Thursday, May 31, 2018

Almost... (pictures I like)

This tunnel could almost be pulled right out of the pages of Shadow Spinner.
Do you want to go there?
(If I remember, next week, I'll show you the other side.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Solo (a movie review post)

I'm going to be honest; I was more than a little dubious going into this movie. I read many of the Han Solo novels when I was a kid and had a pretty good grasp of his backstory in my mind. Or at least my impressions of that backstory; it has been a long time since I read any of those books. The movie trailers didn't lead me to believe that Disney was going to do more than pay token respect to that backstory, much in the same way they have only paid token respect to what Lucas had planned for the future of the series. But here's the thing: Disney was upfront when they bought the Star Wars franchise: They said, then, that the vast majority of pre-existing material other than the movies would be viewed as non-canon material and they would be free to paint over it however they wanted to, which, actually, was not any different than what Lucas had already said. At any rate, there was not a lot of canon material about Han's past for Disney to have to cling to, so I suppose I'm glad they worked in as much of the previous Han lore as they did.

That said, I really enjoyed the movie, much more than I expected to, as I kind of expected to outright not like it. Seriously, the trailers were some of the worst ever and not very representative of the movie. I really have only one complaint, a rather philosophical one that I'll get to in a moment. First, the good:

Alden Ehrenreich: He's great. I already liked him a lot from his role in Hail, Caesar! He's fantastic in that, and that one role really shows off his versatility. He does a great job of stepping into Harrison Ford's shoes, and I never didn't believe him as Han.

Donald Glover: The first thing I ever saw him in was The Martian and, for such a small part, he may have been my favorite thing about that movie. He's a good fit for Lando, though I think all the people saying that he was channeling Billy Dee Williams are only saying that because they're not very familiar with Glover as an actor. He seemed very Glover to me, but being Donald Glover is very Lando, evidently. I hope we get to see more of him in this role.

The introduction into the movies of so much material that has never previously been in the movies: It was awesome to have the introduction of the Teras Kasi into the Star Wars canon, see the Pikes onscreen for the first time, deal with the Crimson Dawn... So much stuff! The two animated series (and I'm not talking Droids and Ewoks) have suddenly become much more important.

In fact, I can't even say how important, because that would involve a major spoiler. Major. And it was so good and cool. I mean, I don't have a lot of OMG! moments in movies, but I had one over this. And maybe shouldn't have, knowing the backstory from Clone Wars the way I do, but, really, I just didn't expect them to draw it into the movies. And, now, I'm really excited for the next Han Solo movie. You did know there was going to be another one, right? Another two, actually. Anyway, this is kind of on the scale of, "Luke, I am your father."

There's other good stuff, but these are the highlights. At least until I've seen it again. Maybe other things will strike me at that point.

But here's my philosophical issue:
Why is that every hero has to have some kind of tragic backstory? Like Luke (or Harry Potter) growing up an orphan? Or Han growing up on the streets of Corellia, also an orphan? And, maybe, that wouldn't be an issue if his backstory had started him out that way.

See, here's how it was:
Han was pretty much a normal kid. Not a rich kid, but his parents were well-off enough to send him to the Imperial Academy where he became a hotshot pilot. He was pretty self-absorbed. Why not? It's a big deal to be the best pilot at the Academy. Which is all why it's an even bigger deal when, one day, Han sees an Imperial officer beating a wookie slave and steps in to save the wookie. this is a kid who has never thought about anyone other than himself whose eyes are suddenly opened to this cruelty that is happening right in front of him and, rather than walking away as everyone else is doing, he interposes himself in the situation, saves the wookie, but has to go on the run.

The lesson he learned? Don't get involved. It only has bad results. Han had everything going for him, and he lost it all in one moment of compassion. Sure, he got a wookie with a life-debt to him out of the bargain, but who's to say if he would do it that way again if he had the chance to do it over? He lost all of his fame and glory in that one act.

That's a story I find compelling.

Much more so than the way he and Chewbacca become companions in the movie, which was more about saving himself than about saving a wookie. And there's no mention of a life debt in the movie; why would there be? It's a mutual life-saving.

Which is not to deride the movie. The movie is good. But it also stays squarely within convention. I get that Disney knows what people like and play to that masterfully, but I think they missed out on opportunity to make Han a much more nuanced character than he now is. Which is to say that they made him less nuanced than he was because they fell back on making him merely a stereotype, the male version of the "whore with a heart of gold." As Qi'ra says to him, "I know who you really are. You're the good guy." Or something like that.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Let's Talk Marvel and Netflix

The key to Marvel's success has always been integration. That was the heart of Stan Lee's original vision for the "universe," a place where all heroes (and us) existed simultaneously and, therefore, could interact with each other in one cohesive existence. It was a radical new approach to superhero comics (and one that DC still has not figured out, having had to relaunch their entire universe as recently as 2016, the second time they've done that this decade). Marvel has continued to model this initial idea throughout their history, carrying it into the MCU and to their various Netflix series.

And, yes, I know I'm a little late to the whole Netflix game (as far as reviews go), but I don't watch a lot of TV and never binge, so it takes me a while to get through these shows. However, now that I've finally finished The Defenders, I figured it was time to weigh in on the MNU (Marvel Netflix Universe); as such, this will be more like thoughts rather than any kind of review.

Let's go in order:

Daredevil: Overall, I thought Daredevil was great. It has the gritty feel of the Frank Miller era of the character with all of the struggles that come with that. They gave the series the right feel to make it believable as existing just beneath the MCU, beneath in that what's going on with Daredevil and his associates is beneath the notice of the "bigger" heroes dealing with global issues. And Charlie Cox is great in the role.

They also managed to avoid what was probably the biggest potential pitfall of introducing Daredevil as a character: the Hand. Despite the fact that this is a superhero show, this isn't the 80s anymore, and a secret organization of ninjas is actually less believable than a Norse god with a flying hammer or a guy who turns into a big, green rage monster.

What they didn't do well was the Kingpin, which is why I have to say the show is "overall" great and not just that it's a great show. Vincent D'Onofrio is wretched in the role, a whiny man-baby. Maybe it's not his fault; I'm not familiar enough with him as an actor to know if it was him or the writing or directing. What I know is that the Kingpin of the TV series is a pale reflection of the Kingpin of the comics, and I hated him. Not in a good way. It made me wish for Michael Clarke Duncan; now, there was a real Kingpin.

Then there's the Punisher... What a controversial character for our time. For all times since he was created, actually. The Daredevil/Punisher conflict is classic, and they did a great job with the introduction of Frank Castle and making him an appropriate anti-hero to go along with Matt Murdock.

Jessica Jones: A good, solid series. I like the character, and Krysten Ritter does a great job with her. David Tennant was fantastic as Kilgrave, as fantastic as D'Onofrio was un-fantastic. Of course, I'm also biased as Tennant goes: He was the second best Doctor ever. It was also nice to see the re-emergence of Carrie-Anne Moss.

But I don't thin they handled the story as well in this one. Strong start, wobbly finish. Don't ask me what about it; I don't, at this point, remember. Look, mind control is a powerful ability, maybe too powerful for what they were working with. It just felt like some of what they were doing toward the end of the series was... a little tenuous at best.

However, Mike Colter was great as Luke Cage, and I thought it was cool that they introduced him in this series.

Speaking of
Luke Cage: I wanted to like this show much more than I actually ended up liking it. Which is unfortunate because, as I said, in Jessica Jones, Mike Colter was great. And, actually, again in The Defenders, he is great. But in his own show...?

Okay, to be fair, I don't think it's him, because the problem was with all of the actors, which means, probably, the problem was with the director. Everyone had this slow, overly enunciated speech, so much so that it was distracting and felt unnatural. It's not at all how Colter delivered his lines in either Jones or the Defenders, so it was something specific to the Cage series. Erik LaRay Harvey suffered from it the most. He became unbelievable as a villain.

And he was already unbelievable as a villain, which is not to say that he was precisely unbelievable, but he was so cliche -- the out-of-favor half brother -- as to be unbelievable.

None of which is to say that I didn't like Luke Cage, but, by the time I got around to watching it, so many people were talking about it as if it was the best thing ever that I expected more out of it.

Having said all of that, Simone Missick was great as Misty Knight, though that was countered by Mahershala Ali being wasted in his role.

Which brings us to the apparently reviled Iron Fist.

I'm going to admit that I don't really understand the intense negative reaction to this show. It feels like one of those things that everyone decided not to like before they actually watched it, the reverse of everyone deciding they loved Luke Cage before they actually watched it. It's not that I don't understand that on the surface the show looks like just another rich, white super hero but, really, Iron Fist is much more nuanced than that. Which I don't want to get into because I'm not defending some white superhero.

The story is solid, and it leans on the origin of the character from the comic, just as Luke Cage, and all of Marvel's properties have so far, and I like that about what Marvel has been doing. They give the fans of the characters from the comics a thread to connect them rather than reinventing the character as something or someone s/he never was.

So, yeah, I liked the show.

And, man, I really want there to be some kind of Power Man and Iron Fist series, even if that's not what the call it.

Hmm... also, they really develop the Hand in the Iron Fist series which sets us up nicely for
The Defenders: Once again, Marvel shows us that they are the masters at taking disparate threads and drawing them together into one cohesive story. It's nice to see all of these characters come together, and not just the heroes, the side characters, too. In fact, it's the side characters who, in many ways, breathe real life into all of these series: Claire Temple, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page. Stick.

I like Stick.

Also Trish Walker and Misty Knight. I don't want to make it seem like it's only the Daredevil side characters I like. They just came first and have woven themselves through many of the other series as well, especially Claire. And Rosario Dawson is really good in the role.

So they pull all of these characters together and manage to mostly avoid the cliche "hero meets hero and so must fight"... but, well, where that does happen, it really works. Really. And that's all I'm going to say about that because I don't want to be all spoilery for anyone who is farther behind than I am.

So they pull all of these characters together to, of course, face off against a menace that no single one of them could handle alone. They do it well. The first half of the series is brilliant. Which brings us to the only weakness of the series: This conflict has been building and building through several of the other individual series and, then, it's just... over. It felt too abrupt to me. Too quick and easy. Not that it was easy, but... Yeah...

It's probably just me.

But, overall, still great. I'm looking forward to more.
Of all of it.
I can't wait to see where it goes and what other characters come in.

What Marvel is doing with Movies and TV is actually kind of amazing. The kind of thing that was said could never be done because the audience would never go for intricate, in depth, long term stories. I think it was probably just the (old, white) executives who couldn't understand intricate, in depth, long term stories. All I can say is that it's about time.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Deadpool 2: No Subtitle or Anything (Seems Like a Wasted Opportunity To Me) (a movie review post)

I suppose the first question people will have about Deadpool 2 is, "Is it as good as the first one?" Which is a more than fair question considering how out-of-the-box the first Deadpool was. It's the kind of thing that can be difficult to followup. You know, just how sophomore releases from bands sometimes end their careers.

You'll be happy to know that 2, in this case, is just as good as the first. I'm not going to go as far as some reviews I've seen and say it's better, because I don't think it is, but it certainly doesn't fumble the ball.
To mix a bunch of metaphors.
Maybe I should say drop the mic? Except that means something completely different.
If this was Deadpool, this would be the point he'd stick his head in your screen and say something about where you could put the mic.
Or the ball.
Or something about balls.

Actually, I went to see it as a double feature, which you might say is a lot of Deadpool, but it didn't feel like it. And that's without an intermission between the two films! The second one flowed pretty seamlessly from the first and continued on with the same tone and humor, so I would say the two movies are pretty on par with each other.

And, you know, sure, I could pick it apart; like the plot in the second one feels a bit contrived, but it feels more contrived than it actually is. When you want to introduce a time-travelling character from the future, it's hard to do other than to just have him show up. Which is not to say they didn't provide the back story for that, because they did. It all works just fine, but it felt a bit contrived, at least to me. Not enough to actually bother me, just enough to notice.

The one thing that is decidedly better is the closing credits scene, and that's saying a lot considering the scene at the end of the credits from the first movie is one of the best ones ever done, almost as good as the one from Ferris Bueller. And this one is better. So much better. If the movie had sucked but still had this end-credits scene, it would be still be worth seeing. Yes, it's that good.

A few other good things of note in the movie:

Josh Brolin. You have to hand it to him; he's captured roles of two major Marvel characters. That's pretty impressive in my book. And, well, I like Josh, and he does a good job as Cable.

Zazie Beetz: She's awesome as Domino. I don't really remember much about Domino from the comics other than that she was supposed to be a big deal character. I have a stack of issues of her first appearance in fact and, for a while, she was a big deal character. I guess. But I have no strong memories of her beyond her introduction. Which just so happened to be the first appearance of Deadpool, too.

X-Force: OMG LOL!
Now I can't wait for this movie.

Brad Pitt: What? You didn't know he was in the movie?

Basically, if you liked (loved) the first Deadpool, there is no reason to expect that you won't feel the same way about this one. They even managed to make an opening credit sequence that nearly matches the opening credit sequence of the first one in yummy goodness, and that's saying something considering the opening sequence from the first Deadpool may be the best opening credit sequence ever made. Or, at least, since Star Wars dispensed with one altogether.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Weekly Pep Rally: Churches Without a god

Being someone who grew up in the church and who, then, worked in churches for about two decades, I know what church is like. Or, well, I know what church is supposed to be like. Church used to be a place of moral authority, which is what it's supposed to be like, sort of, but, these days, it's become more of a... slot machine. It's a change largely instituted by Boomers through their wholehearted embrace of the prosperity doctrine and the idea they've pushed that church should be FUN! WooHoo!

And I'm not saying necessarily that church shouldn't be fun, but it shouldn't be about being fun. Of course, the whole fun thing is really only about making money.

And I'm also not saying that those morals in the "moral authority" were correct, but, at least, the people who attended paid some semblance of respect to those morals and tried to live lives that matched.

Without going through the history of the decline of the church in the United States, it abandoned any pretense of moral authority with its embrace of Trump (#fakepresident). You can't tell people they shouldn't commit adultery while supporting a man who views adultery as a victory. You can't tell people to "love your neighbor" while supporting a man who abuses his neighbors of other skin tones. You can't tell people to "love God" when you support a man who only loves himself.

I could go on...

Church is no longer about "being good" or "bringing people to Christ" or helping the needy. In fact, "christianity" is no longer about following Jesus at all. "christianity" has become a political position, and church is nothing more than a weekly Right-wing pep rally.

Which, you know, was a very eye-opening thought. It explains why a fairly small minority of the population is able to stay so organized and retain so much power.

Lookit, "the moral majority" Right-wing fundamentalist fascist fuckheads makeup, at best, about 30% of the population, and, yet, they have been able to stay in control of the reins of power for far too long because they are able to stay focused on a small number of issues. It keeps them motivated, and it's why they turn out for all of the elections.

It's like this:
A "friend" of mine from Texas with whom I went to college told me he "literally would have voted for the Devil rather than vote for Clinton." He used abortion as the excuse for his stance (though it sounded more to me like it was about having a woman in charge because "christians" hate women in power). Another "friend" (also from Texas and also from college) quickly echoed the sentiment. Having their votes be about an issue also allowed them to be able to doublethink (look it up if you don't know), "Sure I voted for Trump, but I'm not a Trump supporter."

But let's not go down all of those rabbit trails, as appealing as they are. Or not appealing.

All of that to say that I think those of us on the Left could probably benefit from some kind of similar weekly pep rally that would help us to stay focused on particular issues and motivated about getting out to vote. We could call it Church of the Godless, which would not be substantially different from "christian" churches, but it would be more honest.
But, then, it is rigid fundamentalists who are the ones more prone to hypocrisy. It must hurt to have so many planks in one's eyes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

For My Daughter

Did you ever have a teacher you loved? No, I don't mean like had a crush on; I mean one of those teachers who changed your life in some fundamental way. It's like...
It's like you're staring at a wall -- we'll call it the blackboard -- and all of the teachers you've had so far keep encouraging you to stare at that wall and nothing else. Just stare at the wall, don't question, don't cause problems, and, most of all, don't question. Then you have a teacher who comes along and opens the blinds on the windows and tells everyone to come look outside, and it's amazing! You didn't even know the world was out there.

For me, that teacher was Mike Abbiatti, my 6th grade science teacher. He introduced science to me. Science not as something you read about in a book (because I had been doing that since I was four) but science as something you do and as something you live. He taught me that life should be science: the search for new knowledge, testing that knowledge against the old knowledge, adapting your life to fit the outcome. Life is about always questioning. Always questing. He taught me principles I still use in my life more than 30 years later.

I loved him in a way that only a child can love and, when 6th grade was over, I was devastated. On the last day of school during our last-day-of-school party, I threw my arms around him and cried, cried deep, wracking sobs that have only ever been worse for me when my grandfather died.

I could write a lot more about Mr. A. and learning the difference between a hypothesis and a theory and doing actual experiments and using a computer for the first time, but this isn't about me. This is just to show the depth of connection we can come to have with people who open our eyes and our worlds.

These people aren't always teachers; sometimes, they're coaches.

My daughter fell in love with softball the first time she "played" it, just playing catch with the neighbor girls as they were practicing for the team they were on. She had to join, too. So we signed her up. All was good.

For a while

Kids' sports leagues are a mixed bag. You have to pay for your kid to be able to play, of course, but, for that money, you get someone who is volunteering to coach. In softball, this was inevitably the pitcher's dad, because, inevitably, the pitcher's dad was forcing his daughter to play and wanted to be the coach of the team so that he could make sure his daughter got to pitch. Even if there was someone better at it on the team. Mostly, these guys were not very good coaches.

In fact, most of the were pretty shitty coaches, at least as far as the team was concerned. The problem was that most of them were also pretty shitty people. You can be a bad coach (as in not being very good at coaching), but it takes a special person to be a shitty coach. The shitty coaches were all what we call "yellers," which means pretty much what it sounds like: Their method of coaching was to spend their time yelling at the girls when they made mistakes.

And this:
When the team would win a game, even if they played terribly, they got only praise. If they lost a game, even if they played fantastically, they got yelled at. A lot. There is so much wrong with that paradigm of coaching, but that's what we dealt with for years.

It got to where my daughter was not enjoying softball anymore, this thing that she loved.

One of the only things we were able to tell her through all of that was that it would be better when she got to high school because:
1. The coach would not be someone coaching because his daughter was on the team. It would be someone coaching because he was being paid to do a job. No more nepotism.
2. Being on the team and getting to play would be because of your skill rather than who your dad was. Again, no more nepotism.

And, hey! My daughter is in high school, now. A freshman. She did try out for softball, and she made the varsity team. The only freshman on the team. Not just did she make the team; she's a starter.

Of course, she could have still gotten bad coaches. Shitty coaches. We've come across a few of those in the games this year. Or, even, shitty people as coaches.
But she didn't.
She got a pair of great coaches who coach through encouragement. They let them know what they're doing well and what they need to work on. Neither of them has yelled at any of the girls during a game all season. The same cannot be said of coaches on other teams.

My daughter loves softball again. This year has been a world-changing experience for her. I have to think it's been for her like 6th grade science was for me. It's a whole new world. Softball with a genuinely positive environment, even when they lose.

And, due to circumstances, it so happens that both coaches are having to leave at the end of this year.

She's devastated.

And, well, so am I. For her. Because I know how that feels.

Worse, I know that there's nothing I can do to make any of it better.

Yeah, yeah, sure, it will get better. She'll get over it. I got over 6th grade ending. And I could tell her that, but it wouldn't help. And I know it wouldn't help, because people saying that kind of thing to me doesn't help. In fact, it's kind of anger-causing. It doesn't matter if it will get better. That doesn't help now.

So my hope is that she will hold onto this moment and take what she's learned from this experience and carry it forward with her as she goes on in life, whether that be in softball or not. I mean, I wouldn't trade my 6th grade science experience away for anything, even though it hurt when it was over. That pain was more than worth the experience of the whole, so I hope she will be able to cherish this freshman year of softball and look back on it as a fundamental moment of growing up. I suppose it's that whole better to have loved and lost thing.

I guess that's all any of us can hope for.
If you look to the right center in this picture; you can see the ball coming in.
This was a nice hit but, unfortunately, it was caught.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Gibbon's Decline and Fall (a book review post)

All right, this will probably be the last Tepper novel I do for a while. Not because I've grown tired of her books or anything but because I'm out of all the ones I have and I don't plan to go book buying any time soon. Not until I finish some of the other books I have sitting around. Or unless I decide I just need the sequel to Grass.

That said, overall, I didn't enjoy this one as much as her others, and I'm going to tell you why, which means, yes, there will be spoilers, so, if you plan on picking this one up, you may want to bypass this. Not that I think any of you are making that plan because, if you were, you would have picked up The Gate To Women's Country, which is something you should certainly do.

Let me give you some context:
The book was published in '96 and is set in '99. The coming millennium looms over the events of the novel though it actually has little to do with the action. When it came out, it was a contemporary novel, though the present that Tepper shows is a bit removed from ours. Chimpanzees, elephants, and many other species are extinct in the wild. Prisons are full of pods that they sentence people to sleep in. Far Right groups roam the streets... Wait, that doesn't sound too far off.

Basically, Right-wing groups of fanatics of every flavor around the world are making their presence known in violent ways, mostly against women but, really, against anyone who doesn't agree with them. They've taken over the politics in the United States and, really, everywhere else, too. People who do not belong to these groups have fewer and fewer places to turn for help.

The beginning third of the book actually felt very prescient.

The action of the book revolves around the disappearance of one of the women the book is about. At least, that's the only theme that carries all the way through the book as the conflict is rather fluid other than that. That's all stuff I'm not going to get into. Why spoil everything, right? The supernatural element that Tepper so likes plays into this, and it's ultimately what ruined the book for me. Or what it leads to, which is an actual deus ex machina ending.

Let's just say I'm not a fan of having a god step in at the end to save everything, especially when that god was a character in the novel beyond a mere spoken about concept.

However, the real problem area for me was the antagonist. In a general sense, the antagonist is "men" and their antipathy toward women, or, at least, their antipathy towards women's rights. The unifying factor among all of the far Right groups in the book is their belief that women should get back in the kitchen, so to speak. They should be no more than baby makers and food preparers and house cleaners. The book deals a lot with how shitty men can be and how they systemically undermine women and their potential roles in the world.

And we're all good as far as that goes, because all of that is true. However, Tepper then sabotages her point by having the main villain, Webster, be an interstellar entity that is causing men to be the way that they are. Well, maybe he doesn't cause it, but he exacerbates and intensifies it, so, really, except in a few cases, it's not really their fault.

This is a problem because the men she portrays in the book are not caricatures or exaggerations. They are exactly the way men are. But Tepper gives them, gives us, an out: Oh, really, men, they're not that bad; it's just all of these really bad outside influences that make them that way. I really don't understand why she chose to go that route. It pulls the teeth out of any social commentary she was trying to make.

Not to mention the unresolved nature of the denouement. Or, rather, the fact that the resolution is unrevealed to the reader. This is a tactic that would work if Tepper had left the reader with a question which the reader needed to answer for himself, but that's not the nature of it as none of the choices the protagonist is given are choices any of us can actually choose, so we're just left to wonder what choice she made and that's the end of it. It was... unsatisfying. And it left with the feeling that Tepper herself didn't know how she would choose so just left it hanging. Rather like the end of Inception where Nolan left the ending hanging because he didn't know which way to go with it.

So... yeah... brilliant beginning, but she failed to nail the landing. It's not a book I would recommend. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it -- it was certainly much better than many other books I've read -- but, again, I'd say go out and get a copy of The Gate To Women's Country.

Monday, May 7, 2018

To Infinity (War) and Beyond! (more thoughts)

Okay, actually, not beyond. We're gonna stop right here and talk some more about this movie.
Or, more precisely, we're going to talk about stupid things people keep saying.
And, yes, I'm not going to be wary of spoilers, so you've had all the warning you're going to get.

Look, I understand if you're upset by all the deaths.You should be upset by all the deaths. Death is upsetting. BUT!
1. They're fictional characters.
2. There's another movie coming. Oh, wait, you didn't realize this was just the first part of two movies? Well...

  • A. Where have you been?
  • B. This is just the first movie of two.
  • C. Even if you didn't know that, the end-credit scene should have clued you in that something was going on.
In regards to all the death and the general bleakness of the ending, I have seen people protesting that it's a violation of the genre.
Wait... What?
What genre? The super hero genre? Because if that's what you're saying, you're obviously not very familiar with the actual super hero genre and only know about super heroes from movies. Comics have dark endings (and dark stories) all the time. ALL THE TIME! This movie doesn't stand out as an exception in that respect. Now, if you're saying it doesn't have the typical happy Hollywood ending, well, that's true. But, then, Marvel hasn't been doing anything the typical Hollywood way from the beginning. If they had been, we would never have arrived at this movie juncture. In fact, we would never have had Iron Man, either. Or Thor. And certainly not Ant-Man. Hollywood wisdom also said Black Panther was a movie that would never succeed. There's been a push for a Black Panther movie since the 90s and, even now, with all of the other Marvel successes, "Hollywood" believed the movie wouldn't succeed.

But as for genres, make sure you know what you're talking about before you open your mouth.

Speaking of genres, though, can we even call "super heroes" a genre anymore? Like sci-fi, I think it has to be more like a broad category in which you can write other genres of stories. Marvel's movies alone should show that. Hulk is a monster movie. Ant-Man is a heist flick. Captain America is World War II movie. None of them are really what you would call "super hero" films; they just happen to have super heroes in them. It's like Asimov said about sci-fi: It's just a framework to allow you to tell whatever kind of story you want to tell, whatever kind of genre you want to use.

So, no, Infinity War is no violation of genre.

But, yes, it has a sad, even depressing, ending. Heroes die. Because, you know what? The good guys don't always win. Our current political situation, with a wannabe dictator as president, should show you that evil sometimes, even frequently, wins. So, yeah, the bad guy wins. Thanos wins. And the movie ends with him enjoying his victory. You think Trump (#fakepresident) didn't enjoy his victory? You think he didn't go around pissing (figuratively, I hope, though with him it's hard to tell) in every corner of the White House?

I do understand that people are not used to movies where the antagonist wins and we haven't had a movie like this since, probably, The Empire Strikes Back, but people are acting as if this is it. The end of the story. The end of the franchise. No more movies from Marvel. BAM! All your heroes are dead, Suckers! So suck on that! It's the fucking end of the world!
I mean, really?
Haven't you learned from watching the... how many Marvel movies are there now? 18? Haven't you learned that they're all connected and that there are more movies coming? Wait and see what happens. IT'S NOT THE END OF THE STORY!

And speaking of Thanos, I've heard people complain about the attempt to make Thanos a sympathetic character... What the fuck? What attempt to make Thanos a sympathetic character? Because he cried when he killed Gamora? That makes him sympathetic? Because he cried?
No! It makes him an asshole.
Let's look at this a moment:
Thanos lives on Titan, and Titan is on the verge of environmental collapse. Thanos tries warning everyone and even has a solution: put half of the population to death. Needless to say, the population doesn't like that idea and, evidently, they never figure out anything better. The planet ends up a lifeless husk with Thanos as its only survivor with a, "Well, I told you so," attitude about it. That's as constructive as he gets over the situation.
Except for then deciding that he'll put his "extinguish half the population" plan into effect on the entire universe.
NONE of this makes Thanos a sympathetic character. It makes him a conceited, small-minded asshole who can't think outside of his own box for other, more workable, solutions.

To get the Soul Gem, he has to sacrifice the thing he loves, which he happened to have with him: Gamora. The one thing Thanos loves. So he has an option, the Soul Gem or Gamora. Let's put this another way:
He can choose the good of himself by throwing Gamora in the pit and taking the Gem, or he can choose the good of Gamora by letting her live. That would be actual love, by the way, choosing the good of someone else over yourself. But what Thanos shows is that what he really loves above all is himself, so he throws Gamora in the pit. Asshole. There's nothing sympathetic in that action, either. And I just have to say, if that scene causes you to feel sympathy for Thanos, you need to do some soul-searching of your own.

There is nothing in this movie to make Thanos any kind of sympathetic character. He shows that he himself has no empathy or sympathy for anyone else, and I'm not really sure how anyone could arrive at the conclusion that anything shown about him was meant to do anything other than show just what a monster he is.

All of that said, I don't care whether you liked the movie or not, just have a valid reason for it, even if that valid reason is your emotional reaction to, say, Spider-Man dying and blowing away in the end (man, that one hurt, especially since there were little piece of Peter-ash all over Tony afterward). What you should not do is try to rationalize your reason by making shit up. It's fine for you to say, "I didn't like it. They killed everyone." And it's also fine for the rest of us to tell you you're crazy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Alphabet of Politics (this week)

Writing the April poem was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Not because it was poetry and poetry is not my strength (I took that difficulty into account before I began and sought assistance from my wife, the Queen of Rhythm (credit where credit is more than due)) but because writing anything about politics right now is... is...
Writing politics right now is like trying to juggle eggs during a major earthquake while more eggs are falling from the sky. You can only deal with the egg in your hand and you can't make any plans about future eggs and you can't figure out why eggs are falling from the sky.

To put it another way: It's chaos.
Needless to say, many things in the poem changed during the month due to changing circumstances.
Like chickenshit Paul Ryan effectively resigning. He wants to run for President, I'm sure, and that will never happen unless he manages to climb out of the shithole he helped create.
Well, I'm not going to go through all the things that manipulated the end result. It is what it is at the moment.

Here's the whole thing all in one place with only a few minor edits here and there; however, there is an alternate version below reflecting things that had been planned then scrapped due to the aforementioned chaos.

Abortion is A, a right fundamental,
the Constitution says it's her choice.

B for the boomers, they've gone fully mental,
only heeding their own selfish voice.

C is for Congress and its very brown thumb
shoved eagerly up its own ass.

D is for data; Facebook plays dumb
while selling you out for hard cash.

E for the Earth, if we don't keep it cool,
we'll sink in a watery grave.

F is for fake news. Your feed is a tool
for Russia to make you its slave.

G are the guns that we buy without limit,
no matter the state of your mind,

and H, the health care and need of a clinic
you'll find you're already denied.

I is for I.C.E. on which they want to put you,
cold storage without any rights

or the J that is justice, which they eschew,
unless, of course, you're skin is all white.

K is for Kushner who doesn't have clearance,
but no one's crying you lost it.

L is the Left and its public adherence.
Be aware, we're not gonna quit.

M is for mass shootings and the Right's lack of care
about our kids dying in their schools,

which is why we have N for #neveragain
and why the Right will all look like fools.

O for Obama whom we'd like to have back.
He was never a laughing stock.

P is for porn star and her breathtaking rack
and Cohen behind a padlock.

Q is for quiet for which I long and pine.
If only they'd learn how to behave.

R is for racists and lyin' Paul Ryan.
Turns out he's like Robin the Brave.

S is for schools where we ought to have guns,
says DeVos, to keep out the bears.

T is for Trump; he believes he's "the one,"
but, really, he's just putting on airs.

U is for under, the water I mean;
Now is your time to go to the coast.

V is for violence which cops seem so keen
to use against black folks the most.

W is for "wag the dog" or maybe for war
all to keep you from looking at

X-rated tapes, but not the ones in your drawer,
the ones with Russian "pussycats."

Y is for you and how you need to go vote;
it's time to get out and fight

for Z, zero tolerance, not just a note
that we're through with this shit from the Right.

copyright Andrew and Sarah Leon 2017

Also this:

Abortion is A, a right fundamental,
the Constitution says it's her choice.

B for the boomers, they've gone fully mental,
only heeding their own selfish voice.

C is for Congress and its very brown thumb
shoved eagerly up its own ass.

D is for Dreamers and how we've left them the crumbs.
It's time to give them a pass.

E for the Earth, if we don't keep it cool,
we'll sink in a watery grave.

F is for fake news. Your feed is a tool
for Russia to make you its slave.

G are the guns that we buy without limit,
no matter the state of your mind,

and H, the health care and need of a clinic
you'll find you're already denied.

I is for I.C.E. on which they want to put you,
cold storage without any rights

or the J that is justice, which they eschew,
unless, of course, you're skin is all white.

K is for Kushner who doesn't have clearance,
but no one's crying you lost it.

L is the Left and its public adherence.
Be aware, we're not gonna quit.

M is for mass shootings and the Right's lack of care
about our kids dying in their schools,

which is why we have N for #neveragain
and why the Right will all look like fools.

Oh Shit! We're all gonna die in nuclear fire!
How are we back in the 80s?!

P is for porn star and her breathtaking rack
and Cohen behind a padlock.

Q is for quiet for which I long and pine.
If only they'd learn how to behave.

R is for racists and lyin' Paul Ryan.
Turns out he's like Robin the Brave.

S is for schools where we ought to have guns,
says DeVos, to keep out the bears.

T is for Trump; he believes he's "the one,"
but, really, he's just putting on airs.

U is for under, the water I mean;
Now is your time to go to the coast.

V is for violence which cops seem so keen
to use against black folks the most.

W is for women and it's certainly time
for #metoo and all their voices heard.

Enough x-rated plant sex from Harvey Weinstein.
C'mon, you know he's a fat turd.

Y is for you and how you need to go vote;
it's time to get out and fight

for Z, zero tolerance, not just a note
that we're through with this shit from the Right.

copyright Andrew and Sarah Leon 2017

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

This Means (Infinity) War!

Discussion ahead. I'm not going to avoid spoilers.
You've been warned.

Other than Lord of the Rings (which is arguably one 10-hour+ movie rather than the three movies released in theaters), this is probably the "biggest" movie ever made. It, too, was too big to be one movie, not to mention that Marvel Studios spent a decade building up to this. That has never been done before (and is a good illustration of why, despite making decent money at the box office, DC movies continue to fail (you can't set up for an "epic" Justice League battle by having Batman say "something's coming" and allowing that to be your entire setup)).

Now, let's just get it out of the way that I thought the movie was Incredible, Amazing, Spectacular, Fantastic (even though they're not in it), Invincible, Mighty... um... there's probably more of those superlatives that I'm forgetting, but those are the one's off the top of my head. Oh, it's also Uncanny.

But I also understand why some people are freaking out, though I do find the number of people responding to it with, "The ending sucked! I'm never seeing another Marvel movie ever again!" more than a little amusing. To go with the most prevalent comparison, I don't remember anyone saying that about Star Wars after Empire came out.

Maybe this is one of those movies where it really does help if you've read the source material. One of the things that Marvel has excelled at is making their movies accessible to people who have never read comic books. They've taken these outlandish (sometimes literally (Thor/Guardians)) ideas and characters and made them believable in a modern world and taken away the need to have a comic book background to be able to understand and appreciate what's going on (again, as opposed to DC and Warner Brothers who continue to take shortcuts by assuming their audience knows the background for their characters and dispenses with giving anything any amount of credibility). And you don't need the comic books for this one, either, but maybe people wouldn't be freaking out so much if they'd read The Infinity Gauntlet. Not that I believe everything's going to be "okay" at then end of this. The MCU, after all, is not the same as the Marvel Universe in the comic books. In comic books, you can depend on characters not really ever dying and things mostly going back to the way they were. Consequences in the MCU tend to be a lot more permanent. That said, having read Infinity Gauntlet, I know how everything's supposed to shake out at the end, so I'm not freaking out about all the deaths. I expected it. Some of them still almost brought me to tears.

The only weakness of the movie, if you can call it that, is the motivation of Thanos. Maybe it's only a weakness because that is the one thing they really provided no background for. That and you can't really make a case that killing half of the souls in the universe brings any kind of balance. However, Thanos is called "the mad Titan" (in the comic books) for a reason. There doesn't have to be any kind of logic involved. Especially since he seems to think that people will come to love and worship him for his actions.

To be clear, bringing balance to the universe is not his motivation in the comic series. No, in the comics, he does it all for love, which, still, is a thought that amuses me. It amuses me because it's so true. See, in the comics, Thanos is in love with Death (not death, Death), she who embodies the ideal of death. He's in love with her, but she won't give him the time of day. He decides that if he can bring her an offering of half the souls in the universe that that ought to make her love him. heh
I'm not going to tell you how that works out.

Which brings us to Adam Warlock...
Except not, since he's not in the MCU, at least not at this point. It's Adam Warlock who puts things right again at the end of Gauntlet, not that someone else can't serve that function, and I was hoping he would show up. Maybe he can't though, since he may be a part of the Fantastic Four branch of the Marvel Universe (like the Silver Surfer) and currently under the control of Fox. Yes, I'm sure I could look that up; I'm just not going to. But I digress...

What I'm sure of, absolutely sure of, is that the next Avengers movie, the one that is the sequel to Infinity War, will be a permanent restructuring of the MCU. While some of what happened will be fixed, there will be some things that are permanent in a way they never are in comic books. Chris Evans is not renewing his contract as Captain America. Chris Hemsworth is almost certainly not renewing his contract as Thor. Robert Downey, Jr., though he's stated that he's willing to continue being Tony Stark, has also stated that he no longer wants to play Iron Man, and his contract is also about to be up. None of which is to mention that if the deal goes through with Disney buying Fox, whole new areas -- X-Men and the Fantastic Four -- will suddenly be open to the MCU. Will I be sad to see the permanent departure of some of these specific characters from the MCU? Sure. But I'm also looking forward to the idea that characters may die permanently. For good. Forever. It makes these kinds of stories much more... satisfying, if that's a word that can be used for this. It makes the stakes real, and, thus, it makes the victory, even if it's Pyrrhic, real, too.
Even if it is fiction.

Oh! And all of the performances are as awesome as can be expected.