Black Panther Opens Today!

Black Panther opens today, finally! Like I said elsewhere in a comment, every poster, clip, and trailer looks more and more awesome.

Tumblr Mark Ruffalo Black Panther Dolby Cinema Poster

And tomorrow we get to see the movie! So excite!

Kermit Flail

Images: Black Panther Dolby Cinema poster via Mark Ruffalo on Tumblr. Kermit flail via Walker—Bait on Tumblr.

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Favorite Kinds of Storytelling: Learning to Work Together to Solve Problems

There are some things that we can all pretty much agree are part of a good story, whether on the page or on the screen: compelling characters, an interesting setting, a well-crafted plot. These things are basic to most great stories. But then we have our own individual tastes, the particular things we hunger for and that make us excited about one story more than another.

The two of us have spent some time thinking about exactly what we most want out of stories. Here’s what we came up with.

Avengers How Do We Do This As a Team

Erik here. What I most want out of a story can be summed up as: Problem-Solving. I want to watch characters go through the process of confronting a problem, considering how to deal with it, and figuring out the best solution. I want to see not just the successful results but all the steps it took to get there. I want to know what the characters did, how it worked, and why it worked.

The obvious sort of story for me to go to is a mystery in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle / Agatha Christie tradition, where the narrative centers around a problem that needs to be solved and the climax comes with the detective meticulously explaining how they worked out that the vicar’s charwoman is actually the long-lost sister of Lady Dudsworthy and the poison was hidden in Colonel Flusterton’s peppermint lozenges.

But I also enjoy other kinds of stories that explore other kinds of problem-solving. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is full of problem-solving and process, from Gandalf working out the magic word to open the doors of Khazad-dum to Frodo and Sam donning orc armor to sneak across Mordor. My favorite part of the novel is the Council of Elrond, when our heroes sit down and spend a chapter just talking about the problem, possible solutions, and the limits of their options, rather than rushing off into heroic battle. Jane Austen’s novels also offer a kind of problem-solving, especially my favorites Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Even though the problems are about relationships and social interactions, Austen’s characters approach them with the same attention to what is possible, what is not, and how to best go about achieving their goals.

On tv, I love shows like Leverage and Burn Notice that focus on the practical details of how their characters pull of heists or get out of scrapes. I also enjoy shows that focus on the processes of problem-solving in more human, less technical terms, like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. Some of the movies I enjoy the most combine solving practical problems with working out conflicts between people, like The Avengers and Pacific Rim.

 

Eppu here. My favorite story moments involve a bunch of characters learning to work together. I haven’t yet found a good existing name to describe the device with. The closest ones I’ve found are We Work Well Together (a trope) and team building, but both have a slightly different focus. For the lack of a better term I’m calling mine Learning to Work Together.

Specifically, what I like is the hard-to-capture process of the characters realising (usually after a struggle or struggles) how to fit into a working whole all the separate strengths that each person brings. Optimally, of course, it will be a well-working whole at least from the point of view of plot. It’s nice if the characters will end up at least appreciating if not outright liking each other, too, even if there might be tense moments. At the very least they will have to deal with each other well enough to fulfill their goal(s).

Many ensemble stories tack on a sequence of Learning to Work Together to explain how the characters become a unit after they find each other. Some devote more time and effort into it, but for others the process of getting to know your teammates is more or less handwaved aside to make space for the all-important plot. While plot is necessary, I don’t think it should override everything else: I’m looking for a balanced story—preferably with a good heaping of Learning to Work Together.

Some favorite screen examples include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers, and the series Leverage (although arguably the latter might better fit under We Work Well Together). One of the reasons I ended up liking Pacific Rim much more than I expected was the attention that was given to the formation of team Raleigh and Mako, with Pentecost hovering at the rim. (Badum-CHING! [Sorry!])

Satisfyingly protracted versions are shown in the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Elementary. While Murdoch Mysteries concentrates more on the problem-solving aspect, now and then recurring side characters or one-off visitors get wonderful sequences of Learning to Work Together. And, come to think of it, several of my favorite Doctor Who episodes involve the characters figuring out who the others are and how to interact with them effectively (“42”, “Blink”, “Silence in the Library”, and “Midnight” to mention a few).

Examples in novels and novellas that I’ve read recently include A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy, Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle, and Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series also sprinkle in many instances of Learning to Work Together whenever characters make new connections.

 

The best stories for the two of us to co-geek over as a couple are stories about groups of people learning to work together in order to solve problems. When we sit down to rewatch a favorite tv series or reminisce about our favorite books together, we go back to the stories about how different people can come together, learn to respect and trust one another, and use their own individual talents to work through a problem that none of them could solve on their own.

Made into a sound bite, Erik’s favorite stories are about “How do we do this?” and Eppu’s favorites are about “As a team.”

Image: screenshot from the 2012 Marvel movie The Avengers

Creative Differences is an occasional feature in which we discuss a topic or question that we both find interesting. Hear from both of us about whatever’s on our minds.

Some Random Thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

  • This is so much better than either of the previous Thor movies. Apparently goofy comedy smashfest is a better mode for space-Viking superhero movies than Shakespearean family drama is.
  • Chris Hemsworth’s performance in this movie is about halfway between his previous Thor performances and his performance in Ghostbusters. It works.
  • This wacky colorful space opera works for me so much better than the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. I seem to be in a minority position, but I hated Guardians of the Galaxy, both times, though not for the wacky colorful space opera parts. What I hated was the arrogant, incompetent male “heroes” and the misogyny-as-comedy. Without those things, I’m totally down for the wacky colorful space opera.
  • Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson both give brilliant performances. Maybe someday—hopefully someday soon—we can get a superhero movie with more than two leading roles for women.
  • Korg was amusing, and I can tell Taika Waititi had a blast playing him, but he really felt unnecessary most of the time. The same can be said for Doctor Strange (although, to be fair, the whole Doctor Strange movie franchise feels a bit unnecessary to me).
  • After the last few Marvel movies, we now have Captain America without his shield, Iron Man without a reactor in his chest, and Thor without his hammer. It’s going to be interesting to see how these characters develop without some of their iconic accouterments.
  • A fun romp with good jokes, exciting fights, and beautiful visuals is pretty much exactly what I needed right now, so thank you, Marvel!

 

Additional thoughts by Eppu

  • As a rule of thumb, I don’t care a whit whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor matches the comic books Thor canon, or even Nordic mythology. There was fairly good consistency, story-wise. However, I’m not sure what to think of the decision to crank up the humor to eleven. I enjoyed the movie a lot, yes, but if memory serves, stylistically it deviates quite a bit from the two previous ones, and that seems to be deviating from the MCU convention. I’m still mulling it over.
  • The design for the trash planet Sakaar was refreshingly different. Colors!
  • Two plotholes stood out (or I missed the explanation because there were no subtitles): 1) Thor and Hulk inexplicably left their arena fight in the middle of action, and were all buddy-buddy afterwards. 2) The gladiators were railroaded to Asgard on their stolen spaceship. Um, I thought they started a revolution…? (If it’s a revolution, you stay; if not, it’s an escape.)
  • It was great to see so many women in the background, and two big speaking roles for women, but I want more. And not just girlfriends, or wives, or hookers, or fridged corpses. More women as people in their own right! More women speaking! More women! MORE WOMEN!

 

Recommended reading

Dan Taipua at The Spinoff reveals the Maori / New Zealander mentality hidden in T:R.

Emily Asher-Perrin’s writeup at Tor.com on all the three Thor movies is really good.

Taika Waititi: Paying It Forward on Thor: Ragnarok (found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr)

Image: Still from Thor: Ragnarok via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Thor: Ragnarok Trailers

Good grief, it’s November already! For some reason, the fall always gets away from me, but this year it’s felt even faster than usual. It’s now only two(!!!) days till Thor: Ragnarok opens! Here are the teaser trailer and the official trailer:

Thor: Ragnarok Teaser Trailer [HD] by Marvel Entertainment

“Thor: Ragnarok” Official Trailer by Marvel Entertainment

I’ve long thought that the Thor movies have been the least succesful Marvel Cinematic Universe stories. In fact, excepting the hilarious sequence in Thor: The Dark World where Mjölnir flies between realities through the portals, both were quite deplorable. I hope writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost plus director Taika Waititi can change that.

Sidenote: every time I see the teaser trailer with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, all I can think of is…. VIKING KITTENS! Aaaaaaaaa-ah!

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Three Favorite Jane Austen Screen Adaptations

July 18, 2017, marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, my favorite (deceased) author.

JASNA Truth Universally Acknowledged Book Always Better

To honor her work, we rewatched all of the screen adaptations that we could easily get our hands on.

Jane Austen Rewatch Owned Adaptations

Here, in short, are three of my absolute favorites. (For links to the complete reviews, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.)

Sense and Sensibility (anonymously published in 1811) is by far my favorite Austen novel, and my favorite adaptation is the Andrew Davies miniseries (directed by John Alexander; 2008). It stars Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne. Both were new to me, but I was familiar with the significant male actors: Dan Stevens (Mr. Edward Ferrars) is in the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon) portrays the confused faux-Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor”, and Dominic Cooper (Mr. Willoughby) as young Howard Stark scratches science to see if it bleeds in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (and rules as King Llane Wrynn in the Warcraft movie).

It was a gutsy choice of Davies to begin the series with Willoughby’s explicit seduction of a 15-year-old girl, an event which happens very much off-screen in the novel and most adaptations, but becomes the crux of the plot.

The series does have some issues. For example, the Devonshire “cottage” that the financially strained Dashwood ladies had to accept was turned into a literal cottage instead of a good, solid house from the novel. The events are condensed, sure, but their pace doesn’t feel rushed like in the movie versions. Most of the writing, acting, propping, and costuming are solid to excellent.

Jane Austen Rewatch Three Favorites

Emma (1815) was the fourth and last of Austen’s works to be published during her lifetime, and the Emma miniseries from 2009 (adapted by Sandy Welch, directed by Jim O’Hanlon) outshines the other adaptations. (Unsuprisingly, the miniseries format serves Austen’s nuance much better than the movie length.)

The version has several strengths, starting with excellent casting. Romola Garai stars as Emma Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller (who has more recently – and deservedly – starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary) as Mr. Knightley. Miller’s is by far the most enjoyable Mr. Knightley performance I’ve seen. Mr. Knightley is often played as rather curt and strict, which I find not just offputting but a mistake.

All major characters are introduced at the beginning of episode 1, which helps people new to Austen. Moreover, this version does the epilogue clearly and succinctly, without massive infodumping. In addition, I immensely enjoy the music, the set dressing, costuming and propping, and other visuals. It’s a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable Emma. In fact, if the same team were to make other Austen adaptations, I’d go to great lenghts to see them.

Finally, Persuasion is a novel of pressures, choices, and second chances, posthumously published in 1817. The 1995 movie version of Persuasion is excellent. The screenplay is by Nick Dear, and Roger Mitchell directed Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth. I really like Root’s understated and considerate version of Anne; Hinds works well enough even if a few scenes tend towards hammy.

Although the picture quality is grainy, the soundtrack is nice and there are subtitles (not a given on older DVDs). The props, locations, and costuming are also great. This is my favorite version so far—in an ideal world, of course, we would be due another adaptation.

For links to the complete mini-reviews of these and all of the other adaptations, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.

Images: Book is always better screencap from JASNA website. Both DVD images by Eppu Jensen.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Black Panther Official Trailer

The Black Panther official trailer dropped yesterday and it’s looking mighty shiny:

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther – Official Trailer by Marvel Entertainment

Judging by this trailer and some of the tidbits we saw in the teaser trailer, this might well be the visually most astounding Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date. (And that’s saying something, since we’ve visited Thor, Loki et al.’s domain and the deep corners of space…) Also, the Wakandan design ethos looks deep—like it rises from a long line of traditional crafts still practiced, and acknowledges the country’s history. Wonderful!

Four months to go.

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Annihilation Teaser Trailer

The opening volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation, will hit the big screens in February 2018. The teaser trailer looks wonderful:

Annihilation (2018) – Teaser Trailer – Paramount Pictures

Writer / director Alex Garland seems to be doing a good job on the basis of the little we see. Certainly the effects and scenery are breathtaking. And the cast looks so awesome!

I’ve read the trilogy, but since it leans more towards horror than I’d like my speculative fiction to be, I’m not sure I want to see the movies. I do applaud VanderMeer’s mindfulness, though: he donates part of his royalties from the novels to environmental causes.

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A Miss Fisher Movie on Kickstarter

Every Cloud Productions has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears onto the big screen worldwide.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Pledge Now

The project overview states:

“Every Cloud Productions is proposing to produce a feature film building on the successful Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, and is undertaking this Kickstarter campaign to raise a portion of the production budget for the film.

“Set in the late 1920’s, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears honors the heightened exoticisms of the murder mystery genre as the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, lady detective, escapes the small screen and takes off on a global adventure – via romantic wayside stops in the Far East, glamorous sojourns in the mansions of London, and a battle to survive the rolling sands of the Arabian Desert long enough to find the missing treasure, solve numerous murders and break all aviation records as she wings her way home again!”

The stand-alone script is currently being finalized, with the same team who created the series set to work on the film. Production is preliminarily planned to start in mid-2018. The feature would be set for release in Australia in mid-2019, with other countries to follow as soon as possible.

And the campaign is going splendidly! Fans were so eager to see Phryne and Jack in the theaters that it reached its first goal in one day.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Day 1

At this writing, two three stretch goals and more rewards have been added. It looks like the project will reach the latest stretch goal within days, too.

The tv series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based on the novels of Australian author Kerry Greenwood. The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves crimes with assistance from Detective Inspector Jack Robinson of Melbourne police. Every Cloud Productions is an independent, Australian production company producing distinctive, high-quality television drama for domestic and international markets.

The project will be running on Kickstarter until Saturday, October 14, 2017 (8:39 p.m. EST).

Images via Miss Fisher the Movie Kickstarter campaign

Quotes: How There’s Still Any Hesitancy to Front Women Characters in [Movie] Franchises

Among John Scalzi’s thoughts on the Wonder Woman movie are these observations:

“[…] it’s worth noting that only one other film has outgrossed Wonder Woman domestically so far this year, and that’s Beauty and the Beast, another woman-focused film, and the one film remaining on the theatrical schedule this year that will outgross it will be The Last Jedi, which also has a woman as the protagonist […]

”The real issue here, to my mind, is how there’s still any hesitancy to front women characters in franchises, superhero or otherwise. There’s pretty clearly no significant financial penalty for doing so if your franchise is already up and running and your marketing is focused; honestly, at this point there’s only upside, if you manage to make the film better than its male-focused franchise siblings. That upside is perceptual in the short run, as it largely was here with Wonder Woman. But in the long run it’s likely going to add to your franchise financial bottom line. [original emphasis]”

– John Scalzi

Hear, hear. Although, I find I’m absent-mindedly wondering whether Scalzi’s conclusion would hold over the past few years’ worth of movies as well as for 2017. In the end, though, I’m much more interested in the movies themselves.

Scalzi, John. “Wonder Woman: A Smash, Possibly in Different Ways Than You Think.” Whatever, August 03, 2017.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Star Trek: Discovery Poster & Trailers

A whole slew of tidbits and sneak peeks for the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery were unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con, including this GORGEOUS poster:

Tor com SDCC star-trek-discovery-poster

The official trailer was also released at the con:

Star Trek: Discovery – Official Trailer by Star Trek

It adds nicely to the first teaser trailer:

Star Trek: Discovery – First Look Trailer by Star Trek

I am getting chills every time I see either—definitely looking forward to Discovery! Who knows, it may even replace Deep Space Nine as my favorite Star Trek franchise.

Image: CBS via Tor.com

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