Randomness for 4/4

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1) A captured ISIS car bomb that looks like something out of Mad Max. Video.

2) Mathematician teaches class on using geometry to become an expert witness in gerrymandering cases.

3) Pixar brings storytelling lessons to Khan Academy.

4) To be filed under: dudes doing stupid shit with GoPro cameras: Kayaking down a drainage ditch. Video.

5) Hieronymus Bosch action figures.

6) No cop show (that I know of) since HILL STREET BLUES has really tried to capture the real weirdness of police work.

7) A reader remembers the thrill of picking up a little known book called FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

“It’s Complicated”: A Brief Review of IRON FIST

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Originally, I was going to call this review “I don’t even know what I’m doing or saying until it’s taken the wrong way” but that’s too long for an auto-share on Twitter, and it’s only said once, while the characters in IRON FIST say “It’s complicated” a bajillion times.

So this is going to be a brief review, as promised, although I usually have more to say about stories that don’t work than stories that do.

The first thing I’ll say is that, while the show is not great, it’s better than its Rotten Tomatoes score would suggest. (It’s 18% from the critics, although the audience gives it an 83, which is a solid B-.) It’s not even the worst season of Marvel/Netflix made so far, which would be S2 of DAREDEVIL. Like that season, it has some terrific performances, compelling characters, and real tension. It also has genuine problems.

First, as I mentioned before, put me down as someone who thinks the show would have been better (and better-received) if they’d cast an Asian-American actor as Danny. This isn’t a criticism of Jones; I think he does good work with what he’s given here, but the show would have been deeper and more complex with that change.

Second, like every Marvel/Netflix show, they don’t quite have enough story for 13 episodes, and it feels a bit padded. With JESSICA JONES (the best of the shows, imo) that padding is near the end where the pace should be building. It’s smart of IF to do what LUKE CAGE did, and slow things down at the start.

Because apparently every one of these shows needs padding somewhere. I’m hoping an 8 episode season of DEFENDERS will do away with this entirely.

So the early episodes are repetitive, and while it makes sense for the Meachums to have Danny committed, did we need an entire episode for that?

Third, it seems a strange choice to put a hero like Iron Fist into yet another neo-noir storyline, but once we get past the obligatory acknowledgement of his identity, momentum begins to build and the plots surrounding the supporting cast take shape.

Fourth, the general consensus is that Colleen Wing is a great character. That’s not wrong.

Fifth, a lot of folks are hitting Jones because the fights aren’t what we’d hope for in a show about a mystically-powered martial artist, and Jones isn’t a martial artist. But then, neither was Charlie Cox before he was cast as Daredevil, and neither was Keanu Reeves when he was cast in THE MATRIX.

What those actors did have was time to practice the choreography. As Jones has said in interviews, sometimes he only had 15 minutes before the shoot to learn the fight scenes, and you are not going to get good action scenes. They needed to give the action the attention it needed, because with a hero like Iron Fist, it’s not something you can half-ass.

Even worse are the action scenes that are badly framed and shot. I can understand dimming the lights to disguise the stunt doubles, since Danny Rand doesn’t have a mask or giant Jessica Jones hair, but we still want to see what’s happening, and see it clearly.

The fight in the hospital records room is perhaps the worse of the lot (and it comes so early in the show). It’s choppy, fake, and routinely violates the 180 rule, making it hard to follow. Later fights work better.

When the second season comes (and I’ll bet one no-prize that it’ll happen) they’ll need a show-runner willing to give the action scenes the time and energy they deserve.

Sixth, Marvel/Netflix continue to create really interesting antagonists. Loved every moment that David Wenham was onscreen.

Finally, I was interested in Danny Rand. Yeah, he’s a privileged fool in a lot of places, and he’s severely damaged, not just by the plane crash where his parents were killed, but by his time in K’un Lun. His time in the monastery turned him into a superhero, but at a terrible cost. He’s a fucked up dude, and he’s constantly stepping on his own dick.

At the same time, it’s clear he’s trying to navigate his different identities and do the right thing. Once the story turns away from “Can Danny prove his identity?” to “Can Danny stop The Hand?/find allies he can trust?/reconcile his dual identies?” the story works.

So yes, there are problems with the show, but as the reviewer at Forbes said, it’s a stumble, not a face-plant. It’s not the best of the Marvel shows, but it never sinks to the ludicrous plot points of DAREDEVIL S2 or the unconvincing character beats of something like ANT-MAN. Instead, it’s somewhat slow, unconvincing in places, and too repetitive.

I expect history to treat this season more kindly than the present, and I expect an AA Iron Fist when the MCU gets rebooted.

Three Reviews and a Pre-review

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I’m going to post three quick reviews here, so obviously there will be SPOILERS.

LOGAN

Logan is a solid, competent movie, the way most big budget superhero films are nowadays, but because it aims for tears instead of cheers, people are hailing it as revolutionary.

It’s not. It’s good and it’s sad. All the right buttons are pushed in the right order, and both Stewart and Jackman put in good performances and get to play their big death scenes. If you want mutant action with a tragic tone (and I do I really do) this is the place to get them.

But the emotional weight comes from 17 years of seeing these actors play these roles. Look at this:

LOGAN worked because it was the end of 16-20 hours of movie adventure, using characters with decades of comics and cartoons behind them. If it had been about a magical ninja whose healing spells were finally failing, it wouldn’t have gotten past the script-reading intern.

And it’s troubled by unjustified, reverse-engineered sequences. They needed a “family” scene for the little girl to see what a family looks like, so–despite being on the run from stone cold killers–they crash at the home of an Average Loving Family.

And got them all killed, which… come on. Logan and Xavier knew they were putting that family in danger, and nothing in the movie or the previous movies suggests they would put folks’ lives at risk. I call bullshit on that.

They did get the violence right, though. Finally. Rated R for brain-stabbing.

TRANSISTOR

This is a game I bought on Steam because I enjoyed BASTION, although it’s science fiction instead of fantasy. The premise is simple: In a weird but pretty and possibly virtual city, a group of urban planners have unleashed something called The Process to remake things to their liking. Then The Process gets out of control, and Only You Can Stop It.

The main character is a woman named Red, with a giant-ass science sword that gives her attack powers, each of which comes from dead people she finds and uploads into the sword. The very first person to be killed and uploaded is Red’s unnamed boyfriend: he’s the “narrator” throughout the game, although he’s not really narrating because he’s talking to Red (and by extension, you the player).

They hired a great voice actor for the part, and his dialog is well-written. The city looks fantastic. The enemies are varied and fun (I especially liked the eggs w/ chicken feet). Even the music is interesting. And the game is long, but not insufferably long.

But look at those choices: the lead character is a woman who has had her voice stolen by The Process. She’s a singer and we hear her songs, but she doesn’t get to speak. Only the man does. And her name, Red, is a stage name because of her hair. In short, he’s specific and interesting, with a voice. She is a cypher who runs around doing the work. And at the end, when they realize she can’t get her lover out of the sword, she impales herself, over his pleading, so they can be trapped in the weapon together.

She gives up her life for a guy.

This is something I’ve been saying a lot about modern entertainment: it’s beautifully executed but makes questionable choices.

BOSCH

Do you like mopey detectives? I do. The first two seasons of BOSCH are on Amazon Prime, and they’re excellent examples of a really common and generally mediocre thing: the American police procedural.

One of the things BOSCH gets right is that it doesn’t put cops on a pedestal. Some of them are bad at their job. Some are lazy, careless, or corrupt. They’re people, not a corps of heroes who are always proved to be righteous.

And it changes things up from the books. I thought I’d spotted the killer in S1 because I read the book it was based on, but nope. They tricked me. I’m easily tricked, I admit, but I’m pleased when it happens.

I can be a cheap date, story-wise.

Season two was stronger than season one because the character motivations were more believable, and I’m hoping that, when the third season comes out next month, it’ll be another improvement.

IRON FIST

Here’s the thing: I don’t experience fannish enthusiasm. I don’t get all excited. I don’t cheer. I don’t rattle on about the stuff I enjoy.

But I do like things. Sometimes too much. And when I do, I experience it as an unpleasant, obsessive anxiety.

I’m feeling that way about IRON FIST, which is due out from Netflix this week. I know reviews have been bad, but I’m still anxious to see it.

Yeah: Iron Fist’s origin is a racist narrative in the “Mighty Whitey” tradition. As much as I like the character, there’s no quibbling with this. But there is great stuff about the character, too.

First, martial arts is awesome and it looks fantastic in the comics.

It’s great in movies, too, obviously, because you can see movement and speed, but sometimes that speed makes it hard to follow. Martial arts illustration in the comics, when it’s done well, is beautiful and dramatic. It captures a moment, and that’s why it’s so common. The medium is a wonderful way to portray it.

Second, punching things like a wrecking ball is awesome.

This honestly worries me about the show, because sometimes I would love to just smash something without breaking my hand. Punch through a wall. Smash a tree to splinters. Whatever. Even if I didn’t do it often, just knowing I could would be intensely satisfying.

But the show runner for IRON FIST isn’t impressed. Having the iron fist is

not the greatest superpowers. All he can do is punch really hard … you can use it in some ways but in rest of his life, it’s not really all that significant.

Um, yeah. Let me introduce you to the concept of superheroes. They live in a narrative universe where punching is a significant part of life. That’s a basic part of the appeal. It’s not realistic, but it is fun.

There are several warning signs about the show, and this is one of them.

Third, Danny Rand went to a cooler school than I did, and he learned more interesting stuff.

I was 11 or 12 when I discovered Iron Fist, in the summer before seventh grade. August, 1977. I bought five comic books out of the spinner rack at a local drugstore: One was the issue where the X-Men fought the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, and I couldn’t even tell which characters were the good guys, or who had which name, or what the hell was going on. Eventually, I realized the hero’s faces were on the cover, so I went through and picked them out, and comic made more sense.

(If my sister hadn’t called me an idiot for buying a copy of Dr. Strange that ended on a cliffhanger–with Strange facing off against a warthog version of himself–I might not have gone back the next month just to prove her wrong and I might not have become a lover of comics.)

I discovered Iron Fist shortly after and he was one of the earliest characters I followed. I loved the way he was drawn in those early John Byrne issues, and when I tried to teach myself to draw comics, it was often Iron Fist illustrations that I tried to copy. And why not? Was I supposed to draw Spider-man with his nasty, gross armpit webs? Or Iron Man flying through the sky with his elbow slightly bent?

Nope, I tried to draw Iron Fist kicking some dude in the face.

This was seventh grade, and seventh grade sucks. It wasn’t just the usual teasing and other bullshit, not for me. I had a kid hold a knife blade to my throat. I had… I had all sorts of shit happen. If I could have gotten away from all of that to go to a place where a guy named “The Thunderer” would teach me how to be a superhero, I would have gone in a second.

It’s similar to the wish fulfillment inherent in Hogwarts, except Hogwarts is better because it’s not a generic racist fantasyland.

But liking the character in the comics is different from whatever they put in the TV show. Look at this fucking trailer:

It’s just so disappointing.

Every trailer has to intrigue. It has to set up the central elements of the show, establish tone, and assure the audience that they’re going to see something clever and interesting. This trailer absolutely falls on its face in the last task.

“How in the hell did he learn martial arts?”

“Where did you train?” “K’un Lun.”

I get it; they have story elements they need to set up. But you don’t put a line like “How in the hell did he learn martial arts?” in a script, let alone a trailer. Anyone can learn martial arts. I could, even, if I was willing to practice hurting people and take a cross-town bus a few times a week.

No, the line is “How in the hell did he take out a team of our best hitters?” or something like that. Something that sounds dynamic.

And you don’t need to put the name “K’un Lun” into the fucking trailer. It’s meaningless to the people who don’t know the character’s history, and the people who do don’t need it. Just say something indirect like “A far away place” or “you haven’t heard of it” Even better, make a joke:

“Where did you train?”

Montage of Danny in monks’ robes, Monks, the beautiful city of K’un Lun.

“Oh, there’s a little place near the mall.”

The trailer needs some grace. It needs to show cleverness and competence, which it absolutely doesn’t. Is it any surprise that the filmmakers didn’t seem to understand why fans were hoping for an Asian-American Danny Rand?

Early reviews of the show have been pretty terrible, slamming it for being dull and talky, but you know what? I’m doing my usual Marvel Netflix thing anyway. On March 16, I’m buying two six packs, ordering a late pizza, prepping a pot of coffee for 4 am, then I’m going to binge the show straight through. I expect to finish sometime Friday afternoon. That’s what I did with the other Marvel Netflix shows. Then I watched them a second time that same weekend. Then, for Jessica Jones and S1 of Daredevil, I watched a third time the following week.

Will I be disappointed by Iron Fist? Probably. I still have hope that they’ll make his origin work somehow (After all, the MCU Punisher’s origin changed from a random tragedy into a complex plot and coverup that ran through most of Daredevil S2.) Can the filmmakers do something unusual/interesting/worthwhile with the whole “White Guy is the Best at Everything” trope? I’m doubtful, but I hope so.

Notice I haven’t called myself an Iron Fist “fan.” That’s because, as I mentioned, I don’t experience fannish enthusiasm. I’ve seen people waiting in line for movies and books who are giddy about the new thing they’re about to experience, but I’ve never felt that.

I experience my enjoyment as a sort of anxiety. I’ve been anxious and distracted for two weeks, thinking about this show. Maybe it will be terrible, but it will be a tremendous relief if it turns out to be good. Or at least not as bad as it could be.

In fact, I’m hoping it will live up to this:

We’ll see.

State of the Self, Feb 2017

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Let’s talk about where things stand in general with me.

1. Last night I posted fiction onto my Patreon. It’s the first scene of ONE MAN, the novel I’ve been working on, and I thought my patrons deserved a sneak peak. Just my way of saying “Thank you.”

Someone immediately cancelled their pledge.

Can’t please them all, I guess.

2. My gaming group has been playing MASKS, which is a genuinely great game about teenage superheroes. For the longest time, we couldn’t settle on a team name, so I’ve been throwing out joke suggestions (The Integriteens!)

The other players have latched onto one of my jokes as the name they actually want to adopt.

It starts with a hashtag.

3. I shipped my latest revision of ONE MAN to my agent last weekend, and I feel pretty good about it. She may have additional tweaks, but maybe not. If she does, I’m not sure how long it will take me to do them, because

4. I’m sick and getting sicker. Low-grade fever. Body aches. Exhaution.

And a cough that could shatter marble. At this point, I’m coughing so hard that my vision goes fuzzy and my extremities tingle. I honestly feel close to fainting. Which sucks.

Now that I’ve gotten older, it’s common for me to suffer a lingering cough after a cold, and I mean that it lingers for months. My wife hates it, because I cough big. BIG. She tells me to see a doctor, but they never do anything except prescribe cough suppressants and try to placebo me into thinking they’re super powerful. That never works and I’m sick of going. This time, though…

5. I’m not doing too much social media right now, because HACKING. It’s too hard to focus, which is why I’m doing Lemony Snicket and PI shows on Netflix.

6. My rent just went up.

7.Buy my books.

First Scene of New Novel Going Live on Patreon

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Folks have been very kind about my Patreon, so I thought I’d do something nice for my patrons. On Feb 1, I’m going to post the first scene from ONE MAN, my new novel which (with luck) will be published sometime next year.

It’s about 2.1K words and it’s not an entire chapter. It’s just to show folks what they are supporting.

If you’re not a patron, you can become one (and see what I’ve been working on these past two years) by pledging a dollar. After you see the new scene, you can always cancel your pledge. I hope you won’t, obviously, but if you do that’s on me.

Thanks, and take care of yourselves.

Randomness for 1/27

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1) Gameification gone mad: China has made obedience to the State a game.

2) Thirty of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016.

3) New superhero idea: the paper airplane gun. Video. Shoots 120 planes/minute. Warning: terrible music.

4) Episode one of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972). Video.

5) A CIA Operative’s Nine-Step Hotel Safety Checklist.

6) To follow up on the last entry: How to Book the Safest Room in a Hotel.

7) “Chatbot lawyer” originally created to help people get out of paying unlawful parking tickets now being used to prevent evictions and will soon aid Syrian refugees.

Going Big, Going Home, and Missing the Point: The Casual Hatred of Fun

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Yesterday I tweeted this:

It’s not the first time I’ve tweeted that particular book cover, but it had been a while and it crossed my social media again, so I thought I’d make this point again: Don’t hold back. Have fun with your premise. People like fun.

A number of people have expressed doubt that this is a real book, but it is: The Angel Wore Fangs. If it sounds like a fun read, grab yourself a copy. Book seven of a series!

Now, you can glance at the stats on that tweet to see that it sort of blew up, 3700 RTs at the time I write this, and it’s only now slowing down. And my mentions have been flooded with quote tweets from people adding “Wow” or laughing smileys or whatever.

But some people have responded like fools.

First of all, if your first response to that back cover blurb is something along the lines of “And NY publishers won’t publish my books!” as though all mainstream publishing cares about is cheap trash when heartfelt human stories languish in rejection piles, I would suggest you’re learning the wrong lesson.

Simple fact: publishing is large and complex, putting out books for a variety of tastes. If an aspiring author is not writing light-hearted gonzo paranormal romance, the success of such a book has nothing to do with the lack of success Aspiring’s book has achieved. They’re in different markets, aiming for readers in a specific mood.

Instead of moaning, these Aspirings ought to be trying to learn something from it, like “Be fun.” And if “fun” is not your thing, then how about “people like fun.”

Even worse are the people who seem to think the author isn’t in on the joke. They call the description things like “train wreck” and talk as though the author is just piling random obsessions into a story without realizing it will make it funny. Guys, the author is in on the joke. Click the Amazon link above and read her bio. Assuming that she’s not making conscious choices about this is sexist bullshit. Unfortunately, it’s all too common, especially when the woman is writing paranormal romance.

My official stand on that blurb is that I think it’s amazing and hilarious and I’m a little envious. It makes me wish I were a romance fan because then I could write in the genre; the romance readership is HUGE. Instead, I’ve written nine novels, and not one of them has a decent romance in it. I’m stuck with the muse I’ve got.

What did make me happy, though, were the folks who took that blurb as inspiration. Reading that wild description seemed to give them permission to go a little wild with their own stories. At one point, someone tweeted that she wished she could have written that story herself, although it would have been “browner and queer-er.” I had to jump in to encourage her to do just that.

I spent much of last night and this morning skimming through my mentions, looking for people who seemed to need an encouraging word. I hope they go on to write their own.

And I’m sure that I helped Ms. Hill sell a few books. Hopefully, she’ll get a bunch of new readers out of it. (If you’re wondering, all those retweets have done nothing to sell my own books, but I wouldn’t expect them to.)

Anyway, I guess I should sum things up this way: “Fun! People like it.”

Tech Hell

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Fun things for Christmas: To video Giftmas morning and all the opening of the presents, only to have that video be borked beyond repair.

The SD card in the camera became full, so I downloaded it to the desktop, then deleted everything on the card. Immediately after, I got a message from PHOTO saying some files were corrupted and couldn’t be viewed.

Had I stopped the import before it was finished? (It LOOKED finished). Were the files recoverable from my SD card?

One $20 app later, I undeleted everything I could from the card and saved it to my drive. Unfortunately, none of the recovered files (I tried twice) are viewable. The video “type” is unrecognized (they’re avi files) and the jpeg photos “have no metadata.” Neither can be imported into my Photo library and neither can be viewed at all.

Late last night I made another small video to make sure it works. It does. I have no idea why or how I lost my Christmas video for 2016, but I suspect it’s my fault and this bullshit year keeps getting worse. Watch this be the year I keel over dead and because of my own stupidity my family doesn’t even have a record of our last Christmas (which is not a thing I can say to them but I’m thinking about it).

Anyway, that sucks. All advice on restoring those files gratefully received through LJ or social media.

“… to interfere for good.” Annual repost of my favorite version of A Christmas Carol

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Every year, I watch this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and post it:

If the embedding doesn’t work, here’s a link.

It’s under half an hour, and while it feels a little rushed, it’s also full of fantastic choices: dark colors, spooky ghosts, and both Ignorance and Want.

It’s fantastic. If you haven’t watched it before, check it out.

Randomness for 12/23

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1) Fear of a Feminist Future. Includes He-Man dystopia/post-apocalyptic mockery.

2) How the Web Became Unreadable.

3) A data-driven paper using corpus analysis on page layouts in comics over the decades.

4) A hostage negotiator’s tips to be more persuasive.

5) From the same site: How to make people like you, from an FBI behavioral analyst. I’m going to keep this on hand for that mystery novel I’ve been meaning to write.

6) The Complex Psychology of Why People Like Things. An excellent discussion of all sorts of topics, covering genre, originality, hate-watching, and more.

7) How “Bad Biology” is Killing Economics.