Friday, May 20, 2022

Let's talk about two Marvel shows hitting Disney plus that got my head buzzing this week.

Let's talk Marvel for our Friday roundup this week. First up are developments with Daredevil. Then I want to talk a wee bit about She-Hulk. 


News broke yesterday that Matt Corman and Chris Ord are producing another Daredevil series for Disney+. This got me excited, because I liked the Netflix series, and Kevin Feige has said that Charlie Cox will reprise the role of Daredevil (which I thought he did very well). Additionally, I kinda wanted more stories with this character, especially after the incredible third season (if you haven't watched it, you should). I don't really want to see a return of the Kingpin, but it feels inevitable. We've had two seasons now where he was front and center. I'd hope they find another bad guy to do, or maybe hire Tom Holland to reprise his role as Spiderman and suit up for some team-up action. And before you say "Tom Holland is too big to do tv," he absolutely is not. He loves television and wants on Euphoria with Zendaya, and he's been in a Netflix show and an Apple TV show plus some BBC series. So he's totally down for television.


Folks, we got a She-Hulk trailer earlier this week. I didn't think I'd be as excited as I was to see it, and the first look we got had some pretty rough CGI, which I hope gets cleaned up before we watch the show in August. However, it could be that Avatar sequels from real life juggernaut James Cameron is sucking up all the VFX talent right now, and so studios are having to go with people who don't have as much skill. I think effects work is like a force multiplier, i.e., they can take something strong and make it much, much better, or it can sap the strength of something important by introducing uncanny valley (and other things like that). Anyway, I loved seeing Mark Ruffalo, and it's fun to see "the hulks" smash things, so I think this is going to be a fun series with lots of super strength antics, even if the effects end up standing exactly as they are in the trailer. I suppose (in the end) I'm not the most discerning viewer out there. I just want things to be fun, hence my love for the now canceled Legends of Tomorrow.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to talk to you about. I'm taking a break from blogging next week and I won't post on Monday, because that's Memorial day. However, I'll be back for the IWSG on Wednesday, June 1st. Between then and now, I plan to binge watch Moon Knight, which I haven't gotten around to watching yet. I hear it's pretty good. I have no doubt that if it is, you'll hear about it on this blog. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Outer Range on Amazon is as weird as it is uncompelling.

I recently watched Outer Range on Amazon with a friend. After we finished the final episode of the first season, both of us turned to each other and (essentially) said, "This show was weird. I feel like it wasn't really all that compelling. And it was a lot like 'Dark' but without the stunningly beautiful male characters that show had." That being was all right if you like David Lynch-ish shows that have very few answers, and if you like westerns and cowboys.

When I first heard about this show, I don't really know what I was hoping for. The catch was compelling: a mysterious hole that is apparently bottomless and supernatural in origin appears in the west pasture of Royal Abbott's sprawling ranch of thousands of acres. As the show unfolds, we find out that Royal knew what this hole was. In fact, he's a man that is hundreds of years old, as he threw himself into it when he was about ten years old (and the year was like 1886 or something like that). It's a hole that goes through time with no apparent rhyme or reason as to how it works other than 1) things can come from any era and 2) it grants visions of what might be if you interact with the rocks that form its "substance" and get that on your skin.

I wanted to like the Abbotts, who were the stars of the show. But they were killers, and most of them were just not anyone I'd really care to associate with. By the end of this show, I was only kinda/sorta rooting for acting Sherriff Joy. And this series overall felt ponderous when it was trying to be atmospheric, clearly lacking the brilliance of someone who does this kind of show well: David Lynch. So it was like Twin Peaks without the charisma of those stars, if that makes any sense.

From the beginning episode I thought that Outer Range would have some kind of payoff. But when I finally understood most of what was going on, it felt like the big reveal wasn't satisfactory. All in all, I wouldn't recommend this show unless you are bored and just want something to watch that doesn't make a whole lot of sense and has sweeping Wyoming vistas and cattle ranchers. There is talk of a season two, but I don't know if I'd watch it. Sometimes, experimental science fiction shows just land flat, and this feels like one of those times.

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Orville is not more Trek than Trek.

With the release of the third season of The Orville, the discussion among some people who love these kinds of shows (nerds like me) has often boiled down to: "It's good to have Star Trek back." The thing is...The Orville isn't Star Trek, and trolls like to use this line to bludgeon the legions of new fans who absolutely love the diversity and woke-ness of new Trek as if (in doing so) we don't know what proper Trek looks like or (for that matter) everything was better when women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ people were shunted into minor roles.

For me...The Orville always seemed like it was a kind of love letter to The Next Generation. This is similar to Michael Chabon's take, whose Picard series seems like an unnecessary addition to the story of Picard. Don't get me's Trek so I watch it. But there's very little in the unfolding of the twilight years of Jean-Luc that feel like new ideas. There is no Species 10C like we got in Discovery. There are no strange new vistas that I haven't seen before. Instead, the majority of season 2 of Picard just spent its time in Earth's past in a deep dive into nostalgia and perhaps rewriting what the Borg were/are, which just seems unnecessary.

The Orville is also filled with a lot of ass-hattery and dick jokes. Even though I did think they were funny, dick jokes are not a sustainable thing you can do with a show for season after season. McFarlane clearly acknowledges this as they tapered off quite a bit in the first season and then became a more serious show when they introduced the Kaylon in season two who wanted nothing more than to wipe out all organic life. The mountains of skulls on their home planet were anything but funny (pure horror, folks).

The reason why The Orville could never be more Trek than Trek is because it relies too heavily on psuedo-nostalgia with everyone looking and talking and reminiscing about all the great things they never experienced during the world as we know it today. The haircuts, the slang, the worldview. You even get the 1980-2000-ish playlists, which seems like a crutch to draw in viewers who hate on anything new and different that takes a chance with its content. The far future should not always hark back to the distant past, and this type of thing is on the verge of becoming a science fiction cliché. Regarding the comedy aspect, it's not well-defined. The show goes from a dramatic futuristic show with awkward comedic aspects that oftentimes come across as half-hearted attempts sandwiched between serious situations. Some of it makes me cringe.

Where the show does tend to succeed is by using the exact copy of the playbook of ALL TREK: hope and human foibles. This takes its shape in watching humans struggle to answer questions to which there is no answer, and watching people do their best work together and to try and solve problems with the help of others. Along the way, they create unity, support, and communication. That message is something that we need now more than ever in our society, because it's a struggle out there. Y'all know what I'm talking about here.

I'm looking forward to watching The Orville season 3. However, it's not more Trek than Trek. If you are one of the people saying this, I wish you'd stop.

Friday, May 13, 2022

What is Mad God about?

The title of my blog post today says it all lol. I actually don't really know, other than I learned about this project in the last few days. But for sake of coming across as completely ignorant and thereby making it a waste of time for you to read my blog, I'm going to tell you what I do know about it which may be a little more than most. First, it's a passion project by a guy named Phil Tippett who is the founder of Tippett Studios. They specialize in stop motion animation. Tippett has previously won an Oscar and an Emmy for special effects. He's worked on RoboCop, Starship Troopers, Jurassic Park, and the original Star Wars trilogy. It also has taken Tippett thirty years to make this movie. Yes...I said 30 G*Damn years. I can only ask myself...why would anyone spend 30 years of their life working on a thing off and on? But it doesn't matter, because it is finished. Now it just needs to find its audience.

Here's the full synopsis: "Mad God is an experimental animated film set in a world of monsters, mad scientists, and war pigs. A corroded diving bell descends amidst a ruined city, settling down upon an ominous fortress guarded by zombie-like sentries. The Assassin emerges to explore a labyrinth of bizarre, desolate landscapes inhabited by freakish denizens."

And here's the have to subscribe to Shudder in order to see it. Look...I get launching it on a streaming service. That is what everyone is doing these days. But I'm never going to subscribe to Shudder. I don't like scary movies, though this one (which seems to be pegged in the fantasy/horror genre) is right up my alley. It's not real enough to scare me, therefore, I think I'd enjoy watching it. At least...that's what I'm convincing myself at this time (it's the reason I avoid scary movies). When I watch scary movies, I don't have much fun. I'm hoping that it comes out on blu-ray or some other old format later this year, and I can watch it. In the meantime, I have only testimonials from super famous people I like weighing in on this thing. 

"Phil Tippett is a Master." -- Guillermo del Toro

"Phil brings humanity and empathy to every character." -- Kathleen Kennedy

I guess I should probably see this thing. Who am I to question Guillermo del Toro or Kathleen Kennedy? I'm not kidding here, these are two of my favorite people in the entertainment industry. Anyone subscribed to Shudder out there that might share their password with me so I can watch this thing? LOL, just kidding. Do yourself a favor and click on the trailer below. It's a real trip.

It seems weird for it to only be mid-May and to make an Oscar prediction, but here goes. I think we shall see Phil Tippett win his second Oscar next year for this thing. Why? One doesn't work for thirty years on something and not win anything for that kind of meticulous attention to detail. That would be barbaric, and the art industry is anything but.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Let's discuss Marvel Incursions which we learned about in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

There are plenty of discussion threads and articles now on the internet that are talking about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In this blog post, I'm not so much going to talk about the movie, as I'm going to talk about incursions (which are a big part of the movie), and what they mean going forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So here is your obligatory "spoiler alert."

So, the movie introduced the concept of incursions. You may be wondering, what exactly is an incursion? Although the film performs a decent explanation of this concept, the comics have additional insight. And most of this comes from Jonathan Hickman, who wrote a series for Marvel about a decade ago called Secret Wars. Jonathan Hickman, by the way, has been hired on as a consultant to Marvel (so we know that this is probably where the MCU is going post Thanos) and Jonathan Hickman is lauded by one of my close personal friends as being the greatest comic book writer ever. Take that as you would any other claim, but if not the G.O.A.T., then maybe we could agree that he would be on the small team photo of greatest writers of all time.

A multiversal incursion is an event where two universes crash into each other. There are also ways to prevent or stop an incursion, and to prevent two realities from collapsing on top of each other and thus destroying one or both universes involved in this event. The comic books by writer Jonathan Hickman say that incursions are the result of multiverse timelines contracting. Think of it this way: even though every universe has infinite outcomes built within it, each universe has the same fate in the grand scheme, i.e., a final death moment. In Jonathan Hickman's story, it was revealed that a character called Molecule Man destroyed a universe prematurely. In the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it is an organization called the Illuminati that informs Doctor Strange that another version of him did a similar thing and destroyed a universe prematurely. And the thing is, all of these universes are interconnected. So when one goes, it affects the ones it is linked to in unpredictable ways. There is also another rule to these incursions: when universes collide, Earth is the collision point in all instances. That makes Earth the center of the story. Follow me so far?

So how do you stop an incursion? Well that all depends on the writer. Instances that have popped up in the comics include destroying one Earth to save the other one. The Avengers once used the Infinity Gauntlet to force an approaching Earth away, although this destroyed multiple Infinity Stones. Now you may be asking: why would Disney and Marvel want to use this kind of plot tactic for forthcoming movies? Well...because it is exciting with lots of potential for some really huge special effects rich storytelling. And what is a Marvel superhero movie without special effects?

Having multiple universes collide also solves bringing in the X-Men and the Fantastic Four and Sony's Venom-verse, and every other thing that they've wanted to lasso into their huge story. It sets the stage for big heroes and just hugely powerful villains or entities (The Living Tribunal comes to mind who is...essentially...god). I get to destroy Earth in one example while still having Earth be saved in another. So you get all the fireworks of annihilating a planet without really harming the ability to tell future stories on the same planet. Weird, right? This is the absurdity and entertainment of comic book movies. Everything just keeps going on and on and on and it all makes sense because in the end, everything is possible with a multiverse and a multiverse incursion.

Anyway, I have no idea where they are going with any of this. I'm just reading the tea leaves, but I'm sure it may resemble something of Jonathan Hickman's storyline in Secret Wars. But there will be things cut out and changed. That shouldn't keep it from being entertaining, which is what counts in these kinds of things. It will also allow them to go bigger than the Thanos snap, which only affected one universe. In this kind of storytelling, many (more than one universe certainly) can and probably will be affected by devastating consequences. It's actually kind of exciting, once you think about it (and if you've been a fan of comic books). We are about to experience a studio going big in a way that has never been tried before, and either it will be great, or it will be ridiculous. I guess it's just a waiting game at this point.

Monday, May 9, 2022

George Pérez has died. This one hurts a lot.

George Pérez was my favorite comic book artist. I think he was the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). If not the G.O.A.T., then he's certainly in the team photo. Anyone who knows the industry knows this as a fact.

He retired from the industry in January 2019 due to various health related issues. I got to know him back in the day as he worked with Marv Wolfman to create an epic run of the Teen Titans. Then he worked with Marv again on the fiftieth issue to reboot Wonder Girl with a five-part series Who is Wonder Girl? This is how we got Troia out of Donna Troi.

He also rebooted Wonder Woman. His run on that was epic too and it really cemented the things that I loved about the character. He drew for both Marvel and DC, he created Crisis on the Infinite Earths which is a kind of legendary storyline. He drew Jim Starlin's 1991 limited series Infinity Gauntlet.

Pérez's drawings were beautiful. There's no other way to describe them. Plus they featured anatomically correct people without being overtly sexual like so many of his contemporaries. And the man could draw hair wavy or curly without it looking like a caricature.

George Pérez has died. Oh man...this one hurts a lot. Screw you, 2022.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

In the May Insecure Writer's Group we talk about writer highs and lows.

Today is Wednesday, May 4, 2022. I've been blogging some twelve years now? That seems strange. I never thought I'd be at this more than ten years, but it turns out I like blogging. Anyway, those of you who visit me know that the first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer's Support Group day. I'm really not insecure anymore, but I still like to participate. This thing was started by Alex Cavanaugh who is still a very avid blogger over at his site. So, I think he's probably going on 13 years? I know that we both started at similar times. Boy, time sure does go by fast. Anyway, I'm going to borrow some words from the IWSG sign-up page to explain what this thing is (in case some of you are new).

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: That's easy! It's to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

When do y'all post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

If you are still on Twitter post-Elon Musk buyout, their Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 4th posting of the IWSG are Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon!

Every month, the IWSG Board of Directors announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. And please remember that the question is optional.

So without further ado, here is the May 4th question:

It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

For me, I think the writer highs that I experienced happened when I realized there was a community of people who liked writing that had organized online. There were blogfests I could join, and people I could meet. I scored free books to read and reviewed quite a few (I still review books from time to time, but everything has slowed down with age I suppose). And there was all this knowledge that was readily available. People talked about agents and how they got them! Like...what?! And I corresponded with some really interesting people. For example, I've corresponded with John Scalzi and Tahereh Mafi via blogging, and it wasn't some agent or some designated spokesperson. It was the real person dispensing advice directly to me. Another really positive thing that happened was that I felt a lot more connected to the industry. I kind of new what people in power were looking for. Doing some self-publishing helped me to feel empowered, and to realize what kind of hard work went into actually putting a book together. I think it's important for anyone who is passionate about a thing to know exactly how the sausage is made. Publishing and writing so often are just thought of as this art form that people do in the quiet of their homes. That is only partially true. The incredible writers living today must be more than that. They must be savvy at social networks, they need to put themselves out there, and they need to do uncomfortable things. Look at Brandon Sanderson. In his latest Kickstarter he was clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera so he hammed his way through it to some $41 million in riches. But if he couldn't bring himself to crawl out of his hole and maybe face some inner doubts about himself, he wouldn't have made a dime.

I think the crappy times are few, but one I focus on particular has to do with reviews, either by me for someone else or from a person reviewing my work. I had to get used to that criticism, and sometimes it was pretty bad. But I had a thick skin, and I got way more positive reviews than negative ones. It's just how people are, and you need to find the audience you are writing for. A lot of people who are reviewers, only like a certain genre or kind of book even though they may not be completely honest with themselves about that truth. So, my best advice on this (to avoid a writer low) is to find your audience that likes the kind of thing that you like to write. Trust me, they are out there. Additionally, there's the minefield of authors that may not like what you have written about their work. Sometimes they have big platforms (at least compared to me), and I feel like my words (although accurate and I stand by them) may have tweaked a nerve and caused some people to come back at me with a "how dare you write this about my book?" kind of thing. It's sometimes difficult to remember that the internet is one big bathtub, and at the end of the day, y'all are just marinating in it, and a person on one end of the tub can easily slide over and get in your personal space because you said something they don't like. That's just the way the internet is. And this can happen to anyone. I once tweeted about Demi Lovato, and she actually responded. The same goes for other stars like Gregory Smith (Everwood and Rookie Blue). I've had people respond to things I've said, and it wasn't their agents. None of this was a bad interaction by any means, but it's a reminder that things can blow up when you least expect them to, so be careful about what you put out there, and remember, even if a person is famous they are human too and they have feelings.

Thanks for stopping by, and until next time, adieu.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Tokyo Vice on HBO Max is a solid Japanese crime story based upon a famous memoir by Jake Adelstein

When I was thirteen years old, I visited Japan with my mother. My memories from that time period are still quite clear, and I remember that she would always point out people who had tattoos and say, "We shouldn't go into that restaurant. It is frequented by the Yakuza." I really didn't know what she meant other than they were "bad people" or "People to be avoided." Even though she had married an American from Texas, my mother's ability to navigate the shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train) and go from city to city in Japan with ease always impressed upon me that she had come to power within big cities. Tokyo was the biggest city I'd ever been in at the time, and I remember that the streets were narrow, everything was very crowded, and the heat was as oppressive as a sweater with very little relief due to an astounding amount of humidity.

With that in mind, it has been a delightful experience to watch Tokyo Vice on HBO Max, because (for one) it answers exactly what there was to be feared when thinking of the Yakuza. Coming away from this show, if I had to describe the Yakuza, I would say its similar to the western Mafia, only with an injection of an ancient Japanese cultural obsession with honor and duty to one's organization. The setting is in the nineties, so well past the time when I visited Japan in the early eighties. Some of the story concerns itself with Kabukicho, which was considered an entertainment and red-light district in the heart of Tokyo that had/has such things as "Love Hotels" which are not really found so openly in America. The story itself is based on a memoir written by Jake Adelstein, who wrote about his experiences covering Japanese gangsters when he was covering crime for The Yomiuri Shimbun from 1993 to 2005.

I've not read the book, but it isn't difficult to get details off the internet about it. The most important takeaway from the memoir is that it talks about Adelstein's expose that was published in Japan abaout Tadamasa Goto, the head of the yakuza family Goto-gumi who was known as the "John Gotti" of Japan. He sold out his gang to the F.B.I. in order to jump the queue and get a liver transplant in the United States, ahead of U.S. citizens. And of course, Adelstein got death threats because of this. I'm sure it was a very scary time, and it shows the kind of courage it took to be a journalist rubbing elbows with everyday criminals who very much could just do what they wanted to in Japan.

Tokyo Vice is a show that is richly detailed. The main character played by Ansel Elgort does a fine job speaking Japanese (there are lots of subtitles), and Ken Watanabe plays a high profile police detective that becomes friends with Ansel's character and begins to show him how the Japanese approach the Yakuza. This was a shocking thing for me to come to grips with, but the police in Japan approached gangsters very carefully. In one scene, Ken Watanabe tells a Yakuza that he has gone too far, and that he will need two people to take the fall for this. It's essentially asking him permission to arrest two people. But when the Yakuza refuses and gives only one, then Watanabe tells him that won't do. There's a lot of intimidation, and staring, and finally the Yakuza orders another of his men to be arrested to satisfy the police. I was like...what in the hell? This is NOT how it is done in America.

Additionally, people aren't "murdered" in Japan. Even when a corpse is found with a sword thrust all the way through him, it is not seen as murder. Instead they have copious euphemisms to beat around the bush on what exactly happened to this guy, and the local newspaper is forbidden to print anything except what the police say happened, which hides about half to three-quarters of the truth.

The crux of Tokyo Vice pivots around a thing that was happening in Japan at the time concerning lots of suicides, and this is what the reporter uncovers during the story. He finds out that a lot of financially distressed couples are going to shell companies offering loans of cash to people who cannot qualify for cash from any other institution. They are then forced to sign papers which turn over any life insurance or other kinds of insurance on them should they die before the loan is paid back. Then they issue tremendously high interest rates on the loans, take out an insurance policy on the individual in question, and when they inevitably default on the loan, they pressure that person continuously day and night to commit suicide or their family will suffer. When they commit suicide, sometimes in the most gruesome of ways (one person burns himself to death by soaking his body in gasoline and then lighting a match), the Yakuza collect on all the life insurance and make millions. When I realized what was going on I was like, "Oh wow...that is truly evil and diabolical." But...we only need to look at someplace like Ukraine and see what's going on there to realize that people, whether they are Japanese or Russian, can be the absolute worst.

Tokyo Vice is a thriller that does what it's supposed to do. It takes us (the viewer) through the bars, alleys, offices, shops, and homes of a Japan that existed before ubiquitous cell phones and internet blanketed our world. There's a kind of energy of exploration and discovery to that, which may be the best parts of good journalism. And aside from that, who doesn't like a good Japanese crime story?

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