Review of Finding Dory

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finding_dory_hank_octopus-wideOkay, I know this is an odd one. Most reviewers aren’t going to take a Pixar animation as a serious SF story, but it just struck me that way. Finding Dory is a sequel to the 2003 Pixar film Finding Nemo, and features many of the same characters, along with some interesting new ones. The movie was written and directed by Andrew Stanton, co-directed by Angus MacLane, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. For anyone unfamiliar with the characters, Marlin and Nemo are clown fish and Dory is a blue tang with short-term memory loss. Note: This review contains spoilers.

After helping Marlin rescue Nemo from a dentist’s fish tank, Dory is staying with them on a reef off the coast of Australia. Dory hears a ray talk about migration and suddenly remembers that she has a family that lived in Morro Bay, California. Marlin and Nemo offer to help her find her parents, and the three catch a ride on a turtle migration. On arrival, Dory gets entangled in six-pack rings and is rescued by staff of the Marine Life Institute. She is tagged and placed in quarantine where she meets Hank the octopus. Like many octopi, Hank is a chameleon, shapeshifter and escape artist who evades the staff and moves freely through the exhibits and the park outside. Hank wants Dory’s tag so he can be shipped to the quiet and peaceful Cleveland exhibit. They make a deal for help finding her parents in exchange for the tag. Hank scoops Dory up in a coffee pot, but later moves her to a sippy cup while they explore the exhibits. Marlin and Nemo find sea lions named Fluke and Rudder who put them in contact with Becky, a loon who will carry them into the institute. Becky is distracted by popcorn, leaving them to get around the best way they can. They find Dory again in the pipe system beneath the exhibits, and they ask other blue tangs about her parents in quarantine. Dory thinks her parents are probably dead. Hank is finally recaptured by an institute employee, but he drops Dory into a drain where she makes her way to the ocean and finds her parents. However, employees are now loading Marlin, Nemo, Hank and other sea creatures onto the truck to Cleveland. Dory resolves to rescue them. With the help of her friends, whale shark Destiny and beluga Bailey, she gets aboard the truck and convinces Hank not to go to Cleveland. A sudden stop has dislodged the cover to Hank’s tank, and he escapes again. He and Dory hijack the truck and crash it into the ocean, freeing all the captive fish.

Like many Pixar films, this is quite complex and investigates a number of issues. The main theme is Dory’s loss of her parents, of course, which is heavily charged with emotion and sentimentality. According the IMDb forum, this was intense enough to cause at least one child to have nightmares. For older viewers, there are issues of environmental pollution, keeping sea creatures in exhibits for humans to stare at, touch tanks where children actually harass the fish and acceptance of disability. Many of the rescued sea creatures have disabilities, including Dory and Hank—who is actually a septipus because he’s missing a tentacle. The animation is beautifully done, and it’s clear the animators spent a lot of time working on how sea creatures move. As usual, the creatures feature the human expressions of the actors voicing the parts.

So how does this rate a review as serious SF? It’s Hank. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the star of the show. As it went on, I gradually lost touch with Dory’s theme and started to see a new one about freedom emerge. Fish aren’t real bright, but octopi are. They have all the talents Hank displays, except they’re limited in how long they can stay out of the water. They use tools, build shelters and complete tasks that require complex analysis and critical thinking. See a demo here. In April of 2016 Inky the octopus escaped from his tank at the New Zealand Aquarium and made his way down a nearby drain to the ocean. In other words, this is an intelligent alien species that is hunted, held captive and slaughtered as food by humans. Pixar stretched octopi abilities a bit in the film, but as Hank hijacks the truck, he makes his challenge clear. “Suck it, bipeds,” he says, and drives off toward the ocean.

Four and a half stars. Highly recommended.

Review of The Legend of Tarzan

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Warrior
The Legend of Tarzan is based on characters first created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the novel Tarzan of the Apes, published in 1912. This film is directed by David Yates and the screenplay was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer. It’s distributed by Warner Bros.

The story is set in the colonial period of the late 1800s. The Congo has been divided between the UK and Belgium, and the Belgian government has gone into heavy debt to build infrastructure. King Leopold II sends an envoy named Léon Rom to find the diamonds of Opar in order to finance further expansion, including an army to enforce Belgian rule. Rom’s crew is massacred, but Chief Mbonga (of Opar?) offers to trade the diamonds for Tarzan. In England, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke is invited by King Leopold to inspect the development in the Congo, but he declines. George Washington Williams, an American envoy, convinces Clayton to go on the mission, as he suspects the Belgians are dealing in slaves. Clayton’s wife Jane née Porter also insists on going along. In Africa they reconnect with a local tribe that knew Clayton as Tarzan. During the night, the village is attacked by Rom, who kills the chief and kidnaps Jane, but Williams manages to rescue Tarzan. The two of them uncover the diamond plot, as well as the slavery operation, while working to rescue Jane. They continue pursuit to the coast, where they have a final confrontation with Rom and the Belgian army.

As a long-time Burroughs fan, I’m hard to satisfy, but mostly I’ll give interpretations of Tarzan a chance. This one is pretty decent. They did a reasonable job of representing Tarzan, who wears only a thin veneer of civilization along with his expensive clothes. The theme of this film is anti-colonialism, of course, and it features a couple of the Congolese tribesmen in visible supporting roles. Williams is an African American and brings the American concerns about slavery to the picture. On the negative side, they didn’t give Jane a whole lot to do and they’ve played fast and loose with some of the details. They’ve rewritten the bit where Tarzan met Jane, and muddled their way through the Opar issue. Opar really is a fabled lost city, and in Burroughs’ stories it’s located in the Congo and inhabited by a tribe of degenerate beast men led by a high priestess—here they’ve made the men of Opar seem like just another group of local tribesmen and I don’t see the priestess anywhere. Also, Opar had nothing to do with the death of Tarzan’s ape mother Kala. Okay, I know, I know. You shouldn’t ever try to make the details of a book and a movie match up. I’m just feeling a little OCD about it.

Three and a half stars.

Review of Star Trek: Beyond

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Orion,_battle_spaceship
This installment of Star Trek is produced by J. J. Abrams, directed by Justin Lin and written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. For anyone who’s new to the series, Star Trek was originally created as a TV series in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry. This was the thirteenth film in the Star Trek film franchise and it’s distributed by Paramount. It’s dedicated to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, both of whom died while the film was in production.

After an ambassadorial mission goes wrong, the Enterprise puts in to the space city of Yorktown. Kirk is experiencing a crisis of faith in the mission and Spock has resolved to leave Starfleet and take Spock Prime’s place as Federation Ambassador. A survivor named Kalara arrives from a stranded ship and the Enterprise is dispatched on a rescue mission that turns out to be a trap. The Enterprise is destroyed by a swarm fleet directed by Krall, who wants an alien biological weapon that Kirk recently obtained. The ship breaks apart, the crew abandons ship, and the remains crash onto the planet Altamid. On the planet’s surface, Scotty finds Jaylah, who shows him the remains of the crashed USS Franklin. The two of them repair the transporter and locate Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Krall has the rest of the crew, and he tortures individuals until he gets the artifact he wants. He then sets off for Yorktown, meaning to release the weapon there to get revenge against the Federation for old affronts.

This was quite watchable. The characters are familiar and the interplay was entertaining enough that it got some laughs from the audience. This installment eased up a little on the breakneck pace of the last movie, and we got some quiet moments where Kirk and McCoy steal Sulu’s stash of spirits and drink to Kirk’s birthday. The action rises sharply once they’re into the trap, and the film ends with a fantastical chase and then a slightly sentimental wrap. On the negative side, this (like all the reboot films) requires a huge suspension of disbelief. It’s full of plot holes and bad science that even the fast pace can’t cover up. Cinematography was dark, and some of the action was hard to follow. I expect the initial sequence was for comedic effect, but I’m still surprised at the heavy-handedness. Kirk’s staff should have done enough research to prevent him from offending the aliens, who were then also disrespected by the crew. And, dang, this crew is hard on star ships.

Three stars.

Sales!

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reading-clipart-6Am back, but am way behind. It looks like it might be next week before I can get up any serious blog posts.

While I was gone, I accumulated a few rejection slips, but I’ve sold a story called “The Knight of Crows” to SuperversiveSF for their King Arthur anthology Tales of the Once and Future King. Watch for more info later on!

Review of “Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik

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This story was published in the Mithila Review, Issue 1, March 2016. It’s a reprint from Strange Horizons, August 2014.

Baba brings home a dead boy for Daoud to autopsy. Clearly the boy has been tortured before he was killed. After the dissection, Daoud practices reanimating the resurrection points to produce a danse macabre. This is a talent for electrical capacitance that runs in his family. Because the session went well, Daoud’s father lets him work on a live patient in the clinic the next day and he reanimates a numb foot. Afterward an official comes to argue about the dead boy’s death certificate—because he was a Christian, he can’t be buried in the Muslim cemetery. Baba and the official get into an argument about the torture, and later Baba and Ma are fearful because she is a Christian. Fifty Christian houses burn in the town that night. Daoud and Ma receive word that Baba has been killed in an “incident” over the dead Christian boy. After the funeral, Daoud feels the anger building inside him, seeking an outlet.

I won’t give away the ending so readers can better enjoy the story. Malik’s works are new for me. I reviewed his novella The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn from the Nebula Reading List a while back, and thought it was very well done. This is another of the same, except quite a bit stronger. It turns out that Malik does horror well. Because of the author’s background, I gather the setting is Pakistan, and he’s covered a sensitive subject without making any overt statements. Still, the evils of the conflict bleed through, poisoning the lives of people in the village. The story is loaded with symbolism that flows from it.

Four stars.

Review of X-Men: Apocalypse

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Warrior
Have been to the movies again. You can tell from the reviews that I’ve got action adventure taste and that I’m a Marvel buff. This outing was to see X-Men: Apocalypse.

We’re in the 1980s. Professor Xavier has established his school for exceptional children and has it up and running. He’s concentrating on helping mutants learn to cope with their extraordinary powers and fit into society more comfortably. Meanwhile, CIA agent Moira MacTaggert, investigating ancient Egyptian gods, accidently awakens powerful mutant En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse). Mayhem ensues, as Nur notices that a powerful civilization has arisen to challenges his rule while he has slept under the ruins of a pyramid. Can a young team of X-Men defeat him?

I wasn’t happy with this, or with the last X-Men film, either. The X-Men should be a really strong franchise because of the theme and symbolism—this represents hugely talented people who just don’t quite fit in and are ostracized from society because of it. There a really strong cast of characters here including Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, Hank and the young Jean, Cyclops, Quicksilver, Angel, Storm, Havoc and a really charming Nightcrawler. They’ve also put their money into a couple of A-list stars, Michael Fassbender as Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. Hugh Jackman puts in a quick appearance as Wolverine. This should be great. Problem? The script sucks. Instead of character development that would have let us get to know these wonderful people, we get tedious posturing from Apocalypse and over-wrought but stereotypical emoting from everybody else. Then there are some special effects for the climax and we’re done.

This hasn’t performed well in theaters, and I suspect part of that may be because the last film was lacking. I saw another review that said this franchise needs to be shaken up with more diversity, but I don’t think that’s the issue. Marvel produces great (and diverse) characters, but they have to have decent scripts and decent production values to let them work. You just can’t crank out hit films based on a tired formula.

Two and a half stars.

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flag-clip-art-bcyEppqcLYou don’t really see me here–I’m gone on vacation. The posts are scheduled in advance, but they’re not going to last as long as I’m away. It’s a working vacation, and I’m expecting to be home about the 16th. The blog should be up and running soon afterward.

Enjoy your July 4 barbecue (if you have one)!

🙂

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