Great Actors in Small Roles: Claudia Black

Claudia Black (from Wikipedia entry)
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudia_Black

So, I’m expanding this “series” just a little bit to also include under “appreciated” actors who I come across from all genres–not just film, as it had been previously. While, again, I won’t often call out many actors, there are just some who do a great job and don’t necessarily get the recognition they deserve.

One actor whose work I always love is Claudia Black. Having re-“rediscovered” her work in Farscape and having just recently finished the entire Stargate SG-1 series, in which guest stars towards the latter part of the series and becomes a series regular in the last season, I’ve really come to appreciate both her comedic timing and sense of the “ironic” in the characters that she plays.

Farscape

I’ll have a more in-depth review of the show later, but I really like the way Claudia Black imbues her character on the show, Aeryn Sun, with a sense of both sarcasm combined with deadly earnestness. Fitting of someone who was once a commando for the “enemy,” Claudia plays Aeryn with a physicality (and sometimes coldness) befitting of a military specialist. However, even after only about 4-5 episodes, I see the inventive wordplay and playfulness that is the embodiment of Vala (SG-1).

Uncharted

Many people may or may not know Claudia by sight, but most gamers (Playstation at least) know her for her roles in the Uncharted series. She plays Chloe Frazier, a treasure hunter and one-time old flame for the series protagonist Nathan Drake. While her roles were substantial in the games, I really felt the actress and the character come into her own with the release of the stand alone game Uncharted The Lost Legacy which featured two former supporting characters Chole Frazer and Nadine Ross as the lead characters in a new adventure. I thought the pain in which Black exhibited towards her father in some of the more emotionally charges scenes were outstanding and gave true insight into the character.

Stargate SG-1

One of my favorite characters on SG-1 was Vala, introduced as a “foil” to Daniel. While Vala is played as a far more humorous character than Aeryn, she can also have moments of seriousness, and even cold-blooded calculation, although Vala’s overriding conception is “fun.” Again, I really liked the way Claudia Black uses a “grin” to emphasize Vala’s playful demeanor which is reminscent of the way my own family used humor and sarcasm in a playful way, using our facial features and body language to diffuse/disarm any attempt to harm. I think this is why I don’t find “teasing” funny in real life because, in real life, “teasing” is really meant to cause harm to the person–whereas in Vala’s paradigm (and mine), teasing is just a way of playing and being fun without being stupid/doing stupid things. Without the correct gestures and body language, sarcasm and glib comments can do more harm than good.

While Claudia Black may not be a “household name” in many homes, I really think she should be as her ability to play both fun and playful characters along with characters with an emotional edge or more depth make her an actor that I enjoy watching (or listening to for her voice work) everytime I encounter something that she’s starring in.

A handclap of praise to Claudia Black for such wonderfully diverse characters–and for bringing a sense of “fun” and “wonder” back to adventure and science fiction.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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Goodbye Star Wars: Clone Wars, Hello Farscape

Image Source: https://reelgood.com/show/star-wars-the-clone-wars-2008

So, I’ve been away from the blog for a while due to school and reading for the tests for this semester. I’ve been consuming media on the weekends, but I just haven’t really had a chance to blog about it. There have been several major video game news items that I’ve wanted to blog about (& with luck, I still will), but basically, today I wanted to talk about the “streaming future” and the way it will work in the future.

Goodbye Star Wars: Clone Wars

After trying to get through the series when it was first released and not being able to due to the erratic nature of its broadcast schedule originally, I tried to get through it on Netflix when it first appeared. There was an episode that I couldn’t get through–the one where Padme and Annakin have to use Padme’s former boyfriend to get information on the Separatists–and so I dropped it. This was when Star Wars: Clone Wars (SWCW) had first entered the Netflix catalogue. I recently (this year) finally got past that odiuous episode and was making my way through the series when I got the notice that SWCW would be leaving the service on April 7th. As I was in the midst of studying for tests, there wasn’t really anything I could do about it–no major binges or anything like that–so I was only able to get to Season 3 (first episode) before the show was pulled. Now, it isn’t gone forever–more than likely this show is going to appear on Disney’s new “Streaming” service.

Obviously, I don’t really like this. To the best of my knowledge, Disney’s new service will not be “free.” If it costs money, then I have to decide whether I need Disney’s service over Netflix’s service, or whether I can afford (notice I didn’t use the word need as I don’t need either service, but I want them for entertainment). I don’t really like this idea of starting new services when there are already market leaders in the market. I’ll explain why in a moment. For the moment, the point is moot as Disney’s service hasn’t actually premiered.

Hello Farscape

Farscape is a early to mid 90s Sci-Fi show that, like Babylon 5 (B5), I saw a few episodes when it first premiered. Afterwards, it was one of the first shows on streaming. I managed to see approx. the first 2 seasons before it went away (again, much like SWCW where it went away before I could finish it). I’m starting over again. It has been long enough that I really don’t remember the characters or the relationships well enough to try to pick up where I left off. I will try to finish this series this time around (again, like B5), and if I do so, I will post a review of the series on the blog.

Streaming: Hello and Goodbye

So the thing about streaming is that it is almost a lot like broadcast network: you are at the whim of the providers and licensors as to what you can watch when. It takes away choice. The providers go out and acquire the content and you watch it. However, not all providers have all the content, meaning subscriptions to multiple providers to get a good coverage of old and new content. Now, content provider sees these subscription fees as way of guaranteeing revenue (hence, CBS All Access, Disney’s upcoming streaming service, and the myriad of others who want in on the act, like NBC Sports). However, the market cannot and will not support all these services, so just like all other markets, most will fail until an oligopoly has been established of the main players (usually 2-3, sometimes more, but rarely) and equilibrium will be established. There will always be smaller players (a fair amount), but in the end, there will only be a few major players. The problem is that everyone, no matter how late they are to the party (I’m looking at you Apple) wants to be a part of the oligopoly. And while the consumer may ultimately win through competition, we’re about to enter a phase where the consumer will be the ultimate loser since the only way to get all the content will be to buy as many services as one can afford–not great on the consumer’s bottom line.

Until the shakeup happens and content providers stop there own services and partner with larger companies, the consumer loses. And will this happen? I point you to the immenient shutdown management platforms like VUDU and the like. They wanted to be a place where you dumped all movies that you purchased so as to diffuse the power and domination they felt Apple had in the marketplace. Now they are going away and Apple still maintains its dominance in purchased content, but has seceded its in content to the “streaming” platforms.

My point is that capitalism is NOT always good for the consumer, especially whenever there is market upheaval. The market doesn’t always work in the consumer’s favor and we need to stop gushing over capitalism as if it is a “perfect” system. Like all human inventions and endeavors, it has its flaws, and the fact that I no longer have access to watch a show through no action of my own that I hadn’t finished highlights just one of the many flaws in the system.

I guess I’m writing about this, not to gripe or to propose a better system, but in the hopes that by pointing out the flaws, someone (an economist or theorist) many be able to implement ideas that can correct these flaws.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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Mini-Review: Netflix’s The Dragon Prince (Season 1)

Image Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/7/17826544/the-dragon-prince-review-avatar-last-airbender-netflix

Okay, with the impending release of Season 2, I thought I’d take a moment to come back and talk about my reactions to Season 1 of the show now that I’ve taken I’ve seen the first season all the way through. This will be a shorter entry as I have a packed schedule today, but I’ve been meaning to revisit this series for a while.

Characters

So, one of the main reasons that I didn’t initially like the show was that the main character was just too close to their earlier creation–Sokka from The Avatar: The Last Airbender series. Prince Callum (pictured in the above image on the left) is very much in tone, spirit, and vocal inflection a “spiritual successor” to Sokka. While I like Sokka, I can only take him as a “side” character. As the main character, he grates on me (or at least he did until the 4th or 5th episode). I think they toned down his character and gave him a “specialty” which made him seem more in tune with the other “main” characters and less of a walking “joke.” The other main characters were fine and I didn’t really have any problems with them, but Prince Callum really turned me off at first.

Plot

I actually liked the way the plot unfolded after say the 4th episode. The main characters find something and must return it to its rightful place — in other words, a quest. This was missing in the early episodes. Once they set out and began their quest, things seemed to fall in place for me with the show and I began to look forward to watching it, rather than it being a chore to get through.

The main villain seems a little off, however. He seems to use the best interests of the Empire as his justification, but his actions are at odds, and much of what he does seems like a “power grab.” I can’t tell if the creators are trying to create a “complicated” villain (and just not reaching it, in my opinion), or if they are trying to show the villain’s “two-faced” nature (i.e., the Palpatine/Emperor duality from Star Wars Prequels).

Final Observations

The show has potential–which Netflix seems to have seen as they greenlit a second season of the show. They’ve added a new “main” character–so I’ll be interested to see how that works out in regards to the characters’ dynamics as they go about their quest. They’ve added several side characters, so I’d like to see how they are going to be used over the upcoming semester as well as I kind of like their side characters as much as the main characters–probably not their intention, but they are still varied and fun.

Overall Grade: B

So, due to the earlier part of the season, I would have rated this as a B-, but based on the stellar last half of the season, I’m raising my grade to a solid B. If you can get past the early humdrum episodes, I think there’s a worth fantasy series that is worth checking out. It’s no Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it isn’t that bad as fantasy series go.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Netflix’s The Dragon Prince

MV5BMjA5MjEwODU1MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk0MzA5NTM@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_

Image Source: IMDB

I had a chance to watch the first episode of this Fantasy show from the creators of the Avatar: The Last Airbender and I found that it was pretty good.  I don’t think, at this early stage (and having seen only one episode), that it is a good as their previous show, but I think that it has promise.

Characters

So, this is where I’m still undecided.  The characters that they introduce are mostly interesting, but unlike Avatar, they don’t fully flesh out each character’s relationship to each other.  There is an extended “history” of the world at the beginning, but the writers also use quite a bit of dialogue as “exposition” in the episode as well.  There are some funny character moments as well as some dramatic ones, but especially for the first episode, I would have liked to have had more grounding in the relationships and motivations.  There are, of course, analogies to the old series, a serious sister, a jokey, but ultimately heroic brother, but there are also some new ideas, that of a “step-brother,” which hasn’t really been explored too much in animation, but is pretty much a fact of life in many Western families.

Plot

So, I won’t go into too much of a plot summary here, but basically humans have killed the Dragon King and are pressing the borders of the other races (elves) now that there is no “guardian” on the borders.  I understand that the humans are being portrayed as the “bad guys” here (colonists, or as Shuri from The Black Panther might term it–colonizers), they are portrayed on-screen remarkably sympathetic.  The writers want you to form an attachment to these humans, even though they are on a mission of war and conquest, and after the first episode, I can’t quite reconcile these two disparate elements together, and it took me out of the plot.

Will I Continue?

Yes, for the moment, I think I will.  I’ll probably watch one episode a week (my normal viewing speed) and I’ll report back after the season is done.  I really like what they’ve set up, although I can’t quite decide if I’m going to like it as much as their original show, which (although I’ve not seen every episode, I’ve seen enough to know that as a Fantasy and Sci-Fi person, as long as it doesn’t go crazy, I’m probably going to enjoy most of it, even if I don’t enjoy it as much as Avatar: The Last Airbender.  However, I’m reminded of the old adage: “Perfect is the enemy of good.”  While Avatar looks to have been perfect, this seems perfectly fine as well.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

Mini-Review: Man of Tai Chi (Netflix movie)

v1

Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen star in Man of Tai Chi. Image Source: Rotten Tomatoes https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/man_of_tai_chi/

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 21 (+1)
    Goal = 3 Pages a week. 20/20 Pages (for artist). 21/32 pages (for completion of 1st issue)
    Actual = 1/5 Pages done so far this week.
    Wrote the Page that I’d rough drafted the day before. Moving along slowly. Don’t think I can finish the entire first issue by Saturday, but we’ll see.
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)
    (Researched an article on Whaling, think that I have the two characters–a brother and a sister who are on the opposite sides of the issue.  Still, no Writing so far). Need to find a place to work in revisions–I can draft new material just fine, but I don’t seem to have any time to work on “drafting” revisions.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 5 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 6 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Wrote out a fairly extensive list of possible research topics to explore from chapter 5. Really intriguing book.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Exit the 13 Assassins

So, even though I’d taken a Tai Chi class on this previous Saturday and even though I had this movie in my Netflix queue, I wasn’t actually going to watch this movie this past weekend. No, rather I’d intended to watch 13 Assassins, another martial arts movie on Netflix dealing with 13 Assassins who are tasked with killing a poor ruler in Japan’s feudal period.  The movie was slated to go off Netflix at the beginning of the month (today as I write this post) and I’d had it in my queue for ages. However, when I sat down to watch it, it was far more violent of a movie than I really wanted at that time. There was a “hari kari” scene at the beginning of the movie and in the next 15 minutes there were two other fairly violent scenes. In short, it just wasn’t what I was looking for after a Tai Chi class and a fairly grueling drive home.

Enter the Man of Tai Chi

After debating with myself for about 5 minutes and scrolling through some more of Netflix’s martial arts movies, I decided to give Man of Tai Chi a try (I had just taken a Tai Chi class after all).  It actually wasn’t all that bad. Not great, but not a train wreck either. Directed by Keanu Reeves, the movie tells the story of a young man, who is outstanding in the ways of Tai Chi as a martial art, but not so great in understanding Tai Chi’s philosophy. The protagonist (who is not Keanu Reeves, by the way, although Keanu does star as in the movie as the primary villain/antagonist role) of the movie is ‘Tiger’ Chen Lin Hu played by an actor named Tiger Hu Chen who I’ve not seen before but who is expressive in that earnest and determined “Peter Parker” sort of way that many actors are able to bring out in their performances.  The movie follows “Tiger’s” descent into the abandonment of Tai Chi ideals by using Tai Chi to fight in tournaments and later, for money.

A Real World Martial Arts Movie

Set in today’s world (the movie was released in 2013 according to IMDB, although I don’t remember if there are dates in the story–I don’t think so, but I could be wrong). This movie takes place in China/Hong Kong and throws a light bit of police procedural in along with the martial arts with a young female detective who is trying to crack the case of this underground fighting circuit even though her boss is telling her not waste her time. As mentioned, Keanu Reeves’ character tempts and corrupts “Tiger’s” character until he is at the breaking point. I will mention that the final fight scene is vaguely reminiscent of the initial Morpheus and Neo “training” scene where Morpheus shows Neo the Matrix for the 1st time. To be clear, it ISN’T their first fight scene I’m referencing, but the first time they “jack” into the “training” simulation. The fights, while stylishly correographed, lack a bit of polish that would have elevated them from good into the great arena (especially the final, climatic battle). There is a master who sees “Tiger’s” character going over to the “dark side” and tries to use Tai Chi philosophy to stop it and their was a Tai Chi move used in the movie that my friend and I had practiced earlier that day, but mostly the movie was a typical martial arts movie.

Still, I enjoyed it all the more for its earnest main character and the fact that it at least genuflected (or bowed in this case) in the direction of Tai Chi as a healing art, not as a destructive one.

Overall Grade: B-

Yes, I’m being a bit generous here–it is a typical martial arts movie and nothing special. However, I like the way the actor transitioned from earnest to “hard” and I’d had the Tai Chi class earlier in the day, so I feel a bit generous and lenient towards this than I might have otherwise.

Sidney




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Babylon 5 on Amazon Prime–Woot!

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 3041 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

0.  Zero. Nada. Zilch. That’s my level of production since Tuesday of next week.  What happened?  Bad day on Wednesday and a realization that I’m still not focusing on enough on characters when I sit down to “plot” out my stories.  To be fair, school and reading for school interrupted as well as I should write after class (about 4:15), but usually end up spending the time in the sun outside watching YouTube videos instead.  

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novel, Stormlight Archive Book 3)
  • For School:
    Rhetoric in the European Tradition by Thomas Conley (A Book on the History of Rhetoric)
    Rereading the Sophists: Another book on the history of Rhetoric
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

I wanted to read Oathbringer over the summer break before classes started again, but BS said that it might be helpful to read a Novella entitled, Edgedancer, before starting on Oathbringer.  I finally found a copy at MTSU’s library and I’m reading it now.  X gives a history of Rhetoric.  Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Game Mode On (What I’m Playing); Updated Weekly (Mondays)

  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands (Ubisoft Multi-platform): Open World, Third Person Tactical Shooter–About ¾th of the way through.  Special Ops/Military combat in a fictional Bolivia taken over by a Mexican drug cartel.  Difficulty is auto-leveling to its hardest difficulty (Tier One status) and it is slowing down my progress in the game as enemies take more hits to die, but you take far fewer hits to die.  Difficulty is currently set to ADVANCED–the game’s doing, not mine.  Very irksome when all you want to do is finish the game.
  • Until Dawn (Sony PS4 Exclusive): Third Person, Horror– branching storyline game that features a variety of choices that affect the outcome of the story using a system call the “Butterfly Effect.”  As I’m writing this, I haven’t put any time into this game as of this weekend because of E3.

I’m So Excited, I Just Can’t Hide It

A few readers will know that late last year I started Season 1 of Babylon 5 even though I knew the ending series.  Like I said in that post, I only got to see the first season and the latter part of the last season.  I didn’t really get a chance to see how the characters and story got where they were at the end of the show.  As a poor student, I didn’t have a chance to get the second season (although I was planning on doing so in the fairly near future).  However, after logging into Amazon Prime last night, I discovered that ALL five seasons of Babylon 5 are on the streaming service!  Yes!  I watched Season 2, Episode 1 last night, and would watch Episode 2 tonight if not for E3 coverage of Bethesda’s Press Conference tonight.  Unfortunately, school is back in session next week, so no binging the show for me, but I will try to check out 1-2 episodes every weekend and post a Season Review at the end of each season that I see.

What Amazon Gives, It also Takes Away

So, just like any streaming service, as new titles come on the service, old titles go away.  I have quite a few shows that I had on my Watchlist that are no longer free (including another “starship show” Firefly.  I’m going to have to purchase that series it looks like, but as it is only one season and the episodes appear to be .99 at iTunes, it should be okay.  I just wish that when series are scheduled to go away (on all services), that a little countdown timer would start in the bottom right hand corner with the months/days/minutes until the series were going away.  I would prioritize my viewing to those series that I really wanted to watch before they “disappeared.”  I often experience “Media Overload” where I can’t decide what I want to watch because there are so many choices, so I end up watching nothing (or only pieces of a show because it isn’t what I really want to watch).  A timer on shows that are ending at the end of the month (or maybe as far out as up to 3 months would help me in those cases.

But I’ll Take It

Still, I’m grateful as it saves me approximately $80 (19.99 for 4 seasons).  Having already paid approximately $110 for Amazon Prime when it renewed in March (for me), I wondered if it was a sound investment considering my status as a “poor” college student these days, I find that it has almost earned back the value that I spent on it with this one series alone.  If they get another good sci-fi series to go along with this one later in the year, I will feel comfortable about the value of the service and will endeavor to “re-up” next year.

Well, that’s it for today!  Have a great one!

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

 

What’s All the Hoopla About?

hoopla_hightechsociety

So, I’m a little late today as I got up a bit later than normal.  I would normally do the blog either during breakfast or shortly afterwards, but today (in addition to picking up my car–yay!) I needed to reset my password to Hoopla, a service that my home public library, Chattanooga Public Library subscribes to and that I have access to by being a member.

What is Hoopla?

Hoopla is a streaming service that is more than just a traditional streaming service.  It allows you to borrow (for my institution) 10 items per month.  Notice that I said, items, not movies or TV shows.  It does have movies and television, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.  However, it also has comics/graphic novelsebooksaudiobooks, and music (!).  I’ve used it before and really liked it.  What it lacks in terms of terms of hit releases (very few major releases), it makes up with breadth–there are a lot of good genre materials embedded within each of the categories.

Summer Hoopla

So, while I’ve got a ton of work to do over the summer, in terms of getting ready for my summer classes this summer, I’m going to try to catch up on reading some of the comics/graphic novels (& books) that I’ve put off over the school year.  They have quite a few Marvel graphic novels, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other properties (again, books and graphic novels, mostly, not so much with movies/television).  Still, now that I trying to integrate Popular Culture into my scholarship as a Pop. Culture scholar, I actually need some pop. culture to go with my scholarship.

I would encourage you to check out Hoopla if your library has a subscription.  If not, then you might want to see if your library has something similar.  It is a really useful service that I plan to investigate more over this summer.

Sidney




Amazon Associate Disclaimer:
I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.