Monday, July 24, 2017

Was Brandon Stark in control of Nymeria in Game of Thrones' Stormborn?

In "Stormborn," the second episode of Game of Thrones seventh season, the most interesting occurrence might have happened in the woods with no one around but Arya. The scene unfolded like thus: Arya was by a campfire, her horse tethered to a tree or bush slightly behind her, when it became clear that the horse was becoming more and more agitated. Wolves started to show up, and they circled her as if guided by something that had commanded them into some kind of formation.

Before too long, a giant dire wolf showed up. All of us jumped to the conclusion that this was Nymeria, Arya's long lost wolf from season one episode 2, when she was forced to chase it into the woods to avoid a killing by order of the Queen (for having bit Joffrey). Sansa's wolf (still a pup) was put down and suffered the fate that was intended for Nymeria. I'd long wondered if that wolf had some part to play, and I suppose with its introduction, the writers are saying that it definitely does.

Arya of course, tried to talk to the wolf to get it to recognize her. She said, "Nymeria, it's me, Arya." And the wolf seemed to recognize her because it left along with its pack of much smaller wolves. Arya wanted Nymeria to follow her to the north, and there was disappointment at first as the dire wolf left. However, then there was something that I didn't quite understand that happened. I had to watch it twice to be sure. Arya says, "That wasn't you." Then she has this look of understanding that crosses her face.

I think what happened is that Arya has spent so much time in the presence of followers of the Many-Faced God that she believes she saw something in Nymeria's eyes. I think that person was Brandon Stark, who is now south of the wall, probably feeling safe, and exploring the world through his warging/three-eyed raven powers. I think Bran saw Arya through the wolf's eyes, and she recognized him. Maybe not enough to put a name to it, but it certainly would explain the wolf formation and the absolute command that the dire wolf seemed to have over its pack.

Anyway, this is just a theory (one of my own that's not from the internet). But it's just possible that we saw how Brandon expects to use his power to help out his family.

What do you guys think?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

People who I would consider marginalized by society love Cersei Lannister and I find that horrifying.

I've been noticing a strange phenomenon since the season 7 premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones this weekend: people whom I would consider "marginalized" are professing love for Cersei Lannister. Before I get into that, let me define "marginalized" and what it means for me. They are people who harbor bitter attitudes just beneath the surface (regarding their poverty, sexual currency, or overall lot in life). In my experience, marginalized people blame everything BUT themselves for any of their failures. Just to be clear...I'm not saying that society hasn't put its foot on the backs of these people. But in my life's wisdom, there's usually a combination of things that lead a person into a downward spiral of "bottoming out," and one of them certainly can be racism, prejudice, or other ills created and spread by society. But that is also (rarely) the only thing that's going on. But why the bitterness? Well...when you grow up being told that you are a special unique snowflake, and it doesn't turn out that way (rather, maybe the opposite ends up being true) then it's easy to see why some people might be bitter about that. The rub is that (as adults) we can't show our bitterness unless we want to have no friends at all. So people learn coping skills to hide all that bitterness and rage beneath a shallow smile so that (to most onlookers) they appear like a normal human being.

Anyway, all of the above is old news to anyone that has gotten to know a decent sample size of the human race. The adult lot is full of "disappointed dreamers" who feel emotionally (and perhaps socially) castrated and unappreciated for their greatness. What I find interesting though, is how many of them identify with the character of Cersei Lannister, perhaps one of the most notorious psychopaths in fiction. Not only that, but they admire her for her strength and dedication. When I found this out through several conversations, I was horrified and fascinated at the same time. Their reaction to my horror was priceless, because many of them didn't think it was bad to have admiration for a mass murderer. Another interesting fact: all of my samples are liberals. Yeah. These are people who want free health care for all, universal basic income for all, feel that the world would be a better place if love was everywhere and everyone had multiple sex partners and could stay stoned/high all the time so that there was only pleasure and no pain. Yes...these same people profess admiration for a woman that burned all of her enemies alive in wildfire and destroyed the entire Sept of Balor (the Westerosi equivalent of Vatican city). I was floored.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cersei Lannister, she's a Machiavellian ruler who has stopped at nothing when it comes to seizing her throne. Her last living child even committed suicide because of the horrors that Cersei inflicted, and she hardly batted an eyelash. She even twisted his actions saying, "He betrayed me," as if in those three words it was completely okay that your son committed suicide by throwing himself to his death. If the murdering wasn't bad enough, she's tortured people to death or given them over as rewards to undead monsters to rape and enjoy, and she's had an incestuous relationship with her brother her entire life (while married to the king whom she cuckolded gladly). The list of her horrible traits is a mile long, and I thought for sure that there was nothing to admire there. Yet, it seems, if you are feeling "oppressed" in any way, she's probably the character you like most.

It makes me wonder why. The answer may be simple: oppressed people like Cersei because they wish that they could do what Cersei did to her enemies. And that single thought terrifies me. It's made me look at these liberal "friends" in a different light and made me realize, "Hey...I have different values than these people. There's no way I could do the things that Cersei Lannister has done. I'm just not that kind of person."

There's so much anger and hatred in this country that it feels like it's oozing through the polite cracks everywhere. I saw it on the political right first, but now I'm seeing it on the political left as well. It's been a real wake-up call, and it makes me worried for the future. I suppose a television series like Game of Thrones really does have something for everyone, and it should be a reminder to us all that evil makes a flower bed of anger and grows quite nicely if it is ignored.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Here are my thoughts on the season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones.

I loved the season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones last night on HBO. But there are a few things that bug me with the gap in time between seasons. I mean obviously...there has to have been some time (a month maybe) for Daenerys to sail to Dragonstone with her fleet. If I'm being generous...perhaps three months at sea? So in that time I'm expected to swallow a few of the following (which I did...but I'm kind of complaining about the time compression here):

1) Euron Greyjoy built a thousand ships. Yara and Theon stole all of Euron's good ships, so he had his men go about building more. It seems to me that a thousand ships would be a tall order. They sure as hell slapped those suckers together fast. I mean...the Iron Folk are experts at sailing, but it just makes me wonder how they could put together so many ships in so little time.

2) How did Jorah get all the way to Old Town? I suppose he left Daenerys in the desert so there was enough time that passed. But why did he go to Old Town? I thought for sure he'd go back to the woman that wore the veil in front of her face that we met in season two that said she knew of a cure for greyscale (Jorah's disease). It's disturbing how much of it has progressed, by the way.

3) Why is Jaime Lannister not furious with Cersei? I didn't expect the banter between them to go with such civility. I mean she's a psychopathic murderer whose directly responsible for one of his son's deaths. I don't know why he didn't just strangle the life out of her in last night's episode.

Now onto some assorted musings about the premiere:

1) The White Walkers have undead giants. I wasn't expecting that, and it was a nice touch. Mark my word...before it is all over, Lady Mormont will kill one of those single-handedly.

2) Euron had the balls to mock Jaime Lannister in the throne room in front of Cersei. "I have two good hands." That was hilarious.

3) The Hound has really won me over as someone that has a good heart. I never expected that of him. He has a tremendous amount of empathy for the small folk, and he's swiftly becoming a favorite character.

What about you? Any assorted musings you'd care to share from your watching of the "most-watched television series of all time?"

Friday, July 14, 2017

These are the four shows I'm most interested in watching during Shark Week 2017.

On July 23rd, Shark Week 2017 takes off, and I've already got the schedule of the shows I'm going to watch. There are 18 programs in total that will air on Discovery channel. Below are the details of the four I'm most interested in (and they air early in the week):

Sunday, July 23rd
Great White Shark Serial Killer Lives: Shark experts Ralph Collier and Cal Lutheran, using satellite tags and DNA technology, think that the same great white returns again and again to a certain beach in California to attack people. This interests me simply because I've long suspected that great white sharks are diabolically intelligent.

Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White: Michael Phelps with 23 Olympic gold medals under his belt takes on a great white shark in a race that he's probably going to lose, but it will still be entertaining as hell.

Shark-Croc Showdown: Of course this is happening in of the 14-foot crocodiles. Anyway, this promises to show what happens when 14-foot crocodiles move into shark infested waters.

Monday, July 24th
Return to the Isle of Jaws: Divers and scientists seek to unlock the mysteries of the new great white hot spot just south of Western Australia. The episode promises a discovery that's 1) startling and 2) will make everyone rethink everything we thought we knew about great whites.

There are a few others peppered here and there that sound kind of interesting. I most likely will be checking them out simply because there aren't a whole lot of options available on television in the summer. Anyway, are any of you planning on watching "Shark Week 2017?"

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Here are my six predictions for season seven of Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones resumes its march toward oblivion with the season 7 premiere this Sunday. To say that I'm excited is to understate things quite a bit. I've waited years for this story to finish, and I'm finally going to begin to see who are the best players to win the throne and how on earth are the survivors going to deal with the White Walkers and the Night's King. Here are my predictions:

1) Cersei will die by Jaime Lannister's hands. Part of this is simply because George R.R. Martin (if anything) is unpredictable. But he's so unpredictable that he's kind of become predictable. There's lots of foreshadowing that Tyrion is probably going to kill Cersei. I don't think that's how things will shake out, because that would be predictable. With that in mind, I think Jaime will strangle Cersei to death (remember the prophecy of the fortune teller in season five?), mostly because in the books he's clearly appalled at the monster Cersei has become, and I think that will carry forth into the show as well. He already viewed her with disgust after returning to King's Landing and seeing what she had done to destroy the Sept of Balor. Additionally, it's well within his right to say that Cersei's actions to destroy the Sept of Balor directly resulted in Tommen's death (Jaime's son). Honestly, it's not much of a stretch to go from "Kingslayer" to "Kinslayer." After all, Tyrion did it first.

2) Sansa will turn against Jon probably because of Littlefinger. Sansa is an unpopular main character. I for one will freely admit that I've found her chapters in George's books to be tedious. She's only become interesting in the last couple of seasons. I also think that she's a little bit resentful that she saved Jon's life by soliciting the Knights of the Vale to come to his aid in order to take Winterfell. Without them, Ramsay would have won and everyone would have been dead. Instead they all called Jon, "The King in the North." In her own words, Sophie Turner (the actress that plays Sansa) has said, "Sansa looks at Littlefinger knowing that he would have put her as Queen in the North and given her the credit she deserved." That's kind of a powerful motivation to turn against Jon Snow if ever I heard of one.

3)  Samwell Tarley will discover the key to defeating the Night's King. I predict it will be in the Oldtown library that he reached last season.

4)  The Wall will come down. I think that Samwell Tarley is carrying the Horn of Joramun around and doesn't know it, and that Euron Greyjoy will sack Oldtown and take it from Samwell to use it as a bargaining chip with the Night's King. The Night's King (of course) then uses it to destroy the Wall.

5)  Arya will kill Littlefinger. She's a face-shifting assassin these days. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to pull this feat off.

6) The Hound kills his undead brother The Mountain. They call this the "Cleganebowl." But seriously...why else would we keep the Hound alive if it wasn't for this?

That's it for my predictions. Do you have any?

Monday, July 10, 2017

I tried to spot Easter Eggs for you in Spider-man Homecoming which is a great film by the way.

As movies go, Spiderman: Homecoming was one of the best I'd seen in a while. It certainly is up there with the first Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier or Captain America: Civil War. One of the things that really worked for me was the absence of Peter Parker's origin story. I think that's been done to death, and obviously the makers of the movie agreed that it shouldn't be told again on film.

Another thing that I love about these movies are the (SPOILER ALERT) Easter Eggs. So I'll go over a few of these that I managed to remember (and spot) from the film when I went and viewed it with my best bud, Brad Habegger.

First off, when the Marvel logo thing starts spinning, you hear the usual musical refrain associated with Marvel replaced with the "Spiderman...spiderman" theme from decades ago. That was really fun. Then you also get to see "Damage Control" in action, which is a corporation in the comics that cleans up sites of alien invasion (because all that strange tech needs to be cataloged and kept out of the hands of bad people like Hydra). Of course, you know it never works out that way or else there'd be no more good stories.

Then there's the reveal that a character named "Michelle" actually goes by M.J. Hmm? Coincidence? These kind of things rarely are. You only find out about "M.J." right before the credits roll. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this character, it is one of the many love interests in Peter Parker's storied history (a pretty significant one). Of course there's always Black Cat and Gwen Stacey to name a few others, but it seems like the creative team with Marvel will be incorporating M.J. over those two.

We also get to see Shocker in the movie, but he gets disintegrated by the Vulture. However, you'll notice that the yellow shirt he's wearing has a diamond pattern on it. This is obviously an homage of sorts to the comic book character. I doubt Shocker will ever make an appearance in the Disney/Marvel outings because he was used to bad effect in the second Amazing Spider-man movie.

There's also the guy that plays in "Better Call Saul" as the character "Nacho." In Spiderman: Homecoming, he plays a fairly insignificant role, but he shows up in the stinger with a scorpion tattoo on his neck. I think this means that he's going to be "The Scorpion" in a future Spider-man movie (which is also the significance of the stinger if you must know). He's probably going to become some part of the Sinister Six (a group of Spider-Man villains that are pretty destructive because they are all working together).

That's all the Easter Eggs I managed to spot.

Individual musings: I read somewhere that the film team destroyed fifteen Lego Death Stars to get the right shot. It makes my inner nerd weep. I also wonder what the iron suit that Iron Man made for Peter Parker does that the other one in the film doesn't. Bonus, the skin-tight look of the suit on Tom Holland's body is over the top great. The second stinger at the end of the long credits isn't really worth waiting for. It's just a public service message from Captain America. It's kinda/sorta funny but not really.

Things that are cool about Tom Holland, the actor that plays Spiderman. Check out this video below (which premiered on MTV's lip sync battles by L.L. Cool J.). It starts at about 1:47 with "Singing in the Rain," and he frickin' crushes it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

What would Walt Disney think of Pixar?

When I was in junior high (I guess they call that middle school these days), we were asked to write a book report on a biography of someone famous. Most people chose presidents. I chose Walt Disney. There might be some people today that don't know that he was an actual person and just think that's the name of the corporation. But Walter "Elias" Disney was one of America's business tycoons that created theme parks and among many animated things, Mickey Mouse. And if there's anything that I remember from writing that report it's this: Walt Disney was most definitely not perfect. Sure he was innovative and successful, but he was the subject of many controversies (not the least of which was that he might have been anti-Semitic and even racist). The debate on those claims (I don't think) was never settled. So yeah...the man was a flawed human just like everyone else.

At the same time though, I ask myself (sometimes) when I think about the man who created the machine that now owns the biggest studios in Hollywood, "What would Walt Disney think of ____?" and then fill in the blank. Because Cars 3 was recently on my mind, naturally that question turned to Pixar, which is a studio I wholeheartedly love. I like Pixar more than Dreamworks and Illumination (Despicable Me franchise), although there may be singular movies in those studios (like the How to Train Your Dragon ones) that I consider masterpieces.

In an interview that his daughter, Diane Disney, gave, she was asked this question: What do you think he'd [Walt] think of all the best animated movies today that are computer animated? She responded that "He'd love that."

Without even having met the guy and only having watched Pixar films, I would agree. Pixar films are designed to transport us not just out of our lives, but out of the theater itself. They remind us of simpler times, the memories and emotions that make us who we are. Pixar takes all of us on trips to our childhoods, our happiest moments, our saddest moments...for some reason this animated studio can tap into all of that through their stories.

Or maybe that reason is simply that the ones who work at Pixar understand that the most important stories resonate with people because they appeal to a core truth of being alive? What do you think (if you, dear reader, are also a fan of Pixar films--to be honest, if you're not we really shouldn't be friends). They also tend to deal with something that might be considered darker in tone in a way that many of us find readily accessible.

Or maybe Pixar movies are great because of the influence of one creative genius. In particular, I'm thinking of Brad Bird, who is someone that (I think) Walt would have championed. Brad Bird's IMDB profile gives him eight Pixar credits (all very influential from senior creative team to director) that include: Inside Out, Monsters University, Brave, Toy Story 3, Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles 2 (due out in 2018). Brad Bird is a great technical director but more importantly his films always have that touch of a tender heart which separates the pedestrian animated films from those which will last and resonate emotionally for years to come.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Please let me know in the comments.

I will be taking next week off from blogging as I have a friend coming into town and all sorts of things planned.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You seriously should be reading the Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley.

I'm having a lot of fun reading a book by a new author (new to me) called Brian Staveley. The book in question is the novel, The Emperor's Blades, and I'm a little over halfway through. But the book is something I haven't been able to put down since I started reading it in earnest since Friday. Every spare moment, I find myself grabbing it, and then immersing myself in the story which seems to plug every button in the "things I love about epic fantasy" box. Just so you know, there are lots of spoilers for the plot of this book in my post, but I can't help myself. The details are just too good not to want to chat about them. Brian Staveley is a brilliant storyteller I've read since George R.R. Martin. Seriously. And I don't think that comparison cheapens him at all, because Staveley is not a Martin knock-off. Not one bit. He just has that greatness to his storytelling that is OMG so good. Also, this is not a review post. I haven't finished the book. This is a "OMG this book is so exciting" post, if that's even a thing.

The story is told from the perspective of three characters who are children of the Emperor. There's Kaden who lives with a bunch of monks in the most inhospitable and remote region on the planet. The monks of course are complete bastards that beat up their charges and practice monkish philosophy in the sense that they are trying to completely empty themselves of all emotions. There's Valyn who's out in the middle of this god-forsaken ocean on some remote islands training to be a Kettral warrior (the Kettral make navy seal training pale in comparison). And then there's Adare who's the lone daughter who lives in the capital city. Pretty much at the start of the book the Emperor dies, and pretty quickly, it's concluded that he was murdered. As the book unravels, mysteries in all three storylines are cleverly spun and the super intelligent and athletic characters uncover the clues along with the reader in excellent real-time, so you are there for all of the surprises and the "Eureka" moments, figuring things out pretty much at the same time as the point of view character does. It's that clever. Really, I never found myself ahead of a character, unraveling something before it was revealed (and I consider myself a pretty astute reader). And Brian Staveley's prose is so good.

In Valyn's storyline, he's a cadet in training to become a Kettral warrior. This is named after the great birds that these cadets fly (also called Kettrals) with a wingspan of some 70 feet. One person rides on the back, and then four others (part of the Wing or squad) hang onto the claws using straps and performing various duties. One person is a sniper, another is a leach (which is a human with magical powers that are drawn from a source and can do all kinds of things), a third is the flyer, the fourth is the wing leader/commander, and there's a fifth person that kind of has a jack-of-all trades skillset.

Because Valyn is a prince, he gets all kinds of crap from the other cadets and some even go as far as hating him. About the same time as the emperor gets assassinated, he almost gets killed when an inn/tavern he's inside of tumbles into the sea. Later, he and his best friend (a female cadet called Ha Lin) conclude (correctly) that it was someone trying to assassinate him. This leads them to follow clues that lead to a grisly murder scene and where they've gathered enough information to conclude that one of the Kettral cadets must be trying to murder him.

The training Valyn has to go through is brutal. When he finally takes the Trial of Hull, he's essentially been through five days of sheer torture where he and the other cadets have been pushed to the literal brink of physical and emotional exhaustion. They are dropped off on this island that none of them have ever seen and taken to the entrance of a gigantic labyrinth of caves. Suspended above this massive entrance (a hole if you will) is a cage containing a pair of monsters called slarn. Each of the cadets has to let the slarn bite them, and their poison is so virulent that if they don't get the cure, it essentially cripples them physically for the rest of their lives. The poison makes it to the heart in about 24 hours. They are then sent into the labyrinth of caves with two swords and a torch that will burn 10-hours and told to find a white egg in a nest of these slarn and eat it. That's the cure.

Valyn spends hours fumbling around in the dark, and it's really tense, before he lights his torch. He comes across nest after nest where the eggs are already destroyed. Eventually, he has to throw himself into an underground river when he's attacked by a dozen slarn and ends up deep in the earth on some beach where he's able to eventually get his torch going again. There's this enormous nest near him and he wanders over to it and finds a black egg. With no time remaining he basically slurps it down, and it does cure him, and then he flees like the biggest slarn ever and makes it to the surface. There near the top he finds his best friend murdered, and he emerges and scares the bejeesus out of everyone because his eyes have turned completely black. That's essentially where I am with Valyn's storyline...and I really can't wait to read more. Oh and the eggs give the Kettral powers. Valyn's egg (of course) bestows even more powers than a white egg would.

In Kaden's storyline, he's been in monk training for the last eight years (like Valyn) and can't seem to understand why the monks are trying to pursue emptiness. Like why is that even a thing? So...and because he isn't making much progress...he gets taken before the abbot who finally explains why they've been trying to get him to reach this hallowed state of emptiness. They explain that humans essentially come from these gods called clestrium (I know I'm mispelling this word). Something happened long ago that made these immortals start to bare mortal children who had emotions (the clestrium didn't have those kinds of emotions) and the immortals viewed these kids as abominations and tried to kill them. Well they didn't succeed and humans soon outbred the clestrium and a war started and the immortals lost and were driven through magical gates that they used to travel all over the planet instantaneously. The emperor is supposed to be the keeper of the gates. The monks are descendants of people who figured out that the gates actually lead to another plane ruled over by the blank god, who doesn't allow anyone to use his gates or trespass in his kingdom that manifests emotions. In other words, you have to be completely empty to use the gates. So basically, the monk training is all toward this goal of producing an Emperor that can command the power of the gates that these ancient beings left behind. It's really kind of cool.

Finally, Adare's storyline has the least content, but is still fascinating. In her part of the world, she's piecing together who might have murdered her father (or have motive to do so). One particular priest (who is probably a leach) out politics her in a Game of Thrones-inspired maneuver that definitely left me invested and wanting more of that storyline.

So anyway, if you are looking for characters with strong moral compasses, amazing storytelling, and prose that will sing off the page you should check Brian Staveley out. I'm so glad I found these books. It's just what I needed in my life.

Monday, June 26, 2017

It's time to start humming the Game of Thrones theme song because it's just three weeks away.

Game of Thrones returns July 16th. Until then, you should check out this three minute mashup trailer that shows just how far we've come in cinematic quality of a television series. I'm so excited. Did I mention that the finale is going to be 81 minutes long? Wow.

Friday, June 23, 2017

47 Meters Down is terrifying.

Why oh why do I watch shark movies? I don't think there is anything I am more afraid of...anything that strikes within me the same chords of a great white shark. Yet, I can't take my eyes off of them. I watch shark week, print out trivia questions, and put myself through movies like "47 Meters Down."

To prepare for 47 Meters Down, I asked my friend Brad lots of shark trivia questions over dinner. He, after all, needed to be ready for the movie too. Did you know that great white sharks have deep blue eyes? Yeah, the movie Jaws would have you believe that sharks have black those of a doll that has emotionless buttons for eyes. I think it was Quinn that described it that way. And yeah, I can rattle off names like "Quinn" the crazy captain of the ill-fated boat in Jaws because I watch it all the time. Jaws is kind of timeless.

More things to know about great whites: they are warm-blooded. Their skin is comprised of extremely tiny teeth instead of scales and in the olden days, people would use the shark skin as sandpaper. More facts: no one knows how great white sharks mate or where they give birth. It's never been observed in the wild. Additionally, great white sharks possess seven senses (two more than humans). They have tiny receptors that allow them to sense electrical impulses within living things. The other sense is a pressure gauge, giving them specific knowledge of how much pressure they are experiencing in their environment.

Going through all of these facts with my best friend was a lot of fun over dinner, but the actual movie 47 Meters Down was terrifying. The premise was pretty simple, and you actually get all of the plot from watching the trailer. Two girls on vacation go for a shark dive in a cage, the cage breaks, and they wind up 47 meters down on the bottom of the ocean surrounded by hungry great white sharks. That's pretty much when the terror starts and doesn't let up until the last minute of the movie. Let's just put it this way, I don't think I will ever put my toe even so much as an inch in the ocean.

If you like a stressful edge of your seat thriller, you owe it to yourself to see this latest shark movie. It's pretty darn good.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I'm going against popular opinion here and saying that M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender is actually not terrible.

My friend Meg has a teenaged daughter that loves a Nickelodeon series called Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'd seen the movie, which mother and daughter both despised with vitriol that is seldom-seen unless talking about the atrocities of concentration camps in World War 2. Nevertheless, she and her mom convinced me that my life just wasn't complete until I saw the series (which is way better than the movie "The Last Airbender"). So I've been slowly making my way through it via Amazon, and to be honest, although it is enjoyable it's also really childish. And when I say childish...I mean it's really not all that good. Is it still watchable? Yes. But every episode clearly has a moral of the story to it, and because its Japanese animation the eyes and exaggerated emotions get kind of silly after a while.

So out of curiosity, I watched The Last Airbender again on television. This movie by M. Night Shyamalan almost killed his career. It is not a great movie by any means...but a career killer? I fail to see why people were so outraged that they literally spit on it. Sure, they cast a bunch of white people as Asian characters. However, this happens all of the time and has been happening for years. And for what the movie disregards in the form of silliness (for me) seems to streamline the story to make it more that more things are happening faster. In the cartoon, it takes forever for Aang to reach the water bending people. In the movie, it happens within the breadth of a couple of episodes.

I think if people could get past the liberal outrage of having white people play Asian characters, they could actually see that the effects and the work that went into the film qualify it to be an average film. Sure, it had aspirations to be this amazing blockbuster, but it made too many mistakes to ever qualify for that. This, I gladly caveat to the eviscerating critics of the movie.

I'm a little disappointed that we'll never get to see sequels to the movie. There were supposedly three that had been planned, and perhaps there would have been opportunities to include more of the things that people loved about the cartoon into those movies. But there's a part of me that wonders if anyone even understood why people went nutso over Avatar: The Last Airbender. Again, it's plot doesn't strike me as all that original in the vein of fantasy, and the incessant "smacking one over the head" with a moral was kind of annoying. Maybe kids just liked the cartoon because 1) kung fu has always been "cool," and 2) anything Japanese like "Hello Kitty" is also cool, and 3) combining kung fu with magic is somehow the most amazing thing ever.

Or maybe I'm just too jaded to see the sorcery at work here. Yeah, maybe that's it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Here are five assorted musings that I have regarding Cars 3 which is excellent by the way.

Last night's Cars 3 was a good movie in the Pixar line, easily on par with the original Cars and much better than Cars 2. I came away from the movie with several observations, and this review (of sorts) has spoilers in it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Assorted Musings:

1) The Pixar short (which is called "Lou") that runs in front of the movie is totally worth getting there early to see.

2) Cars somehow brought back Paul Newman's ghost for new lines in this movie. If you remember, Paul Newman had a HUGE role in the first movie as he was Doc Hudson, Lightning McQueen's teacher. If you haven't watched Cars in a while, I recommend watching it before you go to Cars 3, because it relies heavily on that source material. I also need to research how Pixar got the lines it used from Paul Newman (who died in 2008). So there is that mystery to solve.

3) The animation is the most spectacular I've ever seen come out of Pixar, and that's including even Finding Dory (which looked spectacular). If it weren't for the fact that the characters had a cartoony look, everything would be absolutely real down to the individual leaves on the trees.

4) I only spotted three Pixar easter eggs. The first was A113, which is on the door of the CEO of RustEze, Lightning McQueen's sponsor for the races. The second is a still for the Pixar movie CoCo which has been seen in the commercials for it (it's Pixar's next movie). Of course Dinoco was there, but Dinoco has been pretty prominent in the franchise, so I don't really count that as an Easter Egg since their CEO has plenty of speaking parts. The third easter egg that I spotted was "Lightyear," the brand name emblazoned on Lightning McQueen's tires. It's obviously a nod to "Buzz Lightyear" from Toy Story.

5) After much deliberation by my friend Brad Habegger, he has said that the homonculus theory of Cars doesn't hold up if we consider that there are no insects in this world. Rather, there are little flying cars with wings. I talked about the homonculus theory on this post. He also pointed out that the theory (if it were correct) actually makes the world less horrific. His point was that the way it stands now...that these cars are sentient beings...means that when they are getting their tires removed and other things replaced it's literally like stripping the skin and appendages off of a living thing. So I guess I agree with him. So maybe Cars (even with the Easter eggs) takes place in a universe that is separate from Toy Story and Finding Nemo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

There are many days when I wish the trope of good versus evil was a real thing.

This is called "Chess Good vs Evil" and is by the artist WhySoSerious91 on DeviantART.
 Click HERE to see MORE.
I think that good versus evil makes for the best story lines because it gives meaning to everyone's existence. It's why video games work, it's why religions work, and it's why so many people in the world grapple with a lack of meaning in their lives. The real world doesn't provide clear cut villains. In reality, there's no cackling lich living inside a tomb of horrors ready to conquer the world, devoid of any redeeming virtues, and surrounded by magical minions. Human motivations are much more complex, nuanced, and speckled with all kinds of emotions.

It's tragic really that good versus evil is a construction of man. The tale is spun over and over again from Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader, from Superman to Lex Luthor, and from the Horde to the Alliance. In a world that has no evidence of any of these things, many of us (left to our own devices) start asking the question: why am I here? And for those that don't find a soothing thought in expressions like, "to love," or "to help others," or "to bear children," might soon become prone to depression and anxieties formulated over a hot greasy grill. The person might ask themselves, "What if this is as good as it gets?" Living without the hope of something better is a pretty awful thing, and most of us are better served not even contemplating that question.

Good versus evil doesn't actually exist, but we all want it to exist. Most of us want to think of having this greater purpose that allows us to become heroes in the face of atrocious villainy that is evil for evil's sake. We want to believe in situations where evil appears skull-faced and with tentacles dripping slime, where the horrific appearance of the monster exactly matches that of the hideous things the monster will do, and that it will be apparent to everyone that the one that is evil is in fact wearing black and has the moniker, "Dr. Evil." Life would be so much simpler if we had these things as a society to unite behind, and if it was clear cut to all what was right and what was wrong. Heroes (after all) would be strong with perfect physiques, and they would always get the girl. We want to live in a world where there are no Bill Cosby's...where no man has done many great things but has done equally bad things too. Bill Cosby isn't supposed to happen. We aren't supposed to laugh at the comedic genius of the rapist. What cruel joke is this?

If there are too many people who can't figure out a purpose in life, it's bad for society. People without purpose, who are unable to ascribe meaning to their day-to-day lives are lost. Some of them end up seeking out drugs to numb the emotional pain. This in turn fuels crime to get money for drugs, and you can see where this goes. People can end up hurting other people emotionally because they want to feel it is all better than feeling nothing. Or people can just "give up," and that's bad too for obvious reasons, the least of which might be an invitation for mental illness to set in.

I have few friends, but among the males I'm noticing growing despair, and I'm not quite sure what I can do about it. They are in their thirties and forties (no names will be given here), but I think my small slice of life may be indicative to something that's growing in this country. In other words, I'm saying that there are a lot of embittered, lonely, and poor (having failed to reach certain monetary goals at certain stages of life) men who are staring at a future that's looking bleaker every day. A lot of them drown themselves in video games, because they'd rather live in that alternate world where work equates instant accomplishment than face down the demons in this world (which are much harder to spot and slay). Others hang out on "Red Pill" reddit or post angry messages on Facebook.

If only good versus evil was real. Then maybe some of these men would snap out of it and start contributing to society. Maybe some of them would find value in themselves.

If only.

Monday, June 12, 2017

It's not Easter but that isn't going to stop me from loading up on all the Easter eggs for Cars 3.

I'm seeing Cars 3 on Thursday. That's a given. To make it even more fun, I'm going to be hunting for all the Easter eggs that I know to look for that are famously peppered in Pixar movies. An Easter egg (if you don't know) as an intentional inside visual joke slipped into the background by the animators. The term was first used to describe a hidden message in the Atari video game "Adventure." I'm betting a few of these will be visible:

A113: This pays homage to a classroom at CalArts, the alma mater of Pixar/Disney executive John Lasseter and director Brad Bird. You can bet it will be on a license plate or somewhere else in the film at some point. I've actually heard that it is on a press sticker this time around for a "Shannon Spokes."

Pizza Planet: This is a fictional pizza restaurant that appears in Toy Story.

Dinoco: This is a fictional oil company that first appeared in Toy Story. I actually wouldn't be surprised to see a not to The Good Dinosaur or Arlo.

Plays on words like "Buzz Lightyear" or other such characters: In Cars, the tires of all the Piston Cup racers are Lightyear Buzzard tires. I expect Pixar to make some kind of reference to its other films through a play on words.

Buy N Large (BnL): This is a mega corporation that first appeared in WALL-E that controlled all economic and government services on Earth.

Friday, June 9, 2017

I'm totally buying the homonculus theory about the Cars universe.

I rewatched Cars on Thursday night with my buddy Brad. We did that after I cooked dinner, which consisted of lamb chops in an anchovy and caper sauce and paired with saffron-infused carrots and potatoes (whipped together) with butter and cream. The sauce made an excellent gravy by the way. We also had corn on the cob and the wine was a red Berringer. I didn't take any pictures but trust me, it looked awesome.

The reason we watched Cars is because Cars 3 is coming out next week and Brad said he hadn't seen Cars, so it was hard to get excited about it. Cars really piqued my curiosity when I came across a guy online that was obsessed with figuring out what exactly is going on in the Cars world. To be honest, I've kind of gotten to be a believer of the whole "homonculus theory," which you can read about HERE.

I'll just summarize it for you quickly. Basically, everything about the Cars world can be explained by one thing: the humans in this human-less world are actually installed inside the Cars, kinda similar to a H.R. Giger Biomechanics nightmare.
See, something happened to all the humans. Otherwise there's no logical explanation as to why everything is designed for humans to use them. Why have handles, doors, mirrors? Why have languages that match up to human languages? It's all because the cars actually have people inside of them. Even the windshields that are eyes make sense because it would be a visor projecting the human eyes onto the glass.

Creepy, right?

There's plenty of evidence online (and Pixar has even admitted) that all of their movies share the same universe. Cars has to take place at some point in a strange future when all of the humans have achieved a kind of immortality by being bio-engineered into machines. Anyway, knowing and accepting the theory proposed on Jalopnik in no way lessens my enjoyment of the shows. But it does give a new perspective for me to consider when talking with parents about the movie. After all, I don't think many people realize that Cars is a post-apocalyptic dystopia where humans are forced to live inside machines forever.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The June question for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is all about quitting.

Well, another month has passed, and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. If you've never heard of it, you can go HERE to sign-up.

This month's question is:

"Did you ever say 'I quit'? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?"

At first I was going to answer "no" to this question, but I realized it wouldn't be true. In high school, I wrote a novella for a creative writing class on a typewriter of all things, and it was a pretty draining project. It also ended up being pretty poor. I pressed what few friends I had (back in the day I was not a popular kid) to read it, and I could tell it wasn't good from their reactions (although they tried to find positive things to say about it). Anyway, it was an exhausting thing to produce, and I was glad it was done. I pretty much quit after that for many years.

I'm not sure what brought me back to writing, or if it was any one thing. I remember the night I started tapping away at keys. I'd bought a new computer, and I'd been playing a lot of World of Warcraft on it. It was a warm summer night and I was sipping a cool drink by an open screen door. And I just wanted to write about something. I wanted to use this computer I'd bought for something more than video games. It doesn't sound very glamorous at all. There really wasn't any big revelation or anything like that. It was just more of a "want" to use some equipment that I'd invested a thousand bucks in for more than just entertainment.

I suppose that once a writer always a writer. We probably all share that bug in us, some obviously more than others.

Monday, June 5, 2017

These are my favorite poster posse tributes to Wonder Woman which slayed at the box office this weekend.

Poster Posse celebrated the Princess of Themyscira by releasing a bunch of really cool posters that were all about Wonder Woman. Below are my favorite, but you should totally peruse the collection.
This one's done by Chris Malbon, and it just looks awesome.
This one is done by artist Daniel Nash. I love how the ruins of war spell out the Wonder Woman logo.

Not bad for the 9th largest opening weekend for a movie that isn't a sequel or a spin-off, right? For those of you who've seen the movie and now want to get into reading Wonder Woman comics, may I recommend:
Wonder Woman by George Perez volume 1 (This is Diana's post-Crisis reboot and from which the movie borrowed quite a lot). 
The Legend of Wonder Woman (a retelling of her origin set during World War II).
Wonder Woman Rebirth Volume 1: The Lies and Volume 2: Year One.
All of these can be found on Amazon :) See you Wednesday for Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman was the best comic book movie I've seen since the original Avengers

Spoiler Alert: I'm going to talk about the movie, which I saw last night with best friend Brad Habegger.

First off, if you are going to see Wonder Woman, you really should shell out the extra bucks for IMAX 3D. It's worth every penny. There's lots of zinging bullets, arrows, and incredible shows of strength that 3D is meant to carry.

Second, it was hard to pick any one scene that was good, as they were all incredibly high quality. The story by Zach Snyder was tight, and the director, Patty Jenkins, did an amazing job putting the story arc down and giving us a reason for Gal Gadot's superhero to have a bitter taste about mankind.

The story begins on the island of Themyscira, which is showcased beautifully by an island location that looks straight out of a Mediterranean paradise. Hidden from the world by magic, we are introduced slowly to the character of Diana, who (like her Roman namesake) is a goddess in her own right. But we all kind of knew that, because how else could you ever explain Wonder Woman's powers and not make her a goddess? She (rightfully) is as powerful as you'd expect any immortal being to be.

However, the origin story is not without its faults. One of the things that Brad pointed out to me was that (for DC) the Greek mythology and the gods are now canon, the same as the Norse mythology did for Marvel in Thor. This bugs him because it puts that particular religion on a pedestal and makes it more "correct." Begrudgingly, I agree with him. But, if it weren't for the strong mythological background, I'd argue that Wonder Woman wouldn't be nearly as famous as she is. People like it when superheroes have powers that can be "explained" within the framework of human knowledge. They also like it when the costume has meaning, instead of just some red spandex. With Wonder Woman, her braces are an echo of enslavement, her headband is a nod to their greatest warrior, and her belt is a nod to the belt of Hercules.

All of these things have meaning, which just serve to make her more of an icon.


1) I missed seeing Wonder Woman flying around in her invisible jet. I've heard that they are already planning a sequel that will take place as another "period" film (probably this time against nazi's in WWII). Maybe we'll see it then.

2) I loved that they showed Wonder Woman flying. In the comics, she's always flown around (sometimes with great magical golden wings). It's about time that they embraced that dynamic instead of just showing her jumping really far.

3) I like that they established she was a goddess. In the comics, Wonder Woman becomes the new god of war. So this seemed to be a great fit with the written material.

4) I never get tired of the lasso of truth. I love how it glows gold and seems to respond to her thoughts.

5) I was disappointed that the "god slayer" sword was just a sword, albeit a well crafted one capable of sundering pillars. I was kind of hoping for some awesome magical sword that she could cut Superman with in Justice League.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wonder Woman is finally here and I'm so excited.

This Friday, the only female superhero that has survived all the way from the golden age of comics in the 40's to the present-day gets a movie with all the Hollywood trimmings. It's the first in decades. The early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes stand at 97%, which has REALLY got me excited. But to say that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages understates her icon status, which managed to succeed in a primary audience of young boys. That's a feat of which DC comics should be proud.

Wonder Woman as a character was designed from the beginning to not just be a powerful woman, but a symbol of feminine power. It also helped that her origins were tied so closely to Greek mythology, which every kid in elementary school grows up learning to appreciate alongside works of fantasy. I love how Marv Wolfman and George Perez reinvented Wonder Woman in the eighties, and her more recent reinventions/reboots are equally impressive. Also, it can kinda be said that on the Marvel side of comics there really is no equivalent. Captain Marvel falls far short. Even 75+ years on, Wonder Woman stands alone.

Wonder Woman may (in fact) be the most famous heroine of all time. Readers please correct me, but is there someone else? No offense to the Lara Crofts, Buffy's, or Princess Leia's out there, but no one else has graced everything from lunch boxes, to wall murals, to t-shirts. I'm seriously challenging you to come up with another name that's as well known/famous as Wonder Woman.

Early reviews for the movie peg it as the best film since The Dark Knight (directed by the genius Christopher Nolan). That's high praise. And what we get in this film is not the relentlessly grim, cynical take of iconic characters that have sprinkled DC movies for the last few years, but a character played to Diana's strength. One reviewer said that she comes across as "vulnerable, optimistic," while having a "moral core." I think that's super cool.

I think the long drought of poor DC movies is over guys.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales was fantastic.

I am a Johnny Depp fan. That being said, last night I ate sushi and then went to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, all with my best friend in tow. "Arr and pirates seemed like the right thing to do." You might be wondering, "How was Dead Men Tell No Tales?" So here's your spoiler alert (read no further if you want to be surprised by this amazing film). I truly loved it.

I'm actually not sure which part was the best part since it was all good. Brad pointed out that the bank robbery scene was clearly an homage to one of our favorite movies: Fast Five. The fifth installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise ended with a car chase through Rio wherein Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were driving super revved up cars pulling a bank vault down the streets like a wrecking ball. It was f'ing awesome, and one of the outstanding highlights to the entire franchise.

And then there were the zombie sharks. I'm in kind of a love/terrified relationship with sharks, and these were done really well and even scared the bejeezus out of me in one scene. After watching the show, I was pretty much convinced that zombie sharks should have been a part of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise since the very beginning. The villain was very well done too (the keeper of the zombie sharks).

I also liked how they wove the disparate story lines together. When last we saw the Black Pearl, Blackbeard had put it inside a bottle and kept it among a collection of ships on his magical vessel. Getting the Pearl out of the bottle was a key plot point, followed then by the appearance of the monkey which had been trapped inside the bottle.

The show had lots of running gags, and it has excellent pacing and special effects. The story is really tight too (trimmed down to about two hours whereas some of the others were pushing three). If you are looking for a movie to go to this weekend, I don't think you could go wrong by seeing the latest installment, which (like the others) will probably go on to make a billion dollars. Disney pretty much mints money these days, but it's not like they don't deserve it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Six things that were incredibly awesome about the Flash season three

Warning: Spoilers Ahead. If you intend to watch the third season of The Flash, you probably shouldn't read any further.  Wow. The Flash season finale (it was called "Finish Line") was pretty incredible, with lots of high and low moments, and an unexpected twist that really tore at my heart more than I thought it would. That being said, I'd like to go over six things that I thought really made this season great.
1) Cisco Ramon got a girlfriend. Gypsy (played by Jessica Camacho) was a bounty hunter pursuing H.R. Wells from universe to universe. Her vibe powers were a little more powerful than Cisco, but the chemistry was certainly there. And it was a lot of fun to see Cisco pursue a love interest with clever one liners all so that she could save him in the final episode of the season. That's a nice character arc.
2) Killer Frost and Dr. Caitlyn Snow finally reached some kind of reconciliation, and the two personalities merged to form one wholly different person that had the good and bad from both people. Her story was also very interesting, falling in love with Tom Felton's character Julian Albert, then dying only to be saved by her alter ego, and then skating around town by creating a bridge of ice that could propel her through the air between skyscrapers.
3) Kid Flash got introduced and is in perfect position to take over the series. Out goes Barry Allen who created Flash Point and in goes Wally West. As sad as that ending was, to see Barry leave Earth for permanent exile within the Speed Force, I think there is more that has yet to be written with Wally West's Flash and where that character can grow. Besides, Warner Brothers may want to concentrate on the Barry Allen that's going to be seen in movies and not the one in the t.v. show.
4) H.R. Wells became the surprise savior of the season. This was totally unexpected, and I really got to where I liked this character. The fact that he fell in love with Tracy Brand (played by Anne Dudek) just made it all the more bittersweet when he died (having traded places with Iris West in a way that left Savitar--the major villain--clueless).
5) I ended up being right about Savitar. A few weeks ago in this post I explained that I thought that Savitar was a Time Remnant. Being right just gives me that little pump of validation that makes it all worth it, ya know?
6) We saw the Flash do a gorilla punch in Gorilla City. That right there is just epic. TV has never been cooler. Whenever The Flash does a Grodd story it spares no expense, and this season we saw a two-part Gorilla City spectacular. I just can't complain about any of that. Just think about that folks: we got to see a giant telepathic evil gorilla! When was the last time you could drop that sentence in conversation to someone about what kind of tv you saw last night?

So what's in store for season four? Well it's going to be a show without Barry Allen. That does kind of suck. I wonder if they'll bring him back for anything. It's not quite a Game of Thrones exit as it does leave some doors open, but it's been a while since I watched a show that so thoroughly wrote its main character out of the story.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Alien Covenant wants to know if a creation owes its creator anything.

Alien: Covenant beat out Guardians of the Galaxy over the weekend, and that makes me happy. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Alien movies that have high production values (courtesy of Ridley Scott). This particular movie was also rated-R, which makes it even more of an accomplishment because of the significantly reduced audience size. Any Alien movie that isn't rated-R would automatically be a red flag to me. The xenomorph and everything that has to do with it is such an originally terrifying creation that getting an "R" rating in this case is pretty much a badge of honor.

So did I like the movie? Yep. But I also liked Prometheus. If you are looking for a continuation of the story that was started in Prometheus, more spectacular scenery of the Engineers including another Engineer ship and a fantastic city of Engineers, and then on top of that more will find those aplenty in this sequel. No explanations are handed out to you either. Rather, the director assumes you are intelligent and in watching the events unfold on the screen, you actually get quite a few answers about the Engineer civilization and the continuing story of David the android. Ridley Scott does a great job of framing the entire Alien saga as a basic struggle between a creator and the thing that was created. It's actually kind of mind-bending and fascinating.

Does a creation owe its creator anything? It's that kind of basic question that is answered in Alien: Covenant. I just hope there are more movies, because I have different questions now than the ones I was left with at the end of Prometheus.

Friday, May 19, 2017

It's Alien Covenant release day so I thought I'd set the record straight on facehuggers

Today is Alien:Covenant release day! To celebrate this special follow-up to the story which saw its "germination" in Prometheus, I thought I'd share some Alien xenomorph knowledge with you (the xenomorph is the name of the creature created by H.R. Giger and which has concentrated acid for blood). In terms of what most people know about the xenomorph, nearly everyone is familiar with the idea that it bursts out of an animal's chest after a facehugger creature (hatched from a leathery egg) deposits its load in the host's esophagus.
So here's some knowledge that's considered canon, and it's from the 1993 issue of the official Aliens magazine:

"While the term 'impregnation' and 'implantation' are liberally used to describe this process, they are not strictly accurate; studies by Lasalle Bionational have shown that no actual embryo is inserted into the host. Instead, the infant Xenomorph begins its life as a knot of specifically tailored cancers that bring about chemogenetic restructuring of the host's cells, essentially "building" the chestburster from the host's own biological material at a cellular level."

So the Facehugger deposits a tumor into a person's esophagus, which then co-opts its host's cells, and grows into the xenomorph. That they knew this all the way back in 1993 just adds validation that the Alien vs. Predator movies were indeed terrible and should in no way be considered canon. Also, for decades there has been this idea behind the original Alien that it was in fact some biological weapon created from material that could co-opt genetic material from a living host. In other words, it wasn't just something that Ridley Scott pulled out of his ass to make Prometheus.

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie tonight, and I can't wait to review it on Monday. In the meantime, if you are out and about and see an alien penis snake and are a scientist, it still wouldn't be advisable to reach out and pet it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Despacito is the first Spanish song in twenty years to hit the number one spot in America and it kinda feels good considering the climate of things.

Signs of a bright future for the United States? I've always listened to pop, so I've always kind of paid attention to the charts. The number one song in the country is mostly in Spanish (called "Despacito." I think the translation for it is "slowly/gently/softly." It debuted at number 2 on Billboard's "Hot Latin Songs," and now it's number one in 27 countries. It's the first number 1 spot on the Hot 100 sung in Spanish in twenty years (remember "Macarena"?)

The song is from Puerto Rican artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee and has some help from Justin Bieber (say what you want guys but he can sing). I dunno, coming off an election where "taco trucks on every corner" was a warning and a threat, it was just nice to hear this song. Also I kind of like how Bieber sings/says "Des...pah...seeto." Hit play and hear for yourself.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Riverdale season one had many drama-inducing and exciting moments and this makes it a pretty solid binge-watch choice for you Netflix peeps.

I just watched the Riverdale season finale, and I gotta say, it turned in a pretty solid season one. I loved seeing lots of names I recognized from my youth: Luke Perry, Skeet Ulrich, and Molly Ringwald made multiple appearances and/or got cast as interesting characters in the Archie comic adaptation. This is pretty much a "modus operandi" of the CW, as they tend to honor names of the past by casting them in relevant shows. There was lots of drama, eye candy (sweaty sleepless nights are so good), great music, and a story arc that encompassed an entire season. The story arc was pretty brilliant because it dared to blend darkness into an otherwise perfect recreation of a Normal Rockwell-inspired town. Everything is better with a touch of darkness. You just can't go overboard.

I also liked the ultimate message of Riverdale. Betty (in addressing the 75th anniversary jubilee attendees) summed it up by saying that essentially everyone was Riverdale. You can't just take the good, but the bad characters as well. Stop hiding behind lies and facades and pretending that things are greater than they actually are. This is a very relevant idea to anyone that has combed the curated pages of a normal Facebook feed. We live in a day and age where people are able to influence public perception by simply posting things on social media. It doesn't matter if we live misery-riddled lives because no one will ever see the dark underbelly. They won't ever see the truth, because (as Jack Nicholson famously yelled, "We can't handle the truth."

The thing I enjoyed most about Riverdale was that it showed us these wonderful young people and put them in terrible situations of suicide, murder, fraud, drug-trafficking, and rape. How could you go wrong with fiction like that? Bring on season 2. Oh and for those of you who haven't seen it, the entire season hits Netflix on Thursday, so you can totally binge watch all of Riverdale. You even get some extra stuff with Cole Sprouse (as Jughead Jones) eating a hamburger. I guess there was some fan outrage that Jughead wasn't pictured on screen enough wolfing down burgers.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Now that the Gifted has been picked up by Fox let's all hope it doesn't get cancelled like so many other sci-fi shows

I like Bryan Singer's X-Men movies. I think he did a better job than most, and I have a soft spot for the X-Men anyway because I've always thought they were a metaphor for gay people in society (they all share a common secret?). This essay written HERE explains it better than I could. But there are others that think along the same lines as me.

And with that said, it looks like Singer is making the leap to television this fall with "The Gifted," although (to be fair) Singer only directed the pilot. It's still exciting, and I've embedded the trailer below. I kind of wonder at this point if it will intersect with FX's Legion at all. I hope so, because Legion was really good. Another thing that's got me excited is that we'll see some sentinels, although they will look different from what has been seen before (Sentinels were the robots who raged war on mutants in X-Men: Days of Future Past). I just hope they aren't androids to save on budget. Androids are so the rage right now.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why do we like the things that we like?

This weekend, I asked myself the question: why do we like what we like? I suppose it popped into my head because my friend Sasha asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him and another friend of his on Sunday. I could tell that Sasha was delighted at the prospect of fishing. However, what ran through my head were memories of how much work it was to get a canoe into the lake (or for that matter all the hiking it took to get to a place where one could fish by a remote river). I remembered getting these migraines because the sun would beat down mercilessly on my head, and then having to dig deerflies out of my hair with my fingers. Then there were the tedious hours waiting for a fish to strike, rubbing sunscreen (which felt sticky on my fingers and skin) into my flesh and watching the glare of the sun reflect off the water. If I needed to go to the bathroom, it was in the woods, hunched over and uncomfortable. Finally getting a fish didn't end the misery. The things are covered with a kind of slime that protects their scales in the water and it gets all over your fingers. And then there's the whole unpleasantness of smacking it on the skull to kill it before you gut the thing. All of that went through my mind in a flash, and I said, "No, but thank you for inviting me. I don't like fishing."

That night, I went to bed thinking of why I'm so different. Why (as a man) don't I like fishing? What's wrong with me? So I googled, "Why do we like what we like?" And it turns out, I learned a little bit about myself and other people. The article that I seemed to identify most with appeared in July 2010 on NPR as part of Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Ira asked the author of a book called How Pleasure Works a number of questions regarding why people like some things and not others. The answers (it turns out) are fascinating.

Dr. Paul Bloom (a professor of psychology at Yale University and author of the above book) said this: "When we get pleasure from's based on what we believe that thing to be." So if you (for example) are listening to some scruffy street performer, then no matter how talented he actually is, it won't sound so good to your ears. Want another example? Wine (apparently) doesn't taste as good unless you know it's expensive or special in some way. Here's a third example: in the world of art, a painting is going to look different to you, and you're going to value it differently...depending on who you think created it.

The implications of all this are pretty amazing. For one, art is never accidental. According to Dr. Bloom, the thing that distinguishes one piece of art from something that isn't art is the intent behind it. Through his research, Dr. Bloom has found plenty of evidence to suggest that how food tastes depends on what you think the food is, or how sexually arousing a person is depends on who you think that person is or how special they are.

So, if I apply this observation that Dr. Bloom has made to my revulsion of fishing, it means that (for me) I don't see the activity in the same light that everyone else sees it. In other words, during my formative years, it was impressed upon me that fishing was a great difficulty with little reward. It oftentimes meant isolation, because my father (a misanthrope) always wanted to isolate himself in a place where he would never see anyone, and where we were at the mercy of terrifying weather on enormous lakes. And because that's the only way I can see fishing as an activity, I don't like it. But others (with different experiences) probably envision good times and noodle salad.

I love thinking about stuff like this. As much as we all think that we are free to like whatever we want, our brains are wired to like things based on how special they are within social context. This goes for writers and readers too. Would you ever read a book that had twenty one star reviews? Probably not, because we are wired to like things that have value to them. It's such a mind trip, and it gives me new appreciation of the power of Facebook. The act of "liking" something on Facebook gives it true power, because it will sway the opinions of those that don't (whether or not they will ever admit to that).

Friday, May 5, 2017

It's quite possible that boredom is the root of all evil.

People being bored with their lives is probably behind a great deal of the woes our society faces as it continues to grow. Is it the root of all evil? Maybe, but I'm not quite ready to go that far. However, consider this: as just one example, psychologists have long suspected that boredom can lead to infidelity in relationships. One would think that boredom with one's life wouldn't be possible in a nation like the United States (with a powerful first-world work ethic and the crack of the whip across our backs to remind us of our capitalist overlords) but I'm starting to disagree. I think a huge component of our present society is bored, because 1) work is unfulfilling and 2) people are losing economic options that allow them to grow naturally. What is the opposite of growth? Stagnation. And stagnation is just another synonym for "boredom."

Of course, that's the rub, right? People just don't come out and say, "I'm bored" or express "this is boring." Most parents teach their children that expressing, "I'm bored" leads to all kinds of unpleasant chores. So boredom as a condition and a word has been reinvented to cope with this trauma that we all share from once being kids ourselves. In music, "Indy" is a label that means, "not mainstream." "Mainstream" is simply another label that means "boring because there is nothing unique about it because everyone likes it." I'm not kidding here. I know people who don't like "Game of Thrones" because it is too mainstream. Silly, right? That's just one example, and there are countless others.

Another label I can think of is "existential dread" which is bantered about by those who practice (to some extent) nihilism. If you don't know what existential dread is, the term is quite simple. It's the fear that your life, and by extension the lives of others, is in fact meaningless and serves no purpose. And what do people think of activities that are unnecessary? Well most people would tell you to get rid of them because no one wants to do it. Why? Because minutes would become hours that would become years...time would slow to a crawl, etc. It would be torture because of...wait for it...boredom. No one wants to live a boring life, right? Substitute "meaningless" with "boring" in that last sentence, and you start to realize what I'm getting at here.

When people are stagnating in their lives, the boredom and monotony becomes (for lack of a better word) painful. It's basically torture to some people, especially those who feel (and maybe always felt) that they are exceptional in some way. How do people deal with pain? Well drugs is one answer. If the drugs happen to get a person addicted, it can lead to crime to get money for drugs. Other side-effects of boredom are thrill-seeking behaviors like risky, unprotected sex, and aggressive attention-seeking. I call all of these things "the wheel" and it goes on and on. As I said in the first paragraph of this observation of mine, boredom is the source of a great many woes.That wheel I spoke of? Yeah, it rolls on crushing whomever dares to get in front of it, and it never loses momentum because it's being pushed by those who are bored with their lives.

Boredom is a terrible thing. Is it the most terrible of things? There's a good chance that it is. Consider this definition: Boredom is the empty feeling of having nothing one knows or wants to do and no ideas for changing this; or the trapped feeling of having to do things that are imposed, inescapable, and void of interest, mattering, or pleasure. There's a reason we have heard the phrase, "I am bored to death."

It worries me that people are so easily bored these days. The threshold for hitting rock bottom of boring seems so much lower. I think boredom is ruining long-term relationships, making it impossible for young people to commit to choices in their partners. Why? Because they get bored so easily and have a grass is greener philosophy due to over-stimulation and being spoiled for choice. I think people have unrealistic expectations for their lives, which again leads to boredom. I think that actual reality always moves at its own pace, and a lot of people get feelings of being trapped because they are not willing to wait things out. Everyone wants things right now, and some things just can't be rushed. No one wants to be the tortoise anymore...everyone wants to be the hare. And then of course there are societal problems which further exacerbate the feelings of being trapped. Ever hear of "income inequality?" If you haven't, it refers to a wealth gap emerging in the United States where those at the top (and who have access to practically infinite economic options) are few in number and separated by great distance from the rest of the population (who enjoy very limited economic options). The implication of growing income inequality is that a person born in a particular social class will never make it out of that social class for their entire lives. In other words, if you are born poor, you will live a life in poverty, and then die poor. You are in a sense, trapped. And as I established earlier, feelings of being trapped with no options to escape is just another definition of "boring," which is akin to being tortured to death.

There are very few tasks in life as odious as loving a person who is bored with their life. You watch them try to cope with this boredom through compulsive video game playing, using recreational drugs, making risky decisions, breaking the law, or committing social violence all toward one end: to escape the experience of emptiness or entrapment the emotional disease of boredom can cause.

Why does it have to be this way? Why is boredom so bad? I think I live a boring life, and I love it. But maybe my life isn't boring because I don't feel trapped. I've learned to appreciate the walls of my cage and don't really yearn to ever escape it because it's comfortable. Maybe the secret to happiness is this one simple thing: admitting to yourself that you're as boring as everyone else and learning to be comfortable with less.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This May IWSG asks what is the coolest thing you have ever researched for a story?

Half the year is almost gone, and this is the first time I've contemplated actually growing my own garden herbs and vegetables. It's kind of exciting :). Anyway, with a new month, it's time for a new Insecure Writer's Support Group post. This time out, I'm answering the question of the month, which happens to be:

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

First off, I'm a nerdy writer. So what's cool to me is not going to be as cool to some people, yet might be incredibly cool to others. And for me, communication of all kinds is inherently fascinating. We are social creatures, are we not?
So, the weirdest/coolest thing I ever did for a story was to research a bunch of British phrases and colloquialisms and what they actually meant. I definitely got carried away with it, making lots of notes and just (in general) having a lot of fun. And there was a pleasant side effect: I understood Doctor Who on a whole new level. My takeaway observation? It's really surprising how different American English is from British English. It's basically a different language with enough similarities that you aren't completely lost, if that makes any sense whatsoever. 
Anyway, it's the first time I really felt that maybe I should study other languages, because I had so much fun with it. So I plan on exploring that soon. Who knows? Maybe I'll actually learn Japanese this time around.

The illustrations in this post are courtesy of Best of British.