Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2

It is closing in on 2 am as I write this, I just came home from the cinema, and I am in a mood to talk about Alien: Covenant. Consider this a review of sorts. Spoiler-free, because that’s what the internet likes and I’m predictable.

Ever since Prometheus came out five years ago, I have gone back and forth on what I should think of the film. It really didn’t work as an Alien prequel, the characters were way too dumb and unlikable, and many questions about the Alien mythology which we didn’t need were either answered or raised. And yet there was one half of the movie which worked, the story of David and the story of creation and creator. It was an incredibly strong story, but sadly remained a story beat between all the horror cliches and padding. Alien Covenant is part two of that exact same story.  Continue reading “Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2”

Mass Effect Andromeda: Almost A Star Trek Simulator

Been absent a bit to work on the next novel (hit the 50k mark) and, among other things, play Mass Effect Andromeda. Here are my thoughts because I might as well post it here. It’s my blog after all.

Finished up Andromeda with 83% completion. Final thoughts? I liked it. It ended up being a lot of fun. During my play through I got to experience the game both unpatched and patched, and while I had rolled lucky on the compatibility dice before, it infuriates me that the game could have easily been better received with just a week or two of updates and some actual play testing. It’s a fucking shame that the game had to suffer from it.

On the game play side of things, the game eventually became a Mass Effect game, meaning the gun play got boring while the biotics/whatever someone else might choose who isn’t ready to be a cool space wizard got really awesome. The upgrade system they implemented though, meant that I didn’t get tired of gun play until hour 40 or so, much later than any previous ME game. Continue reading “Mass Effect Andromeda: Almost A Star Trek Simulator”

The Expanse: Adaptation & Do-Over

When you make changes to an adaptation do it right.

Last week saw the premiere of the second season of The Expanse, one of my current obsessions. In the time since the first season aired, I managed to read all six of the novels currently released and read up on the universe extensively. It was, however, the first season that got me interested in the books in the first place. Just like with A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones.

This puts me in an interesting position, in where I am already seeing more similarities between Game of Thrones and The Expanse. Both based on popular, post-modern(ish) book series, one fantasy, one sci-fi, both adapted before the series have ended. For the record, I prefer The Expanse at this point, though that is mainly because Game of Thrones is starting to wane on me a bit as it hits its inevitable conclusion. Maybe it’s been too popular and I’m just a contentious bastard. Who knows.

But following The Expanse in both book and tv form, both in the primary text and the secondary interviews with cast, crew, and authors, I have found The Expanse to be the exact way I want an adaptation to handle it’s story. The season two premiere has only deepened that conviction.

What is, in the end, always the problem with adaptations? Either they are too faithful or too far away from the source material. Fans of the source material thus have no reason to actually watch it. Why bother twice? Straying too far from the source material on the other hand, however, leads to the opposite problem of alienation and being the series-in-name-only, or at least too different to bring enjoyment to the people who fell in love with it for different reasons. But I always believed there to be a happy medium.

The Expanse is that perfect sweet spot. The Walking Dead might have been so if it wasn’t completely unwatchable for its padded paddedness (hint: clearly an amateur wordsmith). The Expanse has the benefit of being created by people deeply in love with the source material, and having the two writers on board as producers as well. This leads to them getting to do a “do-over” of sorts on the series itself. Little things, like inserting the novellas and short stories back into the main narrative, or re-working the admittedly janky first novel. For example, in this season they introduce Bobbie Draper into the series, a book early, just as they did Avasarala last year. Both characters didn’t appear until Caliban’s War where they shared a storyline of being “awesome cop, cranky cop”. It makes sense in context. Introducing Avasarala last year meant that the first story/book finally gained the political subplot it originally was missing and all the other books had. It also lead to more characterization and humanization, and the purportedly “greyness” of the character. Season 2 will attempt something similar with Bobbie Draper, the Martian Gunnery Sergeant from hell.

This is where we hit the adaptation problem of casting a 22 year old (ish? There was no official age but I extrapolated from previous roles) in the role that called for a 40 year old Brazillian Gwendoline Christie crossed with 1970s Clint Eastwood, but I understand the limitations of the medium. And to be fair, the actress does really well and as a book reader I recognize Bobbie Draper right there. Which is damn impressive. It’s the only place where the adaptation really suffers: the medium-related limitations. The Belters are supposed to be all really tall and lanky, the Martians are (mainly) supposed to have Texan accents and look Polynesian and Indian, a lot of scenes in zero g barely feel like it. Expenses and casting in Canada being what it is, they did an amazing job nonetheless.

As a writer, seeing the two novelists that make up James S.A. Corey have some creative control and an advisory position for their adaptation is just fascinating to watch as well. Unlike Game of Thrones, The Expanse immediately learned that you needed to make changes to the adaptation and decided to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this was Game of Thrones’ downfall for more than two seasons after the first three seasons were mostly as straight an adaptation as you can get. But instead of knowing beforehand that the books wouldn’t be finished in time, they decided to keep on adapting as straight as they could. It’s a credit to the showrunners, but ended up being a disadvantage after they had to make the awkward transition from literary adaptation to HBO tv show.

Overall, I’m happy the show is back, and I look forward to appreciating the series once again from the beginning from a new angle. Check it out once it hits Netflix or right now on Syfy or your digital store of your choice.

 

What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling

Rule No.1 of Writing Fiction: Have a Back-up for when you are writing crap.

You all know that feeling. That feeling when you watch a certain episode of a tv show and you are truly wondering why you are sticking with something. It happens in TV shows, comics, books, anything that is a long running series. There comes the moment when you are finally fed up with a certain program and look at your hands and ask: “Why am I doing this to myself?”

When it comes to the tv show arrow, that feeling has come to me multiple times over the past three years. All the moments when the show has jumped the shark, all the moments that were just too dumb to believe. Arrow isn’t the only one, of course, it happened to book series, comics I’ve been following, but I always come back to Arrow. And then I realized that this is something I can learn from the show if I ever decide to write a serialized story, and that is to have some live rings to spare whenever one of my plot lines goes south. I’ve watched a lot of tv shows over the past few years, most of which I have decided to quit, but the most enduring show, I have ever followed in its original airing that I still tune into watching, is and remains Arrow. The show knows when to break out of its mold and try something new. More often than not it doesn’t succeed anymore for a bunch of reasons, but the solid foundation it laid four, five years ago at this point, is still strong enough, with enough side plots and one-off ideas that it keeps me invested in at least finding out how that concludes. Continue reading “What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

NON SPOILER REVIEW

Ah, Rogue One. I’m all prepared. Read Rogue One Catalyst, the prequel book, rewatched A New Hope, stayed away from spoilers. Here we go:

Well, that was… something. I just saw the 6th best Star Wars film.

Rogue One, like its protagonist, is a movie seriously in need of a purpose. It’s a film that wants to be the first anthology film and tell a new story in the Star Wars universe, yet beats you over the head with cameos and characters from A New Hope we didn’t need to see, while completely ignoring its new characters and failing to give them any sort of meaningful depth. It’s almost amazing.

People complained at the “war movie stuff” was the problem, but I thought the war movie stuff wasn’t a problem at all, the real issue is that the movie wasted my time until about 80 minutes in when the actual plot started. It does some stuff to fill plot holes for A New Hope, but then it meanders around in so much unnecessary fluff. The only bits that got a rise out of me where the cameos, callbacks, and the last five minutes of the film, again: ironic for an anthology. But the part where I was bored until the third act is my main problem. It did establish mood in a way, but didn’t earn it. I was hoping for moments of oppression, a reason for these people to make sacrifices for freedom, but it was the same old, same old. Maybe it also didn’t help that I read the book, because they wasted both Krennic and Galen Erso, it’s almost incredible. They spend so much time on the set-up that the pay off comes too abrupt.

Maybe my assessment of it being the 6th best was a bit harsh. With all the problems I had with Force Awakens, and Revenge of the Sith, I was always engaged and the plot was moving forward. I don’t except much from a SW movie outside of being entertained. This wasn’t interesting to me.
And before someone said that it’s because I know too much: I saw it with Mr Casual fan number 1 aka my dad: he turned to me when the credits rolled and said, translated from German: “What was that supposed to be? I already knew all of this.”
There is pathos in the movie, but its all the third act. The trailer was good because it cut out the first 80 minutes or so.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s main problem is that it isn’t a Star Wars story, it’s THE Star Wars story, it’s A New Hope’s prequel, with all that would make this exciting excised to the end. As the servant of two masters it eventually succumbed under its own weight.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Re)review- Cracks Hiding Under Fanservice

It’s now been almost a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters. I saw it twice in its original run, once with my dad and once more with friends. At first, I loved it, and even the second time around I still enjoyed it. Over the course of the more than ten months now since the film released, I have not watched the film again. That is until today when I sprang for a DVD on sale. Now, two and a half hours later, my thoughts on the film are not easy to sum up.

And when I say that, it’s mostly just code for me not wanting to come out and say that pretty much all my problems stand and fall with J.J. Abrams, because they really don’t. Then again, my thoughts on the movie did change after I watch Star Trek Beyond, the best of the reboot movies and not accidentally the one where Abrams and his lackeys had the least influence on. Abrams has become a controversial figure in geekdom. The is the man who “ruined Star Trek”. He didn’t, Rick Berman got to that a decade or two before. Yet there is a theme that strings through both “Star”-franchises. Star Trek 09 and Into Darkness were slick, fast paced action rollercoasters,  incredibly exciting on the first or even second watching that you forget to notice the cracks in the support beams because of how fast you race past them. Force Awakens feels similar to that. On this third watch, knowing everything and having my nostalgia under control, these cracks were very apparent. Force Awakens’ pacing is horrible. The most interesting things of world building and mystery get rushed through or interrupted by the next set piece, gravitas disturbed by out of place humor. Character development is more implied than anything if existent at all. Most of the hoo-man emotions you feel come from callbacks, specifically the work of John Williams, who is the MVP of this movie franchise, lauded so much and yet its never enough.

Like I said, the first hour of the film is horribly paced, one set piece following the next on a long, drawn out chase that leaves you exhausted at the end, and where all the supposedly character building scenes get lost in. The most pointless of which being the interlude when the Japanese and Scottish mafias have a stand-off with Han Solo and tentacle hentai monsters. For the most part in that first hour or so the action beats did not grow organically from the story, they interrupted it. Things did, however, get better once they got to the Not Eislys Cantina. From then on the movie recovered, the pacing slowed down, the action scenes finally followed logically from the story and served the characters. The fanservice scenes still annoyed me, but then I don’t like fun, so hey.

Ironically, the moment the movie’s pacing improved, the story lost me in its beat for beat repetition of A New Hope. Up until then I could take it as a cute homage, since every good story should open with a droid in need. Casablanca starring BB-8 and Ingrid Bergman anyone? It made the universe feel smaller and even more like a rollercoaster, Star Wars: The Ride. Maybe it was because of Abrams’ previous track record, but it did feel incredibly lazy, like working off someone else’s work for a class project and trying to hide it with unnecessary flair and tricks. It annoyed me, yet I’m unsure on whether or not to hold it against the film just yet. I had a positive reaction to Star Trek 09 when it came out, I understood that this was the film to proof that the concept still was viable, same as this was proof that Star Wars wasn’t stuck following in the Prequels’ steps. With Trek it depended on what they did with Into Darkness, which was such a massive bellyflop, that it retroactively invalidated what good 09 did. It took Star Trek Beyond to redeem and build on 09’s foundation, and similarly it will depend on Episode 8 for us to judge on whether or not The Force Awakens’ back to basics approach will pay off. It’s an introduction movie, but that does not mean its an excuse to just get on stage and play some greatest hits with some replacements for the elderly band members. Speaking of which:

The new characters were, for the most part, a good addition. Like the old cast they were mostly two-dimensional vessels to move the plot forward or have action beats, with a protagonist taken straight out of George Lucas’s coffee stained copy of “The Hero’s Journey” or similar works, reliant on good actors to give them life. This happened for our trio of heroes, not so much for our villains. Hux and Phasma were boring cliche’s, good actors wasted on nothing to do, Kylo Ren was fun at first… until you realize that he’s basically Dark Helmet from Spaceballs crossed with a moody teenager. This might end up working in later movies, but so far he’s just an empty shell with an actor that tries to give him the illusion of depth. Poe Dameron was a great character with a fun bromance with Finn, but in scenes where he didn’t have Oscar Isaac to help him, Finn was led down by being the comic relief, coward, and serious dude all rolled into one. The character was just given way too much to do in a short period of time without breather moments in between to not give you mood whiplash. Which brings us to…

Force Awakens’ main character Rey… it seems like the 2010s are a time in which no female main or side character in a genre movie hasn’t been part of some controversy. From gatekeepers to marketing, audiences to Hollywood insiders, something always comes up. Which is a shame because Daisy Ridley deserves all the praise she got, she was the best thing in this movie for me… yet Rey wasn’t. Rey is a cypher, a mystery box in human form, more riddle than (wo)man…. I am so sorry for that pun. Point is that there isn’t much to the character outside of her abandonment baggage. She’s a brilliant engineer, pilot, talented in the force without any training, third wave feminist icon that eats thunder for breakfast, but one without much humanity to her because everything comes effortlessly to her. She’s just gifted, good in the force. It’s like Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, but hypercharged and without his flaws. She is a good person. That’s all there is to the character on the page. And then there’s Daisy Ridley, who is single-handedly responsible for all the positive reaction to the character. More than any of the other good characters she was given nothing to work with and yet her natural charm and charisma and that goofy big grin of hers endeared her to everyone. The flat characterization and being embraced by the old characters for seemingly little to no reason though, should make it understandable why people call her a Mary Sue. I think the character avoided that, if only barely by the wonderful work of the right actress.

Overall, I’m still torn about this movie and like I said before, it will still take years for the movie to be evaluated and re-evaluated for what it is, rather than what it meant to us when it came out. Its title might have been The Force Awakens, but “A New Hope” might be more appropriate to Star Wars fans, old and new, hardcore and casual, everywhere. Maybe this is J.J. Abrams’ true curse: hire him to your franchise after all hope is lost and marvel at him doing an… okay job. J.J. Abrams is a “5 out of 10” made flesh. But that’s all that’s needed sometimes. Sometimes “not horribly crashing and burning in a fiery explosion” is enough for it to feel like a masterpiece. The Force Awakens is not a masterpiece. What is is though, is a good movie, a very good movie, but one where nostalgia and performance elevate less than stellar material. It’s a solid foundation so far, it’s up to the rest of the trilogy though to tell us whether or not that foundation is made out of solid stone or poo.

 

 

Suicide Squad Review

I have a blog and just saw a movie. You know what that means! Review time!

Just came back from watching Suicide Squad. Fun story: the release was pushed forward two weeks on last notice. Good for me, probably a bad sign for WB. Or not so good, because I didn’t much care for the film. Didn’t think it was particularly atrocious, but it was easily the worst superhero movie this year.

Watching the first act gave me Fantastic Four (2015) flashbacks because I knew of the rivaling cuts, etc, and it certainly felt completely butchered, the standout being Amanda Waller explaining why the team should be founded… followed by a scene were she explains why the team should be founded. It also had severe tonal issues in what was shown on screen and what happened presentation wise, like the goofy overlays, pop music and sound effects over prisoner abuse. The movie gets way better, however, when the second act finally comes around and the team deploys and it finally starts playing to its strengths, namely the characters. Minus the Joker, because that stuff was mostly boring because of how detached from the plot it was. The portrayal itself didn’t bother me because I have actually read a comic or two or watched a movie/cartoon in my life with different portrayals of the Joker. Stand out, like Jessica said in our podcast discussion is clearly Margot Robbie as Harley though, she absolutely knocked it out of the park. Will Smith was good as well, nice and charismatic like he hasn’t been in years. Rest of the cast was hit and miss, Captain Boomerang yeah, Rick Flag not so much. El Diablo was good too, everyone else kinda sucked. Oh and that fucking pink unicorn was gold!

For those interested, here’s our podcast discussion on the subject:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7sKrm96ewk

I think the bar scene is a sign of what Ayter wanted to do at the beginning and everything else feels very much designed by committee, mainly because it was. I really don’t want the DC Extended Universe to stand for DVD Cut Extended Universe. Let filmmakers make films or tell them from the beginning that you’re making a “designed by committee” film.

Overall I wouldn’t really recommend it. Bored me about as much as Civil War but Civil War at least still had consistency and a boring but practical routine going on that this lacks. It was, however, not as terrible as people have made it out to be. Doesn’t make it good though either. I would, however, really like to see a proper sequel that hasn’t been butchered. Or David Ayter’s Director’s Cut, which ever comes first.