Molly’s Game

I want to preface this post to profess my love of the game of poker. It is one of the very few games in a casino where you can play against the other players rather than against the house. If you are playing any game against the house chances are that the odds are stacked against you. You can play a lot of those games in a way to give you more favorable odds, but almost none of them will give you over a 50% chance to win. When you play poker you can often tilt the odds in your favor if you know what you are doing. Many times even if you statistically only have a 30% chance to win, you can tilt those odds in your favor if your opponent will fold to a good bet.

I’m not going to go further into the details of the game as Molly’s Game doesn’t. The film throws around a lot of the terminology, but doesn’t expect anyone to know what they mean. It’s a poker movie that isn’t heavy on the poker. The movie is more about Molly and how she built the game rather than the game itself. This is good and bad for various reasons. Poker is a complex game that could turn off the casual moviegoer, but for people who take the game seriously glossing over the actual poker feels like a cop out. In this case it doesn’t take away from the film, but as an aficionado of poker it is disappointing.

Molly’s Game from a storytelling perspective is an interesting film. It mixes interesting characters with a lot of drama and a seedy underworld. A lot of exposition is used to cut through much of the back story for the various characters. This would usually be lazy storytelling, but for a movie it has to be done to keep the film under 8 hours. The twists in the story were also quite interesting.

Typically true life stories don’t have this kind of entertainment value or the twists that this one has. Those are usually reserved for fiction. True to life stories will usually have something outlandish and crazy in a “life is stranger than fiction” kind of way. Molly’s Game has a story that lends better toward film than most true to life stories. Jessica Chastain is also one of my favorite actresses, and her performance is nearly flawless. Go see this film. I can’t wait to see it again. I have also ordered the book and hope it is as good as the movie is.

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Redshirts follows the adventures of the crew members of the Intrepid. Apparently the Intrepid has an issue with its crew members dying when they go on an away team with specific members of the crew from the bridge. This causes the regular crew to avoid the leadership of the Intrepid like the plague to keep from having to go on away missions. Then there is the magic box that fixes problems that no one knows how to resolve. No one knows where it came from.

The premise of the novel is quite inventive and unique. It is a parody of Star Trek that lends itself to some interesting twists and humor. The characters are sassy and mostly interesting. The problem I have with this novel is the subdued plot. There are many ways that the author could have taken this novel. Instead Scalzi chose to rather mundane adventure filled with sarcasm. Most of it I enjoyed until the last act where everything slid off the page into a ravine. The final bits of the novel tied up the story, but it did it in a manner that ruined all of the build up to that point. I loved the first 3/4 of the novel even with the average plot, but then the novel took a left turn and tried to be something else. That something else did not work very well. It was like Scalzi decided the plane should land on its wing instead of the landing gear, and that just made one unholy mess.

I still thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4 of the novel. I will just have to pretend the final act didn’t happen. Fans of Scalzi’s other works should enjoy this one as well. I was just not a fan of the way this one ended.

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Update 1/6/18

I know I haven’t been updating here as often as I should. Perhaps that should be a New Year’s resolution for 2018? I am also house hunting, so it is hard to do everything that I am supposed to do within the time frame that it is supposed to be done. I have gone to see every new movie that came out over the holidays. So let’s talk about a few of them.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – This movie is about what you would expect. It loses some of the charm of the original, but it is a worthy sequel/update for the next generation. It captured some of the same magic of the original, but it is more for people who didn’t see it.

The Shape of Water – This is a beautiful and weird sci-fi/monster movie/love story. It is one of Guillermo del Toro’s better films although Crimson Peak is still my favorite. If you like Guillermo’s style and weird love stories then this is definitely for you. I also absolutely loved Sally Hawkins performance.

Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman captures the enigmatic Winston Churchill as I have never seen before. This story is more compelling than it has any business being. I went in thinking it would be an interesting biopic of a British icon that was worth seeing from a historical perspective, but I was surprised at how entertaining the film was. Oldman deserves consideration when awards season comes around for this magnificent performance that would make Godzilla clap. Of course Godzilla would then eat Oldman.

All the Money in the World – There has been a lot of buzz about Christopher Plummer’s performance, but I didn’t think it was any different than any of his other performances. Plummer is a fantastic actor and this is a role that fits his style perfectly. He just wasn’t as big of a character in the story as the trailers make him out to be. Otherwise it was an interesting story with a decent cast that provided some good entertainment.

I also went to see Molly’s Game today and planning to see the new Insidious film tomorrow, but I’ll write more about them tomorrow. I also have a couple of book reviews I am working on, so I should have more updates coming in the near future. Stay tuned!

Currently editing Virtual Wars: Running on Page 11 of 88

The Undead

Hello! I am back once again to talk about the scary BOO! No I’m not talking about ghosts, maybe next time. I am writing this about the undead creatures that go bump in the night because you did not invest in night lights, and they don’t know where they are going. Humanoid undead are going to be my main focus in this post, but undead animals can be super mega robot stalker creepy too.

Humanoid undead hint at the darker nature of humanity in general. They represent the darker impulses within us all. A little part of us dies every time we endure some sort of trauma, but what happens when there is very little left alive in our soul? The stories of vampires, zombies, and werewolves are interesting to me because of the parallel the draw with humanity. There are 2 sides to every coin, but the darkness can overtake both sides.

Zombies

So what makes a zombie? Generally they are dead people who are brought back to roam the earth while their flesh rots. Is there any part of their soul left? What about parts of the person they were before? I have seen many films where they speak to the dead to get information from them. I prefer the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ version of zombie where they lurch around attacking the living.

To me a zombie represents our lowest base instincts. The need to breathe, eat, and pay taxes… maybe not that last one. The desire to cling to life at any cost keeps them moving. They don’t have any higher level thought processing going on upstairs though. Much like some people I know, the wheel is spinning, but the hamster died long ago. What makes them human is gone, but they still look the part… at least until those parts fall off.

Vampires

Vampires have been depicted as everything from sparkly rainbow powered monsters of the dreamy to relentless killing machines that want to suck you dry. Like people they retain more of their soul than zombies do. They all have unique personalities that can make them as diverse as people are. Their bodies are decaying just as the zombies are and they are clinging to life like the zombies do, but they are able to stave off the decay. The blood they drink is restorative. Perhaps if they no longer get the blood they need then they too will become as the zombies are.

I like to think of Vampires as being a bit magical as well. It is mostly used to mask their decay. Their illusions trick some into providing blood to them. The fictional vampires I prefer are masters of illusion who seem to never age, but underneath the illusions they do indeed rot. The blood they consume helps to lessen the rot. It slows the rot down to the point where it is a gradual process, similar to aging but much slower. Their immortality ends up being another illusion that eventually they can no longer maintain.

These illusions are like the fronts all people put up to protect themselves. People try to show their best version to others while hiding all of the deep dark secrets that are held within. Those secrets eat at us and cause us to decay in a way. If only there were some kind of magical restorative liquid to make that darkness go away. Perhaps the violent act of getting the blood further rips at the soul of the vampire which causes the body to decay quicker even as the consumption of blood restores it. Maybe the larger the burden we carry inside does the same to us as well even though for moments we can let that burden go.

This is why I find these creatures so fascinating in fiction. They represent the darker side of humanity. This shows that the real monsters are human in nature. That can be the most terrifying part of the stories that hold these fictional creatures. I think that gets lost in these tales because we are so ready to dismiss them as monsters, but what if they are all people who have simply embraced the darker side of humanity?

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The Last Jedi

I went to see the new Star Wars event movie yesterday and it was very very good. If you haven’t seen it yet then what are you doing reading this????  Where are your priorities at? GO SEE IT ALREADY.

I do have a few thoughts on the film from a writing perspective. There are always some campy moments in Star Wars, but they only seemed natural with the original cast. The new addition of bird creatures added a couple of moments of comic relief, but they kept shoving them in the audience’s face where they served no purpose other than as a marketing tool to sell merch.

The Last Jedi begins with what seems like a large time jump after The Force Awakens. At the beginning of the new films the Empire is dead and the Republic is hunting down the last remnants of The First Order who are in hiding. At the end of the film you get the sense that The First Order are a threat to the Republic and have dealt a massive blow, but both sides are maybe on equal footing now in the battle to come. At the beginning of The Last Jedi it is more like the tiny resistance is trying to fight off an overwhelming force led by Commander Snoke. So what happened in between? Maybe I need to watch both movies again?

The writers also tried to do too much within the confines of one film. They did a great job of tying everything together, but it might have worked better if it had been broken up and parts of this film were used in the next one. Many times when writers do this you end up with parts feeling rushed or they just don’t make any sense (Batman v Superman). With The Last Jedi you get a feeling of it being rushed, but it is so awesome that you don’t really mind it too much.

Now I want to talk about the good stuff. The original trilogy of Star Wars was great because of the underdog nature of the films and the moments that they build up that cause you to watch with your mouth agape like HOLY SHHHH… Moments like the first time you see the Death Star blow up, Vader’s confession that he is Luke’s father, Vader turning on Emperor Palpatine. These moments were for the most part missing from the prequel films, although seeing Yoda fighting with Dooku was epic. The Last Jedi reminds us of why we love Star Wars, and it has several of those amazing moments that will stick with you. This is why The Last Jedi will be considered one of the very best Star Wars movies. I can’t wait to go see it again.

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Lady Bird

I went to see Lady Bird today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress. It seems like she is only getting better with each subsequent film. Lady Bird is a coming of age film that captures the angst and generational gap that we all feel at that age. The drama isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it is done very well. The biting sarcastic dialogue and relationships between the characters are what make the movie. It isn’t exceptionally great at any one thing, but it is good at nearly everything. The one thing that stuck with me about the film is that you cannot make anyone do what you want them to. They are going to do what they want to. It’s a theme that continues throughout the film and it rings true to life.

One of my writer friends asked an open question on Facebook asking how to build a story off an ending and a vague idea of a beginning. My answer was to develop the character in your head then figure out how their motivations would lead them toward that ending. The steps in a story become easier to write if you understand the motivations of your characters. Each one is going to do what they want regardless of what you (the writer) want them to do. If you force them to do something out of character then it will not feel authentic and your readers will notice.

Writing Update

I just got back from seeing The Disaster Artist film. What I found amazing about it was how ridiculous the story was, but then at the end you realize that the actors pretty much nailed the characters they were playing. The film is based on true events and proves that life can be stranger than fiction. I wasn’t expecting the film to be as good as it was, but was pleasantly surprised. Oh, I guess I should include a writing update here as well. Weeeee

Currently editing Virtual Wars: Running on Page 5 of 88

The Unknown


What are you afraid of? We are all afraid of something, ghosts, demons, being alone, heights, confetti, or perhaps dragons. Some of the things that are the most terrifying are the things we don’t understand, the unknown.

Why do we fear what we don’t understand? What is so terrifying about things that cannot be explained? Are we as a species so in need of control that we cannot simply let things be without explanation? Or is it something more primal?

I imagine that throughout the history of man there were many points where we came upon new things that caused us great harm for no reason we could explain. This fear of new things and change was passed down through the generations. Today leaving the comfort of what you have always know to venture out into a world that can be cold and uncaring seems like a terrifying prospect. Being forced into a new situation would be even more terrifying. We are all creatures of habit, and disrupting our routine is always stressful and can be scary.

In America fear is marketed on a large scale every day as if it is a major product. Changes that are very unlikely or impossible are marketed as being something that is certain to come in the very near future. Local news programs report on crime, murder, robbery, and then there is the truly terrifying reports of the weather. This can lead us to fear others and the decisions that they make. Those decisions are never going to be under our control, but could have a major impact on our lives, or deaths. We are primed for anything to startle us. Is the bump in the night the cat, or is it some monster hiding under our bed waiting for us to close our eyes? The doubt is what keeps night light makers in business.

This also makes Sci Fi and Fantasy such a natural match for horror stories as well. For everything we know there are a lot of things that we don’t understand. There are so many ways in which scientific experiments could go horribly wrong. Fantasy takes this several steps further into a fictional world where the physical laws are different. They allow for things like magic to exist. It could also allow for unimaginable horrors like Deadpool’s unicorn.

Life is special, but you have a better chance to win the lottery than the Earth does at being the only planet in existence to have life. Not knowing the form that life takes can make them terrifying. What if they are all sentient boogers? Can you imagine trying to talk with them? The same can be said of supernatural beings. Having some entity that is not visible speak or move objects is super creepy.

The unknown also pushes us to achieve great things. We strive to answer the questions we have and stamp out this fear of the unknown. Our curiosity can also lead to our doom. Just ask Marie Curie.

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Comic Writing


Welcome to my first blog post on the new website! There is a lot of debate on the Marvel vs DC cinematic universes, or as I like to call it “slap-boxing with pancakes!” Some prefer the light comedic action that Marvel brings to the table while others prefer the dark gritty films that DC has pelvic thrusted into theaters. One thing is for sure though, comic films have dominated at the box office in recent years. I wanted to take a look at each cinematic universe with an eye on writing. I’m not going to bring up films outside of their cinematic universes even though I really want to talk about Deadpool and how excited I am for the sequel.

Marvel

Marvel has put together a formula that works for its films. It goes something like Pi + Pie = OMG PIE. They have done most of it the right way even though they have the Hulk fumbles in his solo films, so they stopped giving him the ball. Ever since they came up with their phase 1 plan to build up to the Avengers movie, their cinematic universe has been all of the rainbow grenades and unicorn farts.

The biggest successes they have had because of fantastic writing and planning. They have build everything from the ground up. This gives us a rich history of interactions between the characters they can reference. The sibling rivalries Thor has with Loki and Hulk paid off huge in Thor: Ragnarok. The jokes all hit their mark because of that history which made Ragnarok the best of the Thor films. The tension built up between Captain America and Ironman began with the impromptu jazz dance battles they engage in going back to the first Avengers film. That led into the epic disco rap battle in Civil War that helped to introduce the next line of characters to have solo movies within the MCU like Black Panther, Spiderman, and Disco Man 2000.

The other thing that Marvel does extremely well is to build up their villains. Thanos is one of my favorite villains in all of the comics and I cannot wait for the next installment of The Avengers because I know Marvel will make it the awesome that I cannot wait for! My only hope is that they will be able to get the Silver Surfer into the film. I know it is not likely, but the Surfer is a huge part of the storyline in the comics and one of my favorite characters. The villains aren’t always the most epic, but they take the time to build them up just as much as the heroes. The depth of their backstory goes beyond the generic bad guy because bad guy.

The Marvel films follow a coherent storyline that doesn’t try to do too much or mislead you into a plot hole. The scripts have had enough comic relief to make you smile often while the heroes deal with their impossible tasks. They use the loose ends to tie the other movies together, so you feel the progression build up with each new volume added. The cameos from the other characters help as well. It makes for a neat bundle that is known as the MCU, and we know to expect all the weeeeeeeee when one of their films comes out.

DC

DC handed the reigns of their cinematic empire over to Zach Snyder beginning with Man of Steel. I think this was a mistake as Zach has been very good at making films that are flashy, but he is not much of a storyteller. That has proven to be true with his 2 lackluster efforts Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. The true dark and gritty tone began with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy that was so artistically fantastic that I cannot sing the praises enough. Please… don’t make me sing. It won’t be pretty. Unfortunately those do not qualify as part of the DC Cinematic Universe in the buildup toward Justice League.

DC has rushed to push their Justice League film without laying any of the ground work to build up the surrounding universe. The 2 precursor films being Batman vs Superman and Wonder Woman. Batman vs Superman was a mess of a movie where they tried to mash 5 different comic book stories into 1 mega comic story. That story was as awful as making an Abominable Snowman out of 5 different kinds of moldy mashed potatoes then eating it. They also wasted one of the iconic Superman villains by changing the origin, not building the villain up, and then killing him off with a stick.

Suicide Squad showed that they could make an entertaining film. They built up Harley Quinn to perfection in that film. The villain was good as well, but everything else ended up being a mangled mess. They had characters that they didn’t know what to do with who ended up having awkward one liners just to have something to say. The editing was shoddy and the story was kind of cobbled together like a kid forcing a jigsaw puzzle piece into a spot where it doesn’t fit. It was still mildly entertaining, but it could have been so much better.

Wonder Woman is where they finally started to put everything together. It is the best film of the DCU, but it still falls short of the Batman masterpieces that Christopher Nolan put together. Those films cast a shadow over the DCU showcasing what these newer films could be when placed in the right hands. Wonder Woman came the closest to reaching those heights. Justice League has cartoonish CGI in spots which is not something we expect from a big budget blockbuster type comic book film. Yet still it was a step in the right direction if you consider it as more of a sequel to Batman vs Superman instead of a progression from Wonder Woman. Justice League has a storyline that you don’t have to be on drugs to understand, but the tone is all over the place. It goes from quaint and charming to dark and serious. Justice League is like a bag of hard candy that tastes like chemical coated plastic until you get to the gooey center of chocolate goodness.

Conclusion

It’s easy to point at what DC has done wrong with their cinematic universe in contrast with Marvel. It isn’t a matter of liking light and comical films over dark and gritty films. It is a matter of enjoying films that have a coherent story over ones that make everyone want to throw things through the plot holes to see where they land. DC also needs to do a better job of developing their villains. So far their cinematic efforts have produced some of the most generic villains with little to no back story, and that is a major problem. It’s like having a bad paper cut when you have to slice 50 lemons. The heroes can only be as good as their villains, and that is what those in charge of DCU need to learn most from Marvel. They can be the dark and gritty behemoth of comic book films, but they need a good villain with a back story. The Christopher Nolan Batman films proved that it can be done. Either way I will be there to root for my favorite comic superheroes in both universes. The Marvel films are going to continue to have more success until Warner Brothers and DC can figure out how to properly harness their rich catalog of comic stories. Justice League, which is worth seeing, is suffering at the box office for these missteps leading up to it.

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Writing Update!

This is where I will be sharing news updates for upcoming events, writing updates, and other things to look forward to. Today’s update has me really excited. I have been working on the sequel for Virtual Wars: Initialization since last November, and I just finished the first draft. The first draft of Virtual Wars: Running weighs in at 50,064 words. To give you an idea of how long that is, Initialization was around 58,000 words in its final version. Now time for the super fun time known as Editing. Godzilla would be scared of editing. Just saying…