Thor, aliens, racists and elderly Japanese: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

THOR RAGNAROK (2017) has Thor no sooner expose Loki as having taken Dad’s place (at the end of Thor: The Dark World) than all of Asgard falls to the Odinsons’ elder sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), which results in Thor getting trapped into gladiatorial games on the world of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There’s some good stuff (the handling of Hulk, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) and Karl Urban makes a great Skurge (the character is so lightly scripted it’s entirely to Urban’s credit his dramatic arc is plausible), but there’s way, way too much comic relief (Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is played purely for laughs). And I don’t see any real excuse for the Dr. Strange scene other than to remind us they’re in the same universe. Art by Walt Simonson, all rights remain with current holder“Open communication has never been our family’s forte.”

ARRIVAL (2016) is the First Contact film in which linguist Amy Adams and physicist Jeremy Renner try to figure out how communicate with the recently arrived “heptapods” before someone panics and starts a shooting war. The stock opening reminded me too much of V but things picked up as it went along, enough I can forgive the weaknesses of the linguistics (I could spot some even before reading this article). Overall I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t regret waiting for streaming. “Sheena Easton had a hit song in all twelve cities in 1980.”

GET OUT (2017) probably shouldn’t have worked as it’s in many ways a conventional reworking of old horror tropes. However, the story of a young black man discovering meeting his new girlfriend’s family was a bad life decision is very well acted and raising black/white issues gives it a distinctive feel (no, they’re not targeting black victims for racist reasons, just because — oh look, a chicken!). It gets weaker at the gory end (and I can’t see how the protagonist pulled off his escape) but I’d much sooner have seen this in a theater than Arrival. Catherine Keener plays a sinister hypnotist. All rights to image remain with current holder. “I don’t think they’re a kinky sex family.”

TOKYO STORY (1953) shows that the problem of aging parents is apparently universal: A Japanese couple visit Tokyo to see their assorted children, only to have the kid fob the parents off on each other as much as possible and as cheaply as possible, with only their widowed daughter-in-law (who clings to her husband’s memory to an unhealthy degree) showing them genuine kindness. Slow-moving but no less effective for all that; I’m inclined to suggest I Never Sang For My Father as a movie tackling similar issues, though with a much less sympathetic older generation. “You see, even you are dissatisfied.”

Moving to TV, MARVEL’S INHUMANS wrapped up its eight-episode run earlier this week. While not as awful as some reviews paint it , it is very underwhelming: scheming Inhuman Maximus takes over the city of Attilan, sending the rest of the Inhuman royal family on the run (and presumably to slash costs, they shave Medusa so her living hair is off the table). After various adventures, they reunite to fight back against the usurper. Which certainly could work as a set-up but this just limps listlessly along. While not formally cancelled, it doesn’t seem anyone’s eager to give it a second chance. “That will always be my story — ‘he did so well, considering what he’s less than.’”

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Sometimes the good guys lose (#SFWApro)

Okay, one week of poor productivity isn’t comparable to being gunned down by Hydra agents, but it did give me an excuse to use this cool Jack Kirby cover (all rights remain with current holder).

Mostly it was a few more the thousand cuts I mentioned last week. Monday I went in for the MRA (like an MRA for artery) to check my small aneurysm hadn’t grown. Raleigh Radiology were awesome, getting me in and out lickety-split, but the drive was long, and that used up most of my morning before time for walkies.

This morning we had to get Trixie to the vet a little after 7am because some of her teeth are a mess so she’s getting a deep cleaning. I feel slightly nervous about having to put her under anesthetic for this so when I got up I spent most of the early morning snuggling and petting her (my body definitely feels stiff from my failure to stretch out, though).

We also have to add AdBlue to our diesel engine every so often (it helps keep down emissions — though given it’s a Volkswagen, that seems almost ironic)) and according to the Warning! on the dashboard the car will shut down if we don’t. While we have time (the amount we drive is small enough 400 miles isn’t a tight deadline) the constant Warning! didn’t turn off so I decided to take it in this morning, after dropping Trixie at the vet. That took a little more time, then I had a quick bit of shopping … so again, a lot of the morning got eaten up. In hindsight I rather wish I’d taken even more and donated blood — enough time has elapsed since my last donation I’m eligible again — but I wasn’t sure when TYG would absolutely have to have the car.

Since then we picked up Trixie, who is completely sacked out. At this point I’m pretty sure nothing but blogging will get done today. I’ll come up about a day short for writing hours this week.

So not much accomplished. My next Screen Rant is done (15 Things You Need to Know About Apokolips, to tie in with the Justice League movie), and I got some work done on Southern Discomfort, but that’s about it. And the latter didn’t go at all well this week. I had a tricky key moment in the plot and I while I eventually figured out how to progress, it took time. More generally my brain just didn’t seem to be plugged in. Oh, well, as I’ve mentioned before, sooner or later returning to the mean is inevitable.

It feels more frustrating though, because with Thanksgiving ahead, I’ll lose part of the next work week. Plus I’m once again doing some online articles for Leaf, which pay well but cut into the time for other writing (I was planning to do some today, but I don’t think I’ll make it). So Southern Discomfort, not to mention short stories such as Angels Hate This Man or Oh the Places You’ll Go! will get shorter shrift.

While I had been planning to take the day after Thanksgiving off, perhaps I’ll use it to catch up on fiction. But Trixie’s fine, and that’s the most important thing.

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If I could catch the ducks, I’d stop them nibbling me to death (#SFWApro)

I am once again falling behind on my non-writing to-do list.

This includes a variety of odds and ends I do around the house (clean, water plants, keep the bird feeder filled); arranging for contractors to fix things and assorted paperwork (reapplying for my pension from my previous employer). I’m doing fine with the stuff that has to be done, such as watering plants or arranging dog medical appointments but not so much the rest of it.

Normally my solution is to do a little thing each day, on morning tea break for example. Then that didn’t seem to be working for me, so I tried catching up on things in one big clump on the weekends. Only I found devoting a large chunk of time to that stuff unsatisfying.

So I thought hmm, maybe I just need a schedule adjustment: I’ll use my morning break to read, then do my task of the day in the evening (unless it involves calling people to make appointments, etc.) in part of my reading time.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked well so far. Monday I had to work late in the evening to ensure I finished this week’s Screen Rant. And if TYG gets home late, it’s harder to deal with paperwork while I’m still minding the dogs. So presto, I’m already behind my new schedule.

I’ll find a way to catch up eventually, but right now it’s very frustrating as crap remains uncompleted.

Cover by Al Plastino, all rights remain with current holder.

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Becoming un-Moored (ROFL)

So Monday I mentioned the women who claim lying theocrat Roy Moore hit on them when they were underage, and that some Republicans were defending him (better a pedophile for senator than a Democrat, and no I’m not kidding). Since then the ground has shifted so rapidly it’s worth some more links:

The American Family Association and other religious conservatives still support Moore. AFA official Sandy Rios brushed off the charges on the grounds there isn’t a man who “doesn’t have something in his past, in his box of secrets, that he’s ashamed of sexually?” Particularly since the 1960s when all that evil free love started subverting godly behavior (we’ll just ignore that for some Christians the age difference is very godly). Of course this kind of open-mindedness never applied when Bill Clinton cheated, even though he acknowledged his sin and asked for forgiveness — precisely what Christians are supposed to do. Somehow sins can only be washed away for Republicans like Moore and Newt Gingrich.

Likewise, Fox News Jeanine Pirro has done a complete 180 on whether old sex-crime charges are important: she used to think so but in Moore’s case hey, it was 30 years ago, forget about it okay?

Several Alabama churches that supposedly came out in support of Moore say he’s lying about that (their endorsements predated the current scandal). Others stand firm.

And the charges keep coming. That Moore was banned from a local mall for chasing teenage girls. A woman says she was 16 when Moore tried to rape her. Moore makes the claim he never dated any young girls without their mothers’ permission, which for some conservative Christians probably sounds reasonable.

Some conservative pundits (though not all) are declaring Moore damaged goods. Ross Douthat has condemned him and discussed how male-dominated churches must hold men accountable — though as Echidne points out, that’s not practical. I suspect Roy Edroso is right: it’s one thing for a right-wing Christian polemicist like Rios to stand by Moore, but an NYT columnist like Douthat has to look good to the mainstream audience. In the current debate over harassment and predation, that makes supporting someone like Moore a career risk.

One writer at the ever-vapid Federalist is worried enough about the big picture to resort to the old stand-by: Moore isn’t a conservative. Moore ignored higher court decisions (ordering judges not to issue marriage licenses to gays, even after the Obergefell decision, for instance) which violates the law and no conservative would do that. Of course the same writer (as noted at the link) had no problem with that in an earlier article, describing Moore’s defiance of the law as proving him an “anti-establishment conservative,” the kind we need more of in Congress!

More generally, lots of conservatives support Moore’s actions and those by other anti-gay officials. Large numbers of religious conservatives have embraced him as their champion. Would The Federalist claim all those people are anti-conservative? If not, just what makes more not one any more?

Will any of this make a difference to Alabama voters? Will they decide it’s all a conspiracy by the Washington Post? As a former Bible Belt resident, I suspect they’ll vote for the “godly” Moore (who apparently retro-opposes the civil rights movement) — what does a little assault matter compared to fighting against the Homosexual Agenda? That’s why Rios claims an attack on Moore is an attack on Christianity.

But I have slightly more hope than Monday that I’m wrong. And being wrong would be good. While I’ve heard arguments Moore in the Senate would just make Republicans look worse, I think the risk of legitimizing or normalizing his extreme views is much worse. Better he stay out of DC.

Fingers crossed.

 

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Is Our Writer’s Learning? Merlin’s Ring (#SFWApro)

Once again, none of the books I’ve read recently with an eye to Is Our Writer’s Learning worked for one reason or another. So once again I’m bending the rules to include an older book, H. Warner’s Munn’s 1970s fantasy Merlin’s Ring, with that striking cover by Gervasio Gallardo (all rights remain with current holder). If you think it jumbles a lot of elements together, well there’s a reason for that. Incidentally this is the last of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy books I’ve been reading over the last few years.

The story: This sequel to Merlin’s Godson has the eponymous Gwalchmai thawed out of the suspended animation by his Atlantean lover, Corenice (he’s immortal from an elixir, she’s immortal by being a disembodied spirit). They face the dual challenges of a)being together even though she can only take physical form by possessing other bodies and b)fulfilling Gwalchmai’s mission to tell Rome, or some suitable Christian monarch, of the existence of North America so they can colonize it. On top of which, Merlin’s spirit keeps adding other missions, such as delivering Excalibur to Arthur’s crypt for the day the king reawakens. The quests take Gwalchmai and Corenice from Iceland to Stonehenge to Faerie, east to China and Japan, then back to France to ally with Joan of Arc.

WHAT I LEARNED:

What’s unquestioned in one era looks real bad in another. Just as Merlin’s Godson suffered from the white savior trope, here we have an unquestioned embrace of colonialism. Even after learning that Rome has fallen to barbarians, the possibility of not encouraging Europe to colonize America never occurs to Gwalchmai (or, presumably Munn). In one part of the novel, Gwalchmai is involved in China’s plans to invade Japan. He comes to realize that the invasion is wrong and switches sides. There’s never a similar consideration regarding North America. Even when this came out, there was enough criticism of Columbus, it wouldn’t have been that radical to consider it.

On the other hand, I do like the couple’s repeated decisions to send various oppressed people (pacifist monks, Welsh refugees) west to find refuge beyond the reach of their enemies. Yes, it’s still colonialism, but the escape-from-oppression aspect makes it palatable at least to me.

Details are cool, even if not everyone gets them. One of the things I’ve noticed writing historical fantasy is that some details, even if I enjoy including them, probably won’t mean anything to someone who hasn’t read as much history. But if they’re good details, I think they’re worth including anyway. Apparently Munn does too as he throws in a lot of them. Most notably (for me) he has a reference to Prince Madoc, the Welsh nobleman who supposedly founded a colony on the Gulf of Mexico (this was a key point in Excalibur). I’m guessing most readers won’t guess this element has any basis in quasi-history, but it doesn’t hurt the book and it adds something for anyone who spots it.

Orson Scott Card was right. I’ve mentioned several times before that I’m a fan of Orson Scott Card’s story-types approach: Whether you start your story as a mystery, a character study, a thriller, etc., that’s how it should end. Merlin’s Ring is a good example.

This novel sprawls all over the map. It spans 600 years, multiple location and follows lots of side alleys: Joan’s fight against England, the fate of Roland’s sword, a quest for Prester John. At times it spirals out of control — I could probably have done with less of Joan, for instance. But what keeps it coherent is that the heart of the book is Gwalchmai/Corenice. The book opens with her reviving him and ends with them united in spirit forever. In between, their love is what keeps the story going, no matter where the plot leads us. It’s probably the strongest core Munn could have chosen.

We’ll see if next month I can find something more recent.

 

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Wonder Woman: So nice, she reboots twice! (#SFWApro)

In my last Wonder Woman post I predicted it would be a while before my next rereading post. But the issues launching the next soft reboot parallel the Greg Rucka/Liam Sharp Rebirth TPB The Truth so I figured I’d combine them in one post.

After exposing Morgan Tracy as the Master Planner, Gerry Conway’s follow-up issue (cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, all rights remain with current holder) has Diana trying to get back to normal. However the unceasing violence of Man’s World is getting to her, as is the police inability to lock up bad people (because Miranda rights! Fourth amendments! Obviously guilty criminals getting off!). And learning Tracy arranged Steve’s death just rubs that wound raw. So Diana returns to Paradise Island, thinking maybe she’ll stay for good. Hippolyta decides the best way to make her daughter happy is to erase her memories of Steve (not the first time she’s mucked with Diana’s memories).

Everything is fine, but after a couple of issues dealing with extradimensional intelligences mistakenly thinking the Amazons are a threat, a plane crashes on Paradise Island. The pilot? Steve Trevor.

Diana doesn’t remember him, though she’s conscious she feels astonishingly attracted to him almost at once. A bewildered Hippolyta goes to ask Aphrodite who explains that this Steve Trevor is a parallel world version whose plane crashed through the dimensional barriers into our world (and there’s no way to figure out where his home Earth is). Aphrodite concludes that destiny is clearly a Diana/Steve ‘shipper, so there’s no point in fighting it. Instead, she magically erases the world’s memory of Steve Trevor’s death so that this Steve can take up his counterpart’s life unawares. Once again the Amazons hold a tournament to decide who will accompany Steve back to Man’s World; while reluctant to leave, Diana is obligated to compete and finally accepts she can’t let her fears hold her back. She and Steve head off to the US together.

This, of course, is close to Robert Kanigher’s late-Silver Age reboot, but that suffered from lack of clarity — was it a complete reboot? Set back in the 1940s? Or what? Here readers know exactly why the book is redoing the origin. In the same retro spirit, Diana would go on to become a military intelligence officer alongside Steve in subsequent issues—I haven’t read ’em yet but I remember them. Apparently it was a successful move as this reboot lasted close to sixty issues — nothing since they dropped that set-up has done that well.

I only wish The Truth had been as good a reboot. Capping off Rucka’s first two volumes, this finishes retconning the New 52 Wonder Woman away.

 

SPOILERS BELOW!!!

 

It turns out that Ares is imprisoned on Themiscyra to prevent him destroying the world with war madness; the Amazons are there to guard him. If Diana ever returned home, that would give a road map to Ares’ sons Deimos and Phobos, who could then free him and drown the world in blood. To prevent that, all her trips back to the island have been imaginary (presumably so have all her New 52 Olympian adventures). Now that she knows she’s exiled from Themiscyra forever, she starts over with Steve, and the story ends with them exhausted in bed after making love.

As I said after reading Rucka’s first two TPBs, I really like his handling of Diana, I just don’t like the story he’s telling. This could have been wrapped up in two or three issues instead of seven — did we really need the two issues were Diana was locked up in an asylum believing her mind has snapped? And wouldn’t it just have been easier for the Amazons to tell Di she could never return home than play these games? I know, that’s par for the course in retcons and reboots, but much as I disliked the New 52 WW, this didn’t work for me. And unlike Conway’s, it doesn’t look like this is leading anywhere good: the current arc is focused on the Twin Brother We Never Knew Diana Had and Grail, Darkseid’s Amazon daughter. As they were both introduced by Geoff Johns in his Darkseid War arc in Justice League, I wonder if the current writer picked them or Johns’ standing at DC means they must be treated as the next big thing. I imagine I’ll find out when the library gets the TPBs.

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Conservative nostalgia is a dangerous delusion

So Kevin Sorbo’s wife Sam Sorbo has an editorial on Fox News (not linking to it) recycling the time-honored conservative/religious right about how America has lost its moral compass: “American society used to be governed by Judeo-Christian do-unto-others morals. But we have drifted (been pushed, really) into a hedonistic YOLO (You Only Live Once) cultural morass. The upshot of this is a distinct lack of respect for human life in general, as well as a pervasive, insidious obsession with self.” And go figure, her primary examples are not billionaires demanding the biggest tax cuts but Clinton supposedly selling U.S. uranium to Russia and football players protesting police-on-black violence.

Fantasies of some golden age when everyone was moral, kids respected their elders and we could leave our doors unlocked probably go back as long as we’ve had doors. The trouble is, Sorbo, like a lot of religious conservatives, wants us to believe it’s true (and may believe it herself). It’s not. “Judeo-Christian do-unto-others morals” (I always interpret “Judeo-Christian” as “Christian but we don’t want to sound bigoted”) didn’t do anything to stop the hundreds of blacks lynched in the South under Jim Crow — white evangelical churches were strongly against integration and civil rights (that was Jerry Falwell’s big political issue for years). Conservative Christianity was on the wrong side of the women’s rights movement, then on the gay rights movement. Some members are against any religion but their own having First Amendment rights. The idea that we’re in some moral cesspool because we don’t follow Ms. Sorbo’s view of God is just crapola.

Case in point, Bible-thumping theocrat Roy Moore has now been accused of hitting on and getting physical (though not actual presentation) with girls as young as 14 (oh, here are his past views on rape and child abuse). I will be astonished if it makes a difference because a lot of voters in the Bible Belt define “Christian” as anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-liberal, and Moore fits the bill nicely. One voter has declared it’s better to vote for a pedophile than a Democrat because he hates Democrats and thinks they’re evil (a view he apparently does not hold of pedophiles).

Sean Hannity’s interview with Moore apparently left some pundits convinced he’s guilty.  But it’s unlikely any Republican pols will do anything to oppose Moore but wring their hands.

I blogged a while back about allegations Eddie Berganza at DC Comics was a sexual harasser. Buzzfeed presents the words of several women who say yes, he was.

Putin says Russia didn’t meddle in the 2016 election. Trump is very, very upset that people don’t believe him — it might hurt Putin’s feelings.

Trump might not build a border wall or repeal Obamacare, but he’s sure as hell getting right-wing judges appointed to the bench.

Trump thinks a primary argument for passing Republican tax cuts is that he’ll pay a lot without them.

Apparently the UK finds Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity violate broadcast standards for news shows.

A member of the sexist Proud Boys movement thinks trans candidates only won because women have the vote and women vote based on feelings. In contrast, presumably to his loathing for transsexuals which I’m sure he imagines is totally logical.

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