Intro

Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Thou Shalt Not Cliffhang and then Cancel





With the ending of another year in TV, cancellations are about to occur. And there should be a few rules about cliffhanging and storylines that serve no real purpose. I know. The writers of TV land are really concerned about what I think. Still, one can try.

Rule 1: Any television series in its first three seasons should not have a season ending cliffhanger.

Let's face it any television series is a gamble at the beginning. It doesn't really reach any real security until it passes that magical third year when a series finally has enough episodes to be syndicated on a regular basis. Any series can be cancelled, but we know that most will have it happen especially in the first three years. Cliffhangers in that time is unfair to the few fans a series may garner, and a cliffhanger does not guarantee a next season. People are roaming around wondering what happened the next season in Alphas. It was serious enough, The Big Bang Theory actually included it in an episode.

Rule 2.: Any television series that has a cliffhanger and is cancelled, must be given one episode after its cancellation to resolve the cliffhanger.

If you are going to allow a cheap trick like cliffhangers, you should at least give the fans the opportunity to see it settled. If the studio wants to make money, I suppose they could include a final episode on the digital or DVD release. It is only fair to those people who sit through all the advertisements and other crappy shows that should have been cancelled after episode 2. Take for example the last episode of Castle. When the show received its notice that there would not be a next season, the writers had an end scene ready to shoot to solve the obvious cliffhanger they'd planned. Was it a good conclusion? Not really, but the fans got closure albeit a bit trite.

Rule 3: Cliffhangers are cheap and lazy writing and should be avoided.

I hate the cliffhanger as a season end grabber. It's cheap. If a show is so bad or melodramatic that it has to get its viewers to watch by cliffhanging episodes, especially to try and get to the next season, the writers of the show need to rethink their life choices. Cliffhangers in TV, movies, and books is quite simply poor writing and a gimmick to sell more. In writing, if every chapter of the book is a cliffhanger, then the book is plot driven and just dragging the reader along. I've had this problem with cliffhangers in books and shows for a long time. Climactic writing at the end of a chapter should make the reader want to go to the next chapter. It differs from cliffhangers which more or less forces the reader to the next chapter. It's one of the reasons I still despise The Stand. It uses a cheap and lazy plotting technique. The same is true with cliffhangers at the end of a season. It's cheap and lazy. It means you don't care enough about the characters to stay with the series.

The best example of true climatic writing on TV was the Star Trek Next Generation episode called "Best of Both Worlds." That's the episode where Picard is turned into a Borg. It works because fans care and are invested in the characters of the show. The other reason is that the season ender wasn't a gimmick that was used every single season up to that point. True all seasons following used the technique and unfortunately, it was an occasional gimmick used even by one of my favorite shows that I could've lived without.

Rule 4: If a series is a crime solving series, it should solve crimes. If it is a law series, it should have a trial with an outcome. If it is a super hero series, it should have a battle between the hero and the villain.

Not staying with the series premise is known as "jumping the shark." When I watch Elementary or Monk, I want them to solve a mystery. That's the premise. Any series that doesn't stay in its premise or genre, is jumping the shark. I really don't care what so and so's home life is like. It's time filler. Backstory is an important part of developing character, but only as it relates to the premise. If writing never ties that backstory, then it's poor writing.

Rule 5: Additional scenes which give other characters depth (and actors something to do in the episode) but have nothing to do with the plot or central premise of the show is cheap and lazy writing and should be avoided.

Along the same line as Rule 4, we don't really need to add to supporting characters extraneous storylines. I really don't care about Supergirl's human sister’s love life unless that love life has direct bearing on a storyline which is related to the premise or genre of the show. I get that actors have been hired and they want to work. Adding stories that have nothing to do with the central story is wasted film. If a show doesn't have enough plot to support an hour (actually 42 minutes) of story, then maybe the show be thirty minutes long. I don't know how many times shows like Criminal Minds have five minutes of show following the resolution that has nothing to do with premise. "Oh look, they've run out of plot again."

And I still want to know the resolution to season 2 of Alphas.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War Is Darker



After seeing Avengers: Infinity War, I thought about running home and tapping out my review, but I must pause because trying to do this with as few of spoilers as possible requires thought. So, I am going to not list who died, who lived, and great lines. I am also not going to spend a lot of time listing actors and roles. If you are going in to this movie not ever having seen any of the Super Hero movies from the past 10 years, it's would simply take too much time to explain it. I do, however, want to react to the end of the movie so for those who have not seen Infinity War, I will warn you at that point. The rest of the review should be pretty much spoiler free. 

Infinity War is the third installment of the Avenger movies. If the Avengers were a true trilogy, this would be the second movie. It is dark, and dangerous in tone but unlike the DC movie world, it still manages to work in the gags, quick one-liners and funny visuals that are a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie opens aboard one of the ships from Asgard that were at the end of Thor: Ragnarok. While other movies have had cameos by the Mad Titan, Thanos. This is the first time we get to see why galaxies live in fear of him. We also get to meet his henchmen who he sends out on his bidding which is his search for the Infinity Stones. The stones were originally called Infinity gems in the comics, but the movies changed their names. We have in the previous movies seen five of the six stones. Each of the stones controls one aspect important to the survival of the known universe. The stones are: Time (The Eye of Agamotto in Doctor Strange), Space (The Tesseract, Captain America, the First Avenger) Power (The Orb, Guardians of the Galaxy), Reality (Aether, Thor: The Dark World), Mind (Chitauri Scepter, The Avengers giving life to Vision in that movie), and last but not least the missing Soul Stone which is revealed in this movie.

If Thanos can take control of all six stones, he can destroy the universe or reshape it in his image. Thanos is a megalomaniac who believes that in order for the universe to be in balance at least half of the universe must die so that finite resources can support life longer.  The Avengers must try and stop him. And so, we see the full Avenger team which includes Earth Avengers absent Hawkeye and Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, The Winter Soldier, Spider Man, and The Guardian of the Galaxies join forces. The original comic book series actually had a few more that Marvel has not yet introduced. The movie is wide ranging with battles in space involving Iron Man, Spider Man, Strange and the Guardians. On a side note, we do get to see teen Groot which is pretty entertaining. On Earth, the war rages with Earth's Avengers plus Black Panther and the Winter Soldier. Yep, the MCU has gotten pretty big in characters. 

The movie is vast in scope and effects. It still relies on plotting that you really shouldn't think too hard about. But given the scope of the movie. like its predecessors, the underlying themes are about loyalty, power and belonging. I really liked Infinity War. Is it the best of the movies? No. But the sheer magnitude of the movie, I am willing to forgive the thinner character driven plot that has appeared in other movies. The movie has some great moments both emotional and funny. I will buy the DVD.

And now....the ending and a few other problems .....SPOILERS.....SPOILERS.....SPOILERS....SPOILERS


I wanted to take a moment to talk about all the deaths at the end. I know a few folks seem to be greatly upset about losing half the Avengers. 

1. It is a comic book movie. super heroes are resurrected more than Star Trek characters and have more iterations of existence than Star Wars has Jedi ghosts. Spider Man has died at least fifteen times in the comics. As for the deaths at the end of the movie. I have two words: Infinity Stones. 

2. It is and has been clear that just because the Avengers movie in 2019 is untitled that it was obviously set for the continuation of the War. Even the comic books version of Infinity War is printed in five volumes: Thanos Rising, The Infinity Gauntlet, The Infinity War, and two volumes of Infinity Crusade

3. The after credits scene has a very clear Easter egg for the upcoming Captain Marvel plus we have Adam (Warlock?) who has yet to make appearance from the end of the second Guardians movie. And yes, both were involved in the original comics. 

4. Josh Brolin was contracted for another movie.

So, while the carnage at the end is a lot, going in we knew that something was up. If you should be upset about anything was the advertising campaign asking where you will be when it all ends. The answer, at least another year older.

The two things that bothered me most was Star Lord going off on Thanos as they are about to get the Gauntlet. As my wife put it, Star Lord is a bit unpredictable, but even he would not destroy the plan that would prevent the death of billions. It was completely out of character.

And

Will the MCU really kill off one of its most popular characters in Loki?

Really fun stuff includes Peter Dinklage as the master weapons maker, Drax moving so slowly he thinks he's invisible, teen Groot and his video game, and the stellar performance of Tom Holland as Spider Man. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Attacking the Messenger Means You Lose



I've watched on social media as people attack people like the young activists for gun control from Parkland. I am not talking about the countless lies and Photoshop jobs that were created. I am talking about the blatant personal attacks on these folks.

I am not going to lie and say something like, "I don't care where you are on the gun control debate." I do care. But that is  not what this blog is about. It is, putting it simply, that personal attacks speaks volumes about the potency of their message and the horrible propaganda that has been created by the anti-gun control industry. It also tells us that those who post these attacks have been either taken in by the propaganda or truly have already lost the battle.

 According to several sites, Addison Whithecomb* said the debater's maxim of if you attack the messenger and not the message, you've already lost the debate. In other words, if you have nothing to counter the message of these activists and attack them instead, you've got nothin'.

Whether you like David Hogg or Emma Gonzalez or any of the other activist is irrelevant. Either you counter their arguments about loving guns more than loving the lives of children or you don't. Attacking them, or for that matter how awful all kids have become, or whining about being tired about hearing about them simply means you've lost the argument, and you do indeed care more about your guns than school kids' lives, or it means you have fallen for one of the oldest propaganda tools in the book. When you are losing, make them the enemy. It's called "the other" or ad hominem argument. 

 You cannot argue that you stand for the Constitution and the bill of rights and then demand these young people quit talking and demanding their rights of equal protection. There was great outrage when retired Supreme Court Justice and conservative, John PaulStevens, suggested the second amendment be repealed. If it angered you, then turning around and announcing that since these young people are suggesting raising the age limit we should repeal the twenty-sixth amendment is the height of hypocrisy.


Attacking folks only creates greater division. Your platitudes about loving your neighbors are hollow. If you are attacking the messenger...you are a divisive part of the problem. You can announce how bad kids are these day and how little they care, but I think there was about a million or so of them who marched for their rights one Saturday in March and who would beg to differ with you. Just because a few did something stupid like eat a tide pod, it doesn't mean they all did. There are a few adults that have done some pretty dumb things too. If all you have is a personal attack on a person because of his or her age, generation, or if they are Republican, Democrat, or any other trait that has nothing to do with the message, then you've got nothin'. 

In other words, if that's all you have about the message of any activist, then perhaps you just need to go yell at kids,"GET OFF MY LAWN!" 

*Other than the quote and appearing in debate text, there is apparently no information on Addison Whithecomb. I, personally, wonder if he actually existed. Even  Wikipedia entry has nothing on the man.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ready Player One: A Pop Culture Tribute



I have not read the novel, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It is on my shelf to read, just haven't got around to it yet. So, I have no idea how the movie and book compare. The Stephen Spielberg film is an action movie that is clearly his tribute to pop culture, especially to the movies and video games of the late 70's and 80's. I am sure that the nerd websites will be spending hours upon hours finding every tribute and reference in the movie from Saturday Night Fever to Back to the Future to The Shining to Godzilla and King Kong. The references and details were astonishing and at times a bit over-whelming. 

The premise of Ready Player One is pretty straight forward. We are taken to the dystopic world of 2045. The protagonist of the story is Parzival/Wade (Tye Sheridan) a player in the world of Oasis. Oasis is a virtual reality world created by Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his partner, Morrow (Simon Pegg). The real world has become such an over-crowded place that people live in the virtual world called Oasis. Halliday has died. Before his death, he hid three keys in the Oasis. The first player to get all three keys will own Oasis, becoming wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Enter the bad guy, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento is the CEO of the 2nd most successful game company, and he will do anything to find the three keys and take Oasis for his company. This includes killing in the real world. Parzival along with his gang and his virtual love, Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) search for the keys to stop the evil Sorrento and his minions from taking Oasis. 

It's not just that Ready Player One is Spielberg's love letter to his past and all things in nerdom, it is also that it is a fun movie. I must admit the beginning of the movie which start largely in the virtual and computer animated world of Oasis, made me wonder what I had let myself in for. I was worried that we were going to spend most of our time in Oasis. Fortunately, we do get to also spend time in the dystopic world of Columbus, Ohio. Wade lives there and it is also where we get to eventually meet the members of his virtual world and the real-world people whose avatars we see in Oasis. Wade become Parzival which is if you know your legends a bastardization of the purist of knights from King Arthur, Percival. It is Percival who captures the Holy Grail that restores Arthur's soul. Wade/Parzival in his own way is on a quest for his holy grail that will keep the soul of Oasis for the players. 


Ready Player One is an exciting movie and is in the classic sense your standard hero movie. It has little in the way of surprise or twist as far as the plot goes. The only real unanswered question is one that come up at the end of the movie, which I am not going to discuss here. It is the story of a hero on a quest, his love, who in this case is as capable as he is, and his friends and fellow questers. They must over-come the evil bad guy who would steal all that is good. I liked the movie. Yes, it is simple and nothing really new. But it gives us a chance to see so much of the things we have come to care about in pop culture. In short, Ready Player One is a fun movie. I will buy the DVD.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Irony Impaired


I swear that those who post propaganda memes are suffering from a complete lack of irony.

They will post a meme how we should never forgive Jane Fonda for her stupidity of over 40 years ago for which she has apologized many times. (In fact, I did a whole blog on it.) They will forget that the president wasn't the only one trying to figure out ways to avoid the draft and not go to Vietnam. What is more that same meme poster will post a meme not even a few hours later announcing how God forgave and called prostitutes and tax collectors to serve.

Irony impaired.

Another will post a meme about how they will protect their stuff with a gun. Fight the evil government with their AR-15 or how we have to stop all those evil illegal immigrants and their "dreamer kids." Next meme posts? Love thy neighbor. Life is sacred.

Irony impaired.

Meanwhile, on another front comes how we must protect our children from the evils of "rap" music or violent movies and video games. A few hours later, it's how much they miss the good old days of big guns in gun racks in pick-up trucks or how much they miss AC/DC or Deep Purple. (I have to wonder when we will wax nostalgic about Marilyn Manson?) This is followed by a meme about guns featuring Clint Eastwood. Yep, Dirty Harry.

Irony impaired.


This is, of course, followed by a meme about how these kids who are speaking out or these women who are speaking out are eating Tide pods or lying and should just shut up. There is also the problem that if you are attacking the messenger and not the message, then you've lost the argument. You might as well announce, "I've got nothing," followed by "and so's your ol' man." Then they will turn around and complain about how their rights will be limited. First amendment much?

Irony Impaired

And then there is the news story of a gun channel,  InRange TV, moving from YouTube to PornHub because of YouTube's new guidelines on gun shows and PornHub "has a history of being a proactive voice in the online community..."  The new policy on YouTube, by the way, limits gun videos which demonstrate how to modify guns. I have a feeling typing in the search term of "gun show" on PornHub is going to get some interesting results. The owners of InRange TV seem oblivious as to what this move says about their programming.

All together now:

Irony Impaired

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Memes before Matter: A Good Guy With a Gun


Reducing a complex problem to a meme only creates division. It solves no problems and only spreads propaganda.

Following the shootings in a Maryland school it was less than 12 hours before the memes about how there were no parades and no reporting about how the the "good guy" with the gun killed the school shooter. This is one of three memes, I've seen. One uses the NRA's "good guy with a gun" propaganda.  Another was a share of a status post also using the "good guy" propaganda. This was despite the fact that there was a bunch of reporting about it. It is also still unclear whether he shot the school shooter or the shooter killed himself. (Update 3/28: The shooter took his own life.) All that is actually known is that shots were exchanged. For some reason, all of the memes I saw announced that there was no coverage especially on CNN.

Let me be clear, the "good guy with a gun" did exactly what he was supposed to do. At least the above meme got that part right. He was the school resource officer, a member of the St. Mary's County sheriff's office, and a member of SWAT. In other words, he was not just some guy with a conceal-carry license with a few hours of training which is what the "good guy with a gun" memes imply. He was not some teacher who thinks guns in the classroom is a good idea. What he is, is a hero who did exactly what he had trained much of his adult life to do. Everyone agrees that his quick actions clearly stopped Maryland's Great Mills High School from becoming much worse. His name is Officer Blaine Gaskill. Much of this information comes from CNN, by the way.

I'd heard the reporting about Gaskill on CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN and two local news reports. Had it received the amount of press that Parkland did? No. But then again, a hero cop stopped the shooter before 17 people died. Will there be a parade? I have no idea. I am also unsure what students are having a parade. There have been some walkouts which are not quite the same thing as a parade. Vigils? The only person to die was the shooter.(* Update, late Thursday Jaelynn Rose Willey, one of the two victims of the shooter, was taken off life support and died late Thursday. The county flag was ordered to half-staff.)So why would there be a vigil? I do know that Gaskill would be only the second School Resource Officer to shoot an active shooter since Columbine if his bullets did hit the shooter. He is not some random "good guy with a gun." He is a trained professional. He is a hero. His work is more important and more complicated than to be reduced to propaganda in a meme.

You see what bothers me about these divisive memes is that they are clearly political and agenda driven. They are using a hero to propagate something that is not true.  Here is a list of CNN news stories on the Maryland shooting:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/22/us/maryland-school-shooting-jaelynn-willey/index.html
https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/21/us/stoneman-douglas-students-stay-home/index.html
https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/20/us/maryland-school-shooting-resource-officer-response-trnd/index.html
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/03/20/maryland-school-shooting-governor-larry-hogan-presser-sot.cnn
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/03/20/great-mills-high-school-shooting-maryland-orig-llr.cnn
https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/20/us/parkland-students-great-mill-shooting-trnd/index.html
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/03/20/maryland-school-shooting-sheriff-sot.cnn
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/03/20/shooting-maryland-high-school-great-mills-student-sot.cnn
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/03/20/shooting-maryland-school.cnn
https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/20/us/great-mills-high-school-shooting/index.html


Yep, CNN had practically no coverage as long as you don't count these reports. This list took me all of a minute to find by typing in "Maryland School Shooting" on CNN.com.

If you are a gun rights activist, go for it. Try making your arguments without misleading propaganda or attacking people with whom you disagree. Reasoned argument not a meme will help others understand you. I know, far too many people want to make it simple. It seldom is. This kind of meme serves one and only one purpose: propaganda.

Try finding out the truth.

It is really quite simple if you're willing to leave the bubble.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Red Sparrow Fails to Soar



I know. I know. I've fallen down on reviewing the movies I see. Most recently, I went to see Red Sparrow. While I have not loved every Jennifer Lawrence movie, she still shows in everything she does that she is that rare natural actor. She is unfiltered in her performance and this movie is no different. Red Sparrow is meant to be a gritty, character driven spy movie. The problem is not with the acting skills. In fact, the only thing that saves the movie are the performances that the actors turn in. 

The problem with the movie is that it is unevenly paced and often muddled plot. It lacks believable cohesion.  Jennifer Lawrence turns in a credible performance as does her male counterpart, Joel Edgerton. The problem is that the two have zero chemistry on screen. Their love scenes which should be perhaps gentle and moving lack any real emotional ties and fail to juxtaposition against the grim and over-the-top sadistic Sparrow training scenes. Speaking of which, exactly how many Sadistic rape/sex scenes do we need to get the point across? Sparrow training is gruesome and hard and if the Sparrow fails, they die. We get it in about ten minutes of movie. The rest is unnecessary. 

 There is enough plot and character to hold the movie together. What hurts it is it uneven pace. The movie consists of largely talking followed by sadistic scene followed by Jennifer Lawrence walking somewhere followed by more talking followed by grim torture followed by more talking followed by Jennifer Lawrence walking somewhere followed by exciting scene followed by talking... Get the picture? 

Despite the fact that it Jennifer Lawrence is good as the Sparrow who would do anything to be sure her mother (Joely Richardson) is safe, believing that she is a premier ballerina of the Bolshoi is a bit of a stretch. With the exception of Lawrence's and Edgerton's characters and despite reasonably solid performance by supporting cast members like Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Ramping, most of the secondary characters are barely two dimensional. Even the big bad of the movie, Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays the Sparrow's evil Uncle who looks oddly like Putin, has only a halfhearted attempt to give him some depth. Take for example the sadistic hit-man and torturer Matorin (Sebastian Hülk) is a stereotypical henchman.  Most of the characters are pretty much these stereotypes.
 
I wanted Red Sparrow to be more than it was. I wanted to care about what happens to the characters. But alas, I didn't. Red Sparrow is just an okay movie. I won't be buy the DVD.