Lattes With Leia: A New Star Wars Podcast

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Lattes With Leia Lattes With Leia is a brand new podcast from Amy Ratcliffe and Dr. Andrea Letamendi. Amy is best known for her work on Star Wars.com, Star Wars Insider, IGN, and The Nerdist. Dr. Letamendi is the psychologist behind The Arkham Sessions, a podcast that offers psychological analysis of Batman: The Animated Series . Both are popular panelists at conventions like San Diego Comic Con and Wondercon, and Dr. Letamendi did a TedX Talk on the psychology of superheroes.

To paraphrase a bit from their introduction at the beginning of the episode, Lattes With Leia aims to be an inclusive show free of the “true fan” mentality that can be so repressive in some fandom circles. It will focus on the female point of view. Rather than chasing down all the latest news, it will be more of a conversation about the fandom and the deeper meaning of the stories and characters.

As someone who tries to balance staying spoiler-free with finding places online to discuss Star Wars, I’m glad to have a podcast that will offer an emphasis on discussing existing elements rather than focusing on obsessing over every scrap of news regarding the upcoming films. And having followed Amy on Twitter for several years, I feel confident in assuring people that if and when they do discuss any of the upcoming films, she’s the type to fact-check and squash rumors when people on social media start getting carried away with repeating un-sourced speculation as fact.

The first episode, A Rey Of Hope, focused–as you might have guessed–on Rey. I enjoyed in particular the psychological underpinnings of the character rounding out the discussion and providing extra layers.

At an hour long, it was a good length for the show: enough time to really sink their teeth into the topic at hand and short enough not to drag on. The only negative I can report is that the premiere episode of Lattes With Leia will make you want to open your wallet and head back to the theater for another viewing of The Force Awakens.

 

The X-Files Returns (Spoilers)

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This discussion of My Struggle, the first episode of the new X-Files miniseries, contains multiple major spoilers. It is intended for viewers who have already watched the episode. 

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I wasn’t a fan of the X-Files when it first aired, but I’ve picked it up a few times on Netflix. Despite not considering myself much of an X-Files fan, I was very excited when I heard about the mini-series I’ve been looking forward to having an opportunity to jump into the fandom.

It started off strong and took an unfortunate turn to the ridiculous at the very end that almost completely overshadowed all the interest the rest of the episode generated.

The performances were solid, from Scully’s exasperation to Mulder’s scruffy rebelliousness to Tad O’Malley’s brand of obnoxious ultra right-wing sensationalism. The actress portraying Sveta, the “alien” abduction victim, offered a convincing performance, straddling the line between conveying how traumatized she’s been and successfully giving the viewer the feeling that she was holding something back.

Overall I came away with impression that the actors were grimly trying to overcome the silly direction the episode careened towards. It’s a pity that their acting had to be good in spite of the script rather than emerging organically from the story.

The big reveal was by far the weakest part of this episode. The entire speech, complete with a frantic montage of various real-world disasters, came out of left field and felt both rushed and forced. While the ship we saw earlier was certainly amazing and opened the door to a lot of questions, the leaps in logic from its existence to a decades-long global conspiracy responsible for virtually every crisis from droughts to the September 11th attacks were so awful they were almost funny, and not in a good way.

Further, I’ve always looked in askance at stories that take real life tragedies and give them a hackneyed chain of fictitious causes. And yet another of my least favorite tropes rears it ugly head when Mulder’s informant refuses to inform because…reasons. While the sage-withholding-knowledge trope is at least partially understandable in some fantasy and more traditional hero’s journey tales, in a story revolving around real-world FBI agents it’s just nonsensical and contrived.

I enjoyed the majority of the episode enough that I’ll continue watching the rest of the miniseries, but I’m hoping fervently the subsequent episodes improve on the disappointing end to the premiere.

 

Spoiler Free Review of The Forest

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The Forest felt like it squandered a lot of potential. It’s a movie that felt as if it really could have been scary if handled differently.

Natalie Dormer played twin sisters, a wild-child school teacher (Jess) who went missing from her teaching post in Japan and her more grounded and stable sister (Sara). Once Sara finds out that her sister was seen going into the infamous Aokigahara Forest, she wastes no time flying to Japan to find her. She meets up with a journalist named Aiden (played by Taylor Kinney) who introduces her to a guide (Michi) familiar with the forest.

The tone for the majority of the film felt more like a thriller than a supernatural horror. There was a lot of running around in foliage with the characters acting disproportionately afraid of the surroundings compared to lack of things to be afraid of. What few actual scares existed were often pulled solidly from American rehashes of Japanese horror. And of course Japanese schoolgirls abounded.

I’ve seen Natalie Dormer’s performance praised as the redeeming quality of The Forest, but I sadly feel compelled to disagree. While I’m usually a fan of her work, her performance was wooden and at no point did I ever believe she was playing two characters. There was regular Natalie and then Natalie with dyed black hair. Taylor Kinney as Aiden was the more memorable and compelling performance.

The ending was, ironically, the part I enjoyed most, since I often find that even good horror films often fail to stick the landing. There was a memorable and bittersweet twist that was by far the most successful part of The Forest.

For anyone curious about Aokigahara itself, there’s a Japanese documentary up on YouTube. I originally watched because I saw several people claiming that it was a much more respectful film about the subject matter, but in all honestly I’m a bit skeptical about how well it succeeded in that regard. It appears on Vice, a YouTube channel that’s big on documentaries with click-baity titles and intentionally sensationalist subject matter:

 

 

Rey Continues To Be Left Out Of Star Wars Merch

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Please note. This post contains major spoilers from The Force Awakens.

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Hasbro has struck again with their release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Monopoly set. The film’s central protagonist was not included in the figures. Instead, Darth Vader–who does not appear in the film–and Luke Skywalker, who is only in the film for roughly 30 seconds and has zero dialog, are among the choices.

A Hasbro spokesperson took to Twitter in response to the criticism and claimed that Rey was excluded so that her final battle with Kylo Ren would not be spoiled. They did not deign to elaborate exactly how her figure would spoil this one scene, or why they couldn’t conceive of a way to include her that didn’t do so.

It seems like a flimsy excuse, especially as Rey has two other weapons–her staff and the blaster Han Solo gives her–which her figure could have wielded in lieu of the lightsaber she uses in her showdown with Ren. It’s especially galling in light of the fact that fear of spoilers hasn’t hampered the release of Kylo Ren merchandise in the slightest. That’s probably by virtue of the fact that it’s not in any way, shape, or form necessary to divulge even a single plot point when selling a toy. And, as previously stated, she wields not one but two other weapons besides the lightsaber.

Rey has also been left out of the Millennium Falcon playset (ie, the ship she repaired and piloted), which features Chewbacca, Finn, and BB-8, and multiple other sets have her replaced with generic stormtroopers.

This is sadly business as usual for non-princess Disney characters. Black Widow has been excluded from the majority of Avengers merchandise; a LEGO set went so far as to replace her in the scene where she rides a motorcycle out of the jet by Iron Man, the guy who doesn’t need a motorcycle because his suit is capable of flight. Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy had even less merchandise, troubling in light of the fact that the raccoon and tree were deemed more worthy of representation.

Girl Genius Webcomic

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Girl GeniusI must have been living under a rock to explain how I missed such an amazing story for so long.  Girl Genius is a long-running web comic featuring the plucky hero Agatha Clay, a student at the somewhat sinister Transylvania Polygnostic University.

The Girl Genius story grabs you from the start by setting up a lot of intriguing questions about the setting. No slow buildups here! It’s straight to the action and loads of questions about how the world works and the characters’ relationships to one another will keep you flipping the pages.

It’s billed as a “gaslamp fantasy” though I have to admit I’m not 100% clear on how this differs from steampunk. There’s lots of clockwork men and the usual trapping of steampunk.

Owing perhaps to its roots as a traditional print comic, the art is gorgeous and highly detailed. It is way above and beyond what is often seen in web comics, especially the backgrounds.

The main character at first appears to be Hermione-ish, though she quickly reveals herself to be more of a bumbling diamond in the rough.

By far my favorite part of this series is the delightfully grim humor. One of the punishments we see early on is the habit of Transylvania Polygnostic punishing people by leaving them in giant jars like bugs on the school ground.

As a friendly heads up, Girl Genius is not tailored to younger readers. Per the creator’s website:

Oh, and please be aware that we recommend Girl Genius for an audience of teens and up. Why? Wel, let’s see…..we have lots of running around in Victorian underwear, ocasional inuendo, a certain amount of violence and the occasional “damn!” Wil this deprive us of future happy meal toys? Probably. Are we having fun making our story our own way? Oh, yes! A lot of our readers still say they read GG to their kids, (and, of course, our kids like it,) but now you can make an informed choice. Thank you!

They publish printed graphic novels if you’d like to support the creators. And if you get hooked on the story, you’ll be delighted to know that there is an RPG in the works. However there is no ETA at this point.

It’s a wonderful read that I highly recommend; I’m extremely happy to have found this gem, even if I’m terribly late to the party.

Tanis Podcast Review

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of The Black Tapes podcast. I was thrilled to discover that the same creators have another podcast in a similar vein called Tanis.

This show revolves around a podcaster, Nic Silver (who is a familiar name to Black Tapes fans), who begins unraveling the puzzle around a mysterious concept known as–you guessed it–Tanis. I think much of the appeal lies in the main character’s reason for delving into the mystery of Tanis. He explains that the internet has often made it seem as if there’s no real sense of mystery left in the world; some time on Google can make you an expert in almost any subject imaginable. With information so readily available, he is excited to find a mysterious subject that can’t be Googled.

Nic is occasionally joined by a hacker named “Meerkatnip,” who is his primary source of information about the Tanis mystery, as almost nothing about it is readily available on the internet. The two have good on air chemistry and play well off one another as they travel further down the rabbit hole. There’s also a few guest appearances by Alex Reagan.

In terms of technical details, they have the same high production quality that was a hallmark of The Black Tapes. It’s nice to hear professional quality recording in podcasts and it genuinely helps with the sense of immersion.

From the official site:

Tanis is a bi-weekly podcast from the creators of Pacific Northwest Stories, and is hosted by Nic Silver. Tanis is a serialized docudrama about a fascinating and surprising mystery: the myth of Tanis.

Tanis is an exploration of the nature of truth, conspiracy, and information.

Tanis is what happens when the lines of science and fiction start to blur…

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that where The Black Tapes has a more straight up horror feel, Tanis is a bit more focused on the mystery. While there is a lot of danger and supernatural elements, it’s not necessarily scary in the way The Black Tapes is.

 

FanMail December Box

FanMail December Box

Previously I reviewed my first FanMail subscription box, with fairly mixed results. I decided to give it a second try.

In all honesty I was even less impressed with the December box. Full disclosure: I was ambivalent about the concept of subscription boxes in general, so obviously that is coloring my impression to a large extent.

In lieu of actual jewelry there were a few cheap pins:

Buttons

Instead of a cute handmade soap like in the previous box, there was a single lip balm so generic it could easily be mistaken for something you’d get for $0.50 from a grocery store check stand:

Lip Balm

The clothing is a Baymax version of a “Free Hugs” shirt. This is something I would never even consider wearing outside. If you like being touched by strangers, I guess this would be a great way to encourage it:

Free Hugs

The Lumberjanes comic was welcome, as I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now:

Lumberjanes

I did like the stuffed toy that came with this box. It’s from PuppyCat, the most successful Kickstarter for an animation project and the 4th most successful Kickstarter overall:

puppycat

Overall I just don’t feel like the box is worth it. In a day and age when there’s so much stuff available to suit any geeky taste, I don’t see the appeal in paying to get a box of stuff where less than half the contents appeals to me.

Can You Survive The Star Wars Holiday Special?

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I decided that this was the year I was going to sit down and make myself watch this most infamous entry in the Star Wars saga, the two-hour Holiday Special that aired only once.

It’s so horrifying that it’s…er, well, no, I can’t actually claim it’s good.  But it’s the sort of trainwreck a person really should see at least once in their lives. What’s the point of living if you never see an Imperial Guard with a 70s porno ‘stache and Maude breaking into a song and dance routine to chivy alien patrons out of her bar?

The amazing part is that I live-tweeted the entire experience and didn’t lose a single follower. Your mileage may vary and I suggest having a drink or two beforehand to get a pleasant buzz going. Here it is, the Star Wars Holiday Special. May the Force be with you (trust me, you’ll need all the help you can get!):

Emo Kylo Ren Is Possibly The Best Fictional Twitter Account Ever

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Kylo RenI’ve been struggling to get my Force Awakens fix in creative ways, as a girl can only shell out so much cash to see it on the big screen.

Enter the Twitter account that stole my heart: Emo Kylo Ren (Yes, yes, I can hear some of you asking how that’s any different from regular Kylo Ren. Hush.). The tweets I’ve chosen to include here are spoiler-free, but be aware that the account regularly contains hints about very major spoilers. If you have seen TFA, rest assured most of his best tweets are hilarious plays on some of the big reveals we got.

Kylo Ren 2All tweets are from the perspective of a school-aged Kylo Ren who pairs “emo kid” references with Star Wars people and events.

Kylo Ren 3In the few days since launching, Emo Kylo Ren has skyrocketed to 140K followers. As a general PSA, if you spend a lot of time on Twitter and haven’t seen TFA yet, be careful when you see people retweeting his stuff, because as previously mentioned there are a lot of spoilers.

10 Things The Force Awakens Got Right (Spoiler Free)

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1.) Abrams struck the perfect balance between highlighting the old cast while handing off the reins to the new generation.

2.) BB-8 got right everything that Jar Jar flubbed. He was a cute character that added humor and charm with loads of appeal for younger viewers, but he was never grating or obnoxious. Part of his success was the use of subtle visual humor rather than noise or big flamboyant gestures.

3.) The puppetry used for the aliens was phenomenal and gave The Force Awakens a real, lived-in feeling. They also blended seamlessly with the few times CGI was used to supplement or replace them.

4.) The villain displayed the petty aspect of the Dark side. He was a lot like I imagine Vader was when he first took on the mantle of his new identity.

5. Building on #4, nobody whined. I can confirm that The Force Awakens had a zero tolerance policy for whining. I suspect Abrams coached the newer cast members on how to act in scenes where they’re supposed to appear young and recalcitrant without the infernal, infuriating whining that made both the prequels and many of the early scenes in ANH with Luke so grating to watch.

5.) We got to see another side to the stormtroopers. They are omnipresent in the original trilogy, but we never got to see the humanity of these iconic figures until now.

6.) The New Order looked even more visually stunning than the original Empire.

7.) There were plenty of female characters, in both major and minor roles. Female aliens. Female pilots. A female villain. Females everywhere. It was glorious.

8.) The space battles were amazing. I must confess, in recent years I’ve become bored with a lot of fight and action scenes in blockbuster movies. They’ve all started blending together. But The Force Awakens kept them short, sweet, and visceral. The occasional bone-jarring boom of Star Destroyer cannons was also a wonderful addition to break up the normally high-pitched sound design of Star Wars space battles.

9.) The original cast members were allowed to show their age.

10.) The Force Awkens felt like Star Wars. I try not to hate on the prequels because plenty of people I genuinely like are huge fans, but to me those films just never felt like Star Wars. Everything in the Force Awakens, from the more subdued color palette to the characters felt like they were truly born of the Star Wars saga.

 

 

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