Thursday, March 19, 2020

Oh My Word! Fandoom - How To Help Pollute A Franchise With Toxicity

Opinions Are Like Arseholes...

"It's not my show anymore." "They've bastardized my favourite movie series." "Political correctness gone crazy." "It rubs people the wrong way." "The thing is an obvious gimmick." "The 13th doctor being a female just ruined doctor who."

Everyone has an opinion. Back in the good old days of cult magazines (some of which are still ongoing) you'd find them in the letters section, but unless you purchased said publications then they'd be easily overlooked. Nowadays, thanks to social media, it's EVERYWHERE! You can't log on and access a Facebook page without them being present. And "Friends" regularly post their reactions, both good and bad, to shows and movies. What is becoming apparent today, however, is the lack of respect fans hold for fellow fans.

I'm totally with someone who doesn't like something because we can't ALL enjoy everything that's written for stage and screen, but it's the possessiveness and self-entitled attitude of fans that help to ruin a good franchise. There are personal attacks at anyone who clearly and honestly enjoys the latest incarnation of the Doctor (in this case Jodie Whittaker) or have rallied behind Daisy Ridley in the latest Star Wars trilogy instalment. Now there are misogynistic types behind SOME of the attacks, people who just will not accept a female in a lead role. But it also goes much deeper, because there are women who do not support certain changes "for changes sake" or are tired of a "political correctness agenda" from filmmakers and writers. Again, I'm with them, not because I agree but simply because I respect their opinion.

This is what is largely missing from social networking, the ability to agree to disagree, to accept that an opposite opinion of yours is not a personal attack and therefore does not warrant an actual personal attack. For example, I once commented on a Star Wars post that I enjoyed The Last Jedi - someone called me a "C#@t". I deleted my comment and refused to write anything on a page ever again. Did I give in to a "troll"? Well, yes. But in all fairness I just didn't expect such a response. Naive? Mhm. That said, it's becoming harder to visit ANY official franchise page these days and engage in discussion, as the insults and aggression are actually growing. The thing that makes me laugh? Seeing someone comment that they love Whittaker as the Doctor and it receives a number of angry face emojis. I mean, why? They've not said anything mean, they've not killed anyone or stole someone's pocket money. They've simply stated that they enjoy something that is harmless fun. It's a television show about a traveller in time and space. It's almost terrifying to click on the replies to that comment, knowing they'll be the usual cruel jibes.

Lessons In Why To Be Constructive

There's a fantastic article called Ghostbusters: Answer The Call – a celebration of its ongoing legacy in which its author Simon Brew points out the positives of Paul Feig's 2016 movie. This is something that I hold with all franchises, there will always be new fans from a current incarnation whether it be Star Trek or Doctor Who. I've seen online photos of children dressed as the 13th Doctor or a girl Ghostbuster, and it's so refreshing. Honestly, I was a child when first visiting the Doctor or a Ghostbuster, and it was a boyhood dream to want to be Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker. A show might change but my cherished memories remain intact.

All childhood Memories Are Safe

"They've ruined my childhood" is a comment I see often. My reaction? Grow up (as in, be reasonable with your perspective, you're an adult for goodness sake)! At 45 years of age I'm still finding fascination from movies and TV shows, I totally own my childhood and am still developing my adulthood. I've grown up but at the same time still enjoy being a child sometimes. When Star wars: The Force Awakens hit theatres I was excited and giddy, and have now begun collecting Hasbro's Black Series six inch Star Wars figures with the face printing technology. I used to own Kenner figures back in the 1980s, and still have the Yoda with his brown snake somewhere.

If you are someone who have a real passion for Star Wars' original trilogy, enjoy "Classic" Doctor Who, or prefer Star Trek: The Next Generation over Star Trek: Discovery, the good news is that they have never been deleted, you can rewatch til your heart's content. Okay, I see the irony in mentioning George Lucas' original trilogy as not being deleted - he's tinkered with those movies so much that at present we don't own on blur-ray the trilogy as it was first shown - but you get the idea: we can still revisit Luke's adventures in some form. There ARE Doctor Who episodes missing from the 1960s, but we're still rich with plenty of them on DVD between 1963-89. And old Star Trek is EVERYWHERE.

Mutual Respect

I understand the passion that fans hold for something, they've invested so much time and money into a franchise that they feel some kind of ownership. In truth, we don't and have never owned any franchise, it's always in the hands of a current management team who will take it in any direction they see fit while they have the keys. And so, we either love or hate those changes. Fundamentally, we MUST learn to appreciate that there are fans who WILL adore those changes, embrace and go with them. Criticising their support or directing hateful comments is never acceptable.

An example: I was never fully on board with Matt Smith's Doctor but accepted that he was loved by millions, and so refrained from being negative for negative's sake. I watched some episodes from time to time, and kept up to date with the show's developments, but rarely felt passionate about it all. The same applied to Peter Capaldi's tenure, though with him I was more disappointed by the writing than the actor's casting. I never once visited a fan page just to say how much I hated the show - I mean, what's the point? Instead I embraced Classic Doctor Who more and focused on other shows such as Falling Skies, Terra Nova, The Walking Dead and Stranger Things.

Upon hearing that a woman had been cast as the Doctor, I sighed. It's not what I wanted. But I waited, looked up Jodie Whittaker online and liked her personality in interviews. I shrugged. Okay. I'm interested. Now I'm a fan. I remained respectful and patient, instead of throwing a tantrum and criticising anyone who championed her from Day One.

So, I'm a fan who felt MY show had not gone in a direction I liked (Smith-Capaldi) but didn't feel privileged enough to ruin it for others. I took a sidestep. It's true to say that friends have fallen out over these kind of things, whether in real life or online. But why? It's important to think about what we truly value. A fanbase should be a fun place to visit, share opinions and have a laugh - instead, they've become very serious, polluted and damaging.

Don't Blame Others For Your Inability To Be Civil

It's not the writers of our favourite show or movies that have done this, it's the fans! Regardless of "sides" (of which there shouldn't be any), there is a toxicity that needs to be removed. It's not life or death, nor should someone be regarded as an "enemy". Desist from using an angry face (😠 lol) on a post just because a fellow fan enjoys watching a current incarnation of something you dislike.

They've not boiled your pet rabbit!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Alien: Prototype (2019) - BookReview

Originally published on The Dreamcage

Release date: October 2019


Mad scientist gains access to Xenomorph egg, it hatches, and all hell breaks loose as people are killed. Of course, it's been done before: the whole of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation seems intent on breeding these monstrous aliens and deploying them for warfare. However, it is Venture, a rival company, that wishes to obtain the Holy Grail of alien artefacts in this fun story penned by Tim Waggoner and published by Titan Books.

I've never been one to dive into the various graphic novels of the Alien Universe so it's not easy to keep up with the various characters created over the years. Does having some prior knowledge of comics help with Alien Prototype? Not really, I found it easy to get straight in and read. It probably does help that I had some knowledge of Zula Hendricks, a friend to Amanda Ripley-McClaren, thanks to the publication of Alien Isolation (read Alwyn's review of that book here), but it's not a problem for new readers.


Spy Tamar Prather infiltrates a group of space pirates to locate a Xenomorph egg, also called the Ovomorph. The outlaws eventually board a commercial transport where an egg is found. Prather's job now is to abandon her pirate associates and deliver the egg to her client, Dr. Gagnon of Venture, at The Lodge, a facility on the planet Jericho 3. Reminiscent of that scene in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien Resurrection (1997) where kidnapped Humans are used as hosts for Xenomorphs by military scientists, Gagnon tricks a male colonist to be part of some medical research. Hassan, the colonist, has given his time before with various experiments - this time he unwittingly becomes part of something that won't just end his life, but will have the potential to cause unspeakable horror. In a test chamber the colonist is faced with an egg and the Facehugger within.

At this present time, former marine Zula Hendricks is on the colony training potential members for Venture's Colony Protection Force. She's a very likeable character and one that is given enough to do throughout the story. With the alien breaking free of the test chamber and growing to become a thoroughly perfect killer, Hendricks and her team are quite literally the only ones that have any chance of standing up against the Xenomorph. To complicate matters, however, is the knowledge that the creature is a carrier of cellular necrosis, a deadly disease passed on from its host Hassan. Ingeniously this particular alien is able to adapt and use it as an extra weapon, infecting Humans in its path and causing the disease to spread virally through the colony.

Tamar is a fun character, a mercenary whose objectives can change in an instant, depending on who's paying and whether someone else can afford more. She's a survivor, a realist, and emotionally detached from those around her.

Winning Formula

Award-winner Tim Waggoner was a great choice to pen an Alien story. Not one new to media tie-ins, he crafts something that, in my opinion, is easily one of the best takes on the Alien franchise in years. If a single Xenomorph (Gagnon christens his a "Necromorph") is more than enough to become your worst nightmare, then why not add a pathogen to escalate the tension further...

Titan Books is easily on a winner.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) - FilmReview

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone).
Source: Official website

"Rambo, John J. Born 7-6-47 in Bowie, Arizona. Of Indian-German descent - that's a hell of a combination. Joined the army 8-6-64. Accepted special forces, specialization: light weapon, medic, helicopter and language qualified. 59 confirmed kills. Two Silver Stars, four Bronze, four Purple Hearts. Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor" — Major Marshall Roger T. Murdock, Rambo: First Blood Part II

Our favourite son is back!

Sylvester Stallone returns as Vietnam War veteran John Rambo in the fifth instalment of the popular action franchise and it certainly doesn't hold back on the carnage.

When last seen in Rambo 4 (2008), J.R. was returning home to the family ranch in Bowie, Arizona. Eleven years later and Rambo: Last Blood catches up with him as he manages that very same horse ranch, originally owned by his father until his death. On the surface Rambo looks to have found peace; but below ground he broods in his maze of tunnels, surrounded by his past: military medals, rifles and knives, and photographs. He's clearly still haunted by demons and suffers with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in the Vietnam war; we saw flashbacks of the brutality he suffered as a POW at the hands of his captors in First Blood (1982). In one scene from R:LB we are shown bottles of prescribed medication with "John Rambo" and "Bowie, AZ 85605" printed on the labels, clearly to help him cope with his mental health.

Before we get to the main plot, the opening scene gives us a severe storm and rescue teams searching for three missing hikers in the forest and hills. One volunteer on horseback braves the worsening weather to locate them: John Rambo. It's a well written moment that reflects his compassionate side, risking all to try and save total strangers. Surprisingly, some regions didn't get to see this 10-minute opener with the flash flood at all.

It's all about family...

Little is known of John Rambo's family, though we do learn that his father was simply referred to as "R. Rambo" (the rusted mailbox seen at the end of Rambo 4 our only clue); also, in the novelization of Rambo: First Blood Part 2 John's mother is named Marie Drago and it is said that she was abused by her husband, who drank often and would fly into fits of rage.

Importantly for Rambo: Last Blood, Maria Beltran (played by Adriana Barraza) has worked on the Rambo farm much of her life and is considered as "family" - certainly she thinks of John as a brother-figure. When Rambo returns to Bowie, Arizona, in Rambo 4, he most likely meets young Gabrielle Beltran, Maria's grand-daughter, for the first time. Whether he knew about Gabrielle via letter writing beforehand is unknown.

And so Rambo spends the next many years running the ranch and working as a rescue worker. It is likely during this period that he dug out the tunnels that would be so important to him, a place of refuge for his tortured soul.

...both good and bad

When Rambo's adoptive niece decides to go to Mexico to visit her father and find out why he left her and her mother (now deceased), things don't exactly go to plan. Betrayed by her "friend" Gizelle, Gabrielle is drugged, abducted and given to human traffickers. The saddest part is that she was warned by Rambo not to go to Mexico, telling her that it is far too dangerous.

Realising that she is missing, Rambo leaves the ranch to find his niece. This is where things take an even more brutal turn. Confronted by gang members of the traffickers, Rambo is beaten, his ID taken and a photo of Gabrielle is found.

Rambo and adopted niece Gabrielle Beltran (Yvette Monreal)
Source: Rambo: Last Blood

Sadly this means that the young girl has now been "noticed" and will be made to pay for Rambo's attempted involvement. Over time she is abused and injected with heroine. It's a heartbreaking story. Meanwhile, Rambo is taken to the home of journalist Carmen Delgado and cared for until he is well enough to stand on his own two feet. With newfound determination, he vows to rescue his niece.

One of the criticisms of Last Blood seems to be the level of violence. It's been described as "grotesque" and "genuinely horrific". Well I don't know what people were expecting from a Rambo movie - just take a look at Rambo 4 and tell me that that is any less violent? In all honesty, anyone going into this with no knowledge of who or what Rambo is should stay well clear if they're sensitive to scenes of violence and decapitation.

Rambo creator feels "less a human being" for having watched Last Blood

Even First Blood author David Morrell has criticised the film, saying such things as, "I agree with these RAMBO: LAST BLOOD reviews. The film is a mess. Embarrassed to have my name associated with it" (Twitter, Sep 20, 2019). In an interview with Newsweek, the bestselling writer commented further, "I felt degraded and dehumanized after I left the theater. Instead of being soulful, this new movie lacks one... I felt I was less a human being for having seen it, and today that's an unfortunate message."

In another tweet he compares Last Blood to Richard T. Heffron's 1976 exploitation film Trackdown.

I respect Mr Morrell's opinions but don't agree with them. Having read First Blood (first published in 1972), I found the novel to be a put off showcasing a character with no redeeming qualities; he wasn't just broken - he was psychotic and a killer! However, in Ted Kotcheff's 1982 masterpiece Rambo is depicted as a victim of sorts, someone who you can relate to. This is indeed the same character we see in Rambo: Last Blood, a man who's new life is torn apart by others and is forced into making decisions that others would recoil from. He goes all "Rambo" on them. I've even checked "Rambo" online at Cambridge Dictionary and it describes the word as, "someone who uses, or threatens to use, strong and violent methods against their enemies".

As for the comparison to Trackdown, I do see it, but what doesn't borrow from everything else these days? I've not even seen Trackdown; but I've seen Rambo: Last Blood, and it was enjoyable.

Rambo: Last Blood is racist?

This is one accusation I have real trouble accepting. Yes, the timing of the movie has "President Trump" written all over it but the film isn't deliberately depicting all Mexicans as villains. This is a gang, you know, like ones you get all over the world, who prey on children and the vulnerable, who kill indiscriminately and sell drugs on the streets. If Rambo V had been set in China then there would still be accusations of racism. In fact, both Maria and Gabrielle are Mexican and Rambo loves them like family — and they're living with him on the ranch in the US with no sign of immigration authorities anywhere...

Final thoughts?

It took Rambo: Last Blood years to make it into theatres, as a project it had been on and off for so long that it didn't look likely to happen at all. Various plots had been mooted including a killer creature and the title Rambo V: The Savage Hunt, based on the novel Hunter by James Byron Huggins. That in itself would have felt like a Predator-type story that I'm sure would have been pointed out by some. There was even talk of a prequel television series where someone else would have played a young Rambo.

I'm just grateful we got a proper blood and guts Rambo, with Stallone still in the iconic role. He's older, a little slower, but still capable of dispatching the bad guys. If this is the end, then what a journey it has been.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Secret of NIMH (1982) - FilmReview

Just what is the secret of NIMH?

"One animation that did capture my imagination back then..."

Oh, rats! It's the Secret of NIMH. And what a nice little secret it is, too. It's strange how my childhood was blessed with some animated feature films while others scarcely made an impact on me at all. For example, movies such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) failed to win a place in my heart; whereas Robin Hood (1973), The Black Cauldron (1985), The Fox and the Hound (1981), Yellow Submarine (1968) and Watership Down (1978) firmly planted themselves into my all time list of favourites. Oh yes, and Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) - no Christmas is complete without a viewing of this particular gem! I'm uncertain why some just didn't make the grade for me. One animation that did capture my imagination back then was a dark feature called The Secret of NIMH. Having a look at the cast list just now I'm surprised by some of the names attached: Derek Jacobi, Wil Wheaton and Shannen Doherty are three that jump out at me.

The film was adapted from a story by American author Robert C. O'Brien, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, first published in 1971. I've never read the book, and so this article focuses solely on the movie. I've also discovered that a follow up to the 1982 animation titled The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue had been released in 1998, but I'll likely ignore this fact; also seeing as original director Don Bluth wasn't even involved in this second project, it makes ignoring the sequel that much easier. So what was I talking about again?

Oh yes, The Secret of NIMH. Though a children's adventure, there is a far more serious subject matter in NIMH's DNA for grown ups: mental health. This is how I remember the movie as a kid: a little lady mouse meets a clumsy crow, her son is ill and so she needs medicine, and there are some mean rats; there was also a magical amulet.

Now from my adult perspective: A mouse called Mrs. Brisby needs medicine for her ill son (who has pneumonia) and so visits Mr. Ages, a friend of her now dead husband. During her return journey home, Brisby encounters a very clumsy but friendly crow named Jeremy, who is all tied up and in need of a little help to get untangled. This is the first time we encounter a cat named Dragon, which belongs to the owners of the farm, as he attempts to attack them both. We learn that Brisby and her family must leave their house before the farmer, Mr Fitzgibbon, starts plowing. With Timothy, her son, sick, he needs time to recover without being moved. The farmer, however, brings his plowing forward and so Brisby needs help. This is where the rats come into the picture.

Mental health and NIMH

Through a backstory we discover how both her husband and the rats became intelligent: they all live a relatively Human-like existence now, and steal much of what they need from the Humans. Electricity and other technology is becoming common place in their lives. Ever wondered what NIMH refers to? National Institute of Mental Health. It seems that the rodents were "lab rats" and that the experiments boosted their intelligence so greatly that they developed the ability to understand and reason. Following an escape from the laboratory, they built homes and a new way of life. As with any society, there is both good and bad, and one character who you'll love to despise is Jenner, a ruthless, power-hungry rat.

It's nice that The Secret of NIMH received widespread critical acclaim, and has remained in the hearts of many fans over the decades. It's been applauded as a wonderful adaptation of the original book. It even won a Saturn Award for Best Animated Film of 1982.

Keeping it in the family...

Though Robert C. O'Brien died in 1973, his daughter Jane Leslie Conly penned two sequel books: Racso and the Rats of NIMH (1986); and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH (1990). Thankfully, neither of these are connected to the 1998 The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue animation. Just me? Well I'm happy to say that the majority of critics and fans disliked director Dick Sebast's version; it's been described as missing its predecessor's "heart or craft". Another absence from NIMH 2: TTTR is the remarkable musical talent of Jerry Goldsmith. Let's face it, the man behind compositions for films such as Alien, Rambo, Star Trek, Explorers, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Capricorn One, Logan's Run and Planet of the Apes will always be a hard act to follow.

Heartwarming and magical, The Secret of NIMH not only had a talented director, composer and voice cast, but it is also timeless. I love it as much today as I ever did in 1982 and beyond.