Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The House of the Dragon spinoff feels less interesting than the original Game of Thrones even if it is a gorgeous production.

I've watched two episodes of House of the Dragon now, and I wanted to weigh-in on the Game of Thrones spinoff. However, it will be impossible to do so without spoilers. So, here is your spoiler warning.

House of the Dragon doesn't feel like Game of Thrones as much as it feels like Game of Thrones fanfiction, but maybe through the eyes of someone with less talent. The original story featured a huge cast of characters (many of them horrible), with each one starring in its own chapter or point-of-view. This technique allowed George R.R. Martin and by extension, the HBO team, to cliffhang each story and then go on to the next scene. With House of the Dragon the scene transitions are more like a regular tv series. They are just different points of view within the same large family. And the dynastic succession seems like a story that we've seen before. In some ways, having watched Game of Thrones, I wonder why any of these people don't see that the struggle for this uncomfortable chair that the king sits in is even worth it. Or maybe the ultimate lesson is that it is bad to be the King of Westeros.

That chair too has been changed a bit to make it more imposing. The steps leading up to it appear broader than they were in the original series. They are also covered in the littered remains of melted longswords and daggers no doubt taken from enemies and forged in a way to make the Iron Throne a bit of a contemporary art piece. The fact that the king regularly cuts himself on it and gets grotesque skin infections from the wounds seems lost to the common sense of those who should know better within the context of this fictional world.

The dragons as well seem a lot different. The ones that Daenerys rode were what I might consider to be a more traditional take on the mythological monster. Matt Smith from Doctor Who plays Daemon Targaryen, and his dragon appears to look more red and serpentine. Smith's character is utterly without charisma of any kind. This in contrast to Joffrey in the original who had charisma even if he was a psychopath. It almost feels like Matt Smith overacts in his Targaryen role so as to appear intentionally crazy, as opposed to the slow boil of crazy that we saw in other characters in the original series.

Where House of the Dragon does seem to land well is in the violence and gore that were hallmarks of the previous series. However, the original show covered quite a bit of territory. Seeking to maybe break new ground, the Westeros of centuries past shows itself in a tournament of bored knights eager to maim one another, and in a horrific birth scene that seems conjured to remind us all that many women prior to modern medicine did not survive a baby. And of course, there is plenty of social commentary on the state of the patriarchy in this medieval horror show, with baby boys clearly being more important than mothers and with a Targaryen in Harrenhal choosing a male heir over a female one.

Why anyone even continues to use Harrenhal as a dwelling is a question I never got answered either from the original series or the books. If you don't recall this specific castle in Westeros, it's a ruin of melted stone with many collapsed hallways and uninhabitable spaces due to dragon fire being used on its inhabitants. It would be little more than living out of a cave. There is always some noble squabbling over Harrenhal, yet no one ever gets around to renovating the place and fixing it up. I guess part of its ongoing appeal is its ruined appearance so that people can gape in awe and say, "This is what happened when Balerion the Dread melted the place." Balerion is the "big" dead dragon skull at King's Landing. I'm pretty sure Drogon ended up being that big at the close of Daenerys's storyline. 

The new cast of House of the Dragon may settle into their roles yet. But it is difficult to see how it will maintain the epic feel of Game of Thrones without a spooky bad guy (the White Walkers). In fact, it may end up being more of a medieval Dynasty (this was a popular prime-time soap opera in the 1980's that featured various squabbling modern-day nobles backstabbing one another while living off their oil money). Dallas is another one of these dynasty-esque shows. So, House of the Dragon then is just a gussied up Dynasty featuring dragons instead of cars and with white wigs on everyone. Watching this show makes me think of the phrase "lightning in a bottle." It's obvious that there is more hunger for Game of Thrones. But there may not be more Game of Thrones to be had. 

Sometimes, a good story is just that. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stretching it out to give more to the people has always been a problem. Look at Jaws and Jurassic Park. Both of these are examples where the brilliance of the original made people go looking to recapture that "lightning in a bottle." And it never worked, even if those attempts produced money. Being profitable is not the same as being good, and I think we are in that territory when it comes to House of the Dragon. The thing has millions of viewers, and it probably always will dominate the ratings. But the magic of what made the original unique is simply not there, at least in these first two episodes. It would help things a lot if they actually had a supernatural villain to worry about (like the Night King) as opposed to watching a family destroy its enemies, many of whom reside within the same walls. Ah well...if any family was interesting enough to warrant a series, it was the Targaryens and their dragon lords. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

She-Hulk on Disney Plus didn't waste any time drawing bigger connections to the MCU.

In today's post, I want to discuss the first two episodes of the new She-Hulk series. So this is your spoiler warning.

She-Hulk on Disney Plus didn't waste any time drawing bigger connections to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Most of these Marvel series are not shy on this aspect. But right from the get-go we had a Sakaaran spaceship that resulted in Banner's niece getting infected with his gamma irradiated blood. And then from there, she's off to represent Emil Blonsky, whom we briefly saw in Shang-Chi and who had a larger part in an Edward Norton led Incredible Hulk movie that I believe I've only watched once, and it was well over ten years ago. That show was the one that had the Abomination in it. Honestly, I thought it would be a better movie. But it wasn't bad. I just remember that my interest waned in it once Edward Norton jumped ship for whatever ship he's sailing on these days. I used to like Edward Norton a lot (his performance in American History X is incredible). But I've come to understand that he may be a bit difficult to work with. I've worked with "difficult" folks, so I get it. My sympathies go to anyone that is forced to work with difficult, snobby, demanding people.

I am wondering who Blonsky's "seven penpals" are at this point. He mentioned it more than once when meeting with his lawyer (She-Hulk), and I'm thinking that the line felt "bludgeoning" enough for me to think that they are laying the ground for something. But my knowledge of Marvel is not good enough for me to predict what this "something" is going to be. I also wonder if Matt Murdock will make an appearance at some point seeing as he's a lawyer too. That would be an interesting turn of events and draw a nice connection to the Daredevil series, since we know that She-Hulk is now going to take the place of Mark Ruffalo in the Avengers movies.

Another of the things I find interesting about the character of Blonsky is that we learn (by the end of the second episode) that his participation in the underground fighting ring that was featured in the movie, Shang Chi was in fact an illegal appearance. Honestly, this is a no-brainer. So, I should have realized this. But I didn't. There were too many things I was trying to process plot-wise that this appearance by the Abomination seemed like just another interesting and humorous cameo. However, now that I've had time to process what we saw in She-Hulk I think there are more realistic real world implications.

For one, She-Hulk herself admits out loud that people need to earn a living. Money doesn't just drop from the sky, and she wonders if being an Avenger even comes with a paycheck. When I turned this tidbit over in my mind, I realized that even though Wong is now the Sorcerer Supreme, he might also need a paycheck. So I assumed that Wong is the one that is selling his magical talents to break random super people out of their prisons so that he can earn money in the fighting ring. Afterall, being the Sorcerer Supreme probably doesn't pay a living wage, and those tuna melts from the corner deli don't come cheap.

We don't need this explanation for Stephen Strange. He obviously has a good windfall fund somewhere since he was a rich doctor once, and the Sanctum Sanctorum has to be paid off in full (minus yearly property taxes). The idea that the Sorcerer Supreme has all these regulations and rules about using magical powers and artifacts and whatnot for fear of being magically corrupted, but these same rules do not include using your powers to make money for personal gain (in illegal fight clubs) makes me laugh.

And finally, these two episodes of She-Hulk make me wonder what the plans are for Banner. It seems obvious that they are removing him from The Avengers. But he is seen leaving Earth in a Sakaaran spaceship. So, I wonder if we are going to get a World War Hulk thing in the future? I'm thinking that the Sakaarians are taking Hulk back to the planet to meet his son and baby mama. Some band from Earth attacks (maybe the Illuminati) and Hulk's son and baby mama get killed. That makes Banner lose his shit, and then he comes back to Earth as an unstoppable angry man. Anyway, it's just thoughts at this point. But a lot of it was kicked off with these first two episodes of She-Hulk. They were pretty good. Anyone else wondering where they are going with this thing? Anyone else enjoy what they saw?

Friday, August 26, 2022

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a $400 million dollar story made from footnotes and appendices.

Today I learned that The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does not have the rights to The Silmarillion. I was like...what in the hell? I guess the rights to Tolkien's properties are complicated. What they do have are the rights to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of its appendices that go with it, as well as The Hobbit. So, the appendices cover a good amount of the Second Age. Additionally, I guess the showrunners were allowed to ask to use certain elements from the other books (or to get permission) if even one name was (for example) mentioned in the appendices. In other words, if a person, a place, or an event is referenced in the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit in any way that they were allowed to use all of the connecting details that appear in The Silmarillion. However, they couldn't use anything that appears solely in The Silmarillion.

This is a really weird way to spend $400 million dollars (the cost of the first season). I'm a little in awe that someone would greenlight a show adaptation from what are essentially scraps and footnotes, when there are entire novels out there written by other fantasy authors that are relatively cheap (in comparison) to get. I understand that The Lord of the Rings has name recognition. However, there are a lot of fantasy stories out there that are just as good if not better in their overall story.

All that being said, there are additional considerations that I would have had if it was my $400 million being invested in this thing. For example, I've noticed online that this series (it isn't even out yet) has become something of a lightning rod for folks who are mad because there are strong women and non-white people being represented. This means that the series will start with a lot of bad will (assume that half of the United States is basically racist). Even if the series is good, it runs the risk that this "bad will" could spread online and infect even non-racists and non-sexists. To simplify, if the series ends up not being all that great of a story because it is drawn from appendices and footnotes, there will be huge arguments that state (wrongly I might add) that the show exists to showcase diversity and that therefore the problem is diversity.

We live in interesting times, folks. I am looking forward to The Rings of Power. It's going to be here soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

What will be the final consequences of all the political hatred directed at shows like She-Hulk?

I haven't watched She-Hulk yet, as I've been busy. I hear from a few trusted sources that it is good. But there is a thing going on with its reviews (especially those on IMDB) that have become newsworthy. I guess, people are bombing the show by the hundreds. And these happened even before the first episode was released. When an article pointed this out (which was open for comments) these were the kinds of comments that were left in response to the reporting:

"Just because you make a w0ke show and it gets bad ratings that doesn't its getting botted it might mean however inconceivable to lefties that the show is just really bad."

"No point in delaying the inevitable. No one wants to watch degenerate trash television and they want you to know it."

"When did giving your opinion that something isn't good become an epidemic instead of the truth? I watched it. It isn't good. Maybe it will get better? But so far, no good. How is that a problem? Women can fail too...."

"The show is a pile of current cultural nonsense and the reviews reflect that."

"Every time some GRRRL POWER MEN ARE TERRIBLE show is criticized this happens, anyone remember Captain Marvel and how awful that was?"

"Sounds like somebody can't handle the fact that their new woke show just isn't that popular. The woke media always wants to make everything they hold dear seem so much more popular than it really is. Yeah, Joe Biden is turning things around. The economy is doing great. Everybody wants a man pretending to be a woman reading books to their kids in school. Conservatives are more violent than leftists. There weren't any riots. What riots?"

The quote below is actually my favorite:

"It's called democracy. Anyone who claims online reviews are rigged is a review denier conspiracy theorist. She-Hulk had the freest and fairest review ratings in the history of review rating. Anyone who denies the She-Hulk reviews deserves to be raided by the F.B.I."

So what do we make of all this? Well...there's a lot of upset people out there who aren't upset about She-Hulk, who feel that bombing She-Hulk is a way to get back at the people that they hate. Don't you think that's weird?

We haven't quite gotten to the point where people take up arms against each other in a full out civil war and a hail of bullets. But we are close. What we do have on our hands is a very uncivil society, and the hate is everywhere. It's palpable. And you can feel it radiating outward from every terrible comment left on websites scattered throughout the internet.

Personally, I wonder why people can't find joy. One of the comments above clearly slurs someone who is transgender. However, the way I'd look at that situation is, "My child is getting a free education at a public school. That's fantastic. It's something I don't have to do."

But no one sees the good in things anymore. I would liken it to being made a delicious dinner, and then complaining about the appearance of the things it was cooked in and even being hateful toward those pots and pans. These online trolls are the worst kinds of bullies. I just wish they weren't half the people in this nation. I sometimes wonder if psychopathy is nature's way of controlling a population that has no other checks.

What will be the final consequences of all the politically-inspired hatred directed at shows like She-Hulk? I'm betting we'll have an answer to that within my lifetime.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Dungeons & Dragons is making some minor revisions to its popular ruleset and it's caused a meltdown online.

This last week has been an interesting one for the tabletop roleplaying game community. Wizards of the Coast, which is the parent company for Dungeons & Dragons (and a very well run company I might add), has decided to produce an update to the core rules which they believe stand the test of time and will only require minor updates every few years. For decades, this has not been the case. Every five years or so, a new edition would roll out with all new revamped rules that would irritate old school players who would feel like they get left behind, and it would irritate those who have tight budgets as replacing books is expensive. This new make a ruleset that is backwards compatible and makes a few tweaks here and there that you can either accept or discard depending on how you want to run your game...has started a lot of discussions. And many of these discussions could be rephrased as complete and total meltdowns online. It's a fascinating thing to see how people enmasse react to a changing world, even if that world is fictional.

For one, a lot of the changes are being branded as "politically-inspired bullshit" or "wokeness gone too far." Wizards of the Coast has decided that it is in their best interest to be as inclusive as possible. So, they have made tweaks to races to make them pretty much equal to one another (which was not the case before). They have also created hybrid races that can more safely explore the fantasies of those people who identify as "furries" to allow them safe spaces and a means to create all kinds of animal and human combinations. Queerness of all kinds is represented. There are gay heroes and rulers of countries of fictional worlds. And there are black, brown, female, and disabled characters being represented. It pisses a lot of old school (particularly white male) people off. So why has this come to pass?

Look, Dungeons & Dragons has always been a weird form of entertainment. But its mainstream appeal in 2022 is pretty gigantic, and there are so many new people playing and wanting to play this game that I have enjoyed for decades. I like to think that the reason this has happened is because of the inclusive changes the game has made. But another reason might be that the escapism that D&D offers is a substitute for therapy which many cannot afford. Some of the old school complaints that I don't agree with which are aired online is the fact that Wizards of the Coast is supporting people creating and indulging all kinds of fantastical worlds, instead of adhering to the patriarchy-driven European middle-ages kinds of fantasy stereotypes that grew from works like The Lord of the Rings and continued through Game of Thrones and every other kind of medieval fantasy knockoff. In other words, in the eyes of many of these people you are not playing proper Dungeons & Dragons if your idea of a fantasy world looks more like Disney's Zootopia and less like Middle Earth.

This is a weird take, right? Additionally, the company has decided that the alignment system (which you may have heard of) is extinct. No longer are things "Chaotic Evil" or "Lawful Good." Instead, they want evil and good to be a matter of play and decision-making and motivation, rather than a label you just smack onto something. It is an interesting way to go about doing things, mostly because it assumes that people are smart enough to know when something is evil and something is good. We should all realize that this idea doesn't work, as the pandemic showed us that no one does "the right thing." We either assume to believe this truth, or far worse, to believe that people simply do not know what the "right thing is" to begin with. Labels like "Chaotic Evil" were useful to just stick onto things for those people (who are many) who have no ability to judge whether raping a thing is good behavior or not (if you are in is not). And in my own personal experience, I plan to continue to label things for players who may have trouble sussing out whether a thing they decide to do is evil or not, and whether observing something occurring is evil or not. Sometimes, people truly are stupid enough that leading them around a bit is the best way to go. Although a good storyteller can accomplish this without making it too obvious (and that is the key, isn't it?)

There are also minor rules changes that are coming up. Some of the things that people previously used will lose relevance as the new things get printed, but I think it is all in good spirit as the streamlining clears up misunderstandings. What I don't get is the hate that I see from old-school players, who didn't embrace the latest edition of the game anyway, and are continuing to struggle to find players for their games that they run where the rules system hasn't been updated since the 1980's.

From reading their Facebook posts in a Facebook group I belong to, you would think that the company is a complete sellout to liberals, and that the new generation of players are all weaklings who got participation trophies in school and who cannot handle the harshness of a gritty game. They are half one has the stomach to play games where characters experience nothing but misery and then die. What's the point of that? What's the fun in that? But there are (in this old school crowd) plenty of people who get enjoyment from watching characters suffer.

It's an odd phenomenon, and I wonder why this is. Is it inherent within human nature to want to watch others suffer, even if those suffering are fictional characters? Is this (perhaps) why dystopias are so popular in fiction? I suppose it is all good as long as you don't expect someone to inhabit the skin of that character that is suffering. And this (at its core) is what Dungeons & Dragons does: it puts you in the skin of a character. And considering that its a game, it is supposed to be fun to be that character for a few hours. And fun (the last time I checked) had nothing to do with suffering unless you are a really odd duck.

In any event, I wish I understood why people get so upset at changes. I wish I knew why people get stuck in tar pits like dinosaurs did in prehistoric times. They get stuck there, and then they die in the sweltering sun. It doesn't make sense, especially when I find out that many of these people so resistant to change say to my face that they are capitalist. Capitalism, by its very definition, embraces innovation and change. If they hate innovation so much, and they can't afford to replace books, and they hate it when a company makes something irrelevant, they should be a socialist. But they aren't, and that confuses me a lot in just about everything I observe them doing. Instead, they just want to keep going forward (and expect everyone else to go forward) with ideas that they embraced when they were young, like an insect frozen in amber. I suppose it is easy to confuse "what is" with "what ought to be" when "what is" has been working in your favor for so long.

If you have the time, you should watch the video above. It's quite interesting, and it will give you a bit more perspective on the changes that are happening in the community (and why some people might be outraged).

Friday, August 19, 2022

Has anyone else noticed that a lot of Asians seem to have Europeans placed on a weird pedestal?

Xenoblade Chronicles 3,
which is a game for the Nintendo Switch, recently became available. I've read that it is a pure joy, and it's made me want to play it. I've also read that it's another game where the anime-like characters all have British accents. I've wondered about this phenomenon a lot. I suppose that part of it is obviously marketing to your audience. But being a Japanese American (my mother was born in Tokyo), I just want to say, the entire time I knew my mother she wanted to be British and/or European. She never wanted to be Japanese. This never struck me as strange. But now that I'm 51 (I recently had a birthday), I'm starting to realize that she wasn't alone. There are a lot of people in this world who long to be British and by extension...European. And at the same time...I'm starting to think that it is strange.

You see it in architecture choices, you see it in the way people decorate their homes. I've been in a lot of Asian homes that used a kind of gold on white color scheme, which is called French Provincial. This term, in case you are unaware of it, refers to furniture produced in smaller French cities that was mostly white and gold in the 18th century.

Anime characters rarely have the eyes of someone from Asia (meaning that they are almond-shaped). Rather, they tend to use European-style eyes, especially on the male characters. So where does all of this come from (assuming for a moment that I'm onto something)?

I wonder if it is an extension of colonialism. In previous centuries, the British empire (especially) practiced colonialism around the world. In short, this was a domination of a people or area by a foreign state or nation. They occupied these lands with settlers, and they exploited the area economically for their own gain. Japan to my knowledge wasn't ever colonized, but they were conquered after World War 2 by America, and America and its British parents have been in lockstep through a majority of America's history (once the parent nation realized that its child had drawn boundaries they couldn't really mess with). 

I know this is sloppy history, and it's not meant to be any kind of official history lesson at all. History is complicated, and I'll leave it to the professionals whom I respect very much. But my point is that I wonder if there is a kind of collective self-deprecation that happens to folks who are non-European that makes them create stuff like anime characters with British accents. Or maybe my observation is just flawed, with a sample size that is too small. So I guess I'll leave this topic with a question: has anyone else noticed this? Like...has anyone else seen Asians in particular seeming to emulate Europeans instead of embracing their own culture? And if you have noticed this, why do you think this is happening? Do you think it is just marketing to an audience? Or do you think that Asian nations have placed Europeans on some kind of weird pedestal?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

I don't really miss going to the movies.

Does anyone else feel like television is now where it's at? That it's just not worth it to go to the movies anymore? The last movie I saw in the theater was Thor: Love and Thunder. But just being honest, getting the tickets, scheduling, and then coordinating with others to go and see it as well as spending the gas and the time and the money on concessions has lost a certain luster. Just five years ago, I spent hundreds of dollars a year on going out to the movies. I loved them. I don't know what's changed. But now...all the things I look forward to are on television. Here are things that I haven't watched yet that are on the list:

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

The last half of the final season of Better Call Saul

House of the Dragon (it starts really soon).

The Rings of Power (Amazon's Lord of the Rings fantasy that they spent $400 million on).

Season 3 of Locke and Key that's on Netflix

The Terminal List on Amazon

The Bear

Love, Death, and Robots

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities that comes out just before Halloween

Uncoupled on Netflix. This one has Neil Patrick Harris in it, and it looks like it is worth a watch.

Inventing Anna

Prey (this one is on Hulu). It's apparently a movie with the predator monster in it fighting some Native Americans. It honestly looks interesting and has quite a bit of buzz built up around it.

Wednesday (a new Addams family show that's going to be on Netflix)

Interview with the Vampire, which is on AMC and will be in October (of course)

Arcane season 2 on Netflix. It started production in November 2021, so it should be appearing sometime in the winter or spring.

Red which is a Pixar movie that I just haven't gotten around to watching yet. It came out probably six months ago. That's how far behind I am.

Season 3 of The Mandalorian, which will come out in February I think.

Season 2 of The Bad Batch, which drops sometime in September. 

And that's just the things I can recall off the top of my head. My point in making this list is that I'm literally not looking forward to any movies in the movie theater. I actually could care less about the movie theater. This, honestly, kinda makes me sad. I spent so much time in the movie theater growing up, and I feel like the format may be reaching obsolescence. It will definitely be obsolete, if everyone feels the same way that I do.

Movies need to become exciting again. Otherwise they are going to go the way of the dodo. Any thoughts on this you'd like to share? 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Netflix's Sandman is so good that it's worth probably three months of subscription fees alone.

Tom Sturridge is "Dream", a.k.a. one of the Endless known as "The Sandman." In this scene
he is trapped by a wizard and placed in a cage. He remains imprisoned for an entire century.

I finished up watching the first season of Netflix's The Sandman. Way back in the nineties, I owned several Sandman comics. I think this was really before I ever knew who Neil Gaiman was. I was drawn to the artwork on the covers, although the interior art was decent too. But the covers were spectacular. I remember wondering what "Vertigo" was (it has since been ended as a publishing company). The comic book shop owner explained that this was a "division of DC comics that focused on adult stories." Another Vertigo title I followed for some time was Hellblazer. These comics were about the cigarette smoking trenchcoat wearing John Constantine, and they were very adult. Every single media adaptation of these comics has always failed to impress upon me the mood of the comic book. However, I did enjoy John Constantine in Legends of Tomorrow, which I still insist is one of the best shows that ever graced television.

You might say that I was an "uber" fan of Sandman comics, because at one point I had in my possession an original first printing of Sandman #1 in mint condition. It wasn't all that much of an achievement. I'd bought it from the comic book shop that sold it and promptly put it in an archival quality mylar sleeve (I stowed all my comic books this way). Printed in 1989, there is an original first printing of it for sale on Ebay for around $200. That seems a bit low...I think it is worth around $400.00. So we'll go with that number. You might ask, why don't I have it anymore? Well...I was playing Magic: the Gathering heavily in 1994, and I got an opportunity to part with it for a card called a "Mox Pearl." There's one of these on EBay right now for around $3,300.00. So, if I'd the foresight to hold onto this rare Magic card, I'd have a small fortune. But I didn't. I had to make rent one time in 1998 I think, so I sold my entire collection, along with the Mox, for around $3,000. It was a good deal for the person who bought it. And it kept me in my apartment for a few more months. Honestly, the Mox isn't what stings. I sold a beta Black Lotus in mint condition for $400.00. I think one (like the one that I had) recently sold at auction for $120,000. It's just an eye-popping number for sure.

Anyway...enough of the stupid decisions I've made (or were forced to make because of financial circumstances), because there's no use crying over spilt milk. I wanted to talk about the Sandman series on Netflix, what I enjoyed about it, what I didn't like, and this is your official spoiler warning.

The first thing I wanted to say about the show is that Tom Sturridge is perfectly cast as "Dream/Morpheus," who is the protagonist of the entire series. He plays him in a way that sends chills down my spine. Tom's voice is incredible, and the way he vocalizes all of Dream's lines makes him seem "otherworldly." And Tom when he is naked and imprisoned (yet he maintains this god-like presence) reminds me of Michelangelo's Statue of David, only in the flesh. It's stunning. He's both beautiful and terrifying.

The second thing I loved was the pacing. Given the number of shows out there that draw out every potential story beat for way too long, the Sandman keeps things moving. In virtually any other series, collecting his things would have been two seasons long (staring at Starz here). So the fact that he got them before mid-season was incredible. I loved that. Where the show seems to slip is that it doesn't quite nail the transitions between stories. So there's a bit of weirdness where the series pivots from Dream at full power to Dream needing to get the three "Arcane" back under his control.

I do know that this first season covers the first two main story arcs from the comics, which are most commonly published as two separate trades. This is probably why it feels a bit "disjointed." The first arc is generally considered to be a bit of "finding its feet" situation, which is tonally quite different to the rest of the series. There are ten trade back books in total, so I expect that they will be aiming to cover two a season for a total of five. Going forward, I think it very likely we'll see this similar shift halfway through each season.

All in all, for as crazy and inspired as the original Sandman was, I was impressed by how much they got right. Did anyone else watch it? I look forward to reading your comments.

Friday, August 12, 2022

The Gray Man was a pretty great action flick starring the hottest men in the world.

I recently watched The Gray Man on Netflix. If you don't want to be spoiled, you should probably head on out now. Otherwise, tune in for what I have to say about this show.

I was impressed. The show had both Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans in it, and I heard it cost in the neighborhood of $200 million. That's some really impressive dough considering that this was available to watch on Netflix (I wasn't even paying attention to whether or not it was in theaters for a week). I love both Gosling and Evans. They're two of the hunkiest most attractive men in the world right now. Having both of them in a show pretty much sealed the deal for me in making it a priority watch.

So, in this show, Gosling plays the protagonist while Evans plays the sociopathic villain. It wasn't a role I was used to seeing on Evans, and I thought he played it rather well. I also learned that this movie was made after a "Gray Man series" of books. The movie explains within its opening credits in a prison visit by Billy Bob Thornton (who is an agent looking for talent to perform risky killings for a shadowy government agency) that they need someone to "work in the Grays." This roughly translates to, "If you get killed or caught, we won't help you one bit, and we won't acknowledge that you work for us." But from reading about the books online, I guess it is called "The Gray Man," because his greatest asset is that he is physically unremarkable in every way so that he can pass for multiple ethnicities and nationalities and no one ever remembers what he looks like.

So...even if he's physically not your cup of tea, no one has ever described Ryan Gosling as physically unremarkable. To me...he's the living embodiment of a Greek god brought to life, standing 6'1" with incredible eyes and a smile that would shame a shark. You'd remember his mug anywhere, and I'd remember those triceps even if I saw him from half a mile away. So yeah...maybe fans of the book will be upset that the casting wasn't quite right. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. It's essentially the same mistake as people casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, who I guess is another role where the protagonist is physically unremarkable. But Hollywood seems to ignore those details. And who really cares, right? I mean some fans will be upset, but the author gets bank and gets to see his creation put before others with the most attractive people in the world playing the parts. I know I wouldn't care if this happened to me.

All that being said, I kinda thought Regé-Jean Page was a total miscast. We last saw him as "The Duke" in Bridgerton, and he did a superb job in that role. In this one, he wasn't menacing enough. He didn't have enough intimidation and force of personality to make me fear this guy. His overall performance seemed a bit campy...or at least on the verge of this. But I still enjoyed it.

I also see how the Fast and Furious films have really influenced action movies. In this latest entry in the action genre, the stunts are similar in fashion to what you'd see in that other billion dollar franchise. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Sometimes I miss the old action movies like Big Trouble in Little China. Things were so much more believable in that film, which seems ironic if you take a moment to think about that statement.

Anyone else take the time to watch The Gray Man? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Netflix's Resident Evil series is entertaining but requires a lot from your suspension of disbelief.

Right after I finished watching Stranger Things I dived right into Resident Evil, which is another Netflix series that launched in late July. I never played the games, and I've only partially seen a movie here and there that came out over the years. I decided that I'd like to revisit this story, and I'm glad that I did, because I was thoroughly entertained. There are some spoilers ahead as I talk about what I liked and what I didn't like about the show, so here's your warning.

One of the things I found jarring about the show was the back and forth storytelling that took place. Essentially, we follow a pair of characters before the world ends and after the world ends. In one scene they are teenagers, in another they are adults and at odds with each other. And each scene spent with these characters is maybe ten minutes before switching to the other timeline. It's back and forth, constantly. And they tried their best to break during a cliffhanger, so that you'd be thrust back into this other timeline only to have it end on a cliffhanger so that you returned to see the previous cliffhanger resolved. I get why you'd want to do this to keep people watching the show. But I'd already committed to watching it, and I just wanted a lot of storylines or scenes to play out before switching to this other one. So yeah...that didn't work for me as much.

However, the show also had a lot of interesting things going for it. Right off the bat, we saw a huge caterpillar monster the size of a kaiju that really seized my attention, and there were plenty of zombie mobs that reminded me of the best parts of The Walking Dead. So the show had production values that were on track with some of the best things I'd watched in the past.

Additionally, the characters in themselves were compelling. One of the main characters named Albert Wesker was really interesting. Since watching the show, I've come to understand that this character is essential to the games (which I never played). But I knew nothing going into this. Instead, I was rather pleased with the originality of this character, as he's a conglomeration of multiple clones with whom the protagonists interact during the lengthy fall of civilization. Wesker is this "troubled genius" type scientist who is basically a property of the Umbrella corporation, which is the kind of company I would envision run by a Dr. Mengele-type personality. Or (maybe to explain it better) it's the kind of company that Nazis from Hitler's Germany would create were they given no oversight and no accountability and unlimited money to do whatever they wanted to do. They are really bad.

I was also really surprised about the soundtrack. In the first episode there's a lot of Billy Eilish, who is a contemporary singer that is really popular right now. One of the main characters is also named Billie, and she actually looks a bit like Eilish does with the multi-colored hair. This had me wondering why they wanted to tie this zombie-apocalypse tale so closely to this really popular singer...but here we are. It was kinda like watching some weird fan-fiction of what it would be like to have a Billie Eilish story told in Resident Evil style. I wonder if the singer has watched it, and I wonder what she thinks of the more than obvious homage to her. It also makes me question if they wanted to get Eilish to actually play that part. Did they ask her and she said "no?" In any case, it's a creative choice that was in the back of my mind the entire time I watched each episode.

One of the things I found puzzling was that the world kind of ended due to Umbrella Corporation's experiments. This fact is true worldwide no matter where you go. What I don't get (and what never got answered) was why (after 20 years) has the corporation been allowed to grow back into a multi-national conglomerate that people are ready to trust with experimental pharmaceuticals again? I mean...there's a line in the movie where the protagonist threatens to expose what Umbrella has been doing to bring the wrath of the people against them. I was like...this makes no sense...aren't the people already mad at Umbrella corporation? In order to make this make sense, I assumed that the corporation is so powerful it is essentially an authoritarian world government that holds onto its position at the top of the pyramid tenuously. But how would you rule a planet as large as earth, especially when you are having difficulty just managing vast roving multitudes of zombies?

All of that aside though, Resident Evil entertained me. So, if you are capable of placing your brain on the shelf for a while and just enjoy a great dystopian thriller, I think this might be for you. And there's plenty of monsters in every episode. They spare no expense with the horror and the monsters, and they vary them up from scene to scene so it's not just another zombie. You truly get some some crazy (and hair-raising) stuff that (I guess) is because the "T-Virus," which is at the center of this show, is a drug that can do whatever the writers need it to do to increase the body horror.

Anyone else take the time to watch Resident Evil on Netflix? Anyone else a fan of this franchise? On Friday I'm going to talk about The Gray Man which is a movie on Netflix.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The fourth season of Stranger Things managed to be both huge and an incredible feat for a television series.

This last week, I finished up Stranger Things season 4 on Netflix. So, naturally, I want to talk about it. Here is your spoiler warning. Proceed at your own peril.

From the beginning, Stranger Things was an homage to the eighties: a place where kids could be endangered and killed (a thing that is pretty rare in today's cinema as if there is some taboo against this thing). But even Stranger Things went all-in on its body count. I was a little bit shocked that so many young people met their end in so many gruesome ways. But this is the 80's...where things like Friday the 13th and Halloween clearly established that it was fun watching teenagers get murdered.

Another big hit of the times was Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I'm not sure why there is so much nostalgia around this horrible movie, but I guess there is. It wasn't good, and it wasn't really funny at all. The main character in the movie if there is one (it's more a story of many teenagers at Ridgemont High negotiating relationships and drama with sex, stalker-esque behavior, and rapey scenes on full display) is Jeff Spicoli. Played by Sean Penn, I've actually never been able to take this actor seriously for the entirety of my life, whether he was married to Madonna or walking by the roadside in a war-torn Ukraine (2022). It's just too much chaos for my brain to process, and so this character and this actor just got swept into the dustbin that I keep in my brain, and he was never one of my favorites.

Well Fast Times runs a strong undercurrent in the fourth season of Stranger Things and it's in the form of the Surfer Boy Pizza delivery man and his VW bus, which (can I just say it?) seems to have shocking dependability. This Volkswagon bus drives everywhere across the west and beyond without breaking down, and it even crosses the desert on an unpaved road. I know from experience that the Volkswagon bus from this time period needed to downshift just to go over a speed bump. But...whatever.

Overall, I did like this season of Stranger Things. It compelled me to watch, and the episodes were long and intricate and they had great writing. The final episode of the season is a full blown movie, and I'm not sure how much this thing cost, but it couldn't have been done on the cheap by any means. It looks great, with Game of Thrones final season production values. I watched the whole thing with a new friend I made, and they made one comment I agree with: "It's interesting that this thing has gone beyond Hawkins and they've made it global).

So yeah, the events that originally started with this small town in Indiana could be felt all the way to Russia in a big way. And the Duffer brothers (who are behind this thing) doubled-down on their D&D nostalgia. As many of you know, I play Dungeons & Dragons to this day. So I'm all for seeing more D&D connections, even if they are in "name only" and have nothing really to do with what's going on. But it is fun to see the teens of this story try to describe what they are seeing and experiencing in terms unique to D&D and have nerds like me be in on the joke. Because Dungeons & Dragons is such an intricate part of their lives, these monsters that they are fighting take on the names of monsters they have faced in their games together. After all, Shakespeare did write, "A rose by any other name smells just as sweet."

The big bad of the fourth season is nicknamed Vecna, but his screen name is Henry. In Dungeons & Dragons, Vecna goes way back to the very first days of the game. He's a lich, which is a kind of undead wizard, who is bent on destroying the world. In Stranger Things the "wizards" are the people who have psychic powers that can move things, rip things apart, breach dimensions, and do essentially whatever the writers want these powers to be able to do. We haven't seen "fire starting" happen yet (think back to Stephen King's pyromancer in the book Firestarter), but I'm sure if they needed this plot device it would show up. So, Vecna is one of the same batch of people that Eleven is...only he's the original one, whereas Eleven is "number eleven" in a group of children who all manifested lots of different powers due to unethical experimentation by boogeyman government types. We get a lot of backstory in season four, and one of these is explaining the relationship between Jane (who is "Eleven") and Henry (who is number "One"). The most important reveal is that Henry got thrown into another universe by Jane who overwhelmed him with her own powers. And this resulted in Henry becoming gross looking, burned like Freddy Kreuger, and then otherwise corpsified without (for some reason) killing him off because I guess the bodies of wizards can withstand these kinds of inhuman mutations.

As a villain, "Vecna" was very effective, and I enjoyed him a lot more than previous monsters that they have used. I think the reason behind this is that he had good dialogue, essentially being human for most of his life. There was also a much bigger reveal that interwove with all the previous seasons in a kind of Rowling-esque way: Vecna was responsible for the "Mind Flayer." On this particular revelation, I'm a bit torn. The original idea that the Mind Flayer was a highly intelligent monster that ruled his dimension for eons was much bigger than the thing uttered by Dustin, "Oh! EVERYTHING came from this one guy." It...I don't know...made the universe feel smaller. But whatever. Any real criticism I have about this is small. The fourth season was a tour-de-force.

So the final boss in Stranger Things seems to just be a psychic serial killer. I may have wanted an alien eldritch abomination, but in the end, this isn't the direction that the Duffer brothers wanted to go. I can still appreciate what they accomplished here, which was a really big fourth installment of a beloved series that (I think) overall was a pretty incredible feat. They managed three different groups of people in three areas of the world, doing three different things. And it didn't really seem tedious at all. Each storyline had action-packed elements that not only peeled back the layers on these characters backstories, but gave us a resounding cliffhanger where the stakes are literally world destroying unless the kids from Hawkins can somehow find the heart (and abilities) to take Vecna down. I'm ready and primed for season 5 (the last season) of this show.

Friday, August 5, 2022

This NASA animation for July temperatures looks like someone is holding a blowtorch to the Western hemisphere.

This heat map from NASA for the month of July showing the spread of heat across the Western Hemisphere is impressive. In animation, it looks like a blowtorch. Having lived through it, I thought I was in a convection oven until after the sun set. And then it didn't cool off at night like it should. I read comments all the time in scientific areas that say, "This is the coolest summer you will have for the rest of your life." Places in Iran are experiencing 127 degree temperatures. I was always hot in places like, Iran, right? But it was never that hot. It's sobering to think about what's happening.

Out here in the West, access to water is becoming a privilege. I courses are still green for the most part. But lawns everywhere are brown or just dead. There is talk of abandoning Lake Powell, which is a huge man-made reservoir. I guess there just isn't enough water to fill it anymore. It's weird watching all of this in real time. I mean...there's talk of not allowing any more building of new structures because water can't be guaranteed to go to those places. This isn't some science fiction dystopia. It's happening now.

I wonder where all of this ends. And I wonder why we were so afraid of confronting the ones who made this kind of hell on Earth possible and visit upon them more consequences? Maybe it was because we are so spread out, that it's hard to monitor what's goin on two-hundred miles away even if what those people are doing directly affects our lives. Maybe we were afraid, because those people had guns and no empathy and thus would use them to kill another human as easy as it would be to abuse a dog. So we just let them be.

This week in Utah, we've got smoke from a wildfire rolling into the valley choking everyone. The sky is perpetually hazy. It was started because some person more than a hundred miles away saw a spider in some dry grass and thought it was a good idea to try and kill it with a lighter. This same person probably votes too, which is another huge problem. The world is now crowded enough that the stupidest people among us makes decisions that affect everyone. It doesn't help matters that the cleverest among us who weaponize the stupid can predict where those people live and draw political lines around them to increase their voting power.

I think 2016 was the year the world changed. Everything has gotten steadily worse year after year since then. It's like every year raises the bar on just how awful things can get. But, I could be wrong. There has to be a rock bottom to this thing, right?

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

In the August sizzle I answer a question about originality versus catering to one's audience for my Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

Happy August everyone. I hope your July ended with a bang (pun intended--especially in Utah where they sell fireworks through July 24th). In my state, we are presently tied for the hottest year on record. We just need one more 100 degree day to beat the record. This isn't something I'm bragging about. On the contrary, I hate it very much. And scientists keep saying that "this is the coldest year you will experience for the rest of your life." How depressing.

Anyway, it is time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. As I usually say on a monthly basis, this blogfest was originally started by science fiction author Alex Cavanaugh. He's a pretty amazing guy, and he's a great writer (I've read some of his stuff). So you should listen to what he has to say over on his website, which can be found HERE.

And just what (exactly) is the Insecure Writer's Support Group? Allow me to explain. But first, go and visit the official Insecure Writer's Support Group page to see what's up.

The Purpose: To share and encourage. That's it. 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 Does Everyone Post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. This is when you can post your thoughts on your own blog. You can talk about your doubts, and the fears you have conquered. You can discuss your struggles and triumphs. You can offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Some advice==> You will want to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - I'd say aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG 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!

The IWSG Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and the hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 3rd posting of the IWSG are Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery!

Now, every month the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt one to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story.

I nearly always answer the question. So without further ado, let's take a look at what the question is for August 2022.

August 3rd question - When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

I try to be original, but it hardly ever works. There's just too much out there. So when I think I'm being clever, all it really means is that I'm not as clever as I think I am, and I'm just not well-read enough to know any different. So, one of the things I do is I read lots of books. But no matter how many I read, it will never be enough. But I  (in the least) know that if I think my story is original, it's simply because I haven't read one like it, which is honestly a poor excuse.

As a point of order, I'm going to say that this question is very interesting. It's a trick, you see. Because it assumes that you (as a writer) have already got your audience in a bag somewhere, and that is rarely the case for new writers. Giving people "what they want" generally means that you have people. But how would this sound if you didn't have any people? That's the rub, isn't it? What an interesting turn of phrase.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope that wherever you may live, you are not experiencing the hottest summer on record.