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)
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Annihilation Movie Review (No Spoilers)

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Annihilation Movie Poster.  Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilation_(film)

Annihilation is a movie that I’ve wanted to see every since it was released–however, I could tell that, while Sci-Fi, it was not one that falls within my preferred genre of Action Sci-Fi, or Space Opera.  It is generally described as an “idea” Science Fiction movie, meaning that the ideas and concepts are what takes precedence.  In my experience, I find that while there is some character development and some light action, generally speaking, they tend to be on the slower side in terms of narrative flow.  Not complaining, just an observation–unless it is farce, I generally like all types of Sci-Fi.

Alex Garland

So, this movie was directed by Alex Garland, and he has a visually striking style.  The problem is, based on the movie’s narrative, I’m not sure yet whether I find his style to my liking.  I’ve tried several times to watch his other Sci-Fi movie, Ex Machina, but I only have managed to get through about half an hour so far (probably just going to have to watch it in half-hour “spurts”).  However, while I appreciate his style, it was hard going to try to get through the movie.  I knew that if I stopped at any point, I probably would not come back to it and it would be another recent Sci-Fi movie that I abandoned mid-stream (Inception and Looper), so I just plugged on through.  I don’t think Alex Garland’s narrative style works for me . . . his visual style is arresting and very distinctive, but I’m not sure that story-telling-wise, that I like the way the narrative connections come together.

Science Fiction of “Ideas”

Yes, Sci-Fi is a genre of ideas and is driven by great ideas.  The problem is that one should also really focus on characters and characterization and setting.  The problem that occurs is that while their are characters in peril and/or crisis, we are often held at a distance from these characters (especially in Annihilation) and it is hard to form a bond with the characters.  While I’m not the best with names in real life, I’m usually pretty good with character’s names, yet I’m struggling to remember the names of the major characters and I just saw the movie 3 or 4 days ago.  I remember them, what their actors looked like, what occupation/role they fulfilled, but I don’t remember them as characters and I think this is where the movie ultimately failed for me.  Even the ending has a twist (that I won’t spoil) that changes the way the characters might be perceived at the end, but because I didn’t really care about the characters, the ending didn’t work for me because I just didn’t care.  The story, as presented, focused too much on the visual effects and the mystery of the “Shimmer” and not enough on the characterization and why I should care.  Even the mystery of the Shimmer, while sufficiently explained during the course of the film, didn’t lead to a moment of Epiphany for the main character, but was rather presented as simply a random, if extraordinary event, that was ultimately rendered moot by the main character’s actions during the story.  As much as critics dislike The Cloverfield Paradox, I feel that ultimately, while Annihilation is a movie with better special effects and better overall logical storytelling plot points, I find that I enjoyed The Cloverfield Paradox more because I could understand and get behind the characters and their motives.  In Annihilation, there was simply too much distance between the viewers and the characters.y

Overrall Grade: C

For a .99 rental, it was at least worth seeing, but I’m glad that I did not pay full theatrical price to see it.  Too much focus on the visuals and the ideas behind the visuals and not enough on characterization really dampened my enjoyment of the movie.  It also shows some graphic content with the deaths of a couple characters (I guess the director wanted to show the the brutality of the world–but it came off, to me, as unnecessary and exploitative–violence for violence sake and it pulled me out of the narrative when those two scenes occurred.

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)

 

 

Avengers Infinity War — Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

Avengers-Infinity-War-Trailer-1-44

Image Source: https://www.technobuffalo.com/2018/09/03/avengers-4-where-are-the-avengers/ (Possible Spoilers-tells where everyone ends up AFTER the movie, click at your own risk!)

Not Your Typical Marvel Movie

So, I’m just going to assume that most people who are interested in Marvel movies or comic book movies has already seen this movie, but just in case people haven’t, this is a Marvel movie like no other.  It has been setting up since the very first Avengers film.  It is essentially the entire Marvel universe (with exceptions) in multiple storylines fighting against the “big bad” of the movie, Thanos, to keep him from getting the Infinity Stones (various items that have been teased in Marvel movies like the Tesseract).  However, this movie doesn’t follow the typical Marvel formula because it has multiple heroes in multiple places trying to keep Thanos (or his agents) from getting the stones. While some times wildly inventive, these multiple storylines are also wildly disjointed and make the movie feel more disjointed than it probably should be.

People Keep Dying

For me, I’m just going to come right and say it (don’t worry–no spoilers), people just keep on dying in this movie.  Here’s the thing, deaths in movies are sometimes justified (such as the death that occurs in Star Wars.  Each death of each of the characters (both major and minor–I’m thinking of the Death Star scene and the “Trench Run” scene especially) either propel the movie forward or increase the tension and make us feel that the main character’s lives and mission are in serious peril.  In this movie, characters keep dying, but it doesn’t feel earned.  It feels like the filmmakers wanted to be shocking and provocative.  See, look who can kill, now just wait and watch who we kill next.  While guaranteed to keep you glued to your seats to see who’s dying next, it doesn’t really make for compelling drama, nor does it really engender repeat viewings (I’ve owned the movie for a week now and I’ve not rewatched it once–by this time with the other Avengers and the later Captain America movies (which are essentially Avengers 1.5/Avengers 2.5 movies), I would have rewatched them multiple times by now.

Avengers: Infinity War (part 2)

Next year, we will have the resolution to this story with part 2 of this movie.  I’m pretty sure the “solution” to the movie was sown by “seeds” planted in this movie (pay particular attention to the scene where Stark and Doctor Strange discuss possible outcomes after Strange looks into the future), but it is possible that this is a misdirect by the filmmakers.  Either way, I’m not sure how much “fun” I’m going to have with the second part based on the “bad taste” the first part left in my mouth.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of Empire Strikes Back, where the second entry is by necessity darker than the first, but rather one where I feel the filmmakers tried to use shock value to enhance the tension rather than going with heroic and meaningful deaths.  In closing, I also have to say I wasn’t a fan of Thanos’s motivation. Genocide, for any reason (and that includes population control) is still Genocide.  While he was “a bad dude,” there was a surprising amount of sympathy given to the character for this movie that 1) wasn’t earned, 2) other movies featuring him in scenes didn’t show/highlight and 3) wasn’t actually relevant to the character. Sure, you don’t want a scene chewing villain, but in my mind, Thanos lacks the cold, calculated terror of a Darth Vader, who while there is good inside of him, does some personally horrific things to get his motives accomplished.  Thanos is from the newer, Kylo Ren school of villainy, where he has to whine, emote, and act like a petulant child before he can enact his twisted schemes because, by golly, we (the audience) gotta’ feel sorry for the poor slob as he’s only trying to do the “right” thing by his way of thinking.  Oh, boo hoo.  Sorry, I (personally) don’t care for this particular type of villain and it throws me out of the movie every time I encounter one like that (Syndrome from the Incredibles has a similar effect on me).

Overall Score: B-/C+

Okay, so I’m being charitable with the B- as there are some very inventive and terrific fight scenes (as usual for the Russo Brothers).  However, some characters do some pretty dumb things (especially for Marvel movies) and I really didn’t care for the way Thanos was sometimes handled/depicted.  It is a spectacle, no doubt, and is pretty much required viewing to stay relevant with popular culture, but as a movie, it isn’t nearly as strong as several other Marvel movies.  I’m not sure where I’m going to place it on the list, but I can give you a preview here: it will not unseat my top 3 Marvel movies currently.  Not slagging on the movie per se, but it just didn’t connect with me. Too much emphasis on cheap, unearned deaths, not enough on true characterization and story pretty much sums up my reaction to it in one sentence.  This is the first Russo Brothers Marvel movie that has been a swing and miss with me.

Mini-Review: Supernova

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Movie poster: Supernova. Image Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/Supernova

Not Good, Not Terrible

So, I watched this movie a couple of weekends ago, and I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. Yes, I know that is damning with faint praise, but I found my time the in universe of Supernova to be more mindless than mind-numbing. The problem with the movie is simple: too formulaic without real thought behind what makes the characters tick and what is happening in the universe. I recognize this because (I think) this is what do when I write and submit my first drafts. Pretty much everything we need to know is told to via dialogue (exposition) and there is a lot of telling rather than showing. The universe outside the ship barely exists and it only does so when the plot calls for it.

A Walk on the Not So Wild Side

So, what went wrong with this movie. This movie is all about concepts rather than story. For instance, in a twist on Alien and Aliens where people “hypersleep” in the underwear, in order to be titillating, Supernova, says no, in this world everyone sleeps in the nude. Now, they don’t show anything in the movie (at least not what I saw on streaming), but there’s no explanation or rhyme or reason as to why this is necessary (if there was a scene explaining this, it either never made it into the rewrites or was left on the cutting room floor). Way, way too much of the movie is like this: interesting concepts thrown out there and then poorly explained/explored, if explored at all.  It is as if there were three different sci-fi movies happening, but the creators said, “hey, Aliens was marketable, let’s take this jumble and run it through the Aliens template and see if our movie can be successful, too.” Sadly, it just didn’t work.

A Black Eye for Afrofuturism

So, one of the main characters in this story is an African American female. She is intelligent and determined. However, the story continually undermines her agency as it depends upon the main character to “save” her. There are situations in which she “saves” herself, but again, because we have formula, rather than form, there has to be a male hero (who happens to be white in the story, but any male of any race–including African American–would have been just as bad) to save her. As the male is cut from the formulaic “silent, brooding type,” the woman’s role is by far the most interesting and really could have been something special if she had to both save the ship and outwit the antagonist at the same time. This is something that I’m striving for in my own work, and I hope that I will not allow Tana (or any other female character) to be “saved” by males (and vice versa when I write male characters). Supernova needed to pick the most interesting character (the woman) and let her be the hero of the story rather than trying to delegate hero duties between the two main characters.

Overall Grade: D+

This could have been so much better had the creators just trusted their most interesting character and threw her into a situation where she had to battle herself, battle the floundering ship and possessed crew, and the antagonist at the same time. As it stands, it is just a formulaic sci-fi action movie that simply doesn’t explain its world or characters in enough detail to be truly enjoyable.

Sidney

The Expanse: Season 1 (Mini-Review)

A “Spaceship Show” for the Grimdark set

So, The Expanse is a “Syfy” TV show that has been billed as “Game of Thrones in Space” (it isn’t really, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have similarities.  The story is supposed to be a more mature, “realistic” look at Science Fiction.  The show is based on a series novels by James S. A. Corey, which according to a quick check on GoodReads, is up to Book 8 in the “mainline” series, although based on GR, it looks like the author has several “gap” novels that fill in various parts of the story and that exist “between” the time-period of the main story.

I’ve not read the novels, but the show is fairly standard.  It weaves three main stories together: a sci-fi noir detective story about a cop trying to find a missing young woman, a political thriller between a potential war between Earth, Mars and “Belters” (those who live & work in the Asteroid Belt), and a “spaceship show” about the survivors of The Canterbury (aka The Cant) who later become the crew of a new ship: The Rocinante (The Roci).  Each of these tales gets woven with the others, although it doesn’t happen until the later episodes (season 1 is 10 episodes long).

Too Dark, Literally & Figuratively.

Is the show any good.  Not really, not unless you like poorly explained character motivations, trite dialogue that is supposed to be edgy, and character deaths just for the sake of “shock” value (the whole “no one is safe–anyone can die at any time” motif).  The problem is that is a fairly conventional TV show masquerading as edgy.  While a few characters do die, it is nothing like what I’ve heard happens on shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and the few deaths that occur, like most in the genre of “Grimdark,” seem mean-spirited and in poor taste.

Also, in order to go for that grimy, noir vibe, they made the filter really dark.  No, I mean really dark–the color pallet is so desaturated that, after 2-3 episodes, you’ll be reaching for your brightness controls to turn them up just to see the action.  It’s a stylistic choice, sure, but a poor one–they do it to emphasize the deficit that Belters and Mars citizens feel that they have to Earth with its open skies and open water, but it just makes the show seem really bland to me–Bladerunner (the original) did the whole “dystopian” vibe better and with more vibrancy and that was 30-40 years ago.

Oh, and as was suggested by an online review on Amazon Prime where I watched it, be sure to turn on Captions.  Not only is some of the dialogue hard to hear/understand, but the “Belters” speak (sometimes) in their own made-up dialect.  Sometimes this dialect sounds like creole and can be understood and sometimes it is completely alien words that are more like a foreign language.  Good idea in theory, but again, in practice, a poor choice.

Good actors, Poor Story

About the only things that I liked in this first season was the “spaceship scenes” and the female characters.  Anytime anyone was in a spaceship, the show was at least watchable.  Somehow, the producers, directors, and writers seem to “get” the whole spaceship, crew interactions, and space drama of the show (except for the intro “sex” scene not 5 mins into the first episode which turned me off initially–again their attempt to be “edgy,” but it just made it feel sophomoric–especially since this follows the noir section which itself seems like a pastiche of other, better dystopias).  All the other times, the show seems forced, pretentious, and decidedly not fun to watch.

really liked the female characters, however, on the show.  For some reason, these seemed like the only real characters on the show.  All of them, from the political diplomat on Earth, to the “Captain” of The Rocinante, to the “former” girlfriend/lover/partner to the noir detective, even down to the “mother” of one of the main characters (who is only in one episode for a few minutes) feel fully realized where the men seem like caricatures is many instances (for the most part–of course, there are exceptions).

Overall Score: C (73-77)

The only reason I didn’t score it lower was because I really like the female characters in the story and the acting overall by the cast.  Had I been grading just the actual material (writing, dialogue, style, plot, etc.), then it would have earned a D (63-67).

Look, I don’t like “Grimdark.”  So any story that features grimdark elements has an uphill battle for me to enjoy it, no matter its success in the mainstream.  It just isn’t what I like–not to read, not to watch, not to consume in any medium.  Will I watch Season 2 which is available on Prime right now?  Yes, probably.  Will I watch it immediately?  No, I’m good for now.  I might pick it back up later this summer, but I think I’ll move on to another “spaceship show” if I can find one.   Will I read the books?  Most assuredly not.  Like Game of Thrones, this one is for a different audience than me–and that’s okay.

As a writer myself, however, I just wished it worked the other way around.  Fair’s fair, after all.

 

Sidney




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

Mini-Review: Netflix’s Lost in Space

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Image of Netflix’s Lost in Space, Robot and Will Robinson, Penny and Judy Robinson.  Image Source: Film Daily

A Great Start

So, last week I finished watching Season 1 of Netflix’s Lost in Space, a 10 Episode Science Fiction show reboot of the original 1960s show and the 1990s movie version and I have to say that I really enjoyed it!  I watched it a 2nd time over this weekend in lieu of Avengers Infinity War in order to help take my mind off the car trouble that I had over the weekend and it held up over a 2nd viewing.  It is classic science fiction, but unlike most modern shows (this includes pretty all genres), the science is fairly crucial to the story.  While not overblown or overbearing, the fact that the new show portrays the Robinsons as mostly a family of scientists and doctors (the father is now a marine vet. who is better at combat than at pure science–but even he has his moments), they actually use the skills and knowledge that they are supposed to have in much the same way the detectives and lawyers on Law and Order use their skills find the perpetrator of the crime and use the law to get a conviction.  This makes the show feel grounded and more realistic than other recent sci-fi shows that I like and watch.

Danger, Will Robinson

I won’t go into spoilers, but a certain robot with a certain “catch-phrase” is back and the origin is pretty unique.  The robot is central to the plot, however, so if you’re not a robot person, then you’re not going to like the show because the robot is as much the main character in the show as is Will Robinson.  Sometimes the robot is CGI and sometimes the robot is some sort of “suit.”  While the robot didn’t bother me particularly, I know from at least one YouTube review of the show that one reviewer said that when it was the “suit,” it brought her out of the experience.  I didn’t really notice it myself, so I’ll just say Your Mileage May Vary depending on your tolerance for special effects.  I know it makes a difference as, while I wasn’t born yet when the original show came on, I could never go back and watch reruns of the original show because of the dated nature of the special effects after having seen the special effects in the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.  I really liked all of the characters in the Robinson family–each was made wildly different from one another and it was easy to differentiate between them, but their skill set and knowledge-base complemented each other.  Well done to the writers on clear and effective characterization.

Dr. Smith, I Presume

So, the chief antagonist is Dr. Smith, played by Parker Posey.  Now her character is polarizing: one reviewer loves the character while another reviewer called her character a major problem for the show.  I personally liked the way she played the character.  The way the character was written and the way the story unfolded, I felt like I understood her every motivation.  Again, no spoilers, but they update Dr. Smith’s character into a “modern day” conception of a bad guy.  If there’s a problem with the character, this is where I think it lies.  I’ve said time and again that being the anti-hero doesn’t really work because at some point, the anti-hero/villain is only out for number one and will work against you when their purposes no longer align with yours, and Dr. Smith is the epitome of this philosophy.  What I think is happening is that the dislike/distaste that people feel toward the Dr. Smith character is actually their distaste for the notion that someone would be selfish enough to work against the group for their own ends so ruthlessly (which is what a villain actually does) and their transposing that distaste onto the character/actor.  Again, Your Mileage May Vary, but the “flashbacks” that show Dr. Smith’s earlier actions before crashing with the Robinson’s sufficiently explained why she acted the way she did and I always felt that I understood her motivations even if I didn’t agree with them.

Overall Score: A- (91-92)

Look, I’m not going to lie, I really liked this story.  I like that there’s a lot of science and science-based concepts in it while also retaining quite a few “science fiction” tropes that really make it interesting.  I really like that it isn’t “grim dark” and is more of a family show that kids and adults can enjoy.  I like the characters and felt that all of them (even Dr. Smith) had interesting and sufficient characterization for me to understand why they were doing what they were doing.  The only reason that I didn’t give it a solid was the fact that it did slow down in a couple of places where they were establishing the robot as a “friend” to Will and Will’s decision not to tell his father (originally) about the robot.  Not telling his father was something that seemed like the writers needing it for the plot and not organically from Will’s character because it sets up a situation later on that could have been avoided had Will told his father about it sooner.  Other than that, however, I found the story to be a fun, and interesting ride.  I’m looking forward to Season 2 (fingers crossed as I haven’t heard if it will get another season yet).

Sidney




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

Mini-Review: Alien Legion #6

Mind Blown

Although I’ve featured other Alien Legion (AL) issues before, this is the very first AL comic that I ever owned and read.  The others I just happened to have found around town, but this one was so great, that as soon as my eyes spotted anything with the AL logo on it, I immediately went to it and picked it up–and if I had the money, purchased it.  With an Aug. 1988 cover date, I probably would have bought it May/June of 1988 at (the now defunct) Waldenbooks in downtown Chattanooga and it would have been something that I read over the summer of 1988 before school started.  I probably would have been beginning my sophomore year in high-school at that time as well.

Large and in Charge

While the other two AL stories that I’ve review have featured Sarigar, the commander of Nomad Squad, this issue is pretty much a character study on one of Nomad’s toughest characters–Jugger Grimrod.  Jugger is given his own command and while I won’t spoil it–it proves to be pretty memorable.  We get to see Grimrod command soldiers on what appears to be a routine mission, but is anything but and we get to see his reactions–sometimes hilarious–in the face of extreme danger.

Characterization

Jugger Grimrod is very much a character cut from the Logan/Wolverine mythos.  Very much a loner and a hard-talking, fast-living, remorseless killing machine willing to do anything to get the job done.  I’ve always likened Grimrod as a Wolverine in space.  While you don’t learn his back story until later in the comics’ run (my next mini-review will actually focus on a pivotal part of his back story), you don’t really need it.  One thing that the writers actually do for this story is that they give him an advantage and a flaw.  While he is one of the best soldiers out there, he is an enlisted man who hates officers.  In this story, he is promoted to an officer–in essence, he becomes the very thing he hates.  And now he must deal with it.  How he deals with it and the ultimate resolution, I’ll leave you to read, but this small detail causes conflict–both external as he has people whom he’s now responsible for and internal–he has to overcome/deal with being the very thing that he despises (or not overcome/deal with it).

Overall Score: A+

The writing (Carl Potts–Creator/Chuck Dixon–Writer) and the art team (Larry Stroman and Mark Farmer) created a story that really set my imagination on fire as a child.  It was inventive, clever, and fun.  The hero was larger than life and while I couldn’t agree with the character’s ultimate decision at the end of the story, I did understand it.  If you happen across this at a “Flea Market” or “Yard Sale” or “Book Sale” of some kind, and if it is inexpensive, you might consider picking it up for an afternoon of fun reading.

Have a great day!

Sidney