Monday, August 31, 2020

Umbrella Academy's greatest strength may just be its choice of music.

A lot of people like Umbrella Academy. I am one of them. I started watching the second season of it on Netflix this weekend, and it occurred to me that there are a lot of shows out there that fill this niche. And by "this niche," I'm saying comic book movies with real characters that have problems and issues and are very flawed and relatable. So why then is the Umbrella Academy even good? Well, there are several reasons that make it a standout.

It does have a nice budget and the C.G.I. that they do for the main cast is on par with things that I've seen come out of Hollywood. In particular, I thought the talking ape character was really well done. Additionally, Umbrella Academy takes a page from Snyder, who used big letters to spell out locations and timelines that were angled in ways to make them appear as part of the storytelling panel (I'm specifically thinking of the movie, Watchmen, here). This gives it a comfortable, almost nostalgic vibe of professionalism that I like.

However, this answer left me wanting, so I continued to think about Umbrella Academy. What I landed on as a viewer (as an answer to my own question) is the choice of music, which is very important to the show. Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance is the creator of the show, and presumably spends a lot of time on it since his band broke up (I'm still upset about this by the way).

My Chemical Romance is probably my favorite band that came out of the early 2000's. Their music was so good, and just had fantastic (great) lyrics and tone that (I think) is comparable to the early albums U2 put out in their career. The music of My Chemical Romance to this day feels surreal, personal, cathartic, kinetic, and it's just fun to listen to. Additionally, the story just gets the viewer into the good stuff right away. You don't have to figure out how someone got their powers. Instead, you are off and running with an apocalyptic plot and trying to figure out who is what and why should anyone care? Additionally, the characters are very strange, consisting of a gorilla man living on the moon and another man who talks to dead people (just to name a few).

Anyway, those are my thoughts. So anyone out there a fan of Umbrella Academy? If so, would you agree that the music in it seems to be carefully chosen and serves the narrative on the screen rather well?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Here are three Mondo posters that I like.

 Every once in a while, I head over to Mondoshop and look at their new posters they have for sale. One of these days, when I come into monies, I'm going to buy a bunch of these and have them framed. But in lieu of that day, here are a bunch that I do like. Hey...I can always comfort myself knowing that while I struggle with money, at least the sleezebag Jerry Falwell gets a $10 million dollar payday for being actually fired from Liberty University. If I got fired from a place, I'd just get my last paycheck is all. Somedays, life just doesn't seem fair...or all the days really. Anyway...favorite posters.

I love the color in this shot for some reason. It's very eye catching.
This looks like a comic book, which is why I love it.

I've never actually watched, "A Quiet Place," because it's not my kind of movie.
However, I am familiar with the plot and I love how graphs of sound are used
to great effect as a topographical landscape the characters must navigate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I want to see The New Mutants and Tenet but I'm wary of theaters because of Covid 19.

The New Mutants
and Tenet will be coming to theaters very soon. I love theaters, but I ask myself all the time if I feel safe going. I haven't been in a movie theater for most of the year. The last one I went to was Pixar's Onward, and I think it was still winter here in Utah. It seems so long ago. So I guess I'm making a blog post trying to suss out what I should do.

Businesses are suffering in the Covid world. Olive Garden is just the latest casualty. Read this as "Goodbye cruel world...." I imagine a chain as big as Olive Garden would find it hard to make money doing mostly take out (and to make ends meet). Are movie theaters in danger as well? Yep. Do I love movie theaters? Very much so. I have so many good memories. Does it feel safe to go? In Utah? Unfortunately it does not. Utah has been one of the states that has lifted its finger at mask wearing wholeheartedly. Utah is a state where everyone does what they want, and it's backed up by guns and the words, "You say what? Make me. I dare ya."

So here's the bigger question: do I actually want to see The New Mutants or Tenet?  Yes. In an ordinary world I might have skipped The New Mutants, but nothing about 2020 feels ordinary. It's the first chance to see a big budget film in a theater in months, so I'm feeling a bit deprived. But I'd have to wear my mask for the entire show, and I'm not sure I'd want to do that, which means I probably won't go. And as for Tenet, I would watch anything from Director Christopher Nolan. The man's a creative genius, and I respect him for his abilities to create stories that are incredibly compelling.

But these movies will eventually come to video, and I can wait. It's not worth the risk.

Covid 19 sucks. I shouldn't have to debate the safety of going to the movies. But if I don't go, then I'm part of the problem that will cause movie theaters to ultimately go under. I really do wish that my fellow Americans cared. But many of them (at least a third if not half), don't care about anything but themselves or those who worship the ground they walk on. It's reflected in our politics. It's reflected in the way we treat one another.

If businesses like the beloved movie theater don't survive, I will blame the selfish people. They killed all the things that bring many of us joy, when all they had to do was wear a mask.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Based off the first trailer for the Batman I'm thinking Pattinson might actually be able to pull this off.

The trailer for The Batman dropped this weekend. I am more excited than I thought I was going to be. Dare I say that Pattinson might actually be able to pull this off? What do you guys think? I'm linking it below.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The United States taxpayer should be proud of the size of the national debt because we've all gotten a lot of something for nothing and it's never getting paid back.

Lately, I've been thinking about trying to visualize a trillion dollars, mostly because the national debt is over $20 trillion and the "Cares" act seemingly generated $3 trillion dollars out of nowhere to prop up the economy back in March. There is also talk of a second round because all that's already spent. So how does one exactly visualize a trillion dollars. For my thought experiment, I used time.

So how much time is a trillion seconds? It turns out that a trillion seconds is 31,546 years. So if a person spent money at the rate of a dollar per second ($3,600 per hour), it would take more time to blow through all that money than time has passed since (probably) the invention of the road or the damn wheel. So what do I learn from this thought experiment? Several things, actually.

First, the United States of America blows through a phenomenal amount of money in a year. It's just unfathomable how much money this country chews through.

Second, despite what people say, I don't believe anymore that this is "taxpayer money," unless you are willing to say that it is the taxpayer ten thousand years down the road that we are actually borrowing from. A quick google search indicates that all of the taxes collected in a year lie somewhere between $3 and 4$ trillion, but that's also counting what states collect as state taxes. So if you look at this amount of debt that we have as a country, you have but one conclusion to make: it will either get paid off or it won't get paid off. And I'm taking a realistic view and saying, "This is not going to get paid off."

Third, I don't think that people are lending us this kind of money either. People like to use "China" as a go to example of someone that holds our debt, but a quick google search shows that China owns maybe $1.5 trillion of our debt. That's not all that much in large number terms when you consider that Apple is a trillion dollar company. They basically own Apple. Again...these are mind-boggling huge numbers.

Anyway, so I think the United States spins money out of nothing because we are a country with currency that we can just print and we can just say, "this has value." Okay, then. It's an ever increasing pile of debt for things that we have bought, and the common people (like you and me) like to point at it and say, "You law makers need to be responsible with taxpayer money because we are on the hook for that!" Only...I don't think we are, and we should stop saying that. There's no way you and I and anyone else could pay back that debt that I can think of. However, I'm not an economist.

So, you might ask, where is my thought experiment going? Well, I think that we should view the national debt in a different light: it's the biggest bargain in world history. Given what we give in taxes, we get way more back as a return investment. All the trillions and trillions of dollars of things that we all benefit from by far outstrips our ability to actually pay for by many times. And since there doesn't appear to be any consequence to not living like this, eh who cares? So it's like getting something for nothing, and we should be proud of that. Americans should be proud of the national debt. To shrink the example down, who else can say they spent a dollar to get a thousand dollars back in services and goods? That seems like the best bargain on earth. It doesn't make sense to me, but it is what it is. Countries play by different rules.

And that is the end of my thought experiment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lovecraft Country is trying to tell a story about racism and a story about Lovecraftian monsters.

I watched the first episode of Lovecraft Country on HBO this Sunday. I want to say that I enjoyed it. But I also want to say that I was a bit naïve at how bad the racism is/was in this country. I had never heard of "Sundown Counties" or "Sundown Towns" and the concept behind this kind of thing--where you could be lynched if you allowed the sun to set on you in a particular place--is terrifying. The monsters then unleashed by H.P. Lovecraft's ancient imagination onto the evil white men at the end of the show, really don't hold much of a candle to the systemic evil of a country and its people who are bent on oppressing and punishing those different from them.

I was also impressed with the debut of the shoggoths. These are monsters with a lot of eyes that looked similar to Sammael in the Hellboy movie made by Guillermo del Toro many years ago. Of course, Sammael (and much of the stuff in Hellboy) is Lovecraft-inspired. In many ways, "The Great Old Ones" seem to be fertile ground for the exploration of evils that go beyond run of the mill vampires, werewolves, and mummies to something that inspires true awe and horror. And what I mean by "impressed" is simply that they looked good on screen. However, things tend to look good in certain light. The shoggoths benefit from being seen only in darkness, so the computer generated flaws of the creature are more effectively hidden. This is why the first Pacific Rim movie looked much better than the second (the fights between the robots and the kaiju happened at night and usually with water hiding the flaws in the C.G.I.). 

I know nothing about the story of Lovecraft Country other than what I've seen in the first episode of the show. But it does have me intrigued to read the book, as there may be other details within this H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tale that are missed in the television adaptation. Aside from in visions, I wonder if there is some greater Cthulhu-inspired plot, and if it will lead to some of the stranger locations mentioned in Lovecraft lore. A trip to the shores of R'Lyeh might be fascinating (for example).

The thing that Lovecraft Country makes me leery of is the fact that they are telling two stories. The story of the black people dealing with the systemic racism in the country in the 1930's feels like it is honestly enough for a show. It is compelling, and it is interesting. It is the story of a man who is putting together a guide book for his customers so that they can journey safely in counties and regions where danger to a person because of their skin color is very real. That would be enough for me to watch. But then they are adding in all of the Cthulhu stuff, which could also be its own separate story. So I have to ask, are they going to tell a story about racism? Or are they going to tell a story about Lovecraftian monsters? And why must it be both? Why can't it be one or the other? If you go to heavy on one, you lose the other. But a balance that strikes somewhere in the middle will probably not serve either plot well.

Since there haven't ever been any good Lovecraft stories that have been made into film, I wonder why we are getting sprinkles of Lovecraft here and there over the years on top of other topics and stories that people want to tell. I wonder why there never has been a really high budget attempt to tell one of the Lovecraftian stories, like "The Mountains of Madness," or "The Call of Cthulhu." It all seems very strange to me, and maybe it has to do with the fact that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, and no one wants to touch any of his actual works, while borrowing heavily from them as they are considered "Open Domain." I'm not privy to those kinds of conversations, but I think it has something to do with funding for these kinds of things. Ah well, if Lovecraft Country is the best we are going to get, I suppose it will have to do.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Christina Aguilera's song from Mulan is a beautiful ballad for paladins and a surprise for movie goers because its for a film that makes its debut on streaming.

Pretty soon, some of us who are subscribers to Disney Plus get the opportunity to pony up $30.00 to watch the movie, Mulan, which drops on the streaming service the first week of September. I have been looking forward to this movie for half a year now, and I will be purchasing said movie. It's actually got me excited, because I wrote in a much earlier blog post this year that I should have been able to see Mulan by now, and it sucks that I haven't been able to do so. The whole Covid-19 has sent the entertainment industry into a tailspin, and I deeply hope that movie theaters don't march off to the dinosaur tar pits and watching things at home becomes the "new normal." I say "yuck" to that, but as I'm a nobody in the world (pretty much), I will just have to adapt like most everyone else.

Now that I've said that, I will also add that I deeply enjoy that some of the streaming services are doing an effort to put out quality products. Mulan by any means was an expensive film, and it's kind of shocking that it is debuting on streaming and not in a theater. I applaud those who made the decision to give us a bit of a treat while we are all stuck at home dealing with a worldwide pandemic. Below is a music video for a song called Loyal, Brave, True by the singer, Christina Aguilera. It dropped last week, and I listened to it and instantly liked it. Again, this kind of quality is super unexpected from a movie that is making its debut on home screens. Christina's voice is so rich and full and lovely, and I love the Asian-feel to her outfit. I suppose being half-Asian, I feel a kind of kinship with movies and television that pay a respectful homage to those ancient cultures.

Anyway, if you have the time and you haven't heard the song, you should give it a listen. My friend, Meg, said that Christina's voice reminds her a lot of how Cher used to be, with a rich and full and powerful voice that is full of soul. I've thought about that assessment, and I think it hits the mark. It's also a beautiful ballad for paladins (for any Dungeons & Dragons players out there). 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Conclave of Shadows by Raymond E. Feist is a clever retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo.

I've been reading Raymond E. Feist's Conclave of Shadows trilogy. I'm in the second book, called King of Foxes, but something was bugging me as I was reading this clever yarn told in a fantasy world. And then I figured it out: it's a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Most of you out there are probably familiar with The Count of Monte Cristo. It's a fascinating tale wherein a man is wronged and sets out to avenge himself against those who falsely imprisoned him. The way in which he does this is a fascinating story with a Rube Goldbergian level of intricacy designed to bring ruin upon his enemies. While in prison he becomes super educated, being fortunate enough to make friends with a monk who essentially knows everything, and then he fakes his own death when his monk friend dies (so that he can be thrown out with the body bag). Along the way, he picks up a super loyal and very skilled follower named Jacopo (a former pirate), and then they get lots of funding via a fabulous pirate horde, and then the main character is reborn as the Count of Monte Cristo in order to ingratiate himself to the nobility of Paris, which becomes the perfect place for him to slow cook his revenge. How could you not like this story?

What Feist has done in his Conclave of Shadows trilogy is displace this story into the fantasy world of most of his novels (called Midkemia). There, a boy named Talon of the Silver Hawk is not imprisoned per se (like The Count of Monte Cristo character), however, he is reborn when his village is annihilated by some callous nobles who found his people to be "in the way" of their geographical goals. Left for dead, he is revived by members of a powerful and secret society with super deep pockets (think endless money) who educate him in all the same ways as Edmond Dantes goes through in The Count of Monte Cristo. He becomes a superb fencer, learns several different languages, and is firmly ensconced in a city called Roldem, which is just a city a stand-in for medieval Paris. The Conclave of Shadows gave this young man a new identity, calling him Tal Hawkins, and he is a new noble having come from the West. He promptly makes a name for himself by winning the Master's Sword Tournament (a very prestigious title), and he beds lots of noble women who find him very attractive. And then he gets a man servant who is an assassin, named Amafi, who is as loyal as Jacopo ever was to Edmond Dantes. Of course, he trains this agent of his to be his valet while he moves the pieces on the board to plot his revenge.

The revenge element begins with young Tal Hawkins attracting the eye (and thusly being recruited by) the very noble who was responsible for his village's death. And Tal doesn't just want to kill this duke. No, he wants to humiliate him, to bring about his ruin so that as/when the duke dies, he knows exactly why this is happening and who it is that is bringing about his ruin. And just like in the Count of Monte Cristo, his method of taking down his enemies by understanding their character and circumstances and bringing them to utter ruin through a few carefully chosen actions is incredible to witness. It really is a delight to read seeing as 1) I'm familiar with the story, and 2) it is one of my favorites, and 3) the sleight "magical" elements in the book change it up enough to heighten the tension in odd ways.

I'm actually quite surprised to see a fantasy novel mine classical literature like The Count of Monte Cristo. The main themes of revenge, love, culpability, greed, and ambition are all there, and they are treated in a way that does not allow easy answers. And it's a novel where the main character, this Tal Hawkins, is quite likeable not only because he is good, but because he is also evil. He is both the hero and the villain of the story, and that's just really interesting. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Brandon Sanderson just finished a kickstarter for a ten-year-old book that almost hit $7 million in funding.

Brandon Sanderson through his company Dragonsteel Entertainment just finished a Kickstarter for a ten-year old book that nearly hit $7 million. Let me reiterate that...this book has been out for ten fricken years...available in hardback and paperback and audiobook, etc. from the big publisher known as Tor. It's as common as dirt to find online and despite ALL OF THAT, it is making MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. And I assume (now) that the rights have probably gone back to Mr. Sanderson for him to do with as he please. The book? The Way of Kings. Anyway, if they haven't gone back to him, maybe there's some kind of catch whereas he's allowed to just sell copies of vanity special editions, or something like that, and keep all the profit. Maybe the publisher was's no money in the vanity stroking business of leatherbound, beautiful, illustrated editions. That's a fools game! If that's what they thought, they are looking pretty silly right about now.

Sure...there's going to be overhead with Sanderson's company Dragonsteel Entertainment. Maybe a few hundred thousand in overhead. Possibly the cost of a middle class home in Salt Lake City ($500,000) in overhead (which is chump change to a lot of the ritzy crowd that calls this place home). But definitely not $7 million. This Kickstarter goldmine was unbelievable. Kudos to Brandon who should be laughing all the way to the bank. I mean...damn.

And it should terrify traditional publishers. Kickstarter is launching bankable authors into the stratosphere as far as the money they can reap from their intellectual property. But of course...that's the key, right? The word "bankable" is kind of a catch-22. However, if you've got your name out there in lights already for one reason or another, there is no way in hell that I think you should ever go with a publishing house. Kickstarter is the way to go...period. I've been watching Michael J. Sullivan's Kickstarters and have been blown away with the numbers those Kickstarters have been creating. But Sanderson's $7 million on a ten year old book? WOW!!!

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my thoughts. I think traditional publishers are going to be taking on a lot of unknowns (remember the days when mid-list writers were looked down upon?) to pay the bills in the future. All the big names can just say "FU" to them and go their own way, and they can do so in their Bentleys and their Rolls Royces. The mid-list will become the "only list" willing to sign with a publisher. Oh how times are a changing.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Dark is a humorless slog of a show that nevertheless has good eye candy and is somewhat compelling to watch.

I have been watching Netflix's Dark, and I've got three episodes left in the third season. Up to this point, I've been pretty much hooked on it enough that I don't want to abandon it. But it also is one of the most frustrating series I've watched because of several reasons.

1) It's hard to care about the character's world because it is so small. I know that there is a town that the characters all live in, but there's maybe ten significant locations that just get used and reused by repeated visitations of the old, middle-aged, and young characters traveling through time.

2) The story is just a string of vignettes that are slammed together for essentially three seasons of television. Each vignette has two people talking in serious hushed tones, there is usually one if not both characters experiencing such strong emotions that they are on the verge of tears, and then there are lots of hugs. And it is this thing over and over and over again. As soon as one vignette ends, you zoom to another location and another time where two characters come together, discuss either how futile and frustrating the time loop is and how no one seems to understand anything about what's going on enough to find a clear direction, and there is always this momentary shock or realization heightened by dramatic music. Oh and the tears. There are always tears.

3) The plot is purposefully confusing and convoluted, so much so, that it actually feels like the showrunners are drawing the story out longer to make it more convoluted and impossible to figure anything out. By season three, you've got two separate worlds each with their own past, present, and future versions of the characters facing an apocalypse which you aren't quite sure would be necessarily bad if you could just get to an end or some kind of conclusion to a story arc. As I said earlier, the world is impossibly small because it is essentially ten significant locations repeated ad nauseum season after season.

4) The characters don't really eat. I've seen eating maybe once in three seasons. But they do smoke, have sex, talk in hushed desperate whispers, and feel the full gravity of their fates while trying to unravel the endless loop of the apocalyptic circumstance that has got them all trapped. There's some teen angst, suspicion, manipulation, but very little eating. It all seems very German, as many of their characters are quite easy on the eyes (so it does have that going for it).

5) Dark has no humor. There is no laughter and there are no jokes. It is one episode after another of intense stares, dramatic tear-filled eyes, pleas of conscience, serious discussions, and hugs. 

Anyway, all that aside, I'm actually enjoying the show, because it is science fiction, and I am curious as to how it will all end. Are any of you watching it out there?

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Lebanese explosion in Beirut is the perfect event and meme to encapsulate the entirety of 2020.

Like most of you, I'm deeply shocked by the explosion in Beirut that has killed over a hundred people and wounded thousands of others. And like you, I might be wondering why it was allowed to happen. Apparently, there was hundreds of tons of explosive ammonium nitrate stacked next to fireworks in a warehouse for years, and people knew about it. But nothing could be done because all the power to make decisions on this dangerous stuff rested with stupid and ignorant people. Does that sound like 2020? It sure does to me.

Where I might differ from you is that my brain likened it to the perfect event that encapsulates all of 2020. I mean...the meme potential for this thing is incredible (but I'm not going to create any). For example, one could draw an arrow to the smoke stacks raging at the Beirut port and write, "Anti-maskers screaming 'I do what I want!' and 'You NOT the boss o' me!'" And then "BOOM!" the explosion leveling the rest of the city.

Or another meme could be an arrow pointing (again) at the smoking stacks of the port followed by writing that says "Ignorance" and then another arrow pointing to the rest of Beirut with writing that says, "Well-informed people who can't do anything against the ignorant." And then "BOOM!" the explosion takes out all those informed helpless people.

Or yet a third meme that features (again) the word "ignorant people" pointing to the smoking stacks at the warehouse with a second arrow pointing to the surrounding buildings of Beirut with a label that says, "People who tolerate the stupid and ignorant because there's no way it will affect me." And then (of course) the catastrophic "BOOM" that does indeed affect all of those tolerant people.

It's a cruel twist of fate, I think, that this thing comes along and can describe the utter shit show going on in the United States right now with anti-maskers vs the scientific community. That it could literally be a political meme with (again) a red arrow pointing at the smoking stacks with just the words "Trump and his ideas" and then another arrow pointing at the city of Beirut with the words, "Citizens of the United States" followed by the catastrophic "Boom" that wipes everything out.

/Shakes my head. Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

It's August and the IWSG has questions about genre choices and the way we write.

Dear writers and blogfest participators, it is the first Wednesday of August in the year 2020, and it's time for The Insecure Writer's Support Group monthly post. If you are somehow unaware of this blogfest, you should head over HERE to get setup. It's a lot of fun, and a chance to connect with many other writers. The Insecure Writer's Support group was originally created by Alex Cavanaugh, who is very active in visiting blogs. However, he is not without help. The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey!

August 5 question - Quote: "Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don't write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be."
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?
Thus far, I have not ever written in a genre that I hadn't planned on writing in. However, and to be fair, "speculative fiction" is a huge genre encompassing everything from sword and sorcery magic to hard science fiction and everything in-between. Making up things seems to be where my comfort zone is right now, but that doesn't mean that it won't change. My taste in things is continuously evolving.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope the August heat doesn't break your air conditioner.