Review: Star Wars Last Jedi

I don’t know if I can avoid spoilers.  I am going to try.  But if you (like me) did everything you could (including avoiding interviews) so you could go into this movie with as little knowledge as possible – well, I might let slip something you didn’t want see.  Fair?  Good.

I would give it a 3/5.  Overall it was ok, I enjoyed it, but… BUT

My biggest critique is the length.  So they introduced a new character (Rose) who I like a LOT, but I feel like they added an entire segment to the movie which…. was really only there for us to get to know Rose.  And…. it made the movie feel long.  I honestly kind of wish they hadn’t had it.  It had some fun moments, but it made for weird pacing because it was trying to weave  3 sets of characters and (all) movies struggle anywhere above 2 groups of heroes.

The Rey & Luke segments were very well done – Mark Hamill is amazing.  Luke’s arc during this movie might be one of my favorite parts.  I like how the character struggles with his past – and they all but steal one of my life phrases!  Avoiding obvious spoilers – teacher me was quite happy.

There were some call-backs to Empire and even Jedi which were… decent.  Nothing too in-your-face and I enjoyed it.

enjoyed the movie.  I am still processing whether it felt like a Star Wars movie.  There was a lot more humor (as my husband said, it felt like they were trying to mimic some of Guardian‘s humor Correction: he told me that what he said is that it’s like they let Lucas try to make a Joss Whedon movie  – I stand by my memory that he compared it to Marvel).  I enjoyed most of it – and the porgs were NOT annoying.  I was expecting to hate them but they were in the movie just enough to be amusing – not annoying.

I will be honest, I don’t know that I will be as excited about “young han solo” as I might have been 10 years ago.  I think Star Wars in running into “long running game syndrom” – when RP’ers have been running the same game a long time eventually they get to the point where their characters are ridiculously powered and not much feels like a threat anymore.  Star Wars is reaching that for me – there were some scenes where it just felt like they wanted to “top” what they’d done before (Fast & Furious has gone there too…)

I think I am moving more towards “I’d like to see a different universe on screen” in fantasy, superhero, & sci-fi.  Star Wars is great, Marvel is fun – but what are the stories we aren’t getting to see because the directors and writers are getting stuck in these boxes?

Musings: Books I want to see on screen

I was looking through this article (here) about 100 books being (maybe) turned into movies.  I found myself rolling my eyes at another remake of 1984.  As much as I’m looking forward to (I hope!) a good movie version of A Wrinkle of Time, there are some titles I think are grossly missing from this list.

#1: Codex of Alera (Jim Butcher)

I reviewed this series here.  There is some seriously fun imagery and ideas in here.  It would probably need to be a TV series.  Tavi would be a tough guy to cast, but I think as long as they managed to find someone who could pull off “small and skinny” and then bulk up (some)…. He wouldn’t need a lot of bulk.  I totally think Kitai should be played by Millie Bobby Brown – she can pull off the “scary but not at the same time” look perfectly.

#2 Alanna (Tamora Pierce)

I have wanted a “Tortall” series since I first read these books in middle school.  If HBO wants their next series…. Tortall would not be a terrible one to tackle.  There might not be enough blood/sex/violence for HBO though.  CW could expand beyond super heroes.

You would only have 3 seasons, because I’m not sure you’d want to try to expand out the last 2 books into 2 separately seasons.  I think they would work best as a single season.

#3 Akata Witch/Warrior (Nnedi Okorafor)

The review  for this book should tell you a lot of why I want to see this book on the large screen.  This would make for an amazing 2 movies.  Or 3.  I could see turning this into something of a trilogy – without giving away anything in the plot… yeah if I were to put my hand to screenwriting this I would make it a trilogy.  Oh the end of that second movie…. would drive you all wild! Cliffhanger!

#4 Tiger Burning Bright (Bradley, Norton, & Lackey)

(Goodreads link) As I was looking at my bookshelves my eyes alighted on this jewel in and lit up. And I have to fight with myself over TBB or The Elvenbane, but I decided this one is less famous and would make a great one-hit-win. I might need to reread and write my review on it to do justice, but this would be a kick-ass movie.  I almost re-ordered my entire list to put this as #1!  If you don’t know these three names by last only, they are Marrion Zimmer Bradley, Andre Norton, and Mercedes Lackey.  Anyone who loves 2 out of those three is probably now drooling.  (I may have written four paragraphs of fangirling over these authors and had to edit it out…)

This book follows three women, a mother and her two daughters as they seek to save their kingdom from the hungry powerful empire that is attempting to swallow them up.  With secrets, magic, and each having their own skills and talents they manage to not only save their own lives, but save their people.  OMG. Excuse me while I go get lost in Merina now.

#5 Dark Horse Series

I’ve already reviewed Mary H. Herbert’s series (here) and I have long loved these books.  The fact they haven’t ever gotten picked up just seems dumb to me.  They are perfect movie material.  Literally, casting is the only question in my world.  How they handle the Hunnuli is also vital – they have to do it right. Seriously, don’t try to handle magical awesome horses if you can’t handle magical awesome horses.

I have so many images in my mind of what I think would work well, I would love to see a good director/producer tackle this one and do it right.  With the rise (finally!) of acceptable female-lead movies, I think this books series not only would make AWESOME movies, but might finally be able to be done right.  Not too much focus on the relationships of men + women, but not ignoring them entirely either.

OK Hollywood…

So These are my suggestions.  There are others I could list (hell, a lot of the books I read I might recommend….), but I will let these 5 stand as my recommendations for 2017.  Maybe I’ll do this again NEXT year, see which ones stay on the list and if I change any out….

 

Review: Wonder Woman

I am not going to promise not to write spoilers. I’m going to try, but there may be things in this review that are not in the trailer and “spoil” the movie for you.

Fair enough warning?

I loved this movie. It wasn’t “perfect” but it was close.  I will gladly go see it again in theaters to get the big surround sound and see the action on the big screen. Hell, I might even see it on IMAX. (No, I don’t tend to like 3D movies, more often then not I get a headache from watching them).

I could nitpick about some of the pacing, but honestly – as origin stories go – it wasn’t terrible pacing. I think it helps they didn’t have to set Diana up as a some “lost soul” who needs to turn her life around because she is an egotistical asshole.  They are a little heavy-handed on the “oh no, don’t tell her the secret that could save her life” trope – which is one I tend to detest (how can you say you love someone and deny them a VITAL tool?).

But above and beyond the nit-picking – it was a GOOD movie. And I cried through like half of it.

Not because it was sad. Because I was finally seeing myself in a hero. We got close with Hermione (can we all agree she is the one who carried Harry to “success” already?).  I think it’s what many other authors/movies have attempted (Hunger Games got pretty close IMO) – a female lead who kicks ass. A female who others females can look up to.

The scene that really sells it for me is child-Diana – standing with delight and watching the Amazon warriors and imitating them. I can’t wait to see little girls doing this in real life – imitating their hero who looks like them.

I wish I could give a perfect example to my male friends why this is so emotional – but how do I explain to them who have always had these heroic images they can mimic? How can I help them understand what it means that after 30 years, I have finally seen a woman who I would like to emulate on the big screen? A woman who doesn’t bow to the men around her, who inspires them. A woman who might love, but the romantic relationship is secondary to her love of ALL mankind – and her service to them. She has her life and he might join her, but she will not merely follow him.

Superman was made before I was born – before my older brother was born. He literally was born into a world where he could see a hero on “the big screen” who looked like him – and attempts like Elecktra and Catwoman don’t exactly count either because they aren’t really heroes – they are anti-heroes.

I wanted to see this movie on opening weekend in the hopes to tell Hollywood we need more female directors & female leads – they bring diversity to the art. Which inevitably elevates the entire art, challenges norms and explores different voices. We need more female superheroes. We need more female leads in film. We need more female directors given the budget commensurate with their skills. I want my daughters to see woman in film they can emulate – and they will. They will be born into a world where there is at least one woman on the big screen they can mimic. I’m kind of jealous of them.

 

Character Profile: The successful sidekick

I love and hate writing “side-kicks.”  These are the secondary characters who are useful and/or required for success in a novel.  I love them because they give me a place to explore depths my protagonist doesn’t have or a sounding board for my protagonist to discuss aspects of the novel. I hate them because I struggle to make them “real people” in their own right.

I think Robin (of Batman & Robin) is sort of the perfect example of the “exposition bitch.” Robin is, from the Adam West to the 90’s cartoons, an idiot. Batman explains everything to him. I hate it. Robin’s biggest role is as the plucky kid who needs the hero to explain things -and really so the reader/viewer can get it.  Now, I haven’t read these, but I am told by more knowledgable people that some of the comics portray Robin better. Is it really any surprise he eventually leaves the Batcave to become his own hero when Batman treats him so poorly?

Love interests are often portrayed this way too in film and novels. Especially in the “match-up game” – you know, the point where characters are beginning to pair up and you want to make sure no one feels left out?  So you try to bring in a love interest for Person #3 and that love interest is either really dumb or basically never on screen or when they are on screen, they are ornamental.

Big Bang Theory started on this path when they brought in Bernadette, but they pretty quickly fleshed her out and I think they avoided it with Amy Farrah Fowler. They circled it again with Raj when they want to pair him off with someone – and they spend several episodes finding anyone.  Why can’t he be happy being single or finding that he is content with his friendships? Why does he need to be paired off in a romantic relationship? It weakened the plots to try to force him into it and creates some seriously unhealthy images of why people get into relationships.  The Wheel of Time does the same thing in some ways, but I think that Jordan – for all his other faults in the series – does a good question of asking why people get into romantic relationship and exploring different things working for different people.

I don’t have the answer for writing a good side-character/sidekick. It’s a question I ask when I write a “small” character.  The handmaiden to the lady-protagonist always feels a little like a cheat to me. Of course the lady (with the education) has to explain more depth of politics to her (young & inexperienced) handmaiden. I want to be better at this one. I tear up my innkeeper-friends, love interests, and “childhood best friends” on a regular basis to make sure they are real people underneath their wrappers.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (movie)

I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them over the Christmas holiday and I had some very interesting thoughts.  Again, I don’t want to hash out “yet another review” of whether it was good or not. I’ll leave that to the professionals. I will also assume anyone reading this has already seen the movie, because although I will attempt to be spoiler-free, I will reference key moments in the plot which might not make sense until you see them.

No, I was struck by something and it was niggling my brain the entire movie. It’s an old quote I read or heard where the definition of fantasy is that the fantastical element is what solves the problem. So just having magic isn’t enough – magic has to be the catalyst for the climax – the magic of the book/character. Otherwise it’s just a story that happens to exist in a fantasy realm.  Same rule applies to sci-fi.  “Science” (as it is classified in that universe) must solve the climatic issue, not just “higgly-piffly-wow” or whatever.  Otherwise, again, it’s just fiction with a science fiction theme thrown on top. Difficult to manage in character-driven plots, but possible (I think Red Shirts is a great example of “character-driven, sci-fi solution”).

FB&WtFT uses magic intricately, and at the end I had to consider whether they used magic or whether it was just a book-in-a-fantastic-world (several HP books are more “happen to be in a fantasy world” than a magical solution). I would argue they did use magic – and a magical beast no less – to solve one of the two major threats in the plot. The first solution was the direct magical barrage, and I actually would argue that is not using magic as a solution per say merely because there was nothing specific or even challenging in that solution (I actually really didn’t like that!). IF the confrontation with Credence is the climax, I felt it was…  well it really wasn’t, it was the extremely short confrontation with Graves which is the real climax – and it was kind of anti-climatic merely because I never felt he was a threat. He was one against dozens and we had no reason to believe that the numbers would NOT prevail against him…

Don’t get me wrong I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but as a critic… I felt the end wasn’t quite as tight as it could have been if the magic which made the plot (the fantastic beasts) had been the solution – instead of just a solution. If Graves had been exposed because of one of the creatures Newt had… or a potion made from one of them somehow. And why did Newt recognize him anyway? What makes him so special? Does he have a gift that allows him to sense/see illusions (would be useful with all the invisible-ish beasts). Unless it was meant to be a character story with a fantasy setting – in which case it was the perfect solution and all my criticism goes out the window anyway.

Review: Rogue One (Spoilers!)

So I am not going to review this movie “normally” because well, I had an unusual reaction to the movie. So I am not going to stray from spoilers per say.  Fair warning.

I spent 99% of the movie feeling like I was watching an RPG group run a campaign module:

  • You had the one character with a really elaborate backstory that the GM used as plot-bitch to make the rest of the characters move along. She also may have been the player who never actually looked at her skill sheet and was always surprised that she could do something beyond hold a blaster…
  • You had the min-maxer (MM) who took “blind” and then offset it with a religious boost giving them a weird and insane skill set.
  • You have the MM’s SO who is only kinda into the game and so ends up feeling a bit ancillary to the MM with pretty much one useful skill and the occasional snide comment (who is also kind of min-max’ed but in an only slightly-less broken way of “one skill waaaaay to high and otherwise probably useless”).
  • You had the guy who wanted a little of everything and to accomplish it took a couple of good skills AND a dependent/side-kick. Like many of these builds, I cared more about the side-kick than the PC.
  • There were three available NPC’s and the GM made the team pick one: the pilot, the scientist, or the rebel. I would be curious how the game would have turned out if they had picked the scientist instead of the pilot….
  • You had the big-bad guy the GM used before but liked a little too much to let you get away from.

It wasn’t until the very end of the movie when I realized they weren’t going to get a miraculous escape (yup, I went in pretty much expecting Deus ex Machina ending) that I realized this wasn’t the typical RPG team. It might be a Hell on Earth group who goes in with their backup character already spec’ed ’cause they should expect to die. Horribly.

I do stand by my previous review of the characters though. And if you’ve already seen the movie, go watch it again – either the writers are playing too many RPG’s or they are getting caught by some stereotypes and they should be aware of them.

Otherwise, it was a well-written module and the players characters were fun to watch.

Life Memory: Star Trek 50th

Today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s premier on TV. I think it is a perfect day for some self-reflection and future-focused thought.

Who do I want to be in 50 years? Or 500 (I mean, obviously, who do I want to be remembered as in 500 years since there is no current method confirmed for living forever)?

Star Trek showed a universe of people trying to live in a utopia of acceptance, understanding, & morality. The original show really tackled some very difficult issues through the lens of aliens – sometimes with the aliens being “wrong” and sometimes showing how humans might still need improvements ourselves. TNG continued this theme, talking about ethical issues as well as social – personal responsibility and loyalty. I grew up with these questions. I love Star Trek because it helped me create a safe place to always go and explore issues that might be too scary or painful to explore in my own life: bullies, ethical quandaries, racial bias…

I find great irony that we are looking at 50 years since Star Trek first challenged gender, racial & social constructs we assumed and the election we are facing this year. Star Trek taught me that just because someone does something differently, it doesn’t make them wrong. It’s why I’m terrible at debate. I am too empathetic at internalizing my opponents’ point of view (I argue it’s what makes me better as a writer – I empathize with my villains’ POV). It also makes politics very painful to me because I don’t understand when people take the “the other side is always 100% WRONG.” 

Who do we want to be for our grandchildren? How do we want American school children to learn about this era of history in the 23rd century? Will they learn how we continued to seek out ideas, try things and learn about the strengths of other views? Or will they see us slip into a new age of ignorance and fear? Will we invest in our children’s creativity or will we drive towards an ideology of obedience?

I firmly believe we need to ask some very scary questions about who we want to become. As a country. As a society. How do we see ourselves interacting with other peoples – and who would an alien see if they arrived at earth today? Tomorrow? Who will we want remembered and who would we want those aliens never to hear about? What is that really matters and what are we doing to accomplish it?