The Great Wall

When I first heard of The Great Wall, I was unimpressed. I heard the cries of whitewashing and quickly climbed on the bandwagon. The first trailers did nothing to dissuade me from this this viewpoint.

I then saw a trailer that introduced the idea of monsters.  I will freely admit that my mind immediately jumped to Chinese dragons. In my head I was all, “Fuck Yeah!” The idea of the Great Wall being built to defend China from monsters was intriguing. I asked my friends Rob & Terry if they would like to go see The Great Wall with me and they said yes.

The Great Wall is, at it’s heart, a gamer movie. The plot is a straightforward adventure scenario. Our intrepid adventurer, William, is on a mission to find black powder and bring it back to europe to become rich. He and his comrade Tovar are the only survivors of their caravan to reach the Great Wall. Their lives are spared when it is discovered that they have defeated one of the monster that has been assaulting the wall on their own. What follows is William’s process of discovering what it takes to defend the wall from the monsters and what it takes for him to trust someone one. The visuals are well done, and the acting is good, if a bit predictable.

Spoiler Warnings On!

I loved the costume design. The army that stood watch on the Great Wall was divided into different functions. Each function had a different style of armor. Their armor was very stylized animals with a particular color. The most flamboyant were the blue crane units which were composed entirely of women. Their job was to leap from platforms on the wall into the monsters that were climbing up in order to slay them before they reached the top. The colorful armor made what could have been a dark and brooding movie something much more vibrant and visually exciting.

I also appreciated that they took the time to create an army unit that was entirely composed of women. The unit’s leader also happened to be the general’s favorite commander. The twist comes when the general is grievously injured. Instead of going with what would be standard, he gives command of the army to Commander Lin Mae, the leader of the all female unit. in addition, there are no points in the movie where her decisions are questioned by her commanders. Her orders are treated just like any other general and this was refreshing to see and unexpected.

The visuals on the movie were also gorgeous. The monsters in the movie are sadly not chinese dragons. The monsters were Tao Tie, a mix of fu dog and demon. The look was something that was definitely chinese in origin. The CGI was well done with there only being a few instances where I could call out the effects for being obvious. There is also a scene at the climax of the film that is beautiful. William and Mae are fighting up the inside of a pagoda. The sun is shining through the windows creating a myriad of rainbows through which the two fight and move to save the day. It was wonderful!

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Matt Damon was not the whitewashing that I was lead to believe he would be. william’s character provides the initiating action which brings the audience into the film. He and his companion bring a base reason for seeking out this foreign culture. They originally are seeking to exploit it for it’s riches without any knowledge of the true richness present. As William moves through the events that unfold around the wall he comes to appreciate this new culture as well as rethink his own perspective. It strays far from the idea of whitewashing and outside of William and Tovar, the main characters are chinese. In addition, William is not the sole savior in the movie. Lin Mae and Tovar both take turns rescuing our erstwhile protagonist and the climax of the movie require both Lin Mae and William to work in concert.

The Great Wall is a wonderful gamer movie and an excellent B Movie with grade A effects. It does everything I would want out of a gamer movie without sacrificing a solid design aesthetic. The plot is straightforward and the acting is acceptable. Well worth seeing at a matinee, especially if you are a gamer.

Three out of Four bear paws!

North American Bear Weekend 2017

For over two years I have had the goal of going to a Bear Run.

I am a shy person and going to an event alone is not something that I am confident in doing. I have let the time pass so that any run that I looked into the host hotel was sold out. I was able to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone.

This year was different. I had several friends that were planning on attending a bear run that was right in my backyard. North American Bear Weekend is held in Lexington, Kentucky. Just about an hour down the highway from me. So, before I could let the specter of procrastination allow me to miss another Bear Run, I went online and purchased my North American Bear Weekend Pass, added the Bourbon/Beer Tour and booked my room at the host hotel.

I was very lucky that friends decided to take me under their wing for the weekend to make sure that I had a good time and help out if the event became overwhelming.

NAB was a great run. I may not be experienced with a Bear Run but I have attended many gaming conventions of varying size and I think they are a fair comparison for a Bear Run. Unlike many smaller conventions I have attended, things ran smoothly throughout the run. This was impressive knowing that this was a new venue for the event. The registration experience was quick and painless. It took only a few minutes to get through the line and have my wrist band.

There were events scheduled each day to provide the attendee with something to do. These ran the gamut from pool parties with karaoke to dance parties with different themes. There was a gaming room that supported the local Gay Straight Alliance and a vendor hall as well.

There was so much going on that I did not get to all the things that I wanted too. There are several things that made the run a great time a

Ursatron T Shirt

nd I wanted to call them out here.

First, was the vendor hall. I mentioned that I go to gaming conventions so a trip to the vendor hall is always in order. I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. It consisted of over a dozen vendors. The preponderance of them selling cool bear t-shirts. There was also a leather vendor, kilts, underwear, wood art, decorative glass, jewelry, a bootblack, and men’s grooming. Needless to say, I spent a lot of money. My favorite shirt that I picked up at NAB came from Growl Wear. The had a shirt that is entitled Ursatron. It has a giant robot similar to Voltron done with bears! I saw this and I was all “Take my money, Please!” Scott and Kent who own Growl Wear were very kind and helpful and even when I could not make up my mind what I wanted to buy. I ended up picking up four shirts from them. I picked up shirts from KillerBob Graphics, and Bear TShirts.

There was also a leather booth in the Vendor Hall, WolfStryker Leather. I was drawn into the booth by the harnesses that had the Flash symbol as well as several other nerdy pieces of leather. I went in and looked at them a

Ursatron detail

s they were well done. They had several Harry Potter pieces as well. I finally decided to take the leap and tried on a harness. It was a pretty fun process.The people at WolfStryker made me feel very comfortable and my friend Terry helped me make a good choice. It was fitted and fixed in under a half an hour and I had a wonderful new harness that made me feel handsome!

Finally there was a booth that had burned wood and copper art work pieces. There were many pieces with a bear motif as well other nerdy pieces. I fell in love with one piece in particular. It was a tribal owl holding a key. Just beautiful. The name of the booth was Pyrography & Copper Work Lb. Turns out that I was given the Owl later in the weekend as a gift. It was a bit overwhelming. The artist was there but I forgot to tell him thank you for creating such a beautiful piece.

The piece I received

The run itself was a bit overwhelming. There are lots of people there, but unlike a gaming convention, I had a limited frame of reference for which to interact. Everyone was cordial and polite but my inherent shyness definitely made me feel out of place.I was lucky to be at the Run with friends who made it much more comfortable for me.

There were two things that I did get to do that were fun and I wanted to talk about. There was the pool parties. The hotel pool was taken over by the bears and Karaoke was happening. It was a very relaxed sort of event. There were bears of all types in the pool so it was easy to not be self conscious in the pool or hot tub. There wasn’t the judgmentalness that one would expect from a gathering of gay men. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. It was something that was new to me and was very exhilarating!

Another of the events that I enjoyed was a dance party. The one that I chose to attend was the Jocks & Socks Dance. I saw it in the program and decided to do it despite it being well outside of my comfort zone. Dancing! In a jockstrap! With People Around! Before the dance, I went to my room and got ready. I just sat there for a while and contemplated not going. My friend, Bill, texted me to see what I was doing. I explained and he just replied that he was at the bar with some of our friends. So, I plucked up my courage and went down to the bar. My friends and I were able to convince Bill to join us at the dance. It was amazing! Once again, Bears of all types with no judgement, just dancing. It was so good! The music was amazing as well. DJ Shane Phoenix Harris provided an excellent soundtrack for the night.

Overall, I had a good time at North American Bear Weekend 2017. It was run filled with guys that crossed the spectrum. It felt like an environment that was welcoming to those of all types without being judgemental. The people who put the run together were calm, cordial, and organized and seemed to care very much about everyone’s experience at the Run. I definitely want to go back and purchased my tickets to the next run on the last day of the Run.

Four out of Four bear paws. If you have not been to a Bear Run before, I have to say that giving NAB weekend a try as you will not go wrong.

I bearly recommend it!

Scythe

Last year at GenCon, One of the hot board games that you could see being played at almost every hotel was Scythe. I noticed it being played a lot and stopped at one game when I noticed that one of the miniatures on the board had a big bear on it. There were mechs that had a very steampunk vibe with a blend of eastern-block Russian styling. I was intrigued but had already spent way too much to be able to plunk down the amount that the game cost.

I have now had the chance to play the game a couple of times and am regretting not picking up the game back at GenCon. It is fun and engrossing with many permutations that the game can take.

The premise of the game is that you are one of five factions that is vying for power in an alternate 1920’s Eastern Europa. A long war has just ended with the closing of The Factory which had created the war machines that had devastated the countryside. You now strive to seize territory and win the hearts of your people and reign supreme by gathering the most treasure.

I love the premise. The game pieces go to great lengths to be evocative of the feeling that this background presents. There are player mats that provide pictures of each faction’s leader. They are presented in a setting depicting both the leader, the mechs of that faction, and the terrain in that home territory. The encounter cards have artwork that provides a story and then the choices that you make are drawn from this story allowing you to choose an option that either wins you the hearts and minds of your people or a path to power at all costs.

The production values on the game are fantastic! Yes, it has wooden meeples. They are the workers that you come to expect from this type of game. The wooden pieces also are buildings, recruits, and markers

The heroes of Scythe.

that are moved about based on the choices you make as a player.The pieces shine in the mechs and the heroes. Each faction has it’s own type of mech that are rendered in plastic and definitely worth painting. The faction’s mechs are designed to be distinct and match up with the illustrations on the cards and game boards. The heroes are also made of plastic and are each unique. Each leader matches the picture on the faction board and has the signature animal with them. I am particularly enamored with the Polania faction as it is the one that has the big bear but each faction leader piece is well done.

The board itself is also gorgeous. It is a map of Eastern Europa divided into hexes. Having done some mapping in prior work, I appreciate well-done cartography. The artwork on the map is also top notch like every other piece of art that is found throughout the game.

The rules of the game are fairly simple to understand but allow for multiple paths to victory. It is very much an engine building game. You begin slowly working your way to building up supplies and taking territories while setting a plan in motion to get to the end game. Much like chess, Scythe requires you to think several moves ahead of the game as well as ahead of the other players. It also allows for flexibility so that if you make a mistake it is not crippling.

I also like that it allows for play for one to five players right out of the box. It is nice to see a game with this type of production values ensure that you can play it with so few people.

My only complaint is more an observation. Scythe has a lot of fiddly bits that have to be put in place to play the game. There are lots of bits that are in motion throughout the game and then have to be cleaned up once completed. I like a tactile game that requires a lot of fiddly bits but the setup and teardown of the game can be a bit off-putting.

Scythe is an excellent game. The background of the game is interesting, the artwork evocative, and game playing engrossing. The way that factions and playmats are distributed make it so that scythe has a large amount of replayability. It does come with a hefty price tag but the amount of detail put into this game makes the price tag acceptable. I, myself, am waiting for the game to come back in stock at my local game store.

Four bear paws out of four for Scythe! If you are a board game fan, this is a game that you definitely need to add to your library.

I bearly recommend it!

Green Lanterns No 15: A Day in the Life

I love Green Lantern.

The idea of the emotional spectrum that has a ring attached to each emotion resonates deeply with me. Way back in 2012-2013 I wrote about some personal change through the lens of the emotional spectrum.

That is how much I love Green Lantern and the other lantern corps that originate with the pages of his comic.

DC Comics has undergone another reboot entitle DC Rebirth. The titles of the DC Universe take up after the events of the Darkseid War and begin to patch together the storylines that have been present in the New 52 and things that had gone on before Flashpoint. In Green Lanterns we get too follow Simon and Jessica, the two new guardians of the earth and it’s space quadrant.

A Day in the life is a great jumping on point for this these two characters as well as a wonderful story in and of itself.

First off, I love stories about heroes that are a slice of life for them. These take the time to show us these characters both in their ordinary guises and highlight their own personal struggles that continue despite the harrowing adventures they undertake.

A Day in the life is no different. The issue opens up with panels of Jessica waking up in the morning. The text on the page is Jessica telling the audience what, on most days, is the greatest battle she faces. Jessica suffers from Anxiety. Each day she faces the thought that she can not handle the day and why get out of bed anyway. We follow jessica throughout the day as she meets with her partner Simon, whom works with her to fulfill her potential as a Green Lantern as well as learn more about himself in the process. We get to watch as she struggles with the responsibilities of wearing the ring while struggling to fight off an anxiety attack throughout the day.

There is a poignant moment where Jessica is not able to push off an attack any longer. In the middle of a battle with a lame villain, she freezes and Simon keeps her safe and cleans up the villain. He allows his ignorance to show by stating that he thought Jessica was getting better. She calls him on this ignorance and points out that it never gets better. It is something that she will struggle with indefinitely and flies off.

Jessica realizes that she lost control and stormed off. So, she takes the time to do the things that will make the next battle a little bit easier. We watch as she works through these steps and shows us how they are her armor for the coming battle.

In the end, She faces another morning and another battle and is able to get out of bed and face the day as a Green Lantern. We even get to see Simon show up to apologize for his lack of understanding of how things worked and continue to provide her support as she continues her fight.

This issue provides so much that I want out of a comic that it makes my heart ache. We get to see my favorite thing in the DC Universe taking a stand to give us a diverse title in almost every way. We get to see two people take up the ring that are not often presented in the Corps. On top of this we get to see one of these heroes struggle with a mental illness and have it treated with a modicum of grace that is unusual in comics. All of this excellent story telling is graced by beautiful artworks that just draws one deeper into the story.

Humphries and Mendonca have done good work on issue 15.

If you have not given Green Lanterns a try. This is a great issue to jump in. It gives a great picture of these two heroes while also highlighting the issues surrounding those that struggle with mental illness. A definite four bear paws out of four on issue 15 of Green Lanterns.

I bearly recommend it!

I know that is cheesy but I don’t care!

The Grim Company

I stumbled upon Luke Scull’s The Grim Company completely by accident. A friend I had met at GenCon two year’s back was talking about books he enjoyed on Facebook. One of the books he mentioned was The Grim Company. his description of the book made it sound interesting. I respected his taste in media so I thought I would give it a shot.

I was not disappointed.

The Grim Company falls into the category of Grimdark fantasy. The heroes of this genre are no shining stars that are held up as role models to the populace. Victories are few and far between and come at great cost. My initial experience with the genre was with Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire and I was looking forward to trying more in this vein.

From my previous posts, you should know I am a sucker for any story that involves the gods. The Grim Company takes place in a world where the gods were destroyed by mage-lords. They killed the gods and in so doing, broke the world. The remaining mage lords squabble to control the remaining magic in a world that is slowly dying.

I was all in from that point on.

The Grim Company follows several threads.

There is Davarus cole, a young man with ideas about what it means to be a hero. His head is filled with romantic ideas of becoming a hero to his city yet lacks the steel necessary to do what is truly necessary. Brodar Kayne is an aging barbarian from the north. He is fleeing a past that haunts him still and struggling with a sense of honor that could easily get him killed. Eremul is a mage that has been maimed. He is the only mage remaining in a city that killed all mages that were not sworn to the mage lord. The price for this survival was his legs and his dignity. Barandas is the high augmentor and lead servitor of Salazar, the mage lord. He believes himself to be a good and just man but that to be good, one must be strong and do what other men will not. Last but not least is Ylandris, sorceress of the High Fangs. She lives in the land that Brodar has fled and seeks a path to power for herself so that she will no longer be powerless.

 

As I worked through the Grim Company, I had a niggling doubt that this many characters would become unwieldy or cumbersome. Scull proved my doubts unnecessary as he weaves the various stories of these  characters together deftly. Each change of point of view builds upon the last so that the layers of grit, grime, and heartache prepare you for whatever comes next. Scull also masterfully maintains the tension throughout The Grim Company. As we follow each character, their story and personality become clearer. There history grows heavier and heavier with each revelation. Each step forward in their adventure is fought for with blood, sweat, and agony. Scull takes the time to give both the characters and the reader time to come up for air and see the light that is still present in the world. It may not be bright, shining like the sun but it is still light.

These characters that Scull has created are magnificent. Each one is fleshed out as we push forward on this marathon to the crescendo. Davarus is a good example of this craftsmanship. He is the quintessential fantasy hero in that he wants to save the world so that he will bathed in admiration. Scull highlights the shallowness of this idea and the narcissism of Davarus as he pursues this dream. The journey of Davarus as he learns more about himself, being a hero, and the nature of the world is both hard to watch and inspiring at the same time. Scull doesn’t sugarcoat the process of redemption and recovery and shows both the pain and the pleasure inherent in the process.

One of the things that really stands out for me in this book is Eremul. In fantasy of any stripe, a differently-abled character is rare. When they are presented, magic is presented as a way around their difficulties minimizing these problems. Scull doesn’t do this. He shows us the daily difficulties and indignities that Eremul faces. he also shows us both the strengths that are present in the man while not shying away from the flaws. Scull shows us a person, not a caricature or token to be pitied. He is my second favorite character of the book.

I loved the Grim company and getting ready for the last book in the trilogy. If you love grimdark fantasy or are new to the genre, I recommend picking up The Grim Company. The world will capture your attention and the characters will force you to want to know more about them

Four bear paws out of four! I bearly recommend this book!

Three Parts Dead

I’ve had several people I know mention Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Their recommendations have been that it is something that I would enjoy. It took some time before I added it to my Audible playlist and began listening whilst working out.

This book is so good!

I will endeavor to keep this review spoiler-free so that you can enjoy the twists and turns of this excellent story.

The premise of the book is that a god has died. The church has called upon the firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to resurrect their fallen deity and discover the cause of his death. Tara Abernathy is a young craftswoman who has just been recruited into the firm by her boss, Elayne Kevarian. These two must hit the ground running as the city of Alt Coulumb will cometo a disastrous end if they do not succeed.

This description had me hooked. I am a sucker for a story that involves gods. Three Parts Dead not only involved the death of a god, but his resurrection. I was all in.

Gladstone has created a world that is rich in detail and layered in history. Instead of large patches involving Basil Exposition, He doles out the information through the development of the characters of the story. As we learn more and more about each of the players upon the game field, we learn more about the world that they inhabit. This gives the world of they inhabit a greater level of intimacy. It is one thing to know how the college of craft works and another to learn about these things as they relate to Tara’s struggles with the ever mounting problems of a deicide and keeping her job. I love this as it allows gladstone to show the reader the small ways that this world both reflects our own as well as wildly diverges.

I love the world that he has created. It blends tropes from urban fantasy, steampunk, and epic fantasy into a world that is both understandable and alien at the same time. There are skyscrapers built from steel and glass that tower next to buildings of commensurate size crafter by magic. The streets are packed with carts and carriages but there are trains that zip along elevated tracks and driverless horse and buggies where the horse knows where you want to go. This same city that seems so cosmopolitan still has town criers that spread the news by moving street to street singing about the news from far off places. The news is neither timely or relevant to all involved but the city lacks the capabilities of cities not ran by a church and powered by a god.

One of the things that stands out to me is that Gladstone has created a fantasy story that has strong, well-crafted, female protagonists. Tara, the newest addition to the firm takes responsibility for her own actions and works hard to achieve her goals. All the while we get to watch as she struggles with the choices that have to be made in her chosen profession and watch as she makes the changes that she sees as necessary based on the path that she wishes to be on. Cat provides us with the other side of the coin. She struggles to find her path and meaning in this world. She leans on various things as a way to fill that emptiness in her soul. Her path is treated as just as real and noteworthy as that of Tara and Elayne.

I enjoy how Three Parts Dead takes the time to deal with deeper questions as well. The story follows the investigation of the death of a god. His city is dependent on his existence and without action the city will descend into chaos. As Tara, Elayne, and Cat follow the threads of the story, the questions of the usefulness of gods in the modern world is constantly toyed with. As we follow these characters we watches as they deal with this question as well as that of finding meaning in one’s life, self-determinations, consent, bigotry, and other weighty topics. They are handled in such a manner as to not be preachy and to arise organically from the world in which these characters strive.

I want to go on and on about the magic of this world, how the gods interact with their followers, how Tara and Elayne work together. The problem is that discovering all these things are what makes this such a great book.

So, I will reign in my need to gush and leave you with this. Max Gladstone has created wonderful characters in a fascinating world. The story sucks you in and takes you down a path that leaves you wanting more. You should pick up Three Parts Dead and take the journey with Elayne, Tara, and Cat and discover what happened to the god of Alt Coulumb.

Four bear paws out of four! I bearly recommend this book!

Stiletto

I enjoy urban fantasy that mixes spy tropes with supernatural powers and mysterious phenomena. I will give these types of books a chance whenever possible. Daniel O’Malley provides this in Stiletto.

Stiletto picks up the story of Myfanwy Thomas from the first book in the series, The Rook. Myfanwy has successfully survived the attempt to take over the Checquy, Britain’s covert supernatural ministry. She now must negotiate the merger of the Checquy with their most hated enemy, the Grafters.

Stiletto follows three characters through the story to provide a fresh perspective on this unique world created by O’Malley.

There is Felicity whom is a pawn in a combat operations team. Her power is the ability to extended her awareness into the past or through an object. She has been trained to use her psychometry on behalf of her country as well as to be able to handle herself in a fight. She, like all pawns of the Checquy has been raised to fear and hate the Grafters and wonders when the ball will drop and she will be called on with others to attack their one-time invaders.

Odette is a young Grafter who is a protege of the founder of the group. She is a skilled surgeon, geneticist, and all around scientist. Odette has been enhanced through the science of the Grafters to be an even better surgeon as well as stronger and better able to defend herself via retractable claws that drip poison. Odette has learned to keep herself hidden and adopted a paranoid approach to life as all Grafters are taught that the Checquy will kill them if they are discovered.

This leaves us with Myfanwy. She is a Rook of the Checquy whose power is the ability to control the bodies of anyone within 200 feet of her. Her job entails overseeing the activities of the ministry here at home. This means she is still picking up the pieces of the failed coup and organizing the merger of these two groups that hate each other.

Stiletto has everything I love about urban fantasy. There are strange powers that range from just being able to change how a person smells to being able to throw green flames at an enemy. The Grafters provide the addition of super-science as they have turned the art of alchemy into the science of genetic manipulation and control of the various life forms. They adjust themselve and animals to do things beyond the natural. I particularly like how O’Malley blends in the covert aspects of spy fiction into this world as both the Checquy and the Grafters struggle to keep themselves from the public eye. I especially love how the arm of the Checquy that deals with disinformation is called the liars.

Stiletto has plenty of action and suspense but truly shines in it’s worldbuilding and relationships. O’Malley has created these two organizations and given us a glimpse of why they hate each other so much. Here, he allows these characters to tell us the stories that has kept fear and hatred alive for centuries. We get to know Felicity and Odette as they struggle to go through the day with each other despite having been taught that the other person is the enemy and should be destroyed. As they struggle to get through the days of the negotiations and unravel the mysteries surrounding the threats presented to this union, we get to know two strong and likeable women. O’Malley gives them such life and personality that it is difficult to not like either of them. They are imperfect creatures that struggle with the fear and hatred and provide an excellent reflection of how this happens in reality and the path out of this loop.

O’Malley takes the time in Stiletto to delve more into the world that surrounds these characters. He does so in a fashion that feels less like exposition but adds to the tension that is building in the story. In particular, I like how we get to know more about the critical battle that sets these two organizations at odds. It, like most battles, starts with one man’s desire for more power and control. The Grafters, eager to show off their prowess, comply with the a request for weapons that could improve the standing of their country. The resulting invasion results in atrocities that leave wounds that are never allowed to heal and passed down the generations on both sides. As the story progresses we get to see the consequences of those past actions played out in the present.

I love this book!

It has solid characters that are easy to love. The villains are not cardboard cutouts but fully fleshed individuals with understandable motivations. He populates his world with diverse characters that are flawed yet trying to do better. It is also the second book in the series and I did not feel like I needed to have read the first book to enjoy this one. I would still pick up the first book, The Rook, and read it as it is wonderful as well and will increase you enjoyment of Stiletto.

So, I give Stiletto four bear paw out of four! Definitely worth your time and money. I can not wait for the next installment in the series.

I bearly recommend it!

 

Love is Love

IDW and DC Comics collaborated with many comic creators to produce a graphic novel whose proceeds would go to benefit the victims, survivors, and the families of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando earlier this year.

I tweeted about my strong emotions around this book and Aron from Funnybooks with Aron and Paulie & Ideology of Madness reached out and asked me to do a review for them. Aron along with the folks over at Zero Fortitude gave me my start at writing on the internet and I will be forever grateful to them for giving me the chance to write for them

I said yes, of course.

The episode is out now and you can find it here. Go give it a listen and let me know what you think. Show them some love while there and peruse their backlist of podcast episodes. You will not be disappointed.

Passengers

Spoiler Warnings On!

 

The trailer for Passengers sucked me.

The idea of a generation ship suffering some mishap in space and two people being left to face the darkness and the catastrophe alone is an intriguing idea to me. I have read many stories with this premise. I wanted to see Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence walk around in this type of story.

Passengers provides this story as a backdrop but not the central idea. Pratt and Lawrence are passengers on a generation ship that has suffered catastrophe. The question that is asked is not how do you repair a ship with limited tools but what would you do when you are faced with dying alone out in the darkness.

So, going into Passengers, you are expecting sci-fi action and adventure and are given romance with a touch of soul searching. I am not averse to romance but was not expecting it here.

Pratt and Lawrence, as usual, give excellent performances. Pratt plays Jim Preston. Preston is a mechanic and an engineer who has left earth to find something that he can fix and build. Lawrence plays Aurora Lane, a write seeking to leave the shadow of a famous father and tell her own story. There is no way for these two to not have chemistry on the screen. They move with ease through the simple story they are given and allow the few times that the scripts tries to transcend to shine through.

The cinematography and effects are solid as well. The way that shots are handled both capture the futuristic feeling of the setting while also highlighting the isolation and alienation that such a trip would entail. There are points in the story where Preston is truding through a year alone on the ship and the shots and how they are woven together illustrates the descending madness of facing one’s demise alone and and unmarked can do to someone.

The movie is problematic for me when it comes to this choice moment. Preston is contemplating suicide rather than die alone. He makes a choice and begins researching other passengers. He chooses Aurora and then takes the time to choose whether to consign her to the same fate or live alone.

He makes the choice to have her join him. Thus begins the romance. Pratt is an excellent awkward lothario and the wooing is worth watching on the screen. The problem for me is that this is a horrible choice and Lane’s death is sealed without her consent. the secret comes out and the consequences are there but are impermanent. The ship must be repaired with death on the line. In that moment where Lane could lose Preston, she chooses to want him with all her heart. Lane chooses her murderer/lover and chooses to not die estranged from another human.

Passengers chooses to make normal this horrible decision. It follows the standard romance trope of love conquering all and the woman choosing to take the man back to not feel unfulfilled. It makes my skin crawl.

The writer, Jon Spaihts, could have done better. At minimum, the roles could have been gender flipped. Lane could have been the mechanic that was accidentally awoken by the accident that befell the ship. This would not make the choice any less icky but would have definitely flipped the power dynamic and making for a more interesting exploration of this moral dilemma. The moral dilemma could have been explored more as well. We get a montage of Preston working up to making the decision but the weight of the decision never settles. I wanted to see the weight of that secret come to bear as it was a beat that was left unheard.

We also get a brief flash of another person on the ship as Gus Mancuso, played by Laurence Fishburne, is awoken. He is underutilized as he serves as a tool to give the two a way to survive the ship’s problems as well to highlight what it means to die on this ship with others around you. He even has a line for Lane when she brings up that Preston consigned her to death to make it easier to forgive him. “The drowning man doesn’t mean to drowned you, he just doesn’t want to drowned.”

I was entertained by Passengers despite the problems. I wish it had made some effort to be something other than a standard romance. Exploring the central question and avoiding the common tropes of the genre would have made this a much better movie.

Two bear paws out of four. Worth watching when it comes to Netflix.

 

Rogue One

Spoiler warnings on.

 

I loved Rogue One.

It hits the same beats for me that made Empire Strikes Back my favorite Star Wars movie.

First off, the movie is gorgeous. It blends practical effects with CGI in a way that draws you into the movie. The opening scenes are just one example. We jump to the planet that is the home of Erso’s. The CGI of the planet from space is breathtaking as one would expect. When the camera brings us the the planet’s surface, the choice of location provides us with setting that is both familiar and alien all at once. The added effects of the farm that Galen Erso has constructed are sparse but build up this idea of an alien sanctuary far from the battles raging across the stars. The Imperial shuttle cuts the sky like an implacable shark intent on it’s prey.

This type of scene is repeated throughout the movie as we follow our erstwhile heroes. The vistas presented are varied and each adds another layer to the scope of tapestry that is the war for the soul of the galaxy. I liked that we are given so many different places. It gives the story both the room to move around as well as lending an grand scale to a story of just a few people.

I love the characters that we are given in Rogue One as well.

Four stood out for me in particular. First was Cassian Andor. In Cassian, we are given an agent of the rebellion that has done many dark things in the name of what he believes in. These things aren’t just stories that he tells us, as we get to see him sacrifice a contact in cold blood to ensure his escape to pursue a lead on Galen Erso. The audience gets to watch as he struggles with executing orders that would have him kill again in order to try and protect the rebellion from the weapon that has been created.

Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus are a pair that are found by the heroes on Jedha. These two are the last defenders of a temple that has long since fallen. They are like paladins adrift with nothing to defend and no cause to champion. They are adherents of the force yet not jedi themselves. One still firmly believes in the force while the other trusts in his weapons and his friend. Despite not being a jedi, Chirrut’s expertise with the staff despite his blindness provides us with a character that is force sensitive without needing a jedi. His mantra, “I am one with with force and the force is with me.” is an immediate classic for me. The relationship between the two is also an interesting aside. They present a close relationship between two men without it feeling forced, stereotypical, or sexual. They are just two men whom are best friends and normalizes this type of relationship without any of the macho overtones one would expect.

Finally, there is K-2SO. He is a reprogrammed imperial droid voice by Alan Tudyk. He provides a dose of comedy in what could easily be a dark and brooding movie. Unlike C-3PO, his statements are plucked from the minds of the audience and given voice on the screen. In once scene, Jyn has “acquired” a blaster. K-2SO’s response to this is succinct. “Why is she allowed to have a blaster?” When the decision is made to allow her to keep the blaster, K2 quips, “Would you like to know the odds of her using the blaster on you? They’re high…very high.” Hilarious! and yet, despite being a droid, K-2SO sucks you in with that cutting personality and a soul housed in the machine.

The wonderful and horrible thing about these characters is that they suck you in and make you care about them. You connect with them despite knowing how this ends. And even knowing where this movie goes, Each death is a punch in the gut that leaves you misty-eyed and sad to watch their passing. When K-2SO locked Cassian and Jyn inside the vault so they could continue searching for the plans as his systems failed under the assault, I had tears in my eyes.

I also enjoyed the two appearances of Lord Vader in Rogue One. Both are short but highlight the malevolence and power that is Darth Vader. First we meet Vader in his fortress. The Administrator of the the death star has come in search of his lost power. He provides a report on the capabilities of the weapon and asks to be given control of the station as Vader leaves. The audience gets to watch as the iconic force choke begins and vader states that administrator should, “Be careful not to choke on his aspirations.” The next we see of vader is at the end of the movie cutting his way through rebel soldiers to get to the plans on the flagship of the rebel fleet. He is too late and we get to see him watch as leia’s ship streaks off into the darkness.

Badass!

I am not blind though. I know the movie has problems. The plot is straightforward and ending is telegraphed. There are bits that were wonderful in the trailer but are never seen on the screen, such as the iconic, “This is a Rebellion, I rebel.” The CGI Tarkin quickly descends into the uncanny valley, especially given how much screen time this character gets in Rogue One. This character is only outdone by the CGI princess leia that just looked weird and felt even more wrong.

Despite these things, Rogue One takes it’s place as my second favorite Star Wars movie. It echoes the things I loved in Empire Strikes back and gives me characters that I come to love and mourn their passing each time I see it on the screen. Definitely four bear paws out of four!

I bearly recommend it!