Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Raven Absorbs Media #3

          I'm still writing a story. It's looking like a novel. I've had to rework a lot of stuff, but have quite a bit of reference for how the story goes and who's in it, just not how early the story should start and how late it should end. So, work to be done!

          Anyways, I feel like I should publish something here. So this past while I saw three films, all of them foreign (in the sense of "not North American" because honestly "American" film is basically "our" "culture"). This wasn't out of any intention, it's just a thing that happened, really. I'm doing these reviews in no particular order.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014)


I heard about this film because it has an actor/director/creater tie to Flight of the Conchords, a charming mockumentaryish show about two folk musicians from New Zealand trying to become famous. Their TV show was entertaining and ran for two seasons. The natural succession to this is obviously mockumentary vampire humour thing in New Zealand.
          They recently ran a Kickstarter to get a limited release across the USA/Canada, a Kickstarter that I missed but which was still successful. So, I unwittingly benefited and we had a single theatre showing it in town, regrettably on the wrong side of town. Still, I wanted to see this film instead of the offensively Canadian-sounding Big News From Grand Rock which got a limited release on the other side of town. So two of us went to see this film on a cheap Tuesday at an afternoon showing. It was about 3:40pm and there were 7 viewers in that audience. After a particularly bloody event (on screen), two older women in the back row left, never to return.
          The film is strange, and I don't just mean "oh, a mockumentary about vampires—crazy!" but rather that the pacing is a little odd, the tone jitters uncontrollably between "kinda funny" and "kinda uncomfortable", and the mockumentary nature of it leads to some fourth-wall-breaking questions if you think about it too much (although they do playfully address that the camera men are real people in certain scenes). There's a fair amount of blood (I wouldn't say "gore", but there is gushing blood), violence, and yet a lot of the mockumentary tries to be light hearted.
          This film certainly isn't for everyone. I would disagree with the word "hilarious" strewn across the background of the poster, because I don't think it's that. It is funny at times, entertaining nearly throughout, and it has charming ideas and execution. I can't quite call it original, but it is different and perhaps that's what you're looking for. I won't spoil the film—it's certainly worth seeing once, although my friend afterward reviewed it as "all right" and "I wouldn't see it again".

Chappie (2015)


We saw this the second week after opening because otherwise we would've had to see it in IMAX and we all thought that was a scam. Still, a week and a half after coming out the room was reasonably packed (although it is March Break so maybe that had something to do with it). I had read lukewarm reviews in the paper and one older reviewer wrote that she thought the presence of Die Antwoord was off-putting. Not having seen any trailers, none of us were really prepared for what the film was. It's Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame, and the similarities beyond "Science Fiction in South Africa" do shine through. In a quick review, I could probably say if you liked District 9, you'll probably be at least okay with this film.
          In a nutshell, the film is "What if Die Antwoord got to raise a sentient robot." Except it isn't QUITE Die Antwoord, but a sort of alternate universe version of themselves? Anyways, the film is set up as this Dev Patel vs Hugh Jackman thing, where the former wants to experiment with increasingly complex AIs and the latter just wants to make cool weaponized machines and seems threatened by AIs because of a vague ultra-Christian morality. This is what we had expected for who knows what reasons now, but that's actually a pretty small part of the film. Quickly after this rivalry is set up where Patel's character's success costs funding to Jackman's character's program, the film becomes Die Antwoord making the titular sentient robot into the "ultimate gangster", until Hugh Jackman's character forces the situation back into the original disagreement for a brief period. It feels like two story lines wrestling to get control over the robot, which is... well, that's sort of the plot. People want Chappie for different reasons, none of which seem to be really contrary to the others, just... in the way? Basically, if you see this film expect more of the "robot as gangster" and less of the philosophical debate over AIs or real analysis of what a consciousness is or whether we should play God. Should we play God? Probably. Not sure why not.
          The film lacks a focus in terms of theme and there are plot points that are so ridiculous that they should be unacceptable. But they aren't. Because of the acting and CGI/acting work to make Chappie feel like a real live robot/"person", you are actually rooting for this robot. You kind of want all of his strange influences to keep influencing him. The film is immersive, and while many reviewers complained that there was "too much going on", I think that all contributed to making it feel that much more living and hectic.

Journey To The West (2013)


My sister and I watched this film on Netflix on a whim. The tagline that a monster hunter fought demons with song and nursery rhyme sounded sufficiently novel to give it a shot.
         Basically you have a Buddhist demon hunter who tries to fight demons by non-violently evoking their sense of goodness that is surely within them, and then getting shown up by the demon hunters who are willing to use violence. In particular, a female demon hunter who becomes his one-sided love interest despite his determination to be an ascetic who only pursues a "greater love".
         The mood changes scene to scene. There are funny scenes, there are cutesy scenes, there are dramatic scenes. There are characters we're supposed to laugh at, characters we're supposed to recognize and probably would if we were more embedded in the culture (I recognized like... two of them? Also Buddha). But it generally succeeds in each of these scenes and with each of these characters to communicate the joke or the action sequence or the emotion. There are some acting hiccups, but mostly everyone does great.
         So why only 6 out of 10? Because it's a little aimless. Half-way through we encounter a demon that the hero and heroine can't beat for an unspecified reason, which triggers a quest to find a particular person who can. And despite the synopsis, SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, the hero's nursery rhymes never really work. His master tells him it's because he's missing "something", presumably related to enlightenment, but he never actually comes back and uses a nursery rhyme successfully. And really, I feel like that's a shame. I really like the idea of someone defeating evil with nursery rhymes. Someone ought to write a story where that is a thing. SOMEONE. (It's not me. Well, not yet anyways).
         I haven't seen any other films from this director. I'm not directly familiar with all the stories which I assume have some folklore roots. But the film seems like a series of events strung together by a strange one-sided romance without any real sense of purpose. Maybe there's a metaphor in there. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Strange Constellations and Short Stories

So as some of you may know, Strange Constellations has launched and published its first two stories for September and October. Strange Constellations does short stories under "speculative fiction", which generally runs the spectrum between fantasy and science fiction. It's all Creative Commons, so you can read it for free and generally spread/edit/repost it so long as you don't do so for profit and you remember to source it correctly. 

I wrote a short story for September, called "The God in Her Veins". It fits pretty neatly into "Urban Fantasy", and tells the story of a girl with a semi-sentient parasite living inside her, making curious demands while blocking memories about why she's stuck with It or what life would be like without It. Her life changes when she discovers a clue that might indicate her problem isn't as private as she'd thought.

The October Issue, Deborah Walker's "Drink Deep and Long the Circean Poison" is a delightful piece of science fiction that I would definitely recommend. The narrator's prose evokes an Edwardian or late-Victorian air, fitting for the sort of playwright who would write plays that would "encompass the breadth of human history". As the story progresses you'll quickly notice that something is odd about our playwright and society as a whole.

The fun of short stories in my opinion is that they're "fun-sized" stories, and whether you love it or hate it you only have to put in perhaps a half-hour or so to finish it. If you didn't care for it, oh well! Half-hour gone. And if you love it, then either it'll leave you wanting more (whether or not more exists), or ideally you'll feel completely satisfied, as if the story could never be better with any amount of extra words. 

This doesn't mean I prefer them to novels; to the contrary, I quite love novels. But there is always something to be said for knowing that you're not going to read 300 pages to find out that it is, in fact, the first part of a series. But perhaps I'm just a little jaded about the rise of "trilogies" in Young Adult Urban Fantasy, many of which end up going on after the literal 3 for another few books and/or movies. 

Anyways, all of this basically to say "I wrote a short story for this growing anthology, you should read both short stories because they're good and what have you got to lose."