Slightly Off the Mark|
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|Friday, August 17th, 2018|
book review: Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
So ... you've probably heard of this book, which has garnered some moderate success from an otherwise unknown author by the name of George R. R. Martin. Long-winded fantasy? Who does that anymore?
My wife and I were planning two long trips this summer, so we headed to the library to find an audio book that wouldn't make the dog howl like a direwolf. We were somewhat taken aback by Game of Thrones, an audiobook roughly as thick as the U.S. tax code. It was on 28 disks.
Over a two week period we were on the road for roughly 26 hours of driving, and we still had to renew it from the library for another few weeks.
Game of Thrones opens with an execution, and believe me when I saw that's far from the only death to come along. The story follows nine viewpoint characters on a world where summers can last decades but winter hits hard, where dragons once flew, and where a giant, centuries old ice wall protects the continent of Westeros from the supernatural dangers of the north.
Most of the story revolves around the Stark family, led by Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark. After a long war, Ned's best friend Robert has become king of an assemblage of former nations, and now wants the reluctant Ned to be the King's Hand--basically the guy who does all of his dirty work. The honorable and dutiful Ned--you won't find a lot of characters like that here, outside of the Stark family--packs up and dives into the politics of an increasingly divided kingdom.
What could possibly go wrong? In Martin's world, pretty much everything. Tragedy, misunderstandings, treachery, and accidents ensue, as various characters give and take allegiance while others plot for power and ... well, pretty much just power. Despite Ned's desire to just go home, he finds himself entangled in events that will bring war to their world, even while winter nears and evil from north of the wall approaches. Meanwhile, the former royal family of the kingdom plots to take back what they consider theirs.
Sound complicated? It is. You can find dozens of maps online, just to show people where all the lands and cities are, and character trees to make interrelationships a little more clear. There's also plenty of nastiness, from graphic violence to child endangerment to incest. It's dark, detailed, and horribly addictive.
Emily and I were still catching our breaths when she took the audiobook back to the library. She returned with a new book, this time on good old fashioned paper, and I later determined it was five times as long as my first published novel.
Yep. Second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. We haven't seen the TV series, but my biggest warning about the world of A Song of Ice and Fire (which is the name of the entire book series) is that you should maybe schedule some vacation days before you start reading.
|Tuesday, August 14th, 2018|
|Saturday, August 11th, 2018|
|Wednesday, August 8th, 2018|
|Tuesday, July 31st, 2018|
Slashing a Fat Synopsis
Well, I finished my first draft of the synopsis for Fire On Mist Creek.
Now, opinions differ on how long a novel synopsis should be. (In my opinion, I should be rich enough to hire someone else to write my synopsis and not worry about how long a synopsis should be.) The general consensus in the writing community is that a synopsis should be kept strictly between two thousand words and, oh, fifty words long. But the shorter the better; just like opera, or congressional term limits, or that little guy from Game of Thrones.
So I have some cutting to do, and with an ax, not a scalpel. There's a certain irony in cutting a novel down to something you then have to cut down. Meanwhile, I've identified a possible publisher for the book, but according to their publishing guidelines my novel is four hundred words ... too long. (Which is not something I'm remotely worried about for the moment.)
Later I'll probably have to boil my synopsis down into a back page blurb. There'll be significant shrinkage.
|Wednesday, July 25th, 2018|
The Writer's LIfe: judging and revising and young authors
I spent some time last week judging 4-H writing projects. As usual, I marveled at how good the entries were ... many of them much better than I was at the same age. It's great to know there are still young writers and readers out there. It's also great to know my own childhood writing has disappeared.
Then I dove back into revising Fire On Mist Creek, which I wrote last fall and edited in early winter. Revision isn't all that much fun to me, so I made myself a promise: Once I get this manuscript done ... I can start work on another story. The most fun parts for me are brainstorming the story, writing the first draft, and those little edits later on, when the story's mostly done and I can relax a little. (Maybe I should have promised myself cake.)
Major revisions of the rough draft, on the other hand--pulling stuff out, moving it around, changing whole scenes and so on--not so much fun. It beats self-promotion, though.
You know what else it beats? Writing a synopsis. I hate writing synopsis ...um, synopsi ... um, synopsises. Unfortunately, for the purposes of an upcoming submission I've paused the revision, and gone over to finish the synopsis, first.
Still a better job than assembling axles at a factory, or working at a bee moth larvea farm. Trust me on that.
|Friday, July 20th, 2018|
| Wave your cowboy hat at my better half
A South Bend radio station has done a profile of Pokagon State Park in northeast Indiana:http://www.wndu.com/content/news/One-Tank-Trips-Pokagon-State-Park-488533701.html
Part of their profile includes the Pokagon Saddle Barn, where my wife works. She's only on screen briefly: She's the woman in the cowboy hat saying "My name is Emily, but if you forget you can call me Horse Lady". I think I'm going to call her Horse Lady from now on!
|Wednesday, July 18th, 2018|
|Print Book or Audio Book? Or both?
Last year I did a review of Neil Gaiman's American Gods:https://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2017/07/book-review-american-gods-by-neil-gaiman.html
Emily and I listened to it on audiobook while driving back and forth to Missouri and other places over the summer. It was only the second fiction audiobook I ever listened to, the first being Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. I read that print book first, and was disappointed in the audio version, which was abridged and in my opinion not dramatized well. (However, I've never been disappointed in non-fiction audiobooks.)
American Gods was just a reading, rather than a dramatization; maybe that's what did it for me, but I loved it. Then the TV series based on the book came out, and got my interest enough to try reading the book myself. The audiobook narrator did such an awesome job that it seemed the print version would be weaker.
It wasn't. It seems there's no version of American Gods that isn't awesome, including the TV show.
There are places for both, of course--for instance, my wife really hates it when I read and drive. What's your preference, if you have one? Audio or print? And maybe I should tackle the graphic novel next.
Maybe someday we'll even get to "see" some of my books on audio.
|Friday, July 13th, 2018|
movie review: Ant-Man and the Wasp
Scott Lang is just a normal guy who used to be a superhero, until he broke the law and the law made him a deal: Two years of home detention, a few more on probation, and he's a free man. Oh, as long as he never again puts on that Ant-Man super suit. Now he's only days from getting his detention bracelet removed, so all he has to do is relax, play with his daughter, and he's home free.
I think we all know Scott's not free.
Suddenly he's reunited with Dr. Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne, both still mad Scott used the suit they gave him to go fight the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. It seems they've discovered a way to rescue someone they thought long lost, and they need Scott to do it. But in advancing their mission, the trio runs afoul of the Feds, mobsters, and a mysterious figure whose powers can be predicted from their name: Ghost.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is one of those projects--like most Marvel movies--that was only doable in recent years, when special effects finally caught up with the vision of movie makers and comic creators. Not that movies haven't managed without it before: check out The Incredible Shrinking Man, from 1957. But when modern effects are successfully balanced with story and character, the results can be spectacular.
Ant-Man and the Wasp manages that pretty well. We get giants menacing ships, quantum level adventures, and everything in between, including one in which a Pez dispenser is used as a weapon, and a big Hot Wheels product placement that fits into a fun and somewhat unusual chase scene. No matter how good they might have made anything else, I just don't see how they could have pulled this story off without modern effects.
Having said that, they do pretty well otherwise, too. A lot of that is thanks to a solid cast including Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as the title characters, and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym. Look for Michael Pena having a lot of fun, Randall Park as a befuddled FBI agent, Hannah John-Kamen as one of the more tragic figures, and little Abby Ryder Fortson, who tended to steal her scenes through shear cuteness as Scott's daughter.
Do NOT stay for the two mid/after credit scenes. They change the tone of the whole movie from fun to depression, although they do fit the movie into the Marvel Universe.
Seeing Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, and Michelle Pfeiffer makes me wonder at how much more willing the big quality names in Hollywood are to do comic book movies, now. (Of course, Pfeiffer once visited the DC universe.) The wide net of fantasy/SF will probably always get snubbed by the Hollywood elite even as they're scooping cash out of the cows (not literally--ew); but the genre's being taken more seriously than when I was a kid.
Entertainment Value: 3 3/4 out of 4 M&M's. No ... thinking back on the scene with Michael Pena's character under truth serum, sent that up to a full four.
Oscar Potential: 2 1/2 out of 4 M&M's. There were some good performances here, not that the Academy would ever stoop to acknowledge them, but mostly there should be some consideration for effects.
|Friday, July 6th, 2018|
movie review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I'm starting to think that someday the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride will break down, and the pirates will start eating the tourists. At least in a movie, where the idea of safe things going horribly wrong and killing lots of people has always been popular.
In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom it's been a few years since the theme park Jurassic World suffered a catastrophic "pirates eating people" story, and the island of Isla Nublar has been abandoned ... by people.
(And now I'm thinking, how cool would a pirates vs. dinosaurs movie be? Get on that, SyFy.)
A dormant volcano on the island has become active, and former employee Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is involved in an effort to rescue the dinosaurs before it blows. The fact that there's a volcano there at all will come as a surprise to franchise viewers, although I'm told it's mentioned in the original book. Yeah, I read it--twenty years ago.
Why does Claire, who almost died in the last movie, want to save the animals? That's what Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, doing a great job of playing Chris Pratt) wants to know. She guilts him into going along with the reminder that his own pet raptor, which he raised from an egglet, is still there.
The mission's financed by a rich old man (James Cromwell), who we discover was once a partner to the original Jurassic Park founder, John Hammond. Retcon, much? But the armed "guards" who go along with Claire and Owen have their own, much more sinister agenda. Rescue dinosaurs? Yes. But toward what end?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is much better than the original Jurassic World, which in my mind isn't saying much, but still suffers from being too dark and sometimes graphic. They haven't learned the lesson the master, Steven Spielberg, taught in the original Jurassic Park (not to mention Jaws): Often the scary stuff is much scarier when it happens off screen.
Still, the stuff that happens onscreen is pretty darned spectacular, especially in the first half of the movie when our heroes are fleeing just about everything: dinosaurs, bad guys, and exploding mountains. The movie makers chose practical effects when possible, especially with close contact with the dinosaurs. When that couldn't be done, modern digital effects have progressed so much that it really is getting hard to tell them apart ... and I watched the movie in 3D IMAX, thanks to a scheduling snafu.
In the second half the movie moves to a different location, in its own way just as neat, and at this point it's probably not a spoiler to say a lot of people die. The suspense was gripping, but the gore unnecessary and unwanted for the type of movie you should be able to take your kids to. Overall I liked the characters except for the bad guys, who were such cardboard cutouts that I kept confusing their names with the same tropes who died in earlier Jurassic Park pics. In addition, the plot was very much a repeat of the themes we've seen before, from greed and inhumanity to dire warnings of what happens when science outstrips reason. For that last we at least get Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm, in what amounts to a glorified cameo.
I liked the new supporting characters played by Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda, and although it appears to have been her first major acting role, Isabella Sermon does a great job as this movie's kid-in-jeopardy.
Entertainment Value: 3 out of 4 M&Ms. Worth seeing, but it still pales in comparison to the original Jurassic Park. But then, what doesn't?
Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&Ms. With the exception of some plot holes, nothing about the movie is bad; but other than the effects and cinematography, nothing about it is great, either.
|Monday, July 2nd, 2018|
How The First World War Led To American Independence
Four years ago I wrote my regular newspaper humor column about Independence Day history, which few people read because it was about history. Ironically, about two months later my regular newspaper column became history, but that's another story.
As I said in the opening to our book "Hoosier Hysterical", history would be a lot more fun if it was made ... well ... fun. So I had fun with this, which has been changed slightly because I'm four years older.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Ever since Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World and hid all the Viking artifacts, America has been a land of opportunity, independence, and smallpox.
Eventually the British colonists decided to go off and form their own country. (Except for Canadians, who were just too polite to leave.) Since our schools don’t teach enough history these days (there’s so much more of it now), I thought I’d give you a quick timeline of how we, the people, went from tea to coffee:
1756: The French and Indian War
This was probably the first World War. No, seriously: Over here we just mention the French and Indians, but the rest of the world called it the Seven Years War. It spread all over the globe, like a viral YouTube video, but with more cannon fire and disease. Nations involved included Austria, England, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Sweden. Oh, and the Indians.
(Later on Prussia, not wanting to be confused with Russia, changed their name to Germany.)
Why does this involve American Independence, which came decades later? Because it cost the British government so much to defeat their enemies (and the Indians) that they began taxing the colonists to help pay for it. And yet they didn’t allow the colonies to raise their own armies, and there was that whole taxation without representation thing.
Oh, and one more thing: The whole world war began (well, mostly) because a young Virginia militia leader ambushed a French scouting party in the far west wilderness … near Pittsburgh. In later years, George Washington would be more careful to start battles after war was declared.
1770: The Boston Massacre:
No, it wasn’t a sporting event. It started when a group of colonists began throwing snowballs at a squad of British soldiers (In Boston. Sheesh.). That’s not so bad, is it? Then the colonists starting tossing sticks and stones, which, contrary to popular belief, can indeed break bones.
This is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t throw stuff at people with guns. Five colonists died and the soldiers were arrested, but they were mostly acquitted thanks to the crafty defense by a young lawyer names John Adams.
1773: The Boston Tea Party
Tired of high taxes, an unresponsive government, and Earl Gray, colonists (In Boston—sheesh) dressed up as Indians, sneaked aboard ships (In the harbor—sheesh), and tossed 342 chests of tea into the water. In today’s dollars, they turned Boston harbor into the world’s biggest cup, with $750,000 worth of tea. They were led, of course, by the famous Boston patriot Folger “Starbuck” Maxwell.
But why blame the Indians? They didn’t even drink tea.
1774: The First Continental Congress
They didn’t get much done. But in their defense, they were a Congress.
1775: Patrick Henry stirs the pot
With the grievances of the colonists ignored by a remote government—sort of like today, only without Facebook—a radical named Patrick Henry, upset because he had two first names and no last one, began making fiery speeches and resolutions.
The truth is, Henry was kind of a deadbeat. Worse, a lawyer. But man, he sure could talk good, and his actions helped ignite the American Revolution. You’ve probably heard the last line of his big speech, which was “Give me liberty or give me death!” Luckily, he got liberty.
1775: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
He rode through the countryside yelling, “The British are coming!”
Sleepy residents yelled back, “Shut up, you fool! We are the British!”
Then he got arrested, probably for violating the noise ordinance, and the ride was completed by William Dawes. Unfortunately for Dawes, the name “Paul Revere” sounded better in poetry.
Also 1775 (busy year, there): The Battle of Lexington and Concord
Revere had discovered the British were marching by sea, which slowed them down considerably because the horses didn’t swim well. That gave the Minutemen almost a full two minutes. It was plenty of time to gather in Lexington, to protect stores of arms and gunpowder, and Concord, to protect the grapes.
1775 (saw that coming, didn’t you?): The Second Continental Congress
Didn’t get much done. They made up for it in 1776, though.
1775 or so: The Battle of Bunker Hill
It was actually fought on Breeds Hill.
177—wait for it—5: Patriots occupy Montreal, Canada
Things were looking up, up there. And that’s the last time things looked up for the Revolutionaries in the north, who discovered Canadian hospitality didn’t extend to invasion.
1776 (finally!) Egged on by the British, Cherokee Indians attack along the entire southern frontier
They were still upset about the whole Tea Party fraud. Also, they were mad about getting named for a country on the other side of the world.
June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee points out to the Continental Congress that they’ve been rebelling against the British for more than a year, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to actually declare themselves to be rebelling?
June 11: Five Congressmen are appointed to draft a Declaration of Independence. The other four talk Thomas Jefferson into doing the writing, pointing out that he’s the only one who’s invented a portable desk to use.
June 12-27: Jefferson writes a rough draft, only to receive a rejection letter from the committee.
July 1-4: The entire Congress rips apart the Declaration. (Not literally. Sheesh.) Jefferson quits writing and goes into politics.
July 2: Congress declares independence, just as the British fleet and army arrive to invade New York. Talk about timing. John Adams declares that July 2 will forever be celebrated as Independence Day.
July 4: Having already declared independence, Congress now adopts the Declaration of Independence, declaring something they’ve already declared. John Adams’ head explodes.
July 9: George Washington has the Declaration read before the American army. The soldiers nod politely and ask when they’re going to get paid.
There was much more to it, of course. In fact, you could say the American Revolution went on until the US Constitution was adopted in 1788, or even until we fought the second Revolutionary war in 1812, which might also be related to the real second World War.
Now, that’s a funny story.
|Wednesday, June 27th, 2018|
Movie Review: Incredibles 2
At the end of The Incredibles, fourteen years ago (!), the Parr family--basically an animated version of the Fantastic Four--defied a ban on superheroes. The movie ended on a cliffhanger with the appearance of a new villain, the Underminer, and they went into action against him.
That was one long cliffhanger. So long that the voice actor who plays Dash Parr had to be replaced, because he grew up.
The beginning of Incredibles 2 picks up right where the original left off, and in the resulting battle against the deep tunneling bank robber, half the city gets damaged. Unfortunately, supers are still outlawed, so Bob and Helen Parr and their three kids are rewarded for their heroic acts with arrest and looming homelessness. But just as they hit bottom, the family is rescued by a wealthy brother and sister duo who, due to tragedy in their past, are determined to make supers heroes again.
Incredibles 2 is fantastically animated as a 60s spy adventure, only with James Bond sidelined while his wife Elastigirl--because she tested better for the PR people--is let loose to prove the worth of supers. Scored with style by Michael Giacchino, it looks a lot like how people in the 50s probably envisioned the 70s would appear, with sleek homes and round TVs. As Elastigirl, and later the rest of her family, tries to figure out who's sabotaging her efforts, we get some smashing action sequences.
But all good stories are about people, of course. Elastigirl is at heart Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), who isn't really comfortable leaving her family to fend for themselves, even though she's having a blast. (She also provides the heart of the movie.) Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), Mr. Incredible to everyone else, struggles hard--and comically--to be a stay at home dad and to keep his wife from finding out how badly he's failing at it.
Meanwhile their daughter Violet faces a rough first date, baby Jack-Jack has suddenly begun developing powers of his own--a lot of them--and Dash is ... well, Dash is an adolescent who can move at super speed, like most adolescent boys. Although aided by family friend and fellow super Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), Bob has his work cut out for him.
Incredibles 2 is a delight, the exact combo of fun and funny that makes you want to grab the kids or grand-kids so you have an excuse to watch it yourself. (The grand-kids had fun, too.) Just beware that in the course of his dastardly deeds, the villain Screenslaver unleashes some strobing visual effects that could trigger seizures in those so inclined.
The other warning I might give is that there are going to be kids at the theater, and kids will be kids. If you don't have the patience for that you'll find Incredibles 2 just as good when it reaches the small screen, although the visuals won't be as cool.
Entertainment value: 4 out of 4 M&Ms. There's an encounter between Jack-Jack and a raccoon that's honestly worth the price of admission, all by itself.
Oscar potential: 3 out of 4 M&Ms. Best score? Best animation? Best fun?
|Tuesday, June 19th, 2018|
Poetry Redux: I tackle poetry ... and get slammed
I stumbled across this column from way back in 2011 (Note that I use my wife's maiden name) after reading some poems on a writer's site. I thought, "Hey--I can rhyme!" And then I decided to repost it, mostly because it's summer, and I have an editing job, and I can't be online much. And also because I'm curious for your reaction. Okay, so I can rhyme ... but am I any good?
I tackle poetry -- and get slammed
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
My fiancée is taking a poetry class this year, so I, being a writer, decided to take a crack at writing poetry myself.
Why didn’t someone stop me?
Thank goodness I’m better at prose. Thank goodness Emily is better at poetry, or she’d be scoring a big fat goose egg, which rhymes with … I don’t know, something.
My understanding has always been that poetry is writing that’s short and structured and rhymes, while prose just rambles on, the way I do. However, it turns out that poetry doesn’t always rhyme, and some poems have gone on to book lengths. There are, in fact, many dozens of types of poetry, from Haiku to Jintishi. I thought Jintishi was a condition related to too much drinking, but no.
I myself have written several: There’s my Summer Sonnet, which managed to rhyme “sunblock” with “wet sock” (you have to read the whole thing, it makes sense in context). That was the first part of a trilogy that ended with “Winter Depression Elegy”. Then there’s my most famous work of all, “Ode to Odious Odors”, a salute to sweat.
It was only after I realized poems didn’t have to rhyme that I completed my ultimate work: “Rhymes With Orange”. I expected to replace Arthur F. Mapes as Indiana’s poet laureate, but got into trouble when my application poem rhymed “laureate” with “lariat”. As I hadn’t bothered with something that actually made logical sense, my choice left the Indiana Arts Commission hanging.
By the way, the current Indiana State Poet Laureate is Imma Eaton Krapf; I used Mapes’ name because he lived here in Noble County. By the end of this century Noble County will be known as a writer’s paradise, home of Mapes, Stratton-Porter, Hunter, and Emily Stroud. (Don’t worry Emily; it’s not necessarily in that order).
As part of striving toward famous authorhood (You’ve heard of Authorhood; he stole books from the rich and gave them to the poor), and in an attempt to be a well-rounded writer, I thought I’d take another stab at writing poetry, despite the begging and pleading of both colleagues and fans.
As it happens, I’ve been discussing with writer friends the issue of which is better: e-books or good old fashioned paper books. Poetry should deal with the challenges of life, right? Well, you’re not going to see me at a poetry slam, screaming about drug abuse while sipping five dollar coffee, but I know the sick feeling of pulling a paperback out of the bathtub water. So here, from a writer’s standpoint, is my salute to modern technology:
I thought that I would never see
a book that didn’t kill a tree.
With pages scented paper sweet;
Appetizing termite meat.
No foliage falls for greater cause
then giving pleasure when we pause
to take it easy, and get lost
in stories great, at discount cost.
A too hot day in summertime
is good enough excuse to climb
into a room, all air conditioned,
assuming readership position.
And winter’s even better, yet
to put aside a day, all set
to ignore the crappy cold and snow
for Kipling, King, or maybe Poe.
But oh, the times will change, they say,
if you’ve the means with which to pay,
and wonders come, by hook or crook
electronically – such as e-book.
What a great way to read a story!
Romance, Sci-fi, or something gory.
The e-book holds a million tomes
that otherwise you’d leave at home.
Much less space used! The paper saved!
No more do printing presses slave
to murder trees and spray out ink:
To get a book, just hit a link
On a little screen, electronic
that can bring your reading tonic
and sooth the soul that needs that book
on Kindle, iPad, or the Nook.
It’s so much better, wouldn’t you say?
Your whole library’s there, all day.
No bending covers – doing that
would break an e-reader’s back.
No new book smell. No bookmark need.
No buying something new to read
from that little bookstore down the block;
they’re out of business. Closed and locked.
No comfort in those overflowing
shelves of print, the joy of knowing
no death of any circuitry
nor slowly dying battery
will keep you from enjoying it
in dull lines, or a bathroom visit.
E-books? They’ll come along, apace.
As new things will, they’ll have their place.
If people read, no matter how
it makes this planet great, somehow.
But print will stay, for fools like me,
who know it’s worth replanting trees.
|Wednesday, June 13th, 2018|
Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story
As all fourteen of my regular readers know, I'm easily entertained. Butterflies, flowers, dumb eighties sitcoms, there's a good chance I'll sit through them all as long as they're not Kardashian-type "reality" TV shows.
So yes, I was entertained by Solo: A Star Wars Story, and would definitely watch it again. But I'm also not dumb (shut up, I'm not), and I know when a movie has serious flaws.
Even when I can't figure out what they are.
Let's face it, as soon as you heard the name of this movie you knew what it would be about. Sure enough, we get an origin story, with Alden Ehrenreich playing a young Han Solo trapped on his home world, which seems entirely taken over by spaceship building industries. (On a related note, the Star Wars universe is even worse than other science fiction ventures in having a world be just a region. A desert world, a snow world, a city world ... don't any of these planets have other continents? How does an entire world have just one climate?)
Han is a small time crook who, even back then, should never be told the odds, and he just wants to get off-planet with his girlfriend (!) and become a pilot. But things go horribly wrong, and now he's sworn to return after joining the first organization that will give him the pilot training he needs. Not his first bad decision, and not his last.
Although there are surprises along the way, the rest of the story pretty much hits the beats we expect: Han makes friends with a big walking carpet, meets a certain charming swindler who owns a certain ship, gets a gun, learns not to trust anyone, gets first shot at the Kessel Run, so on, so forth ...
It is fun seeing the way some of our beloved conventions about Han come about, and there are indeed some surprises along the way. And a few big surprises. (One of my favorites was finding out just how the Millennium Falcon ended up with such a superior navigation computer.) Yes, "fun" fits--it was fun, and I'll happily sit down to watch it again.
But Solo: A Star Wars Story just didn't ... gel. For one thing, the movie seemed too dark. I don't mean in tone--I mean it literally seemed dark for long portions of the film--maybe it was the theater where I saw it. The effects and score were good, but not great, which also covers the plot and just about everything else. Alden Ehrenreich did a credible job, but do you want to be the guy who follows Harrison Ford? Me neither.
The rest of the cast did well, especially Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and Donald Glover, who, despite what others have said, made a great Lando Calrissian. We also get Paul Bettany, who's provides us a fun villain in Dryden Vos.
I suspect if it had been made independent of a franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story would be considered good space opera. But it wasn't, and as Star Wars movies go it seems weak ... not to mention a whole movie should have been devoted to Han and Chewie forming a friendship, rather than a few scenes.
Entertainment Value: 3 out of 4 M&Ms. Great action sequences, good cast, missing the heart that made the early Star Wars movies so great. Hardcore Star Wars fans have devolved into a mutual hatred society, so I might have liked it more because I'm more of a casual fan.
Oscar Potential: 1 out of 4 M&Ms. Ain't gonna happen.
|Friday, June 8th, 2018|
|Sunday, June 3rd, 2018|
Movie Review: Deadpool 2
"After surviving a near fatal bovine attack, a disfigured cafeteria chef (Wade Wilson) struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming Mayberry's hottest bartender while also learning to cope with his lost sense of taste." -- Twentieth Century Fox
And there you have it. And, just in case you don't already know you're diving into a comic book movie turned surreal and sideways, in the opening scene the main character complains about the main character of an entirely different comic book movie stealing the idea of the original Deadpool's R rating. While showing a model of a dramatic scene from the other movie.
At the opening of Deadpool 2 our hero (Ryan Reynolds) has everything: A loving girlfriend, a successful life as a freelance crime fighter/assassin/wiseguy, and the ability to heal from the most severe of injuries. Obviously he'll fall hard, and in short order superhero Colossus rescues him from the debris of his life (literally and figuratively) and tries to make Deadpool an X-Men trainee.
It doesn't work. What pulls Deadpool out of his funk is a foul-mouthed teenage mutant hunted by the time traveling killer Cable (played by Josh Brolin, who was also Avengers villain Thanos.) To protect the flame-throwing kid from Cable, Deadpool assembles his own team of superheroes, who he nicknames X-Force.
It's all very regular superhero-ish. Or it would be, except this is the Deadpool word, where everything goes sideways with hilarious results. To some extent the Deadpool films can be compared to Mel Brooks movies: crude, politically incorrect, and always winking at the audience--sometimes literally. No one-liner is out of bounds, no sight gag too vulgar, no convention above being poked fun at. At one point I quite literally fell out of my chair.
Oddly enough, there were also a few scenes that hit you in the feels, which may be the most unexpected thing about Deadpool 2. There's an actual story there, with personal tragedy on more than one side, and once or twice it's even treated seriously. Not by Deadpool himself, of course. There are also huge chunks of graphic violence, again sometimes literally chunks, cursing, and general hard R-ratedness of the type that would have brought an X when I was a kid. It's not for the little ones.
The new breakout character could be Zazie Beetz's Domino, whose mutant superpower is ... luck. This leads to a funny sequence in which Deadpool insists luck is neither a power nor cinematic, while Domino proves him very wrong on both parts. I also liked the introduction of Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), who's relentlessly friendly and cheerful, but also more than she seems.
Entertainment value: 4 M&Ms, the good green ones. This kind of funny is not for everyone, for sure--but it made me giggle helplessly and roll around in my chair.
Oscar Potential: 1 M&M. Yeah, the Academy isn't going to touch this one.
|Saturday, June 2nd, 2018|
Fish and Tenderloin Keep a Fire Department Floating
If you should be near Albion during the Chain O’ Lakes Festival (it's always the first full week of June), don’t forget to drop in on the fish and tenderloin fry at the fire station Wednesday, June 6th. This has been an ongoing annual tradition for many decades, and the proceeds go to equipment and training for the Albion Fire Department.
It’s from 5-7:30 p.m., with a price of $10 for adults and $7 for children under 12, and it’s darned good food for a good cause. I should know, having eaten it almost every year for over three and a half decades. The firehouse is on the east side of town on, not unexpectedly, Fire Station Drive.
Most likely I'll be breading fish earlier in the afternoon, and won't make it to the fish fry itself, which is the way my schedule's worked out the last few years. But while you're there ask someone for a copy of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights, the Albion Fire Department's history book, which goes for just $9.95. Come on, you know you want to donate that extra nickle. Proceeds for the sale of that book also go to the fire department. If all goes well, this fall I'll start working on another book involving the AFD.
|Tuesday, May 8th, 2018|
You can't get blood from a turnip, but they got a whole bag full from me
We're going on vacation soon, and so won't be online all that much for a few weeks. But, between fun things like reading, being outside, and reading outside, I'll continue that writing related stuff. You should hear about future projects by the end of summer, if all goes well.
My oldest daughter approached me with a simple request: Her twins were being asked to bring someone to their school to donate blood. You want to do something for your grandkids. After all, they're your ... wait for it ...
Blood relatives! Hey, the dog thought it was funny.
There was a short period of time, a few nanoseconds, in which my mind wound up to deliver a powerful, definitive, final, "hell no". Scream it. I've always had an issue with needles, which abated some over the years as I got used to allergy shots and annual blood draws. But the needle they use for an allergy shot is like, say, a BB Gun. My brother shot me with a BB gun once; it left a welt on my cheek (no, not that cheek), close enough that it could have put an eye out, but otherwise harmless.
The needle they use for blood donations is closer to Dirty Harry size.
But in the short amount of time I spent winding up to scream "No!" the way teenagers used to scream at the Beatles, I heard a voice. It said, "Sure, okay." It was squeaky and shaky, but it was me.
It's not the first time I ever spoke before I thought. There was the time I agreed to a BB gun fight with my brother, for instance.
Worse, it's notoriously hard to get a needle stick into my tiny veins. I suppose they shrivel in fear when they see the needle approach, just as I do. But I made a blood promise, literally, so I showed up to talk to the Red Cross people.
"Hey, you can't draw blood from people who are taking allergy and acid reflux medicine, can you?"
"Sure we can, no problem."
"Oh, right good. But what if professional nurses have actually taken early retirement because they couldn't find my veins?"
"Not to worry, we deal with that all the time."
"Yeah, but, if somebody faints ..."
"You'll be laying down, it's okay."
"Oh, cool. What if I ran for my life?"
"No problem, I was a defensive tackle in college."
Long story short, I sucked it up while getting my blood sucked out. The whole process only took about half an hour, of which twenty minutes was paperwork and ten actual sucking. The biggest shock to me is that they found my vein on the first stick; this is so remarkable I'm thinking of hiring them to do all my future blood draws, even the ones with the BB gun needles.
And no cost. Well, none to me: I had the good fortune of feeling a little lightheaded when it was all over, so I got three cans of juice and a bag of cookies out of the deal. I also got Red Cross blankets for the grand-kids, which is great, but I think it's their turn to give blood next time. I mean, they're almost ten.
Now that I've done it, I have to say, I understand people who make multiple blood donations. There's a certain satisfaction in giving when it's done, the idea that you've contributed in some small way.
Just the same, it would be nice if they could come up with some other extraction technique. Maybe something similar to squeezing it out, like from a sponge. Or collecting it from a BB gun wound.
Maybe I'll try that on my brother.
|Sunday, May 6th, 2018|
|Thursday, May 3rd, 2018|
Movie review: Avengers: Infinity War
It's all very simple, really: Thanos, one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe (think Darkseid, you DC fans), has come up with a cool new way to cut down on universal overpopulation: Kill overpopulation. Literally.
Like any good villain, Thanos (remarkably played as a kinda/sorta normal guy by Josh Brolin) doesn't think he's a villain at all. In fact, over the course of Avengers: Infinity War we learn his reasoning, and he's actually pretty sincere, for a murderous egomaniac.
Lined up against him, and equally sincere: Every single character EVER to appear in a Marvel superhero movie.
Okay, maybe not every one. I'd have loved to see Martin Freeman's CIA agent character from Black Panther, if only long enough for him to encounter Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange in passing. (They have history, you see.) There are a few notable absences, three I could think of off the top of my head, two I could think of off the bottom, and one who gets a first ever movie mention. Otherwise ... well, otherwise just about everyone is there--according to one count, 76 good and bad guys transplanted from the comics and previous movies.
Holy cow, Batman. (Batman doesn't appear, but believe it or not, there is one DC related mention.)
So, does this movie have a plot, or do they just walk by one after another and wave to the camera? In other words, how in the world can they pull this off?
The answer to that, as it turns out, is that they can pull it off very well. Very well, indeed.
Thanos is on the hunt to collect the six Infinity Stones, artifacts from the beginning of the universe. When put together into the Infinity Gauntlet, they would give him unimaginable power, to do such things as, say, wipe out out overpopulation, not to mention population. Viewers of previous Marvel movies already know where some of the stones are, and as the movie opens we find Thanos collecting one. But during that opening battle one of the opposing heroes gets sent to Earth, where he warns Earth's mightiest heroes that they might have to, you know, Avenge those Thanos has already killed.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Chrstopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (there are sixteen credited writers, including character creators) come into their own here, and the first thing they do is shake things up by dividing the various teams involved. Some of the Avengers stay on Earth, others go into space; the ones in space find themselves teamed with various members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. For many of our heroes, it all culminates in an epic conflict in the African nation of Wakanda, where we encounter our favorites from Black Panther.
It could so easily have been an overwhelming mess. Instead, it's incredible. So many characters get their own arc, yet the movie isn't confusing or overwhelming, even in some giant battle sequences. There's the humor we've come to expect from Marvel, but also a sense of the incredible stakes. There are call-outs to previous movies, and new team-ups that will make fans joyful. My two favorite new pairs were ... fun. (Spoilers!) It's a long movie, but it has to be--and it's worth every minute.
Entertainment value: 5 out of 4 M&M's, the good brown ones. That's right: Avengers: Infinity War is better than perfect. In fact, I only had one issue, which stemmed from the fact that I didn't know something about Marvel's future plans, and that's all I can say about it.
Oscar potential: 4 out of 4 M&M's. Oh, that doesn't mean they'll actually see a nomination. But to put that many characters together, pulling in details from so many other movies, and have it not only make sense but be great--incredible.