Noping Out on Ultra-Man’s Zipper: Forgiving the Entertainment You Love

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Some time ago, on Twitter, another author was asking for Netflix movie recommendations, and I suggested THE HOST, a South Korean monster movie/family drama. I said the movie “didn’t need to be forgiven.”

That phrase surprised me, even though it was the one who typed it out. It sounded right when I said it, but I wasn’t sure what it meant or where it came from. Then it reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid:

In grade school, my second-favorite afternoon show was the Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club. Basically, Wee Willie Webber got up in front of a camera, did a dumb joke, and said: “An now… Marine Boy!” and then an episode of that show would play. Some of the shows were racist as hell (every kid in my class loved Chongo on Danger Island but yikes) but it was running and fighting and slapstick and magic spells or whatever, so I loved it.

In the second grade, Wee Willie planned to hold a live event where he would play an episode of Ultra-Man, and I talked my parents into taking me. I was seven, and I sat in a huge crowd of kids in a shopping mall somewhere (not a theater) while they projected an episode of the show onto a little screen.

Now, this was 1973, and there was no pause button. I had never stopped a show in the middle in my life. But Webber shouted for the projectionist to pause the episode right in the middle of the fight, when Ultra-Man had his back to the camera.

“There it is, kids. Can you see it? That’s the zipper on the Ultra-Man costume.”

Which was a dick move. The costume was designed to mostly hide the zipper, so I’d never noticed it before, but of course I already knew they were just dudes in suits. The four-legged monsters went around on their hands and knees! Of course they were guys in suits!

But I loved the show anyway, because if Wee Willie was my second-favorite, Ultra-Man was my first. I was nuts for giant monster movies of any kind, even shit like Johnny Sokko. And it was a dick move for Webber to give seven-year-old me yet another thing I would have to forgive.

So, forgiving movies and TV shows is about all the things that you have to let slide if you want to keep enjoying what you’re watching. Monsters who are really just guys in suits wrecking a model city? Let’s pretend not. Did Wesley really spend five years murdering innocent people as the Dread Pirate Roberts? La la not listening! Is Neo really going to gun down all those cops and security guards just because they work for the wrong people?

In fact, why are those people dead at all? The gunfight happened in a simulation; couldn’t the evil computers just blah blah blah.

Movies and TV shows are full of plot holes, unconvincing performances, boring sequences, cringe-worthy special effects, and other errors that have to be overlooked in order to enjoy them. We have a good time despite those problems because we choose to minimize them while we watch.

Some shows have to be forgiven for more serious issues. As much as I’ve enjoyed the recent run of Marvel movies, it’s ridiculous that they haven’t come out with one with a female superhero as the lead before now.

I’ve also been hoping we could get another Remo Williams movie, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to cast Joel Gray in yellowface as the Korean teacher, Chun. That’s a terrible idea. An amazingly terrible idea. Having said that, I also recognize that it’s Gray’s performance that makes that movie so much fun. RW:tab was a bore until he was introduced. He shouldn’t have been there, but he’s the one who made that movie work.

Finally, I’ve been recommending that people should watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix because it’s amazing. Unfortunately, it has only four parts for women, three of which are vanishingly small. The last is for the little girl who needs to be rescued.

Another problem with the film: Manpain.

Despite all that, I found the movie incredibly affecting, and I’m hoping to create a similar feeling in the book I just sent to my agent. I love that movie. That movie has problems.

Now, I am absolutely not saying that a plot hole about the Dread Pirate Roberts is equivalent to casting a white actor to play an Korean character. They aren’t equivalent at all.

It’s in our responses where the similarities lie. You’re watching something on screen, and then [thing] is there. Suddenly, you have to choose whether you want to Nope all the way out of the show or shrug it off and continue watching. Maybe the flaw is something incredibly minor, like costuming choices, but you nope out because the show has literally nothing enjoyable in it. Maybe the flaw is a massive dose of racism or sexism, but you keep watching because other aspects are so good, or because the show is old enough that you were expecting it, or because noping out of a show for this sort of flaw means you’d never get to enjoy anything in the genre.

Of course we can’t expect everyone to have the same tolerance for a particular flaw. Lots of folks reading this, after what I’ve said about The Man From Nowhere, will think ‘Meh. Not for me.’ And that’s cool.

That goes for Remo Williams, too, or for any film. It’s easy for me, a middle-aged Irish-American, to say I “forgave” the shitty choice of casting Joel Gray as a Korean. I grew up with that stuff. Tony Danza playing a Japanese guy on Love Boat? I watched that as a kid without understanding why it was a bad idea. It doesn’t have the same meaning for me that it would have for others.

And forgiving a show for its flaws is something that happens in the moment, while the show is still playing. It doesn’t require the audience to defend those choices later, or be silent about them. If we want to change the world for the better, we must speak out. The fact that I didn’t turn off The Man From Nowhere when I realized how few female roles it had doesn’t disqualify me from saying “Women deserve fair representation.”

Speak out. Be heard. How to be a fan of problematic things is recommended reading on the subject.

So then: Forgiving our entertainments so we can enjoy something. We’ve all done it. It’s a rare treat when we don’t have to.

And, obviously, my goal is to write books that never need to be forgiven, even though I’m sure I fall short.

On a personal note: on Sunday I finished revisions on One Man, and spent the rest of the day watching crime thrillers and drinking fancy beer. Monday, was the first day for work on The Twisted Path. (That’s the new Twenty Palaces novella I promised to work on.)

To start things off, I cracked open Circle of Enemies again. I haven’t looked at it since 2010, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with Ray Lilly’s voice. What I really did was remind myself of how many little details I’ve forgotten over the past 5+ years. I’ll keep at it, while continuing to take copious notes.

Randomness for 7/24

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1) The late great Jim Henson gives a puppeteering masterclass. Video.

2) Inside Portland’s Mystery Hole. #NotPorn

3) Exploding glass filmedin 343,000 fps slo-mo. Toward the end, this gets to be like the drug effects in DREDD.

4) A split screen comparing Los Angeles of the 1940’s with Los Angeles now. Video.

5) What type of low-budget films break out?

6) LA earthquake creates a seiche, a (potentially destructive) wave frequency that amplifies waves and ripples. Video.

7) Police 3D print a murder victim’s finger to unlock his phone.

Randomness for 7/10

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1) ‘You are a coward’: Hate and misperceptions about substance abuse are broader than I thought

2) Gorgeous cars of the art deco era.

3) This pedal-powered roller coaster gets a massive NOPE.

4) Terrible manager stories.

5) How God Created Animals. <-- Funny 6) Investigative reporter goes undercover in N Korea to find out the truth about life there, writes book, sees book listed as a “memoir” because the reporter is a woman.

7) If you thought the movie WARCRAFT tanked, you missed the part where it changed the way blockbuster movies are made.

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.