Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

Note: I was out of the country for the past week, with limited wi-fi. I am back in Canada now but my schedule will still be busier than normal, likely until the end of August. With that said, I will still do my best to post three times a week.

Also, this piece has spoilers for “Men Against Fire”.

When I started watching “Men Against Fire” I thought it would end up on the bottom half of Black Mirror. The acting was some of the weakest the show’s given us in a while and I initially didn’t find the characters or the world as enthralling as the ones in preceding episodes. Initially, the story was about marines with hi-tech equipment killing zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi and zombie stories but the plot was a sharp contrast to the previous episodes. However, I figured that if I can watch an episode about a man being blackmailed to have sex with a pig, I can give this episode a chance.

The end of some episodes were disappointing, such as “Playtest”, which was dulled by numerous fake-outs throughout the episode. Other preceding episodes also have great ending, especially “White Christmas” and “Shut Up and Dance”. However, those endings were paired with episodes that I found enthralling and entertaining from start to finish. The endings were brilliant, but they only helped to immortalize amazing episodes. “Men Against Fire” might rank as my favourite ending (last 20 minutes) simply due to its ability to elevate what came before it.

“Roaches”, the pale, humanoid monsters that the soldiers eliminate turn out to be humans. Their MASS implants limit their sense of smell and hearing, drowning out the smells and sounds of war. Michael Kelly is a stand out on House of Cards as Doug Stamper, and is also a stand out here as Arquette, the psychologist who shares the twisted truth with “Stripe”. As always with Black Mirror the technology itself isn’t the most interesting part of the story; the most interesting part is the human behaviour it highlights.

Arquette uses the statistic that only 15-20% of men fired their rifles at the enemy in World War II, even when under the threat of immediate danger. Although this statistic is hotly debated, a comment on this page did add that most deaths in the world wars came from artillery fire: long-range, impersonal attacks that avoided the Rambo-esque hacking and shooting of close quarters combat.  Scholarly books such as Denis Winter’s Death Men also assert that most military deaths came from artillery fire, especially during advances.

“Men Against Fire” gets more interesting after a roach shines a laser into Stripe’s eyes. It was obvious that the laser must have some impact on the plot, when Stripe’s senses were affected after being exposed to it. When Hunter and Stripe raid an apartment building there is also a blueprint of the laser in the roach nest. Some online discussion shows that plenty of people say they saw the twist coming, and then also argue that the episode is poor because of that. I have to say that a predictable twist doesn’t have to bring down an episode if it is executed well. I thought I saw a twist coming, but I actually misinterpreted what it was.

Although the roaches appearance is terrifying, you realize that they didn’t initiate an attack in the first raid. Their first instinct is to run, and the sniper who kills squad leader Medina is an exception, probably because the soldiers are closing in on their refuge. The roaches weren’t depicted as the mindless predators we’re familiar with from zombie films. They seemed like mutants trying to live peacefully. The characters frequently mention a global war that passed, and I thought the roaches were the offspring of radiation from that war. For that reason, I thought the laser was a device that was meant to make them only appear normal to others, before they were mutated.  I had an inverse understanding of the twist until it was revealed. The roaches weren’t trying to make Stripe see them as they used to be, they wanted Stripe to see him as they are.

“You see me.”: The words of a refugee on the run from a genocidal society, relieved someone finally sees her as human. The military might be the ones killing the roaches, but the general public are brainwashed to see the roaches as literal monsters. Civilians don’t have MASS implants, the roaches are just other humans to them. However, they are humans that threaten the strength and purity of humanity’s bloodline. Arquette lists a range of defects present in the roaches, from higher susceptibility to diseases, to sexual deviancy and criminal tendencies. Arquette’s speech has all the cornerstones of eugenics and racism, and Trump’s comments on hispanics sadly mirror some of the ideas that criminality is ingrained in certain people.

In the aftermath of the war, one side went through great trouble to dehumanize the other. Cockroaches or “roaches” is what the Hutus called the Tutsis leading up to the Rwandan genocide, and even more recently used by a British politician to refer to refugees. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same term is used here. Dehumanization is a key part of genocide, birthed from propaganda that makes it easier for law-abiding civilians to engage in or support violence against the other. Civilians won’t even touch the food the roaches touched simply because they don’t want to get contaminated by a lesser breed.

“Men Against Fire” transitions from a war movie, to a piece that delves into the dark corner of the human psyche where prejudice reins supreme. As Stripe stands alone outside a dilapidated, graffiti-stained house, he sees a beautiful woman waiting to welcome him to their home. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other soldiers in this army had their memories wiped after they found out the truth.

Black Mirror: White Christmas

Picking a favourite episode of Black Mirror is a challenge. “The Waldo Moment” and “The National Anthem” aren’t contenders but there are plenty others, ranging from “Shut Up and Dance”, “Be Right Back”, to “The Entire History of You”. Among this list is “White Christmas”, which after careful consideration, I will have to say edges out the competition.

Like my post on “The Entire History of You“, I don’t want to focus on the plot itself. Black Mirror‘s central thesis is that technology can have corrosive effects on how humans interact with one another and I want to focus on how that is displayed here.

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) is undoubtedly a highlight of the episode, a character who is both charming and repulsive at the same time. The more vile aspects of his character emerge as his story unfolds. His past-life as a wannabe dating guru seems somewhat harmless at first. As a lanky film geek, I’d probably be an easy target for his services. However, it only takes a few seconds to realize that his real-time coaching is a grave invasion of privacy. Aside from the simple act of watching, Trent’s technology (referred to as the Z-Eye) also provides him with face recognition software he can use to research anyone his clients come in contact with, allowing him to feed any pertinent information to a party crasher. It gets only worse when we realize all of the members of his class share in their peers’ experiences, including any luck they get with unsuspecting women. The date that lands Trent in legal trouble also reminds me of the few I’ve had: promising starts with catastrophic endings.

It was great to see Oona Chaplin in another role, after seeing her for the first time in Taboo. She was undoubtedly a weak link on Taboo but does a better job here, portraying Greta, a wealthy woman about to undergo surgery. Prior to her surgery, a digital copy or “cookie” of Greta is created.

This cookie is intended to control Greta’s smart house, serving the rest of its “life” performing functions such as regulating heat and displaying Greta’s schedule. As expected the cookie is reluctant to spend its life this way, but Matt’s job is to make it compliant. By manipulating the time settings in the cookie’s digital world, he is able to make the cookie “live” for months at a time, stuck in a white room with nothing but a control panel. The room itself is only a projection within the cookie, but it is Greta’s prison now.

One of the characters, “Joe” remarks that this is slavery, but Trent believes it isn’t since the cookie isn’t a real being. I have to agree with Joe on this. Any sci-fi story that deals with the issue of consciousness, with Ex-Machina being a recent example, raises the question of what makes a being conscious and the morality of keeping a conscious being captive.

Is Greta’s cookie a conscious being? Matt doesn’t think so, because she’s just a string of code. However, if we analyze consciousness the way it is analyzed in Ex-Machina, then we understand that the components of a being don’t define its eligibility for consciousness. In Ex-Machina, Caleb argues that one of the central tests for consciousness is the “chess” question. A chess computer knows the game of chess and can make good plays, but can it describe what chess is? Does it even know what chess is? Simulation vs consciousness.

This cookie, from what we understand, is mentally no different than the person it was spawned from. We see it panicking as it is extracted from Greta and Matt has to explain the nature of its creation and its assigned purpose. Essentially, a copy of Greta’s mind was grafted and planted into a different environment. Until Matt explained what she was, she thought she was a conscious human being. She may be just code, but consciousness isn’t about matter, it’s about thought.

Although the cookie is the most advanced technology we see in the episode, it is actually not what interests me most. We are probably all familiar with ghosting, the act of ending a relationship with someone by cutting off all communication without explanation. Ghosting is usually discussed in the context of romantic relationships, but can apply to anyone. Someone decides to end the relationship, but decides that they want to avoid the difficult decision, call or text required for that. Instead, they simply cut off the other person. Ghosting preceded technology such as phones and computers, and some may see it is just a new name for something old. However, I believe technology makes it easier to become disconnected from other people. We don’t have to move or  shred letters, we can unfollow, delete or block with a click. Ghosting is convenient for people who have become accustomed to hiding behind screens when they interact. It is spineless and immature, and technology only makes it easier.

When “Joe” confronts his wife about her pregnancy, she is quick to block him. She doesn’t do this on her phone or some app, she blocks his entire body using the technology her world has to offer. She sees nothing but a grey silhouette where he stands and can only hear muffled static when he speaks. When Matt’s wife is confronted with the truth of his actions, she elects to do the same thing. The people who would have previously gone for a walk or tried to avoid their spouse, instead of contronting an issue, can now feel free to block someone’s entire body. The current level of cowardice that we see doesn’t prove effective if you’re likely to see someone again at work, school etc. With the capability to block someone as we see in “White Christmas”, the ghosted may be able to see you but they can’t interact with you. When Joe confronts his wife, after she blocks him, she only walks away and then proceeds to file a restraining order. Blocking becomes legally binding and the argument that you simply wanted to be able to confront someone directly doesn’t protect you. The authorities take the side of someone who decided to block her husband because he insisted on discussing their baby with her.

I have no doubt that authorities would defend this behaviour. Ghosting is already on the rise. Find any article online that discusses it, and allows comments. You will find plenty of people criticizing the practice, but you will also find many supporting it for one reason or another. All of the positive reasons boil down to “It’s easier for me (or both of us)”. Article after article will tell you that people who get ghosted may be able to deal with a relationship ending, but hate the way that their partner decided to do it. Blocking takes ghosting to an almost sadistic level.

Speaking of sadism, “White Christmas” gives us another twisted ending. Once Joe confesses that he murdered his ex-wife’s father, the authorities decide to tamper with the time settings. Each minute becomes 1000 years to Joe’s cookie, leaving him trapped in a projection of the cabin where he committed murder. We’re already living in a society where policemen have killed civilians for a thrill, I can definitely believe law enforcement officials would take a little glee in messing with someone they view as a lowly criminal. Even better, I can believe they would punish a sex offender with not being able to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

Geostorm Trailer- The Sombre Song Trend?

I saw the trailer for Geostorm in front of Wonder Woman last week and although the film seemed generic, with the apocalyptic scenario and the subpar CGI, the cover of “What A Wonderful World” stuck with me. The new rendition added a great deal of irony and the song itself was hauntingly beautiful. In true nerd fashion I went online to see if anyone else shared my opinion, and came across this article. This well written (no sarcasm) rants details the “trend” of trailers using sombre covers of famous and well-regarded songs, which apparently started with The Social Network using a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.

This first article mainly lists examples, mainly from movies that I haven’t seen, such as The Great Gatsby and  Fifty Shades of Grey (which I will only see if someone gives me The Clockwork Orange treatment).

I have to point out that this list still only includes a small minority of the trailers released over the past few years, trying to make it seem like every other film trailer follows the trend nowadays. There are enough examples for us to say a trend is at work, but why are we acting like these examples warrant a call for a moratorium?

I digress. This blog post comes as a reaction to a linked article. This article also breaks down the history of the trend and uses Suicide Squad as a case study, comparing the teaser that used a cover of Bee Gee’s “I Started a Joke” to the second trailer that used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The reason I feel the need to discuss this: The thesis of the article is that the second trailer is better because it is more “fun”. I have previously discussed my disdain for the belief that fun always equals good, while serious or “dark” equals bad. However, I have mostly discussed this in relation to comic book films, with my article on Kingsman being an exception.

There has been a drastic shift in the reception of dark comic book films since The Dark Knight era. That is not to say that there isn’t a single dark comic book film that gets good reception these days e.g. Logan, but as a whole people value their “fun” now more than ever. People love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for its insistent levity and humour, and despise the DCEU (partly) due to its “dark” tone. Note that a lot of the positive reviews for Wonder Woman attribute its rating to its “hope” and “fun”.  I am not a miserable person, I don’t mind levity and “fun”. I just don’t mind darkness or anything that is serious either. It seems like people desire simple escapism now more than ever, where everything should be “fun”, regardless of the subject matter.

I must agree with the author on one of his points. In some cases, especially Avengers: Age of Ultron, the song choice adds gravitas that the film does not deserve. The Age of Ultron teaser built Ultron up as a frightening threat, who was ultimately neutered and played for laughs. However, I have to say that this issue of misdirection is not isolated specifically to sombre covers of well-known songs. Any dramatic score or serious song can have the same effect on a movie’s marketing. Many people hated the Matrix sequels and the music used for that marketing would likely be deemed just as “self-serious” to this author. It honestly seems like the covers of the well-known songs aren’t the author’s real issue. He just hates the serious or “grim” tone that it bestows on the trailers.

In this case the author calls the Geostorm trailer and its accompanying music, “self-serious”  and “grim”. As I’ve noted before, the focus on tone ends up overriding any other issues of artistic merit, since “fun” becomes synonymous with good and serious of “dark” becomes synonymous with bad. Let’s look at the author’s comments on Suicide Squad as an example. He argues that the second trailer, with Bohemian Rhapsody is more fun and markets the film better. Obviously the second trailer will market the film better. The second trailer isn’t a teaser, therefore it is meant to show us more of the characters backgrounds and their interactions. Yet as expected, this author thinks the trailer is better ONLY because it’s tone is improved.

Many people, who do not know comic book characters as well as they think they do, insist that these films should all remain colourful and fun, no matter the storyline or characters being portrayed. Although I disagree, I can understand how a simplistic notion of a certain character or fictional world can lead people to think that one size fits all in terms of tone. However, Geostorm is not an adapation, yet alone an adaptation of “lighter” source material. Why does it have an obligation to be “fun”? It is a film about a global catastrophe, a dark tone suits it. Of course, some apocalyptic films can also have a lighter tone e.g. Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean that they all have to follow Independence Day’s example.

Pictured above: A perfect opportunity to use some “fun” music

Why can’t any film be allowed to look serious for a few minutes at a time without people labelling it pretentious or depressing? Even if a film is depressing, it doesn’t mean it is bad. Unless the film is explicitly meant to be a comedy, a film’s rating should not suffer because it didn’t make you laugh or smile enough. Since when did we become so sensitive that we need films to cushion us from the ugly realities of life? Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. People argue that is why films should offer us fun, but I argue that is the best reason that they should offer us whatever the director or editor feels. Films often reflect reality, why have we forgotten that? There is nothing wrong with films having different tones. We can choose to watch different films based on our moods. There is variety. I would hate to scroll through Netflix or Kodi and come across a library of films that are all the same tone. Likewise, I would hate to go to the theater and have one preview after another with the same tone, whether it is dark or light.

Alien: Covenant Review

2012’s Prometheus attempted to tell the story of the origin of the xenomorph that Alien fans have come to know and love. The film was met with mixed reviews to say the least, but I am among the people that didn’t love it, but also didn’t hate it with the same passion that is all too common online.

The film’s performances were its best asset. The visual effects were amazing, and there were some memorable creepy scenes. Prometheus asked a lot of interesting questions, but since it was setting itself up for a sequel, many of those questions remained unanswered.

The sequel has now arrived, taking place 10 years after the events of Prometheus. Colony ship Covenant is bound for Origae-6, with 15 crew members, 2000 colonists  and 1000 embryos in tow. After receiving a signal from a nearby planet, which scans show to be hospitable to human life, the crew decides to investigate the planet as a potential site for colonization. Of course, mayhem ensues as some crew members become infected and give birth to xenomorphs, or early prototypes of the xenomorph.

One Prometheus criticism that was rife on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) message boards (RIP), is that the scientists all made a lot of stupid decisions. I didn’t jump on that bandwagon as vehemently as some people did, but I could not deny that Covenant is definitely worthy of such criticism. In Prometheus, the scientists remove their helmets on an alien ship after realizing they can breathe the air. People thought that this was perhaps stupid since there could be other dangers. If you’ve seen the trailer for Covenant you already know one crew member gets infected when spores travel into his ear canal. Even before this scene comes along, I couldn’t help but wonder why there would be no precautions to wear helmets on a foreign planet at least until a variety of tests are conducted.

Maybe I could have excused the lack of helmets since the scientists already know the atmosphere is liveable. What I could not excuse was a scene where a scientist sniffs alien mushrooms and then touches them. He has gloves on, but doesn’t feel the need to back away when the mushrooms visibly release spores. He inhales them, and still doesn’t think to back away. In another scene, an alien bursts forth from a crew member, in full view of multiple armed crew members. While the alien takes some time to get its bearings, no one thinks to shoot it until it starts attacking. This kind of writing isn’t a “plot hole” as people love to say. It appears that “plot hole”, like “irony”, is a word that is often used incorrectly nowadays. Maybe there isn’t a specific term for what we see in Covenant, you could just call it sloppy writing that ruins enjoyment of the movie since a part of you feels like some of the characters bring it on themselves. At times, watching Covenant was like watching a slasher flick where the copulating co-eds decide to go investigate a strange noise. These moments are less prominent in the second half of the film, but they remain fresh in my mind.

I will also add that Covenant doesn’t answer all of the questions it asked in Prometheus, which was disappointing since it leaves some of the most interesting points of Prometheus moot for the moment. Perhaps another sequel will try to shed more light but suspense fizzles if it isn’t used just right. Additionally, Covenant also adds more backstory to the alien lore, which the more die-hard fans will either love or hate. I can cope with the new info, but it also adds more questions that remain unanswered.

On a more positive note, the performances give me something I am happy to remember.  Fassbender’s performance in Prometheus helped to cement him as one of my favourite actors, after his performance in X:Men First Class. Fassbender has since followed up Prometheus with 12 Years A Slave and Shame, further showcasing his versatility and talent. Here, Fassbender plays a marooned David, as well as Walter, a newer generation synthetic assigned to the Covenant. Walter is played with a southern accent, which slips at times and hampers the performance somewhat, although not nearly enough to ruin it. Fassbender is truly memorizing when playing David, and is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Fassbender is also supported ably by Katherine Waterston, who plays second in command Daniels Branson. Billy Crudup plays his role well as the newly appointed Covenant captain, Christopher Oram, but his character’s story arc is also a victim of the aforementioned sloppy writing. Aside from Branson and Oram, many of the crewmembers have little to no development or real charisma on screen. Danny McBride is decent in a more serious role, but is still pretty forgettable.The other crew members have few lines and the actors don’t manage to do much with their lines either. While the main cast are strong, the supporting crew offer some stifled dialogue that makes you lose interest when the action cuts to them.

I have never been one to criticize CGI as a whole. However, I do criticize CGI if poorly rendered CGI is used in place of models, animatronics, motion capture etc. Alien (1979) had more convincing looking creatures. Even more recent films that used CGI aliens, such as Alien vs Predator (terrible film, I know) had more realistic looking creatures than the ones we see here. Other effects, such as some of the sequences involving the ship also look surprisingly cartoonish. Fortunately, the action sequences are actually entertaining, with Fassbender offering another highlight in this arena. Covenant may not be a real horror film for Alien fans, but the franchise has always had its fair share of violence and disturbing imagery. There are few jump scares throughout Covenant, and we do get some genuinely creepy ones that linger once the film is done. Yet again, I feel like these moments could have been improved if the characters were getting attacked by something that looked like it was made of flesh and blood.

Overall, Covenant was an entertaining film that surpassed its predecessor. Fassbender alone is worth the price of admission and although I wouldn’t say the film is a return to form for the Alien franchise, it is close to being there.

The OA Ending Thoughts

Note: Obviously there will be spoilers for the entire series below. 
Between catching up on Suits, and following several ongoing series I was reluctant to add another show to my list. However, a friend recommended The OA numerous times since they knew that I write science-fiction (The OA straddles sci-fi and fantasy).

I didn’t look up any reviews before I eventually decided to start watching. I was relieved to see the show only had one season, meaning the time investment wouldn’t be as detrimental as some other series that I’ve been recommended (I’m looking at you Community).

The OA did have some moments of relatively slow pacing but I didn’t notice the slower pace since the show began on an interesting note. Knowing that the main protagonist came back from a seven year disappearance with the ability to see drew me in, and made me patient for the buildup. This is in contrast to shows like True Detective (season one) where the actors and rave reviews made me willing to wait for the payoff.

Since The OA had a relatively slow build, and left a lot of questions unanswered going into the finale I hoped that the ending would give us a strong sendoff. I don’t mind ambiguous endings, with Inception being one of my favourites, but this is one ending that definitely leaves some questions. A second season is confirmed so I am sure more answers will be forthcoming, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the ending of season 1.

Throughout the season, there is no real proof that the story Prairie is sharing is entirely true. Of course, we see the events, but we could only be seeing Khatun, the captives and the NDE’s through Prairie’s own warped perspective. Similar to how we see most of Fight Club through on character’s warped perspective. The audience and the five are likely to believe Prairie due to the miraculous nature of Prairie’s reappearance and the restoration of her eyesight. One miracle makes us willing to accept others.

Leading up the final scene, it appears Prairie fabricated most of the events she shared about her disappearance. The movements, the other captives, all appear to be figments of her imagination. Her greatest companion, Homer, appears to have been dreamed up from a copy of Homer’s Iliad. Prairie also has books on angels and near death experiences, forming the backbone of the story.

The last scene involving the school shooting was all foreshadowed with one line from the Sheriff’s wife, which Prairie and Homer helped to heal of her ALS. After giving them the fifth movement, the wife remarks it “will save their lives”. Prairie then passes this onto the five, and they all understand what must be done when the shooter traps them in the cafeteria.

Up until this point, the movements were somewhat odd to say the least. The movements themselves reminded me of a haka but the added vocalizations, such as the hissing and spitting, added an extra air of “What am I watching”? However, all of that vanishes in this scene. The tension built up to that point, and the music all make the final performance of the movements an epic moment.

Of course, the movements themselves don’t do anything. They provide a distraction and still fulfill the promise indirectly. This moment made me wonder if there was some truth to Prairie’s story, specifically her kidnapping by Hap and the existence of Homer and the other captives. This appears to be the reason why the five, Steve especially, gain new belief in The OA when she is being carted off on the ambulance. It looks like Prairie’s life may not be saved, but the lives of her new friends, the other angels were saved. Additionally, Prairie’s collision with the one stray bullet strikes me as exceptionally bad luck, or a fortuitous NDE that will allow her to leave Earth and be reunited with Homer and the others in another dimension. Hence Steve’s plea of “Take me with you”.

Prairie addresses Homer in the very last scene of the season, but yet again if her mind is warped then she will see whatever she wants to see.

The books may have been ones she collected after her incident as a means of gathering information on her new reality and a sense of kinship with her missing friends. However, given what happened before, it looks like season 2 will shed more light on the fact that Prairie is not insane and that her story truly did happen, either in part or in whole.

The ending left me staring at the screen hoping another episode would begin soon, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. It can be a sign of something rushed or sloppy, but in this case I think it is a sign of something intriguing that is yet to be finished.

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?

RIP Carrie Fisher

Hello everyone,

Hope you all had a great Christmas break and hope that the New Year will bring greater things for us all. I never liked the commercial aspect of Christmas but I have always loved the opportunity to see more of my family. It’s a sad truth that there are people out there who will be experiencing the season without the company of a loved one. Not due to work or travel, but due to death.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) passed  away today at 8:55 AM after complications from a heart attack she experienced on the 23rd. There were early reports that she was in stable condition, but those were taken from more ambiguous statements from her brother. There was an official statement from her mother yesterday stating that she was stable. Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, later confirmed that her mother passed.

2016 has been a grave year for celebrity deaths, taking greats such as Muhammad Ali and Prince. I am not familiar with Fisher’s work outside of Star Wars, although I hear she is great in her other roles. She’s served as a writer for films and television shows as well. However, her role as Princess Leia was enough to make her a true icon in popular fiction. Leia is not only a main character of one of the most popular series of all time, she is also one of the most popular heroines of all time. Whether you are a proud Star Wars fan, a causal one, or someone who thinks they’re too cool for it, you knew Princess Leia. Either you’ve heard the name or you recognize the clothing and the hairstyle.

Fisher’s death brings up a lot of questions, but I didn’t want to write this post to delve into those. She apparently finished filming Episode VIII already so there are no worries about the next installment. Episode IX is another issue, since Leia was allegedly supposed to be in the film.  However, it seems callous to focus on that right after her death. For now, let’s wish her family and friends the best as they get through this time.

Episode VIII

Spoilers for Rogue One and Episode VII

Rogue One is still on my mind, and feel free to check out my review. While Rogue One managed to be a prequel that had its own style, Episode VII was pretty much a remake of Episode IV. We follow a young orphan, Rey (Luke) who must come to terms with her Jedi powers and combat The First Order (The Empire). We get Kylo Ren (Darth Vader) , who is revealed to be related to one of the protagonists. We even get another death star (Starkiller base).

I discussed all the similarities with a friend and he argued that J.J Abrams would be hesitant to deviate from the original trilogy much, after the backlash that the prequels received. Episode VII played it safe, relying on the return of the old cast to generate hype and satiate the droves that turned out to see the film.

The prequels had some great moments, with Episode III being the strongest. However, the prequels left much to be desired. The performances by Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, the overuse of CGI, pod-racing etc. With that said, the prequels were not bad simply because they did something new. Rogue One is a great example of how the new star war films can respect the past and continuity, while also giving us fresh characters, locations, conflicts etc.

Kylo Ren’s character seemed like a metaphor for Abrams’s fears of not living up to the original trilogy. Ren is a character who wants nothing more than to live up to Darth Vader (the original trilogy) and is worried that he is seen as nothing but a unworthy imitation. One oft-cited piece of wisdom is that one should not try to replicate something that is deemed as great or untouchable. Sometimes, the only approach is to try something new.

Let’s hope we can see something new with Episode VIII.