Thursday, 23 April 2015

So Fetch Friday: Star Wars Fans Anonymous

Things seem to be going good now. I had one last exam this week, and I've finished it. It was hard, and stressful, but I go through it. I just hope I did okay. Now I have one take-home exam which I'm handing in today and I'm done! I've also managed so far to stay off the IMDB boards, though I've still been using the website itself to get basic information on the films I discuss. Everybody was saying that I need to get out of those message boards, but then who's going to call out all the films that have an all-male cast when there is no reason for it? Maybe I need to start a new series on my blog, I can call it something like "Movies that Could Have Benefited from Greater Gender Diversity". That, or perhaps I could just make a post here if I encounter any more trailers like Black Sea or Alien Outpost. Then here I can comment on the lack of female characters and it can spark an intelligent discussion instead of everybody getting mad at me with the rare poster trying in vain to explain to them why I might actually have a point.

Maybe that would be a good idea for a blogathon: take a male-dominated or all-male film and make a case for how it could have worked with greater gender diversity. Then again, I seem to be the only one who gets bothered by these kinds of things. I mean everyone else talks about how great a movie Snowpiercer was. I seem to be the only one who says that it had some great action but could have used more female characters. I still find it hard to believe that these rebels who need all the help they can only got two women: one only joining in because her son was taken and the other only as a condition to get a man to co-operate. Really that seems to be the case with a lot of male-dominated films. You are after all talking to the only person in the blogging community who will criticize a film for not having female cops in the background of a single scene, not to mention the only person with the guts to even attempt to defend the planned all-female Ghostbusters reboot on the grounds of sexism in the original. Maybe I am crazy.

Speaking of films that are in desperate need of gender diversity, I never got a chance last week to share my thoughts on the new Star Wars trailer. I'll admit when I first heard they were rebooting Star Wars, I was debating with myself over whether I'd actually go to see these films. My first thoughts were mostly indifference. I left Star Wars behind a long time ago (which is weird, considering I've done at least three articles on those films). I used to be a huge Star Wars nerd back in Grade 6, and I'm talking extreme. I remember being super-hooked in the Knights of the Old Republic games.

Granted, that was also at one of the worst points in my life, when I was at a horrible school and nearly everyone hated me for one reason or another. I had next to no friends and I was bullied mercilessly for just about anything that people found out about me. I even used to get teased for liking Doctor Who (this was back when the revival was just starting with Christopher Eccleston, and the show hadn't firmly established itself in Canada yet). Looking back on it now, it's not hard to see how my obsession with Star Wars came about, since it offered an escape of sorts. It gave me a way out of my crappy life and allowed me to live in a world where I could be the hero and save the Galaxy. Then eventually I transferred to a far better school and the obsession gradually faded. Then for a while I was "enlightened" by the scientific realism of 2001: A Space Odyssey (finally realizing how blatantly George Lucas ignored basic science) and turned my back on Star Wars by becoming a Trekkie.

In any case I'd started to see my obsession with Star Wars as being like alcoholism. I thought of myself as being "on the wagon" for years, and I was afraid to go near anything even remotely Star Wars-related out of concern that I would relapse. Eventually I worked up the nerve to watch A New Hope Again and found I didn't hate it as much as I thought, though I won't call it a favorite or anything. I was pretty much in a position where it was just the movies: no prequels, no expanded universe. That's where I've been ever since. Naturally when I heard the news of episode 7 I was indifferent and unsure if I should take the time to see these new installments. I think my verdict was that I would wait until they came out and then see what the reviews were like. I'll admit I'm not the biggest J.J. Abrams fan. His take on Star Trek is alright. However, seeing this trailer actually did somewhat arouse my curiosity on a few levels. I do find myself wondering where exactly they intend to go with this new film.

This excitement has recently got me thinking about this idea I once had for a Star Wars fan fiction. The concept I had was that it was set somewhere just before the prequels and centered around an aging Jedi Master who is disgruntled with the order. Then there was an incident in which Yoda refuses to investigate the apparent rape of a teenage student who was already being pushed to her breaking point for no other reason than because she had midichlorians in her bloodstream. The whole thing would have essentially been a deconstruction of Star Wars, with this Jedi Master defecting and trying to get the unfortunate student to safety only to be relentlessly pursued by some very pissed off Jedi. Taking the deconstruction even further, there would also be a Sith apprentice who gets taken as a companion (eventually engaging in a lesbian romance with the student) and ultimately proves to be a far more noble person than any of the Jedi. In that sense it would flip things around, with the Jedi becoming the villains and the Sith becoming slightly more sympathetic.

There was one other component to the story, that did spark some controversy among some of the Star Wars fans I showed my outline to. The final act of the story would have involved a dark revelation about the Star Wars universe: the Force is actually a Lovecraftian abomination that feeds off the constant fighting between the Jedi and the Sith. I was even considering having it be established that Palpatine's real intentions were to basically starve the Force by wiping out both sides, and Luke went and started the New Jedi Order messing everything up.

As for the film itself, it does look like we'll be getting the original cast back in action. Luke provided some voice-over narration and we saw what looked like him handing a lightsaber to Leia (perhaps she finally becomes a Jedi?) Han Solo and Chewie are also returning. We also have a new group of characters, and from what has been shown this is the one area I can definitely give these movies credit. I've discussed this before. The Saga has an absurd male-female ratio. I mean there are so far six movies, with big budgets and huge casts, and only two major female characters, who aren't on-screen together for more than a few minutes. Even that doesn't really count considering one was a baby at the time and the other "lost the will to live" and then died somehow because her boyfriend turned out to be a genocidal maniac.

That whole thing was ridiculous in itself. I mean, Leia's line in Return of the Jedi was "She died when I was very young". That seems to imply that Leia would have been at least a toddler, old enough to even remember those "images" of her mother. The movie seems to claim that Leia remembers her mother because she saw her die moments after she was born which makes no sense. I could understand her having some psychological issues that might need to be addressed but would she really be suicidal after a bad breakup like that? You'd think she would at the very least want to think about what will happen to her children. Maybe it would have made more sense if she was involved with starting the Rebel Alliance and perhaps died during its early years, maybe in a heroic sacrifice. Perhaps now that George Lucas isn't running things anymore we should get someone to remake all three prequel films and try to fix all the absurd problems within them.

One thing I can definitely give the new films credit for is that it looks like they  are going to diversify the cast a bit more. There are some similar issues to gender with race in the original Saga as well. The only significant non-white character in the original trilogy was Lando Calrissian, who doesn't appear until fairly late into The Empire Strikes Back, where he is forced to double-cross Han before getting his redemption in the following film. In the prequels, there is Mace Windu, who is really more of a supporting role. The Force Awakens seems to feature a black protagonist (who may or may not be a stormtrooper) and several strong female characters. Daisy Ridley is apparently playing a tough girl, but there are a few others listed on IMDB whose roles have yet to be revealed, including Lupita Nyong'o of Twelve Years a Slave fame.

There is one theory I've had about one of those actresses, Gwendoline Christie. Her character's name has yet to be revealed, and she still has not yet appeared in the trailers... or has she? The villain (I presume this character is the villain or at least a villain) seems to have a fairly androgynous figure and is always shown with a mask. I find myself wondering if it could in fact be Brienne of Tarth under that mask and that armor. It could be interesting to see a female villain take the center stage this time around, and Gwendoline Christie certainly has the right kind of build for this character.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought out some peculiar developments this week. Skye has been reunited with her mother, which raises a few questions about how she survived being vivisected by Whitehall, who presumably consumed some part of her as well (specifically the secret to why she doesn't age). Apparently she did not actually die, and was pieced back together by psycho Dale Cooper. I presume somewhere in the future this will all make sense, but then there's this weird place where Skye has ended up. Everyone seems to maintain that it's good, but it feels a bit like when we visited Alexandria in The Walking Dead. I just couldn't shake off the feeling that something was not quite right. They seem okay compared to the actual villains, but I'm willing to consider the possibility that there is something they are not telling us. Also, it seems there is distrust in the ranks. May and Simmons seem a bit less certain where their allegiances lie, since Coulson seems to be up to something secret but they don't know what. On the other hand, it looks like Coulson will be in a position to save the world, which I guess is a good thing.

On Game of Thrones, the season is starting to get moving. Brienne is getting her act together and going after Sansa. While I won't deny that Sansa has a few reasons to be paranoid, she probably would be better off with Brienne. I know that Petyr Baelish isn't exactly trustworthy. He has stabbed half the show's cast in the back at least once, and knowing him taking Sansa is probably nothing more than a means to an end. Fortunately, Brienne is going after them and hopefully will rescue Sansa. Meanwhile Arya is busy tracking down that guy who helped her kill those other guys. She was led to the "house of black and white" where she was told he did not live, then found out that he was lying. I was a bit surprised by this development, since I understood she was trying to get to the wall, but the environment was pretty neat. It reminded me a bit of Venice, with the canals in place of streets. I wonder if that's where they borrowed some ideas from.

Daenerys is also busy struggling with some difficult decisions. Her desire to end slavery is noble but that is proving to be a lot harder than she anticipated. The former slave owners are doing everything in their power to reclaim their old property, but some of the former slaves are taking matters into their own hands as well. One unfortunate slave decided to take the law into his own hands and impart vigilante justice on one of the former slave owners, when Daenerys wanted to give him a fair trial. That slave was executed in public, to the uproar of many of her subjects. Also, Drogon is back, and he is all grown up. It looks like he might get pretty nasty, though he still seems to hold some affection towards Daenerys, so perhaps there is still some hope that she can control him.

Now let's check in with our good friend Dr. Hannibal Lector and see what he is up to. Will Graham has had to do some time because he has been framed for murdering Abigail Hobbs, though technically there's no real evidence that she was murdered. Her severed ear was found in Graham's sink, I don't recall any definitive confirmation that she was not alive when it was removed. Graham's delusions are causing a lot of trouble and he has had to reside in a psychiatric ward for a while, but he has started to figure out that Hannibal is not trustworthy. Then Beverly found enough evidence to convict Hannibal only to get murdered in the most gruesome fashion imaginable. Her body was literally sliced into several thin strips, with each one put on display in an observatory (amusingly, that observatory where all the bodies keep turning up is the David Dunlap Observatory in Toronto; I've actually done volunteer work there).  Beverly's death was brutal, and hard to deal with. I liked her, and I feel like I'm going to miss her.

On the bright side, my suspicions that Miriam Lass was not dead after all have been confirmed. Jack managed to find her trapped under a condemned building, minus an arm. Unfortunately, it also seems like Hannibal may have gotten into her head and scrambled her brain. After all, in addition to the (understandable) trauma of being abducted and held in a cellar for two years (along with having your arm removed, even if it was as painless as Miriam claimed), her kidnapper probably conditioned her to be unable to identify Hannibal as the real killer. We also lost Dr. Chilton, who was killed by Miriam when she thought he was the one responsible for abducting her. This is all very touching but I also can't quite shake off the fear that something is going to happen to Miriam. At least there is reason to be suspicious of Hannibal at this point, so hopefully they'll get him by the end of the season. Hannibal's psychologist also apparently believes Graham is innocent so... yay? Then again, if Silence of the Lambs was anything to go on Hannibal might not be any less of a threat in prison.

I've also got my short film Dead Inside entering production next week. This should be exciting. I'll confess that the filmmaking process can be a bit stressful, and I'm still trying to learn how to mange when you don't have complete control over everything. I wrote the script but my friend is directing, and he definitely knows what he is doing. I've seen some of his other work, this guy is really good. The hard part is dealing with changes to the script. I had a certain vision for it, but then he tells me he wants to change certain details and I'm not always 100% sure if he is making the right call. I end up at a crossroads. Part of me realizes he has a point, the other can't quite let go of my original concept. It's a tricky balance of emotions to work with, but perhaps experiences like this will be useful once I finally get funding for one of my features.

Still, the pre-production phase has gone along fairly well. We've got an official cast list together. I'm scheduled to make a cameo in one scene, and I also intend to help with the shoot whenever possible. I'll admit, this seems to be the hardest part of filmmaking for me, but understanding the process is important. After we're done shooting, the film will obviously have to enter the editing stage, and while there are no certain release dates yet we're hoping to have it finished some time in June. My director even has some plans already for distribution, so I think we have a chance at making something amazing.

You know, casting a movie is an interesting experience. It's an interesting mental exercise as a screenwriter to try and figure out which actors are the best fit for the characters you have written. It's not easy. I've got a few possible picks for some of them, like my screenplay adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. My two choices for the leads are Kurt Russell and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (which is somewhat ironic considering that I otherwise went out of my way to keep the script from resembling The Thing). In the project I'm currently working on, it's been a bit easier, but even so these are suggestions at best, and there's no guarantee I could actually get these actors for the final movie. Some people that I've wondered about in this one include Jessica Chastain as the  protagonist, with Rosario Dawson, Aidan Quinn, and Amy Jo Johnson as police officers, Sam Neill in a supporting role, and Cillian Murphy as one of the villains. In the Line of Duty proved even harder to cast, especially one role for which I eventually settled on Gwendoline Christie. Has anyone here ever written a script and tried to cast it? I can't be the only screenwriter in the blogging community. If so, who would you want to cast in your film?

In the meantime, I need to find some movies to watch, and I desperately need to reduce my intake of action films. I'm thinking about taking it in steps, perhaps next week spending some of my free time watching some old film noir. I've got some in my drawer I still haven't seen yet. Perhaps I should do something with that. Maybe I should do a film noir week instead of my general non-action week. That could be interesting. I'm also wondering about doing something on directorial debuts. I've got a few on hand: I just re-watched John Carpenter's cult classic Dark Star on Wednesday, plus I have access to Kubrick's Fear and Desire, David Lynch's Eraserhead, and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. I think it could be interesting to look at some iconic directors' first features and examine how it compares to their later films on a stylistic level; spotting early manifestations of their various trademarks.

I have also recently found myself wondering about possibly giving The Departed another go. I saw it like four years ago so perhaps I should give it another chance, or maybe I'll just end up feeling the same way I did then. What do you think? Do you think a film like this might be deserving of a second chance? One thing that I have realized recently is that The Departed actually might make a pretty good TV series. You could flesh out the story, and have each episode focus on a small group of characters at a time. Then there could be some episodes about the crooks, some about the cops, and perhaps some that focus on a few characters from both. That way there would be more room to develop everybody. Somebody get Martin Scorsese on the line, but make sure I'm on the writing team. That way I can work on diversifying the cast a bit more. I mean, all these characters and the only woman they could fit in was the love interest? I find that hard to believe. I think we'd need to add in some female cops and female crooks. Maybe if I'm feeling really crazy I'll even write Leonardo DiCaprio's character as a woman, which could bring out some interesting new dynamics.

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  1. Very interesting self-analysis on why you liked Star Wars as a kid. I suppose we like a lot of things, as a kid and as adults, because we live vicariously through the heroes on the screen. It's just a natural thing.

    Even more interesting ideas on what your fan fiction for Star Wars is like. The idea of the force being some malevolent entity could be great if handled correctly. The controversy will never go away because it's pretty widely known that Star Wars is basically a religious parable with the two sides of the force functioning essentially like God and the Devil. To say it's all evil is going to rankle some feathers.

    Congrats on getting your movie going. I've never written a script nor made a movie, but from what I understand most writers go through the same feelings you describe. Many authors are on record saying they hate the movies based on their work. I hope it doesn't come to that for you, but just know that you're not alone.

    I don't watch Game of Thrones, but you might find this vaguely interesting. Last night, the minor league baseball team here in town, the Durham Bulls (yes, the same team from the movie Bull Durham) had Game of Thrones Night. Of course, they purposely scheduled it for this night because the visiting team was the Charlotte Knights. The two teams were introduced as The Bulls of House Durham and The Knights of House Charlotte. They wore specially made jerseys, too. I didn't attend, but apparently a number of fans got in on the act and showed up in their best GoT costumes.

  2. The Departed sounds interesting as a tv series. I love Vera Farmiga and wished her character had bigger involvement. Your idea for a blogathon sounds like fun!

    My love for Star Wars sorta ebbs and flows. I can't really speak about the new film (though I want to see it) or the original ones since I'm on the fence about those. It's wonderful how films can help us escape, especially when school is rough or we experience such horrible traumas like bullying.

    Congratulations on making it through another semester! Mine is almost finished too, and I can't wait.