Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Return to Monkey Island

Guybrush Threepwood, pirate adventurer, would-be nemesis of the ghost pirate LeChuck and implausibly successful wooer of the beautiful Elaine Marley, has finally worked out that, despite all of his adventures, he has never actually worked out what the Secret of Monkey Island actually is. Returning to his original stomping ground of Melee Island, he sets out on his new quest, only to learn with horror that LeChuck is already three steps ahead of him.


Released back in 1990, The Secret of Monkey Island almost immediately became acclaimed as one of the greatest video games of all time. Fiendish puzzles, funny writing, awful puns and the daftest protagonist name in gaming history combined to make a memorably brilliant, if rather short, game. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge followed a year later with a better story, more interesting puzzles, a much greater variety of locations and fantastic music. It also, infamously, had a very strange ending that left a lot of people scratching their heads.

That ending was never really resolved. The creative team behind the first two games, most notably lead designer and writer Ron Gilbert, left LucasArts and moved on. A separate team eventually made a third game in 1997, but wisely skipped past the ending to the second title and picked up some years later with only minimalist references to what happened in the meantime. The Curse of Monkey Island was a great game in its own right, despite the change in ownership. Escape from Monkey Island (2000) and Tales from Monkey Island (2009) followed, to a middling reception. Better-received were HD remakes of The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2 in 2009 and 2010, which introduced them to a new generation and got people thinking about that crazy ending again.

Now the unlikely has happened: Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman have reunited to make Return to Monkey Island, a game that finally picks up after the ending of Monkey Island 2 and forges on. The new game also doesn't eject the others from continuity: having kinda explained the ending to Monkey Island 2, we fast-forwards a few years past all of Guybrush's other adventures to pick up on him returning to Melee for his new expedition. He and Elaine are now happily married and Elaine is running a campaign to eliminate scurvy from the Caribbean, leaving Guybrush free to take up his quest.

The first two-thirds or so of Return to Monkey Island is a journey which will trigger the nostalgia feels in players. This part of the game almost exclusively uses locations from the original title in the series, so once again you'll visit the SCUMM Bar, hang out at the Governor's Mansion and visit the Voodoo Lady for enigmatic advice, before visiting Monkey Island, falling off the overlook again and sneaking onto LeChuck's ship. But this is a melancholic form of nostalgia: Melee Island has had an economic crisis, a lot of the old businesses are shut down, and there's newcomers who don't recognise Guybrush or particularly care about him being a regular from years or decades before. There's still plenty of laughs here, but Return also examines its own status as a legacy sequel made years after the originals (not always the best of ideas) in a way that that is smart without vanishing up its own posterior.

The latter third of the game opens up and Guybrush gets to explore a series of new islands and locations never before seen in the series. This sequence feels somewhat briefer than it should be, possibly a budget issue or the decision they had almost too much material for one adventure game but not enough for two, so trimmed some things to keep it in the confines of one title. This has the unfortunate effect of meaning that the game is dominated by locations you've seen before, whilst the new and fresher material is crammed into a relatively brief part of the game towards the end, before we once again return to a familiar location for the grand finale.

But ultimately it works. The puzzles are fine, not too obtuse apart from a couple of eye-rollers (a built-in hintbook pretty much means you never need to look up online solutions, although the game encourages you to use it as little as possible), and the story is entertainingly told, with that undercurrent of melancholic nostalgia running through it to make it more interesting. 

Return to Monkey Island (****½) is, improbably, excellent. Once you get over the stylised new art direction, it works really well and the music is fantastic. Creatives in their fifties revisiting the scene of their greatest hit from their twenties could have gone badly wrong, but Return to Monkey Island emerges as far smarter, funnier, emotional and engaging than it really should. Even if its own ending does definitely skim around the edges of taking the mickey, but it does earn it. The game is available now on PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Netflix's AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER remake in post-production, announces remainder of main cast

Shooting on Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender remake wrapped a few months ago and the series is deep in post-production. Netflix have now chosen to reveal the rest of the main cast from the series.



The full announced cast (including previously-announced roles) now comprises:

Main Cast
  • Gordon Cormier as Aang, the Avatar.
  • Kiawentiio Tarbell as Katara.
  • Ian Ousley as Sokka.
  • Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko.
  • Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as General Iroh.
  • Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai.
The Avatars
  • Yvonne Chapman as Kyoshi, a prior incarnation of the Avatar.
  • C.S. Leek as Roku, a prior incarnation of the Avatar.
  • Meegun Fairbrother as Kuruk, a prior incarnation of the Avatar.
The Southern Water Tribe
  • Casey Camp-Horinek as Gran-Gran, matriarch of the Southern Water Tribe.
  • Rainbow Dickerson as Kya, Sokka and Katara's mother.
  • Joel Montgrand as Hakoda, Sokka and Katara's father.
The Northern Water Tribe
  • Nathaniel Arcand as Arnook, the chief of the Northern Water Tribe.
  • Amber Midthunder as Princess Yue of the Northern Water Tribe.
  • Irene Bedard as Yagoda, a Northern Water Tribe healer.
  • A. Martinez as Pakku, a Waterbending master.
  • Joel Outlette as Hahn, a Northern Water Tribe soldier.
  • Sebastian Amoruso as Jet, the leader of the Freedom Fighters.
The Fire Nation
  • Ken Leung as Commander Zhao.
  • Elizabeth Yu as Princess Azula.
  • Momona Tamada as Ty Lee.
  • Thalia Tran as Mai.
  • Ryan Mah as Lieutenant Dang of the Fire Nation Navy.
  • Francois Chau as the Great Sage of the Fire Temple.
  • Hiro Kanagawa as Fire Lord Sozin.
The Earth Kingdom
  • Maria Zhang as Suki, commander of the Kyoshi Warriors.
  • Tamlyn Tomita as Yukari, Suki's mother.
  • Danny Pudi as the Mechanist, an inventor from the Earth Kingdom.
  • Lucian-River Chauhan as Teo, the Mechanist's son.
  • Utkarsh Ambudkar as King Bumi of Omashu.
  • Arden Cho as June, a bounty hunter.
  • James Sie as the Cabbage Merchant.
The Air Nomads
  • Lim Kay Siu as Gyatso, an Air Nomad.
Spirits
  • George Takei as Koh the Face-Stealer.
  • Randall Duk Kim as Wan Shi Tong, the spirit who guards a great library.
It's notable that James Sie reprises his role as the Cabbage Merchant from the original animated television series, making him the only actor to play the same role in both versions. Daniel Dae Kim voiced General Fong and Hiroshi Sato on the original Avatar and The Legend of Korra, whilst George Takei memorably voiced the Warden on the original show ("Get me someone I haven't thrown overboard!").

Based on the characters announced, it looks like Netflix's Avatar will draw primarily on the first season (of three) of the animated series for its storylines, but some characters from Season 2 of the animated series will also be debuting early, such as Ty Lee and Mai. No casting has been announced for the fan-favourite role of Toph, making it more likely that, as in the animated series, she won't appear until a potential second season of the remake.

Netflix have not announced a release date for the show, but early 2023 seems like a reasonable bet at this time. Albert Kim is serving as showrunner and head writer.

Marvel's BLADE loses director just ahead of shooting

In surprising news, Marvel's new take on Blade has lost its director just two months before shooting was due to start.

Bassam Tariq (These Birds Walk, Mogul Mowgli) was hired to direct the film a year ago. The movie had not been on Marvel's radar, but actor Mahershala Ali had contacted them directly to propose starring in the film, which was then put into a fast turnaround. The film was teased with Ali debuting in an off-screen voiceover at the end of Eternals.

Marvel and Tariq have stated the split was amicable, with the reason for the split being changes in Marvel's schedule, suggesting that the filming dates may have shifted or Marvel may be considering a delay that would have clashed with another project the director had lined up. However, officially the movie's production still has a start date of November 2022 and a release date of 3 November, 2023.

Finding another director at such short notice who'll be willing to take over a script and pre-production they had no hand in, is going to be tough.

Age of Empires IV

The venerable real-time strategy series is back. A year ago, after a sixteen-year gap, Microsoft released Age of Empires IV, the latest in one of the most beloved strategy series of all time. It has a very strong heritage to live up to, so the question is if it has succeeded, especially with new franchise developers Relic coming on board. Relic have a solid pedigree, but their last game was the very underwhelming Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, so a lot was riding on this game for them as well.


The answer to whether this game is a success is, "kind of." The first surprise is that, despite the name, Age of Empires IV is not a sequel. Up to this point the series has always proceeded linearly forwards in time: the original game covered the empires of antiquity, so Rome, Egypt etc, and the second covered the medieval period, whilst the third game took us into the Age of Sail and colonisation. You might be forgiven for thinking Age of Empires IV would take us forwards into the Napoleonic era. Instead, Age of Empires IV is a remake of Age of Empires II. Once again we're in the Middle Ages, and once again we're fighting the Battle of Hastings, guiding the Mongols across Eurasia and fighting the Hundred Years' War between England and France.

Age of Empires IV is perfectly adequate at doing that. As with prior games in the series, you usually start with a town centre and a bunch of villagers whom you can set to work on building up resources: food, wood, stone and gold. You then expand your settlement by adding blacksmiths, universities, markets, barrackers, archery ranges and so on, as well as watchtowers and walls. Age of Empires IV tweaks the formula, mainly by adding a secondary research facility known as the Arsenal and moving some upgrades around between buildings, but it does not significantly rework it. There are some features like now being able to station your units atop walls rather than just behind them, but mostly it's low key changes.


The 3D engine is nice but not a huge advancement on the 3D engines of Age of Empires III and the now-twenty-year-old spin-off, Age of Mythology. The graphics are in fact a tad disappointing for a 2021 release, especially since they are so inexplicably resource-hungry. My PC (16 GB RAM, 12 GB graphics card) which can handle Cyberpunk 2077 and Spider-Man with everything turned up to max (albeit only in HD), chugged regularly with the considerably more visually underwhelming Age of Empires IV. Also, not much is done with the 3D engine. You can zoom in and out a bit and spin the camera a bit and that's it. This isn't Total War or even the much more versatile 3D camera of Relic's own Company of Heroes series.

More baffling, given the modern graphics and physics at work, is a lack of features from older games. In earlier games in the series you got a damage bonus from being on higher ground, but that disappears in this game and both attack and defence bonuses are missing, meaning units on walls with cover are just as vulnerable as if they are standing exposed in a field, which is a bold choice for both a modern game and also for the developers who made RTS cover such a huge feature of their Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series. There's also no ballistic or physic tracking of arrows: arrows will automatically hit their target (even blatantly swerving in mid-air to hit them like a smart missile) even if the target is moving at speed, which is baffling. In earlier games keeping your army active and smartly moving was a key tactical skill, here it is entirely absent.


Balancing against that is somewhat greater factional differences. Earlier games were notorious for having very samey sides, with maybe one or two unique units and maybe a single unique building or upgrade. Age of Empires IV does go a bit more into making the sides different, with French cavalry being much more hard-hitting than anybody else's, whilst the English have superior longbows. Most interesting are the Mongols, who can pack up their entire base and move it around the map in a matter of seconds which can give rise to unorthodox strategies (a Mongol wonder that can heal all the units around it becomes a mobile field hospital). I do feel this is has been a tad exaggerated. The factions are still mostly very similar, certainly a long way from the balanced-but-asymmetric design of, say, the StarCraft games or even Relic's own Company of Heroes series.

Age of Empires IV does impress with its amount of content: the game ships with four complete campaigns (Normandy, Muscovy, France and the Mongols), eight civilisations, a robust single-player challenge mode, skirmish maps and of course multiplayer. Focusing on just the single-player content, I got about 40 hours out of the game, which is reasonable and a long way from those RTS games which ship with one campaign lasting maybe a quarter of that. Presentation is also excellent, especially the FMV movies which accompany the campaigns with lots of video footage of the actual locations, with CG imposed on top of the real topography to depict the battles. There's also bonus videos on things like how to make a bow and how different tactics developed. There's a nice history documentary feel to the game which is unique and intriguing.

Less appealing are the bugs: as well as the choppy performance, the game's autosaves are disruptive to gameplay. Units will often go into idle mode for no apparent reason: villagers in particular may need to be manually told to do something two or three times before they actually do it. You can't tell a villager to build a wall halfway across the map and expect them to do it, you have to manually watch over them to make sure they don't do 25% of the task and then just doze off (literally, as idle villagers now go to sleep standing up), which is infuriating. Individual missions also have a plethora of bugs, with triggers often not triggering, enemy units not showing up when they're supposed to, or taking some weird path that leaves 50 men wedged behind a bush. It's also concerning that many of these bugs remain extant in the game almost a year after release. There's also the lack of basic QOL features, like being able to easily assign WASD to camera controls.

Taken on its own merits, Age of Empires IV is perfectly fine (bugs excepted). It's safe, but the gameplay loop remains compelling and there's some interesting strategies to tease out. However, the game has to deal with a 500-ton elephant in the room called Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. This ultra-HD remake of Age of Empires II only came out three years ago and has seen three expansions released since then, the most recent only in April. Age of Empires II has less bugs, more responsive and easily customisable controls, a stronger interface, more focused gameplay and, although only being in isometric 2D, has sharper, more vivid and far better-performing graphics. It is also a more interesting tactic experience, with ranged weapons performing better from hills and tougher stone buildings (those in IV tend to collapse far too easily to just guys with swords and torches, even massive fortresses).

Age of Empires IV (***½) is solid, and will no doubt be expanded with interesting future content. But it's also a game that arrives being almost pre-redundant, since Age of Empires II Definitive Edition does almost everything that IV does in the same time period, but better, with less bugs and a far vaster amount of content, and will take you a lot longer to play through. The game is available now on PC.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Marvel finally confirms DEADPOOL 3 for 2024, starring Deadpool and Wolverine

After several years with little news, Marvel has finally confirmed that Deadpool 3 will hit cinemas on 6 September 2024. Ryan Reynolds returns as the Merc With A Mouth and will have a new buddy: Hugh Jackman will reprise his role as Wolverine from the Fox X-Men movies.


Deadpool (2016) and Deadpool 2 (2018) were both released by Fox to critical and commercial success, with Reynolds' charismatic performance especially praised (specially after he played a mute version of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009). Work on a third film was put on hold as Disney bought out Fox, with development resuming once the deal was completed. Deadpool is notable as the first Fox-originated franchise that will directly continue into the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity.

Hugh Jackman first played the role of Wolverine in X-Men (2000), reprising the character in X2 (2003), X-Men: Last Stand (2006), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), X-Men: First Class (2011), The Wolverine (2013), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and Logan (2017). As of Logan, Jackman shared the record with Patrick Stewart as Professor X for the longest period spent playing a Marvel character on screen. However, Stewart pulled ahead by portraying an alternate-universe version of the same character in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). Jackman reprising the role of Wolverine in Deadpool 3 would give him the record again.

Deadpool 3 will be directed by Shawn Levy (Free Guy, The Adam Project) and again written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, possibly with input from Reynolds (whose script contributions to the second film saw him get a writing credit). The film will still be rated R and apparently the plan is to segue between the Fox universe and the MCU in an interesting and amusing way, possibly helped by the multiverse concept in full play in the MCU at the moment.

Monday, 26 September 2022

HBO drops trailer for THE LAST OF US

HBO has dropped its first full-length trailer for The Last of Us, its adaptation of the hit video game.


The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie and is co-written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (who wrote and directed the two video games in the series). The series is expected to debut on HBO in the USA in early 2023.

Wertzone Classics: Better Call Saul - The Complete Series

Jimmy McGill is a lawyer, struggling financially whilst working as a public defender. His brother Chuck co-runs one of the most prestigious law firms in Albuquerque, but Chuck is sceptical of Jimmy's legal abilities. Jimmy's attempts to win his brother's approval and improve his standing lead him to cut corners and take up dubious cases, bringing him into the orbit of of former police officer Mike Ehrmantraut and a local drugs gang, represented by Nacho Varga. As Jimmy tries to get by, his antics lead him towards his ultimate fate, of taking up the name "Saul" and meeting one Walter White.


The spin-off series is an interesting proposition. Take an element from a successful show and try to spin that element into its own vehicle. Most of the time, these ideas crash and burn without success. But on occasion, they succeed and do well. On even rarer occasions they are stronger and better (or at least more consistent) than their progenitor show: Frasier, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Angel and Xena: Warrior Princess immediately come to mind (and The Simpsons, arguably). Heck, Vince Gilligan once before flirted with a spin-off show of his own, helming The Lone Gunmen as an ancillary appendage of The X-Files. It did not do well.

When the progenitor show is Breaking Bad, widely-acclaimed as one of the best TV shows of all time, the idea of doing a spin-off is a dubious one to start with, especially given that one of the greatest accomplishments of the show is its outrageously good ending. Messing with that mojo seems fraught with peril. But Vince Gilligan didn't get the memo (twice, as he also built the TV movie El Camino onto the end of the original show). Better Call Saul is a spin-off to Breaking Bad which acts as a prequel and sequel simultaneously, expanding on a side-character from the original show developed originally for comedy value: Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk.


The central brilliance of Better Call Saul is that it is the story of three men, but they're all the same person: Jimmy McGill, the younger man whom we join trying to make a relatively honest living and win the approval of his demanding older brother; Saul Goodman, the snake oil salesman lawyer we met in the original show; and Gene Takavic, the alias Saul is living under in Nebraska as he tries to lay low, several months after the blood-soaked events at the end of Breaking Bad. The show doesn't flip between them too much, with Gene's appearances isolated to vignettes at the start of each season and a closing arc later on, and Jimmy's evolution into Saul becoming the main focus of the series. It's an evolution which is also gradual: Jimmy doesn't start using the Saul alias regularly until the last two seasons and it takes a while for him to kick into the character we met on the mothership show.

For most of its length, then, Better Call Saul is a prequel and that can be even more limiting than most spin-offs. We know Jimmy/Saul will make it to the series finale, we know Mike is going to survive and when other Breaking Bad characters show up, we know they can't eat a bullet. More than once Vince Gilligan and his co-showrunner Peter Gould joked about setting the show in a parallel timeline and just killing Breaking Bad characters without warning, but sanity prevailed. The show then has to put the legwork in to make these stories about characters whose fates you already know more interesting.


It succeeds. Saul in Breaking Bad was a great character, funny with a hint of pathos, ably delivered by Odenkirk. Jimmy is a much richer, more three-dimensional character, with real reasons for being the person he is. But the show never excuses him. It explains him, but asks for no forgiveness for him. Other characters have bad breaks, awful luck or tough upbringings and improve on them and become better people. Jimmy, as we know from the very start, does not, and watching his decline and fall and how much of his later corruption was built into him from the start is fascinating.

Jimmy is the heart of the show, but it spends almost as much time expanding on Mike. When we met Mike on the earlier show, he was already a cool professional with a moral code but one that had clearly been compromised. Surprisingly, at the start of Better Call Saul he's almost already in the same same position, but the show teases out depths from the character and Jonathan Banks' performance that were not hinted at in the original run. Mike makes for an interesting counterpoint to Jimmy, as Jimmy walks into his situations with a total lack of awareness for the consequences, whilst Mike is always thinking five steps ahead, which means when he realises what he's becoming, he has to confront it with his eyes wide open.


Better Call Saul brings in new characters as well. Michael Mando is a fantastic actor with a powerful screen presence (exemplified in the video game Far Cry 3 and his two-season arc on Orphan Black) who's been looking for a role to make the most of his gifts. Nacho Varga is certainly that role, a drug dealer and criminal who seems dissatisfied with his lot, trying to keep in touch with his family and find an outlet for his ambitions. Nacho might be the most honest character on the show, the one whose humanity grows over the course of the show rather than erodes, and definitely the most underused. Although Nacho's arc spans all six seasons, he appears in barely half of the episodes. But that doesn't detract from Mando's excellent performance or his brilliantly-performed storyline in Season 6. Tony Dalton also joins the show late to deliver an outstanding performance as Lalo, a villain with bags of charm and a vicious streak a mile wide.

Veteran actor Michael McKean is also outstanding as Jimmy's older brother, Chuck, an accomplished and skilled lawyer who is dealing with complicated health issues as well as a lifelong suspicion of his little brother's antics. The relationship between Chuck and Jimmy defines at least half of the runtime of the show and their constant wary circling around one another, switching from loathing to sympathy to contempt to love, is a constantly challenging balancing act for both writers and actors, and a challenge they rise to. Also outstanding is Patrick Fabian as Chuck's partner, Howard, whom is presented initially as an antagonist, but again is fleshed out beyond that to become a more interesting, complex character, moving from an unlikable arsehole to one of the most sympathetic characters on the show over the course of his evolution.


If the cast has one absolute standout - and in this cast that's a very hard call - it's the Emmy-nominated but not winning (so far!) Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy's ally on the inside at his brother's law firm, a tough but fair lawyer with a keen legal mind and a high sense of integrity, who indulges Jimmy's antics up to a point. Her evolution over the course of the series is as good as anyone's, and Seehorn's performance continuously ups the ante, delivering ever more riches of character.

Of course, any character who appears in Saul and doesn't appear in Breaking Bad may have the sword of Damocles hanging over them, and the show is mostly fair in not indulging in this too much, and the question of who lives and who dies becomes far less interesting than what they do, and why they do it.


Better Call Saul is a less-obviously immediate show than its forebear. Breaking Bad has that much pithier premise ("a high school teacher can't afford cancer treatment, turns into a meth dealer crime lord,") and delivers more obvious dramatic twists every few episodes. Better Call Saul is subtler and more restrained. Breaking Bad signalled its season finales with major character deaths and sometimes actual massive explosions; Better Call Saul's often twist on a single line of dialogue between two characters. That's not to say that Better Call Saul is completely bereft of action, especially as the cartel storyline becomes prominent in its second half, but it's more strategic in how it deploys mayhem and murder, and makes those moments count so much more powerfully by building up to them with almost forensic foreshadowing and scene-setting. More than once the show feels like it's spinning its wheels mid-season, only for later episodes to take these widely-scattered plot threads and tie them together in the impressive ways.

Are there more substantial criticisms? Well, it inherits one issue from Breaking Bad, which is severely underusing the excellent Laura Fraser as Lydia (who gets even less screen time this time around). A few times you might wonder if a story beat could have been delivered faster with less buildup. But in most respects Better Call Saul improves on its forebear, such as having the same number of episodes but splitting the action across six shorter seasons rather than five longer ones gives the show more focus.

Better Call Saul (*****) is fantastically acted, beautifully written and peerlessly constructed. It stands by itself as a fantastic slice of television drama but also builds on and enhances its predecessor show as well. The series is available to watch in full via AMC in the US and Netflix in most of the rest of the world.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

RIP Louise Fletcher

News has sadly broken that the actress Louise Fletcher has passed away at the age of 88. Fletcher is best-known for her terrifying and Oscar-winning turn as Nurse Ratched in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but SFF fans will more likely recognise her for her nuanced, intriguing performance across all seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Kai Winn.

Fletcher was born in 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama. Both of her parents were deaf and worked with hard-of-hearing communities across the south-eastern United States. Fletcher did not share this disability, but learned sign language, and signed her Oscar acceptance speech for them.

She became interested in acting at school and got her first gigs working in Westerns, notably the TV series Lawman (1958). Fletcher noted that she was somewhat taller on average than most women and this stood her in good stead for Westerns and crime dramas which typically attracted taller-than-average male actors. After a number of minor roles in films and television series from 1958 to 1963, she took a break from acting for a decade to raise her two children. She returned to acting in 1973 and very quickly won the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nurse. She thanked the audience for hating her during her Oscar acceptance speech.

Despite the Oscar win, Fletcher's career did not take off as many expected, something she attributed to her age (she was 41 when she accepted the award). She appeared in mostly lower-profile films from then on (with the exception of Cruel Intentions). She had better luck in television, appearing in shows like Shameless, Heroes, ER, Wonderfalls and Picket Fences. She picked up two Emmy nominations for her roles in Picket Fences and Joan of Arcadia.

In 1994 she made her first appearance in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, appearing in the Season 1 finale In the Hands of the Prophets as Vedek Winn, a hardline religious leader on the planet Bajor who often appears in an antagonistic role to Commander Sisko and his Bajoran executive officer, Major Kira Nerys. The writers initially wrote her as a villain, but showrunner Ira Steven Behr came to love her performance so much that he decided to make her a much more ambiguous figure, several times having her as a good guy keep even more hardliners in check.

At the end of Season 2, Winn became the Kai or spiritual leader of the entire Bajoran people, resulting in an ever-more complex relationship with Sisko and Kira. In subsequent seasons, Winn varied between being a complication - or sometimes outright antagonist - with the main characters but also an ally, whose own viewpoint was sometimes shown to be correct, or at least sympathetic. In the final season Winn's faith is tested when she discovers how she has been manipulated by Gul Dukat into working for the evil Pah-Wraiths, and throws herself into the role of being an outright villain. At the last moment, though, her faith in the Prophets returns and she briefly thwarts Dukat's plans at the cost of her own life, allowing Sisko to defeat him for good.

Fletcher's nuanced performance of the character across seven seasons was impressive, and her impact on the show was seismic: she only appeared in 14 out of 176 episodes but is often cited as one of the best actors and most influential characters on the series.

Many obituaries have suggested that Fletcher was constantly underused and underrated in Hollywood, and was not given the chance to capitalise on her Oscar win as perhaps she should. Whilst that is true, Louise Fletcher also gave us two excellent, memorable villains on screen, one in film and one in television, and that is no mean feat.

Louise Fletcher is survived by two children, and she will be very much missed.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

IRON WIDOW optioned for film

Xiran Jay Zhao's debut novel Iron Widow has been optioned for film by producer Erik Feig via his Picturestart company.


Iron Widow has a similar premise to Pacific Rim, namely that humanity is fighting an alien threat using giant robots with two bonded pilots. However, Iron Widow is more fantastical, with the robots requiring male and female pilots, and the female pilot often dies as a result of their lifeforce being used up by the male pilot during battle. The protagonist, 18-year-old Zetian, sets out to find the ace male pilot who killed her sister in such a manner and take revenge.

Feig is an acclaimed producer for his work on films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Borderlands and the Step Up franchise. He has also worked in various capacities on the Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight series, and Oscar-winners La La Land and The Hurt Locker.

Feig will produce the film alongside Jessica Switch and Julia Hammer, with Sami Kim Falvey executive producing. J.C. Lee (Bad Genius, The Morning Show) will write the script.

Zhao is currently working on the sequel to Iron Widow, Heavenly Tyrant, which is due for release in 2023.