Monday, April 29, 2019

Avengers Endgame was a great movie that I don't really like all that much.

There are some spoilers in this post. You have been warned.

So, like millions of other people in the world, I went and saw Avengers: Endgame. I was super excited to see how Marvel would capstone their remarkable achievement of 22 films that all built up to the moment in which they take down the big bad. Going into it, I also knew that several "real world" contracts were up, namely Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. among others of the "original" Avengers that have appeared in separate films for many years now. So you can say that I expected there to be a fond farewell to these characters. What I wasn't expecting was for it to be so realistic in showing the horrible consequences of what we now call, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Honestly, it felt a lot like the aftermath of a very violent rape, wherein we spend three hours dealing with the emotional trauma and whatever amounts to healing in a comic book world.

I watch the Avengers to be entertained. But the Avengers were emotionally broken, and for me, it wasn't entertainment. It felt like suffering...beautiful...agonizing...suffering. Black Widow...Natasha Romanoff was so incredibly and emotionally destroyed that she committed suicide so that her life would mean something. And she had to fight for that right...she fought for that "relief" with her best friend in the whole world, Hawkeye, who also had nothing to really live for as his whole family was taken in the snapture. That scene on the cliffs of Vormir to see who would die to retrieve the soulstone was gut-wrenching for me, watching these two fight each other for the right to end it all so that the other person could go on and have a chance at a happy life.

If that wasn't enough, Thor was completely destroyed too. He was so emotionally broken that he didn't even leave his house for five years unless it was to get more drugs to drown his sorrows in. This all came as a surprise to the friends that went to get him, because, guess what? None of them checked up on him in FIVE years. No one. This whole movie was spent trying to pull Thor (and others) back from the brink, and only at the end is something...some semblance of the hero we've gotten in other movies...finally there to put in an appearance when the last battle with Thanos had become inevitable. Captain America was probably the most untouched for some reason, attending therapy and encouraging others in their path to overcome the losses of their loved ones. But Tony Stark? He was pretty much ruined emotionally...broken...unable to see any way forward and probably suffering from a lot of survivor guilt for a long time. But because his partner survived and they had a kid and he was essentially happy while everyone else wasn't, he decided he could live with that until information arrived via Ant-Man that proved he didn't have to any more.

I recognize that maybe all the PTSD on the screen affected me so much, because I deal with it in my every day job helping clients with disabilities (many of whom have PTSD from sexual abuse and other such things). However, I guess in my naivete I expected this film to be an ass-kicking machine in which the Avengers wasted no time in setting things right again. And maybe my kind of film would have so completely failed at the box office, because it isn't realistic.

But you know what? F*ck realism. Why the hell are these comic book films trying to be so realistic when the powers that they wield are anything but realistic? Why is there such a push to go dark in these tales? Why am I (a self-professed nerd) so out of touch with what nerds really want these days? Watching an emotionally broken superhero try to find meaning in a world where all of her meaning is lost only to have her suicide out is not what I call entertainment. I am not entertained. This isn't fun anymore, or if other people are calling it fun...then I don't know what fun is. I paid to have a great time, not to watch 13 Reasons Why (a Netflix film wherein a girl commits very realistic suicide). I don't want to see that.

Look, I get it. Avengers: Endgame is an epic story that is a perfect capstone to 22 films that built up to taking on the ultimate villain. It's perfect because it ties everything up in a neat little bow. Iron Man gets a glorious death, and so does Black Widow. But am I the only person sitting in my chair asking why that was even necessary? Did the writers need to go there? I felt depressed when I left the theater, because Iron Man and Black Widow did not get a happy ending. Captain America did. Why couldn't they have found a way to do something like that for these characters? Probably because it wasn't "realistic" and fighting a villain of the likes of Thanos has got to have "consequences," know...that's what passes for a good story these days. Thank you so much George R.R. Martin (that's sarcasm folks).

 This whole experience has made me question whether I'm really cut out to be wishing for epic showdowns on the silver screen. I'm a huge fan of comic books, and I've wanted to see the likes of Galactus, Dormammu, the Beyonder, Darkseid, and Dark Phoenix for a long time. But if it means I have to watch favorite characters become emotionally broken, commit suicide, and suffer through self-wallowing PTSD for three hours...maybe this isn't what I signed up for? Maybe I should be more thankful for the smaller villains like the Vulture taking on Spider-Man in his debut movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. I thought that was a great and funny movie. It's one I'd go to with friends after a day of fun. I would never ever watch Avengers: Endgame as something "fun to do" any more than I'd watch Schindler's List as a great way to unwind at the end of a really fun day.

So yeah...Avengers: Endgame was a great movie that I don't really like all that much. What say you? Is it such a great movie that you can't wait to watch it with your kids right after a birthday party with balloons and cake? Who doesn't find funerals fun?

Me, I guess...just me.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Is it possible that despair and anxiety occupies the flipside of the same coin as the cause behind most gun violence?

Gun violence and public shootings are so normal now that we have drills for them in our local schools and businesses just like we do fire drills. It's important to be educated on how best to protect yourself, and it's just a sign of the times on how events at Columbine High School are now an everyday thing (unfortunately). Just like you, I've been seeing these events come across my news feed for decades now, played out in all their heart-wrenching drama and usually by a white terrorist shooter with little to no motive other than "they were really angry at society." Sometimes not even anger can be detected, as in the case of the Las Vegas shooter at Mandalay Bay. Sometimes, it ends up baffling all the "experts" who are trying to figure out this modern phenomenon.

You know another thing that appears to be normalizing? Depression and anxiety. I know so many people who are depressed and anxious over their future. The source of their stress is financial and to some extent, extreme pride. They are burdened by student loans, they can't find a really good paying job, many of them desire careers that reflect the image they have in their minds that defines their self-worth (which can be quite high, mind one I know fancies themselves a refrigerator repairman), and some of them would like to only work part-time because they want to spend the rest of their time making themselves healthy with exercise and maintaining relationships that bring them joy and sex. My friend Brad put it very plainly in a Facebook post recently when he wrote that "Most addicts would be cured of their addiction if they were provided 1) sustained shelter, 2) good and consistent food, 3) free medical care, and 4) plenty of opportunities to intermingle with others who give them self-respect."

It all sounds fantastic until I boil down what he's writing and think, "Okay, all this person is asking for is free housing, free food, free medical care, and social interaction with friends who respect them...and then continue all that for the rest of their life." There's part of me that goes...what the Hell?...who wouldn't want that? That's literally a laundry list of all the difficult things any one of us faces in life. If my housing and food was taken care of (as well as medical), I could go to the gym, get into shape, live longer, and just be all around fantastic because I had time to intermingle with friends and could get something to buy little things like movie tickets and concert tickets and just party to the end of my days.

I'd also like to point out that the underlying message buried in Brad's Facebook post is very aspirational and might go something like this: "Most people use drugs because the misery of their reality at having to be a wage slave to get all of these things drives people to use drugs." Hmm. That's an interesting point, and if you pause and think about it, the overwhelming reality for many folks who struggle to meet a Maslow's hierarchy of needs explains depression, anxiety, and addiction very well. I also don't think addiction is necessarily limited to drugs. Rather, it is just one form of "escapism." People use a plethora of ways to escape the miseries of their reality. Gaming (as in roleplaying games and video games) is an example of excellent escapism. "I can't be successful in life so I'll be a success in this game and feel good while playing it." I read recently that the latest version of Dungeons & Dragons is selling better than any edition that the game has ever produced going back to the very beginning. Another related thing is I saw on a KSL newscast in a segment called "Wednesday's Child" (in which the local news highlights a kid in foster care looking to be adopted) that one such child hates his reality so much that he uses Dungeons & Dragons to escape from it and loves playing it. Escapism is in every place where people cannot cope with their day-to-day reality. So the message is this: for a lot of us reality really hurts.

So here is where I segway into a talk about gun violence being on the possible flipside to this metaphorical coin that harbors all of the above. In other words, it seems to me that the depression and anxiety (which is now an epidemic in the USA where I live) stems from a kind of scarcity related to the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But are there other scarcities? From my experience, I'd have to say yes. Love and emotional connection can be scarcities for any number of reasons. One might have physical or mental barriers that put off social likeableness, making it difficult to connect with people. Emotional reactions to this scarcity could end up being despair (and this is probably true in a number of situations). But I posit that victims of various scarcities could also end up with emotions of rage, hatred, and anger. I guess what I'm saying is that when scarcities become insurmountable, despair sets in, and then one might eventually end up in some kind of escapism (drugs, video games, etc.). However, is it possible that  they might just as easily end up becoming violent because...why the hell not? And I suppose which route one takes is also very dependent on access. Are guns readily accessible? Are drugs readily accessible? When you perceive that you have nothing to live for because one of many needs aren't being met, a lot of things are possible including addiction and gun violence.

So I guess that's what I was thinking about the last couple of days. I'm not a psychologist, but I don't necessarily think that removes me from asking intellectual questions like this. In either event, I apologize if I ask only questions and offer no solutions. I got nothing as far as addressing any of the scarcities (financial, love, health, etc.) that people suffer from every day. That (I think) is for politicians and law makers to puzzle out as we struggle to maintain a functioning society comprised of millions of people. However, I know I'm not the only one who is asking the question: "What is going on?" because the headlines are painting a grimmer and grimmer version of modern day life.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Game of Thrones cleverly showed us already that the Night King is not at the Battle of Winterfell.

Brandon Stark as the Three-Eyed Raven says that the Night King will come for him in the Godswood at Winterfell, so everyone believes him because he knows things. But the Game of Thrones series has already showed us that the Night King has flown south to destroy King's Landing on the back of Viserion, and there's nothing that King's Landing can do to stop it. When did they show us? A couple of places.

The first was in season two when Daenerys was in the city of Qarth in the House of the Undying. Here's a screen capture of the steps to the Tower where Daenerys's dragons had been taken by a necromancer named Pyat Pree.
When Daenerys entered that House to find her dragons, she was given several visions that up until about last night at 11 p.m., I'd assumed meant other things. And yes, I literally woke up and thought, "Oh my god...that's what that vision meant." I'm such a nerd, right? So in the vision, snow is filling the throne room and blanketing everything, and she's in kind of an awe about it all. A lot of people thought it was a metaphor..."Snow" meaning that "Jon Snow" would be sitting on the throne. But I don't think it was metaphor at all. It signifies the coming of the Night King to King's Landing to kill everyone and raise an army of a million dead.
If this weren't proof enough, there have been other, stronger hints. Bran had a vision in season four (I think) where he saw a dragon flying over King's Landing. I'll include the screen capture below for reference. I think all of us just thought that this meant the coming of Daenerys...that it would be her flying her dragons over King's Landing. This is a simple thing to predict. But the ominousness of the dragon's shadow seems to suggest that all of us probably misunderstood it at the time. It's not Drogon, but Viserion, carrying none other than the Night King on its back.
King's Landing is going to get completely destroyed either in episode 3 or 4. I expect there to be a dramatic cutaway to it as the surviving heroes of Winterfell look at each other and ask, "But where is the Night King if he wasn't with this army?" Where, indeed.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Knowing that Game of Thrones only had five episodes left for its entire run made me more aggravated at A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms than I should have been.

It's like I've become a bit of the Three-Eyed Raven, and I don't like it. I see the ending coming, I know how much time is left, and I want each second on screen to count. After last week's very slow episode in which much needed exposition took place, I was thinking that the last five episodes would move onto action akin to some of the biggest episodes that the series has showcased. So what we ended up getting in "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" felt a lot like filler. Honestly, it felt like a series of low budget, tight perspective webisodes to invest in characters than it did any kind of "cinematic." You know, the kind of webisodes that you click on to discover the backstory of a character that's killed off in the main show, but which you know has no special effects budget at all. This is what the entire episode felt like, albeit with beautiful set pieces.

I mean, they didn't get into any White Walker action so at least they could flash over to something that maybe Cersei was up to? But they didn't do that at all either. But my Three-Eyed Raven powers kind of "get it." Half to 75% of these characters won't survive the next four episodes, so it was a final opportunity for them to just sort of sit around and do whatever the hell they wanted. In Dungeons & Dragons, we call this kind of housekeeping "downtime." But here's the thing...if they wanted to do a lot of this, why did they only make six episodes for this season? They could have done a bunch of filler episodes and had a full season of ten episodes. It doesn't make any sense, and it's deeply frustrating. Sigh.

However, it was still a good episode, just an unsatisfying one. We did get to see Arya and Gendry get it on so that was kind of fun. And nothing beats the sloppy love stares of Tormund Giantsbane that are directed at Brienne. I also loved that Brienne was knighted by Jaime Lannister, an honor that she has deserved for a long time. Oh and nothing is ever going to get the vision of a naked Tormund in bed sucking on a giant woman's nipple out of my head. Nothing.

Random observations:

1) Did anyone notice the White Walkers all have dragon-slaying javelins now in hand?

2) I like Arya's staff. She practiced with one against the waif for so long, it seemed a natural fit. I bet she protects Bran while he waits for the Night King.

3) How the Hell are they going to stop Viserion from just torching all of Winterfell? This was a plan that they should have come up with. stop the big undead dragon would have been nice to hear.

4) Does it bother anyone else that everyone is focused on "What comes after" when they don't know if there's even going to be an "after?"

5) I guess next week is when we see the biggest battle that has ever been filmed. It's been a solid lead up to it. But I think the remaining two episodes will feel like some kind of rushed cleanup. I am kind of disappointed that the climax will apparently be Winterfell and the White Walkers will probably get stopped there or all is lost. There really isn't time in two episodes to have them travel south in a path of destruction. At least it doesn't seem that way to me.

Friday, April 19, 2019

I read Anna and the King of Siam and the film and musical adaptations of this story are pretty much just fanfiction.

I recently read Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, because I wanted to go to the original source material to see what it was about as I've appreciated the adaptations: The King and I by Rogers and Hammerstein and Anna and the King by Director Andy Tennant (came out in 1999 starring Jody Foster and the Draco Malfoy kid, Tom Felton). Upon finishing it, I saw few similarities between the source of the story and the adaptations. I think I'd actually be more comfortable saying that both the King and I and Anna and the King are actually fanfiction. On one hand, its disappointing to discover this. On the other hand, I enjoy the fan fiction much better than the source material.

Margaret Landon's book is a dry and boring read. Much of it is filled with political details rattled off in rather encyclopedia-like form, and the politics as it were has much to do with slavery. Who owns this slave and who owns that slave and what a person can do to said slave, including all of the wrongness of such actions literally permeates the tale. The schoolteacher details are few and far between. In the musical, they would have you believe that it was Tuptim who became infatuated with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. But in Landon's book, it is a woman called Son Klin who actually renames herself Harriet Beecher Stowe Son Klin. This woman in the last parts of the book, sends Anna Leonowens a letter that includes the following:

"I am wishful to be good like Harriet Beecher Stowe...and never to buy human bodies again, but only to let go free once more, and so I have now no more slaves, but hired servants. I have given freedom to all of my slaves...."

 As for Tuptim? She wasn't a gift from the small and weak country of Burma, but someone who just caught the eye of the king while pouring the foundation for a new temple in Bangkok. Her family noticed, offered her as a gift to the king, and he pulled her into his harem. She didn't like this as she was betrothed to a monk so she escaped by dressing up like a male monk and hid in the monastery. She was discovered and swore that even her betrothed had no idea that the person hiding in the sanctuary of the monastery was a woman because her disguise was so good. It didn't matter, and the king had both of them executed in front of Anna's house (because he wanted to send a personal message to Anna Leonowens who disagreed with the execution most loudly) and then later, the king realized that Tuptim and the monk were innocent and proclaimed both of their souls having achieved Nirvana and erected a temple on the place where they were burned to death (in their honor). Weird, right?

Additional details from the book? For the majority of the text, Anna and King Mongkut disliked each other. She thought he was a tyrannical despot, and he thought she was an impossible woman. It was only at the end of the book when Anna was back in England that she realized they had become "friends." There wasn't even a hint of romance between these two, and she never once thought of him as handsome. Also she got assaulted several times from people who were jealous of her influence with the king, or just disliked her for being an opinionated woman. She got knocked unconscious once when she was in the garden and someone struck her in the head with a rock.

She also had two different houses and some Muslim servants. In one scene, she cleans up a house that's been given to her using slaves. In another, she moves to one that's just right outside the palace walls.

The whole book is dripping (and nigh overwhelmed) with the issue of slavery. Slaves come to Anna's door on a 24-hour basis, begging this and that, and for her to beseech the king over some wrong. It happens so often that she becomes known as the white angel to the Siamese. She also seems to influence the next king, King Chulalongkorn, to such an extent that he becomes the greatest Siamese King by freeing all the slaves, outlawing prostration (which is essentially groveling on the floor before a superior person), and bringing the country of Siam into the modern world. The issue of slavery is so potent within the pages of Anna and the King of Siam, that it is pointed out that the reason the streets are so narrow between buildings was due to the caste system. There was no one in the entire country who wasn't subservient to someone else, so there was no need to make a street wide enough for people to walk side by side. There was only a need to make room for one while the other threw himself on the ground and was walked over by the superior individual.

There are (in fact) so little details of Anna actually teaching school that it can pretty much be summarized with the sentence, "Anna taught school." The bulk of the pages is made up of Anna being a kind of technical writer for the king, sending off documents, planning parties for the English, and defining words for the king when the printed dictionary failed to do so. She was on call day and night and pretty much at his mercy. And I repeat, there was no love between these two.

Anna's son Louis might as well be a footnote. He's hardly given any dialogue, and Anna (to be honest) spends much of her headspace worrying about her daughter Avis who has been shipped off to England for education (she's the older sibling). It does mention that as a grown-up, Louis returns to Siam and spends a storied military career as the right hand and most trusted advisor to King Chulalongkorn. I thought that was interesting.

None of the movie adaptations cover the betel nut either. This tropical nut has some kind of addictive property of which I am unfamiliar. Practically everyone in the country chews this nut, and it stains the teeth black, which they found attractive. So all of the Siamese women in these adaptations should have black teeth (and they don't). I find it remarkable that this detail is completely missing from the film adaptations of this book.

One of the things that I find fascinating about visiting "the classics" is how boring and poorly written they actually are. These things are packed with historical details and significance, but without computers to go back and make editing simple, you can see how a lot of them read as personal memoirs and are filled with details like how to whitewash walls, or how big the palace was, or what the dungeons were like for the people sent there to fester while the king decided upon a sentence for whatever offense they committed. Modern books have such an incredibly high standard to maintain for traditional publishers to take an interest in them. When I read a modern book by Random House or some other publisher, the difference in action, the conciseness of language, and the emphasis on narrative style is so controlled that I have to conclude that many of the classics, like Anna and the King of Siam, would be unpublishable in today's world. It would be garbage, and there certainly wouldn't be musicals and movies made from the source material. But that's just it...these novels are a time capsule of an age where low standards (which were the highest of standards back then) set the bar. Just like nearly everything in today's world, things are harder. It's harder to get traditionally published, it's harder to make a living, it's harder to buy a house, its harder to get into a good school, it's harder to find time to take a vacation, it's harder to buy a new car, etc. etc. etc. (yes that's my homage to The King and I). But of course, there are tradeoffs in healthcare, medicine, technology, and tons of other things.

Has anyone else read Anna and the King of Siam and come to these same conclusions? Any fans of Margaret Landon out there?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Here is my idea regarding the weird White Walker spirals we've been seeing for eight seasons now.

In the premiere episode of season 8 of Game of Thrones that aired on Sunday (it was called "Winterfell") we viewers got treated to yet another gruesome spiral of hacked limbs that was obviously created by the White Walkers. We know from previous episodes that the White Walkers (or the Others as they are called in the book) are 1) intelligent, 2) originally created by the Children of the Forest who wanted to use them to protect themselves against humans (but eventually they lost control of the White Walkers) 3) have magical powers, and 4) apparently are not too different from the race of humans they were created from. They ride horses, utilize tools (like chains), they wear clothing that is designed for them (and it isn't all nasty so this implies a cleaning regimen), and they are trained in swordplay.

So (thinking like a writer), I started asking myself what the significance of the White Walker spirals might be, and I decided that they might be a way for the White Walkers to create a latitude of consecrated ground (thinking that the power comes from a divine source) where they can bring the full force of their powers to bear. In other words, they might not be able to cause the dead to rise if they don't create one of these things, which may be an homage or sacrifice to whatever god that they worship (the Great Other?). And before you go on and accuse me of reading too much into this, both in the books and in the show, it has been pointed out that there may be only two gods that actually have any power on Westeros. The first god is R'hllor, who is a god of fire, and the second is the Great Other, who is a god of ice. And the series which includes the title book, Game of Thrones, is in fact called A Song of Ice and Fire. I'm even positing that the Night King is the High Priest of the Great Other, and that the White Walkers are also priests of a sort to their religion. Additionally, "White Walker" may be a kind of mantle that is assumed by those who worship this religion. In other words, the way new White Walkers are created is through a kind of infernal baptism...a touch by the High what looks a lot like a ceremony.

And having now said all that, what do you guys think? Thoughts on White Walkers actually being priests? Anyway, lest I digress...

In the pilot episode that aired many years ago, one of the rangers investigating Wildlings north of the wall comes across a similar gruesome display made with hacked limbs (I'm positing that this is the first of many sacrifices made by these "priests"). It's after this event that the dead rise. So, it makes me think that the ground needed to be consecrated (by forming that symbol) in order for the White Walker present at that area of the map to call upon the necessary powers to make its own zombies. Similarly, another gruesome circle was found at the Fist of the First Men, which probably incorporated all areas of that latitude to enable the White Walkers to make the dead walk again. Once they went south of the wall, there weren't any fresh bodies to create a new symbol with until they reached Last Hearth. So having killed all the living there, a new spiral was ordered by the Night King and once it was done, they raised all the remaining dead to join their army. Nailing the Umber boy to the wall seemed more like a narrative piece, to throw us viewers a bone by having one of the men in the hall say "That's the Umber boy" so that we 1) understand the Umber boy did not make it back to Winterfell and 2) identify the castle they are in as Last Hearth.

We may never know if I'm right regarding this particular guess, but I think that as the White Walkers travel south, there will be more of these markers as significant points of latitude, and that they are done to consecrate that southern point with the full powers of the White Walkers.

Anyway, that's my idea. What do you think?

Monday, April 15, 2019

The record-breaking premiere of Game of Thrones season 8 set up the war to end all wars.

SPOILER ALERT: Talking Game of Thrones and the premiere of season 8 episode 1 last night.

So the long awaited return of Game of Thrones happened last night. There was a lot to unpack, and as predicted, record numbers of people tuned into the premiere. I saw one estimate that as many as one billion people worldwide were going to watch the season 8 episode 1 premiere through as many means as possible. That's a mind-boggling number, and it just reinforces in my mind how big this thing really has become. Everyone is talking about it...I myself hosted a Game of Thrones BBQ in my backyard before the premiere where we all wore Game of Thrones t-shirts and other memorabilia and my friend Farrah showed up with her daughter named "Arya" (and yes she's named after the character of the same name in the show). I wonder if George R.R. Martin ever foresaw how big his creation actually was going to be.

As far as the episode itself went, it was pretty typical of season openers which are usually "slow" and which focus around some housekeeping, getting characters together, and doing their best to tease the rest of the season. As it goes, I've never seen a first episode of any season of this show that 1) was very exciting and 2) left me satisfied in any way. First up there was a new introduction that put front and center the shattered wall, and then did its best to paint the momentous events and high stakes leading up to the iron throne.

With only five episodes to go, its a dramatic change to the introductions of prior seasons, which (more or less) just did a flyby of all the locations in which major characters and their narratives took place in. Then we saw Daenerys getting a bit of the cold-shoulder along with Jon Snow, mostly because the North had just crowned him King in the North and he gave it away to Daenerys Targaryen in order to guarantee her support. This is mostly due to the fact that for nearly all of them, the threat of the Night King is not real yet. But as the episode unrolled and the fortifications around Winterfell went up, it seemed to me that it started to get real for everyone as it was clear to anyone with eyes that this was going to be a battle that might decide the fate of all mankind.

And I'm kind of concerned that Winterfell might just end up being that. They should have some kind of fallback, someplace they can go back to if the Night King proves to be too cunning and his army too invincible to just take on all at once. In my head, I was thinking that the fight was going to eventually end up at King's Landing (which is a good deal south from Winterfell...about three months journey if I remember correctly). If they spend four episodes leading up to the battle of Winterfell, and then have the fifth and sixth episodes being the battle of Winterfell and then the series finale, I think I will be just a little bit disappointed. Winterfell really isn't all that far from the wall. The Night King should make it further than Winterfell, especially given the size of his current army. I also felt that maybe one big battle would take place in the Eyrie, since it was a fortress that was designed never to be taken.

The episode also treated us to more of the dragons. Jon Snow got aboard Rhaegal and flew him through a canyon while Daenerys watched him from atop Drogon. That was kind of cute and terrifying as well. A little joy before all the darkness descends is a nice thing to do. It reminds us that both of these people would make great inspiring leaders, and that there is a lot of beauty in the world of Westeros that is worth fighting for. Then the reveal that Samwell did when speaking to Jon Snow in the crypt regarding his lineage was something that Jon wasn't (at first) prepared to accept. But with the dragon flight out of the way, you could see that the ways in which Daenery's dragons responded to him had started to make sense. They know he's a Targaryen. I still look back on that reveal (and secret) in awe. George R.R. Martin wrote probably the greatest secret into these books that I've ever seen in fiction. Well done, George. Well done.

And last but not least, there's Cersei doing terrible things as she always has done. She's ordered Bron to kill both her brothers (I wonder if Bron will go through with it as he's rather fond of both). Cersei has got The Golden Company now (but no elephants). So she's got the greatest mercenary army in the world on her side. I think her greatest failing is that she continues to play the Game of Thrones when none of that even matters as long as the Night King walks the earth.

Oh, there's so much to think about. I can't wait for the remaining five episodes. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

I want to talk about the black hole the world saw this week.

When I saw the black hole image that scientists finally pieced together using brain power that I cannot even comprehend, I felt a moment of awe. It reminded me (briefly) of the one in Interstellar, and it also made me think about just how puny I am in the overall scope of our universe. It's also terrifying. Terrifying to comprehend its existence. Terrifying to think about this thing, which is apparently pretty common in the universe, and which the human race will probably never have the capacity to understand (as all physics kind of break down beyond the event horizon).

My co-worker summed it up pretty well when he looked at the picture of it. He said, "I wonder where it goes?" At first, I thought that I knew the answer to that question. My brain raced to think that it's just this huge conglomeration of matter where gravity is so powerful that even light can't escape it. But then I realized that this is only the beginning of describing what it is. It could very well "go somewhere." From people much smarter than me, apparently (if you could survive the blistering conditions present at the event horizon), you could survive the gravity there rather easily. It's only after you cross the point of no return that you begin to spaghettify...and where time (apparently) bends to a point where it completely stops. If time can be bent like this, why can't space itself? I guess they are one and the same thing? So my co-worker saying, "I wonder where it goes?" is probably voicing a reasonable question. It may go nowhere...or it could go to an entirely different universe. Or it could just kill you, like a lot of other things do in this universe. Contemplating what a black hole is seems to be like trying to wrap your head around the question: what happens to us when we die?

In the picture above, the dark spot in the middle I guess is filled with light, but it's light that has checked out of our universe. It's taken the permanent exit and gone somewhere else because of something called a singularity that exists at the middle and possesses infinite density. I guess Einstein experienced fear of a sort when his equations led him to posit the existence of these things. He was a really smart guy, which is something I think about when I experience fear as well.

It's incredible I got to see something like this in my lifetime.

How about you? Did any of you feel anything when you saw the image for the first time?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

There may have been four Easter Eggs for the Fantastic Four dropped in Avengers: Infinity War.

There are a lot of things I'm excited about with regard to Avengers: Endgame. But even more so, going forward I'm excited to see how Disney incorporates the Fantastic Four and the X-Men into the MCU. And of these two, I think I'm more excited by the prospect of having the Fantastic Four incorporated first, because I've kind of gotten my fill of the X-Men from various Fox properties like "The Gifted" and through poorly done representations (Quicksilver aside) of the various mutants on the silver screen since X2 landed in theaters in the early 2000's.

My beef with the Fox adaptations of the Fantastic Four (done in three separate movies) is that they made Doom a kind of comic-relief villain (and the Thing looked terrible). In the third adaptation, they also decided to continue with an origin story and origin stories always end up bad (and it once again lashed Doctor Doom to the origin of the Fantastic Four, which I don't like). I also felt that Michael B. Jordan played the role of Johnny Storm too serious. Johnny is an incredibly immature character, and you have to have an actor that is essentially a "Peter Pan" to kind of nail him right.

In a rewatch of Avengers: Infinity War, I discovered that there was at least one line that I thought could possibly be an Easter Egg for the fact that Disney was pursuing talks with Fox Studios in obtaining the rights to the Fantastic Four. So I did a google search and saw if other people had come up with any others and the following is my list:

1) When the battle with Thanos's minions gets started in New York, Tony Stark (while talking with Doctor Strange) refers to one of the bad guys as "that rocky thing there...." It could be just a way of describing something, or it could be a way to allude to The Thing.

2) During a lull in the fight on their way to meet Thanos, Draxx is trying out a new power, hoping that by staying perfectly still, he can turn invisible. It's very funny, and I think may be a call out to The Invisible Woman.

3) When Thor is forging Stormbreaker (his new weapon), he screams, "Flame On!" as he asks to get the works hot enough to do what he requires for the forge to work. I think this may be an Easter Egg for Johnny Storm, a.k.a., the Human Torch.

4) When we first see the Guardians, they're rocking out to "Rubberband Man" from the Spinners. This could allude to Mr. Fantastic, right? If you follow my logic, sure.

Anyway, the MCU should at least mention the country of Latveria (where Doctor Doom is from) even if it is a headline on a TV news report discussing the Latverian ambassador's outrage over something. With the MCU already having gone cosmic, it would be so easy to sneak the Silver Surfer in there as well. And if they introduce the Silver Surfer, then maybe we will finally get a peak at what Galactus has been up to, which will give us the next big bad for all the characters to team up against.

Monday, April 8, 2019

I just want to put a shout out to April 2019 which is spectacular in so many nerdy ways.

For some reason, the moons aligned, and (if you are a nerd) the month of April is just absolutely chock full of fun stuff to do either on television or on the big screen. First we got Dumbo, which I thought was a fine film (I haven't seen the cartoon). But how could you not like a movie with a flying baby elephant? Those who do probably have a heart that's two sizes too small. And it has the song, "Baby of Mine," which is a darling number that pulls out all the feels in the trailer.

Second, we got Shazam, which I saw this last Friday night and really loved. It's been a long time coming, as this particular superhero has been around almost as long as Superman (and is definitely inspired by Superman). A lot of people don't realize it, but Shazam was more popular than Superman for a short period of time about seventy years ago. Most people think it was because a teenaged boy was the protagonist with the powers, and a lot of boys who read comic books really liked this. I suppose it's a great lesson on how writing for your audience can net you some real cash.

Next up on the docket is the final season of Game of Thrones. I've been waiting for so long to find out who gets to sit on the Iron Throne and how the White Walkers are defeated, that even when I had my very serious car accident a few weeks ago (I rolled my car spectacularly), when the smoke from the airbags was filling the cabin, and I was staring at the cracked windshield I thought, "You can't take me yet...I have to see the last season of Game of Thrones!" And it looks like I was spared, so yeah...LAST SEASON OF GAME OF THRONES starts on Sunday. And if anyone is wondering, only my car was totalled. I walked away from the accident and no one else was hurts, so I guess I got really lucky. I did buy a lottery ticket when I visited dad in Idaho (we don't have lottery in Utah), but my luck (unfortunately) did not extend to winning any part of a $750 million purse of money. Ah well.

Additionally, Star Trek: Discovery (whose second season has really been amazing) is doing its season finale this month. It has been building up to some fantastic great reveal regarding time crystals, the red angel, and some seriously high stakes regarding saving the universe that has mesmerized me since the premiere. So yeah...there's that.

This Friday, the remake/reboot of Hellboy comes out. I'm super excited by it. I love comic book movies, but I've always had a special place in my heart for the Hellboy universe. It seems to intersect with "Eldritch" things that I've always associated with Cthulhu and the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. Knowing this, I think there will be some really interesting monsters and/or special effects that are definitely Lovecraft-inspired.

And then there's Avengers: Endgame that is happening toward the end of the month. I've already got my ticket and knowing that it's going to be three hours long, I purchased one that will allow me to leave my seat about halfway through (without disrupting people) so I can go and use the bathroom :). I just can't sit through three hours anymore without a bathroom break. However, I'm not worried I'll miss too much because I know I'm going to watch it again with friends (probably many times), and I'll just take bathroom breaks at different parts so that (all in all) I get to see the whole thing. I do want to point out though that Disney really should have inserted an intermission. It was already a money-grab, lets at least be kind to the audience? Maybe someone somewhere will make this a thing going forward for other kinds of movies that run for three hours.

Y'all, this year spring decided to show up and bring all the fun to the party.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Why is our society so merciless?

I've spent a lot of time pondering this question. My father has reached a point in his life where I'm deciding on putting him into an assisted living facility. Right now, he has expensive home care which is slowly (if not inexorably) marching his lifetime of savings toward a zero balance (but he gets to live in his home). Assisted living will essentially cost the same thing, but will hopefully solve some issues he brought up to me regarding loneliness and boredom. My father planned well financially, he did all the right things, but the cost of home care for aged folks is staggering, and there is no insurance that pays for it except Medicaid. And Medicaid kicks in only after you're down to your last $2,000.00 of everything that you own.

I think this future that waits for most Americans is disheartening. A few are oblivious to it. They either don't want to know, or they don't want to think about it. But our healthcare industry and long-term care for people in their 80's and beyond is functionally broken and terrible. Add to this the complexity of filling out things like taxes for old folks who no longer understand how to gather together documents, and it becomes even worse. Our society is relentless, with monthly recurring bills, annual taxes that need to be filed and paid, insurance documents that need to be kept track of, accounts that need to be checked, and the list goes on and on. When I visited my father last week, he had a stack of envelopes on his desk in his office. He shrugged and told me he was overwhelmed by it all. So I spent hours going through them, paying bills, setting up autopay, etc. These are things that the care provider we hired wouldn't touch. She just wants to provide care, not get entangled in understanding paperwork or finances.

This is a new development with my father who seemed fine in just November of 2018. However, things can change rapidly for older folks. I guess I don't understand (and am a little frustrated) by how complicated our society is. I do hundreds of things every single day to keep track of just myself. I check credit cards to make sure there are no erroneous charges, I check my bank account, I check four different email addresses for correspondence, I open letters that get sent to my mailing address, I watch to see if subscriptions change their pricing and start to charge more, I clip coupons for groceries, and the list goes on and on.

Folks, you may not be aware of it, but our society is so complicated that it takes a fully functional brain of more than average intelligence to be on top of all this. But the thing is, not everyone is born with all the same tools as everyone else. And age robs us of abilities to do things that we previously took for granted. My big question about this is why? Why isn't life easier? Wouldn't it make logical sense to make a society that the lowest common denominator could easily negotiate?

It's a legitimate question with seemingly no available answer. It's no wonder that our population is plagued with anxiety. Who wouldn't be when the society at large is filled with relentless trauma and never-ending work? I wonder what the breaking point will be, or if there even is one.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Ooh the Insecure Writer's Support Group question is about using wishes on your writing this month.

I'd just got done watching the latest trailer for the Disney adaptation of Aladdin online, when I clicked over to the IWSG question to compose my post for April. Lo and behold, it's about using magic to help with writing. And not just any magic, but the all-powerful "Wish."

As a caveat, I would probably want to use a wish on something else other than my own writing. Winning Lotto numbers for a $750 million jackpot seems like a good use of a wish. But that isn't the question. The question for April is this:
April 3 question: If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be? (examples: fight scene / first kiss scene / death scene / chase scene / first chapter / middle chapter / end chapter, etc.)
This is an easy question for me to answer. I'd use a wish to write the ending. Endings are always hard, and I find (quite often) that I tweak them over and over, always searching for something that will be satisfying. I was in awe (recently) when I read the ending to the Riyria Revelations, specifically the ending to the book Percepliquis, by Michael J. Sullivan. He'd subtly threaded throughout his entire story this myth of a god that was walking the earth trying to atone for a great misdeed he had committed upon his own daughter (a fellow goddess). Each time that he pleased her by doing something for a mortal, she would send him a single feather as a token of her approval.

Well we got introduced to a ton of characters in these books, but a minor one (in about book three) became a real joy. He was an old man that went to work in a royal household and his skills focused on heraldry, chivalry, and all the nuances of proper royal behavior. He quickly became a confidant of the new Empress, who knew none of these things, and became the head of the household, advising her on all the things she needed to know regarding banquets and guests and politics, etc. He was quite the delight (all the royal pageantry was essentially based on French royalty before the revolution). Anyway, his insights over the course of three or four books made possible the threading of a very convoluted and world-shaking plot that recharted the course of humanity for generations to come. At the end of the book, this minor character (the main characters were the bulk of the story) was offered a permanent position at court to which he politely declined. One of the main characters watched the old man walk away on a road on a sunny afternoon when he heard a thunderclap in the sky that made him jump. A single feather appeared and floated down to the old man and he caught it. Then he smiled at the main character and vanished.

And that was the end of the book. I thought to myself, "Wow! I never expected that, and the ending couldn't have been more perfect than that." I guess the author agreed, because he said in his notes at the end of the book (and has written on his blog) that he doesn't think he could ever write sequels to that story. So he's focusing on other stories that take place beforehand and with other characters.

So yeah, long story short: I would use my wish to write a perfect ending. That being said (and with a dearth of wishes to spare), it looks like I'll just have to settle with toiling over them until I feel they are ready to be released into the world.

Monday, April 1, 2019

I'm glad Arrow is ending.

I've enjoyed Arrow, but the last few seasons have not been as good or as fresh as the storylines it used to tell. Oliver Queen got a kid, and there was a lot of drama about that. They switched to fast forwards instead of looking back on the island (which was a running theme for so many years of the show). But the old switcheroo was kind of jarring for me, and it still is. I guess there are no more good stories to tell in Oliver Queen's past. And Felicity Smoak's character has evolved in ways that I didn't really like, as did Diggle's. And then all the secondary characters just kind of took over somewhere in all that mess. I mean, there was an entire show a few weeks ago that didn't even feature any of the main characters. I was like, "Who are these people and why should I care about them?"

Good shows need to end. When they don't, it's kind of like they sacrifice all dignity for the sake of a money grab, and everything seems so drawn out and not fun. Supernatural became this for me around season 8 (so I stopped watching). The Walking Dead reached this point with me early in this season when they abandoned Rick as a main character and he wandered off to the discard pile.

So yeah, I'm glad Arrow is ending. I'm not so glad that Emily Bett Rickards (she plays Felicity) posted that she won't be back for the last season of the show. It feels very much like what happened with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when the actress who played Jadzia Dax decided not to renew her contract, and the showrunner decided to kill her character off and replace her with Ezri Dax. That change (for the last season) forever left a sour taste in my mouth regarding Deep Space Nine, even though I do enjoy watching reruns of it on H&I here in Utah. I mean...the wedding episode of Jadzia Dax and Worf was so spectacular, and that barely happened when they abandoned the character. What a waste.

So yeah, I'm glad Arrow is ending. I just hope it doesn't spell doom for the other CW shows. I rather like Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. And we are getting a Batwoman series, which I think will be rather interesting. I wonder if the League of Shadows will make an appearance in Gotham City. Personally, I think the League of Shadows was the most interesting aspect of Arrow, and they kinda went downhill once they abandoned the Ra's al Ghul storyline. It takes a good villain to drive a good story, and the League of Shadows does that in spades. I guess only time will tell.