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Monday, September 26, 2016

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Prince Hans

Origin: Frozen (2013)

Motivation: Most antagonists are driven by hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Hans is a true sociopath. Yes, Prince Charming is the bad guy. And it's just what I wanted to see. Hans falls under the sin of avarice -- he's too far down the line of succession to ever inherit his own throne, so he's looking to marry into one. He even explains this in song (before he takes off his hollow mask of concern). What I'm wondering is -- most marriages were arranged (in this time period) for the purposes of gaining land, title, or alliances. Happens all the time in Game of Thrones. Why did he have to lie about it? And was this the only kingdom Hans could find?

Character Strengths: Deception. One hundred percent. Hey, he fooled me. I was busy analyzing the Duke of Weselton when I was in the theater. Hans only reveals his true nature when Anna is teetering between life and death. And Hans nudges the scales towards death (in a totally ineffectual James Bond-villain way, but more on that later). It's the convincing flaws that pull you over. He's clumsy. He can fake true love like an actor. Sheep's clothing in a winter shawl.

What I wonder is, even if he is a psycho, could he be a good king? We never really see a demonstration of his abuse of power (although I'm almost certain that would come later, much like Scar). He demonstrates competent leadership. And although his concern for the people was false, he did provide for them (a blanket on every bed and hot glogg in every cup). But then he's like The Stepfather - a guy doing good things with bad means.

Evilness: It's rare a Disney movie provides someone genuinely terrifying, at least for an adult. It's okay if it goes over the kid's head. But imagine being a father and this guy comes in wanting to date your daughter. This is a real concern of women with wealth -- marrying a man who turns out to be a gold digger. His acts of heroism are only to convince those around him. He saves Elsa from the Duke boys, only to condemn her later when he can look more heroic. He's playing the long game.

The sad part is how many women/girls remain loyal to him DESPITE all this. There are countless Hans/Elsa fan fiction and fan art. My daughter's best friend has a Hans doll but no others because she likes him. Fans have started a petition that in the Frozen sequel, Hans should be redeemed. That's just the power these men have over women. Even when they plainly show their true colors, they're still loved. Eww.

Tools: Prince Hans has no henchmen. No big guns. No navy backing him. No allies. He works on his own, with only his words and actions to aid him. Personally, I think this makes him scarier. Imagine what he could do with some tangible strength behind him. Unlike a lot of villains, he knows how to pick his targets. I bet he wasn't even going to say "sandwiches".

Complement to the Hero: Before his big reveal, he's just as adorkable as Princess Anna. Even though you know she's going to learn not to fall in love so quickly, you don't think Hans is going to a bad guy. He's like the fiancee in every romantic comedy that the main character breaks up with to be with the other. That's how all these Disney movies work, right? They're both young, maybe a little naive, royalty, quick and impulsive. But that's Hans's strength. He's a chameleon. He changes to whatever he needs to be. That's the mark of a sociopath.

Fatal Flaw: Oh, Hans. Haven't you learned anything from the mistakes of others? First you reveal your whole plan, then you lock the hero in a room without actually killing them. You just couldn't resist showing off how smart you are. It's a common downfall of his kind. It's how they caught the BTK killer. But no, all you had to do was stay in the room and make sure she froze to death. That's all you had to do. Would have taken ten minutes.

But to be fair, even I didn't know about the lock-picking capabilities of snowman noses.

Method of Defeat/Death: The blizzard gets worse after Elsa escapes jail. Hans finds her on the frozen fjord and tells her that Anna died from her Sub-Zero ice blast. Elsa collapses on the ice, and when her back is turned, Hans pulls out his sword (where did that come from?) But Anna's not quite dead yet. She must choose between saving her own life or saving Elsa's. She chooses her sister, and as John Woo time starts, Anna steps in front of Hans's swinging sword. In that instant, she freezes solid. So solid, Hans's sword shatters and the blast knocks him out. When he regains consciousness, everything's thawed and both sisters are alive. In a crowning moment of awesome, Anna punches him in the face. A diplomat takes him back to the Southern Isles, where he'll presumably get the business from his brothers.

Bonus Defeat: In Frozen Fever, Hans is shoveling manure when a giant snowball, created by Elsa sneezing into the royal Birthday Bugle Horn, sails about two hundred miles over the ocean and crashes into him. I believe his bones should be crushed instantly from impact at that velocity but, you know, it's a cartoon.

Final Rating: Five stars

Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
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)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bill and Bob and the Billboard of Shame

So where I live in the sub-sub-suburbs, there are often political billboards in the farm fields. (Mostly speaking out against abortion, like the "I had fingerprints at two months" kinda stuff.*) But there's one right where I leave my neighborhood in the morning. They started about a year ago, maybe two. It's always some political message in the form of a letter, and signed "Sincerely, Bill and Bob". The message is always some trite phrase like "Dear Mr. President, LEAD, don't follow" and "Dear Congress, Political correctness is NOT correct"**.

But this most recent one broke my camel's back. And keep in mind I've got to stare at this every day of my life, every time I go to work. It says "Dear Mr. Kaepernick, What country provides more opportunities for all than the USA? Sincerely, Bill + Bob".

First, "which country" would be the better word, because there are a limited number of defined countries to choose from.

Second, what does your question have to do with Colin Kaepernick's actions? He's protesting the treatment of black people by the U.S. government and its sub-entities. Specifically referring to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, which aims to eliminate violence and racial inequality against Black people, especially in the justice system. What do opportunities have to do with this? Are you from 1850? We're kind of past the gold rush and Industrial Revolution at this point.

Third, only a straight white male would do this. Plus, if you can afford to post your message on multiple billboards, you have money. So check your privilege (I've always wanted to say that). That's the privilege that thinks your opinion is so important you gotta plaster it in a small town's face for three months.

Fourth, I refer to you the Facebook post of this veteran that went viral shortly thereafter. Short version is that freedom of speech is why we fight. All other amendments are based on it. It doesn't defend you against "icky speech". It doesn't defend you against the consequences of that speech. It doesn't stop a private organization from censoring your speech, just the government. Nonetheless, America is one of the few countries that stipulates it as a fundamental rule. Even advanced countries don't have that. England can pass a law to prevent certain books from being published, any work, any time.

Fifth and final, Bill and Bob are cowards.

You are hiding behind anonymous names. There is no way to track you back to a web page or an email. There is no way to hold you accountable for your remarks. There is no way to find out more about your message. There is no way to ask follow-up questions or request more in-depth explanations. If I do a web search for "Bill and Bob" I get a bunch of stories about Bill Cosby, Bill Murray, or Bob Saget. The ad doesn't even show up on an image search. There is no way to find out who Bill and Bob are. At least when Anita Sarkeesian prevents comments on her videos she's got a valid reason for it. You don't. (See previous statement about "straight white male").

But instead you paint it like so much graffiti, then dash off. And I gotta stare at your meaningless rhetoric five times a week while waiting for the light to change. This denial, this negativity, these messages about what's wrong with America, what not to do instead of what TO do, just make me hate conservatives more. It gives me pleasure that their unpopularity means they have to use anonymous billboards with vague bombast. The left doesn't have to resort to this. Their messages stand on their own. They're rational, they're moral, they're accountable.

You know who has courage? Colin Kaepernick. In front his fifty-three teammates, coaches, 68,500 fans, and millions of people watching on TV, he was the only one to sit down when everyone else stood up. He knew it would create controversy. He knew it might result in losing his job. He knew it might lose him fans (either of the team or himself), lose endorsement deals, or reduction in status as a role model. But he still did it, because he believed so strongly. I think he's maybe a little confused on federal vs. state abilities to deal with local police transgressions, but nonetheless, what he did took courage. He did it in public, under his own name, defended his actions, and accepted the consequences thereof.

So what are you going to do, Bill and Bob?

*No one mentions the gills and tail that a fetus develops. Strange they leave that out.

**I gotta talk about this one. Political correctness isn't about what's factual or true. It's about respect. If they renamed the Redskins to the "Washington Honkies" or "Washington Gringos", would you allow that?

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Books I Read: August - September 2016

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Fans of Neil Gaiman will love this book. The closest I can call it is a modern fairy tale, but that word gets thrown around so much it's become meaningless. I've never used it until now (I think). It felt like a combination of Stardust and Holes. Jacob Grimm has become a ghost and, after traveling the ethereal plane, attaches to the only boy who can hear him. A lonely boy struggling with a single Dad with a failing business.

The thing keeping this good book from being a great book is that nothing happens until about 66% through. The first fifteen percent, the exposition phase, is good then the rest is filler. It's kids hanging out, a plot thread about a trivia game that never comes back, and other junk. It's a wide boring lawn where the author drops Easter eggs for the third act. Character motivation is lacking too. Why does the girl take any sort of interest in the main boy? Why is she at all interested in him? It reduces her to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, like Bridge to Terabithia.

Also, I don't know where or when it's set, and that bothers me. It's a small town, apparently in America, but you have to strain to decipher that because the people and setting is so weird. One of the people uses "zounds" and not in an ironic way. The bakery is the teen hangout spot, where his special cakes are the thing to get, like ramen in Japan. They're still in school but walk (not drive) places. No one has a smart phone. It has the feel of a book that was translated (maybe that was the intention, since Jacob Grimm is the narrator). And the dad's sole source of income is a bookstore that sells one book. How does that kind of business stay open past two weeks?

So the line between fantasy and reality gets a little blurry. But if you can get past some of that minor stuff, it's a recommended book.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (unfinished)

I have never read a Star Wars book before, so keep in mind I'm coming in fresh. I don't believe in any homosexual agenda. I have no opinion of Chuck Wendig and never read one of his stories.

I didn't like this and didn't finish it. I'm not sure how much of the content was dictated by Disney or Wendig's own, but there were some fundamental problems with the narrative I couldn't get past. It read like Stephen King's "The Stand" -- tons of characters and storylines -- none of which tie in to anything between Episode Six and Seven. It's just floating out there. I don't know anyone's back story. Every character is a pastiche of an existing one -- the bounty hunter (Boba Fett), the smuggler (Han Solo), the young hero (Luke Skywalker), etc. And it's all action. No one thinks or reflects. At one-third of the way through, the story was still introducing new characters, preparing for a long haul.

Maybe these books are for diehard fans -- I had to keep looking up terms in the Wookiepedia. Maybe it was the foreign names and races, but I couldn't keep track of anything. The text has no problem with style or tense, at least not for me. The "cute points" were the best. At one point a character plays Star Wars Settlers of Catan with a droid (instead of something cliche like chess or that holographic game Chewie and Threepio play.

Other than that, I was bored. I didn't know the characters and there was never anything to make me care or sympathize. They were shallow action figures doing things that translate better in film.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I read one-quarter of it in a day.

The title and B&W cover make it look like it's a bit snooty and removed from reality, like A.A. Milne or Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton edition). But it in fact, it reads just like any YA novel and takes place in a firm, explained setting with a flawed protagonist. In the first chapter he demonstrates his jerk streak to much delight. And he's American and interesting and interesting things happen to him and he goes out to do interesting things (which sounds like par for the course, but you'd be surprised how many books lack this).

The story is built around these odd photos his dead grandfather had -- ones that might have used old-timey trick photography (e.g. two reflections in a pond where just one girl is standing). But these happen to be the peculiar children (i.e., they're basically X-Men -- one's super strong, one's invisible, one can grow plants, etc.) We find this out when he goes to England where this home supposedly is, though it was destroyed in World War II.

The anticipation of the movie (also by Tim Burton, what can you do?) prompted me to give this a try. I'll be reading the next two books, so I have a good feeling about the movie.

The Third Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

It's worse than the first two. It's tedious. It leaves big gaps between books. Explanations are left on the floor in favor of vapid philosophical questions. It's got nothing to do with the cool swords. It brings up some topics relating to gods and mortals that might have been interesting in the eighties, but are old hat now. The plot focuses more on ideas than engaging characters. And it all ends with a big confusing war where characters die and I just don't care, because I don't remember them. There's nothing resolved with the swords or the gods at the end. It's better as a premise than a book.

Emily Fox-Seton or The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I read this as research for a book I might be writing. The BBC made-for-TV movie is better, and I could only watch that drunk. The book is just so damn tame. The bad guy confesses everything without provocation then leaves peacefully. Then dies accidentally. The women are all so weak. The littlest things throw them into an emotional tizzy. Arranged marriages and racism are the least of this story's problems.

Everything happens through hearsay and after-the-fact conversations. People talk about things, they don't do them. There's always the threat of things happening, never actual things happening. Sure the book's a hundred years old, but you only get so much leeway.

Hero-Type by Barry Lyga

The promises at the beginning of the book don't match the content. The main character is a town hero after saving a girl in his class from a rapist. And as the reader finds, it wasn't just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. However, no one knows this, and no one's going to know, because that isn't the meat of the book.

The meat is that he gets a ton of flak for taking some "Support the Troops" magnetic ribbons off his car, ones he didn't put on in the first place, and is forced to take off by his Dad. All of a sudden, this makes him the town pariah. It gets worse as he rolls with it, defending the non-decision as it relates to the first amendment. And it all snowballs into discussions on politics and free speech.

One of these stories interests me. One of them doesn't. Guess which is which (hint: the stalker angle interests me and the political one doesn't). I could make a case for why one fits into the other. But the two themes just don't seem to fit with each other. 

A big chunk of plotline is the character holding the idiot ball. Problems that could easily be solved if someone just explained what happened instead of being cryptic or obstinate. He took the ribbons was because his dad freaked out (he has PTSD from the Iraq War). But the main character doesn't, because then there'd be no story. The dad doesn't tell anyone the reason he was dishonorably discharged from the army, which turns out to be a because he was a whistleblower. The school administrator allows not one but TWO student-run student-organized debates about this "controversy" which devolve into chaos. (I swear, Barry Lyga's fictional school has the most inept administration since Lawndale High).

I thought this book would be about what it means to be a hero. But the plot overstates to the point of melodrama, which makes this my least favorite Lyga book.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

I know what I said before, but I'm pretty sure this is the last Tiffany Aching book this time. It's good. The easiest to follow of the five. I say this all the time, but it gives a fitting end to the Tiffany Aching saga, giving the main character a mantle from her mentors, passing on the torch.

What feels unusual is that it seems a little rushed. Wrapped up a little too quickly. The previous books' antagonists like Wintersmith and The Cunning Man enveloped abstract concepts. The other books had more plot threads, interactions with different and new characters, and sundry subplots. But I suppose there was a reason for the rushedness -- Terry Pratchett was suffering Alzheimer's and he wanted to produce something before his mind or life had gone. I salute you Mr. Pratchett. Shall we all be as hardworking as you.

This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own: A Journey to the End of Boxing by Jonathan Rendall (unfinished)

John Green recommended this, but it was out of print and not to be found in any libraries. I finally decided to buy a used copy, because I like boxing.

And I've come to the conclusion that John Green's favorites do not run parallel to my own. The writing style is too journalistic. It's a memoir, but there's not enough interesting things happening. The main character doesn't come up against enough conflict. It's basically "I saw boxing. I liked boxing. I went into boxing." And then there's a laundry list of celebrities and famous pugilists whom I don't recognize. I'm sure it's a fine book if you know boxing and/or sports history, but for everyone else... well, there's a reason these books become unavailable.

Village of the Mermaids by Carlton Mellick III

Bizarro fiction, but less bizarro than others I've read. The plot is not so much a "monsters in the deep", but a "Village of the Damned"/"Children of the Corn". Our protagonist is a doctor with some kind of terminal medical condition where his skin turns to putty. He arrives at an island to figure out where the mermaids went and makes friends with a young girl. When the ferry sinks and there's no way off the island, he keeps a cool head. There's some gross sex stuff and people genetically-engineered to be delicious for mermaids.

I feel it needed more character development. It ended too early. The main character appeared to have changed, but I don't know for what. It's presented as a mystery novel, but the answers are in plain sight, not even hiding. The answer isn't really found through deduction or mistakes of the enemy, but coincidence and luck. And then it ends in a gory, creepy mess. Which is fine if you like that kind of thing (I do), but doesn't seem to fit the promises made in the beginning. The man's condition has no bearing on the plot. Really, I just picked it up for the mermaids.

Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino

So... Ursula is Cthulhu.

Oh, you didn't know? Yes, apparently she can transform people into Deep Ones. Also, she was raised on land in a small village by a fisherman and can transform into a human at will, no magic needed. This was happening behind the movie the whole time and you didn't know it. Isn't it good to be informed?

The plot uses the non-canon lore that Ursula is Triton's sister, but that's what little of Ursula there is here. Again, this is more about the three witch sisters and Circe and Tulip and a bunch of other non-Disney characters who I don't give two shits about it. If I hadn't read "The Beast Within" I would have been totally lost (although you'd think I would have learned my lesson from that book). At least Valentino took the time to get the lines from the movie right this time.

The only reason I read this was the "The Little Mermaid" connection, and let me tell you people, it's not even worth that. There's no character investment in anyone. And there's less than forty percent of the page count dedicated to "The Little Mermaid" lore, let alone Ursula. It's probably going to end up on my "worst books I read" of the year. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Let's Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn't Know Marvel Comics (Part 7)

Mary Jane Watson

Is it possible to call a minifig hot? I don't know... something about the black t-shirt and red hair and blue jeans really works for me. Unfortunately, she's all distress and no damsel. You'd think that after being kidnapped so many times she'd get a gun. I mean seriously, does EVERY Spider-Man movie have to end with Mary Jane in trouble?

Mister Fantastic

He's a scientist, he can stretch his body like Elasti-girl or Plastic Man, and he's got weird gray hair. According to this game, he can turn into weird stuff like a teapot and an air traffic control tower. I believe he, along with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, is one of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe. Meaning only white guys go to school.

Moon Knight

What's a moon knight? Is he affected by the moon or something? Is the moon his boss? Does he turn into a knight when the moon is full like a were-hero? Does he only have powers at night? If so, it's not a stealthy costume. He must use a lot of bleach. I've never heard of this guy but he reminds me of Space Ghost or that one guy all in white in that seventies cartoon, the one with the Super-Monkey.

Ms. Marvel

This hero's got an old-sounding name, but as far as I can tell, her big power is throwing fireballs. Wasn't there anything to make her more distinctive? Usually women heroes had more of a "thing". Wonder Woman was into bondage. Black Widow's a femme fatale. Jean Grey comes back to life a lot. She-Hulk, Batgirl, and Supergirl are all "Smurfette"s of more-popular counterparts. I was expecting more of a Sue Storm - someone who's married to a bigger hero. Is Ms. Marvel's thing being a single woman?


I personally love Mysterio. Because when I was a kid I thought he was this intimidating villain based on my sole Spider-Man experience - the text adventure video game. Was he an alien? A deformed human? Why couldn't you see his face? My four-year-old brain couldn't comprehend this. It was actually disappointing when I found out he was just a stunt/SFX man in a costume. And I didn't learn this until the 2004 Spider-Man 2 game, where he's a tertiary villain. In fact, the big joke is that he can be knocked down with one punch. I think this guy would be great for a movie. Much better than Giamatti Rhino or "blueberry" Shocker.


So Mystique is like the X-Men version of Black Widow, with a bonus ability to shapeshift into any other human (though that's not in this game). I'm assuming it's only humanoids and she can't change into a rock. Her natural form is blue-skinned with reptilian eyes and even though she could disguise herself as a human, she thinks she shouldn't need to. Thus she's on the side of Magneto and wants to destroy all humans. Also, she may or may not be Nightcrawler's mom. I see the family resemblance.

Nick Fury

Not a pirate. Nick Fury is the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., the company that recruits superheroes to help save the world. I don't know much about his past but it seems to be military-based. For some reason he has Black Widow's cloaking device, even though I don't think he's a spy. But he does seem to have a knack for suddenly appearing a la Jason Voorhees. Also, I think he used to be white.


You got me. He seems to be human. Is like some combination of Green Goblin and Scarecrow? Something demonier? He shoots energy balls and beams, but his level takes place in a circus, fighting Ghost Rider (and Hawkeye and Iceman).


Also one I don't know. He's got a weird "star" helmet and a bright blue uniform. Maybe he's some holdback from a 50's comic. Especially given that he can fly and shoots "energy beams" which half of all heroes did back then. I don't even know if he's from Earth or in some kind of Guardians of the Galaxy region of space.

Pepper Potts

Tony Stark's secretary cum lover cum fiancee cum didn't-sign-beyond-three-movies. Funnily enough, the game gives her the ability to operate advanced computers. I think she's like Tony's co-dependent. She enables his destructive behavior, before and after his Iron Man epiphany. She'd be a great Nick Fury pastiche in an all-female superhero team-up movie.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

So What's Going On Lately?

I know you all get sick of my posts about Marvel heroes I don't know and movie junk. The authorship is going okay. I've found a way to combine writing and not writing at the same time. Merm-8 should be getting re-released pretty soon by eTreasures publishing.

We recently got Disney Infinity for our Wii U. Well, my wife really got it as a birthday present to herself, but I've been playing when I can. It's like Kingdom Hearts but simpler. It's just the co-operative multi-gameplay I've been wanting. Too bad it's now defunct.

Collecting the merchandise has been an interesting experience. On one hand, it's super-discounted. On the other, it's hard to find. And figuring out the mechanics of the game -- I mean the collecting, the versions, what's compatible and what isn't -- was a challenge. Disney does not put a lot on its site. I had to appeal to the good people of Reddit to find out what's what. Also, I gotta download 500 toyboxes before they all go offline.

But I've been so obsessed I created my own Wishlist out of HTML and XML. I couldn't find any owned/wanted lists out there that fulfilled all my needs, so I just made one of my own. It has pictures and you can filter by franchise, playset compatibility, version, etc. The disadvantage is that you have to edit the HTML to edit the data - an HTML file can't write to itself. But at least it made me feel like I was playing the game when I was stuck at work, plus kept my coding skills sharp during a lull.

Speaking of keeping the skills sharp, I've been working on version 3.0 of my writing macros. The biggest change is that there is now a "main menu" all the macros can be invoked from - you don't have to go to Tools->Macros->Run Macro, then find the one you want and so on. It's my first GUI! I haven't posted anything yet, because I want to QA it some more, and there are old bugs to remove. But you'll know when it's ready. And it should be easier to import too.

Speaking of keeping the skills sharp, my writing ones aren't. I've finished up Princess Crossover, but I haven't uploaded it yet. There are some new FF sites around, and I want to upload my catalog to them first. I don't really have a reason, besides getting the work out there. Maybe it's my OCD about keeping things even. But until that's done, no uploady. And it wouldn't be so bad if it was just a story at a time. But it's a chapter at a time.

So next is some bad erotica. In the same vein of Milk & Honey and The Upgrades, but not fan fiction. And so far it's all been fantasy creatures -- centaurette, spider-woman (half-woman, half-spider) and possibly an Amazon warrioress in the future. I don't know what I'm going to do with it. Maybe try to sell it. Maybe self-publish on Amazon (I hear weird erotica does well there). I don't think I have a career as an erotica writer. I'm basically just writing scripts for high-budget porn.

But the composing is like pulling teeth. Could be the story isn't really singing with me anymore. Could be that it's just... weird. There's plenty of time to write at my job, but I also get distracted easily. And the company puts a lot of restrictions on my computer. I'm behind a proxy, I can't go to YouTube. Facebook and Twitter are blocked. I can read off a USB drive, but not copy or move anything around on it. Can't open programs with the app I want. Starting up takes forever. I can't remove icons from my system tray. And it asks me for a password every twenty seconds. I can't even go to the page where Merm-8 is being published.

Besides that I've been looking at expanding my t-shirt wardrobe by perusing Sure are more ways to combine eighties art than I thought.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Your Childhoods Are Already Ruined

After watching the Ghostbusters "controversy" diffuse into a "meh" movie, I have one thing to say to those idiots who made a huge deal because they didn't want their "childhoods ruined."

First of all, if the existence of a movie ruins your childhood, then your childhood wasn't worth diddly in the first place. Second, there's never been a case where a movie made this actually happened. Look at Michael Jackson -- now THAT's an example of a ruined childhood. But the bigger issue is this:

No matter what happens, your childhood *will* be ruined.

It is inevitable, no matter what you were into. Nothing is ever going to recapture the magic of that thing you loved as a kid, because you're not a kid anymore. Kids have intense feelings, no filters, and an uninhibited willingness to believe. Everything is a source of wonder.

As an adult, you are tempered. You have the hormones that regulate those feelings now. You have the experience to see things as they really are, the consequences, the ability to dig a little deeper. Nothing will affect you as it did then, because you know the puppet has strings, and thus you can see them. Gremlins and Night of the Creeps gave me nightmares as a child. Now? I'm embarrassed to say such a thing. What's to be scared of some rubbery make-up and animatronics?

Nostalgia happens when you have the right story at the right time*. It's powerful because it brings back those intense feelings you had as a kid. But it's not something you can recreate for anyone else. It just has to happen you when it happens. And those great things you loved as a kid are not -- nay, cannot -- affect your own children. Nostalgic events cannot be foisted on another. Think about all your favorite books. Think about the ones you discovered on your own versus the ones someone forced or gave.

Moreover, the inexperience of youth gives you tunnel vision. And when you grow up, that tunnel vision gives you nostalgia goggles. Or blinders, to be more accurate. Everyone considers Rachel the protagonist on Friends, but did you conveniently gloss over how manipulative and petty she acted? Or all the sex crimes on that show?

I can't build Legos with my kids anymore. The plans are too complicated, the pieces are too small and nuanced. Nowadays, either I have to use a blueprint or I freeze creatively. Sure, I built a lot of blocky robots and chunky houses, but at least I built them. I look at these pieces and I don't know what to do with them.

How about when you get older and you learn how old Snow White really was (14)? How about when some online article tells you exactly how lion prides work, giving some terrible insight into what happened after The Lion King? How about great articles like this? Or this? If movies aren't on the hunt for your childhood, clickbait sure is.

Here's a short list of stuff in recent years that's ruined your childhood: Robocop, Fuller House, The X-Files Season 10, The Smurfs, four Alvin & the Chipmunks movies, The Lone Ranger, Terminator: Genisys, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Batman and Superman, Indiana Jones, 21 Jump Street, Red Dawn, The A-Team, National Lampoon's Vacation, Jurassic World, Scooby Doo, X-Men, Poltergeist, Ninja Turtles almost becoming aliens but instead hip-hop Shrek.

Now here's a list of stuff that is about to ruin your childhood: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Stephen King's It, Beauty & the Beast, Indiana Jones (oh, they're not done yet), Ben Hur, and look, there's X-Men again. Not even Trainspotting is safe.

Even genres can't escape. Cheesy eighties horror movies used to be great -- Re-animator, Puppet Master, Creepshow, Basket Case -- with the corn syrup and cottage cheese and melty rubber and creepy stop motion. Maybe it looked terrible but at least it was there--the reactions were always genuine. Now it's nothing but Sharknados and Dinocrocs. CG junk that's slightly better than the cutscenes in a PS1 budget game. You can't engineer "so bad it's good". You've got to have some egotistical foreign director who thinks he's making a movie with "a message" on a budget of $250.

Even if it wasn't for the money-grubbing Hollywood executives, people will disappoint you. I used to listen to Bill Cosby albums all the time. Loved the guy. But now I can't stomach him. Dr. Cliff Huxtable is a pervert and a rapist, and I can't see him as anything else. And then there's Brett Favre's penis pictures and defection to Minnesota (and I'm from MN so that says a lot), Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, Tom Cruise, Rosie O'Donnell, Miley Cyrus, Tom Brady, Whitney Houston. I remember reading in "The Book of Lists" (sort of a Guiness Book of World Records knockoff) that O.J. Simpson was number one on "most-loved heroes". Justin Bieber didn't even give anyone time to deify him. This is why I never meet my heroes. They will never live up to my expectations when I find they are flesh-and-blood humans.

Sometimes it doesn't end in disaster. Reboots have given us "Mad Max: Fury Road", "Batman Begins/The Dark Knight", "Dredd", "The Evil Dead" (both the movie and Ash vs.). But this is not a high success rate. About one decent production out of ten, I'd say.

And people only remember the good things. No one's clamoring for a return to VHS tapes. No one wants 2400 baud modems back, even if they wouldn't tie up the phone line. Nobody misses AIM for text messaging. No one buys blank cassettes to make mixtapes or Walkmans to play them in. The only people like that are hipsters -- the clowns of our generation. There's always one--hippies, yuppies, punks, stoners. The only thing I can think that we could use is a new Michael Jordan.

So don't waste energy on things like Ghostbusters. If you're lucky, your precious franchise will just fade away and no one will remember it enough to squeeze it for more money.

*Shamelessly lifted from Halley Callahan's video on Labyrinth

Friday, July 29, 2016

Thoughts on the New Ghostbusters

DISCLAIMER: I am not a misogynist and I am not racist. I love Ghostbusters. My mom still has my proton pack and Ecto-1. I was looking forward to the new movie - everyone in the cast has proven themselves over and over again. I don't believe the movie's existence is/will ruin my childhood. I don't believe "reboot syndrome" is anything new in Hollywood. 

I saw the trailer and was disappointed in what I saw. But I also knew that trailers lie. They're advertisements and don't feature the complete product. (The Ghostbusters II trailer had an unfinished effect where there should be ghost, but there's nothing.) In other words, I went into this movie with a clear head and hopeful expectations.

GOOD: The characters

Just like I thought, the characters are likeable, funny, and dynamic. And they're not pastiches of the old. Even though they fit into the archetypes of "face", "heart", "brains", Kristen Wiig's not "the Venkman", Leslie Jones is not "the black one Winston". True, I miss Bill Murray's unpredictability and Harold Ramis's dry delivery. But they are their own people with their own problems and quirks.

Kate McKinnon plays the hell out of her character, who is essentially a mad scientist. But she's not just playing Spock. She's a little unstable, a little off. It's hard to get a bead on her, if she's insane, if she's a pervert, what sort of romance she desires. The one thing I don't like is that I don't know what motivates her. She's one hundred percent "the crazy one".

BAD: CG Effects

I think one of the mistakes people make is comparing it to the original Ghostbusters. To do that is to be colored by the eyes of nostalgia. EVERYTHING looks real when you're a kid. Hoggle looks like a real troll. Falcor looked like a real dog-dragon. The Jurassic Park dinosaurs looked like real dinosaurs.When I was a kid I was scared to death of the slugs in Night of the Creeps -- the little pieces of rubber pulled on a string.

So instead, compare it to today. It'd be short-sighted to expect this movie to use practical effects. (It's short-sighted to expect ANY movie to use practical effects -- it's a gift when one does.) The thing about CG is that you can make things look absolutely awesome, but it takes hard work. And the pendulum swings just as far the other way -- if you don't put in the effort, the effects look like absolute crap (see any SyFy or Asylum movie).

Ghostbusters gets a B-. They don't look like they're there. I mean, I know they're ghosts and they're not supposed to be there, but they ARE supposed to be there, even though they're not, but... you know what I mean.

Just too cartoony. Cheap-looking and just what you'd expect from Sony (see The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Not just the effects, but the design. There's a few good moments, like the Lady Gertrude ghost. But the others look like they came from The Real Ghostbusters.

GOOD: The humor

Another mistake people are doing is comparing the comedy to the original. First, comedy is uniquely a product of multiple factors -- the actors, the writers, the time and culture, human sensibilities. And again, nostalgia goggles make things funnier than they used to be.

Now I'm the last person who should be asked about comedy. The only thing I laugh at are my kids screwing up. Like the other day they made iPhones out of legos. Lots of apps, but when I asked how you call someone they said "huh?"

The bottom right icon is "all the other apps and games in the world"

But looking at it objectively, today's comedy is being delivered by people like Amy Schumer, Seth MacFarlane, Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen. Mostly weed and blue sex humor. This is a far cry from the Bass-o-matics and lounge singer sketches of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and the rest of the SCTV-to-SNL pipeline. It was a different time. And all humor is relative.

Ghostbusters utilizes that Judd Apatow line-o-rama style of humor. The director sets up a scene and lets the actors go. Now I must say that this kind of funny is not my style. I loved The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, but I think that was because of the subject matter. I had no love for Superbad or Knocked Up. But the scripted lines I LOL'd. Like when the tour guide says "At the time of its construction, it was one of the most elegant homes in existence featuring every luxury including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence." And the scenes with between Liam Hemsworth and the girls are fantastic.

BAD: The Script

It's not a bad script per se, but you can see where producers set down the tape for the plot to hit the marks. What it needed was one more go around with a script doctor and one less with the marketing team. Someone who could punch up the lines, fill in the backstory, switch up some of the headscratchers (like how are they defeating ghosts in the climax, and Kristen Wiig's OOC moment when she releases a ghost just to show it off).

The original Ghostbusters had those little touches that gave context and weight. They weren't just two prisoner ghosts who burst out of the pink slime. They were the Scoleri Brothers. Ray and Winston discussing the ramifications of their business in the car is a great quiet moment that makes the character's actions matter. Louis's explanation about "shuvs and zuuls being roasted in the depths of the slor." And it took me years to finally get "picking up or dropping off?"

I think this is a symptom of the improv-style approach to comedy that they took. You are only as good as what the actors spew during filming. The fat may be trimmed in the editing room, but is there any meat left after? Without that investment at the script level, there's no thoughtful events or comedy. I can tell that the lines that made me LOL were scripted, not improvised. Again, I blame Sony for this. The Amazing Spider-Man did the same thing.

Fun fact: In the original, the Ecto-2 was a personal helicopter. I'm not sure which one I'd rather have.
GOOD: The New Stuff

We've got new characters with new histories. One of them keeps licking her proton wand. We've got new weapons - a ghost-punching fist, a ghost-shredder, dual proton pistols, ghost grenades.

We've got new ghosts. Although I complained about the effects, I liked their design -- they look scary and ethereal. We've got new sets. A new motorcycle. New locations. I like my ghostbusters fresh and innovative.

In his defense, Dan Aykroyd's still got it.

BAD: The Old Stuff

Did we really need a cameo from everyone in the previous movie? It gets distracting after a while -- it keeps reminding you that "hey, remember how good the original was?" If you are constantly comparing yourself to the old, no one's ever going to accept the new. And that scene with Justin Timberlake went on forever. They're just standing there while he graffittis the wall. And all the time you KNOW what it's going to be. Did we really need the origin story of the logo? Is that something that was missing?

And the story is way too similar to the old movies. There's four ghostbusters, one's a black everyman, one's the inventor, one's the true believer, one's the leader. There's a mayor who wants to keep things quiet and ignore the problem. There's a secretary who doesn't do his/her job. There's a giant monster-ghost wrecking the city that's supposed to look cute. There's a whole bunch of ghosts unleashed at the end. There's another villain with little tie to the characters' stories/internal goals.

If you're trying to appeal to the old fans, the solution is not to give them the same thing over again, just with a shiny updated polish. They want a new story, new developments, new obstacles, new goals, new evolutions. Someone must have thought of an original idea in the twenty-seven year gap.


I left the theater feeling pumped and wanting to put on my proton pack. But even my inner fanboy can't overcome my critic. At a macro and micro level, the movie does not succeed. It takes too long to get going. And then it's terribly predictable and uninspired. One of the reviewers called it "disposable" and that sounds accurate. But despite this fumble, I want to see more stories from this universe. I want to see what these characters can do if they break away from their anchor to 1984.

I wish I could say it's a new classic, but it's not. I give it a 100% should rent (or Netflix) and a 50% see in theater. And that's for the Ghostbusters fan. Adjust accordingly based on interest in the franchise.