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Monthly Archives: October 2015

What It Is (Personal)

When I’m not hopping around as a jackalope online, I’m this chubby black dude who has a day job at a tech company. That much you know. I’m going to talk a little bit about what’s going on with me personally here, but I’ll try to be vague enough that there’s not so much overlap between my fuzzy self and my chubby self. For so many different reasons, I’d like to keep those two buckets separate for now.

Last month, we found out that my company was bought from the venture capital firm that had been funding us up until that point. The official line was that it would allow us to progress on our vision without having to worry about money so much — up until then, it was a bit of a struggle to make sure we had enough to do what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it. Basically, we’re in a fast-moving segment of the marketplace, and there’s a real advantage of rolling out workable technology as quickly as possible while also making sure we refined what’s already there so everything works smoothly. You know the saying “If you want something, pick two of the three: fast, cheap, good”? We were trying to do the impossible.

Anyway, there was a footnote of the buy-out meeting that there was another company that might have technology that would complement ours, and we could work together to create something really special. That was all in the planning stages, but they would have more information for us when it became available.

In the meantime, it looked like my position would be phased out after six years in an unrelated reworking of my department. So, in order to progress, I would need to dive into a more technical position. A plan was drawn up to document how to do all the things I was responsible for, divide my responsibilities among the rest of the department, and become one of the crew. I’d get a provisional title for six months, and after that they’d see where I was and bump me up to a full-fledged member of the society. So I was working towards that.

Then I was told that because of the situation with a potential merger, I wouldn’t be able to move into that provisional position and would stay where I was. I should still plan to hand off my responsibilities and train for the more technical position, but on my own.

This week, I was thrown into a pretty intensive boot camp to learn the technical specifics of my software. This caught me by surprise. I’m actually excited to be thrust into this world that I never thought I could handle because of…well, self-image and anxiety issues, and while the learning has been difficult it’s also been rewarding in its own way.

Long story short, there’s a lot of change happening at the day job, which means that something has to give. I was gearing up to do a lot with a Patreon for serial stories that was set to launch this month, but I think it’s better that I set that aside and focus on being the best technical worker bee that I can be. It also means that I’ll need to pull back my admittedly ambitious writing schedule so stuff will be coming out a bit more slowly. That’s fine — it allows me more time to really dig in to something and make it good. Just because I’m just starting my million-word apprenticeship as a writer doesn’t mean I can’t consider those words more carefully.

For a while, I’ll just need to slow down; focus on the quality of the working process and not the quantity. I just wanted to give you folks a heads up that might mean fewer journal entries for a little while and fewer Fiction Fridays but hopefully better ones.

See you folks on the other side!

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2015 in Self-Reflection

 

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A Black Geek’s Guide to All-New, All-Different Marvel

Reading 150I fell in with comic books through Marvel, and I’ll never forget it. I was vaguely aware of comics growing up — how could you not know about Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man — but the first time I heard about a story that made me think “I have to read this” was the Age of Apocalypse saga, where Charles Xavier’s insane son goes back in time to kill Magneto but mistakenly kills Professor X instead. For four glorious months, the entire line of X-Men books were replaced by a post-apocalyptic hell where Apocalypse has taken over the world and a desperate band of humans and defecting mutants are trying to stop him. I had never heard of a storyline as ambitious as that, and I don’t think there’s been a crossover Marvel has pulled off that well before or since.

Ever since then, I’ve jumped in and out of the comic stream. I left for a while, came back for Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men run, then left for a while and came back for Bendis’ All-New X-Men run, and now I’m lapsed again. I wish I hadn’t — Hickman’s Avengers work is currently wrapping up on the Secret Wars crossover, which has basically destroyed Marvel’s entire multiverse and replaced it with a patchwork world where Dr. Doom is God. This is the end-game of Hickman’s work across Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers, New Avengers and Avengers World; he’s been leading to this for years. It’s that kind of long-form storytelling I really appreciate and applaud, and I wish I had been reading the story in real-time.

This month, Marvel is releasing the comics that come after Secret Wars; we catch up with the multiverse eight months after the end of Doom’s Battleworld and the restoration of the multiverse. However, this is a chance for the company to pull a line-wide reset on every single title, so there’ll be an enormous wave of brand-new comics hitting the shelves over the next few months. So which comics are worth getting in your local shops every Wednesday? Which are fine getting digital? And which ones do you probably want to wait for the trade paperbacks on?

Marvel is doing a lot of really different stuff with this launch, featuring a great array of diverse books featuring African-American, Native American, Asian-American and women superheroes front and center. Captain America is still black; Thor is still a woman; the Avengers will feature those two as well as Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani Muslim), Ultimate Spider-Man (half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales) and Kid Nova, Sam Alexander. Of the seven folks on the main roster, only the original Iron Man Tony Stark still has his spot.

Diversity is given a serious run here, and I think it’s important to show Marvel we dig what they’re doing. It’s not enough that we show up on message boards and at Comic-Cons asking for it; when they’re giving us what we want, we should show up at the comic book shops too. Personally, I’ll buy the paper version of any title I think needs the support most; the titles that will probably be fine but I still want to read will get bought digitally; and the stuff that I’m curious about but not sold on will have to wait for the trade paperback. I only have so much money, after all, and a geek’s got to eat.

So here’s my pull list for All-New, All-Different Marvel. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

PAPER COPY, EVERY WEDNESDAY
Black Panther
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Art by Brian Stelfreeze

I’ve only recently been turned on to Ta-Nehisi Coates this year, and already he’s become one of my favorite voices in all of black geekdom. So when I heard he was getting the keys to Black Panther, there was simply no way I could miss that. The first twelve-issue story arc will feature a revolution in Wakanda, and T’Challa trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Howling Commandos of SHIELD
Written by Frank Barbiere; Art by Bren Schoonover

A motley crew of monsters — including a robot version of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf (a gun-toting werewolf), Man-Thing (a gigantic swamp creature) and Hit-Monkey (a…deranged monkey?) — take out supernatural threats while struggling with their own monstrous natures. This book is too insane not to take up; I really dig the theme of trying to do good while being fundamentally apart from a society that will never accept you. This is one of the more bizarre concepts Marvel is throwing at the wall, and while I don’t expect it to last very long I really want to support it while it’s there.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire; Art by Natacha Bustos

First of all, Devil Dinosaur in his own ongoing! Moon Girl is a pre-teen black girl named Lunella Lafayette who is also a dormant Inhuman; however, she doesn’t want superpowers. She wants to continue being the prodigy she is, so she’s looking for ways to prevent transformation. That desire to stay who you are, to hide the weirdness inside you, is a really compelling hook for me. Also, this is one of the few ongoing comics to be (co)written and drawn by women!

Totally Awesome Hulk
Written by Greg Pak; Art by Frank Cho

Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk! Gone is the brooding Bruce Banner; Cho wants to embrace being enormous and green. This comic hands the mantle of the Hulk to a Korean-American prodigy, featuring Greg Pak returning to the title he’s best known for, with Frank Cho pulling art duties; two Korean-Americans creating a superhero comic with a Korean-American protagonist! You can’t do better than that.

Red Wolf
Written by Nathan Edmonson; Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is the biggest question mark; this version of Red Wolf hails from one of the patchwork realities that made up Battleworld in Secret Wars, so Marvel won’t get into any issues with portraying a real Native American tribe, but…is that better? While they will have a Native American artist doing covers, it remains to be seen just how the character will be treated and what the book will look like. Still, just making the attempt is something, and I’m planning to see how it shakes out.
DIGITAL
Uncanny Inhumans
Written by Charles Soule; Art by Steve McNiven

The Inhumans are being set up as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe moving forward (whether we like it or not), and this will probably be the flagship title for them. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charles Soule, and I’m curious about this little corner of the comic universe; with Agents of SHIELD setting up the Inhumans incredibly well in the cinematic universe, I’d like to read more about them. Mutant and original X-Man Beast is defecting to their crew, and where he goes I follow.

All-New X-Men
Written by Dennis Hopeless; Art by Mark Bagley

It is not a good time to be a mutant after Secret Wars. The Terrigen Mists, which have been released into the biosphere, have rendered them sick and sterile. The surviving mutants are warring with the Inhumans as they fight to keep their species alive. And the time-displaced original X-Men — Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel — are still in this reality. Determined to lead by example, they’ve set out to be the superheroes they know they should be. I’m really curious about this take on the X-Men; it feels like a bit of a throwback but at the same time tackles the “nature vs. nurture” question in really interesting ways.

Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sarah Pichelli

Miles Morales is probably one of the only people who’ve made it out of the Ultimate Universe, and that’s probably because he moves so many books; still, he’s a really compelling character and I cannot wait to see how he fits in with the main universe. Bendis made his bones on this title 20 years ago to usher in the Ultimate Universe, so he has an amazing handle on this character and where to take Morales next.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan has, in many ways, lead the charge of this all-new, all-different Marvel. Her introduction to the main universe was a surprise hit for the company, and she’s being placed in a position of prominence during this reconfiguration initiative. Not only is she one of the Avengers now, she’s also getting a brand-new volume of her massively successful solo comic; I cannot wait to see what G. Willow Wilson (one of the only Muslim writers working in comics that I know of) has in store for her after Secret Wars.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Valerio Schitti

ROCKET RACCOON IS IN CHARGE! After Secret Wars, Star-Lord has left the Guardians to become the leader of the Spartax Empire, which means Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Venom have to find a way to make do on their own. They’re joined by an alternate-universe Kitty Pride as the new Star-Lord and the Thing finally fulfilling his potential as an astronaut. Bendis has actually been killing it on this title ever since he took it over, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team comes together after all of these changes.
TRADE PAPERBACK
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar and Andy Kubert

You have to hand it to Marvel; they aren’t kidding around with remaking their universe. This is a directive to shake things up from the top down: the Avengers are almost completely changed — Iron Man is the one guy who’s a member of the Big Three, joined by the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), the new Thor (Jane Foster), Vision, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander). I’d be worried about the roster if it weren’t for Mark Waid, who excels at taking titles in great new directions that inject a sense of serious fun into them. This is the perfect team for his style.

Extraordinary X-Men
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Humberto Ramos

I’ve been a fan of Lemire ever since he broke onto the scene with the excellent, strange post-apocalyptic tale Sweet Tooth; the success of that book has propelled him onto DC’s main titles with a run on Green Arrow before Marvel’s snapped him up to shepherd the new flagship X-title. Storm is leading the mutant nation through another extinction crisis with Colossus, Magik, Nightcrawler, Forge, the present-day Iceman, the time-displaced Jean Grey and Old Man Logan. Marvel’s X-Men are always at their best when they’re put in the hands of great writers with distinct voices, so this is a great move.

Weirdworld
Written by Sam Humphries; Art by Mike del Mundo

I really should pick up the Secret Wars miniseries before picking up this title, but I find it so intriguing. Weirdworld is basically Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery universe, and they’re pulling it out of mothballs to give it a go. It’s so rare for one of the Big Two to go in this direction that I have to see what they do with it; I don’t think it’s going to last very long, but I want to throw my money at other projects I think are more important to support.

So that’s it: 13 titles that I plan on supporting once All-New, All-Different Marvel gets going, and there are plenty more that I would like to take a look at — the new Howard the Duck, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, The Ultimates (featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Ms. America and Blue Marvel), Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a VERY good time to be a Marvel fan.

 
 

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Thursday Fiction: Midnight Thoughts of Troubled Minds

Writing 150I was a little late with getting to the end of Veniamin’s story, so I thought I would offer two vignettes this week instead! This one is a bit longer than I expected it would be; once I got into it I really wanted to give it the time it needed. That’s why it’s up today instead of yesterday!

Anyway, this is the first of four Beast vignettes this month. I wanted to test out how a story featuring the X-Men would sound, and whether I could get a good handle on Hank McCoy, how he thinks and speaks, what the world is like for him. Consider this a bit of practice for Beast: Wild Genius. I’m hoping that the more I write this, the more I can refine the voices and make them sound “truer”. This one is 2093 words.

It was 1 AM at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, and it was mostly quiet. The nocturnal students were catching up on their courses in the hologram room, and the bamfs could be heard apparating in the hallways and snickering in their mischief, but almost everyone was asleep. It was one of the only times Dr. Henry McCoy, Principal and Head Scientist, felt completely at ease roaming the grounds.

He stalked the empty hallways, his sensitive nose wrinkling at the faint trace of brimstone the bamfs always left behind. He tapped a console near the front door to check on Krakoa and any possible threats from outside; there were none. He glanced around to make absolutely sure there was no one stirring, and then went into the staff kitchen.

Beast tapped another console, which slid open to reveal a hidden compartment inside the wall. He grabbed the precious cargo inside, fetched himself a cup of tea and spread it out in front of his chair. A treat for oneself should be a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds, after all. He took a moment to drink in the sight of the chamomile tea and two Twinkies, then let the combined smell of over-processed herbal drink and hyper-preserved sugar, fat and bread fill his nostrils. It was all too rare to enjoy a moment like this.

The first Twinkie disappeared as quickly as he inhaled. The chamomile he sipped more slowly; the steaming hot liquid scalded his tongue pleasantly, mingled briefly with the delightful chemical taste of the confection before washing it away. Hank sighed deeply and leaned back in his chair, ignoring the warning creak that came from the stressed wood. After all that had happened — with all that’s going on around him — it was moments like this that he came to treasure. Moments where the world stopped and he could just be a man enjoying a cup of tea and a creme cake.

The respite was short-lived, however. His nose picked up the scent of someone in the hallway, and his ears heard the slinking footsteps of the Jean Grey School’s headmaster.

It was always easy for him to tell when Wolverine was nearby. His smell came first — wild, hot-blooded, with undertones of the adamantium that served as his skeleton. He had a distinctive gait as well; it reminded Hank of a predator stalking through its territory, hackles raised for a threat that could appear at any moment. Beast felt a certain kinship with him. Logan was one of the few people who saw the world the same way that he did, who struggled with the tension between the animal in his blood and the better angels in his head.

“Logan,” Beast rumbled as soon as he heard Wolverine outside the entrance to the staff’s kitchen.

“Hank.” Wolverine walked through the door and headed straight for the refrigerator. He wasn’t surprised by Hank’s presence, but why would he be? He had similar heightened senses. “I’m surprised to see you outside of your lab.”

Beast grinned easily, leaning further back in his chair. “Everyone has to come up for air some time. All work and no play makes one…a bit stir-crazy.”

Wolverine simply grunted as he grabbed a beer. “Want one?”

“No, but thank you. I thought I’d enjoy a cup of tea before I retired. Twinkie?”

Wolverine wrinkled his nose as he took a seat at the table. “I honestly don’t know how you can eat that stuff, Hank. Can’t you smell it?”

“Of course, my dear Logan. That’s part of the appeal!” He looks down at the tiny yellow cake, about the size of a finger. “It takes me back to my childhood. Before all this. I’d get home from football practice, down a box of these, jump right into homework.” He sighed a great breath, staring beyond the kitchen door, back to his boyhood room in Dunfee, Illinois. “I still had problems, but I was content. Life was so…uncomplicated.”

He blinked himself back to the present. “I’m sure you have something that takes you back to happier times, Logan. Some food that reminds you of home?”

A shadow passed over Wolverine’s features, and Beast almost instantly regretted the remark. “I have a lot of things that remind me of where I’ve come from. Mostly I try to focus on what’s in front of me.”

“Of course,” he said. “My apologies.”

Wolverine shrugged and took a long sip from his beer. Beast drank his tea. They let the discomfort of the moment sink in, then fade. The clock ticked on the wall.

“So how’s the school coming? Is there anything I should know about?” Logan kept staring at the table, in that way he did.

Beast shook his head. “Full speed ahead, o captain my captain. The facility practically runs itself, for better or for worse — once that business with Krakoa was sorted out, there haven’t been any significant issues. Of course, it would be nice to make sure the bamfs don’t get into the power source downstairs–”

“I’m sure you’re on top of it, Hank.” Wolverine cut him off with a hand on the shoulder. “Just…remember to be here for the kids.”

Hank stared at him. What was going through his head? “Of course, Logan. I wouldn’t forget why we’re running this school.”

Wolverine simply nodded, then finished the last of his beer. “Didn’t think you would, bub. I just…I need people who are going to do right by these kids. It’s a messed up world out there. They should be protected from that until they’re ready to deal with it.”

Beast nodded. Of course Logan was right. It was why he came back to the site of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the first place. His dream hadn’t changed, but the world did — and just when it looked like there wasn’t a place to continue Xavier’s work, Wolverine jumped in to fill the void. The least likely candidate to do it, but he did.

“I know. It’s just…” His broad shoulders slumped. There was a reason he stalked the halls at night, stuck to his lab wherever he could, threw himself at his projects. He’d been trying to avoid it all this time, but he couldn’t. It was staring him in the face now, and he couldn’t look away. “Why am I here?”

Wolverine looked at him as if he had grown a second head. “What?”

“I mean, why me Logan? You have Ororo, you have Kitty…you have Bobby. A lot of other people could step up if you asked them to. Why am I here, as vice-principal? What am I doing here?”

“Your best, Hank. What are any of us doing here?”

Beast shook his head. “It’s not that. I…this used to be so different. Back in the old days. When it was just me and Jean and Scott, Warren and Bobby. Everything seemed so simple back then, and it feels like it all happened to another person. I’ve changed, Logan. Everyone has changed.”

“Cyclops is some revolutionary. He killed Xavier right in front of me. Jean is dead. Warren is…who knows what’s happened to Angel. The only person who seems blessedly unaffected by any of this is Bobby. And even then, I’m not so sure. Do I really know him? Have I ever known him?

“I thought Scott was my brother in arms. He was the consummate leader. Never left a man behind. But he left me. In a black cell with no one but my arch-nemesis to experiment on me. I never would have imagined he was capable of what he’s become, but…” Hank spread his oversized hands and sighed again. “…here we are.”

He looked at Wolverine, who was studying him with the expression of a man who had no idea what to make of what was in front of him. “We’ve never had the closest relationship, you and I. Ororo, I understand. You came up with her, and she has your backbone. Kitty, I get. You’ve helped guide her to where she is today. But why bring me along? You don’t owe me anything.”

Wolverine shifted in his seat, looking away from Hank. “Listen…bub…I’m not sure I’m drunk enough for this conversation. But here goes.”

“I know what it feels like to be betrayed, especially by somebody close to you. It shakes you up. Makes you suspicious of everybody you know for a good long while. But after a bit you move past it. You learn to trust someone again. Then a few people. And that scar just becomes a part of you. If you’re lucky, it makes you smarter. If you’re not, it poisons you. You’re smart enough to know which way this stuff with Cyke is headed.

“But I pulled you here because I want you here. Storm’s got the backbone to lead this school, and I know she’ll protect them from anything that tries to hurt them. Kitty’s great with kids, and I know she’ll teach ’em well. But you…Hank, out of the first class that’s left, you’re the one guy I know who’s still carrying the dream inside you.

“Look at this place. It wouldn’t exist without you. We could’ve maybe gotten someone else to build it, sure, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. This is your life’s work, Henry. I know no matter how many times Xavier’s dream nearly goes extinct, you’re gonna be the one to kick-start it again. Everybody’s got a fire under them trying to make this work. And you lit it. You were the only one who could.

“Now. I need you to be the new Xavier. Me and him didn’t always see eye to eye, but we understood each other. He gave me a shot when nobody else would. And there’s a whole new set of kids out there who need somebody to show them what they can be. That’s you. Got it?”

Henry sat, stunned. He swallowed once, hard, and nodded. “Got it.”

“Good.” Wolverine stood abruptly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna see if I can get a decent couple of hours before Krakoa wakes us all up. Night, Beast.”

“Good night, Logan.” Beast watched Wolverine walk out of the kitchen, his shoulders slumped as if what he said had taken something out of him. He sighed and settled into his chair, staring at his empty tea cup.

It had been so very long since someone had believed in him. Wasn’t that at the core of this? He had done so much, but he had made so many mistakes…and all of his closest friends were dead, or had left him. So many nights, he only had the thrill of discovery to keep him going.

He looked around at the kitchen. This room, like almost every other within the Jean Grey School, was his design. Bright, airy, homey — a refuge from the chaos of a school filled with mutant children, from the humanity outside that hated and feared them, from their own kind who wanted them to fail. He only just noticed how much it looked like a high-tech version of his mother’s kitchen. There was the same cool beige tile on the wall, the same polished wood under his feet. It took him all this time to see just what he had been trying to do — build a home.

Beast gathered his plates and put them in the automated bin that would take them to a dishwasher that ran inside the walls, then place them back into the cabinets through hidden panels all on its own. Shi’ar technology, he mused, was a wonderful thing.

But things in this place wouldn’t make it a home; the people who lived in it would. He thought about the people here — Storm, Kitty, Logan, Bobby — and how much he had in common with them. They had all been through so much. They had all suffered. All of them, wounded but still standing.

Hank turned out the light and walked out of the kitchen, down the hall, towards the elevator that would take him down to his lab and quarters. Tomorrow, he would see how Warren was doing. He’d have a snowball fight with Bobby. Heck, he might even flirt with Ororo. He could never have his old family back at this point. But he could make a new one.

And with that, maybe the Jean Grey School would start to feel more like home.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2015 in Writing

 

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My Last Three Movies: Oliver and Company, Man of the Year, The Giver

Entertainment 150Oliver and Company (1988)
Ryan and I are making our way through the library of Disney animated film, and we’ve made our way up to this re-imagining of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. The action is transplanted from Victorian London to modern-day New York, and Oliver is an orphaned orange cat that no one wanted. He’s befriended by Dodger, a stray mongrel who lures him into Fagan’s petty theft operation. Fagan is…a homeless guy?…who owes a ruthless businessman named Sykes a whole lot of money. Sykes menaces Fagan, while his two dobermans menace the gang. This being a Disney movie, things work out for the best, but not before the characters move through a lot of complications.

This movie is pretty heavily 80s, with Billy Joel providing the voice of Dodger and so many of the songs — which are deeply influenced by the pop music at the time. In a way, it’s kind of endearing; so many movies that aim for the “latest and greatest” in terms of attitude are usually the ones that end up being the most dated, and this film is no exception. It is very much a love letter to 80s entertainment.

I think that attitude is what makes the movie stick with you; the story is what it is, and it moves through the beats about as well as it can for something so predictable. But the characters, whether you love them or hate them, stick with you. Dodger is the star of the show; well-designed, bristling with attitude, the dog with the emotional arc that wraps up neatly at the end. Oliver is more of a catalyst character — he has a journey that he moves through as well, but he’s pretty much the “orphan in trouble” through most of the movie.

Disney has this great “shared” universe, it feels, with movies like this that runs from 101 Dalmatians, through Lady and the Tramp and The Aristocats, and into Oliver and Company. Who knows, maybe The Rescuers belongs to the same cinematic world? There are supporting characters in one movie that will pop up in the background of another — or at least, their models will. It’s a fun game to see what you can notice.

Most people say that Disney had a fairly rough go of it in the 70s and 80s, and while they were doing things that pushed them away from their “Golden Age” I’ve come to admire the risks they were taking. In a lot of ways, Oliver and Company feels like a bit of a step back into safer territory. Still, the movie was successful enough to usher in a bolder leap — the very next film on the list begins the Disney Renaissance in earnest (it’s The Little Mermaid).

If you like your Dickens stories a bit more frenetic, a bit brighter, and with talking animals, I’d recommend this. You could certainly do worse!
Man of the Year (2006)
This movie definitely could have been something special; Robin Williams stars as a Bill Maher-type who ends up making an improbable run for the White House. After several instances of speaking truth to power and being disruptive in the best way, he’s taken seriously enough to be added to the debate; from there, the dominoes just keep falling.

Meanwhile, in another movie, Laura Linney is a high-level employee at Delacroy Inc., which has just been given government approval to be the sole company providing voting machines in national elections. She notices that there’s something wrong with the counting algorithm, tries to talk to her superiors about it, gets shut down. Of course, that error causes some significant stuff to go down that could change the course of the country.

Lewis Black and Christopher Walken co-star as the advisers of Tom Dobbs (Williams’ character). Barry Levinson directed a script that he wrote. This…should have been a lot better than it was. It felt like there were two great movies struggling to climb out of a merely-adequate one.

Williams does his usual ad-libby stuff here; sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t. The idea of Dobbs no longer being content throwing tomatoes at politicians and showing up to change the system himself is really intriguing, and I think Williams is at his best when he presents Dobbs as someone who is genuinely interested in pushing the country through its political gridlock, using humor and tactical honesty to do it. Linney’s part of the movie is intriguing in its own way, especially considering that we were just five years removed from Bush vs. Gore and the 2000 election. Rigging was hot on everyone’s mind at the time.

But instead of really diving into a political satire — or wish-fulfillment drama — we get this sort of muddled story that tries to be a lot of things all at once. Linney is sometimes stuck in a political thriller, sometimes she’s in a movie about a woman’s slow and steady mental breakdown, and sometimes she’s in a weird political romantic comedy. Levinson has a lot that he’s trying to do here, and he doesn’t navigate the shift in tones or genres very well at all.

It’s a shame, because I love everyone involved here. They deserved better, and I’m not entirely sure what went wrong. Was Levinson’s script tampered with by producers? Was Williams simply not a good fit for what he was trying to do?

At any rate — if you miss Robin Williams and want to see one of his lesser works where he still shows promise but the movie ultimately fails, this is for you? More likely, you’re either a Barry Levinson completist or a Williams fanatic.
The Giver (2014)
Jeff Bridges was one of the driving forces trying to bring this film to the screen, and it’s easy to see why. The Giver is one of those books I absolutely loved growing up, and I could see how it would make for an excellent movie.

This adaptation isn’t quite there, but it’s pretty solid. The basic thrust of the story is this: in a post-apocalyptic world, a community had been built that works on very strict rules. A person’s life is guided through milestones that allow them independence, or purpose, or a sense of completion of their life’s work. Jonas is coming up on just such a milestone — he is about to leave childhood behind and be given his job.

It turns out that Jonas has a few special qualities that make him chosen for one of the rarest positions: The Receiver of Memory. He must hold the collected memory of all humanity, so that he may dispense the wisdom of history when it is needed. The old Receiver shows him what has come before, and why the world is in the state it’s in now. Jonas has to struggle with the crushing weight of his knowledge, and just how much it alienates him from his friends, family unit and entire community.

It’s a fascinating book that shows us the power and danger of emotion, the inherent tension in society between safety and freedom, and what happens when the balances tip too far into one corner. The movie largely gets that down through the first part, but then the second half falls into the well-worn tread of most young-adult action movies we’re seeing these days. Even though it becomes fairly generic, the performances of the child stars and the lovely world design is just enough to keep you from giving up on it.

Brenton Thwaites is just about perfect as Jonas, bringing the character from his unquestioning acceptance of his life through the series of painful, disorienting revelations that follow. He’s tremendously emotive, so even when he struggles to find the word for an emotion he’s feeling the first time, we’re already feeling it with him. His confusion about the world around him, as well as the delight he has in these discoveries, are tremendous. His first days as the Receiver of Memory are easily the best part of the film.

It’s just too bad they couldn’t bring that same energy to the resolution of the story. Once the movie begins to sink into its familiar beats, that’s all there is to it until the credits roll. It doesn’t quite finish as strongly as it could, which is unfortunate because the book ends so tremendously. Still, it’s worth your time if you’re a fan of the novel. If you want to see Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep snipe at each other, or Eric Freaking Northman as the world’s nicest, blandest dad, then this movie is for you.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2015 in Movies, Reviews

 

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Fiction Friday: Veniamin Is Thankful

Writing 150This is the last of four vignettes featuring Veniamin Kovalenko, the werebear detective I play in a Dresden Files game. Here, Venia tries to address the damage done to an important relationship of his. Through the course of the game, it’s become clear that he has a pretty big problem with authority; he also began the game with an almost pathological need to hide his true nature from his fellow supernatural guys. However, over the course of several sessions, he’s become attached to this makeshift dysfunctional family and his stance on connection has softened quite a lot. It’s such a relief to be able to bear out in front of people! 

Next week, I’ll be writing fan-fiction of Beast from the X-Men. I wanted to work on dialogue this month, try to capture distinctive voices that have already been established. There are so many ways to say the same thing, and it fascinates me. Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.

Veniamin shifted his gift basket from from one hand to the other and rolled his left shoulder. His wound had healed well, but not completely; he wondered if he would be one of those old bears who could feel a storm coming by the way his forelimb creaked. He couldn’t go to a doctor to get it checked out for a number of reasons — the modern medical establishment just wasn’t equipped to deal with the effects of silver on the long-term healing of the North American werebear.

The basket was loaded with a number of foods that Veniamin thought would be clever, but now just felt like an unpleasant reminder of an unpleasant evening. Smoked salmon rested next to a pound of blueberries, a small set of honey samplers, some chocolate-covered fruits, a few massive bear claws. There was a vanilla-scented candle shaped as a friendly bear holding a heart; there was a small Zuni fetish made of deer antler and turquoise for the heart-line. There was a pound of coffee from an Alaskan roaster, and a ostentatious bouquet of two dozen red roses.

He was holding all of this in front of the Jayaraman Coffee Roasters shop near Fisherman’s Wharf at 5:30 in the morning, his collar turned up against the chill and the fog. He had heard Marian got a job here from two baristas at his regular place who had no idea he could actually hear them. They had each told him, on separate days, that Marian had no desire to see him and if he kept pressing them on it they would report him to the police for stalking.

The memory of that made him wince. He had managed to oust the Lieutenant responsible for supplying vampires with a steady food supply, but it had cost him his contacts in the department and any possible goodwill he could ever have with local law enforcement from then on. Any run-in with the police would be a bad one, for a good long time.

Veniamin shifted uneasily next to the glass door, leaning against the dark red brick. The job was done. He could forget about it mostly, except for one loose end.

He knew where Marian lived, of course. He wouldn’t be a good private detective if he couldn’t have tracked her down. There was no way he could show up at her house again, though — even he knew that it would scare her out of her mind. He figured showing up at her workplace, with an obvious peace offering, would be a better option.

Veniamin had no idea why he had to see her, but he couldn’t leave it alone. He just had to let her know that he appreciated her help, even if she had no idea what she was doing when she did so. If he could just thank her once, in person, then his business would be concluded and he could move on.

It had taken him a solid month to work up the courage to do this, and even now he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. It only now occurred to him that it might be seen as slightly creepy to be waiting outside a woman’s place of work with an absurd gift basket and a turned-up collar. In fact, the more he thought about it the more he was sure this was a bad idea. He sighed and hunched his shoulders against the damp. At least she wasn’t here yet. He could simply slip away and figure out another way to thank–

“Veniamin?” Mariam appeared out of the fog to his left. Her voice was tight and high — a mixture of surprise and fear. He cursed himself for not realizing how poorly-advised this was earlier.

He turned and took off his hat with his free hand, revealing the disheveled mop of brown hair. He smiled, then thought the better of it, looking away from her but stepping forward. “Hey. I…I know that you don’t want to see me–”

“Stay back!” Mariam practically shouted. She glanced around at the fog, no doubt trying to find an exit point through the soup of the air. Veniamin’s heart sunk. He could practically smell the fear radiating from her.

“No, it’s OK! I’m…OK, here.” Veniamin slowly put the gift basket down, placed his hat on top of it, and held up his hands. “I’m not armed, and I won’t come any closer. Just…hear me out, OK?”

Mariam was silent. When Veniamin glanced at her, he saw she had her cell phone out. An invisible, cold hand squeezed his heart within his chest.

“I know that night was a big shock, and I know that you have every right to never want to see me again. But I just…I just had to let you know that I really appreciate you taking me in and giving me a place to lie low. I’m so sorry that you had to find out…about me…the way you did. And I genuinely hope I haven’t caused any more trouble for you. If I have, just…let me know, OK? I’ll fix it and if at all possible I’ll do it without you having to see me do it.”

The words came tumbling out of him, earnestly and quickly. It was the most he had said to anyone since coming to this smelly, damp city. It surprised him how much he meant it, how much he wished he could repair what relationship they had, how much he wanted to be accepted by her.

Mariam stayed silent for a long time. She was staring at him, but she wasn’t using her phone. That, at least, was something.

“O…K. Is that it?”

Veniamin nodded. “Yeah. I…bought you a gift basket. Something to remember me by.” He smiled weakly.

“But I don’t want to remember you.”

“Then throw it out. I just wanted you to have it. What you do with it is your affair.” Veniamin couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice. “That’s it. Thank you. Goodbye.”

Veniamin paused, glancing at Mariam just in case she wanted to say something. Even a goodbye would be something, an opening, a chance. But she just stared.

He sighed and bent slow, pulling his hat up and placing it back on his head. “If you ever need help, just give the little bear figurine to one of the baristas at your old coffee shop along with a note. Let me know what you need me to do and I’ll do it. They have my number. They’ll make sure I get it quickly.”

Mariam still said nothing. He waited, but she remained silent. Veniamin nodded once, turned and left.

It was clear to him that he would need to keep himself a secret here to anyone who didn’t already know about…monsters like him. It would probably be a good idea to keep himself secret from half of the folks who did. Not for the first time, he missed his family; simple and loud though they were, they were open and free.

Then he remembered Uncle Rudkoff; the old man was never content to live his life on the outskirts of a small town, and tried to drown his frustrations with as much alcohol as he could. He was gunned down by park rangers when he shifted during a bar fight; he was forgotten by just about everyone thanks to the efforts of a particularly good “cleaner”, and his family were able to keep their small lodge and their way of life.

Veniamin knew two things from that: he had the same wanderlust his Uncle had, and he wanted to make sure the monsters in the shadows were protected from themselves. So he moved to San Francisco as soon as he was able to learn the trade, and each new case was a hard lesson on what not to do.

This lesson was particularly hard, though. Was it just not possible to connect with someone normal without hiding this immense part of yourself? Was it really necessary to be detached from everyone and everything you come in contact with?

Veniamin tried to wall off the ache that thought caused. His face hardened. Probably, and crying about it wasn’t really going to solve anything. He’d need to take a few days to shake this one off, but that was just fine. He had a bottle of whiskey and a library of Humphrey Bogart movies to help him through it.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Writing

 

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