Thursday, May 23, 2024

Goblin Quest

Goblin Quest
by Jim C. Hines
Recommended Ages: 13+

Jig is a cowardly, weak-eyed little goblin who has never been outside his cave. Even by goblin standards, he doesn't have a lot going for him. As fighters go, goblins seem designed to die at the drop of an adventurer's mailed helmet, and their chances aren't much better with the hobgoblins who live deeper down, or the lizard fish with their poisonous spines, or whatever lives beyond them – a necromancer, some say. Maybe even a dragon. All Jig has on his side are a few more wits, a bit of luck, an independent streak and a pet fire spider.

One day, Jig cowers while his entire squad of goblin guards is wiped out by a party of treasure seekers. They're searching for the Rod of Creation, an object of inconceivable power that was hidden somewhere in Jig's underworld by the wizard-god that created it, because the prince feels like proving himself to his royal parents and surviving older brothers (adventurers all). It's the kind of MacGuffin that radiates plot twists the way cobalt-60 emits gamma rays. The invaders take Jig hostage and force him to act as their guide. "Act" is the right word for it, too, because the places this group wants to go are beyond the point past which no goblin has ever returned, so he's basically faking it. So off they go: a prince with a chip on his shoulder, his wizard brother whose magical exertions threaten to break his mind, their dwarf tutor whose deity gives him healing powers, and a young elf thief they have dragooned into their service. And Jig.

I won't drag this synopsis out any further. It's quite literally a "dungeons and dragons" story, only told from the point of view of the sort of non-player character that tends to perish wholesale. As Jig actually proves, increasingly, to be a real player, tensions only grow with the other members of the party. He spends the entire journey expecting, with good reason, to be killed sooner or later, and hoping it happens quickly. I think I can say, without spoiling anything you couldn't guess from the start, that it's the kind of ensemble whose members can't all survive. It's enough to make a goblin get religion – which Jig does, choosing a god well suited to the loser of all losers. But does he lose? Read it and see for yourself.

The trick is pretending it isn't a spoiler when I note that this is but the first book in a trilogy that continues with Goblin Hero and Goblin War. Michigan-based author Jim C. Hines is also the author of the "Princess" quartet (The Stepsister Scheme etc.), which Fantastic Fiction describes as a mash-up of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Charlie's Angels; the "Magic Ex Libris" series (Libromancer etc.), at least four novels featuring a librarian-turned-magician; the "Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse" trilogy (Terminal Alliance etc.), and several other novels and short story collections, including Goblin Tales.

Monday, May 20, 2024


I eagerly anticipated seeing this movie. I guess it's how life goes. I didn't really premeditate going to see The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare or The Fall Guy, but I was looking forward to this movie for weeks. I had an unqualified blast at those other two movies, but I didn't enjoy IF as much as I expected to. It was all right. It made me laugh and, a few times, get choked up. But it was definitely a case of the trailers making a movie look better than it really is. I suppose that's what they're supposed to do.

I'd like to mention, while I remember, that the trailers that I saw before the feature started included one for The Wild Robot, and I'm excited to see that. Which, based on this movie-going experience, perhaps isn't a sign of emotional wisdom in me. I could tell what was being advertised from almost the first shot in the trailer, and I was pumped. There was also a trailer for Sight, a movie about a surgeon trying to restore a little girl's vision. It was the second trailer I've seen for it, and I appreciated it because it was brief and left a lot to the imagination, whereas the first trailer was basically the whole movie. So, obviously, not all trailers do their job equally well.

All right. IF stands for Imaginary Friend, and in this movie, a 12-year-old girl named Bea (Cailey Fleming) can see other kids' Imaginary Friends. While she's staying in her grandma's apartment building to await the results of her widowed dad's heart surgery, she encounters an upstairs neighbor who is trying, without much success, to match IFs forgotten by their original kids with new kids. Bea joins the effort, getting to know the wacky residents of a retirement home for IFs and learning to explore the world of pure imagination. (And while that phrase is in your memory cache, doesn't the musical theme that runs through this movie remind you of "The Candy-Man Can"?)

Some of Bea's successes and failures really are poignant. Some of the emotional patches she goes through are quite powerful. The imagery is brilliant, and Ryan Reynolds (as the neighbor from upstairs) supplies a certain sarcastic wit that lightens the tone when needed. The imagery is spectacular, and certain scenes are achingly beautiful, like the one where grandma reconnects with her memories of being a ballet dancer. The cast is also pretty good, with director John Krasinski playing Bea's dad, Fiona Shaw (lately Harry Potter's Aunt Petunia) as the grandma and a cast of voice actors (as IFs) that includes Steve Carell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Louis Gossett Jr., Awkwafina, Emily Blunt, George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Keegan-Michael Key, Blake Lively, Christopher Meloni, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Amy Schumer and Jon Stewart. There's also a whimsical "and introducing" credit in the closing titles that'll reward those who stay to watch the cast scroll by with a mild chuckle.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Bea lets her imagination run wild at the IF retirement home. (2) Grandma relives a moment of her girlhood dreams of being a ballerina. (3) Bea's dad tries to prank her with knotted sheets going out his hospital window.

I'm not a starred-type reviewer. I've openly admitted that when I do book reviews, I consider myself more of a book booster than a critic; if I have to assign a star rating, a book almost has to disappoint me on some level to get less than four stars, and I think I'm pretty liberal in my distribution of five-star ratings even though I try to reserve that last star for books that I'm super thrilled about. Even less do I know how to rate movies, but I wouldn't give this one the full five stars and I'm not sure how many stars I'd take away, or really, why. I guess it was well made and deeply felt, but it didn't fully give me joy. Sometimes I was a little uncomfortable with it, maybe because of the amount of time Bea spends with the grown-up guy upstairs; and though there's a plot twist toward the end that make me feel stupid to admit that (and if you're a smart cat, you probably know what it is without my needing to tell you), it still leaves me feeling a little weird. Ultimately, I just don't know what position this movie is taking on the fate of IFs who outlive their kids' memory of them. I guess I was expecting the story to go in a different direction, and so the movie didn't quite live up to my imagination. Also, it has some structural issues that left me squirming at the end. Issues like not knowing when it's really over and just ending there. Bottom line: It was pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but although I was ready to fall in love with it, I didn't.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Fall Guy

This past weekend, I took a shot at this movie, and it did not disappoint. It's the story of a Hollywood stuntman who comes out of exile after being injured in an on-set accident, thinking the director (an ex-girlfriend he still cares about) specifically asked for him, only to find out that she knew nothing about it and doesn't want him anywhere near her movie. Meanwhile, the producer secretly calls on him to find their missing star, whose personal stunt double our hero was before his, um, fall from grace. Pretty soon he's mixed up in a deadly adventure that provides plenty of opportunity for stunts, while being framed for murder and having bad guys out to kill him. It's a plot to hang a spectacular series of stunts on, so I won't trouble you with any further synopsis.

According to a pre-show "welcome to our movie" video, director David Leitch used to be a stuntman. So, you know where his priorities lie. This movie abounds in chase scenes, fight scenes, plunges, leaps, car rolls, car jumps, speedboat jumps, helicopter hijinks, pyrotechnics and every conceivable combination thereof. It features a French-speaking dog trained to go for the gonads, a romantic subplot that'll get you in the feels, some hard-hitting action that'll get you in other body parts (sympathetically), big laughs and an over-the-top climax.

Ryan Gosling, late of Barbie, heads the cast as Colt Seavers, with Emily Blunt as his gal pal and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the missing movie star. Also in the cast are Stephanie Hsu (Oscar-nominated for Everything Everywhere All At Once), Winston Duke (Black Panther) and Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso), along with some superstar cameos including one very special guest whose name you'll see in the closing credits before he ever shows up onscreen. Which reminds me to remind you: Stay for the mid-credits bonus scene. It won't be hard. There's an outtakes reel to keep you amused until it comes along.

So, in quick order, here are the Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Blunt almost hands Gosling's keister to him when he surprises her in his trailer. (2) The running melee in the speeding garbage truck. (3) The insane final battle in which the bad guys take on the entire stunt department. There are so many ways I could spoil these scenes for you. See me refraining from doing so? You're welcome. Now, go see it and have a ball!