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Thursday, October 15th, 2015
7:38 am - Not a joke from my mom
A man is stuck in traffic. He asks a Police officer (who is walking from car to car, speaking with each driver) about the delay. The Policeman says, “There are three Muslims blocking the traffic and threatening to douse themselves with petrol and set themselves on fire if we don’t get them airline tickets to Germany. So we’re taking up a collection for them.”

The Man replies, “How much have you got so far?”

The Policeman responds, “About 60 gallons but a lot of people are still siphoning.”

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Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
4:33 am - In a dream that only I could have
Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but I finally had a My Little Pony dream.

It's a dream I shouldn't have remembered. The husband was flying home on a red-eye at 5 am, which meant I had to wake up at 2:15 am for the 45 minute drive to the airport dropoff. Under normal circumstances it is not one that would ever be consciously recalled.

Apparently I was walking the earth and having adventures, like Caine in Kung Fu. I had just been through Equestria in the earlier, vaguer, less-clear parts of the dream and was now in a neighboring human nation. I had entered an impressive cathedral where Important Business was taking place with the human king of that nation, a slightly rotund Ottoman-looking genial middle-easterner. Both humans and ponies were in attendance, including the ponies I had been traveling with (none famous enough to recall).

Then Gargamel, previously hidden in a hooded robe, arose and began to speak. He laid out his plan for the King, and moved into a Wormtongue-like position with him.

The part of the dream that only I could have is that Gargamel's plan was to move the human king off of a gold-based money system and onto a silver-based one, with graduations up to electrum and only then full gold coinage. As the hero of the piece, I was the only one there with the skills to suss out that Gargamel's currency manipulation was designed to take Equestrian Bits (which are a purer gold than even the beginning human coinage) out of their economy based on their exchange rates in both money and goods. He would then replace it with the debased human coinage while amassing the Equestrian gold for himself which I suspected, but could not immediately prove, would have magical properties that he would know how to make use of for his own evil purposes.

In an additional level of meta, when Gargamel stood up to speak, I was very close to him and I could immediately see that he was wearing make-up. He was obviously an actor playing the part of Gargamel, not really Gargamel. In fact I recognized him as the same actor who played Gargamel in the recent live-action Smurfs movies, which I haven't seen anything but the commercials for. I knew this because I was close enough to see the additional crinkles around his eyes under the makeup telling me exactly how much he had aged in the real world since those movies. (Google tells me he was Hank Azaria, who also played The Blue Rajah in Mysterymen, another reason his face was instantly recognizable to me as an actor even though I didn't know his name.)

So while he was engaged in this evil scheme, I also knew that he was just playing a part, just doing something that he had to do. When the time came that his evil scheme was revealed and he approached the king with some kind of poison, I did a sort of wrist-and-elbow throw to him and he cinematically over-emphasized it. He made it look so slapstick and painful that I was actually worried for the actor, even though I'd done it to him.

And then my alarm went off and I took my husband to the airport.

Note: You are being spared the discussion of the methods of human coinage versus the Equestrian bits, which was partially spoken and partially visual, like a rebus. Characters would speak and would be saying words, but pictures of the denominations of the coinage would appear in word balloons as they went through the scheme. I recall now that Rainbow Dash gave the exposition on the Equestrian monetary system, in a total misuse of character.

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Sunday, August 23rd, 2015
3:56 pm - Hitman: Agent 47 Review
I'm the guy. I've played every Hitman game save the first, which doesn't count because the third is just a reskin of the first updated to modern graphics technology and a little more content added on.

So I got all the references that were in the opening cinematic visuals - they're all from iconic locations/events in the games. They are meant to recollect to a fan of the games the opening screens of various levels. And if you wonder why certain scenes have a visual panning opening that looks as if you are sweeping into the 'head' of the Hitman who is about to engage, they are also meant to recollect the game to you. They are meant to make you empathize with the puzzle of combat that the Hitman is about to face, to see what he sees, to be him if only for a moment.

These are good things. Mister Director, you can be happy. Someone out there got all your references and understood your choice of camera angles.

Combat: A problem. Let's go back to the brilliant Christian Bale in 'Equilibrium' where 'gun kata' was first originated and demonstrated to its best degree, actually heightened by certain limitations and emergencies which occurred on-set. If you haven't, watch the whole movie right now and you'll have watched a much better action movie than Hitman: Agent 47. If you have, you can just watch the utterly brilliant final fight which was totally unplanned and had to be created on the fly because of injury on the set.

Two men, each with pistols. Bodies within a foot of one another. Pinning out each other's hands, desperately angling their bodies to get off-line from a shot, trapping wrists, attempting deceptive angles, it is chess with guns by two masters of the art for the stakes of life and death. No motion is wasted because wasting a motion would be to lose.

By comparison, when Agent 47 engages someone with a firearm in hand-to-hand, his movements are all waste. Yes, they are totally meant to capture the canned, almost robotically performed fighting moves that you as a player execute in the game and the actor does in fact perform them smooth and robotically. So he recollects the game, but in the scene, there are like, other guys on screen moving up behind him or angling for shots while he is clearly wasting time. We know he could do something faster and just as effective because he does it elsewhere, but here he does this overly flowery spin-wrestle-lift-hit-replace and then shoot with low held pistol when... he could just have shot the guy in the head, then shot the two other mooks in the intervening time. Yes, sometimes he uses it to have a body with him in close combat to shield him from shots (another thing from the game) but not enough. It's so much that a watcher will notice it and be taken out of the film, and that's bad.

So there is a reason for it, but it is often done wrongly.

Other bits: I'm not sure if I should have read the reviews ahead of time because they pointed out to me just how aggressive the product placement is for Audi and the Singapore tourism board. Really, it gets to the point where the Audi RS7 is it's own character and during one particular scene I even heard a GURPS Cliffhangers-style voice-over in my mind saying, "Can the heroic Audi RS7 get us out of this one?!? Stay tuned to our next exciting episode!!"

Acting: Reviewers are claiming that the story is confusing - no, it's just a standard science-fiction action storyline with a little underlying commentary on 'what is a human' and 'nature vs nurture' and the element of choice in our lives. All stuff you'll have seen done better in the Matrix movies 1 and 2 (I don't count 3 because it had to be rewritten because of lawsuit). This results in the actors having relatively boring lines that you've heard before, and they can't bring a whole lot to it. I pined for Timothy Olyphant from the first attempt at a Hitman movie, who I feel had greater acting chops and might have pulled off showing underlying emotion beneath a placid mask a little better. Zachary Quinto actually does the best with the part he's given which starts out as a 'come with me if you want to live' bit. He's also the only one with a few fun lines.
Chaim Topol playing Tevye is cast as the elderly scientist who created the Agents because all old scientists who create supersoldiers have to be of unspecified Jewish extraction, I think it's a rule. Anyhow, he too is given a bad part and isn't really able to fix it in the serious moments though he does in the unserious ones.

Last: When they are explaining the superpowers of Zachary Quinto's evil lieutenant guy, they say I-shit-you-not-this-is-a-direct-quote, "Wired reflexes and titanium sub-dermal armor." And from there I put together the deckers doing megacomputer video searches along with the genetic bioware in the Agents and I know that this is in fact a Shadowrun movie.

For the rest of the show I am waiting for elf chicks with katanas and mohawks and a troll street shaman.

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Thursday, August 6th, 2015
2:23 pm - Three years ago
Three years ago, we had the option to hire a corporate turnaround guy to help fix our government. We declined.

Now we have the option to hire a bankruptcy expert to help fix our government. Hmmm.

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Sunday, July 19th, 2015
12:59 pm - The Ant-Man Movie
It made me smile.

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Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
10:09 am - Jokes from my mother
A man goes to see the Rabbi. "Rabbi, I need your help. Something terrible is happening."

The Rabbi asked, "What's wrong?"

The man replied, "My wife is poisoning me." The Rabbi, very surprised by this, asks, "How can that be?"

The man then pleads, "I caught her putting the arsenic in my food. I'm telling you, I'm certain she's poisoning me. What should I do?"

The Rabbi then offers, "Tell you what. Let me talk to her. I'll see what I can find out and I'll let you know."

A week later the Rabbi calls the man and says. "I spoke to your wife... I spoke to her for three hours in fact. You want my advice?"

The man said yes, and the Rabbi replied, "Take the poison.

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Thursday, June 4th, 2015
11:46 pm - For the love of God, Lantresor!
Sigh. Now I have to write a World of Warcraft/Poe mashup.

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Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
9:58 am - On Profanity
I was once in Atlanta at a gaming con, attending a roleplaying game run by a highly respected bearded grognard of the gaming community. He began every public game with this speech:

"Welcome to our game. We are here to create a story together, one which may contain heroism, despair, tragedy, and triumph.
As your gamemaster, I have two personal rules.

One, our story is based on a system of rules of which I am the arbiter; but it is not only based on rules. If you feel I have the rules wrong on an important point, you may bring it up to me once with documentation in hand and I will judge it quickly then move on.

Second, we do not use profanity at this table. The use of profanity demeans the creation of the our story and turns it into nothing more than a gutter tale. We are not here to tell gutter tales that will be forgotten when the excitement fades; but to to craft a tale that lives in your history as long as you live.

The only exceptions to my profanity rule are the words, 'hell' and 'damn'. Because if it's good enough for the Duke, it's good enough for us."

I still remember the events of that game clearly, about twelve years later.

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Friday, May 1st, 2015
10:12 pm - Agents of Shield, Physical Acting, Selling
A while ago here, I talked about how professional wrestling is physical acting, and the concept of 'selling'.

When one actor punches another, the second actor must act as if he has been struck. This is called 'selling' the blow. He is 'selling' the blow as real to the audience, whom he hopes will 'buy' it.

Recoiling with the impact is just the first part of 'selling' a blow. The receiver must convey the further effects of the blow in his motions. Is he suffering from double vision? Is he staggered, unbalanced? Does he rub his chin, look at his hand to see if he is bleeding, maybe touch his fingers to his lips for blood?

Does he merely rock his head back and then continue on implacably, to demonstrate that he is more powerful?

Do repeated blows seem to have a greater effect? Is he worn down as the moments proceed? Does he desperately take a moment to gasp for air and hope for recovery?

'Selling' constitutes a language. The physical motions communicate mood, emotion, status, knowledge.

Is it real? Of course not. They are actors. This is not a real fight. It is necessarily slower, for no other reason than real fighting looks bad on 24 frame per second film. Look at old Ali fights - his fists are just blurs on screen. We can do better with current technology but there are still limits as to what your audience will have.

Sometimes the actors make contact, sometimes they don't and use camera angles. But again, they must sell.

And so we get into the idea of a 'language'. Professional wrestling has a language. When one wrestler curls his fingers and pops another one on the forehead, we all know that they are mimicking an eye gouge. Because we know the language. but if they were really gouging one another's eyes week in and week out, they wouldn't have eyes left. Professional wrestling also conveys the 'build-up' as making a move more 'powerful'.. throwing someone against the rope and dancing around somehow makes the big boot kick hit that much harder.

And so there's the trick to it. When a new show starts, it has to devise its language. It has to teach you the physical language it intends to use. And then it has to stick to it.

It doesn't matter how much like reality the language looks. What matters is the consistency. Once it has taught you the language, it can communicate to you in that language. It can create tension, fear, exultation.

It was shaky in the first season, but Agents of Shield has succeeded in this here in the second season. They have established their language, their moves, their expressions such that when they do something new, it's well understood.

They have stun-guns. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, and that's okay, because each time they are used they tell us something.

They punch, they kick, they throw, they wrestle, they use escrima sticks badly (man she needs lessons). But they express their impact and show their woundings reliably. And that's what it's all about.

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Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
7:13 am - Key line:
About the Hillary logo and the use of logos to make a campaign a social movement:


"Michael Bierut, the founder of Design Observer and co-partner at Pentagram (yes, Hillary’s campaign contracted a design firm named Pentagram) is the chief design architect behind Hillary’s logo..."

Yes, Hillary’s campaign contracted a design firm named Pentagram.

For realzes.

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Tuesday, April 21st, 2015
1:43 pm - Strange head injury, rising on the third day
It just came to me.

What if it was Hillary's mysterious fainting spell and concussion, rising again on the third day?!?

That might explain her oddly out of touch expressions, like a robot - or a demon - learning to be human. Her strange, cackling laugh.

What if I've been wrong all along?

(Problem is, it doesn't make a good story. Ah well.)

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Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
10:21 am - Toxicology report is out for Michael Brown
"Delta-9-THC = 12 ng/ml in blood.
11-Nor-Delta-9-THC-COOH = 45 ng/ml in blood.
Comments: Delta-9-THC detection in the blood defines impairment."

Delta-9-THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It peaks rapidly after smoking/vaping and is gradually metabolized into 11-Nor-Delta-9-THC-COOH. The -COOH form is what remains in the body for weeks to months and can be detected in skin, in hair, and so on.

The presence of Delta-9-THC in the blood means that Michael Brown smoked within a few hours and was actively under the influence.

Impairment differs widely from person to person with MJ and isn't as linear as alcohol in its effects. In addition, metabolic responses also widely differ, much more widely than for alcohol. 'Experienced' smokers build up a tolerance and metabolize faster and can appear to be less impaired. The level of the -COOH form in the blood is highly variable and generally can't be said to provide evidence other than, "Yes, marijuana was used."

All that being said, any way you slice it, 12 ng/mL in a 296 pound man is a hell of a lot of weed.

In contrast, Trayvon Martin, a much more slight, wiry 158 pounds, had 1.5 ng/ml of the active Delta-9-THC and 7.3 ng/mL of the inactive 11-Nor-Delta-9-THC-COOH.

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Sunday, October 12th, 2014
12:32 pm - Funny review of Edge of Tomorrow that I came across:
Check-in girl: "What movie would you like to see today?"

Customer: "Do you have the movie where Tom Cruise dies over and over again in more and more painful ways and it's even more hilarious each time?"

Girl: "Yes we do, it's called Edge of Tomorrow. Would you like to see that in our IMAX theater?"

Customer: "Would I ever!""

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Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
1:39 pm - Less Deadly Ebola
Previous Ebola outbreaks had 70-80% lethality. They killed so fast that everyone in the distant, bushmeat-eating (monkeys, apes) little village who was exposed died before they could move to another area.

But this outbreak is different. This strain of the virus kills less and kills slower. It's about 50-60% lethal and has a longer incubation period, longer viral load building period, and longer infectious transmission period.

That, plus our ever more connected world, gives infected people greater time to infect others and move father to spread the disease to other places.

It is the basic paradox of epidemiology. By becoming less deadly, a disease can become more deadly.

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Sunday, October 5th, 2014
11:22 pm - Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks
As expected, the new Equestria Girls movie again proves that the finest musical theater today is to be found in children's cartoons.

But aside from that.

I had the opportunity to see the new movie in the theater for its limited release. I was hoping to see it on a big screen with an excellent sound system, and it turned out that the nearest theater I could see it at on the only day I would see it upon was newly built. I realized from the angles inside the building that it was a Century theater and that I had been in others stamped from the same mold. They clearly have architectural patterns that they stamp down whenever they have a clear area appropriate. But from the lack of wear on the fixtures, the perfection of the sound system, and the newly installed build-your-soda machine, I could tell that the place was fresh as the raspberry Coke Zero I devised. So in this I received my wish.

The first brilliance of the movie was in persona. The characters, large and small, are tropes. They are exemplars. They are their traits; flaws and strengths both. And like watching an X-Men movie, we want to see them live up to those traits because we like those traits. We're watching the show and have bought in to their faction. To do otherwise is to cheat us. This movie doesn't cheat us, it rewards us.

Now, Hasbro released eight shorts all related to the movie. The first six set up various useful parts of the movie and act as prequels. Many minor plot points of the movie will be lost if someone doesn't watch the first six. (The last two are extra-continuity and are just good songs that don't exactly fit into the plot.) With the advent of the internet this is growing more and more. It has a benefit in that it ties together the greater experience. But it has a penalty in that it keeps the story from being self-contained. I felt that a kid who went to the movie without seeing the first six shorts might really lose the basic thread of the movie and that is worrisome from a technical story-writing standpoint. I suppose I will look into it.

But the second brilliance relates to the story, and specifically to the song called, "Under Our Spell" but which should really be named after its first line: "You Didn't Know That You Fell."

In the last movie, everyone had been factionalized and stuck to their own cliques - jocks versus socials versus geeks versus band versus stoners and so forth. But they learned the power of friendship and overcame an evil demon with it and that's no longer the case. Everyone is happy with each other and friendly to one another (except maybe Sunset Shimmer). We are in an idyllic state with everyone pulling together for the next school spirit event, which is a musical talent show of the school's bands all getting together with proceeds going to charity.

Soon enough, conflict re-enters in the form of three mahou shoujo (magical girls) who taunt the kids of the school into changing their talent show into a Battle of the Bands. They take a cooperative enterprise for charity, and they turn it into a competition. And not a normal competition, either. A negative competition. A competition that is all about Pride. One that's not even only about being the best, but about being above all the others. (Hasbro released the Battle Of The Bands villian vamp song widely to raise interest and so that people wouldn't think that the movie was going to be about what happens in the shorts.)

And so, throughout the movie, we see the broad theme of cooperation versus competition. And more specifically the question of negative competition versus positive competition. The villains use the idea of freedom from the whole in a negative fashion to break people apart, but the main characters also engage in struggles about how to best add their individuality to a positive cooperative enterprise and be rewarded for their efforts.

It comes to a boil in the song, "You Didn't Know That You Fell." 'Fell' being the critical word.

It is a fall from grace. The commission of sin, the temptation into evil, the exit from the Garden. They Fell, and it was so easy. Facilis decensus Averno. At first, our heroes are immune to the temptations of the lessers, but soon enough, they too feel the strain of their own flaws. We are all fallen, and we live in a fallen world. And while one might re-achieve some measure of grace, we can fall again and not even know it.

It reminded me of the feeling the United States had after 9/11, when everyone was pulling together; and how it lasted a little more than 24 hours before the political mudslinging and seeking to tear down for advantage began.

It's always strange to see a Judeo-Christian message covered in today's popular media, especially one like this. Bill Whittle has an excellent essay on the Judeo-Christian nature of the balancing strain between cooperation and competition and how both are required - one to do things greater than any one person and the second to find better ways of doing things that conflicts with the first. For the life of me I can't find a link and will have to buy his book.

To my mind, it's well worth it to watch the six shorts and the movie just to get to that song.

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Sunday, August 17th, 2014
9:57 am - The Trouble With Tanks
This is a mild essay that has been burbling a long time, and was brought to the fore (again) with the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Specifically the scene where Drax the Destroyer, a generic brick type tank, has an extended fight with the main villain of the piece. It should not really be a surprise or a spoiler for me to say that in the early middle of the movie, a single character alone in a composite cast is unable to defeat the primary villain of the piece. But the contemptuous manner in which it was physically portrayed prompts this piece.

A digression along similar lines:

My favorite character in the old 'New Mutants' comic book was named 'Karma'. A Vietnamese refugee, her special power was that she had a particular type of physical mind control. She looks at you, you lose control of your body, and she's now moving it. The tougher you are, the worse her control and the more she has to move her own body to focus on yours, resulting in a harmonizing effect (for those of you familiar with old Glorantha spells). In the case of mooks, she could sometimes control several, but all would act in unison with her in a mook-pyramid effect similar to the end of the excellent movie 'Push' which everyone should go see/rent/Netflix/purchase.

The problem with this story-wise quickly became obvious. If the enemy was a single megavillain Karma's powers could not work because she would look at the villain, take over his body, and the plot would be over. That would be boring, therefore it was never allowed. In any such plot she could only look at the villain, grimace and say, "He's too strong!" then collapse in backlash agony. When this got too stupid, her character was put on a bus to nowhere.

Roleplaying gamers amongst you will recognize the same thing with 'save or screw' magic spells. As characters grow in power and gain more access to spells that instantly neutralize an opponent, the enemies gain more and more immunities/resistances/defenses to such attacks. As games evolve, we commonly see rules fixes changing the nature of these spells to do points of damage plus milder status effects as opposed to 'save or screw'; plus the addition of various powers to protect against such screws. Some examples are:

Disintegrate changing from save-or-dust to save-or-take-2x-level damage
Mind Blank style protections to negate Holds, Charms, Dominates making them just as useless as Karma
4th ed D&D 'shed mark' powers, as authors realize that it was way too hard for a marked enemy to escape the conditions for sustaining a mark
4th ed D&D 'multistage villains' where videogame style the first body 'dies' when its hit points are expended and it spawns the next villain, moving to the second stage of the combat. (And conveniently the second stage is considered an entirely new creature so marks, status effects, and multi-power locking effects are all gone.)

Which brings us back to Tanks. Let's use some primary examples - Colossus, who is invariably done poorly, and Superman, who can often be done well.

Think back. When has Colossus of the X-Men ever won a fight? Flat out, just won? Was bigger, stronger, smarter, and tougher than his opponent, duked it out hammer and tongs, and came out the victor? I can think of very very few occasions; very close to none over twenty plus years and many different adaptations. Oh, sure, he contributes to the team. He soaks up bullet and drugged-dart fire while people hide behind him; he throws Wolverine in the fastball special, and he has a particular gimmick - I think it's a mutant power - to always be underneath a non-flying enemy who has been catapulted into the sky so he punches them back up as they are falling.

But he himself never wins. Never of his own accord due to his grit, determination, well-trained skills, and/or clever application of powers.

Let's look at Superman. Thankfully, Superman is different. Often, the beginning of a Superman story will have him trashing a villain who might otherwise be impressive against others, but is not to him. He wins. Flat out. It's just a lead-in to something more serious, often a problem that can't just be punched, but he does win in a way that Colossus only wins against mooks.

Superman is also commonly put up against events that can't just be punched. A collapsing building. Busted railroad tracks. A bomb somewhere in the lead-lined sewers. A stolen isotope or biological weapon.

Superman also willingly limits himself. He could punch out or kill Lex Luthor any time but he will never do it until he can prove Lex Luthor guilty of a crime.

Superman's moral structure helps create stories that get around the trouble with tanks. For example, take the iPad Superman game, covered here on livejournal. Superman defends Metropolis from incoming meteors and killer robots. They can't hurt him, because he's Superman. But they can knock him around and stun him and when they do, meteors and robots get down to the surface. The game ends not when Superman dies, but when Metropolis is destroyed.

This is an example of setting different goals for tanks. When one writes a Superman story, the goal should (almost) never be, "Can Superman punch out the villain?" Because that answer is usually 'Yes,' that's where the story ends, and that's a quick, boring story. Other goals must be introduced through moral structure, personality, relationships, what-have-you.

Side comment again: The only valid plotline where a tank is allowed to straight-on defeat a primary villain is the loss-retraining-victory plotline common to martial arts movies. It's the one where the hero first encounters the villain, shows some skill, but gets trashed. He then finds an old mentor/trains on the Warworld/fights for survival in the Savage Land/discovers an Achilles Heel to the villain's technique/executes a training montage to take a level in badass and then returns for a final controntation. Bonus points for emotional callbacks to power his endurance. Superman vs. Darkseid in the recent Animated series is the prime example here.

I wish it was different, but it is not. It is the shackles of story structure. Without it, we wouldn't have stories, and then where would we be? All that I ask is that it be done with some respect. That it be done well. Love your tank for what he does.

FISS forever.

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Sunday, June 29th, 2014
12:46 am - How To Train Your Dragon 2
Spoiler alert, etc.

Unlike the way the early trailers lead one to believe, the main villain is not Hiccup's estranged mother.

Instead, we introduce a new villain named 'Draco Bloodfist' which is a name with plenty of topspin.

And while Hiccup is the same peace-loving hippie he was in the first movie, determined to bring people together and show them that dragons are smart animals and can be trained and so forth; this movie while simple had a delightful hidden subtext.

"No. Some people are villains. You cannot talk to them and make them better. Just no."

I was surprised to see that coming out of Hollywood. Even more hilarious in that light is the final narration, which is basically a declaration of peace-by-the-sword by Hiccup - that they'll spread their peaceful ways and if you don't buy in, why, we've got giant dragons to make it so!

Talk about your neocon agenda. I was hearing a funhouse version of the Bush Doctrine there. In fact, it's easy to see the whole movie as a US-Islam battle, with the dragons being Technology.

I should probably just relax and watch the pretty lights and not be annoyed by the main character's tactical failure to exploit the enemy's formation with his superfast distance-fire-spitting dragon.

Side points: One of the hilarious things about the old West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game was the NPCs. Specifically, almost every NPC who had force points and a lightsaber... also had parts missing. It was an acknowledgement that people who have duels with blades that casually lop off and cauterize wounds eventually lose a few. They carry on that tradition here in How To Train Your Dragon 2 and it gives it a tiny verisimilitude.

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Saturday, June 21st, 2014
7:05 pm - Edge Of Tomorrow: A Perfect Movie?
I live on the border between a gentrified community and a community where, shall we say, it is common to speak back to the movie screen. Thankfully, I have an excellent theater within five minute's drive that serves both these communities.

And at the end of the recent X-Men movie, Days of Future Past, the heroic time travelers reset history and make the entire timeline that started the movie unhappen. It's what the whole movie has been about. It's what the beginning was about. It was shown in the beginning. And in case the audience didn't figure it out from the visuals, it was then explained. Verbally. In painful detail.

Yet, at the end, a fellow in the theater spoke aloud, saying, "What the hell is this trippy shit?!?" Murmurs echoed him. It was clear that they Did Not Get It.

It had been Told, not Shown.

That did not happen today at Edge of Tomorrow.

In this case, repetition served both as device, as plot point, as underlying black comedy, even as theme. Even the repetition repeated. Which is the point, I say again.

Everyone Got It.

And as I watched it, I began to notice something else. The movie was simple. In fact, so simple that it had a brilliant simplicity. And because of that I was able to notice something about the craft of the film.

It was perfect.

No scene went on too long. No jump cut was clumsy. Special effects were tailored towards desired effect. Camera angles all served their immediate and then their greater purpose. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Clumsiness in word and deed became artful because it could be corrected... with repetition. Even the music that played over the ending credits was suited brilliantly to what had come just before and served for a spiritual capper to the film.

In terms of craft, I feel it was a Perfect Movie; like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade; like I am told the recent True Grit is, like the last hour and twenty minutes of John Carter Of Mars where the actors have figured out their characters and the director has figured out what film he is making and it is a nonstop thrill ride of pulpy planetary romance such that none dare leave their seat even for a moment to use the restroom.

I dare thee to say otherwise.


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Saturday, May 24th, 2014
10:04 pm - The X-Men Are Like Your College Friends
You're still friends, you still keep in touch, but life has taken you in different directions. You only meet once every year or two, say, when they're in town for a convention or when you're in their town for a work trip. You hear about their new work and events in their life, yes, and also you see the things again that you've always known about them. Which, since they are old friends, you mostly like although the same parts that mildly annoyed you before still mildly annoy you. You have the chance to air out all things you love about one another, the old interests, the old stories; now with a little more experience to look back upon them fondly, to say 'what if?' and expound, explore, elaborate. Make it something new and fresh again, if only for the length of the meal, or the coffee.

Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver the other gold.

That's X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

Everyone reading this posting knows the story. It can't be spoiled. Worse than that, they know that this is a 'Status Quo Is God' time travel story. We begin in a crapsack future where all hope is lost. The only escape is going back in time to change the past and set the future on a different past. Make all this 'unhappen' and start again from another branch. Push the reset button.

To some people it might be a new story. To us, it's just not. So the story of it, the plot, the progression of events, is a little boring at times.

Axis of Awesome teaches us in 'Four Chord Song' that 40 of the top pop hits use the same musical progression for the harmony. The only difference between them is the melody that they weave around the continuous harmony. The particular choice of lyrics. The emotion brought to the music in the precise stresses given by the musician in each individual performance. Yet the framework upon which it is hung? Exactly the same.

So ignore the plot, such as it is. We are looking for the expressions of the characters we love. We want to see their might, their mettle, and their flaws again, because it's been a year or two. We want to see them interacting with each other, as we might if we all went out to dinner and got to hear them talking amongst each other while we waited for stuffed pizza from Giordano's. We want to see them talk about new things, be new people, but also be themselves, pitch-perfect.


That's what we're shooting for, and it's not easy. If you get it wrong, it's like reading Sherlock Holmes in 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution', written by some other guy, about Sigmund Freud helping Holmes beat his drug addiction or something. Or like reading those authorized Elric short stories by other authors; or maybe even the horrors of Amber Roleplaying Game character diaries when the Elder Amberites show up. The tone drops into the uncanny valley and makes it even worse than it would be if it was just wrong because you see the wrongheaded effort to be right.

Not all, but many many portions of the movie are pitch-perfect. And that makes them a delight. Quicksilver is especially wonderful, and it will be hilarious to see him in the next Avenger's movie after this.

Other things: Superhero fights are mostly good. Serve their purpose. Worth their time. And now you're thinking with Portals(TM)!

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Thursday, April 24th, 2014
9:40 am - Yet Another Joke Only Three People Will Get
“This problem could easily be solved by the total elimination of all carbon-based life forms.”

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