Speculative Fiction Saturday: Jessica Jones

Jessica-Jones-1-1200x674Okay, I probably should have written about these Marvel/Netflix shows earlier, but I have to admit that I do a lot of writing about them on The Gospel Herald with my most recent article here. Even as I write about the first season of Jessica Jones, I am watching the second season of Daredevil.

In case you don’t know about these shows, Marvel made some deal with Netflix for four shows that are based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the same universe that the Avengers reside in, and these Netflix shows, which include Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, all have a grittier feel as they are based in darker comic book source material.

When I grew up on the eighties, I was very familiar with Daredevil and somewhat familiar with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. I stopped reading them at the end of the nineties, and Jessica Jones was not created until 2001, so I had never heard of her when I watched her show. I have no idea how well the show matches the source material, but it generally does not exactly for this transition. Therefore, I’m not going to judge it based on the translation from comic to screen.

Jessica Jones is a show that doesn’t waste any time talking about that whole “origin story thing” from the first episode. It is established that she has some kind of superhuman strength, and has started a job as a private investigator. It is also established that she has a best friend name Trish who used to be a teenage TV star for a show called Patsy, but now has a radio show called “Trish Talks”. Jessica also has a lawyer friend known as Jeri Hogarth who often is a source for Jessica to find work. These characters are as flushed out and developed as Jessica herself, and that is saying something.

The issue with Jessica Jones is that she has as much weaknesses as strengths. She is an alcoholic, and she is suffering from PTSD. Why is she suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? It is because of an evil man named Kilgrave, who she thought was dead, is alive.

Kilgrave is played by David Tennant, who used to be Doctor Who. He easily one of the best and worst villains on screen. The reasons why he is the best and the worst is the same, because his power is legitimately scary. Kilgrave has a power to take control of your mind verbally, so if Kilgrave tells you to kill someone or yourself, you have to do it, even if it hurts yourself. It makes me glad the metahuman powers only exist in the world of make-believe.

At one point in time, it is revealed via flashback that Kilgrave once had Jessica Jones under his control. If you think that the show didn’t “go there” in showing what Kilgrave does to his female victims, think again. For all intents and purposes, Kilgrave made Jessica his forced sex slave. The worst part about this is that Jessica Jones shows Kilgrave from a certain point of view that makes him sympathetic. Yeah, I said it, and you should watch it so you can see why I agree with this.

You can imagine that Jessica has a lot of anger and fear when it comes to Kilgrave, and what is interesting is how she attempts to stop him. The two characters switch places playing cat and mouse with each other, and Jessica Jones becomes a psychological study more than a speculative fiction story.

This is one of those times where I don’t want to reveal anything more about this show, because it really needs to be seen. Unfortunately, it might not get its second season until 2017, but it is established that it will have a second season.

As I mentioned before Jessica Jones is one of four shows that take place in this Marvel/Netflix universe, and the next new show to premiere in this share world is Luke Cage. This character was introduced on Jessica Jones as a love interest and superhuman partner, and I look forward to watching his show.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: American Dad, Because Why Not?

American DadI have to admit, that I don’t really have much of a plan for this month as far as reviewing speculative fiction stuff is concerned. Still, like my review of Gravity Falls, last week, American Dad is pretty much a speculative fiction TV show.

Of course, most would not classify it as that. For those who don’t know, American Dad is from Seth MacFarlane’s animation company, the man who gave the world Family Guy. I don’t think I really need to explain Family Guy, other than it is a not a family-friendly cartoon that has been airing on Fox for almost twenty years, even though it was cancelled once. Family Guy was such a huge hit that I’m guessing they probably green-lit American Dad without even watching a pilot episode.

I will have to say that Seth MacFarlane would probably be a guilty pleasure of mine. There are time where his shows come off very good, and show a side of America that we don’t necessarily like to see. I will have to say that I have stopped watching his shows because his humor is often more violent and sexual then I really want to see.

However, when Seth MacFarlane is funny, he is very funny. Just watch some of the Star Wars parodies if you don’t believe me. American Dad was really the show that should have come first, because it feels less like a bawdier version of The Simpsons and more its original material.

The premise of American Dad is almost the same as Family Guy, but the main difference is that the father figure, Stan Smith, is more intelligent and stable, working at the CIA. In fact, this is a good time to say how much I can’t stand how Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are fathers that are as unintelligent as they are uncaring of their family.

This is not to say that Stan Smith can come off as uncaring and unintelligent, but he is that way for different reasons. I mentioned before how I occasionally stop watching Seth MacFarlane because he is often too bawdy, but I honestly think Christian people should watch American Dad. Why do I feel that? Because American Dad often focuses on the mistakes that conservative people often make.

It is also a speculative fiction show, as two of the characters are completely unrealistic. Granted, a lot of Seth MacFarlane’s shows rely on just strange things happening for the sake of comedy, but American Dad has a good reason for it. With Stan being in the CIA, he has access to technology that is straight out of science fiction. For example, his goldfish Klaus has the mind of an East German skier.

Of course, the strangest thing of the show is they have an alien living with them. This would be Roger, who is apparently the extra-terrestrial who crash-landed at Roswell. It is odd that not much is really know about Roger and his origins, but his current character is like a more selfish version of Alf, but can somehow blend in with people thanks to his myriad disguises.

As far as some of the other characters are concerned, most of them are pretty stock. The wife Francine is a homemaker, but she is rather unintelligent. Hayley the daughter is free-spirited flower-child who has liberal views that contrast her father’s conservative ones. Steve, Stan’s son, is your typical nerdy adolescent character.

One of the reasons why I like American Dad is its willingness to take risks. Some of the my favorite episodes are just out there. For example, there is one called “Rapture’s Delight” which takes place during the Rapture, and yes, it has a bad view of the Rapture as well as Jesus and the Antichrist. If you’re willing to accept that, the action is good and the moral about staying with the one that you love works. This is just one of the show’s irreverent Christmas specials.

Then there is “Steve and Snot’s Test-Tubular Adventure”, which has such a terrific premise. The show involves Steve and his best friend Snot cloning two girls in order to take them to a dance. What they don’t know is they have to raise them from babies for a week. At that point, they become fathers, and the idea of using these girls to lose their virginity take on an odd turn. I’m not certain if this episode is support abstinence, but it does give an interesting view of premarital sex that most shows don’t try.

Then there is a question of whether shows should go to the places where American Dad goes. There is one episode known as “The American Dad After-School Special” which talks about anorexia, and it goes in just odd places. It even has a major twist ending to it that I never saw coming.

And then there is the episode “Tearjerker”, which is just a fun parody of seventies James Bond films. I can’t help but think that MacFarlane should just stick to straight up parodies.

In short, American Dad does present its audiences with problems that we as Americans are ignoring. Occasionally, it can get preachy, but seems to satirize itself when it does.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Gravity Falls

Gravity-FallsWhen I was reviewing Avatar: The Last Airbender, I mentioned that I wished every show was like it. I have now discovered another series that is just as good, and I want to share what it is that makes a good speculative fiction series:

1) Great Characters

Personally, if you can think of any great story, it really is about how deep and great the characters are. The main characters are a pair of twelve-year-old twins named Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal), who have to live with their Grunkle Stan (Alex Hirsch, the show’s creator) for the summer. Stan has a Mystery Shack, which is a museum that is a cross between the National Enquirer and the Pacific Northwest, and I will explain that later.

Both of the twins really symbolize the wonder of being a child. Dipper is the very curious one who has figured out that the world is much bigger than it seems. Mabel has a sweetness about her that won’t quit, but she is still pretty headstrong. As for Stan, he is a con man, and yes, this is a Disney show.

The show is about the familial relationships between the three, and later four, but I don’t want to spoil that. There is one episode where Stan is up to something that seems on the surface nefarious, and the twins could shut him down. Stan asks the twins to trust him, and the dialogue between them is absolutely heartbreaking and most dramas don’t achieve this level of actual pain.

In addition to the main characters, there are a lot of great side characters. One of them is Soos, who is the handyman from the Mystery Shack, and is an overall nice guy who might be low on brains but big on heart. He has a backstory that involves a lost father, and yes, this is a Disney show.

Then there is Wendy, one of the cashiers at the Mystery Shack. She is an older teen character that Dipper likes, and…the show actually deals with this issue in a very realistic way. Thank you, Disney.

2) A Deep Storyline

Gravity Falls is a show that is about an Oregonian town of the same name that has just odd stuff happening in it. Now, this show could have been about some new mystery of the week, but some of things on it are all connected. I would call it X-Files for kids, but the storyline is mature enough to be appreciated by adults, and when things get revealed, it doesn’t get too overly complicated.

From the first episode, Dipper finds a journal with a six-fingered hand and the number 3 on the palm. In the journal is a reference for all the weird things in Gravity Falls. This leads to a series of adventures that Scooby-Doo would have chalked up to old men in costumes, which was parodied on the second episode. In this case, the supernatural is real, and it is all connected.

Well, some of it. The first episode shows Stan entering a secret room, and what Stan is working on affects the entire show. The storyline was planned with a beginning and end, which is what all speculative shows really should have.

What is really interesting is that the show has clues that indicate what the show is about. There are even codes within the credits and sometimes in the background.

3) Imagination

There is more imagination in one episode of Gravity Falls than in most series, and that includes speculative ones. Each show has something in it that could stand as its own series.

For example, there is one episode where Mabel and Dipper go mini golf course, and the balls are alive. Not only that, they have communities at each hole, and these communities are at war with each other. That is hysterical, and it just goes from there. Most episodes have some hysterical setting like that, and even the “stand alone” episodes that aren’t tied to the main plot work like that.

I mentioned earlier that the Mystery Shack is a mix of the National Enquirer and the Pacific Northwest, and if you live in the Pacific Northwest, that makes sense. It takes place in the woods, where magical woodland creatures dwell, but they often have an incredulous look to them. Okay, I can’t really explain that well, can I? Just watch it!

4) Humor

Unlike the previously mentioned Avatar, Gravity Falls is a comedy series. The jokes work on many levels, and the humor is very much self-aware. There is an episode where they talk about a show called Duck-tective, and the comments they make are equal to fan criticism and praise. Just watch that one if you don’t believe me.

In short, Gravity Falls is one of those shows that just works, on so many levels. In case you didn’t hear me the first two times, just watch it already.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: A Nightmare Before Christmas

nightmare_before_christmas_posterConsidering that Christmas is coming up, I figure I should probably review a speculative fiction Christmas movie. Something that I realized the other day that a lot of Christmas stories have nothing to do with Christmas. I mean, if you think about It’s a Wonderful Life, it really is about a guy who realizes that everyone has a destiny. The story just happens to take place on Christmas, just like Die Hard would be the same movie if it didn’t take place on Christmas.

On the surface, it seems like A Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie. Heck it has Christmas in the title. I mean, you could probably do the story of A Christmas Carol without Christmas, but what it is about is how the rich should help the poor. It just so happens that Christmas is involved.

Even though A Nightmare Before Christmas has Christmas in the title, the story is really one that is a good lesson. This is strange, because the visuals of the story can easily distract you from what it has to say.

But first, let’s talk about the film. It opens in Halloween town, some place where there is a mix of the macabre with the comic. I’m not really certain how this works, but apparently, everyone looks like it is Halloween every day, and yet it is only Halloween once a year. Yeah, I’m not really certain how it works either.

Anyway, the main character Jack Skellington is a skeleton who essentially leads this big celebration that they have every year. The problem is, he’s tiring of the repetition of it, and wants something new. He then wanders into this place where there are trees that lead to other holiday themed towns. There is one for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Jack stumbles into Christmas town, and he immediately falls in love with it. Instead of the celebration of all things cold, dark, and dead (which is what Halloween is) everything is merry and bright. He sings a song that really expresses his feelings that is incredible, honestly. Yeah, unlike Corpse Bride, the songs of A Nightmare Before Christmas are generally memorable.

Jack then goes back to Halloween town and decides that they will celebrate Christmas. In order to do that, he decides to take over Santa Claus’ job. It goes about as well as expected.

This is what I like about this film, Jack tries to be something that he’s not, and it fails. This is really what I feel what this film is about, the idea that we are made to do something, and we should do it. This is very contrary to most films that are designed for children, as they usually show a main character doing something they shouldn’t be doing and exceeding all expectation (think Turbo, Babe, or Ratatouille).

What I really see in A Nightmare Before Christmas is a solid Christmas message, where we often feel a sense of self-reflection over events of the year. Some people feel the “Christmas blues” because they don’t feel like they are achieving their true destiny. The issue is that they could be doing their destiny, and not even know it. Sometimes it isn’t necessary to change everything, just some things.

In the end, this is what Jack Skellington does, as he realizes that he is missing love in his life. Eventually, he falls for Suzy, who is a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster of a character that is one of the many animated spectacles in this film.

Yes, this film is full of animation in clay that looks really great, even after 20 years. However, don’t let the visuals distract from what is a pretty decent story.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Fantastic Four

fantastic-four-trailer-poster-2015Some of you might remember when I did my review of CHAPPiE that I tried to say something positive about it, even though that on the whole, I didn’t like the film. The issue with Fantastic Four is I have never seen any film that is so thoroughly disengaging.

It’s pretty clear why Marvel wanted to do a Fantastic Four movie, and yes, money is one of the reasons. The Fantastic Four is kind of like Marvel’s first family, and they mean a lot to Marvel. I used to read them in comics back in the eighties, and the best thing about this book is that they were family. Reed and Sue were husband and wife, Johnny was Sue’s brother, and Ben was Reed’s best friend.

Unlike other super-teams, they got along. A lot of people don’t like that aspect with super-teams, but they think they should be like the Avengers and X-Men. You know, where the team is just thrown together and don’t get along but work together anyway, making the conflict a bit more interesting. Fantastic Four always had the familial bond between them, so nothing really stops them, honestly.

The film opens in 2007, and yeah, that wasn’t a long time ago. Not very nostalgic, really. Why even give it a year? Anyway, young Reed Richards has invented a teleporter, but it only slightly works. He does manage to black out New York City, which actually happened in 2003, and…couldn’t we just set this back then? Well, I guess we just had to make Reed Richards younger.

Now, what is interesting about the Fantastic Four is that they have been rebooted, several times, and Reed Richards just keeps getting younger. This film deviates a lot from the Source material so much, it almost represents something else. This isn’t like the change makes it interesting, and some of these changes just seem like they would work.

Anyway, the film opens with Reed and Ben being friends, but not really developing that friendship that much. Reed has a teleporter that he’s been working on all through his childhood, and one day, at a science fair, some people notice it. One of them is Sue Storm and her father.

Sue Storm is played by an actress who decided not to show any personality whatsover. Many times, Sue is portrayed as a Jessica Alba type, but in the Source material, Sue is both beautiful, nurturing, and motherlike, and no live-action film has ever got that right.

As for Johnny, he’s like this character from the Fast and Furious transplanted into this film, and the movie as a whole is rejecting him.

Anywway, Reed figures out how to make his teleporter work, and he decides to take the four of them into this other dimension. This isn’t the Fantastic Four, but Reed, Johnny, Ben, and…hey, this is bros only, so let’s find someone else. That someone else is Victor…something or another, but they call him Von Doom because he’s kind of a pessimist.

So, they all get into the teleporter so they can have an origin story, and now this film becomes a reboot check-off list. Once the group gets their powers, it still isn’t interesting. There is scene where Reed tries to crawl away from the wreckage of the teleporter accident with a pinned foot. Then we realize that his leg has stretched. I saw that effect coming from a mile away, and it was the only interesting thing in this, and it wasn’t very interesting.

So, Reed escapes from the military who want to use the Fantastic Four as weapons. They apparently do this for a year or two, and apparently only the Thing has been used for covert operations. Now, why in the world would you use a brick guy when you have a woman who can turn herself invisible? Wouldn’t that be the greater asset?

From there, the government rebuilds the teleporter, tries it again, and they find Dr. Doom, who wants to destroy the world because…I honestly don’t remember. From there, it is a finale to end all…yeah, I barely remember that either.

This Fantastic Four film is now become one of the worst films of the year, and it is pretty obvious, because this film is so forgettable that I probably should have done it a few weeks ago, when I first reviewed it. This can be the worst thing for a film, when it isn’t so bad that it is good. Personally, I believe that Fantastic Four has achieved some kind of level of so bland it has no impact, good or bad.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Ant-Man, a silly yet serious superhero film

Ant-ManThese days, Marvel just isn’t satisfied with one big superhero film a summer, and these days there are at least three. This one, Ant-Man, was a big question mark for audiences, as it feels like something that Marvel didn’t expect much from. The issue is that it delivers more than a lot of other superhero films, and there are parts of Ant-Man that are better than Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It is difficult talking about Ant-Man as it was originally going to be directed by Edgar Wright. This director is better known for his comedies, and he made one of the funniest films of all time with Hot Fuzz. Sadly, Wright left the project for some reason or the other, but his name is on the screenplay credit. I’m not certain what the film would have been like if Wright had been at the helm, but this one is more than adequate.

As someone who knows this character from the comic books, I am more familiar with Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, rather than the second one, Scott Lang. The story is centered around Scott, who is a criminal who was arrested for a failed heist, and cannot seem to be able to get an honest job with his criminal record. The issue is that he cannot see his daughter unless he can get some cash, so he decides to go back to his life of crime.

Scott’s first post-prison heist involves stealing from a very tight safe, but the only thing in it is some weird red astronaut suit. Scott puts it on, and discovers that the suit grants its wearer the power to shrink. At this point, the audience can’t help but wonder how a script with such a Saturday Morning Cartoon of a premise got green-lit. The only time shrunken movies worked was in the first and what should have been last Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie, but that movie was smart enough not to take itself too seriously.

The issue is Ant-Man does. The audience can sympathize with Scott as he fails in the eyes of his ex-wife and daughter. There is a weird sense of taking itself too seriously in this film that works in the midst of what is at best a B-movie.

Back to the plotline, which has Scott returning the suit to Hank Pym’s house. Pym catches him in the act, but does what he can to make certain Lang is taken out of jail because he has a special job for him. Pym’s company has been taken over by his protege, Darren Cross, who is just short of breaking Pym’s shrinking secret. Hank wants Scott to break into the Pym company and destroy all evidence of the shrinking technology.

Yes, at it’s heart, Ant-Man is a heist movie, like Mission: Impossible. This includes a very long montage with Lang training in the Ant-Man suit, as well as the blueprints, the plan, and finally the execution. By the way, there is a scene where Ant-Man must break into an Avengers complex, and there is an interesting cameo by The Falcon. Without spoiling too much, the film ends with a heist that goes wrong, all with a plan that the heist would go wrong, so now we’re doing this planned Plan B. Every heist movie has this.

I would have to say that the ending actions scenes are both crazy and amazing all at the same time. It is interesting to see that the miniaturized world is made so beautiful. There is one shot of Scott flying on the back of an ant through these server towers, and it feels like he is a superhero flying in between buildings of a major city. The rest of the effects look good, and it makes you wish that you could shrink yourself just to see what the world is like.

The reason why Ant-Man succeeds is that it has a silly premise, runs with it, and actually ends up in a good place. Even though this film follows the heist film by the numbers, there are elements of it that are quite different and welcome. For example, Scott’s daughter Cassie has a new dad, and it would have been easy to make this character a jerk, but the film thankfully doesn’t go that direction.

This film is also funny on so many levels, and it is not because the story is so frivolous. I have no idea how Marvel pulled this one off, but it is definitely better than it really should be.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6This will be the last film that I will talk about this year, but I don’t think it is really the best. This isn’t to say that Big Hero 6 is a bad movie, as it does stand out in a world full of superhero movies. The fact that it is Disney, owner of Marvel, the king of superhero movies makes it self-aware.

“Self-aware” is one of those terms thrown about by Internet critics describing films that follow conventions, but are clearly aware that they are following these conventions. Big Hero 6 is a superhero story that seems to know that it is a superhero story. Superhero stories have been done to death, and this one has the most important ingredient: improbability.

The film opens with Hiro Hamada, and he is an incredibly smart character who is so smart that he has essentially done with school in spite of being very young at…I don’t know…let’s just say 15. Hiro doesn’t seem to know what he wants to do with his life, but he does like robot fighting, and gets himself into trouble at the beginning because of it.

Hiro has a brother, who encourages Hiro to apply at a certain school that apparently has nothing better to do than encourage its students to pursue futuristic technology. Now, this film takes place in a world that looks futuristic already, some weird mix of San Francisco and Tokyo called: San Francoskyo. I probably misspelled that, but you get it.

Hiro realizes that he wants to go to this “nerd school”, but he needs some brilliant idea for an invention. His brother already has one with a robot named Baymax who is easily the mascot of this film. Baymax is essentially a robot medical droid with a complex structure within and the rest a balloon.

After a fast-forward montage, Hiro creates these microbots which are tiny little robots that can link together to form just about anything. Unfortunately, there is an accident at this lab, and Hiro’s brother dies off-screen. This is the second element of a superhero story: tragedy.

After that, it is only a matter of time before the Hiro arises from his tragedy with the improbability and become a superhero to fight against…something. In Hiro’s case, he has a sufficient motivation. Some guy in a Kabuki has Hiro’s microbots, and could be using them for something bad.

So this is your basic superhero story, and there is no denying it. The film even shows a scene where Hiro is inspired by comic books and action figures in order to turn he and his friends into superheroes. It’s a good thing that his friends are into the habit of playing with experimental technology. It’s also good that one of the Big Hero 6, Fred, is a huge fanboy who has a father that looks like Stan Lee.

One of the strengths of this film is one of its weaknesses. It is very clear that the focus of the film is the Big Hero 2 with Hiro and Baymax, and every trailer that I saw of this film focused only on them. This is a real shame, because some of the other characters of Big Hero 6 are for the most part, ignored. Kind of like how Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura were glossed over in the original Star Trek series. There is one character named Honey Lemon who is this super-smart girl who is trapped in the body of a supermodel and is very sensitive. She is such a great character, but is hardly ever used.

However, the relationship between Hiro and Baymax is really about how we deal with loss. As someone who has lost his best friend, this part really got to me, and there is a scene where Hiro has to say goodbye. The scene is everything the film is leading up to, and it works.

Now, I believe that the source material was some Marvel manga, and so I would imagine that these characters have been through a lot of adventures and development. I have no idea if they are making a sequel, but it is clearly set up for a franchise. Of course, I would imagine that Frozen is the one that everyone wants.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: How to Train Your Dragon 2

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster2I’ll admit that I only somewhat liked How To Train Your Dragon (the original) when it first came out in 2010, but the more I watch it, the more it grows on me. I always felt that Hollywood needs a good “dragon” movie, something quintessential. I mean, when you think space opera, you think Star Wars. When you think fantasy, you think Lord of the Rings. When you think dragons, you have choices of Dragonheart, Dragonslayer, but nothing that really stands out, and this includes the last two Hobbit movies.

Dragons are an essential part of fantasy fiction, and I am not certain why they are so prevalent there. How to Train Your Dragon is based on a book series that I haven’t read, but the first movie was an excellent offering. The plot is about a boy who discovers a dragon, in a world of Vikings, who despise dragons’ destructive behavior. The boy, Hiccup, befriends a dragon that he names Toothless, and his friendship leads to saving his village.

The first film reminds me of a nineties Disney animation, where an unconventional and forbidden relationship changes society. The film also had flying scenes that were better than the last Man of Steel Superman movie.

The world of How To Train Your Dragon is pretty well developed, as there are all kinds of different types of dragons. The characters are also extremely good, and Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, feels very real. The sequel grows the characters up noticeably, and it is much, much bigger like the second Hunger Games movie Catching Fire.

The premise of How To Train Your Dragon 2 is that Hiccup is old enough to become chief. In spite of the fact that Stoick, Hiccup’s father, is pretty healthy, he seems to want Hiccup to be ready to step up to the plate. Hiccup seems to like nothing more than flying around with Toothless, and one day, he discovers a group of dragon hunters that work for a ruthless tyrant named Drago.

When Hiccup tells his father about Drago, Stoick gets very afraid and braces his village for attack. Apparently, Drago met with the village chiefs years ago, and offered to rid the village of all the pesky dragons, provided Drago can rule. Of course, the village chiefs refused, and then Drago commands dragons to destroy the village. Only Stoick survived, which means that Drago had destroyed the village completely. Apparently, Stoick managed to rebuild the village, and…yeah, there are a few things wrong with this.

The story with Drago feels like a retcon, which is a word for when a storyline tells an origin story with elements that haven’t been mentioned before, but will take the present story to a knew level. If you read comics, retcons are very common to clean up bad plotlines and heighten the drama of the stories.

Another retcon that takes place is the introduction of Hiccups’ mother Valka. This isn’t really a spoiler, because the preview revealed this. It is revealed that Valka was stolen from the village by dragons when Hiccup was a baby. Valka never returned because she saw that the dragons were friendly creatures, and lived on this island all alone with several dragons.

In fact, one of these dragons was kind to baby Hiccup, even though it accidentally scratched him on the chin. This is how Valka recognized Hiccup as her adult son because of the scar. By the way, the scar is apparently in the first How To Train Your Dragon, so I am told.

Valka is proud of Hiccup because he has befriended a dragon, but no where in the original did Stoick ever mention that a dragon killed Hiccup’s mother. At least, this is what Stoick thought, and it would explain why Stoick was so against dragons in the first one. Like I said, this was a retcon, but at least the scar is consistent.

As Hiccup bonds with his reunited mother, the other dragon riders meet up with Drago. Drago apparently has some new way of controlling the dragons that is similar to how Hiccup trained them, but with fear and not love. Drago even takes control of an Alpha, huge dragon that can control other dragons. I think there was one of these in the last film, but in this one, it can hypnotize dragons.

When Drago meets up with the other characters, the film seems to have way too much going on. Don’t get me wrong, it is an awesome epic, but it is very, very confusing. There are times where scenes play out between characters while there are probably other scenes going on with other characters that we don’t see.

Act 2 also ends with a tragedy that is very emotional, and is as effective as the killing of King Mufasa in The Lion King. The problem is that after that, the epic conclusion doesn’t measure up to the Act 2 battle. I actually thought that after Act 2, the movie would end, and the story would concluded in How To Train Your Dragon 3, which I heard that they are making.

On the whole, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is very inspired, and it makes me want to write fantasy stories of my own. By the way, I might be working on one, but I can’t say anything about it now. For that, I saw it twice, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for the ultimate dragon movie, because the How To Train Your Dragon series is the best in film so far.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Lucy

Lucy movieLucy is a film that showed up last summer, and it looked kind of promising, but it also looked like another superhero movie. Yes, there are a lot of them these days. I’m not certain if you know this, but Marvel films has a lot of movies coming out based in its own universe, then DC has a whole bunch coming out as well. In fact, the next few years is so full of superhero movies that adding another to the mix could easily not be noticed.

Unlike most superhero movies, Lucy is not based on any graphic novel. Another thing that it doesn’t have with super hero movies is that it has a female protagonist. Generally, these don’t really work; think Tank Girl, Catwoman, and Supergirl. At least the film’s title character doesn’t have a skintight costume or fancy name. Then again, Scarlett Johansson already has that as Black Widow from the Marvel films.

Okay, now that I think of it, it isn’t proper to call Lucy a superhero movie as it really is just about a woman who just happens to get super-powers. The premise behind the powers is simply not believable, and the film could have been done without the supernatural element.

I should probably get to the synopsis of the plot. Lucy is a woman traveling and takes a job being a drug mule. Actually, she takes a job that is clearly illegal as some courier, but it ends up that the man she’s working for knocks her out and performs some surgery on her. Lucy finds that she is carrying some drugs in her system that are designed to get past airport security.

At some point, Lucy gets taken by the bad guys. I can’t remember if these are the same bad guys that she was working for or what. My point is that bad guys take her, and injure her so that the sack of drugs within ruptures. Lucy is then forced into an overdose of this stuff, which has the power to increase your intelligence.

What happens next is Lucy uses her newfound powers to escape the bad guys in a manner that would make Jason Bourne jealous. Sadly, this stuff is affecting Lucy in a really negative way, and she actually takes doctors at gunpoint in an effort to get rid of it. The doctors are able to get the drugs out of her, but she needs some real help.

This help comes in the form of Morgan Freeman, the world’s most highly paid narrator. Freeman’s character, Professor Norman, is introduced showing him give a lecture. With this lecture is that factoid that you see on the poster, about how humans only use 10 percent of their brain.

Okay, let me just take moment to explain that this isn’t the first time I heard of the “humans only user 10 percent of their brain” thing. In fact, I am sure you have heard that. I found an article in Scientific American that seems to say that this “fact” is nothing more than an asteroid of stupid hitting the planet of ignorant people. The fact is that all of our brain is working constantly, and I usually see another addendum to this 10 percent theory: that Albert Einstein used more than his 10 percent, which is why he was such a genius.

Well, Lucy applies this theory as she gains more than her 10 percent. In fact, the film actually stops with a still frame every time her intelligence increases by 10 percent. This is a weird artistic move by director Luc Besson. This director is known for science-fiction films that have a weird streak in them, but where his masterpiece The Fifth Element film succeeds, Lucy fails. In the former film, the editing style worked, but Lucy has scenes of nature and random stuff inserted in with only some application. For example, when Professor Norman talks about why creatures mate, we cut to animals having sex. Is this really necessary?

Lucy gets some help from the law as she informs the authorities where the other drug mules are. She knows their location because she can apparently access all of her memories, and every residual detail. I will have to admit that the scene where she uses her talents is pretty interesting, at first.

When the super-genius Lucy flies back home, she discovers that her mind is becoming to big for her britches. Shen then ducks into an airplane restroom and takes more of the drug. It was here that there is a major hole in the plot. If Lucy can transport these drugs onto the plane without them being detected, then why did the bad guys need her to be a drug mule in the first place?

Yeah, this isn’t a film that didn’t put too much thought in details like that. I do have to give Scarlett Johansson some compliments on her performance, and she uses her powers to manipulate objects and electronics in a way that is neat. The problem is that the character gets so powerful, that when bad guys come after her, I don’t see it as any problem. The ending reminds me of the whole Dark Phoenix saga from X-men, a storyline done much better in the comics rather than in the third X-men movie. Too bad Lucy doesn’t end like that Dark Phoenix comic book saga, and the ending is as odd as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Speculative Fiction Saturday, Miyazaki Month: Spirited Away

Sprited awayOkay, today’s film could be considered Miyazaki’s best, as it did win an Oscar. It actually beat out several others like Monsters, Inc. and was the first anime to receive this award. Spirited Away is really one of the most mysterious films of Miyazaki, and I’ll do my best to try and interpret what it means.

Let’s start from the beginning. Chihiro is an ordinary girl who has to leave because her parents are moving. It opens with her sad and lying in the back of a car while her parents are trying to tell her that this move will be good in the long run. I have been in this situation, and it is never easy on the child, and then the film takes a supernatural turn.

The parents find themselves in some kind of abandoned amusement park, and they also discover some food already prepared with no cooks in sight. Then they start eating, but Chihiro does not participate. In all honesty, the parents really act like idiots in these first few scenes, and the set up is almost like a horror movie. You know how the main characters decide to “get away from it all” and spend some time in some abandoned Cabin in the Woods. I mean, you just know that it isn’t going to end well. It is a very creepy set-up, and it just gets creepier. Later on, I will tell you how it gets more creepy.

Chihiro then discovers that her parents have become pigs. Then the sun sets and a river appears that blocks her way out of the amusement park. Suddenly, the place has now become a bathhouse for spirits, and then Chihiro is stuck in the middle of it.

I will have to say that this film does an incredible job of making you feel a little girl’s fear. She meets a man named Haku who tells her that Chihiro must get a job, but the only one who can give her a job is Yubaba, a grandmother figure with a very big head. Yubaba gives Chihiro a job, but she takes away her name, now calling her Sen.

From here, it is about how Chihiro works at this spiritual bathhouse, and how she adapts to the surroundings. There are times when she is in fear like a little girl, and then times when she finds a lot of strength. I suppose the best way to describe it is something like Alice and Wonderland, but with a coming-of-age theme.

I will have to admit that I’m not certain what it is that I am supposed to learn from this film. Is it that we can rise to the occasion if we make responsible choices? That is kind of what happens as Chihiro/Sen does a lot of things in order to get her parents back as well as help her newfound friends.

I don’t want to reveal the ending to this film, but a friend of mine told me something about this film’s subtext. If you watch Spirited Away, you will notice that there are spirits at the bathhouse, but there also many human girls. Besides Chihiro, it is not explained where the girls come from. It is possible that the bathhouse for the spirits is also a brothel. This is never said, but there is evidence of that in the film.

Sounds creepy, yes? Really great kids’ film, right? Kids will not get that it could be a brothel, because I’ve watched it three times and never got that. This does change my interpretation of the film, because it means that Chihiro was being trained to be a prostitute. Worse yet, there is a character named No-Face who approaches Chihiro and wants her to serve him, offering her much gold. Yeah, I don’t like the implication of this at all.

Still, is the film about not getting sucked into a world of vice? It could be interpreted that way, but Miyazaki films are very open to interpretation.