Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Darkness and the Light

On Friday, the Ottawa-Gatineau region was hit by a tornado. This storm knocked out power to a huge swathe of the city (including where I live) for over 24 hours in some places. When the power was out, I originally sat in the dark with nothing but a candle and my dying laptop for light wanting to conserve my phone's battery life. Becoming chilled and hungering for actual warm food, I ventured forth to examine how severe the power outage was.

The lights were out all over the place. Journeying up my now unfamiliar street in the dark, I discovered that the buildings, the street lights, traffic lights, and it seemed even emergency lights in most buildings had been knocked out. Cars were navigating dangerously using only their drivers' judgement and flashing headlights and honked horns. The fact that many drivers judgement was rather poor was borne out by the constant sound of sirens in the background and a few emergency vehicles passing me on the street.

People, unused to such a consuming darkness, were using their cellphones to light the streets in front of them. The ground was so dark (or shadowed by passing cars and obstructing buildings) that they couldn't see where their feet were going! The moonlight was occasionally enough to see by, when the traffic died down at least.

What was astounding though, was that the stars shone brightly through the departing clouds and the full moon was out for all to see! Stars normally washed out by the light pollution of the city sparkled, and the moon was gloriously full. It cast a waning light, often cut by the highbeams of cars but looking lovely nontheless.

I was struck by how beautiful it looked, the dark city and the bright moon. It was something interesting in contrast, shadows and light. I don't think I'll forget just how much it exposed our reliance on our artificial stars to light the night and how it exposed most of us to a darkness we aren;t used to dealing with.

For me though, it showed just how beautiful even that darkness can be.

Monday, 17 September 2018


Jennifer Garner, the darling of the rom-com and one of the most known actresses of the 90s and early 2000s, has been off the radar for some time. However, recently I was surprised to hear about her hopeful comeback in this years bloody film, Peppermint. In it she plays a grieving widow whose husband has been gunned down for even considering to steal from cartel boss, Diego Garcia. In a world of corrupt cops and amoral lawyers, she decides she must take justice in her own hands when her daughter is gunned down with him.

Does this bloody tale of revenge serve up a nice cold dish?

Well, it serves it lukewarm.

For starters, the story hits a lot of familiar notes that people will be familiar with in a revenge flick. Heck, if you saw 2007's The Brave One or even Kill Bill, you'll be getting all the right notes. Family/lover dies, woman trains/applies training to extract bloody vengeance on her tormentors. She's possibly amoral, unstable, and definitely going against the law. Responsible authority figures who have tried to help but failed try to stop her, things get messy, and the blood flows.

Thematically there really isn't much to differentiate it from any other vigilante film. Cinematography wise, its nothing to write home about. The direction is capable, and there's a blessed lack of shaky-cam to infect the screen, and all the action looks good. Its nothing ground breaking, but is certainly serviceable for some blood and gore.

Few of the characters really stand out. Garner's character is, after the first act, mostly a silent protagonist speaking only a little to utter threats, grunt in pain, or some combination of the two. The other characters, mainly John Gallagher Jr.'s Detective Cairmaichal, John Ortiz's Detective Moises Beltran and Juan Raba's Diego Garcia are mostly one note characters. While Cairmaichal and Moises have a bit of an onscreen competition for who gets to be the corrupt cop, Garcia is just a villain who is out to show how villainous he is. That's about all there is to it.

Garner though, does a creditable job showing she can be a badass. Her action is done well, and she clearly worked to get in shape for this role and learn the movements of someone who knows cage fighting, tactical shooting and infiltration. She pulls off the mindless revenge seeker well, and even manages to be over the top cruel without seeming too unsympathetic to the viewer.

However, the film plays up the grieving mother angle without any real twist or subtlety. In a moment where we see her with the villain cornered, we get a sudden twist that he has a daughter and so she can't kill him! The daughter of course, was never referenced before, and disappears from the narrative and her own thought process shortly after. A one time distraction that doesn't effect the plot and really served no purpose. Does the idea of taking away someone else's family disturb her? Does she want to 'free' this daughter from a criminal father? Or any other motivation that being haunted by a dead daughter? Nope. Just a one second cop out.

She also hallucinates her dead daughter a lot. Whether it be in near prophetic warnings or timely scenes which serve to remind the viewer why she's suddenly balls out for revenge. The visions of dead daughter are mostly left-field, they haven't happened before, and it doesn't seem like there's a great reason for them happening here. It seems as though they are only obligatory for the 'dead child and revenge' story we're being told.

Some secondary plots and dialogue, conversations amongst Detective's Cairmaichal and Moises about 'Bigfoot' and Cairmaichal maybe being attracted to the FBI agent introduced partially into the second act, don't go anywhere. There's the idea that Cairmaichal may be trying to shift the heat off Garner's character, but that doesn't go anywhere either. Really all these secondary points seem like something picked up by the writer, and then they never really decide what to do with it.

Overall, the film feels less like a big reboot for Garner's career, and more like a film of the times. In her March 2018 article What the New Wave of Female Vigilante Films Says About the #MeToo Movement Emily Yoshida states "And so it seems fitting, if coincidental, that at a time when innumerable sexual harassment and assault allegations have tarnished [Harvey] Weinstein’s legacy, female vigilantes are back on the big screen with a literal vengeance." So it seems, if recent films like Jennifer Lawrence's Red Sparrow or even the new Tomb Raider film are a way for female actors (and their watchers) to punch back at the male dominated establishment, while entertaining us with some excellent popcorn along the way.

Punching, Garner delivers in spades. Along with shooting, kicking, and stabbing her opponents, she is merciless in her crusade for revenge. While by no means an intellectual,  particularly thrilling, or even original film, it is one you can crunch some popcorn watching.

While I doubt Peppermint will ever be on anyone's all time favorite movie list, it may entertain you for a few hours at least. A film of the times maybe, but I can't say it is much beyond that. If anything, it will show Julia Garner's still has game, and maybe we will be seeing her pull of some bigger punches in the future.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Six Series I'm Watching For

Recently, there has been a spate of buying rights to old novels and properties in preparation for turning them into live action adaptations. Things like Fahrenheit 451 are getting feature films, even Larry Niven's Ring World is being optioned for television.

Though there's over 40 sci-fi and fantasy series being optioned for film and television, here's six I'm personally watching:

1) The Dark Tower

Stephen King's long running fantasy/western series has entertained and thrilled readers since The Gunslinger was released in 1982. This gunslingling fantasy epic runs between numerous parallel worlds all trying to save the eponymous tower from the machinations of the Man in Black and his overlord, The Crimson King.

Most recently this series deserved some much deserved hype when the 2017 film premiered. Unfortunately it only premiered to mixed reviews and didn't thrill hardcore fans. Despite some amazing action scenes and good performances, the movie failed to live up to some people's expectations. Now though, it may receive some new life on the small screen.

Though there have been rumblings about it being picked up on Amazon, so far the series remains in development hell, and little concrete has moved forward or been announced. But if this series does go forward, as an American classic, it needs to be watched out for.

2) Y: The Last Man

This series is going to be adapted from the amazing comic series Y: The Last Man, in which all animals with the Y chromosome are wiped out simultaneously by a mysterious plague. All that is, except for one man named Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersad. Along the way they are pursued by rogue government operatives, cultists, and ninja.

Its an exciting series, and full of fun visual imagery and lots of mystery regarding how the plague came about. In April it was confirmed that FX would be picking up the series and had put forward a formal order for a pilot episode. A cast list was recently released, which means that, happily, this series is moving forward.

3) Lovecraft Country

A recent novel by Matt Ruff the story focuses on Atticus Turner and his search for his missing father across 1954 Jim Crow America. Teaming up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George they set off across the nation dodging not only the all to real horrors of racist America, but the unknown horrors lurking in the shadows all around them.

With stellar reviews, I unfortunately have not read this novel yet (it's on my reading list for October) it is clear that this will be an excellent series. It has been picked up by HBO, with Jordan Peele and J. J. Abrams as producers. Principle casting is complete, so apparently all we are waiting on now is a release date.

If this brings Lovecraftian horror into the fore, and hopefully allows for some adaptions of the work of that master of horror himself, I couldn't be happier.

4) The Witcher

Andrzej Sapkowski’s amazing fantasy series, and its fantastic video game adaptation, have enthralled readers and gamers for twi decades now. Their popularity, despite appearing in only Polish and then being translated to English, is practically unprecedented. The series has taken off in popularity since then, almost rivaling A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of cult classic.

Following Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, who hunts monsters while being swept up in grand political intrigues effecting an entire continent. Known for some ugly and humorous spins on traditional fantasy genres, it often goes into gruesome details about the more unsavory aspects of living in a medieval world. There's also a lot of hilarious innuendo being thrown around both in the game and the books.

The series has been picked up for distribution by Netflix and is currently in the preliminary stages. Script writing, shooting locations, and one important casting decision with Henry Cavill (of Superman fame) to play Geralt. Though not yet ready for premier, it is assumed we will be seeing this show on Netflix come 2020.

5) Halo

For fans of action packed sci-fi, any adaptation of the hit video game series would be welcome. With numerous comics, books, and one current live action short, a full film or television adaptation has been a long time coming. There have been rumors of a film adaptation for years, going back over a decade with Peter Jackson at one time slated to direct.

However, most projects have been scrapped, or been consigned to development hell. However, apparently Showtime is producing a for television adaptation under the direction of Kyle Killen. It is slated for premier in 2020. Will this adaptation get off the ground, or will it crash and burn like the Covenant? Only time will tell.

6) The Wheel of Time

Finally, the biggest fantasy series for many, even putting A Song of Ice and Fire to shame, with a sprawling 14 books and massive canon and characters, we have the Wheel of Time. Chronicling the stories of three ta'veren (individuals who twist the Pattern, or literally the tapestry of life around them) who are caught up in an epic struggle against the Dark One. One of them is the Dragon Reborn, destined to lead the world to the Last Battle and break the world as we know it.

Epic in every sense, from the scale of the story, the intrigue, the battles, the magic, it is truly amazing.

Now though, Amazon seems to be hoping to turn it into a new Game of Thrones franchise. This is, in my opinion, a wise choice. With a massive fan base going back through the 1990s, and sometimes crossing over with the fans of the modern fantasy master Brandon Sanderson, it has a built in audience which may drive its success.

Although there are, as yet, no scripts or casting choices, it may be a while until we hear anything definitive on a project this big. While there was a truly convoluted legal battle with the rights to the series, that Amazon is picking up the series seems certain. Where it will go from here, who can say?

So these are the series I am watching in the coming years with their adaptations to the small screen (or big screen). I'm looking forward to all of these. With some solid casting choices, and some solid talent behind their creation, we can count on these to be fun for the sci-fi/fantasy community.