Shot by the Bat Merch Gun

If there is one thing that Facebook’s “Memories” function does – besides reminding you of dead friends and beloved pets – is allow you to discern patterns in your life. For me, that’s an unneeded reminder that this time of year is crazy for me.

For example.

Despite the fact that I didn’t go into education like a lot of people thought I would – I always say that it’s because I’m not allowed to shoot a student on the first day to show the others I mean business – my life is nonetheless tied into the academic life cycle. Some people marry into The Church. I married into The School. Besides prepping the technical aspects of the graduation ceremony for my wife’s school, I’m also running audio support for seemingly endless School Board meetings for my Day Job (ironically in the evenings).

This hasn’t left a whole lot of time for watching movies. And what time there was got stolen away by that devil TV. Holy cow, who knew, right? I’ve spent years not visiting the Glass Teat, and here I am sucking down The Expanse and American Gods. Twin Peaks’ first episodes sit on the DVR, and I have no earthly idea when I am going to get the hours together to watch them. I’ve seen David Lynch’s last three movies, and I am not expecting the funhouse mirror of daytime TV that was the first go-round. I am expecting something stranger and darker, and downright weirder. That’s not something I’m going to try to take in a half hour here, a few minutes there. As Dale Cooper once said, you must always pay attention.

But dammit, I managed to watch The Lego Batman Movie, and by God in just the first ten minutes it kicks the living hell out of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. The Lego Movie was a surprise for me back in 2014, and that flick’s meta humor is bat-kicked up to 11 in Lego Batman. I don’t think you have to be a fanboy who’s experienced every single iteration of the character to enjoy the movie, but that certainly enhances it.

Lego Batman does unfortunately preserve a shortcoming of its predecessor in that it feels the need to inject some seriousness in its second half, though that doesn’t annoy me near as much this time – the tone shift isn’t near as drastic. I am also prone to be more forgiving to a movie that not only gives me an Egghead cameo, but also finally allows Billy Dee Williams to play Two-Face, as God and Tim Burton intended.

Yes, you’re right – I am being deliberately coy about the plot. That is because there is so much joy to be found in discovery in this flick, and I want you to have that joy for yourself.

Also, my time is very limited this week, as mentioned earlier. I look forward to some breathing room next week. Then, holy crap, I will likely be braving the scourge of my fellow man (oooh how I despise them) to go to an actual theater to see Wonder Woman (as you may have noticed in the verbiage above, I’ve felt burned by DC movies thus far, but hopes springs eternal and dammit, it’s Diana!), and I am feeling the uncomfortable urge to spring for the 3-D version of Valerian. What have I become?

See you later, fellow nerds.

Buy The Lego Batman Movie on Amazon

I mean look at this, there are colors besides blue and grey in it.

OMG OMG OMG

Can You Put Time on an Amazon Wishlist?

There is a confluence of unrelated incidents mucking around with my life right now, and amazingly, most of them are unrelated to the current administration freakshow.

The first is my recent vacation. With no obligations (past a couple of last-minute “hey can you do this tomorrow” gig offers while I was on the road, thanks guys), I watched a bunch of movies on the laptop. So I had a movie hangover when I returned to reality. I find I can’t concentrate on anything longer than the average TV episode, which these days is 40 minutes.

(There was also a severe lack of internet that week. I found one shop with wi-fi who graciously shared their password, which allowed me to clear out e-mail and find out that a company that had responded to my constant resume-sending had noticed my age and would not be pursuing our relationship any further. Again, thanks guys)

Not that I have the time to watch movies. My day job (still part time) insists on getting everything tightly scheduled out to the end of the season; I understand the need, I just resent the constant pressure that engenders. I can only reasonably handle my life one week at a time. It feels like I finally figured out how to juggle five balls at once and my instructor just tossed balls 6, 7 and 8 into the pattern. I’ve picked up some extra meetings – and when I asked the Universe for opportunities to make more money, I did not mean by spending more of my time listening to bureaucrats and politicians bloviate. Two evenings of every week must be reserved for The Show, which is a vital supplement to that part-time job. Please excuse all typos, I’m trying to get this posted before I head to tonight’s show.

The Daily Grindhouse Podcast is a going thing again. And – this is a personal failing, I feel – I find talking about movies easier than writing about them, so why write? It’s certainly faster – an hour or two of my time as opposed to eight to twelve hours crafting a typical column here. We’re casting our nets wider this time, so I find myself watching two or three movies for each episode. Then I come here and stare at a blank page because I haven’t watched anything else. There is a lengthy diatribe I am working on, but that means I have to have a suitable chunk of time to work on it.

Arrow Video was nice enough to send me screeners for their new Arrow Academy line, and I have got to get on those sooner rather than later. In my copious free time.

This besides the other meetings that people call me up for, wanting to pick my brains. Sometimes I even get lunch out of it.

Sleep factors in there somewhere. I’m told.

Better times and content next week, I hope.

 

 

 

Yay, the First Rant of the Year

There is a point somewhere in this post, and I’ll get to it eventually. but first we are going to have to visit an old friend.

battle_of_dragonsWay back in the days of The Bad Movie Report, I reviewed The Magic Serpent, which prompted several “This movie isn’t that bad” e-mails (You may have noticed I’ve moved to much less specific branding in my golden years). It was an AIP-TV import I had first encountered when somebody who was programming Kung Fu Theatre either didn’t know or didn’t care that this wasn’t their typical Chinese chop-socky material. Optimist that I am, I hope that whoever got stuck running control on that weekend thought, “Screw it, I want to see this,” and slapped it in.

The Magic Serpent is not even remotely a martial arts movie; it’s an action fantasy fairy tale, and in these modern times it is possible to track down the movie in its original widescreen format and language, which is when you discover that its real title is Battle of the Dragons. Given that one of the dragons is a fire-breathing toad, you can easily visualize some polyester suit in a projection room grumbling “Dat ain’t no dragon! Dat’s a toad!” and changing the title on behalf of us poor, easily confused Americans.

Basically, villainous Yuuki Daijo (Amatsu Bin) kills the virtuous Lord Ogata with the aid of evil wizard-type Orochi-Maru (Otomo Ryutaro), and takes over his kingdom. Ogata’s son Ikazuchi (Matsukata Hiroki) is rescued by the wizard Dojin (Kaneko Nobuo) and trained to one day return to his rightful position. Naturally, Orochi-Maru was Dojin’s former student gone bad, and he returns to kill his old master and Ikazuchi, succeeding with the former, but not the latter. Ikazuchi will be joined in his quest by a young lady named Sunate (Ogawa Tomoko), who is looking for her long-lost father, and I’m sure you’ve already figured out who that is.

tmserp00010It’s a fun movie. What really attracted me in the first place is its desire to wow the viewer with its fantasy elements, using 1966 technology. Flying people? Don’t use wires, use rear projection. When Ikazuchi wins a fight by getting his head cut off (really) we get to see some really bad matte lines.

There’s lots of camera trickery involving still photos and double exposure, tricks that were being employed up into the 90s. By the time we get to the final battle, between Ikazuchi’s fire-breathing giant toad and Orochi-Maru’s water-breathing dragon, we’re at least into more familiar FX ground, guys in rubber suits trashing miniature buildings. Here’s the TV version:

These are all things critics will decry as “cheesy special effects”. But I was thrilled that Toei even attempted to do something like this, and my thoughts were, “Man, if only the technology and budget were better…”

Well, now it’s 50 years later (like it or not), the technology and budgets are better, and people are still bitching about “cheesy special effects”, even if the FX guys who worked on Battle of the Dragons would have given certain body parts to achieve even one second of what is on display in our next offering, 2016’s League of Gods.

league-of-gods-posterLeague of Gods is based on yet another million-page 16th century novel, The Investiture of the Gods. Like its better-known (in the West, anyway) brother, Journey to the West, it is a work of shenmo, or “gods and demons” literature, and after the success of several Monkey King movies, it was likely thought that a big budget, FX-heavy movie version was a good bet.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Investiture of the Gods, it is a “romanticised retelling of the overthrow of King Zhòu, the last ruler of the Shang dynasty“. If the accepted author of the novel, Xu Zhonglin, were able to watch this movie, he would claim his version was absolutely realistic in comparison. Now, the Shang Dynasty fell in 1046 BC, but accept that the first image you will see is a flyover of the land, showing mystic floating warships besieging Lord of the Rings-style walled cities. (You’re also going to find out that there are three suns, so there’s a distinct possibility we are not in Kansas anymore).

As in the novel, King Zhou (Tony Leung!) seems unduly influenced by his concubine, Daji (Fan Bingbing) who is in reality the demon Nine-Tailed Fox. In the novel, her true identity was masked from Zhou, but here she is quite open about it, since we will eventually find out that Zhou, as a child king, was so obsessed with owning the world that he allowed himself to be possessed by the Black Dragon. Of a piece with those strange floating warships is Daji’s tails, which seemed to have been made by an ancestor of Dr. Otto Octavius, all sinuous segmented metal, with an eye and rows of teeth at the end.

9tail-foxThen we meet some of our heroes from the opposing city of Xiqi, Lei (Jacky Heung), the last mystic warrior of the Wing Tribe, and Xiqi’s prince Ji Fa (Andy On), riding with their soldiers in a cart drawn by rhinosceri. Their goal is to rescue the last members of another mystic tribe Zhou is attempting to exterminate, The Invisibles. This group of Xiqi guerillas is visited by the wizard Jiang (Jet Li!), who tells them that when the three suns converge, the Black Dragon will descend, causing an era of darkness for the next 18,000 years – and only the Grand Elder of the Invisible Tribe knows how to kill the Black Dragon.

Dudes, this is all in the first seven minutes of the movie. Try to keep up.

vlcsnap-2017-01-11-23h45m27s223Of course, the rescue attempt doesn’t go as planned, winding up in a battle between Jiang and the Nine-Tailed Fox, with the Grand Elder of the Invisibles sacrificing himself so Jiang and the rest can escape – though Jiang is hit with “reverse aging” curse, so that every time he uses his powers, he gets younger. One of the Elder’s eyes holds the secret, though: The Sword of Light must be found, so Lei heads out on a pilgrimage of discovery and hope. Jiang gives him three bags that he will need on his journey, and here is where the movie will lose a lot of people.

Their first alarm bell is going to go off when Jiang summons the first of Lei’s companions from the Pool of Light, and it turns out to be Naza, a greedy magical waif who is also totally CGI. The first bag is for Lei himself, and it contains a magical plant, onion-headed, cyclopic and one of the poorest examples of CGI in the movie. Well, not that poor, I guess, but the choice was made somewhere to make it deliberately cartoonish, which leads to a sequence involving Lei, Naza, the plant and a giant desert centipede which would not be out of place in a Looney Tune.

vlcsnap-2017-01-15-16h44m06s003The second bag is a undersea dragon prince that Naza once kidnapped from his kingdom, and though Naza likes to torment him, he can also breathe a gas at the CGI runt that puts him to sleep and turns him into an adult (the always-welcome Wen Zhang). The second encounter is with a geomancy-hurling warrior named Yang Jian (Huang Xiaoming), the third bag being his long-lost dog, Sky Howler. Naza keeps whinging about his lost fire wheels, Jian splits to find his golden armor, and Lei continues to look for the Sword of Light. Complicating matters is that the villainous General Panther (Louis Koo!) has animated a life-size marionette (Angelababy) to spy on Lei. Panther steals her memory every sunrise, giving Lei an opportunity to help her retain her memory, and thus get this spy on his side.

Naza takes an extended side trip to that undersea kingdom (he’s a CGI baby again at this point), where he once more takes on the undersea kingdom, which is aching for a return match (and the King wants his son back, too). If you made it past the CGI Weed and the Wile E. Coyote Desert Centipede chase, this is the second place where the movie might lose you, played for extremely broad comedy. The breaking point might be where Naza pulls out his ultimate attacks, which involve a near-infinite stream of piss and literally explosive farts. It’s another sequence for the kids in the audience. Be patient, it will soon be over.

vlcsnap-2017-01-11-23h41m42s914All roads lead to Xiqi, as it were; Lei finds the Sword of Light, meets up with Naza and Jian (who both have grudges against Nine-tailed Fox and are spoiling for a fight) as the three suns are beginning to converge, and Zhou’s warships are descending on Xiqi. At this point, Jiang, in attempting to defend his city, has used so much power and gotten so young he forgets all his magic. Big battle scene, especially when the fallen General Panther is resurrected by Fox as a gigantic Macfarlane action figure, and our three superpowered warriors must take him on.

I look at this scene and I think, I would have totally bought those action figures.

vlcsnap-2017-01-11-23h46m36s474Ji Fa activates the power of the Sword of Light, becoming the Golden Dragon, and now it’s time to take the battle to King Zhou!

And then the movie ends.

Or, actually, there is a Marvel-style fancy credit sequence, then a Marvel-style teaser scene, then the final credits.

The first thing I did after the cliffhanger end was to visit IMDb and assure myself that there was a sequel coming – that end, straight out of the Desolation of Smaug playbook, certainly pointed toward it. And that’s when I started seeing the opinions of my fellow amateur critics. The complaining about the CGI. The guy who saw Jet Li had star billing, and was disappointed there was no punchity-punch. This is the guy who in those pre-Internet days would have called up the UHF station during The Magic Serpent to demand they should have run The Master Killer for the third time that month instead.

nazaLeague of Gods has its flaws, but a lack of action is not one of them. If you’re allergic to CGI, stay away – I doubt there is one frame in this movie that is 100% real. It may be one of the most West-friendly Chinese action movies I’ve seen in a while, from the Marvel flourishes to plentiful use of bullet time effects (and I love bullet time). It’s the comedy sections that are going to put your typical action movie bro off. “Oh fuck, it’s Jar Jar, and this time he’s a baby!”

In my About page, I lay out my movie watching philosophy, and it’s pretty simple.

Now, I have a very simple approach to movies. The movie presumes to entertain me, and I agree to be entertained. I don’t necessarily need to be edified, or educated, or uplifted; if those happen, that’s gravy, I appreciate that. But honestly, that’s all I ask: to be entertained. To be taken somewhere else for a while. That’s all. It’s not hard.

I find movies like this, the Monkey King movies, and Jupiter Ascending tremendously entertaining. The so-called “peak visual” movies. These are artistic visions, layered onto the screen, depicting other worlds and possibilities. That we have managed to come to this point technically is astounding and satisfying. There is a reason I chose these two movies for a compare-and-contrast. Motion picture technology has come this far in my lifetime. I won’t be able to see what’s possible in 50 more, but that’s exciting to contemplate. What hasn’t changed in 50 years is people’s attitudes toward these movies. That a scene that doesn’t live up to expectations taints the entire movie. And that dissatisfaction with a movie is somehow equal to the heat death of the universe.

If you don’t like these movies, that’s okay. There plenty of other movies out there for you. But don’t come round here trying to tell me they’re the worst movies ever made. That’s stupid, and only shows you haven’t seen near enough movies.

This is where I’d normally tell you to put some pennies in my pocket
at Amazon to buy the movies, but I guess we just

can’t have nice things.

The Son of Bad Movie Report

It feels so much better to be typing on a full keyboard again. That tiny Anker bluetooth keyboard I use with the iPad mini on the road is nice to have in a pinch – but it’s surprisingly slow, even given my middling typing speed. I’m happier using it to edit a post already largely written, not creating from scratch. So now that I’m back in my comfort zone in many ways, let’s see if I can recall what I meant to write about but didn’t in my post-lengthy-drive haze.

The first thing will be best prefaced by what happened after my return, namely this tweet:

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-45-36-am

Yeah, this is the sort of insipid crap I put up on my Twitter, and probably the reason I will never have a Patreon. This was followed by the equally risible

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-44-17-am

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-55-48-am

Mort knows better, of course, but this is how Internet rumors get started, so I’d better quash this before I find myself in some sort of faux Joan/Christina kerfuffle. Of course he knows about Forever Evil. He grew up in a house with a framed movie poster in his living room. He’s just never seen it, probably at his mother’s insistence more than mine. I think she was trying to cover his eyes during the scary parts of movies up into his teens.

But he’s 18 now, and can watch whatever he wants. To his credit, he asked to watch The Seven Samurai before heading out to college last summer. But then, while he was home this Christmas, he let slip that this existed. And Ol’ Dad still knows a thing or two about finding stuff on the Interwebs:

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-11-03-37-am

Truthfully, I would expect no less from my son. Except that right after the slip, he mentioned “Some Mexican movie with a werewolf” and I asked if it starred Lon Chaney Jr. and he replied “I don’t really know actors” and I disowned him. Also, he seems to be unattracted to kung fu movies, so there is obviously no relation to me whatsoever.

Well, I couldn’t let this guy claiming to be my son go back to college with just his Christmas swag (which was considerable), so I burned him a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special to inflict on his friends. Then I realized I had been given a ton of blank DVDs in spite of the fact that I don’t use them a heck of a lot anymore, and a lot of burning of horrific stuff in my collection ensued. I felt this was a necessary thing for the son of the guy who used to write The Bad Movie Report. So I had apparently forgiven him his transgressions by that point.

The only thing he specifically asked for was Theodore Rex – for which I will eternally blame Chris Holland. Max used to be able to use YouTube to torment people with it, but benevolent powers the forces of evil scrubbed it from there and practically everywhere else on the Interwebs. But as I said, Dad is pretty good at finding stuff. In case you’ve been lucky enough to miss the most expensive movie ever to be released straight to video:

That was the point at which things started getting crazy, because I realized the kid only thinks he’s seen bad. So Science Crazed and Things went into the box, as did our new pal The Rider of the Skulls. There was a whole substratum of bad kiddie movies he had not experienced – Red Riding Hood and the Monsters, the New Orleans Worst Film Festival “favorite”, Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue (which Krull totally ripped off, in my estimation) (well, except for this scene:)

And I found a copy of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny at archive.org, God help us all. That’s like finding a rusty nail-festooned ball of plutonium nestled among dog-eared copies of Architecture Today. I had been asked if I was doing the RiffTrax version of it and The Holiday Special, but no. 2016 had made me hard. If these kids are ever going to survive, they have to learn to build their own riffs, like me and mine used to do back in the day, begorrah.

And yes, I also made sure he had his own copy of Forever Evil, making sure it also had the audio commentary made by myself and director Roger Evans. I did this in the spirit of hoping he learns from my mistakes, and does not try to duplicate them.

I’ve tried to continue past that last sentence, but the result is lacking; it seems a perfect sentiment to end upon. A hopeful thought for this New Year, despite all my suspicions to the contrary. Happy New Year to all, and be excellent to each other.

And please God, let those movies be the worst thing that happens to my boy this year.

Getting Bookish

Well, this past month has been rather trying, hasn’t it?

In the Top 3 for the Google Image Search "This Year Sucks".

In the Top 3 for the Google Image Search “This Year Sucks”.

Oh, all right, this entire year thus far isn’t going to win any Good Citizenship Awards, but that’s speaking on a national, nay, global level. I’m actually just talking about the only level that I can speak on with any authority whatsoever, and that is the personal level.

My son turned 18 this year. He graduated high school as the Valedictorian. He is attending a good college in August on an academic scholarship. All these are awesome achievements for a kid the regular school establishment wanted held back for a year and more because of his dyslexia. I am justifiably proud of him. I also had to track down music and make a synchronized slide show for him and his graduating class. Of eight.

Oh yeah, he’s the reason my wife created a private school for children with learning disabilities. That’s eight kids who would have dropped through the cracks. Eight kids who might not have graduated high school at all. Several of them, like my son, are going to some pretty high-powered colleges. On academic scholarships.

This is because my wife is awesome.

Any achievement I want to claim for myself looks pretty paltry after that, but it’s all I got. I did pull some remarkable stuff – for me, anyway – while I wasn’t scanning photos and cursing the vagaries of projection systems. The Great Villain Blogathon, which necessitated watching and writing up six movies. The Blood Bath Box Set, which required watching four even though all four were basically the same movie.

In the Top 3 Google Image Search for "Me and Everybody I Know".

In the Top 3 Google Image Search for “Me and Everybody I Know”.

Now here we are in Summer, and I find myself in the financial doldrums as I cast about for another writing contract or another part-time job or gee maybe a full-time job whattaya think are the chances I’m only 59 years old. Some things have to give. One of those was the overpriced-yet-still-somehow-unreliable-anyway home broadband.

My son thinks it’s the end of the world. Too much of his beloved gaming requires the Internet. This is cold turkey before you head off to college, my boy, I tell him. It will hurt less when you head off to Academic Land. He doesn’t believe me. Neither do I, really.

The book cover that glared at me from the Science Fiction Book Club flyers forever.

The book cover that glared at me from the Science Fiction Book Club flyers forever.

Watching ten movies (and that’s not counting the five at the last Crapfest) in a rush has taken the blush off the rose of movie-watching. So I’ve been using the time which was normally spent being distracted by social media to re-visit my older passion, reading. I’ve read something like nine books in the past week. This is, really, something I should have been doing all along but there wasn’t time. I was too busy being distracted. How could I call myself a science fiction fan when I’d never read isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy? I’ll probably finish that this evening. I’m enjoying it but I’m surprised that an acknowledged classic breaks so many rules; almost all the action takes place offstage, in defiance of everything I’ve ever been told. It is a tale composed of conversations, literally a story of ideas.

This brings us to the odd announcement that next week will probably be a book review. Oh, don’t look at me like that, it’s a book about movies, and it’s been quite interesting. But it’s also so dense I’ve only managed a chapter a night.

Hey, Alex Proyas! Whatever happened to this movie?

Hey, Alex Proyas! Whatever happened to this movie?

It turns out that over the years I’ve squirreled away a ton of e-books on my hard drive, and it’s pretty satisfying to finally give those the once-over. The aforementioned Foundation Trilogy. Finally read Harry Harrison’s Deathworld. I’d read Robert Heinlein’s The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag in my youth, and didn’t remember the first thing about it (I now realize there was a reason for that). I’ve read several of Basil Copper’s Sherlock Holmes pastiches about Solar Pons (a name which, while unlikely, has the appropriate number of syllables), who is even more of a condescending dick than Holmes, and I find the mysteries are rather transparent when they aren’t outright copies of other writers. Yet I cannot stop reading the things. They are the damned Pringles of detective fiction.

Back when Remo looked like Daniel Craig.

Back when Remo looked like Daniel Craig.

And most surprisingly, I have a number of The Destroyer novels, or as you might better know them, the basis for Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. About the time I ran out of Doc Savage novels in my teen years, these came along, like The Executioner but with kung fu and ridiculous 70s casual sex and even more ridiculous 70s casual racism. These were always very fast reads, and I re-read the first three in the same number of non-consecutive nights. The most amazing thing to me is that it took the writing team of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy three outings to realize how essential the character of Chiun, the aged Korean master assassin, was to the success of the series. How when he was promoted from a background character to a full partner, the odd master/pupil father/son dynamic elevated it from stupid action porn to something actually interesting. Still stupid, admittedly, but interesting. The Destroyer went on to have a downright silly number of entries. Don’t ask me how many, I don’t have access to Google right now.

I’m telling myself that this is actually essential stuff to be doing. That my own writing had become rather unsatisfactory to me of late. That I had done too much writing by committee for the contract work, and I need to start writing for myself again, and to do that, I needed to get back in touch with what worked for me, way back then, when I was writing every night instead of being questionably clever on Twitter.

God knows I have the time now.

So Much for Spring Break

As is apparently The Way of Things, here I am, awake at 4am on a Monday morning. Another Spring Break is over, and good riddance.

I understand that Spring Break is important. Educators and students vitally need it. I am neither, but a lot of my work is intertwined with the two, and during that week, it all goes away – and I am not salaried. No work, no pay. I try to plan for this, but being a good American, I live on the edge, and this month the edge decided to move significantly in the wrong direction, thanks to a pricey car repair. If there is one good piece of news, it’s that my son got into the college he wanted. That, of course has ratcheted up my concerns about money exponentially.

My wife, who also had the week off, noticed my depression and urged me to “stop being a poopy-pants.” Remarkably, this didn’t help.

This is probably what other peoples' Spring Break looks like. Screw them.

This is probably what other peoples’ Spring Break looks like.

There was a much darker version of this post.  I erased it. You’re not here to hear about my problems, or my darker musings about life. We’ll talk about this someday, maybe. Doing so right now wouldn’t be terribly constructive for either of us.

I asked the Universe for money, and it sends me some at an hourly rate. I got an e-mail last night to ask me to work an oddly-scheduled School Board meeting, two weeks out from its usual slot. In a few hours I’ll be back at my desk, editing the stories I shot before the mandatory week off. I watched movies last week, but did no writing – my brain is only now finally starting again to tease out what I want to say about them. One of the most unpleasant things I’ve learned about myself is I require some sort of outside pressure to do what I do. So this week, when I’m earning some actual coin and have commitments aplenty, then I’ll start yearning after writing about movies.

And speaking of that pressure, I got an invitation via Twitter to engage in another blogathon. I thought about the tribulations of my last one, and how other things got shoved to the side while I worked on it, and worked, and worked. And then I realized what my subject on this next blogathon would be, and then, goddammit, I signed up for it. So if it’s anything like The Seven Samurai, be ready for what might be the only thing I post in May:

Print

But that’s a whole two months away. Plenty of time.

*sigh*

Please Help Me, I Am A Fanboy

Well, I think we all knew that, but I don’t think we ever knew exactly how deep that river ran.

We know about me and movies – though there are bigger movie fans out there. I haven’t mentioned comic books much since that one comment about preferring that I talk about movies (I’m quite the sensitive soul, I assure you), but then again, I just don’t read them as much as I used to. The constant mega-events and reboots just wore me down, and I’ve largely turned my back on them.

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

And then the local comics shop that I visited perhaps once every three months opened up a shop much closer (the bastards) and now I’m an every-three-weeks-or-so guy. I don’t leave with many books. The titles I have hung onto are because of the writers more than anything. It’s the usual suspects – Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone and – especially – Warren Ellis. Well, there’s also The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but that’s mainly because for years nobody believed me there actually was such a character.

If we’re going to drill down into the fanboy thing, the author we have to concentrate on is Ellis, whose work I was turned onto in that selfsame comic shop so many years ago. If you’re a comics fan, you’re familiar with his work: Stormfront, The Authority and multiple Marvel titles (including the amazing NEXTwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.) in the superhero genre, and more wide-ranging genre work like Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency and Planetary. He branched out into prose novels and TV projects, but keeps returning to comics. The weekly Web serial FreakAngels has wrapped, but his current series, still being published in floppy form, are Trees, Injection (which is my current obsession) and a new James Bond series aiming to take the character back to his Ian Fleming roots.

injection3The thing about serialized storytelling (which is the state of modern comics – the one-off single issue stories have seemed to all but vanish, though Global Frequency showed Ellis can also work very well at that form) is that each chapter has to find a way to stand on its own, while still serving the greater story. FreakAngels was good at that, publishing its tale in six-page gouts. Lately, Ellis really has gotten this down to a science, as each issue – I almost called them episodes – leads up to a final image that is almost always satisfying, but still causes the reader to say “Nooooooo! I want more!” I once snottily said that every issue of Injection was too short, but each issue is so densely packed with imagery that it takes time to unpack. Ellis (and his artistic collaborators, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) give us tiny glimpses at a vast tapestry of a story, and like FreakAngels before it, Injection is going to provide an even better experience when it is all of a piece.

(A few years ago I went back and re-read Neil Gaimin’s Sandman from stem to stern, and was delighted at the many pieces I had not picked up on a monthly basis, but now revealed themselves when considered as a whole.)

Ellis is a writer intensely interested in futurism, and he lived his life pretty openly in the digital realm, back in the days when most of us were piddling around with an AOL account. Mailing lists, Twitter, Instagram, he was there, finding the possibilities, experiencing and recording a vast new world. He’s slowed down on that as responsibilities multiply (especially to his own health – take care of yourself, dammit! We need you!), but he still has a weekly newsletter I look forward to each Sunday.

Squad Goals

Squad Goals

Now if all that wasn’t fanboy enough for you, Ellis also updates us about his work habits, what he takes with him on his travels for work purposes. And every now and then he will sing the praises of something that works really well for him and suddenly I have to have that thing because Warren Ellis uses it and thinks it’s cool.

20160218_113154Before I go any further, let me introduce you to this =>

I am the guy pushing 60 who’s still wearing cargo pants. The reason why is the right thigh pocket always has this kit in it. It’s an idea I saw on a Boing Boing post once, about a designer who always carried a pouch like this that had everything he might need on a typical day. Markers, measuring tape, small flashlight, the like. I thought, that is absolutely something I should do. Immediately went over to Amazon and bought the very same zipper pouch, the Maxpedition Micro Pocket Organizer. What you see poking out of the mesh pocket is one of Ellis’ gewgaws, the Nightcore Tube flashlight, which is rechargeable and insanely bright. The only drawback is also its strength: it is small, and once I lent it to my son, who immediately lost it. I lost no time in ordering its replacement, it is so handy. There’s also a lens cleaning cloth and a Swiss-Tech flat multi-tool, which is fairly useless but it was a gift from my flashlight-losing son. It’s meant to be carried in a wallet, but I already have too much crap in my wallet.

And in case you were wondering, this is the interior:

2016-02-18 12.56.25From left-to-right: 4-in-1 screwdriver, pencil, Leatherman 831207 multi-tool, 4-inch adjustable wrench, marker, Streamlight LED flashlight, and a clasp knife from my collection (which means at any given time I’m carrying three knives. Come at me, bro.) In the back pockets are yet another lens cloth and some braided paracord. I do like being prepared. The wrench and paracord are the only items I’ve never had cause to use. Yet.

Big deal, you’re thinking, you’ve found a kit that works for you, and it has a thing one of your favorite writers once said was cool. Yeah, you’re some fanboy.

We haven’t gotten to the Pebble yet.

SteelI was one of those people who wasn’t interested in the idea of a smartwatch. They seemed like expensive toys, way out of the reach of my pocketbook, like a sports car or a curved TV set. I had stopped even wearing a watch, because I had a smartphone and I’m almost always in the presence of one computer or another with a clock in the corner.

Then Ellis waxes rhapsodical about his Pebble Steel. Not once, but twice. And suddenly, ridiculously, I feverishly desired a Pebble. My life would simply be hellishly incomplete without one.

Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you approach the story – the original version of the Pebble, only slightly removed from a successful Kickstarter campaign – is pretty affordable, especially if you buy it used. I thought $35 was a fair price to find out if it was actually as good as Ellis said, and I could actually afford that.

Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

The screen is not very bright – it’s a grayscale LCD e-paper display. It has an accelerometer so if you flick your wrist, a backlight comes on for a few seconds, so it’s usable in dark environments. It has various downloadable apps and watchfaces. It vibrates whenever you get a call, text message, or alert from any number of smartphone apps you choose.

Ellis likes it because it allows him to judge if he should engage immediately with an alert or if it is something he can deal with later without physically checking his phone. He claims it’s improved his phone’s battery life by one-half or more. And the Pebble itself, with that e-paper display, can go five days without a charge. It’s also waterproof, which starts getting into the realm of James Bond shit, unless you also have to wash dishes and it’s kind of refreshing to not have to take the expensive gizmo off when you do so. I even wore it into the shower once, just to prove I could. But that felt so freaky I never did it again.

After just a couple of days, I was sold on the damned thing. It turns out that pulling out your phone and turning it on just to see the time is actually a lot of wasted motion. It also appealed to me that I could see the weather and temperature outside if I chose the right watchface (that sort of functionality quickly supplanted the geeky novelty of the one that duplicated the Star Trek LCARS display). Yeah, yeah, I could just look outside but the Day Job is inside a server farm and I might as well be in Hitler’s bunker for all the windows I have access to.

Well, crap.

Well, crap.

The one fly in the ointment was that the e-paper display could get famously buggy, and I’d have to switch back and forth between watchface and an app to clear it out, sometimes several times. Well, I thought, that’s what you get for buying a used one. So I saved up my birthday and Christmas gift cards and ordered a new version of the one my hero wore, the Pebble Steel. The original Pebble felt and kind of looked like that first digital watch I bought back in the late 70s, all black plastic and rubberized watchband.

Here’s the thing, though: like I said, the e-paper display was notorious for its instability. The first Steel I got wouldn’t even charge (and the charger is a different configuration between various generations of the device, so I couldn’t even determine if it was the cable or the Steel itself). The replacement charged up, but the display was even worse than my original Pebble. After trying various remedies found on Pebble’s forums, I finally went straight to them, and they very kindly sent me a new Pebble Time, which was their current iteration. They also offered to send me another Steel if I preferred, but when you’re offered a First Class Upgrade, you take it.

The Time has a color e-paper display, and though the body is still plastic, it looks classier. There’s yet another charger, but this time the port is positioned to also accept something called smartstraps, which I think is putting me back in the expensive toy category. The Time already does everything I want it to, and more.

Pebble is my co-pilot. All you other co-pilots, out of the boat.

Pebble is my co-pilot. All you other co-pilots, out of the boat.

A major major advantage is that I mute my phone whenever I am shooting video, or performing in a show. I don’t always remember to turn it back on. I might have missed calls from my wife or my mother if it weren’t for the Time alerting me (I also take unseemly delight in looking at a phone number on the watch and pressing a button to sent it straight to Voice Mail). Sometimes I can’t respond to my phone’s reminder for me to take my evening meds, and I wound up forgetting to take them entirely. The Time allows me to set another alarm for every day to remind me to take my damned old man pills. The accelerometer tracks my steps in a day, so I can try to take more. I’m never going to worry about leaving my phone somewhere again because the Time buzzes whenever I pass out of Bluetooth range. It has a countdown timer and a stopwatch, both things I used to haul out my phone to access.

So yes, Warren Ellis was right about that one, too. It’s a terrific tool. I just hope the next time he finds something wonderful and useful, it’s back in the ten buck range again.

injection-3---review-142716We now return you to your regularly scheduled incoherent ramblings about cinema.

POSTSCRIPT: Judging from his Twitter feed, Richard Kadrey is now wearing a Pebble. I was doomed to this course of action in any case.