Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: Marvel Black Panther Prelude by W. Corona Pilgrim et al.

Marvel Black Panther Prelude written by Will Corona Pilgrim, art by Annapaolo Martello, colors by Jordan Boyd, with contributions from many artists and writers from earlier Marvel incarnations of the Black Panther

This book collects several Black Panther stories told through the years featuring.

The first story is a two-issue tale meant as a prelude to the Black Panther movie. The story establishes the cinematic relationship between T'Challa and his father T'Chaka, king of Wakanda. The father is passing the Black Panther mantel to his son. T'Challa uses his skills well defending their hidden country and its citizens abroad. I don't think I learned much about the characters or where the movie is going. The story is mostly action with a few cautionary words about not being as obvious as Tony Stark. So I don't think the story is really necessary for seeing the movie or even worth reading.

The second story is from 1972, with the Black Panther returning to Wakanda to avert an insurgency by Killmonger, a disgruntled native. The story has plenty of action and promises a tough but rewarding path to victory for T'Challa. It s fun but unfinished tale.

The third story is from the 1990s reboot of Black Panther, where he travels to New York City to deal with problems at Wakanda's consulate. He has to fight some local hoods, too, though he is seems more interested in putting them on a straighter and narrower path. Other than the cool action, not much happens in this one issue part of a story.

The fourth story (from 2005) presents an origin story for T'Challa as he becomes the Black Panther. One day every year, local Wakandans can challenge the king to combat. If the local person wins, he or she becomes the new ruler of Wakanda. In disguise, T'Challa beats his uncle to gain the throne. T'Challa's sister Shuri tried to get into the fight but came too late. The villain Klaw is introduced briefly at the end. The set-up is fairly interesting but that is all it is--set-up for an ongoing story.

The final story (from 2016) has the Black Panther returning to Wakanda to quell an uprising by the vibranium miners. He has a difficult time because they are being manipulated by some sort of (maybe?) sorceress who wants to sow the seeds of liberation. Other royal intrigues are going on--the queen mother (who has been ruling in T'Challa's absence) has to order the execution of a rogue member of the Dora Milaje, the female warriors who are supposed to protect the king and the country. Another pair of dishonored Dora Milaje are ready to start their own revolt. Plenty of plot lines are introduced but again this story is just the set-up for a longer narrative.

Each story ends with a reference to where the story continues (the first continues in the movie, the others in graphic novels on sale at your local bookstore), making this book more of a Black Panther sampler/advertisement rather than any one complete story. I am intrigued enough to try out some of them, though I am glad I got this from the library rather than buying it.

Recommended as a starting point for getting into one of the many different Black Panther narratives.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Movie Review: Housebound (2014)

Housebound (2014) written and directed by Gerard Johnstone

Young hoodlum Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) gets caught by the police yet again, this time robbing an ATM. Since she's been through various rehabilitation programs, the court decides to try a different approach and sentences her to eight months house arrest at her mother's home, with visits from her probation officer and a therapist. The sentence should be easy time but Kylie is estranged from her mother. Mom still lives in the house where Kylie grew up. He mom has married a new and strange man since her husband left her for better times. The family dynamic is dysfunctional and awkward. If that wasn't bad enough, Mom thinks the house is haunted, which Kylie initially scoffs at. Then things start going bump in the night, especially in the dark and creepy basement.

What could be played as a straight-faced horror movie is played as a comedy. The movie runs through a lot of standard cliches (the creepy basement, weird and unnerving toys, false suspects, etc.) but the New Zealand setting and cast give it some freshness. Kylie is initially unlikeable but grows on the viewer as the situation gets more complicated and harrowing. After an hour and a half of comedy and jump scares, the ending is surprisingly gory which is also played for comedic effect.

Horror-comedy is hard to pull off. This is not a great example but a good one. It had more depth than I was expecting and more twists too. The gore at the end was a bit much and felt out of place, but it was a rather minor flaw overall.

It's available on DVD and also streaming through Netflix (at least as I post this in February 2018).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lent Plans 2018

Ash Wednesday is upon us again. In my son's religious education class, the teachers went over the precepts of the Church. The fifth precept is to "observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2043) Fasting is eating much less food than you normally would; abstinence in this context is not eating meat. The point of this penance is not to punish yourself. It's to "acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart." Rather than being led around by our appetites, we practice saying "no" to them so that we are free to focus on other, more important things. Eating food is important but not the most important thing in our lives. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the two prescribed days for fast and abstinence in America, with the Fridays in Lent only requiring abstinence. So the obligation is not so great. Often, people add other days for themselves or make other sacrifices, the classical "giving up something for Lent." As a family we have decided to give up dessert at dinner.

The other traditional practice in Lent (in addition to fasting) are prayer and almsgiving. For prayer, I bought Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life which has daily readings and reflections. My son, as part of his Scout's Duty to God badge, has been saying a decade of the rosary every night, in addition to our regular family evening prayers. I will keep up that tradition at least through Lent, hopefully for the foreseeable future.

For almsgiving, we will continue to buy something extra for the local food pantry when we shop for groceries. Usually we buy one extra thing--for Lent we'll buy two. The Cardinal's Annual appeal just happened at church. We've made a big donation there.

I was thinking of reading Kristin Lavransdatter as spiritual reading for Lent, but after finishing Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I am not ready for another weighty tome. I'll read some shorter inspirational books. And I will do my usual fast from graphic novels (though, also as usual, I have enough backlog of blog posts to last till Easter).

We don't have any really big plans this year for Lent, just some simple stuff to keep us going down the right road.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

TV Review: Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 2

Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 2 (2016) produced by Craig Digregorio

Ash (Bruce Campbell) tries to live the good life in Florida, with booze and women aplenty. That life is disrupted when a local hottie turns Deadite and starts wrecking the place. Soon enough, Ash is on his way back home to Michigan to help Ruby (Lucy Lawless) deal with Necronomicon-related problems. On arrival, he discovers you really can't go home again. The locals call him "Ashy Slashy" and consider him a boogey man. He did kill four of his friends at that cabin in the woods thirty years ago, didn't he? Ash also sees his dad, Brock Williams (Lee Majors), who is a boozy womanizer with little understanding of and sympathy for others (guess the apple didn't fall far from the tree). Deadites start showing up all over the place (including the local morgue and the bar where Ash's old friend Chet (Ted Raimi) works). Mayhem ensues.

As I predicted in my review of Season 1, I forgot that I really didn't like the first season and gave season two a try. The return to Ash's home town brought up a lot of interesting possibilities and some paid off quite well. The overall story arc is better crafted and more engaging in this season. Still, the series suffers from too much reliance on over-the-top gore as comedy (which I know is a staple in the Evil Dead but there's a difference between campy bad taste and no taste at all). I honestly wish I could unwatch two particular scenes that were so extreme as to be unenjoyable in any way. Also, splashing blood (or other gory fluid) in people's faces isn't that funny--certainly don't do it every episode! The other comedy (Ash's bumbling, his history, and the generally smart-alecky nature of all the characters) works well.

Not recommended, unless you're an Evil Dead completist.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Pinewood Derby 2018

Our pack had the Pinewood Derby in January. We didn't have religious education conflicting, so we went after two years of absence. This year, we delayed too long on making the car, so it didn't turn out too well. We had a decal that should have covered the whole car but it didn't transfer properly, forcing us to a backup decoration plan the day before the race.

This year's racer

 At the weigh-in, the car was about 4.60 ounces, so we added some coins and other weight at the Pit Area. The legal limit is 5 ounces, so we wanted to get as close as possible.

Pit area

More weight

The track was set up but they had some technical difficulties. My son's den didn't run for about 45 minutes after their initial start time. We had some donuts and the little kids had fun at the photo op area.

The race track
Ready to race

Hoping for first

Enjoying the photo area

The racing did not go well for us. We hope next year to do a better job.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: Fairy Tail Vol. 19 by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail Volume 19 by Hiro Mashima

Erza finishes off the last of the Oracion Seis, only for the master of the evil guild, a wizard named Zero, to appear and keep up both the fight against the good wizards and the attempt to destroy the Cait Shelter. Zero is obsessed with only one thing--destruction! So he makes a pretty good villain for just about anybody. The story gets awfully close to wrapping up in this issue, but I guess I need to go one more to see the finale.

The volume also includes a little side story about Lucy's most fateful day. The story is cute but reads like filler.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Movie Review: It (2017)

It (2017) directed by Andy Muschietti

The town of Derry, Maine, is plagued by the disappearances of children in 1988. We see one of the abductions at the very beginning of the movie. Georgie Denbrough gets pulled down a storm drain by a malevolent clown hiding in the sewer. Georgie's middle-school brother Bill is obsessed with finding his brother, which doesn't help his already outsider status in the cliquish community. He runs afoul of school bully Henry, but a bunch of other boys and one girl are also on the outs with the bully and the school population in general. They band together to spend their summer trying to solve the mystery of what's happening to the kids. And avoid the bully. Since the story is based on a Stephen King novel, things are bound to get more horrible before they get any better.

The malevolent force (the "It" of the title) comes to town every 27 years, as is discovered by the library nerd in the group. The history isn't very detailed but has enough clues to point to the terror and where it might be located. The friends have to muster the nerve to confront It, hoping to bring back Georgie and the other missing kids.

The cast of young actors are uniformly great in their roles. Their characters are mostly well developed (one or two of them get little screen time) and are believable as early teens. They use foul language a lot more than is believable but that's a fault of the script, not the performers. The handful of adults in the movie are good enough; Bill Skarsgaard as Pennywise the Clown (the main manifestation of "It") is very good.

As compared to the television miniseries, this film comes out well. The miniseries blends a modern day story with the "27 years earlier" story, depriving the early story of drama since viewers know all the kids survive to fight another day. The film only tells the earlier story and the end credits hint at a "chapter two" movie. Since the movie did phenomenally well at the box office, a sequel is certain. The special effects in the movie are naturally better than a twenty-year old TV miniseries. The scares are a little bit better in the movie. The movie looks even better by comparison.

I might make the effort to see "chapter two" in the theaters when it comes out. Recommended for horror fans, especially of the Stephen King variety.