Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Marvel Cinematic Universe Redux

Back in June 2015 I did a ranking of all the Marvel movies. I'm now caught up all the way through GOTG Vol 2, so I thought that I'd update my list since I moved some around and ranked the new ones. So, in reverse order:

15. IRON MAN 2: The movie is a mess. It has moments but it's the weakest MCU movie.

14. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: Another mess of a movie. How can one movie (Winter Soldier) get Black Widow so right while this one gets her so wrong? I mean the Hulkbuster was awesome, the party scene was fun and Ultron was a worthy opponent, but the character stuff fell short when it was good and was offensive when it was bad. It feels like some of the worthy human opponents of the Avengers got cast aside in favor of the big baddies.

13. THE INCREDIBLE HULK: See my previous post.

Again, if this were a race, these would be way behind.

12. THOR
11. IRON MAN 3
10. THE AVENGERS
9. IRON MAN
 (See previous post, but IRON MAN and THE AVENGERS both moved down a slot.)

8. ANT-MAN: Marvel's attempt to do a heist movie with a lighter tone...and it works in spades. It helps that Paul Rudd is charming as hell and the rest of the cast is pitch perfect, which is something you could say about every one of these movies. The movie balances the comedy perfectly with the action of a Marvel movie while building on the mythology of the universe, which is important at this point in the MCU. And yes, I think it's a better movie than all those other one, mostly because I think that Marvel's really good at doing these films at this point, so it's a sharper product this time around.

7. DOCTOR STRANGE: A terrific and exciting introduction of the mystic side of the MCU. Benedict Cumberbatch oozes charm and brings a character I knew very little about to the forefront, instantly making him a major player in the MCU. His mention in Winter Soldier helped, which makes me want to look up a MCU timeline to see where these movies take place in relation to one another. But that's a question for another time. I liked Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One a lot. I know that's an unpopular opinion, but the hand waved explanation worked for me and it fit the story. The supporting cast was terrific as well, which is just as important as anything else in the MCU. My only gripe with the movie is that they completely wasted Rachel McAdams.

Back to the race analogy: movies 7-12 would be in a pack, close together and sometimes switching order, depending on my mood at the time. The next set is a little bit ahead but in a close pack as well.

6. THOR: THE DARK WORLD: See my original post, but this one dropped a bit because of some additions and a promotion of another.

5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER: See original post, but I moved this up substantially because, really, the Captain America movies are so much better than the rest and this one really is well done, so I felt it deserved the promotion.

4. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2: I really, really liked this movie. I don't know why people didn't like this movie. I thought it was a great continuation of the first movie that expanded on the idea of family in so many ways while adding depth. I love the whole father/son theme that ran through the entire film and the terrific shout outs (as a film buff, English teacher and 80s nostalgia buff) that the movie makes. The continuing fleshing out of the galactic side of the MCU is important to the upcoming Infinity Wars while giving inspiration for the forthcoming THOR: RAGNAROK. It also kept the same tone as the first movie, which I thought was incredibly important, while upping the stakes, another incredibly important part of this universe.

3.CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR: Really the best Avengers movie made. It had everything you'd want and built on everything that happened in WINTER SOLDIER while effectively poaching what actually worked in AGE OF ULTRON. The movie had me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire movie and the quiet moments were just as good as the loud moments. And the loud moments were amazing, visually, story wise and emotionally. Every aspect of it was damn near perfect but it's only 3 because while I think it's a better movie than my number 2, I thought number 2 was even more entertaining and did more.

2. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: See my original post. If I was ranking these movies as the BEST, this would slide down to 3, but it's so entertaining that it's still my 2.

Okay, the race analogy still stands. 2-6 are a close cluster, but number 1 is far and away ahead. The right balance of a great movie and an entertaining movie. I just rewatched it this weekend and man, it was amazing, so number one:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Missing the Sense of Awe

I had a thought last week while writing. It was sort of out of the blue and it brought my writing to a screeching halt. It's not a bad thing. I was at the end of a chapter and really happy with the progress I. I made. I still don't know exactly what this book is, but I'm very happy with it and I'm already thinking of ways to fix it in the next draft. It needs a heavy rewrite and is definitely not ready for eyes other than my own. It's very much a zero draft.

When I write, I usually multitask, so I had a couple of browser windows open and was moving back and forth between school stuff, my writing and some good old fashioned book browsing over on Goodreads, seeing if there was any good epic fantasies I was missing. I'm thinking a little bit ahead and have some ideas of what I want to write in the coming months. One of the things I want to do is go back to my roots and write a new spin on an old school epic fantasy. I want to sort of go back to school and study some of those kinds of books to see how I can spin them. As I was looking at some of the Goodreads lists and I was overcome with a sense of melancholy about some of the books I was seeing. Let me explain.

I cut my teeth on LORD OF THE RINGS, DRAGONLANCE and DRIZZT. That was my early education in fantasy. It's a pretty good list, nothing to shake a stick at. I learned a lot from them and they are formative parts of who I am as a person and a writer. But as I was looking at these lists that people made or added to, I was overcome with a degree of sadness at all the things that I missed as a young reader. I didn't read Lloyd Alexander, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Tamora Pierce, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Robin McKinley, Guy Gavriel Kay, Diana Wynne Jones, David Gemmel or Melanie Rawn as a teen, and I can't help but feel like I missed out on something.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've read many of these authors and their work over the years, but I think there is something that I'm missing by reading them as an adult. And that something keeps getting more and more distant the older I get. When I read LOTR or DRAGONLANCE as a middle schooler, there was a sense of whimsy, of awe at the work I was reading. The characters. The world. The intricate plots. There was something to that feeling. There was some weight to it that has stuck with me all these years later. And as I've gotten older, that feeling isn't there as much anymore. And that struck me with a deep sense of sadness.

There are still books that move me, don't get me wrong. There are books that as soon as I start reading them put me in that right state of mind that is close to that feeling. A GAME OF THRONES did it when I first read it in December of 2000 in Oswego, That one changed my life. NY. SHIP BREAKER did it when I read it a few years back. Most recently MYSTIC RIVER really wowed me. But it's not the same as the sense of wonder and awe I got as I read about Boromir's death or the Battle of Helm's Deep or the Ride of the Rorhirrim. I know this is fact because I recently reread the DRAGONLANCE books and the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower fell flat. And that made me sad. The wonder was gone.

Was it me? Or was it the work? Or was it a combination?

Had I become so angry, so jaded that these things of wonder didn't register with me anymore? The HARRY POTTER books came close, but not nearly close to the memory of the way I felt reading LOTR or DRAGONLANCE.

Was it the romance of the experience? The days of bookstores is nearly over. I can remember vividly buying the DRAGONLANCE books at an independent bookstore in the local mall. I remember obsessing over them and devouring them. The entire experience was romantic, I suppose. I can remember the cold and snow as I bought them. I remember what they meant to a giant, awkward me in the halls of Soule Road Middle School. I remember being more comfortable with those worlds than my own.

And maybe that's enough. Maybe that memory is enough. But there's still an underlying sadness in that I'll never experience that again.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Romantic Notion

Thursday night, I did something I view as "romantic." I wrote by candlelight.

We had a power outage. A big storm came blowing through (a motif this Summer) and after a few hiccups with the power, it eventually decided to crap out on us, leaving us without lights, television and the blessed Internet. It was just about dusk, so there was still some light out but it was just dark enough to not be completely comfortable. Both of my kids were a little freaked out about it, especially my son Cooper.

Cooper can be skittish when presented with things that aren't routine or normal. A power outage at dusk is something that clearly falls into those parameters. He curled up on to my lap only the way a tiny skittish boy of four can, begging me to turn the lights back on. I often say that if I could I would move Heaven and Earth for my children but the laws of physics dictate that I can't. (Reason 437 why my wife things I'm annoying.) I soothed him as best I could, assuring him that everything was alright and I was right there with him (albeit playing a rousing game of Candy Crush on my phone) as I held him.

Cooper is a cuddler and has a thing for ears (that's going to be a fun middle school phone call, isn't it?), so as we sat curled into a ball of Zeleznik crammed into an oversized leather chair, he rubbed my ear like a well worn worry stone. Luckily, Cooper has been attending a summer camp at his daycare and was particularly tired. I also took him swimming at my in-laws, so with no electronics to overstimulate him, sleep came quickly in the dark. It was a relief.

Across the room, my wife Kim complained that she was going to have to sit in her car to charge her phone because she was under 10 %. My phone wasn't much better at just south of 30%. (Admittedly, Candy Crush wasn't helping.) We are staying in a rental place while repairs are taking place at the house, so we do not have a land line. Our cell phones are necessities, so keeping them charged is a must. Kim suggested taking a ride to see how many people didn't have power. I was all for it except for the bundle of nervous four year old curled beside me. I suggested that she, Natalie and my mother take a ride and leave me at home. I was afraid that if Cooper woke up and I wasn't there, he'd be even more skittish than usual. So they left, taking my phone (now under 20%) with them to charge and leaving me with my mother's phone, just in case.

As the sun waned, I noticed some candles on the hutch in the dining room. I also had my trusty writer's notebook. I could write. I might as well right since I had nothing going on, so I set Coop down on the chair and set about hunting for a lighter or match or something. It took about fifteen minutes to find a match and it took two matches to light the candle. (I am not a smoker and my pyromania ended in my mid-twenties.) It created a lot more light than I expected and I set about working. I wrote most of this in that time period and also worked on a section of THE GIRL IN THE PICTURE, which I started to feel like I was stalling and decided to charge through it and fix what I'm seeing as glaring issues in the rewrite. It was the right decision.

As I was writing, I began to wonder if this is what writing was like for the writers of yore. There was a notion of romanticism in it, like I was somehow writing something of great importance. Something that had some weight to it. (It's neither of those things.) I liked the way it felt. I mean, sure, I was using a Pilot G2 pen, not a fountain pen or a quill. I was writing in an old school composition notebook, not on parchment or in some fancy notebook. (I still hold out hope that one day I will upgrade myself to a fancy notebook though I'm still a fan of the durability and versatility of the composition notebook.) I don't know how long I wrote for, but the session ended when I got a text message from Kim that she wanted me to open the garage door. And like a dope, I tried to do it, forgetting there was no power. As the girls entered the house, Kim and I laughing about how we were both idiots about the garage door. the power popped on. Just in time for Natalie and I to catch our Thursday night tradition of watching the Gong Show together.

Maybe I'll write by candlelight some more in the future. Maybe not.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

So That Was July

Whenever I make ambitious plans for my life, I find that they almost always collapse under the weight of my expectation and reality. And that'exactly what happened in July. I had ambitious plans and just couldn't exactly hit the marks I wanted to hit. I still did okay, but not as well as I'd wished. But I'm actually okay with it and that's as important as part of the process as doing the writing sometimes.

I didn't blog as much as I'd liked. Summer school has kept me busier than I thought as I work at making sure the kids have enough work to do...not that they are doing it, but I want to make sure there isn't idle time beyond when they decide they aren't doing the work. It's kind of a wasted expenditure of energy but a necessary one. It's mildly soul crushing because most of these kids just don't care but are showing up every day to just hang out in my room, watch videos and shoot the shit. And comically I think most of them think they are passing....but I promised that I wasn't going to spend a lot of space talking about my job on this blog so I won't. I still blogged more than I have at other times. I blogged more than I have since I first came over to Blogger from LiveJournal.

I've got some ideas for blogs I want to write, including one on how the quality of the Vacation movies are entirely dependent on the quality of the Audrey and Rusty.

Life has been busy, as it usually is. Between what I'll call "fire business" to general tiredness from school, I've found myself back into a cycle of doing mindless stuff when I've gone home when I'm not busy with actual things to do like doctor's appointments, stuff with the kids and other errands that need to be done. It always disappoints me that I fall into this cycle but I have to learn to stop beating myself up over this. I'm learning but it's hard.

My Harry Potter read is moving along, slower than I want. I'm on Prisoner of Azkaban and I have some thoughts about how it might've been the one that "grew the beard" for the HP series. I'm going to add that to the blog idea list as well, plus an explanation of that specific trope. I'm itching for some big book epic fantasy and plan on using the later Potter books as a primer for that.

Finished 11 books for the month including a fun book about Godzilla and a few YA books that really surprised me. I'm listening to The Well's End by Seth Fishman (a literary agent that I would love to work with) in the car (it's a little tropey but really, really good) and still plodding through Alexander Hamilton. I'm well on my way to finishing 120 books for the year.

As for the reason you all came here, the writing. I only got about 10,000 words, which is way below what I was hoping for. However, I'm very happy with those words. This story is really something and it's moving along nicely. The issue I'm having with it is that I've been pantsing it, so the narrative can me a little muddled and I'm letting things surprise me as I find them in the writing. I've been tempted to do what I call half-drafting it. What that means in terms of me is stopping the draft where it is and starting over, cleaning up what I already wrote to get the ending right. I call it halving because I create a new file and give it a .5 designation. That means this would be saved as Picture1.5. I'm not sure if I'm there yet, but I know there's things I want to add to the story from where I am now, but part of me wants to just get through it and then fix it later. I will let you all know. The word count stands at just north of 45k. I'd like to make a run at finishing it this month and that's very doable.

My other works kind of fizzled. I did some stuff on the next epic fantasy I want to write and messed around with my Instagram fiction idea a little, but I'm not locked into it yet.

I'm not making plans for August. Maybe that'll help me actually do all the things that I want to do.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Despite All My Rage

I have an anger problem. If you've spent any time with me outside of the digital world, you know this already. Maybe you don't. But I do and I was thinking about this a lot this week. But to tell you this story, I have to tell you a story first.

The other day I was driving around doing errands. I canceled my satellite radio recently and I am stuck with local radio again. So as I'm scanning the channels, I find myself completely alarmed at the number of Inspirational music channels there are in the Syracuse area. Seriously. Something you need to know about me is that I have an almost perverse, obsessive, intense disdain for the music. So this means that I actively listen to it just to be angry at it. This is a sickness.

Now I'm not going to go into my own issues with faith and religion. If you didn't know, I am a practicing Catholic. But I have questions and issues with the Church that I'm going to leave between me, the Church and the Almighty, So I have a hard time in believing that someone believes in something that much that they sing about it. It's unreasonable for me to feel this way. It could come to my own issues with faith, it could come from the hypocrisy I see in Christianity as a whole, I'm not quite sure. If someone believes in something and it makes them feel good, good for them. But it seems that I draw the line at Inspirational music. I find it false, sappy and disingenuous. Are people in such a need to be told they are special and they are loved that they find solace in this garbage? And I am (probably wrongfully) judging you for listening to it.

So I'm hate listening to one of the numerous stations broadcasting this crap and flipping between the station (that I do not remember) and KROCK Syracuse (one of two "modern" rock stations in town, though modern rock now is more like classic rock when I was a kid...but this is a discussion for another post). On the inspirational channel was a song called "Live Like You Are Loved." That I remember the song bothers me so much. It's sung by a group called Hawk Nelson. No, seriously. That's their name. I was relieved when I found out it was a band not a single singer. According to Wikipedia (dubious, I know) they are a "pop punk" band. I'm sorry, excuse me while I pee my pants laughing. They were nominated in the Alternative Rock category for some Christian music award show. Oops, sorry I peed my pants.

There is NOTHING "alternative" about these guys. Anyway, back to my story....KROCK on the other hand was playing "The Vengeful One" by Disturbed. I was obviously drawn to this. Then I began to question why. What was it about the Disturbed song that drew me where the Hawk Nel....I almost made it through that without laughing....son song didn't. What about one made sense to me and the other didn't? I'm not a dark guy. I'm not drawn to darkness. But if you listen to Disturbed there is a rage there...and I can relate to that. I can access rage and work with it. I feel it almost constantly, just under the surface of my being, like a coiled spring. And sometimes I let it get the better of me. And when it's over, I feel small and empty. Until it builds back up in me. It's one of the reasons the Hulk has always been one of my favorite superheroes. And people that know me a little can see it in me I think. It's probably the reason that I hate listen to inspirational music. I need something to focus my rage on and it's as good a place as any.

I don't have an ending for this. Some wise comment, some connection to my writing. I think if I wrote angry it would be very Overlook Hotel-ish, but I've discussed how writing makes me feel when I'm doing it. So know that if you see me, much like the Hulk, I am always angry.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

About The Ed Sheeran Thing

If you're living under a rock somewhere and didn't realize it, Sunday night was the season premier of Game of Thrones. Now I could do an entire episode rundown discussing how I thought it was damn near perfect. I could talk about that great opening (which despite being completely telegraphed was awesome), Cersei's descent into insanity, the Euron/Jaime snark fight, Jon/Sansa, Lyanna Mormont (do we not all love her?) or the gorgeous shots of the castles and keeps of Westeros. But I'm not going to do that

I love a good table setting and seeing the pieces being moved into place. This episode did that just brilliantly. My former agent used to say the opening chapter of the "next" book always should have some summary to catch the reader up. Well D&D did that perfectly, giving us tastes of what was going to happen. There were some great moments in the episode, including a few that I seemed to like more than a lot of people on the interwebs. No, I'm not going to talk about Sam's shit duty (see what I did there), though technically it was a brilliant piece of technical film making. I'm talking about a certain cameo.

The interwebs went crazy at the inclusion of pop/rock star Ed Sheeran. People really seem to hate Ed. I don't. I kind of dig his music. I've reached that age where I'm kind of stuck in the loop of the same music over and over and Ed kind of fits in there. And the producers put him in what I thought was a great scene, one that did so much (besides featuring him singing) to make Arya's murder tour that much more difficult as we met what appeared to be a decent bunch of Lannister soldiers sharing a meal and offering Arya a seat and the first bite. You can see the doubt in Arya that the ideas of good and evil aren't do simple. But people didn't seem to notice that. They noticed poor Ed Sheeran. I guess that the heat got so bad, he had to delete his Twitter account.

I don't understand the hate for this. If you don't like his music or whatever, then good for you. But to hate him for doing a cameo on your favorite show then you are a petty, jealous little troll. I'm serious. We all wish that we had that level of fame where we could appear on our favorite shows or movies. Who cares that he did this? I've also heard that Mets pitcher Noah "Thor" Syndergaard  put in a cameo this season as well. How is this a big deal when it's been going on forever?

Star Trek has done celebrity cameos for years and years. And I'm not talking about guest stars...I'm talking background cameos. Freaking Iggy Pop, one of the coolest humans of all time, got put in make up to play a Vorta on DS9. (Okay, maybe that was an extended cameo, but you get my meaning.) There are whole websites dedicated to famous cameos in Star Trek shows and movies (not to mention the "before they were famous" appearances). Star Wars has done the same thing. There was a similar outcry when there was a rumor that George Lucas put N*Sync in Star Wars and even then I felt it was much ado about nothing. There have been senators in Batman movies, athletes in comedies (and tons of scifi) and even royalty playing starship crewmen.

We've become a society that does nothing but hate. We take our personal bitterness, anger and jealousy and blast it out into the ether. We aren't allowed to love the things we love anymore, just defend them. We want to tell people that they aren't allowed to love what we love because they aren't "real" fans. And I'm growing tired of it.

So, Ed Sheeran, if you read this. Welcome to the fandom. I'd suggest checking out Ran's board, creating an account and joining the conversation, we'd love to hear your insights, even if you're just a TV watcher. And if you'll indulge me...was the Lannister armor as uncomfortable as it looked? Thanks.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thoughts On Harry Potter, Part 2: The Sorcerer's Stone

Man, I forgot how great a book that The Sorcerer's Stone was. Every choice that Rowling makes is the right one, even the one at the beginning I disagree with. She's truly a master and I can't figure out what the editors that passed on it were thinking. I'm sure many of them are thinking the same thing. 

The first book was a study in economy. Both of words and plot points. Rowling doesn't waste a single thing. They all serve some purpose to the story and she doesn't waste them. She includes the things that are important to the story and doesn't belabor it. It's refreshing that every minute detail isn't described in every minute detail. We don't need to see example after example of how Snape hates Harry, she establishes it, revisits it only when it's absolutely necessary. It's really brilliant. 

The book is filled with terrific whimsy too and moments that just reverberate when they happen, especially on the reread. When Harry, Ron and Hermione become the Harry, Ron and Hermione we all know and love, it's magical. (It's always three isn't it?) Neville is so much more special than I remember him and feel there's a terrific sidestory there. I had forgotten about the fight they get into with Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle during the Quidditch match (that wasn't in the movie). It's a pivotal moment, because Ron wades in because Ron is Ron, but terminal coward Neville adopts an "ahh, f-it" attitude and charges into battle. No questions. No prodding. Just a straight up "these are my boys." It's terrific foreshadowing of the hero Neville becomes. 

We get more of the world and it's wonderful, but you can tell there's a curtain to pull back and that's just what makes it so special. Rowling's tone is terrific and it still feels appropriately middle reader, but the books grew up with the readers and I'm looking forward to see how the tone changes as Rowling recognizes her audience. 

Now, on to The Chamber of Secrets.