rainy Edinburgh street outside a chip shop. It’s a film that repeatedly tells you it’s going to do a thing and you sit in the dark eating your popcorn thinking “Yeah but you’re not really going to do the thing,” then it does the thing and your popcorn ends up all over the floor.

Whether all this makes for a good movie or not depends on how the things it did are undone, redone or confirmed by the sequel. A film like this stands or falls by it’s character arcs and none of those arcs will be complete until the as yet unnamed sequel arrives next year.

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So let’s talk about specifics. I went into the cinema convinced that there were certain characters who were immune from the fingersnap that I knew was coming because they had sequels coming out. Boy, was I wrong.

My instinct is that it’s a smart move. Nobody can claim to be surprised when some of the deaths are undone in the sequel when Black Panther, Spider-man and Doctor Strange all died and yet are all in the process of shooting sequels. Well we assume that T’Challa, Peter Parker and Stephen Strange are coming back. In the comics Shuri is the queen of Wakanda and for a while was the sole Black Panther. Miles Morales, Spider-man from the Ultimates Universe, exists in the MCU and there’s always the possibility that either someone else will be the Sorcerer Supreme or that Doctor Strange 2 just isn’t happening.

I have a couple of specific worries about the the rest of the story. Loki’s behaviour at the beginning of Infinity War makes no sense unless he has a plan. He’s not suicidal, he’s not stupid and he has a clearer idea of how dangerous Thanos is than anyone else. If he hasn’t either faked his death or planned to actually die and come back as Lady Loki, or Kid Loki, or something then I shall be very disappointed.

Doctor Strange needs a really good reason to give up the Time stone. A lot of people have said that he must have done it because Tony was alive in the one possible future where they won. That’s not quite good enough for me. I feel that there’s something more going on or at least there should be. I think that he realised that you can’t beat Thanos by stopping him from doing what he wants. Thanos will just keep trying till he succeeds. You have to let him have it and then undo it once he realises why it was always a terrible idea. Also maybe they needed for him to get the Time stone before he got the Mind stone.

There’s a difficult balancing act for the rest of the story. Some of the deaths must be undone but that can’t happen without cost. If Marvel just hits the giant red reset button then it will be deeply unsatisfying and if they don’t bring back most of the dead then the fans will be up in arms.

And finally, I really hope that at some point someone is going to explain to Thanos why he’s wrong. Not just morally wrong but factually wrong. I might write another post about the massive problem with Thanos’ “solution”.

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My first Infinity War post

Soon I will write a post full of spoilers about Infinity War. This is not that post. This post is for those people who haven’t seen it yet and are wondering if they should see it since everyone is talking about it and it’s looking like it might be an actual cultural phenomenon.

Yes. You should go see it but you need to see a few other movies first. Some people will tell you that you need to see every single marvel movie but I would argue that you don’t. Here’s a link to a page that has all of them. You’ll notice that there are eighteen films on the list. You probably don’t have the time and the money to watch all of those before some bastard spoils Infinity War for you.

Here are the ones that you need to see in order for Infinity War to make sense. These aren’t the best Marvel films. It misses out two of the greatest superhero movies ever made and includes some of the weakest Marvel movies. It also includes a massive argument between my spouse and I but we’ll get to that.

The Stick Of Doom Marvel Essentials list

  1. Iron Man. I didn’t see this in the cinema because I just didn’t believe the hype. I watched it at my brother’s house because he made me. This is the film that built the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). It’s funny and clever and Tony Stark is an arsehole but he’s a brilliant arsehole who is trying to be better.
  2. Thor. Some fans don’t like this film and claim that it’s a little poe faced. I disagree. You need to see this to know who Thor and Loki are and to understand how Loki ended up where he is at the start of Avengers Assemble. I’ve missed out The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. I like both of them but the Hulk is adequately explained later on and the second Iron Man film is the weakest and adds least.
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger. I love this film. My kids love this film. My Mother loves this film. You need to see this to know who Captain America (Steve Rogers) is, to understand how he’s tied to Tony Stark and to get at least some of the origin of the Tesseract which is going to be a major macguffin.
  4. Avengers Assemble aka Marvel’s The Avengers. So good they named it twice. Actually the first name is how it was released in the UK. This is the film that Justice League was trying to be. You need to see this because it has the first mention of Thanos and the Mind Stone. Also you need to know who the Avengers are.
  5. Iron Man 3. This is the source of the fight I mentioned earlier. While I love this film and I agree that it helps explain Tony Stark’s personal journey I don’t feel like it’s necessary viewing. However my spouse disagrees and feels that both the tech that Tony uses in later films and the mistakes that he makes with it require some context.
  6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This film sets up characters that are going to be vitally important in later films. You need to see this in order to understand what’s going on with Tony and Steve in Infinity War. I missed out the second Thor film, Thor: The Dark World. I liked it but it’s generally regarded as the weakest entry in the MCU and it doesn’t add much to the overall narrative. Also the important bits are explained at the beginning of the third Thor film. Watch only if you really like Tom Hiddleston or you’re desperate to know more about the Reality Stone.
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy. Absolutely vital watching. Loads of stuff about Thanos and it introduces several major characters. Also its a brilliant film and the beginning of the movies becoming a little more fun.
  8. Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yes you do have to watch it even though it’s my pick for the weakest film in the MCU. There’s just too much plot and too many important new characters to leave it out. And even a weak Marvel movie is still better than we thought a superhero movie could be for a long time.
  9. Captain America: Civil War. This is why Tony and Steve aren’t speaking in Infinity War. Also it introduces T’Challa, resolves many of the story lines and introduces Spider-Man. I’m suggesting that you skip Ant Man even though I really like it and I think that it’s criminally underrated. You don’t need to see it to watch Infinity War and you can save it to watch when you need cheering up.
  10. Thor: Ragnarok. Yes I did just suggest that you skip Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming. They’re both brilliant and you should watch them at some point but you don’t need to watch them right now. However you can’t skip the third Thor film because so much happens in it that you almost won’t recognise the new and improved God of Thunder if you do. I also suggest skipping Doctor Strange. All you really need to know is that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Doctor Stephen Strange, brilliant but unpleasant surgeon, who became the Sorcerer Supreme.
  11. Black Panther. Much as I love the rest of the MCU you don’t really have to watch any other film in order to watch this one but even a film this good can’t set up Infinity War on it’s own. You need to watch it so you’ll understand what Wakanda is.

And that’s it. Eighteen films cut back to eleven, ten if you skip Iron Man 3. And always watch to the end of the credits. If the post credit scene doesn’t make sense you might want to ask a comics reading friend to explain. Just warn them that you haven’t seen Infinity War yet.

 

I you’ve enjoyed this post then feel free to buy me a coffee with Ko-fi or visit the Shop of Doom (closing the day after tomorrow) and pick yourself up something nice.

Review: False Hearts

False Hearts by Laura Lam

I really loved this book and I’m having a hard time knowing what to say without spoiling it. If you like noir and scifi you should probably just go and read it now without waiting to hear more.

The story follows formerly conjoined twins who escaped from the hippy cult of Mana’s Hearth to the high tech paradise of San Francisco. One twin may or may not have committed a murder and the other must take on her sister’s identity in order to find out.

There’s a lot of world building going on in order to create two drastically different false utopias. Ms Lam makes it seem effortless but I’ve done enough world building of my own to know the amount of spadework that goes into creating a single believable fictional society never mind two. Ms Lam constructs two beautiful facades before letting the plot drag it’s fingernails through and show us the rot beneath.

I particularly liked the way that the inhabitants of both Mana’s Hearth and San Francisco know that their societies aren’t perfect but they’re invested enough in the success of those societies that most of them pretend otherwise. That seems very real to me. Human history is full of people pretending to believe that their societies are better than they know them to be in the hope that the lie will become true.

I haven’t said much about the plot, not because the plot is weaker than the world building, but because I don’t want to spoil any of it. It’s a true noir so the less you know going in the better. It is deeply satisfying in all its twists and turns and I’d hate to lessen that satisfaction.

Review: Hardened Hearts

Hardened Hearts, edited by Eddie Generous, foreword by James Newman

This is a short story anthology focused on the dark side of love. As an anthology it can’t avoid being a mixed bag. Not every story is what I would call horror but your mileage may vary. Not every story is going to appeal to every reader and I can’t claim that I loved every one of them. However there is a lot to love here and even those stories that I didn’t particularly like I could at least admire.

It’s a jewellery box of a book. Some of these stories are lockets containing detailed vignettes, some are gloriously baroque tiaras, and some are more like delicately jeweled cameos. You might not be willing to wear all of them in public but you can appreciate the skill of the makers. There’s nothing lazy or badly written here. Many of the stories are bold and experimental and that’s what a short story anthology is for.

I have my favourites. I particularly liked the first two stores, 40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover, and It Breaks My Heart To Watch You Rot. The second of those made me cry and and the first one means that if you don’t think that second person narration is acceptable (at least in a short story) I will now fight you. There are some sexy stories, some tragic ones and even some that are funny. I especially appreciated the placing of the final story, Matchmaker, as it’s just the perfect story to end on.

If you like horror, you’ll probably like this. If you like challenging love stories then you’ll probably like this too. I have no hesitation in recommending this to my friends.

Review: The Spot on the Wall

The Spot on the Wall by Rob Santana.

If, like me, you spent your teen years reading horror short stories then this book will probably fill you with a warm nostalgia while also chilling your blood. It reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe stories, particularly The Tell-tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. But it has a more grounded and everyday observational feel like a lot of Stephen King’s stories.

It is a horror story and there are some extremely distasteful things said, done and thought in the book. If you have specific triggers that you want to avoid then scroll to the end of the review where I’ve put in some slightly spoilerific warnings.

I do have a few criticisms but these are highly personal and may not affect your enjoyment of the book.

I would have enjoyed this book more if the characters in it weren’t so relentlessly dislikeable. It’s common in short form horror stories that terrible things are done to and by horrible people. In long form horror, when I’m spending a lot more time with the characters, I prefer to feel a little more sympathy with them.

The whole book has a very masculine gaze. Even the one female character who gets a strong point of view is completely immersed in patriarchal structures. She is strong only in the ways that women are allowed to be strong. She manipulates men with her beauty and her wits and uses sex as a weapon. It’s an old trope and the book is aware that she has bought into outdated ideas of a woman’s limits. Of course you could read it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on benevolent sexism rather than just getting out there and doing stuff for yourself.

There is a sequence where we have a story inside a conversation that we’re hearing about second hand inside a flashback. I had to read it back to work out what was going on and maybe there’s a way to format it that would make it easier to tell what’s going on. However I am not suggesting that section should have been cut as it is one of the best bits.

I have a pretty big vocabulary. No, let me be honest with you. I have an embarrassingly huge vocabulary. In the top 0.2% of English speakers. So it’s rare for me to have to look up a word as I did with this book. I’d suggest that someone needs to take away Mr Santana’s thesaurus but I think it’s deliberate. I think he intends some of the language to be obscure partly because some of his characters are multilingual and partly because he wants the reader to be reminded of the stories of Poe or perhaps MR James.

If you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgia with your horror while still reading a story that belongs in the modern day then this could be one for you.

SPOILERS BELOW THE LINE

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I said the characters were pretty unlikable and part of that is because between them they are homophobic, fatphobic and misogynistic. It’s hard to get away from that because the book spends a lot of time in their heads. There’s sexual harassment and mention of sexual assault. There’s a lot of sex in the book and it’s all really hetero.

Review – Plague

 

Plague by Lawrence Clayton Miller

Schtop, schtop… this biblically themed international thriller isn’t ready yet. It needs at least one more editor.*

Depending on how quickly you read this book it’s either flawed but interesting or hurl-it-across-the-room every second page frustrating.

Most people don’t read every single word in a sentence, one at a time, in order. We tend to scan the whole line and we skim over many common words like ‘the’ without consciously reading them at all. The faster you read the more of the page you’re reading in one go. Therefore the faster you read the more the layout of what you’re reading matters.

I’m no speed reader but I am pretty fast. My record for a whole novel is about two hours and if I don’t consciously slow myself down then I tend to consume even pretty big books in a single sitting. So when I read a book like this that changes location, focal character and point in time with just a paragraph break I tend to get confused.

I’m sure the author is going for a seamless transition from scene to scene. But if you read quickly it’s more like getting whiplash of the imagination. One minute I’m in Dominica and the next I’m in London. In one sequence we go from a woman contemplating a phone call when she gets to America, to in America making the actual phone call, to the reaction to that phone call from the point of view of the guy she’s phoning. This all happens with less break in the text than there is between the paragraphs of this post.

Perhaps the author intends the narrative to feel like it’s whipping around the world at breakneck speed but it doesn’t compensate for the other problem. The massive front loading of backstory. Maybe I’m over sensitive to this because as an aspiring writer I’ve read a lot of how to manuals that tell me that the opening chapter is no place to explore the tragic past of your central character. You’re supposed to show the reader why a character matters before you try to tell them anything about that character’s backstory.

The third problem is one of research and if you’re American this probably won’t affect you at all so you can stop reading. There is a character in this book who works for the SIS. That’s Britain’s intelligence agency the Secret Intelligence Service. The author gets almost everything wrong about the SIS. Probably because he assumes that the SIS runs like US intelligence agencies.

Just to give you a few examples: The people who work for the SIS are officers not agents. The SIS doesn’t get sent to foreign countries to investigate weird deaths unless there’s some suggestion that it’s linked to a direct threat to Britain or British intelligence interests. That’s true regardless of whether the country in question is part of the Commonwealth or not. SIS officers don’t go flashing their credentials to everyone on the ground. They don’t introduce themselves to all and sundry as SIS officers. Remember that the first S stands for SECRET.

This is not a bad book. But it’s not as good as it could have been were the promising narrative not drowning in poor formatting, premature backstory and flawed research.

*Imagine you read that in a terrible fake Dutch accent.

Review – Hell Holes: What Lurks Below

As part of my never ending search for stuff to blog about and new ways to insult Dan Brown I have decided to start posting more book reviews. The first one of the year is right here.

I have a fondness for stories in which it is revealed that the world is not as it seems. This is one of those. If you also like those kinds of stories then you will probably like this one.

There’s a touch of Matthew Reilly about it but with a Dan Brown style hero/narrator and a Michael Crichton level of research. People who know me might think that the mention of Dan Brown is a thinly veiled insult but it really isn’t. Dan Brown is very good at some of the things he does and Donald G Firesmith manages to emulate those while avoiding the inept pop culture references, laughable research and lazy sentence structure that make me want to smack Dan Brown upside the head.

You might want to have book 2 handy because the cliffhanger ending is likely to have you hurling you e-reader across the room and cursing the author’s name. But, you know, in the good way.

Oh look, a handy link.

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Game Review – InFAMOUS: Second Son

For lack of anything else to write about it’s time again to talk about the games I play when I’m not writing.

The PlayStation Plus free game of the month on the PS4 is InFAMOUS: Second Son. I was not expecting much but it looked pretty in the trailer so I downloaded it for something to play while I save up for the Dishonored 2 and Just Cause 3 DLCs. I have been pleasantly surprised.

This game has a lot of the stuff I like. There’s genuinely funny and warm dialogue that mostly doesn’t creep into maudlin, overly sentimental or cringeworthy. The voice acting is spot on and features the always entertaining Troy Baker as the player character, Delsin Rowe. Delsin talks to himself a lot so it’s good that they got the casting right. The gameplay is intuitive and the powers are varied enough to keep the grind from getting too repetitive. There’s a large map with quite a lot of freedom in how you deal with missions and when to tackle stuff. Your actions have consequences with a Karma mechanic that unlocks different abilities depending on how you play.

I like the range of characters. Delsin might at first seem like yet another tanned, dark haired, lone wolf male protagonist (and an angsty teenaged one at that) but he’s Native American and he has his big brother tailing along behind him. The women in the game are so far all well rounded people in their own right. The main villain is a mature woman who manages to be an evil, selfish, fascistic arsehole without getting her kit off. The teenaged girl with the purple hair at first appears to be a typical manic pixie dream girl but then turns out to be a deeply troubled person on her own mission of vengeance following the death of the only person who ever loved her (and he wasn’t her boyfriend).

If you have a PS Plus subscription then I recommend it. It’s worth the space on your hard drive and is good enough on it’s own to justify a month’s worth of the subscription. If you don’t have PS Plus and you see it somewhere cheap I still recommend it.

However it is not without it’s flaws. The Karma mechanic seems a bit heavy handed and doesn’t allow for nuanced choices. Your choices are clearly labeled as heroic or villainous and once you pick a path you can’t really veer off it without weakening Delsin. The boss fights feel a bit cheaty – there’s usually a trick to them and the trick isn’t always easy to spot while you’re trying not to get Delsin killed. I’m not enjoying it as much as Dishonored or Just Cause 3 and I’m not as driven to play it as I was with Wolfenstein: The New Order. So keep your expectations low and you’ll enjoy it more.

Review: The Equaliser

I don’t often do reviews because there’s no shortage of people reviewing stuff on the internet and many of them do it far better than I could. When I do review things it’s either because I’m really excited by the thing or I hadn’t heard much about the thing before trying it. It’s both in this case.

This is the film of The Equaliser from 2014 not the TV series of the same name from the 80s. And yes it is a reboot of the TV series. The protagonist, played by Denzel Washington, is called Robert McCall just like the character played by Edward Woodward. What little backstory we get about the character is very similar.

It’s a welcome addition to the growing genre of ‘Action Grandpa’ films. Mr Washington is a more convincing righteous force of nature than Mr Woodward was and he was pretty convincing if you’d seen any of the British TV series Callan.

Some of the ‘Action Grandpa’ films feel a bit forced but this isn’t one of them. There’s no feeling that this is a vehicle for the ego of a fading action star. It also doesn’t feel like an aging director or writer’s fantasy of relevance in a changing age. None of the action feels like it’s been shot round the infirmities of the lead.

It’s beautiful to look at. It’s not just in the camera work but in the lighting. Mr Washington is often shown emerging out of the darkness like a figure in a Rembrandt portrait. A trick that reminded me of the way Jean Reno was shot in Leon.

The fights are inventive and very, very violent. We are repeatedly shown that Robert McCall is a very bad man. Or at least a man capable of very bad things. it’s not just that violence comes easy to him. It seems to be easier than solving problems in any other way. You can tell it’s an effort to try the non-violent solution first.

It creates a tension with everything else we know about him. Right from the start we’re shown a man who can’t help but help people. He’s charming and engaging and concerned with the welfare of others but we also get the sense that this charm is deliberate. Connecting with people is something he is choosing to do. Friendship doesn’t come naturally to him so he’s reaching out to people by helping them to improve their lives in small practical ways.

The supporting cast is excellent. They don’t get a lot of screen time because the camera spends so much time focussing on Mr Washington (and who can blame it) but any cast that features Chloe Moretz, David Harbour and Bill Pullman is worth a look. Even with very little screen time some of the supporting players do get interesting character arcs that mostly avoid the cliches of the genre.

My only criticisms of the film are that some of the dialogue is a bit stilted, there’s a couple of small plot holes and there are some very heavy handed literary references.

Recommended if you’re in the mood for an action film with a bit more depth and a less frantic opening than the usual fare.

I have not been well

For the first time in months I haven’t hit my preferred posting schedule. It’s because I have not been well. Or in the vernacular of my homeland, “Ah’ve been nae weel”.

I’ve had an infected cyst and it’s been super painful. I’m now on antibiotics and almost back to my normal levels of nae weelness.

I’ve been dealing with the pain with a combination of regular painkillers, vaping CBD and playing Just Cause 3 on the PS4. It’s free this month to anyone with a Playstation Plus subscription. This is not exactly a review because I am not a reviewer. It’s just information for anyone else who might need distracting from pain or from the existential horror of life in 2017.

I’m not sure that Just Cause 3 is a good game but it’s certainly a fun one. There’s a lot of violence but so far not much gore. It’s funny but only if your sense of humour is like mine: as black as the earl of Hell’s waistcoat. You do have to hang up some of your critical faculties to enjoy it properly because the protagonist has to be mildly superhuman to pull off most of the stuff he does but his abilities have so far not been adequately explained.

If it’s distraction you’re looking for then this game does it well. It’s pretty to look at, the voice acting is excellent, the in game music is subtle but compelling, and the plot is interesting enough to drive the action but not so much that you don’t want to stop and do the challenges and side quests. There’s a variety of gameplay though there’s not much of a stealth option and I personally find the vehicle controls on the PS4 controller a bit shonky. This is a game that kept me entertained when the pain wouldn’t let me sleep and I had to wait for the antibiotics to work.

Also there’s a David Tennant voice cameo as the person kidnapped by the regime to do the radio announcements.

As I say it’s currently free on Playstation Plus and available cheap in any second hand games emporium. Or on Amazon it’s available for XBox One, PC and PS4. The XBox and PC versions are less than £15 but the the PS4 one is the gold edition and is more than £30.