Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Edit: The trailer is now out, and I will be doing  a video and blog post with my thoughts on it later today.

Star Wars Celebration Orlando is now underway, featuring panels with the stars and filmmakers of the Star Wars franchise. Director Rian Johnson is present, and it is expected that the trailer for The Last Jedi will premiere online tomorrow. With that said I thought I would share some of my hopes for the next film.

1) No death star.

We have had three death stars over seven films, and even the original trilogy didn’t have two death stars back to back.  I didn’t mind seeing the original death star again in Rogue One, since it was a prequel. With that said, death stars should simply be retired for the saga as a whole.

2) More development for Finn as a capable warrior.

John Boyega has hinted (via Instagram) that Finn will have a more physical role in The Last Jedi. He has also hinted that the character would be boring if he started off as a  skilled warrior, instead of realistically developing to that point. Since Rey is often accused of being a Mary Sue to her skills as a pilot, mechanic, and her skill with the force and the lightsaber, maybe Boyega has a point. I have previously discussed the Mary Sue argument, although I believe detractors may have a point I simply have to question if a male character with the same skills would be criticized as much. After all, Luke had the same skill set in A New Hope.

Finn was marketed as the franchise’s next Jedi, and his fate in the film came across as a cruel bait and switch. First, one of the few black main characters in the franchise is reduced to comic relief for the most part. Second, he’s unconscious at the end of the film while Rey goes to train with Luke. Boyega is a great actor, if his performances in Attack The Block and Imperial Dreams are any indication and I hope he gets more room to shine.

3) More new locations and people.

Rogue One and the announcement of various spin-offs that deviated from the “Episode” series initially seemed like a cash grab. However, Rogue One ended up being a breath of fresh air. Star Wars is the story of a galaxy,  and it was great to be separated from one family and one set of characters for a few hours. We got memorable new characters and places that still relate to the “Episode” series while also showcasing how vast the universe really is.

If the trailer is released tomorrow, I’ll be fanboying like everyone else, with these hopes in the back of my mind.

Ex-Machina and Race

I remember watching Ex Machina back in 2015 and falling in love with the film within the first half hour. The film follows a programmer, Caleb Smith, who is invited to test an AI being developed by his  CEO, Nathan Bateman.

By the time it was done, Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of all time. Aside from the great performances, especially by Oscar Isaac, the film asked a lot of interesting questions. There was one question, and one specific line, that still sticks with me. It comes to the forefront of my mind every time the topic of interracial dating ever comes up, with the most recent occurrence being Get Out.

“Accumulated external stimuli” (AES).

Whether it is in person, online or in entertainment, there are a plethora of reasons offered for dating exclusively in one’s race.

“It’s not natural”

Neither are cars and retirement homes. In the good old days humans used horses to travel and the old and sick would perish to make way for the fittest. Some scholars even argue monogamy is unnatural. How many of these things do proponents of this argument which to cut out of society? Of course, these people probably don’t realize how faulty their reasoning is. After all, I am sure many of the people who use the argument have no attraction to other races, and therefore assume that it is natural for them to feel that way.

This also brings up the question of why they view it as unnatural. I grew up with interracial couples in my family, among my cousins, aunts etc. By the time I was ten I viewed interracial coupling as natural. However, I realize my experience is not an objective truth. People who grow up with racially or ethnically homogenous families will be more likely to see an interracial coupling as unnatural if they have rarely experienced it themselves. Especially if their family also actively discourages or criticizes such relationships.

“It’s not racist. It’s just a natural preference.”

AES is the only reason for racial preferences that I agree with. Firstly, it doesn’t view attraction to a specific skin colour or ethnicity as being an ingrained development, where we are born programmed only to date white people, or Chinese people etc.  People who grow up genuinely believing their preferences were pre-programmed (so to speak) often disregard the impact of years of subtle coaching from family and/or friends to stick to their own or “preserve the culture”.  If your parents are guiding you to seek out your own kind once you have your first crush at age seven, it is easy for you to reach thirty and think that the choice was a natural one.

Of course, people don’t always have a preference for their own. Some people will reject their own kind and only seek out others. I know plenty of black people who don’t want to date other black people, or at least not dark-skinned black people. I know people who are neither white or black, but still have a preference for white mates, or lighter-skinned mates that can produce lighter-skinned children. It is a mark of beauty and progress. They see their family moving on up in the world as the generations become lighter. Is this sort of self-hate natural? Or is it a result of what they were taught to value by their own family? Or maybe a result of the dominant images of beauty available in the media they consume? As Nathan says, these stimuli form a sphere of influence that “you probably didn’t even register, as they registered with you.”

Alien: Covenant Trailer Thoughts

I know it’s a little late but since I’ve been thinking about it a lot, I thought I would share my thoughts on the Alien: Covenant trailer.

Prometheus was a disappointment for many people, myself included. I didn’t find it as confusing as most people did but I thought that the film did sport some weak dialogue and some poor writing. However, the performances and the visuals were great. Michael Fassbender’s role as David cemented him as one of my favourite actors and Noomi Rapace was lovely as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. With that said, I am probably more excited about Covenant than the average person.

Ridley Scott is back in the director’s chair, which probably helps to satiate a lot of fan worries. Although I am hopeful,  I also remember Exodus: Gods and Kings. That film is the best proof that a legendary director can still direct a bad film. Whitewashing aside, a lot of the writing, acting and special effects left a lot to be desired.

There was originally talk of director Neill Blompkamp (Elysium, Chappie) being signed on for a fifth Alien film, which would serve as a direct sequel to Alien: Resurrection (1997). Sigourney Weaver also confirmed that she would return as Ellen Ripley, but the project was cancelled in October 2015. Now Ridley Scott has confirmed that Alien: Covenant is the first of three planned sequels to Prometheus. Scott plans to pursue another Alien film once these sequels are completed.

With that said, a fifth Alien film likely won’t happen if Covenant or any of the sequels don’t do well enough at the box office. Michael Fassbender’s presence and my love of the Alien lore guaranteed I would be seeing Covenant anyway. This first trailer also did a great job of building my excitement.

It starts off with some of the dark (literally) imagery that is reminiscent of Alien  (1979) with its dark hallways and dim lighting, all of which help to disguise the uninvited visitor aboard the spaceship. We see Carmen Ejogo’s character pleading to be released from one of the ship’s rooms, while her roommate’s back begins to erupt in bloody fashion. There appears to be a new xenomorph type, which will burst from someone’s back instead of their chest.I knew the trailer was a red-band version but this shot still shocked me and makes it clear this film, like Prometheus, is embracing the franchise’s horror roots.

The trailer synopsis available on Wikipedia says that The Covenant is a colony ship looking for worlds to inhabit, and that David has been stranded on this world when they arrive. Fassbender also plays Walter, another synthetic (android) that arrives with The Covenant. There is no sighting of Shaw in the trailer, but she has shot scenes for the film. It is likely she could be in flashbacks or that her role is just being kept under wraps for now. Shaw and David were both headed towards the Engineer’s homeworld at the end of Prometheus, so it appears that this film takes place on the engineer homeworld or perhaps some other world that they encountered on route.

One scene that seems divisive among viewers is the trailer’s ending shower scene. While a couple are enjoying some down time together a xenomorph tail snaking between their legs, shortly before its shadow appears outside of the shower. The female of the couple is then showered in blood once the man is killed.

A lot of the criticism is due to the fact that people interpret the scene as something that doesn’t belong in a sci-fi/horror film. It’s slasher territory. I didn’t mind it though since the original Alien had some elements of a shasher film. The antagonist wasn’t a man in a hockey mask but the film did involve the population of a location being picked off one by one.

That scene also gets me thinking that James Franco may have been the one to die in that scene. The actress sprayed in blood looks like it could be Katherine Waterston, who plays Franco’s wife in the film. Franco was announced as the ship’s captain but we see Billy Crudup as the new captain in the film. He also listed as the “new captain” on Wikipedia. Franco’s death could either come before the ship lands on this new planet or perhaps Crudup gets a promotion thanks to a xenomorph. Killing off one of the most famous actors early on would mirror the surprise of Drew Barrymore being killed first in Scream (1996).

Aside from the footage, I am also happy that this film will be using more practical effects for the xenomorphs. Danny McBride has confirmed that every xenomorph is brought to life by someone in a suit, like Alien. If handled well, this can make them much more terrifying than a computer generated image. It is likely the aliens could be touched up or enhanced with CGI as well.

Speaking of McBride, I also wonder how he will handle a more serious role. His presence was one reservation coming out of this trailer. Another is an issue that people still harp on about Prometheus. A lot of people hated the fact that the ship crew seemingly made stupid decisions, such as removing their helmets on an alien planet. Dr. Holloway did this because he suspected the air inside the room was breathable, and the rest of the team followed. At the time I could understand but this trailer does bring up one of the issues of removing your helmet, even if you can breathe. A crew member steps on a plant and released black spores that travel into his ear canal.

Even though they can breathe the air, they didn’t account for alien pathogens. If the ship is specifically a colony ship then this should be a known risk. It does beg the question of why a crew wouldn’t keep their helmets on while they are still learning more about a new world.

What are your thoughts on Prometheus and Alien: Covenant?

Logan Looks Like The Conclusion Wolverine Deserves

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The final Wolverine solo film now has an official title and its first trailer. I uploaded my thoughts to YouTube yesterday, but I also wanted to discuss the trailer on the blog. Attention spans are short when it comes to blog posts, but they can actually be worse with YouTube. I try to aim to make videos less than seven minutes long so I often have to condense all my thoughts and points. The blog gives me a little more breathing room, even though there may still be plenty of people who think “TL:DR”.

Wolverine: Origins was terrible, I think most people agree with me on that. A butchered version of Deadpool is the film’s most infamous creation but there was plenty more to hate. Terrible dialogue and CGI as far as the eye can see. Let’s not forget the boxing scene with the blob.

Wolverine was an improvement, although that is not saying much. I loved the idea of wolverine losing his powers and the question that the film raises: How much suffering can one man take? However, the film is brought down by a weak third act and some weak characters. I’m looking at you Viper.

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Not only is Logan the last Wolverine solo film, it is also Hugh Jackman’s last outing as the title character. He was the first character to portray Wolverine in a live-action Hollywood film and by the time this film comes out, it will be  seventeen years (2000-2017). Hugh Jackman is a great actor and regardless of the quality of the films, I believe he has always delivered a great performance. I have no doubt he will be remembered as one of the best comic book film castings. With all that said, I am hoping this final film gives the actor and character a strong finish.

The first trailer gives me hope that my dream will come true. Director James Mangold has said that he was aiming for a Western vibe with the film, which is also aided by the song choice. Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”, originally by Nine Inch Nails, conveys the loneliness and grief that is omnipresent in the trailer. Although we know that the film will not closely follow Mark Millar’s “Old Man Logan”, there are plenty of similarities.

In Old Man Logan, an aging Wolverine escorts a blind Hawkeye as he delivers cargo across a post-apocalyptic US that is controlled by super villains. After one coordinated attack, the super villains were able to eliminate most of the heroes. Years later, Logan has settled down with a new family with his days of heroism long behind him. His family is bullied by his landlords, inbred children of Hulk and She-Hulk, and his healing factor has greatly diminished.

In the trailer, Logan says that mutants are gone, implying that he and the Professor are the few ones remaining. We see an older, scarred wolverine who is helping an ailing Professor X transport a young girl to safety. Additionally, plot synopses do say that a group of mutant-hunting cyborgs called “Reavers” will serve as the film’s antagonists. The “Reavers” may serve as the super villains that lead to the near-extinction of mutants in this timeline.

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There is one shot of Professor X laying in bed, and another shot of Wolverine carrying someone who appears to be the Professor. With how much older Wolverine looks, the Professor is likely near the end of his days.  Additionally, the last shot in the trailer shows Wolverine holding a shovel and standing over what appears to be a grave. There is already a lot of speculation that he buried the Professor. This also seems likely since the words playing over this shot could be the Professor’s last words.

Logan also sports numerous scars, and Mangold has confirmed that this is due to Logan’s aging. Like the comic, his age is taking its toll on his body and it can’t repair itself as well as it used to.

X-23 ( a female clone of Wolverine )will likely introduced as well. From what Professor X says the young girl is “very much like” Wolverine. I already know that Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman will be great in their roles, let’s hope the actress for X23 doesn’t bring the film down. Child actors always make me wary.

We still don’t know what X-23’s purpose will be. She is clearly the person being escorted, but we don’t know for what purpose. That is fine with me. IMDB is already swarmed with people asking why Wolverine has scars, why he looks so old etc. Some people need all their answers in the trailer and seem unable to give a film a chance to answer some questions. The teaser got me excited without giving away too much. The red band trailer also showed a glimpse of the R-Rated footage that many fans have been craving. Mangold and Jackman both acknowledge the importance of ending strong so I think that we finally have a Wolverine film that will live up to the hype.

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Elseworld

For this week’s blog post I wanted to share the first five pages of my science-fiction novel, Elseworld. I am still seeking publication for it and I am also working on a second novel in the meantime.

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Chapter One

Bitham knew that a bloodstained planet was somewhere west of him: Thousands, maybe millions of miles away. Despite that distance, the planet was still a constant presence in his life. It motivated him to pursue a career in law enforcement, and now it was going to give him a promotion. The bloodstained planet had been uninhabited for centuries, but newer generations of its people now lived on Bitham’s planet. Confined to their plantations, they were now a key source of labour, still paying off their ancestor’s debt. Bitham knew some people who still thought that the slaves should be exterminated, the same way their people tried to exterminate his.

Escaped slaves protested their treatment the only way their race knew – with violence. The deadliest of these terrorists were somewhere in the city of Mari, the city that Bitham was now living in. Which brought Bitham back to the thought he didn’t want to confront: he owed something to the people who were terrorizing the planet. Did that thought occur to the nineteen other men sitting in the room with him?

Bitham didn’t sit too close to anyone else. Ahead of him, he had a clear view of the podium and forty rows of chairs. No one bothered to remove the extras to accommodate this meeting. With golden tiles at his feet and metal walls all around him, Bitham felt like the room represented the combination of royalty and military that he would become, once he beat his competitors. Some of the other men were conversing amongst themselves but Bitham stayed alone – conversing with an opponent might give away information that could help them defeat him. He also did not want to get emotionally attached to people he would probably never see again.

The walls echoed sound all across the room and although the men all spoke quietly Bitham could make out snippets of their conversations: Names, cities, and occupations. They were all policemen, but policemen drawn from all across the planet. Each police force would have its own strengths and weaknesses, and Bitham wanted any information that could prove useful for the tests ahead.

He heard one man say he was from Varos, the neighbouring city. He would probably be one of the best drivers here, trained to manoeuvre through Varos’s dense web of skyscrapers. Bitham knew driving skills would probably be irrelevant for the tests since the uniforms here would enable policemen to fly. Even the most skilled driver would be starting from scratch.

Bitham already determined that it would make more sense for the tests to focus on intelligence and fitness. If that was the case, he had no doubt he’d succeed. If he miscalculated, then the tests would be much more difficult than he hoped.

Instead of eavesdropping on the conversations ahead, Bitham looked to his right to admire the poster of the man he hoped to meet someday. The ruler of Mari and the entire planet of Gabun: Damiak. The poster covered most of the wall, save for a few inches on the four corners. Damiak stood at an outdoor podium, standing high above an audience of admiring Gabuns. His arms were spread to his sides as he gazed at the crowd below him, with the golden sun behind him adding an ethereal glow. With this opportunity, Bitham could meet Damiak one day.

A door opened ahead of him and Bitham’s attention returned to the front. All chatter died immediately, with unfinished sentences bouncing off the metal walls before they died. A man was now entering the room, using a door positioned behind the podium. He was around six feet tall, with a slim build. Bitham knew he was about fifty, but the man’s face belonged to someone ten years older. Everyone already knew he was Eccaus, the city’s minister.

As Eccaus stopped behind the podium, he launched into a speech most definitely handed down by Damiak. Everyone knew that with Damiak’s strict control of his planet, Eccaus and every other ministers answered to him and all of their political decisions could be overridden. Having someone else to speak for him was only a convenience meant to ensure that Damiak’s time was not overly consumed and that he remained protected. Despite that, Eccaus and his position were greatly respected. It was still the greatest milestone any citizen could hope for.

“Good afternoon. You are the twenty people in all of Gabun who the government views as law enforcers of exceptional integrity. None of you have a wife or children; you understand that if you are granted this position all of your time and loyalty will be devoted to your ruler. You will all have an equal chance of ascending to the position of Gabun’s newest police division, the Order of Malvag. The Order of Malvag will act both as detectives and enforcers that work with the police to eliminate any threat to Damiak and his people. The suits you will receive were created by our planet’s best engineers and scientists, and designed to make you far more adaptable and efficient than any other policemen.”

“Only two will make it through this program. There will be eighteen challenges, and at least one person will be eliminated after each. I will not give you briefing on what the challenges constitute. Being able to succeed in an unplanned situation is a valuable skill in police work. Starting tomorrow, you will meet in this room every morning at seven, in your police uniforms. If you are late you are automatically disqualified. That will be all; you have the rest of the day to do as you please.”

Eccaus left quickly and Bitham followed suit: He left the room before his competitors stood up. The golden tiles continued into the hallway outside the meeting room, and so did the steel walls. White light bathed the floor, emanating from a cylindrical bulb that was built into the roof and covered by bulletproof glass. Bitham passed other rooms, knowing that officers were hard at work, perhaps compiling evidence or doing paperwork in each one that he passed. Yet he couldn’t see or hear anything.

Bitham knew the architecture in this city was once decadent and impractical, but the threat of terrorism made it important for that to change. Every room in this building could serve as a bunker if the building was ever attacked. Fortunately the terrorists never attacked it. Aside from the sentries, authorities thought that they avoided attacking this building due to its position at the northern end of the city. Most of their attacks were concentrated near the center of Mari, supporting the theory that they were hiding somewhere in the southern end. Bitham was determined to be one of the people that solved the mystery.

Reaching the end of the hallway, Bitham ascended the staircase to the building’s lobby. There was one desk positioned to the left of the staircase, where a police officer stood, waiting for any criminals to be brought in for processing. There were small piles of paper arranged all over the desk, everything from travel permits to kits for fingerprinting. Bitham nodded as he passed, only receiving a stare in return. That didn’t matter; he’d be the man’s commanding officer in a few weeks.

As Bitham stepped foot outside and onto the station’s behemoth parking lot, the sun’s rays greeted him, replacing the white light from the bulbs. Hundreds of parking spaces were empty. It seemed like most of the vehicles – the levpods, were being used for patrols all across the city. The parking lot was bigger than it needed to be, but it provided a flat and unobscured area that extended for nearly one hundred yards. Bitham looked towards the roof, seeing that two police snipers were still stationed there, with a tarp shielding them from the sun’s heat.

Instead of heading for the residence building, Bitham flashed the visitor badge around his neck to the snipers before walking around the right side of the building. As he passed the building’s east side, he realized how accustomed he was to peaking in windows. Instead of seeing officers hard at work, Bitham was only greeted by blue stone: Another precaution against the terrorists. Homes all across the city were redesigned over the past three years, with stone and steel, to resemble this building.

A much smaller parking lot, maybe only fifty feet long, gave way to a grassy field in the backyard. Bitham heard footsteps and glanced up to the roof again, seeing two more officers patrolling the northern end. Instead of concrete, they could admire the view of the lake that bordered the police station’s northern end.

A wall was erected hundreds of years ago to create the peasant quarter, and in addition to segregating the poor, the wall also obstructed the natural flow of numerous rivers. The lake behind the police station was carved out to relieve the water pressure. Bitham didn’t care about the poor, but if they had been allowed to die he would be denied the view.

The water’s torrents rushed away to his right, bathed in sunlight and creating a white trail that led into a heavily wooded forest on the horizon. In addition to the view, the scent of freshwater was a welcome change from the bleached surfaces in the police station.

Bitham remembered all the sacrifices he had made to get here: The friends he lost, the childhood summers spent in government training camps… the list went on, but Bitham felt no regret. Everything had been worth it to this point; he knew he would make his leader proud.

There was no better time to prove his loyalty.