Prisoners of Gravity: the intrepid reporters and producers at the Radio Free Krypton podcast have combined the four parts of their documentary about PoG into a single episode!
Running from the late 1980s into the early 90s, Canadian-produced PoG featured interviews with real-world science fiction and fantasy authors, editors, comic writers, filmmakers and others, conducted by host Commander Rick, a fictional character played by actor Rick Green. The Commander’s backstory (presented as a sequence of comic pages during the show’s intro) was that he was an ordinary, if nerdy and kind of nutty guy, fed-up with a world seemingly gone mad, who built a rocket in his garage and launched himself (along with all his geeky treasures) into orbit, where he crashed into an abandoned government satellite and used it to hack into a weekly nature documentary to broadcast his sf interview show. It was smart and funny and was one of the inspirations for me to launch this blog and the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast.
RFK’s doc involves interviews with PoG insiders, authors who were guests, and fans who were influenced by the show (including me!) exploring its evolution, the initial response when it went to air, and its legacy. The doc originally aired in the summer of 2018. My own inane babblings aside, the production’s interviews offer a fascinating view into a show that was very much ahead of its time, and one that is still highly relevant to the speculative fiction community today.
If you didn’t get a chance to listen to “Inside the Orbit of Prisoners of Gravity” last year, be sure to listen to it on the Radio Free Krypton site or the show’s channel on your favourite podcatching service.
Friday, September 06, 2019
Attending Worldcon has always been a good opportunity to interview people for the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast. These can be long conversations focusing on one individual, or shorter chats for the “Voice of the Fans” episodes. And these “Voice of the Fans” installments have been an important part of every season right from the start. Because one of the things that makes the science fiction and fantasy (and comic, and video game, and anime, and tabletop game, and every other corner of the nerdiverse) community great is that whether a person is a professional, an up-and-comer, or someone who just enjoys the genre, we’re all fans, and we can all come to cons and talk with each other on an equal basis. To that end, all of our stories are important. And so I’ve wanted to capture as many voices as possible. And that’s where “Voice of the Fans” comes in: this is the chance for me to meet other fans from all kinds of backgrounds and invite them to share their stories about how they got turned on to the genre, and why they love it so much.
Several weeks before the geeky world descended on Dublin, I put the word out on Worldcon’s Facebook group inviting people to get together one day to join the Invasion and record an episode. And the response was phenomenal! Right away, members of the sf&f community from around the world who were coming to Dublin started expressing interest. So many, in fact, that I started to think that maybe one day wouldn’t do it. I started to wonder if I should spread the interview times out over a couple of days — after all, everyone would have different schedules of panels and activities they wanted to attend, and some folks were scheduled to be on some of those panels, and if the goal is to try to give members of the community a voice, then it’s only fair to create a few opportunities for them to speak.
By the time the convention arrived, I’d decided to have recording times on three days. And once things actually got rolling, that turned into four! At one point, I was telling a friend about this, and they asked me if it wasn’t too much work on my part — if all the recording sessions were going to take up so much time that they’d get in the way of me enjoying the con. I responded that it was exactly the opposite: that all of these conversations were going to be what made the con great! Listening to panel discussions, wandering through art displays, attending activities, and having the dealers’ room denizens pillage one’s bank account are always fun, but to my mind, it’s always been the conversations with other fans (whether they’re friends you’re reuniting with, or strangers met just once in passing) that make a con great. For me, all of these interview sessions would amount to a con within a con!
And the interviews were great! Writers (both veterans and up-and-comers), academics, performers, and people who just enjoy sf&f, from around the world and from all kinds of different backgrounds, came out every day to share their stories. In fact, they all get bonus points for being able to find my impromptu recording studio in the first place! The challenge at any con is finding a (relatively) quiet corner, and thirst time around the lair of bloginhood was hidden behind a huge dividing wall at the back of the atrium up on Level 4. Funnily enough, I had a couple of people tell me that once I’d given directions to the spot, they’d scouted it out ahead of time and liked it so much they’d used it themselves occasionally as a quiet retreat during the con. At any rate, we had a lot of fun and everyone offered different perspectives. I could not have asked for a better series of conversations, and I’ll bet listeners will enjoy them almost as much as I did. And with such a bounty of stories, this season we’ll be able to feature at least two “Voice of the Fans” episodes — maybe more!
So, once again, a very big THANK YOU to everyone who came out to join the Invasion last month in Dublin! And for all the other Invaders out there who listen to the show, stay tuned: Invaders From Planet 3 will be returning for another season this fall!
Monday, July 22, 2019
As listeners of the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast know, every season, in addition to interviews with authors, editors, performers and artists, I like to include a "Voice of the Fans" episode featuring regular folks talking about their first loves in science fiction, fantasy, and all points in between. I'm currently in the middle of producing season 4 of the show, and I thought that since I'm headed to Dublin for Worldcon this year, I'd see if anyone else attending would like to be a part of this season's VOTF episode. With fans of all kinds of nerdiness coming from all around the world, what better opportunity is there to showcase what got people hooked on genre stuff?
To that end, at some point during Worldcon, I'll be announcing a date, time and a public location at/near the convention centre where anyone who's interested can meet, and we'll record a quick interview where you get to share what first made you fall in love with speculative fiction. It can be a book, TV show, short story, comic, movie, video game, radio play, collectable, or anything — whatever was the spark that made you say "I love this stuff and I need more of it!"
If you're going to Worldcon in Dublin and you're interested in doing a quick interview, let me know in the Comments section below, and keep an eye out for my announcement on the Dublin 2019 Irish WorldCon Community Group on Facebook.
More details soon on how you can be a part of the Invasion!
Saturday, June 15, 2019
I've blathered on about my lifelong relationship with the big guy before, so I won't rehash it here. Follow this link if you want to find out why I have such high hopes every time someone takes a crack at Godzilla. So, looking at the ups and downs of the past, I was hopeful, but wary when the first trailers for GKOTM started to stomp around the net. 2014's Godzilla was abominable: boring, with uninteresting human characters, and very little screen time for the titular star of the movie. But 2017's Kong: Skull Island was damn near perfect for a monster movie: a great cast who looked like they were having fun and doing a great job, a story that made sense within the world it set up, reasonably good dialogue, nice worldbuilding in the teaser during the credits to set up GKOTM, plenty of loving allusions to pretty much every previous incarnation of the big ape, and special effects and action sequences that kicked ass and set up Kong as a force to be reckoned with in Warner Brothers' unfolding kaiju universe. So the question was, would this new addition live up to the standards of KSI, or would Godzilla still be stumbling under the weight of the bad writing of the first movie?
Luckily, this time, the big guy seems to have found his stride. For fans of science fictional action flicks, monster movies, kaiju, and Godzilla in particular — or even those just looking for some big, dumb, smash-some-shit-up, drive-in movie fun — this movie hits just about every target. The colossal battles between Godzilla, King Ghidora, Mothra and Rodan are unapologetically frequent, destructive, prolonged, and vicious, and the humans underfoot are by no means spared. The writers and director keep up the good job of worldbuilding for the franchise, with more monsters added; a beautiful-looking sequence in the drowned city of a lost, ancient civilization; and news headlines that allude to Kong and his home of Skull Island (important, since the word is that the next movie is set to slam these legends into each other). And I loved the fact that the film's MacGuffin is a transmitter box that's used to summon Godzilla (and the other monsters) — someone on the creative team was clearly a fan of Hanna Barbera's old Godzilla cartoon! The radio scenes could only have been better if they'd taken place on a ship named Calico crewed by Majors, Brock, Quinn and Pete (But not Godzooky. That's one blast from the past we don't need.).
Where the movie stumbles is its dialogue, which is cheesy, and with the overall story of the human characters. Yes, I know, it's a big, dumb monster movie. We're not watching it for dialogue and human story. Except we can. I don't think that good writing for human characters is too much to expect in a monster movie. Peter Jackson's King Kong remake, Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim, and the aforementioned KSI are eminently watchable for their human stories, and their dialogue isn't cringeworthy. Good writing shouldn't just be a surprising bonus in a kaiju movie, and it's a pity that with the budget Warner was working with for this flick that they couldn't have insisted on a little quality.
But while the human story is a deuce, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is at least a prince in the court of this summer's popcorn action movies and is worth seeing in the theatre, at least on a cheap Tuesday.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Congratulations to everyone who has been nominated!
Saturday, June 01, 2019
First, a general, non-spoilery impression. Yes, Avengers: Endgame is, for the most part, pretty good. You can go to your local cinema and give your coin to the Mouse and be assured you'll get your money's worth, even if your favourite character in the Marvel universe doesn't necessarily get as much screen time as you'd like.
The story picks up on the heels of Infinity War and Thanos' deranged ultimate fan tribute to a certain song by Kansas while exterminating half of all living things in the universe. Now, our heroes must first live up to their names and avenge the genocide (Which also begs the question, does Damage Control have to live up to its name and mission and sweep up after said genocide? You know somebody in the Marvel universe probably became the most laid-back super villain ever just by running out and cornering the market in broom and mop company stock in the wake of the tragedy, and it was probably up to Damage Control to work around that with some grand, high-tech vacuuming scheme.), then come to terms with their new reality and themselves before embarking on a last-ditch effort to make things right. Souls are searched. Butts are kicked. Comic fans are serviced. Tacos are enjoyed.
But, naturally, with a cast this huge in a movie format rather than a multi-episode TV series or season, there are time constraints, which means, as mentioned above, not everybody gets equal time in the spotlight. Not necessarily all of your favourite characters. Not necessarily all of mine. But maybe some of them. And that's just the reality of having a cast of thousands (well, dozens anyway), all of whom are big personalities with complex backstories and stunning signature moves that depend on dazzling special effects. Not everyone is going to get all of the screen time they probably deserve. And that's okay. With a runtime of just over three hours, the writers, directors and producers had to decide on a focus, and while making justified nods to characters relegated to supporting roles, keep that focus on those they deemed most important for the resolution of the story they wanted to tell. Maybe you disagree with their decisions. That's fine. That's what DVDs and digital downloads are for. Wait for the film to come out on video and you can re-edit the thing to make your own fan version by using footage from the movie cut and shots from deleted scenes from your favourite character's earlier moments or standalone films. Have fun with that. But the fact of the matter is that directors/writers/studios and entitled to make the films they want to make, and with a cast of thousands, that means unequal screen time. And this isn't unprecedented. Films these days may have ensemble casts, but they tend to be pretty tight in terms of character arcs within the story, and those casts aren't ultimately that big. But if you go back to the 1990s with Dazed and Confused, and further back to the 1980s with The Cannonball Run, or way back to the 60s with the comedy I've alluded to in the title of this post, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, you'll see that directors have had to juggle hugely talented huge casts across stories in a limited amount of time. And, as good as these examples are, really, the best example of a film that had to juggle a cast this large (in fact, its cast was probably larger than that of 'Endgame) where the characters had this many individual arcs in this many separate storyline segments as part of a larger overall plot, is 1962's The Longest Day (an excellent film, by the way — one I'd recommend that you find on whatever streaming service carries it, or gathering dust on someone's DVD shelf somewhere, especially with June 6th coming up). Roddy McDowall's private daydreaming of the June nights of his youth, Irina Demick's Resistance bombshell drawing the attention of German soldiers away from their own destruction, Major Pluskat and his dog guarding the Channel, Colonel Priller the cantankerous Luftwaffe pilot, Sean Connery's mouthy Irish private, the French commandos, the Mother Superior and her nuns, Red Buttons — all of them and more could have made larger contributions that would have made the movie even more interesting. But there's a point where the director(s) must draw the blade across the film strip. And Avengers: Endgame has done probably the best job it could maintaining its focus on the characters it needed to in order to complete the main story, and bring to a close the overall main universe story arc that started with Ironman, fed through into the first Captain America movie, and really set its course in The Avengers.
One minor caveat though: there are some who, in the throes of fannish ecstasy, have claimed that 'Endgame is such a towering achievement that it will change the face of moviemaking forever. They're entitled to their opinion, but I tend to shy away from this kind of hyperbole and my gut tells me, in this case, that I disagree. Is the final (at least, at this point) Avengers movie a big deal? Unquestionably. A lot of effort went into pulling multiple storylines together and it mostly paid off. Mostly. It has certainly paid-off at the box office. But I don't think it will necessarily change the way superhero movies (or, more broadly, action movies or science fiction movies, or movies in general) are made, or audience expectations of, or complaints about, them. There will be one-off adaptations like Watchmen. There will be more ensemble movies spanning multiple instalments like Avengers has — maybe with several individual movie stage-setters, maybe not. There will be darker-toned films like whatever the next incarnation of Batman will be, and there will be lighter fare like the gloriously irreverent Deadpool movies. We'll see more humorously weird adventures running the gamut from the reasonably mainstream Guardians of the Galaxy-type movies, to the more offbeat and cult-destined like Mystery Men and TV shows like the anime One Punch Man, or the various incarnations of The Tick. We'll see big budget, wide-open and light fare like the new Spider-Man movies, and smaller, more frugal and claustrophobic stuff like Netflix's (sadly cancelled) Daredevil series. Personally, I'd like to see Misfits of Science make a comeback in some form. Ultimately, filmmakers/studios will make what they want and are able to make, and audiences will watch their offerings or not. Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame will certainly be a milestone along the road of comic book, science fiction, and action movies and TV shows — it may even be a towering monument — but I don't think it will change the course of that road or the way films are made.
Regardless of who gets the most screentime or how it affects moviemaking, 'Endgame is worth paying full price to see at the theatre.
Oh, and before we move on to the spoilers, here's a pro tip: When I went to see it, immediately before the film started, one of the theatre staff came to the front and announced that if anyone was worried about running out for a washroom break in a film this long, her recommendation was that they leave around either the 55 minute or the 1 hour and 45 minute mark. After the fact, that seemed about right to me.
Now, if you don't like spoilers, you can go back to adapting Manimal into a colouring book for adults.
WARNING: FROM HERE ON OUT, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS
Now, turning to a more in-depth dissection of Bill & Ted's Superheroic Romp, er, Avengers:Endgame, where, just like the Wyld Stallyns and sit-up champ Chuck De Nomolos, the Marvel heroes too can apparently play the time game.
Some general thoughts:
There were some elements of fan servicing, specifically for the actual comics fans in the audience, that worked nicely. The first was presenting Bruce Banner five years after the dusting as the Merged Hulk/Professor Hulk. As somebody who was collecting Hulk comics back in the early 90s, I appreciated the filmmakers using this old plot thread as a way to develop Banner's character. Having Banner say something to the effect of having worked some things out was as succinct a nod to the comic as possible, without getting into the whole examination of the Green Hulk, the Grey Hulk/Joe Fixit, and Banner as a Freudian id/ego/superego manifestation as a reaction to childhood abuse. And the fact that they had him grumble about Hulk's old smashing habits was funny. The next treat for comics fans, though from a far more recent storyline, was Cap saying "Hail Hydra" in the elevator, as an homage to the Secret Empire storyline (which I didn't follow). Lastly: Howard the Duck. Those of us who know about Howard's long association with the superheroes of Marvel Comics (especially his team-ups with She-Hulk) thought it was just ducky when Howard made a cameo on Guardians of the Galaxy in the wreckage of The Collector's gallery. And now, here at the end of all things, when Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Starlord and the others lead a legion of warriors from the dust returned to do battle with 2014 Thanos' armies, Howard is among them. The shame of it is that in all of the action, I missed seeing Howard among the crowd. In fact, I left the theatre mildly disappointed that he wasn't (I thought) going to make a cameo in 'Endgame. Thankfully, the internet put my mind at ease — I checked when I got home, and someone had already posted a grainy picture of Howard emerging from a portal behind The Wasp along with a bunch of other honked-off fighters, and I felt better. When I eventually do a rewatch, I'll be doing a little duck hunting — paying extra close attention to the backgrounds of the scenes from the final battle to see if I can spot Howard myself. At any rate, I'm happy he made it in, even if the Jade Giantess isn't fighting by his side.
Speaking of heroes back from the dust bin, I also really liked Spider-Man's contributions to the final act of 'Endgame. Peter and TChalla's game of Infinity Gauntlet rugby/football was entertaining as all hell, even for someone like me who isn't a sportsball fan. It's a wonderful, memorable, truly comic book-style scene. Spider-Man also kicked a lot of ass in that fight, though it was an interesting move for the writers to change the character slightly so that he was willing to give his a.i., Karen, permission to activate her lethal mode. I don't claim to be an expert on Spider-Man. I collected some Spider-Man titles back in the late 80s and early 90s for a while, including Todd McFarlane's series, and based on those, and the various animated TV series, and the movies, and other mentions over the years, I've always gotten the impression that the Webslinger had a pretty strict no-kill policy. In fact, I seem to recall one comic where Peter gives Ghostrider or some other badass shit about his willingness (along with that of others like Wolverine and the Punisher) to kill. I guess when it's an invasion of aliens whose boss has already slaughtered you and half the universe's population, scruples like that go out the window, and it's hard to argue with that position. Peter being distraught over Stark's death was also touching, not only helping to tie up Tony's character arc as a former jerk developing into a father/father figure, but also adding poignancy to Spider-Man's own story: he now has to deal with the loss of a third father. One (his biological father) would be bad enough; two (Uncle Ben) would be hell; but Peter has to deal with losing three (now Tony), which is obviously crushing. This really hits home in the slow pan of the crowd at Tony's funeral when Peter and Aunt May are standing side by side, and you realize how many times this poor teen and the wonderful woman who is raising him have had to stand in black and say goodbye to someone before. But even though Peter's still a kid, he's a hero, so he keeps going.
The image of Peter as a hurt kid gave rise to another enjoyable moment in the film: the ladies' lineup of death. Spidey's been surrounded and overwhelmed by bad guys, and it looks like it's the end, when suddenly most of the female heroes appear and come to his rescue, bringing the pain. Yes, it's a scene that's mildly pandery: like the writers and directors were worried that if they didn't give the women warriors their due in terms of screentime asskicking, then critics and female fans might be upset. That all of the female heroes were going to assemble in the spotlight at the front of the screen and wreak absolute carnage to come to the rescue of a male counterpart, in order for the filmmakers to avoid accusations that women were yet again getting short shrift in yet another comic book story about boys. Perhaps it would have been more effective, and less on-the-nose, to give each of the various women more screen time with their own individual moments of heroic battle glory, interspersed with the fights of the male warriors, to more adeptly show that they're all equals and all crucial to saving the universe. And yet, the scene was executed so well and was so entertaining to watch, and these female super heroes did deserve some extra, dedicated screen time to kick ass because they hadn't had much of the limelight previously in this story that focussed primarily on two men (Cap and Stark). When they line up to protect Peter from the alien army, it's like watching a nature doc of an adolescent lion finding himself in over his head against a group of hyenas, only to have the lionesses arrive with claws and fangs and fury because nothing messes with the cubs of their pride and lives to tell about it. This scene adds an extra dimension to their fight, putting them metaphorically in the roles of mothers of the Marvel universe, defending it from invading predators.
Another scene that's generated a lot of discussion that I thought worked well was the death of Black Widow. Beyond the entertainment value of seeing who can outfight and outwit the other, Natasha's death was a good one because it was freighted with meaning. Not only did she die to get the soul stone for the Avengers' version of the Infinity Gauntlet, she sacrificed herself for her friend. Not merely to save his life, and not simply to make him happy by bringing his family back, but to make Clint whole again by brining his family back. To heal him. And isn't this neat symbolically in that it puts Hawkeye's life and the gauntlet in parallel, allowing them both to be rebuilt. One also might wonder if this is Natasha in some way thinking that her death will be appropriate in allowing Clint to focus entirely on his family... There's always been, at least to me, some uncertainty as to the backstory of the relationship between these two. Are they merely very close friends who, because of what they've been through over the years, share a bond and a love that's not romantic, but something as close in its own unique way? Sort of a Frodo and Sam thing, or a pre-sex Mulder and Scully relationship? That, like Frodo's going into the West, Natasha's death allows Clint to focus solely on his family? Or is it possible that at some point in the past Natasha and Clint did have a romantic/sexual relationship, and the ghost of that was always haunting them, even as he loved his wife and family and she was welcomed among them as family? Was this Black Widow's way of removing herself from the picture to try to clear that possible red from her ledger? Or was there no romantic/sexual history, and this was Natasha doing a very pragmatic emotional calculation that there would be little point in allowing Clint to die to retrieve the soul stone to reassemble the gauntlet and resurrect the dusted, only to have his family confronted with a new lease on life without him? I don't know. Any of these possibilities makes equal sense. One more mystery for a career spy to take to her grave, which is appropriate. Getting back to the issue of superheroic gender politics, Black Widow's death was also a good decision for the story because it means that a woman gets to be not only a hero, but one of the very few heroes who makes the ultimate — permanent — sacrifice to save the universe. In laying down her life to retrieve the soul stone, Natasha is on par with Tony in his death. And that fact that her sacrifice is a very personal one, done in a quiet corner of the universe in front of an audience of just two, it is every bit as powerful as Ironman's command of the gauntlet to bring down Thanos and his armies in front of thousands of onlookers. And because only two of our heroes die permanently, that makes her ending very important indeed.
Which brings us to:
The body count among the heroes should have been higher. For such a huge battle, with stakes this high, there should have been a higher price to pay. Really, I think the Hulk needed to die. There was certainly tragedy to Tony Stark's death — though it was entirely predictable — now that he'd found peace with his family (Pepper's "we're okay" [rather than wailing and begging him to stay] just wrecked me), but it gave short shrift to the tragedy of Bruce Banner's life by not giving him a bigger role and a chance to make a sacrifice. What would say more about society and its need to change: the ending we were given, where a spoiled asshole who nearly always got what he wanted and has now decided to be good becomes the penultimate hero (at least in the public's eye — Natasha's sacrifice was just as important, but it's not likely she'll get remembered the way Stark will on their version of Earth) and will be remembered and revered by all, or a different ending where the misunderstood monster who was always good lays down his life for a world that, up until the final post-dusting years, hunted and harassed and feared him? A Bruce Banner death would have meant more, and adding him to the list of the honoured dead alongside Tony Stark and Natasha Romanov would have been a more powerful storytelling decision. Others would have been appropriate too, but, of course, the studio has its eyes set on more movies in the Marvel universe beyond the next Spider-Man flick.
Another nerdy beef with this movie: it seems like anyone can touch an Infinite Stone now. When the Red Skull tried to manhandle a stone, it looked like he got killed, and even if we now know it just zapped him off to another world, it still messed him up enough that now he's floating around looking like one of those paper ghosts you hang from the tree in your front lawn on Hallowe'en. The poor slave girl who snagged a stone in The Collector's ultimate fanboy den? Disintegrated. The Guardians of the Galaxy? Almost disintegrated, but saved by the power of friendship... and Peter Quill's dad's alien DNA. In fact, what are we told in the first Guardians movie? That only entities of great power can wield the Infinite Stones because lesser beings will die, illustrated by a Celestial striding across some godforsaken planet inflicting destruction. And yet, 'Endgame throws all of that lore out, and it seems the stones are up for grabs for anyone who wants to grab them. We've got Avengers travelling through time collecting them like Bill & Ted snagging Socrates and Joan of Arc, we've got people playing keepaway with a gauntlet loaded with stones — and before you say that whoever wasn't touching the stones, only the gauntlet, I suggest you consider that with all that running around, their grips on the gauntlet would have changed and they would have come into direct contact with the stones — and yet there are no disintegration-related consequences. Now the rules have changed: you can fondle the stones, just don't try to actually wear the whole Eternity Mitten. That would be too much bling for a person to rock. Except for the Hulk, because gamma something something. And Tony Stark, because goatee power or some such. Yeah. That's it. They won't disintegrate immediately. But all the rest of you fuckers, keep your grubby paws out of the glove!
There's another problem with the nature of the Infinity Gauntlet's powers in 'Endgame: no one tries to assume the mantle of the ultimate superhero, Captain Obvious. At no point does anyone even suggest approaching 2014 Thanos — or better yet, Thanos while he was still on Titan formulating his genocide plan and trying to convince his people to go along with it — that with the power of the gauntlet, if he's truly concerned about the limited resources of the universe being used up recklessly, then instead of killing half of its population, he could simply, you know, create more resources and ensure on an ongoing basis that every living thing in the limitless universe has an adequate supply of what it needs. When you can change reality and create or destroy with the snap of your fingers, one is just as easy as the other. At least in the original Infinity Gauntlet comic series back in the early 90s, the explanation for Thanos' slaughter avoided this storytelling flaw: he was in love with Death. That kind of bad guy can't be convinced to spare lives. But this Thanos is an environmentalist run wild. Someone should have seen the possibility of using the time stone and going back to change his mind. The Thanos of the movies isn't so much the Mad Titan as the Severely Limited of Imagination Titan. And so, by extension, the Avengers themselves are victims of this crippling lack of perspective.
It also bothered me a little that Ant-Man's technical expertise got short shrift. Yes, he's a comic foil — his movies were set up that way — but his movies also indicate that Scott is no idiot. Especially when it comes to engineering. And yet this time around, our technical hotshot is more-or-less patted condescendingly on the head then sidelined to eat tacos. Don't get me wrong, I like tacos. I like them a lot. I think everyone should get a cuddle and some tacos. The world would be a better place then. But the way Scott's treated in 'Endgame reminds me of the kid who's allowed to hang out with the cool kids on the playground because he brought the ball, but he's never going to get allowed to actually play. Ant-Man is Fogel from Superbad: they just want him to come to the party because he's got the fake i.d. to get booze, or, in this case, a pocket full of Pym particles. Sure, he gets a couple of quick shots in the final battle to give him his due, but those really only felt like the pat on the head. Good job, Scott. Now eat your tacos.
Perhaps the biggest crime of a movie and franchise that prided itself on nerdy references, though, was the omission of Time Bandits from the otherwise excellent list of time travel references in the planning discussion in the Avengers' lab. Bill & Ted got the nod. So did Back to the Future. And a bunch of others. But no love for Randal, Wally, Scutter, Fidget, Vermin, Og, and Kevin (But not Horseflesh. Horseflesh is dead.). I'm not saying that 'Endgame needed a cameo by the glowing head of the Supreme Being demanding that Cap and the gang "return the map", or that Pansy and Vincent talk about "the special", or even that Sean Connery glower in the background as a fire chief. But really, it was unforgivable that Time Bandits was left out because the superheroes' brawls with Thanos in Infinity War and Endgame were collectively such an obvious love letter to the final battle against David Warner's Evil at the end of Terry Gilliam's grimy, chaotic little masterpiece. All the different protagonists bring different types of weapons and fighting styles to bear against their evil enemy, all to no avail. Thanos even ends up crumbling into dust, just like Evil. Just because no-one ended the movie sweeping up Thanos dirt and putting it in a post office box doesn't mean Time Bandits didn't deserve some love.
Speaking of things lost in time, how about some actual effort to deal with the emotional effects of Bruce and Natasha's reunion, given that the last time they saw each other it was pretty clear there was some sort of nascent relationship, and the Hulk just flew the coop. There's a very quick recognition of that given, when they first see each other in 'Endgame, but far too quick to do justice to what was going on between the two in Week-and-a-Half, er, Age of Ultron. The characters of Black Widow and Hulk — and the audience — deserved a little more time for these two to work things out.
There were others who weren't given a fair shake in this film. Let's talk about who should have killed Thanos. 'Endgame gives the coup-de-gras to Tony Stark as a means of finishing his character development: the loner who only thought of himself and always fought to stay alive is now a family man battling to save the world and willing to sacrifice himself to do so. But in terms of the multitude of stories in the Marvel cinematic universe, that doesn't give Ironman the strongest character/plot justification to put an end to Thanos' evil. Stark, who did not lose the people he loves the most (Pepper and his daughter) doesn't even make the Top 5 list of people who earned the right to mete out justice. Of people who needed to avenge. What about Clint, who first lost his family, and then had to watch Natasha die? What about Thor, who lost his brother and many friends and others among his people aboard the refugee ship? What about Scarlet Witch, who had to kill her lover to protect him from Thanos, only to have to watch as Vision was resurrected and then immediately killed again? How about Gamora — who's real family was killed by Thanos, and who was thrown off a cliff by him — and Nebula — who was brutalized and maimed when all she ever wanted was Thanos' approval — who were forced to commit atrocities across the galaxy by their adoptive parent? How about Black Panther, and Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man, and Starlord, and everyone else who was dusted by Thanos? What about Drax? I actually think Drax, along with Gamora and Nebula, has the best case, and maybe even a stronger one than Thanos' adoptive daughters. His was the first of the vendettas we were told about in the Marvel universe, with his family slaughtered on the orders of Thanos. I'm not sure about the timeframe, but it's entirely likely that might have happened before Gamora was taken from her people, or before Thanos began torturing Nebula. In some ways, giving the revenge to Drax would have completed his character arc and elevated him. Initially, 'Guardians presents him as a badass who's carrying a lot of hurt and justifiably looking for vengeance. It doesn't take long though before he's made into a buffoon, and that's maintained throughout the rest of the movie series. Giving Drax the revenge he deserves would have brought that backstory to a close, given his character some satisfaction, returned some dignity to his character, and been a more fitting end to Thanos than Tony Stark, who'd gained so much but lost nothing along the way.
Lastly, there's the issue of the Lightning Lebowski. I had real problems with Thor being turned into a fat loser who, for much of the movie is the butt of the other characters' jokes (when they're not picking on Ant-Man). There's nothing wrong with, over the passing of years with no more supernatural or space-faring foes to fight and thus calories no longer being burned at an accelerated rate, and living in a place where food is plentiful, the god of thunder gaining a bunch of weight. As you all know, I'm a gravitationally-gifted guy myself, so I think a heavyset superhero is long overdue (it's been too long since Captain Chaos laughed his way across the big screen). It would also be understandable that Thor might be suffering from some kind of lasting depression from having the life he knows disappear because there are no more epic battles to fight against overpowered foes, or because he witnessed the death of his brother, and many of his friends and his people aboard the refugee ship and was unable to do anything about it, or because killing Thanos on his retirement farm solved nothing and was thus a hollow victory. All of those things would have been understandable and acceptable. But to pile everything together, and to turn Thor into someone who was no longer taking care of himself or his people, who was just hanging out playing video games all day and eating chips, who wanted to avoid conflict, and who had gained a lot of weight and worst of all is constantly made fun of throughout the movie for his weight gain, is not acceptable. This was some ugly fat-shaming at work. I shouldn't be surprised because this is Hollywood — a place obsessed with artificial body images — making a movie, but I am disappointed because it is an example of Hollywood at its worst. If Thor would have gained a lot of weight, but would have been out in the bay happily reeling-in a net full of fish aboard a dory when Hulk and the gang showed up, acting as a leader to his people, and enjoying the fruits of his back-to-the-earth labour, that would have been fine. If he would have been presented as a genuinely damaged, sad, and fragile figure, self-isolating and in need of real help, that would have been fine too. It would have introduced a level of sensitivity that Hollywood is rarely capable of in films like this. But the writers and directors didn't do this. Instead, they made Thor into the bastard child of The Dude and Walter Sobchak and made him a silly and pathetic character that existed to be mocked. Volstagg was a fat superhero, but he got more respect than 'Endgame Thor — remember the first Thor movie when Volstagg roars "Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!" and when he charges into battle with the others? Thor is now made into a buffoon, like Drax has become, but unlike Drax, Thor is heavy, and so he — along with the audience — is subjected to a barrage of fat jokes. Stay classy, Hollywood.
The Downright Odd:
Putting on my armchair writer's hat, I thought the filmmakers missed an opportunity for an Ant-Man joke when Thanos says he blasted the Infinity Stones to atoms. I was just waiting for someone to say something like "Well, do you think we can get Ant-Man to shrink down and recover the atoms" because, being the Avengers, they assemble things. Oh well.
I was always constantly watching in the background — and maybe I missed something — to see if Loki would make an appearance. Yes, he was killed by Thanos in 'Infinity War, but not by dusting. And while a neck break is fatal, Loki seems to have survived equally bad endings in the past. I was always waiting for him to make an appearance, as though he was either openly out for revenge, or quietly skulking away to look for the next opportunity to tie Thor's shoelaces together.
Speaking of absent characters, or, in this case, largely absent characters, Captain Marvel was more-or-less unnecessary to the plot. Anyone else could have destroyed Thanos' ship (Thor with lightning, a blast from Scarlet Witch, a massed attack by Wankandan airforce planes, a kamikaze ram by some Ravagers — either under the command of Stallone or Howard the Duck — coming fresh to the party). Really, that was her only accomplishment. She makes an appearance in the beginning to basically say "I've got shit to do", then isn't in most of the movie, then shows up at the end to wreck someone's ride and give Thanos a head-butt. And that's pretty much it. I know I talked earlier about focus and limited time and having to marginalize characters, but it felt like she was an afterthought. As though the studio, writers and directors said, "Well, we spent all that money giving her her own film, and if it does well, maybe there'll be sequels, so we better at least give her a cameo." But she was inconsequential — kind of a deus ex machina that didn't really pay off. If they were looking to add a DEM, why not the Celestials, who are right there in 'Guardians as part of the foundation legend of the Infinity Stones? But, even though the film alludes to them holding at least one of the stones, they're not brought back to reclaim their bling or to lay down the law when Thanos goes on his universal killing spree (like they try to do in the comics). Where are the Prime Celestial, The One Above All, Nezarr the Calculator, Ziran the Tester, Oneg the Prober (okay, we know Oneg's probably not going to be part of this posse because he's only got one thing on his mind) and the others? There isn't even any dialogue where someone asks about them and is told, no they're all dead or no they're sitting this one out. The Marvel cinematic universe writers love dropping in references to these cosmic powers, and to comically-powered heroes like Captain Marvel, but they don't make use of them in any way that justifies them being included in the first place.
Now, somebody call Rufus or The Doctor and tell them to bring their respective telephone booths, because here's a temporal head scratcher... For all of the Ancient's warning to the Hulk about time travel messing up the timelines and creating divergent worlds, once Thanos and his gang — including Gamora (and, I'm sorry, but after Thanos' wheezing of "My Gamora" during the battle in 'Infinity War, I can't see them onscreen together without the song "My Sharona" playing in my brain) — come forward in time from 2014, and when Cap decides to settle down with Agent Carter in the 1940s, then the whole notion of resetting the timeline goes to hell. At this point, the Marvel cinematic universe just becomes paradoxapalooza. And we happily overlook this because Thanos is bad and Cap deserves his shot at true love, wildly-spinning-off parallel timelines be damned. It would have only taken two seconds to address this by having Banner bring it up, and then Ant-Man patting him on the arm and saying "Just go with it" and giving him a taco.
And finally, something that was pleasantly unusual about 'Endgame was its denouement. Not the content, which was great, but its length. You'd be hard-pressed to find a comic, action, or science fiction movie this days with a wrap-up lasting that long. I can't recall one in the cinema since The Return of the King (and even that gave Tolkien's text short shrift). Most flicks like this end with a closing scene lasting no more than a couple of minutes, and a pithy statement from the hero or someone making a pity statement about the hero, and shot of him/her posing nobly as the music rises and the credits roll. But 'Endgame played a long game, and did so successfully, in that it didn't feel like it was dragging at all. It felt satisfying, like the end of Babylon 5, M*A*S*H or Farscape (definitely not like BSG).
So that's my take on Avengers: Endgame. What did you think?
Friday, May 03, 2019
When he was dressed as the 200-year-old Wookiee, you couldn't see Mayhew's face, just that fanged, sasquatch visage. Nor did you hear his voice; only the mishmash of bear, dog, camel, or whatever collection of critter noises was dubbed in as the language of Kashyyyk. And yet Mayhew was still there. Under all that fur, he managed to project a tangible personality for his character. The stance showed it, and the speed at which Chewie would whip around to snarl when angry, and the frustrated waving of the arms, and the eyes.
Most of all, the eyes. Behind the mask, Mayhew wasn't just tuning out and striding through the scenes towards a paycheque, he was watching everything — Chewbacca was watching everything. Without a recognizable word or twitch of facial muscles, Mayhew's eyes told us everything about what was important to Chewie, and how the Wookiee felt. When the Stormtroopers get too close on the Death Star and the binders come off, we see Chewie's anger in those eyes. When Han is lowered into the carbon freezing chamber on Cloud City, we see the Wookie's sorrow and helplessness. And when Solo careens blindly into the cell beneath Jabba's palace, we can see how overjoyed his furry companion is. Under what Rian Johnson described as "a ton of yak hair", Mayhew showed he was a genuine actor.
Star Wars and all its sequels just wouldn't have been Star Wars without him.
May the Force be with you, Peter.
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Minister also shares some of his thoughts about writing, including mining old, half-developed ideas for material that can be refurbished and combined with other content into something new and compelling; how a writer decides when a story's time has come; and how deciding to publish a new novel as a serial, rather than a single, finished book, is a source of pressure, but also offers a lot of positive opportunities. He talks about the importance of letting the real world provide the conflict in a story, rather than its artificial elements. He discusses how to expand the focus of the story to give supporting characters time at centre stage, without losing the thrust of who the story is really about. And he explores the reality of being a creator in a world where writers (and other artists) have to consider expanding their work into other media platforms, and thus need to always be ready to make a pitch.
Along the way, we talk about the current Golden Age — or Gold Rush, as Minister suggests — of television. We also take time to debate the movie adaptation of The Martian. And we discuss why British TV productions are often more interesting and entertaining than their Hollywood counterparts.
Minister also teases some of his upcoming projects, including a novel about Dread Scott Jahplin (one of the supporting characters in The Coyote Kings vs. the Myconauts of Plutonium City), and a new novel called Shango, God of Thunder City.
Our interview took place in February, 2019, via a Skype connection between his headquarters at The Grand Lodge of Imhotep in Edmonton, and my studio in the lair of bloginhood, currently located beneath a small island in an ornamental duck pond in that new condo development just down the street.
You can learn more about Minister Faust and his stories on his website:
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Let the Invasion begin!