Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Words, They Mean Nothing...Or Do They?

A month or so ago I read this book:
I knew I probably wouldn't like it because it sounded too cozy for my taste.  And I was right about that!  Mostly I bought it because it takes place in northern Michigan and features a lighthouse and one of my hobbies has been taking pictures of lighthouses around Michigan.  If you follow me on Facebook then you've probably seen pictures like this:
That one is from somewhere by Holland.  Grand Haven?  Whatever.  Anyway, I'm not talking about lighthouses today.

In that Lighthouse Keeper book the author did one thing that really annoyed me:  she kept having characters brush back "a strand" of hair.  The problem for me was a strand of hair is ONE HAIR and it's almost impossible to brush back one solitary strand by itself.  Even more ridiculous was when she mentioned a character pulling on "a spiky strand."  A single hair can't be spiky!

Now to be fair, when I checked the dictionary like the 5th or 6th definition said a strand could also refer to a tress of hair or many hairs.  So if you want to get technical the author wasn't wrong.

The same thing for my favorite petulant writer, John Oberon.  In one sentence he says, "the creature recommenced the siege on the tree."  To me siege means blockading something to starve them out.  You know, laying siege to a castle and whatnot.  Again, though, one of the alternate definitions can mean attacking something.  So it's not technically wrong.

Still the problem is because I as the reader think of the word a certain way because I've always heard it used that way and you use it a different way, then it's kind of annoying.  I'll think you're wrong and don't know what the fuck you're talking about unless I go look it up in the dictionary.

I don't know if there's much an author can do about this.  You can't know how every single person is going to think of each word.  Still, in some cases maybe just use the most obvious word.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Petulant Writer

A couple of months ago I wrote about some selfish critiquing from my frenemy John Oberon on his blog.  He dedicates more than half of his blog to writing advice so it's kind of funny that with his own writing he really can't take what he dishes, even with something relatively straightforward and obvious.

Here's a sentence from his kiddie torture porn novel The Unlikely Son:
“It never left me,” frowned the creature. “Can I have more?”

One of the things I corrected newer writers about on a lot was that facial expressions and such are NOT dialog tags.  Basically if it's not a synonym of "said" then it's not a dialog tag.  This was something that I also did for a while until someone corrected me and when I thought about it, it seemed obvious.  The whole point of the dialog tag is to indicate who is speaking.  That's it.  What does "frown" mean?  According to

verb (used without object)

to contract the brow, as in displeasure or deep thought; scowl.
to look displeased; have an angry look.
to view with disapproval; look disapprovingly (usually followed by on or upon):
to frown upon a scheme.

verb (used with object)
to express by a frown:
to frown one's displeasure.
to force or shame with a disapproving frown:
to frown someone into silence.
 None of those definitions relate to speaking.  Thus "frown" is not a synonym of said and thus is not a dialog tag.  Pretty simple logic, no?
You can add facial expressions and such, so long as it follows said.

So if Oberon said:
“It never left me,” said the creature, who then frowned. “Can I have more?”
“It never left me,” said the creature. And then he frowned.  “Can I have more?”

That's acceptable if not all that poetic or anything.

Now this should have been an obvious correction for someone who has written for a long time and who has charged other people for editing their works.  Right?  Right?

Well, no.  Because like the Fonz on Happy Days, Oberon can't admit he was wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong.

Ah, yep...that's a tag. What's wrong with it? You're thinking because you can't "frown" words, that makes it unacceptable?

[Duh.  Of course you can't frown words!]

RULE!? Did you just say RULE? Don't you always say there are no rules in writing, that plausibility doesn't matter, that you can punctuate with a comma however you like, and that pretty much anything goes so long as you like it? You've said that for years. Don't tell me you've swung to MY side. Welcome, brother! Why so late to the party?

[Smoke bomb!  He often refers to something I said on, though he always takes it out of context.  I was talking about things like commas, not elementary grammar.]

 Nah. I like it, so it's OK.
 [Oh, well, as long as the author LIKES it then they can do any damned thing they please. 😁 ]

Since when are you a fan of grammar? Have I finally rubbed off on you? By the way, you don't HAVE to read my stuff you know. I would think you'd want to avoid writing that causes you this much angst.

[Wah, go away!  Leave me alone!  Wah! 😭]

All this angst over what was a cut-and-dried mistake.  He's just mad because he knows it's a classic newbie mistake and can't admit that the great John Oberon would ever commit such a sin.  But obviously he did.  He should have simply owned up to it and made the correction.  It's a good thing he's printing this shitty book on his own because there doesn't seem any way he could possibly work with an editor at a real publisher.

It's just as well because this book is fucking awful.  The last 5 chapters or so have all been about this Christian jerk-off torturing a bratty kid.  First it was psychological torture at a McDonald's where he forces the kid to keep playing in the Playland because the kid didn't want to leave when the guy said to.  Once they get to the guy's house, he literally treats the kid like a dog by chaining him up outside, having a neighbor scream pig calls in his face, and feeding him fucking dog food all because he didn't want to wake up and do things at the guy's convenience.  I'm not going to say the kid is an angel but there is such a thing as a proportional response and chaining a kid outside and making him eat dog food is not a proportional response for refusing to get up early or make his own lunch.  It's just gross.  I doubt any sane editor or publisher would have touched it anyway.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Marketing That Worked...For Me!

In late August through September 8th I ran a giveaway on Goodreads for the Eric Filler novella The Comeback: Rock n Roll Gender Swap.  Besides on Goodreads I advertised the giveaway on my blog (both Eric Filler & PT Dilloway), on social media, and in the Eric Filler newsletter.  By the end I had about 400 entrants; in the last hours the number really skyrocketed as I guess people looking at the "ending soonest" took notice.  In the end all it cost me was about $13 to purchase two paperbacks and send them to the winners.

And in return the response was really good.  Much better than many recent efforts.  In the first three weeks it made over $250 just in purchases--I'm not sure how much the pages read will come out to for Kindle Unlimited readers.  So for my $13 investment I got a tremendous return.

I don't believe in shelling out hundreds of dollars for advertising on websites and such, but this was definitely a low-cost venture that paid off.  I'll probably have to try it again with something else.

You can still get it for $3.99 on Kindle or $5.99 in paperback!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Marketing That Worked!

For about six years I've had a Kindle Touch reader with ads on it.  It used to be they'd show ads for stuff other than books, but in the last couple of years they just show ads for books, which 99.9% of the time I ignore them.  But there is that 0.1% of the time when I do click on the ad.  So I thought I'd share a marketing success story since there aren't very many.
I kept seeing that cover in black-and-white with a tag line "Hit pause on horror and mayhem with the SciFi series about a brighter future that will make you smile."  And after like 10 or 20 times I thought, "Well, what the hell?  It's only 99 cents."

Like Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5 it mostly takes place on a space station.  The station (and most of the known universe) is overseen by highly advanced robots called the Stryx.  Fearing humanity would destroy itself the Stryx uplifted humanity by giving them advanced technology to join the many other advanced races in the universe.

For a few years Kelly Frank has been the ambassador for EarthCENT, which sounds prestigious, but it's a job with long hours and little pay, to the point she often has to sleep in her office to avoid her landlord.

The first book, Date Night on Union Station, deals with Kelly getting set up by a new automated dating service for some crappy dates.  But ultimately she finds her true love in Joe, a former mercenary who runs a junkyard with his "war dog" that's a genetically engineered pooch probably as big as a dire wolf on Game of Thrones.

The book isn't really laugh out loud funny sci-fi like Douglas Adams or Nigel Mitchell for the most part but it's amusing light sci-fi. 

I decided then to buy the second one.  And since then I've borrowed the third, fourth, and fifth ones.  They aren't great books but they're solid reads and when I borrow them they're free, so there's that.  They're mostly under 200 pages so they don't take long to read either.

I'd really like to know how the author got more than 800 reviews for this since it doesn't seem published by Big Publishing or anything.

Anyway, I guess if you can get a lot of ads on Kindles you can eventually browbeat someone into checking out your book and buying it.  Every squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right?  Huzzah!

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Real Third Party

Not since the Whig Party in the 1840s has America really had a viable party besides Democrats and Republicans.  But as we've seen lately, both parties are being torn apart by radical fringe elements:  the Tea Party /Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders and the Socialists on the left.  So on Facebook one day I thought of the perfect third party:  the Middle Party!  Or maybe you could call it the Moderate Party.  Reasonable Party?  Compromise Party?

I mean even someone who's fairly liberal like me is getting sick of things the way they are.  As much as I'd support a socialist government, many Americans wouldn't.  I think what they'd rather do is go back to the 90s when things could still get done without one party just running over the other.

So my idea is that all the moderates from both parties just throw in together, break away from the Republican and Democratic Parties to create a third party, the aforementioned Middle Party.  The benefit for moderate Republicans (if they still exist) is they don't have to follow the ever-more-radical right wing agenda anymore.  For "Blue Dog" Democrats, they don't have to worry about catering to the Sanders followers anymore.  Everything would break out into Right, Middle, and Left instead of some Right and Left trying to balance all sides.

The only problem is:  where is the money going to come from?  A new party would have to find donors to keep it afloat--thanks Supreme Court!  Obviously some people can pass the hat with GoFundMe and so forth but I'm sure plenty of business and such will want to sponsor a candidate who isn't going to bring on socialistic reforms or isn't going to blunder us into World War III. 

Because at the end of the day I think what most people really want is a status quo.  Right or Left, they just want to go about their lives without too much hassle.  Which maybe is supposed to be what the Libertarian Party is about, but obviously no one really gives a shit about them.  And the thing is, since we're talking incumbents switching sides, it'd be a lot easier than trying to start up with all new candidates as the Libertarians, Green Party, etc do.  That gives you a head start with name recognition, which might help the funding problem take care of itself.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Everyone Has a Story...But Most Aren't Interesting

Last March the older of my two sisters died of cancer and a few times it's occurred to me that maybe I should write a story involving that.  Sort of like therapy, though my literary hero John Irving says in A Widow For One Year not to do that, though then he did that very same thing in the later Until I Find You.  That part of it isn't really my problem.

The real problem is every time I think of something I want to add more to it.  And then it occurs to me that when you add more to it, the story starts to not be true anymore.  The sticky wicket is that there was no tragic love story or dramatic speeches or stuff like you might get from Nicholas Sparks book or a Lifetime TV movie.  It seems to me that if I do add those elements in to make it more dramatic and commercial then it's just selling the idea out, cheapening it.  That's not really something I'd want to do.

Like the title says the saying is "everyone has a story" but really most stories aren't interesting because they aren't stories in the way we think of stories.  It's why every biopic you see has to dramatize events, mush characters together, or in the case of Aaron Sorkin-penned movies just make shit up because the real story isn't all that interesting dramatically.  So in The Social Network they had to invent this "one who got away" when Zuckerberg had been dating a girl since high school.  Or in A Beautiful Mind they had to invent the whole Ed Harris government agent thing.  Or in 21 where they basically only used the core concept of a group of college card counters and made up the rest.  When I watched that movie I think I said somewhere that really the documentary on the History Channel was a lot better because it wasn't filled with a bunch of commercial cliche bullshit.  It was the real story and in that case the real story was pretty interesting, at least to me.

Another movie actually deals with this subject, the Charlie Kauffman-penned Adaptation where Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalized version of Kauffman who's trying to adapt the book The Orchid Thief into a movie.  The problem is how do you make a book about orchids interesting?  He really can't and so in the end there's all this wild, cliche stuff like a twin brother and a showdown in the Everglades and stuff like that.  The point being that sure this orchid book was a story but it wasn't really the sort of dramatic story that would do much for viewers.

But I did sneak a little therapy into the Eric Filler book The Comeback where the main character goes to visit a young fan dying of cancer in the hospital.  And when the kid dies, the main character dedicates a performance to her.  It was kind of sad and like I said a little bit of therapy I guess.  Maybe that's helpful, but probably not.

I guess when you come down to it, the point of stories is two-fold:  provide lessons and entertainment.  I just don't think there is much of a lesson and it sure as hell wasn't entertaining.  I can try to make it one or both of those things, but as I said then it just cheapens what really happened.

So I guess for now I'll just keep it confined to this blog. 

That is all.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Grumpy Bulldog Talks TV

I don't really watch a lot of live TV.  Mostly I watch movies on Netflix/Amazon or sometimes I'll stream a TV series.  But I do watch college football on Saturday night and NFL football Sunday so I end up seeing previews for shows I really don't care about.

I especially hate pretty much anything previewed on CBS.  At least this year their shows aren't all NCIS or CSI spin-offs.  Just that Big Bang Theory prequel show, which while Big Bang Theory is a traditional laugh track sitcom this for some reason seems done in the newer no laugh track style, which seems weird.  Do people really want to watch a show about a 9-year-old going to high school and getting stuffed in lockers and stuff?  Probably.  America is pretty fucking stupid.

Worst idea for a show:  Wisdom of the Crowd.  So this guy's daughter dies and he decides to create this thing where people use their cell phones to find criminals.  Which violates pretty much all civil liberties.  But it's CBS so I assume we won't bother with the ethical concerns.  These people are all bad so it's OK!  Reminds me of the Black Mirror where this woman wakes up and people are stalking her and taking pictures and video with their cameras.  Or also The Dark Knight where Batman creates a device using people's phones as sonar to track the Joker.

Another bad idea:  The Good Doctor.  It's about a brilliant doctor, but he's autistic!  Like the Affleck movie The Accountant, let's use autism as some kind of super power!

Another morally offensive idea:  The Mayor.  Seeing the previews for this I had this really bad reaction.  I thought:  OK, so now that Obama is gone I guess we can treat a black guy running a government like it's a joke.  The idea is this young black guy who really knows nothing about government is somehow elected mayor of his city.  I don't know, maybe it's fine, but our real government is so inept now do we really need this?  Would people think this idea were as funny if it were a redneck white kid into country instead of a black kid into rap?

Questionable idea:  Me, Myself, and I:  OK, so this kid grows up into a big fat guy and then somehow that big fat guy turns into John Larroquette?  I mean, did someone put him in Wonka's taffy pulling machine when he was 40?  It's an interesting concept but it's CBS so I have big doubts they'd pull it off.

Worst repeated idea:  SEALS.  CBS has SEAL Team and NBC has The Brave and they're both probably really fucking stupid.  And the thing about CBS' is:  didn't they already have that show The Unit about a Special Forces team?  Only that had the Allstate guy instead of the guy from Bones & Angel.

Worst retooling:  Kevin Can Wait.  So his previous wife or girlfriend is being killed off because the actress wanted too much money or hated Kevin James or something, so they bring in Leah Remini, who was Kevin James's wife on King of Queens for however many years.  So why not just scrap Kevin Can Wait and do a straight-up King of Queens revival?

Now let's get into two shows I actually watched:  The Orville and Star Trek DiscoveryThe Orville is basically Seth MacFarlane doing his version of Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  So it's episodic with the eponymous ship and its crew as they tackle various challenges.  The first episode had them have to fight off aliens known as the Krill using a redwood seed and a time accelerator.  The second episode had the captain and first officer captured and put in a zoo that recreated their New York apartment.  The third episode featured one of the alien crew in a legal battle with his mate over forced gender surgery on their daughter.  The fourth episode was about a colony ship lost in space so long that the people inside didn't even know they were in space thanks to the religious dictatorship running the place.

Meanwhile I only watched the first episode of Discovery because the assholes at CBS are using it to justify a stupid streaming service no one needs or wants.  So it seems the whole thing boils down to the Federation fighting Klingons who look like the ones from the Abrams movie Into Darkness more than any of the TV shows.  So does that mean this is a prequel to the Abrams movies not the TV show?  I don't really know or care.  I guess it was all right.  I mean the actors are decent and the production values are good.  Kind of stupid we don't even show the eponymous ship except in the credits until what the second episode?  The third?

There was an article in Forbes I think that said the same thing I thought watching these two shows:  The Orville is more Trek than Trek!  It's hopeful, progressive attitude is far more in line with Gene Roddenberry than the grim and gritty Discovery that seems more concerned with cool battles and explosions.  At this point in time I think we need a hopeful, progressive show far more than we need a grim and gritty space war.  Not to say I don't like that because I loved DS9 and really liked Babylon 5 and Robotech and so on.  It's just not the Trek we need in our lives right now.  Things are so shitty in the world already that we need some hope things will get better, not that ugly aliens are going to try to slaughter us once we leave the solar system.

Overall I think The Orville is a good show, though as with most of these shows the cast might need some time to gel and for the writers to find the best in those characters.  For ST: TNG and DS9 this took 3-4 seasons to happen.  I don't think Fox will give the show that much time.  I mean they cancelled Firefly after 1 season and Space Above & Beyond after 2 seasons so when it comes to space-faring sci-fi they aren't the most patient.  The real flaw I think is MacFarlane casting himself in the lead role.  Just like A Million Ways to Die in the West, his limitations in live action become painfully clear when surrounded by real actors.  Since you're doing essentially ST: TNG, a funny British guy would probably have worked a lot better.  Someone with some gravitas like Patrick Stewart, only younger.  I know it's MacFarlane's baby and all, which is why he should have been unselfish enough to do what was best for the show.  I mean he's fine voicing a cartoon guy/dog/baby, or a teddy bear, or a talking gas cloud (remember Hellboy 2?), but live action is a different kettle of fish.  A voice actor trying to do live action is like a game show host trying to be president. 

At some point maybe I'll watch Discovery and think it's great, but right now it's just meh.  I never really warmed to Enterprise either.  Stop with the prequels!  I always liked the Peter David book series New Frontier about the starship Excalibur exploring an uncharted part of space.  Something like that set in either TOS or TNG/DS9/Voyager times would be a lot better.  Or between TOS and TNG where you have 80 years to operate.  I guess technically it'd be a prequel then in a way.  Whatever.

So there you go, my thoughts on TV as I wait the 18 months or so for the final season of Game of Thrones.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Talking White Privilege

With all the hubbub ignited by Trump about athlete protests, I was reminded of a book I reviewed last May by one of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon.  Telegraph Avenue is about a neighborhood in Oakland that like many in Detroit has come on hard times.  The main couple is Gwen and Archy.  They're a black couple who run a New Age midwife business and record store respectively.  Most of the novel is OK, but it's the ending where Chabon trips up and lets his white privilege show.

After a host of complications, Archy winds up selling his stake in the record store to go sell real estate and Gwen becomes a nurse at a normal hospital.  Maybe I'm being too sensitive, but it seemed pretty awkward that you have a well-to-do white guy writing that these poor black people should just give up on their dreams and take "respectable" jobs.  It echoes a part in the book where a white doctor tells Gwen she should get her hair straightened and stop practicing "voodoo."  I think we'd all agree the doctor shouldn't say that, so why should the author essentially be telling us the same thing?

And Chabon is a liberal academic about as far removed from Trump or Rush or Alex Jones as you can get and yet subconsciously most of us white people are still guilty of letting our privilege show and telling minorities they need to conform to what we think is right.

That's the heart of this NFL kerfuffle.  You have a rich(ish) orange white guy telling black athletes, most of whom grew up in poor and/or crime-plagued neighborhoods like Telegraph Avenue, how they should protest against injustice.  Not only that you have this white guy telling NFL owners (most of whom are white) to fire those black athletes on the spot for their protests.  It's the Chabon example above dialed up to 11.

My take has been and continues to be:  I don't give a shit.  Kneel before, during, and after the anthem if you want.  It's no skin off my ass.  And as a middle-aged white guy, even if I'm not rich, it's not my business to tell black athletes how they should express themselves, so long as no one is being hurt.

Of course a lot of people getting butt hurt about this are buying into the Trumpian, Fox "News," Info Wars lies.  This isn't about hating on the anthem or the flag or veterans; it's about protesting racial injustice like all those police shootings in places like Ferguson.  One of those greet thoughts being Tweeted about is that saying this is about the anthem is like saying Rosa Parks was protesting the bus or black people at lunch counters were protesting the food.  It's completely missing the point, but then with Trump when isn't he missing the point?

White people, starting with Trump, need to just STFU because they honestly have no fucking clue what they're talking about.  Instead of whining about the precious anthem (during which time half of the people in most stadiums are usually in the bathroom or concession lines anyway) we should be focusing on fixing the inherent problem so athletes don't feel they have to protest.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Speed Demons!

At the start of the year I wrote a full-length gender swap novel called Secret Origins that was like Batman v Superman meets my previous superhero gender swap novel Girl Power.  The idea was that an alien artifact inadvertently turns a Batman-type hero and Superman-type hero into teenage girls.  They go to high school with the Superman-type hero a popular girl and the Batman-type hero a nerd.  Ultimately they wind up fighting each other and then joining forces to stop an alien monster.

The epilogue was like a cookie scene in a movie, something to help set up the next story.  In that we introduce Dr. Alan Bassett, a scientist studying the alien artifact that crashed.  Except when the artifact splits open to release the monster, radiation from the artifact changed Alan into a hot teenage girl--a hot teenage girl with super-speed!  So yes she's the Flash to the Batman and Superman characters.

Something I learned about this is if you don't have your sequel all lined up, you really don't want your cookie scene to get too specific.  Because then I kind of had to tap dance a little to get everything to line up for the most part.  So when I wrote a cookie scene for the sequel I made sure to keep it a little more generic so it could fit in anywhere.

It took a while to come up with an idea for the sequel.  I actually ran through like 3 outlines before I got one I liked.  And then I didn't use a lot of that one, though the overall framework was pretty much the same.

Since we're dealing with a Flash character in my first attempts I tried basing it on one of the more iconic Flash stories, 2011's Flashpoint where the Flash goes back in time to stop his mom from being killed, which in turn creates an apocalyptic present.  They half-assed used it on TV and rumor is they might be using that for the movie Flash--provided they ever get their shit together on that; I mean I think they've gone through like 5 directors already.  Anyway, my first outline more or less did that the same way.  It didn't really seem right.  I tried another way where instead of going to the past, the Flash character fucks things up in the present and accidentally is thrown into an apocalyptic future.  I got that one all roughed out but it still didn't seem right.

So I decided to nix the whole time travel thing.  I don't really like time travel stories that much anyway.  The final version then stayed entirely in the present.  The first quarter or so of the book is just Allison learning to adjust to being a girl and a superhero.  She goes through quite a few growing pains with both.  At the same time she tries to reconnect with her former wife and young daughter and winds up becoming her daughter's babysitter while her former wife goes on dates with the guy she was cheating on her former husband with.

But ultimately the Batman-type hero from the previous story finds her and brings Allison back to her mansion to give her a real place to stay and to train her to become a hero.  Again there are some growing pains, but she seems on the right track until she tries to foil a hostage situation by herself.  One of the hostages is a girl named Naomi who has a superpower of her own:  like Rogue of the X-Men or Superman villain Parasite, Naomi can drain someone of powers.  She uses this on Allison, who then has to find a way to get her power back and save the world from Naomi.  (In one of the later outlines she was supposed to give up her power willingly like Spider-Man 2 but then I decided to make it involuntary.)
Allison as Bluestreak! (ie Power Rangers costume with Captain America mask)
Allison's friend Melody as Electric Girl!
This was the kind of story that starting out I didn't think it'd be all that long.  Then almost a month later it was nearly 80,000 words!  It's been almost two years I think since I wrote anything that long.  So hopefully it does well. Buy it here.

I already have an idea for the third one roughed out.  It's supposed to be more like Civil War as the government creates its own superheroes to take down Allison and her friends.  I'm not sure when that will be done, but probably by the end of the year.  Here are the initial Sims of them:




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

More Stuff I Watched Since the Last Time

More Stuff I Watched Since the Last Time...

Max Steel:  This was based on a Mattel property I don't remember.  This kid moves back to his hometown and starts manifesting liquid energy and then an annoying robot partner shows up and then there are bad guys and...I didn't really follow most of the exposition.  It's otherwise an OK movie that wastes the acting talents of Maria Bello and Andy Garcia.  The latter looks especially ridiculous in an Iron Man-ripoff suit.  At least they didn't seem to try too hard to set up sequels or a "cinematic universe" because I'm pretty sure it didn't make enough money for that. (2/5)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2:  Maybe if I'd watched this in the theater, where I was a captive audience, I'd have liked it more.  The middle of this especially seemed to drag to the point I was getting bored and playing on my tablet and such.  There just didn't seem to be much of consequence going on.  Star-Lord finds out his father is a "Celestial" who has his own planet and often takes the form of Kurt Russell.  Considering the two-part Avengers Infinity War starts next year you'd think they'd want to do more to position the Guardians for that, but I think the cookie scenes did more for that than anything in the movie.  Though the end with Yondu was nice.  Not sure why Sly Stallone was cashing a paycheck as the Ravager leader; it seemed as pointless as the rest of this.  But I don't know, maybe if I watch it again at some point I'd like it more.  I might have just been in a grumpy mood. (2/5)

Alien:  Covenant:  After Prometheus, one of the main complaints was how fucking stupid these "scientists" were, taking off their helmets and running around like Scooby and Shaggy in a place filled with killer aliens.  So what does Ridley Scott do?  He has a bunch of idiots go to an alien planet with no spacesuits or masks or anything and they get infected with aliens and shit.  Because, well, I guess a computer told them the atmosphere was OK.  I mean sure they do this on Star Trek but that's not supposed to be realistic while this is supposed to be more so.  Anyway, somehow the android David from Prometheus--who was just a head--got a body and killed all the "Engineers" (and Noomi Rapace) with some spores and decided to create aliens that wind up killing the dumb shits who land on the planet.  But two dumb shits escape except they can't tell the good android from the evil android and so wind up fucked.  Like Transformers 5 it doesn't seem like they really learned from their previous failure and thus repeated it. Ridley Scott will need Blade Runner 2049 to do better to regain some of the goodwill he got from The Martian. (1/5)

Ghost in the Shell (2017):  I never saw the anime, so I don't have any idea how accurate it is.  Basically it's like Robocop in that a dead woman's brain is put in a robot, albeit this robot looks pretty normal.  Then she's put in a secret unit to fight bad guys.  There's no training montage or anything; one minute she's waking up for the first time and the next she's killing bad guys.  Would have helped to have something in between maybe.  Like Robocop she starts looking for bad guys and ends up being hunted instead.  There's even a robot vs cyborg fight that isn't quite as good as Robocop vs ED-209.  The story is a little muddled, but it's at least better than the Robocop reboot. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  The issue of "whitewashing" was brought up since this was originally a Japanese comic and anime.  You'd get the comic book fansplainers then saying "Well actually" but the character in the movie is literally whitewashed as an Asian woman's brain is put in Scarlett Johannson's body.  When her robot body emerges for the first time there is a white shell around it that flakes off, just kind of hammering the point home.)

Batman & Harley Quinn:  I wouldn't have watched it but it was almost free from Redbox, so fuck it.  Fuck it is basically what Bruce Timm and DC Execs said with this.  Instead of adapting graphic novels and such they just slapped together something with their two biggest and most overexposed characters.  It's made in the style of the animated series from the 90s with Harley Quinn getting released from jail and working at basically a superhero-themed Hooters.  Meanwhile Batman needs her help to track down Poison Ivy and some Swamp Thing-like dude from another dimension.  They're planning to release a virus that will make everyone into plants.  Despite this being a cartoon there are some PG-13 moments like the superhero-themed Hooters and when it goes into Batman 66-type captions that read "Ow, My Balls!"  The end just cuts off without really resolving much as Harley decides to just light Swamp Thing-type dude on fire.  Did they get the virus back?  Meh.  Who knows.  Or cares? (2/5) (Fun Fact:  Fortunately they're getting back on track with their next project:  an adaptation of the graphic novel Gotham By Gaslight, which imagines Batman in the Gilded Age battling Jack the Ripper.)

Marvel's The Defenders:  I binged this entire 8-episode miniseries one Sunday.  The four Marvel Netflix heroes (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist) are all brought together to fight the evil Hand, led by Sigourney Weaver.  Under her direction the Hand brought back Daredevil's lady love Elektra and brainwashed her into being their "Black Sky" super ninja.  It takes the first couple of episodes for the four heroes to finally get together at Midland Circle in Manhattan. What's kind of lame is how easily Luke Cage is freed from prison by Foggy Nelson; it makes the end of Cage's first season kind of anticlimactic.  Gradually things ramp up as the Hand needs Iron Fist as the key to their great McGuffin that turns out to be the corpse of a dragon buried underground that has some kind of secret sauce to give people eternal life.  This is kind of silly, but it's played straight as Daredevil and Elektra seemingly make the ultimate sacrifice, but well, of course not.  It'll be interesting to see how this affects the next seasons of these shows but next up is The Punisher.  Overall it's good for TV but not exactly on par with The Avengers.  (3/5)

The Tick:  I watched the original live action series a few years ago, but I never watched the animated series or read any comics or anything.  This revival on Amazon was greenlit last year with the pilot episode.  It mostly deals with an accountant named Arthur whose father was murdered by "The Terror" years ago and so has become obsessed with finding the villain.  One night while tracking some bad guys, Arthur meets the Tick, a big blue superhero who at first it seems like is a figment of his imagination, but later other people start to see him too.  Arthur gets a weird Russian suit with wings and is stalked by a Punisher/Deathstroke-type anti-hero called Overkill.  It was good for the most part, but unfortunately there are only 6 episodes so just as we're starting to get answers, it ends.  I hope there will be more later. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  Overkill has a sentient boat called "Dangerboat" that's voiced by Alan Tudyk, which might be why it sounds like K-2SO from Rogue One.)

Voltron Legendary Defender "Season 3":  As I predicted, the first couple of episodes reengineer the Voltron team into the familiar 1980s configuration as Keith takes over the black lion, Lance the red one, and Princess Allura the blue one.  Meanwhile former black lion pilot Shiro escapes the evil Galra and rejoins the team.  And the evil but charismatic Lotor is taking over the Galra and hatching an evil scheme...and then it abruptly ends after 7 measly episodes.  Christopher Dilloway says there will be more episodes in October, so it just seems silly to start now, barely get anything started, and then have to wait two months. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  In one episode they go to an evil mirror universe where Shiro is actually a guy named Sven--a callback to the original blue lion pilot in the 1984 series.  Sadly in the evil mirror universe no one had a goatee.)

Bojack Horseman: Season 4:  This at least was a full season.  Unfortunately it wasn't as good as previous seasons.  For a show called Bojack Horseman, he was almost a secondary character in his own series.  Literally about a quarter of the season was dedicated to episodes where he hardly appeared!  The problem is the other 3 seasons all had a more focused approach.  In season 1 Bojack was having a book written about him; in season 2 he was making a movie about Secretariat; and in Season 3 he was promoting said movie for the awards crowd. But this time he doesn't really do anything; he just hangs around with his daughter who we find out at the end is really his half-sister.  Meanwhile the supporting characters are all off doing their own thing so nothing really comes together.  If there's a season 5 it would be nice if it got back to putting the focus where it belongs:  on the horseman! (2/5) (Fun Fact:  There was a fake-out at the start of the season where you think at the end of Season 3 he's going to run with the wild horses, but really he goes off to Michigan to hide out in his ancestral home.)

Handsome:  I guess this was supposed to be like a funny, foul-mouthed Columbo since Steven Weber tells you right at the beginning that he's the murderer.  But really it wasn't all that funny or even a very interesting mystery.  There are a lot of extraneous characters who don't really add much like a neighbor and his accordion-playing wife, a detective who likes to speculate wildly, another one who's a woman who dresses in men's clothes for...reasons, and a chief who's alternately hitting on the eponymous detective and telling him to file his retirement papers.  None of it really adds much to the story, such as it is.  Basically a woman who babysits a kid next door meets an actor at a party so she can score some swag from his gift bag and winds up being murdered by him later.  Saved you about 80 minutes of boring crap.  Netflix has some good original series (see above) and movies but this is one I wish they hadn't spent my subscription money on. (2/5)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword:  As I said on Facebook, it would help if you can purge from your memory any knowledge of the actual King Arthur legend like the movie Excalibur.  I mean there's very little of that in this other than some names and vague ideas.  Instead director Guy Ritchie and his writing team try to melt together an Arthurian movie, one of Guy's London crime movies like Snatch, Robin Hood, and probably a few other things so that you end up with Arthur floating to London as a baby like Moses only to be adopted by prostitutes until he becomes their pimp.  Meanwhile King Uther's brother has made a deal with "syrens" (a weird squid lady creature) in his basement to build a tower that will somehow give him ultimate power.  The simple way to review this is to quote the old lady behind me in Transformers 2:  This movie is so stupid.  (1/5)  (Fun Fact:  N/A)

Kong:  Skull Island:  Last year Warner Bros backed its way into a DC cinematic universe and this year they're backing their way into a "Monsterverse" with this movie.  The way BvS followed Man of Steel, this follows the 2014 Godzilla remake.  It takes place in 1973 when some scientists and military guys go to Skull Island and are knocked out of the sky by Kong and then beset by a number of giant critters, chief among them weird lizards with skull faces.  The whole thing feels largely empty, like a commercial for future movies though it isn't until the cookie scene at the very end that we get to introducing Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and others. (2/5)  (Fun Fact:  To back into their cinematic universe, they cast at least 4 members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:  Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury), John C Reilly (Nova Officer, GOTG), and Brie Larson, the future Captain Marvel.  I guess they're hoping for some kind of cinematic osmosis?)

Gold:  Finally, a movie about a white man raping a Pacific country for its minerals!  But seriously, Matthew McConaughey is a prospector who's been down on his luck in the 80s.  Then he contacts a geologist who thinks there's a big gold strike in Indonesia.  When they find some gold dust it seems they're on the right track and they start selling stock to a lot of investors, led by Corey Stoll.  But, spoiler alert, it turns out the geologist planted the gold dust and then ran off with some money, leaving McConaughey holding the bag.  It's an OK drama but maybe a little too long.  Seems weird that with a star like McConaughey and a strong cast I hadn't even heard of this until it was released on DVD; I'm not sure it ever got past the "limited release" in theaters. (2.5/5)

Forces of Nature:  I fell asleep while trying to watch this online a month or two ago but it was on Showtime so I got to finish it.  I kinda wish I didn't.  Ben Affleck is a guy getting married in Savannah, Georgia but his flight out of New York skids off the runway, leaving him stranded.  His seatmate Sandra Bullock is also going to Savannah so they set out on a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles style trip that did start in a plane and then go to an automobile and then a train and then back to an automobile.  Along the way they hook up, but...spoiler alert...Affleck ends up marrying his bride-to-be Marua Tierney even though she looks about 10 years too old for him.  And Sandra Bullock makes amends with her estranged kid.  So, yay?  I guess, but it seems kind of pointless, like if Planes, Trains, and Automobiles had ended with Steve Martin getting home and slamming the door in John Candy's face.  Not very satisfying. (2/5)

What We Did On Our Holiday:  A dysfunctional British family travels to Scotland for their father/grandfather's birthday.  Along the way the parents fight almost nonstop, except when they fall asleep and one of the kids steers the car.  Once arriving in Scotland, the grandpa takes the three kids to his favorite beach, where they have plenty of fun--until he dies.  Instead of freaking out, the kids (aged 10-5 or so) decide to give him an impromptu Viking funeral he joked about by assembling a raft and lighting it on fire.  Now if I were 10-5 I think I would have been freaking out and run screaming.  There is some trouble with the cops and reporters then before a not entirely happy ending.  At times funny and at times sad it's a decent movie. (3/5)  (The divorcing couple are played by Rosamund Pike of Gone Girl and David Tennant of Dr. Who/Jessica Jones, which when you think about it the crazy wife from Gone Girl and the Purple Man would make for a pretty terrifying couple.)

Cooties:  The credits might put you off chicken nuggets for a while as it shows a diseased chicken getting ground into a gross nugget that is eaten by a little girl.  The kid turns into a zombie and it starts to spread while only the adults are immune to the effects.  So a bunch of dim-witted teachers led by Elijah Wood and the forehead guy from The Office have to find a way to escape.  One stupid thing is in the teacher's lounge is a block full of knives, which seemed weird.  I mean who needs a bunch of knives in a teacher's lounge?  Except to repel zombies.  But when the zombies start running around, no one grabs the knives.  It violates that thing that Chekov and/or Hitchcock said about showing a gun in the first act.  Anyway, it just ends seemingly at random with lots of stuff left unresolved, but it's pretty amusing if you don't take too seriously it's a movie about murdering children. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  Two of the executive producers are Hayden and Tove Christiansen, who I'll assume are brothers.  Lucky for us they don't act in the movie.)

Birdemic:  Rifftrax episodes frequently reference movie so it was nice to have a chance to see it.  The movie is hilariously inept with pathetic acting and even more pathetic CGI effects.  Since apparently they couldn't hire a bird wrangler they use terrible CGI birds that often hover, despite that being impossible.  When the birds first attack, it's hilarious there are all these bad CGI explosions, like the birds are bombing the town.  Besides the frequent shots of parking and gratuitous story about solar panels, stock options, and Victoria's Secret, the most hilarious thing is that while the actors are freaking out and shooting birds, you can see cars and people in the background acting totally normal.  And then for no reason at all the birds fly away.  The end.  This is the best worst movie you'll see. (5/5)

Mystery Team:  Three nerdy kids led by Donald Glover have been junior detectives since elementary school.  Now that they're almost graduating high school they want a real case and so start investigating the murder of a little girl's parents.  Except they really know even less than Scooby and the Gang about investigating crimes greater than someone sticking a finger in a pie.  What I saw was pretty funny but then I fell asleep.  I woke up for the end to see who did it--no rubber masks were involved. (2.5/5)

Radical Jack:  All you really need to know is this 2000 movie stars Billy Ray Cyrus, who at the time was still the most famous person in his family.  You might wonder why someone would cast the guy behind "Achy Breaky Heart" but then Hollywood had already cast Brian "the Boz" Bosworth, Shaq, Dennis Rodman, and Vanilla Ice in movies so why the hell not?  The plot is pretty much Roadhouse if Patrick Swayze's character had been coerced by the CIA to take a job as a bouncer to spy on small town drug dealers.  And maybe if it had starred Patrick Swayze it would have been slightly more tolerable. (1/5)

Bermuda Triangle:  A very long, boring, inept 70s movie about a boat that gets lost in the Bermuda Triangle while looking for "Atlantis."  They find a doll that apparently was a little girl who died a century or two ago, which supposedly talks to a little girl who starts saying creepy things in a badly dubbed voice.  When they go underwater they murder three sharks for little reason.  I mean the sharks weren't even threatening them and they just shot them!  Plus there's a black cook who's so stereotypical even Donald Trump probably couldn't excuse it.  Not even Rifftrax can do much with this turkey. (1/5)

Deep Web:  The "dark Web" is the seedy underbelly of the Internet and now a go-to plot device for lazy screenwriters when someone needs illicit goods or services.  Silk Road was a major dark website that mostly sold drugs for Bitcoins.  The administrator for the site called himself "Dread Pirate Roberts" after the character from The Princess Bride (Cary Elwes in the movie version).  Eventually the FBI caught him and he was put up for trial.  Unfortunately Writer/director Alex Winter (aka Bill S Preston, Esquire) has his buddy Keanu Reeves (aka Ted "Theodore" Logan) narrate in such a monotone that it put me to sleep so I don't really know how it all turned out. (1/5)

Banking on Bitcoin:  This documentary goes hand-in-hand with Deep Web above as much of Bitcoin's rise and popularity was thanks to the Silk Road allowing people to buy drugs online.  The site and its operator are featured in this documentary and even some of the same writers and such are interviewed.  Like when I watched a Minecraft documentary, this didn't really do what I hoped for, which was to explain just what the fuck Bitcoin is in layman's terms.  At one point it goes to a group of old people and one asks if you buy something with a Bitcoin, how do you make change?  But the movie never really answers the question.  As far as I can tell, other than drugs people don't really buy much with Bitcoins; they just hold on to them like stocks or bonds.  I suppose it's a good idea whose time hasn't come yet.  (2/5) (At its height around 2013 there were Bitcoin exchanges that soon went the way of EBay consignment stores.  They even sponsored a college bowl game on ESPN, which was one of the first times where I thought, "The fuck is a Bitcoin?"  Still wondering.)

Lo and Behold:  This Werner Herzog documentary starts with a history of the beginnings of the Internet.  Then it just goes into some random things vaguely associated with the Internet:  artificial intelligence, solar flares, robotics, Internet addiction, and a place in West Virginia where due to is proximity to a radio telescope there's no cell signals, which makes it a haven for people who don't want to use the Internet for whatever reason.  It's mostly interesting but doesn't really have much cohesion. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact: the title comes from LO, short for LOGIN, which was the first-ever email between UCLA and Stanford.)

Boobs!:  Who wouldn't want to watch a documentary about boobs?  What's America's obsession with boobs?  I think the answer is pretty easy if you use Freudian psychology:  it involves an Oedipal complex.  Rather than ask psychologists or anything, this mostly talks to random people and Tom Arnold.  Like Lo and Behold it goes into random tangents about breast enhancement/reduction and porn and all that.  If the production values weren't like an 80s local news broadcast it would be better. (2/5)

Ashley Madison:  Sex, Lies, and Cyber Attacks:  Ashley Madison was a site dedicated to letting married men hook up with chicks.  Its parent company also owned sites like Cougar Life and Established Men.  Basically any fetish, they had a site for it.  Then in 2015 a group of hackers called "Impact Team" hacked the Ashley Madison site and threatened to release the personal information of subscribers.  When the company didn't pay, they also published company emails, which leads some to believe the hack might have been an inside job.  Since no one has been charged (as of the date of the documentary) there's no real conclusion.  It's just some stuff that happened.  (2/5) (Fun Fact:  The CEO of the company stepped down and the company rebranded itself after the email scandal.)

Man vs Snake:  Back in the early 80s there was this video game called Nibbler where a snake eats pellets, getting bigger and bigger.  There was a game called "Snake" on late 90s/early 2000s Nokia phones that was pretty much the same.  Anyway, this guy named Tim McVey (not related to the OKC bomber) set the record for a billion points.  Many years later he and some other people try to do it again.  First he tries to do it at a convention in DC but fails.  Then fails at home a couple of times.  Finally on XMas in 2011 he does it.  His victory is short-lived, though, as someone beats his score the next year.  And someone beats that score...and so it was fun and interesting, but kind of pointless.  (3/5)  (Fun Fact:  McVey was originally from Ottuwah, IA, the oft-mentioned home of Radar O'Reilly in M*A*S*H)

The Kid Stays in the Picture:  Robert Evans started as a maker of women's pants with his brother.  Then he acted in a couple of movies thanks to a chance encounter in a Beverly Hills swimming pool.  Eventually he began producing movies.  In the 70s he had a string of hits like Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, and Chinatown.  In the 80s coke and tangential involvement in a  murder trial sunk his career.  He did a few movies in the 90s like The Two Jakes (a sequel to Chinatown), Sliver, Jade, The Phantom, The Saint, and The Out of Towners, none really big hits.  One thing he never mentioned is really his decline began around the same time Jaws and Star Wars ushered in the era of the blockbuster.  Since Evans handles all the narration (and there's also footage from interviews and such) it's hard to know exactly how truthful it all is.  Still, it was pretty interesting. (3/5) (Fun Facts:  Apparently Evans is still alive, though he hasn't been very active the last 15 years; the last major picture he produced was How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.  Also while he did most of his work through Paramount, this documentary was distributed by Universal.)

Hidden Rules of Life:  Algorithms:  An Oxford math professor demonstrates how useful algorithms are in our daily lives. Algorithms are mathematical procedures for solving simple problems; the first recorded one can be used to find out the number of tiles you'd need to cover a floor.  It talks about some early computing ones and then the original Google PageRank algorithm that made the site so popular and how it can be applied to a soccer team.  For a show about math it's not that boring. (3/5)

Room 408:  I accidentally watched this while building a set of Legos.  I think it's based off a Stephen King story, which is why the main character is a writer.  A writer who checks into the eponymous room that's supposed to be haunted.  Then he starts to experience a lot of weird phenomenon.  It's kind of like Inception at the end as you wonder if he really got out of the room or not.  It's OK but not particularly scary.  Maybe if you're 12 or the sort who gets scared by the standard haunted house.  (2.5/5)

The Saint:  This was a book series that I think started in the 1930s featuring master gentleman thief Simon Templar.  In the 60s there was a British TV series starring Roger Moore that helped him get the Bond role.  In the late 90s Robert Evans (see above) produced a Val Kilmer-starring feature film that didn't do all that hot.  This version on Netflix stars nobody even close to A-list and has TV movie production values.  Templar and his computer hacker assistant have to find $2.5 billion dollars  destined to help Nigeria that were stolen by some people.  I'm not sure if this was the pilot for a series or what, but it was kind of dull; I stopped paying attention after a little while.  A couple of times it seemed like an actor botched his/her lines and yet they left it in.  Not nearly up to Robert Evans caliber. Ha. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  the late Roger Moore has a small role in this as Jasper, whoever that was.  I read the first book in the series a while back; it was OK.)

Looney Tunes: Back in Action:  I guess you could call it the "spiritual sequel" to Space Jam as it pairs Looney Tunes characters with live action people.  Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman this time with Daffy and Bugs.  They're trying to get a diamond called the "Blue Monkey" before the evil Acme corporation led by Steve Martin.  The hi-jinks became grating after a while.  Like later Muppet movies it's kind of annoying that a lot of the voices sound similar but aren't really the same. (1/5)  (Fun Fact:  Read Nigel Mitchell's Toons series instead.)

God's Pocket:  The eponymous neighborhood in Philly is a real shithole, only in the 70s or whenever this was supposed to be it's still mostly a white shithole, unlike say Detroit.  The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is a meat delivery guy or something who moonlights as a low-level mob guy too and then his messed-up son is killed in a construction accident that no one really gives a shit about.  He has trouble then paying for the funeral to the point the funeral director throws the body on the roof or something and so he puts the body in his meat truck to preserve it.  When he tries to sell the truck, someone takes it for a joyride and it gets into an accident, spilling the body onto the road to "die" a second time.  Meanwhile Hoffman's wife and a reporter who was supposed to be looking into the accident go off and fuck in a meadow.  In case you haven't figured yet, it's not an uplifting story.  But it's well-made and less obnoxious than say the movie above. Just saying. (3/5)

Term Life:  Vince Vaughn with a stupid haircut is a guy who plans robberies and then sells those plans to interested parties.  But when a party is murdered by crooked cops, he has to go on the run with his teenage daughter.  It was largely a lot of boring cliches strung together.  A better movie about a criminal bonding with his estranged daughter is Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  Bill Paxton plays a crooked cop pretty much like the one he was playing in the Training Day TV show when he died.)

Cursed:  In Hollywood, a brother and sister (Jesse Eisenberg and Christina Ricci) are attacked by a werewolf and then start becoming werewolves.  They eventually have to find and kill the werewolves who changed them:  Joshua Jackson of Dawson's Creek/Fringe and Judy Greer of Archer/Arrested Development.  It's one of those that seems to shift in tone from serious to campy. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  In an episode of Archer they joke that Judy Greer's character spent months thinking she was a werewolf.)


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