This is Carl's Brain
Shadowfall by James Clemens

Shadowfall

Shadowfall is a mixed bag of an epic fantasy novel that doesn’t quite live up to the hype bestowed upon it by some of the impressive blurbs on the front and back cover of the novel.  The basic concept of the story is that gods have settled over the lands of Myrillia.  When one of these gods is killed, fallen knight Tylar de Noche is thrust into the middle of it, when the dying god inserts her essence into Tylar.  Hunted down, he is determined to find out just what is going on.  Meanwhile, an insurgent group of knights called The Fiery Cross are part of an overarching conspiracy working against Tylar.

 

Although there was some entertainment value in reading the novel, it was heavily flawed.  For one thing, the whole part of having to harvest the gods’ bodily fluids was just silly.  Right from the jump, it took me out of the novel, and I had a hard time taking it seriously.  The novel bent over backwards to make a big deal of inserting twists and big reveals, but they telegraphed them from a mile away, and when the reveal finally happened, it wasn’t very surprising or pack much punch.

 

The writing itself was fairly mediocre.  There was nothing technically wrong, but it also didn’t captivate me.  There were some interesting plot points and some intrigue in the novel, but the problem was every time my interest rose, something brought me right out of it.  The ending was climactic but I don’t find myself wanting to dive into the next book in the series.

Movie Review: It

It

The last time the Hollywood folk tried to adapt Stephen King’s epic masterpiece, the result was a slightly better than mediocre major broadcast television mini-series.  There was nothing wrong with it, but it was far from awe-inspiring.  Many years later (so much so that the part of the story that takes place in the past in the movie was roughly when King wrote the novel), It has finally made it to the big screen.  The scope of this novel demands two movies, and there will be a sequel which takes place in present day.  The verdict—this movie delivered in a big way.

 

The movie had much of the same feel as Stranger Things television show, and even borrowed one of the actors (Finn Wolfhard who plays Richie Tozier).  It was most certainly scarier and had coarser language—and odd thing considering how young that cast is—but had many of the same elements that made the Netflix series succeed.  Although the movie wasn’t entirely faithful to the source material, it was adapted very well.  One of the things that made the novel great also worked for the movie, and that was the characters.  Even though it’s been a while since I read the book, the characters were so memorable that it did not take long for me to get into the groove with them.  Considering that the cast is large, it was very easy to distinguish one from the other since they had such distinct personalities.  Pennywise the clown was also portrayed well in this movie and was one of the scarier villains in a horror movie in a long time.  I didn’t like every element of the plot, but by and large it was riveting and had some good scare elements to it.  This was the best horror movie I’ve seen since The Conjuring and I would highly recommend it.

 

Bumper Crop by Joe Lansdale

Bumper Crop

Bumper Crop was a bit of a mixed bag.  There were some stories that I really enjoyed, and some that were complete duds that I wanted to get past quickly, hoping that the next story would be better.  In general and in this short story collection, Lansdale has a very easy going and pleasing style.  I think he leans on a first person narrative a bit more than he should to my liking.  Because of this easy going style, this collection was a breeze to get through.  Mostly, the problem was that some of the stories were just out there, and I didn’t get.

 

My favorite story in the collection was the final one.  Lansdale put to good use his extensive martial arts background in crafting a tightly written tale about a kickboxer going through hard times living in a tropical locale after he inadvertently killed a competitor in a kick boxing match.  The villain in this story is a Muay Thai fighter, who is a complete and utter bastard, and treats his girlfriend absolutely horribly.  He lures the story’s hero into a battle to the death—a fight that is completely unsanctioned with no witnesses other than the girlfriend.  To add to the epicness of this confrontation, a massive tropical storm is about to hit the island. This had a great setup and a great climax.

Movie Review: Annabelle Creation

Annabelle Creation

Annabelle: Creation was a compilation of horror movie clichés all wrapped up into one movie.  It befuddles me that this movie was positively reviewed since I don’t see any redeemable value to it except the final scene.  It had a thin and weak plot.  It had the double whammy of having both weak characterization, and characters that continually made one stupid decision after another—another horror movie cliché.  Basically, what this movie tried to accomplish was to go really slow and quiet and then all of a sudden have a jump out of your seat scare moment where someone got dragged quickly or something popped out of nowhere.  This movie was shallower and thinner than a communion wafer or a flatbread pizza for the non-religious folk out there.

 

It aggravates me that they took the best horror movie of the past twenty years—The Conjuring—and are trying to squeeze every last dollar out of it by making lousy spin-off movies.  The very existence of this movie sullies The Conjuring.  The basic premise here is a group of orphan girls from a Catholic charity live with a couple whose daughter had died in a tragic accident.  Except the daughter hasn’t gone away completely.  Her spirit or whatever is possessing her is wreaking vengeance on the orphans in an attempt to possess one of their souls.  The only interesting thing that happened in this movie was that the final scene of the movie leads into the opening of the Annabelle movie.  Skip this movie.  Even for bad horror movies, this stands out.

The Game of Thrones The Dragon and the Wolf

the hound and the mountain

After last week’s disappointing and heavily maligned episode, I think Game of Thrones roared back with a vengeance in the season finale.  There were quite a few problems with the last episode as I highlighted on my blog, but this show has a way of righting the ship in a hurry, and this episode made up for all of the things that went wrong last week.

 

Sansa and Arya Stark

 

I had been of the opinion that Sansa was going to turn on Jon, but once the scene started and Arya was brought out to face Sansa, I knew what was going to happen.  I had been reading rumors that Sansa and Arya have been working together all along to bring down Littlefinger.  If Sansa was actually going to kill Arya, I think she would have her assassinated, but the scene was set up to have Littlefinger killed.  His downfall was the presence of the Three Eyed Raven.  With Bran around, all of the horrible things that he had done was going to come to the forefront.  Kudos to Arya.  That was a pretty savage kill.

 

The Summit at King’s Landing

 

I liked the squaring off at the beginning of this summit between some of the various factions, especially the brothers Clegane.   I’ve been waiting for this battle between The Hound and The Mountain for a long time, and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t deliver it to us.  Euron trash talking Theon was also enjoyable.  Also classic, was Jon not willing to say that he would be willing to stay neutral in a war between Daenerys and Cersei.  There’s a certain segment of the Game of Thrones fan base who dislike Jon because he is too good and honorable, and in their stilted view of the world, heroes can’t be like that (probably because they look at those they admire who are terrible people filled with flaws, but I digress).  Anyway,  Jon is good and noble, and what’s wrong with that, even with those around him encouraging him to lie?  Anyway, as I said last week, the whole bringing the wight back to King’s Landing would accomplish nothing, since Cersei only cares about her own power.  I’m not sure if Jaime is going by himself to join the fight without any of the Lannister army, but I expect Bronn to join him, at the very least.

 

Theon Greyjoy

 

Why can’t Theon just go away.  There is no more irritating and annoying character on this show.  The lowpoint of an otherwise great episode was Theon’s fight against the nameless Iron Islander.  This was absurd.  I thought the dude was going to give in after seeing Theon’s tenacity in wanting to go back to rescue his sister, Yara.  Theon was getting annihilated, and rightly so against someone who is bigger, stronger, and a better fighter.  That he came back after being kneed to the groin repeatedly to kill that guy was so utterly preposterous.  My hope is that Uncle Euron finally kills Theon, but I don’t see that happening.

 

Sam Tarley and the Three Eyed Raven

One of the things I’ve been calling for a while, which has finally come to fruition, is the romance between Jon and Dany, despite them being aunt and nephew, which was hardly a big reveal, since I figured that out three seasons ago.  Anyway, my guess is that Sam will not reveal this after he sees that they are now together.  Ahh, young incestuous love.

 

The Night King

 

This scene was pretty awesome.  The Night King flying on the ice dragon, and then unleashing its full fury on the Wall was amazing.  On paper, with the number of wights on their side and the new ones the White Walkers could raise, a zombie giant, and an ice dragon, I don’t see how the humans can beat them.  Beric in the last episode suggested that if the Night King were killed, that all of the wights would die as well.  I think it comes down to Jon Snow in single combat against the Night King, and Jon defeats him, but keep in mind there is one massive twist to come and that will be at the very end of the show.  There is a suggestion that if Jon kills the Night King that it will somehow wipe out the Stark family as well, but we shall see.

 

Great episode.  I don’t think we will see Game of Thrones return until 2019.  Let’s hope that the final six episodes will be as good as this season finale.

Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall

Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall

Since Game of Thrones began running, the second to the last episode of the season has always been the massive jaw-dropping, eye-popping, life changing (okay I may be getting carried away) episode.  Although this was a big episode with big implications, I don’t think it was as impactful as The Red Wedding, Ned’s beheading, or The Battle of the Bastards to name a few.  That being said, there was a game changing moment (one that was heavily rumored) now that the White Walkers have a zombie dragon.

 

Sansa and Arya Stark

 

Although for the most part, I like Arya’s character and her ninja skills, and I’m certainly not a fan of Sansa, I think Arya is going off the rails just a bit.  A letter written by Sansa under extreme duress when she was about thirteen is certainly excusable.  And although Arya has been through some turmoil, Sansa’s journey was the more treacherous.  Basically, she should get a pass, and Arya isn’t being remotely reasonable.  I get where she’s coming from, but she’s way out of line and she ought to concentrate her fury on more deserving targets.

 

Daenerys Targaryan

 

I thought the conversation with Tyrion in this episode was total filler and didn’t add much to the show.  She lost one of her dragons (I’m not sure which) and didn’t seem as broken up about it as I thought she would.  The end of the episode definitely seals my ongoing prediction—Jon and Dany are going to wind up a couple.  Mark it down

 

The Dirty Dozen

 

The grouping of Jon, Tormund, the Hound, Gendry, Beric, etc. is the Game of Thrones version of the Dirty Dozen.  They created a motley group of rugged warriors out on a deadly mission where the draw is really the gathering of this group of men.  I like the opening where they had a lot of banter before they got onto the fighting.  There was some good back and forth between these characters.  For me the MVP of this scene, and the MVP in every scene he is in, is Tormund Giantsbane.  I especially enjoyed how he was opining to the Hound about Brienne of Tarth.

 

Although I liked this Dirty Dozen gathering, their commander needs to be fired, because the concept behind the mission was so utterly flawed and ridiculous.  They were going to rush into a horde of zombies to steal one as proof of their existence so that Cersei, who doesn’t care about anything other than her own power, in order to convince her to join the fight?  As they were swarmed on all sides by wights and White Walkers, I’m sure Jon Snow realized the folly of his plan.

 

But that was far from what was truly wrong about this.  The truly utterly ridiculous part of this was sending Gendry to send a raven to Dany.  It’s not like they had a squadron of military helicopters an hour away.  Dragonstone is far, far away from beyond the wall.  For Gendry to get back to Eastwatch, dispatch a raven, and then have Dany fly back with her dragons would take at least a week.  This took like less than twenty-four hours.  I’m only willing to suspend my disbelief so much and this stretched my disbelief like an old, ratty rubber band that’s ready to snap.  And for me it soured all of the cool fighting scenes and the cool visuals with Dany swooping in with her dragons and laying waste to the wights.

 

The big climactic action here, the Night King killing Dany’s dragon, was fundamentally flawed.  First, the Night King knew absolutely what to do to slay the dragon even though there is no lore in the annals of Westeros of dragons facing White Walkers.  I would imagine this was the first time the Night King ever saw one.  Second, if it could kill her dragon so easily, and this was about as easy as shooting a single arrow and hitting your mark, then the forces of Westeros are truly screwed.  Now the White Walkers have an ice dragon (something that has been long rumored), and realistically they should be able to crush the living based on their numbers, supernatural powers, and their dragon (and maybe a giant).

 

The whole Uncle Benjen Stark character saving Jon from the wights is a bit shaky as well.  They never explained how his works, since Benjen himself is a wight, but he somehow isn’t controlled by the White Walkers.  I’m not sure how he’s capable of free thought when the other wights are basically mindless zombies.

 

The finale brings a gathering of all the relevant forces to Kings Landing, where Cersei will undoubtedly lay a trap to kill her enemies.  After all, this is how Cersei rolls.  She’s not going to care about White Walkers, zombies, ice dragons, or anything else.  She cares about her throne and her power.  If her enemies aren’t smart enough to see that, then they certainly aren’t smart enough to defeat the White Walkers.

 

Game of Thrones: Eastwatch

Tyrion and Jaime

It would be easy to write off this episode as a letdown after last week’s The Spoils of War, but Eastwatch had a lot going for it, albeit in more subtle ways.  This was another table setter of an episode.  The reunions are coming fast and furious.  This time we had Gendry and Davos meeting again, and later Dany and Der Jorah Mormont, but far more dramatically Jaime and Tyrion Lannister saw each other for the first time since he murdered their father.  Some people may complain of reunion overkill, and there is some validity to it, but with eight episodes left, all of the important characters have to be positioned for the conclusion.

 

Jaimie Lannister

 

Surprise, surprise, surprise.  Jaime survived the escape through the water, and Bronn was the one who saved him.  Like anyone really thought he would die.  In reality, given that heavy armor he and Bronn were wearing, I can’t imagine how they possibly could have survived.  Bronn set him up with his reunion with Tyrion, one in which Jaime wanted no part of, but it seems as if he, in fact, reached him.  Jaime seemed to believe him about Dany’s intentions and the existence of the White Walkers.  That led to the big reveal, where Cersei told him that she’s pregnant with Jaime’s child.  Feel free to cringe.  Ah yes, another child borne of incest in Westeros.

 

Daenerys Targaryan

 

Despite Tyrion’s best efforts, Dany wasn’t hearing any of it when it came to burning Randyll Tarly and his son to a crisp.  I don’t see what the big deal was.  Beheading, getting incinerated by dragons.  They’re dead all the same.  Dany had a tender reunion with her old buddy, Ser Jorah, and then a bittersuite goodbye with Jon Snow while the sexual tension grows between them by the episode.

 

Sam Tarly

 

Sam said ‘hasta la vista, baby’ to the crusty old maesters at the Citadel.  I don’t blame him.  They’re the typical career academics who think they know everything about everything, but don’t squat about the real world.  Happy trails, Sam.

 

Jon Snow

 

There was a great scene in this episode when Dany lands back in Dragonstone right in front of Jon Snow, and low and behold, Drogon lets Jon pet him.  This sets Dany’s heart afire with newfound admiration for the man who can tame her dragon.  If she was a bit more introspective, she might come to the conclusion that it’s because, like her, he is also a Targaryan.  Meanwhile, Jon puts together a motley crew of misfits in order to capture a member of the army of the dead, which is fairly pointless since Cersei only cares about her own power.  At any rate, I liked this formation of men who have many reasons not to like or trust each other, but as Jon insightfully points out, they’re all on the same side since they’re breathing.

 

Arya Stark

 

I love it when the show gets characters who are convinced of their awesomeness only to be matched up with a character who outduels them.  Arya thinks she’s very clever.  She can spy on Littlefinger, break into his room, and still his private missive.  Except that Littlefinger is playing her like a fiddle in this case, growing distrust between her and Sansa.  I still stand by my prediction that Sansa will align with Littlefinger and betray Jon.  Perhaps Sansa and Littlefinger will be the next two people on her list.

 

Next week’s episode will prove to explosive since the second to the last episode always is.  Stay tuned.

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War

Daenerys and Dragon

This episode brought another reunion of the Stark children.  They have been coming fast and furious of late.  We also saw Daenerys Targaryan, tired of her defeats in recent days, take matters into her own hands and reduce the Lannister army to ashes.  Game on.

 

Jon Snow

 

In the last episode, we had Jon Snow and Dany finally meeting.  This time, the romantic tension between them (something that Davos noticed) got turned up a notch.  I’ve been predicting that Dany and Jon will wind up being husband and wife, as well as aunt and nephew, and that relationship seems to be progressing well.  I liked the story of the Children of the Forest and the First Men banding together despite their differences to battle the White Walkers, but Dany wasn’t having any of it, demanding that Jon bend the knee.  By the way, how is Theon still alive.  He’s like a cockroach that can’t ever seem to die.  Out of all of the characters they have killed in this show, why haven’t they killed him yet?

 

Sansa and Arya Stark

 

Sansa must be having an inferiority complex these days.  First, Jon is risen from the dead and has taken over as King of the North.  Then Bran returns as the omniscient Three Eyed Raven.  Now, Arya is back showcasing her ninja skills.  Sansa is the only Stark child without superpowers.  Oh wait, her superpowers are her sharp cunning.  I keep seeing the looks that she has been exchanging with Little Finger and I’m convinced that she is conspiring with him to betray Jon Snow.  Mark it down.  Speaking of Little Finger, he’s got to be sweating talking to Bran.  With all of the awful, despicable things he has done throughout the years, and Bran knowing them all, he can’t be liking the new Bran Stark.  There is some thought among fans that he was the one who tried to have Bran killed.  I’m not so sure about that.  In the books, it was clearly established that Joffrey was the one who tried to have him murdered.  That was hardly a warm reunion between Sansa and Arya, but they were never really that close.  Arya was closest to Jon Snow growing up, so that should be a better reunion.  Arya meanwhile showcased her new fighting skills.  I think it stretches believability that she could go toe-to-toe with Brienne like that.  Brienne is one of the most accomplished warriors in Westeros as seen when she dueled with The Hound.  Arya has been training for a year or two.

 

Jaime Lannister

 

I liked the interchange between Jaime and Bronn about his desire for a castle and his insight into Jaime being pricked one last time by the Queen of Thorns.  I had the strong feeling with the focus on Bronn and his complaining about not getting a castle that he would be dying in this episode.  The prequel to the battle itself where you hear the Dothraki marching and the dragons in the background was perfectly ominous.  The ensuing battle was magnificent. Of all the things that Game of Thrones does, their battle scenes might be where they shine the most.  This fight was awesome.  Dany swooping in on her dragon and burning Lannister supply lines and soldiers was tremendous.  That final charge by Jaime was also spectacular.  My guess is that it was Bronn who saved Jaime, and I don’t think he will perish from drowning.

 

Daenerys Targaryan

 

Dany really needs a new military advisor.  As good as he is at political maneuvering, Tyrion Lannister obviously doesn’t have a mind for war.  I think that Ser Davos will be the one to serve in this role as he stays behind when Jon leaves.  Dany kicked some butt in this episode as she rode her dragon into battle, and now she knows to be wary of Cersei’s new weapon.

 

Another great episode.  Sadly enough, this season is more than half way done.  I believe Dany will have dispatched Cersei by the end of the season and will be the new queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

War For the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes

In War for the Planet of the Apes, it’s hard to root for the humans.  They are all pretty much despicable bastards with the exception of a little girl who can’t speak because the virus that nearly wiped out the human population has now mutated to further destroy people, this time by taking away their ability to speak.  The personification of evil takes the form of The Colonel, expertly played by Woody Harrelson.  The Colonel is hell bent on killing off the apes, but he is also fighting a war for the survival of humanity, which is why he wants to eradicate anyone who has the mutated form of the virus, including his own son.  After an attack on his community, Caesar is hell bent on revenge, wanting to kill The Colonel at all costs.

 

Based on how this movie concludes, my guess is that this will be the last movie in this reboot of the classic Planet of the Apes series.  It had a nice progression: apes gain intelligence and humans die out from a virus; humans band together while apes assemble a new society and hostilities ensue; humans and apes are at war (and humans and humans are at war).  This trilogy has more depth and soul than the original Apes movies and series, which had a lot of campiness.  This movie had far more explosions than the previous two, but it also had a strong plot and a good evolution from the apes.  Very few of them can speak, and only Caesar can speak very well, but they generate far more empathy than the humans.  If I had to rate this against the other two movies, I would probably put it behind both of them, which isn’t to say that it’s not a high quality movie.  This movie had good action, a good plot, and good characterization, and I would recommend seeing it in the theaters while you still can.

Game of Thrones: The Queen’s Justice

Jon and Daenerys

This episode featured the long awaited meeting between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryan.  Given the buildup and anticipation of this long awaited meeting, I’m not sure if there was anything that could live up to the buildup, but I found the scene satisfactory.  Meanwhile, the grandiose plans of Tyrion and Dany seem to be going up in flame.  Oh well.   They seemed so well thought out on a chessboard.

 

Sam Tarly

 

Sam has shown his mettle in curing Ser Jorah Mormont of his grayscale.  Jorah still looks pretty gnarly, but they proclaimed him cured, so now he will be returning to Daenerys.  Sam isn’t getting enough respect from the Arch Maester, and I’m not sure where he’s going from here, but I’m guessing in all of those stacks of papers he has to copy, there will be nuggets of information that will help defeat the White Walkers.

 

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryan

 

Jon seemed to be at a loss about how to handle Daenerys’s rejection of his notion that they need to form an alliance to stop the Night King.  She wanted him to bend the knee and become the warden of the North, but he sees all of that as folly.  These petty squabbles are irrelevant when the White Walkers invade from the North.  Tyrion showed his wisdom when he talked Jon off the ledge to not give up in his quest to get Dany on his side, which resulted in her allowing him to mine Dragonglass and bring it back to Winterfell.  I did like the line about bringing together ice and fire, which is the name of the George R.R. Martin series.  Both Dany and Jon were playing hard to get, but I think they will ultimately be reciting wedding vows.  After all, incest is the way of things in Westeros.

 

Cersei Lannister

 

Speaking of incest, Cersei no longer seems to care who the hell knows about her sexual relationship with her brother.  Jaime, on the other hand, was far more reluctant about it.  I was expecting Cersei to accept Euron’s proposal of marriage, but it looks like the naval captain/pirate is going to have to wait a little longer.  Cersei seems to be thriving in her new role as the queen.  She has proven to be very resourceful, outmaneuvering Tyrion at every turn this season.  While the Unsullied took over Casterly Rock (a bit too easy), she had diverted the Lannister army to take down the Tyrells.  The closing scene between Jaime and Lady Olenna was exceptional.  I liked how she accepted her fate without a fuss, but not before rubbing it in to Jaime’s face about her being responsible for Joffrey’s death.

 

Sansa and Bran Stark

 

There was a Stark reunion in this episode, but it wasn’t the one I was expected.  When there was a visitor at the gate, I was expecting Arya, but instead it’s Bran, the new Three Eyed Raven.  At first, this was an emotional reunion for Sansa, but before long it was clear she was freaked out by his new persona, and the fact that he knows everything, including how Ramsay raped her on their wedding night.

 

This was another strong episode.  It had a lot of the wheeling and dealing and outmaneuvering that I enjoy in this show.  It’s hard to believe that this season is almost half way over.  Before long, we are going to see the White Walkers in earnest as they fight against the Wildlings up north.  Dany will ultimately prevail against Cersei, but it won’t be as easy as it once seemed.