Randomness for 6/14

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1) This is strangely affecting.

2) Should you fuck this rock? Science says no.

3) Cinema audiences reproducibly vary the chemical composition of air during films, by broadcasting scene specific emissions on breath. Another reason for social animals to see movies in a crowded theater.

4) The Trailers for Ghostbusters (2016) and the Art of Editing Comedy by the creator of Every Frame a Painting.

5) The 35-Year-Long Hunt to Find a Fantasy Author’s Hidden Treasure.

6) Traffic-weary homeowners and Waze are at war, again. Guess who’s winning? Filed under: The Future Is Stranger Than We Expected

7) An amazing infographic.

All the binge-watching suggestions I received:

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In my last post, I asked people to suggest movie series or TV shows that would be appropriate for a birthday binge-watch. I asked for TV shows, genres, creators, sequels, anything. I knew I’d get a lot of responses, but damn.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of all the marathon suggestions from Twitter, Facebook, G+, LiveJournal, Goodreads, my blog, and the whispers from the crows that nest outside my bedroom window.

Harry Potter
John Carpenter
Coen Bros
Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Fast and the Furious
Season 1 of Poldark
Every movie titled CRASH
Movies with Roscoe Karns in a supporting role
Movies starring Warren Oates
Planet of the Apes
Movies scored by Michael Small
JW Tarzan
70’s disaster films
Ray Harryhausen movies
Hitchock movies
Tati movies
Val Lewton movies
Top box office movies from the year I was born
Clint Eastwood: bit player
Jurassic Park
BBC’s The Musketeers
John Hughes Comedies
1940s noir
1990s neo-noir
Jason Statham movies
Older Sci-fi/Fantasy: Dune, Barbarella, Blade Runner, Highlander, Ladyhawke, Beastmaster, Dr.Strangelove, Red Sonja, Secrets of NIMH, & Willow.
MST3K
Philip K. Dick-a-thon
Quatermass movies
Rocky movies
She-Ra
Whose Line is it Anyway
Monty Python’s Flying Circus/Fawlty Towers
Occupied (a Finnish TV series)
Person of Interest
Foyle’s War
Orphan Black
Burn Notice
Covert Affairs
White Collar
Tremors movies and TV series
Alias
Step Up movies
Avengers movies
Tinkerbell movies
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Slings & Arrows
MCU movies
Chow Yun Fat movies
John Woo movies
The Lost Room + BBC’s Ultraviolet
Kenneth Hite’s 10 Westerns to Watch
Jackie Chan films
Jet Li films
Donnie Yen films
Shane Black films
Twin Peaks
Miyazaki films
Cronenberg films
Firefly & Serenity
The Wachowski films
The Middleman
Enlisted
Red Dwarf
FlashForward
John Hughes movies
Broadchurch
Resident Evil
BBC’s Sherlock
Toy Story
How to Train Your Dragon
Marx Brothers
Game of Thrones
Peaky Blinders
Dexter
Banshee
Creature Features
Lonesome Dove
Fargo (TV series)
Back to the Future/Jason Bourne movies
Star Wars (Machete Order)
Luthor
Best of Schwarzeneger
John Cusack movies
Best of [insert decade here]
Alien(s)
Karate Kid
[New suggestions since this post went live]
Freaks and Geeks
The Prisoner looks like 14-15 hours.
Series 1+2 of Being Human
Con films: Ocean’s 11-13, Lucky Number Slevin, Now You See Me, Catch Me If You Can

There were fewer repeat suggestions than you might think. One thing I didn’t expect was that my wife got involved; she wrinkled her nose at some stuff that I would like, but even though it’s my day, if I can spend some of it with my wife, that’s a plus.

Still not sure what I’ll pick, but thank you all for your suggestions.

Actual Question: What would make a great movie binge marathon?

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My birthday celebration is coming up next month. For the last two years, I’ve taken the day off to watch the extended edition of LOTR and I have loved it, but this year maybe I should try something different.

But what? The Indiana Jones, Terminator, Star Trek, and Mad Max movies have some duds mixed in. The Three Stooges would be too repetitive. Star Wars has those damn ewoks, and I’m feeling like I’ve had enough Batman for a while.

It doesn’t have to be movies, though. I could do season one of Veronica Mars, or all of Jessica Jones, or take a heavy dose of Wallander.

Or, I could choose a bunch of different but related movies: martial arts fantasies, post-apocalyptic movies, or spy films, or something.

So I’m turning on comments so I can ask for help from you, dear reader: If you were to design a binge-watching marathon that ran from 12-20 hours (approximately) what would it be?

Sadly, the Cornetto trilogy is too short. The James Bond films are too long. Most TV shows are too long, especially if they run over several seasons. This website helpfully lists movie and TV lengths, but I didn’t see anything that made me jump up and salute.

Now, obviously I’m asking because I’m looking for ideas. Equally obviously, you probably don’t know me or my tastes. Don’t let that hold you back. I generally hate zombies and Saw-like psychopath movies, but any suggestions at all would be welcome.

I will say this: I’d like for them to be available on Netflix Streaming or on DVD (so my library will have them). That rules out semi-obscure series like the old Zatoichi films.

If I can’t come up with a better idea, I’ll probably be stuck with the Harry Potter films, and who needs that?

What do you say? Any ideas?

Randomness for 3/28

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1) The weird physiological trait that suggests a young person is prone to violence.

2) The influential and well-established psychological theory of Ego Depletion may be bunk, and scientists should be worried.

3) Volleyball or fire extinguisher?

4) An oral history of the Justice League.

5) Classical art, now available gluten-free.

6) How Alfred Hitchcock blocks a scene. Video. I’m really loving this genre of short documentaries about filmmaking techniques.

7) “The Worst Game I’ve Every Played.” Video. Bought off of Steam, this game is amazingly shoddy work.

Batman v Superman is a bad movie, but it’s not incoherent

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I saw Batman v Superman on Friday, despite the reviews. as expected, it was full of (dark) spectacle, but as I said on Twitter, it played as if it had been made by people who didn’t understand how stories work.

Screenwriters talk about structure all the time, which is a concern that goes beyond the usual cause and effect of plot and character. How does each scene play out? What effect will this have on the audience? How does this scene play in relation to the scenes that came before and after it? For example, if you watch the scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Nick Fury is attacked in his super spy van, you see a standard (and effective) escalation of threats. First, Fury faces a squad of well-equipped gunmen and kicks their asses. That extended scene demonstrates that he’s a badass. The scene ends when the Winter Soldier takes Fury out in a second or two, sending Fury running.

First, you establish a character as super capable, then you present someone who outdoes them.

The similar scene in BvS, where Batman in his Batmobile dismantles Luthor’s security team on the road, only to be stopped by Superman, tries to hit the same note and fails. You don’t need to establish Superman’s power level. He’s Superman. And Batman isn’t being a hero in that scene, he’s being an anti-hero (because he’s stealing from a villain and murdering his henchmen), so we’re glad he’s been foiled.

And it just doesn’t work on multiple levels, and that’s just one scene.

But a number of reviewers are calling it incoherent or saying the plot’s baffling, and that’s a separate issue entirely. It’s extremely common for viewers (critics included) to see a movie, decide they’re not enjoying it, then mentally check out. They stop caring, stop paying attention, and quickly get left behind by the plot.

Why didn’t the protagonist just kill that guy? Why did they have that long scene in the courthouse? Why this why that? Why not fly the giant eagles straight into Mordor?

For viewers who are paying attention, the answers are right there in the film. For viewers who aren’t, their self-inflicted confusion is just another strike against the filmmakers. Although of course this happens with books, too.

There must be a name for this phenomenon, but I don’t know what it is. But whenever I hear someone say “I didn’t like this movie, and it made no sense” I always believe the first half and remain agnostic on the second.

State of the Self, 2016 (aka, the “We’ll see” post)

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On Tuesday, I hit 100K words on the work in progress, currently titled ONE MAN, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to assess where things stand in a general way. No encouragement or advice, please, especially about the medical stuff.

Me, personally

I turned 50 last year, which I guess is supposed to be a big thing but it didn’t feel like it. Mostly, it felt (and continues to feel) like a timer ticking down. As more and more of “my” pop culture figures pass away (and more and more of them are closer to my own age) I’ve become increasingly aware that my own time is growing short. Right now, somewhere inside me, I probably have a cancerous tumor that’s lying quiet, small for the moment, but ready to expand aggressively under the right circumstances. If I’m very very lucky, I’ll live long enough to see my son married and living a stable life, to have earned a sense of accomplishment with my work, and to feel as though I’ve lived enough.

I can’t really imagine that, but that’s my hope.

The petty medical issues that have plagued me since 2012 haven’t gone away, but I’ve decided to work through them to focus on my weight. I’m down 10lbs in the last two weeks and plan to continue. The first few are always the easiest, of course. We’ll see.

Finally, for a long time I’ve pretty much avoided social situations. I talk to my wife. I talk to my son. I order coffee at the cafe. Beyond that, it’s extremely rare for me to speak to anyone aloud; all my interactions have been online. I guess the only exceptions have been the two-hour SF2W meetups that Django Wexler arranges, and I’ve been to, I think, two in the past year. Once in a rare while a reader drops me a note and we’ll meet face to face. Very rare.

Aside from that, I’ve been actively avoiding social events. I don’t go to conventions. I haven’t contacted the roommates I had 20 years ago to suggest we grab lunch. It’s been a very quiet life, and I like it.

But a week ago I cashed in the Christmas gift that my niece gave me: a tour of some of her favorite brewpubs in Ballard. It was extremely mellow, and we got the chance to just hang out and talk, which I don’t do much.

The following Friday, I had the event at the UW Bookstore, where a number of authors in the anthology Unbound signed books for readers. I suspect most of them were there to see Terry Brooks, but people were nice and it was good to talk to them. It had no noticeable effect on my book sales, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other authors afterwards. (What I could hear of it, anyway. People in bars are noisy.)

So I’m thinking I should put more energy into that sort of thing. Talking to people. I dunno. Maybe.

Family

My wife is doing pretty well, especially now that she has an APAP machine to help her sleep through the night, which she can do now, sometimes. She’s also spending more of her time painting. Making art was hard for her after her father died. She and her siblings inherited his canvases, which no one outside the family wanted and no one inside could bear to dispose of.

She began to feel the same way about her own work. Our apartment is already crowded, and she didn’t see a point to creating more stuff that her kid will have to deal with when we die. Slowly, she’s moved past that and is doing the work for its own sake, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. She’s also gotten into a couple of shows. Did I say it makes me happy? It really really does. Now I just need to write a hit book so we can afford a place with a studio. North-facing, naturally.

My son turned 14 a few months ago and starts high school in the fall. Homeschool is coming to an end, and I’m hoping that a) he’ll make more real life friends and b) I’ll have more writing time. It’s going to be a rough transition, but he’s ready for it. His sleep schedule might not be, but he is.

Games

I’m still playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on Steam. In fact, I’m playing it too much. I should probably download a program that will block Steam for most of the day. I’d get more done, and do less obsessive clicking.

BUT! I should say that, when I’m playing SotM, I don’t feel hungry, or itchy, or sad. I’m almost completely absorbed, even moreso than when I’m writing. It’s worth keeping around just for that. I just wish it was less irresistible.

Reading

After several years of feeling burned out on reading inside the fantasy genre, I’m finally feeling burned out on crime and mystery. It doesn’t help that I tried to shift from old classics to books that are popular and current, and really really did not enjoy them.

Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I picked up solely out of a sense of gratitude for the social events mentioned above, is a flintlock fantasy that I enjoyed way more than expected. Recommended. At the moment, I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because everyone on reddit loves those books passionately. I’m 80 pages in and mostly enjoying it, despite the fact that I’m not usually fond of high magic settings.

Watching

I took the family to DEADPOOL, which is an objectively bad movie, but hugely enjoyable anyway. It’s been a while since I saw a modern Hollywood film (that wasn’t SPY) that made me laugh really hard. Now I hear that the people behind Batman v Superman are planning an R-rated version, because… I don’t know, they think it was the rating that made DEADPOOL a hit and not the humor? Don’t know. Don’t care all that much.

I’ve also dropped a number of TV shows that I was watching through sheer momentum, not because I enjoyed them. Most of what I found compelling in season one of ARROW is long gone, and I just don’t have space for it anymore. After trying both LUCIFER and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, I’ve decided that they aren’t going to do that Star Trek thing where it takes them a little while to find their rhythm and they become awesome. Both are dropped. At this point, I’m only watching ELEMENTARY, FLASH (which has been way less fun this season) and AGENTS OF SHIELD (which has been improbably improving).
I’m looking forward to season 2 of DAREDEVIL, even though it will probably be a disappointment. We’ll see.

No one in my family is remotely interested in the upcoming DC adaptations. We’ll see, redux.

Writing

As I mentioned above, last week I crossed the 100,000 word mark of ONE MAN. What I didn’t mention is that last August 26th, I was at 31,000 words.

I know this because of this horrible new record-keeping that other authors suggested I do. All it does is tell me things that make me unhappy.
For example, last fall I took a month-long trip to Portugal, and my plan to squeeze out a few pages during quiet moments never worked. I got zero new words done that month.

After Thanksgiving, I stopped writing the first draft and went back to revise what I had. Revise it extensively, which took a month and a half.

When that was finished, I realized the game supplement I promised my Kickstarter backers was way overdue, and I spent three weeks revising that.
When I returned to ONE MAN, I re-outlined the rest of the book (using the virtual whiteboard app Scapple, which I like) and now things are tearing right along.

It’ll take another long revision process, and it’s going to be a long-ass book: at 100K words, I’m still looking ahead to the beginning of the climax. Still, I feel like this is good work. I just hope the market agrees.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on after that. The next book in the series is TWO DRAGONS, but I have a short story due for an anthology (soon) and I might want to write something else in between. Plus there’s that game supplement.

I wish I could be more prolific.

And that’s where things stand.

Randomness for 12/24

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1) Why you don’t want to wear metal inside an MRI. Video.

2) 15 things I learnt about Islam and British values being a gay boy living opposite a mosque. h/t James Nicoll

3) MRA Dilbert. Combining Scott Adam’s own words with Scott Adam’s art.

4) Poll results: The best video essays of 2015

5) Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame.

6) DIY Netflix socks will automatically pause your show when you fall asleep.

7) The Ten Best Articles Wikipedia Deleted This Week.

Spoiler-filled review of The Force Awakens

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I know that social media will replicate the first few lines of a blog post, so I won’t put anything spoilery right here at the front. Also, I’ll use a cut.

But let me say that I mostly enjoyed it but didn’t think it was all that great. I certainly liked it less than John Scalzi did. Light sabers are still the most cinematic idea ever, but as for the rest of the story?

Meh.

And please don’t ask me to “turn my brain off.”
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Ruining a story with a head-fake ending (Spoilers for KRAMPUS)

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This post is going to be filled is SPOILERS for the movie KRAMPUS.

[Added later: Hey new visitors, after reading this, why not click the book cover in the sidebar? It’ll take you to the page showing all my books, and you can read click on one to read a free sample. That’s what this site is for, after all.]

I know. Literally zero of you care about this movie, but I took my son (for nefarious reasons[1]) expecting it to be a poor man’s GREMLINS, and I was mostly right. It wasn’t gory, but it wasn’t as funny or subversive as it imagined it was.

And the ending ruined the movie.

The beginning is pretty great: “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas” begins to play over a slow-motion door-buster shopper rampage through a department store. People get trampled, they fight over toys, employees with huge grins on their faces taze people. It’s stylish and fun.

Then the movie focuses in on a family and their awful Christmas. Briefly, upscale yuppie family awaits the arrival of their downscale redneck relations, and no one is even bothering to hide their contempt for each other.

Which means that the movie’s hero, young Max (who is too old to still believe in Santa, but believes anyway for the sake of the holiday) gets fed up and tears up his letter to the jolly old elf.

This summons Santa’s shadow, the demon Krampus, who “comes not to give, but to take.” Krampus himself doesn’t do much except carry around a bag full of evil toys and gingerbread cookies. He also has scary-looking elves. In all, people are killed, kidnapped, or devoured.

Of course the family bands together in the face of all this trouble and learn to care about each other. The movie forgets that Max is the protagonist, letting his parents do all the protagging, and, you know, it’s fine. It forgets to be a satire, but it does have a demon teddy bear so whatever.

But what really kills the film (in an interesting way) is the ending. I mentioned SPOILERS, didn’t I? Here’s the thing: the final shot shows the family in Krampus Hell. Basically, they’re celebrating Christmas around the tree, but they’re all trapped inside a snow globe, which is placed on a shelf with a whole bunch of others, suggesting that these people will be stuck together forever.

Which is a fine ending for a PG-13 monster movie, but they way they got there simply didn’t work.

First, you have the scene the backstory sets up: the whole family has been taken but Max remains behind as a cautionary tale.

But Max won’t have it. He takes the Krampus bell (which sort of works, given the context) and demands his family back. He throws the bell, it lands in the snow, the ground cracks open, and a fiery pit is revealed.

I’m thinking Krampus and all his elves and toys gets sucked into Hell? But nope. The pit to Hell is part of Krampus’s MO, and they pitch a cousin into it.

Which leads Max to weep for his family and ask for them back. Krampus reaches out with one of those fakey prosthetic monster fingers and wipes away the tear, leading me to think Will the monster undo everything for the sake of a real tear? Nope. He just laughs and dangles Max over the pit.

Then Max says he’s sorry. He apologizes for losing his faith in the holiday (which is bullshit, considering the shit he’s put up with) and I’m wondering if this could be…

Nope. Krampus drops him, and he does the slow-mo scream & fall into the pit…

And wakes up in his bed. It’s Christmas morning, and everyone is downstairs, and nothing is broken or ruined, and everyone is happy to be together. LOOK GUYS IT WAS ALL A DREAM.

At this point, my son leaned over and said: “He’s going to find a Krampus bell and realize it all happened” which is close enough to the truth to win the kewpie doll because when he unwraps a gift and finds it, everyone remembers, and the camera pulls back to show them trapped in the snow globe, and Krampus walking away.

But I was already soured on the whole thing. Teasing those other, softer endings (the tear, the apology, the dream) gave me the sinking feeling that I was going to see a shitty ending. Snatching away a shitty ending in favor of a different one/a pretty good ending isn’t fun or satisfying. At best, it’s a relief.

You don’t want me thinking “Thank god they did x instead of y.”

Anyway, Krampus: an okay movie with a really underwhelming ending.

[1] Nefarious reasons explained: Giftmas is upon us and my kid wants nothing. There’s almost nothing to buy for him, and it’s a little frustrating. So, knowing that he needs clothes and that he has a particular taste, my wife and I figured he would do well at Old Navy.

She picked something that he could get her for the holiday (inexpensive PJs) and, while we were there, he asked if he could get some stuff, too.

End result, $150 of desperately needed clothes added to his Giftmas pile, and he thinks it was his idea.