“Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty

I haven’t read any good sci-fi in a while, so I was looking forward to reading Six Wakes. I’ve enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s other works (The Shambling Guides series), and I’ve even interviewed her on this blog.

Six Wakes is about a crew of a generation ship who wake up in clone bodies to a scene of carnage – their previous bodies are all dead or dying, and the last twenty five years of their memories are missing. As they try to reconstruct what happened and figure out who among them is a murderer, we learn more about their past lives and the politics of cloning.

The real star of this book is the concept of cloning. The author really delves into what our world would evolve into in a few hundred years if cloning and mindmapping was commonplace. I don’t agree with some of the predictions, but they’re consistent and fit the story well. First, we see what “normal” clones are like, and then we are slowly exposed to some of the bizarre (but completely understandable) ways that the technologies could be used.

The characters are good, but they’re a little flat, and I didn’t feel like I was able to connect with them. This could be because of expectations – the author’s Shambling Guides books are urban fantasy, and it’s a staple of the genre to show exactly what the protagonists are feeling and thinking. This is a very different kind of books, everyone on board has secrets they are hiding from each other and from the reader, so they’re pretty tightly buttoned up. I felt like that made the reveals a little awkward, because every member of the crew is also a point of view character at some point, but even though we know their immediate feelings, they never think about their secrets until after they are revealed. I understand that that kept the tension in the story, but I couldn’t help feeling like some of the revelations seemed to come from nowhere.

Sometimes I felt like the book had too much human drama, but the conclusion of the story is satisfying – the technology is cool throughout, but in the end, everything comes down to human decisions.


Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Heir of Novron” by Michael J. Sullivan

I’m going to keep this review very short because it’s an omnibus edition of books five and six of The Riyria Revelations, which means I’ve read and liked the rest of the series. And it’s a reread, which means I like the series enough to reread it. So there’s not a lot to say here. For my previous reviews of books set in the world of Elan, see Age of Myth, The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, The Death of Dulgath, Theft of Swords, and Rise of Empire.

The first book in the omnibus is Wintertide, and it’s a pretty standard penultimate book – our heroes conquer the immediate threat only to realize there is a much larger threat looming. Conquering the immediate threat is very satisfying, though, and Hadrian is especially great in this book. Arista does some morally questionable things under torture (condemning an innocent person to execution), and I would have liked her to have given it some thought afterwards, but it doesn’t get addressed at all. That’s a minor quibble, though.

The final book is Percepliquis, where humanity has to figure out how to deal with an invasion by the vastly superior elves, and the only hope lies in finding an ancient artifact in the lost city of Percepliquis. This is probably my least favorite book of the series because it’s basically a dungeon crawl for most of it, and I found that pretty boring. The ending is great, but it leaves me really curious to find out what happens next. Michael J. Sullivan has said he will not write an immediate sequel series, but I hope he changes his mind.


Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #3)
Orbit Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Abandoned: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer

I’ve never reviewed a book I didn’t finish, but I figured I should start doing it because it’s still useful information for readers. So here’s the first one – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer.

Crossroads of Canopy is set in Canopy, a treetop city divided into thirteen niches, each the home of a god. Souls enter the body of its inhabitants at birth, and anyone could end up being the reincarnation of a god. In order to escape her parents plan to sell her into slavery, Unar, a young girl from a destitute family, volunteers to serve at the Garden of Audblayin, the goddess of growth and fertility. She has high hopes for her future, but as they are repeatedly dashed, she is forced to venture outside Canopy to seek glory.

I really thought I would like this book – it has a unique fantasy world and a female protagonist coming of age, and it took me a while (and reading another review) to figure out why I didn’t. Unar is unlikeable – she’s selfish, ambitious, and impetuous, but she’s played straight as the hero. Her constant sexual fantasizing about someone who is literally incapable of returning her desires skeeved me out too. I didn’t care about any of the other characters either, and so I didn’t care what happened to them. I stopped reading about halfway through, and there was still no larger plot established, it just seemed like The Adventures of Unar Seeking Fame.

Maybe Unar gets better in the second half of the book, and maybe she learns more about herself and becomes a better person – I’m not sure. I did skip ahead and read a little bit of the end, and it seemed like she did learn something. I was already disinvested and frustrated by that point, though.

I feel bad writing this review – Crossroads of Canopy is definitely not badly written or executed.  I’ve disliked a few other recent books that many other people have loved (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, Updraft and Cloudbound by Fran Wilde), and this book reminded me of those, although I’m still struggling to articulate what they all have in common. If you liked one of those books, maybe you’ll like this one more than me.


Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (Titan's Forest, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 29-Feb 4, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a young man in New York City in the 50s, is struggling to get by on small jobs. He is given the opportunity to travel to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf, a wealthy industrialist’s son, to come back home and take on some responsibility. When he gets to Italy, he falls in love with Dickie’s lifestyle, and ends up taking extreme measures to ensure that he doesn’t lose it.

I absolutely love this movie, and it’s probably Matt Damon’s best performance ever. You can see echoes of his character in The Good Shepherd, The Informant! and even Interstellar, but none of those roles beat Tom Ripley. He’s clearly a monster, but you can’t help but sympathize with him, especially given Dickie’s cavalier attitude towards the feelings of other people (Jude Law does a brilliant job of being an absolute cad) and the casual attitude that Ripley’s acquaintances have towards their privilege. Matt Damon makes Ripley seem tragic, not despicable – how could you hate someone so consumed, but only looking to preserve themselves?

The ending of this movie is brutal, but it’s the only ending that makes sense. I highly recommend this movie.

Other Movies Watched

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve watched this movie (although not all of them have been the extended edition like this one was.) It’s a big time investment – it’s over four hours long, but it’s amazing.

This is the Gondor movie, it’s where we first see Minas Tirith, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields happens. There are some seriously good moments – Eowyn battling the Witch-King of Angmar, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli descending upon the Corsairs with the Army of the Dead, Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom, Aragorn’s response to the hobbits bowing to him, and so on. I’m always a tiny bit miffed that the Scouring of the Shire didn’t make it to film, but given how long the ending of this movie is, I understand why they cut it. I love this movie!

The Insider (1999)

The real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand, a former top executive at a tobacco company turned whistleblower, and Lowell Bergman, the producer at 60 Minutes who helped him tell his story despite enormous pressure not to. This is an excellent movie, and Russell Crowe and Al Pacino do an excellent job as the leads. It’s directed by Michael Mann (who did Heat) and I don’t think he can make a bad movie – he pays meticulous attention to every detail. The first half of the movie has the feel of a thriller (as the tobacco company tries to silence Wigand), which is not usual for biopics, but apparently all the details of the story are real.

The Beaver (2011)

A quirky movie about a severely depressed man, Walter (Mel Gibson), who discovers that he can turn his life around by inventing an alternate persona using a talking beaver puppet. I thought this would be just another fluffy movie, but it takes on the realities of mental illness straight on, which takes it to some dark places, although the ending is upbeat. It’s directed by and stars Jodie Foster, and she’s great in everything she does. Walter’s son’s story is probably the weakest part of the movie, although Anton Yelchin does an excellent job. It was weird to see Jennifer Lawrence playing an average high school girl, I’m used to her playing an outlier.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

For a Star Trek fan, I’m ashamed that I haven’t seen all the movies yet (well, maybe not Star Trek V), so I’m glad we’re starting to watch them. After watching this one, I just have Star Trek III and Star Trek V to go, although we will be watching the movies in order and rewatching the ones I’ve already seen. I’d heard bad things about this movie, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s definitely slow, and feels more like a high-budget and long episode of the show (in terms of plot), but it’s good. It’s filmed like it’s trying to be a serious science fiction film, and not just a Star Trek movie, and I thought that was cool. I wish the most recent Star Trek film series would take some cues from this and be more thoughtful.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

We’ve only watched the first two movies of this series, and only the theatrical editions, but we recently bought the extended edition set, and now that we’ve finished rewatching Lord of the Rings, we’re watching through The Hobbit.

I wish they had made the tone of these movies similar to the tone of the book (a more light hearted adventure), but once I got past that feeling, this is a pretty good movie. After all, Bilbo and the dwarves’ actions do hobble Sauron for a while, and Sauron is a pretty fearsome enemy, so I guess the epic tone makes sense. The first movie tells the story of the dwarves’ quest to reclaim Erebor from the Shire to when they finally arrive within sight of Erebor, with some flashbacks along the way.

I thought it was a little too fast paced (it is three hours long, but it seems like they’re constantly running from danger with no pauses.) It’s also really hard to tell most of the dwarves apart – I wish there had been more of an introduction to each character. It was great to see Frodo and Gollum again, though… and Galadriel and Saruman and Elrond and old Bilbo, and even Lindir (Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, who became a meme in the early days of internet memes.) And Martin Freeman is really great as Bilbo.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The second movie in The Hobbit series, this tells the story of the dwarves quest until Smaug leaves the mountain to destroy Esgaroth (Lake-town.)  I liked this movie more than the first one because it slows down a little. The wood elves of Mirkwood have a completely different temperament than the nice elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien, and Lee Pace plays King Thranduil (who happens to be the father of Legolas) chillingly. Legolas is in this movie quite a bit too, and he isn’t quite the friendly and laid back elf we know so well from The Lord of the Rings.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo continues to be marvelous – he’s really the heart of this series, everyone else is only interested in their own concerns. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the voice of Smaug (and the Necromancer) too, you can tell he’s having fun hamming it up. I’m really looking forward to the third movie because I haven’t seen it yet, and because I’m curious to see how it all turns out since it needs to lay the groundwork for The Lord of the Rings. Everyone in this movie is entirely too suspicious and skeptical of each other – I don’t see how a fellowship of different races could have even come together in the political climate depicted in these movies.

Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 22-28, 2017

This week has been very much about binging – I’ve been reading only Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books, and I’ve been watching mostly Vin Diesel movies (The Fast and the Furious series, but also Riddick.)

Favorite Movie of the Week

Kundun (1997)

This is Martin Scorcese’s biopic of the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama, telling his story from when he was his discovered as a child to when he was forced to leave Tibet for his own safety a few years after he assumed his full powers.

The acting is very good – none of the actors are professional, and the adult Dalai Lama is actually played by a relative of the real life Dalai Lama. The sets and atmosphere are full of painstaking detail, and it makes for a thoroughly immersive experience. The writing is subtle, but has a powerful impact. The scenes with the Dalai Lama meeting Mao stood out to me (just because it made me angry), but the entire movie is vivid and compelling. And of course it’s Martin Scorsese – he can’t make a bad movie as far as I can tell.

The focus is very much on the political struggle between Tibet and China, but it’s told entirely from the Dalai Lama’s point of view. Since he doesn’t often leave his palace, this means most of the dramatic scenes are people bringing news to him about what’s happening in the world, which I found a little boring at times. However, it makes a great companion movie to Seven Years in Tibet, which covers the Dalai Lama during the same period of time, but focuses on entirely different details.

Other Movies Watched

Riddick (2013)

I’m a fan of Vin Diesel’s space opera Riddick series, and so I was pretty excited to see the newest one, also titled Riddick. This one is more like the first one of the series (Pitch Black), since it’s about survival on a planet where the native animals are not friendly (to put it lightly.) I enjoyed it, although I wished it had more space opera elements like The Chronicles of Riddick. I enjoy Riddick’s unapologetic competence, even though I usually find flawless characters somewhat annoying. I’m glad they’re filming a new movie in this series this year.

Fast & Furious (2009)

The fourth movie in The Fast and the Furious franchise – Letty has been murdered, and FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker) and his old quarry Dom (Vin Diesel) are both after the drug dealer who she was working for. We’ve been excited about this movie since it unites Brian and Dom again after the first movie, and it was actually pretty great. Yes, it has a lot of action, but the characters and their relationships are fairly heartfelt. In fact, it was so good that it caused us to binge on the rest of the movies as you’ll see below.

Fast Five (2011)

This movie reunites all the best characters of the first four movies into a single crew. Brian, who makes a pretty shitty cop, has finally embraced his criminal side by breaking Dom out of prison, and ends up on the run from the authorities (represented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) in Brazil. When they end up on the wrong side of a nefarious businessman, they call in all their old friends (including Roman and Tej from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Gisele from Fast & Furious) for a $100 million dollar retirement heist. This was the first movie to focus on a heist, and it was pretty fun, as most heist movies are. The main draw for me is the characters, and they continue to be great.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

This is where the series starts getting bad again, in my opinion. Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his crew from their retirement to stop a crew of experienced drivers from stealing the parts for some secret defense project (the details don’t matter, it’s a MacGuffin.) In exchange, their crimes will be pardoned and they can live in the US again. The plot was okay, but they’re up against criminals of a higher caliber than they have dealt with in the past, and so it makes their exploits look increasingly ridiculous. The characters have gone from being ordinary but skilled people to near superheroes, since the stakes keep getting higher. Also, I wasn’t happy with how a character death was handled, there was barely any focus on it.

Furious 7 (2015)

This movie is just terrible, except for the very end where there’s a moving tribute to Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner (since Paul Walker died during the filming of the movie.) Jason Statham plays the antagonist Deckard Shaw, a disavowed British special forces assassin with a vendetta against the crew. And since he’s so overpowered, our crew gets their own spy backer (Kurt Russell playing Mr. Nobody, I mean I love Kurt Russell, but still) who provides them with crazy gadgets so that they can rescue a hacker and her futuristic surveillance technology. This is supposed help them find Deckard Shaw – except that he seems to possess a magical ability to know exactly where and when their missions are going to be, and he’s always right there anyway. I don’t know why they decided to make a movie in this franchise about hackers, it removed everything unique about the series and turned it into a not-as-good Mission Impossible clone.

Kuffs (1992)

This action-comedy stars Christian Slater as George Kuffs, a lazy drifter who inherits his brother’s police station (a quirk of San Francisco’s policing system) after he is murdered. He decides to actually try and clean up the neighborhood in memory of his brother, and hilarity ensues. I didn’t enjoy this movie very much, although Joseph liked it more. I thought it couldn’t decide on a tone – it went from slapstick to serious to slapstick again, and I couldn’t invest in the characters. Some parts of it were pretty funny, though, and Bruce Boxleitner as Kuffs’ brother was great (I’d probably do a lot to avenge him too.)

Reread: “Rise of Empire” by Michael J. Sullivan

Rise of Empire is the second volume of the Riyria Revelations, containing the third and fourth books of the series, Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm. I’m going to keep this review short, since it’s obvious that I really enjoy this series. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be rereading it instead of reading something from my massive pile of unread books. For more Royce and Hadrian reviews, see The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, The Death of Dulgath, and Theft of Swords.

In Nyphron Rising, the Church of Nyphron has finally implemented its centuries-old plan to unite most of the kingdoms of Avryn into an empire under newly crowned emperor Modina. However, Melengar and the Nationalists from Delgos remain thorns in the new empire’s side, and Prince Alric and Princess Arista are determined to keep the resistance alive. As the official royal protectors, Royce and Hadrian are crucial to the war effort. This is definitely a war book, although it doesn’t focus too much on the battles, it’s about war and its effects. I used to think that Arista was an annoying character, but upon rereading this, I actually really like her. She’s naive at first, but she grows and comes into her own in this book, and she’s probably one of my favorite characters.

The Emerald Storm is probably the most depressing of the books, it’s the part in the series where everything goes wrong and our heroes seem like they have no chance of winning. If this was a trilogy, this would be the second book. The tone of Royce and Hadrian’s story is more like an adventure novel, a lot of it is set on a ship, and there’s a mission into barbarian jungles. I don’t  find ships particularly interesting, so I was glad that despite being named after the ship, the book had a significant portion of time off the ship. I wasn’t a big fan of the warlord and goblin plotline, I felt like they were reduced to stock “evil” characters in a series that usually focuses more on individuals and not their race. I probably enjoyed Arista’s story the most, she realizes that the war may not be the most important thing going on, and changes her plans.

I’m already halfway through Heir of Novron (I had to, after the way Rise of Empire ended), so expect that review soon.


Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #2)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

My recent reads of Age of Myth and the three Riyria Chronicles have put me in a very Royce-and-Hadrian mood, so I figured I would go back to where it all began and reread the Riyria Revelations series. These books were the first one published about the world of Elan, although they’re the latest by internal chronology. I got the whole series from Orbit in 2015 and really enjoyed them, but I raced through them too quickly to review them properly.

The Riyria Revelations was originally self-published as six novels. When Orbit bought the rights, they released the books in three volumes, each containing two books. Theft of Swords is the first of these, combining the first two books The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

Royce, a cynical ex-assassin, and Hadrian, an idealistic master swordsman, call themselves Riyria. Riyria specializes in solving impossible problems for mostly rich people – stealing a lady’s private diary from a locked tower for her lover to save face, that sort of thing.

In The Crown Conspiracy, when they’re offered a huge amount of money for stealing a sword, they break their usual roles to take the job. Of course, it’s too good to be true and they end up being framed for the murder of the king. But this is Riyria, and the conspirators who framed them get far more than they bargained for. The Crown Conspiracy is a pretty standard fantasy story, it feels standalone, and probably would be if it didn’t introduce so many characters that are important later. There’s a spoiled prince, an independent princess, kidnappings, treachery, a mysterious wizard, and so on. The crisis is averted by the end, and Royce and Hadrian think nothing more of it.

Avempartha picks up a couple of years later, and (in case the title of the book didn’t make this obvious) once again involves Royce and Hadrian being hired to steal a sword. This time they’re hired by a poor peasant girl, Thrace, to retrieve the only weapon that can kill a magical creature plaguing her village from an impregnable elven fortress. To add to the mystery, Thrace was told how to find them by the mysterious wizard in the first book that Royce and Hadrian haven’t heard from in years. This book starts exploring the central mystery of the Riyria Revelations a lot more, and there’s more magic, evil plans, and so on, but not everything is resolved by the end. It’s still mostly a satisfying standalone story, but there are threads left dangling. Characters from the first book – Arista, Mauvin, and Fanen, among others return, and they’re welcome.

A few other thoughts:

  • I remember Arista being much more annoying from my previous read. Maybe it’s in the next couple of books? She’s still mostly in her comfort zone so far, and I don’t remember what happens next exactly, but I don’t think it’s good for her.
  • Royce is a lot nicer than he is in the Riyria Chronicles, which is nice to see. He doesn’t even seem to be totally serious about killing people anymore.
  • Hilfred is a far more poignant character after reading The Rose and the Thorn.
  • Thrace’s story arc is probably my favorite (from what I remember), I’m looking forward to reading that.

If you haven’t already read this series and you’re a fan of cozy fantasy with some great twists, I recommend you pick it up!


Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #1)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Death of Dulgath” by Michael J. Sullivan

I’ve had The Death of Dulgath for over a year now, I participated in the Kickstarter that funded its publication. Now that I’ve finally read The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn, I was able to get around to reading it!

Royce and Hadrian have been partners for about three years now, and they’re comfortable with each other. They’re running low on funds when Albert comes to them with an offer that seems almost too good to be true – analyzing a noble’s security and figuring out the best way to assassinate her so that her sheriff can protect against it. Of course, things are never as easy as they look, and Lady Dulgath is no ordinary woman.

This was probably my favorite of the Riyria Chronicles – the origin story told in the first two books was fun, but didn’t stand alone quite as much. I would read a series where Royce and Hadrian decide to become detectives and solve cozy mysteries in cute little towns, because that’s what this feels like, and it’s great. I mean, they’re not investigating a murder, they’re just trying to learn about their client and explain the oddness of the county of Dulgath, but there is murder along the way, so it’s close enough. And the worldbuilding is expanded considerably as the mystery gets revealed, which was nice.

Some of the common Riyria weaknesses continue here (especially the villain’s Plan Infodump), which takes a little bit of the tension out of the story. That’s a known quantity, though, and so I didn’t mind. I do hope there are more Riyria Chronicles, I’d read them in a heartbeat.


The Death of Dulgath by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #3)
Mascot Books, 2015 | Buy the book


“The Rose and the Thorn” by Michael J. Sullivan

After I reviewed The Crown Tower, I immediately started reading The Rose and the Thorn. Based on past experience I’m forcing myself to review each book before I read the next one in the series, otherwise the stories start to blur together and I can’t separate the books enough to review each one individually.

The Rose and the Thorn is the second book in the Riyria Chronicles series of standalones. Whereas the first book, The Crown Tower, told the story of how Royce and Hadrian became partners, this book tells the story of how they came to form Riyria and ended up in the arrangement we see them in at the beginning of Theft of Swords. A year after the events of The Crown Tower, Royce and Hadrian are back in Medford and stop by at Gwen’s – only she won’t see them because she’s been beaten up, and she’s trying to protect them from getting themselves killed trying to help her. Of course, this is Royce and Hadrian, and they can take care of themselves. We also get some additional viewpoints at Castle Essendon, the seat of the royal family of Melengar, as a plot against them unfolds.

This was a fun story, it was nice to see Royce and Hadrian settle into their element. Plus, we are introduced to early versions of more of the Riyria Revelations cast. I always think of these books as cozy, but there’s actually a fair amount of death and destruction and darkness, exemplified by Royce’s actions. Royce is terrifying, and I don’t know why I think of him as lovable.

The last chapter of this book (The Visitor) really frustrated me, though – its only purpose seemed to be to set up Theft of Swords with all the subtlety of a hammer. Foreshadowing is great, but the most fun thing about it is putting things together from what seem like inconsequential details upon first glance. I already thought the references to an unrevealed co-conspirator were fairly obvious, but to tack on a whole chapter laying it all out in the open felt like overkill. And reading this chapter also made me figure out the feeling I have when reading Sullivan’s books that I haven’t been able to articulate in my previous reviews – the dialogue in his books is always a little bit too on-the-nose for his characters to feel completely real. Especially the villains – they often explain their plans concisely and articulately at some point.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoy these books, and I’m hurriedly reviewing this book so that I can get to The Death of Dulgath. I’m particularly excited about that one because it feels like it’ll be more of a standalone adventure and not so much of the origin story that the first two books have been. And after that, I’m also contemplating a reread of the Riyria Revelations.


The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #2)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 15-21, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Disillusioned with the standard American lifestyle, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie have made the unusual choice of moving to the middle of the woods and homeschooling their six children, teaching them survivalism and critical thinking in addition to the usual curriculum. The kids end up being ridiculously smart and athletic, but know very little about the world. When Leslie (who has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder) kills herself, the rest of her family is forced to reintegrate into society in order to attend her funeral.

This is very much a quirky comedy drama (think Little Miss Sunshine) about a “weird” family that is still very close to each other. It reminded me of the movie The Mosquito Coast, except that unlike Harrison Ford’s character, Ben Cash isn’t a raging egomaniac and so it didn’t all end in tragedy.

Captain Fantastic is a great movie, but it is very much constrained by the genre that it aspires to be. The first half of the movie explores the uniqueness of the Cash family, but it soon hits some predictable notes of emotional drama that’s clearly just an impetus for the character growth it’s trying to get to, and it doesn’t quite ring true. It devolves into a more formulaic movie after that, culminating in a disappointingly conformist and saccharine ending. The ending also felt inconsistent – earlier scenes in the movie emphasized the good things about Ben and Leslie’s decisions on how to raise their kids (the scene where Zaja talks about the Bill of Rights, for example), but the ending seems to imply that they would have better off being normal all along. If it wasn’t trying so hard to be a feel-good inoffensive movie, Captain Fantastic might have actually had something unique to say.

That being said, I think this movie was very good – I’m only complaining about it because it was so close to being extraordinary. The acting in particular is amazing – the child actors help carry the film just as much as Viggo Mortensen does, which is saying a lot.

Other Movies Watched

The Revenant (2015)

I was really not looking forward to watching this movie (despite it winning so many awards) because it just looked so bleak. A faithful look at the things that humans had to do to survive in the wilderness in the 1820s seemed like it wouldn’t be very pleasant to watch, either.  And both of those things are true – the movie is excruciating to watch at times, and it is indeed unrelentingly bleak. But it’s also very good, and it’s a satisfying revenge story. Leonardo DiCaprio is phenomenal as the protagonist Hugh Glass, who is abandoned by his companions far from civilization after being mauled by a bear. It’s based loosely on a real life story, but the grimmest elements are all completely fictional. Tom Hardy is terrifying as the villainous Fitzgerald, he made me physically uncomfortable sometimes. It’s definitely worth watching, especially for the cinematography – it has some incredibly stunning shots of landscapes.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

I don’t usually enjoy musicals very much, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching The Phantom of the Opera. I saw it on Broadway a few years ago, so I’m familiar with the story. It was actually a pretty good movie, though. The music is probably the best part – it’s haunting and beautifully sung. Emmy Rossum (who I like from other things) does a great job as the wide-eyed and innocent Christine Daae, and Patrick Wilson (as Raoul) has a great singing voice as well. I didn’t really like Gerard Butler as the Phantom, though. I thought he had the weakest voice, and he didn’t come across as very sympathetic.

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I didn’t know much about Deepwater Horizon except that there was an oil spill, I had no idea that it was an oil rig that exploded and people lost their lives. This was a pretty standard “real life disaster” movie, starting off with things being normal, showing the main character’s loving wife and cute kid, and then recreating the day of the disaster. I enjoyed it because I didn’t know much about the world of oil drilling so I learned a few things, plus I like Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell.

Æon Flux (2005)

In 2415, most of humanity has been wiped out by a plague, and all of the survivors live in the futuristic city of Bregna, ruled by the Goodchild dynasty. The Monicans are the resistance against the Goodchilds, and Æon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the most deadly of them. When she is assigned to kill Chairman Trevor Goodchild, in the course of completing her mission, she realizes that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about the world and now she has to figure out what the right thing to do is. I really wanted to like this movie – it’s stylized and slick sci-fi and the set design is gorgeous. It lacked something, though – it either didn’t succeed at being stylized enough to be good, or maybe it’s just that the world seemed implausible and not lived-in, and the characters were fairly emotionless and it was hard to relate to them.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

We weren’t really looking forward to this movie because it doesn’t have any of the usual The Fast and the Furious characters, but we committed to watching the series in order, so we had to get to it. Going into it with absolutely zero expectations, it wasn’t that bad. It follows American teenager Sean who gets into trouble for racing cars and causing property damage a little too often, so instead of going to jail, he gets sent to Tokyo to live with his dad (not sure how that works.) Of course, he ends up racing cars again, but he’s taken under the wing of Han, a garage owner who apparently doesn’t care about how much damage Sean does in his quest to actually learn how to race well. Eventually Sean figures out how to race well, beat his Yakuza-connected rival, and get his girlfriend. Because this movie is about teenagers, it’s a little bit less fun than the other movies, but exactly what you’d expect otherwise. There is a Vin Diesel cameo, which was nice.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

We enjoyed the first Jack Reacher movie so I was looking forward to this one, but unfortunately it was a disappointment. Tom Cruise reprises his role as former Army military policeman and lone wolf Jack Reacher, this time unraveling a conspiracy that has his military contact Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) accused of espionage. Jack Reacher is an unusual protagonist, but his uniqueness is neutered by having to partner with a love interest and an annoying teenager for the entire movie. The acting, especially by the actress who plays his potential daughter, wasn’t that great either. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “monotonously formulaic”, and that’s a great way of putting it.