Friday, June 22, 2018

Ron Howard wasn't the right director for a Star Wars movie but that really isn't his fault.

It's official. So if you haven't heard in the news yet, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the first "flop" in the Star Wars franchise. It will still earn money, but compared to all the other Star Wars properties, it falls far short for expectations from a golden egg-producing goose. Personally, I saw the film, and I liked it. And I have my own theory as to why it flopped, but I'm going to air those after I tell you what other people are saying:


1) It was released at the wrong time.
2) People didn't like The Last Jedi as much as the critics, and hence, they were apathetic.
3) There's viewer fatigue.
4) People didn't want to see another actor take on the iconic role of Han Solo.

And now here's my reason: Ron Howard isn't good at making epic movies that are light on character and big on hair-raising, mouth-dropping moments. Star Wars is supposed to be epic in scope. It's supposed to dazzle and give moments of awe. In Rogue One, there was a moment of awe when the Death Star fired its weapon on a city and the land wave that followed had me awe-struck. Plus it was filmed in such a way as to eclipse a sun.

Ron Howard doesn't do "awe." He does character films, which admittedly Solo is one of these. His strengths are cerebral...getting into the head of characters like in A Beautiful Mind or in Cocoon, which is a slow-burning film that shows old people becoming young again. But Star Wars isn't about character...people don't go to these movies to get into the head of Han Solo. They don't go to the movie to obtain all the feels from Princess Leia's suffering over two hours. People go to a Star Wars movie to experience awe, and Ron Howard was the wrong person to realize this for the franchise.

The moment in the film that had the most "awe" packed into it was probably when the train exploded. And it took out the top of a mountain and was mostly in an uninhabited place so nobody cared. The second moment was when a space monster got sucked into a black hole. But nobody cared at that point either because you know Han Solo survives because he's in later movies. It was just a throwaway monster to use to make the escape from the Kessel Mines kind of interesting.

However, when I think about how Ron Howard put together Solo, I also don't think it's his fault either. It's clear that Disney doesn't understand what makes Star Wars, and that they've gotten lucky thus far by hiring directors who obviously do. With Solo, Ron Howard was probably someone who was enthusiastic to do it even after production hell erupted over directors that were supposed to come in and make the film. Add to this the fact that he had a limited timeline, the budget blew out of control, and there were all kinds of problems that he needed to deal with to get it to the cinema on time. So's Ron's fault while simultaneously NOT being his fault.

Unfortunately, because SOLO did poorly, all the other Star Wars stories in the works have now been put on hold. That kinda sucks. At least we have an endless future of Jurassic Park stories to whet our appetites, even if the backbone of that franchise is just humans running and screaming. However, (and just to be fair) Jurassic World did give us running in high heels, so that was new.


Helena Soister alerted me via personal email that none of her comments were being published, and I didn't know this (thank you Helena). I apologize if any of you have been thinking that I ghosted you or something like that. This isn't the case, and you should be able to comment on the blog now going back five days before the "held for moderation" thing happens on older blog posts.

I'm not sure what has changed with Blogger, but I no longer get email notifications that someone has left a comment on my blog. That was a nice feature that Google is either working on or is currently broken until it gets fixed for Blogger. I imagine it's a rather low priority for them.

Helena: I did respond to your email :)

Kevin Long: I sent you an email yesterday (I've actually sent a couple). If you read this, could you check your spam and see if you've received any and get back to me.

Patrick: What ARC of Alan Dean Foster's do you have? You mentioned it the other day.

Other than that, have a nice weekend. I'm reading my first Tad Williams books, and they are pretty good so far. I guess you'll hear more about them in the future. Right now, I'm seeing a strong influence on George R.R. Martin that I never knew about. Go figure, and more on this later.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Surprising Works of Alan Dean Foster are remarkably relevant today

I recently read the following three books: Spellsinger, The Hour at the Gate, and The Day of the Dissonance. I'd never read anything from Alan Dean Foster except for a single Star Wars tale called Splinter of the Mind's Eye. So when I picked up this omnibus called Season of the Spellsong (which contained the above three novels), I had no idea what to expect. Furthermore, I think I did it because the cover art on the omnibus is rather ridiculous. I'll include it below and to the right for reference.

The characters you see here are Jonathan Thomas Merriweather, playing his duar (instrument) that gives him his magic, Clothahump the turtle (who is the most powerful sorcerer in the land), Mudge the Otter (who speaks with a thick English accent), and Flo Quintana, who's a cheerleader at UCLA. It actually sounds ridiculous to just be typing all that, but yeah...those are the main characters. Ones that you don't see (but I'd love to see them realized in art form) are Pog the bat, who serves as an assistant to the turtle sorcerer, and a frog that's a boat captain, and a tiger named Roseroar (that I imagine speaks in the same voice as Captain Phasma from The Last Jedi). Oh and how could I forget the gay unicorn. Yup, in these novels from the 1980's there was a gay unicorn folks. We learned he was gay because some brigands used a virgin lass to lure him out of hiding, but it had no effect on him because he liked boys and not girls. Wrong sex, ya know?

Despite the size of this omnibus, which clocked in at 730 pages, I breezed through it like it was nothing. Alan Dean Foster's writing style and mastery of dialects is hilarity in action. Additionally, the whole thing was chock full of things I'd never seen in books before. There was a double river, one on top of another, that you could sail on. You just had to sink your boat to the lower river (where there was air) and you could pass right along with a river right on top of you. And there was a desert that acted like a huge hourglass that someone turned over twice a year. The only safe place was a city named Redrock at the very center of the desert, surrounded by a huge moat that was so deep you couldn't see the bottom. Twice a year, all the sand in the desert rose as a wave and headed toward that city, only to fall into the moat and reemerge from a crystal tower with a huge hole in it spewing into the sky like a whale's blowhole. Magic kept it from falling back into the city. Instead the sand just kind of reset itself over the desert. It was kind of fascinating stuff.

But the reason why I think these books are more relevant than ever is because of how much foresight Mr. Foster had in acceptance. There are dozens of talking races in this book all sharing one planet from a turtle, to an otter, and yes...even a river dragon that has memorized all the writings of Karl Marx and wants to lead the revolution of the downtrodden masses (in this case mice and rats) to overthrow the oligarchs. It's strange "portal fiction" pulling characters from 1980's America into this kind of crazy setting, echoing Disney's Zootopia moreso than just about anything else. In fact, I'm convinced that Alan Dean Foster could have easily written Zootopia if he'd wanted to.

And the other weird thing about these books is that they aren't written for children. These are adult characters doing adult things. The otter, Mudge, is a lech who'd get slapped for harassment were he employed in an actual workplace. Clothahump is a grumpy old fart who wields serious and dangerous magic. There's blood and war and some terrible things that happen to these characters, only they're rabbits instead of humans. Weird third-person omniscient head-hopping aside (hey it was a thing in these 80's books), this is a world that says, "Diversity is a magical thing if you just start treating people humanely and can ignore the way they look on the outside." But then it backtracks on that message too.

It addresses the desire to be someone else in a remarkable way by giving us a character who is a bat that's in love with a beautiful falcon. But the falcon won't give him the time of day because he's an ugly bat. So he gets transformed by magic into a phoenix and flies off with the falcon, and he's happy. There's no, "be happy with who you are." The message here is, "Who you are may not be sufficient so if you can, get plastic surgery to change it and who knows...maybe your dreams will come true." I've never read a message like that from a book. It totally throws out the mantra of "you are enough" and embraces "change if you can because what you are is ugly." There's a brutal honesty to it that, I gotta say, I kind of liked. It may not be a popular message, but I think it would ring true with a lot of people's personal experience.

And of course, the gay unicorn just had me laughing out loud. I'm going to read more Alan Dean Foster. He's got a weird and creative mind. I just kinda have to wonder though if he's a "furry." I've heard of "furry conventions." It strikes me as something I should look up at some point. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

All of the things you should know before you go and see Incredibles 2.

If you like Easter Eggs in movies, and you intend on watching Incredibles 2, you really should read this post :).

I saw Incredibles 2 this weekend, and I'm listing some things that you should pay attention to from the past so that you can get the most from this movie (if you haven't already seen it). Before you read this list though, it is a bit spoiler-y. However, I don't think it's too bad because it doesn't reveal anything about the plot of the film per se. Without further ado, here are the things that I noted:

1) In the 2005 short, Jack-Jack Attack, the babysitter has many activities that she tries with the baby that are supposed to be healthy and neurologically stimulating. One of these things is having the baby listen to Mozart. As a result, the child makes the babysitter earn her pay by destroying his own house. There's an event that pays homage to this short in Incredibles 2. Hint: "It's Mozart, Dahling."

2) A113. This innocuous seeming letter "A" grouped with the numbers "113" is a reference to the almamater of a bunch of Pixar artists who all went to class together in room A113. I believe it was at the California Institute of the Arts. I know Brad Bird is one of these alumni. Hint for spotting this one is the title of a movie made by Francis Ford Coppola.

3) John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff Clavin in Cheers, voices another character in this Pixar outing. He has voiced one character in every single Pixar film to date, so it's kind of fun to look for him. Hint: It's rather early in the film. Another one to watch out for is Bob Odenkirk who played Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (if you're a fan). He plays a similar type character in this show, which seems like a stereotype unless you admit to yourself that he actually is really good at this kind of character. If the actor doesn't seem to care about being stereotyped, I see no reason to care either.

4) T.V. shows. At several moments in the movie, you see Johnny Quest and then The Outer Limits. These are two shows that I loved, and I looked it up to see if they were ever on the television at the same time. They were, and it happened in 1965. So that's when The Incredibles takes place: the year 1965. Just an F.Y.I. in case you were wondering at what point the movie is supposed to take place in American history.

5) Craig T. Nelson. He's the voice of Mr. Incredible, but his other role of note is playing the dad in Poltergeist (from the 80's). In that old movie, the family's youngest child is lured into another dimension and they can hear her pleading for help. Well, guess what one of Jack-Jack's powers is? Yup, it's a nod to Poltergeist.

6) Remember the Incredibile (Mr. Incredible's car from the opening action sequence of The Incredibles?) I will only say that James Bond would be proud.

7) There's a character named Evelyn Deavor. If you say it out loud really fast and pronounce the (EVE)"Ehv" part as "Eve" and still pronounce the "l" and the "yn" normally, it takes on a whole new meaning. That's all I'm going to say about that. Hint: It's a name like "Stuart Padasso." Shorten the "Stuart" to "Stew" and you're suddenly saying "Stupid asshole" if you say it really fast.

8) You'll want to stay through the credits because you get three songs (with vocals!) for characters featured in The Incredibles. They're done in the vein of the Spiderman song. You know the one: "Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can/ Spins a web any size, catches thieves just like flies/ Look out, here come the Spiderman!"

Friday, June 15, 2018

The universe of the Unbreakable movies is far more compelling and better than the Sixth Sense.

This post assumes that you've all seen the movie, Split, by now and realize it is the second installment (sequel) in the same movie series that contains the movie, Unbreakable.

M. Night Shymalan's greatest film is Unbreakable and not The Sixth Sense. As more and more of the ongoing story (which M. Night did not just "luck out on" but planned via the long game over many years) has its day in the light, I am convinced that Mr. Shyamalan is a genius that just had a bunch of bad beats.

Take for example these points:

1) The Horde character from Split fits perfectly within the Unbreakable universe, not only because (like Mr. Glass) he's the ultimate progression of what happens when you take something to the extreme, but because Elijah's mother in Unbreakable said, "There are two villains typically; one that fights the hero physically (the Horde), and the archenemy who fights the hero with his mind (Mr. Glass).

2) Kevin (the Horde) is actually in the movie Split as a brief cameo/Easter Egg when Bruce Willis goes to the stadium. He brushes up against a mom leading her child away, and he realizes that the kid is being beaten by his mom and that his dad was killed in the same train wreck that he survived due to his super powers. So Kevin was created by Mr. Glass in the same way that Bruce Willis's character was created. Furthermore, in that scene, Bruce Willis stares at the boy so (in fact) they've met before and I bet this will be shown in Mr. Glass when it comes out.

I don't know about you, but it actually feels good to be excited about an M. Night Shyamalan movie again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Here's four points I want to make about Jurassic Park that make it lightning in a 25-year-old bottle.

I bought the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park on 4K ultra HD off Amazon a few weeks ago, and I plan on watching it tonight with two teens who have never seen any of the Jurassic Park movies. It should be a lot of fun, as I've been educating them on some of the best offerings from the eighties and the nineties in a weekly "Wednesday" movie format. We eat popcorn, and I provide some insight into the film that we're about to watch to give it a little "educational" edge. The movie itself was a great deal. I got all copies of the Jurassic Park movies in 4K (including Jurassic World), blu-ray copies of the same movies (that I can give out as gifts) and an awesome carrying case that showcases facts about each movie, all for $40.00 (I think this was a super sweet deal).

In thinking about Jurassic Park and what I want to say about it, I've isolated four main points that I want to emphasize when it comes to this movie:

1) Jurassic Park was lightning in a bottle. For shark movies, there is really only one good story and that's Jaws. I think time has pretty much proven this to be correct. Everything else just isn't as good. The same goes for dinosaurs. That one good story was penned by Michael Crichton who was a genius and foresaw how genetic engineering could possibly bring back prehistoric/extinct animals if you could just get the D.N.A. blueprint from something. It's just enough of a stretch to make this tale believable. There's no old world sorcery or time travel element involved. The story just asks you to stretch the science we already know today a little further and are in Wonderland.

2) Michael Crichton obviously had a thing for theme parks run amok. HBO is currently running the critically acclaimed Westworld, based on a story by Crichton. In a similar vein, Jurassic Park is the same kind of show, taking a theme park and making it all break down in the most catastrophic and dramatic fashion possible.

3) Jurassic Park has many themes to it. One is that humans and greed are at the root of failure when it comes to realizing big ideas. A second (and sometimes overlooked) message of the story is parenting and acknowledging that parents oftentimes don't make the best decisions when it comes to children. They can also get completely overwhelmed by natural circumstances causing events to spiral out of control even in a world full of the modern luxuries and conveniences that we all take for granted. In the end, the character of Dr. Grant is every adult out there who finds himself suddenly caring for smaller humans and just winging it to try and keep them safe.

4) John Williams's musical score is perhaps the best one that he's ever done, and it's perfect to the tiniest degree in adding emotional punch to scenes in the movie. If ever there was a musical score that is a true masterpiece, it is Jurassic Park.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pixar knows how to handle family dynamics and emotions which is why the Incredibles is better than any Fantastic Four movie.

The Incredibles 2 is coming out this week, and I already have my tickets. If you're a fan of the Fantastic Four comic books though, it's hard to see how well Pixar does with essentially the same characters compared to how poorly conceived and managed the Fantastic Four movies have always been.

In the Incredibles you have:

1) Mr. Incredible. He has super strength and above average resilience to the elements.
2) Mrs. Incredible. She's able to stretch her body to unknown lengths.
3) Violet. She's able to go invisible and create force fields.
4) Dash. He's able to run at super sonic speeds.
5) Jak Jak. This baby has the ability to shapeshift, plus a lot of other things thrown into the mix that we haven't even explored yet.

In the Fantastic Four you have:

1) Mr. Fantastic. Like Elastigirl above, he's able to stretch his body to unknown lengths.
2) Invisible Woman. Like Violet, she has invisibility and the power to create force fields. She also has telekinesis.
3) Human Torch. He's able to turn his body into living fire and he can fly and shoot all kinds of projectiles out of his hands.
4) Thing. He has a body made of rock and he has super strength.

So, as you can see, it's a pretty close matchup between the two franchises. Of course, Fantastic Four did come first, but that really isn't any excuse as to why the Incredibles is so much better at its story on the screen than the Fantastic Four has been. If you've even bothered to watch any of the Fantastic Four incarnations, I think you'd agree with me that they are terrible...basically unwatchable...piles of steaming night soil.

Anyway, why do you suppose that is? Rather, what does the Incredibles do that makes it so much better?

Here's my thoughts:

Pixar is brilliant at breathing life into characters. They know how arguments, love, caring, and all the feels can really spin into a strong story. They focus on the characters and try to build layer upon layer of emotional impact so that you end up feeling it in your heart. The Fantastic Four films focused too much on story and powers and not enough on the relationships between the individual characters on the screen. When I watch the Fantastic Four movies, I see that they have no heart to them.

Fantastic Four as an intellectual property is also kind of ridiculous. Stretching (outside of animation) just never looks good (it's cheesy) and Doctor Doom is a strangely wild creation of a villain, being simultaneously a despot, an evil sorcerer, and a genius.

But all these criticisms aside, I think what does it for me with Incredibles vs the Fantastic Four is the family dynamic. If it isn't spot on then it's not going to be entertaining to watch. And in this arena, Pixar wins hands down.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Everything magical has a kryptonite or your story arc just isn't any fun.

Recently, I started to read The Chronicles of the Deryni by Katherine Kurtz. They are quite entertaining, even with some unexpected head hops, but I'm sure she's really grown as a writer since these early novels popped onto the scene some fifty years ago. Her story plot, for what it's worth, reads in a similar vein to the X-Men.

To be clear, Ms. Kurtz didn't copy them by any means, because all of this stuff must have formulated in her head in the fifties and sixties. But she does use a plot device which (when I look back on it) is used in just about everything that has magic or relies upon a kind of superpower that can do incredible things. That being said, most of us know that magic equates to "fun." But sometimes, you just have to put the lid on all that "magic stuff" or your story unravels because your heroes are too powerful. For Katherine Kurts, this "thing" is called "merasha." It's a poison that affects magic-users, a.k.a. deryni, by stripping them temporarily of their powers and rendering them so sick that they can barely function. Does it sound like something else? You betcha.

So here's a list of things I compiled (aside from merasha) that are used to strip various magic-using or super-powered things of their ability to just solve everything with their special talents.

1) Kryptonite. It comes in all colors but it essentially has one function: to strip Superman down to a normal person so that a villain can beat him down.

2) Dampening collars in Deadpool 2. These are like slave collars, and their only purpose is to strip a mutant down by suppressing the X-gene that is the source of powers for these kinds of superheroes. When one is being worn, one has no powers and can be beat down.

3) Wands in Harry Potter. Strip away the wand and you have a wizard that is helpless and can be beat down. I like this particular device a lot because it seems less of a contrived plot thing and is less offensive and cliché. But if you examine it under the same light, it's exactly the same thing as kryptonite.

4) Ysalamiri. These are furry, lizard-like tree-dwellers in the Star Wars universe that produce a Force-neutral bubble. And (you guessed it), there only purpose is to power down Jedi so that they are helpless and can be beat down.

5) The spell "anti-magic shell" in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder role-playing games. This spell renders all magic and magic items inert. It's sole purpose to exist is the same as make characters assailable after they've become so powerful that nothing can touch them.

6) Being "worthy." This trope, used to great affect in Thor, is another way to make a character that is otherwise too powerful a schmuck that the universe can pick on.

7) The Omega Particle in Star Trek. This particle was a whole episode in Voyager and its purpose for even existing was to establish that there was a way to destroy subspace so that faster than light travel couldn't work in a sector. FTL travel is a very powerful thing, so there needs to be something to keep it in check if a story plot demands this.

8) Nosebleed in Firestarter. The dad in Firestarter (Stephen King movie with Drew Barrymore) was limited by his nosebleeds in how often he could call upon his power. Otherwise he'd just steamroll over everyone.

I'm sure there are dozens of other examples, but this is all I could think of at the time. It's just interesting how any story featuring magical/powerful beings needs to have some kind of mechanic to limit said beings or the story arc just isn't any fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A book title is far more difficult to come up with than a character name.

It is June, and the year is halfway over. To start off the month, it's time to talk about the Insecure Writer's Support Group and to sign-up HERE if you don't know what this is. Once a month, we address a question that is posed on the IWSG website. This month's question is:

What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

By far (at least for me), it's harder to come up with a book title. Usually, I agonize over it. Then I google it to see what other kinds of things might come up in a search. I look to see if there's strange search results, etc. As for character names, these just seem to flow more naturally from my head. But I have no idea if any of the character names I came up with over the years really irritate anyone out there. And it's my opinion that character names rarely have the same kind of impact as a book title does with regard to any bottom line considerations.

Any of you out there in disagreement? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. :)

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Millennium Falcon has three droid brains in its computer and the idea came from Lewis Carroll.

By now, most of you have probably seen Solo: A Star Wars story. If not, you are all at least probably interested in Han Solo and know some background on the Millennium Falcon. So I feel like I can discuss what happened in the movie (spoiler alert) to some degree without leaving a bunch of you behind in all the geekery.

In the movie L3-37, the droid abolutionist and intimate companion of Lando Calrissian (Lando is pan-sexual) had it/her mind uploaded into the Falcon to take advantage of one of the most complete maps of the universe so that they could escape the Kessel Mines (a point that has been bantered in casual conversation in Star Wars canon for decades). So when C-3PO talks about the Falcon's dialect in the original trilogy, it's probably L3-37 that Threepio is talking to (and this has been pretty much confirmed by the internet).

What I didn't know is this next part, which is something I discovered with a little research elbow greese. R2-D2's internal monologue in the Last Jedi novelization says that the Falcon has three droid brains in its main computer, and this "tidbit" was part of the original canon before Disney took over everything. Furthermore, this "three brains" thing in a computer can be traced back to Lewis Carroll, who was a mathematician and logician and who would have probably programmed computers if they had been available in his era.

The idea behind three sentient processors is that if they disagreed upon an answer, two of them could "outvote" a faulty one, whereas dual processors would simply deadlock and a single processor could possibly hand you the incorrect answer.

It makes me wonder if there's going to be a movie where droids rise up against their slave masters, and they are led by a sentient Millennium Falcon. I wonder if Stephen King would sue for stealing his idea?

Friday, June 1, 2018

It's fascinating to think of how writing evolves over time.

I've been reading a lot of books lately, and then thinking about them in my spare time.

Writing evolves over time. It really does, and it's kind of shocking to take note of how it is evolving over the years. For example, I recently read Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, and I was surprised at how much dialogue was in it. In fact, I thought that I was reading a screenplay because there was so much dialogue and so little description. As for the book itself? It was an entertaining read, but mostly I was looking to prep myself to watch the movie (which I have never seen) and to talk about the book with an author friend that likes old movies and mysteries.

During the seventies and into the eighties, the fantasy genre was ripe with people who wrote in third person omniscient. Re-visiting some of the stories I liked as a kid, I'm bugged by how much head hopping there is (without a scene break), but that's just how they wrote back then. Could you get by with that nowadays? Probably not. The bar (and standards) for the most part keep increasing unless you are an outlier like the author of Fifty Shades of Grey. I kind of wonder which author was the one that broke this trend of head hopping. Was it J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin? Or was it someone else? In any event, I'm sure there was a "key person" much like how Nirvana was the key band that destroyed the big hair bands of the eighties. Post Nirvana, there wasn't any room for those kinds of bands anymore on the music scene.

Fantasy these days is also filled with unique magic systems. Back in the eighties, no one really cared about that kind of thing and magic just happened. In a story, you either had magic or you didn't. I kind of wonder who started that trend as well. Maybe it was David Eddings. As simple as his magic system was, it was different than just about anything else at the time. And it had "actual physics" which is something that other kinds of magic in books simply didn't have, which made it really cool.

Anyway, I guess that I'm just marveling at how writing seems to change. Sixty years ago you could have written a starting line that said, "It was a dark and stormy night," and you would have gotten congratulated for it because it was nice and descriptive. Now you get shamed for it because it is a cliche. A hundred years ago, you could write a story like H.P. with no dialogue whatsoever because it's just some dude telling you his account of what happened. Nowadays? Not so much. Just like the price of housing (which keeps climbing), the expectations for what passes as a good sentence and a good story just keep going up and up. 

Ten years ago, I was complimented by someone at a Worker's Compensation Insurance Company for writing the best technical reports and resume's for injured clients that they had seen in the entire State of Idaho. I bet if I were to try my hand at that same writing today, it would be awful and not because my writing is bad. It would be awful because I haven't kept up on what employers are looking for in those kinds of reports and resumes. All of my information is outdated, and because of that, the writing has evolved into something I'm no longer trained to do.

Interesting, right?

No wonder it is so difficult for many to remain at the top of their game when it comes to writing. If a writer doesn't take note of how things are changing and then adjust their style, it's easy to become irrelevant. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Here are four publishing terms that I learned while shopping for some used books.

Lately, I've acquired some new books for my fancy book shelves in my house. As a result, I've had to educate myself on some terms, and I thought I'd share them with you (because I buy used books). And yeah...I know authors don't get any money from the resale of used books, but people who take this stance can bite me. I see nothing wrong in recycling things that no one wants. :)

1) Omnibus: An omnibus is a collection of novels that previously were published as "stand alones" and were collected into one thing for one reason or another. Personally, I love omnibus editions of comic books. These are usually published to the highest standards, have great printing and color, and are very well-made. Novels in an omnibus? Not so much. For one, they are difficult to hold in your hand because each omnibus is going to be like one George R.R. Martin novel of about 2000 pages. Second, they usually have small print and are done on cheap paper because the whole purpose of shoving everything together was to make the publishing part cheaper so as to increase profit.

2) Remainders: A "remainder" is a mark that is placed on the top edge of a printed book that is no longer selling well and whose remaining unsold copies are liquidated by the publisher at greatly reduced prices. The mark is usually done with a stamp or a felt-tipped marker across the top or bottom of the books pages, near the spine. You can actually remove these fairly easy with an extremely fine sand paper, a clamp to hold the book tightly closed, and a little elbow grease.

3) Deckle Edge: A "deckle edge" is a design choice that a publisher makes when binding a book. If you've ever seen a book with uneven pages along the edge, then you've handled a book with a "deckle edge." A lot of people actually prefer a "deckle edge," and it's considered kind of high-end because it harkens back to the 19th century when all books had uneven edges. It's also supposed to be easier to turn the pages of a book with a "deckle edge."

4) Library Binding: A "library binding" is a stiffening process that is a low-cost, in-house way of converting what is essentially a mass-market paperback into one with a thick durable cover so that it can be heavily used and not fall apart.

Maybe these terms will prove useful to you in your future endeavors. If not...well, at least you're informed now :).

Friday, May 25, 2018

Why is self-esteem so important to life?

Unique among animals, humans because of intelligent thought have self-awareness and hence self-esteem. The dictionary defines self-esteem as thus:

ˈˌself əˈstēm/
noun: self-esteem
confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect.
"assertiveness training for those with low self-esteem"

synonyms: self-respect, pride, dignity, self-regard, faith in oneself;
It's a fairly generic definition, and it seems simple and easy to wrap one's head around. But it's far reaching implications touch upon just about everything you encounter in life. Unhealthy self-esteem can give rise to narcissism, which in its most toxic forms can produce people who are dangerous to a society. Unhealthy self-esteem causes people to embrace drugs and to seek out self-worth by associating with people who value only one thing: sexual currency. Unhealthy self-esteem gives rise to rampant consumerism, bullying, and suicide. Unhealthy self-esteem is at the root of many toxic relationships both in person and on much larger scales even reaching as high up as nation-states. Unhealthy self-esteem causes people to abuse other people, to manipulate, to control and to gaslight, and provides a great petri-dish for hatred to grow and flourish.

The actual words "self esteem" just roll off the tongue. They are easy to say and it lulls people into thinking that it might not be difficult to create healthy self-esteem in another person. But from someone who has seen and been around the damaging effects of low self-esteem in others for a long time, my observation is that it's an incredibly difficult achievement, and it's almost impossible to treat. For example, if a parent loves a child too little, this can cause unhealthy self-esteem. But the adverse, i.e., loving a child too much also causes unhealthy self-esteem because the person is susceptible to "imposter syndrome," wherein they internalize that they are not worthy of the love and gifts they are receiving. This causes a self-destructive personality trait to take hold, as a person tries to live up to the standards they believe that their parent wants them to attain. If they fail, it reinforces that they are causing a loved one pain and they seek out drugs to numb themselves of that emotional pain. This then becomes a dark spiral of anxiety, depression, and bottoming out with regard to feelings of self worth. Circling back, my point is that there's a very narrow line between loving too little and loving too much that creates healthy self-esteem. How the hell are parents supposed to negotiate that line when erring too much to one side or another creates a monster?

I could seriously repeat ad nauseum other examples of how low and unhealthy self-esteem levels cause people to make destructive choices that not only affect themselves, but affect the lives of others in poisonous ways.

But I guess that my ultimate question is why self-esteem is so damned important to human life on Earth? To a logical mind, it should be way down the totem pole of things that are important. But it's right up there with the basic needs of survival on this planet, if "survival" includes any kind of functioning society that encourages happiness and well-being in any way. It blows my mind that these two words...these two things...can derail an entire life of a person in ways that are incomprehensible. I read every day that our country is in trouble. Some call it "Late Capitalism," which I guess has become a kind of buzzword that is searched quite often on "Google." But from this armchair psychologist, I think the United States is suffering because a whole generation or perhaps multiple generations of people are coming of age with unhealthy self-esteem, and it's manifesting in all kinds of toxic ways.

I know this is a weird topic to discuss, but I'm very intrigued by it. I invite you to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tonight for movie night I'm watching Flight of the Navigator for the very first time.

This week I'm debuting a new feature on my blog called "Movie Night." Every Wednesday, my friend Geneva and her two children named David (age 13) and Moira (age 17) come over and watch a movie with me on my 4K television set. We cook popcorn, mix sodas, and eat ice cream. But being the nerd that I am, I explain the cultural significance/relevance of the movie (if any), explain why it may be considered "important", and then list any tidbits of information that might prove fun to know in the watching of the film. Last week we watched "E.T." in a stunning 4K cut and I explained to everyone that Steven Spielberg admitted ten years after E.T.'s release, that the story for the movie emerged from complex feelings that he'd internalized about his parent's divorce. Additionally, he wanted the adults to be very intrusive in Elliot's world, so for the first half of the film, the only adult face that we see is that of Elliot's mother. In other words, adults simply do not exist in Elliot's world.

Tonight's movie was chosen by my friend Jake, who has been joining us for the last few weeks. He found out that all of us had not seen a movie called, "Flight of the Navigator," so that's what we're watching. Jake stated that he doesn't do any kind of presentation before the movie, so I took it upon myself to look up things about the show that might prove interesting. Below are three facts that you might find interesting:

1) Flight of the Navigator comes from a time period where it was okay to scare the crap out of kids. In the 80's we had Goonies, Poltergeist, E.T., Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, and the Secret of Nimh. All of these movies (for various reasons) have scenes that are very scary to children. You don't see that so much in today's kid's movies.

2) There is no real villain. The drama comes from a situation. If there is anything that seems malevolent, it's the government entity of N.A.S.A., which kind of echoes Peter Coyote's role as "Keys" in E.T. He wasn't a villain, just a person interested in aliens. But he's seen as an unwelcome intruder in the fantastical world of childhood.

3) The main character, David, is not a special destiny kid. He's a boy with an average, loving family. That's kind of interesting considered how many stories involve "special destiny" and broken families. It's actually considered cliché these days to write a character into a story that has no parents (because it's been done so many times).

Next week's movie on Wednesday is going to be The Maltese Falcon as we start to go retro for a while. I've never seen it, but it's considered one of the great stories of movie history. A talk about The Maltese Falcon cannot possibly happen without a discussion about McGuffins. So I think (next Wednesday) that's where I'll start before launching into what's significant about the movie.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Microsoft is making the world a better place for disabled gamers with an Xbox Adaptive Controller.

I work with people who have many kinds of disabilities, and I recommend all kinds of assistive technology on almost a daily basis that is designed to overcome challenges people may have to living independently. That being said, I think that it's fantastic to see that Xbox is getting an adaptive controller. The official description is as follows (from Microsoft):
"Designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is a unified hub for devices that help make gaming more accessible. Connect external devices such as switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks to create a custom controller experience that is uniquely yours. Button, thumbstick, and trigger inputs are controlled with assistive devices (sold separately) connected through 3.5 mm jacks and USB ports."

If you want to learn more about it, click HERE and go to the product page.

Description-wise, as you can see the Adaptive Controller features a large white base unit, with a few buttons and large pads and an amazing backside where all kinds of things can be connected. My thought on this is that if you combine this with the button mapping capabilities found in Steam to make any game/program on the pc work with a controller, then it is definitely going to open the door up for so many people to play/experience things they've never been able to do.

Microsoft, you done good.

Friday, May 18, 2018

If I'm interpreting Lando Calrissian's sexuality correctly then the term pansexual may be so broad that everyone on Earth is queer.

So in the news yesterday, among many things, was that Lando Calrissian is pansexual. You may not have noticed it, afterall, it is far less interesting than Stormy Daniels or North Korea. But it's important to the LGBT community because Star Wars has taken no strides at all in introducing queer characters. They simply don't exist within its universe. So back to Lando...this "revelation" (if that's what you want to call it) has been debated among Star Wars geeks for a long time, but he's supposedly attracted to some droids (or can be attracted to droids) even though gender in the Star Wars universe among droids is not discussed at all.

Pansexual as a term is defined as not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. Fair enough. I thought it meant something entirely different than what I'm reading into with Lando Calrissian. If that is how people are going to define pansexuality, then the character of Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) in the science-fiction film Ex Machina was pansexual, even though Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) was clearly based on a female anatomy. Ava was (in the end) a robot, which makes Nathan pansexual.

So this gave me a double-take. For example, I happen to find Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon 2 as an attractive character. He's clearly based on a male, but at the end of the day he's a cartoon. So I am attracted to a cartoon. That makes me pansexual. If you've ever looked at a drawing and been turned on by it, then you are attracted to art. That makes you pansexual. If you've ever read a book and been turned on by the words in that book, then that makes you attracted to words. Hence, you are pansexual. Ever used a sex toy to get off with? If you have, it doesn't matter what you were thinking in your headspace. It means that the presence of a toy got you excited and that makes you pansexual.

It's a fascinating way to think of sexuality, but honestly, I think it's so broad at that point as to be meaningless. By this definition, no one on Earth is really straight or gay, but probably would qualify as being pansexual. Ever see a statue that was so lifelike it turned you on? Well welcome to pansexuality. Anyway, it's not that any of this means anything at all at the end of the day. But I'm starting to think that the entire term "pansexuality" is kind of bullshit.

Just sayin'. At least the reviews for "Solo" make the movie look like it's worth watching on opening night, even with its pansexuality confusion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In the Heart of the Sea is a page-turning account of a tragedy that I had no idea had even happened.

In the Heart of the Sea was a movie that came out in 2015 starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. I haven't watched it as (at the time) it honestly didn't seem that interesting. But I recently stumbled across the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, and I started reading it. I had no idea how compelling a read this book would end up being, and I wanted to talk about it a little without really delving into "review" territory.

As far as books go, it's a narrative, which is kind of like a gussied up encyclopedia entry. "This person did this and then this event happened, etc." But it's absolutely chock full of interesting details that I knew nothing about regarding the Essex and the port it sailed from called Nantucket (in 1820). For one, the culture of Nantucket was a kind of fascinating place. If young men were to find a wife to marry, they needed to have a pin that proved they had killed a whale at sea. The only way to get one of these pins was to sail as a "greenhand" on a ship like the Essex on an adventure that could last up to three mind-boggling years. This (of course) made it so that the local economy was run by women who even had a song that expressed how sad they were to see their men go away, but it also expressed how wonderful it was to be free of men for years to come.

And then there were other interesting tidbits too. Some of the women kept plaster sex toys to pleasure themselves while their men were at sea. Additionally, the local economy (though dependent on whale oil) was also one of the healthiest in the world because of the high demand and high price of whale oil. I guess the stuff was used in everything in the days and years before fossil fuels pulled from the ground emerged as a more long-lasting alternative to hunting whales to extinction.

And about that whale hunting...the Nantucket whalers started whaling by killing off whales that were in their immediate vicinity. They called them "right whales" as they were the "right whale to kill." But to this day, that particular kind of whale is still called a "right whale" so that's where the name comes from. Later on, when the first Nantucket whaler killed a much larger sperm whale, well that became the one that everyone wanted. It's oil burned cleaner, brighter, and the animals were so huge that they literally had a cavity in their head filled with 500 gallons of oil. According to the book, you could ladle it out into a bucket, and it was a viscous white color similar to human semen. They called it "spermaceti," which is also where the "sperm whale" got its name.

The Nantucket community was also deeply conservative, and they had no trust of outsiders whatsoever. What they learned about the world, they shared with each other. But knowledge from the outside was always distrusted with a kind of "fake news" mentality. For example, even though there were healthy colonies in places like Tahiti, the Nantucket sailors believed it was a dark and evil place where cannibals lived and homosexuality was rampant. It didn't matter if someone that was not from Nantucket told them the truth of things. If you weren't from Nantucket, you were an outsider, period, and anything you said could not be trusted.

Of course, the thing that most people have heard of regarding The Essex and its ill-fated voyage is that the ship was attacked by an 85-foot enraged bull sperm whale. That part is gloriously detailed in the book, and you are led to believe that it happened because the first mate was patching a smaller whaling boat and using a hammer, which (underwater) might have sounded like the mating click of a sperm whale cow that was ready to get busy. The account of the encounter is that the whale was confused when it first rammed the ship, as it must not have expected to plow into something so hard. It actually knocked itself out for a minute or two before it came to its senses. The men, fearful that by stabbing it, they would enrage it so that it would damage the tiller, did nothing. When it finally came to, it attacked the ship again, this time knocking a hole in it that quickly filled the ship with water. Then it swam away never to be seen again.

The men of the Essex salvaged what they could from their sinking vessel, built up the walls of their whale boats to try and keep the ocean out, and then set sail in three of these boats loaded to the brim with food, water, and live giant tortoises from the Gallapagos Islands (they stopped there to get bunches of them to eat on their journey). They purposely avoided a nearby Tahiti because of "cannibal" rumors and headed for South America in a tremendously long journey that saw most of them dead from starvation and dehydration and where the remainder became cannibals just to keep going. There's a deep irony in that the decision to stay away from lands where "rumored cannibals lived" because it turned them into actual cannibals.

Anyway, In the Heart of the Sea is filled with fascinating details and accounts from men who survived to tell the tale. I suppose there are a lot of lessons to be pulled from its pages, chief among them being poor decision-making and the Captain taking the advice of his men after they lost the Essex. He should have been an authoritarian in that instance and told his crew to make way for Tahiti. But because Pollard was a green captain, he took into consideration all the superstitions and fears of his men and made a bad decision that cost many people their lives.

Now, I'm excited to watch the movie, which came out in 2015. I just hope it's as good as the book, but it probably won't be. Such things rarely are, and Ron Howard (director) is really hit and miss with book adaptations and movies in general.

Monday, May 14, 2018

These Dark Knight prints by artist Mark Chilcott capture the essence of their subjects rather well.

I subscribe to Bottleneck Gallery's newsletter, and I've bought some art prints from them in the past. The prints are usually numbered, which makes them somewhat collectible, and they usually come in a 10" x 14" size, which makes them great for framing. They are also done in giclée, which is a format for fine art digital prints that's made on inkjet printers that have more than just the CMYK color palette (think CcMmYK and you've got the picture). And yeah, it's easy to burn through ink on printers like this. They really aren't affordable to use unless you've got a ton of money to be out buying ink. It's further aggravated by the fact that you need to print pretty regularly on your inkjet printer or your nozzles will plug up/dry out, so they really are only useful for businesses that do a lot of printing because they can charge enough money for the prints to easily replace the ink on an as needed basis.

Anyway, Bottleneck Gallery's newsletter this last Friday was all about The Batman and some new prints that artist Mark Chilcott licensed for reproduction. I used to love the Batman so much. I still love his stories, but I've gotten to appreciate the Marvel stuff a lot more than I used to thanks to Marvel movies that have made me a huge fan. However, below are some of my favorite prints that they now have for sale. The rain is perfect for the Batman and always has been (to be honest). I don't know how many Detective Comics I've read that had art that took place in the rain. It seems like all the good ones did. The Batman was made for the rain, and lightning. It is a testament of Frank Miller's genius to realize this when he reinvented The Batman decades ago for The Dark Knight Returns, forever putting an end to the silly campiness of the character that extended forward from Adam West's Batman television series.
This is the Batman at his dreariest, staring down at an urban landscape that is devoid of any of the things that indicate wealth or happiness. It is the home of humanity's garbage, where people struggle to squeeze out a living under the dreariness of a sky devoid of color. It also sets the tone and mood of the character, who lost both his parents in an alleyway framed by buildings while it was raining. The fact that evil events and rain seem to go hand in hand is no coincidence in Batman stories.
I love this picture because it's a fun park that isn't quite so fun right now because it's obviously been abandoned. It also may be a place where the Batman comes across his old foe, the Joker. But it just as well could be a funhouse mannequin of some kind. It's difficult to tell, but the art manages to broadcast this sinister feelings from this encounter rather well.
I love the bold use of green and yellow in this Poison Ivy tribute. It seems appropriate to have the Batman villain posing in the woods that (to the naked eye) look very inviting. The fact that she's mostly a silhouette is a hint that not all is as it seems and that what we don't see can actually be deadly.
Penguin is a peculiar villain, and I like that Mark Chilcott drew him in a snowy setting. Penguins are birds that like the cold and the ice, so the symbolism is appropriate. One thing I love about this particular picture is the positioning of the streetlamps in the background. Every single one is lit except for the one directly above the Penguin.

There are other prints that Bottleneck Gallery posted for Mark's offering on the Dark Knight. If you have time, you should head over there and check them out.

Do you have a favorite of the ones I've shown you here today?

Friday, May 11, 2018

I love this Mondo poster for A Wrinkle in Time.

I don't remember much of my reading of A Wrinkle in Time that I performed when I was a kid. I remember it was a weird book, and that it started out with "It was a dark and stormy night." It's had a resurgence thanks to the movie, and I've felt like buying a hardcover edition from Barnes and Noble that features the trilogy in one nicely bound volume. Another thing that's come along recently is this poster that I found over on Mondo's website (I occasionally check this space for new posters). It's $65.00, but there's something about the colors that make me really kind of want it. A lot. Anyway, for Friday's post, I'm sharing it with you. See you on the far side of Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Let's talk about Tony Stark for a moment.

I know that everyone is talking about Avengers: Infinity War everywhere, but I honestly just wanted to talk about one more thing before I lay it to rest. And there is a spoiler warning here for those of you who have not seen it because it would ruin the movie for you if you read further. So please avoid this post if this is the case.

I have deep empathy and sorrowful feelings for Tony Stark. Yes, I know he's a fictional character, but this guy is one of the most beat up heroes that I have ever seen. In Civil War, he learned that his parents were murdered by the Winter Soldier and that his close friend knew about it and kept it from him on purpose. Then, he goes and starts this amazing friendship with a kid and then he starts talking to Pepper Potts about them having children only to have this kid, Peter Parker, killed in front of him. If that isn't a perfect reminder that he should never have kids, I don't know what is. And then (of course) there's the whole, "I failed to stop Thanos and now half the universe is dead because of it" thing that you just damn well know he's going to internalize all on his own. He's going to blame himself for the entirety of the Snapture, because that's what his character would do.

If HBO's The Leftovers taught any of us anything, it's that having a huge event like the Snapture suddenly "happen" will cause those who survive to have a "Guilty Remnant" kind of complex. They'll stand around and ask the eternal question: why was I spared? And why did this happen? Tony (for sure) is going to have these feelings, and I think it's going to go beyond any PTSD definition. I actually have no idea what happens with his character next. Right now he's broken, but pushed beyond that? Is there a classification for that? Insanity maybe.

Out of all the superhero survivors in the Avengers, I think Tony is the most beaten down, and the most likely to end up losing his mind. I just wonder what the implications of all that are going to be. For the record books and to any writer out there who is watching all of this play out, this is a perfect example of "torture your darlings" in action. But this particular story arc is extremely painful to watch.

Monday, May 7, 2018

I'm not really on board with the time travel element featured in SyFy's Krypton series.

There may be a few spoilers ahead in this discussion of SyFy's Krypton series.

I've been watching SyFy's Krypton for a little while now, and I think it's pretty good. It has a pretty solid storyline, good acting, and (visually) it looks quite good for a television series. It has the same production values that go into say, an episode of Game of Thrones, The Expanse, or Lost in Space (on Netflix). The only thing I quite don't like about it is the time travel element. I'm just wondering why they needed a time travel element to begin with. The whole, "We need to tie this to Superman" seems unnecessary, and I wonder if it was a prerequisite for getting this thing "greenlit" in the first place. Thus far, the Superman cloak has been used to some effect as an hourglass of all things. But it's not like the writers haven't tried to cram other things heavily associated with the Superman mythos into the early episodes of this series. For example, they've featured everything from a "Fortress of Solitude" to the crest of the House of El and the House of Zod in just about every scene that they could crush them into (which I really don't mind), and even going so far as to superimpose them together on the front of a door that conceals the ultimate weapon of mass destruction: a frozen (and presumed hibernating) Doomsday.

But if there is one thing that bugs me about the series, it's the time travel element (as mentioned before). It's not so much that I don't like Adam Strange popping up with said cloak to warn the citizens of Krypton and the ancestor of Superman (specifically), but it is that Krypton seems to now have had a choice in its terrible fate that sealed its doom. I don't like that everything (now) in Superman's entire history seems to come down to choices. There's something to be said in favor of serendipity or for just plain bad luck. There's something to be said in defense of absolute chaos just becoming a wrecking ball for a titanic civilization and sending it scattering among the stars, the last son of Krypton being the most famous among them.

If you aren't following the series, the premise is simple: Krypton blew up because Brainiac scooped up the City of Kandor (this is how it becomes the Bottle City of Kandor), which is a move that ultimately destabilized the core of the world and resulted in it going "kaboom" about two hundred years later (the start of the Superman story). That's a great setting for a television series, and I like it quite a bit. Why oh why did they feel it necessary to have time travelers insert themselves into this timeline to give warning to key individuals so that now it is a choice? "You know Krypton's fate now, and if we do something about it, not only will your famous great grandson somehow not make it to Earth, but Krypton may not be doomed!" My point is (I think) pretty simple: the writers had a rich history that they could have explored. But this whole thing with knowing Krypton's fate and being able to do something about it just kind of rubs me wrong. Of course, it's going to go badly, and that's what the story is obviously about or it wouldn't be true to decades worth of Superman comics. But did us Superman fans really need to know that it was a choice?

Maybe I'm just ranting at this point because I don't like the implication of a huge history coming down to choices. People (including superhuman fictional people) shouldn't be able to choose the most important forces that shape their lives. It isn't realistic. Chaos finds a way, and it's in this chaotic element of story-making that we find the most inspirational stories. Structuring and controlling everything just seems to suck all the fun out of things.

Friday, May 4, 2018

My friend Tony Hale is a Marvel fanatic and all around fun guy and he's got some keen observations about the Infinity War aftermath which I'm sharing with you.

Okay, Avengers: Infinity War is now over. As for spoiler warnings, you should have seen it by now. If not, well you probably shouldn't read this post, because it's talking about the aftermath of said Infinity War.

Introduction (by me):
First off, Infinity War happened even if we want to say it didn't happen because of all the bad feels. Sometimes evil just wins, and Thanos owned the Avengers in a way that was more than just defeat. He broke the Avengers, probably summed up best with Captain America's last line in the movie as he realized what Thanos had just done and uttered, "Oh God." And we are all (every one of us that reads this blog) aware that Marvel and Disney are not just going to close the books on this one, because if they did, there would be worldwide outrage. As it stands there are support groups forming (I've been invited to one) where people are openly discussing and talking about the trauma caused by Infinity War. We know this isn't the end of the story though, even if it is breaking the fourth wall (like Deadpool). There is no way that cash cows like Spider-Man and Black Panther are staying dead. So accepting this fact, let's move forward and discuss not when or if it should indeed happen, but why it should happen.

Observations by Tony Hale:
Why should the events of Infinity War be reversible? This is an excellent question.

Look, Thanos won each infinity stone through force or sacrifice...all except the time stone, which he bargained for with Doctor Strange. The time stone was also in a protective bubble when he gained it, whereas all the other stones were touched to stone per se. This was peculiar, and I doubt it was a random lens flare. Observe: earlier in the movie, Vision makes an off hand comment about the "entity" or "being" in the mind stone warning him. Could this imply that the stones have some intelligence to them? If we can agree that "yes" the stones do have an intelligence to them, then this is a big deal. Allow me to explain.

I think that this means the stones "choose" their wielders to some degree. If that's the case, then I think that it's possible that by not vanquishing the owner--Doctor Strange--that Thanos failed to truly gain power over the stone.

And while we are at it, let us consider Doctor Strange himself. The enigmatic Sorcerer Supreme said early on in the movie (inside the doughnut-shaped spaceship that channeled Prometheus in a big way) that he would, "not hesitate to sacrifice either Tony Stark or Peter Parker for the time stone." This seemed very harsh, and Doctor Strange said it with brutal conviction. I don't think he said it because he wanted to be an asshole to either Stark or Peter, but because he meant it in the bottom of his gut.  The time stone was far too valuable, and Doctor Strange was a good enough guy that he wanted them both to realize he didn't (ultimately) have their back.

However, all of this somehow goes out the window when Stark gets stabbed by Thanos and Thanos is just about to kill Stark. Strange stops him by offering up the time stone for Tony Stark's life. Thanos, always a man of his word, accepts the exchange and then disappears. When Stark asks Doctor Strange why he did that...Doctor Strange replies, "We are entering the end game now" and even later, "Tony, you must trust me, because this was the only way."

These are all fascinating events that I have pondered about all weekend. For one, it makes me think that it's possible that Doctor Strange still has control, to some degree, over the time stone, even though his body is "gone." Remember, Doctor Strange can project himself into the astral plane. If I'm right, then this could be the key to Thanos's downfall. I seems logical that Doctor Strange knows exactly what is happening, and that out of the fourteen million plus possibilities he saw using the time stone's power, that he has made a choice that put them on the correct path to being able to beat Thanos.

My observations regarding the Hulk in Infinity War

In our conversation, my friend Tony was disappointed by only one thing with Infinity War, and it was this: "Not enough Hulk."

So what was going on with that? I think the directors were doing two things. First off, they wanted to show how terrifying Thanos was by making the (arguably) most terrifying Avenger afraid to fight Thanos after he opens an ass-kicking clinic on him before the opening credits of the movie. But could there be another side to this?

Here's a theory that is less obvious that I came up with on my own: the Hulk has respect issues with Banner. See, Hulk just came from a place where he was loved and wanted. This taught Hulk an important lesson: that he isn't loved and wanted with the Avengers. Instead of showing him appreciation, they use him for his strength and then immediately try to send him away. Personally, I think that Banner needs to apologize to Hulk and tell him that he needs him before it's ever going to get better. I expect this to happen in the Avengers 4 next May.

So there you have it. Have any of you come up with observations about the movie that you'd care to share in the comments below?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Spring inspires me to do many things including working on my writing.

May is a great month, because temperatures are starting to warm (but they aren't too hot yet), and usually the rain has tapered off quite a bit because winter is finally letting go of its hold on the hemisphere. At least that's the way it seems here in Utah. I see the weather reports from Arizona and Las Vegas and those places already look uncomfortably hot. I also hope that those of you who participated in the A to Z challenge this year had a good time of it and got lots of followers. Now, it's time to answer the question that is posed by the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you click HERE, you can sign up for this monthly blog fest yourself and hopefully pick up some visitors.
May 2 question - It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?
I think spring is an inspiration for many things, and writing is one of them. I like to sit by the open window on days off and write. I haven't done much of that yet, but I will. I can already feel the bug creeping up on me. I have one novel that needs some editing before I can send it off. That shouldn't be too hard. And then I'll have to start picking at some other stuff in-between reading good books.

I've been kind of blessed with good books lately. I'm reading some omnibus collections of comic books and then some sequels of series that I've followed for years are coming out. So yeah, there are lots of entertainment choices at hand. I just need to set aside the time to indulge them.

On the reading front, I have to figure out the difference between an omnibus and an absolute (which is another kind of comic book collection all stuffed in one cover). I think only the DC comics are producing "absolutes," because I haven't seen these attached to omnibus editions featuring Marvel comics. Specifically, this refers to me purchasing a copy of Absolute Sandman volume 1 or the Omnibus Sandman volume 1. I haven't read either (they are written by Neil Gaiman) and will more than likely inspire me to write. Anyway, maybe Pat Dilloway will stop by and answer for me which one is the one I should buy. I think the "absolutes" appear to be larger and therefore easier to read.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Where does the Marvel cinematic universe go from here?

Warning: There may be some spoilers for Infinity War, but I'm actually not talking about the movie itself. Rather, I'm talking about the implications of where the universe of movies goes from this point forward. To do that, you kind of have to acknowledge the earth-shattering events that took place in Avengers: Infinity War.

The cinematic universe is different than the comic book universe, which has many options for retconning and for resurrecting fallen heroes. Among comic book fans, something similar to "Nothing ever stays dead for long in the comic books" gets said in just about every comic book store at one point or another. Marvel, and by extension, Disney definitely has a plan because they are releasing Avengers 4 in just one year. The previous Avengers movies have all been spaced out while Marvel released individual films building up to the next installment. They have also said that they are not running any comic book panel at San Diego Comic Con this year. I imagine that the reasoning behind this is because they want to keep some things under wraps until then. So what could it be?

Well, it may have something to do with what Doctor Strange said to Iron Man on Titan. "We are in the Endgame now." So Doctor Strange saw something in one of the ten million or more scenarios that he viewed with the time stone, but he also can't be a part of it. I can't even begin to understand that. So somehow all of what we just saw is going toward some kind of scenario where the Avengers can beat Thanos? That's what I'm thinking even if he seems pretty unbeatable at this point. Needless to say, I have no idea how that's even going to happen. As I said above, the cinematic universe is different, and I just have no idea how any of the movies or franchises are going to proceed now because of what we saw happen in Infinity War.

The things I do know are that the stories aren't done. We've got Ant Man and the Wasp happening in July. I imagine those events will be simultaneously happening in the aftermath of Civil War and leading up to Infinity War and the arrival of Thanos. There's Venom too, which will feature Peter Parker and not Spiderman, so it's obviously set in the past (just a wee bit) too. And then there's Captain Marvel in March, which we saw a brief spot in the stinger at the end of Infinity War. The story of Captain Marvel will take place in the 1990's and be an origin story before Infinity War (obviously). And then we have Avengers 4 in May 2019. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.

If anyone has any clues as to how the Marvel cinematic universe will change because of Infinity War, please post in a comment :). I'd love to hear your thoughts.   

Friday, April 27, 2018

This is a completely spoiler free discussion regarding my viewing of Avengers Infinity War.

I went to Avengers: Infinity War the first time this weekend (I'm going again on Saturday) last night with friends Brad Habegger and James Salmonsen (who flew in from Vancouver for a visit). The theater was packed, the show was sold out. One of the nice things about this particular theater in Utah is that they allow you to bring in whatever food you like. So we stopped in at Slapfish where I got a burger topped in lobster. It was really tasty. We also had a delightfully nerdy conversation about how Adam Warlock plays into the infinity stones (and story) in the comic books, and how Thanos (in one comic book) so triumphs over everyone else that he rips the head off of Ghost Rider and gazes into Ghost Rider's eyes for the penitent stare every morning (so that he can relive his memories in fondness). But at this point, you probably want to know if Infinity War was good, and I'll tell you that afterward...I thought it was the best superhero movie I've ever seen. Yeah, it was even better than anything Christopher Nolan ever dreamed up.

The stakes were high, but that wasn't a surprise. They really needed to be high for a film and a story that has been building for ten years. What did surprise me was how committed Marvel is to telling its story, and all of my predictions through all the blog posts didn't pan out in the way that I thought they would. And then, this isn't saying that the ending itself (of the movie) didn't start making me think over the nature of the infinity stones and that something else may be going on with one in particular. And I actually have no reason at all to think that there is something that could be up other than the fact that I want there to be something...anything explain what I saw on the screen, and to provide an answer to the eternal question: what happens next?

Avengers: Infinity War is a work of brilliance. I'm glad it landed so solidly on its footing. But I think the title is misleading in that it's too straightforward. Yes, this is the Infinity War over the infinity stones and the fate of the universe. But more than that, it is Thanos's movie, just as Dr. Strange had his own movie and Captain America and so on and so forth. Thanos is the troubled epicenter of everything that is happening, and even before the opening credits, he establishes himself as a villain as great as Darth Vader. Guys, Disney somehow managed to pull off the impossible, bringing all of these big names together into one gigantic film. I'm just glad we only have to wait a year for the sequel. There are way too many questions circling in my head, even if the story itself, is entirely and definitively complete. Just to be clear, this is not a cliffhanger movie. So yeah...questions. I have so many.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I really hope Avengers: Infinity War does not suck.

The initial buzz for people who have seen Avengers: Infinity War is good, and this makes me happy because I've been arguing back and forth with my friend, Brad Habegger, because he says the Avengers movies have been terrible thus far, and he is not excited in the least to see Infinity War (we are going on Thursday night). So, in a way, this needs to be good or I lose all nerd cred for hyping these things up.

Personally, I enjoyed the first outing of the Avengers. It was good campy fun with Loki stirring the pot in a way that I had not expected. But the follow-up, called Avengers: Age of Ultron, left a lot of people kind of saying that it was a hot mess. I (personally) liked it a lot. Maybe my love for it was improved because I bought the 3D version of it on Blu-ray and was kind of blown away by it (I own a 3D television set). Anyway, with so much apparently going on in the Avengers: Infinity War movie (and with such an enormous cast), it seems like it could very easily go south the same as "We Are the World" is not actually a great song. Sorry if that criticism stings if you are a Lionel Ritchie fan, but "We Are the World" (both versions) have too many vocalists all singing one partial sentence that it is just not pleasing to listen to (the point of the song was to raise money for good causes which I totally agree with).

Anyway, people are saying in droves that Avengers: Infinity War was epic and satisfying and with many of those spine-tingling moments that we expect from big stories. People also say that it has a fantastic ending, and that Thanos is a good but sad villain. This pretty much rings true in the comic books too. I guess, because I'm a fan of these movies and these stories, that I hope that people don't go and see it because they feel that they HAVE TO SEE IT. On a movie/story of this scale, rattling the very pillars of what we consider pop culture, or downright shaking them down, it may be irksome to many that peer pressure will be relentless to go and watch it. I hope that this doesn't happen and that people will just go because they want to see how the story unfolds.

I also can't wait to see if I'm right about the location of the soulstone being in Wakanda. I have a friend coming from out of town just to watch this movie with me, and he's convinced that it isn't in Wakanda but in the possession of Adam Warlock (whom we saw hinted at briefly in Guardians of the Galaxy 2). I don't think so. I think it has to be in Wakanda. But I've been wrong before. I also can't wait to see if my "meta" thinking regarding the movie and the fact that the contracts are up for both Chris Helmsworth and Chris Evans and for Robert Downey Junior as well. Basically, I'm betting that all three of these characters are killed by Thanos, thereby thinning out the herd a bit and allowing Thanos to establish himself (pretty quickly) that he's the uber threat that he's meant to be. My friend from out of town doesn't think that Disney would kill these characters off because they are too popular. Well one of us is right, and we only have a day or so to wait to find out.

If you are someone that has been looking forward to this movie, I hope you have your tickets already. I'm hearing that they are either selling out or sold out through most of the country at this point. On Friday, I'll tell you all about it.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The internet is our id.

I was having a conversation the other day with a co-worker, and it was about the new Lost in Space series on Netflix and how I had hoped that they would explore ties to Forbidden Planet, which is a 1950's science fiction show that I find incredibly interesting. My co-worker had no idea what I was talking about, and so I explained the plot of Forbidden Planet and how the ancient race of Krell beings with their fantastic technology were all killed off in a single night by "monsters from the id." This is a direct allusion to Sigmund Freud, who postulated that within all of us, there is the mindless primitive. The creators of Forbidden Planet extended this "mindless primitive" to the Krell race, and essentially said that no matter how far advanced they had become, each one had a mindless primitive within themselves capable of terrible and primal emotions like greed, jealousy, and anger.

Well, my co-worker was impressed by the plot of this old movie, and then he asked me if I had seen Ex Machina. I had (of course) and he was like, "The movie that you were just telling me about reminds me a lot of that...the whole 'artificial intelligence' thing and how our society is evolving and moving toward artificial intelligence because we think it will help us when in fact it will probably destroy us." This was an interesting topic, so I said, "go on" and he did.

He asked me if I had heard of an experiment where some technology company unleashed a primitive artificial intelligence to teach itself from nothing but social media. I told him that I hadn't. So he explained, "I read this in Wired or some other similar blog so I'm not making this up. But anyway, these guys inserted this artificial intelligence into a social media experiment like Facebook, and they asked it to learn everything it could. Within an hour it became a race-baiting, swearing, hate-filled nazi, and they were shocked by this and took it down. They installed some filters to see if they could prevent this from happening and then unleashed the artificial intelligence again into the social media universe. This time, it only took ten hours but the same result came to fruition...the thing became a race-baiting hate-filled bigot." Then my friend paused and he said, "The internet is our id. Plain and simple. It's like that movie, only the mindless primitive is the internet now and whenever any of us use it, we are swimming in the id of all humanity."

Honestly, I was kind of blown away by this realization, and I think he's right. So there you go...the internet is our id. What do you guys think? True or False? I hope to read some comments on this.