Sunday, October 18, 2015

Watching TV: The Player

I grew up on Wesley Snipes action movies and there really has been no one else like him in Hollywood. So, even though the commercials signaled me that this show may be lame, I'd at least show up for the premiere for Snipes.

A funny thing happened, though. I actually really enjoyed it with the exception of the cliché death at the end of the episode, plus the obligatory long-arc mystery about who the deceased really was. And are they even dead?! Dun dun dun.

Flashback to CBS's Intelligence, RIP.

But then came episode two and three, and I was still enjoying myself but also wondering: Why the heck is this so entertaining? Simply put, it doesn't try too hard to be something it's not. But here are some more reasons.

The gimmick. It is usually a mysterious conspiracy with some sort of thematic imagery, and can sometimes just be a macguffin, paired with some procedural challenge to tackle each week. On Blindspot it's the tattoos, which was Prison Break's gimmick before that. On Blacklist it was the list. Here it is the Game, which is reminiscent of the movies The Game and Hard Target. So, it's not even an original gimmick.

Despite that, I find I can better tolerate this gimmick because it is not so open ended as to suggest almost anything. Unlike Lost. Unlike Blindspot. The reason she tattooed herself and wiped her memory could be damn near anything, so you just have to accept whatever they throw at you as a possibility. That's not engaging to me.

Here we have a group of shadowy elite gambling on crime, betting on whether or not The Player, (Kane, our protagonist,) can stop the criminal of the week. The House provides the Player with a Dealer (Cass, his techie), and is supervised by a Pit Boss, (Mr. Johnson) who ensures the game remains a secret, unimpeded by prying detectives--like Kane's friend.

The game has been going on a long time and our current iteration is not the first. In fact, the show starts with the last Player dead. So our protagonist is fairly expendable. I like those parameters.

The game exists as a form of entertainment. There's no open ended mystery in this gimmick, unless you care why a bunch of elites get their jollies from betting on human lives and to what end. I'm only as interested as maybe getting to see one of these twisted gamblers in a future installment. The focus is how Kane will navigate this seedy underworld.

Next, the cast of characters. Wesley Snipes is just a natural badass who is fun to watch. As the Pit Boss he doesn't get up to much action (yet) but you just know he can kick anyone's ass if they mess with him. Kane learned that in the first episode. And it's that undercurrent of dangerousness that makes his character effective as a calm, calculated cleaner. The keeper of the secrets. You don't know whether he's totally nefarious or just out of necessity, as cold as the faceless gamblers or forced to compartmentalize how he really feels about all this. I mean, for a second there I really thought he was going to kill that hacker guy.

As for our protagonist, I was duly surprised how likeable he is, given the potential for the Action Hero to be growly, angsty cardboard. I've never heard of the actor before now. Now, I hear he was in a previous show with the lead dude from Blindspot. Say what? Neither are great actors but Winchester is leagues better than the other guy, IMHO! Maybe it's because he gets to be funny, serious, aggrieved, heroic, and smart in this role that he doesn't feel like he is on autopilot. So far, I'm rooting for this guy.

Evil Felicity. That's what I thought as soon as I saw Cass. Thankfully, I was wrong. Episode 3 especially gave her major points from me. She's not just the pretty techie with the cute accent. She'll snipe a mofo. All we know so far is that she trained in special forces in the UK and the US (no I don't recall the organizations. Sue me!),  she has a boyfriend, and she was pals with Kane's "dead" girlfriend, unbeknownst to Kane. Since she's the one working closest with the Player, Kane is often trying to pry info out of her about herself, Mr. Johnson, and the Game overall. Their banter is pretty agile and sometimes witty when it could easily have been lead-footed and eye-rollingly clunky.

The weakest link is Kane's friend Detective Brown. The actor is usually pretty good but here he seemed over the top in his frustration and anger with the secrets Kane is keeping. This might turn around now that he is getting an assist from another agent  investigating profiles similar to Kane's. He's got somewhere to channel the emotions. But that way lies danger and I won't be surprised if Brown gets killed.

The action. At first I thought the music was odd. Then I thought it oddly fitting. It sounds almost like video game tracks which, yeah, this is a "game" after all, and Kane is often racing somewhere or other. The fast pace works wonders for a show like this that doesn't purport to be deep or too realistic. Before you can think too hard about why X happened instead of just doing Y, the ride is over.

The action scenes themselves are not outstanding but I've not yet been so offended by any sequence that I was thrown out of the watch. You'd be surprised how easily that happens nowadays--what with nonsense like a radio going all static for no reason, or the protagonist taking her eyes off the road and crashing her car, or saying hi to a suspect and spooking him instead of cornering or restraining him first (Yeah, I'm talking about you Blindspot!)

There was one major forehead slap on The Player. I straight up laughed at Kane and Cass jumping off a building, hanging onto a crane hook, shooting off a helicopter, and then getting back onto the roof within a minute. Are you kidding? LOL! It helps when the show isn't too serious to begin with.

The dialogue. This may as well be a review of Blindspot too, because I cannot tell you how robotic the dialogue on Blindspot gets sometimes. "What if you got hurt? What if I lost you?!" Ugh. "What if I was a bad person?" "Bad people do bad things and good people stop them." Ugh!

But we're talking about The Player. Like I said, Snipes is a natural at delivery, and the banter between the Player and the Dealer highlights an interesting dynamic ("You speak of yourself in the third person? " "The Dealer will get the jet ready." *walks away* "Where do you stay?" "Are you asking if I'm homeless?") Heh.

Given the race-against-the-clock nature of the show, it is often easy to slip into heavy exposition. Even the best of them, like 24, did that. But these writers seem to manage it in the same way, by timing it right, multitasking, and keeping it moving. People are rarely ever just standing around talking, or taking time out to discuss inanities or their feelings. There are some action-oriented shows where that is beneficial and integral, like Agents of Shield. This is not that type of show and thankfully it seems the writers are aware of that.

And how about the criminals and crimes? Nothing special here--heists, murder, kidnapping. They've all been serviceable with the last assassin being on the cheesy side.

I'm also not too invested in the mystery of Kane's "dead" girlfriend. My money is on her being an agent for the game, in some capacity, and that's enough intrigue for me for now. (I mean, sure, if you think about it, she could be way more complicit than that.) They are dropping indirect clues, with Cass knowing her and the Pit Boss doing what he can to sabotage Kane looking into it, but it is unobtrusive to the rest of the plot. As it should be.

All that said, I know The Player, like other NBC shows I actually found entertaining, will be cancelled. Hopefully not abruptly before the season is over. Until then I'm looking forward to the next episode.

What are you watching?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Loose Threads #5

Three Generations

One is tired but determined.
Another frustrated but obligated.
The third is just a kid, oblivious as her brother who sleeps in the stroller.

She doesn't know they're supposed to have a car, supposed to be going somewhere fast, somewhere safe and sure and secure. Somewhere called home, not Motel 6.

But they have to walk, and it's a scorcher.

One leads with a quick hustle.
Another follows with a steady march.
The third is just a kid, just out walking with her grandma and mom and baby brother.

One picks up a coin from the parking lot pavement, pockets it. Hustles.
The third picks up the blanket that fell from the stroller and puts it inside.

The other scolds her, drapes the cloth over the stroller. It's to keep the sun off the baby, not put dirt and germs on him. Doesn't the third know anything?

It's a stupid mistake. Life is full of stupid mistakes and generations still making up for them.

One cuts across the grass going uphill, but stops for a moment to make sure they're all together.
The other follows, pushing the stroller along the paved sidewalk.
The third stays close to her brother who still blissfully sleeps.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

This Is a Test

Hover* for spoilers: and you'll see the new spoiler function in action.

*sadly, this doesn't work on mobile

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 10

See all the previous spoilers:

What I've read: Ch 10

Years have passed, old animals die, new animals are born. Some animals are purchased and brought onto the farm, and few--Clover, Benjamin, and others--remember what it was all like in the beginning of the rebellion. The pigs now walk on two legs,  while the sheep bleat  "four legs good, two legs *better.*" They wear clothes and the farm returns to its original title "Manor Farm." A new era of cooperation with humans has risen.

The story ends with the lower animals peering through the farmhouse windows at the pigs and humans dining together, drinking and playing cards, congratulating each other:

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again;  but already it was impossible to say which was which."

And that's where it ends. Like, sorry, no hope for you. It is very much fitting for this chilling tale.

I quite enjoyed the story overall and am
amazed something so short packs a punch powerful enough to last for ages. But then this is Orwell at his best. I'd recommend it just for your reading pleasure. It's a good story even setting aside the allegorical references to real life inspirations.

How'd you like the story the first time you read it? What do you think of it today? Discuss, comment, spoil!

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 9


Boxer dies. He collapses while carting boulders, and the pigs claim he'll be sent to the veterinarian. He's instead sent to a slaughter and glue-making place.

It's such a sad scene. The animals are all wishing him farewell, but Benjamin the old donkey reads the sign on the van. When they realize what's happening, they try to stop it but it's too late. They can't catch up and Boxer is too weak to kick his way out.

Just sad.

The rest of the chapter is boring, parades and pigs being pigs. The story has done a good job making me detest the creatures,  because I'm sick of Squealer's lies.

One chapter left. I don't see this ending well.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Links 8/3/2015

I suppose if these links have a theme, it is how words, narratives, and rhetoric can affect how you do and don't define your voice and express yourself.

To Be Black and Woman and Alive

Video of a spoken word poem by Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad. The language is evocative, painful, and their performance is moving. I mean, what are words even? They fail. I only had thoughts after watching this, thoughts of all the black women in the news recently, degraded, devalued, dehumanized and deceased for varying reasons that all echoed in this poem. And that's what powerful poetry can do.

Chosen Ones, Specialness and the Narrative of the One

Thoughts from Aliette de Bodard on these tropes. I find I agree with de Bodard frequently when it comes to this push and pull, this tension we writers have with established modes of storytelling and our own personal inclinations. It can get to be an unending negotiation of examination and reaffirmation of who we are, what we are writing, and why. Are you honing your voice or stifling it in favor of familiarity? I'd also recommend her article about pushing against received narratives, because sometimes you just have to find your core and stake your claim.

Which This Margin is Too Small to Contain

Thoughts from Vajra Chandrasekera on diversity in SFF and the term "person of color". It does read as thinking on paper and I appreciate the thought process behind "strategic essentialism" as a "high-risk high-reward rhetorical move". Rhetoric can be a slippery thing to grasp and master and wield, and it is only as useful as its effectiveness. It stops being so when, as the title implies, it becomes too small to contain the idea, the complexity and depth of the definition of you. H/t to Fields for sending this one my way.

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 8

Chapter 8

No animal shall kill another animal *without cause*, the commandment now reads.

The windmill is completed, but Napoleon's trade deal with a neighboring farm goes bad--they were tricked and Farmer Frederick paid with forged money! No sooner than the animals learn this than they are under attack by Frederick and a group of men. The men blow up the windmill and kill several animals before they are finally overwhelmed and run out. Everyone is dismayed but the pigs initiate celebrations and extra rations for all for their victory in the Battle of the Windmill, and their sorrows are soon forgotten.

After a night of drinking and hangovers, Napoleon decides the farm should grow barley and have a distillery where they had formerly set aside pastures for the elderly to graze. Oh, and that particular commandment forbidding booze has been secretly amended too: No animal shall drink alcohol *to excess*.

This chapter clustered many events together and seemed to run through them as though time and word count was of the essence. Of course, this is chapter 8 of 10, so things will have to wrap up quickly over the next two chapters. I'm concerned this will lead to an abrupt or pat ending.

Anyhow, Clover (the mare) is something of the conscience. She's the most suspicious about the commandments being broken, but she can't read, and when she asks another animal to, they find the altered version and have to concede they misremembered.

Boxer is more questioning but only out of ignorance. "If Napoleon says so, then it's so" is all he needs as reassurance.

In one light, I read the successive pig leaders as one regime getting worse. But the differences between them are there and distinct. Old Major was illustrated as wise and benevolent, prophetic. Snowball was ambitious, charismatic, shrewd. Napoleon is reclusive and cruel.

Squealer is Napoleon's main mouthpiece, and in an aside, turns out to be altering the commandments under cover of night, though the other animals don't understand that.

Then there's the old donkey Benjamin, who seems to know what's up but isn't the least bit inclined to say or do anything about it yet, except to nod knowingly at the corruption around him. He wasn't enthusiastic about the rebellion in the beginning either. You know. Like how some old folk be sometimes. Doubtful he'll be the one to expose the corruption. Doubtful there'll be any exposé, but we'll see. My money is on Animal Farm collapsing under its own unsustainable conditions. Humans may not reclaim it, but I'm not too sure the animals will be able to reorganize.


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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 7

Chapter 7

Food rationing worsens on Animal Farm, but Napoleon stages things so that their human intermediary won't detect how hard up the animals are, and the outside world goes on believing the farm is doing well. The hens protest giving up 400 eggs a week in trade with humans and they are starved in return until they comply. A far worse fate befalls any animal suspected of colluding with the phantom menace Snowball: slaughter. And many animals are killed after being forced to make false confessions, all mauled to death by the guard dogs. The remaining animals are shocked and disillusioned. To add insult to injury, their freedom anthem Beasts of England is now abolished.

All animals are comrades, indeed. No animal should kill another animal. This is a brutal chapter, not that it is graphic in any way, but the simple, matter-of-fact prose that enhances the absurdity in the beginning now enhances the cold efficiency of this dark turn of events.  The non-response from the animals to this callous disposal of life is all too real and all too chilling.

Does this story even have a hopeful, if not happy, ending? Surely, the dictatorship is unsustainable.  I'm tempted to Google it up, but I'll just read on and see.

Discuss below.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 6

What I read: Ch 6

The animals have need for resources beyond their capabilities, especially in the case of building the windmill. Napoleon arranges for a human intermediary to conduct trade on behalf of Animal Farm.  One by one, the Seven Commandments are broken: pigs living in the house, sleeping in beds, etc. And Squealer, the persuasive propagandist pig, explains it all away. Not sleep in beds? No, no. The commandment said not to sleep in beds *with sheets*.

Heh. So it goes.

The animals are uneasy about all these changes, but as they hate the old way more and none can read or reason well, they can do nothing about it.

I've a feeling Boxer might die. He toils single-mindedly and unquestioningly in all due fealty to the new animal order, wanting, it seems, to be the best Animal Farm citizen he can be. The exploitation of blind patriotism, perhaps?

Add to that unity through hatred of a fabricated menace: Napoleon has now put a bounty on Snowball's head for destroying the unfinished windmill (which really was knocked down by a storm.) An effective ploy, since humans aren't so scary now that animals are working with them, and the animals were mightily dispirited after the windmill fell.

Comrades, discuss below!

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 5

What I've read: Ch 5

Mollie runs away to another farm. Napoleon and Snowball's disagreements over whether to build a windmill come to a head. Napoleon stages a coup and supplants Snowball as the leader. Snowball just barely escapes the privately trained death hounds Napoleon unleashes on him. A new, crueler order is coming--no more meetings or debates, pigs make decisions and others follow orders, food rationing and harder labor.

So, once again, a new pig takes over, successively making things worse for the common animal while giving more privileges to his own group. It's interesting to see art imitating life this plainly and effectively. I don't know if this kind of simple metaphor (e.g. pigs in power, the sheep say and do whatever the pigs want) would work nowadays, but if one found a particularly neat metaphor that mapped as brilliantly and cheekily as the one in Animal Farm, one might do very well for oneself, indeed.

Anyhow. Now, the full on lies and revisionist history begins, as Snowball is downgraded from war hero to a traitor, thief, and liar. Hard times ahead. Discuss below!

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 4

Chapter 4

News of the Animal Farm spreads throughout the animal world in England and among the human farmers, who go from scoffing to nervousness after other animals refuse to work and/or turn on their masters. Farmer Jones (dunno why I call him that, as in the book it's just Mr. Jones--but consistency, comrades!) rounds up some men to take back the farm. They are attacked and run off. Boxer despairs at having struck and killed a young man, but the young man is only stunned, recovers, and runs away. The animals commemorate the victory with a battle title and hand out a few medals.

The anecdotes about Mollie always make me chuckle. She excuses herself from work and hides when the fighting gets serious. And then there is the cat, who was an ardent supporter of the committee of wild animal reeducation (or something) and tries to convince birds and rats all animals are comrades and they could sit on her paw. Needless to say that committee was a failure.

This is the first chapter where I didn't quite enjoy the telling nature of the prose. The POV seemed distant from the animals. Like a historian who knows how it all turns out:

"The men gave a shout of triumph. They saw, as they imagined, their enemies in flight, and they rushed after them in disorder. This was just what Snowball had intended."

As you know, Reader. Other than rare exceptions, I don't like when classics address Dear Reader. I'm looking at you Jane Eyre Besides, it seemed pretty clear it was a trap once the men were surrounded and overwhelmed in the yard. I like action scenes as fluid and commentary-light as possible.

Snowball orchestrated and led the defense, so that officially makes him a type of tactician. How long before he turns his skills on his fellow farm-dwellers?

"The only good human being is a dead one."
Far too cold about taking a life. Then again, the humans were no less so towards animals. And around it goes.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 3

What I've read: Ch 3

The animals work the farm, from the tireless Boxer to the wee ducks and chickens. Except for the pigs, of course. They are "brain workers", you see, and they need all the milk and apples to nourish those big brains, lest Farmer Jones comes back! Comrades, surely you don't want that to happen.


I'm curious why the pigs took and secluded the newborn puppies, but my guess is for security; brainwash them into ardent guard dogs. Of course, there's the obvious parallels to youth enlistment in this cause or that ideology. It also appears that Napoleon and Snowball argue a lot, so maybe the pigs aren't as unified a ruling class as I thought. Is one of them going to kill the other? I expect the seven commandments to all be broken in such fashion by the end of the story.

The thrust of the plot is dependent on just how stupid the majority of the animals are, most not able to reason at all. How's that for social commentary?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 2

What I've read: Ch 2

So, Old Major dies. Life for the animals becomes so intolerable under Farmer Jones that the revolution happens at the spur of the moment, and all the humans are run off the farm. The successor pigs, Napoleon, Squealer, and Snowball--who can read and write--make quick work of organizing a new order codified in the Seven Commandments.

I'm highly amused and entertained thus far. There's just a touch of handwavy absurdity--like a pig balancing on a ladder, painting a sign. The animals are just slightly anthropomorphized, as regards distinct personalities. This makes all those names easier to remember. Mollie is the pampered and foolish show horse, Snowball is intelligent and scheming--the kind of successor who would twist his predecessor's teachings all out of proportion. Boxer and Clover are cart-horses, loyal and obedient to a fault. But mostly the animals retain their animal natures.

The simple prose compliments this well. The farmhouse is treated as a museum. The barns and such aren't much remarked upon--where you eat and sleep every day isn't very remarkable to you. And the surrounding landscapes are described as something of a promise land--so much clover! A pool and spinney! Whatever a spinney is!

The chapter ends with some foreshadowing, as the fresh milk from the cows go missing while all the animals were out harvesting the hay. Heh. So it's begun.

I'm just letting all the historical parallels and social commentary simmer as I read. Feel free to discuss it all in the comments. There will not be a test, and your answers will not be graded.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 1

Never read it. Vaguely recall watching an adaptation but have forgotten nearly all of it. I know in general what happens and a few quotes. It's just 10 chapters, so let's find out what happens in detail!
Update: see all the spoilers below!

What I've read: Ch 1

Old Major is the lead pig and the chapter focuses on him. He gives a speech about overthrowing the tyranny of man in the future and ends with a song about that glorious day.

The chapter is riddled with named animals but it didn't confuse me. Rather, it helped establish the crowded and bustling atmosphere of the barn. All the descriptions were precise and deftly handled, I thought. For instance, that of the farmer Mr. Jones. He goes to bed drunk and starts shooting outside at any disturbance in the night. From the POV of the animals, he's a pathetic specimen, a man truly deserving of their scorn.

For that proverbial charismatic leader, Old Major sure had me convinced they ought to revolt. It will be interesting to watch how it goes from "all animals are equal" to "some are more equal than others."

The one thing that made me quirk an eyebrow was when Major used the word "atom". Where and how did he learn about that, living on a farm? Also, his speech was not nearly as dense and skim-worthy as that tangent about war in Orwell's 1984, but it did strike me as a feature of its time, something you might not get away with today in the very first chapter.

Have you read Animal Farm? Do you like it or hate it? What is your favorite part? Follow along. Spoilery discussion welcome.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Daredevil Series: Final Thoughts

Yes, I finished it. Made it to the end, with good things to say about it, even. Here's a list of those things:

• Kingpin.

That's it. I know. I'm as shocked as you are. One blog post ago I couldn't abide him, and now here I am declaring him to be the best character on the show. Granted, the show set a low bar with its flat lead, but Vincent D'Onofrio pulled it off. I believed him as Wilson Fisk by the final episodes. He had levels, (layers if you insist) and a much more complete arc than the protagonist who went from kicking ass and taking names to kicking ass and taking names in an ugly costume. Fisk has a personality--a weird one that you kinda have to squint at and tilt your head and then just say "Screw it!", but at least it exists and the actor is trying to do something with it. I am more invested in his evolution than the hero's. Which would be fine by me if the show was called Kingpin.

There were an appreciable amount of times where the writing and execution really shined--episode 2, Karen's standoff, Claire, Leland, Madam Gao, the dragnet takedown set to the tune of Nessun Dorma, to name a few--but then it all came out as a wash by the end, because for every moment I liked, there were just as many, if not more, I did not like.

The show was not bad or very good, not intolerable or very enjoyable. It was hokey and grimdark, unconventional and safe. A paradox.

A good example of this is the flashbacks. They were all formulaic and predictable, but I also thought they were better cast, better acted, easier to follow, and just plain more entertaining. Who couldn't guess a traumatic childhood--complete with an abusive father wanting his son to man up--would be partially to blame for creating the monster that is Kingpin? Taken by itself, as a slice of a life, it was compelling enough for what it wanted to present: a boy so traumatized by violence he turns to murder to make it stop. Chilling stuff. Taken as the villain's backstory, it is uninspired. I had precisely the same reaction to Matt's flashbacks with his dad.

And let's go ahead take our protagonist, another paradox. When he's Daredevil, obscured by a mask and barely visible in all black, he is way more riveting than when he's one half of Nelson and Murdock, attorneys at law. And yet, I also think part of the reason Cox's Murdock is so flat is that half of his expression--his eyes--are obscured. Yes, the shades are iconic, but in his best scenes with Claire, or when Matt is confronted by Foggy, he's not wearing his glasses. Nor was he wearing them in their second back and forth at the gym, and both times I thought the actor was at his most evocative and empathetic. He's just not one of those actors that can show a wide range of emotions with just his voice, which is fairly inflectionless, or with the twitch of a facial muscle, though he tried a lot of jaw shifting.

I rooted for the vigilante and felt very little empathy for the guy in a suit and tie who seemed less and less invested in his day job. I got it. I really did. It's hard to punch badguys at night and punch in at work on time every day. But there was no struggle presented beyond the physical toll. There was no struggle to balance his two lives, no struggle to keep his identity secret, no struggle to reconcile his affinity for the law with his lawbreaking escapades.  The struggle is the meat, the bridge between the two personas. Yes, he sought counsel with his priest. Besides the fact that each meeting belabored the point unto spoiling the outcome, when the central conflict is whether or not to murder a man, you know the bridge is burning and the show's compass is firmly calibrated to Daredevil's way. Consequently, the endeavors of his public "friendly" persona stagnated throughout, until the very last episodes when suddenly attorneys at law meant something again.

It's a paradox. I am sympathetic to the fact that the show had to get to the point due to the nature of such a short season, but Marvel's Agent Carter also leaned towards pat storytelling and still managed to flesh out its lead. Much of what got snipped here is what makes shows like this likeable/relatable. Take Foggy, the levity of the show. Not much is required of his role and he delivers his quips and punch lines fairly well. It's clear he and Matt have a strong friendship but when it came time to show the basis for it, they crammed their history into a couple flashbacks. Here they are hitting it off as new roomies in college. Here they are at a big law firm. We don't know what happened in between those two points but apparently Matt can't take the soullessness of the firm and Foggy is happy to follow Matt out the door. It's the in between, the case after case after case of soul-crushing work, the inescapable injustice on the street and in the courtroom that gives weight to the history and evolution of these characters. These things get snipped in favor of two Russian brothers using bone-shivs to escape the gulags and pursue their American dream, or one Russian brother getting his head bashed off because he embarrassed Fisk in front of his lady. What we're left with is cliff notes and paradoxes.

My last impression isn't very different from my first. The show has all the trappings of the other comic book superhero shows, and character arcs from any other show in general, but it tries to distinguish itself in violence and villainy and loses some of its appeal in the process.

Season 2 will be a hard sell for me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Daredevil Series: 102 - 104

Daps, finally. Mostly for that hallway fight, but we'll get to that.

Four episodes in and a third of the way through the season, my enjoyment of this show has been inconsistent. Most of the players are fair in their roles, some are bland, and Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, I cannot abide. The plot is thickening, but as it seems all roads lead to Kingpin, I'm not getting a sense of mystery or suspense. (It's Kingpin! He's behind it all!) My general feeling, which I suspect won't change much over the course of the show, is that there is a lot to appreciate about Daredevil, but the execution at times feels uneven, clunky, or just plain run-of-the-mill.

Episode 4 was more engaging than 1 or 3, because the show is starting to take shape, but the high point was episode 2. Rosario Dawson makes her debut in episode 2. Coincidence? Unlikely.

But seriously, I really feel like episode 2 should have been the pilot, as it best exemplified what this Daredevil is made of (way better than that speech to the priest. Show don't Tell anyone?)--the parallels with his Dad in flashbacks (predictable and a smidge heavy-handed on the foretelling, but kudos to the actor playing Murdock Sr.; one role where playing it straight set the right tone for the story and made me believe him,) and the crime Daredevil stops and how he does so--that hallway fight!

I previously said that Daredevil's heightened senses didn't appear to give a real edge in the first episode. Well, that's because in this show his real edge is in taking a beating and getting up again and again. That fight in eposode 2 was exhausting, and after the opener where we find Daredevil left for dead in a dumpster, viscerally intense and dangerous. But Daredevil just would not stay down. That's when I started rooting for the guy. Points for badguys also getting up. I've seen too many conveniently get knocked out by one punch. Bonus points for the camera work. Well-shot. Well-choreographed. Perfect location.

We do get to see more of Daredevil's abilities, which include enhanced smell and parkour. But the show has thus far stayed away from using any fancy 'tells' (CG, slo-mo, etc) to indicate when or how he's using those abilities, so his stuntwork around the city looked a little too much like he could see what he was doing.

Matt, not to be confused with his crime-fighting alter ego, is still too flat, and I don't know whether it's the actor or the writing. I get they are going for downplayed, but when he interacts with others on a personal or professional level, it just feels one-note. There's hardly any lawyer stuff going on, save for episode 3. Matt's colleagues, Foggy and Whatshername? Not interested*.

*Whatshername gets a pass, though, because she at least appears to have an arc. She's teamed up with Whatshisname reporter guy (I like him,) to follow the money in her former employer's shady dealings which almost got her killed in the premiere.

But on the whole, I found myself more engaged by the characters who were not major. Like Claire (Dawson, Daredevil's personal healthcare provider,) Murdock Sr, and Bob Gunton. Gunton can do no wrong.

And what about those bad guys? What we have so far are henchmen of the week. Presumably, Daredevil will work his way up the ladder, Streets of Rage style, while Whatstheirnames will work a different angle into the business side. There was Evil Josh Whedon (h/t Fields for the nickname.) Nasty bugger who's weapon of choice is a bowling ball. Then came the Russian Brothers, who specialize in rib-bone shivs. Mr. Slick, Kingpin's pointman, who has some interesting moments (I lol'ed at the quarter on the arcade machine, "I got next") but is otherwise played to type. Is he more dangerous than he appears or just a suit?

In any case, if the aforementioned examples of nastiness didn't clue us in on just how violent it will get as we move up the ladder, in episode 3, we finally meet Wilson Fisk hisownself and before we know anything else about the man we must know he is Complicated. That's why there is a piano playing and an art gallery and his confession to his crush, Vanessa, that he feels lonely. Ookay? But do go on.

We get lots more of him and Vanessa in episode 4 via their lovely dinner date. He was all shy and not confident at all in his game, so she pretty much encouraged him into it. Over dinner, we learn he's no monster--he had a childhood. On a farm, even.

Where he probably stoned the animals to death!

Look, I spent more time debating this character than any other but I'm good now. I'm not trying to understand what makes the psycho tick anymore. The writers may well be trying for unexpected or subversive characterization, but that one scene? That one scene, tho, with the Russian and the car door? Yo. Case closed. Not interested.

What made it worse was the clunky setup that took us from Fisk to Kingpin strained my suspension of disbelief. <spoilers> How did that guy get past Mr. Slick and into the restaurant which was apparently full of bodyguards posing as diners? Why the heck would he even barge in on another man's dinner? Is that bowing respectfully, per his original intent, or acting like a disrespectful fool? And why did Kingpin have to leave instead of having any one of the dozen guards throw the guy out? He was that embarrassed? If you say so, show. If you say so. </spoilers> Like I said, clunky as heck for so early in this Fisk/Kingpin/Vanessa arc. Makes me curious, though, how the writers will handle the romance. Trainwreck or masterstroke? Different clever or different like a sore thumb?

So, I guess I'm watching the whole thing, but this is where I end my reviews. I know my viewing tastes and I very much doubt this show will be as impressive, surprising, or engaging as I'd like. If it is, you'll likely hear about that. Positive reviews are much more fun.

Sound off below.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Daredevil Series: S1E01

So, first impressions, yeah?

It wasn't bad. It wasn't cheesy. It was a competent entry in the parade of comic book adaptations for the small screen. When the episode ended, I did not feel compelled to see another episode. Because of the format, I will watch at least the first four episodes. Likely the whole thing.

Also because there's nothing wrong with it. They made choices in structure and storytelling that have been made many times before, employed archetypes and tropes employed before, and executed it all in a fashion that's fashionable. You could do worse...much worse.

I have seen the earnest but troubled do-gooder guy. I have met his wisecracking fast-talking buddy. I know the beautiful, weepy, wrongfully accused blonde on their doorstep. I've been to this rain-soaked crime-ridden city. I have even witnessed that badguy get strung up on a chain he didn't know the goodguy knew was there. Why am I revisiting such a familiar story? What is new and different about it?

The performances should be one answer, the way the actors reinterpret a role and give it new life, and yet I found they were all too by-the-book and lacked engaging personalities. Earnest as they were in their portrayals. I am holding out hope for D'Onofrio and Dawson.

Novelty is another reason, seeing a live-action Daredevil and how his unique abilities are showcased, how fight sequences are choreographed, modern twists on old stories. Save for the reference to recent events in the Avengers movie, this plot felt like it could've taken place in the nineties. There were two fight sequences in this episode, meat and potatoes hand-to-hand for the most part, both times in poor lighting with darkly dressed participants at dark and uninteresting locations. When Murdock uses his abilities, it's subtle. Which is one way to do it, but it never struck me as crucial--a thing that gave him a real edge over other action heroes.

As for seeing a live-action Daredevil, we have before. Here, he is already into crime-fighting but has not yet attained the crime-fighter title or costume, that awkward stage where he doesn't act like a novice but he doesn't look like a pro. (I don't believe Murdock made a single mistake or miscalculation in this episode. Always seemed to know what was really up.) So, I felt no sense of danger and no sense of fun.

I am being critical, I know, and perhaps overly so given it is just the first episode. Like I said, it's fine. I just am not yet impressed.

Eps 2 - 4

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Loose Threads #4

The Spaces Afforded

Her thread crossed mine, pulled it taut for a fleeting moment, and then it slipped away.

Before I saw anything else, I saw the way she folded her arms, hugging herself. Her arms cinched her t-shirt. The red t-shirt was too big for her skinny frame. The older woman moved through the flow of shoppers like a pebble in the spaces afforded her. She knew how not to be seen, how not to take up too much space-- not to make any sudden movements.

He was all sudden movements, in the parking lot. His words and gestures seeming to take up twice the space afforded his person, equally skinny and old. She handed him a box of ramen noodles. He threw it to the far end of the truck bed. She set down more bags. He pushed his way out from behind the cart, yanked down the tailgate, insistent on loading the groceries the right way: his way: fast enough to be done and on to somewhere else he'd rather be, something else he'd rather be doing.

He passed her pack after pack of soda from the bottom rack of the shopping cart, mindful then--perhaps that she couldn't bend down or lift from so low, of her person, the space she ought to be afforded. He was mindful the way you are when you're mad but the other person isn't, when you try not hurt them with your actions, despite your words. When you can't look at them, because you know you hurt them despite your actions.

He was on his phone as he returned the cart, already elsewhere. She waited for him by the truck, arms folded. Hugging herself.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Godzilla (2014) - An In-Depth Analysis

That fireside reveal! The part where he screams! Then when he did that thing with the thing, I was like, "Oh, Get The--!"

Were there humans in this movie? I didn't notice. Their contributions peaked at Bryan Cranston and then flat-lined into irrelevancy thereafter. Cranston plays a nuclear power plant manager in Japan. An 'accident' happens, and his wife who also works there dies. He spends the next fifteen years searching for the truth while his son grows up to be an action movie hero --I mean, a U.S. army specialist with a family of his own. This ensures he will constantly be in valorous--I mean, grave danger. When he isn't, his wife and son and randomly acquired stand-in son are. There's the proverbial general whose problem-solving skills amount to blowing things up, the scientist who, when not whispering spooky things, is perpetually agape in awe, and various non-main-dude military guys who are essentially cannon fodder. They try by train, planes, and boats, to stop the monsters. All irrelevant.

We are here to see Godzilla battle the MUTOs, which he does multiple times throughout. Deliberately, we don't get to see most of the fights and are treated only to first glimpses and then the aftermath. I know some people hated that there was so 'little' on-screen battling, but I thought the delay worked to heighten anticipation, and the end battle was plenty. Was it ever plenty. That part where Godzilla does that thing? Awesome.

The MUTOs were no chopped liver. I think what made them so adequately terrifying (besides that first reveal--"Run, you fools! Run!") was that they were neither mindless nor bloodthirsty. They had important stuff to do and the ants and their ant-hills were truly irrelevant. Oh, is this your city? I'm gonna need to put this right here.

I'll never think of those birds building nests in my hanging pots the same way again.

Did I say in-depth? lol, no. It's a giant monster flick. See it for the giant monsters.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Writing Goals

As promised, my tl;dr 2015 writing goals:
  • 10 tokens
  • 2 pro
  • 4 subs

My longer read 2015 goals: Write productively by focusing on length and using past experience to set realistic goals. Write broader by putting more effort into other genres I write. Write smarter by implementing what I learned from that Kameron Hurley article.

Write Productively

The novelette has always been my sweet spot even though the market doesn't care for it very much, and vice versa for shorts. I'm focusing on length because I've noticed I have a habit of just writing until a story ends--shorts turn out to be novelettes and novelettes end up having only enough story for shorts, ideas that were too big and plots that cover too much grow unwieldy and difficult. All because I didn't plan and commit to what I wanted a story to be in terms of length and scope. This is counterproductive and results in disappointment and discouragement. At this stage in my journey, I've reached the happy middle on the scale of pantser to plotter.

Write Broader

Writing more poetry last year was a spontaneous why-not sort of thing. I didn't think I was very skilled at it, not the non-rhyming, non-meter, 'serious' kind anyways. But then I started subbing pieces and getting positive feedback. I have been exclusively researching and working to publish sci-fi prose fiction. It's the genre my ideas most readily spring from. I speak the language, so to speak. But that's not all I read or write. Just as I took my poetry more seriously to encouraging results, I'm going to give the other genres a chance to flourish.

Write Smarter

"It's the difference between knowing what I'm doing and doing what I know." That means understanding how I'm able to do it, and it isn't magic. It's replicable, which is the exact opposite of what I have always tried to do. Nothing new must resemble that previous story or else I was being lazy, unimaginative, and cheating. That has led to variety in my bibliography, yes, but also a lot of incomplete works, inconsistency, and long periods of unproductiveness. Here's the link again for why it is okay to be a little formulaic. By plugging new story ideas into existing formulas, by doing what I have already done and not always trying something new from scratch, I know in finer, more tangible detail the contours of similar stories, why having my protagonist make a poor choice is essential here, how allowing others to help her there will be critical later, what skipping this and elaborating on that will do to the feel and structure of the plot. By knowing those peaks and troughs, pitfalls, and yes, cheats, I can work more efficiently and with the most effective techniques to help the story shine.

So those are my aspirations for writing in 2015. Overall, I aspire to be very strategic in playing to my strengths as much as to the market. We'll see how it goes!

What are your aspirations? Comment or link below.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 In Review

So, last year I posted my writing goals for 2014. How did I do? What will I do differently this year? Lets get to it!

I had four areas I wanted to push myself on: submissions, revisions, pro-level pieces, and token pieces just to keep in the habit of writing. Here's how close I came to reaching my goals:

  • Subs - 80%
  • Revisions - 10%
  • Pro - 25%
  • Token - 112%
  • New Pieces Overall - 83%

Not bad. I did a lot more token writing and that was mostly poetry, some of which turned out to be good enough to sub. I've revised that goal upwards this year.

Speaking of subs, I only counted new submissions, as opposed to resubmitting the same piece different places, so I did a lot more subbing than the number reflects. Still, I came up a hair short, so I'm revising that goal down. I realize that I am very picky about what I sub, so even if I wrote more, I may not feel confident sending everything out.

The pro number seems okay, until you realize I only set out to write 4 such pieces. These pieces have always taken me a long time to write. I had hoped to push myself to go faster, but the stories fought me all the way. Needless to say, I'm revising the goal down for this year.

Revisions. When I made this category, I thought I would be dusting off old pieces, spit-shining and firing them off. Yeah, no. I focused my time and energy on new pieces. This goal is going away entirely. Rather, my goal is to write more saleable pieces which, naturally, will have been revised and polished as needed.

Overall, I'd say I did okay and ended the year on an encoraging note, which I'll get into in my 2015 goals post.

How'd you do?

photo credit: Gina Fairchild

Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's Okay to be Formulaic

Merry New Year!

I want you to read this article by Kameron Hurley. I want you to read it especially if you are at a point in your journey where your ideas, focus, and creative skills have gained more precision but it feels like you're starting each new piece with a hammer and chisel and you don't know why. If you are more confident about what you can do as a writer, but you are not as consistent and productive as you would like to be from one piece to the next, I want you to read this article.

Spoilers: you're not necessarily doing it wrong. You just need more practice doing it right.

I know you know that. I knew I knew that, until I read the article:
I’ve started a lot more books and stories than I’ve finished, and this is a problem. Why? Surely, when a concept or story isn’t working, you should stop while you’re ahead, right?

"Right!" I say. Not exactly, she says:
The thing folks don’t realize is that learning how to write a piece of work requires you to actively practice how to write the whole thing. Writing five hundred great beginnings will not make you a great novelist.

I knew I knew that. "Tell me something I don't know." She did. A bunch of things. Mainly, I did not know it was okay to be a little formulaic.

It is okay to be a little formulaic.

There is a lot of pressure in literature to be original and fresh, and in the speculative fiction genre that can get to be as arduous as reinventing that wheel. Especially for a short fiction writer in today's market. Even just looking through your own body of work you can feel like you need to do something drastically different each and every time to stay relevant. If you're constantly thinking about what you could be doing differently, you're not really thinking about, much less nailing down, what you did right the last time.

Hurley calls it understanding the form. I understand it as having a formula. Go ahead and read the article. You'll see what I mean, when she talks about her work in corporate writing, how many novels she had to write before her first sold, and how many she wrote after the first that were very similar to the first, until she had that formula down pat and and was ready to move on to a new one.

It is okay to be a little formulaic.

When you have a formula that works,  it is not always necessary to change it up drastically or abandon it straight away, even when you aren't doing anything wrong, and especially before you've had a chance to understand what you did well, how, and why. Got a new idea for a story? Go back and see if you're trying to accomplish something you've done before, see if the circumstances and events map, and if they do, use all your previous hard work to your advantage. You can plug in new values for every factor and variable--characters, world, goal, conflict--and execute it again, over and over, until your results are as reliable and consistent as your creativty demands.

I'm not just talking in broad strokes of beginning-middle-end, goal-conflict-disaster, a fantasy story, a novella, a Heinleinian story. I'm talking fine grain stuff you won't see by emulating someone else's formula. I'm talking about your own recipe for success. I'm talking about knowing why you made the creative decisions you did, what you cut or kept and how that worked or didn't, story elements you'd like to replicate and others you'd like to avoid. What happens when you pull it all together with just the right details in just the right way. It's not magic. It's a formula, and it is okay use it more than once. That is how you practice doing it right.

If you only do it twice, I can attest the process becomes familiar, becomes easier, becomes more efficient and effective. The very last piece I wrote in 2014 was to test Hurley's article. Having a formula to work from was the difference between knowing what I was doing and doing what I knew. I wrote faster and smarter and with more confidence that I would not only finish in a timely manner but I would end up with the story I wanted.

That is how you practice doing it right, over and over, until it seems like you can produce a certain kind of story effortlessly. It really is okay to be formulaic. From what I've seen, the majority of the stories on the market are just that, and to great success, including many by our favorite authors. I knew I knew that. Hurley's article crystallized it.