Author: mattalex

Ghost in the Shell, and Unfortunate Expectations

Ghost in the Shell

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a great movie without a target audience.  The plot was a bit too odd for general Sci-Fi audiences, and while that plot fit well in the Final Fantasy 7 & 8 mold, the rest of the film lacked too many Final Fantasy staples for a lot of the fans to be happy with it (ex: no Chocobos, Moogles, or even Magic).  And that’s before we even start to mention the uncanny valley issue with the animation.  Thus, too few people appreciated the film, and that financial flop nearly bankrupted Squaresoft.

Fortunately, Ghost in the Shell looks to be doing okay over seas, but the critical reception of the film looks very similar to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.  Their critics’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings are 2 percentage points away from each other.  As someone who genuinely enjoyed the film, I’m disappointed by that reception.  It looks to me like this is yet another film that has fallen victim to unreasonable expectations.

Those going into the film expecting a cool Sci-Fi action film are instead getting a slower paced contemplation on the question of Self, albeit with sweeping and beautiful cinematography.  And while there is some good action, that’s not what drives this film.  This isn’t Robocop, like one of the trailers made it look, and people expecting that are going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, those going into the film expecting a live action remake of the Mamoru Oshii Anime film of the same name from 1995…   Well, that’s just not what this is either.  There are similarities, but they aren’t the same story.  I can understand why people would be disappointed, but I honestly feel expecting a live action remake was just an unfortunate and unreasonable expectation to begin with.

The Ghost in the Shell property is more than just that one Anime movie.  One need only compare the artwork in the original manga to the 1995 film to see that a significant reimagining took place.  There was a TV show called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex that ran for 52 episodes, and took place in its own canon.  Then there’s Ghost in the Shell: Arise…   Every adaptation of the property has had a significant reimagined take on it.

My point is that expecting a Ghost in the Shell live action adaption to rigidly restrict itself to the content of a single Anime film from 1995…   I feel that’s an unreasonable expectation, given that nothing else in the Ghost in the Shell franchise has done that.

That said, there are significant nostalgic nods in Ghost in the Shell to the fans of the 1995 film, as well as its 2004 sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.  In fact, one might even have a similar issue as with Final Fantasy, in that if you have too little experience with the prior content, then you might be missing out on too much to really appreciate this adaptation.

That’s a problem, because while it does provide cool nods to the 1995 and 2004 films, the story is very different, and depending on how much reverence you hold for those films will likely determine how much you appreciate those nods.

I enjoyed this new Ghost in the Shell a lot.  I’m not doing backflips over it, but the direction they went with the plot, honestly, made it a lot easier to follow than the 1995 film.  I’m not a fan of dumbing down content to pander to stupid audiences, but I am a fan of making complex content more approachable.  I think they walked that line well here.  The character of Major was also well portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, which surprised me, since I haven’t been a particular fan of her as Black Widow.

I’m not immune to having unreasonable expectations of my own, though.  I didn’t like The Force Awakens because of my over abundant attachment to the old Expanded Universe.  I understand the hazards of such expectations, and I suffer from them like anyone else.  I just think it’s good to be self-aware of such things.

Why I Hate Jessica Jones

jessica-jones-netflix-poster

 

Edit:  { I should have probably prefaced this critique by establishing first that I have a personal sensitivity to the issue of rape due to my background.  As you read this, please bear in mind that my inherent distaste for the subject matter is coloring my perspective. }

Jessica Jones is, without doubt or reservation, the most repellent superhero show I have ever watched the entire first season of. Many will disagree with me, and that’s fine. It’s a very well made show, and there’s a lot to like about it. For me, though, the bad greatly outweighs the good.

First, every single person in the show who argued against killing the villain was an idiot for doing so, and none of the BS reasons given for it held water. ‘Oh, but I have to get proof of stuff so I can save Hope.’  Really? You don’t think this problem is a little bigger than that one damsel? A sociopath with demi-god level powers is wrecking havoc and slaughtering innocents by the day, but our main character is self-destructively focused on the well-being of a single blond damsel in distress.  It’s stupid, and offends the intelligence of the viewer.

One rule of thumb for making a good protagonist: a compelling character is one who acts, in part, as an avatar for the audience. A moronic protagonist implies the writer assumes the audience is similarly moronic. Don’t write stupid protagonists. The villain needed to die; that was obvious from moment one. The fact that it wasn’t obvious to the protagonist just made her look stupid.

Second, there’s a constant thread through this series of suicide. People telling the main character to do it, others afraid she will, people around her threaten to do it to themselves, or are forced to do it by the villain. Of those 4 examples, only one (forced to do it) actually makes plot and situational sense for the story and scenes they show up in. All the others were useless melodrama at best, and wildly nonsensical at worst.

Third, there’s the villain. He’s a dick with a godlike superpower. He’s not sinister, or even particularly scary. The xenomorphs in Aliens had a better long term plan than this guy. The Gremlins were criminal masterminds in comparison. He’s occasionally clever, but mostly he’s just a creepy sociopath with a superpower who enjoyed screwing with people, and had an obsessive fixation on the main character. He wasn’t scary, he was pathetic. That said, he was also clearly a monster, and you kill monsters. This is Hell’s Kitchen, not Sesame Street.

And, this may be a nitpick, but the sex scenes suck. PG-13 fare, except that they do it over and over again. I think maybe 1 or 2 out of the 6-8 (that I remember and depending on how you count it) were actually plot relevant. None of them were stimulating to watch; at least not to me.

In my opinion, this show isn’t a hero story, it’s a post-rape empowerment story trying to cosplay at comic-con. The problem is that any time the subject of the villain showed up, the characters all seemed to loose a digit on their IQ.

If Netflix wanted a female superhero, they’d have been better off getting materiel from a fun book series. I’m a big fan of Seanon McGuire, Debora Dunbar, and Molly Harper novels. The problem is they chose to go the ‘stalker mind control rape’ path, rather than the far more enjoyable paths they could have gone instead. Maybe they wanted to say something deep and important…if so, this viewer was too pissed off to take it seriously.

There’s a morally important line between desire and behavior. It’s the line between Want and Take. Between necrophiles and grave robbers. Pedophiles and child molesters. We can’t always be in control of our desires, but we are absolutely responsible for our actions. If you have some moral lesson to convey, then do so while respecting that line. A mind-control story, by its fundamental nature, can’t respect that line.

I get that this is the path that was more faithful to the source material, which is why I think this was bad source material for them to use.

Want a female led superhero comicbook show? Great! I’m in!

Want a rape recovery show? Great! I’ll be elsewhere, but you do your thing. I support you from afar.

Want both in one? Sorry, but I can’t even support that one at a distance.  That subject matter is far too important and complicated to treat like this.  At least, it is for me.

Edit 2:  It’s also worth noting that there are issues of sloppy plotting/writing through this series.  However, being a fan of a lot of female led schlocky urban fantasy, I’ve become accustom to overlooking the sorts of sloppiness that are manifest in this show.
For example, the show grinds to a near halt the moment it’s almost over just so we can go around to every single character to get an update about where they are emotionally.  This takes 2-3 full episodes to get through, if I recall correctly.

[Spoiler] Also, for all of the first half, Jessica is supposed to not be aware of her immunity to the villain’s mind control, but her behavior in how she goes about confronting him often only makes sense if she already knew she was immune.  The first scene where she chases after him, for example, makes her appear moronic for doing so.  What was her plan?  What was she going to do when she reached him? Everything he told her to do, apparently.  And that’s ignoring the transcendent stupidity of the childhood home thing. [/Spoiler]

There’s also a lot of issues I have with the ending, but endings are hard, especially for exploration writers, so I won’t list those issues here.  Lord knows, I’m an exploration writer too, and my endings are atrocious.

These things were annoying, but they are the sorts of things that I don’t mind as much in material I enjoy.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians is the first book in a kid’s series written by Brandon Sanderson.  I wish audible.com had more of this series available, but it doesn’t.  Basically, this is Brandon Sanderson’s attempt to spoof Harry Potter.

He does a good job.  It’s light fun, but without much of the rigid structural world building Brandon Sanderson is well known for.  Personally, I think there’s a rigid structure to the magic system written down somewhere in Sanderson’s notes, but it’s not described at all in the actual book, leaving the reader with the same sort of vague understanding of magic that you often got from Harry Potter and lesser works.  The same is true for the Evil Librarians.  We’re basically told that all our understanding of technology is backward, and this is a plot by the librarians to keep us under their control…  Any attempt to actually make sense of that notion is skipped over.

Mind you, the book is very self-aware of its ridiculousness.  One of the great magic powers in the book is “being late for things”.  That’s intentionally ludicrous, but Sanderson makes it work.

If there was more of this series in audiobook form I’d eat it up.  Unfortunately, I think Brandon Sanderson’s desire to move the publishing rights of this series have stalled the creation of more audiobooks.  I could be wrong on that, but I can’t think of any other reason, given how good the first book was.

Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International is the first book in a series (of the same name) written by Larry Correia.  It’s about an “accountant” who also happens to be a violent thug.  He gets hired by a Blackwater-like organization dedicated to killing monsters (thus the name: Monster Hunter International, or MHI).  But don’t worry; just because the main character is a rightwing NRA extremist thug who works as a mercenary for a private militia, don’t go assuming this book is about a bad guy.  No, here, the private militia, the bounty hunters, the tax evaders, and the lobbyists are the good guys…

Compared to that, the vampires, werewolves, demi-gods, and holy Mormon hand grenades come off as pretty routine.  In fact, if it weren’t for the rightwing garbage that pops up a lot in this book, it’d probably be among the best urban-fantasy books I’ve listened to.  This book is very engaging, and despite the unnecessary forced romance, I enjoyed the plot from beginning to end.

But I’m afraid I just need to vent a little more about the rightwing logic (or lack) in this book.  I’m used to reading books with characters that don’t live in the same world I do.  This might be the first time I’ve read a book where I question whether the author lives in the same world I do.  Let me give an example:  One of the characters, after bragging about her tax evasion tactics, says she’s not a racist; that the real racists are the politicians who “pimp poverty”.  That statement is never explained, and it took me some time to figure out what she was talking about.  Welfare.  If you’re giving money to people who are in poverty, you’re paying people for being in poverty, so that’s their job: being in poverty.  Thus, politicians who are in favor of welfare promote poverty (or “pimp poverty”).  And, since black people are disproportionately impoverished, people who “pimp poverty” are racist.  In extremely conservative circles, that logic makes perfect sense.  The problem is that the book assumes that logic makes perfect sense to everyone else too, and that when the character talks about politicians who “pimp poverty”, we will all understand what that means.  Sorry, but most of us don’t see it that way.  The welfare system in America sucks for a lot of reasons, but the fundamental idea of giving charity to the needy is a rather moral and Christian one, regardless of the the races involved.

Let me also go back to the point about tax evasion: As much as characters bitch about the government in this book, not once is it presented as ironic that the organization these people work for (MHI) is almost entirely funded by the government.  These mercenaries admit to having private contracts once in a while, but it’s clear most of their money comes from government bounties and contracts.  Even within a universe he created, the author couldn’t find a better way to fund this organization than through tax dollars.  And thus the irony comes to bite us again, as the characters brag about their tax evasion, when taxes are the main reason these people get paid in the first place.

And one more thing: Buying congressmen and senators is not libertarian, as it’s presented in this book.

But don’t let all that scare you off.  Despite the occasional cringe-worthy political comment, this really is a good urban-fantasy book.  In fact, I’m probably going to listen to the next book in the series too.  I just hope the author turns the political talk down a notch.

The Alloy of Law

Continuing the theme of Brandon Sanderson books I’ve listened to recently, the new Mistborn book has finally come out.  The Alloy of Law, while often listed as the forth book in the Mistborn series, is more accurately described as the beginning of a new series taking place in the same universe.  About three centuries have past since the end of the original Mistborn trilogy, and all but the blatantly immortal characters are long dead, and the couple that are still hanging around only make momentary cameo appearances at best.

I was slightly apprehensive about this book.  The Mistborn trilogy was so well tightly buttoned up in the third book that I wasn’t sure I even wanted more.  The trilogy just got more epic with each book, and I didn’t see how another novel could continue that trend.  Knowing that, and given what I knew from the description on the cover, I was left with the impression that this book wasn’t going to compare well to the original trilogy.  However, comparing this book to the original trilogy does it a disservice.  That story has been told; it’s history; it’s over; move on.

The Alloy of Law is an extremely fun book, with lovable and engaging characters.  I think having spent some time writing Matrim Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series gave Brandon Sanderson more confidence to be funny.  This is not the epic story of the original books, but it doesn’t need to be.  On its own, this book was more fun and enjoyable than any of the other books in the series, even if the other books had grander stories.  Don’t come to this book expecting the next great steampunk epic.  Come to this book expecting to have a great time.

The Wheel of Time…books 7-13

With all due respect and reverence for Robert Jordan, I think Brandon Sanderson managed to make books 12 and 13 evocative and gripping in a way Robert Jordan could only merely come close to.  The overall story of this series is awesome, and Robert Jordan deserves all the credit for that.  The trajectory and progress of these characters has been awesome, but I can’t image another author who could wrap up this story better than Mr. Sanderson.  My only complaint about the last two books is that I had some minor chronological confusion about when some things were happening relative to the other characters in the series.

Honestly, I’m not going to say this is the best series I’ve listened to, but the overall experience has nevertheless been fantastic.  I greatly enjoyed this past month and a half.  The series has its ups and downs, but it’s more than worth the time it takes to get through; and given how long the series is, that’s saying something.

I look forward to the last book in the series with enthusiasm.

The Wheel of Time…books 4-6

Good news everyone.  The Wheel of Time is actually worth reading.  In fact, if this series continues to improve the way it has, it could turn out to be among the best fantasy series I’ve listened to.  All the characters have finally become real people (with the possible exception of Rand al’Thor, who is still irrevocably driven by the plot, but I’ve finally come to accept the explanation for that).  Also, Robert Jordan has successfully ejected the travel plot from his books, and the series has immeasurably improved as a result.

Each of these books is very long by my standards.  Book six was 41 hours and 37 minutes.  By comparison, The Name of the Wind was merely 28 hours, and The Way of Kings was about 45.5 hours.  The fact that, thus far, there are twelve books in this series makes for a nice long listening experience.

I only have two complaints that still stand at this point.  The first is that the narrators aren’t very consistent with each other.  They’re the same narrators from The Way of Kings, and I love them, but they run into the same problem the narrators from The Kane Chronicles did: they present two different auditory interpretations for the same characters.  In The Way of Kings, the male and female voices rarely interacted with each other, so we didn’t run into that problem.  Here, these characters interact all the time, and sometimes it can get confusing.  It’s not a major problem, but I thought I’d mention it.

My second complaint is the biggest one:  I really wish the first few books hadn’t been so dull.  This series might have actually been worth recommending to non-fantasy nuts if it weren’t for that.  This is turning out to be a great series, and it’s a tragedy that the only people I could possibly recommend it to are already huge fantasy fans.  Anyone with a mere passing interest in the genre isn’t likely to get passed book one, to say nothing about book two and most of book three.

Obviously, I’m going to continue listening to the series.  However, I don’t think I’m going to post about it again until I’m all caught up.  I don’t like these little progress reports.  However, I might take a break at some point to listen to the most recent Mistborn novel by Brandon Sanderson.  If I do, I’ll certainly post about that.  We’ll just have to wait and see.