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

Peppermint

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.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Hang on a Minute: A Discussion of Execution

Recently, I found myself in the oddest discussion. At work I began talking about hangings with someone after we had been discussing the punishments of the earlier eras. How exactly the conversation got to this point I'll never know, but suddenly we were discussing hangings.

The concept of execution by hanging has been around for centuries. It is still the go to method of vigilante mobs, and the method of execution in Japan (where in July the plotter of the Tokyo Subway attacks was executed). In concept it is remarkably simple. In its more 'scientific' form, the condemned is dropped from a height calculated to break their neck and kill them instantly. In its simplest form, it chokes off the airways of an individual via strangulation. Either way, absent intervention, you're dead.


These kinds of executions were often carried out in public, and are a staple of films for just that reason. From the classic Clint Eastwood Westerns, Pirates of the Caribbean, to the oldest films first made. Heck, the last public execution in the United States was in 1936, the execution of Rainey Bethea in Kentucky, drawing a crowd of 20,000.

Public executions were common spectacles. Going as far back as society itself to show the power of the state. They were seen, apparently commonly, as a macabre form of entertainment. It was an interest duel purpose in keeping the masses happy and showing the power of the state in one event. An interesting example in Canada is the execution of Patrick Whelan in 1869 at Ottawa. He was accused of killing Thomas D'Arcy McGee, and it is almost undeniable he was railroaded through a trial aimed purely at establishing his guilt. Some 5,000 people turned out to watch his execution.

It is interesting that, in my hometown of Perth Ontario, we also had a series of public hangings.

The story I am the most familiar with is the hanging of Thomas Easby in 1829. Easby, whose wife and four children were found dead in the charred remains of their log cabin. Only one child survived, and with rumors flying that Easby had killed his family, he was promptly adopted by a neighboring family. The story goes that the child would beat dolls and say "This is what daddy did to mommy" or when seeing a fire built, remark something similar. This led to Easby's arrest.

He was tried and convicted, and finally sentenced to death. It led to a public holiday in Perth allegedly "Schools were closed, work of all kinds suspended, and settlers came from all parts of the District, bringing with them their families to witness an event which it was hoped would have a great moral influence on the community." There was a sort of carnival atmosphere I have read, and many brought picnics to witness the spectacle.

The second public hanging took place in 1851, when Francis Beare was hung in front of the court house. Apparently many 'well dressed females' were in attendance for this killing. Apparently, peoplr were eager to see justice done. Though it is mentioned there was less of a carnival atmosphere at this execution.

Now, what I did not know, was that the last execution in Perth took place in 1910, though it was not public. Rufus Weedmark was convicted of strangling his wife in 1910, and sentenced to hang. Since public executions were now no longer allowed, he was hanged inside the confines of the county jail. Apparently a 'great crowd' gathered around the jail, but could not see anything.

These are the only hangings that took place in Perth, but at no point did they fail to draw a crowd.

It is interesting that we are drawn to such grizzly spectacles, and that we can find so much fascination in reading about them. Now, not everyone does, as the woman I was having this conversation with felt that it was rather ghastly and moved on from it. Maybe we are heading away from such fascination with it.

However, considering I've just written this piece pondering on the subject of hangings, and you're reading it...maybe not.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Retro Review: Kagemusha

Set in feudal Japan in the sengoku jidai period, Kagemusha follows the story of the Takeda clan as they battle with the fearsome warlords Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. It is a story revolving around the historical drama leading to the end of that particular struggle. Those familiar with history will know how it ends from the start. For those without knowledge of it, I will refrain from any spoilers of the ending.

The story is a jidaigeki film (literally period drama) directed by acclaimed Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa of Seven Samurai fame. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes film festival, and was nominated for other awards.


Our story here opens with the daimyo of the Takeda clan, Takeda Shingen, and his brother, Takeda Nobukado, looking at a condemned criminal who bears an uncanny resemblance to the daimyo. It is decided, that despite his insolent nature, they will keep the criminal alive to act as the daimyo's body double in time of need. He becomes, the kagemusha. Meanwhile, the Takeda are engaged in a battle with Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of Nobunaga's prime supporters. Shingen, feeling that the fall of the castle is imminent, travels to oversee the siege. While watching the siege one night he is shot and mortally wounded by a sniper.

Despite being on the cusp of victory, Shingen orders a withdrawal of his forces. Nobukado is able to maintain the ruse by posing as his brother, but realizes this is a failing strategy. Shingen gathers his closest generals and allies, including his son Katsuyori, and orders that if he dies, the clan cannot be allowed to fall to the plans of their enemies. He orders that they must stay neutral for three years in order to recuperate. Dying from his wounds, Nobukado orders the thief to be used as a body double to fool the clans enemies. Meanwhile, his foes ponder on what this sudden change of strategy in the Takeda clan means.

This deception will not be easy. The thief is uncouth, ill educated, and does not know the ways of the noble families. He will have to fool Shingen's allies and family, as well as dealing with the bitterness of Katsuyori, as he fumes at being unable to take his rightful place at the head of the clan. His enemies too are on the lookout for anything that undermines the clans position.

At its heart, Kageshuma is a family drama. It revolves almost solely around the issues affecting the Takeda clan, the internal family, and its struggle to survive. Nobukado tries to keep the wishes of his brother in place while protecting the clan, while Katsuyori is struggling to understand his role in his father's plan, all the while feeling as though he has been slighted through his fathers death and delayed inheritance. The thief himself must navigate the world of concubines while preventing the old lord's son from discovering he is an impostor.

The film itself is a visual spectacle though. Medieval Japan is brought to life in costuming, scenery, and battle through the use of well dressed extras, amazing costumes, and fascinating battle scenes. The work has clearly been done in bringing this era of history to life, and you see that in the little scenes where men are relaxing, and the scenes where soldiers clash on screen.

The small actions of the actors might be baffling to those unfamiliar with Japanese dramas, but the way they use subtle facial expressions and motions to portray events are amazing in my opinion. If you're even remotely familiar with Japanese culture you will get a pure joy from seeing how the movie turns out.

However, if you aren't familiar with Japanese drama, history, and culture, this may be a difficult movie for you. If you don't like movies with subtitles, that is doubly so.

Personally, knowing the history, I enjoyed the film and what it has to offer. As a historical drama it is excellent, and I think it should be applauded for how well it captures the era. The work that has gone into the costumes, the set design, and the appreciation for the culture is amazing. It is worthy of any awards it was nominated for. The film was spectacular.

All in all, this is an excellent historical piece. I recommend giving it a watch even once to truly appreciate some of the fantastic imagery we owe Japan, and to get an understanding of Japanese culture.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Submission!

After a few days of editing, and getting the word count to 22,133, I have finally submitted my short story Integration to Tor. Now, they say that the proofreading process will take up to six months due to the sheer volume of submissions so I don't expect any news until at least February 2019. Either way, this is an exciting time for me as I submit my first story to an actual publishing company.

Then in all likelihood receive my first rejection letter!

But I'm happy, and I think this will be a good first step into the industry. Hopefully you'll see this story in print sometime!


Friday, 3 August 2018

Writing Update: Integration

Today, at precisely 9:04 AM, I typed the words "THE END" onto the first draft of my recent manuscript. My sci-fi short story Integration is now complete. For the last month and a half, I've been hammering away at this story almost every day. As of completion, this draft numbers 21,767 words over 51 pages.

Some of you might be wondering why I've said so little about this, or decided to only now make an announcement. Well the reason is simple, ever since last October when I penned off my piece of flash fiction The Disappearance of Wilson I've been hammering out other short stories either for practice, or for hopeful submissions to publishing houses. In creating this story I had set for myself a goal of writing at least 20,000 words, and I had determined not to say anything about it until I actually properly finished the piece. Now that is done.

Now I am excited to share with you my sci-fi short Integration and my plans for it. I had already been punting around in my head a story set on Earth far in the future, but not one that dealt with the difficulty of adapting to a new life. Reading the story, The Hummingbird decided the issue for me.

Writing this was a challenge to complete a work by a deadline and now I have completed the first part, and now I will be submitting it to beta readers while editing the first draft. It is for submission to the Tor slush pile which opened to accept short stories of between 20,000 - 40,000 words in the science fiction and fantasy categories. My goal is to have a complete and edited submission forwarded in the next ten days.

The story itself is following Faisal Williams, who has settled on the edge of the badlands in Old Texas. He has a troubling past, and it seems to be creeping up on him. Meanwhile, he deals with internal conflict over his religious views and the struggles of his one good friend, a recovering soldier, with nightmares of his own past. They all collide one night in Texas and Faisal must make a fateful choice.

With this story submission I will be making my first submission to a professional publishing house. While I don't expect much to come of it, it will be an accomplishment to have this story complete, and submitted to someone.

I'm told this process will take over six months, so it will be a while between submission and any news of progress on this story. Until then, the early draft is finished, and now for the editing to commence!

Other news revolves around two other stories I'm working on, with the intention of self publishing in October.

The first is called Priests of the White God set in a fantasy world where a nautical chase takes place between two factions. However, things are far darker than a simple naval action on the high seas as both parties become desperate.

The second is called Finiphobia. Two authors are trapped in a high school during an outbreak of a terrible epidemic, and to pass the time collaborate on a story between them. Jealousy and paranoia however, begin to take hold among them as they disagree on how to complete their story.

Hopefully I can have more regular updates for you on those stories as the next month progresses. In the meantime, the editing commences in a pell mell rush to meet the submission deadline!

So until next time!