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.

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.

BREAKING: I Do Not Have Skin Cancer

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I’ve been feeling weird as hell for the last day and a half: I found a weird new thing on the side of my face, where my baseball cap doesn’t protect from the sun. Immediately, I feared the worst, and my wife was pretty sure I was right.

The hard part was the idea that I’d have to tell my son. He’s just started high school after spending most of his life being homeschooled, and the transition has been challenging for him The idea that his father had cancer, too, would have been too much.

Thankfully, the doc looked me over and confirmed that the spot is something else entirely. It’s literally my body’s natural ugliness manifesting itself more fully; apparently, I’m going to be one of those old people who get all age-spotted or whatever.

Whatever. I made my peace with the way I look a long time ago. As long as I get to stick around a while longer to see my son grow up, share meals with my wife, and write books, I’m content.

Back to it.

No more Facebook account for me

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Not to make a big deal of this, but I shut my Facebook account and unfriended/unliked everyone on it. I didn’t deactivate it because that would have erased the Facebook Page I maintain for people who want to follow my blog there (with all the usual caveats). Publishers expect FB presence, and at this point that’s the minimum I’m willing to put in.

Instead, I set everything to private, unfriended everyone, including friends I’ve known for 40-some years and my siblings (along with many many complete strangers).

I realize this will cut me off from people I care about, but it was time.

If you’re a Facebook person who absolutely has to follow me there, go to my page, which is in the sidebar of my website.

It’s my not-birthday

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Since I share a birthday with my wife (which is how we met, but year-to-year it sorta sucks), I moved my birthday celebration to July 1st. So today is my not-birthday.

I’m old.

If you think it might be nice to get me something, I’d ask that you buy one of my books for yourself or as a gift for a friend. Some of those ebooks are pretty cheap surprisingly affordable! Also good.

State of the Book/State of the Self

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[I wrote this on Saturday night, before news struck of the deadliest mass shooting by a civilian in this country’s history. Rather than let it go live at the scheduled time, I’m just going to post it later in the week, along with my wish that sensible gun control be enacted in this country, starting with a lifting of the ban on CDC’s ability to study gun violence.]

You’ll be reading this tomorrow, but I just tweeted this:

If you’re not a long-time reader, let me explain: When I finish a draft of a novel I treat myself to a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Which means that I’ve wrapped up the zero draft of ONE MAN, and what a fucking relief it is. I started this book in March of 2015, according to the creation date of my Scrivener file. That’s a long time for me, even if you count the amount of time I spent traveling on vacation and taking a digression to work on side projects, like The Way into Fate, the rpg game supplement that closed out my Kickstarter campaign, and short fiction, too.

So, that’s a long haul, and I’m still not done. I have a list of 90-some changes that need to be made, from small ones like adding a couple characters to a scene or changing someone’s name, to systemic ones like giving certain characters their own slang. Then, once those changes are done, I have to manage the numerous comments I’ve left myself recommending I check various details in the book. Then, once THAT’s done, I have to reread the whole book, smoothing out the text, searching for word echoes, and generally prettying things up. If I were sensible, I’d do that twice.

Only then will this draft be truly done and ready for my agent to read. If you’re waiting for THE TWISTED PATH, which is the next Twenty Palaces story, you’ll have to wait until then. Sorry. Gotta get this book on the market.

Personally, I’m relieved to have accomplished even this much. This has been a difficult book, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a fantasy with a made-up setting. It’s a crime story. It has a bunch of POV characters. It has stakes and magic and betrayals and secrets.

And if this book flops, too, I’m going to have to rethink my whole approach to writing.

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.