Castlevania

22 x 30 min

castlevania posterI know it’s based on a game, but to me it felt – from time to time – like it could have been part of the same world that The Sandman Chronicles play out in. It’s bleak and gruesome but also beautiful in the Gothic way and the story telling comes first through spare, solid story lines that aren’t endlessly muddled with side plots.

Castlevania is about vampires, but not really. Or just kind of. It’s about a sad Dracula, vicious vampire women, monster hunters, magical monks (sort of?) all played out in a greyish and brownish Eastern Europe. Maybe. The castle moves around, after all.

If you want lore, mythology, beautiful animation, snarky yet terrifying vampires and their ilk plus quite a quick fix (those 22 episodes are three seasons), you should try it. If you don’t like gore in any way, and prefer your shows bright and bubbly – better you pass this one.

Castlevania, Netflix 2017

Split Tooth

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar.

I struggled with this one, even though ‘struggle’ feels like too weak a word while at the same time sounding like a complaint.  While I was definitely annoyed, made uncomfortable and felt disgusted by this book, ‘struggle’ feels like I was fighting with the structure or built of the book. While it was the story, the actions, the implications, the anger and danger.

Yeah, all this was a lot.

And if it wouldn’t have been for the ending in which all of it came together so perfectly, so cleansing, so enlightened – I wouldn’t even have reviewed this on Goodreads. I would have been left behind with the aforementioned feelings.

Because Split Tooth isn’t a chronological story or just an ~experience~ or something in between: from time to time I felt like I was reading along with the notes of some world-building deity, but definitely one on a bad day. So much anger and frustration for humanity, but so much love and awe for nature. Is there even a main character, and is she an active or terribly passive one?

Split Tooth doesn’t provide answers or pointers, it’s just there while at the same time clawing at your brain to be allowed to reside there permanently.

Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq, Viking 2018

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

10 x 50 min.

Some things you have to give a second chance, I guess. Even a bit of a third. Worse was that I didn’t like how I didn’t straight away love this. Original fantasy! Puppetry! Diverse world-building! Meanwhile I could only notice how the puppets didn’t completely move the way they should, while plot barely seemed to move at all.

dark crystal posterI felt this frustration for 2 – 3 episodes, when episode 4 suddenly clicked (episode 7 is still the best, though). I stopped watching the artistry of it all. Maybe it’s because several plot lines come together, or because you start to catch on to the world these stories move through. The writers hold no punches, making stakes high and losses real and touching. The comedy is cute and cheeky, the terrors legitimately scary.

It’s enthralling and adventurous but I think my biggest argument for watching is how much heart it has.

So yes, it might take some time to adjust to what you’re watching. But try!

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix 2019

The Death of Superman

81 min.

When you realise that you already watched this story, just not animated, five minutes before the end of the film.

the death of supermanI like the animated stuff DC Comics provides. Their style (usually) works, the voice acting works and because I’m not familiar with the majority of the stories, I can’t get frustrated over a film or series “getting it wrong”.

So, yes, this isn’t just a comic but large parts of the plot were used for one of the recent DCEU films as well (Superman? Superman 2?). Yet that one didn’t make enough impact on me to remember the name of, so just stick around for the animation and better dialogue.

I think the thing about DC animation is what gets me is that it reminds me of the excitement you felt as a child: when animation styles were still appealing and the plots exciting. It gives me that Wednesday-afternoon feeling, opposed to the dumbed down stuff that’s around now way too often.

Yes, the comic did it first. But moving pictures and hearing voices add a lot.

Oh, and what it’s about? Superheroes, and villains. Duh.

The Death of Superman, DC 2018

Frontera verde

8 x 45 min.

Elk jaar neem ik mij voor om vaker TV-series te bloggen, en elk jaar vergeet ik het een beetje. Frontera verde is een Columbiaanse serie die Netflix ‘limited’ noemt dus misschien dat het bij één seizoen blijft. Als je naar het einde van de laatste aflevering kijkt … wie weet.

frontera verde posterMaar waar gaat het over? In den beginne is het een detective: er worden lijken gevonden in de jungle en een detective wordt vanuit Bogota er heen gestuurd om dat even snel op te lossen.

Maar maar dan (spannend trommelgeroffel)! Zijn er bovennatuurlijke elementen of zijn het hallucinerende middelen, kloppen de tijden nog wel, en wie is die vreemde vrouw?

Het is geen heel toegankelijke serie: sommige verhaallijnen meanderen iets te veel en de hoofdpersoon is ook nog makkelijk te waarderen/steunen. Door het heen en weer-gespring van verhaal- en tijdlijnen moet je ook je aandacht er bij houden. Aan de andere kant zorgt dit wel voor een andere ervaring van iets moois en ongemakkelijks en meer groen dan de willekeurige stadsinwoner per maand mee krijgt. Het is – om het heel naar te zeggen – een ervaring.

En wat er nu aan de hand is met die moorden? Och, ondergeschikt aan de rest.

Frontera verde, Netflix 2019

Just One Damned Thing After Another

There have been two moments in my life when everything changed.

Time travel! Dinosaurs! Bad guys and unlikely heroes! First book of a series!

Yes, I know, I will forever be overly bitter by the fact that a standalone fantasy novel is hard to find. Sue me (don’t sue me).

On the other hand – I’m a sucker for time travel and will accept a lot for the sheer fact of time travel being involved. It’s just a convenient genre: you get history, adventure, romance (often), sometimes science fiction – all in one book.

Just as in this case. Just One Damned Thing After Another has the scrappy heroine with the dodgy history, very villain-y villains, dinosaurs and mentions enough historical events to make sure you don’t forget the time traveling part. Jodi Taylor provides the majority of this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, which (might) make(s) the reader more acceptable of the times when things get a bit too trope-y. Is that me complaining about getting everything I wanted from this kind of story? Yes.

If there wouldn’t be sequels, there wouldn’t have been several set-ups that took (a bit) too long to pay off. Without the scrappy heroine-background, there would have been less time spent on moping and self-pity.

So, yes, this is what to expect from the genre. I was just hoping for more.

Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor, Accent Press 2013

There Will Come a Darkness

In the moonlit room overlooking the city of faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.

Am I going to say it? I’m going to say it. This is another ‘I thought this would be a stand-alone fantasy YA’ failure on my part. Of COURSE it’s part of a series, rookie mistake!

The nice thing is that you don’t really notice until it’s too late. The question of ‘how is this going to be cleanly rolled up in so little pages left’ doesn’t show up until 3/4 into the book, and even then Katy Rose Pool doesn’t use neon-light warnings to guide you to the open ending. The ending isn’t even that open, which to me – avid hater of open endings – is a relief.

Except for the ages of the protagonists, it’s not very YA either (little romance, little teen-specific issues) and the fantasy part delivers. Scary cult, people with gifts, threatening apocalypse, royals et cetera. The world-building makes you wonder if this is supposed to be our past or our distance future: just look at the map used.

With five protagonists it sometimes feels a bit like some get more time in the spotlight than others; it also makes it easy to quickly get a preference. Maybe in the next book(s) the attention will shifts and you might feel more for other characters.

All in all, a nothing-wrong-with fantasy. If I’d see the sequel in the library, I wouldn’t ignore it.

There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool, MacMillan 2019

Colossal

110 min.

The feeling when a film is part of several genres and therefore part of none at all, or maybe something new. Colossal largely went under (my) radar, except for maybe a wayward comparison to Pacific Rim: both have huge monsters in Asian surroundings. Colossal is no Pacific Rim.

film poster ColossalThis huge monster is connected to Gloria and starts showing up when she returns to the place she grew up in. Life isn’t great, the place she grew up in isn’t great, and the few people surrounding her aren’t either. Or are they? And how is the monster created, and how is it connected to her? Is it even part of this reality?

This summary might make it sound weirder than it seems, but what makes all this eerie is that it isn’t weird. Or well — it is, of course, but nothing in the cinematography or dialogue shows you that the film and the characters are in on the joke. This is a story about a barely functioning woman, and Anne Hathaway does it well without barely ever going overboard.

You can find Colossal on Netflix.

Colossal, Neon 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo

On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

Don’t judge a book by its title. Or maybe don’t expect to know what is going to happen by a book’s title. I thought Lincoln – like the American president. I thought Bardo – a kind of Buddhist limbo, add those and you get something eerie, cool, spooky about mourning, the afterlife and discussing religion.

Instead I got a collection of (fictional) citations and quotations about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son and a lot of people I’ve never heard of before.

It took some time to adjust.

Both Lincolns are very little part of this story. It is about the Bardo and how people of all walks of life experience it while avoiding the reality of having died. As mentioned before – this doesn’t happen in continuous prose, you seem to be paging through an encyclopedia of Americans that have died in the time before Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because some of them look out for Willie Lincoln, and are impressed that Abraham continues to visit his son and mourn him.

So it’s not a story about the American president, it’s a little bit about mourning, it’s a too little bit about what the Bardo is, how it works and what it looks like, and the rest of it is – I guess – about the skills of one George Saunders in bringing a lot of character sheets together and passing them off as novel.

2020 isn’t a great year for books, just yet.

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders, Bloomsbury 2017

The Coincidence Engine

‘They’ve found the pilot.’

I’ve owned this book for ages, and I’m pretty sure that I read it before or at least partially. Per story line my opinion fluctuated on it, and as a harsh, firm book owner, this book will be donated soon.

I’m sure both the cover as the summary will draw several eyes, though. There’s things going on, it’s science fiction without having too much science, there’s shenanigans and hijinks, and – both a pro and a con – a lot of different story lines for everyone to find something of their liking.

Because there is a young man traveling through the USA to surprise his girlfriend, but there’s also a recluse math genius, and that plane. There’s a very secret government agency, more secret-y people and a machine that might impact/ruin/improve everything.

Besides the several story lines that can make you feel so-so about this story, there’s also something strangely stilted about it. What if fewer lines would have been added, and more world-building to the rest? Why does the ending feel like the author just didn’t feel like writing any more, and should we view all this as a commentary on life, coincidences and authorities, or is that looking for something that isn’t there?

All that makes The Coincidence Engine more a collection of gimmicks than a mind-blowing, eye-opening story. Or even just full-time entertaining.

The Coincidence Engine, Sam Leith, Bloomsbury 2011