Randomness for 9/26

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1) The 50 Dorkiest Songs You Love. NB: you don’t have to tell me you personally don’t love some or all of them. I know.

2) Edgar Wright – How to do visual comedy. Video. This is excellent and shows why I find modern comedy so incredibly boring.

3) Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead (Rotated). Video. So weird and funny.

4) Anonymous Gods. The computers at Google automatically blur the faces of famous religious statuary.

5) Netflix’s new spoiler website. #spoilers

6) Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch.

7) Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Manson & the Birth of Cults

Rolling my eyes at THE BLACKLIST

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Probably the least effective promotional tool (for me, personally) is an image of James Spader in a fedora, but that’s all over the ads for the second season of THE BLACKLIST, his latest TV show. I had little interest when the first season aired (I watched two shows last year, both derived from comic books) but when S1 appeared on Netflix Streaming I felt a little poke in my curiosity bone, and I gave it a try.

The premise: Spader plays Raymond Reddington, one of those super-criminals who travels all over the world doing favors and generally playing fixit for other bad guys. He has a background in military intelligence and a mysterious, tragic incident that prompted him to disappear and become a baddie. Essentially, his backstory is a dead wife and daughter, the first two female characters fridged on the show. After decades on the Most Wanted List, he turns himself in to the FBI, volunteering to be an informant in exchange for immunity. He promises to give them criminals so secret the government hasn’t even heard of them, but he’ll only talk to one person, an obscure young agent no one has ever heard of.

The show is cheesy from the start, but it opens with mystery: What’s Reddington doing? Why this young woman in particular? What *really* happened to Reddington’s family? Is the young agent’s husband really who he says he is?

So it’s cheese, but it’s smart, fast-moving cheese. (Contrast that with FOREVER.) This is one of those shows where the cops get into gunfights all the time, shoot people, then brush it off. It’s also one of those shows where the criminals they chase are all evil masterminds of their fields. Usually, their so good that no one even realizes they’re committing crimes.

Sadly, they have a habit of fridging their female characters. Supporting character Agent Action-Hero gets to reunite with his ex only to lose her tragically. Tragically, I tell you? And the season finale threatens to bump off three series regulars, but only the woman is really gone.

They should be smarter than that.

The whole thing is exaggerated as hell. The mystery behind Reddington’s list, the over-the-top quality of the eeeevil plots, the constant uncertainty of who can be trusted, all reminds me of some best-selling thriller novels, and it’s been interesting to study.

But the second season premiered last night and I skipped it, because while it’s fun, it also feels like it ran it’s course. Still, it’s an interesting exercise in popular entertainment.

Randomness for 9/11

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1) X-men mashed up with The Smiths.

2)
Five Classic Authors Who Hated Their Book Covers (and One Who Got His Ass Kicked as a Result)

3) Scrublands: photographs of people who live off the grid.

4) Rupert Giles plans coursework for an MLS.

5) Everything you need to know about 5th ed D&D.

6) Beautiful animated gifs. h/t @keithcalder

7) “Every year, Americans spend nearly three times as much on candy as they do on public libraries.”

Randomness for 7/30

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1) A People’s History of Tattooine.

2) Batman’s mask would be good protection for Bruce Wayne’s secret identity, according to SCIENCE!

3) Scully likes Science (remix). Video.

4) Enjoy some pix of the world’s largest aquatic insect.

5) Hugo-winning author Lawrence Watt-Evans has been posting the openings to his many works in progress. Instructive.

6) “The Denny,” an advanced bicycle prototype designed for dark, hilly Seattle.

7) CG Deadpool test footage. I’d happily watch this.

Randomness for 7/16

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1) Weapons confiscated by the TSA.

2) The technology to rip off your card when you use an atm is becoming advanced.

3) Turning Facebook covers and profile pics into art.

4) Casting letter shows alternate actors considered for ST:TNG. Jenny Agutter as Beverly Crusher? Wesley Snipes and Geordi? Kevin Peter Hall as Data? Yaphet Kotto as Picard? Huh.

5) Artist recreates his childhood drawing 20 years later. Wow.

6) Burned, abandoned, flooded mall has become home to koi and catfish.

7) Top 10 Most Effective Editing Moments of All Time, according to Cinefex. Video.

Randomness for 7/12

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1) The best one-star review ever.

2) Ingmar Bergman’s THE FLASH. Video. #lol

3) 25 Pictures Of Lesbian Sex According To Stock Photography #15, wtf?

4) A film from 1943 or 1944 with a British major demonstrating knife-fighting techniques. Dubbed into Greek but subtitled in English. Video.

5) Books with almost identical covers.

6) Baking projects that didn’t turn out like their photos.

7) Top ten pictures of pie eaters.

Shannara makes the jump to (M)TV

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I’m not first with the news, but MTV has finally, after holding the rights for… well, a long time, given the greenlight to a ten episode season of the Sword of Shannara TV series.

It’s an interesting counterpoint to GOT, which is the project that everyone is going to compare it to, and why not? Martin’s success on the small screen made a path for Brooks’s work to follow, just as Tolkien did for the novels.

John Favreau was originally announced as the director of the pilot, but he’s apparently stepped back into an Executive Producer role. Now it’s going to be the guy who did the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I guess? The writer/producers (who are much more important in TV than the directors) are Miles Millar and Al Gough, the guys behind SMALLVILLE.

Also, the show’s not going to be based on THE SWORD OF SHANNARA (because Peter Jackson already made that movie, maybe?) but on second book THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA. Obviously, there’s an epic quest and an important magic item, but unlike LOTR, they aren’t trying to destroy something toxic. They’re trying to retrieve something good.

Which is part of the reason so many LOTR imitators felt so thin, but nevermind. Who are they going to cast as not-Aragorn? What about not-Gandalf? And I’m sure they’re not going to stick with not-Gandalf’s name, Allanon.

By the way, Mr. Brooks is local to me (Deadline calls him “the second-biggest-selling living fantasy book writer, after Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling”) and I’ve heard him interviewed on the local PBS station. He explained that it’s not pronounced “Shah-NAR-ah”. It’s actually “SHAN-uh-ruh”. That’s straight from the man’s mouth.

Still, it’s the book that launched Del Rey, my former publisher, and it was the first fantasy novel to hit the NYTimes trade bestseller list.

I’m not going to be watching it, though. I read the first book in junior high, when the buzz around it was huge. My friends loved it, but I didn’t–I don’t even remember why–I didn’t read the rest. ELFSTONES… might be original and compelling light fantasy, but I’ll never know.

Then again, I don’t watch GAME OF THRONES, either, because I don’t have cable and don’t torrent things. What’s more, I can’t exactly bring home the DVDs when my kid is always underfoot. Maybe I’ll borrow them from the library when he’s old enough to watch creepy incest with his fath–when he moves out.

One thing I’m curious about: how explicit will they be with the post-apocalyptic setting? Will there be a crumbled Seattle Space Needle? Old transformer stations? “Wands of Sniping” (I just made that up) and who knows what else? In my opinion, the more like THUNDARR, the better.

But seriously, I hope it’s super-successful (I have an epic fantasy of my own coming soonish).

Yesterday was a day off writing.

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Usually, Saturdays are the biggest writing day of the week for me, but yesterday I had the day off. We celebrated my wife’s birthday, and I put aside all the usual stuff I’m supposed to be getting done so she does not have to cook, clean, or loiter around waiting for me or the boy to start doing what she wanted to do.

So I made her favorite breakfast, took a quick library run to pick up the books she had on hold, then went to Lincoln Park for a picnic, a game of Qwirkle, and some general hanging out.

After we returned home, we have Asian take-out, she blew out the candles (on her crustless sweet potato pie) and we played a game of Bohnanza.

She won Qwirkle by a wide margin, but I kick butt in Bohnanza. I keep telling my family that they should always trade if they can. Never try to hurt another player by denying yourself a trade, but they keep playing defensively.

Then, best of all, she went to bed super-early and slept hard for 10 hours.

It wasn’t exactly a tennis bracelet/fancy restaurant birthday, but she had greenery, sunshine, and family time, which are her very favorite things, so we’re calling it a win.

Oh, yeah: I got her a nice, wide-brimmed straw hat for summer sunshines and being a little dressy. She was pleased.

But that was yesterday. Today I’m struggling with Scrivener once again. In a few minutes, I’m going to say fuck it and watch some Person of Interest.

Randomness for 5/27

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1) A comparison of Zulu and Filipino stick fighting. Video.

2) The Oatmeal on the wonderfulness of the Tesla Model S electric car.

3) Five Details They Cut From My Season Of The Biggest Loser. We all knew this show was complete shit, but it’s even worse than I thought.

4) What happens when engineers own dogs. Video.

5) The 10 Commandments of Typography.

6) San Francisco “real estate magnate” hides $100 bills around city and leaves clues to their location via twitter account.

7) “In my view, the parties do not need a judge; what they need is a rather stern kindergarten teacher” Spiteful upper-class twits drive each other wild.

Cop Show vs Spy Show (Agents of SHIELD)

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No, I’m not going to put the periods into SHIELD, because that’s too annoying. Does the FBI put periods in? They do not.

So, AoS seems to be two different shows: one covering the first two-thirds of the season and another for the rest. The early one was kind of a chore… a friendly chore and one I didn’t resent too much, a lot of shows need time to find their feet.

The second show, the one they’re wrapping up the season with, is actually good. File that under “unexpected.”

Here’s the thing: with these shows you can lay the emphasis on the characters, or on the shit the characters deal with. Obviously, in a perfect world both would be extraordinary, but this isn’t a perfect world (because we had that show, it was called LIFE and it was cancelled). So you either focus on the relationships and have pretty interesting plots or the outside threat with a mostly-interesting cast. Everyone in the whole world loved HOMICIDE: LIFE IN THE STREETS except me, because I was so very uninterested in the drama between the cops. I didn’t care if those guys bought a bar together. I didn’t care about that one guy’s marriage or the other one’s health. All that stuff made me bored and irritable.

On the other side is THE X-FILES, in which the two leads were boring cyphers (luckily played by actors with extra helpings of charisma) but the weirdness they investigated was usually pretty fresh.

Anyway, AGENTS OF SHIELD started off as the latter: They tried to give us characters that delighted us instead of ones we could really invest in. Fitz/Simmons were excitable science-loving nerds, May and Ward were badasses with mysterious pasts, Coulson was still trading on the appeal he’d earned in the movies, and Skye was the pretty, idealistic audience stand-in with a lot to learn.

Which was fine, but the show set itself up as though they were a team of cops in a world with superheroes, then didn’t deliver. The pilot was fine, if a little rough, but they lost track: They were seeking a piece of alien tech with alien germs on it. They were hunting a rogue agent with a cyborg eye. They were trying to understand why people kept dying near an outcast safety inspector.

It’s not that they were bad ideas: there was a pyrokinetic in there, a wacky gravity machine, a wacky freezing machine, an Asgardian weapon, a couple of renegade Asgardians, and most interesting of all: an enemy mastermind who called themselves The Clairvoyant. It’s a cool idea; how would you defeat an enemy that could see the future?

But none of it had any zip. There were set-pieces they’d obviously spent money to pull off, like the revolving room in the gravity episode, but I wanted Coulson to be the mild-mannered badass of his Marvel One-Shot short film.

I wanted to be surprised by the characters’ solutions to the problems they faced. I wanted to see Coulson analyze the situation so well that he was ahead of everyone, including me. What I didn’t want was to be just as knowledgeable about the next step the team needed to take as the team was. I didn’t want to feel dragged along.

If they’re chasing a villain who can make men do whatever she wants, the team should not be surprised that the cops setting up a perimeter around the villain’s location have already been turned. I wasn’t. Why am I more suspicious than the trained government agents? There’s no excuse for it except not putting the effort in.

Instead, they should have played out the big reveal that the cops had already been turned, then show Coulson defeating them or defusing them immediately, because [CLUE] made him realize they were not on his side. Unfortunately, that never happened. Coulson was never ahead of me, and that’s a problem.

Then there was The Big Twist, the tie-in with The Winter Soldier, which revealed that one of team had been a double-agent after all. Suddenly, the show stopped focusing outward and began to focus on the team. Ward’s betrayal is still playing out, and last week’s episode showed that the whole team has realized that he’s Hydra. It’s playing hell on the camaraderie that has been kind of dull all season, and it’s making for complicated relationships.

It’s funny; they could have done something like this with Skye straight from the start. Her goal in the pilot is to uncover secrets, and there she is in the heard of a secret government agency. What Skye wanted to do what exactly what Captain America did to defeat Hydra and SHIELD both; she’s a good guy.

And she could/should have been a much larger source of conflict, not because she’s a villain but because she is most definitely not. Instead, her desire for openness is played as naivete and she sheds it quickly, buying into the group culture. It’s a lost opportunity.

Still, the best moment in the whole season so far was when Skye calls Ward a Nazi because a) it was absolutely the right thing for her to say and b) it surprised me. Ward’s response–and his conflict between his loyalty to Garrett and his love for Skye–has brought his character to life.

Shit’s become fun.

Alongside that, SHIELD as an organization is 100% gone. The team has lost its plane, its funding, its backup, its computer/intelligence resources, and its official sanction. In fact, they’re wanted fugitives. Whatever they do next, it had better be clever. If Nick Fury or whoever swoops in and fixes things for them, I’m going to be seriously disappointed.

Story beats they should hit before the end of the season:

1) In the pilot, Skye wanted radical openness. Now she has it. How does she feel about that? How do any of them feel? Not just the loss of their organization and their identity as SHIELD agents, but the loss of power that comes from keeping information secret.

2) CA2:TWS made it a point that SHIELD and Hydra were more alike than the good guys would care to admit. Coulson and his team keep discovering that their organization was involved in shady things–the most recent was that they intensified Mr. Darkforce’s powers instead of weakening them. But at no point does he take responsibility for this, nor does he seem capable of concluding that maybe SHIELD had lost sight of its mission and is better off gutted.