Friday, June 2, 2023

It's 2023 and people continue to be mad and engaged with the ongoing culture war.

Yesterday, I was looking at the art for Magic: the Gathering's Lord of the Rings set for their collectible card game. It features some art that has enraged some folks, even though this is a non-canon take on the intellectual property. Namely, it has been these pictures of Aragorn and Eowyn where they have been drawn as black characters.

I'm trying to understand why this would enrage some folks, and why it doesn't seem to affect me all that much. These are certainly surprising takes on these classic characters. But does it really matter in the end? I wonder what would happen if Black Panther (Marvel character) were drawn as a white man. Would that matter at all? Maybe it would...maybe it wouldn't. I'm not sure I even understand what is going on in this country with regard to these kinds of things that I see popping up everywhere. Here's another (that I predicted by the way on this very blog).

These are the live action stars that have been cast for the How To Train Your Dragon live action movie. The one on the right is Astrid, who is going to be portrayed by a person of color. It doesn't bother me at all. I'm going to watch the show, as I love the story of How to Train Your Dragon. But people are going to be upset. And HTTYD is a relatively new story. It doesn't have the ancient history that Lord of the Rings does.

Another "recent" movie that did this was Disney's The Little Mermaid. I paid full price, saw the movie, and overall, I liked it okay. The girl they have playing Ariel has an amazing singing voice. But the movie was also overly long and I think it had too many dark areas and shadows which I think was used to hide bad C.G.I. This surprises me as Disney has access to the best C.G.I. that there is. And by far, Melissa McCarthy seemed to relish her turn as the Sea Witch with lots of gusto. She was a great Ursula. One conceit I will say though is that the diversity hammer did come on a bit strong. All of King Triton's daughters are a different race, and there's like eight of them. And Prince Erik is white (yes), but the Queen (his mom) is black and he's apparently adopted (washed up at sea). I think these are all interesting choices, and I wonder why there is such a tug of war going on with movies and television these days. And it all seems to be such a distraction from real issues which seem huge, like the onslaught of A.I. and climate change. The climate has become so unpredictable and hostile that State Farm, the largest insurer in California, has declared that they will no longer sell homeowner's policies in the state of California because it is too risky. Other states will follow. This should have been bigger news than it was yesterday. But instead people are enraged about black Aragorn. I wonder where all of this is going to end up.

I miss the relatively boring days when I was ignorant of how much people actually despised one another. I think I finally understand (at 51) the saying, "Ignorance is bliss."

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Flash ended the Arrowverse with its season finale and I have thoughts to share.

I've been a faithful follower of The Flash for many years now. I probably did not know much about the Flash going into this series, but I was excited when it launched. Now, as it has ended by airing its series finale last week, I think it kinda/sorta limped to the finish line. It's been a weird journey on so many levels, but just to be clear, it isn't as weird as Riverdale, which in its final season defies my even explaining what this show is about. Here are my random thoughts that I have about The Flash.

1) Grant Gustin is a great actor, and he did a great job as the Flash. He could have said any lines, but the ones that he was handed, he delivered with the emotional impact that I wanted. Any issues I had was that the writing was bad in places. I know this, so he did the best with what he was handed. And he looked good in the suit.

2) The CW decided to double and triple down on time travel. happened all the time. I know that time travel is a central power that the Flash has. But there was so much time travel that I got a bit confused on what timeline was worth saving and what wasn't worth saving. It really made me realize that the Flash seems to be a much better character when he has other heroes to team up with, and that leads me to my next observation.

3) The crossovers worked really well. I liked it when Supergirl crossed over with Arrow and it crossed over with The Flash and that crossed over with Batgirl, and then we got a crossover with Legends of Tomorrow (which by far was the greatest of the CW comic series) and we even got a Black Lightning cross over, etc. Those were a lot of fun, and it's rare when a single channel can do that with all of its properties. But the era of superhero shows has pretty much ended with The Flash, unless you bother to count Gotham Knights which I'm enjoying.

4) I think that The Flash picked up too many secondary characters. I wanted something that was more about Barry and Iris with maybe some crossover to uncovering a new Green Lantern (which was always hinted at but I never got). Instead, we ended up with Cecile and Allegra and Chester and then they offed Caitlyn to bring in Killer Frost and then changed her to the goddess Khione. We also picked up several versions of the Speed Force and then a Negative Speed Force. But the best secondary character throughout the entire show were the various versions of Thawn and Captain Cold (which we got very early in the series). Everytime he appeared in the series, he stole the show before it got reduced to Barry just "outrunning" his problems in various ways. I get it...Barry runs a lot. But maybe my lack of reading the comics made me expect that he wouldn't always outrun his issues and might have to go about solving them in a different way. Or maybe I just got jaded with the running and it no longer impacted me in a meaningful way, and I just became a bit bored with it.

5) Barry and Iris's marriage is still weird to me. This is a personal thing. But I just try to imagine a woman marrying her adopted brother and those two making kids together. The fact that they got to know each other when they were like six and maybe seven years of age doesn't make it better. It makes it worse for me. It's just...I dunno...too odd for me to not find pure cringe. I would never say anything to a couple that was like this...I'd just wish them well and probably not talk to them all that much because it was too weird. Would it be better if it was gay? I try to imagine a man saying, "I'm marrying my nephew because we are in love and near the same age, but he is not my nephew by blood." And I think..."good lord that sounds just awful...not gonna touch that." Feel free to judge me. I guess I'm just not as open-minded as I'd like to be, and maybe I have some work to do on that.

Anyway, those are my five thoughts I have on this series. Overall, it kept me invested for what? Nine seasons? That's a lot of time I spent watching this thing. It was fun though to see a network actually take a stab at doing what Disney/Marvel has accomplished with the creation of a superhero cinematic universe. It makes me think that this kind of thing is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off well. I give the CW props for trying.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

I wish Queen Charlotte was longer than six episodes.

This last weekend, I watched the Bridgerton spin-off called Queen Charlotte on Netflix. Much like Bridgerton, it is a wonderful fairy tale. It develops the character of the Queen, who sits above all in judgment of the characters who are striving for status in the era of Regency Romance. And like its namesake, Queen Charlotte manages to thread a needle of suspending disbelief while peppering us with classical renditions of modern songs like Halo (by Beyonce) and by injecting diversity into this world of stalwart white people. I can only say that Shonda Rhymes is one of the greatest entertainers alive. She does know how to put together a show (and a story) that a lot of people enjoy.

With the production of Queen Charlotte, we got our first introduction to a Bridgerton extended universe. It's filled with waistcoats and powdered wigs. But even though it only runs six episodes, it still has a lot to say about modernity, and how we are not so unlike those who came before us. In particular, I was drawn to the parallels between Lady Danbury and the Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton. One was able to find love in their life. The other was not and knew only loathing and duty. Every one of us would like to think that this is because "in those old days" people were forced into arranged marriages and one didn't have the option to choose. But this simply isn't true. In today's world where the choices available to all of us are so plentiful, there are plenty of situations which end up far worse than the arranged marriages of old. And this is mostly due to the fact that 1) people are not good at making decisions, and 2) being spoilt for choice creates its own problem, namely a thing called "choice paralysis" and the inability to commit to anything for fear of missing out.

One of the things that did take some getting used to are the two timelines in the story, and the way they transition between them. Shonda Rhymes overall does an excellent job of making those transitions appear seamless, but there was at least two occasions where it took me a moment to realize I was watching a flashback. The minor timeline is Bridgerton present in which we already know Charlotte and Ladies Agatha Danbury and Violet Bridgerton. What we didn't know in the modern timeline (or maybe it was just me that was ignorant of this fact) was that the queen had produced a horde of children who were "in effect" seedless grapes. They'd grown fat and plump on the vine of royalty but remained "heirless." Or at least childless in any sense that counted with the aristocracy, for the Queen said she had some fifty illegitimate grandchildren unsuitable for sitting upon the throne.

Another thing I liked was the commentary on loneliness that we see in this show. This comes through the lens of Lady Agatha and Lady Violet (mostly) although Charlotte is also lonely in her own right as the King (in the modern timeline) is so stricken with his mental illness (we don't know exactly what it is) that he isn't emotionally or physically available to her. Agatha and Violet realize that they are still worthy of consideration even if society is always focused on the young. This is how it should be, and I liked that commentary as all lives (while we are still living them) are untold stories, and it is up to us to remind others that this is true for there is a constant pressure to cast older folks as irrelevant. And was wonderful to be treated to lots of sex made by the pretty people of Bridgerton's unique take inspired from real history. That part is definitely a fairy tale as the people of old did not look all that attractive when I look at paintings from that time period. But, a painting is difficult to judge I think. In the end, if the story is good, why should we care too much about how real a thing is, especially when reality is basically shattering all around us in 2023 as deepfakes become more and more common.

If you haven't watched Queen Charlotte, it's worth a look. That being said, I wish it was longer than six episodes. I could have used more escapism.

Monday, May 22, 2023

A.I. is going to take away all of the fun jobs and leave us to do the drudgery.

This is an image generated in Midjourney.
The Prompt: / baroque sci-fi macro, floral lady

A.I., or "artificial intelligence" is coming on strong in 2023. The A.I. bot "Midjourney" produces stunning artwork all of the time in ways that has to be humbling for even the most talented artists out there. ChatGPT is now picking stocks better than financial planners, it is writing better than technical writers, and creative types of all kinds are protesting (and striking) to ensure that they still have jobs in the future. The CEO of Warner Brothers Discovery recently got booed at a commencement speech as students in the audience chanted, "Pay your writers!" This is where we are at now, and it isn't even June.

With the incredible rise of these technologies, I wonder why this is even happening. It isn't so much that I don't know how we got from A to B to C, etc. Rather, it's the fact that all of these A.I. technologies seem to be doing all of the fun things in life. When I dreamed about a future with robots in it, I didn't envision the robots sitting around making poetry, writing creative stories, doing art, and engaging in all of the things that most people do as hobbies because they are fun.

No, I dreamed of a future with robots doing the drudgery. The toilet needs scrubbed. The groceries need picking up at the store. The windows need washed. The laundry needs to get cleaned. The carpets are dirty and need to be washed. The furniture needs repairing. The lawn needs mowed and the driveway needs to be shoveled of snow. It goes on and on, and these are the tasks that I dreamed that robots would do! Not us. So much of our lives are filled with the tiny minutiae of what it takes to be alive. From the moment we get up, some of us have to struggle with pain, then cleaning our bodies, and then food prep and cleaning up after all that food is prepped, and then getting dressed, and then going to work for someone else, and maintaining a car, and all of those other things. In our free time, if we ever get any...then that is the time when we would be reading, watching t.v., listening to poetry, or doing art.

But it looks like the robots are going after all of those kinds of jobs...the kinds of jobs that a lot of us thought would be "the dream job" allowing us to live full lives of creativity and joy as we are validated for the various talents that some of us may have spent a lifetime in trying to get really good at. Now, the robots get to our level of skill within a couple of months, surpass us, and make all of us who relied upon those things to bring us joy now obsolete. I suppose that we could still do these hobbies if we "wanted to." But they will be worth zero dollars in the future.

What will be worth something? Scrubbing the toilets, being a housekeeper, taking out the garbage, servicing refrigerators, and repairing roads in 100 degree heat. A lot of those things are jobs that few people want (or desire) to do. And I suspect they will be as underpaid in the future as they are today. Like...what the hell? We are on the verge of a dystopia so perfect that there's no way I could have dreamed it up. Your children will be born into a world where drudgery awaits them, and all the fun things will be done by computers and A.I. to take that "responsibility" out of their hands.

Only, the word "responsibility" is just gaslighting. It never was a "responsibility" but a "privilege." It was my privilege to write and be read and to be enjoyed. It was my privilege to draw good enough to get compliments or to earn money. It was my privilege to be recognized as someone who creates at a level that is uncommon. And somehow, the capitalists have taken that away from us (or that is their intent).

And...I'm left to wonder why? As in...why didn't the capitalists take away the pothole repairs and the mending of garments and the housekeeping? Why did they create machines that could do art, write, and make music? It seems almost malicious that the people who could program and create these things would set out to create a form of life that would force real living people into the most unpleasant jobs. Can anyone out there explain to me exactly why this happened (is happening)? 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Here are five things I learned from casually watching people play Tears of the Kingdom on Nintendo Switch.

Here are five things I learned from casually watching people (mostly roommates) playing Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on Nintendo Switch.

1) Even though it is a sequel to Breath of the Wild, you apparently start with nothing thanks to an introduction that strips away all of your equipment and even manages to break your sword. So, you start out with a stick that you can swing at. And Link gets to walk around mostly naked again. I told my roommate as he was playing that this is "convenient" for developers who don't have to tune tougher monsters, because they made Link weak again. That's a nice reset.

2) Link is (apparently) a really popular character among trans people. He's considered an "egg breaker." If you don't know, "egg" is a term used to describe someone who is trans, who may not fully realize that they are another sex other than the one they were assigned at birth. Because Link is smooth and hairless and extremely young (he would be a twink in the gay community if he were a real person), this is apparently androgynous enough for people to both identify with male and female aspects of the character. So people who are "eggs" can see something in the character that they strongly identify with that corresponds to their subconscious sexual awakening. Josh Hawley would probably want to ban Link if he knew this was happening, based on the few pages I've read in his book, as he's deeply concerned about masculinity in America. But even as a queer person on the left, I have wondered what exactly is going on with KPop boy bands, the seeming unlimited power that young twinks wield within the gay community as older men shower them with money and gifts (I'm serious that this totally happens in what amounts to thousands of dollars gifted to fifteen year olds), and then the rise of body dysmorphia by people who desire deeply to essentially have the bodies of extraordinarily attractive teen boys. If you think I'm making this up, I swear that I'm not. My own life experiences has included conversations with almost sixty-year-old men who wonder why they cannot look like Timothee Chalamet (attractive Dune actor who is essentially king of the twinks), and whether or not surgery can bring them closer to this goal. It is (in a word) grotesque. I'm glad I don't suffer from this. I spoke with someone recently who returned from Thailand, and they said what they saw over there kinda shocked/spooked them, and that there were signs and people warning them of the dangers of getting monkey pox. I'll let you figure out exactly how a "tourist" acquires "monkey pox" but...there you go.

That is an impressively long bridge made of logs stuck together end on end.

3) Link loses an arm, so he gets a magical prosthesis called the "ultrahand" which has powers of telekinesis and apparently can handle unlimited weight. It also allows you to glue and unglue things together. This includes monsters and individuals that you run into in your exploration. You can glue those people to things, so that they don't fall off. But imagined gluing someone to a raft in real life. It's just weird, but a kid might think it is a novel solution (and that's obviously the target audience of the game even though adults are playing it everywhere--another sign that no one is an adult anymore?). What my roommate does with the ultrahand is construct things like bridges. But people online have apparently discovered that there is no limit to how big a bridge is that you can construct, so they are erecting these huge monstrosities that are miles long and carrying them around with them so that they can easily access things by setting up their portable bridge.

4) By stripping down to your skin, you can increase your stealth. Link's belongings/clothing all generate sound that affects you sneaking up on monsters and people in the game. If you are really trying to be quiet, taking off your pants and shoes is totally a thing you are supposed/can do in this game. It's weird to even type that about a game...that the creators wanted you to strip down to your underwear. But I didn't make this up. Japanese people make some truly strange games that seem odd to my very western sensibilities. But hey, I only grew up here. My brainwashing doesn't mean that it is necessarily the proper brainwashing. I at least have enough self-awareness to say that about myself.

5) You can fall an unlimited distance in game if you land in water. I thought this was weird. Because you end up in the sky at the beginning of this game, my friend decided he wanted to explore the continent down below, so he just jumped. As he was falling, he aimed for a body of water. Once he landed, he just swam to shore. I do wonder though what would have happened if he had landed on a lily pad (in other words, would the lily pad have killed Link?). My other roommate who was also watching said, "People can survive terminal velocity into water, Mike. It happens."

The game looks like a lot of fun, which (in the end) is all a game is supposed to be. I personally don't play many games, but I do like watching. If you are more of a player than a watcher, I'd recommend adding it to your collection. Some of the ridiculous things you can do as Link seem to justify the purchase price alone. Additionally, and because my brain works this way, I have to admit that when I run into someone who really, REALLY loves the game, I'll have this question pop-up in my mind. I WILL NOT say it out loud. I have enough self-control to know better. But I'll wonder..."Hey...are you an egg? Are you trans? Just curious."

Monday, May 15, 2023

I'm unusually excited about Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai which drops later this month on HBO Max.

I just learned that HBO Max is releasing an animated series later this month on May 23rd called, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai. It's a prequel to the original Gremlins film that came out in the early eighties. I have a few thoughts about this. The first is that the original Gremlins hasn't aged well. However, the bones of the storyline tying a mystical creature to ancient Chinese culture, has always intrigued me. So yeah, I'm going to watch this thing.

I'm sure that there are many people who won't be excited by this announcement. These are the people who would probably say we don't need to know anything about the Mogwai beyond what is presented in the first movie. However, I remember being a kid. And when I was a kid, I sure wanted to know more. Not necessarily about Gizmo himself, but I wanted to know more about what that creature does in the wild world. That being said, I'm also surprised an animated series with Mogwais as the main creature took this long to be made, especially with the rise of Dungeons & Dragons to regular pop culture and for fantasy films of all kinds getting huge budget treatments.

I for one hope that they answer the question of how the Mogwai's stay hydrated. As far as I know, living creatures need water to survive. So how does a Mogwai quench its thirst? As one of the three rules to owning one of these creatures, it seems like a pretty important thing to know. Maybe it will turn out that they drink blood or something like that.

Also, the "never feed after midnight" does seem like a time zone issue. I'm not sure how they will explain that one, but I hope that they do. Of course, the creators of this series are under no obligation to elaborate on the nonsensical rules for mogwai. Here's the trailer, if you'd like to get a sense of what this series is going to be like.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is a bit hard to watch in some scenes.

This is a review of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. If you don't like spoilers, you might want to go elsewhere today if you intend to see it.

So, I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. It's a bit hard to watch in some scenes, because the treatment of the animals (in cages) by the High Evolutionary is pretty grotesque. I was surprised it affected me as much as it did. But this villain (who was obsessed with changing things about lifeforms) was in many ways more terrible than Thanos. Rather than just kill lifeforms with a snap, he tortured and burned them to death. What happened to Rocket Raccoon to make him into what he is was just plain sad. I actually don't know if I like the character of Rocket any better now that I know all of this. But I do appreciate the extent that the character's creators wanted to go to in order to explain his existence. Gunn decided to go dark, and then double downed on that. It was a tonal shift to what I normally expect going into a Guardians movie. Even the humorous banter between Drax and Mantis failed to alleviate the heaviness of the film, which seemed as somber as Wakanda Forever (this was not a fun movie to watch).

Additionally, Adam Warlock wasn't really emotionally satisfying. I've been waiting for this character for a while, and they introduced him in this movie and he was basically a weaker version of Captain Marvel. This is probably (mostly) due to him being a baby mentally. In the end, his inclusion felt more like a studio mandate, but his combination of haughtiness, uncertainty, and naivety has potential. The Adam Warlock I saw in the Infinity Saga comic books was not this Adam Warlock. So, I wonder where they are going with all of this. Maybe it's to do another Guardians movie with Rocket Raccoon as the leader. However, what we got at the end of the credits was: "The Legendary Star Lord Will Return." And this is obviously (maybe) for Avengers: Secret Wars? I guess only Kevin Feige and those around him know the whole plan.

There's also the possibility that Warlock's inclusion was more that James Gunn (who has since parted ways with Marvel and moved to DC movies and Warner) put himself in a corner by adding the cocoon to the post credit scene of 2 and then had to figure out a way to make his inclusion work with the story that he wanted to tell. Considering the High Evolutionary had a pattern of destroying every prior creation whenever he was moving onto his next project, it doesn't make a lot of sense that the Sovereign were made by him and allowed to live when he was done with them. It feels more like Gunn decided that explanation worked well enough to link Adam to the plot of the third movie.

One of the things I did like in the movie was Nebula, who has learned to connect with others in ways that are not built on pain and fear. She embraced Gamaora through friendship with Tony and the Avengers to becoming a Guardian of the Galaxy in her own right. In this movie, we finally got to see Nebula come into her own by caring for others. And she ends up being the mayor of Knowhere, putting on her wings to fight and actually defeat Adam Warlock, and then to find the information on what Rocket needs, and then directing the team to find a way to cure him. It was fun to see the kind of connection that she had with Rocket, and I remembered that she was the only one of the team (aside from Rocket) who wasn't "snapped." So she had five years with Rocket to build a friendship that the others were not privy to, so it made sense that they would be close and that she'd care about him. Also (and near the end) she sheds the last of the toxicity left by her father Thanos and sees Drax the Destroyer as what he really needs to be: a dad. Nebula was hands down the MVP of this movie.

And I want to say one last thing about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. Finales like this tend to come at a cost to one or more of the characters. I think Gunn knew that and used that to keep us on edge about Rocket. Quill (too) towards the end. And, you know we lost Groot in the first movie, Yondu in the second. It was fair to expect somebody to sacrifice themselves, and I got caught up in all of that. But it didn't happen, and that was one pleasant surprise that I liked very much about this movie. They deviated from what I was anticipating, and they actually got a happy ending. That's not a bad way to end things.