movie personal review science fiction

Meh the Force Be With You: Review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Spoilers for the final chapter in the Star Wars Saga.

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It must be tough being a film critic

and always having to say something supposedly original and hopefully contrary. The thesis of this article in Deadspin is that Avengers Endgame suffers because it dives headfirst into the mythology and doesn’t pause or slow down for any non-fans watching. I’m just gonna say it: That’s just dumb.

(No spoilers for Endgame — it’s safe to keep reading.)

“The Mount Doom scene is well-staged but really makes no sense to someone who hasn’t watched the previous movies.”

“The Battle of Camlann is satisfying thematically, but what if you aren’t a full-blown fan of Arthurian legend? Why didn’t Mallory write for the people who’ve skipped the backstory?”

Any franchise risks becoming insular and unaccessible. Continuity can get tangled and collapse under its own weight. But come on. Some things are meant to pay off earlier work. Endgame is not a stand-alone film and makes not pretension to be one. Neither does any of its marketing. It’s not for people who’ve skipped the previous movies, and that’s OK. I follow Ebert’s philosophy: Judge a movie on whether it succeeds at what it sets out to be. Anything else is self-serving navel-gazing.

science fiction

The Orville v. Discovery: Small reference Pools

I was watching a YouTube video comparing The Orville to Star Trek: Discovery. As it went on, it became almost surreal. At first, it was fine. The YouTuber likes The Orville over ST:D, because it feels more like “classic Trek” — which is a reasonable opinion, and one I more or less agree with.

But when the YouTuber turns to Discovery, it all goes off the rails. First, he’s upset that the show has Michelle Yoeh, whom he assumes was cast to make the show more marketable in China(?). Then he gets worked up because this China-sellout allegedly continues when the captain quotes “classical Chinese texts that now even aliens seem to recognize quotes from”. Oh noes! Creeping Sino capitulation in Hollywood! What obscure Chinese text does ST:D use, to force on us its China-loving sympathies?

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

This was the first sign that this yahoo is simply bloviating without having a deep enough reference pool. The Art of War is not really “obscure” and it’s far from unlikely that a Starfleet officer might recognize it. Heck, Fortune 500 company CEOs spout off on The Art of War. This isn’t some Sino-sympathetic debasement; it’s a recognition that the world is bigger than Western Europe. That, it turns out, was my first clue.

Next, the YouTuber is upset with the redesign of the Klingons. The Klingons in Star Trek have undergone evolution as makeup and budgets improve. From TOS (where they were essentially just human) through the motion pictures to Discovery, they’ve been made progressively less like just humans with rubber bits stuck on. Apparently, the YouTuber dislikes this because it makes it harder for him to imagine human/Klingon sex. Yes, really — that’s his problem.

He’s also upset that the Klingons speak, well, Klingon. I agree that Discovery might have gone overboard with this in the pilot and first few episodes; there really is a lot of text to read onscreen whenever there are only Klingons present. I think it was an artistic choice, to help make them alien, and I respect it even if I don’t think I’d have made it. Still, this doesn’t really torpedo the show and the YouTuber gets worked up way out of proportion.

The YouTuber begins to get worked up over the alleged fact that the Klingons in ST:D are modeled on supporters of Donald Trump — a claim he wildly overstates, drawing over-broad conclusions from articles like this one in Rolling Stone. He reassures CBS that they need not worry, because this symbolism went “completely over my head until I read about it online” — a phenomenon, I suspect, is quite common for him.

Next up, the YouTuber is aghast that Discovery starts with a female captain and a female first officer. Two women at the top of the chain of command? How unthinkable! (He actually calls it “forced”). Of course, if 50% of the population is female and if you’ve reached a point societally that gender is non-determinative for advancement — meaning that there are equal numbers of qualified men and women for jobs like starship captain — then a pair of officers will, on average, have a 25% change of being both female. The ship-based Treks so far are TOS (mm), TNG (mm), ST:V (fm), ST:E (mf), and ST:D (ff). So out of five possible examples of captain/first officer, we have 1 case of female/female. This is only 20%, so Trek is still a bit behind. (Aside: I’m a little tickled that, if you include only “modern” Trek, you get a nice Punnett square. ?).

It’s important to note that Discovery quickly breaks this anyway, since the actual captain for most of the season is, safely, a white male.

Why is this even a problem? Well, the YouTuber is quick to point out that most sci fi fans are male. This is actually not clear, since the metrics used generally favor male over female respondents. For a long time, women weren’t welcome as public fans anywhere. His “evidence” is that the metrics of his channel show overwhelmingly male subscribers. But considering his approach, I suspect he simply drives off women viewers.

An aside: He holds up Captain Janeway as one of the top two Starfleet captains, which by itself disqualifies him as a true Star Trek fan. ?

YouTube guy is also upset that the main character in Discovery is named Michael but is female. Apparently any time her name is mentioned, it took him out of the episode for 10 seconds or more. It’s fine to have non-human names, even nigh-unpronounceable ones, but don’t dare cross any gender lines!

YouTube guy is concerned because, even though the captain of the Discovery is a white male, he’s not a clearly-heroic exemplar of Starfleet virtue. He’s not, as Youtube Guy bemoans, a “positive male role model for us guys”. The Orville has a strong male role model and strong female characters, too, he says — but here, it’s clear he simply means strong as in muscular strength.

Overall, this video was both disappointing and mildly disturbing. It’s particularly annoying because I happen to agree with the ultimate conclusion, that The Orville feels closer to classic Trek than Discovery. But how it gets there and why he feels that way, seem way off to me. I find myself agreeing with someone I don’t want agreeing with me.

review science fiction television

Agents of SHIELD meets its “End”

It took only a week for me to catch the Season 5 finale of Agents of SHIELD, fittingly called “The End”. It was pretty fantastic, actually, even if it barely tied into the Avengers flick. Agents of SHIELD has been the little show that could, toiling away while the MCU bounces from spectacle to spectacle.
Spoilers, of course.
movie personal philosophy review science fiction

The best thing about The Last Jedi

I finally got to see The Last Jedi (after two previous failed attempts, both amazingly sold out afternoon shows, a month after the premier).  I liked it a lot.  My personal rankings of the “main” Star Wars movies is now something like

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Star Wars (A New Hope)
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. The Last Jedi
  5. The Return of the Jedi
  6. The Revenge of the Sith
  7. The Phantom Menace
  8. The Attack of the Clones

But there was something that really stands out.  Spoilers ahead!

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The power of the dark side

[amazon_link asins=’0785192557,0785192565,0785199772,0785199780,0785197893′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’gilroy0-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0a4327d5-eb7a-11e7-a142-c169eec473c4′]

No, this is not a political post.  🙂

I absolutely tore through the omnibus Kindle editions of the Darth Vader comic (one of several in the rebooted Marvel line).  I guess it really paid off for Amazon to make Volume 1 free to Prime members because it hooked me fast.  I ended up buying Volumes 2 through 4 as well as the crossover event Vader Down.  Combined, they cost me about what a standard novel would, and they were well worth the money.

Oh, spoilers below.

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Looking for hive mind help on a course

Actually, on two courses.  The school I’m at (Newark Academy) ends the year with a nine-day “June Term”, wherein students take one class for six hours a day.  June Term classes are supposed to be experiential and rigorous, and maybe a bit weird.  All teachers are supposed to suggest courses; I made three idea proposals and the committee liked two of them.

Now I have to formalize my thinking and write an actual proposal for each.  I’m still (as of 2017 July) in the spitballing stage and thought I could benefit from some outside input.  If you have the time and interest, please follow this link to a Google doc where you can share your thoughts.  (NB: It’s an open edit document so please be civil to one another!)  I am particularly interested in ideas for field trips and for how to organize six-hour days when it can’t be lecture-and-response.

The two courses, by the way, are The End of the World as We Know It: A scientific approach to catastrophe and Seven Days Plus Two: The Art and Science of World Building in Fiction.  The first will be a modified form of a course I ran at Hun, but I think it will need a fair bit of work.

review science fiction television

Lost Worlds and A Strange Visitor From Another Planet

I just re-watched the pilot of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1996).  It is actually pretty good, especially for a late-1990s superhero show.  It’s sly and clever, and does a nice job working around its obviously-inadequate effects budget.  There’s real chemistry between Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, as well.  Hatcher really sells Lois Lane as a modern women, the natural progression of the character’s strong arc since her introduction.

One thing really did stand out to me about this pilot, though, that is both endearing and maybe a little depressing.  The writers went with the “evil businessman” version of Lex Luthor that’s been common since the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  The pilot had to have Lex plotting some nefarious scheme for the sake of pure profit.  But what?

The sabotage of the space program.

Really.  The “Congress of Nations” is about to launch the first 100 colonists to a new space station (Prometheus).  Lex wants to blow up the launch, doom Prometheus, and replace it with Space Station Luthor.  (Of course.)  His motive is the billion-dollar patents that will flow from research done in zero-g on new drugs and treatments.  The loss of the first transport is greeted as a national tragedy.  The launch of the replacement (with the colonists) draws a viewing public all over the world, with everyone on the edge of their seats.

That’s what I find both endearing and sad.  When was the last time our (crewed) space program elicited that sort of enthusiasm?  Heck, we can’t even launch people into space anymore.   For the writers of this show, movement forward into space was the obvious, almost inevitable mark of progress, of there being a future.  It might well be the last time popular TV treated it that way.

And to me, that’s a little sad.  We have miracles and wonders today, of course, but somehow everything seems … small.  Musk and Bezos are slogging forward and dragging us, I suppose, but it certainly doesn’t fire the popular imagination any longer.  I hope we’re just in a holding pattern, waiting for the technology to meet its potential, but I don’t know.

(By the way, Superman — of course — foils the sabotage and lifts the transport into orbit himself.  Because, hey, Superman.)

movie review science fiction

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

{originally written 2013 May 23, then banished to the Drafts folder for no good reason when I never got around to finishing it.}

Spoiler-free review:  A solid sophomore outing for the NuTrek crew, but it’s no Wrath of Khan. ====== Spoilers follow ===========

movie philosophy review science fiction

Subverting Stereotypes on the Fury Road

I just finished rewatching Mad Max: Fury Road.  I have to say, I can understand why the film earned the online ire of the so-called men’s rights activists (MRAs). It takes all the high-octane testosterone-drenched tropes of the typical action flick, ramps them up to 11 and, in so doing, exposes the madness that lies at the heart of the culture.