Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Serenity- Joss Whedon

I watched the whole Firefly series a couple of years ago, but had never gotten around to watching Serenity. Firefly is available to me free (for no additional cost) on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but Serenity isn’t as accessible. Yes, the backwoods of the internet were an option, but since I could use the viewing experience for class it was worth the three bucks on Amazon. Silly, that a couple dollars actually deters people, myself included.

I really liked the way the film built on the series. I was pleased that all of the same actors were included. It was nice to see them together again. It expanded past the series but also went delving into backstory. I imagine most films would have had trouble doing both.

I noticed that this is another scifi centered around political conspiracy. I wasn’t in class, so I’m not sure this is so prevalent in all scifi, but I think it is in a lot. I had this completely concocted theory that most fantasy is inherently optimistic and most scifi is inherently pessimistic. Most fantasy tells me, “with all the magic in the world anything can happen and everything will be ok.” Most scifi tells me, “do what you can to spin the hamster wheel, but everything is bigger than you.” I completely made this up, but its what I think anyway. I think the Firefly/Serenity world is so amazing for the blend of scifi and optimism. Its all about the family they have formed. They will always be at risk and suffer loss, but together, and only together, they can be ok.

In film a good way to break down a movie is to put it in an outline. Story theorists have different opinions about what the steps are and how many there should be for the most successful stories  It kind of like looking for the stages of the hero’s journey. It helps identify the story structure, so a writer you can understand good work and apply it to your own endeavors. I did one with 12 steps (the terms I use will probably give away plot spoilers): Research escape. The operative. Heist. Rivers freakout. Consort trap. Destroyed friends. Reaver ship costume. Miranda. Show down- battle, rough landing, bottle neck. Message broadcast-stand down. Rebuild.

I also want to mention the majesty that is Joss Whedon’s writer-director’s vision. It is such a well-developed world! My first few episodes of Firefly I wasn’t sure about the language or performance style, personally. However, I decided it was fantastic because of how specific and well-executed those decisions were. The whole world has a very unique use of language, and I don’t just mean the intermixing of old southern and sporadic Chinese. Each character is unique and has a voice. I’m completely impressed by the creativity! I hope to imagine something like this of my own one day and have the skills to develop it half as well.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Halfway to the Grave: A Night Huntress Novel by Jeaniene Frost

I also read Halfway to the Grave: A Night Huntress Novel by Jeaniene Frost over break. It has been on my Kindle for a while because Amazon recommended it based on a bunch of other stuff I have read. The description sounded a little corny, but given it was only $2 and recommended I had gotten it to try out. Amazon has it listed as gothic romance, but I think its more clearly described as urban fantasy erotic romance vampire horror.

The beginning seemed to be trying too hard to make her the sassy but sheltered heroine. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to identify with her. It tried a bunch of quippy terms that really shouldn’t have made the cut, like ass-munch, suck-neck, and artery party. I guess it was supposed to be part of her innocence showing through, but it was so bad I was questioning the author.

I was intrigued when the book’s vampire rules came up. I was interested because I hadn’t seen this specific set of vampire-lore in the other series I’ve read. These vampire conventions included: death by decapitation and silver bullets if there are enough are fired into the heart, scent beyond sight distance, hearing of a heartbeat a mile away, fangs with a drop of hallucinogen, eyes that glow green with power during the use of mind-control, no ill effects from wood only silver, and no adverse effects from religious items. It is nothing unfamiliar, but a particular mix nonetheless.

I appreciated her penchant for gin and tonics, my personal favorite, as well. I also liked the Sherlock Holmes reference: ”When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

The awkward encounters at her apartment between her neighbor, mom, and Bones (the vampire boyfriend) were almost slapstick. It was a little too much situational comedy, but still amusing. I didn’t like it going in the direction of he becoming a government agent. I’ve read the Anita Blake books and thought this was about the dorkiest way to take the story. Also, it came out of nowhere, and not in a good surprise twist kind of way. “You’ll become one of the most prized weapons the U. S. government has to protect its citizens against dangers they can’t even imagine.” Oh puh-lease.

I was so excited when their plan was interrupted by Bones! However, of course, the heroine of the first book in a series has to screw everything up for herself. I was bummed that it ended with her completely removing herself from Bones. But it’s a series, DUH! They probably got me hooked into checking out the next one and hoping they don’t continue with the government agent thing. However, I’m a sucker for series and I’ll probably continue with the series for a bit even if she does.

The Hobbit

Over the break I finally got a chance to reread The Hobbit, since it has been probably 7 years since I’ve read it. I liked it a lot and I am definitely interested in reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well. I haven't seen the last film, but when comparing it to the first two movies I don't mind the changes that were made. The most notable additions to the movies were the party being pursued by the Orks and the character of the elvish warrior lady.

I’m surprised I liked the writing because there were lots of self-reflexive moments, which usually break me out of a story. It makes the audience aware they are reading a book by directly addressing them as “you.” It edits and comments on itself, the story, during the telling. One of these was at the line, “Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves! He said, and it became a proverb, though now we say “out of the frying pan in the fire” in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.” Another was “’Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!’ he said to himself, and it became a favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.” It is also quite noticeable when skipping location between chapters, mostly near the end. The dwarves get into the cave and wonder wear Smaug is. The next chapter begins, “now if you wish, like the dwarves, to hear the news of Smaug, you must go back again …” It also explicitly foreshadows events, sometimes by mentioning an event and then saying something along the lines of, “but we are going to talk about that right now.”

I was a very fun read, and I got to see Colbert’s interview of Smaug while I was in the middle of it. It is so cool for childhood stories to be made popular again and shared with another generation.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Red Dwarf

I watched an episode and a half for my exposure to science fiction parody. I saw the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film a long time ago, so I had a sense of what to expect from this category. There were funny bits in what I watched, but its not quite my thing. Its mostly wondering what is even happening right now and surprising yourself when you occasionally laugh at something.

I'm ok with the absurd, but I think I prefer it in a more plot driven "weird" material than in satire and parody. The bickering between the roommates was pretty fun. Those types of relationships have such a delicate balance before one of them just bashes the other upside the head. Their frustration with each other is palpable. Lister smoking in space was funny and resting the cigarette in his ear was an interesting decision.

I liked his cat a lot! Too bad it evolved into that weird guy. I was watching it with my friend and when her crawls out in the pink suit she's going who is that, but I knew its the cat! So funny! I liked the choice to give him cat like mannerisms. When Cat first runs into Lister and Rimmel he goes up on his toes and raises his shoulders saying, "I've got to look big!" When cat claws and the monitor when he sees the dog and says he is going to want to chase it if he sees it in real life wasn't as successful. I think the earlier bit before you knew for sure it was a cat worked, but later I just thought, "yeah, he is a cat. I get it."

I liked the bit about going to Fiji. As a joke it could run a bit longer than the cat thing. I also liked some of the lines that came out of Rimmel's situation as a hologram, specifically that he could no longer "'interfere' with a woman sexually." Then Rimmel tells Lister that he will now have to touch things for him. Lister replies, "I've seen the things you touch. No, thank you." Why anyone thought it would be funny to give Rimmel beehive hair is beyond me.

The genre is not plot driven. Any attempt to explain a plot. like in the introduction to the episodes, is the biggest joke they could make. Their whole point is to not give the story a plot and poke fun at the essence of all scifi that is plot driven. It is extremely goofy. There are no rules, no logic. Anything can happen for any reason or no reason at all. 

"The Distance of the Moon" Italo Calvino

I had hoped to read the whole book of Italo Calvino short stories. My best friend has talked about him for a while, but I hadn't been pushed into reading some of his stuff before this. I didn't read the two selections from class because I wanted to start at the beginning and read the whole thing, but everything seems to be taking me three times longer than I thought it would.

I only got to this one story by I loved it and want to continue with more. I've also gotten about halfway though "At Daybreak."

The characters go out in a boat and use a tall ladder to reach the low Moon. All the people go out to gather moon milk. At some point between the Earth and the moon the gravitational pulls shift, and one has to fight gravity with their weight to move between the two. The narrator goes out with his family, the boat captain, and the captain's wife. At one point his little niece is trapped in the air between the two but little sea creatures attach to her until she is heavy enough to fall back to Earth into the ocean. His blind cousin has the most romantic relationship with the moon navigating the surface easily and instinctually knowing where and how to procure the milk with ease. The narrator is in love with the boat captain's wife, however she loves the blind cousin.

I really felt the love and ironic tragedy in the story. It is heart breaking how each one in this triangle so deeply loves another:

The cousin so loved the moon that "he was unable to conceive desires that went against the Moon's nature, the Moon's course and destiny, and if the Moon now tended to go away from him, then he would take delight in this separation just as, till now, he had delighted in the Moon's nearness."

"If what my cousin now loved was the distant Moon, then [the boat captain's wife] too would remain distant, on the Moon."

"I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them."

The premise of the story reminded me of the short Pixar film "La Luna." I can't imagine that the creators weren't inspired by or at least aware of "The Distance of the Moon." It takes the premise of using a boat and a ladder to reach the moon very differently, but the magic of it still gives me warm fuzzies like Calvino's original story.        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luixBGiC83M

“Bloodchild” Octavia Butler

This story was amazing! It was so moving for a struggle that is so unidentifiable. It is still so effective for how primal it is. That is one of the biggest tenants we have drilled into us as film students. The best stories have high stakes. I was on the edge of my seat reading it the whole time. It was intense and had a full dynamic range of emotion. I really thought the story would turn to Gan blowing his head off.

Not understanding the world was not a distraction at all. It is so strange to be so absorbed in a story and not be able to identify with what the characters are or what the interpersonal dynamics are. I was engaged long before these details were shared in the story. It’s a super freaky and traumatizing practice, but I love Gan’s maturity, acceptance, and value in family. I didn’t hate T’Gatoi either. I thought I might during Lomas’ “birth,” but I guess that because that’s how Gan felt, too. I’m surprised by how quickly and deeply I identified with him.

I really liked hearing about Gan’s dad. Gan’s memories of him made me happy, too. It’s pretty cool that T’Gatoi was one of his “babies.”  

“Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson

For Cyberpunk I read “Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson. When stories are set in another version of Earth, which Johnny seems to be on since he mentions Paris, I expect their to be a good amount of time spent on what happened. We really only learn that a lot of the way things look in this world are based on a long ago war fought primarily by the Navy. Short stories are good however for not wasting time on anything. I like how focused they are. This class has been my first experience with really reading short stories.

I also expect the first person narrators to set up who they are and how they feel about their present state, but Johnny jumps right in. You spend more time having to read and reread because you didn’t understand what that thing back there meant, but then you find something that makes sense and go back to what confused you before. You have to train yourself not to take time to figure out what something is but instead to just roll with the fact that is something and maybe later you’ll find out what it does even if you never understand what it is.

I think it gave me a good taste of cyberpunk allowing me notice the conventions of the genre and be able to recognize them in the future. It had a cyborg dolphin, body modifications, and an alpha female all set in an alternate reality.

Some of the body modifications of note were: The Magnetic Dog Sisters who were “as nearly identical as cosmetic surgery could make them,” the bodybuilders that almost didn’t look human for all of the super structures of muscle graft, characters can wear the faces of famous people, and the LowTeks who like to exchange some of their teeth for a dog’s.

Then there were the cyborgs: the assassin with the bullet-like thumb attached to a monofilament, Jones the dolphin-cyborg-addict with twin deformities on either side of his skull which had been engineered to house sensor units (squids) and articulated body armor. The cyborg stars are the alpha female with ten blades that extend straight out from their recesses beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double edged scalpel in pale blue steel and Johnny whose brain carries stored data that is fed though a modified series of microsurgical contraautism prostheses.

The design of the Killing floor was pretty cool. I especially liked the incorporation of a musical aspect. The whole story seems like bits from a lifetime of dreams artistically melded together.