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Year End Book Report: My Favorite Books/Comics I Read in 2021

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report, books, comic books with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2022 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

2021.  What can I say.  I’m still working from home.  Things got a little better in some respects, a little worse in others.  But through it all I was able to keep reading.  And logging my reading.

So, as usual, you can find my reading logs on Goodreads. I log everything I read there. My reading goal for 2021 was originally 115 books. However, I reached that goal in like October.  So, I went in and readjusted my reading goal to 140.  And according to Goodreads, I finished out the year with 170 books.  I tied my total from last year.  Let’s take a look at some of GoodReads’ stats for my reading last year.

Reading 170 books certainly sounds impressive. And I did it twice.  It’s not all novels, obviously.  There are a generous amount of comics in there.  And several smaller kids books.  I actually didn’t even log *all* the books I read to my kids.  Only some of them.  The newer ones.

Let’s look at some of my other Reading totals.

Here’s my shortest and longest book I read.  The shortest was one issue of The Flash (1987-).  Starting in 2020, I did a read through of the first 62 issues of that Flash series.  An issue at a time.  In 2021 I read #36 through #61.  That was a fun re-read.  The longest book as you can see is Stephen King’s The Institute.  That was a pretty good book too.  It felt like there should have been a small connection to Firestarter in that book.  But it never materialized.

Here are my “most popular” and “least popular” shelved books.  Most popular was Huck Finn.  I had started a re-read of the three Mark Twain books I’d read back in high school; A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huck Finn.  I read all three last year.  I hope to read the two other Tom Sawyer books he wrote that I’d never read; Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective.  Again, one of the least popular things I read was an issue of my The Flash (1987-) re-read.

I’ve already set my GoodReads reading goal for this year.  I set it to 150.  I’m not trying to stress myself out with this goal.  But I am trying to up it a little every year.

Let’s move on with my recap of my favorite books I read this year.

Rules are the same.  Only books/comics I read for the first time in 2021 are eligible for this list.  No re-reads, of which I had a few (I think I mentioned most of them earlier).  I don’t typically read brand new stuff the year it comes out, but it happens.  This year I read 5 novels that were released in 2021.  I wonder if any of them made the list. Let’s find out.

Here are the top 5 books I read last year in no particular order.

Images and links are from GoodReads pages.

Books

Project Hail Mary
Project Hail Mary (2021) by Andy Weir
– I had wanted to read The Martian for years, and then the Matt Damon movie came out.  I loved it, and kind of thought, “Well, now I don’t need to read that book.”  Which is not true, I really should.  However, when Weir put out his next book, Artemis (2017), I checked it out and read it.  And promptly hated it.  So, when Project Hail Mary came out this year, I was a bit cautious.  This looked a lot more like The Martian than his previous book, so I gave it a shot.  And I really really liked it.  A guy wakes up on a spaceship.  He’s clearly not in our solar system.  He seems to have previously been in a coma.  His crew mates are dead.  And he can’t remember anything.  This is where you start in the book and we have to learn everything along with the main character.  The story goes into some surprising places.  I really enjoyed it.  The strength of this is making me want to read The Martian again.

The Tournament
The Tournament (2014) by Matthew Reilly
– I love Matthew Reilly.  His Jack West Jr books have made it onto my “best of” list.  I think his Scarecrow series has also made it onto my lists.  He’s a really fun action author and I really enjoy reading his books.  I think at this point, I’ve only not read maybe 2-3 of his books.  This had been on my “to read” list for a while, but for some reason Reilly’s Kindle books very rarely go on sale.  I typcially like to pick up Kindle books when they are $2.99 or less.  His rarely go there.  So it wasn’t until this year that I finally used a gift card to buy this book.  And I’m glad I did.  This book is GREAT.  It takes place in the 1500s.  Queen Elizabeth II is just a teenager.  Her teacher is Roger Ascham.  They travel to Constantinople to witness a grand chess tournament to determine the greatest chess master in the world.  But a murder during the tournament sends Roger Ascham, a smart, amateur detective, into the depths of the sultan’s palace to discover a murderer.  Lots of mystery and suspense in this one.

BTTF Ultimate Visual History
Back to the Future Ultimate Visual History (2015) by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk
– I’ve mentioned before I love oral histories.  I previous read all three of JW Rinzler’s “Making of” Star Wars books.  I want to read Rinzler’s Indiana Jones “Making of” book.  Last year I read one on Jaws and one on one of my favorite video games, NBA Jam.  I’d also many years ago read one on Saturday Night Live.  I’ve even read a Back to the Future “Making of” book before.  And I didn’t love it because, honestly, I already knew all the stuff in that book.  So, while I bought this newer Back to the Future Ultimate Visual History, I was worried I wasn’t going to like it because I thought I would already know everything it had to tell me.  But I was wrong.  This book is so well laid out.  Lots of great info.  There was even a bunch of stuff I didn’t know.  They dig into many aspects of the production of the movie.  Even the whole Eric Stoltz debacle.  And it tackles both sequels, as well as Back to the Future The Ride, and Back to the Future The Animated Series.  So it’s comprehensive.  And very readable.  Thoroughly enjoyed this.

Director Should Have Shot You
The Director Should Have Shot You: Memoirs of the Film Trade by Alan Dean Foster
– By Subterranean Press.  Being a movie novelization junkie, and host of a movie novelization podcast, I was super excited to discover Alan Dean Foster, the godfather of movie novelizations, wrote a memoir.  And it’s not just a memoir.  It’s a deep dive into all of the movie novelizations that he’s written, including one that was never published.  He goes through each book one by one in chronological order and gives anecdotes about the writing of the book.  It’s a lot of fun, super informative, with lots of good pictures.  Highly recommend this, especially to novelization fans.  Unsigned copies of this book are still available.  Click the image of the book above to go get one.

Six of Crows Crooked Kingdom
Six of Crows Duology (2015/2016) by Leigh Bardugo – This is by the same author that started the Shadow and Bone series that is now a series on Netflix.  Technically, these two books are a part of that Shadow and Bone series.  In fact, the Netflix series adapts part of Six of Crows in its first season.   Anyway, I was aware of the Shadow and Bone series and wanted to read it.  But then I was searching “heist” books and Six of Crows kept coming up on people’s lists.  So I went ahead and read it.  And loved it.  THEN, I figured out that Six of Crows takes place a few years after the three Shadow and Bone books.  The timeline here is complicated, but in the books, Shadow and Bone is the first trilogy.  Then chronologically comes Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom.  Then taking place a few years after these books is another trilogy.  But I enjoyed Six of Crows so much I just read these two books first anyway.  And they are amazing.  Great characters.  Lots of fun intricate plans.  Good dialogue.  Really enjoyed this.  I also read the first two Shadow and Bone books after these, and I can see where I may have spoiled myself on a few things by doing it this way, but I don’t care.  Reading these two first were worth it.

I’m going to throw in one extra. Call it a “Baker’s Five” of books.

Devil and the Dark Water
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
– This book was on this list until literally the last 5 days of 2021.  I read Turton’s first book in 2019.  It was mostly good, but sort of went off the rails towards the end.  However it was written engagingly enough that I was interested in his next book.  And this was it.  It is sort of a Sherlockian setup.  Takes place in the 16th century on a sailing ship.  Murders start happening.  The “Sherlock” character is locked up in the brig as a suspect.  And the “Watson” character has to solve the mystery on his own.  That’s a very basic setup.  There’s a lot going on in this book.  But it has a great atmosphere, I loved the mystery, and I really enjoyed the characters.  There are a couple of Macguffins in the story.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As usual, I also read a bunch of movie novelizations this year for I Read Movies.  However, I don’t include those in this list.  I do a separate write up for I Read Movies year end.  Check it out here.

Let’s switch over to comics! Here are the top 5 comics I read last year in no particular order.

Comics

Red Hood 1
Red Hood and the Outlaws (Rebirth) by Scott Lobdell and Dexter Soy
– So, as I do, I sort of got on a Jason Todd kick this year. I was always curious about the Red Hood, so I decided to check out Lobdell’s Rebirth series.  And loved it.  I read through the whole thing.  Jason Todd as Red Hood, Artemis, and Bizarro make a great team.  And they were like a family.  It was such a good dynamic.  And Lobdell brought the humor.  Jason Todd’s relationship with Batman and the rest of the family is so sardonic.  But it’s clear that he appreciates them.  His whole sardonic attitude is great and it belies the fact that he’s great at what he does.  He’s usually as prepared as Batman is.  This is a great series and I wanted to delve more into Jason Todd’s adventures, so next I read…

Under the Red Hood Red Hood Lost Days
Batman: Under the Red Hood/Lost Days by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke, and Jeremy Haun – These books are two different runs separated by 5-6 years, but I’m putting them together because they are by the same author and they are mirrors of each other.  Under the Red Hood was the original run where Winick had Jason Todd return as the titular character.  It’s a great story, told from Batman’s POV that involves the Joker, Talia al Ghul, and Nightwing.  I loved it.  Red Hood: Lost Days is a follow up to the original run, also written by Winick, but many years later.  Essentially, it’s Under the Red Hood, but this time it’s from Red Hood’s POV.  So we get a lot of what you didn’t see in the first book.  This one is also excellent and I highly recommend it.

Fire Power 1 Fire Power 2
Fire Power by Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee – I’m a fan of Robert Kirkman.  Unlike others, I don’t worship at the altar of Walking Dead, but I love Kirkman’s work on Astounding Wolf-Man, Invincible, and Marvel Zombies.  I’m also a big fan of Samnee’s art.  One of my all time favorite things is his Black Widow run with Mark Waid.  So combine these two on a kung fu tale and YES PLEASE.  I read the first three volumes of this which goes up to about issue 12.  It’s about an ancient shaolin temple that seeks to rediscover the art of throwing fire.  And one man comes to the temple to learn.  Then, the story shifts like 15 years, and we see the man with his wife and kids, and his days at the shaolin temple come back to haunt him when a rival temple comes to attack his family.  It’s really good, I really enjoyed this title.  Great art, of course.  And the story really picks up during the “15 years later” part.

MM Mighty Thor 1 MM Hulk 1 MM: X-Men 1
Marvel Masterworks (Thor, Hulk, X-Men) –  Continuing my journey reading through some of these old Marvel issues.  I had set a goal for myself earlier this year to read all the Marvel Masterworks volume 1s featuring the original line up of the Avengers; Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Captain America.  Yes, Captain America wasn’t in Avengers #1, but he showed up in #4, and he’s so linked to the group at this point I’m including him.  I’ve done all of those now except Captain America, Ant-Man and Wasp.  Captain America has two, the Golden Age archive, and the Modern Age archive (essentially before and after “frozen in ice”).  I’ll probably just do both.  Anyway, this year I tackled The Mighty Thor (Journey into Mystery), The Incredible Hulk, and in a break from my Avengers challenge, the original X-Men.  I loved all of these.  In X-Men you see a ton of firsts including Cerebro, Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver.  And everyone is in love with Jean Grey.  Hulk’s is super weird.  Originally he only changes at night.  Then, he has an accident where in order to change into the Hulk, Banner has to bathe himself in Gamma Rays with a radiation gun.  EVERY TIME.  And Thor’s is a lot of fun too with appearances by Loki and Odin.  And Thor has his Doctor Blake secret identity.  And his nurse Jane Foster.  OMG.  So much drama.  I really recommend reading these early adventures of your favorite heroes.  They are so much fun.  Like I said, this year I hope to do Captain America, Ant-Man/Wasp (Tales to Astonish), and maybe Uncanny X-Men.

Black Widow 1 Black Widow 2
Black Widow by Kelly Thompson – Kelly Thompson is the best.  I originally discovered her on Kate Bishop: Hawkeye.  Then I followed her to West Coast Avengers.  Which I loved and was sad it didn’t continue after issue #10.  Now I’m reading her Deadpool series and this, her Black Widow series.  This is so good.  The first collection has Bucky and Hawkeye, the second collection has Yelena and Spider-Girl.  I love Thompson’s voice.  Her dialogue is so great.  The art is by Elena Casagrande and Rafael de Latorre.  And it’s *also* fantastic.  This is a great series.  Love it.

And those were my favorite books and comics I read in 2021. I’ll maybe have a followup article to this talking about some Honorable Mentions.  You know, things that maybe I liked that almost made the list, but also things I didn’t like and really want to talk about.

Hope you enjoyed this article and found something new that you may eventually love.  Let me know if you do!

Okay, that covers EVERYTHING I’ve read.  Next up…MOVIES!  Stay tuned.

I Read Movies’ 2021 Year End Round up

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report, books, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on January 10, 2022 by Paxton

IRM 2021

As you probably know, I host a movie novelization podcast called I Read Movies.  Every month I read a movie novelization and then on the podcast I talk about the differences between the movie and the novelization.  Last year, I decided to add to my usual “Best of” lists a year end round up for I Read Movies where I listed out my favorite novelizations that I covered on the show.  So, this year, I’m doing it again.

September 2021 was a big year for I Read Movies.  Not only was it IRM’s 4th birthday but September was the show’s 50th episode!  Hard to believe I’ve done that many episodes.  On the main podcast, I covered 12 novelizations in 2021.  You can see the covers of the novelizations I covered above.  I say, “on the main podcast”, because I did cover a few extra books on other podcasts.  I did the 1995 Mortal Kombat novelization for Cult Film Club, as well as an Appendix episode on the original Stephen King novel, Running Man, that inspired the movie.

So that makes 13 novelizations covered by me in 2021.  I’m very happy with the group of novelizations I picked this year (and you guys, you definitely helped me decide).  Out of 13 novelizations, it would have been easy to pick nearly 10 as my favorites.   But I really dug deep and narrowed it down to my five favorite novelizations.

So let’s see which novelizations I most enjoyed covering on the show in 2021!

FYI, most images and links are to movienovelizations.com.

Batman Forever
Batman Forever (1995) by Peter David
– I covered the first two Burton Batman movies back in 2019. So I continue the coverage of the 90s Batman movies with the third movie in the series. Like the previous two, I had read this novelization when it originally came out and remember loving it. So I was very excited to cover it for the show. And it is still very good. David manages to squeeze in lots of Batman easter eggs as well as lots of early story elements that did not make the movie. Like the giant bat. It’s definitely a fun read. I originally had no real intention to cover the final movie, Batman & Robin. I had read it several years ago and my memory was that it wasn’t very different. Well, I recently appeared on the Authorized Novelizations Podcast and we discussed Batman and Robin, so I read it for them, and I discovered I was wrong. There was lots to talk about. So, now, expect to see Michael Jan Friedman’s Batman & Robin novelization on IRM in 2022!


The A-Team (1983) by Glen A Larson
– A few years ago I started trying to cover at least one TV novelization during the year. I covered two Knight Rider episodes the last two years. This year, I decided to do The A-Team. This novelizes the very first episode, Mexican Slayride. It’s a lot of fun and adds a lot of fun tidbits and scenes to the action of the show. On the other side of the coin, it also doesn’t add any context to things in the episode that aren’t great.  Like Hannibal dressing up as a *very* stereotypical Chinese laundry owner, and the part of the show where Hannibal doesn’t help Amy when she’s accosted and nearly raped by two dudes coming out of a strip club.  That being said, the book is a lot of fun and I think the show turned out to be a good one.  2022 will bring another TV novelization to the show, so stay tuned!

WarGames
Robocop (1987) by Ed Naha
– Shawn had covered this in an article on movienovelizations.com. It sounded bonkers and could be a lot of fun. I mean, in it, Robocop gets a dog! And Murphy’s wife, who shows up in all the movies, actually moves to the moon in this book! They colonized the moon! So yes, I was excited to cover it, and the book delivered. It’s definitely a lot of fun. And actually, I had so much fun, I decided as soon as I finished it, that I wanted to cover the Robocop 2 novelization right after it.  And so I did.  And it was just as fun.  This was a reallly fun 1-2 punch and the episodes I think show how much fun the books were to read.

Back to the Future II Back to the Future III
Back to the Future Part II/Part III by Craig Shaw Gardner –  For my first anniversary back in 2018, I covered the first Back to the Future novelization by George Gipe.  That was a *lot* of fun because you could tell the book really followed the original version of the movie that had Eric Stoltz.  A lot of the gags from the Michael J Fox version just weren’t there, like  all of the “Coast Guard” and “life jacket” jokes from the movie.  Plus the “Darth Vader from the Planet Vulcan” scene was extended.  It was a lot of fun to do that episode.  So for my big 50th episode I thought, it’s time to cover the sequels.  So I did both in one episode.  And while these books weren’t as bizarre and different as the first book, they had a lot of fun diversions in them.  They even address one aspect of time travel I had always wondered about in the BTTF universe.  When does a person from the future receive updated memories from a timeline change?  Like Marty at the end of the first movie, will he receive all the memories from his childhood with a more loving and healthy version of his parents?  Or will he always have that hole in his memory and when the family is reminicising he just has to play along?  These books, at least a little bit, address that.  And I appreciate that.

The Mummy 1999
The Mummy (1999) by Max Allan Collins
– This one was a surprise to me.  I forgot how much I love this movie.  Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz are so adorable.  It’s just a lot of fun to watch this movie.  And when I rewatched it for the show, I found myself not taking notes and just watching the movie.  And the novelization continues that fun.  It front loads the book with a lot more of the ancient Egypt stuff, and adds a few extra scenes at the end.  Like I said it just surprised me how much I enjoyed revisiting the movie and reading the novelization.  So, now I want to do the sequel, The Mummy Returns.  Max Allan Collins actually wrote all three Mummy novelizations as well as the very first Mummy spin off with the Rock, Scorpion King.  And you know how much I enjoy one author writing multiple books in a franchise.  So, this may be the beginning of another sub-series on IRM.

So those were my favorite novelizations I covered on the show this year. Let’s take a look at a few overall stats for I Read Movies.

Over the course of the show I’ve covered just over 60 books and novelizations. That includes the 53 episodes of the main show, as well as the Apendix special episodes, and any other special episodes I did for Nerd Lunch and Cult Film Club.  How about an author breakdown?

Currently, the author I’ve covered the most on I Read Movies is Craig Shaw Gardner.  I’ve covered five of his books (Batman 89, Batman Returns, The Lost Boys, Back to the Future Part II, and Back to the Future Part II).

In second place is Alan Dean Foster with four books on the show (Star Wars ’77, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, The Last Starfighter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

Third place is a tie between James Kahn and Jeffrey Cooper with three titles each.  Then there are a bunch of authors where I’ve covered only one or two titles.

So, that’s my I Read Movies year end novelization round up.  Hope you enjoyed this past year of the podcast.  I believe I have a lot of good novelizations coming up in 2022.

What usually happens with IRM at year end is that I take a break in January, and then new episodes start again in February.  And this February IRM is going to debut new episodes on the CultFilmClub.com podcast feed.  However, due to behind the scenes stuff, I want to move my break to later in the year, so I’m going to go ahead and do a January episode this year.  So expect that soon.  And I’ll go ahead and reveal it to you now, I’ll be covering the novelization of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  Up, up, and Away!

2020 Year End Honorable Mentions – Movies

Posted in movies with tags , , on January 21, 2021 by Paxton

Movie Report

So all my favorite lists (books, movies) are out there for the world to see.  I even talked to you about my favorite novelizations on I Read Movies as well as provided you some honorable mentions in books and comics.  So I guess I should come up with some honorable mentions for movies.

This list will be some movies I wanted to talk about, good or bad.  These aren’t all “just missed the favorites list”.  Some of these were never going to make the list.  But maybe I had something more to say about them.

Let’s go.

Bill & Ted 3
Bill & Ted Face the Music
– I want to start with two nostalgia bombs that I watched last year.  First, Bill & Ted 3.  I was one of the ones that was pretty excited about this.  I love the first movie.  I really enjoy the second movie.  I’ve read a ton of the comics that have come out in the intervening years.  I was so ready for this.  And it was great.  Fun and fast paced.  Lots of fun twists and turns.  I feel like some of the story sort of covered the same ground of what’s been done before.  I love Samara Weaving as Bill’s daughter.  Bridget Lundy-Paine as Ted’s daughter took some getting used to, but she’s fine.  I like the story tries to bring in the Princesses more, but ultimately it doesn’t really amount to much.  I enjoyed returning to this world, I enjoyed seeing Reeves and Winter back in their iconic roles, I enjoyed that they tried something a little different (and a lot the same).  As a Bill & Ted fan, I had a lot of fun.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
Jay & Silent Bob Reboot
– This was the second “nostalgia bomb” movie I watched last year.  I’m a fan of Jay and Silent Bob.  This movie was really a sequel to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which I’m mostly a fan of.  I always enjoy seeing these View Askew characters in another movie.  And Kevin has a lot of famous friends and pretty much all of them try to make an appearance in this movie.  And that’s ultimately my problem.  This movie doesn’t feel like one continuous movie, but a collection of scenes, filmed separately, with no one interacting with anyone except Jay and Silent Bob.  I know this is due to stars’ scheduling issues, but I feel it in the film.  However, I do appreciate the effort to bring people back.  Jason Lee.  Joey Lauren Adams.  Even Ben Affleck makes an appearance.  But all of their appearances are clearly walled off from everything else that happens in the movie.  The fun of all the interactions is lost.  We only see Jay and Silent Bob reacting.  So, I was a bit disappointed.  But I’m glad I watched it.  I hear Kevin is back on getting Clerks 3 written.  I’m a little wary about that.  I heard Jeff Anderson doesn’t want to do Randal anymore, but if he’s back in, then more power to Kev.

Last Blood
Rambo Last Blood
– Okay, I guess technically, this would be a third nostalgia bomb that I watched.  I’m a Rambo fan.  I love 1-2, forget 3 even exists, and love the 2008 Rambo movie.  So I was excited to see “one last ride” for this character.  And what a great title.  You know what, I would have really liked this movie if it wasn’t Rambo.  It’s a pretty solid action movie.  It’s just not a great Rambo movie.  It takes some time to get going.  I don’t like the middle section where he goes to Mexico.  The last part is pretty good, but it’s not lit well and it’s very hard to see what’s going on.  I saw another movie last year very similar to this called Close Range with Scott Adkins.  It was from 2015, and while I have a few issues with that movie, it’s a better version of the story in Last Blood. This just didn’t feel like a great ending to John Rambo’s story.


High Rise
– From 2015, based on a 1975 novel by JG Ballard.  I watched this for the incredible cast; Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, and Sienna Miller, all directed by Ben Wheatley who is directing that new version of Rebecca with Armie Hammer and Lily James. I was pretty pumped.  And it’s terrible.  I was so disappointed.  It’s very stream of consciousness.  It reminded me a lot of Roger Avary’s Rules of Attraction.  Very weird and hard to follow.  It’s definitely an artsy type of film, which is totally not my bag.  So I realize that mileage may vary greatly with this.  But I did NOT like it.

Anna
Anna
– Saw the trailer for this last year and it blew me away.  So I marked it “to watch”.  Finally got around to it last summer.  It’s pretty awesome.  Reminded me of a grittier Salt.  Anna, trapped in the slums of Russia, in a twist of fate, is offered a job within a special division of the KGB.  She becomes a deep undercover operative, posing as a fashion model while accomplishing missions.  She is caught by the CIA, agrees to work as a double agent, then maneuvers both the CIA and KGB in an effort to get her out of the spy business.  But neither agency wants to let her go.  The movie gets pretty tense and has some major action set pieces.  I very much enjoyed it.  The girl who plays Anna, Sasha Luss, is pretty great.  She handles the action well and I believe it when she wants to get out of the business.  Also in this are Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, and Helen Mirren.

And those are some of my movie honorable mentions!  Hope you found something interesting in all of my 2020 lists I gave you.

2020 Year End Honorable Mentions – Books/Comics

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2021 by Paxton

YE Book Report

I posted my favorite books/comics of 2020 last week.  As usual, I had a few entries that didn’t necessarily make my favorites list, but I still wanted to talk about them.  Good and bad.

Let’s do books first, then I’ll do some comics.

Ready Player Two
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
– The long awaited sequel to Cline’s smash hit Ready Player One.  Yes, it came out in November 2020.  It came out, and then sort of just disappeared.  I didn’t really hear anyone talking about it.  But I read it over Thanksgiving break.  And it’s…good.  But there are like three asterix on that good.  I really like the premise.  There’s another quest in this book for Wade.  It’s well constructed.  Cline is great at that.  Where Clline has issues is characters.  I still do not like Wade.  He’s supposed to be complicated, I get that.  He’s the best when it comes to quests, but he’s a total mess when it comes to relationships.  But come on.  Almost as soon as the book starts we learn that Wade and Art3mis have broken up because Wade is an insufferable dick.  And it doesn’t stop until the very end.  Cline still layers on the pop culture references, and this time he varies it a bit so it’s not *just* 80s stuff.  But, there’s A LOT of it.  Especially in the beginning.  And speaking of the beginning, the first 80 pages is essentially Wade doing an exposition dump of everything that’s happened to the High 5 in the last five years.  So, yes, the book has problems.  BUT, that being said, don’t think that I didn’t enjoy jumping right back in to this world.  And the OASIS.  And the other characters besides Wade.  Cline creates an involving story.  It does get a bit bananas at the end.  Like I didn’t really see it coming.  And I’m not 100% sure what I think about it, but overall I would say that I liked the book.  I would love to see Speilberg mold this into a sequel to the first movie.

Anyone
Anyone by Charles Soule
– Soule is one of my favorite comic book writers.  This is his second novel.  I read his first novel, The Oracle Year, back in 2019, which I really liked, even though it didn’t make my favorites lists that year.  This is another strong entry for Soule.  A neuroscientist is looking for a cure to Alzheimer’s and discovers a way for people to switch their conscious mind into someone else’s body.  Realizing the implications and knowing that the people funding her research would take it for their own purposes, she tries to hide it.  And things sort of go downhill from there.  This is a good book.  As good as the last one.  A thriller.  A “woman on the run” type story.  And it plays with some moral ethics that I found fascinating.  It does sort of “drop you at the end” without telling you what happens, which normally drives me up the wall, but I kind of rolled with it here because I enjoyed the story.  But I still really want to know what happened.

Terror Castle Shark Reef Scar Faced Beggar
Alfred Hitchcock and the The Three Investigators – This was the series that got me into reading in the 5th grade.  It was the first series I remember reading multiple books and actually looking forward to more books being released.  A group of guys in my class would would run to the shelves during library time to check for new books and scream triumphant if we ever found any.  So, a few years ago, when my son was still a baby, I found some cheap-ish paperback copies (the three I list above) of these books on eBay and ordered them, with the thought that I’d eventually read them to him.  Thanks to quarantine, this was the year.  We read all three of the above books and he enjoyed them.  I did too.  I’m so glad they held up.  I would have been crushed if I had read them and been like, “Why did I like this garbage?”  When I knew we were enjoying them, I went back out to ebay to find more and dammit if this series hasn’t become collectible.  And prices are too damn high for the titles I want.

Now, how about some comic book honorable mentions?  So last year was a year I caught up on comics I had read and loved back in the 80s (The Flash by Mike Baron/William Messner-Loebs), and comics that I never read but was always curious about.

Booster Gold
Booster Gold
– Booster always seems on the fringe of being popular. He’s one of those heroes that is obscure enough that you can tell other comics people you love him and it has cache. I remember his series by Dan Jurgens back in 1985 but I never got around to reading it. So, I decided to give it a shot.  I had a collection of the first 12 issues.  I like Dan Jurgens and I like his art. I even like the initial premise of Booster Gold. He’s the other hero in Metropolis trying to feed off Superman’s criminal leftovers. We get snippets at first of Booster’s time travel background, but it’s not really served up right away.  I really had a hard time liking this series. Jurgens made Booster just a bit too smug for me.  He reminds me of Greg Kinnear as Captain Amazing in Mystery Men.  He has an agent, and is all about branding and image.  Booster’s agent tries to secure movie deals and sponsers.  That’s all a cool idea for a super hero, it honestly is, but for only one super hero in a group.  As the main hero in an extended series, that gets old real quick.  Booster also gets a serious inferiority complex through several issues about working in Metropolis the same time as Superman.  I was like, if it’s such a big goddam deal, Booster, then move.  I ultimately stopped rooting for him and just quit reading.  I had intended to read up to issue #12, but stopped after issue #7.

Blue Devil
Blue Devil
– Next up I read the first five issues of Blue Devil by Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin.  I think I liked this a little better than Booster Gold.  Movie stunt man Dan Cassidy is fused to his special effects suit when a demon is suddenly freed on the island where they are shooting a movie.  Now Dan has to cope with the suit being a part of him and being the new super hero on the block.  This book was fun, had some interesting ideas, and for the most part, I enjoyed reading it.  It reminded me a lot of the great never-been-collected Roger Stern/Tom Lyle Starman series I loved so much in the 80s.  Starman’s Will Payton and Blue Devil’s Dan Cassidy are similar “everyday men” that are suddenly into the limelight as super heroes.  I like that premise.  I had actually reread Stern/Lyle’s 25 issue run on Starman a few years ago and loved it.  And I look forward to continuing Blue Devil, especially because in issue #6, we get the debut of one of my favorite obscure DC villains, Bolt.

New Teen Titans
The New Teen Titans
– This title was super popular back in the day. It helped that Marv Wolfman and George Perez were superstars when they did it.  But despite Kid Flash being on the team, I just never got around to reading it.  I got this collection which has their initial debut in DC Comics Presents, as well as the first 8 issues of their main title.  I read the whole thing.  It’s not bad.  The initial issues have the Teen Titans going up against Deathstroke the Terminiator (who would go on to be a major villain for them), Ravager, and the Fearless Five.  Those stories I very much enjoyed.  Then, it goes into a multi-issue arc where we learn the origin of Raven, we meet her demon lord father, Trigon, and lots of other stuff that I just didn’t care about.  As for the characters.  I liked Robin.  I loved Starfire.  Cyborg is so full of angst.  And Wally West.  Kid Flash is….well….he’s not great.  He seems a bit out of character.  He flies off the handle at little provocation and he’s kind of a standoff-ish jerk.  So, this doesn’t sound like high praise, I know.  I enjoyed about half the issues I read.  The thing is, I can see lots of potential.  So I’m probably going to read the next collection to see where Wolfman/Perez take them next.

Look for some movie honorable mentions later this week!

My Favorite Movies I Saw in 2020

Posted in Blog Series, Movie Board, movies with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2021 by Paxton

Movie Report

2020 was an odd year for movie viewing, to say the least.  Typcially I would’ve seen nearly 50 movies in the theater.  This past year I think I saw two.  And both of those were old movies; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on 2/16 and The Godfather on 2/23.  The theater by us was going to show all 8 of the Harry Potter movies starting in Dec 2019 through like May 2020.  I was going to take the kids.  Unfortunately I missed the first two movies in December 2019.  But I caught Harry Potter 3 right before the pandemic.  Then everything shut down and I won’t get to complete that marathon with my kids. Which sucks because they really connected with Harry Potter (books and movies) over the quarantine.  It would have been nice to take them to the theater to see them.  Anyway, that’s my 2020 sob story about seeing movies in theaters.

Anyway, I keep my list of movies watched (with some small reviews) in two places, similar to my books list.  The first is the usual Google Spreadsheet.  That list is easier to get an overall view of the year and pick out favorite entries because I have it all color coded based on rating and year released.  The other place I keep a list of the movies I watch is over on Letterboxd.  So check me out there.  Friend me.  I need friends.  I’m lonely.  SO LONELY.

But now, let’s dig into my list.  Rules are like my books, only movies new to me in 2020 are eligible. Normally, I’d start off giving you a list of my favorite “released in 2020” movies. But, surprise, surprise, things being how they are, I didn’t really watch a lot of “2020 movies”.  So I’m going to mix this list up and do ten of my favorite movies that I watched for the first time in 2020.  And they may not all be movies.  I may include mini-series as well.

So let’s see what my favorite things to watch in 2020 were. I got most of my images and links from Wikipedia.

Ip Man 4
Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019)
– I’m going to start with this one because it leads directly into the next one.  I love Donnie Yen.  I think I first noticed him in his all too brief appearance as Snowman in Blade II.  I’ve followed him ever since.  And this Ip Man series has been fantastic.  Yen is just *awesome* as Ip Man.  The first one is still my favorite, followed closely by the second.  The third one is still good, but not one I love.  However, Part 4, is amazing.  It might be my new favorite after the first.  But tied with the second.  And one of the reasons why is the villain, played by Scott Adkins.  He is brutal and amazing in this.  He has such a powerful screen presence.  I’ve only ever seen him in one movie before this and I remember being underwhelmed.  I may have to revisit that movie now because I was wrong.  This is a great capper to the Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip Ip Man series.  And Scott Adkins is now someone that I’m going to dig more deeply into his filmography.


Scott Adkins movies – 2020, for me, has been about watching movies with my dad. Things have been really rough this year for my dad and I’ve been going back to Alabama to help him with medical stuff and to just spend some time with him, which has been in short supply these last few years. Anyway, he and I watched a TON of movies together this summer. I caught up on a lot of stuff I’d never seen before and discovered a lot of new things. One of those things, thanks to Ip Man 4, is Scott Adkins. Now, being an action/martial arts guy, I’d totally heard about Scott Adkins. This guy is a machine and puts out a ton of movies every year. I’d always meant to catch some but never have. So, my dad being a lover of the action genre, was interested in also checking him out. Especially after I spoke so highly about Scott in Ip Man 4.  So we binged like 5 of Scott Adkins’ movies. And they were AWESOME. We watched The Debt Collector, the sequel The Debt Collectors, Avengement, Close Range, and El Gringo.  And Adkins delivers in every one.  Especially the ones where he gets to show a little personality.  Of these, my favorites may have been The Debt Collector, and its sequel, Debt Collectors.  Adkins and Louis Mandelore have such great chemistry and it was fun watching them get in over their heads in the debt collecting business.  Avengement is awesome because it’s brutal.  He starts off a normal guy and SO MANY bad things happen to him he’s pretty much a different person by the end of the movie.  It’s one bad ass revenge flick.  El Gringo felt like a Robert Rodriguez movie.  I mean that in a good way because I’m very hit or miss on Rodriguez’s output.  Oh, one other movie we saw had Akins in it, but it was a surprise.  We also watched American Assassin with Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien and a small but important appearance by Scott Adkins.  Very good.

Palm Springs
Palm Springs (2020)
– Time travel. Andy Samberg. JK Simmons. I don’t think I have to say anything else.  I’m a sucker for time travel movies.  Especially if they are doing something creative or different with the idea.  And this definitely does that.  Plus it has classic Andy Samberg and a hilarious appearance by JK Simmons.  This is great.  See it.

The Last Dance
The Last Dance (2020)
– This was a documentary produced by ESPN and Netflix. I’m a huge sucker for 80s-90s NBA stuff. Books, documentaries, game footage. This scratched every single itch I have for that kind of content.  It’s so good.  It mostly covers Jordan’s career and how he approached the game of basketball but it touches on so many other things like competiveness, drive, how much is too much, and what it costs to be the best.

Once upon a time...
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
– I’m always interested in what Tarantino’s next movie is.  Even if it doesn’t look good I’ll check it out.  This one totaly looked good and I finally sat down to watch it.  And loved it.  I love the atmosphere, I love the time period, I love the performances.  Leo and Brad are fantastic.  Margot is great, and beautiful, and plays Tate with surprising sadness.  I really felt for her.  And the ending, in typcial Tarantino fashion, goes bananas.  I loved it.  I’m picking up the novelization that Tarantino is writing later this summer.  What a fun movie.

Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
– I’m not technically a “car guy”. I admire some styles of cars; especially mid-to-late 60s american muscle cars. But this movie caught my eye not because it’s about racing, but because of the cast. Christian Bale and Matt Damon in the 50s-60s tearing up race tracks and taking on the Italians? Yes. I’m on board.  And I loved every second of this movie.  Damon and Bale are fantastic as always and the action was packed.  There was also a surprising amount of humor which I love.  I was interested to see this movie, but I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

Ready or Not Guns Akimbo
Ready or Not (2019) – I thought the premise of this sounded fun so I streamed it on a lark one night when I had nothing else to watch. And so begins my obsession with Samara Weaving. This move was so fun, but also unexpected at the same time.  Lots of crazy, kooky characters.  And a crazy cool premise.  Samara Weaving finds herself on the run from her new husband’s family in a series of deadly games due to a curse that they believe was put on their family.  It’s so much fun and Weaving is pretty great.  After watching Ready or Not, I jumped into another Samara Weaving movie, Guns Akimbo.  Which is even more crazy and over the top.  Guns Akimbo also has Daniel Radcliffe who is forced into a weird viral game against other crazy characters to kill each other.  Samara Weaving plays the top bad ass character and she’s so awesome.  Both of these movies are pretty over the top but in kind of the best way possible.

We also wound up binging a bunch of TV shows in 2020. So here are three shows we loved watching in 2020.

The Great
The Great
– I heard buzz about this, but I saw it as something like that dreamy and weird Marie Antoinette movie from 2006, which my wife loved.  And I didn’t.  Therefore I didn’t want to watch it.  However, being a good husband, I gave it a chance.  And I was wrong.  SO WRONG.  This is a period piece.  Yes.  But it has more akin to A Knight’s Tale than Marie Antoinette.  It weaves in so much grown up humor, lots of sex, lots of language, and backs it all with a modern music soundtrack.  People like to throw around irreverant, but considering that this movie is ostensibly about Catherine the Great’s rise to power in Russia, it is absolutely irreverent.  And doesn’t care one bit about the actual history (which sounds worse than it actually comes across).  Elle Fanning is amazing in this.  Nicolas Hoult as Peter is so awesome.  This surprised me to my core.  I loved it.


11.22.63
– My wife and I read the Stephen King book back in 2012. And it made my 2012 year end favorites list.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Time Travel.  I’m a sucker for it.  But this series is really good.  James Franco discovers a time warp in the back of a diner that leads to the early 60s.  There are a whole bunch of rules to how it works but he agrees to a plan with the diner’s dying owner to go back in the time warp and try to stop the assassination of John F Kennedy.  But to do that he’ll have to survive and live for two years in the past.  And during those two years while he’ll be preparing to stop the assassination, time itself will do everything it can to stop him.  It’s a cool premise.  Great cast.  And loaded with suspense.  Just like the book.

Queen's Gambit
Queen’s Gambit
– Like The Great, this was another series I’d heard buzz about but wasn’t necessarily excited to start watching.  But again, I was wrong.  The cast in this is so strong.  Ana Taylor-Joy?  Are you kiddding me?  She’s awesome.  Set mostly in the 60s, it centers on Ana Taylor-Joy’s character who turns out to be a chess prodigy.  And in the 60s, chess was not considered a girl’s game.  But Ana Taylor-Joy has a few issues, mostly due to her unideal home life.  And it manifests in drinking.  And pills.  Can she maintain her high level of chess play while shoving booze and fistfuls of pills into her mouth?  Watch to find out.  If I was pressed really hard, I may even say that this was my favorite thing I watched this year.  But only if I was pressed.