Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kylo Ren: Irredeemable?

The other day I found this article online that suggested that rather than Ben Solo--also known as the Dark Sider Kylo Ren--murdering his father Han Solo in the science fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Han committed suicide with his son's lightsaber to make his son into a monster in the eyes of the young Rey, to inspire her to take up Luke's old lightsaber and become this generation's Jedi hero. The article also states that Ben was part of the plan--that he knew the only way to redeem himself was to be the monster needed to inspire resistance to the First Order.

Here are some relevant quotes:

Finally, Kylo Ren is irredeemable. He cannot live, he cannot walk away, he can’t go home to his mother. Ben Solo-Organa is irredeemable as a living person. He’s irredeemable according to the standards of The Force Awakens, as he opens the film by ordering a massacre of innocent villagers. He’s irredeemable according to the standards of Star Wars, as his crime of murdering the Jedi apprentices under Luke Skywalker perfectly mirrors the greatest crime of Anakin Skywalker, murdering the younglings of the Jedi Temple. But like the person Anakin became — Darth Vader — he may be useful as a symbol of evil to motivate the next Skywalker, and be able to earn redemption by sacrificing himself, just as Vader did.

In one option, Han gets through to Ben, who hands his father his cruel dark side lightsaber to be thrown away. They walk away from the stormtrooper ambush, and Ben… well, what can Ben possibly do to redeem his crimes as Kylo Ren?

Making Ben into some kind of traitor within the First Order, deliberately being evil to ultimately undermine evil, is an interesting idea. But Ben taking up his father's offer and leaving with him (perhaps tricking any watching stormtroopers into thinking he's taking his father prisoner, or simply killing them) could open up some interesting story possibilities. However much Ben deserves to die for betraying and murdering Luke's Jedi trainees, massacring the villagers, and doing who-knows-what-else as Snoke's apprentice, he might be more useful to the Resistance alive than dead.

*For starters, he'd be an intelligence gold mine. He'd know all sorts of useful information about the First Order and Snoke's plans and assets as well as the Knights of Ren. He'd be a one-man intelligence coup, analogous to how useful Vader might have been had he survived the events of Return of the Jedi.

*Secondly, the Resistance doesn't seem to have any Force-wielders (other than Leia herself, who doesn't seem to use her Force powers) and given how big a deal Luke being the last Jedi is, there might not be any Force-wielders on the side of Good against Evil. Ben would be a vastly useful military asset, once they'd gotten all the intelligence they need out of him and can afford to risk him in battle. Him serving as a one-man analogue to the new Jedi Order he helped destroy could be a form of penance.

*Depending on how important Ben is to Snoke's plans--according to the novelization Snoke had been watching him his whole life to try to corrupt him, which reminded me of how Palpatine had been watching Anakin "with great interest" since he was around nine years old--losing Ben to the Resistance would be a massive setback. Given my first point about intelligence value, Ben's defection would be even more destructive than his death.

*Ben seems to be the one most interested in finding where Luke Skywalker is hiding. His defection could scupper the First Order's plans to find and kill the last Jedi.

So yes, even if in moral terms the above wouldn't make up for the atrocities he committed, it could certainly go a long way.

Furthermore, it opens all sorts of interesting story possibilities for future sequels.

*Depending on how well-known Kylo Ren's real identity as Ben is/becomes, it could cause all sorts of drama within the Resistance. Kylo Ren is likely a thoroughly terrifying warrior in ground combat. Many Resistance soldiers might have lost friends to him, been wounded or crippled by him, etc. Finn's defection was prompted by his refusal to participate in Ben's mass murder of the villagers, while he used the Force to mind-rape Poe. Two of our three leads are going to HATE him. If Rey is one of Luke's surviving Jedi trainees or especially if she's Luke's daughter, once she more fully remembers just what happened that got her left on Jakku, she's not going to be a fan either.

(Plus he mind-raped her too, although if I remember right it wasn't as blatantly scary as what happened to Poe.)

*Ben's defection could inspire challenges within the Resistance to Leia's leadership or trouble from the Resistance's backers within the New Republic. People could think that her maternal interest in Ben is undermining her decision-making abilities and think the Resistance needs new leadership. Especially with the Republic decapitated by Starkiller Base's attack on Hosnian Prime, they might think times are too dangerous to allow the Resistance to be led by someone they view as compromised.

*Snoke is going to be ANGRY. I could easily imagine Han not surviving if Snoke senses through the Force what's happening and sends orders to Starkiller Base to make sure at the very least Han is killed. And if Han survives, killing him is going to be a major priority for Snoke. It might drive Ben back into the Dark Side and even if it doesn't, it's punishment for betrayal. Harrison Ford apparently wanted Han Solo killed off, so even if he doesn't die in this version of The Force Awakens, he could die in the second film.

*Finally, if the only way Ben can be redeemed for his crimes is to die like his grandfather, perhaps Snoke comes to kill him personally? In the Clone Wars animated series, Palpatine doesn't have Darth Maul and his brother Savage Oppress blasted from orbit when he learns they've set up a rival Sith pairing to himself and Dooku--he comes to deal with them by himself, hand-to-hand.

(And it is awesome--watch it on YouTube here.)

A not-yet-fully-trained Rey might try to fight Snoke herself despite her issues with Ben and get hammered. Snoke is going to kill her when Ben throws himself into the fray, fights Snoke himself, and gets smushed, or Ben just takes the blow for her instead.

It's all moot now, but Ben's attempted redemption could be an interesting story in its own right.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998)

As part of the introduction of a spin-off podcast focusing on the James Bond films, Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is doing an episode on the science fiction film The X-Files: Fight The Future based on the hit FOX television series. I was a major fan of the show when I was in later middle and early high school, so this was definitely a childhood favorite. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have been reassigned from their usual job of investigating the X-Files (unexplained FBI cases involving the paranormal) to investigate a bomb threat against a federal building in Dallas. At the same time, a young boy in Texas discovers a cave with the skeleton of a Paleo-Indian who'd died in combat with an extraterrestrial...and the aliens' nefarious mind-controlling black oil. It turns out the bomb threat and the cave's contents are related, and our favorite FBI agents find themselves once more locking horns with the nefarious Syndicate and mastermind The Cigarette-Smoking Man...

The Good

*The opening scene where a pair of Paleo-Indians hunt down an extraterrestrial in Ice Age Texas was awesome when I saw it nearly twenty years ago and it was still a lot of fun. As Nick pointed out, this was before CGI became so all-encompassing. That's a real alien there, not a video-game creation. And the cave-men display some tactical sense--they're fighting an enemy with gigantic eyes in the dark, so they use their torches to disorient and blind it.

*There are some really good character moments. One of the most entertaining moments is Scully (a medical doctor) diagnosing her own symptoms as she goes into anaphylactic shock after getting stung by a bee. When we first see Mulder and Scully, their bantering shows a lot of what we need to know about them as people. We don't need to be told much if anything. And Mulder makes a great speech to Scully at one point.

*Per the above, the film was designed to appeal to those who weren't already X-Files fans. Mulder's back-story comes out in a drunken rant in a bar, for example.

*We learn some interesting stuff about the aliens and the Syndicate. I won't give away a lot of information for spoilery reasons, but there is a quote from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien I found appropriate: "It is difficult with these evil folk to know when they are in league, and when they are cheating one another."

*The movie is very 1990s. There are references to the Waco siege and the Ruby Ridge shootings. The Dallas bomb-threat is very reminiscent of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing in terms of both concept and visuals. I remember reading somewhere that the government conspiracies, aliens, etc. were what filled the gap between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror and that's plain here. There're even references to the dangerous African "killer bees" and the all-powerful Federal Emergency Management Agency (here're some comments on FEMA from a conspiracist POV) that are very 1990s. Heck, the movie even has a character refer to FEMA as "the secret government."

*There's a really good cliffhanger "WHAM!" moment I did not see coming. Bravo.

The Bad

*If the aliens that the Syndicate is working with are that old and powerful, why the need for the conspiracy in the first place? The British were only a few thousand years' more advanced in terms of technology and organization than the Stone Age aborigines of Australia and they didn't need indigenous proxies to work for decades to prepare the way for them. They just swept in, took the lands they wanted, and wiped out most of the natives in the process. To cite the Dalek from Dr. Who, a conflict between them and us would not be war, but pest control. There's an in-universe explanation involving the leverage the early Syndicate had, but given the back-story revealed for the aliens, I don't think that would work.

*To that end, it would have been better if the prologue took place in the 19th Century or early 20th Century, using Comanche Indians or cowboys instead of cave-men. This would show the alien colonization scheme was only a few decades or a century old. The aliens would be a powerful and dangerous opponent, but weak enough that they couldn't just sweep right in and take over.

*Mulder manages to get to Antarctica at one point in 48 hours. That seems to be pushing it, especially given how he's likely being watched. It would have been better if the events in Antarctica took place in, say, Canada. It would be closer to the Syndicate's North American center of power and wouldn't take as long to get there. Mulder wouldn't need to buy plane tickets or anything else that could give away his location--just drive there.

*When a Syndicate base is collapsing, one of the minions asks about Mulder. Why do they even care about him? He's their enemy and the only reason he isn't dead is because he has allies with leverage on the Syndicate (I think in one episode Assistant FBI Director Walter Skinner tells The Cigarette-Smoking Man that if anything happens to Mulder, some damaging information is getting released) or because they don't want to make him a martyr ("kill Mulder and we take the risk of turning one man's quest into a crusade"). Him getting killed in a way that doesn't look like a murder would be good for their plans.

*A character is shot in the head at one point (but not lethally). We only see the wound intermittently.

*There's a scene that I described as "the alien water-slide of doom" that should break a character's legs (or at least hurt him rather badly), but it really doesn't.

The Verdict

It's an entertaining film that you should go see, especially since they're reviving the series. 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Redgum, Or More Aussie Rock Courtesy of YouTube

Here're another couple of cool songs from Australia that I found via YouTube. The first is "I Was Only Nineteen," by Redgum.

I'd known that there were Australian soldiers who'd fought beside Americans in Vietnam since I read Peter F. Hamilton's second Reality Dysfunction novel in high school. That one featured a dead Australian Vietnam veteran possessing a living convict in the distant future.

(It's a long story.)

Something notable about this song is that the Australian protagonist has an experience very similar to that associated with American Vietnam veterans (and veterans in general, although Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder became more well-known in the Vietnam generation). He can't sleep at night due to the nightmares, the news helicopter frightens him, and "the rash that comes and goes" might be caused by Agent Orange.

And thanks to "I Was Only Nineteen," I found "Poor Ned," which is about the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

The song conflates Kelly with the Eureka Rebellion ("hoist the flag of stars"), in which a bunch of Australian gold miners rebelled against the unpleasant British colonial government. Imagine the Battle of Bunker Hill, only if the Patriots got crushed immediately after inflicting little damage on the enemy but were found innocent of any crime due to jury nullification and ended up getting into elected into the government.

Eureka was many years before Ned Kelly, but Kelly did release a manifesto denouncing the government and calling for justice for the Australian poor. The song lyrics tie in heavily with the manifesto, including defending his shooting of some police (he claims self-defense) and claiming mistreatment of his family by the police. I haven't read Eric Hobsbawm's Bandits, but I do know what a "social bandit" is and Kelly seems to fit the description.

YouTube For You: "I Am Australian"

Awhile back I found "I Was Only 19," a song told from the perspective of an Australian Vietnam veteran, while doing research for another project. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I soon came across another song, "I Am Australian."

It's by a band called The Seekers. iTunes, at least in the U.S., does not have the song, or else I would buy it. It's a beautiful song that does justice to the difference cultures that made Australia (the Aborigines, the convict settlers, the gold prospectors, and others) while at the same time promoting a united Australian identity. Although I'm not familiar with Australian political culture, I do know a little bit about the country's history and it's somewhat similar to our own--they're a British settler colony, but the population is not exclusively British in origin or in culture and the country has attracted immigrants from all over. Like them, "from every land on Earth we come."

I wonder if a similar song could be written about the United States? "We are one, but we are many" applies to the U.S. too. Heck, it's our motto and its on our coins--e pluribus unum, "out of many, one." You can acknowledge the contributions of different groups (and marginalized ones) without indulging in rootlessness, anti-patriotism, and cynicism.

*Instead of the Aborigines, you could start with the Native Americans. Perhaps a specific individual like Squanto, or the tribes who helped the Pilgrims in general?

*Instead of the convict laborers, perhaps poor (European) indentured servants or African slaves. It parallels the convicts who "fought the land" and "endured the lash" and acknowledges that things weren't always great for everybody without wallowing in self-flagellation.

*We had our Gold Rush too, so instead of "the daughter of a digger,"a 49er? Alternatively, since they would have come at the same time and to emphasize the "freedom from political oppression angle" that's so strong a part of our identity, we could have those fleeing the repression of the European revolutions of 1848? It was liberal Germans who played a major role in abolitionism and the defeat of the Confederacy. Perhaps they could be combined--a German political refugee who becomes a gold miner and later fights the Confederates at Glorietta Pass? I'm sure someone like that existed.

*The song references several well-known Australians, including the outlaw Ned Kelly and the Aborigine artist (and trailblazer in many ways--he was the first Aborigine to get Australian citizenship) Albert Namatjira. I'd rather not glorify the Confederate die-hard Jesse James, but perhaps one of the Founding Fathers instead? They certainly stuck it to The Man, in that case the British Empire. Not sure about an artist analogue to Namatjira (although Emanuel Leutze did paint the iconic "Washington Crossing the Delaware"), but if you want to go with the civil-rights angle, Martin Luther King?

Apparently a lot of Australians want to make the song their national anthem. I'm disinclined to change ours from "The Star-Spangled Banner," but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate other songs like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA." An American version could rise alongside it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Visit Where Your Story Takes Place, Or Why Google Maps Isn't Everything

I spent most of Saturday 12/26 (Boxing Day for you Commonwealth types) taking MARTA around Atlanta to do some research for two of my writing projects.

The first project is a short story entitled "Actions Have Consequences," which will feature my supervillain protagonist Andrew Patel. It will be part of a collection featuring "Ubermensch," which introduces him and his nemesis Silverbolt, the second story "Needs Must," and a fourth, "New Friends, Old Enemies."  The second is a novel entitled The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to the teen Lovecraftian novel The Thing in the Woods I'm currently shopping around.

"Actions" features some gang members pursuing Patel around Atlanta. The action starts in East Point, so I took the train down after eating lunch at Peachtree Center. I soon realized the limitations of Google Maps--although I had used it to map out some buildings, I soon realized I'd gotten a lot of the detail wrong. Downtown East Point is more spread out, much more like Griffin, the town where I had my first newspaper job, than Atlanta or another larger city. It would be difficult for Patel to run down an would-be assassin without too many inconvenient witnesses. Fortunately there's an area that's built up enough for the scene to work, so I was able to get away with just tweaking it a bit. I also discovered the big pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks connecting downtown to an industrial or ex-industrial site, which I'll work in there somehow.

I later took the train over to the East Lake MARTA station, where I planned to have Patel and a friend make a long run down Howard Avenue for downtown Decatur after the train is delayed. I found the station sat squarely in the middle of a bunch of single-family homes and was well-attended by MARTA police. It's also right by the city of Decatur's water tower. That whole area is not going to be having gang shoot-outs, at least not ones that don't get squashed immediately. I thought about having the final confrontation take place around the King Memorial MARTA station instead, but the whole area is surrounded by lots of brand-new apartments. That's not the kind of place where gun battles are going to be allowed to happen either. I'll need to think about how to deal with that.

For The Atlanta Incursion, the protagonist is a student at Georgia State University. I found via Google Maps there was an apartment complex near the Garnett MARTA station one stop south of Five Points, the station I got off at when I was a student at GSU. So I (briefly) stopped at Garnett. The station is jammed down amid taller buildings and I couldn't find any apartments. There's the Atlanta jail, some courthouses and police buildings, and a lot of people loitering around. I don't think anybody actually lives there. And a lot of the buildings are run down. Probably most students--especially my protagonist--wouldn't really want to live there even if there were student housing available.

As a result, I needed to make some fixes. One fix was pretty simple--just change where the character was going when he had a PTSD episode. The other fix required changing a scene more substantially--instead of taking the train from Five Points to Garnett, he's walking through campus.

So let this be a lesson in writing research for you. If you're writing about real-life places and you're able to visit them, do so. You might avoid some obvious missteps.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How I Would Have Done STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

It's a philosophy of mine that criticism is easy but suggesting useful alternatives is hard. I've applied that philosophy to my critique of the movie Mortal Kombat and suggested some ways to improve the movie while retaining the basic plot.

So now I'm going to apply this philosophy to the science-fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which I saw last weekend but thought was mediocre. Here there be spoilers, so be ye warned...

*The non-movie new canon as I understand (I haven't reach much of it, other than Delilah S. Dawson's story "The Perfect Weapon") has Empire implode relatively quickly after the death of the Emperor and Vader at Endor. Disarmed and forced to pay reparations but otherwise left alone by the New Republic, it reorganizes as the "First Order" like it does in the new canon. That aspect can stay. The Republic, preoccupied with internal issues, writes off the First Order as some kooky non-problem, much like how many people view North Korea.

*However, the First Order is secretly in league with a Dark Side cult called the Knights of Ren. Luke Skywalker has revived the Jedi with trainees of his own, possible survivors of Order 66 or those they trained (think Kanan and Ezra from the Rebels television series), but one of his students early in the film horribly betrays Luke and massacres most of the New Jedi Order alongside the Knights of Ren. Luke is married to Mara Jade at this point and they have a daughter Rey--and during the betrayal, Mara is killed and Luke and the young Rey are separated. This could be the prologue to the film. The Knights of Ren are led by a masked "Darth Caedus" and Luke seems to know who he is, but we never get the name or relationship during the prologue. In the aftermath, Luke disappears to seek out the first Jedi temple and learn how he went wrong. Some suspect the First Order was involved, but the First Order denies it and the Republic doesn't pursue the matter.

*In the new canonical Star Wars comics, we meet a character named General Tagge, who Palpatine puts in charge of crushing the Rebellion after the destruction of the Death Star. Tagge believes in more conventional military tactics like an enlarged fleet and army, as opposed to superweapons like the Death Star. With the destruction of the Death Stars in A New Hope and The Return of the Jedi, one would hope Tagge's way of thinking would win out.

To that end, the First Order is conducting a massive military buildup. Mon Mothma or whoever is in charge of the Republic at this point does not take the threat seriously, so Leia (a civilian politician), Han Solo (one of the Republic's generals), and some other heroes of the first story resign from the government and set up their own private military effort against the First Order. Enough people believe that the First Order is in league with the Knights of Ren and their years-ago attack on the Jedi Order that they get a lot of support from within the Republic.

They find that the First Order is seeking the lost Katana Fleet, which would give them a massive advantage over the increasingly-complacent New Republic. Han has to go back into the underworld he'd long abandoned to reactivate old contacts and search for the Katana Fleet. This causes him to run into trouble with old enemies who now know he's not an untouchable military hero anymore. Perhaps we can even bring back Boba Fett?

*As part of Han and Leia's secret war, Poe Dameron finds the location of the Katana Fleet and is forced to hide it within his droid BB-8. We have the whole canonical plot with Poe and Finn escaping the First Order and finding the droid on the custody of Rey, who's grown up into an anti-social scavenger type like in the canonical film. The trio encounter Han and Chewbacca (perhaps they're on some kind of secret mission) and then try to get the droid to Leia per the film. They do--but not before the First Order somehow gets hold of the location of the Katana Fleet. We can still have Captain Phasma, General Hux, etc. Rey can find the old lightsaber and have flashbacks to her past (which she doesn't remember due to PTSD) and "take up the sword" so to speak.

*Instead of the attack on Starkiller Base (far too derivative of A New Hope and Yavin 4 for my tastes), the Resistance races the First Order to the Katana Fleet and starts capturing and/or destroying as much of it as possible before the First Order can take control. The First Order and the Knights of Ren led by "Darth Caedus" arrive and we have the confrontation between Han Solo and what turns out to be his son, Jacen Solo aboard one of the lost ships. I liked how Han reveals Kylo's real name by shouting "BEN!" to get his attention. Have Han shout "JACEN!" and you'd get the same effect. Jacen can then kill Han. Chewbacca wounds Jacen and he fights Finn and Rey. Even wounded he's still a dangerous opponent and stalemates Finn and Rey (possibly incapacitating the former like in the movie), but the arrival of Luke Skywalker and some new Jedi trainees forces Jacen and the Knights of Ren to flee. The Resistance has captured much of the Katana Fleet, but most of it has fallen into the hands of the First Order.

*The movie ends with the First Order, having taken control of much of the Katana Fleet, declaring war against the Republic and the Jedi. The admiral who will command the First Order's enlarged fleet is revealed to be none other than Grand Admiral Thrawn.

This would be the best of both worlds--it would be Disney "starting afresh" after de-canonizing most of the Expanded Universe but would retain enough of the EU to satisfy the EU fans. After all, the new canon includes characters like Quinlan Vos and Depa Billaba from the original canon, so it's not like Disney is averse to including EU elements.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Kindle Christmas Present 2.0

Last year I made several of my short stories free for a few days around Christmas as a present for my fans. This year, even though I've taken some of them off KDP Select due to the new rules, I still have a few I I can use to help my fans fill their Christmas (or Hanukkah or Yule if applicable) Kindles.

The following stories are part of this promotion:

"Illegal Alien"-Free Christmas Eve (12/24) and Christmas Day (12/25). I'd make it free for Boxing Day (12/26) as well, but I ran out of free promotional days. This tale of the titular undocumented immigrants facing off against extraterrestrials features probably my best cover so far. It's one of the ten stories featured in my collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire and has gotten good Amazon reviews.

"Melon Heads"-Also free for those same two days, for the same reason. This is actually a dark comedy featuring evil frats, hydrocephalic midget cannibals, and urban legends. It's also one of the stories included in Flashing Steel Flashing Fire and, along with "I am the Wendigo" was my first Kindle indie.

"Sam"-This one will be free Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day too. "Sam" tells the tale of a loyal Doberman facing off against a Bad Thing that only he can see. If you liked the novel (Thor) or the movie adaptation (Bad Moon), this story is for you.

Got to give credit where credit is due--this was inspired by Seventh Star Press's Christmas discount (which can be found here) and my friend Chris Nuttall making his novel The Empire's Corps free for a time for Christmas.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Movie Review: Turok Son of Stone (2008)

The other night I was fooling around on TVTropes rather than revising Battle for the Wastelands like I was supposed to and found that the comic series Gen 13, which I remember being aware of but not reading when I was a kid, had been made into an animated movie. I saw that someone had posted the movie (which was never officially released in the U.S.) on YouTube and also recommended was an animated film called Turok Son of Stone. I remembered playing the Turok video game when I was a kid, so I decided to give it a watch.

And now for the review...

The Plot

Native American warrior Turok is exiled from his tribe after killing several men from an enemy tribe and accidentally wounding his brother. Sixteen years later his nephew Andar comes to seek his help fighting said enemy tribe, which he refuses to provide. It turns out the enemy is armed with guns and makes short work of Turok and Andar's kin. The villainous leader Chichak even kidnaps Andar's mother Catori. Turok and Andar pursue them through caves into the mysterious Lost Land, where dinosaurs, extinct giant mammals (like this one), homicidal Neanderthals, and some people who are apparently distant kindred to Turok's people live. Turok and his family befriend them, but Chichak has made himself king of the Neanderthals and seeks to continue his vendetta...

The Good

*The Turok series has a whole lot of Rule of Cool going for it. There're dinosaurs and various other prehistoric monsters, lots and lots of action, terror-bird cavalry (terror-birds are underused as movie monsters, which is unfortunate), and more. It's great.

*Animation in the United States is usually considered kiddie fare, but this is most assuredly not. The movie starts out with the young Turok killing a whole bunch of enemies with an axe, with blood and limbs flying. And that's just the beginning. Turok's people's foes obliterate them with muzzle-loading rifles, there's neck-snapping and spearings aplenty, etc. It's an action movie that just happens to be animated.

*I like the animation style generally. Turok looks very much like his comic-book and video-game counterpart.

*Turok in one sequence performs some awesome physical feats, but due to a previous injury loses so much blood that he passes out. Although he's able to get up and move around within hours, it's several days before he performs similar athletic feats. That's rather more realistic than a lot of action movies.

*The movie is fairly creative in its choice of predatory antagonists. Instead of the usual Tyrannosaurus Rex, the major animal predator is a Carnotaurus. The Disney film Dinosaur and the novel The Lost World have those as enemies, but that's about it.

*The cave people are ruled by a female warrior chief, but there's no attempt to shoehorn in a romantic plot between her and Turok even though I suspected there'd be one.

The Bad

*The movie is a little on the short side. It's maybe an hour and fifteen minutes tops. Perhaps it was originally intended for television broadcasting? Its extreme violence would make it unlikely to be shown anywhere except perhaps Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network.

*It's fun, but it's not really that entertaining. There are much more fun movies out there.

The Verdict

It's fun to see once. Six out of 10.

Spoiler-Free STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) Review

At long last, after weeks of looking forward to it, I've finally seen J.J. Abrams' science fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I've managed to avoid spoilers so far, and I won't sully your experience, so the following review will be spoiler-free...

The Plot

Thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Republic has been re-established and is supporting a resistance movement against the First Order, a successor state to the fallen Empire. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and both the Resistance, led by Leia, and the First Order are seeking him. Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) receives a map showing where Luke went into exile and leaves it with his droid BB-8 on the planet Jakku before being captured by the First Order and its Force-wielding enforcer Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). While rebellious stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) helps Poe escape, the droid ends up in the ends of scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), and the hunt is on...

The Good

*The movie is quite entertaining. It starts out with a bang--the First Order attacks a village in order to capture Poe and the map he has--and keeps going. A lot of movies I end up looking at my watch multiple times throughout, but not this one.

*There are some fun action sequences, including a Big Damn Heroes moment where the Resistance arrives to rescue some characters captured by the First Order and various battles between X-wings and TIE fighters.

*Finn is pretty funny, especially his interactions with Han Solo. I liked a lot of his lines.

*Although Leia does not appear to have undergone Jedi training like she did in the original Expanded Universe, the filmmakers do remember that she's Force-sensitive. She's capable of picking up on another character's ultimate fate from possibly light-years away.

*Although the film is too derivative of the original trilogy (more on that later), there are a couple scenes where Han riffs on events from the first film for comedic effect.

*I liked how a character reveals another character's real name. Very dramatic. And the resulting confrontation is very well-done. One character makes a particular decision and is clearly very torn about it, to the point you think they'll make a different one.

*The First Order soldiers are clearly trained to take on opponents armed with lightsabers, indicating a certain adaptability on the Empire/First Order's part.

*Domhnall Gleeson does a good job playing General Hux, one of the First Order's commanders. He's very good at making dramatic speeches.

The Bad

*The movie is overall rather derivative of the original trilogy. The First Order's new superweapon is too much like the Death Star, as is the attack on it. There are even sequences that are obviously copied from the original films, including a scene where the Millennium Falcon and X-wings flying away from an explosion. The galaxy far, far away is a pretty big place and there's plenty of room to do new stuff in the old world.

*The superweapon doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The Death Star was pretty straightforward--it was a gigantic laser capable of destroying a planet. Not going to go into more detail for fear of spoilers.

*The political situation doesn't make much sense. The resistance is a separate entity from the Republic and is clearly under-armed, but yet it has a bunch of important people from the Rebellion in hands-on command. I would expect them to be better-armed. It's like if the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviets was commanded by a U.S. general from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam but didn't have anything beyond their own small arms.

*I don't particularly like Kylo Ren's robotic voice. James Earl Jones as the voice of Vader was much more impressive. Heck, given how Ren has Vader's helmet, it would be interesting if he plugged in Vader's voice-machine and had James Earl Jones' voice. Characters could even comment on that.

*There are some obvious matte paintings for the background.

*I liked what Han and Leia were up to in the original EU--her one of the civilian political leaders of the New Republic and him a military general--after the fall of the Empire rather than what they're doing here. The reasoning behind it makes some sense--and I think in the EU Han did something similar after the death in battle of Chewbacca--but I didn't particularly like it. And how on Earth would he lose the Millennium Falcon?

*Why Rey doesn't want to leave Jakku is incredibly foolish. I remember another reviewer saying she acts like a realistic young person, including making bad decisions, but I didn't like how they handled it.

*Finn goes from wanting to desert the First Order after a war crime to killing his former comrades pretty quickly. I would expect more internal conflict.

*Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is rather underused. She doesn't even take her helmet off. Christie was pretty impressive in Game of Thrones, so this is rather unfortunate.

*Why is there a map to where Luke is hiding? I could understand something like manifests of the ship he left on or records of "Luke Skywalker sightings" or something to that effect, but how would this map be made?

The Verdict

It would have been a lot better if they'd adapted Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy instead. Let's hope the new trilogy improves from here. Six out of 10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

THREE Cool Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movie Trailers For You!

A couple more cool trailers for movies I'd like to see have graced my laptop in recent days.

Here's the first one, the science fiction/alien invasion saga Independence Day: Resurgence. For anybody who hasn't been hiding under a rock for the last twenty years, that's the sequel to Independence Day.

Looks pretty cool. When I first saw the trailer I was wondering why there was another attack on Earth itself. One would think the aliens would have learned not to descend into a gravity well to battle the natives, while we would want to engage them as far away as possible. I was hoping for human-made City Destroyers to duke it out with alien City Destroyers in deep space.

Well, this website chronicling "The War of 1996" kind of explains that. There are bases on Mars and Saturn's moon Rhea, so either the alien attackers bypassed them (not hard given how planets orbit) or blasted through them. And now the battle has come to Earth itself, to the older survivors of the war (including a crazy-seeming ex-president) and new heroes...

And here's something that came out Monday, Star Trek Beyond.

If I remember right, the Enterprise leaves on "the five-year mission" to explore uncharted space at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness. So it seems that, not long into the mission, the Enterprise is wrecked by hostile aliens and its crew stranded. Furthermore, they're in the hands of hostile aliens intent on "push[ing] back" against the Federation itself.

I'm wondering how Kirk and friends get out of this pickle. And I also like McCoy's "isn't this just typical" line. :)

Finally, there's this Harry Potter spin-off, the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

Author J.K. Rowling created a fantasy world that's so huge that there's plenty of room for more stories other than those about Harry and his friends. The fan-fic covering the Marauder Era (when Harry's parents were in school), the next generation, etc. shows that.

But all of that is in Great Britain. Here we get to see what the American wizarding community is like. There's not much here, but it looks nice.