Star Wars: Dark Disciple Review

Tags

, , ,

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden is a solid entry in the new Star Wars canon for both Clone Wars fans and those who have never watched it alike. Fans who have been waiting for closure ever since the TV series was cancelled will appreciate it for wrapping up the loose ends from the show. Alternately, this book was very accessible and easy to jump into as someone who has never seen an episode of the show; it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.

Unconventional Jedi Quinlan Vos and former Sith apprentice turned bounty hunter Asajj Ventress take center stage in this story about the quest to kill Count Dooku. Golden was tasked with writing a novelization to condense six un-aired episodes of the show. Overall this helped with the pacing of the book. Since it was based on several distinct episodes, there was always another destination waiting and thus the plot avoided the mid-book slump so many novels fall victim to.

Both Ventress and Vos were well fleshed out, and had an interesting dynamic going that helped fuel dramatic tension. Anakin and Obi-wan share some good chemistry that I felt was so often lacking between them in the films. Count Dooku could have been more interesting. So much was made of how hard to kill he was and how cunning, but I felt like his dialog and mannerisms could have been swapped out with any throw-away villain from any number of media properties. For the motivator of the book and the force behind so much of what brought the mighty Republic to its knees, he was surprisingly underwhelming.

Dark Disciple plunges readers into a pitched fight with grave consequences. The pacing was good for the most part, and this book’s true strength was the amount of suspense it managed to generate and sustain. The tradeoff for that suspense did detract from my enjoyment slightly, however. In order to keep the mystery alive, about two-thirds into the story one of the viewpoint characters abruptly stopped getting any POV scenes and was replaced with characters who had been absent for most of the book. While it was a worthwhile tradeoff, it was noticeably jarring. The other main character, while still getting some viewpoint scenes, almost seemed out of character towards the end.

 

(Potential spoiler ahead: skip if you wish to remain completly spoiler-free)

The biggest disappointment is that one half of this dynamic duo gets a very trite and unsatisfying treatment so as to further the characterization of the other character. It was an unworthy way to end the book, and feels like it’s a growing trend in the Star Wars universe. One that I sincerely hope ends with this book.

 

Progressive Word Count Goals

Tags

,

Writer's Block

Image by Drew Coffman

I have a pretty big confession.

I’m abysmal at keeping up with writing goals. But before you say to yourself, “Thanks for the heads up, I think I’ll try another blogger,” bear with me for a moment.

I tend to get very stressed by abrupt changes in my routine, especially if those changes involve a large commitment. I bowed out of every NaNoWriMo I’ve every attempted, and elaborate plans to adhere to that old adage of ‘Write every day if you want to be a writer’ have come and gone with much fanfare and frustration. I’ve been doing better with the blog, but fiction still eludes me.

The all or nothing mentality is one I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. Every time I sit down to write, I feel like I need to quickly make up for all the years I ‘should have been’ published. I tell myself, “Okay, if I write 2,000 words a day for about 45 days I’ll have the first draft of a full-length novel. Then two or three months to edit and send it out, so maybe I can hear back from a publisher about six months from now if I start right away…”

I set myself word count goals that I know, deep down, will paralyze me in a few days after the excitement of starting a new plan wears off.

Recently, having taken up running again, I thought of how I developed that habit in the past. I’d lace my shoes, rain or shine, and hit the pavement. Even though I couldn’t go very far at first, in the beginning I fostered that habit by starting off small. Going by the saying that you can do anything for just a few minutes, I began by giving myself incredibly easy goals like, “At least go once around the block. If you’re miserable, you can stop after that.” In short order I noticed that once I’d spent a few weeks lacing up those shoes–no matter how cranky and unmotivated I was–there came many days when I was heading out the door before my brain even caught up and realized what I was doing. Adding a few minutes each week was exponentially easier than getting started had been.  And just like that, I became a daily runner.

That’s where the progressive word count goal comes in. I’ve set myself a fiction writing goal of 500 words a day for a month. It goes against every impractical instinct I have, and in the back of my mind I can hear the seductive whispers suggesting I push it to 1,000 day, or 1,200 a day, or better yet 1,500 a day. Maybe even that old elusive goal of 2,000 day?

But I’m not going to get lured into dangerous waters by that voice this time. 500 words a day for the first month, to get into the habit of writing every day. And then 200 more words each additional month until I get to a more productive pace. It’s the best compromise I can think of, as I know myself well enough to know I’ll feel like I’m treading water if I try to write a whole book at a pace of 500 words a day. I’m giving myself a few days to pick a project and jot down some points where I can jump in, and then I’ll be starting on August first.

I won’t for a moment pretend I have the wisdom of a professional author; far from it. But I think it’s a modestly reasonable plan and I invite anyone who, like me, has been caught up in yo-yo writing habits, to give it a try.

The Vatican Tapes Review

Tags

, , ,

I’m dividing this into two parts. The first half is a spoiler-free review of The Vatican Tapes. The second half is very spoiler-heavy, including the ending, so that I can go more into depth about my thoughts on this movie. I’ll mark the end of the spoiler-free section clearly.

The Vatican Tapes, the newest entry in a long line of possession stories, was something of a roller coaster. It started off fairly standard and bland as far as these movies go, then seemed for a while like it was actually going to veer into some pretty interesting and original territory, then sadly veered right back towards bland.

There’s very little time given to help the audience invest in Angela, the possession victim, and her family. In fact, much more time is given to her father and boyfriend sniping pointlessly at each other, both of whom start to get very annoying in short order.

Michael Peña as Father Lozano was set up as a very interesting character–a military chaplain who did several tours in the Middle East before he’d “seen enough” and became a civilian priest–who was sadly relegated to passive witness and exposition-deliverer after his first few scenes.

Most of the movie was given over to all the standard tropes that pop up in possession and found footage horror: birds that hurl themselves into windows near the possessed person, shaky camera movement, eerily lit hallways, a few scenes in a mental institution where possession victim insists she’s not crazy and that something she doesn’t understand is happening to her, and some creative violence that gets effectively hamstringed by a PG-13 rating.

I’ll give the ending credit for being somewhat surprising, but not especially satisfying.

*****************************************************

This concludes the spoiler-free portion of the review.

Major spoilers follow.

*****************************************************

 

I spent a lot of time during this movie thinking about the evolving perception of religion in general and the Catholic church in particular in the eyes of society between The Exorcist and today. Full disclosure, I’m an atheist from a Catholic family.

For all its flaws, I think this movie could have been redeemed if the director took a little time to address the fact that the public’s trust in religious authority figures has taken a substantial hit over the past generation or two. The pedophilia scandals, the Church’s opposition to changing social norms, it’s reputation for austere rigidity.

I’m not religious, but I would have liked for this film to make me care about and be invested in the priests; I wanted to feel their love for this family torn by evil, and to see them do so under the belief that while bad things may have been done by some of the clergy, there were still those who felt called to the cloth because they feel like it’s where they can do good for man kind.

We got a brief taste of that warmth from Father Lozano in the very beginning.  Yet the more the movie dragged on, the more he seemed to be going through the motions, delivering rote dialog about how Angela was possessed and needed an exorcism. He became defined by costume rather than character.

The movie became all about the need for righteous men to crusade against the devil by trying to destroy a girl “for the greater good” in God’s name. The way it played out evoked not the sense of devout men trying to see a lost lamb through darkness so that she might step into the light on the other side, but rather the ominous sort of fervor responsible for the Inquisition and witch trials.

There was a point just before the climax when this film truly seemed like the almost baffling lack of warmth and faith from the clergy was going to be revealed as part of a big set up; I was sure it was all leading to something good. The kind Father Lozano seemed poised to stop following orders and confront the grim-visaged, almost cruel Cardinal Bruun about how love and faith in God must surely be better tools against the Devil than anger and the torture of the poor girl that was his unfortunate vessel.

There was even an exchange between them where Cardinal Bruun told him not to say the usual prayer over the Eucharist before it was offered to her, with the sinister reasoning that “sometimes God is best served by moving away from him.” Then followed some awkward and borderline suggestive scenes where Angela, scantily clad in a thin white gown, was ordered to kneel before him so he could shove the Eucharist in her mouth and admonish her to swallow. More menacing orders for her to lay on the bed before him. It almost seemed to be deliberately trying to invoke vague, back-of-the-mind whispers about priests and inappropriate sexual conduct.

Surely it was all building to a man who represented the best religion has to offer going up against a man who represented the worst authoritarian aspects of religion, and coming out victorious?

But it didn’t happen like that. Cardinal Bruun strangled her to death with a rosary while holding a knife to her throat as Father Lozano, her father, and her boyfriend watched. She suddenly reappeared in a new body, was revealed to be the anti-Christ, killed them all except Father Lozano, and escaped to set in motion her reign of terror. Father Lozano replaced Cardinal Bruun among the Vatican tape curators.

The Vatican Tapes chose shock value and a twist ending over saying something interesting, and I feel it was much poorer for that.

Star Wars Epic Yarns Is a Delight

Tags

, , , ,

Okay, a book with only twelve words isn’t exactly targeted at my demographic. Star Wars Epic YarnsThat said, I’m shamelessly fond of Star Wars: Epic Yarns by brothers Jack and Holman Wang for combining two of my favorite things: crafts and Star Wars. Each of the three books reduces one of the movies from the original Star Wars trilogy to twelve words with an accompanying scene portrayed by needle-felted recreations of the characters.

I caught their presentation at San Diego Comic Con and had to rush down to the sales floor to buy a copy of my own the moment the panel ended. It did not disappoint. The simplicity of these beautiful needle-felted characters belies the tremendous amount of time and effort that went into making them. While little characters like Yoda took around 20 hours to complete, many of the larger characters took up to 60 hours each to be built.

Aside from the lightsabers and force lightening, everything was done by hand and scenes were shot traditionally on mini sound stages; there are no composites or digital manipulation of images. The fog on Dagobah, for example, was created the old fashioned way with dry ice.

This is hands down one of the most creative and original books I’ve ever had the pleasure to own. It makes a charming coffee table book for adult Star Wars fans and is a great introduction to the Star Wars universe for children too young to really enjoy the movies. I don’t have any kids but the book seems very durable and likely to hold up well under the duress of an enthusiastic toddler, and the corners are rounded with little ones in mind.

The only danger in reading this book is the temptation to run out and buy a mountain of needle-felting supplies.

X-Men Years of Future Past #1

Tags

, , , ,

tbh the cover is better than the storyYears of Future Past is one of the new X-Men titles released in the aftermath of Marvel’s Secret Wars event. We are taken to a bleak future Earth controlled by Doom and administrated by President Kelley. Mutants have been sent to concentration camps and New York is almost unrecognizable as a barren, almost post-apocalyptic jungle. Cars and even buses are pulled by horse teams through the ravaged streets. It is here we meet Christina, the 15 year old daughter of Kitty Pryde, foraging for supplies.

The pacing feels rather off. We get pages and pages of set up in angst-ridden streets and lots of dialog, and then the fights are over in very truncated fashion, only a few panels at most. A lot of time is spent with characters talking to set up things that either don’t happen or happen far too quickly to be satisfying.

I’d like to hope that Marvel doesn’t go down the rather unfortunate path it seems like the writer is hinting at. Much is made of the fact that mutants have been forcibly sterilized for almost 20 years, and Chrissie is young, viable, and the “hope for the future.” It would be highly disappointing if Marvel intends to write this as a creepy plotline where all the adults encourage Chrissie let herself be repeatedly bred for a new generation of mutants. This first issue really seems to place an uncomfortable focus on the nice, fertile ovaries of a 15 year old girl. I’m curious how they could take the story in a better direction, as they repeatedly hammer the readers over the head with the fact that all the other mutants have been sterilized at least once every few pages. [Correction: I was informed by a commenter that it was never stated that Chrissie escaped the sterilization, and that in future issues the writer emphasizes that Chrissie’s role is more about the younger generation fixing the mistakes of the previous generation.]

Overall I’d give it a 2 out 5 and that’s being fairly generous. I’ll pick up another one of two issues since I’ve been meaning to get back in to the X-Men after a hiatus, but if it were any other title I wouldn’t bother.

Lucifer Pilot Isn’t About The Devil You Know

Tags

, , ,

The Lucifer pilot started strong with a lot of style and visual appeal, to the perfect song choice of No Rest For The Wicked by Cage the Elephant. Lucifer, it transpires, has left Hell for a more neutral–if hedonistic–life on Earth. We first meet him on the glittering streets of nighttime Los Angeles, speeding in his classic convertible on the way to his ultra posh bar named Lux.

Unfortunately the unique concept and interesting choice for the lead of TV show is hampered the fact that the character is surprisingly un-unique for Satan. His general personality type is very reminiscent of characters like House and Sherlock; a cheerful asshole who can look at you and tell you your whole life story by way of a miraculous talent. As expected, there’s many instances of his shocked targets gaping at him with the by now well-known “How did you do that!?!” facial expression. He’s offset by the somewhat predictable snarky female co-star who is supposed to make up for his BS by calling him on it at routine intervals.

It’s somewhat disappointing that they chose to take the great character concept from Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey, and then just reworked it into yet another cop procedural. I’d like to give it a few more episodes before coming to a final judgement, but unless it goes in a very different direction after the pilot it’s going to be highly disappointing.

Crime-of-the-week shows have their place, but due to their ubiquity most people tuning in to Lucifer probably have at least two or three cop procedurals they already watch. So the question becomes not, “Does this show look interesting?” but rather, “Is this show different enough from the other similarly themed shows I’ve already become invested in?” It’s kind of odd that a television show about Lucifer spurning his duties as the destroyer of human goodness to run a Los Angeles nightclub with a former sex tape star turned policewoman can’t readily answer that question with a quick “yes.” Should not the point of using a unique character like Lucifer be to make an equally unique show?

His partner Maze was a highlight though under-utilized in the pilot. I definitely look forward to seeing what they do with her. The angel Amenadiel is suitably grim and foreboding in his role of trying to convince Lucifer to return to Hell, but he could use a wing-fix. Like many productions that have used angels in their plots, the design is awkward and borderline silly.

Overall I’m not especially excited by this show but I’ll tune in to the first few episodes to see if it gets better.

Firefly Online At Comic Con

Tags

, , , , ,

Contains some spoilers regarding the opening cut-scenes.

Firefly Online gave us some tidbits at the annual San Diego Comic Con this year. Overall the presentation was a mixed bag containing both interesting news and some very disappointing reveals.

The entire original cast is returning to reprise their roles, and Wil Wheaton is voicing the male player character. The unfortunate news is that much of the original cast’s cut-scene dialog tried a little too hard to recapture the Whedonisms that made the original so charming. The execution comes off almost like a parody of the original Western-inspired dialog, aiming to cram in as much “Firefly speak” into a few lines as possible. It’s a bit cringe-worthy and hopefully the devs dial it down in future cut-scenes and NPC dialog.

The opening scenes were actually a bit hard to follow; the player character starts out as part of a crew who have some sort of pre-arranged rendezvous with the Firefly cast. The job goes sour, resulting in a weapons-drawn standoff with the old heroes. Simple enough, until some poorly executed and confusing flashbacks with Federation interrogators looking for River and Simon Tam start muddling things.

On the plus side, the devs seem to have some good ideas about balancing the need for nostalgia with moving the story forward. They stated clearly that the goal was to progress and make the lore grow rather than try to rehash what has already been established. Ideally they should have kept that in mind with the opening cinematic, but I won’t write off the entire game based on the first few cut-scenes.

The music was absolutely beautiful and captured the spirit of the show perfectly, and the audience was treated to a live performance. An entire album’s worth of music has already been written, though no release date was hinted at.

Character creation boasts several sliders for customization. We only got a very quick peek so there’s not a lot of details about how many options there are. There’s also a first mate customization screen and the player evidently collects crew members as the game progresses.

Supposedly the world experience will change dynamically for everyone based on the actions of player-characters, but no specifics were forthcoming.

The most unfortunate aspects of Firefly Online are the combat system and movement. Owing to the fact that this game was built from the ground up to revolve around smartphones and tablets, the combat is turn-based and extremely simplistic. The example we saw featured the dev select a target, run behind the target–who simply continued staring off in the wrong direction with no attempt to block or attack–and shoot him in the back.  I’d like to be optimistic and assume that combat mechanics will grow in complexity as the player levels, but there was an ominous lack of anyone even hinting at dungeons or raids.

The movement is obviously first and foremost designed to be touch-screen friendly; tap where you want to run, a giant blue circle appears on the ground where you’re moving to, and the character lumbers towards it. Firefly Online lacks the fluidity of any major MMO I’ve ever played.

An audience member did ask about the gameplay being scaled down to accommodate mobile gaming but the issue was mostly sidestepped with very vague assurances.

Finally, the devs stated they regretted ever trying to give firm release dates in the past and said that no ETA for release was going to be given in the near future. There are no plans for paid early-access sales; rather a free beta with rolling invites will become available at some point in the future. Their goal is not to accept any money until they have a finished game to release.

 

 

Containment Pilot Review

Tags

, , , ,

The following review contains numerous spoilers.

I got a sneak peak at the pilot for Containment at Comic Con and it looks promising.

Containment, as the name suggests, is the story centered on attempts to contain a massive outbreak in the city of Atlanta. It’s unclear at first exactly what the nature of the disease is, and the pilot opens with a scene of lawless chaos and extreme violence several weeks after the beginning of the outbreak before pulling back and showing us the early days of the disease.  It’s admittedly something of a cliché at this point, but like many clichés it continues to be used in outbreak stories because it works. The forshadowing serves to add tension as the characters slowly but inexorably get drawn into the nightmare the audience knows is coming.

The story veers into a less satisfying cliché when the feds and local law enforcement lock horns; too much time is wasted in several predictable scenes where they indulge in the usual posturing and sniping. The noble cop chafes at the invasion, the fed dramatically informs him that he’s not seeing the big picture, etc. These interactions drag an otherwise very enjoyable and interesting show down.

The titular containment is revealed towards the end of the pilot: the cordon sanitaire. The name itself evokes the imagery of third world countries besieged by diseases only marginally stemmed by international relief organizations. It is at this moment that the lines are drawn, and the previous hour was spent introducing the audience to the characters who are to be torn apart by the barrier. The images from the beginning of the show don’t bode well for the loved ones on the wrong side of the cordon.

The cast is refreshingly diverse as befits a show set in Atlanta, and aside from the trite interactions between the feds and local law, most of them have plenty of chemistry.

Overall Containment is a solid effort and I look forward to seeing what direction the show takes.  The biggest mystery is how the devastation teased in the opening scene can be sustained for the duration of an entire show; the body count looked fairly high and the disease has to be contained to a large degree lest the show outgrow its own name.

Top Announcements From Star Wars Celebration 2015

Tags

, , ,

Lucasfilm and Disney have saved some exciting announcements for this year’s Star Wars Celebration. Here’s a roundup of the highlights ranging from the films to novels to games (some content relating to Rebels could be considered minor spoilers, especially for people not caught up on Season 1):

Movie News:

The plot of Rogue One was released, as was the name of a new series of Star Wars movies:

Kathleen Kennedy revealed that the upcoming big screen adventures that explore the characters and events beyond the core Star Wars saga will be known as the Star Wars Anthology Series.

Up until now, details around the first entry in the Anthology Series, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One, have been minimal. Edwards revealed that the film will revolve around a rogue band of resistance fighters who unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans and bring new hope to the galaxy. “I couldn’t sit in a cinema and know that someone else made this film,” Edwards said in the panel. Fans were treated to concept art and a brief video that caused a packed house to erupt.

TV News:

Star Wars Rebels season 2 trailer was premiered:

And some interesting discussion about plans for season 2:

Book News:

The Novelization For The Force Awakens author and release date revealed (tweet courtesy of Star Wars Insider and Starwars.com writer Amy Ratcliffe):

forceawaketweet

Games:

Star Wars Battlefront 3 will be almost entirely a multiplayer game and aside from a few small scenarios will not have a single-player narrative.

I’d like to address a few criticisms that are already popping up:

1.) No single player campaign or narrative: Less than 10% of the audience for shooters plays single-player campaigns, so it’s perfectly reasonable for game developers to decide to minimize single-player content. There will be small single-player scenarios but overall this is a game meant to be played as a multiplayer.

2.) Lack of anything relating to the Prequel Trilogy: This is the number one reason I intend to buy this game. I have no interest in telling Prequel fans that they shouldn’t love the Prequels. If you love ’em, more power to you, and I’m not being sarcastic. But those of us who don’t like the Prequels have had their lore shoved down our throats non-stop in recent years. We can’t even buy the Original Trilogy without Hayden Christensen as Anakin.  Fans of the Original Trilogy have taken the back seat to Prequel fans for over a decade now, and we’re finally getting a bone tossed to us.

3.) No space battles: I think it’s a plus that the devs are focusing their efforts on a specific type of gameplay instead of dividing their resources. Truly good aerial combat requires different things from ground-based combat and it would be a mistake to shoehorn in some poorly designed space fights just for the sake of having them in the game. If I play an air combat game I’d prefer it be designed from the ground up (pun not intended) specifically for that purpose.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Watch Unfriended – A Spoiler-Free Review

Tags

, , , ,

UnfriendedIf you like to see people in your movies, Unfriended probably isn’t the film for you. Facebook and Skype don’t simply serve as a framework for the movie, they are the movie. The film is just 82 minutes of main character Blaire’s computer screen, typing either on someone’s Facebook wall or in Skype’s text chat, with a few small squares of Skype video chat friends minimized and mostly covered by multiple windows and tabs.

It should also be noted that the trailers for this film were deliberately misleading in this Unfriended Screencap 1 regard; all the full-frame footage from the trailers was actually played out in tiny windows lost among desktop clutter during the actual film.

There were oddly long stretches of silence despite the fact that for most of the film they were in a group voice chat. When Blaire did her typing, more often than not there was complete silence aside from the computer’s keyboard and a few random beeps. There is “low budget” filmmaking and then there’s just “not even trying” filmmaking. Unfriended is firmly in the latter category.

Unfriended RatingInterestingly this film is praised more highly by critics than moviegoers. Normally I wouldn’t bring up such a fact in a review. But the consensus of those positive reviews is that the movie is a success specifically because they claim its flat, unengaging methodology reaches people on a visceral level by being so true to life in this digital age. They claim that it has captured real life in this era of Facebook and social media like no film before it. Given that it’s barely managed to skim more than a 50% approval rating from audiences (which have a much larger sample size at 12,400+ compared to 71 critical reviews), I feel confident in saying that Unfriended‘s creators gambled on a gimmick that did not pay off. The very millennials they seem to think will be awed by this film have given it a half-hearted shrug of mild disinterest.

A filmmaker can intend to subvert tropes and cliches, but whether they succeed is for the audience to decide. If people just aren’t enjoying themselves when they see a movie, something has failed, and all the witty and subversive intentions can’t fix that. The filmmakers also should have perhaps considered that people watch movies when they feel like doing something other than staring at their Facebook page.

Unfriended Screencap 2In keeping with this film’s ability to set the bar ever lower, the characters are astoundingly unlikable. There was very little suspense in Unfriended, because there isn’t much dramatic tension if the audience doesn’t care if the characters die. The longer the film wore on, the more everyone ended up revealing the horrible things they’ve done to their own friends, all played out to the general backdrop of calling all the female characters sluts and stupid bitches non-stop.

To round out the general tragedy of this film, almost every single scary bit and money shot is shown in the trailer, including the only really scary death. The audience goes in having seen all the exciting parts and then has to sit through the padding.

If I seem like a completely humorless killjoy, I’d like to point out that I’m normally the first person to defend the films of Blumhouse Productions to others. Paranormal Activity is among my favorite horror franchises and I consider even my least favorite of the lot to be enjoyable enough. Aside from specific criticisms, I like both the Sinister and Insidious series. I like Blumhouse films enough that I’ll be seeing most if not all of their upcoming offerings. Having said that, Unfriended is a disappointing hot mess, and is one of only three films I’ve ever considered walking out of.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 251 other followers