Friday, August 12, 2022

The Gray Man was a pretty great action flick starring the hottest men in the world.


I recently watched The Gray Man on Netflix. If you don't want to be spoiled, you should probably head on out now. Otherwise, tune in for what I have to say about this show.

I was impressed. The show had both Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans in it, and I heard it cost in the neighborhood of $200 million. That's some really impressive dough considering that this was available to watch on Netflix (I wasn't even paying attention to whether or not it was in theaters for a week). I love both Gosling and Evans. They're two of the hunkiest most attractive men in the world right now. Having both of them in a show pretty much sealed the deal for me in making it a priority watch.

So, in this show, Gosling plays the protagonist while Evans plays the sociopathic villain. It wasn't a role I was used to seeing on Evans, and I thought he played it rather well. I also learned that this movie was made after a "Gray Man series" of books. The movie explains within its opening credits in a prison visit by Billy Bob Thornton (who is an agent looking for talent to perform risky killings for a shadowy government agency) that they need someone to "work in the Grays." This roughly translates to, "If you get killed or caught, we won't help you one bit, and we won't acknowledge that you work for us." But from reading about the books online, I guess it is called "The Gray Man," because his greatest asset is that he is physically unremarkable in every way so that he can pass for multiple ethnicities and nationalities and no one ever remembers what he looks like.

So...even if he's physically not your cup of tea, no one has ever described Ryan Gosling as physically unremarkable. To me...he's the living embodiment of a Greek god brought to life, standing 6'1" with incredible eyes and a smile that would shame a shark. You'd remember his mug anywhere, and I'd remember those triceps even if I saw him from half a mile away. So yeah...maybe fans of the book will be upset that the casting wasn't quite right. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. It's essentially the same mistake as people casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, who I guess is another role where the protagonist is physically unremarkable. But Hollywood seems to ignore those details. And who really cares, right? I mean some fans will be upset, but the author gets bank and gets to see his creation put before others with the most attractive people in the world playing the parts. I know I wouldn't care if this happened to me.

All that being said, I kinda thought Regé-Jean Page was a total miscast. We last saw him as "The Duke" in Bridgerton, and he did a superb job in that role. In this one, he wasn't menacing enough. He didn't have enough intimidation and force of personality to make me fear this guy. His overall performance seemed a bit campy...or at least on the verge of this. But I still enjoyed it.

I also see how the Fast and Furious films have really influenced action movies. In this latest entry in the action genre, the stunts are similar in fashion to what you'd see in that other billion dollar franchise. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Sometimes I miss the old action movies like Big Trouble in Little China. Things were so much more believable in that film, which seems ironic if you take a moment to think about that statement.

Anyone else take the time to watch The Gray Man? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Netflix's Resident Evil series is entertaining but requires a lot from your suspension of disbelief.

Right after I finished watching Stranger Things I dived right into Resident Evil, which is another Netflix series that launched in late July. I never played the games, and I've only partially seen a movie here and there that came out over the years. I decided that I'd like to revisit this story, and I'm glad that I did, because I was thoroughly entertained. There are some spoilers ahead as I talk about what I liked and what I didn't like about the show, so here's your warning.

One of the things I found jarring about the show was the back and forth storytelling that took place. Essentially, we follow a pair of characters before the world ends and after the world ends. In one scene they are teenagers, in another they are adults and at odds with each other. And each scene spent with these characters is maybe ten minutes before switching to the other timeline. It's back and forth, constantly. And they tried their best to break during a cliffhanger, so that you'd be thrust back into this other timeline only to have it end on a cliffhanger so that you returned to see the previous cliffhanger resolved. I get why you'd want to do this to keep people watching the show. But I'd already committed to watching it, and I just wanted a lot of storylines or scenes to play out before switching to this other one. So yeah...that didn't work for me as much.

However, the show also had a lot of interesting things going for it. Right off the bat, we saw a huge caterpillar monster the size of a kaiju that really seized my attention, and there were plenty of zombie mobs that reminded me of the best parts of The Walking Dead. So the show had production values that were on track with some of the best things I'd watched in the past.

Additionally, the characters in themselves were compelling. One of the main characters named Albert Wesker was really interesting. Since watching the show, I've come to understand that this character is essential to the games (which I never played). But I knew nothing going into this. Instead, I was rather pleased with the originality of this character, as he's a conglomeration of multiple clones with whom the protagonists interact during the lengthy fall of civilization. Wesker is this "troubled genius" type scientist who is basically a property of the Umbrella corporation, which is the kind of company I would envision run by a Dr. Mengele-type personality. Or (maybe to explain it better) it's the kind of company that Nazis from Hitler's Germany would create were they given no oversight and no accountability and unlimited money to do whatever they wanted to do. They are really bad.

I was also really surprised about the soundtrack. In the first episode there's a lot of Billy Eilish, who is a contemporary singer that is really popular right now. One of the main characters is also named Billie, and she actually looks a bit like Eilish does with the multi-colored hair. This had me wondering why they wanted to tie this zombie-apocalypse tale so closely to this really popular singer...but here we are. It was kinda like watching some weird fan-fiction of what it would be like to have a Billie Eilish story told in Resident Evil style. I wonder if the singer has watched it, and I wonder what she thinks of the more than obvious homage to her. It also makes me question if they wanted to get Eilish to actually play that part. Did they ask her and she said "no?" In any case, it's a creative choice that was in the back of my mind the entire time I watched each episode.

One of the things I found puzzling was that the world kind of ended due to Umbrella Corporation's experiments. This fact is true worldwide no matter where you go. What I don't get (and what never got answered) was why (after 20 years) has the corporation been allowed to grow back into a multi-national conglomerate that people are ready to trust with experimental pharmaceuticals again? I mean...there's a line in the movie where the protagonist threatens to expose what Umbrella has been doing to bring the wrath of the people against them. I was like...this makes no sense...aren't the people already mad at Umbrella corporation? In order to make this make sense, I assumed that the corporation is so powerful it is essentially an authoritarian world government that holds onto its position at the top of the pyramid tenuously. But how would you rule a planet as large as earth, especially when you are having difficulty just managing vast roving multitudes of zombies?

All of that aside though, Resident Evil entertained me. So, if you are capable of placing your brain on the shelf for a while and just enjoy a great dystopian thriller, I think this might be for you. And there's plenty of monsters in every episode. They spare no expense with the horror and the monsters, and they vary them up from scene to scene so it's not just another zombie. You truly get some some crazy (and hair-raising) stuff that (I guess) is because the "T-Virus," which is at the center of this show, is a drug that can do whatever the writers need it to do to increase the body horror.

Anyone else take the time to watch Resident Evil on Netflix? Anyone else a fan of this franchise? On Friday I'm going to talk about The Gray Man which is a movie on Netflix.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The fourth season of Stranger Things managed to be both huge and an incredible feat for a television series.


This last week, I finished up Stranger Things season 4 on Netflix. So, naturally, I want to talk about it. Here is your spoiler warning. Proceed at your own peril.

From the beginning, Stranger Things was an homage to the eighties: a place where kids could be endangered and killed (a thing that is pretty rare in today's cinema as if there is some taboo against this thing). But even Stranger Things went all-in on its body count. I was a little bit shocked that so many young people met their end in so many gruesome ways. But this is the 80's...where things like Friday the 13th and Halloween clearly established that it was fun watching teenagers get murdered.

Another big hit of the times was Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I'm not sure why there is so much nostalgia around this horrible movie, but I guess there is. It wasn't good, and it wasn't really funny at all. The main character in the movie if there is one (it's more a story of many teenagers at Ridgemont High negotiating relationships and drama with sex, stalker-esque behavior, and rapey scenes on full display) is Jeff Spicoli. Played by Sean Penn, I've actually never been able to take this actor seriously for the entirety of my life, whether he was married to Madonna or walking by the roadside in a war-torn Ukraine (2022). It's just too much chaos for my brain to process, and so this character and this actor just got swept into the dustbin that I keep in my brain, and he was never one of my favorites.

Well Fast Times runs a strong undercurrent in the fourth season of Stranger Things and it's in the form of the Surfer Boy Pizza delivery man and his VW bus, which (can I just say it?) seems to have shocking dependability. This Volkswagon bus drives everywhere across the west and beyond without breaking down, and it even crosses the desert on an unpaved road. I know from experience that the Volkswagon bus from this time period needed to downshift just to go over a speed bump. But...whatever.

Overall, I did like this season of Stranger Things. It compelled me to watch, and the episodes were long and intricate and they had great writing. The final episode of the season is a full blown movie, and I'm not sure how much this thing cost, but it couldn't have been done on the cheap by any means. It looks great, with Game of Thrones final season production values. I watched the whole thing with a new friend I made, and they made one comment I agree with: "It's interesting that this thing has gone beyond Hawkins and they've made it global).

So yeah, the events that originally started with this small town in Indiana could be felt all the way to Russia in a big way. And the Duffer brothers (who are behind this thing) doubled-down on their D&D nostalgia. As many of you know, I play Dungeons & Dragons to this day. So I'm all for seeing more D&D connections, even if they are in "name only" and have nothing really to do with what's going on. But it is fun to see the teens of this story try to describe what they are seeing and experiencing in terms unique to D&D and have nerds like me be in on the joke. Because Dungeons & Dragons is such an intricate part of their lives, these monsters that they are fighting take on the names of monsters they have faced in their games together. After all, Shakespeare did write, "A rose by any other name smells just as sweet."

The big bad of the fourth season is nicknamed Vecna, but his screen name is Henry. In Dungeons & Dragons, Vecna goes way back to the very first days of the game. He's a lich, which is a kind of undead wizard, who is bent on destroying the world. In Stranger Things the "wizards" are the people who have psychic powers that can move things, rip things apart, breach dimensions, and do essentially whatever the writers want these powers to be able to do. We haven't seen "fire starting" happen yet (think back to Stephen King's pyromancer in the book Firestarter), but I'm sure if they needed this plot device it would show up. So, Vecna is one of the same batch of people that Eleven is...only he's the original one, whereas Eleven is "number eleven" in a group of children who all manifested lots of different powers due to unethical experimentation by boogeyman government types. We get a lot of backstory in season four, and one of these is explaining the relationship between Jane (who is "Eleven") and Henry (who is number "One"). The most important reveal is that Henry got thrown into another universe by Jane who overwhelmed him with her own powers. And this resulted in Henry becoming gross looking, burned like Freddy Kreuger, and then otherwise corpsified without (for some reason) killing him off because I guess the bodies of wizards can withstand these kinds of inhuman mutations.

As a villain, "Vecna" was very effective, and I enjoyed him a lot more than previous monsters that they have used. I think the reason behind this is that he had good dialogue, essentially being human for most of his life. There was also a much bigger reveal that interwove with all the previous seasons in a kind of Rowling-esque way: Vecna was responsible for the "Mind Flayer." On this particular revelation, I'm a bit torn. The original idea that the Mind Flayer was a highly intelligent monster that ruled his dimension for eons was much bigger than the thing uttered by Dustin, "Oh! EVERYTHING came from this one guy." It...I don't know...made the universe feel smaller. But whatever. Any real criticism I have about this is small. The fourth season was a tour-de-force.

So the final boss in Stranger Things seems to just be a psychic serial killer. I may have wanted an alien eldritch abomination, but in the end, this isn't the direction that the Duffer brothers wanted to go. I can still appreciate what they accomplished here, which was a really big fourth installment of a beloved series that (I think) overall was a pretty incredible feat. They managed three different groups of people in three areas of the world, doing three different things. And it didn't really seem tedious at all. Each storyline had action-packed elements that not only peeled back the layers on these characters backstories, but gave us a resounding cliffhanger where the stakes are literally world destroying unless the kids from Hawkins can somehow find the heart (and abilities) to take Vecna down. I'm ready and primed for season 5 (the last season) of this show.

Friday, August 5, 2022

This NASA animation for July temperatures looks like someone is holding a blowtorch to the Western hemisphere.

This heat map from NASA for the month of July showing the spread of heat across the Western Hemisphere is impressive. In animation, it looks like a blowtorch. Having lived through it, I thought I was in a convection oven until after the sun set. And then it didn't cool off at night like it should. I read comments all the time in scientific areas that say, "This is the coolest summer you will have for the rest of your life." Places in Iran are experiencing 127 degree temperatures. I mean...it was always hot in places like, Iran, right? But it was never that hot. It's sobering to think about what's happening.

Out here in the West, access to water is becoming a privilege. I mean...golf courses are still green for the most part. But lawns everywhere are brown or just dead. There is talk of abandoning Lake Powell, which is a huge man-made reservoir. I guess there just isn't enough water to fill it anymore. It's weird watching all of this in real time. I mean...there's talk of not allowing any more building of new structures because water can't be guaranteed to go to those places. This isn't some science fiction dystopia. It's happening now.

I wonder where all of this ends. And I wonder why we were so afraid of confronting the ones who made this kind of hell on Earth possible and visit upon them more consequences? Maybe it was because we are so spread out, that it's hard to monitor what's goin on two-hundred miles away even if what those people are doing directly affects our lives. Maybe we were afraid, because those people had guns and no empathy and thus would use them to kill another human as easy as it would be to abuse a dog. So we just let them be.

This week in Utah, we've got smoke from a wildfire rolling into the valley choking everyone. The sky is perpetually hazy. It was started because some person more than a hundred miles away saw a spider in some dry grass and thought it was a good idea to try and kill it with a lighter. This same person probably votes too, which is another huge problem. The world is now crowded enough that the stupidest people among us makes decisions that affect everyone. It doesn't help matters that the cleverest among us who weaponize the stupid can predict where those people live and draw political lines around them to increase their voting power.

I think 2016 was the year the world changed. Everything has gotten steadily worse year after year since then. It's like every year raises the bar on just how awful things can get. But, I could be wrong. There has to be a rock bottom to this thing, right?

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

In the August sizzle I answer a question about originality versus catering to one's audience for my Insecure Writer's Support Group post.


Happy August everyone. I hope your July ended with a bang (pun intended--especially in Utah where they sell fireworks through July 24th). In my state, we are presently tied for the hottest year on record. We just need one more 100 degree day to beat the record. This isn't something I'm bragging about. On the contrary, I hate it very much. And scientists keep saying that "this is the coldest year you will experience for the rest of your life." How depressing.

Anyway, it is time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. As I usually say on a monthly basis, this blogfest was originally started by science fiction author Alex Cavanaugh. He's a pretty amazing guy, and he's a great writer (I've read some of his stuff). So you should listen to what he has to say over on his website, which can be found HERE.

And just what (exactly) is the Insecure Writer's Support Group? Allow me to explain. But first, go and visit the official Insecure Writer's Support Group page to see what's up.

The Purpose: To share and encourage. That's it. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

When Does Everyone Post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. This is when you can post your thoughts on your own blog. You can talk about your doubts, and the fears you have conquered. You can discuss your struggles and triumphs. You can offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Some advice==> You will want to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - I'd say aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

The IWSG Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and the hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 3rd posting of the IWSG are Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery!

Now, every month the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt one to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story.

I nearly always answer the question. So without further ado, let's take a look at what the question is for August 2022.

August 3rd question - When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

I try to be original, but it hardly ever works. There's just too much out there. So when I think I'm being clever, all it really means is that I'm not as clever as I think I am, and I'm just not well-read enough to know any different. So, one of the things I do is I read lots of books. But no matter how many I read, it will never be enough. But I  (in the least) know that if I think my story is original, it's simply because I haven't read one like it, which is honestly a poor excuse.

As a point of order, I'm going to say that this question is very interesting. It's a trick, you see. Because it assumes that you (as a writer) have already got your audience in a bag somewhere, and that is rarely the case for new writers. Giving people "what they want" generally means that you have people. But how would this sound if you didn't have any people? That's the rub, isn't it? What an interesting turn of phrase.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope that wherever you may live, you are not experiencing the hottest summer on record.

Friday, July 22, 2022

I'm rounding up my July thoughts all in one post. See you in August.


To finish off the week, I'm posting some random thoughts about things that have been on my mind this last week. But first, I will not be blogging all of next week. I plan on returning to this blog on Wednesday, August 3rd for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

TOPIC ONE:

I really want to be at San Diego Comic Con this weekend, because there is a Dungeons & Dragons bar. You can order Dragon Brew, which is made with fresh lime juice, orange extract, ginger beer, simple syrup, protective elixir essence, and some optional vodka. It sounded like something I'd order. But that isn't all, in this D&D themed nightclub there is a huge screen wherein an animated dragon looks in upon the crowd, expresses its displeasure, and then breathes fog all over everyone. At this time a fog machine swamps you in mist. That just sounds like too much fun.

TOPIC TWO:

I heard that the X-Men movie is in the works at Marvel, and they have decided to call the movie, "The Mutants," because "X-Men" was apparently not gender neutral. Look, I'm a democrat, but I guess I'm wondering why there are people who are offended by the term "X-Men" or who take issue with its inclusivity. It's a hyphenated word, and "men" is on the back end of it. Are we going to have to change "history" to "theystory"? Like this is a serious question, and I don't know if I can go down that path with the people who are pushing for changes like this to our language.

TOPIC THREE:

I got my property tax notice in the mail for year 2023. I was kind of stunned, but values of homes have been increasing anywhere. I have to pay an extra $70 a month, which pretty much (along with the increased Comcast charges and the increased phone charges) have completely destroyed the raise I got this year and put me in the negative. Then when you add gas prices and all the other things that cost more, I feel like my pay this year is several hundred dollars short of what I got paid last year (per pay period), even though I got a 3.5% raise. The cost of living is getting ridiculous, and I wonder how long this can continue. I mean...I feel like everyone who offers a service or who offers any kind of good that we all need is really hostile right now. As in...they hate us and they want to express their collective displeasure. Combined with extreme heat, the country seems bleaker than ever.

TOPIC FOUR:

There is a new carnivorous dinosaur from the late cretaceous called Meraxes Gigas. It is named for Meraxes, the dragon ridden by Rhaenys Targaryen during Aegon's conquest (see Game of Thrones and its creator, George R.R. Martin). It was originally discovered in Patagonia around 2012, but it has taken years of preparation to finally excavate and analyze a specimen. That's quite the honor for an author, don't you think?


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Why does Namor the Submariner from Marvel get more respect than Aquaman or The Deep?


Today's post is less informative than my other posts, as it is asking a question of my fellow nerds out there in the hope that someone can provide me with an answer. Here is the question:

Why does Namor, the Submariner from Marvel get more respect than Aquaman or "The Deep" from The Boys for that matter? Here are a few observations:

They all have similar powers. Although "The Deep" from The Boys seems to have no connections to an underworld community of Atlantis (which probably doesn't exist in those comic books), Atlantis is a very real place for Aquaman in DC and Namor in Marvel. In fact, they both rule those places as kings.

Aquaman seems to have always been conceived as a hero-type, whereas Namor plays a villain quite often. This makes Namor land firmly in the anti-hero description. And The Deep just seems to be pure villain if not outright self-serving yet (ultimately) kind of spineless to stand up for things he clearly knows are wrong.

By leagues and bounds though, The Deep and Aquaman are ridiculed for doing certain things with fish (even though there is no proof that I've seen that Aquaman has sexual relations with fish). And the disrespect doesn't stop there, as he is frequently poked fun at by people who make these movies. I think the Big Bang Theory also took this route with the minority character, Raj Koothrappali, who was a punching bag for the other nerds throughout the series. It was one of the things I didn't like so much about The Big Bang Theory.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the old Superfriends cartoon in which Aquaman was essentially useless most of the time.

Anyway, if some of y'all out there can answer the question above, I'd appreciate what you could teach me about this phenomenon.