Thursday, January 30, 2014

Philomena (a movie review post)

Sometimes, life isn't fair. Things happen that people have no control over, like natural disasters. Or there are accidents where someone isn't paying attention and bad things happen, like car accidents. Or someone gets sick, really sick. Those things just happen, and they're not the fault of anyone, not in any malicious sense. And they're just not fair.

Then there are the malicious acts, the things people do on purpose that cause harm to other people, even things where the people doing the harm think they are "in the right." Those, possibly, are the worst acts, because they justify their actions and convince themselves that the offended "deserve" it. They only got what was coming to them. If you're thinking of the Nazis, you would not be incorrect, except that that is not whom I'm talking about. Unfortunately, I'm talking about the Church and, specifically, the Catholic Church.

I don't have anything against Catholics, but it's difficult for me, at this point in my life, to have sympathy for the Catholic Church at all, despite the fact that I think the new Pope is pretty cool. The history of the Catholic Church is so full of injustices done for the "good" of people it makes it difficult to see any actual good. The fact that this stuff is still ongoing and that we are constantly finding out about new ways in which the Church covered up wrongs and, even, allowed them to keep happening is incredible to me. To paraphrase a line from Philomena, "If Jesus was here, he'd tip the Church out of its wheelchair, and it wouldn't get up and walk!"

And, now, the spoiler warning!
That was it. The warning, I mean.

The movie is not about the Catholic Church while being about the Catholic Church. It's about a woman's search for her son, who was taken from her against her will and sold... by a nunnery. Because that's what they did with unwanted girls and their babies, wanted or not. Basically, young girls who had become pregnant and, therefore, an embarrassment to their families were given over to this particular convent as slaves. Seriously. They were held for a particular amount of time and made to work everyday unless they could buy their way out of it. Of course, they weren't paid for their work, and their families had abandoned them there, so they had no way of coming up with any money with which to purchase their freedom. They were also forced to sign away the rights to their babies, which were then sold, usually to Americans. It was horrid.

So... slavery and selling babies. Just par for the course for the Catholic Church, I guess. And, of course, after the fact, they lied to both the mothers and the children who were trying to reunite with each other. And burned all the records so that they could honestly say, "the records all burned up in the great fire."

I suppose I might be able to start getting over my ill feelings toward the Catholic Church if all of this stuff was in the past. If this was stuff the church used to do, but this stuff... this stuff just happened. It took an investigative reporter to uncover the truth of  this situation because they, the nuns and the church, were still busy lying about what had happened. And we continue to find out about things like this month after month. It makes it difficult to look at any good things the Catholic Church may have done.


Steve Coogan is amazing in this movie. He also co-wrote the script. I'm used to him playing comedic side characters of no real import, but he was completely convincing as Martin Sixsmith, the reporter who investigated the convent in order to help Philomena track down her son. I hope Coogan pursues more work of this nature, both writing and acting, because he was excellent.

As was Judi Dench, but that's to be expected. However, if you're used to her in more commanding roles, she may surprise you in this one as the somewhat-daft-and-possibly-not-always-quite-in-touch-with-things Philomena Lee. She was a pleasure to watch and deserves her nomination.

Philomena is a very good movie, certainly one of the best I have seen this year, so I can totally support its nomination. I don't think it's going to win, nor do I think it should, but it's not out of place on the list. And, now, I actually (more than) kind of want to read the book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and, when you adapt a book into a movie (whether it's a true story or not), I think the highest achievement of the movie is that it makes you want to read the book. I'm not saying I will (because my TBR stack is huge), but I want to. Also, it's good to get more of this stuff from the Church out into the open and, hopefully, prompt them into some real change.

The Asimov Genre

Does Asimov have so many books that he's become his own genre?
That's not my actual question, but I talk about it anyway.
Drop by today's Indie Writers Monthly post for my genre probe.
Wait... maybe I don't want to say probe...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Vader's Offspring

My two younger kids got these books for Christmas. I have to say they're pretty awesome. Sure, they look like books for kids. Little kids. I'm sure it's because they're picture books. But they're those kinds of books that look like they're for kids when they're really for adults, like Animaniacs is a cartoon that's really for adults. Sure, kids like it, but kids don't get it; they just think it's funny when an anvil falls on someone's head. Which, I have to admit, can be freaking hilarious. Wait, I'm not making my point, am I?
You do know there was a Star Wars Animaniacs special, don't you? Totally awesome.

Wait! Wait! I'm talking about these books by Jeffrey Brown.
The books have brightly colored pictures that are easily appealing to kids. Funny things happen, like Luke hitting Lobot in the head with pasta sauce at dinner, which are also appealing to kids. However, it takes a certain knowledge of Star Wars and of being a parent for these books to really hit home.

I love Darth Vader and Son. It captures a moment when Luke is probably around six or so and is a great picture of what it's like to be a dad. As in the scene with the pasta sauce: Vader's hand is to his forehead in that great "I can't believe he just did that" pose. This, though, is one of my favorites:
It takes a classic situation and puts a great Star Wars spin on it. The whole book is like that.

Vader's little princess is good, too, but it doesn't quite live up to Vader and Son. Mostly, it's because he used all the great kid moments in the one about Luke. Because of that, the one with Leia is less focused and strays up into teenagerdom and young adulthood. I have to say, though, that some of the dating stuff with Han is pretty funny. Here's one of my favorites from Leia's book:
The books are a lot of fun if you're Star Wars fan and worth having around as conversation pieces, if nothing else. But, if you're not going to buy them, you should at least make a special trip to the bookstore to check them out. They don't take long to read, and it's totally worth it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Oscar Challenge

Some of you may have noticed the spate of movie reviews on my blog, lately, and the more astute of you may have noticed that most of these (nearly all) have been for movies that are nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. See, several years ago, my wife and I decided to actually try to see the movies that were nominated before the awards were given out. [She's not all that into the big, blockbuster-type summer movies (with some exceptions (Avengers)), so this our movie thing that we do together.] It didn't go so well that year, because we waited until after the nominations were announced, and many of the movies were no longer at the theater and not yet available on DVD. Since then, we've been working on our technique.

Last year, we managed to see six of the nine nominated films before the awards ceremony (we've seen all but one, at this point). Although I was glad that Argo won (for Affleck's sake), I think Lincoln was the better film. At least, Day-Lewis won for best actor, though, because anything other than that would have just been wrong.

This year, we are up to six of the nine nominated films (as I write this, because I think we'll be at seven before this actually gets posted). Of course, my belief is that the count should be seven of 10, because Saving Mr. Banks certainly should have been nominated. Some of what I've read suggests that it didn't get nominated due to Meryl Streep and that she was actively campaigning to keep that nomination from happening. And I get that a big part of the Academy Awards is political, but that kind of stuff just bothers me. And, no, I don't know Meryl Streep, so I can't say that that's true, but I did read about her anti-Disney speech, and I do know that that film should have been nominated.

But maybe it wasn't nominated so that it wouldn't win. I mean, if it was nominated, it would be difficult to justify picking a different movie over it, like, say, 12 Years a Slave, but, if it's not nominated at all, then it can't win. Which is messed up logic, too, but the Academy people do like to go with "important" movies and, maybe, it's still too close to The Artist's win in 2011 for them to go with another Hollywood-ish film even if this one is deserving (as opposed to The Artist, which wasn't).


At the moment, from the nominated movies, I'm going with 12 Years a Slave as the eventual winner. I don't think it's the best film, but I do think it's the most likely to win. Of the ones I've seen, I think Dallas Buyers Club is the most deserving of the Best Picture Oscar, but I don't think it will win. I do hope that Matthew McConaughey gets Best Actor, though; he was tremendous in a similar fashion as Day-Lewis in Lincoln.

Did I say there should be 10 nominations this year? Actually, I don't really think that. I think there should only be nine, because The Wolf of Wall Street doesn't deserve its nomination. It's this year's Beasts of the Southern Wild, the movie that people can't bring themselves to say that they don't get. Sometimes, when a movie doesn't make sense, it really just doesn't make sense. Don't pretend you get it by talking about how deep it is and how other people just don't understand, especially if, then, you're not going to bother explaining because, you know, if you didn't get it on your own, you just can't get it. Do people still believe that line? I suppose they must.
Anyway, I've already been through that class, so it doesn't work on me. Heck, I've been on the other end of that, so it really doesn't work on me. [Seriously, one of my English profs in college would give A's to any paper that was just outside of his understanding. Or, you know, if it was too confusing but you could make him think he just wasn't "getting" it. Rather than look like he didn't get it, he'd just give the paper the A.]

Captain Phillips is this year's Life of Pi for me. It's the movie I just can't manage to make myself want to see. We knew when it was out in theater that we should go see it. We talked about it a lot. It always came down to, "Well, do you want to see it?" "No, do you?" "No..." And, so, we never went to see it, and there's probably no way, now, to see it before Oscar night without buying it, and I really don't want to do that. Although, if we manage to get in the other two beforehand, we might break down. It has been mentioned.

And, yeah, I did, eventually, see Life of Pi, and, yeah, it would have been a cool movie to see in the theater just for the visual aspect of it, but, beyond that, I wasn't overly impressed (you can click the link and read the review if you want).

I guess the real question from all of this is, when all is said and done, "Do I feel, really, like I've watched the year's best movies?" Yes, actually, on the whole, I do, especially this year. There are movies I enjoy more just for the thrill of watching them, but I don't have any illusions of that making them better movies than they are. As with food, enjoyment does not equal quality or goodness (for you). Look, I loved Thor: The Dark World, and I would (and will) watch it again, but Dallas Buyers Club is a better movie. I'll probably never watch Dallas Buyers Club again; it's not the kind of thing you want to watch again (most people, anyway); but I'm really glad I saw it the one time, because it was a powerful and moving movie.

So, mostly, yeah, I think they do a pretty decent job of picking out the "best" movies. The movies with something to say. Except 2011. I don't know what was going on that year. At any rate, that we watch these movies allows me to step a little outside of the movies I would normally watch. It's like (exactly like) reading a book outside of your favorite genre, and it's always good to experience new things. Some of them will suck (Wolf), but some of them will be extraordinary and you'll be really glad you stepped outside of your box even if you're just going to get right back inside (because I totally plan to see Robocop). The thing is, if you do it enough, you'll find that your box isn't quite cube-shaped anymore, and that's a good thing.

Oh, and just to throw it out there, my wife is totally going for American Hustle. I think it's the hair.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Turn Coat (a book review post)

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher may be the first of his Dresden novels that I am truly ambivalent about. On the one hand, I really enjoyed reading it. On the other... let's just say it has some problems. And this is going to be spoilery. Be warned.

The easy stuff:
The editor needs to go back to editing school. The comma usage was distracting. Not everywhere but enough that they frequently made me stop and say, "Why is there a comma here in the middle of this sentence?" To write that as it would probably appear in Turn Coat: "Why is there a comma, here in the middle of this sentence?" or "Why is there a comma here in the middle, of this sentence?" I shouldn't be stopped by oddly placed commas. Just sayin'.
[And, yeah, I know; most people will not be stopped or even slowed down by the commas, but I kept tripping on them, and that was annoying.]

As with all of the Dresden books, I found this one an enjoyable read. I mean, I found the reading of it enjoyable. I find the character of Dresden enjoyable, and I really want to see where Butcher is taking us on this meta-plot he has running. However, whenever I stopped to think about this one, I would become annoyed.

As the title may indicate, this book deals with the idea of a traitor. Specifically, there is a traitor in the White Council. Okay, fine, I can deal with that. The issue here is that for the story to have any meaning, any impact on the reader, it really needs to be a character we've already met. For it to really mean something to the reader, it needs to be a character we like, even if it's a minor character. Yes, that would mean that Butcher would have to mess up the life of one of his characters, but that's what writers do, right? Evidently, that was too much to ask of Butcher because, about 1/4 of the way through the book, we're introduced to a completely unlikable character that Dresden immediately has issues with. The astute reader knows at that moment that that is the traitor. So, yeah, at not quite 25% of the way through the book, I knew where it was going, so there was this pervasive disappoint as I read. I just kept hoping that maybe I was wrong and it would actually be someone like Ebenezer and we'd all be shocked, but I knew that it wasn't going to be anyone like that.

So, you know, great, Butcher introduced a character that we didn't like just to kill him off. No emotional payoff at all.

There are some other things that don't make a lot of sense, either:
1. Why in the heck is the skinwalker working for Peabody? The skinwalker is some ancient evil creature; why does it care at all about what Peabody wants? [Granted, this may become more clear as the scope of the Black Council is revealed, but it felt more like Butcher just needing to up his game from the previous bad guys Dresden has had to fight.]
2. Why does the skinwalker kidnap Thomas? This doesn't actually make any sense within the context of the story or the skinwalkers behavior throughout the rest of the book. He just shows up and takes Thomas and leaves. What the heck? Sure, I get that Butcher wants this traumatic event to happen to Thomas to get him to embrace his vampire ways, but none of what happened felt genuine.

Also, there's the issue of the Black Council. This is probably not an issue for other readers so much, but it reminds me too much of the Black Aes Sadai (I think that's what they were called; something like that, anyway) from Wheel of Time and the black whatever they were from Sword of Truth. I'm not saying that he copied the idea, but it just feels like the same concept going on, and I find that particular thing annoying.

On the other hand, there is the ending where Dresden actually lives up to the title of the book, a thing which I'm not going to explain, but, at least, the whole turn coat thing wasn't just about Peabody. That said, I think what I need from Butcher with these books is for them not to keep feeling like Butcher is screwing with Dresden for the sake of screwing with Dresden. The thing with Thomas just feels like one of those things where they have a good relationship and, so, you have to screw it up, because the main character isn't allowed to have good relationships, and Butcher had to contrive a way for that to happen. A way that felt contrived. The same with the stuff with Anastasia.

So... I enjoyed the read but am annoyed by the book overall. I'd say it probably comes in at a C+ for me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Her (a movie review post)

On the surface, Her is a love story. Under the surface, it's also a love story, but it's not just a love story. Not a love story in the way that we think of love stories. There's no boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back in this. It's more of an exploration about relationships than anything else, but it does it in a fascinating and unique way.

Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a letter writer. That's his job. He writes letters for people to other people for a company called (something like) Hand-written Letters. This letter writing that he does is, in many ways, a metaphor for the entire movie as the letters are personal letters, sometimes love letters, that he's hired to write (and, in some cases, has been writing for the same people for years and years and knows them extremely well), but he dictates the letters to his computer and they are printed out to look as if they are written by hand.

It's unclear within the context of the movie whether the people receiving the letters know they are written by a third party, but I have a hard time believing that they wouldn't know this since the whole letter writing thing is a "thing." Basically, Theodore facilitates other people's relationships by filling these letters with, what I'll call, manufactured emotions, but he can't maintain his own relationships, which is something we find out at the very beginning of the movie, so no spoiler there. He's in the middle of a divorce with his wife and is distant from his friends.

Now, there will be spoiler issues in the rest of this.

With all of that in mind, it is no surprise that Theodore easily finds himself slipping into a relationship with his new Operating System, the first OS with artificial intelligence. As his wife accuses him later, he can't do relationships with people that are right there in front of him. It's probably why he's so good at the letter writing. And he is good at the letter writing, one of the best, at least. It's no surprise that he finds himself attracted to this physically distant intelligence.

But it does open the door to exploring the idea of "what is a relationship?" What is required for a relationship to be legitimate? Is his love real? Is Samantha's (the OS)? Does she need a body in order to manifest the relationship? And it's not just him, because we get pieces of information in the movie that other people in society are dealing with the same struggles. Or the opposite struggles, as we learn that at least one user has a real hate relationship with his OS.

The movie doesn't really try to answer these questions, which is good. It just shows us that the questions are there and should be considered. Although there are a few concrete answers, one of which is that, at least sometimes, we do need the physical presence of another person. Especially in dealing with loss.

Joaquin Phoenix was great as Theodore. It's a very subdued performance, because Theodore is a very subdued individual. I think performances like this get overlooked because they're not outrageous, but Phoenix is much more believable in his role than, say, DiCaprio as Belfort, which is not to take away from DiCaprio's performance, but I think it's easy to look at a movie like The Wolf of Wall Street and think, "Wow, he was amazing" but forget about roles like Theodore Twombly which rely on conveying emotion rather than exaggerated action. Phoenix was superb at conveying the emotion of Twombly.

Even more amazing, though, was Scarlett Johansson. Everything she did was conveyed through voice only, and it was incredible. I don't think I've really given her a lot of credit in the past for her acting ability, which is not to say that I didn't think she was good; I just didn't think she was, well, better. It's too easy with her to think, "Oh, she got this part because of her looks," and not really credit her for the actual acting. But she's not physically in this movie, and what she did with her voice shows that she is better. She didn't even have the help of animators to convey her emotion; she just had to bring it audibly, and she did. It is actually upsetting to me that she has been dismissed from the Oscar nominations because she wasn't physically in the movie. That's just wrong.

Her is a great movie. It's a thoughtful movie. There are no explosions or car chases or alien invasions. It's sci-fi that could happen. And, yes, it was interesting... but in a good way.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Diverse Are You?

Today's post over on Indie Writers Monthly, sort of in honor of MLK Day, is about diversity.
How much diversity do you have?

Go here to read and drop a follow while you're there.

Also, you can now find me on twitter!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Middle School Munchkins

On the scale of Favorite Years, I'm pretty sure this one is not going to rank very high. [Yes, that is a thing, the Favorite Year scale; it's not my fault if you've never heard of it before.] As I was talking about here, this year all of my kids are moving up to the "next thing" and I'm not enjoying that at all. bah! on aging! No my aging; I don't mind that, but, man, I just want my kids to quit growing up. Where's the reverse?


My middle kid, the younger boy, just turned 13. [We're working on his high school applications, right now. HIGH SCHOOL APPLICATIONS! Why is that a thing?] His birthday party, which involved a bunch of middle school boys sleeping over, was this past weekend. On the plus side, it's easy to entertain middle school boys, so a boy sleep over requires much less work than a girl sleep over. I say that from experience. Still, it was a lot of noise. [Seriously, it was a lot of noise. One of the boys (who had never been over before) has a rather booming voice (which I knew), and he's one of those people (like my son) who has to loudly exclaim at everything happening during a video game.]

The definite highlight of the evening was the game of Munchkin. None of the boys had ever heard of it and were a little apathetic about the idea of sitting down and playing a card game. I suppose board games, or anything that resembles a board game, are completely out of fashion these days. But my son really wanted to play, so I insisted. Ironically, that included having to force him to quit playing Minecraft on his friend's laptop (which shouldn't have been here to begin with because we had a no electronic devices rule in effect (because, last year, the boys did bring their devices and spent the whole evening isolating themselves on electronic crack). Apparently, my son conveniently "forgot" to tell this one particular boy not to bring his electronics, this boy being his main Minecraft buddy. [The underlying issue here is that my son's computer is ailing, especially the video card, and will no longer run Minecraft without crashing. The computer is nearly a decade old, so I can hardly blame it. At any rate, my son hasn't been able to play Minecraft (except for rare occasions when he gets to at someone else's house) for at least six months, now, so I'm mostly okay with this bringing his laptop and letting my son play Minecraft on it. Still, I had to kick my son off of it so that we could do what he wanted to do in the first place.]

Can I just say, right now, how difficult it is to set up a game like this with a bunch of middle school boys all asking questions at the same time, some of which are relevant but most of which are... less so. And all of them repeating, "Can we look at our cards?" while already doing it, so it was a good thing they could look at the cards or I would have had to re-deal about seven times. I say seven times (even though there were only four boys) because they would have compulsively looked at their cards anyway, even after being told not to, if that had been the case. I know this because three of them kept picking up cards they'd already played and putting them back in their hands and two of them kept trying to discard cards they didn't want to be holding no matter how many times I told them that they couldn't just discard cards and one of them kept trying to trade "door" cards even though you can't trade "door" cards. So, yeah, getting through the setup took much longer than expected.

But once we started playing, it was a magnificent event! They were the most back-stabby players I've ever seen. One moment, one of them would be helping another of them; the next, he would be tossing a curse on him. It was both awesome and hilarious and made for an exciting game. They had no compunction and would do their best to make sure everyone lost every fight. Until... until they ran out of cards to make each other lose. It was a lot of fun, and they immediately wanted to start another game, but it was nearly midnight, and I had to just say no.

They also wanted to play immediately the next morning, but I had to cook breakfast for them and stuff and, by the time they were finishing up with their food, a couple of them had to leave, so we never got in another game. It was a big hit, though.

In other news, I am now on twitter. I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out, but feel free to follow my twitterings. I'll probably even follow you back.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hungry Like a Wolf (a movie review post)

There are, occasionally, those movies that come along where the best response I can generate for them is, "Well, that was interesting." The Wolf of Wall Street is one of those movies.
It's not a bad movie--certainly, the performances are great--but I can't say that it was a good movie, either. It... well, it just was.

I suppose the main issue I have with it is that I'm not sure what the movie was trying to say. What it was about. Sure, the movie is about Jordan Belfort, but, usually, when you make a movie about someone's life, it's because you think there is a message people can take away from the story about that person's life. For instance:
12 Years a Slave: Survive. Plus, you know, slavery is bad.
Dallas Buyers Club: Don't succumb to the system if the system is wrong. Plus, you know, rich, white men don't care about anything other than taking your money from you.
Saving Mr. Banks: Creation is a personal act and the creation remains a part of the creator. As Walt said about Mickey, "He's family."
Those are just some of the ones from this year. But I don't get a sense that there is any real message in Wolf. No underlying theme. Maybe the movie is just too chaotic for that. At any rate, I didn't feel like I came away with anything at the end of the movie other than Belfort was really screwed up.

All of the characters are screwed up. Or too flat to be screwed up. Like Belfort's first wife; she's not screwed up, not in the movie, anyway, but we never see her as anything other than this background character that is mistreated. And the FBI guy doesn't seem to be screwed up, but he's "FBI Guy" and can't be screwed up, because that's his cutout. The rest of the characters are just screwed up.

Also, I'm pretty sure it's not just me that has an issue with discerning a meaning in this movie. Well, my wife didn't see one, either. But! In doing my research, I found a reviewer who went to see this in a theater full of the kind of financial guys that Belfort was. They certainly saw the movie differently from me as the reviewer said they cheered "in all the wrong places." When Belfort would do something bad (like when, after he's sober, he rips up his couch to get at his hidden stash of drugs), the guys in the theater would cheer for him. I take that to mean that there is no clear message in the movie, because, if there was, those people would not be cheering.

But maybe Scorsese did it that way on purpose? Maybe he's just presenting the story of the man's life and letting people come away with their own message? Certainly, the actors (DiCaprio and Hill) have taken a lot of flak over their portrayals (which I just don't get; why is Scorsese not taking any heat over it? He's the one that presented it the way it is), that they were glorifying the drug use and partying and, well, everything that they do in the movie. I can understand why some people might think that the movie is an endorsement of that behavior. The problem is that you just can't tell.

Not to mention that the movie resorts to that starting in the middle of the action thing and then jumps back to the beginning. For no purpose, evidently, other than to start with dwarf tossing. Why? It doesn't make the story better. It serves no purpose within the story. Why does everyone and their dog feel like you have to start somewhere in the middle and then go back to the beginning to explain whatever weirdness you're seeing? It's a cheap trick, and I'm so tired of it.

There's also that the movie is three hours long. Three hours long of wondering what the point is to get to the end to find out that there was no point. Granted, it was a quick three hours due to the frenetic pace of the movie, but not really a satisfying three hours. And it was three hours after being cut down for being too long. It makes me wonder what they took out.

Anyway... I'm actually disappointed that this movie has received a best picture nomination and that Scorsese has received a best director nomination. I suppose I can't fault them for the best actor and supporting actor nominations, because they did deliver great performances, although, as my wife pointed out, the character of Belfort has become DiCaprio's norm, so it wasn't a stretch for him. There's not a great chance he'll win, anyway, so I can live with the nomination.

In the end, I think what's happening with this movie is what happens with any movie like this that critics can't figure out: Instead of just saying they don't know, they say it's great. That way they mask their ignorance. Personally, I think Scorsese missed with this one and everyone is too afraid to say so.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Are You Ready?

The great myth out there about indie publishing is of people (mostly women, I think, although I could be wrong about that), not quite dressed, feverishly pounding out a manuscript and immediately uploading it to Amazon. These manuscripts are full of plot holes and are only half-baked, besides, and are unedited messes. "Messes" is a euphemism in this instance. In short, they, the manuscripts and the authors, were not ready for publication.

To read the rest of this post, you will need to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly.

See you there!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Secret Life (a movie review post)

I first read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" when I was in middle school. I don't remember being all that impressed with it at the time. There was no "man! This is the best thing ever" kind of moment. However, it is a story that has stayed with me through the years. Even though there was no "wow!" moment, it failed to fade away, whereas many stories that I'm sure I liked better at the time are completely gone from memory, as if I never read them. I've never bothered to go back and read it again, though. I just left that impression of the story from when I first read it hovering around in my mind.

With that in mind, my immediate reaction to hearing about the movie was, "Oh, that would make a great movie," and the trailer, with the part where Ben Stiller steps out of the arctic scenery had me convinced.
And, really, I didn't think there was anyone more suited to pulling off a "Walter Mitty" type than Ben Stiller.

At this point, of course, many people would be rushing out to read the short story before seeing the movie, but I strongly resisted that urge. For me, more often than not, having read the source material ahead of time is a good way to make me dis-enjoy a movie. So that's how I went into Walter Mitty, with a vague impression of a story I'd read 30 years ago.

This will be very spoilery, by the way, so be aware.

I think the movie starts out fantastically. There are all these moments where we shift into Mitty's imagination without realizing it until he snaps back to himself. It meshed well with my vague impression of the short story, and Stiller was great in those scenes. What I really liked, though, is the reaction from the people around Mitty. Especially the stuff from Ted Hendricks (played by the excellent Adam Scott).

Unfortunately, the daydreams get more and more fantastic as the movie goes along leading to an epic battle between Mitty and Hendricks through the streets of New York as they fight over a Stretch Armstrong doll. The power of the earlier scenes is that the daydreams are (mostly) normal. They are the kinds of things that anyone would wish they had done instead, things like asking the girl out or telling off your obnoxious boss. So, in the early movie, it's not always clear when he's gone off in his head until he snaps back to reality, and that stuff works really well. The fantastical stuff works less well.

Still, even the fantastic stuff, the superhero fights, would have worked well in small doses if the film had stuck to Walter Mitty being this guy that just goes off in his head. However, to make the point of the movie, Mitty eventually moves off into a real life adventure full of fantastic moments. Like, you know, getting attacked by a shark or skateboarding near a volcano while it's erupting. These things made me uneasy with the movie, and, although I was enjoying it, I wasn't fully enjoying it, because it just didn't feel right.

Of course, what I kept wondering was whether it was because it wasn't fitting with my perception of the short story.

To be clear, I enjoyed the movie well enough. I especially enjoyed the ending moment of the movie. But I was still feeling... unsettled... about the whole thing. Okay, that meant I needed to find a copy of the short story so that I could figure out if that's what was causing the issue. And I did that, and the short story and the movie are not really alike except that the movie takes the concept of the story and turns it into a movie. After all, the short story is only a few pages long and is about a trip into town with Mitty and his wife (Mitty has no wife in the movie. In fact, that is part of the conflict in the movie, Mitty wanting "the girl"). There is no revelation in the short story that life is better lived than imagined.

The departure from the source material didn't really bother me. Well, there was some botherment in that the movie changed the point of the story, but, really, that was okay overall. But it was still bothering me. The movie, that is. After a lot of thought, it finally settled in me what it was:

The idea of the movie, which is right there on the poster, is that you should live your life, not daydream about it. And, really, I get that. There are those things that we should not just wish we did, you know, like ask out the girl. What's the worst that's going to happen, after all? She'll say no and you won't go out with her which you're already not doing so just ask her out already. However, telling off your boss is not necessarily the best idea in the world. Not if you want to keep your job.

Of course, part of the idea of the movie is that you shouldn't want to keep your job. Your job keeps you from the things you are dreaming about, so you should just take off and do those things. It's a message that's impossible for the "normal" person to do. I mean, here's the thing, in the movie, Mitty is this 40ish, single guy with much more money in his bank account than the average person. We do see that he's concerned with money and somewhat compulsive about tracking his money, but, really, he's doing okay and has thousands of dollars available to him, so, when he decides to take off, he's able to just do it. Most of us (I'd guess 99% of us) can't just do that kind of thing. And he's single with no kids. So, like, if I was a real asshole (language, I know), I could just wipe out my family's finances, abandon my wife and kids, and go live life as the movie suggests. That's what it would take, ruining the lives of the people in my family. And that's where almost all of us are, and, I suppose, that's why the movie falls apart for me: it supposes that any of us can just (ought to, in fact) get up and do the things we've always dreamed about. And, maybe, some of us could. If we're real assholes. Because it would take abandoning our families, jobs, responsibilities to do it. Then, therefore, this idea of just taking off becomes another dream that we can't actually attain.

Not to mention that upon quitting your job and taking off, you suddenly become without an income source and, eventually, you're going to be screwed. I'm not thinking it's likely that it's going to be all that easy to get a new job when you just abandoned your previous job.

I suppose, in the end, I would have liked the movie more if it was actually about a guy that was constantly losing himself in his daydreams instead of being about a guy that learned to do the things he always daydreamed about. I think there was probably more to be said in the story they didn't tell rather than the one they did, one that is actually told all the time. It would have, at least, been kind of unique.

The acting was good, though. Stiller was great. I loved Adam Scott. Kristen Wiig was Kristen Wiig, which is great if you want Kristen Wiig in a role, because no one plays her like she does. Kathryn Hahn was also pretty hilarious. Sean Penn is... well, he's there, which is what he's supposed to be. Patton Oswalt was amusing; that whole story line is interesting and goes along with the idea of the movie which is both good and bad, I suppose.

The movie was enjoyable, for sure. It's good. It's just not great. I mean, telling people to live their dreams is all well and good -- I'm for that -- but, if that's going to be your message, I think you ought to tell people how to do that in a realistic way, because taking off for Iceland and all the rest of what follows is hardly something that's going to work out for most people.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's a Lego Christmas (with a dose of Doctor Who) -- Part Two

Before we get to the BIG Lego events of Christmas, here is the first of the Lego sets that I got. These were sort of consolation Lego gifts because the Lego set I really wanted became unavailable. And was, actually, too expensive, but my kids had this plan to combine their money and buy it for me. That's actually a longer (and unimportant) story. As it turns out, though, that set was on its way to retirement, so there was no re-stocking of it as places ran out of it, and my kids waited too long to try to fulfill their plans. So I got this, which was pretty cool (and approved by Mr. Bunches):
I want to point out that Admiral Ackbar came with a beer mug. I have to assume it's a beer mug, because it's  not like the cups that come with other sets that are clearly coffee mugs. Ackbar comes with a space beer mug, and I don't really understand why. Han comes with his blaster, which makes sense, and the pilot comes with a large wrench (as seen in Han's hand because the pilot is busy about to take off), which makes less sense (because why would the pilot need a wrench?), but it makes much more sense than the Admiral and his beer mug. Unless Ackbar has a problem that we've never been privy to? What makes less sense than that, though, is why Han comes with an A-wing fighter. It's like they had an extra batch of Solo minifigures lying around so they just threw them in with the A-wing. And Ackbar. But Ackbar doesn't have his own ship, so I suppose they needed to put him somewhere. The A-wing is really cool, though, so I'm not complaining.

I also got
Okay, that's not actually true. My younger son got it, but he already had this one, so he gave it to me. It was part of his new planet Lego sets. That is not an A-wing, just so you know. Here are all of this year's planet sets together:
My daughter's Lego Advent calendar for this year:
After the fact, that is. This is the little Christmas party she made from what came in it.

Which brings us to the big Lego project for this year. My younger son, the most devout Lego enthusiast in our house (and at his school) got
the Republic Gunship! Here are some in progress shots:

But the BIG Lego event was actually a contest. My younger son and I actually received a duplicate Lego kit, so he challenged me to a race. I just want to make it very clear that I don't spend a lot of time putting together Lego kits at this stage of my life. In fact, I can't remember how long it's been since I've put one together. Probably half a dozen years, at least. But I couldn't very well say no. So we got set up:
I prepared with... tea. He prepared by sorting all of his pieces out so that he could find them more quickly. Clearly, my lack of recent experience in this worked against me. Our first time stop for progress pics:
That's my son's stuff right up front there. You can see mine to the upper left. He is clearly already in the lead.
The second time stop:
That's mine at the bottom, this time. My son's is at the upper right, and you can see that he is still in the lead. Can I come back for the surprise finish and win the race!?
Actually, no.
My son's model is finished, and mine is... well, not finished, as you can see from the picture. It wasn't as close as it looks from this shot, either. I had something like 15 more minutes of building to go. Or more. I don't remember, exactly. What I remember is that he finished way before me. But here are both Mandalorian Speeders sitting next to each other once I did get mine finished.
Clearly, I need more practice at this if I'm going to pose any kind of threat to my son next Christmas.

And that's our Christmas, or most of it, in a nutshell.
My daughter is already counting down to this year's Christmas. yea?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks (a movie review post)

Two years ago, when The Artist won Best Picture, it was not difficult to understand why. It's the kind of movie Hollywood loves whether it was actually best picture material or not. I was going to say that I don't really think it was but, upon looking back at the other nominees that year, it didn't have a lot of strong competition, at least from the movies I saw. Come on, War Horse? Really? Which is not to say that War Horse wasn't good, but best picture? That's the best they could do? And as for The Artist, Singin' in the Rain already told that story and did a much better job of it. But, anyway...

Saving Mr. Banks is that same kind of film, the kind that Hollywood ought to love. It's about how one of the most beloved movies in movie history got made. And it's the first time Walt Disney has ever been portrayed in a movie, so that's saying a lot. And, just to put all of this perspective, when Disney first heard that the movie was being made, they're first reaction was to buy it and squash it. See, there's a reason Walt has never been portrayed onscreen before. However, after looking at it, they decided not only not to do that but to produce it! It's that kind of movie.

And it's good. I mean, it's really good. I know it is because my wife cried through about the last third of it. I will be extremely surprised if it doesn't get the best picture Oscar this year. Overall, from what we've seen so far, I think it's most well rounded show out there. And it leaves you feeling good after having had a good cry.

Not to get into what the movie is about, but it's about how Walt Disney convinced P. L. Travers to give him the rights to make Mary Poppins, something it took him 20 years to do. Along with that story, you see the story of the defining moment of Travers' childhood, which shows why Poppins was so important to her. From what I've seen from fact-checking, the movie is fairly accurate, which is another plus. A big one, actually. They did have hours and hours of audio recordings from sessions with Travers and some of the people working on the movie (because she insisted that everything be recorded), so they wouldn't have had a good excuse for it not being accurate.

So, first, let's talk Tom Hanks. Oh, man, Tom Hanks was... incredible. There were moments, especially when they showed him watching himself on the old black and white TV show Walt introduced, where he was just like Disney. And, from everything I've read, Hanks did capture Walt to an amazing extent. I do know that the folks at Disney Studios shaved Hanks' mustache to the exact dimensions that Walt wore his. His only being called a supporting actor for this role, but I think it's a safe bet that he will at least get a nomination for it. I will not at all be surprised if he wins. Actually, I hope he does. [I haven't seen Captain Phillips, yet, but he's also being talked about for a best actor nomination for that one.]

Then, we have to talk Emma Thompson, and she may just deserve best actress for her performance. That's a tough call for me, though, because Sandra Bullock carried an entire movie virtually by herself, and that's an impressive feat. However, I'm not sure anyone else could have pulled off Travers the way Thompson did. It was a great performance, and she and Hanks were perfect together.

Paul Giamatti was lovable as Ralph, the chauffeur. This role probably wasn't especially difficult for Giamatti, but he was perfect in it. Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak were awesome as Richard and Robert Sherman. Not the parts called for too much, but it was great to see them in the movie. They were good, too. Especially this one part with Novak, but I don't want to spoil it, so you'll just have to see it; then, I'll tell you which one.

Which brings us to Colin Farrell. Farrell is one of those underrated actors who is almost always excellent despite the horrible movies he's in. I mean, Alexander wasn't really his fault, and how can you blame him for not turning down Total Recall? At any rate, he's wonderful and wonderfully tragic as Travers Goff. He was my favorite part of the movie. I mentioned that my wife cried, but there were some scenes of Goff with his daughter where I almost cried. That's kind of saying a lot for me.

I loved this movie. Of the possible best picture nominees, if you have to pick just one, this is the one I would recommend. Sure, Gravity is visually amazing, but this movie has heart that Gravity just doesn't have, no matter how you feel about Walt Disney. And let me make this clear, the movie is not about Walt Disney; the script was written (and not changed) before Disney (the Company) had a hand in it; the movie is about Travers and how she was ultimately convinced to allow Walt to make Mary Poppins into a movie. It's definitely worth seeing.

Make sure you stop by Indie Writers Monthly today. Check out my post and the contributors and follow along. I'm not really sure where we're headed with that, yet, but, if you like sci-fi and/or fantasy, I'm sure it's going to be a good ride.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Momentum (an IWSG/Indie Life post)

Back when I was in college, my best friend got married... um, actually, that happened several times. The pattern tended to be

  • get best friend
  • best friend meets girl
  • best friend marries girl
  • best friend moves away
  • repeat
  • (Yes, I got to play groomsman four or five times.)
Anyway, my best friend got married (this was the last of these to happen before I finished school). Someone gave him a refrigerator, I think? Some large appliance, at any rate. Maybe it was a washer and dryer. It doesn't really matter; just insert whatever large appliance you prefer into this scenario. Something that was too big for one person to easily handle. So, yeah, he called me to help him move it. (Yeah, it was used, whatever it was.)

It's important to note, at this point, that I'm a pretty strong guy. I have often been the friend that was called to help people move things or whatever because I was the strongest person they knew. So he called me. Not a problem. You know, the whole best friend thing and all. Well, plus, the only other person we knew that was good at that kind of thing was notoriously flaky about actually showing up to help out with things he'd said he'd help with (to be fair, it wasn't always his fault (but that's a different story)).

We went to the place, and we loaded the thing. He'd borrowed someone's pickup truck for the day. It was a mid-sized truck. White. No, the color's probably not important, but I do remember that, and I think I ought to get in all the facts that I remember, right? And we drove to his new place. A little house he and his brand spanking new wife were renting. Wait, forget that spanking comment. I rather doubt they were into that. Look, I knew the guy, not you, and I'm pretty sure that was not a thing for them, so just drop it, okay. I'm sorry I said anything. Sheesh! Minds, people!

What I should have said, anyway, was that we tried to drive to his new place. We got into viewing distance of his house, maybe 150 yards, and... the truck died. See, there was a rise in the road to accommodate the railroad tracks going through, a rise the height of which was only, maybe, three feet, and the truck couldn't make it over. We hit the hill, the truck made a weird noise, shuddered, and stopped... for just a moment, before it rolled back the short distance it had gone up. If only we had known that it wasn't going to restart, he could have jammed on the brake, but we didn't know, and it wouldn't start.

I am not a car guy.
Neither was he.

But we could see his house. And the truck was in the road. So we did the kind of thing that you do when you're young: We pushed the truck.
Or, rather, I pushed the truck. Because someone has to have a hand on the steering wheel, and the most help that that person is in a situation like that is that he is not in the truck. I pushed the truck... UP the hill. Yeah, I hear you saying, "But you said it was only about three feet high," which is true, but that was the height, not the slope. And, if you remember any of your geometry, you will understand it when I say that the slope was considerable.

So I pushed a ton (or more) of wheeled metal up the hill while my friend kept the truck going straight, which it didn't want to do, and I thought I was going to die. You know Sisyphus?
Yeah, it was like that. Okay, so it wasn't quite like that, but it was like that. All I could see was the back of the truck, the road, and my feet. I had no idea how far I'd gone or how far I had to go. It was just move one foot in front of the other and do not stop.

Why not stop? Because, as we already noted, unless someone was able to step on the brake (and no one was in the truck at this point, remember?), the truck was just going to roll back down again, and I was sure if that happened that I wouldn't be making a second attempt to get that truck up the hill.

So it was one step and one step and one step and sweat dripping everywhere and my shoulder and cheek on the back of the truck, the cool metal on my cheek, and my hands pressing and one step and one step and one step. And breathing. And trying to breathe. And one more step. And not knowing how many more there were but knowing I couldn't stop and one more step. And one more step.

And that is what all this self-publishing stuff is like sometimes. You push and you push, but you can't see how far up the hill you are (you don't even know how long the slope is), but you can't stop -- I've seen people who have stopped -- because you will lose all your momentum, your uphill momentum, and slide back down to where you started and, at best, have to start all over again. All over again. At best. I've seen many people that have not, at least at this point, started again. You have to push and push and keep going and keep going until...

Eventually, some small eternity later, I pushed the truck up onto the top of the hill. The pressure disappeared, and I almost fell down. Then there was running to push the truck down the hill and get it going as fast as possible so that it would coast all the way to the house. Which it may have, I don't remember. What I remember is nearly passing out and laying in a cold sweat on the couch while my friend and his wife asked me if I needed help. When I recovered, and I did recover, I got up and helped move the hunk of metal from the back of the wheeled hunk of metal into the house.

A lot of writing a book, publishing a book, is just like Sisyphus, just like pushing a big rock up a hill all by yourself. If you're lucky, you may have someone that can help you steer your rock (or truck or whatever) so that you, at least, stay on course but not always. At any rate, it all comes down to the hope of hitting the top of the hill so that you can finally quit watching your feet and the ground and take a breath or three. One of the really solid things I've learned, though, since I finished my first book and started this blog is that, once you start, you can't quit. Well, you can, but it frequently will mean that you have to start all over at the beginning again, start gaining momentum all over again. Until you hit that peak (hopefully only the first of many), you have to just keep going, so you have to be prepared to just keep going. One step. One step. One more step.

This post has been brought to you in part by the IWSG and Indie Life.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's a Lego Christmas (with a dose of Doctor Who) -- Part One

We had paper snowflakes up on our window behind the Christmas tree this year (they were not up, yet, in the previous Christmas tree pictures, and I never took pictures of them), some of them shiny, and the cat liked them. A lot. He especially liked this gold, shiny one, so we moved it to give him something to do other than try to jump at the snowflakes near the tree and, potentially, fall into it. He did eventually rip this one up, but it lasted a surprisingly long time.


Everyone got Lego for Christmas this year. That hasn't ever happened before. Usually, it's just the boys, but, evidently, Legoitis is contagious, so everyone got (and built) Lego sets this year. It was actually a lot of fun.

My daughter discovered Lego Friends last year and is quite taken with them.
And this is her putting together her bakery set she got:

The best present award as judged by the reaction of the recipient was
He struggled with whether he should leave it sealed, but, in the end, he caved.
However, the best Christmas quote was about a present my wife received:
"I didn't know measuring spoons came in pretty!"

But the real best present, based on how much it's been used, was the card game Munchkin, which Santa brought for the whole family. We've played it almost everyday since. Awesome, hilarious game.
There have been too many hilarious moments in this game to mention, and this won't make the most sense if you don't know anything about the game, but one of the most hilarious was during our first or second game, before we knew what all the cards are, when my younger son threw a sex change card on me. That was a very "what the heck?" moment. It made me lose my

Oh, I mentioned Doctor Who.
Here's the second best present present reaction:
Yes, I said second best. Unfortunately, the picture of the first best didn't turn out. Here's that present:
And the kids in their Doctor Who clothes (although only two of these are new from Christmas):
There was also a Geek Ball, appropriate for our family:
It says things like:
Epic Fail
File Not Found
404 Error

That might explain why we also got these:
District 7 was the best. Well, that's what I thought, anyway. I'm not sure which one the kids liked.

There's more Lego stuff, but you'll have to wait till next time for that. I'll leave you with this, though, the Lego set my wife got:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Desolation of The Hobbit (a movie review post)

[Warning: This post may (will) contain offensive language and/or concepts, things I don't generally have on my blog. Thinking about it, I should just send this post over to the Beer Guys and let them do it in the way they do best, but, hey, it's my review, so... just be prepared.]

Disclaimer: As I've mentioned before, the main problem with what Jackson has done with The Hobbit stems from his dishonesty about his intentions. If he had said upfront, "I'm going to adapt the book to fit with my version of Middle Earth," there wouldn't be nearly the problem. However, what he said for years, right up to the release of the first movie, was "I am being completely faithful to the book." Either he's just a liar or he's delusional (and, at this point, I'm leaning toward delusional).

The terms "rape" and "childhood" are often used when anyone of my generation talks about the Star Wars prequels. I don't actually feel that way about them. My view has more to do with the fact that Lucas has the right to do whatever he wants to do with his own stuff. It's like if I want to paint my living room in orange and green stripes, you don't get to tell me I should change it. I'm the one that lives in it, and, if I like it, it's no concern of yours. You don't have to come over and see it if you don't want to. And, if my house is full of all the coolest things in the world, which makes you want to come over, you still don't get to complain about the color scheme. That's the price you have to pay to come over and play with my toys.
And, hey, my kids love Jar Jar, as do all of the "Star Wars kids" I know.

However, The Hobbit does not belong to Peter Jackson. What he's done with The Hobbit is like you coming to my house and re-painting my living room in puke green and neon pink. Except, actually, it's more like Peter Jackson bending Bilbo and Tolkien over, reaching up their asses simultaneously, grabbing their intestines, and ripping them out through their assholes. Then he uses the intestines to decorate the room. And, by the way, the stench he creates from that just doesn't go away.

Seriously, I have never seen more disrespect delivered to source material than what Jackson has done in The Desolation of Smaug. With the first movie, An Unexpected Journey, Jackson at least held to some semblance of the story from the book: a group of dwarves seeking to reclaim their homeland from a dragon. However, Jackson wastes no time at all in destroying all of that in the very first moments of Desolation. He does a dance on the bloodied corpse of Bilbo and Tolkien while waving their innards through the air and splattering the walls with their blood.

In The Hobbit, Gandalf is never fully behind the trip to the Lonely Mountain. He's willing to help the dwarves along so that they have a chance of surviving, but he views the whole thing as more of a fool's errand. And (and this is a big "and") he never intends to accompany them on the entire trip. He just happens to be going in the same direction, so to speak, so travels along with them to keep them out of trouble as best as he can while he's there. But Jackson makes the whole venture into a plot by Gandalf. It's not Thorin who decides he wants to retake his homeland; it's Gandalf. And it has nothing to do with "homeland;" it's about finding the Arkenstone and uniting the various dwarven kingdoms under one king so that he can raise an army.


Gandalf wants to raise an army? Why the heck does Gandalf want an army? The implication is that the army is needed to fight The Enemy, but, see, even in Jackson's timeline, no one knows about that yet. The ring has not been found, no one knows the Necromancer is Sauron, there is no great threat to the world. But Gandalf wants an army and sends Thorin into the mountain for the sole reason of retrieving the stone.

And, of course, everyone knows what's going on except Bilbo and the other dwarves. When the dwarves are captured by the elves, Thranduil knows without asking that Thorin is after the Arkenstone. When Bilbo sneaks down to check out Smaug, Smaug already knows that it's Thorin after the Arkenstone. The whole thing is stupid. STUPID. I cannot express how much this whole thing violates the premise and the theme of the book.

And, see, I can't even give a breakdown of where the movie deviates from the book, because it would just take too long. There is virtually nothing from the book in this second movie apart from some characters with the same names.

The worst of it is that when I saw the trailer for the movie and saw the whole barrel thing (which is beyond ludicrous the way Jackson has done it with his "magic" floating barrels (they're not magic) that never fill up with water and sink despite the number of times they go under water), I thought, "Well, that's going to be even more dumb than the domino trees in the first movie," but, really, I thought that would be the worst of it. Just more stupid stuff like that. And the Pale Orc, of course, because Jackson had already started his descent into total depravity; I just didn't realize how far into the sewer he was willing to go. And not just willingly, he's actively swimming in shit and loving it.

Yes, it all makes me mad to think about.

Like I said, there is not time to go through all of the things that makes this movie so horrid, but here are some of the worst:
1. The aforementioned mess with the Arkenstone.
2. Kili doesn't have a beard. A dwarf without a beard? Seriously, what the heck? [And, yes, I suppose he didn't have a beard in Journey, but Kili wasn't highlighted in that one, and, I guess, I just didn't notice, but the whole thing is wrong.]
3. Elf/dwarf romance? Again, seriously, what the heck?
4. The dwarves split up and some stay in Laketown. WHAT THE HECK?
5. There is a huge battle in the mountain between Smaug and the dwarves. WHAT THE DOUBLE HECK?

Did Peter Jackson even read the book? I mean, it's bad enough that Jackson used the spiders as an excuse to feature the elves (just like he did with Helm's Deep in The Two Towers) and Legolas doing spider surfing (what the heck is up with Jackson and elf surfing?), but he's ripped the heart out of The Hobbit, put it in a blender, and... I don't know what. I suppose he drank it. Actually, he reminds me of Gollum singing to that fish in the LotR movies. Singing to the fish and, then, beating it on the rocks. That's what he's done with The Hobbit. Followed by ripping into it with his teeth.

I'd really like to be able to tell how the movie is just as a movie, but I can't do that with this one. The Hobbit has been with me for something like 35 years, and I can't think of it from the position of "What would I think of this if I had never read the book?" What that makes me think of is how Jackson is actually destroying the book for a whole generation of readers. Can you imagine having seen these movies first and then trying to read the book? You'd be wondering where all these other characters are: Radagast, Legolas, Tauriel. Even Azog. This issue, I think, is even worse than the movies. That's saying a lot, because Desolation is like all of the worst things ever mixed into one "worst thing ever" package. And that just doesn't approach the long-term damage Jackson may be doing to kids that want to read the book.

So, yeah, I have no way to independently evaluate this as "just a movie." There is no "just a movie" in this to me. This is the kind of thing that lives in my nightmares as a writer. I mean, we all know that Hollywood can be terrible with intellectual properties and strip mine them just to get at the money. Or, maybe, these days, I should say they frack them for all they're worth. But what Jackson has done to The Hobbit goes so far beyond what typical Hollywood has ever done. And that's where I'll end, because, to go on, I'd have to start making value judgements about Jackson and what he thinks of himself, but I don't actually know the guy. I do not, however, have any "benefit of the doubt" left for him.