Monday, July 16, 2018

I think that the new direction Star Wars is headed will be a place where good and evil are just words and everything depends on a certain point of view.

I watched The Last Jedi again on Sunday night with my father. He hadn't seen it, but has been a fan of the Star Wars franchise for some time. Now that I've had some distance from my initial viewing of it in theaters, and have watched Solo: A Star Wars story and finished watching Star Wars: Rebels, I actually found that I liked The Last Jedi a lot more than I initially did. This was a kind of strange reaction as I think I was kind of immediately outraged that everything was so incredibly different than I expected.

It still isn't a movie that I would ever want to own, primarily because it's not a feel good movie. I also don't own a copy of Schindler's List for anyone that's been wondering about that. But The Last Jedi deserves more credit that the thrashing it has been given by fanboys online. For one, it's well put together. The script is coherent from beginning to end, the dialogue makes sense, and it wastes no time with confusing escapades or dealing with metaphors. Additionally, I'm more appreciative of the way in which Luke and others (Yoda) poke fun at the seriousness with which the Jedi have been treated for decades. The way he tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder, the way Yoda casually berates Luke for not picking up the "page turners" that were the Jedi histories, and the way Snoke berates Kylo Ren about his helmet. "Take that ridiculous thing off."

Favorite lines: Rey telling Luke, "I've seen your daily routine. You're not busy."

It's funny stuff. There's also more hope buried within its carefully constructed script than I originally gave it credit for having. It seemed like Disney just took a jackhammer and wrecking ball to everything. But there's all kinds of kernels hidden in the narrative that point to a new kind of story that can be told...one in which kids who are not a part of the Jedi order learn to use the Force because the Force "doesn't belong to anyone." I liked that line that seemed like it was a throwaway the first time I saw it (when Luke is teaching Rey who is sitting on rock). "The Force doesn't belong to anyone." It's an interesting concept and it pushes the idea that all this training and rules and discipline and everything else were just made up things meant to constrict people who should have felt free to access the Force and use it however they want (if they had the talent).

Even the code breaker says as much in his worldview. "Good guy, bad guy...those are just words." It's weird to think that Star Wars, the iconic franchise of good versus evil, is starting to embrace the idea that "good" and "evil" are just concepts. What is "good" and what is "evil" is entirely dependent on a certain point-of-view. At least, that's what I'm getting as The Last Jedi's most prevalent kernel that underlies the whole movie and story. It's probably the direction that they are going to go in the next movie, and it makes me wonder what it may look like.

George R.R. Martin is also a believer that "good" and "evil" are just words. Instead, it's motivations that matter (and the philosophies and actions that take place behind those motivations). Am I thinking that we may see a Star Wars that resembles something more like what we see in Game of Thrones, only in space? I'm not so sure. But it may end up resembling a universe in which countless stories can be told with they dynamics, say, somewhere between Star Wars and Game of Thrones. It'll be a place where good and evil are just words, and who you side with will depend on the framing provided by the script.

I will not be posting on Wednesday, but I will be back this Friday.

Friday, July 13, 2018

I get to introduce some kids to the Alien universe so let's all celebrate by feasting on some really great fan art.

Because my mind sometimes ruminates on dark thoughts, and also because I've gotten permission from the mom of the two teens that watch movies with me to introduce them to the Alien franchise, I'm posting some of my favorite fan art that has been created over the years to celebrate Alien. Enjoy.
by Rory Kurtz

By Mike Saputo

By Mark Englert

By Thomas Walker

By Louis Solis

Soundtrack artwork from Mondo

By Laurent Durleux

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The female pac-man figure in Catana comics acts like an infant most of the time and it bothers me.

I have a few friends that share Catana comics on Facebook. If you don't know what these are, they are comic strips about what it's like to have a heterosexual millennial relationship in today's world, only drawn with "Pac-Man"-esque faces. When my friend James asked me if I liked them, I realized with a strange sudden-ness that I did not. Of course, he was baffled. "Why not? They are so cute? Are they too saccharin for you?"
I had to think about it. No, they are not too sweet. I think the reason I didn't like them was that the presumption is that this is how a healthy modern relationship is supposed to be, yet the woman element (in particular) is infantilized. In other words, if you step back from it and look at the comic aware of your bias, I think you can see that nearly every panel has the woman acting like an adolescent child. We see it as "cute" and "saccharin" because of the nature of childhood. Of course, we don't actually know what any of these people would look like in a real world because it's a comic book. It's really a perfect storm, because it creates a "Mary Sue" element similar to what the author did in the Twilight books by giving us a protagonist that was so plain anyone could step into the role. In other words, Any one person can immediately step into the "pants" of these characters and assume "hey this is me." That's actually kind of brilliant from a pure marketing "let's make a goose that lays golden eggs" standpoint. So kudos to the author of these strips.

And make no mistake, Catana comics are popular and are only getting more so day after day. I find this phenomenon to be weird, and because I have a curious mind, I want to ask questions. It makes me psychoanalyze the audience of these comics for purely academic reasons. In other words, I'm not trying to be judgmental. People are free to express their love in any way they wish to in my book. But those who might be delighted by these comic strips could possibly fall into a few camps, and I'd like to discuss those in depth below.
The first camp is the atypical straight guy (lone wolf alpha male) that only likes women, period. Here's a person that might love the idea of having a partner who is childish and struggles to put on clothes, who struggles to make choices, who is short, easily confused, and reliant on him to act as the adult in the relationship. These kinds of guys are probably going to love reading Catana comics, because it reinforces a kind of worldview that they find comfortable.

The second camp is the straight woman who secretly desires a level of codependency, which is where the man is not only a lover and boyfriend but takes on several of the responsibilities normally associated with a "daddy." It's actually kind of fascinating, especially in today's world which is filled with all kinds of headwinds from searches for equality to society-wide anxieties that arise from a myriad of issues.

The third camp are going to consist of people who are no longer children but look back at their adolescent years through a lens of relationship envy--envy because it felt cozy because both partners were (effectively) children and didn't worry about bills or any responsibilities. In fact, there are no responsibilities at all in Catana comics. That real-world stuff exists beyond its borders. It's a place where only physical interaction (in the same way that children poke and prod at the world) matters. They only needed to figure out how to tolerate each other's farts and burps and laugh about that the way that children laugh at things.

The fourth (and final) camp belongs to people who suffer from (diagnosable?) chronic anxiety. These comics are like comfort food, indulging an idealized version of a childhood fantasy. It's the ultimate "I want to retreat to my pillow fort now and suck my thumb" expression combined with a desire to be taken care of by someone else.
I think that Catana comics are a perfect product for the times in which we live. The world feels like it is getting worse, unless you are part of the #MAGA crowd (at which point then the world probably feels great). I have many Trump-ian friends, and I don't understand...I don't understand any of it...but whatever. Maybe I wasn't meant to understand, and that isn't the point of this post. My brain just doesn't work that way. But for those who aren't part of that crowd, the world feels hotter and more miserable, more dangerous, more filled with hatred, brimming with intolerance, and with undercurrents that hint at the coming of some truly lasting evils that, to be fair, have always plagued mankind but in this circumstance it just feels different. Into all of this drops a comic strip which promises a return to childhood innocence, where one partner is enough to protect the obviously weaker one, and nothing else dares to intrude upon their idealistic existence. I get why they are popular. However, the reason behind that popularity is why I don't like them. In the end, I wish there were fewer adults in our country who desired an escape into childhood no matter how terrifying the real world has become.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp is yet another hit and it made me think of these eight things.

I saw Ant-Man and The Wasp this weekend. I kinda want to discuss it, so there are spoilers ahead. Go and read someone else's blog if you are not a person that wants to talk "spoiler-y content." Also, there really isn't a single theme here. I'm just gathering all my thoughts together in one place.

Assorted Musings regarding Ant-Man and The Wasp and Marvel movies in general (here we go):

1) Marvel is on a roll. By my list, the last four movies released were Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and now Ant-Man and the Wasp. I love all of these movies that I own the ones that are available and plan to purchase the ones that aren't available (when they do become available). This is an accomplishment that should be applauded/celebrated. I don't know if it's because they seem to have adopted John Hammond's philosophy from Jurassic Park and "spared no expense" or if they've just gotten lucky, but I'm willing to bet that it has something to do with the former. Money seems to be able to buy quality where these kinds of movies are concerned.

2) I liked that Ghost was an antagonist as opposed to a villain. That was a good decision and was a shift from good versus evil.

3) Scott continues to be the dumbest guy in the room in almost any scene. I think this really works for Marvel because being "dumb" in a Marvel movie opens up a whole side wing to things that people find funny. Think of how Thor is essentially the dumb jock and how well Hemsworth plays into that role.

4) Evangeline Lilly stole the show in every scene that she was in. I also think she's in better shape than Paul Rudd, which is impressive because Paul Rudd is ripped for this role.

5) The first stinger that's almost two minutes long seems to be a direct lead-in to time travel? It seems a little ham-fisted that Janet dropped the whole, "Don't get sucked into a time vortex" thing right before Ant-Man went into the quantum realm without it meaning something. What can we take from this? Well I think the quantum realm is the gateway to undoing everything in Avengers: Infinity War. Once Ant-Man gets big again, figures out what happened, and then tells the remaining Avengers about the quantum realm's unique time vortices, I think we have the plot for Avengers 4: End Game (my nod to a thing Doctor Strange said in Avengers: Infinity War). I also think that the quantum realm is immune to the Infinity Gauntlet's powers.

6) Funniest scene in the movie is Luis's monologue following an injection of truth serum. Also music was spot on. The Baba-Yaga joke was funnier because of the music.

7) Who was Sonny Burch working for? He was stealing the lab for his scary boss. I'm betting that it is Doctor Doom.

8) I dropped two jokes to the teenagers and mom that I went to the show with (oh and friend Brad was also there). I'll share them with you here. 1) Does Ant-Man actually pay the ants that work for him or are they unpaid "ant-terns?" 2) Ant-Man and the Wasp is the ant-ecedent to Avengers: Infinity War. And yes, I came up with both of these jokes.

/takes a bow. Y'all have a good Monday.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

For Independence Day the Insecure Writer's Support group is asking a question about my ultimate writing goals.

It's Wednesday, July 4th, 2018. and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. The website said that everyone was supposed to post Tuesday to avoid the holiday, but I figured posting Wednesday would still work. I'll just get less visits (and that's perfectly fine). FYI, I'm going to leave this up until Monday (I'm taking Friday off).

If you are somehow a newbie to the blog fest, you can read about it over HERE at the official website. Below is the Independence Day question:

Independence Day question - What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

When I return to writing, I want to write better. I've been reading a lot of things lately, and I love how some authors use really colorful metaphors. Tad Williams compared aspen leaves to green coins in one book, and I absolutely loved it. I also love unique perspectives that somehow have you looking forward and backward at the same time. It's easier to show in art, so I'll post some art below for the classic movie Jaws that seems to capture what I'm saying.

Here's the first.
What are the elements at play here? Glasses and skin both red, the tell-tale sunglasses reflecting a huge shark launching itself out of the water. How would I capture this in a story? I'd want a scene to have a strong point of view, but what you don't see (and that I would only hint at) is actually occurring behind that very same point of view.
What are the elements at play in the above illustration? Well Quint is sliding to his doom. If I wanted to capture this in a scene, I'd try to write it from the point of view of the monster, which I think is just as relevant.

Essentially, what I'm saying about my own writing is that I want each scene to carry more weight with fewer words. I suppose that is my goal.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A little Ant-Man and the Wasp humor for a Monday.

Here's a little humor I inflicted on the group mind of my Dungeons and Dragons collective. There are six of us that meet about once a month to play (sometimes more often and sometimes less often). Our scheduled meetings tend to fluctuate with "adulting" responsibilities, vacations, jobs, the rare booty call, and depression/mental health issues. Needless to say, they didn't appreciate my joke. My friend Brad Habegger though thought it was hella funny. My comments are in the green bubble. After my initial text of two dots I waited like five minutes, just so that everyone who received it would be like...wtf? Did Mike just butt-text by accident? They have called me a professional-level troll.
And below is an argument I started on another day. This one was mostly aimed at Matt Callison, a friend who is my age in our D&D group (the rest are younger and one is even a teenager), and who has his finger squarely on the pulse of pop-culture. The initial "insult" in green (mine) was totally aimed at trolling Matt. And I was pleased that it worked. Just to give context...there was no lead up to this...no discussion of the very old t.v. show "Buck Rogers in the 25th century." Essentially, if you hadn't lived through it, you'd have no idea what I was talking about (which was the complete point of the whole exercise to begin with).
"MC" is Matt Callison. Anyway, this was solid entertainment on a workday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The problem with dream sequences in books you like is that they are all metaphor and you never get a choice on whether or not you want to go along for the ride.

"Dream of Solomon" by Luca Giordano
I'm a hypocritical writer. I tend to not like dream sequences in books, but I've used them before. I think that I did it in the past because so many other writers of speculative fiction employ dream sequences (or they historically did so) that it seemed like a necessary component of any narrative. You know? Kind of like following a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookbook. Step one: add characters, sprinkle them liberally, make sure that there are female and male characters in equal helpings. Step two: check for diversity. Step three: Add dream sequence, because it's the best way to indulge author narcissism and come across as clever... Sigh. And sometimes they are unavoidable if there's a certain kind of story that you want to tell.

As to the question: why do dream sequences bug me? I haven't been able to answer that until now. And the answer is complex because I have to channel my love/hate relationship with David Lynch movies. See...I love to watch David Lynch, but only when I know my brain is well-rested, and I feel like I can handle an entire show of nothing but metaphor. And with regard to metaphor, I'm talking the kind that made a Star Trek: Next Generation episode famous with lines like "Darmok at Tanagra" and "When the walls fell." These lines made absolutely no sense because they were metaphors that you could only understand if you were part of the same alien race that was speaking them.

This is why I can't just binge-watch Legion or Twin Peaks. I have to work myself up to these kinds of shows and limit how much they toy with my brain. Figuring out what's going on can be exhausting, but in a fun way. Well when books do these dream sequences (and yes I'm speaking with a wide sweeping generalization) they are usually all metaphors. Very rarely does a dream sequence ever end up being a literal scene as in A leads to B leads to C. If that were the case, then why not just write the scene and not even have it be a dream? The very idea of writing a dream triggers something in us all that wants to explore it via metaphor and get all clever with the images.

Anyway, with a book, my problem with a dream sequence is that you don't get a choice. In the real world...I know that Legion or Twin Peaks is going to be a headache. A book can lure you into the story with snappy dialogue and action and then you are suddenly committed to following along on a journey with a character. Then bam! Out of nowhere comes the dreaded "dream sequence" and it's pages long, and it's all metaphor that I'm going to have to try and figure out and then my brain starts to hurt.

I've been reading Tad Williams' classic The Dragonbone Chair, and this thing is full of dream sequences. But you don't get to them right away. But when they come, boy oh boy are you seeing all kinds of cloaked figures, faces that glow but make no sense, mountains of ice and birds that could be stand-ins for people, or they could very well just be birds. There's marks that could be swords or maybe not be swords, etc., and so on and so forth. Don't get me wrong, I love the book. It's quite riveting, but those dream sequences are like a frickin' wall when they pop up, and I think I visibly groan and say something like, "Not another one...." and then find myself paging through it to see just how long the damn thing is before we get back to the main character.

So the dreaded dream sequence; I'm not sure what I plan on doing with it once I return to writing (I'm on an extended hiatus). I think that I'm going to strive to never ever write another one. I don't care if they made me seem clever. They're ridiculous and I don't think another reader out there ever deserves to suffer through another one. And yes, I realize that I've just burned down James Joyce because that man writes ALL in metaphor. But unlike a dream sequence, at least you know that about James Joyce and can choose to pick up Ulysses if you're craving punishment.

That's just my opinion though :).