Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie Review: The Last Jedi

First, some background:

1. My familiarity with the Star Wars Universe begins and ends with the movies. I have not read any of the books and so am entirely indifferent to any deviation from the beloved Extended Universe canon.
2. I disliked both the Prequels and The Force Awakens, the former for just being drek and the latter for the missed opportunities which in the end made it more disappointing.
3. I skipped Rogue One entirely because of the super-obnoxious pre-release behavior by those involved with the movie. I heard the movie itself was very good, and I might see it someday as a library rental.
4. I was reluctant to be disappointed again, and pay $20 plus food for the privilege, but decided to give the Star Wars series one last try. Part of me was hoping this would be the time to give up and move on with my life since quite frankly I'm burned out on the endless Hollywood reboots and sequels.

Unfortunately for my wallet, I will not be giving up on the series quite yet. In fact (excluding Rogue One, which I haven't seen and thus cannot judge) this is my favorite of the new crop of Star Wars movies.

The new entry had a long way to go, as far as I was concerned, to make up for the artistic brain fart that was TFA, and the list of accomplishments is rather impressive. Mind you, these are MY pet peeves from TFA that have been addressed. YMMV.

1. Finn in TFA existed only to a) provide stunt casting, by director's own admission and b) make Rey look even more of a Mary Sue than she already was. It's almost like the writers said "Let's have a black character because we must, but he can't be too interesting or accomplish much because Rey must be the hero at all times." In the sequel, he comes onto his own, stops being Rey's comic-relief sidekick, and fully, voluntarily, accepts his identity as "Rebel scum" rather than being pulled along by forces not of his choosing. The caper subplot gets a resounding Meh on the whole, but it's worth it for giving Finn a character arc and potentially a love interest who isn't Rey, which again goes with him becoming his own man.

2. Poe, much like Finn was not allowed any character development in TFA (and having since enjoyed Oscar Isaac's performance in The Promise, I became extra annoyed at the waste of talent the more I thought about it). Aside from setting in motion a couple of plot points, he really had no reason to be there. Again, in the sequel he gets a full character arc, growing from a brash "flyboy" to a mature leader. My only complaint is that the character as written (someone brave and skilled but hotheaded, with much to learn from his elders) was better suited for a younger actor.

3. Rey, who was a Mary Sue to end all Mary Sues, and an unlikable one at that, has become someone different. Still stubborn and occasionally obnoxious, but... vulnerable, willing to ask for help, open to making human connections (she may or may not be falling for Finn, but the fact that the possibility exists is refreshing). Also, the writers go at least through a nominal demonstration that yes, she actually is very good with the staff and it might explain her previously unbelievable skill with the light saber. A small thing, but something I appreciated. And, not to go all spoiler-y, but she does make a mistake, and a big one. Still a Mary Sue? Perhaps, but not in a dumb, in-your-face manner of the previous movie.

4. Kylo Ren is not longer a pathetic youngster to be dismissed. More on him later.

Now that I got TFA out of the way, what of the new developments? Let me cover the highlights so as not to give too many spoilers.

The biggest "shoot-me-now" moments for me were with the new CGI creatures. They're beyond silly and don't add anything to the story except some lame comic relief. I get the merchandising part, I really do, and none of this compares to the travesty that was Jar Jar, but it made and overly long move seem even longer.

The over-abundance of women leaders, while taken to ridiculous heights with the new commanding officer sporting pink hair and a long evening gown, was not, for ME, entirely out of place. In a Rebellion that is both long-running and constantly facing superior forces, it might stand to reason that it's mostly women who'd made it to an old age. Or at least that's the symbolism I'm seeing in this setup, perhaps not intended by the writers. In times of war, men run towards the enemy, and women carry on so the civilization, and hope, survives. Societies decimated by war can and do end up with a matriarchy of sorts. It so happens, I grew up in one of those, so it just might be my perspective.

And now, the most important question of all. Did Luke as a character get ruined?


I can't say any more without spoilers, but while his fate is sad, the manner in which it's handled is neither overly depressing nor nihilistic. In a way, the character comes full circle, and it feels right.

Back to Kylo Ren.

He is, intentionally or not, a Millennial villain. Having gotten over the worship of his grandfather, he is intent on obliterating the past as a way to a better future. If this sounds disturbingly familiar, it's probably because you've been paying attention to real-life news over the last few years.

I have to admit to laughing inappropriately during a big scene (you'll know it when you see it) because at some point I looked at Kylo Ren and thought, "Now he will scream helplessly at the sky."

And he did.

And I giggled.

It broke the mood of a truly poignant scene, but I couldn't help it. This was one of those moments where art and real life met, and quite possibly I was the only one with that reaction. That's the thing about art. It has layers. I can't say, though, that this was my favorite scene.

That honor belongs to the very end of the movie, and this is why I think it's worth seeing.

There are forces at work, in our own time and place, who would do away with heroes and legends, who say we've outgrown the need, and the key to success and progress lies in leaving those behind or, better yet, destroying them altogether.

The closing scene responds to this attitude with a quiet but determined rebuke. And in that alone, it recaptures something the old Star Wars had and the series just might, belatedly, recapture again: a sense of wonder, hope, and the future that's worth fighting for.

Go see it, and make up your own mind.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Movie Review: Silenced

As regular readers might remember from my several posts on the culture war and censorship, I consider free speech one of the most important issues of our time. Aside from it being a basic human right enshrined  most prominently in our Bill of Rights, it is also a pragmatic necessity for our civilization's survival, for one simple reason.

You can't solve a problem you can't name.

And boy oh boy do we have a boatload of Problems-That-Cannot-Be-Named.

Oh, we're all aware they exist. We whisper of them amongst the like-minded, looking over our collective shoulders. We discuss them in closed Facebook groups and on Discord chats, forever fretting about spies and suspensions. But for the most part, we have all agreed that some things are just off-limits out in the open, at least if you want to keep whatever it is that's precious to you. For some, it's a job; for others, family harmony; for still others, long-term friendships. The reasons are valid, and sometimes even admirable, but the consequences of such decisions slowly accumulated over the last decade or more to bring us to one undeniable fact.

We are all Silenced.

And now, thanks to the efforts of Mike Cernovich, Loren Feldman and many dedicated supporters who'd provided the funds, we have a chance to explore the magnitude of the problem and possible solutions.

The documentary introduces a collection of speakers from different walks of life and of wildly varying respectability/fame/notoriety. They are clips rather than complete interviews, giving an overall effect of unfiltered, unedited expression, even though the choice and placement of different clips is anything but accidental. At first, the format is jarring as we jump from one person to the next with little time to digest the content. However, but at some point the pattern emerges, and we begin to see that each participant is telling an important part of the story, much as all the pieces of a kaleidoscope create a picture.

Allan Dershowitz gets a much-deserved top billing, in part because he is perhaps the most mainstream name in the group, but mostly because he's got all the best lines (sorry, Milo!). I wish some of those thoughts could be put on T-shirts and worn on college campuses, although part of me worries about the violence or at least expulsions and firings that might result.

Other contributors range from famous to unknown, sympathetic to "cross-the-street-to-avoid," highly intellectual to plain spoken. Some tell stories of having been censored or disemployed, while others simply explain their personal views on the importance free expression. More importantly, we see the cost of both soft and hard censorship, not just in political discussions and entertainment, but in areas that affect us on a daily basis (medical research is a particularly stark, yet unsurprising, example).

Different races, religions, sexual orientations and political ideologies are represented, not because someone in the back room was checking off diversity boxes but because freedom of speech is just that important. Some of the participants would likely not wish to be in the same building with each other, and yet here they all are, getting (virtually) together to speak up for the one thing on which they happen to agree.

Free speech is precious.

It is rare.

And we, who have been blessed with it, dare not lose it.

Let us be Silenced no more.

Silenced is available on Amazon (free with Prime).

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Writer's Block Radio Show Interview

On December 7th, I had the privilege of being interviewed on The Writer's Block Radio Show. The show is unique in that the hosts take time to read the books and so are able to discuss them in depth. In my case, Jim chose to read The Product and Bobbi took Chasing Freedom. We talked about my choice of dystopia as a preferred writing genre, the different characters and concepts in my books and of course the ups and downs of the creative process.

It was my first time being interviewed by hosts I didn't know personally through online interaction, and it was a pleasure meeting both Jim Christina and Bobbi Bell. It was an all-around fun experience, even though we spent a while discussing some rather heavy topics. Those who heard my interviews in other venues will still hear plenty of new material because many of the questions were really interesting and different. I hope my answers would prove interesting as well. Enjoy!

Oh and of course: BUY MY BOOKS :)