Archive for the ‘Philosophical Writer's Guide’ Category

Thoughts on “Alien Contamination”

April 22, 2021

So despite having the name “Alien Contamination”, this movie from the “The Deadly Beyond” compilation is really more of a horror movie than a sci-fi movie.  It’s also one of the movies that made me realize just how common a theme deadly viral infections are in sci-fi/horror movies (which I note more now for obvious reasons).  Here, it isn’t a virus that’s doing the killing, but instead pods brought back from Mars during a Mars mission that are deliberately being seeded around the world and that kill or convert those who encounter them (mostly kill).

What is interesting about this take on the contamination plot is that normally the contamination starts and is a threat because people act stupidly or carelessly towards them and that’s what causes it to spread.  Here, they tend to act fairly intelligently towards them and take lots of precautions, and so the real threat is that one of the astronauts from the mission is deliberately trying to spread them and so he needs to be stopped.  Opposing him is a agent assigned to stop the infection, an expert she brought in to help, and the other astronaut on that mission.  They try to set this up as a kind of love triangle, but while they give her the most resolution with the expert, they also end up killing him off in a long, long dragged out scene and leave her seemingly with the astronaut who was not really developed all that well as a love interest.  Again, they approach the issue mostly intelligently, but it devolves into an action movie with a long, drawn out threat and death scene right at the end.

The version in this compilation also has really, really bad cinematography.  I’m not sure if that was how it was filmed or if that was just the version that was available, but it’s really noticeable here.

As for the characters, the female lead is unnecessarily aggressive and hostile until the end, the astronaut is more reasonably hostile since he was sick of people not trusting or believing him, and the expert is actually kinda amusing and so the most sympathetic of them all.  Still, this is not a set of characters to build a sympathetic cast out of, although they do all resolve their issues as the movie goes on, which is nice.

With the poor production values and the weak plot and characterization, this is not a movie that I’d really care to watch again, even though it wasn’t terrible.

“Legacy of the Force” and the Weakness of the Structure

April 21, 2021

So, as everyone should know, I’ve been re-reading the Star Wars Mega Series (New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi) and am now about half-way through “Legacy of the Force”.  I’ve also been commenting on some specific aspects of them in more detail because I’ve already given my overall impressions of the three series.  For “New Jedi Order”, I’ve talked a lot about how its structure worked really, really well, as it allowed various authors to play with their favourite characters without actually forcing other authors to use those characters or readers to actually read about them (since only the mainline works were necessary to get the plot, and even some of those weren’t really necessary either).  This structure was, of course, changed in the next two series, and in my opinion to their detriment.  The first reason for that, I think, is that they lost out on the ability to truly capture the entire breadth of the Legends characters and scope and so by the nature of the structure gave short-shrift to some characters that some parts of the fan base really liked.  The second reason is that the authors in this series had their own favourites that might not have been the favourites of many fans that got what could be seen as altogether too much focus for the story that was being told.

So before getting into specific cases, let me expand on that a little bit.  What we have are some characters that have deeper story arcs than what we might expect from side characters, but those story arcs are also for the most part only tangentially related to the overall plot.  In “New Jedi Order”, these stories could be segmented into their own books or duologies, but in “Legacy of the Force” if they were going to be expanded out they had to be expanded out in the mainline works (because, obviously, there’s nothing else).  This is problematic in two ways.  First, it clutters up the mainline works and detracts from the main plot.  Second, it doesn’t allow for the room to really develop those stories, and so they aren’t developed as well as they could have been.  So both the main plot and the side plots suffer when the authors try to stuff them all into the mainline books.

The most famous — or rather infamous — example in the series is Karen Traviss’ favourite aspect, the clones/Mandalorians.  Her subplot follows Boba Fett through his attempting to find a cure for the degeneration he is experiencing, while connecting/reconnecting with his abandoned family and trying to rebuild Mandalore as the new Mandalore.  His actual connection to the plot itself is that Jacen kills his daughter during interrogation which both indicates his growing darkness and sets up a new fear for him, that Mandalore starts rebuilding which adds to the chaos, and at the end that he trains Jaina Solo in specific fighting techniques and provides some Mandalorean technology to help her kill Jacen.  That’s pretty much it.

Now, I happen to like Boba Fett — I like his depiction in “The Bounty Hunter Wars” better but this one works better for a longer story arc — and kinda enjoy the Mandalorean parts, so I didn’t really mind the diversion, but even I had to admit while reading it that for the most part all of that is tangential to the plot.  All we really need to know from the perspective of the main plot is that Jacen killed Fett’s daughter, and even that isn’t really necessary, except to have Fett be mentioned in the context of the plot so that we remember that he still exists.  Knowing that Fett is out there and that Jacen has techniques that Jaina can’t counter directly or understand, having her go there to learn to fight differently isn’t unreasonable, and the revenge plot gives good reason for him to accept her for training and provide her with some new weaponry.  But we clearly didn’t need to follow him as he gets involved in assassination plots or builds a new type of fighter or connects with his granddaughter or finds his wife or learns to accept his role as Mandalore from the perspective of the main plot.  If you find it interesting, it’s clearly tangential, and if you don’t like it, it’s taking time away from the main plot that you hopefully were enjoying.

And it not getting its own set of works also hurts it.  A lot of the time, the arc seems to stop to give a Mandalorean lore dump, to get in the basic ideas that Traviss wants to get out.  If it had its own separate works, then there would be the time to let that all come out more organically and even to allow us to go deeper into the separate issues.  As it stands, things, even important things like his getting the cure, seem to get resolved far too quickly and with far too little detail for the sort of plot they actually are.  This is because she has to get it all out in her works because the other authors are obviously not as interested in it as she is, but she also has to do it while advancing the main plot.  If the works had been separated, then there would have been more room to develop all of that and make it a more interesting story without having to essentially stick it into the gaps when the main story doesn’t need to be advanced.

The other case is Denning’s.  Now, I’m nowhere near as interested in his characters — Alema Rar being the big one that I’ve noticed in this series — as I am in Fett, but there was an interesting subplot that got squeezed out in the works that would have benefited from its own duology, which is the discussion of the Sith through Lumiya, the Ship, and Alema Rar.  This one is again disconnected from the main plot because in the main plot Lumiya is trying to manipulate Jacen and so isn’t going to tell him the whole truth about the Sith and what her intentions are.  So what we get are tantalizing snippets of information when Lumiya and Alema discuss the various aspects and what Lumiya’s actual plan is.  A duology focused more on them and their interactions, especially when the Ship comes into the picture, would have worked really well and allowed them to develop that more, again without having to infringe on the main plot too much.  And it also would have allowed readers who liked Alema Rar to get more of her, and readers who didn’t like her to ignore her.

And all of this is actually really, really important, because aside from those plots needing more development, it turns out that Jacen Solo’s story could have used the extra time and focus to get more development as well.  I’ll talk about that next time.

Thoughts on “Mutant”

April 15, 2021

So the pack that I have called “The Deadly Beyond” contains a fairly even split of sci-fi/fantasy and horror.  I’ve covered “Slipstream” and “Warriors of the Wasteland” on the sci-fi side, and here I’m going to cover the first horror movie from that collection, “Mutant”.  This is essentially a zombie flick with a more science fiction premise, where it seems to be some kind of alien infection rather than a simple virus or some sort of magic, which means that it pretty much follows the tropes of those movies.  However, it also kinda flubs some of the themes of those sorts of movies.

The movie opens with two brothers driving down a country road, heading somewhere to get the one brother over being dumped by his girlfriend.  They encounter a bunch of locals, get into a car combat type of thing with them, which ends up with their car in the ditch and them having to walk to the next town, where the locals, including the sheriff, are not all that much more welcoming, but they get put up with a strange woman and we eventually find that some sort of alien influence is turning people into zombies.  The one brother disappears (he was turned into one) and the other brother takes up with a local teacher as they try to figure out what’s going on and escape the town.

So one of the themes or tropes that they whiff on is that the brother who survives to the end and is the main character is not the brother whose girlfriend had dumped him, but instead the other brother.  The first issue with this is that that brother is, in fact, kinda a jerk.  While the locals were unnecessarily hostile, he didn’t really help his case by being hostile back at them.  So we’re going to have a hard time liking him enough to feel sympathetic for his plight.  Meanwhile, the other brother was presented as being more reasonable and so was easier to like.  Also, it makes more sense to put him into a romantic plot to make his being dumped relevant to the story, which isn’t the case for the existing brother.  Finally, the brother who becomes the lead was presented as being protective of his brother and spends a lot of the movie trying to find and save him, but can’t do so.  That not only makes that arc a downer arc, but also means that they can’t use the superior plot of the other brother having to step up on his own and protect himself and others, which would have been more interesting.

The other theme they miss out on is the female lead.  She’s aggressively useless throughout the entire work except for a brief scene where she shows empathy for one of her students (who I think ends up dead).  Yes, it’s rather a trope for the female lead to need protection, but she doesn’t do anything else in the entire movie.  It’s really difficult to see why he seems to like her so much and why they get together.  Which means that she’s not very sympathetic, and we really do need the female lead in a horror movie to be sympathetic … especially if she’s not the active character.  We really don’t want her to turn into the load when we’re supposed to want the hero to rescue her.

So, unsympathetic leads and a rather standard zombie plot that stuffs in overly aggressively hostile locals.  This isn’t a movie that I’d want to watch again.

“New Jedi Order” and a Sign of Trouble

April 14, 2021

So, I’ve talked quite a bit about the things that “New Jedi Order” did well with its unique structure, where it allowed the authors to break out into separate duologies and trilogies outside of the mainline works.  At the end, of course, they all had to align to the mainline works that had to finish off the series, and that really started to happen with the trilogy “Force Heretic” by Sean Williams and Shane Dix.  And this trilogy hinted at the issues that the Megaseries were going to see when they dropped that non-standard structure for Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi.

To start, the issue it has was that it was following a number of different threads all at the same time.  There was Luke’s mission to find Zonama Sekot, Han and Leia’s mission to check out what was happening in the Outer Regions (which really doesn’t add much beyond touching base with some other Legends societies and so representing their works), the main war itself, and following the heresy among the Vong where some started worshiping the Force and the Jedi.  As part of that, it also was dealing with Tahiri’s adapting to her Vong nature and a number of other personal threads, which packed it even more.  While it did have a trilogy to work with, that’s a lot of threads to balance in one work, especially since for the most part none of them were really related to each other.  If you didn’t care for any of them — such as, for example, not caring about the Legends works that Han and Leia were referencing in their threads — then it would seem like a pointless deviation from the real plot that you had to suffer through to get back to the important and interesting parts of the work.

Moreover, I think they made a mistake in the Vong Heresy thread by making the leader of the Heresy Nom Anor, a character that was — and remained — an unabashed villain throughout the series.  Well, it wasn’t really a problem to make him the leader of it, but rather to make him the focus character of that thread.  Since the Heresy was the only way we could expect some sort of peaceful resolution to the war, we had to want to be on its side and want to see it grow.  But Nom Anor had spent the entire series plotting to and trying to kill most of the main characters, and was presented as someone who was completely and totally self-serving and would do anything to preserve his own life first and then advance his own position second.  He continues this attitude throughout this thread, and so we don’t even get him having an actual conversion from the evil villain he was to a better person.  His organizational and political skills do play an important role in establishing it and protecting it for a time, but he’s not responsible for any of the actual principles nor does he ever become a believer.  Now, this is necessary for his role later where he turns his coat and threatens Zonama Sekot, but it makes his sections annoying as they focus on a character that we don’t like fooling a bunch of people that we were going to need to like and wanted to see do well.  Not only do we not really want to follow along with him, the focus on him takes away time to develop characters among the heretics and casts a shadow over the heretics and the movement itself.

And the funny thing is that they had a more sympathetic character in Harrar who was a high-placed Vong who converted to or at least towards the more reasonable views of the Jedi.  A thread following his progression as he gradually turned away from their beliefs and discovered the falsehoods and deceptions inherent in them would have been more interesting and allowed them to develop that thread anymore, and they could have joined it with the shaper Nen Yim’s fascination with the idea of the living planet.  Both of these deserved more development and were more interesting and involved more sympathetic characters than that of Nom Anor, and we didn’t really need to see how the heretics developed and could have only had that be referenced by the villains or by others.

And in at least one sense this impacts the rest of the series, especially “The Final Prophecy” by Greg Keyes.  “Force Heretic” has the character thread where Tahiri accepts her new Vong side and the two of them merge into a new person, but it doesn’t have the room and so doesn’t actually resolve that meld.  So Keyes needs to do it in “The Final Prophecy”, along with doing everything else that needs to be done to set-up for the final book.  He brings out Corran Horn again to do that — which could be a callback to his use of Horn in the Anakin/Tahiri subplot in his previous duology — but to do so he needs to stuff Horn into an exceedingly distrustful mold to make the issues come out, and while Horn was distrustful in general he tended to not show that except as a test, which he didn’t do there.  Also, it makes that book disconnected from the rest of it as it spends most of its time with Horn, Tahiri, Nom Anor, Nem Yim and Harrar on the living planet.  So because of all the threads it doesn’t really resolve enough to make the last two books flow nicely from what it did.

They also introduce a style that has cropped up again at least so far in “Legacy of the Force”.  Most books at most dedicate a chapter to a thread, and then move on in the next chapter to the next thread, and so on.  This itself can be annoying if they cut out right at an interesting or dramatic part and switch to a thread that the reader is less interested in.  Flipping between multiple dramatic moments can also be hard on the reader as they need to recenter themselves to the new thread and then back again when it returns.  But this series flips between threads multiple times in the same chapter.  In fact, it seems to have very few actual chapters at all, and just instead flips between threads every few pages with no real breaks until we get an entirely new section.  Now, some works do that if they are in a scene that has multiple perspectives, but there we have the common thread of the scene to guide us along.  There is nothing in common in those threads to do that, and so we flip from one dramatic situation to another with no link between them.  I found that incredibly annoying, and I was actually interested in most of them.  I can’t imagine how someone would feel if they didn’t like most of those threads.

Karen Traviss did that at times in “Bloodlines”, her first book in “Legacy of the Force”, and I found it just as annoying when she did it.  She seems to have avoided doing that in the second book “Sacrifice”.  I don’t recall Allston or Denning doing that, as they seem to do what I recall “Fate of the Jedi” doing and dividing up the threads by chapter, at least, which works better.  But I’ll see about that more when I finish reading through those two series.

So “Force Heretic” provides a hint at some of the issues that later series would run into when they moved away from the structure of “New Jedi Order”.  Of course, that was also a more traditional structure and so could indeed work if handled properly.  It’s just risky, especially when you get authors who have their own characters and threads that they favour, as we’ll see in the later series.

Thoughts on “Trick ‘r Treat”

April 8, 2021

“Trick ‘r Treat” is a horror movie that I’ve had sitting in my closet for years, from even before the blog existed.  I was browsing in HMV and picked up a couple of things to buy, and this movie was at the front for a very discounted price that the clerk was more than happy to draw my attention to.  It sounded interesting and I recognized Anna Paquin, so I figured I’d give it a try.  And then never actually got around to watching it.  Since for the past few months I’ve been on a push to work through the various movies I’ve bought and haven’t watched — especially for the horror movies while I could start to see the end of the stacks — I decided to finally sit down at watch it.

This movie is another horror anthology, with a set of stories all set around Hallowe’en in a small American town.  While the box itself tries to set it up around Anna Paquin’s character as she moves through the town and is seemingly stalked by a killer, in reality the stories aren’t particularly connected at all.  For the most part, the connections are all coincidental, which is actually not a bad thing, as it lets each story stand on its own.  The most direct connection is that the aforementioned serial killer who stalks Anna Paquin’s character ends up getting his comeuppance because it turns out that she and her friends are all werewolves hunting for victims, and he becomes one.  We also see a group of kids trying to find a bus where the driver killed a bunch of kids on Hallowe’en long ago, and there is a connection to an old man who happened to be the bus driver and gets his own comeuppance.  At the beginning and the end we see a young couple where the woman is not in the mood for Hallowe’en and gets killed for it, which brings the night and movie to a close.

The movie is actually fairly good.  Since each segment is loosely related but separate, we simply follow through each group as they go along in the town and hit their own story.  This allows the movie the freedom to insert a bunch of different sorts of horror without having to explain why each is happening or link them to each other (having to link them together was a big flaw in “Portals”).  We just have a strange town where strange things happen.  That’s it.

If I have any criticism, it’s that the movie is very set on giving characters their comeuppance except for when it comes to Anna Paquin’s werewolves.  Sure, her victim was actually the serial killer and completely deserved it, but they pick up some guys who were filming a news story in the town and so surely only wanted to party with some hot chicks.  So the serial killer gets his comeuppance, and the bus driver gets his, but the werewolves instead are cheerfully heading out of town with the implication that Anna Paquin’s character made her first kill — the analogy is to losing her virginity until the, ahem, climax — despite the fact that they quite likely killed innocent people for their own personal pleasure (since Anna Paquin’s character had been implied to be holding off on making her first kill, they don’t seem to need to kill to survive).  The contrast in treatment is noticeable and annoying.

Still, the movie is actually pretty good.  It moves fairly well and does an anthology of unrelated stories in a way that doesn’t require it to have a fully explained link between them while at the same time reminding us that, yes, they are in fact linked.  I am putting this movie in my closet of movies that I plan to rewatch at some point.

“New Jedi Order” and the Legends Characters

April 7, 2021

So one thing that I’ve always talked about when I’ve talked about “New Jedi Order” is that it had a rather unique structure from most big joined series, and from the other two Star Wars Legends Mega Series.  In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or to major comic events like Civil War, in that what we have is one overarching story, but the overall story is told piece-by-piece in loosely related works with perhaps a few works that are designated to carry most of the plot load but are meant to be supported and enhanced by the other works.  In taking the two examples above, the MCU works are meant to be more separate with the Avengers movies being the ones to drive the story, while in Civil War again the mainline Civil War works are driving the story but the ones that tie into the main work are perhaps more important to it than, say, something like “Ant-Man”.

Now, if you are trying to make a consistent set story out of this, then you of course take the risk that these individual works won’t be consistent with the main works.  At the very least, there’s a risk that they won’t have the right tone, but they could also mess up characterizations as well as the plot.  One of the main issues with the first Civil War event, for example, was that some of the writers were anti-registration and so wrote their issues from that perspective, making it seem harsher than it was intended to be and overall clashing with the main writers who always knew that registration would win and so wanted it to seem far more reasonable.  This then had an impact on the characterizations as well as the plot points related to registration, and had an impact on the overall tone of the series.  What was worse was that your view of registration, then, might greatly depend on which books you read, since you didn’t need to read all of them and comic readers do have a tendency to follow certain groups/heroes and not read everything (and speaking as someone who knows, it was prohibitively expensive and took forever to collect all of the books in the event, especially since some of them weren’t really relevant to the overall series at all).  That being said, splitting it out like that is a good way to include as many heroes and characters as possible in the event without having to follow all of them in detail in the main work.

And this was what “New Jedi Order” was trying and needed to do.  The Star Wars EU at the time had a number of characters and series, including comics, books and video games.  “New Jedi Order” was an attempt — at least at some level — to bring all of these together into one solidified universe.  But as you might guess, trying to do this was fraught with peril.  After all, with such a diverse set of characters and origins it was entirely likely that some of the people that they were trying to entice into reading the series didn’t know some of the characters that they were going to be using.  Even worse, some of those people might know about those characters and dislike them.  So you didn’t want to make those characters be too prominent in the story in case it would turn off some of those people.  But by the same token, you don’t want to make them too minor either because for some people those were their favourite characters and they wouldn’t be happy if it seemed like they were being given short-shrift in the overall story.

Hence, the comic-style structure where the series has a couple of bigger mainline works that drive the plot with duologies and trilogies that focus on specific characters and the situations for them.  What’s interesting, at least to me, about the series is that until about the end you didn’t really need to read any of the books — even the mainline ones — to know what’s going on.  For the longest time, I didn’t have “Vector Prime”, the first book in the series and the one where Chewbacca dies, and yet I knew what was going on, roughly who the Vong were, who Danni was, and how Chewbacca died.  The crucial thing here was indeed to build it so that if you skipped one of those other works you’d still know what was going on, through explicit summaries and through the words and actions of the other characters.  To tie this back to the point above, it was important because if you didn’t like a certain character or certain situation, then you could ignore that part of the series and instead focus on what you did like.  Since the list of mainline works is pretty short (depending on how you could it’s at most about 5 out of around 18 or so) reading only them wouldn’t be all that great a work, but arguably you could and would understand the details of the series.

A really good example of this is actually Michael Stackpole’s contribution, starring Corran Horn and taking off from his X-Wing novels and “I, Jedi”.  Now, I really did like Corran Horn and Stackpole’s works, so I was going to be one of those who was interested in his series.  But what’s important here is that he makes Horn and another character he invented — Elegos A’Kla — key to events in the overall series and at that time and so giving them important things to do while nevertheless making it so that they can be completely sidelined later.  So he gives them their prominent roles in his works while not making it so that future writers had to include them.  Elegos becomes the first envoy to the Vong and through him we learn a bit about them, more than we had up until that point.  And then he’s killed by them, at least in part due to political issues, to demonstrate even more about them.  This carries over to Horn, as he gets involved in discovering a potential biological weapon to use against them and then defending the planet that produces it.  He challenges the military leader to a duel to demonstrate his and their idea of honour … and then when he wins the second-in-command follows other orders and poisons the planet anyway, showing their dishonour.  The dramatic repercussions of this is the lose of another planet — and since it’s Ithor, one that was fairly well known in the EU — and setting the grounds for the biological weapon that plays a major roll in later parts, so Horn’s part was important and prominent.

But after that series, which was one of the earliest ones, Stackpole was clever in ensuring that his characters could be used or not as later writers saw fit.  If a later writer wanted someone taking on Elegos’ traditional role, his daughter stepped into it and so could fill in as appropriate.  Or she could be ignored like so many of the strictly political characters from the EU.  As for Horn himself, Stackpole wrote that many people were blaming him for the loss of Ithor, which made him a political liability.  While that might seem a bit unrealistic for someone who did what he did, the entire plot of the series was tied into a notion that there was growing distrust between the ordinary people and the Jedi, spurred on at various levels by the politicians, some of whom were distrustful and opposed to the Jedi themselves, and some of whom were simply following whatever opinion seemed most popular at the time.  This also involved groups of people called the “Peace Brigade” who for various reasons were willing to work with the Vong to get them what they wanted, including people for sacrifices and the Jedi itself.  The Vong encouraged this and often used political methods to drive the wedge between those groups.  So given that context, that the people might be willing to blame Horn for the loss isn’t all that unreasonable.

So what Stackpole did at the end of his series was basically this:  had Horn note that his presence was not exactly going to make people more co-operative with the Jedi and so it wasn’t really to their benefit to have him play a prominent role in their actions, but then to also note that if he was needed he’d be there.  This meant that any author who wanted to ignore him had a perfectly good way to do so — and, in fact, I think it was in “Star By Star” that Troy Denning only mentions them in passing as running away from a Jedi-hunting creature and not having been heard from since — while any author that wanted to use him was free to do so, as Greg Keyes did using him to advance the Anakin/Tahiri arcs by having them hide out on the “Errant Venture” which is exactly where Corran was.  So Corran could come out of hiding and run missions as needed but also stay hidden as needed as well, providing the maximum freedom for later authors.

“Agents of Chaos” by James Luceno is an example of the “more detail” kind of idea, as it follows Han Solo after the loss of Chewbacca.  Obviously, Han needed to process that death which was going to be deeper felt for him than for pretty much every character, but some of the audience might not be interested in following that journey.  So this isn’t a matter of keeping a character out of the mainline stories — Han was going to be prominent in them no matter what happened — but instead of giving the character space to work through their issues without cluttering any of the other works.  So Han can go off on his own and be bitter and resolve his issues and then return to prominence in the mainline series with it mostly resolved with only a few references needed to get us up to speed on what happened.  And it also introduces a character in Droma and a race in the Ryn that would play a role later in the series, but that would get neatly out of the way in all of the other series when required.

How the series treated Wedge Antilles is pretty much precisely this sort of thing.  Wedge was a supporting character in the movies and was also prominent in Aaron Allston’s EU works, so he couldn’t be ignored.  But he was made a General commanding a fleet, which allows the writers to get him out of the way since he has to be locked in place with a fleet, and doing military things instead of running off on missions.  So when Allston wanted to use him, all he needed to do was place him at the centre of a specific and important military battle and develop a very interesting duology around that, while for the others if they didn’t want to focus on him they could put him in the same category as Garm Bel Iblis as one military leader among many and mostly ignore him.

Yes, there were some inconsistencies — mostly around how much of a religious fanatic some of the Vong leaders were — but for the most part this worked out pretty well.  And while I just started re-reading “Legacy of the Force”, it avoided some of the problems with that series, as a number of the writers in that one placed constraints on the other authors by introducing and playing with their own favoured characters.  Most people are aware of the issues that seemed to arise from Karen Traviss wanting to use Boba Fett and the Mandalorians and so make them an important part of the story even when they may not fit that well, but for me the most annoying one is Denning seemingly wanting to use Alema Rar who I found to be an annoying character (I’d say the same about Lumina, but she was at least a more important part of the overall story, which I am likely to address when I dive into that series in more detail later).  This format allows a sandbox for each author to play with without forcing them to make everyone else play in that sandbox as well, which makes for a very interesting structure.  It’s probably for this reason that “New Jedi Order” is my favourite of the three Megaseries, despite its issues (and length, which is one of its issues).

Thoughts on “Anne”

April 1, 2021

I think I was fooled with this movie by thinking that it had something to do with the “Conjuring” series, mainly associated with the later “Annabelle” movies that focused more specifically on the specific dolls that were associated with the first movie.  Then again, after watching “The Conjuring” I haven’t watched anything else in that series, so that really shouldn’t have driven me to actually watch this movie.

The basic premise of this movie is that a mentally disturbed woman lives alone in a house with a bunch of dolls, watching a kind of self-affirmation show that she really likes.  Some strange things start happening, and things keep getting stranger.  We see a strange man show up around the house who turns out to be her son, and then the main character — Anne, natch — gets injured and needs a nurse, the house gets sold, and we eventually discover that Anne had died quite some time ago and that the son is the one with the mental illness, and that he’s been fantasizing that the women who has now moved into the house is Anne’s nurse and so has been harassing the new owner.

This movie doesn’t really work as horror.  Yes, there are some creepy scenes, but for the most part all we see is Anne going out her daily business while some creepy things happen.  So any possible horror is smothered under the intense boredom of the movie.  There are long stretches where nothing at all happens.  If the character of Anne was compelling or did compelling things, that might be interesting, but she doesn’t and so it isn’t.  It’s not creepy enough to really build suspense and too dull to keep our interest.

Now, the movie didn’t have to really do full-on horror.  It could have done something like “The Dark Stranger” and been more an examination of the mental illness itself examined through a horror lens.  Except that it doesn’t do that either, possibly because that wouldn’t have been boring.  We don’t really find out anything about her mental illness, nor do we really see anything that relates to it, nor does the plot or characterization make it a key component.  Plus, it pulls the rug out from under any such an examination with the twist that the son was in fact the one whose mental illness was being shown as far as we can tell.  And since he’s not a focus character, we don’t get any sense of his mental illness.  It could be the case that both of them had a mental illness, but the movie doesn’t really do anything to establish that.

And all of this makes the twist utterly pointless, useless and nonsensical.  The movie in no way shows that the son had any mental illness at all (other than, perhaps, that the other son was going to sell the house, but that is presented as them going to move her to a home).  Since the movie is shown from Anne’s perspective, even the nurse is shown as, well, being a nurse and there is no indication that anything is wrong (other than perhaps that the nurse might not be treating Anne that well, although that is presented as trying to push Anne to do more for herself).  So the entire movie is spent examining what really seems like and really would have to be Anne’s delusions, and then at the end it tries to convince us that the delusions are the son’s … even when he wasn’t present.  So the twist makes no sense because the movie does nothing to set it up, and so it seems to come out of nowhere and, again, because it wasn’t set up at all in the movie it doesn’t even seem clever or cool.  It’s a twist for the sake of a twist, in a movie where that sort of twist didn’t actually make sense.

“Anne” is incredibly boring, not at all scary, and ends with a nonsensical and uninteresting twist.  This is going in my box of movies to possibly sell at a later date.

Subverting Expectations in “The Last Jedi” and “Star By Star”

March 31, 2021

I’ve been re-reading all of my Legends Star Wars books, and have been working through “New Jedi Order” for a while now, and when writing the last post comparing it to the sequel trilogy I had intended to write about other things about my reactions to the “New Jedi Order”.  First up is yet another comparison to the sequel trilogy, this time specifically to “The Last Jedi” and its attempt to subvert expectations.  This has been a common comment made about the movie, including in an analysis by Shamus Young that I addressed in a discussion of “Knives Out”, which was claimed to be the same sort of subversion.  Here, what I want to do is note that the novel “Star By Star” in “New Jedi Order” was more of a subversion of Star Wars tropes and expectations than “The Last Jedi” was, and it wasn’t even trying to be one as much as “The Last Jedi” supposedly was.

As noted in my own review of “The Last Jedi”, the big issue there was that the movie was too ambiguous to really pull off a real subversion.  While he was indeed probably trying to subvert the typical hero moves with Poe getting chided for his “loose cannon” ways and the heroic mission of Finn and Rose being actually hugely detrimental to the Rebels, as well as Finn being stopped from committing a heroic sacrifice with the movie making that seem like it would have been a waste and so was undesirable.  However, how it was structured certainly made us question whether those who were questioning these tropes and expectations were, in fact, just plain wrong.  While they were chased through hyperspace anyway, having two of those super ships would probably have indeed simply ended up with them destroyed, and the tradeoff between what they lost killing the ship and what they gained by killing it was a tradeoff that most people would at least consider being debatable, and Leia getting that upset with Poe after serving in the Alliance with the irreverent Han Solo seems pretty unreasonable.  Holdo might seem like a commander who more believes in order, but her presentation is of the sort of commander that is too much of a stickler for procedure that has to be worked around, and her plan isn’t all that great a one.  And let’s not even start talking about all the character and plot problems that are introduced by Rose’s actions.  So while Johnson may have been trying to subvert expectations, the ambiguity in “The Last Jedi” pretty much kills our sense of that, which is really bad because most people I think reasonably believe that he really, really did want us to take that from the movie.

Now, “New Jedi Order” had set out to do things a bit differently from the start.  The enemy was not only not an evil Force User or Force Tradition, but instead was an enemy that was cut off from the Force completely.  They weren’t the Empire or anything that came from it.  They also used radically different technologies — biological — and had a strong distaste for most of the things that the Star Wars galaxy most loved, droids in particular.  Additionally, in the very first book “Vector Sigma Prime”, they decided that they wanted to shake things up and kill off a major character who had been a part of the franchise and of Legends to give the sense that anything can happen and anyone can die.  They chose Chewbacca.  And while I didn’t do a lot of research into it from my reading around they deliberately intended to do that again, this time killing off one of the Solo children, and they changed which one it was along the way.  So they were starting from a premise, again, that was trying to surprise the audience and leave them open to the idea that anything could happen (a risky move considering that a number of people were not all that happy with the trope in general and with it’s use in “Vector Prime”).

So the basic idea was this:  the enemy has created a new and terrible beast that can hunt down and kill the Jedi.  They discover, however, that it is being cloned somewhere deep inside enemy territory, and so if they can kill the queen then it will stop the enemy, presumably, from cloning more of them and so the beasts will die off.  Anakin Solo proposes a risky mission that will take them deep inside enemy territory but will have to exclude the more powerful and well-known Jedi like Luke Skywalker and Corran Horn.  So, essentially, it will involve all of the younger Jedi, the children of the main characters and all of the new up-and-coming ones, and thus will essentially be the first official mission of the “New Jedi Order”.  While Han is initially opposed to it, he is eventually persuaded to support it and ends up being the deciding vote to have the mission go ahead.  This is crucial because Chewbacca’s death introduced a couple of character themes related to Han and Anakin.  The first is that Han has had his feeling that he and his family cannot die and so has become overly protective of his family, and here he is voting to send all of his children into danger.  The second is that he at least initially blamed Anakin for Chewbacca’s death and this has created a rift between them.  On top of that, Anakin also through some unique adventures on Yavin gained the ability through his lightsaber to sense the enemy, which no one else can do, giving him a unique insight and perspective on them.  He also has a burgeoning romance with Tahiri who the enemy attempted to shape into becoming one of them and so also has a unique insight into the enemy.  So there are a lot of plotlines here around the character of Anakin, and as Kyp Durron notes once it looks like Anakin will be the future of the Jedi, and so the figurehead for the “New Jedi Order”.  He seems, then, to be an incredibly important character to the series and the future of the Legends works.

So what we’d expect, given the previous Star Wars and Legends works, is that they’d would go out and deal with the threat heroically.  There’d be obstacles, but they’d overcome them.  Perhaps some of the lesser known young Jedi would die.  After their success, Han and Anakin would settle their differences and the attempt would move reveal things that they could use to turn the battle against the enemy and start to build towards the ending.

That’s not what happens.

The mission is brutal.  They are behind the eight-ball from the start and end up realizing just how difficult such a mission would be and ultimately how stupid an idea it probably was.  For the most part, they are just desperately trying to stay alive.  Many of them are killed, and they are not relying on their Force abilities but instead on regular weaponry.  They run into some Dark Side users who help them for a time, but are never converted and instead run out on them with the ship they hoped to escape in.  They actually don’t manage to kill the queen, and it’s only a direct intervention by another character with her own agenda that results in the mission being a success, so while it wasn’t entirely for nothing, it wasn’t a resounding success.  At the end, most of them are dead, all of them are badly injured, Jacen Solo is captured and, most critically, Anakin Solo is dead.

This really does break from expectations.  Anakin Solo was the leader and looked to be stepping out as the leader of the “New Jedi Order”.  He also had an unresolved character arc with Han Solo.  Tahiri also almost kisses him but says that she’ll save it until he comes back, which is a hint that he will come back in Star Wars on par with “I know”.  He also was the only one who had any insight into the enemy, both from his lightsaber and from his experiences with the enemy that led to that.  As it turns out, he was also the focal point for a new religion among the enemy that was the best chance to overthrow the leader and the order and so lead to peace between them.  There were a lot of character and plot points that would suggest that Anakin would live.  Instead, he died, throwing all of that away and all of that into disorder.

I’m not going to claim that “Star By Star” is a true subversion, let alone that it was properly intended as one.  But unlike “The Last Jedi” the expectations are clear and the book does clearly subvert them, generating surprise, at least.  I think that “The Last Jedi” wants to try to subvert the philosophy more than the work itself, but it falters by falling into ambiguity.  It wants to be more a critique of the expectations than a subversion of them, whereas “Star By Star” has a purpose that’s more a desire to surprise the audience and get them wondering what might happen than to critique what the other things have done.  And in doing that, I think it does work better at going against the expectations of the audience and making it clear that things were not going to and didn’t work the way they expected it to.

Thoughts on “Warriors of the Wasteland”

March 30, 2021

So, in that pack of 11 movies that I talked about last time, some of them are more science fiction and some of them are more horror.  I’m working my way through the pack, and so am going to write about the science fiction movies as science fiction and write about the horror movies in my normal horror movie slot.  The second science fiction movie is “Warriors of the Wasteland” which is similar to “Slipstream” but shows how even when you take the basic idea of invent a world and situation that we can explore you can, indeed, still screw it up badly.

The main premise is that there was an I think nuclear war, and this has left society in a more Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic society where they all drive around in various vehicles and kill each other.  The main character is a specific warrior who always wants to travel pretty much alone, and the main villains are a quasi-religious group led by someone who blame humanity for the holocaust and wants to solve the problem by killing all the remaining humans with his band of men, who presumably don’t realize that he’d eventually want to kill them off as well.  The hero has a history with them, and gets involved with them when rescuing a woman from them.  There’s also another warrior who likes to fight wandering around, and a young kid who fixes things and wants to kill things as well.  They all come together with another group who are trying to survive and who are attacked by the main villains.

The big problem with this movie is that there aren’t all that many new and interesting environments to explore, but nothing else really makes sense or is developed properly, nor are the emotional connections made clear.  He picks up the woman, has sex with her, and at least tries to rescue her at the end, but there’s no real reason for him to do so.  He and the warrior have a history and he keeps rejecting help, but there’s no reason for him to do so and rejecting help when going to face a group where he will be outnumbered and where they want to kill him is just plain stupid.  We never really find out what the warrior’s deal is, nor really what the deal is with the kid.  And they introduce a signal that could indicate more survivors and perhaps something that isn’t the simple moving settlements that they’ve seen, but they never actually reveal what that was.  So all the movie can rely on is our interest in the main characters and their conflict, but it’s an underdeveloped conflict and the actors aren’t as good as the ones in “Slipstream”, so they don’t capture our interest with their performances.  Ultimately, there just isn’t anything here to keep our interest, and so it falters as a movie.

As you might guess, I don’t have any interest in watching this one again.  While it could have used its premise to have the wanderer take on the girl and meet people along with way and then built to a clash with the villains as it did at the end, there’s nothing in the middle to keep our interest and this makes the end clash a bit hollow emotionally.  This could have been better, but unfortunately it doesn’t really end up giving us anything to be interested in.

Thoughts on “The Nanny”

March 25, 2021

She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens when her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes …

Oops, wrong “The Nanny” …

No, this isn’t the sitcom starring Fran Drescher, but is instead a relatively recent horror movie that’s kinda about a sinister nanny.  Except it isn’t, since it’s really about fairies.  And some weird sinister monster.  And an anti-fairy father.  You know what?  I don’t think the movie actually knows what it’s supposed to be about, which is a weakness in the story.

The movie starts with the aforementioned father — played by Nicholas Brendon — having a lovely moment with his daughter, who is scared of something, and is then abducted.  We then move on to a new family where the boy is having problems and his slightly older sister is trying to get him out of trouble.  The mother then decides that she needs help — as she’s a single mother — and so wants to hire a nanny to look after him and the daughter, which the daughter is strongly opposed to, so she tries to sabotage the effort which, once it’s discovered, really ticks off her mother.  At that point, a nanny suddenly appears on their doorstep and is hired on the spot, but comes across to the daughter as being sinister.  Then the father from the beginning shows up and seems to agree with that, but he ends up kidnapping the daughter in order to hurt or kill her because he thinks she’s a fairy and fairies kidnapped her daughter.  Well, it turns out that both the children are fairies, but when the father’s child comes back it turns out that there’s a monster who took her and wants to take the other children, who ends up killing him, but the nanny and the daughter use their fairy powers to defeat it, and then the daughter stays in this world with her family instead of moving on — at least not yet — to the other world where fairies live.

Now, what a typical movie of this sort would do is focus on the mother, so that when the new and strange nanny shows up we’d have the daughter complaining about her strangeness but the mother torn between believing her daughter or thinking that she was making it all up.  When the father showed up and seemed to corroborate the daughter’s story, the mother then could have doubts.  The best thing about this sort of set-up is how easily it supports either the nanny being evil or the subversion of having her really be trying to do good that the movie actually went with.  Since the mother wouldn’t be seeing any of this and the daughter didn’t want a nanny at all, her trusting the nanny but also becoming suspicious as the movie went on makes perfect sense and can be used to build suspense, especially if we do see a little bit more than the mother does.

However, the daughter is the focus character, and she is seeing a lot of what happens directly.  This means that they have to make the nanny’s actions far more sinister than they would have in the typical set-up.  Thus, she can’t be just potentially a little odd and a little strict, but instead has to come across as, well, completely sinister.  So the movie gets caught between us wanting us to feel that the focus character is reasonable in her suspicions and not just being paranoid and needing to ensure that at the end we are willing to believe that the nanny is not, in fact, actually evil and really is acting in the best interests of the children.  This is only made worse by the fact that we have the father as a character who opposes them and we need to overcome the fact that since he’s reacting to the loss of his child he’s going to be sympathetic, if mistaken.  So while she needs to be strongly unsympathetic to build up the twist, the nanny also by the end needs to be completely redeemed to fill the role she needs to fill in the movie.

The movie also doesn’t handle the father character very well.  As noted above, we’re going to feel some sympathy for him because he’s reacting to the loss of his daughter.  While we won’t support him attempting to kill all the children that he thinks are fairies, we can see why he opposes them.  Again, in a typical movie what they’d do is either have him redeem himself at the end and save the children from the monster once he learns that the fairies aren’t responsible for his daughter’s abduction — possibly dying in the attempt — or else have him get the information and look like he might be able to be redeemed but to instead have his long-standing hatred cause him to deny that truth and so attack them, dying because he could not let go of his hatred.  But the movie doesn’t really do either.  He never realizes that the fairies are not responsible and so never attempts to protect the fairies, but he’s killed incredibly quickly by the monster offering him his daughter and so never really dies out of hatred.  He just kinda … dies in the movie.  Since again a father pining for his lost daughter which leads him to blame the fairies incorrectly — and possibly have killed some of them — is actually going to be a sympathetic antagonist, we really needed the closure that one of the typical options would have provided.  Without that, the character seems extraneous, as the character doesn’t get a proper arc but also doesn’t seem to play a large enough role in the plot to justify its presence.  The movie would have been simpler and better if the character had been left out entirely.

As noted, the movie doesn’t really seem to know what sort of story it wants to be, and so shoves a whole bunch of tropes into the movie loosely aligned around a nanny but never really joins them up properly or develops them properly to make a fully-functional movie out of them.  I don’t think I’ll watch this one again, and will likely stick it in my box of movies to maybe sell.