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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.


CONCLUSION

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.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How Do You Convince Someone Not to Vote for Trump

Allow me to get political for a second. I haven't done so in over 900 posts, so I think I'm permitted one. And believe me, I don't like to do this.

I'm not politically minded. I don't care much about politics or governmental elections. I care about policy, but the system to create that policy has succumbed to corruption - lobbying, partisanship, etc. When it comes to presidents, there are candidates I like and candidates I don't.

When George W. Bush was first elected, I was disappointed - the election was controversial to begin with, but also he was not very intelligent and didn't understand consequences for his actions. He passed the "No Child Left Behind" act that punished schools with good students and encouraged teaching the test. He vetoed stem cell research, got unnecessarily involved with the Terry Schiavo case, and didn't make many friends overseas. When he was re-elected, I was angry -- he based his platform on fear and paranoia and exploiting the emotions of 9/11. And let's not forget the 2008 recession/bailout. But I thought, let's just get through the next four years, and then we'll have to have someone new.

When Obama ran, I supported him. But I knew, despite the slogan, not much would change. He's just one man amid 12 Supreme Court Justices, 435 representatives, 100 senators, and however many people work under them all (see "How Much Does the President Really Matter?" ). It would be a presidency much the same as the last. Maybe with a little more optimism and edging towards progress. But otherwise, same-old same-old.

But right now, I am terrified of Donald Trump becoming president.

I can't find anything in either his campaign or personality that's redeemable. He is a narcissistic sociopath, like many Type A businessmen. Someone who always believes he's right and won't listen to countering opinions. If you are not a white male, Trump is not going to defend you. He won't support you. He's anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, anti-Mexican, anti-LGBT. He's more interested in building walls than bridges, stopping things instead of starting them.

Even other Republicans are trying to find ways not to vote for him. Prominent officials are refusing to endorse him, which NEVER happens. You never break party loyalty, especially if you're a GOP. Trump is not a leader, he is a brand. He's spent his life building his brand. And it's not a reliable one. I grew up while Trump was forming his empire (on his small loan of one million dollars). I was a kid when he was the mascot for eighties yuppies and "New York business". I saw him make headlines with casinos and beauty pageants and multiple ex-wives.

But he's strong in the polls. A man with no political experience, who's spent more time with TV shows and failed businesses than on the congress floor, is tied with someone who has the political history of a Kennedy. Granted, it's also as spotty as a Kennedy, but she plays the game. She knows the players, knows the rules, and has the experience. She can hit the ground running. The American people as a collective believe she's on the same level as someone who marketed his name on a board game and steaks.

And now there's this shitstorm of the RNC. In a single day, the potential first lady plagiarized her speech, a congressman said that "whites have done more for civilization than non-whites", a soap opera star called Barack Obama a "Muslim", a lieutenant-general led a chant of "lock her up" (referring to Hillary Clinton), and the opening prayer referred to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party as "the enemy" as if this were a war. Not people who, although they have different ideologies, need to work together. I've seen what happens when people elect a showman instead of a politician. I live in the state that elected Jesse Ventura.

After all that, there are still people who believe he is the best figurehead for the country. For American ideals. To "make America great again" (was it so bad in the first place?). If they are still supporting him after the plagiarism, the Mexican wall, the birther controversy, the violence at the rallies, the anti-immigration (and I'm just listing his political snafus), then nothing's going to change their minds.

They're zealots, following a charismatic leader. One who makes promises he can't keep. Someone who appeals to emotions rather than reason. I don't see how you can convince someone like that to change their mind. My technical writing teacher said there are only two ways to get someone to do something. Either hold a gun to their head or persuade them. But persuasion doesn't work if you don't think rationally. Because they're not thinking with reason in the first place. And if you use emotion, you're entering the same dangerous game.

I feel like a large part of the world is on some kind of glacial retreat. We're rejecting globalization. International sports result in corrupt officials and Olympic ghost towns. England removes itself from the European Union because they don't want to harbor Syrian refugees. It's an ideal that encourages fear and ignorance.

My only hope is that, if Trump is elected, the same pattern applies -- that he's only one man and not much will change.

But my bigger wish is that there was a presidential candidate whom I could say "I really want THIS person to be president!" instead of "oh God, please don't let THIS person be president."

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Books I Read: May - June 2016


The Second Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

So I never read a dungeon crawl before.

Certainly not what I was expecting -- not from something written in 1984 (I thought fantasy authors were better than that) -- but it's the best way to describe it. It's straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. The main characters start by going to a  town. They meet some supporting cast who are on their way to a quest. There's negotiations and debates and arbitrary motivations. One of the characters drops out and is never seen again, like she stopped coming to the meetings. And then they break into this vault guarded by a dragon, and descend one floor at a time to get the priceless treasure, ending with a confrontation with a hell-demon and a god. That's the whole book. And it's not really thrilling. Just a paint-by-numbers.

You'd think the second book of a trilogy would focus more on bridging the first book and the second. Nope -- here we're just getting more swords. Adventuring in a hole while exploring nooks and crannies, occasionally losing redshirts. There isn't any greater sense of what's at stake. No new character development. No changes to the world. In fact, it seemed the whole purpose was to warp the characters closer to collecting all the swords (although who knows what happens when they do that). If this is supposed to be the "defining moment" for the character, it's not a very explicit one. Everyone's still bland, and worse, there is zero female presence. It's no wonder I stopped reading here years ago.


The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince by Serena Valentino

Some people called this the "Grey" (the book from the abusive male's POV in "50 Shades of Grey") of Beauty & the Beast. This is not really true, except for the styling. It's Gothic, overwritten, and changes the canon. It can't even get lines from the movie right. And this is not forgivable for its primary audience -- people like me who have the movie memorized after seeing it so many times. I may not be able to recite the script from beginning to end, but I know when it's wrong. And I know when the author's being lazy. Christ, just watch the movie again.

You don't find out anything useful or entertaining about the prince or his life from this story. Barely anyone from the castle shows up, missing an opportunity to show why the British Cogsworth is here in France or how the castle conducts business with the town. And the main character doesn't get a name -- he's always "The Prince". He doesn't even act within the theme of the movie -- that one should not judge by exterior appearances, to look beyond what you see. He used to be friends with Gaston, was engaged to another woman but broke it off because he got bored, and the enchantress isn't actually one person but three, like the Weird Sisters. And the primary plot has more to do with the conflict between them than anything to do with Beauty & the Beast.


It doesn't provide explanations for certain trivia -- like that the prince must have been eleven when he was cursed, and his parents were likely deceased. That's the kind of book I look for in those "untold stories" -- filling in the gaps. And I know you can do so, and I know you can do it creatively. I've done it myself. Maybe you can get away with this kind of thing for a character with zero to know backstory (e.g. The Wicked Queen), but not someone like the Beast. This is just capitalizing on nostalgia.
 
And this book is not a standalone. There seems to be some kind of thread to the other "the villain's story" books from Disney Press, meaning you have to read the series to understand it. This kind of commercialism is the final straw that puts the book in the garbage pile for me.




Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

Loved it, loved it, loved it. Maybe it's because these are the games I grew up with. This is the story of how John Romero and John Carmack got together and defined a decade of PC gaming. The rise and fall of the first person shooter. And there's nothing better than reading behind the scenes of something you grew up with and played over and over. Finding out about their methods, their personalities -- the conflicts between employees, where the ideas came from, and how the little guy gained success in the world.

This is a nonfiction must read for any nineties kid, computer gamer, or new past historian. Forget all those Steve Jobs biopics -- this is the movie they should make. There's enough plot twists and colorful characters to make it like a zippy version of Spotlight. The narrative crackles with true facts and incentivizes with cliffhangers and drama. You may not like what you see, but it's impossible not to be drawn in.

A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick

This tells (unnecessarily) the story of Frozen from Anna's and Hans's perspectives (minus the singing). No Elsa, except for the scenes she shares with either of those two. Anna's chapters -- except where she's presented in a fan fiction, overthinking style -- are the movie word-for-word. And did we really need to know Hans's thoughts? Here he's presented WAY too sympathetically, which I think is dangerous for young girls. Making him a victim of circumstance undermines his actions, which are truly dangerous and a cautionary tale for young women (see TricksterBelle's Report on Misogynistic Disney Characters).

The most original part is the prologue that spends a little time on his life with his twelve brothers (while Anna would be in the middle of her "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" sequence). But it skips over the three years where he's truly formed -- when his father orders him to go to a village and "ensure their loyalty". That's the Hannibal Lecter/Ramsay Bolton origin story I was expecting. But nope, it's still squishy. It even tries to paint him such that he wasn't going to take over until someone said "Arendelle looks to you".

You're better off just watching the movie. Frozen doesn't translate to a good novelization. It needs the songs, the animation, the quick-wit, and the comedic timing to make it the phenomenon it deserves to be. Some novels can become great movies (like Lord of the Rings and Gone with the Wind). But a movie into a good novel? I've never heard of such a thing. The mediums are too different. Olaf's face melting when he gets close to the fire doesn't come across the same way. Although Rudnick gets more points than Serena Valentino for not outright contradicting the source material.

If you want to read a Frozen book, you are *way* better off reading the "Sisterhood is the Strongest Magic" middle-grade series.

Tithe by Holly Black (unfinished)

This book was not for me. I think it's target audience is alternative teen girls into fey/bad boy romances. It's too concerned with imagery and doesn't explain enough of the backstory. We suddenly jump into a mysterious murder and no one bats an eye. The author keeps the audience in the dark when the POV character knows something and we don't. It's drama through obfuscation.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

I was worried this was going to be like Kendra, full of ghetto culture and irredeemable/unsympathetic characters, like a literary YA Boyz N Tha Hood/Menace 2 Society, which, while realistic, gave us poor morals and convenient conclusions for the sake of a happy ending.

This is not like that. In fact, this is the first book I've read with a black main character who I could relate to. And he's not just black in name only.

This boy is getting over the death of his mother, and in doing so, takes a job at a funeral parlor. Watching the funerals becomes his way of coping, hence the black suit. But ironically this doesn't have much to do with the story. It's actually more of a romance. At least it turns into one partway through, which is where it loses the initiating thread. It seems like the author started with a high concept and then didn't know how to end it. It's an okay book. It's a quiet and unassuming that won't knock your socks off but gives a few hours of entertainment.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg

For those worried this is more Klinenberg with flavors of Ansari spread out to sell the book, rest assured this is not. It's Aziz Ansari front and center, doing something I've never seen a comedian do -- write a book that's not just a memoir or replication of their stand-up. This is a sociological study in the same vein as Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but with the humor backing it up. Like The Daily Show. And I don't believe there's anything wrong with presenting facts and truth in an entertaining way. 

And it's not just reports and findings one after the other. But it's also instructional to young singles for what works and what doesn't. Or what tools to use to accomplish your goals. What kind of profile picture gets the best results in online dating? Where do I go to meet people post-college? What is wrong with women/men these days? A whole chapter is dedicated to the text message. What's the difference between texting back right away or waiting a while? I recommend this whether you're single or married. Especially people who are "tired of the whole bar scene".


Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

I read this to my daughter to completion, so I added it to my collection, though I would never have chosen to read it myself. This is book is supposed to be a classic, but I did not find it interesting. But I'm sure that's just me -- I'm not into survival stories like Hatchet and White Fang. In this case, it's a native girl who was left behind on an island when everyone else fled to somewhere more mainland. She builds shelters, finds water, harvests fish and seafood, makes friends with the wildlife, all typical survival stuff.

My problem is that it doesn't really build toward something. There's no rising action. There's a teensy amount of dialogue. The action is frontloaded to the beginning. And at some point, you wonder why this story is important (and you don't find out until the end that it's because this was a true story -- hence the dullness).

Roadwork by Stephen King

Every time I look at my list of Stephen King books I want to read, I whittle it down a little more and a little more. This one survived the stack, but I wish it didn't. Maybe because I liked the theme of it, like Rage and The Long Walk. Written around the same time too, and published under the Bachman pseudonym. Like Rage, there is nothing supernatural and it's about a guy getting his revenge Charles Bronson style. Or at least it was supposed to be.

From the beginning there is a promise that this is going to end in tremendous violence. In a one-man standoff against the government, standing up for what he believes in. The little guy who won't be pushed off his land, who won't be evicted from his memories in the face of progress. But it takes WAY too long to get there. And then it's only fifteen pages at the end. The part you came to see is buried under overwritten prose, Maine catechisms, and wool-gathering. The book is more about the main character toodling around while he doesn't make plans to evacuate his place of work and home in lieu of a new freeway they are building. Not to mention the content is outdated now (the energy crisis, making a big deal of buying a TV, laundry facilities).

The tension is so strung out by the end the climax sags like a Las Vegas showgirl's chest. The main character doesn't do anything but gripe and drink -- two Stephen King staples -- letting the time until 90,000 words are written expire. His wife leaves him, his friends abandon him. It brings up interesting issues, but I can recall at least two Star Trek episodes that dealt with this exact issue in a much more entertaining way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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

Kingpin Henchman

What the hell kind of look is this guy going for? He's got a yellow-orange pin-striped suit top and cowboy jeans. Did someone mix and match his top and bottom like a real Lego? I think they were trying to go for some kind of mafioso-Italian chic, but it looks more like "Dad cobbles together a costume with what's left in his closet." It's almost like they were designed to be disposable.

Kraven the Hunter

I think this is one of Spider-Man's enemies, but I seem to recall someone in the B:TAS stalking Batman because he was "the ultimate prey". I find it delightfully ironic that they called this brave hunter-warrior "Kraven". I think it's the traps that get Spider-Man the most, because he could just *thwip* that little spear out of his hand in one second.

Kurse

I think this is supposed to be from Thor: The Dark World, but I don't see a resemblance. He's wearing thick armor like a biker or medieval warrior, but it's painted like a hot dog cart.

Lady Liberty

I'm *assuming* that this is just a play on the game, since you do some fighting in the Statue of Liberty, and there is no Marvel superhero called "Lady Liberty" as in a counterpart to Wonder Woman. Move along.

Laufey

Who the hell is Laufey? Low-Fey? La-u-fee? It looks like he's some kind of Frost Troll, but I've been wrong before. Maybe he was left out of "Lego Lord of the Rings."

Loki

Everyone's favorite woobie. Loki is the half-brother of Thor - born of Odin and a female frost giant (I assume). For all his tricks and traps, at least his motivation's clear - he wants to rule Asgard. He doesn't care who gets hurt in his way, who he has to lie to or manipulate or kill, even if it's his own mother (spoilers).

M.O.D.O.K.

M.O.D.O.K. stands for something, but I forget what. Murder Or Death Or Killing, maybe. I guess he got so smart, his head got too big to support himself and he had to build a futuristic Stephen Hawking chair (ooh, maybe he's Stephen Hawking from the future). Possibly one of the more underused villains, but that's probably because he's A) hard to take seriously B) expensive to make into a special effect.

Magneto

One of the baddest and best villains in the world. You'll find him hanging out with Loki, Red Skull, and Dr. Doom more often than not. But unlike them, Magneto actually has some motivation, since he was raised in a concentration camp and saw firsthand the cruelty of man. And with the way they treat mutants, who wouldn't want to see them crushed beneath you and hearing the lamentations of their women. His control over anything metal makes him easy to underestimate. Consider that nearly anything man-made is metal. He can stop bullets, tear away bridges, turn a stadium into a flying fortress, and manipulate the iron in your blood. Professor X can't read his mind thanks to his Spartan helmet and the best X-Man, Wolverine, is powerless against him.

Magneto Acolyte

As I recall, Magneto runs the "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants", which is a terrible name. Guys, don't put "evil" in your group title. That's a dead giveaway. Despite that, their outfits are keen. Bright, but practical. In the game, each has a minor elemental power -- fire, lightning, or ice -- but I don't think Magneto really has a corps of disposable, identity-less people at his command. There are only so many mutants in the world, after all.

Maria Hill

She's S.H.I.E.L.D.'s girl Friday. The movies make her badass, but all she really does is repeat what the computer says, like Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest. At least she's played by a great actress, but going opposite Samuel L. Jackson would bring anyone to their knees. She needs to get some kind of *thing*, like Amanda Waller or Felicity Smoak.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What Went Wrong With Chappie


Okay, let's talk about Chappie.

Since I saw its trailer, I've been through months of indecision whether or not to put it on my Netflix Queue. I love robot movies, but reviews were terribly mixed - one YouTuber put it on his best of 2015 list and another put it on his worst list. When one critic called it a combination of "Short Circuit" and "Robocop", I couldn't say no anymore.

Overall, it's a highly flawed movie. The concept isn't original, but it's not a cliche. The story has peaks and valleys, like it should, but it's overshadowed by hammy actors. I can't help but see it as a replication of "Short Circuit". Maybe because that's my favorite movie of all time.

But even if it wasn't all the parallels are there. There's the same "learning to walk" moments, not saying words correctly, seeing death for the first time, being fascinated by TV, an Indian programmer who's his "dad", a "break the woobie" scene, a problem with the battery running out, being duped into committing a crime, then going psycho when he learns about it. They both even get covered in graffiti.


You can tell how plausible the movie is going to treat this concept by the "creation" scene. Our kid genius is the lead programmer for cop robots (of whom Chappie is), but he's trying to create an AI in his spare time, drinking Red Bull fetched by his proto-bots. Then there's a montage of him in his hacker cave, typing and compiling -- action! screens! mayhem! excitement! beeping! No one will be seated during the programming scene!

And the only way he can tell it's "done" is if it passes 100% of some arbitrary test. Isn't the real test of intelligence something only humans could measure? Isn't that the point of making it? And at the end, the whole of consciousness can be contained in a single .DAT file.

This is a movie made of two parts. One is the evolution of learning. This is something we've seen before in every robot story: Star Trek's Data, Pinocchio, Terminator. They all have that "cute learning" scene where they look around at stuff and inadvertently break it. He gets a book and gets all "Dis is Chappie's book?" He accidentally pours out milk and freaks out. He starts imitating He-Man on TV. It would be just a rehash of "Short Circuit 2" if it wasn't for the second part: Gangsta Life.

Instead of Johnny 5 Chappie being raised by a kind-hearted animal lover, he's captured/held hostage by two street punks (a girl and a guy). This causes conflict between what his creator wants and what the punks want -- a cop robot in their pocket. (And I'm not even talking about how freaky they look/act or their grinding music.) The "mom" is more nurturing, but all the "dad" wants is something he can use to steal cars and make heists. He acts like Shredder in "TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze".

Babies! They are... babies!

This is where it loses the audience. There's too much dissonance between the culture that's enthralled by AI and the one interested in gangsta life. I applaud the creator for trying to put the two together -- I love mixing genres like this -- but it just doesn't work. You can't combine "Menace II Society" with "Bicentennial Man". It doesn't work because their goal is to turn Chappie into a jerk. He becomes like the bullies in high school, acting tough and doing what anyone tells him. Plus he gets lots of other annoying characteristics, like a faux-South African accent (which sounds more Jamaican to me).


And then there's the "my god, not all humans are friendly!?" scene, where "daddy" drops him in gangland territory and leaves him to get tortured. You'd think if he wanted to get rid of him he could have thought of something more profitable. But this is so we can have our "break the cutie" moment. In "Short Circuit", it's enough to make a man cry, but in "Chappie", it's so forced and telegraphed it's laughable. There isn't enough time for us to fall in love with him before this happens. Granted, Johnny Five had the benefit of a previous movie, but if you haven't earned it, you can't play it.

Who am I supposed to sympathize with here? I know it's supposed to be Chappie, but you're not going to accomplish that when he's talking too fast and continually wiping his non-existent nose like he has a coke problem (because that's a thing gangstas do, apparently). Certainly not the gang-bangers. The Indian programmer? He doesn't have enough personality or backstory to make me care, not even with Hugh Jackman punking his ass. I thought Jackman was a good villain until the movie browbeats us when he throws down the programmer on his desk AT WORK AND HOLDS A GUN TO HIS HEAD. What company wouldn't fire him after that? Is this a South African thing?

I can't discount Chappie's design either. It's not that he's all CG. That never bothered me -- I never thought that Chappie wasn't there. As I understand it, Sharlto Copley did the mocap in-scene, like Andy Serkis. So the fact that the acting is fine is also its downfall -- Chappie moves too humanly. Too fluidly. Chappie is shaped and moves like so close to a humanoid that, from a distance, he could be easily mistaken for a person in a helmet.



Whereas Johnny Five was intentionally designed to look like a clunky robot. Even though he was cute, you could never mistake him for a human. And that was the point of the story. His "tankness" affirms his original purpose for battle and violence, which makes his changeover all the more poignant. Chappie moves like a human who was rotoscoped. Which is what he was.

Robot movies are meant to give the audience a renewed appreciation of life by showing it through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time. And how important free will by showing someone designed not to have any. But none of this gets covered. Chappie acts like a curious toddler, calling his kidnappers "mommy" and "daddy", even when they abuse him. His journey is marred by the ridiculous gang members and his desire to be like them. The ending provokes some agonizingly recondite philosophical questions when human consciousness is transferred into a robot body. Doesn't anyone have anything to say about that? We now have a way to make people immortal and bring them back from the dead? No one wants to acknowledge that the Singularity just happened?

You get a robot body! You get a robot body! Everyone gets a robot body!
From a movie-maker's perspective, it's just kind of sad -- taking these themes and corrupting them with a comic mess of "blings" and "Chappie no crimes". I just want my Short Circuit 3.

P.S. I want to see Chappie vs. the District 9 aliens. Can that be Neill Blomkamp's next movie?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Books I Read: March - April 2016


Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

For some reason, my library sent me Calamity, the third book in the series, before Firefight. This made me have to buy Firefight and quickly read it. Last year, Steelheart was one of the very very few five star books I read, so I figured I had to pick up the sequel. It does a good job of expanding on the world established in the first book, while not deviating too much from the formula (going to a city to kill a powerful superhero). This time, it's a water-manipulator in a flooded Manhattan, who's got an exploder and miscellaneous other villains.

Like most second parts of a trilogy, it's the saggiest, weakest of the three. But it's just as fast-paced, raised stakes, and blend of character and action. Once again, the action is pretty cinematic, which means if you have trouble visualizing what you read, you're gonna have a bad time. But if you're reading the second book in a series, you probably read the first. Which means you already know what to expect. So why are you reading this?


Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

So the big thing that everyone wants to know with a trilogy is whether it ends on a satisfactory note. I can tell you that this one does. A proper blend of conclusion and surprises that lets you know the journey was worth it.

If you're on the third book of a tightly-focused trilogy, either you're going to read it or you aren't. You don't need a review, you already know what you're getting into. What I will say is that, although there are definitely flaws (it feels like Sanderson is writing a movie instead of a book) and there are hanging plot threads that make one wonder "what happened with that?" or "how does that work?" But the characters are people you want to be around, and many people report "being blown away". So try it, why not?


Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert

I must be some kind of media sadist, because I cannot get enough of tearing down bad movies, books, and songs. That's why I can't stop watching Channel Awesome and YouTube. But before them, we had Roger Ebert. I've already remarked how I never appreciated him enough as a writer, especially when you've got to talk about the same subject over and over in a million different ways. And even more especially when that subject is "Freddy Got Fingered".

These reviews are so fun to read. He's so creative how he finds different flaws in each movie, even when they might be the same exact thing, like Resident Evil and Jason X. I especially love the ire he has for romantic comedies -- the ones with uber-contrived plots and implausible characters. This is probably only for the generation within the timespan of the 2000's or so. If it's a movie you haven't seen, chances are you won't appreciate the snark.

They're not all gold. Sometimes the reviews are just asinine, like the crux of his "Good Dog!" review is that the animals' mouths don't move. In another, he complains that they do. Neither of these things have any impact on the actors, story, cinematography, or anything else. It's a stylistic choice. Of course, if you've already made your decision to see "Good Dog!", there's little a Pulitzer Prize winner can do to convince you otherwise. Like the Nostalgia Critic says - if the movie is good, you overlook the mistakes. And if not, the nitpicks glare at you.


Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy edited by Jiz Lee

All the essays are the same and reinforce the cliches. Either the parents couldn't believe it or didn't care. They come from crappy backgrounds, got into it on a whim, and ended up going nowhere. Lots missed the point of the collection - talking about how one's job in the industry affects those around you. Most are self-centered essays about how hard it is being a porn star when everyone hates you. And they're too short to build up a decent narrative. There's too much focus on the LGBTQ industry and niches-within-niches. I'd only heard of three of the authors, and I try and keep up on the big starlets. Erm, for research. On current events. That's it.


The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

Is there such a thing as a revenge-read? In college, my roommate lent me this trilogy because I was writing a fantasy novel. But I was just not in a place to be reading fiction at the time. I forced myself through the first book and gave up partway through the second. But now I'm grown up with a longer attention span and more downtime.

Turns out I didn't remember much of it at all. Things I remember happening in a small town actually happened in a castle, and to different characters, whom I didn't remember. It has all the earmarks of eighties fantasy. Saberhagen's talent for word choice is not great. In one sentence, he uses the term "earth" three times. And that ends up in the front-page excerpt. It has a brutal "Conan the Barbarian" overwritten style -- epic battles are bogged down by too much description and not enough dialogue -- but I do love me some magic weapons.

It's a fine premise, but a product of its time -- poorly executed, full of tropes. It's fine for people who grew up on early D&D. There's a reason I had to buy this used. It's one of those books that could become a good movie, but remains a bad book. Too bad -- imagine the merchandising behind twelve swords. That's twelve collectible Burger King cups!


The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

When I learned in the first chapter it's about a teenager dealing with her dad's sudden death, I wasn't sure I could get through it. But I did, and I'm glad. The problem is it seemed to go on forever (pardon the pun).

It's a romance, which means that the plot events within are few and far between. It's more about two people getting to know each other and overcoming the secrets they keep within. And as far as "sticking it to the bad guys" (in a romance, that means the guy everyone thinks she's 'meant' to be with, like the fiancee in "You've Got Mail"), that is left unsatisfying (especially because he's a little robotic twerp).

But there are some nice lines and some quotable passages. The main characters aren't terribly memorable, but the side characters are (there's one pair of girls that are like a female Jay and Silent Bob). It's not forgettable, but it's not unforgettable. I'd say it's worth a read, if for nothing else than the wit.