In which all I do is review things now

This week was seven hundred years long and featured hospitals and shingles— the disease, not the roof covering–, neither of which I was directly involved in, but I’m tired and utterly refuse to brain in any significant capacity right now. Luckily I have massive megacorporations providing entertainment to soothe me. So: two brief mini-reviews.

I have watched both episodes of The Mandalorian that have been released, and it’s pretty solid. It’s definitely Star Wars– the series not feeling right was my second biggest fear behind the fact that it was going to secretly be about Boba Fett, which it isn’t– and while I wasn’t sold on the music or the humor after the first episode I was right in suspecting that I just needed to get used to it. My favorite thing about the show so far is that it subtly reinforces the idea that Mandalorians aren’t actually the big tough badasses that Star Wars have been pretending they are for years– Boba Fett got killed by a blind man with a stick and a monster that couldn’t move, and the Mandalorian (who still doesn’t have a name) gets his ass kicked by Jawas in the second episode. I mean, it’s hilarious, but still. I don’t know that this is worth getting Disney+ for all by itself, but if you’re a Star Wars sort of person you probably already have your subscription and have watched the show already.

I have beaten this now, and everything I said in my early impressions post still holds: this is basically a Fallout game, only more Westerny and less post-apocalyptic, and with Mass Effect/Dragon Age-style companions. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll get along with it perfectly well, and unlike the last Dragon Age game I was actually able to finish it without dying of boredom, but I’m starting to think that unless someone does something to radically shake up how this genre works I think I’m going to tap out of it now, because long quest chains and ceaseless fetch quests just aren’t fun for me anymore. I damn near turned the game off when one character literally asked me to go ask another character if a poster he’d ordered had arrived yet, and I accidentally screwed up a quest late in the game involving modeling for an NPC and when I looked up what might have happened had I not messed it up I realized that there were 10,000 more things to do for it and I’d have been howling and throwing shit at the walls by the end of it. It’s mostly well-written and entertaining beyond that, but this game demands a bit more patience than I actually have available to me right now. I might go through it once more to see how some quests might go when I make different choices, but it won’t be happening for a while.

Because capitalism

Yes goddammit of course I have a Disney+ subscription. I may actually have already mentioned ponying up around here; I signed up a few weeks ago and have been waiting impatiently ever since for the damn thing to actually launch. The entertaining bit is that after those several weeks of impatience I actually forgot until an hour or so ago that the thing was launching today, and didn’t get everything signed in and hooked up until just before dinner.

What am I watching first? Captain Marvel, of course, but we will absolutely be watching the first episode of The Mandalorian before bed, especially now that I have confirmed that a certain thing I was worried about does not actually happen in the show. (No spoilers, of course.)

We spent a couple of minutes scrolling through the available offerings and my wife went entertainingly nuts over some of the possibilities, so I think our $6.99 for at least the first month or two are going to be pretty well-spent. For me, the Star Wars and Marvel content is gonna be more than enough to keep me busy for a while, and having all the classic Disney films, many of which my son hasn’t seen, is icing on the cake.

So, yeah. See you in a month. 🙂

So Star Wars again

Is this … wider widescreen than usual? I’m thisclose to actually sitting down and comparing it to some previous teasers.

I have thoughts about this, but most of them are about how fucking tired I already am, and how much more tired the notion of another JJ Abrams Star Wars film makes me, so maybe I’ll share them for some other time or just put them on a shelf and not talk about them at all. For now I’m just going to point out that this thing exists and then go back to playing Mario Kart with my wife and kid.

REBLOG: SOLO: A Poverty Story, by James Wylder

I know I already reviewed Solo, but I just read my friend James Wylder’s take on the film and I thought it was interesting enough that I asked him if I could reblog it.  I’m packing for Indy Pop Con tonight, so this is actually pretty perfect timing.  Enjoy the piece, and check out James’ other work!

Spoilers throughout, btw.


solo-a-star-wars-storyI remember when my family went bankrupt during the Great Recession. This isn’t an uncommon story, it’s practically the story of America. I’d already known we had less money than other families. Reduced lunch at school told that story enough. There was an element of shame involved, when I lied about not being able to join friends on outings I couldn’t pay for. Eventually, shame grew into a facade of bravado, and I started to take risks I hadn’t considered.

After all, if you’re going to lose even if you work yourself to the bone everyday and do everything right like my father did, all because of higher powers outside your control, then why not shoot for something you truly want? A goal, a dream. To be a pilot, perhaps, or even a writer.

* * * *

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t the movie I thought it would be. I went in expecting a fun romp, but came out of with a strong pull on my heart that wouldn’t let go. This is my movie, and by golly am I glad it exists, but it’s also one that is already being unfairly looked over for reasons completely outside the bright light shone onto the walls of theaters everywhere. It’s not going to find it’s audience at the moment, but it’s going to find its audience in time, because counter to my expectations, Solo a Star Wars Story is about something.

It’s about being poor and downtrodden.

But it’s in space.

Which makes it a lot more fun.

The signals are clear from the get go: the opening title cards of Solo aren’t in the traditional scrolling format of the main Star Wars movies, the non-existent blink-and-gone of Rogue One, or the Newsreel of Clone Wars. Rather, these title cards come straight out of Cyberpunk. The easiest comparison is to Blade runner, with its flash card information to electronic tones. When these end, we don’t get the traditional shot of space, we get a shot of a dark engine and wires, as Han tries to make a spark strong enough to hotwire it.

Han lives on Corellia, a poor industrial world, rather like the rust belt I grew up in (but in SPACE). The sky is coated over with smog. We’re in Star Wars, but this is a different side of Star Wars. We’re not even allowed to see the Stars yet. With him is Qi’ra, his teenage sweetheart and childhood friend. Together, they’re begging for someone to make a fanvid set to “Livin’ on a Prayer”. They’ve formed a little impromptu family of the two of them, and they plan to escape and survive. They won’t live in this hellhole forever. They’ll get out.

Their life together is one we’ll see repeated throughout the movie: Han and Qi’ra live under a selfish leader (in this case named Proxima) who exploits the downtrodden for their own gain. They have little power, and their only power comes from understanding the rules around which their masters have built their powerhold, and exploiting them. Han and Qi’ra escape, but the plan goes wrong and they are separated on two sides of an Imperial checkpoint. Han may be bold, and he might be able to escape some thugs sent by a crimelord, but he can’t defeat a government. He and Qi’ra are helpless against this immigration border, no amount of clever tricks or violence will stop an army with a wall when it’s government has decided the lives of the people on one side of that wall aren’t good ones. The pain of separating this family is a terrible one, totally morally bankrupt, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could approve of such things in our own world. And yet, some people thought the Berlin Wall was a good idea.

So now we’re left with Han alone. Unable to survive from here on out, and now alone, he does the thing plenty of poor folks do who need to escape their situation: he joins the military. The cut from Han joining to him fighting in a dark muddy hellscape is one of my favorite things in the movie, and the whole sequence set within the Imperial Military adds more to the Star Wars saga than a lot of things that look more impressive: here we get to see how awful and hollow being in the Empire really is. Officers shout trite propaganda slogans about serving the Empire that they even sound tired of yelling. Soldiers take off time by watching other soldiers get eaten by slaves. Han doesn’t care about the Empire, it’s just another big powerful force that’s trying to press him down. But he’s seen tons of those. It’s nothing special. The difference is its big enough he can get lost in it, and so can other criminals. We’re introduced to Beckett and his crew, impersonating Imperial officers, who exploit the unquestioning nature of the Empire to blend in, and get Han thrown under the bus to survive.

Here is the first turn of the movie, and it’s a nice one. Han has no desire to kill anyone, or to be involved in a war. What the empire is fighting over is invisible to the audience, and Han. But as Han is thrown into a pit to get eaten by a monster, we get the movie’s first real acknowledgement of it’s overarching message. In the pit is a wookie slave, forced to kill and eat imperials who don’t follow the rules. Fighting won’t work, and Han recognizes something here: both he and the wookie are victims of the same shit universe. Even as the wookie beats him up, he convinces the wookie they can escape together, and they do, achieving something neither could have alone. They reach Becket, who is impressed at their moxie, and Han and his new wookie friend Chewbacca escape the empire.

Which brings us into the main plot. We’re thrown into an adventure, where we see Han is very good at piloting, and not as good at everything else that isn’t piloting as he thinks he is. We’re also introduced to Enfys Nest and the Cloud Riders, a group of marauders constantly trying to steal the takes that Becket’s crew is after. It seems to be a standard space western, and good fun.

And we also meet Qi’ra again. This is the second turn of the film.

Qi’ra has gone from Han’s childhood friend to a more weathered femme fatale since we last saw her. Han dreamed of coming back to rescue her, a masculine dream where he could rescue the princess and save her, but the world didn’t work out that way. Saying she “saved herself!” sounds too nice, neither Han nor Qi’ra have actually gotten anywhere good, they’ve just managed to survive by the skin of their teeth. They’re poor, and the world has been shit to them, and they’ve both had to do what they’ve needed to. We’re not allowed to see what Qi’ra had to do alone, but we can see she’s ashamed of it. It’s heavily implied she’s murdered people, tortured people, and engaged in survival sex. These haven’t been choices Qi’ra made because she wanted to: she made them because she needed to live. Qi’ra is a strong woman, but like Han she is no better than a commodity to the people who lord over her.

People’s bodies being commodities is a constant theme throughout the film: this is a film about the physical reality of being oppressed, not about a spiritual battle between light and dark. Barriers block bodies from other bodies who love them. Bodies sell themselves into the military to escape destitution. Bodies sign up to be used by crimelords to escape destitution. We see bodies sold into slavery, checked in the teeth like cattle. Bodies with the top of the head, and hence the brain, cut off and replaced by computers serve drinks to crimelords. Bodies everywhere, and each one of them is a person who lives and feels and hurts. And the broader universe keeps turning because they are small, and not Jedi or Sith or Generals or Royalty. These bodies have to survive somehow. And by god, does it leave a mark.

Later in the film is one of the most poignant moments, of the film, where Qi’ra throws a bomb, and screams in solace and rage as she kills slavers on Kessel. Without making this movie unwelcoming for children, we can see all Qi’ra has suffered in this moment. Her righteous fury at the kind of people who hurt her her whole life boils over, and we have to confront it. We have to see that pain as she cries out. No masculine fantasy could save her. She had to survive, and survive among men who hated her. And she did. And her body is here, and breathing, and screaming, and by the force does she scream.

The characters in this film are all broken people in different ways, each covering over their cracks with facades. When those facades crack, the movie truly shines. As a surviver of some traumatic experiences, Han reassuring Qi’ra that he doesn’t care what she had to do to survive, he still wants her, was a great moment, and one of my favorite in the film. The cracks start getting wider still, and by the finale we’ll see something from each of them.

Kessel features the next turn in the film. We’ve picked up Lando and L3, since they have a ship and the crew needs that. Lando is similar to Han in a lot of ways, but he’s made it. He’s still living on the fringe of society, and he’s had to make dreams with Crimson Dawn like the rest of the crew did, but he isn’t in anyone’s debt anymore. Lando’s flaw is now that he’s reached that point, he’s forgotten what it took to get there. L3, the droid co-pilot to his ship, is frustrated by the servitude of Droids. It’s been a running theme throughout all of Star Wars: the audience can see clearly that droids are people, but the characters treat them as less than people. We’re told Lando has feelings for L3, and he cries when her body gets wrecked on Kessel, but he still talks about how he’d wipe her memory if she wasn’t so useful, leaning in to tell Han that in aside, like a man trying to get another man to join in with him on a sexist joke.

That we can see that this is hypocrisy, and the characters can’t, is the point. It’s been the point for decades, but here it’s shoved in our face. On Kessel, we see droids and organic beings all being used as slaves, and get two parallel stories showing their plights are the same. Chewie breaks off from the mission to save his fellow wookies, and L3 breaks off to save her fellow droids. A revolution begins, and the people who oppressed both of them get some comeuppance. L3, as noted, is nearly destroyed in their escape though, and only her memory is saved by placing it inside the Millenium Falcon itself.

There is a certain horror to the way the characters put L3 into the ship, she had no control over it after all, but L3’s desire for revolution and change perfectly fits the symbol the ship becomes. She is the Falcon, and she will become the savior of freedom in the Galaxy. But even she is a commodity, like any other character in the film.

The finale of the movie see’s nearly every character Han trusted aside from Chewbacca betray him. Becket betrays Han, and Han is forced to kill him before Becket can kill Han. Lando abandons him mid-showdown with Enfys Nest. Qi’ra, despite hating the world she’s lived in, cannot imagine leaving it. She takes her superior’s place in Crimson Dawn upon killing him, and takes on the role of helping run the very people who hurt her. Her parting words to Han are telling, “When I imagined you out there, it made me smile.”
Han’s life is a fantasy to Qi’ra. It’s beyond her own reality, and seeing that Han had survived without compromising as much as she did hurts. “You’re the good guy,” she says, and Han replies, “No I’m not, I’m a terrible person!”
But she’s right, in the end. And in letting Han go, she avoids letting him see the scars.

A lot has been made of a big twist towards the end of the movie about who was running Crimson Dawn, but that’s tertiary to our point. It’s not the twist I’m concerned with, at least. Really, the big twist of the movie is the reveal of Enfys Nest: a teenage girl of color who took over the role of freedom fighter from her mother. One could guess she might be as young as Han was when we met him back on Corellia. This is the point the movie truly turns. Everything we thought was going on was wrong—this isn’t a story of a group of rag-tag heroes trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, this is a rejection of it. The gang Han is a part of are the same kind of people who pushed him down his whole life. Crimson Dawn and Becket are no different than Proxima in her lightless pool on Corellia. They’re all content to use downtrodden people to make some sort of gain. Caught up in the adventure narrative, we’ve missed the real struggle of the movie.

This is the true brilliance of Solo: it’s not just that Han is poor, and Qi’ra is poor, it’s that the moral of the film isn’t “You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you work hard enough!”, but rather, “If you’ve suffered, do what you can to help others not suffer like you did.”

Han doesn’t reject Enfys Nest, nor does he give up on his dream. He doesn’t want to be a rebel (at least not yet) he gives away the money that could secure a life of peace for him because he has known suffering, and can’t abide to let other people suffer just like he did, even though they’re different from him. Neither different upbringing, nor skin color hold him back. He doesn’t let his own suffering be an excuse to be selfish, and not be good. He helps. It’s an important message, and one worth remembering.

Often times, in circles of people who want to improve the world, there is a sense that everyone should be fully devoting themselves to it at all times. This is impossible, of course, but it also sidelines the little sacrifices people make who don’t have the luxury to devote every moment to that. Solo is a movie about the unity of the downtrodden in the face of oppression, but one where the freedom fighters continue their battle against evil while the protagonists go off to try to make some more money to eat at the end.

We can all do something, and you don’t even have to be a hero or special or particularly clever. You can just be a decent person, and be unselfish when the people who have devoted themselves to heroism need you to be. You can go to work, and struggle, and hurt, and just be a normal guy, but a good guy.

And maybe your life won’t be a fairy tale, it’ll be filled with mud and pain, but maybe in ten years you’ll trip onto an old wizard and the chosen one and accidentally win the heart of the princess anyways, who knows.

#REVIEW: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (non-spoiler) and DEADPOOL 2 (spoiler)

My reviews of the last couple of Star Wars movies have been a million words long, but I don’t think Solo is going to need that treatment.  I’ve done spoiler reviews and non-spoiler reviews for them, and I think this is probably the only review Solo is going to get. Since it’s going to be shortish, I’m gonna go ahead and review Deadpool 2 here as well, but I can’t review that one without spoiling something big.  So we’ll do Solo first.  solo-a-star-wars-story-tall-A.png

And the tl;dr review is this:  it’s good enough.

It was going to be hard under any circumstances for Solo to blow me away.  I never really felt the film was necessary, and unlike Rogue One, which I also didn’t think was necessary, the trailers and such never really grabbed me and forced me to be excited about it.  It is better than any of the prequels and it is better than The Force Awakens, a movie that I was jazzed about initially and has done nothing but sink in my estimation since then.  Is that damning with faint praise?  Possibly.

The million-dollar question about this movie was always this:  is Alden Ehrenreich good enough to fill Harrison Ford’s shoes?  Can he convincingly play this character?  And the answer, to me, is an unqualified yes.  I had no problems with Ehrenreich’s performance at all– in fact, I think his portrayal of Han in this movie was leaps and bounds ahead of Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Han in Force Awakens.  

In general, the acting in this film is quite solid across the board, and if anything (okay, minor spoiler incoming) the only gripe I have about the film is that I wanted to know more about just about every character who they decided to kill off.  I thought basically every character that had more than a couple of lines was really interesting, but some of them unfortunately we aren’t going to see again.  There’s one major surprise and one “subverting expectations” sort of surprise toward the end of the film, and in a movie where you basically know everything that’s going to happen going in, actual surprises have more impact than they might otherwise.

Yes, Donald Glover is spectacular as Lando Calrissian.  Scary good, honestly– his first few lines are delivered with him offscreen, and I seriously thought they’d brought in Billy Dee Williams to overdub him.  He’s doing a voice thing, and it’s perfect.  I didn’t think he ran away with the movie the way a lot of people seem to, but he does a very very good job.

Obligatory Turk/Scrubs video break:

 

So.  Yeah.  Not an essential addition to the canon, but a solid effort, especially given what a trainwreck the movie was expected to be before it came out.  I will allow them to do a second one if they must.  Especially if it delays the newly-rumored Boba Fett movie.  Please, please don’t make a Boba Fett movie.

I’m so tired of Boba Fett.

cable-dom-deadpool-2-1526934768566_1280w.jpg

And now, on to Deadpool 2.  This one will spoil a major event that none of the pre-movie stuff even hinted at, and although it happens damn near immediately once the movie starts, you probably don’t want to know about it.  Last chance to bow out!

I’ll start off with the good stuff, actually: you are probably going to have more or less exactly the same reaction to Deadpool 2 that you had to Deadpool, and if you haven’t seen Deadpool you may as well go see that instead because it’s a better movie.  It is, in most ways, exactly the same film, only with a slightly expanded cast and budget and much more entertaining cameos and the one thing that really pissed me off that I’ll get to in a minute.  Josh Brolin is pretty good as Cable, a character I’ve never really had much interest in, and the Juggernaut is my favorite X-Men villain so it was great to see him, especially after the godawful portrayal Vinnie Jones did in X-Men 3.

I want Domino to get her own movie.  Now, please.  And if we could get a movie with Negasonic and her girlfriend, maybe with Colossus around, that’d be just peachy.  Because I love all of them.

That said, killing off Vanessa right away pissed me off, and even though they undo it at the end of the movie I can’t unwatch the two hours I spent being pissed off that they killed her for no fucking reason at all.  Think about it: imagine the movie without Vanessa dying right away.  Damn near nothing changes.  You lose a few scenes of Deadpool kvetching about it and maybe they have to do a little bit of a rewrite of his motivations for wanting to save the kid?  But that’s it.  Her death is pointless, and undoing it at the end doesn’t help.  I’m tired of movies and books and whatevers that motivate the main character by killing off their girlfriends and/or wives right away, and it threw a pall over the entire rest of the movie for me.

So, yeah: it’s a Deadpool movie, and that’s a good thing, and the cast and the couple of new characters they added are fun and interesting, but fuck you for killing off the female lead ten minutes into the movie.  I can’t forgive that, as it turns out.


I’m up to four patrons!  Which is better than I thought I’d do, honestly!  But more would be super awesome.  Join the club of the coolest people in the world.  You’ll get a new Jayashree story right off the bat, and I’ll be adding at least one more microfiction by the end of the weekend!  Plus all of my Patrons get thanked by name in any forthcoming books.  You want your name in books, right?