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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Lure of the Dark Side

In 1989, Batman came out. The first to show a superhero living in a world that took things seriously. As serious as you can when a man falls in acid and can't stop laughing.

Now what I didn't get, being a sociopathically lawful good paladin, was why everybody loved the Joker so much. You can't *like* a bad guy. That's just not done. He kills people.

Over the years, I've learned the appeal of bad guys. It's because giving into your dark side lets you release the frustrations and feelings that are not so good to do in real life. I think that's one of the reasons why so many people claim the dark side of the force. It's easy to see people giving into their impulses and say "I want to do that". (Just as long as you don't call it "magic".)

That brings me to Kylo Ren. It seems the world is split in the opinion that he is either a emo white male with so much privilege that he has temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. Or he's a good kid raised in bad circumstances, and that if he had a loving mother and father and no force sensitivity, he'd be fine.

I, in particular, like Kylo Ren, maybe a little more than I think I should, because I identify with him the most of the new Star Wars characters. People expected great things of him, but things went wrong for one reason or another. Like all of us, we think we're going to save the world, become president, do great things. No doubt Kylo Ren suffered from this. Saddled with being the son of not one but two of the galaxy's saviors, and taught by the third because he was discovered to be proficient in the magic power that won the war in the first place. Talk about expectations.

Now I don't know why Ren has an affinity for Vader, who was pretty much the Hitler of the rebel alliance. I believe that must have come after his turn to the dark side, but time will tell. In either case, that's another legacy he's got to live up to. Is it any wonder he feels entitled to rule the galaxy?

This is the person Anakin Skywalker should have been in the prequels. And he was, up to a point, but when the galaxy is clean and utopian, it just amplifies his whininess. Ren's whininess is still there, but less annoying. Because he's not a complainer, he's a doer. Someone fires a blaster at you? Freeze it in mid-air. Someone's not giving up information? Yank it out with the force. Woman you were interrogating escaped your torture chamber? Wreck the place with your unstable lightsaber.

We live in a world of moderation. You always have to be nice. You have to be civil. No tantrums. No killing anyone that annoys you. No drinking too much or too little. No going too fast or too slow. Everything's gotta be just the right amount. Problems with your boss? You can't just whack him upside the head and say "leave me alone, you idiot, just let me do my job". You can't shove moron cars out of your way with the Force.

Maybe that's why so many Star Wars fans embrace the dark side powers and characters. It revolves around power and fear. Its effects tend toward the short term or immediate. Light side revolves around healing and knowledge. It takes time to figure out how to use it effectively, and what to do once you've used it. Kylo Ren satisfies our darker impulses. It works on a more personal level.

I can't remember where I saw it, but each villain in the trilogies applies to our fears at the time. Episodes 4, 5, and 6 - a faceless dictator. Episodes 1, 2, 3 - a government plunging us into a distant war to gain power. For 7 (and presumably onward) an angry white male with a lot of power and entitlement issues.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)

Origin: The Jungle Book (1967)

I had to double-check that I hadn't done this one already. Disney's done so many poncey cats that they all blur together.

Motivation: Shere Khan is the most fearsome beast there is. The Terminator of the Indian jungle. But he has one weakness - fear of fire. Why? We don't know. I expect something traumatic in his cubhood. But he's pretty safe because the only way to something starts on fire in the forest is lightning. No one can create fire except for man and there is no man in the jungle oh no wait there's TOTALLY man in the jungle.

Character Strengths: Classy, stylish, and supremely confident. Usually big cats, especially tigers, are portrayed too cuddly, as in Robin Hood or The Lion King. This one, by looking at it, I'm afraid he'll kill me. Others treat him like the Queen of Hearts, but where that was fantasy, this is teeth and claws.

Evilness: So if maintaining his throne is motivation, the movie does him a great disservice. Because while everyone acts intimidated enough, Shere Khan never DOES anything. He doesn't show up until the last fifteen minutes of the movie, and he cannot even frighten the one guy he's gunning for. Not only that, but Baloo and Bagheera overcome their fears when they see Mowgli in danger, making the tiger's reputation sheer bupkiss. Khan is nothing more than a maguffin to keep the characters moving.

Tools: He's got nothing but a reputation and claws. He doesn't kill anything. Kaa fools him, the vultures jeer him. This is not Life of Pi.

Complement to the Hero: The "idea" behind this conflict is good. When they finally meet, Mowgli is not afraid and Khan doesn't know what to do. I find that hilarious, but rarely do villains go down in history for not making the protagonist quake in fear. In fact, most of the movie is troubleshooting Mowgli's brash, childish behavior -- teaching him to fear what he should. On the other hand, the lack of fear works out for him, as if he'd run from Khan, I bet he would have died. On the other other hand, he's not exactly confronting his fears, making him hard to root for.

Fatal Flaw: Overconfidence. Khan is the six hundred pound gorilla in the jungle (I mean, besides the actual six hundred pound gorilla in the jungle). Everyone treats him like The Mad King. When Mowgli stands up to him, Khan should immediately notice something amiss. Instead, he thinks it's cute. He's even willing to give his enemy a ten-second head start. This, of course, violates one of my favorite rules of combat: never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.

Method of Defeat/Death: Mowgli picks up a stick, daring Khan to attack him. He does, but Baloo CONVENIENTLY jumps in and stops him. While Baloo has the tiger by the tail, the vultures who Mowgli CONVENIENTLY came across fly him to safety. As a CONVENIENT storm rolls in, Khan shreds Baloo, until a bolt of lightning CONVENIENTLY strikes a CONVENIENT dead tree, setting a CONVENIENT branch on CONVENIENT fire. Mowgli ties it to Shere Khan's tail (who CONVENIENTLY doesn't notice) and the tiger runs off, presumably with PTSD for the rest of his life (if he didn't burn alive first).

Final Rating: Two stars

Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor's New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio's Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Monday, April 04, 2016

The Books I Read: January - February 2016

Five Nights at Freddy's: The Silver Eyes by Scott Cawthorn & Kira Breed-Wrisley (unfinished)

This is no Stephen King. I expected a new kind of horror story, one evolved from this new type of video game, but it's just too boring. There are too many characters (probably so they can be killed off) and none of them have a strong personality. They all blend together generically.

The plot didn't really go anywhere. I think I got about 20% in and nothing happened. Mostly backstory, characters speaking, meaningless descriptions. It was too close to the source material -- wandering through an abandoned Showbiz Pizza, waiting for something to happen. Like someone tried to make a novelization of the gameplay.

Given the dual authorship, I'm not sure how much each contributed. Logic dictates that Scott Cawthorn being a game developer and busy with the FNAF franchise has less experience with novel writing (on the other hand, I'm a software developer trying to be a novelist, so I shouldn't talk), but I was hoping the second name on the byline would make up for that. However, it has all the earmarks of amateurism. Lost of sentences never deviate from the subject-verb-object structure.

I've never played any FNAF game, but I love the lore, which comes in mysterious cutscenes that have to be interpreted. This book is more like fan fiction, especially given the writing style. Even if you love the FNAF stuff, I don't recommend it. It's not worth your time. Play the game instead. Or read a different horror book.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Dawkins (unfinished)

I downloaded a sample, because it was so popular, but it didn't seem my cup of tea. It feels like it's trying to be Gone Girl but its more like a Lifetime movie in the style of LiveJournal. There's so much of women thinking and complaining and "I'm a victim, I'm a victim, I'm a victim". It even has all the same tropes - all men are bad, no one's in a happy relationship, everyone's melancholy. One of the main characters can't get over her ex and the other, at one point, goes upstairs and "lets" her husband have sex with her. This tells you all you need to know about the agency characters have (or think they have).

It's probably not a bad book, but a character piece is never a replacement for plot. It's not for me, granted. Although I'd hate to think of the person it's meant for.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

GoodReads would not stop recommending this to me, so I finally caved in. After crapping out on two books, I read the first chapter of this and felt cleansed. It's just a good story - a sci-fi thriller with not much character development, but plenty of action. It pulled me in right away.

As you may have seen in the description, it's a space opera. But that's in the good sense of the term. The learning curve is very low - people fly around asteroids, dealing with space stuff like high G acceleration, but you don't need to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson to enjoy it. You don't even need to be Beakman.

There's tensions brewing between people in the inner planets (Mars, Earth, the moon) and Belters (Jupiter, various moons, the asteroid belt) in a classic blue collar vs. white collar scenario. That fuse gets lit when a mining ship discovers a "shipwreck" but gets blasted out of the sky before they can salvage it. We follow the survivors as they uncover a massive conspiracy that could plunge the solar system into civil war.

There are clear earmarks of classic noir sci-fi like Dick and Asimov, Blade Runner and Dune, but modernized for an audience with a short-attention span. The biggest problem is that it's so damn long. Even the ending clearly demonstrates the story's not over. I had to take a break in the middle and read a different book, because I was starting to hate Leviathan Wakes for never ending. But that's no reason to hate a book. It was just written that way, like a serial. Which means it's easy to put down and pick back up.

The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling & Brooke S. Passey

It's funny, it's quick, it makes me want to come back and read more. That's a five star rating in my ledger. If you liked Felicia Day's book, this is cut from the same cloth. They're both YouTubers, both violinists, both thrive on production, and both don't need no man (sisters doing it for themselves).

It's candid, it's upbeat, it's intriguing. I couldn't tell how much was Lindsey's voice and how much was her sister, but both are fun to read. The content is as quirky as her, but retains the solemnity of her talent. It's the kind of book you could start at bed and then stay up half the night reading. It doesn't talk about the nitty-gritty of moving from nothing to an international concert thrower, but it does about other personal issues. Usually, these are framed with more depression and darkness (Angela's Ashes) than a Lifetime movie. But this one doesn't do that. It offers hope.

This isn't relevant to the review, but makes me a little sad that there's so little about the dad. He only gets a 1500 word chapter. If that was excised, you'd think she was raised by a single mom. Don't dads have a role in life? I hope if my daughter becomes a famous violinist, she tells me how Andrea Bocelli was mean to her.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

There Are No Writing Conferences In MN

So I bought the 2015 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino because... well, I need some help. I've written three books, sent hundreds of queries, and have little-to-nothing to show for it. I thought maybe this would be a better resource than exploiting the free version of QueryTracker. But when any big author shares their story about how they got their agent, the most common thread is a writing conference or convention. Face-to-face. Query letter in hand. Agent unable to escape or hide behind the rejection letter.

And since I'm isolated in my own home, I thought I need to get in on this, if for nothing else than to share camaraderie. I don't want to fall into the trap of the self-feeding reader/writer/publisher black hole. You know... where self-published or small press writers trade reading favors, everyone pats each other on the back and buys each other's books, and your notoriety never gets beyond that self-congratulatory hole, like the Author's Collective.

Wouldn't you know? There are no writing conferences in Minnesota.

Go ahead, find some. I thought my google fu was simply failing me. But no, there simply is nothing there to find. Go ahead. Look. Prove me wrong, I would love that. Sure there are sci-fi conventions and NerdCon: Stories was here last year. But none of those have to do with industry. Authors get invited, not agents.

Granted, there are states I wouldn't expect to see a writing conference, like Idaho or Wyoming. But this is the Twin Cities -- a major metropolis. We were second on the list to be destroyed in Independence Day. Not only that, but it's a hotbed for creative types. First Avenue, the Walker Art Center, Uptown, the Guthrie. It's the origin point for Prince and Judy Garland and Charles Schulz and F. Scott Fitzgerald. No, it's not a publishing empire like New York, but why does Madison have more conferences than Minneapolis? Maybe it's a little closer to Chicago, but still...

People in this state are getting shorted. And what's more important, I'm getting shorted. Conferences cost hundreds of dollars to begin with. Add the cost of room & board and how do you expect any new author to scrounge the change to attend one of these life-changing events. Is this another case of keeping the lower class in their place? (Note: I'm not in the lower class, but do as I say, not as I do).

Seriously, agents, publishers - y u no come here? The only reason I can think of is there's some mafia agreement keeping the New Yorkers out of the burg.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why I Became Tony Goldmark's Patreon Patron Patsy

Generosity was not one of the values I acquired growing up. Trying to change that though. From what I've learned, Paul McCartney is right: the more love you give, the more you get.

I'm pretty stingy with my money when it comes to charity or donations. I'm not sure where I got it from -- having a small allowance meant scrounging cents to buy the next $50 video game. I haven't paid for music since the Napster days, and Netflix provides me all the DVDs I need. DLC? Ha. Free-to-play? I'll wait the thirty minutes rather than pay a single cent.

Maybe it's because I'm so anxious, I keep everything saved for a rainy day, so when it comes, I remain comfortable. (If said rainy day is a nuclear apocalypse and money loses all value, I am screwed, but that's another story.) I don't get into debt. I don't borrow from anyone. If I get in a situation where I owe someone something, I'm a nervous wreck until it gets done.

In light of a free Internet, there's been an economic turn towards crowdfunding. Webcomickers, podcasters, and creative-types are turning to Patreon and Kickstarter to gain funds from the fans, rather than intrusive advertising. On one hand, this means you bypass the filter of network executives and craphead product placement. On the other, I'm getting everything for free anyway. There'll be plenty of YouTube shows to watch, whether I donate or not.

RELEVANT LINK: How do you get a guy like me to pay?

And not all my experiences with monetary giving have been positive. I've donated to three projects on Kickstarter. Storium, I donated enough to be a beta player. It was like online D & D, but without the dice-rolling. I found that the pace didn't suit me (either players didn't update or updated too frequently) and I stopped paying attention to it. The other two, "Wizard School" (a card game developed by Hank Green) and "Automata" (a live-action version of a Penny Arcade strip I particularly liked) are yet to come out. But they still deliver regular updates and I'm optimistic about the results. Both of these things had no problem getting funded.

But Patreon's different. You don't get a product at the end. You're making a continuing donation for continuing entertainment. Entertainment that gets posted anyway. If I give money or not, the maker is going to make stuff... most of the time.

Which comes to my bad experience. After The Spoony One and Channel Awesome parted ways, he set up a Patreon. I donated to his videos because I thought it would result in more videos, and felt this was worthwhile to spend money on. I should have realized the instability that led to his departure also trickled down to his work. For some reason, once his Patreon money started rolling in, his productivity landslided. Look at this page. Look at the huge gaps between videos, especially feature ones. And as far as I know, he hasn't fulfilled any of his milestones.

Now I'm not saying I'm in charge of what Spoony does with his money or his life. But if I'm giving away my hard earned money, I expect to see something as a result. It's not like I'm throwing money into a busker's guitar case. I'm providing funds in exchange for entertainment. He was one of the only producers to make me feel something. It's a rare occurrence for me to laugh out loud -- I'm on some steep anti-depressants. He's one of only three YouTubers who've made me do so. The other two are Nostalgia Critic and Some Jerk with a Camera.

Comic Book Guy in real life

I came to know of him from his crossover with Kyle Kallgren A.K.A. Oancitizen A.K.A. Brows Held High. Kallgren focuses on artistic, intelligentsia movies. Some Jerk, A.K.A. Tony Goldmark reviews theme park attractions - Disney stuff in particular. That translated to a full-length production compare/contrast with Jean Cocteau's "Le belle et la bete" and Disney's "Beauty & the Beast", including songs, guerilla shooting at Disneyland, and remarkable insight. It was something I've never seen before.

The crossover led me to watch all of his videos. The quality overwhelmed me. It seemed like I'd always be watching movie and video game riffs. Doomed to clones of Doug Walker and the Angry Video Game Nerd. What a delight to find something new. Something nostalgic, fun, precious, and memorable. Then you grind that into the ground with heaping doses of cynicism and parody.

And not only is it an innovative concept, but I can tell that, despite the negativity, Tony Goldmark really loves what he's doing. He loves the subject matter, he loves the material, he loves the creative act of producing. He loves to work. Not only is he examining the park rides, he's doing in-depth analysis on par with any historian. The history of EPCOT, Captain EO, the evolution of Star Tours, ABC's TGIF lineup going to Walt Disney World. It's black comedy, but strangely enthusiastic.

Also, the title cards are super cute

This is the future of news and editorials. Like John Oliver and Jon Stewart, it is quite possible to entertain as well as inform. I feel I've reached an age where people who are my peers, people my age who grew up with the same things, are now making their own movies and TV shows. And that's one of the benefits of getting older. And when he recently announced his Patreon, I thought what better to do with my Spoony money than to give to his contemporary.

I don't need to be such a cheapskate that I can't chip in a few books for a guy who works so hard. Who provides the kind of entertainment I like and want to see more of. Yes, there are plenty of others out there. But in this case, I vote with my dollar.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Why Can't Superheroes Kill?

After watching Jessica Jones (friggin' excellent by the way, but full of horror), this question has finally coagulated enough to bubble up to the surface of my brain. One of the basic tenets of the superhero, one that decisively divides them from the villain is this: thou shalt not kill.

At least not intentionally and not mortal humans. Yes, there are exceptions: Superman killed Doomsday, Wolverine killed Jean Grey in X-Men 3, Silver Surfer allowed entire planets to be wiped out until he 'converted'. There are characters who don't follow the rules, like Deadpool and The Punisher, but they make it clear they are anti-heroes. They are bad guys fighting other bad guys.

And what are the rules? I can only assume they're the unwritten laws of morality. Because as far as I know, no one gave Green Lantern an employee manual when he started. Spider-Man doesn't make the little old lady sign a contract for services rendered when he returns her purse.

This all came up because one of the principle points of the show is that Jessica does not want to kill Kilgrave. Why? Because "that's not what heroes do". It's not because she's afraid of prison -- at one point, she's ready to reveal her powers and get sent to a supermax prison. She has a history as a costumed vigilante (although that's never shown), so I can only presume this comes from those lingering morals.

But the thing is, Kilgrave is not a person who can be shackled by a normal human prison or justice system. He can make people do whatever they want just by talking to them. There is no limit to what he could do - assassinate the president, launch nuclear weapons, enslave a population. He cannot be made to do anything against his will. The only way to stop him would be to kill him.

At one point, Kilgrave has Hope Schlottman, the person Jessica's been trying to save since Episode 1, with him in an abandoned bar. Plus, there are three innocent people poised to step off a bar and hang themselves if Jessica tries anything funny. Hope chooses to stab herself in the throat, removing herself from the equation, so that Jessica stops holding back. That's the point Jessica decides to throw away her code of honor. And I'm wondering why she didn't do that in the first place? Why did it take such a high body count to change her mind?

Before this, Jessica's made failed attempts at subduing Kilgrave. Ultimately, she manages to knock him out and take him to a glass-walled single-cell vault constructed just for him. She's going to make him confess to his crimes, therefore verifying the existence of mind control (which she cannot otherwise prove), so he can be tried in court. Of course, this fails, and in the end, she does away with him with a neck snap.

So all that brings me to this point - what took her so long? Was it worth all the death and destruction while trying to capture him. From the first moment she had him, she could have injected him with cyanide. Five episodes and done.

This isn't the first time I've thought of this - the number of times Joker has escaped stagger me. Batman has some idea that if he kills the Joker, that means the villain wins. Does that make sense? Especially given all the deaths and damage caused when Joker escapes AND his subsequent scheme. Can't he see the pattern repeating?*.

*This is all presuming Batman's the only force capable of arresting the Joker and that the Gotham police force is incapable of taking him down, which it is. It's more expensive to create an underground prison made of plastic than to simply destroy Magneto.

So I guess the big issue is using human justice for superhumans. I know it's a convention of the medium that old villains keep coming back, but come on. Maybe the Negative Zone and the Phantom Zone had the right idea -- they're the only way to contain divine powers like that.

Yes, I know there are writing reasons for this. But when Arkham Asylum becomes a revolving door, that decreases plausibility. And it makes you realize your noble heroes are acting stupidly, staunchly adhering to beliefs like a religious zealot. Superman knows Lex Luthor is capable of defeating prison systems. Isn't it worth fudging a little bit of your moral code to permanently deal with a persistent problem? Why can you not be a hero if you kill someone? Doesn't it make you just as guilty if you don't?

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Pee-Wee's Playhouse

Since I've had a weekend to myself, I've been revisiting nostalgia. Here's my observations.

Dixie is way frickin' hot. I don't know how I didn't see it when I was a kid.

King Cartoon is high all the time. He's got to be. He talks like slowed-down Neil DeGrasse Tyson. His eyes are always half-closed. He's obsessed with old Max Fleischer cartoons. And he thinks his taxi driver is his royal herald and coachwoman. He seems like an old blues musician who smoked reefer.

There was some amazing stop motion in this. Like a lot. I'm surprised how much Will Vinton was able to produce.

Between Pee-Wee's "toys" and Sid's from Toy Story, I can't tell which are creepier.

Why are the kids dressed as hippies?

I miss Phil Hartman.

There's accidentally some decent moralism in this. Mostly coming from Randy, but it's also about tattling, lying, and other things. And it's always shown, not told. Pee-Wee runs a tight ship in his playhouse.

This show moved fast. Like ADD fast. People were worried about Sesame Street, they should have been worried about this. But damn if it didn't keep my attention. The problem is there's never a chance to do anything in-depth. That being said, I think it's great for kids. There's a heavy amount of routine and stability, but also bright colors. And nothing gets too deep to distract attention. It's not going down in history as the best show for kids, because those are always decided by adults. But if kids were voting, I bet this would be a selection.