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Wednesday, May 19, 2021 03:35 PM
(Last updated on Thursday, May 20, 2021 11:50 AM)
UPGRADE!
 by Fëanor

Hey folks, just letting you know, I went ahead and upgraded my website to a newer version of PHP, because my host warned me the one I was using was painfully, unsupportably old (oops!). So, please let me know if you see any issues as you're poking around. Thanks!

ETA: While I was at it, I also got myself an SSL certificate, so you can now visit my site in a secure fashion using https! Very exciting. To me, anyway.
Tagged (?): Meta (Not)
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Wednesday, April 7, 2021 10:03 AM
(Last updated on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 10:07 AM)
On the Viewer - Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)
 by Fëanor

Here's another live-tweet compilation, this time from a re-watch of Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars micro-series, which recently got added to Disney+. Technically, I believe this series is no longer canon, but as this article points out (thanks to my friend Camden for sending me the link), it could pretty easily be inserted into the story that the later The Clone Wars series tells, with a few small exceptions. And it should be, because it's great!

——

Like a lot of Tartakovsky's work, the original Clone Wars strongly emphasizes action and awesome visuals over words. There are lengthy sequences with no dialogue of any kind. Yet you always know what's going on. It's a very clear visual story, often told on a massive scale.

——

A lot of really fun and inventive designs, for the characters, settings, and vehicles. Also some great characters are introduced and developed here, like Ventress and Grievous. The Grievous we meet in this show is far more terrifying and dangerous than the one in the movies.

——

Durge is another really interesting character design. The way he bulges and extends and persists reminds me of Akira, and of the rampaging poisoned animal spirits in Princess Mononoke. I'm pretty sure the character never speaks, either. At least, he hasn't so far.

[Editor's note: indeed, he does not.]

——

One of the things Tartakovsky's Clone Wars is better at than maybe any other Star Wars show or movie is capturing the awesome power and incredible abilities of the Jedi, especially Jedi Masters like Windu.

——

It's also amazing at handling things of massive scale, like a gigantic warship with a huge, army-flattening piston on the bottom. Not a vehicle we see anywhere else, but this show makes it very memorable.

——

Anakin's duel with Ventress near the end of volume one of Clone Wars is just a masterpiece. Gorgeous setting, dramatic lighting, amazing action. And then of course the powerful metaphor of him picking up one of her own red lightsabers to ultimately defeat her.

——

The duel is followed by the introduction of Grievous, which is equally fantastic. Previous episodes have established how powerful the Jedi are, and now we see them defeated and cowering in terror from Grievous, who easily defeats a group of them single-handedly.

——

On Tartakovsky's Clone Wars, we learn more about the rituals and ceremonies of the Jedi than we ever have before. We learn there's a series of trials a padawan normally has to overcome to be granted knighthood, and we even get to see the rite where Anakin becomes a knight.

——

Yoda himself cuts off Anakin's braid to officially knight him. In a nice touch, Padme receives the braid and places it in a keepsake box along with the japor snippet necklace Anakin made for her when he was a boy. There's also some nice Qui-gon references.

——

There's a funny scene where Anakin gets to see 3PO in his gold plating for the first time. Then scenes of Anakin being a competent hero, coming to the rescue of other Jedi. Which is nice. Sometimes in the movies he's such a jerk it's hard to understand why anyone likes him.

——

Padme sees Anakin with his scar for the first time. R4 is destroyed and R2 becomes Anakin's droid. Lots of milestones in their lives, but it doesn't feel like they're just ticking boxes; it feels organic, like you're watching these characters change and grow.

——

I appreciate that Commander Cody first appears flying in with a jetpack. He's named after an old serial character who was famous for flying around with a jetpack.

——

Star Wars repeats lines of dialog like it repeats musical phrases and themes. I like that Obi-wan gets to say, "What an incredible smell you've discovered." They do a good job here developing their slightly antagonistic, big brother/little brother friendship dynamic.

——

Anakin is the hot-headed, action-oriented guy, while Obi-wan is more patient, thoughtful, precise. "There are alternatives to fighting," more repeated dialog...

——

It's nice that Mace Windu has a purple starship and a purple droid, all to match his purple lightsaber.

——

I'm not a huge fan of Star Wars' heroes tending to take advantage of a native alien culture's beliefs to manipulate them into assisting in their wars. It happens again here, with Obi-wan putting Anakin forward as some kind of prophesied hero.

——

Yoda absolutely wrecking the droid invasion forces with jaw-dropping displays of power. Good stuff.

——

Let's pick up where we left off with Clone Wars!

Yoda & Windu together are an almost unstoppable force.

I love the image of the Chancellor calmly drinking tea, watching the battle outside his window. He's orchestrated this war between disposable armies and he's gonna enjoy it!

——

Fantastic build of drama and tension as the Jedi wait at the elevator, watching the closed doors of the chancellor's office, behind which they can hear Grievous picking apart the clone soldiers...

——

Grievous is a deadly force of nature in this show. Just a terrifying monster. It's great.

——

The Ithorian Jedi's roaring trick is a unique ability that we haven't seen before. Fun.

——

I think this marks the first appearance of Grievous' staff-wielding bodyguards, another fun creation.

——

One of the trials a padawan faces to become a Jedi is the trial of the mirror, where they must overcome the darkness within themselves. This is the trial Luke faced in the cave on Dagobah, and the trial Anakin is facing on this alien world.

——

In Anakin's cave, the pictures on the wall begin to move, and they tell the story of a warrior whose hand was lost in a battle with evil. The new hand that took its place gave him power with which he defeated many enemies. But the power ran wild and killed his friends, too.

——

As the story ends, a face appears in the midst of the twisting vines of darkness: the face of Vader.

What a powerful moment. And as with a lot of Tartakovsky's most powerful scenes, it is entirely wordless - a purely visual story.

——

I love the realistic details, like the recorded voice repeatedly asking them all to "please deposit two Republic credits" as they run into the subway.

——

I love the inventive ways they use the force here: quietly lifting up the end of Grievous' cape and tying it to the end of a departing train. Brilliant!

Also, "no capes!" :LOL:

——

Yoda and Windu aren't just incredible warriors, they're also brilliant thinkers. As they're fighting, they both realize at the same moment that the invasion is just a distraction to hide the enemy's true purpose: the kidnapping of Chancellor Palpatine.

——

Shaak Ti stays behind to give her fellow Jedi time to get Palpatine to safety. Man, you just hate Palpatine even more in this scene, knowing that her sacrifice is meaningless, that this is all just a little play he's directing, and that his kidnapper is really his servant.

——

Anakin: "Do you think they'll be able to reclaim their old lives?"
Obi-wan: "I sense they will, as long as each of them is able to accept himself."

Anakin cringes at this. He doesn't seem sure he can accept what he might become...

——

Shaak Ti actually survives this, but is defeated. Windu manages to get a parting shot in on Grievous, crushing his chest plate, which explains why Grievous is always coughing and wheezing in Revenge of the Sith.

——

Anakin replaces his destroyed mechanical arm with a new one, now gloved in black - an ominous sign of what's to come. Obi-wan tries to comfort him, saying what we see inside ourselves can be frightening, but our choices shape our destiny. Unfortunately, Anakin makes bad choices.

——

Clone Wars takes us right up to the opening of Revenge of the Sith, ending literally moments before the events of that movie begin.

It's a thrilling, gorgeous, brilliantly realized part of the Star Wars story. I was really glad to be able to see it again.
Tagged (?): On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not), TV (Not)
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Tuesday, April 6, 2021 07:06 PM
On the Viewer - Godzilla Vs. Kong (2021)
 by Fëanor

This is another live-tweet compilation! I hope that's okay! There are some spoilers in here, so beware.

——

[Thread #1]

"Kong bows to no one."
:Thumbs up: :COOL:
#GodzillaVsKong

——

I like that each monster has a girl as his advocate. Also, spoiler: the scene where Kong talks is real good. I came in a much bigger Godzilla fan, but they're selling me on Kong here.

——

It's interesting how the military guys just wordlessly do whatever the scientists say. I guess that is generally what happens in these movies, but it seems like at least in American movies there's usually more friction.

——

Also, I strongly suspect we're going to see Mechagodzilla, and I'm HERE FOR IT!!!

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Can you really break into a secure electronic door by breaking open the keypad and jabbing it with a screwdriver that you licked the end of? I mean, I'm asking, maybe you can.

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Bro. HOLLOW EARTH! So cool.

——

It's just a tad hard to believe that these three yahoos could just wander into this extremely secure, top secret area without anybody noticing or challenging them. But whatever, I'm here for the giant monsters.

——

MECHAGODZILLA!! Called it! Yeah!

——

Kong, axe in hand, on his throne, in an ancient hall in the center of the hollow earth. That is freaking cool as hell.

——

Ghidorah's skull as a living psionic super computer. Damn, they just threw all the crazy ideas into this, and I'm loving it. The visuals are fantastic, too.

——

Taking a break for tonight, but I feel like this movie has captured more of the spirit of comic books than a lot of movies I've seen recently that are supposedly based on them. The wild invention, the crazy colorful visuals, the epic scale, the rivalry, the big brutal fights.

——

[Thread #2]

Picking back up where I left off with #GodzillaVsKong !

——

I'm not totally clear on why they only need a tiny little sample of the hollow earth magic power rock, and boom, they're good to go. In fact, they don't even need the rock itself, they just need the data download about it. How does data let you produce enormous amounts of energy?

——

Godzilla shot a hole into the middle of the earth with one blast of his radioactive breath?? Dang.

——

Why did the hollow earth temple start falling apart anyway? Because of the tiny sample they took? Or because Kong switched the thing on with the axe? It seemed to start happening before Godzilla zapped the hole in...

——

So, no massive gravity anomaly on the way out of hollow earth? That's only on the way in. Like the toll into Philly from Jersey.

——

I love how colorful the movie is. Maybe partly a reaction from having recently seen the incredibly gray and drab Snyder Cut, but it's just beautiful.

——

Did they consider a possible theme park ride based on this? The ship flying around between the battling titans is making me imagine a Star Tours type experience...

——

Kong hanging off the top of the skyscraper is a nice callback.

——

Not sure I ever remember seeing Godzilla crawling around on all fours. That was different.

——

So, mechagodzilla just immediately starts thinking for itself once it's charged up with replicated hollow earth magic rock energy? Okay. Man, they're really asking us to swallow a lot here.

——

Now we're gonna use the underground spaceship as a giant defibrillator paddle to restart Kong's heart. Sure!

——

Okay, cool fight. But I feel like it would have been more interesting if people had actually been in control of Mechagodzilla, and if they hadn't just been crazy bad guys. I mean, there's a sane argument that can be made for destroying the Titans to protect humanity.

——

A fun movie. It's interesting that it's really Kong's movie. He's basically the protagonist. I didn't expect that.

I'm a little bummed there are no post-credits scenes. They couldn't give us a little tease for the next movie? Maybe a little Gamera or something? Ah well.
Tagged (?): On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not), TV (Not)
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Tuesday, April 6, 2021 06:58 PM
On the Viewer - Justice League: The Snyder Cut
 by Fëanor

I live-tweeted my reactions to watching the Snyder Cut a while back, so just thought I'd collect all those tweets here, for posterity.

——

[Thread #1]

Ok, I'm watching the Snyder Cut, it's already annoying me, this should be fun.The sound waves of Superman's yell flying across the earth was just...weird. I get what they were trying to do, but I feel like it could have been done in a way that wasn't so silly.

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Bruce meets a random guy who is probably a fish man, and just immediately tells him he's Batman? In public? And lets fish man talk about it in front of everybody? Why??

——

The lady smelling Aquaman's sweater is just creepy. He's got this town of people practically worshipping him.

——

Martha Kent's dog is named Dusty? Not Krypto?

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Of course the Kent farm has been foreclosed on. Everything is so gray and colorless and mopey. It makes me mad. You're a comic book movie for God's sake! Have a little fun!

——

Oh my god this ridiculously elegiac song playing while Lois stares at the monument to her dead boyfriend in the rain, jeez!

——

Wonder Woman showing up standing on the arm of a giant gold statue of Justice is a bit on the nose. Just a bit.

——

Oh my god, this movie is terrible. I was going to say something nice about it, because it was fun watching Wonder Woman beat up terrorists, then they ruined it with the "can I be like you some day" bit.

——

I'm curious if there's going to be any point to that scene. Was it just to introduce Wonder Woman? She doesn't really need an introduction at this point. Or will the terrorists somehow tie in to the larger story? I don't see how...

[Editor's note: no, there will no point to it.]

——

"Maybe it's going back to sleep."
"Evil does not sleep. It waits."
Ugh, I just rolled my eyes so hard.

——

So, I thought the idea was that Steppenwolf is showing up after thousands of years absence. But didn't we see him hanging out with Lex Luthor at the beginning of the movie? And what's the point of sealing the cave, didn't the central chamber have a big skylight?

——

I went back, it absolutely does have a big skylight. There's no point sealing off the entrance if you could just climb out. There's even guys in there that can fly. I mean...wow. This is so bad.

——

Ok, but now the entire thing fell into the sea. Maybe that was the plan?

——

Ok, I will say a nice thing now: some of the action scenes with Steppenwolf were good.

——

Now back to bad things: so much sad choral music! Oy.

——

Why was Diana restoring an ancient statue while wearing a fancy sheath dress?

——

The dialogue is just very bad.

——

Diana lights a torch and suddenly she's in an ancient pit?! Where did this come from?

——

Okay, I will say another nice thing: the ancient frescoes of the mother boxes and Darkseid are really cool.

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This scene of Aquaman saving a guy feels like another introduction scene - except we already met him...

——

He just came in from the ocean wearing a shirt, but before he dives back in, he tears the shirt off and throws it on the ground, just like he did earlier. What does he have against shirts??

——

Willem Dafoe, erstwhile lighthouse keeper, demands that Arthur take up his mother's trident! And offers him a weapon with five spikes on the end. Don't tridents have three spikes? Isn't that the point of the whole "tri" part?

——

Steppenwolf and Desaad have a conversation that is mostly exposition. He owes Darkseid 10,000 more worlds?? Man, you've got some work to do, dude.

——

There's a computer effects-laden epic flashback battle showing the last time Darkseid came to earth and was fought back. It's kind of lame. It doesn't help that Wonder Woman is there to provide incredibly corny and completely unnecessary narration throughout.

——

It is cool that we get to see Darkseid and the previous Green Lantern. But they turn Darkseid into a big gray brute who grunts and hits things. Not at all the thoughtful, aloof Darkseid I know with the colorful outfits and cool crooked laser eye blasts.

——

Dude comes jumping in with a big axe and hits Darkseid in the shoulder. Reminds me a lot of Thor jumping in and hitting Thanos in the shoulder with an axe in Avengers. Just saying!

——

Really unimpressive showing from Darkseid here. If the point of this flashback was to make him look big and scary, they failed miserably. He gets hit a couple times and passes out in the back of his van.

——

Have I mentioned that there is no color in this movie? Everything is gray and washed out. I don't get it. It's just ugly.

——

I like that the Atlanteans and the Amazons have these fancy rituals and ceremonial locations for sealing their mother boxes away, and the men just...put theirs in a hole and cover it with dirt. :LOL:

——

I enjoy that they introduce the Flash with a REDUCED SPEED AHEAD sign. And he's late, of course. Good old Barry.

——

Ah, an entirely manufactured emergency so Barry can have a reazon to show off his powers. Sigh.
So many of these scenes feel jammed in here for no good reason. Why not have Barry's intro be worked into the overall story? Instead we're wasting time with a cliche traffic accident.

——

The soundtrack is so melodramatic!

I like the idea of Barry running right out of his shoes, but...how do the rest of his clothes stay on? Not that I want to see him naked...

——

Also, really uncool that he is stopping to touch the girl's hair in the middle of saving her. Seriously. Not okay. Creepy and bad.

——

The touching, romantic music as he takes the time to steal a hot dog...

——

Think I'll sleep for now. Perhaps more tomorrow night!

——

[Thread #2]

Picking up where I left off with the #SnyderCut .

They trying to set up a romance between Diana and Bruce? Huh.

I like the extra backstory for Cyborg. This is actually good character development here.

——

What kinda dude tries to cheer up his depressed, angry teen son by telling him he has the power to destroy the world??

——

Yeah, I really liked the Cyborg sequence there, and I really liked the scene in the prison between Barry and his dad. Plus "you're living in the past; make your own future, Barry" feels like foreshadowing of Flashpoint, which is fun.

——

"Fluent in gorilla sign language" feels like a Gorilla Grodd reference, but maybe I'm reading into this too much now. Regardless, love this scene between Barry and Bruce.

——

"What are your super powers again?"
"I'm rich."
Ah yes, the only true super power.
I'm actually really enjoying the movie tonight. Not sure if this part is that much better, or if I'm just in the right mood...

——

I like that merely because Diana did an internet search for him, Cyborg immediately found her, hacked her system, set up a meeting.

——

Really like the scene between them, with Diana connecting with him over loss and learning to open yourself back up again. Really, loss and what to do about it is what all these characters are about.

——

"Hi, Barry, I'm Diana. That's not right. Great." :LOL:

——

Another conversation between Desaad and Steppenwolf that feels mostly unnecessary. I guess we did learn that Steppenwolf now has working defences for his fortress...

——

Now we got most of the team together, talking to Commissioner Gordon about parademons! Fun stuff.

——

The music in this movie is mostly bad, but I really love Wonder Woman's theme.

——

Sometimes the computer effects are really good and sometimes they're really surprisingly bad. There's a scene where Batman's grapple gun almost falls off a metal walkway, and the way it moves is just really obviously unnatural and fake.

——

I appreciate the extremely matter-of-fact way Alfred says, "catastrophic failure of all systems."

——

Ok, so I like that we're bringing Anti-Life into it, upping the stakes, that's cool. But...how exactly did Darkseid and his minions "lose" Earth? How did he not know this was where he suffered his great defeat, and where the equation was written? I mean, that makes no sense.

——

Cyborg is pretty central to this version of the story! And now we're going to use the mother box to bring Superman back. Interesting!

Wait, did he try to bring his mother back? Hmm...

Anyway, gonna stop again for now. Good night, folks!

——

[Thread #3]

Ok, it's #SnyderCut time again! Moving into the third hour now.

——

Ok, very unexpected cameo from Martian Manhunter there. He couldn't have just asked Martha to stop by?

——

This is a good setup for the next part of the movie. Use the box to try to revive Superman, but using the box calls the enemy. Their only chance to win could also bring on their defeat.

——

"She's 5000 years old, Barry. Every guy's a younger guy."
Heh.

——

"This red cape charges back" isn't really the thrilling line they think it is...

——

Lois has a pregnancy test in her bedside table drawer, and the brand name is Force Majeure. :grimacing face:

——

Oh man, the tension and foreboding as the countdown goes down to one, and then the vision of the awful future. So well done! And we get to see Darkseid use his omega eye beams!! Hooray!

——

Intense and brutal battle with a confused resurrected Superman. Then a powerful self-sacrifice by Victor's dad - which reminds me a lot of this same actor's self-sacrifice in Terminator 2! Poor guy is always pushing buttons to kill himself in an attempt to ward off apocalypse.

——

Part 6: Something Darker. That doesn't really fill me with confidence...But maybe they're just talking about the black suit.

——

I like that Bruce introduces Alfred by saying, "I work for him."

——

"I don't care how many demons he's fought in how many hells. He's never fought us. Not us united."
Nice.

——

Can somebody just text Lois and let her know it's important to hurry up with getting Clark back together??

——

Or, you know, we've established that Martian Manhunter is around. Couldn't he lend a hand? He has a very impressive power set of his own...

——

I have to say, there are some really great quiet character moments here. I'm really enjoying this movie now.

——

The "something darker" comes from Batman, as he's considering what his prophetic dream might mean - specifically, the bit about Lois Lane being the key. I seem to remember this dream being in the theatrical cut, but we didn't see it in this version...

——

...Or I could be remembering something from Batman vs Superman, actually.

——

Anyway, pretty neat moment as Clark hears the voices of his two fathers urging him on, and he puts on the black suit and heads out.

——

They spend the whole movie trying to get this thing to fly and on its maiden voyage Batman crashes it? C'mon Bruce!

——

Very fun action sequence as the team mows their way through a horde of parademons. They're like popcorn!

——

Oh man, Superman shows up, blows a puff of breath on Steppenwolf's axe, and one punch shatters it. Nice entrance!

——

They fail, they're too late, but it's okay - Barry can run faster than time.

——

Realizing how much this movie is about fathers, too. Superman's dads, Barry's dad, Victor's dad, Aquaman's dad. Lots of complicated father-son relationships here.

——

Barry runs the world back into existence. What a visual. Fantastic.

——

"I'm not broken. And I'm not alone." Such a great character moment for Victor. Really well done.

——

Oh man, the way they all work together to finish off Steppenwolf and send his corpse back to Darkseid? So badass.

——

But even as they defeat Steppenwolf and stop this attempt to destroy the world, the threat of Darkseid himself rises. Very ominous.

——

Epilogue! Lots going on here. More villains lined up to come after them, and another vision of a horrifying future in which Superman is an enemy. It's a bit much, really.

But yeah, I actually ended up mostly liking this movie! I'm shocked.
Tagged (?): DCU (Not), Justice League (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Tuesday, March 9, 2021 02:41 PM
Book Report: Circe
 by Fëanor

Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller is a novelization of the story of the goddess from Ancient Greek myth. If you remember her at all, it's probably from the story of Odysseus. On his long, wending way back from Troy, he shows up at her island and she briefly turns his men into pigs. In this novel, that incident is a pivotal event, but it is only one in a dramatic and engrossing life story full of pain, struggle, and yearning.

Circe is about women fighting to find their own place and their own power in a world dominated by men. It also contains one of the most bittersweet and painfully real descriptions of parenthood I've ever read - the agony, the lack of sleep, the desperate fear, the jealous aching love. Despite all the trials and suffering Circe endures, ultimately the book is suffused with a great passion and joy for life. Life hurts, and it ends, but it's beautiful for all that - maybe because of it.

A really fantastic book. I read it as an audio book, and the narration by Perdita Weeks really added to my enjoyment. She does a wonderful job.

Miller has another book called The Song of Achilles that I will definitely seek out now.
Tagged (?): DCU (Not), Justice League (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Monday, February 1, 2021 10:25 AM
Scum and Villainy in Bricks
 by Fëanor

I built the Master Builders Series Mos Eisley Cantina! Here's a video about it.

Tagged (?): LEGO (Not), Star Wars (Not), YouTube (Not)
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Tuesday, January 19, 2021 09:16 AM
(Last updated on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 09:17 AM)
New Lego Video on My YouTube Channel
 by Fëanor

Thought I'd drop a note here that there's a new video on my YouTube channel! This one is a look at a LEGO Star Wars set: the AT-ST Raider from The Mandalorian. Like and subscribe and all that...

Tagged (?): LEGO (Not), Star Wars (Not), YouTube (Not)
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Sunday, November 22, 2020 10:53 AM
Fixy Fixy
 by Fëanor

I noticed that the Facebook "Like" buttons on my blog got messed up somehow or other - the ends were cut off - so after an hour or so of painful struggle, I think I've got them fixed so you can see them properly again. It's been a while since I had to do front-end web design, and man, I forgot how frustrating fighting with css can be! Good times.

Anyway, as always, let me know if you see anything around here that looks weird, or you find something broken, and I'll see what I can do. Thanks!
Tagged (?): Facebook (Not), Meta (Not)
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Thursday, December 26, 2019 04:34 PM
On the Viewer - The Black Hole
 by Fëanor

I hadn't seen The Black Hole since I was a little kid, but I had powerful, positive isolated memories of it. Recently somebody online mentioned that it was available on Disney+, so I fired it up.

Oh my god, this movie is bonkers.

It came out in 1979, long before Disney owned Star Wars, and was apparently the studio's attempt to copy the success of A New Hope, which had just been released two years previously. It features cute little droids with goofy names, just like Star Wars, although they star alongside far less cute robot villains. The cast is pretty crazy, with Robert Forster as Captain Dan Holland, the hero and skipper of the starship Palomino; Anthony Perkins (!) as Dr. Alex Durant, the Palomino's lead scientist; Ernest Borgnine (!!) as journalist Harry Booth (who I guess tagged along to document the mission); Yvette Mimieux as psychic scientist Dr. Kate McCrae (who doubles as sort of a last minute love interest for Captain Holland); Joseph Bottoms as Holland's brave young first officer, Charlie Pizer; and Roddy McDowall (!!!) and Slim Pickens (!!!) as the voices of the two cute robots, V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

The guy with the meatiest part, however, is Maximilian Schell, who plays Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a mad scientist and the only remaining (sort of) crewmember of a gigantic spaceship called the Cygnus. I'm convinced that it is not a coincidence that Reinhardt's deadly robotic lieutenant - a floating blood-red enforcer armed with lasers and spinning blades - shares its name with the actor who plays Reinhardt: Maximilian. Their twisted relationship is one of the more interesting things in the film.

On its way home from an exploration mission, the Palomino comes upon what appears to be the abandoned hulk of the Cygnus floating perilously near an enormous black hole. The Cygnus had been on a similar mission of exploration, and had been ordered to return years ago, but never did. McCrae's father had been on the Cygnus, so the Palomino takes a closer look. Suddenly the Cygnus comes to life, its lights all flipping on at once. So the Palomino docks and the crew begins to cautiously explore the seemingly empty ship, doors opening and closing to lead them toward a particular destination...

The first half or so of the movie is basically gothic horror, but set on an enormous haunted spaceship next to a black hole, instead of an enormous haunted mansion on the moors. Reinhardt is the tall, dark stranger with the mysterious past who presides over the vast structure. He gives off a kind of Captain Nemo vibe - educated, intelligent, but with something dark and savage underneath. He'll subtly threaten you, then serve you a nice dinner off china plates.

Reinhardt claims he sent the rest of the crew home and expresses mild surprise that they never returned home. He stayed because his work was too important to leave. He puts the moves on Dr. McCrae, who is perhaps slightly charmed, but it's Dr. Durant who's really starstruck. Reinhardt strokes his ego and presents him with an opportunity to be part of amazing discoveries. Reinhardt claims he's worked out a way to pass through the black hole and survive, and he expects to find on the other side the answers to everything: the face of God, life everlasting.

It's clear to everybody but Durant that something is not quite right with Reinhardt, and that his story about what happened seems a bit fishy. As they continue to explore the vessel, they see more unsettling things that don't seem to jibe with Reinhardt's explanations. The tension and creepiness heighten steadily. The visuals are very effective. The special effects are certainly not up to modern standards, but the vast corridors of the haunted ship and the mirror-masked faces of the humanoid robots, who stand silent sentinel at control panels like mindless zombies, really get into your brain and stick there.

Eventually the tension is broken and the gothic horror gives way to Star Wars-inspired action sequences. Our heroes exchange laser fire with evil robots and then end up running from gigantic meteors that show up without warning seemingly just to pad the film out with even more destruction and drama. This part of the movie feels like Disney floating some ideas for a new theme park ride.

One really strange and fascinating moment in the film comes in this section: Maximilian kills somebody, Reinhardt kind of halfheartedly scolds him for it, then he steps up close to Dr. McCrae and says, "Please protect me from Maximilian." He's been giving orders to Maximilian throughout, which the robot has followed, but maybe he's not as in control as he appears. Indeed, when Reinhardt is crushed under a piece of wreckage in his crumbling control room, and pleads with Maximilian to help him, the robot ignores him and leaves him to die.

The very end of the film is where things really go off the rails, in a psychedelic, 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of way. Everybody goes through the black hole and the trip becomes, not so much metaphorically, but actually literally, a passage into the afterlife. Maximilian and Reinhardt tumble into each other on their way into the hole and a strange merging occurs. A closeup on Maximilian's red visor reveals Reinhardt's eyes inside. A slow zoom out reveals that Maximilian/Reinhardt is standing above a rocky, flaming, Bosch-esque hellscape peopled by long lines of shuffling humanoid robots. Meanwhile, our heroes travel along a crystal corridor to a heavenly alien world ringed with light.

What??

I'd like to point out here that this was a movie made by Disney for kids! They even sold toys of the robots! I know because me and my brother had a couple.

Anyway, the point is, I love this movie. It's ridiculous and crazy and amazing. If you're looking for something to watch on Disney+, drop some acid and check it out.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not)
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Thursday, October 24, 2019 04:13 PM
Book Report: Hyperion
 by Fëanor

I could have sworn I'd read Dan Simmons' Hyperion before and been disappointed by it, but maybe I was thinking of some other book. The overall story was vaguely familiar, especially "The Priest's Tale," but most of it was entirely new to me. And I'm still not sure how I feel about it. But I did read the whole thing, and now I want to read the sequel, so I certainly didn't hate it. It's a really interesting book, with some fascinating ideas and moving stories. Plus it ends on a damn cliffhanger, and I have to know what happens next!! But for a famous entry in a genre that is meant to be so forward-looking, it's an oddly backward-looking book.

I should note, I was going to try to leave spoilers out of my write-up, but I ended up... not doing that. So beware!

Hyperion is a sci-fi version of The Canterbury Tales, set in a future when humanity has left its dead home behind and formed an interstellar web of societies known as The Hegemony of Man ("Man"? Really?). Like The Canterbury Tales, it's about a small group of pilgrims on a religious journey who spend their travel time each telling a tale of how they came to be on the pilgrimage. The tales are used to critique modern society and religion. There's a twist, though: we're informed at the beginning that one of the pilgrims is a spy and a traitor to the Hegemony. Which is it?

Taken together, the tales also tell an over-arching story about a mysterious, monstrous, and possibly wish-fulfilling Lord of Pain (also known as the Shrike) that lives among time-travelling tombs on a haunted, alien world. That world, Hyperion, is the destination of the pilgrimage, and it's also become the center of an interstellar conflict that may very well flare up into a war that will end humanity. The combatants in the conflict include Hegemony military forces, a nomadic space-bound group known as the Ousters (sort of outerspace Vikings), and a group of artificial intelligences known as the TechnoCore. Each of the pilgrims has their own secrets - most of them quite horrific - and their own perspectives on the Shrike.

"The Priest's Tale: The Man Who Cried God" is first, and is unabashedly a horror story, even making use of the epistolary format that Stoker leverages so effectively in Dracula. The horror of "The Priest's Tale" is religious, existential, and physical. Unfortunately, it also relies a bit on ableism. The story is told at a remove, as our narrator is presenting the journal of another character who he knew only slightly years ago, although he does eventually become caught up in the tale himself. The journal slowly reveals the horrific details of an awful parody of Catholicism that exists in secret on Hyperion, and which seems to have some distant connection to the Shrike (although the nature of that connection remains unclear). This tale is the least connected and the most unnecessary to the overarching story of the novel, but it is disturbing and effective. What it's trying to say about religion I'm not totally sure. In the face of this twisted mimicry of his religion, one character actually finds his faith is restored. But he also ends up crucified on an electrified tree, dying over and over again in horrible agony, so maybe that changes his mind.

Next is "The Soldier's Tale: The War Lovers." That title can be taken in two ways, and both are accurate to the story: it is about those who love war, but also about those who love each other in the midst of war. An infamous colonel tells the secret history of his love affair with a dream woman, and her connection to the Shrike, and to his own transformation from a military man to a man who fights for peace. The sex scenes are graphic and pretty gross. This book is very much a straight white man's book; even the one story told from the perspective of a woman (which we'll get to in a bit) feels weighted with a male outlook. For a book about cultures on alien worlds in the far future, it's also stubbornly heteronormative and really rather conservative in its descriptions of culture, gender, and sex. I don't think the existence of gay people is even mentioned in its entire length. The woman in this story is a kind of succubus; a feminine embodiment of war. Violence and sex are blended together until one final act of love looks likely to bring about a galactic apocalypse. How exactly, it's unclear. Although this is science fiction, a lot of what happens in it feels more in the fantasy vein, with monsters and magic and maidens struck down by terrible curses. But more of the overarching story is revealed in this tale: the Shrike appears to be seeking the end of the universe through some ultimate conflict, and is trying to use the Colonel as its instrument.

The third story is "The Poet's Tale: Hyperion Cantos." This story would seem to be particularly important, as the series of which this novel is the first entry shares its name (Hyperion Cantos). It's meta in more than just that way, too; the main character here is a famous poet who has come to believe he wrote the Shrike into existence and is in some sense responsible for the death and destruction it's caused. He even seems to believe that as he continues to write his Hyperion Cantos, he is writing the future - creating reality. It's possible we're meant to think of him as the author of this book - as if he has somehow written the story he's a character in. But again, for a character in a book about the future, he is very traditional, to the point of being almost antiquated. He's a bawdy, grossly male and heterosexual hedonist. He's constantly compared to a satyr, and most of his references and quotations (in fact most of the references and quotations in the book) are to very old works of art. Admittedly, references to made-up future works that the reader doesn't know about wouldn't have as much of an impact, but this book was published in 1989. Why have your poet quote Shakespeare, the Bible, and John Keats? Why is the only movie referenced The Wizard of Oz? Other art was made in between The Wizard of Oz and 1989! Our poet does admit he is very backward-looking, and his most famous work, The Dying Earth (which shares its title with a famous series by Jack Vance, a fact which Simmons slyly mentions in the book) is an elegy to "Old Earth," humanity's now dead (murdered, in fact, by an event known as "The Big Mistake") home planet. And later in the book, a character decries this civilization's increasingly desperate and violent attempts to hold onto old ways. But is that just lampshading, or is the backward nature of these characters and their society a legitimate theme of the novel? I'm not sure. I know I really disliked the Poet's Tale until its narrator's mind is destroyed by cheap suspended animation, and he has to rebuild his vocabulary from nine words (most scatological profanity). This section is poignant and funny. I was also fascinated by the idea of the poet writing the Shrike into existence, and the drama and romance of him haunting the ruins of the Poet's City on Hyperion, and his fiery confrontation with Sad King Billy and his Muse.

The most effective and moving story is definitely "The Scholar's Tale: The River Lethe's Taste Is Bitter." As you might have guessed from the ancient reference in the title, it also features some of the most traditional, conservative characters and societies that we've yet seen in the book. It's hard to believe a family unit and small town this traditional could exist in the future; it wouldn't be out of place in '50s America. The husband calls his wife "Mother," and the wife calls her husband "Father," and they bought their little girl a bike for her birthday, and the couple met at a college party where the man spilled something on the woman. The man is a scholar and researcher, but his research topics are things like a story in the Bible, and a writer who would be even more ancient in his time than he is already in ours. The scholar's name is also an extremely traditional Jewish name: Sol Weintraub. He is even dubbed The Wandering Jew in the tale. Why is this future so old?

Still, maybe it's partly because this setting and cast are so familiar that this story is so effective. Weintraub's daughter (who also has an incredibly traditional name: Rachel Sarah Weintraub) ends up traveling to Hyperion to perform research there for her graduate dissertation. While she's alone one night in one of the mysterious structures called the Time Tombs (structures that are somehow moving backward through time, and that appear to be connected somehow to the Shrike), she experiences a paranormal-like event that infects her with a unique disease: Merlin syndrome. She begins living backwards, becoming younger and younger each day, and each time she sleeps, her memories reset to what they were when she was originally that age, and she forgets everything she experienced since then. What follows is a brutal, heart-rending tale, as her parents try desperately to help their daughter while she fades slowly and inexorably away from them. Weintraub begins to have a dream where he is ordered by a God-like figure (possibly the Shrike) to bring his daughter to Hyperion and sacrifice her, and he becomes obsessed with the story in the Bible where Abraham is ordered by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Weintraub ultimately decides that any God who demands obedience before all else, any God who would expect a worshiper to be willing to execute his own family member, is an evil God that does not deserve worship. This is a deep and powerful story and probably the best in the book.

The next story is "The Detective's Tale: The Long Good-bye." Yes, it's really called that! And indeed it's very much in the format of an old-school film noir murder mystery/detective story, complete with a rough-and-tumble private dick armed with her father's automatic (his death by "suicide" inspired her to become a detective, natch), a mysterious femme fatale client who becomes a romantic interest for the detective, and a labyrinthine case that ultimately uncovers a gigantic conspiracy and brings to light the evils of society. The interesting bit (as you might have guessed from the pronouns used above) is that the two main characters are gender-swapped: the detective and narrator is a woman, and the femme fatale is a man. Well, "man" is a bit misleading; he's actually a male avatar for an artificial intelligence modeled on the poet John Keats. Oh, and the detective's name is Lamia. Yeah.

This one is rough. I found myself rolling my eyes a bit at all the detective story tropes, even though I actually like a good film noir. We also get some cyberpunk tropes thrown in for good measure, as this story explores the seedy underside of the equivalent of the internet that's envisioned by the novel. There are definitely some fascinating ideas here, though: the warring factions of AIs, their Ultimate Intelligence project, their attempts to fully predict the future by taking into account all possible variables (that reminded me a little bit of Asimov's Foundation novels), and the way the inexplicable, incalculable variable of Hyperion and the Shrike keeps frustrating their efforts. There's another weird religious thing going on in this story, as our detective ends up being revered by the Church of the Shrike as the future mother of some kind of messianic figure. (Yes, somehow she is having the John Keats cyborg's baby, like you do.) I haven't mentioned the Church of the Shrike before, but they're an interesting bunch who show up again and again throughout the novel. Adherents of the religion are often broken, suicidal people, but not all of them are. There's definitely something creepy and mystical going on with them. What it is exactly is - like so many other things - not explained in the novel.

The final story is "The Consul's Tale: Remembering Siri," and it's definitely one of my least favorite. Like "The Priest's Tale," it's also told at a remove, with a grandson presenting the journal of his grandfather, and then adding his own story onto the end. The journal jumps back and forth through time in a confusing fashion. This is probably an attempt to mirror the time-fractured nature of the relationship that is at the center of the story. The author of the journal is a "shipman" named Merin Aspic (Aspic? Really?) who, as part of his work to build the farcaster portal that will bring the Maui Covenant colony into the Hegemony, is constantly traveling between the stars at relativistic speeds, and so incurring enormous amounts of "time debt." Against orders, and in search of "nookie" (ugh), he mingles with the natives while on shore leave and ends up in a relationship with a (criminally young!!) girl who is unfortunately named Siri. (Constantly being reminded of Apple's voice-activated AI assistant made it hard to take her seriously as a character, although that's hardly Simmons' fault.) She's only 16! I mean, he's only 19 at the time, but still. It is very hard to like Merin, and very hard to understand what Siri sees in him, especially after he ends up murdering her cousin (!) at the end of their first meeting. But their time-fractured romance becomes legendary among her people. Each time he returns to meet her again, he's aged maybe a year or two, while she's aged decades. She has kids by him and raises them into men while he's off working on his spaceship. It's pretty gross. The tale very much follows in the tired vein of the "civilized white man is converted to the side of the primitive natives by their charming culture as personified by a sexy young girl" story (although in this case she doesn't remain young for long). The most recent example of this genre is probably John Cameron's Avatar, but there's also Dances With Wolves (which came out only a year after Hyperion), and I'm sure plenty more, much older examples. What we come to realize, as we jump back and forth through Siri and Merin's very strange relationship, is that the culture of Maui Covenant, and many of the people and animals that live there, will be utterly destroyed by the Hegemony when it takes over. It's old school Imperialism in its purest form. Which, okay. But the way the native culture is exoticized and romanticized, while we are given almost no details about it, is clumsy. And, again, it's hard to understand how a culture so traditional, archaic, and without technology would exist in this future universe. I appreciate that you're telling a story about how Hegemonic Imperialism is bad and destroying aboriginal societies is bad. But why does it have to be from the perspective of one of the White Imperialists, a dumb young jerk who's having lots of sex with the young native woman?

At the end of this story, the Consul - grandson to Merin and Siri, and high ranking official in the Hegemony government - reveals that the way the Hegemony treated Maui Covenant is the way it treats pretty much all colony worlds. It shows up, wipes out the natives, and takes control. The Hegemony, in other words, is pretty awful. We have learned almost nothing about the Hegemony's enemy, the Ousters, in the rest of the book; they're just kind of a barbarian boogey man banging at the gates. The Consul now gives us a rough sketch of the beauty of their culture, and reveals that he is the spy and the traitor. However, he is also a traitor to the Ousters. A kind of triple agent. His goal seems to be to eliminate everyone, to end the conflict by letting the combatants destroy each other. To let the Shrike loose on the universe to wreak whatever retribution it sees necessary on all of humanity.

Interestingly, his fellow pilgrims react by hugging him and absolving him. Then they all walk together down to the Shrike and the Time Tombs, hand in hand, singing "We're Off to See the Wizard." And that's how the book ends.

I'm not even kidding!

I've almost talked myself into hating the book by writing about it here. It's got a lot of ridiculous tropey bits. And I find it hard to take a book seriously anymore that is so stubbornly traditional and stereotypical and heteronormative. It definitely made me think a lot about my own novel and its own flaws, and how I should probably revise it again to include more minorities and more queerness. White hetero male stories are pretty dull and old anymore.

All that being said, the book is well written, with some great ideas, and I really would like to know what the Shrike does when the pilgrims show up, and who lives and who dies, and what the deal is with the Time Tombs. So I'll probably read the next one eventually.
Tagged (?): Disney (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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