Movie Review: The Great Wall (2016)

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The Great Wall (2016)

So even adhering to my no-spoilers rule, there is so much I could talk about in this movie that I could vomit words at you for days and still, somehow, find more. I’ll try not to do that. But where to start?

Let’s try with what it says on the tin.

“The Great Wall tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure.”

The opening covers, also, how long the wall took to build and asks the question: what were they trying to keep out?

I’m sure there are a lot of mythos about why the Wall was built, and some were true and some possibly weren’t. No one currently alive lived in that time period, so no one can say accurately that any myth or legend is wrong, only improbable.

We do know a lot of people were hunting for black powder at the time the movie is set, and anyone who brought it home would have been set up for life, which is what starts are opening scene: possibly the only white guy in the movie and his cohort are heading for China and dealing with bandits along the way.

And that’s one of the things I love about this movie. Not because it’s got diversity– and let’s be realistic here, a movie set in China about Chinese legends is about Chinese people, so the Chinese people don’t count as part of the diversity for the movie, the non-Chinese people do– no, that’s not it. But the movie deals with very serious, realistic hazards of the time period: bandits, long stretches of limited supplies, and how very dead you can be if you lose your food. Also the hazards of native fauna.

Although native is somewhat subjective, given the movie…

The ‘elite force’ in the movie is a massive army based entirely on the Wall, which I can gleefully tell you without spoiling makes an amazing fortification. That’s part of the reason the wall exists, right? Fortifications. The army is carefully designed and fully functional, and if they existed in that context today, nobody would dare dream of invading China. Or, you know, anywhere else with similar fortifications.

I kind of want to build those fortifications. Between those and the army, they’ll make a mean reference for tabletop campaign.

I think everything the people in this show pull off is within the human limits, given proper training and equipment. And I mean a lot of proper training. Please do not watch this movie and then try it at home. I’m serious. If you want to try some of this, go find proper methods of doing it. Bungee jumping, wall climbing, learn you some martial prowess. And then remember that even this army doesn’t do it without safeguards unless they have no choice.

The graphics for this movie were superb. I know a lot of it was computer generated and much of this likely took place in front of a green screen, but unless you know for sure which is generated and which is animatronics, it’s unlikely you’re going to guess it. I can’t say for sure animatronics are in this movie, but considering the huge comeback they’re making, I also can’t say they aren’t. Terrifyingly everything in this movie looks real enough, and plausible enough, that I should be very suspicious of alternate realities where they went over and filmed this nonsense occurring.

The plot of the movie is good too. It’s not a “hero from another land” — or at least, not in the traditional sense. Sure, he’s great at warfare. Sure, the movie focuses on him. But all movies have to have a lead point of view somehow, even if that’s just you. And it’s unlikely actual traders would have gotten very far, why not send a mercenary who knows how to fight and keep himself alive?

The characters are real, intrinsically human instead of two-dimensional cookie cut-outs. And for William, the POV character? His redemption arc is pretty solid.

Bonus for those of you who get twitchy? No romantic subplot!

–Natasha
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Guest Post: Anime taught me how to live.

Guest poster Vinayak writes a post that I can fully agree with. Read on! -Natasha

Vinayak writes:

When I was a little kid, I was very shy. Easily intimidated. Afraid of my surroundings. I never liked talking to people all that much, and as a result of that, I had little to no close friends. I was even bullied, for a little while back in fifth grade. Not because of me watching anime, but because I seemed to be easy prey. I didn’t let it last long, but it did happen. But I was okay with that. I had something which I, to this day consider to be better than any friends I could have had.

No, I didn’t play sports to let out any frustrations or energy. No, I didn’t passionately play an instrument that allowed me to express my emotions through sounds. I watched anime.

I was first exposed to anime when I was about five years old and Naruto aired on cable television for the first time in my country. I absolutely loved it. From there on, I went on to watch more and more anime. I watched Capeta. I watched Bleach. I watched Death Note. And before I knew it, I had fallen in love with a medium, which in my humble opinion is the greatest medium of all time.

I didn’t need friends, rather I didn’t want them, by that point in time. I had anime. All of the shows that I watched, all of the characters that I got the opportunity to meet… they mattered more to me than anything else in the world. And they weren’t just characters to me. They were my friends. I had friends who I cared a lot about.

I remember having cheered on ‘Capeta’ during his races harder than the animated crowds ever could. I remember having spent hours memorising the words to the ‘Naruto’ opening theme just so I could sing it each time it was played. I remember having jumped with excitement when I saw Ichigo turn into a shinigami for the first time. ‘Death Note’ successfully turned apples into my favourite fruits. During classes, instead of focusing on a word my teachers were saying, I remember spacing out while thinking about the Elric brothers and where their fate would take them next. I remember that I was on the verge of tears during and after the last couple of episodes of ‘Angel Beats!’.

To be very honest, I owe a lot to anime. If it weren’t for those fictional characters who I considered, and still consider my best friends, I honestly don’t think I would be half the person that I am today. Anime taught me to be empathetic, to listen to people. I surely will not be  the nicest person if you were to ever talk to me, but I will listen to you, and I will be your friend if you need me. Anime was there for me, for a lonely little kid who was so very much intimidated by the world, and it taught me to be there for other people, and I want to be.

I want to be there for people, like the anime characters were there for me. I want to help people, like the main character from ‘Yahari Oregairu’. I want to encourage people like the characters from ‘Naruto’ encouraged me. I want to cry for real people, like I cried for the characters during and after the end of ‘AnoHana’. And someday, eventually, I want to watch my own love story unfold, just like I have countless romantic sub plots.

You know what the best part is? It’s not just me. There’s the possibility that somebody reading this may be nodding their head in agreement and understanding. Anime is a medium which has brought together people from all over the world into a singular community. And in that community, I am not the only one who has been so greatly influenced by anime. There are literally thousands of people who would stand behind me when I say that, ‘Anime has made me the person that I am.’ And you know what? They would be right. Because all of us, in this little niche of ours, are what we are… because of us the single happy accident in our lives: stumbling across anime.

-Vinayak
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NaNo Camp July, Friday 28th (2017)

NaNoWriMo

And now, a few precious days before the end of Camp, let’s have something Camp specific: you can still adjust your wordcount if it pleases you. Let no one else decide your goals. Camp is for you, and you alone, to decide where you place the finish line.

NaNoWriMo in November is for us to hit 50k in 30 days. But Camp NaNoWriMo is not November, and cannot be. If you choose to try for 50k during Camp, make it your choice. You are the writer. Not your inner critic, not your outer critics, not anybody else. You.

You have made it this far through Camp. You’ve won. Maybe you haven’t gotten all the words you wanted, but that doesn’t matter. You’re still here. Maybe you quit earlier in the month; that’s okay. You were here. You tried. You did not fail– you were present.

I don’t like participation trophies. But NaNoWriMo, and Camp, is not a tournament to be fought for between participants. It’s a fight for ourselves, against ourselves. We didn’t get participation trophies. We got victory trophies.

And that’s worth celebrating.

–Natasha

NaNoGoal: 20,119/20,000

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NaNo Camp July, Friday 21st (2017)

NaNoWriMo

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: be kind to yourself, especially during something like NaNoWriMo. Did you remember to drink water? No? Take a few swallows. I need to do that right now myself. Did you rest well? If you’re caught up on your words, take a breather– you don’t have to sleep, but taking five or ten minutes away from the computer or journal you’re working with can do loads of wonders.

Not completing NaNo isn’t the end of the world. And NaNo isn’t over yet, anyway. Pace yourself, but don’t burn yourself out. Procrastinate when you have to. Take breathers. Remember to give your eyes a rest– reading, and by proxy writing, stresses the eyes.

And don’t forget: Every word you have written is a victory on its own, one word you didn’t have before.

–Natasha

NaNoGoal: 17,753/20,000

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NaNo Camp July, Friday 14th (2017)

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I went to a private school as a girl. It wasn’t a large school, only a couple of students, but it was legalized and I have a copy of the Board of Education’s recognition of it as such.

But despite not being a large school, it had all the trimmings. We had a School Mascot (the Mustang), we had school colors (black, maroon, navy), a school flower (the magnolia). We had regular classes, or what I assume is regular because it was normal for us. We had our subjects and the tests for those, book reports and writing classes, schedules for tutoring, though we didn’t call it tutoring, of course..

We had very few sick days because there were so few of us, so it wasn’t like the flu came in waves or anything. We never had to deal with a lice scare, and we had both inside lessons and outdoor lessons. I learned how to balance a checkbook, how to build an animal pen, how to make a quilt; complex mathematics, base sciences, human history. When we were done with class for the day, we were cut loose and left to our own devices. We had our field trips– one time, we went to an auction in another state. I saw a zebra in real life.

During the summer, the local public school had a type of summer schooling, which any child that lived in the area could attend. I only went one year due to the difficulties caused by it, but it provided me with more than enough social interaction for several lifetimes. Those of my school were outliers  to those of public school; they did not take kindly of us, and we fit in none of their pre-established dynamics.

Our school didn’t have dances. I went to one at the public school, invited by a young ma’am who attended, and I had one dance with a young man who also had no date. I bristled at a lot of people. It was strange. Not really a dance, not really a party, just… a bunch of awkward not-yet-teenagers. Three teachers tried to get me to change schools, further making it more awkward.

When I graduated, I spent the next year or so trying to figure out how to test for the GED. Some businesses counted my diploma as sufficient schooling, but a lot of them called private schools as fake, accepting only diplomas from the local public schools. No college in the area would accept it at all, since my school hadn’t been required to do standardized testing and we didn’t have GPAs. The Adult Education Center gave me the run-around on GED testing, asking “why was my primary schooling not sufficient?”

We never got Letterman jackets (a fact which I hope to rectify, eventually) and we never got high-school rings.

I remember all of these things when I write a character. The character’s history matters. From where they were born to where they went to school to the school colors and school pride they carry. Sometimes it’s just a token, a throw-back to way back when, but the little details are important too. Even if we never use them in story, it’s nice to know a little extra color about your cast.

–Natasha

NaNoGoal: 13,706/30,000

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NaNo Camp July, Friday 7th (2017)

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One of the most important things to do in Camp NaNoWriMo is set a reasonable goal for yourself.

I, uh, may not have done that this July.

In my defense, I told someone I’d do Camp July back in the beginning of June, and I decided way back then that I’d do a 30k count, completely ignoring how tight the month in question was going to be, between three jobs and trying to balance the rest of real life. One of those jobs, the full-time non-negotiable one which shall not be named, is having a bit of a do and thus requires me to work extra time than I normally would this month.

I do kind of need the money… but it means less time writing, and more time tired. It’s also the middle of summer, and I do want to enjoy the summer. Plus I have the summer harvest (raspberries and blackberries are both a thing right now) and a whole mess of kittens. Some of them need more TLC than I’ve been able to give them while being away at work, so my free days are often spent doing that.

That’s a bit working against me. Both my other paid jobs are more flexible, since I’m a subcontractor and I take the work I want to, but I really can’t neglect them even though they only truly make me pocket change. I could put them down for a bit if I wanted to, but then I have a bad habit of not picking them up again for a while.

I swear I did consider dropping my count to a measly 15k throughout the month of June. I just couldn’t get myself talked into it, though. Go figure. So here I am, in July, crawling my way to 30k. I don’t know if I’ll try to stretch beyond it. That’s a thing to cross when I get to that bridge.

Set yourself a reasonable goal. Be stubborn about it. When you break through it, set yourself another.

I believe in you.

–Natasha

NaNo Goals: 7,109/30,000

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Writing Prompt: 5/24/17

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I’m in a writing server, and the organizer created a writing prompt for the week that I found to be delightful. So… I wrote a thing. Woohoo!

The Prompt: The world didn’t end with a bang or a whimper–it ended one scream at a time.

The fic is below!


Hunting in the Dark

She breathed, moving through the woods light-footed and intent in the darkness. She could hear the quiet pitter-patter of footfalls to the left and right, where her brothers and sisters hunted with her; nightfall was precious and rare creatures emerged from dens and borrows during the hours the suns hid their face. He would only give them so long, after all.

Doir lunged over a dropped log (not so old, she thought, but dead long enough that the bark had gone, if not long enough that the luminescent fauna had arrived to cannibalize it) and nearly lost her footing over a clutch of slick stones. One of her brothers hissed a protest to be quiet, then caught his ankle in a rabbit-hold and went tumbling forward into the brush. She smothered a bark of laughter and settled for grinning, reaching up to caress a low oak branch as she ducked beneath it.

Leaves rustled, a spirit’s greeting, and she felt her heart lighten as she continued onward. In the distance the false-suns that the Kakori used to light their settlements glittered like not-so-distant stars. They feared the darkness, but Doir and her kin reveled in it, alive as if for the first times in their lives. These were their woods; they knew them, and the wind and trees whispered to them secrets of the future.

“There’s a herd of voli to the east,” Doir’s sister said, dropping down from one of Grandfather Oark’s wide branches next to her. The whisper wasn’t meant to carry far. Voli were dangerous to hunt, and it was Doir’s choice if she wanted to take the party there, for voli were her hunting spirit.

“Anything else?”

“The Kakori are doing something in the north, beyond their settlement,” her sister’s lips twitched into an annoyed frown. “I would like to check it out, but..”

But no one here was a hunter of Kakori. Let the Kakori do what they willed, as long as they left the deep woods to the Children of the Sky. She did not have any desire to traverse that far in search of something they could not eat, for a people who could no sooner see in the darkness than they could swim across the river.

“Keep watch on the voli,” Doir requested, pausing in her movement to cast about in the dark for the rest of her kin. “We might go back for them later.” They were blooded hunters, except one; Liar, who hoped to make his first blood of the towering king-of-beast, the morial. She had heard the Kakori call them other things, wrecks maybe, though the Kakori tongue was strange. Not that the Kakori had better chances at surviving the morial than they did. Though they were, supposedly, Liar’s hunting spirit. She would help him if she could, but first and last blood had to be his.

She wasn’t out here for morial, though. None of them were. But where one found morial, one found the alori, huge and silvery birds with beaks the size of young trees and wings that spread as large as Grandfather Oark’s branches. And at night, the alori slept.

She whistled, low and haunting. The call of a huntress leading a band.

She knew it haunted Kakori nightmares. Strange sounds from the rare nights that no one could place? What other things might cause them fear?

When she had the attention of her brothers and sisters, she raised her hand high and then motioned to the north-west, where she knew there was a morial hunting ground. Knew and sometimes wished she didn’t, for Liar wasn’t the first of the hunt to wish for a morial kill. But if they were lucky, the trees were tall enough they could scale for alori and ignore the morial altogether…

They were not lucky, and it had nothing to do with trees.

On the forest below, clad in their strange hunting gear of black and green, a hunting pack of Kakori moved in bewildering, unsettling precision. They moved quiet, but not quiet like Doir and her siblings. Quiet like this drove away the creatures of the night, which made them loud, while Doir and the others moved as part of the woods instead. The Kakori were not part of the woods; Grandfather Oark did not shelter them, nor did his many cousins.

They made their homes from the dead and the dying, they trapped the light of the Sky in shards– they were strange and foreign people, and they looked very little like Doir’s.

But even though they were foolish people, they were people, and the morial did not sleep when the suns were resting. The roar shook the air around them, leaves quivering, trees shaking. Beneath the Kakori, the ground rumbled, and then a morial– adolescent, not yet having acquired the reddish colors of adulthood, some scaled flesh still opalescent– charged into the pack of them.

Doir watched from the safety of the trees, staring down with gnawing horror taking root in her belly. Kakori screamed when they died; Doir could understand it, because the Kakori did not seem to understand that death simply was, and they feared it. But they screamed, not understanding of the danger they had walked into, and it sent chills up her spine.

“They’re dying,” her brother whispered, as confused and upset by the scene below as she felt, voice thick with it. She swallowed, nodded.

They were people, though, and Liar–

The alori could wait. Doir let go of her hold and moved forward, fling herself off it. As she fell, she loosed her dagger from the ties.

They usually left the Kakori to their own devices. They did not interfere. That was how the world worked.

But they were people, screaming– and that was how Doir decided the world must end.


Finito! Cross-posting it on Ao3.

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