Friday, June 23, 2017

Reader Ideas

For whatever reason Eric Filler doesn't get much fan mail even though I put my email in every book and on the Amazon profile page.  But here was an interesting piece of mail.  Not really a fan letter; instead it's a list of books I should write for...reasons.
Dear Mr. Filler,
I have a few suggestions for some books you should consider writing.
Changed into an Ancient Egyptian handmaiden 
Changed into a sexy mermaid 
Changed into a pregnant Australian woman
Changed into a Japanese woman
Changed into a Arab woman
Changed into her boobs

Some of those are kinda interesting.  An Egyptian handmaiden (or why not a princess or queen?) might be interesting, kind of like the flashbacks in the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies.  The mermaid one seems problematic.  I mean how does a mermaid have sex?  I guess if she gained legs and came on shore that could work; otherwise it'd just be weird. 

A "pregnant Australian woman?"  Why?  What does being Australian add to it?  And I've done plenty of pregnancy ones, including the latest novella Sympathy Pains:  Gender Swapped & Pregnant.  Changed Into a Japanese woman is kinda the same thing:  I've done the Asian woman story a few times, so I don't really see any point to narrowing it to Japanese.  Also, I'm not Japanese or Australian.

The Arab woman could be a little more interesting.  I have done that in a couple of stories, but there's at least some possibility there of becoming a woman in a repressive society.

The Changed Into Her Boobs is an interesting one.  I'm not sure you can make a good narrative from the point of view of a pair of boobs.  It is possible I guess.

I tried to thank this person but the email came back saying the address was invalid.  Since they didn't send any pictures or attachments I wouldn't think it was a virus.  Kind of weird to make up a fake email address just to send me that.

Anyway, as Bill Simmons used to say, "Yup, those are my readers."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Marvel Movies Are the Biggest Around So Why Are Marvel Comics Failing?

Nigel Mitchell posted a link to this article in The Atlantic that analyzes Marvel Comics' sales slump.  Which seems odd since movies like The Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America:  Civil War have generated close to a billion (or more) apiece.  Why isn't this translating to comics?

There are a number of reasons for this in the article, many of them self-inflicted.

1.  Those Guys On Screen?  Yeah, Good Luck Finding Them in Comics.  It's admirable in recent years Marvel has made a push for equality in terms of color and gender, but the downside is that the Disney movies are still mostly male whitewashed.  If you liked the movie of The Avengers and go to pick up a comic now Captain America is Sam Wilson (and an evil Steve Rogers), Thor is a woman, Iron "Man" is a teenage black girl, and the Hulk is an Asian guy.  But there's still Hawkeye and Black Widow...I think.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it creates a disconnect between movies and comics because if you want to follow Tony Stark's adventures in print, there is no more Tony Stark--for now.  Kind of limits the cross-marketing potential.

2.  Oh and Good Luck Finding Comics In General:  When my brother and I were growing up in rural Michigan we could walk down to the corner store and get the latest Transformers or GI JOE comic.  (And they had the other big ones too of course.)  At grocery stores I would frequently be traumatized by comic book covers that were scary or weird.  But now you can't hardly find a comic book anywhere except book stores and specialty comic book stores.  And though I'm not a "normal" person I still don't really like comic book stores.  It's like if you're not a sports fan and you go to some guy's "man cave" that has tons of memorabilia; you definitely aren't in Kansas anymore.  You're entering someone else's clubhouse and it can be easy to feel intimidated.  Plus most of them are hole-in-the-wall places that aren't exactly nearby and for introverts there's probably no one there so you're probably going to be accosted by the owner.  And you're probably not going to get a hot girl to write her phone number on an X-Men comic like in Free Enterprise.  Fortunately there's Comixology and such so you can buy comics online now.

3.  Even Online, Bring Money:  When I was a kid comics were like 50 cents and then gradually went up to 75 cents and a dollar.  In 1938 when Superman debuted for 10 cents you got like 100 pages of comics and print.  Now for $3.99 you get 23 pages, probably half of which will be splash pages with one panel on a whole page or across two pages.  But the quality of the paper and ink is a lot better.  The quality of the drawing itself can be debatable.  A lot of newer ones use more of a manga style it seems, which is meh to me but what do I know?

4.  Gotta Catch Them All!:  Marvel and DC are both guilty of too many crossover events.  The latest for Marvel is "Secret Empire" where evil Steve Rogers has taken over America.  This is only a few months removed from "Civil War II" which I haven't read yet but then I'm a few events behind.  Really you can get like that part of the Bible:  And lo Original Sins beget Secret Wars II which beget Civil War II which beget Secret Empire...If you want to really follow each event you have to buy not only the 8 main issues of that series but then the 2-4 spinoff issues for each series.  At the same time, each series goes from one arc after another, each probably 5-6 issues so they can put it into a trade paperback later.  I've enjoyed Dan Slott's Spider-Man run but it's been going from one arc to another for more than 10 years it seems like.  It can be hard then for a casual (and/or poor) fan to get into it.

5.  We're Number 1!:  Something the article talks about is Marvel's penchant for renumbering its series.  They've done that pretty much every year for the last 3-4 years.  It gets to be really annoying.  If you say, "Hey check out Amazing Spider-Man #1!" someone could say, "Which one:  2013, 2014, 2015, or 2016?"  It can be really confusing, especially since with many series the stories aren't necessarily starting over.  I mean each Amazing Spider-Man #1 isn't an origin story.  So if you're wanting to jump in, where are you supposed to start?

The article talks about writer-creator teams which I don't think is that big of a deal.  I suppose it can be jolting, especially if they change too often, but I don't think most people care all that much.  Just like people don't care about me talking about this too much. 😋

Monday, June 19, 2017

Old Man's War: Writing Your Series Into a Corner

A while back Amazon had the entire six books in the Old Man's War series by John Scalzi on sale.  I'd had the first one on my wishlist so I decided to just buy all the books and hope for the best.

The first book turned out to be really good.  Like a new take on The Forever War and Starship Troopers, it's a space war from the POV of a grunt.  The new part is that John Perry is originally a 75-year-old guy from Ohio.  Like a bunch of old people he joins the Colonial Defense Force for the promise of being young again.  The catch is before you can get a new body, you have to do a hitch with the CDF armed forces.  The combat body they give everyone is colored green with cat eye's to make it more adaptable to the many alien planets they visit.  Unlike many of his mates, Perry survives his encounters with alien races.  During a mission gone wrong he meets a Special Forces lieutenant who looks remarkably like his dead wife back on Earth.  Later he finds out that the Special Forces troops are made with reconstituted DNA, so the lieutenant looks like Perry's wife because she's sort of a clone of her, only grown in a lab with a lot of combat training embedded.  Perry joins the Special Forces troops for a mission, during which he and the lieutenant, Jane Sagan, start to fall in love.  After the mission, Perry is eventually retired while Jane remains in the Special Forces. 

It was a great book leaning more towards Forever War than Starship Troopers because of the romantic plot.  The narration was done in first person that was pretty entertaining.

The problem with the series begins in the second book.  It's told in third-person mostly focusing on a guy who's a lab experiment.  The CDF grew him as a clone of a traitorous scientist, hoping that some of his memories would remain.  Except they don't show first.  So the CDF makes him a Special Forces soldier instead and he ends up under the command of Jane Sagan.  They eventually find the real scientist, who is trying to create consciousness for an alien race known as the Obin who would make Vulcans seem like a rowdy college frat.  The scientist and his clone die and Jane takes his little girl Zoe and retires to a farm with John Perry. 

The story is OK but the third person narration is so bland compared to the first book.  The clone thing wasn't even that original; Robotech's third series or Mospaeda in Japan did the same thing in the 80s and it was also the plot of the Robotech Invasion video game in the mid-2000s.  Maybe Scalzi played that?

The third book gets better as it goes back to focusing on John Perry and goes back to first person narration.  Perry, Jane, and now-teenaged Zoe lead a group of colonists to a planet called Roanoke which if you remember history was the first English colony in Virginia--until it disappeared shortly thereafter with everyone seemingly dead.  How fitting because there's a new coalition of alien races called The Conclave that wants to destroy Roanoke and any other new colony they don't sanction.  At the same time the CDF used Roanoke as bait to lure the Conclave fleet to the planet so they could blow it up to destabilize the Conclave, but since the Conclave survives, they're kind of pissed.  To save the colony, Perry cuts a deal with the Conclave.  He convinces the Conclave to take a bunch of trade ships to Earth, which is not officially part of the Colonial Union.  And through whatever machinations this spares Roanoke, though the Perry family can no longer live there.  Or anywhere.  What happens to them?  Who the fuck knows?

Because the fourth book, Zoe's Tale, is largely a retelling of the third book only as you'd expect from the perspective of Perry's adopted daughter Zoe.  Zoe is a big deal with the Obin because of her father creating a sort of consciousness for them.  To that end she gets two bodyguards she names Hickory and Dickory because Obin themselves didn't have the consciousness to name themselves.  Much of the story then is the same although there are parts that we didn't see much of from Perry's POV that we can see from Zoe's.  Like when she travels to the Conclave and saves its leader from an assassination.  Unfortunately the book ends with her leaving Roanoke so we still have no fucking idea what happens to the Perry family.  For the most part I liked the book even if it was kind of a cheap stunt.

And the fifth "book" isn't much help to answer what happened to John Perry and company.  Instead this isn't even a novel.  It's actually a bunch of serials published in a magazine that were then strung together and called a new novel.  Most of it revolves around a diplomatic team for the Colonial Union as they try to clean up the mess created by John Perry at the end of the third book.  It's not bad but again we're back to third person, which Scalzi kind of sucks at--at least compared to first person--and we don't have any of the main characters from the previous books.  The closest is Harry Wilson, who was one of Perry's mates early in the first book.  If you actually care about the politics of the Colonial Union and Conclave (and who doesn't!) then it's OK.  If you liked the first book for its main characters then there's not much here.

The sixth "book" features three novellas instead of a bunch of serials.  Each one is written in first person, which is somewhat of a relief.  The first one is from the POV of a pilot whose brain was put into a computer so he could pilot a starship on his own.  Some bad dudes called Equilibrium are behind this so they can use the pilot to help destabilize the Conclave and Colonial Union.  But the pilot double-crosses them and pilots his ship back to the Colonial Union along with some valuable prisoners.  The second novella is from the POV of a top adviser to the head of the Conclave.  Her mentor blows himself up so he can be a martyr and then she takes over.  Finally the last novella is from the POV of Harry Wilson as the Colonial Union and Conclave have to work together to destroy Equilibrium before they can nuke Earth to radioactive dust.  Again it's OK if you really give a shit about the politics of all this.  For what is (for now at least) the end of the series it's pretty lame that we never get back to the Perry family.  It'd be like if Return of the Jedi had just completely ignored Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewie, and the droids and focused entirely on Mon Mothma and the top brass of the Rebellion.  (Or it'd be like the Star Wars prequels that few people besides Tony Laplume liked.)

The problem with the series is that Scalzi didn't really think this through ahead of time.  By retiring Perry at the end of the first book, he didn't really have much he could do with him for a sequel.  Thus trying to move on to other characters.  Then he has to go back to Perry for a third book but since Perry is no longer a soldier, there's not much you can do with him.  The colony thing was good, but then making Perry essentially a traitor to his own people again leaves him and his family at a loose end--one that is never resolved.  While the fourth book fills in some holes it doesn't move the characters or the series forward a whole lot, especially since we never see Zoe, her parents, or the Obin again.

What we're left with then is a lot of filler material in the form of the last two "books."  Like I said, if you care about the political situation then they're fine.  But people generally don't read fiction for its political situations.  People generally read fiction for characters, for people to root for or despise or whatever.  What these serials and novellas do is mostly rob us of character arcs because we get bits and pieces of this character or that character.

Sure you can still sell books this way but they aren't necessarily very good books.  If you're going to make a series, you generally want to avoid putting your character in a corner from which he or she has nowhere to go.

Friday, June 16, 2017

House of Cards Topples in Season 5

The latest season of Netflix's House of Cards debuted on May 30th, which is late from its usual February time.  The season can be summarized as:  President Underwood is gone, all hail President Underwood!

Near the end of season 4 President Frank Underwood and his team used various machinations to secure the vice-presidential nomination for his wife Claire.  They then began their joint campaign against the Republican, Governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman of Suicide Squad and the crappy Robocop reboot).

Season 5's first 9 episodes are about the conclusion of the 2016 election.  When it's clear he's going to lose, Frank and Claire stage terrorist attacks that prevent Ohio and Tennessee from certifying their elections.  The vote then goes to the House for president, but it's not just a straight vote.  Instead, each state's representative's need a consensus and then the state blocs each vote, meaning that to win you need 26 states to vote for you.  The Senate meanwhile votes for the vice-president, choosing Claire Underwood, who then becomes temporary president.

Meanwhile, Conway is cracking badly, throwing a tantrum in a airplane cockpit that's recorded.  When the House kicks the election back to Ohio, Conway loses and finally Frank is reelected.  But there's not much time for him to do anything because all the shit he's been up to since Season 1 is being investigated by Congress and impeachment hangs in the air--much like real life!

So the remaining 4 episodes are about the wolves closing in on Frank and Claire.  To try to throw their pursuers off they undertake one extreme gambit after another.  Frank pushes his Secretary of State down the stairs to prevent her from testifying.  (Is she still alive?  Maybe.  They don't really go into that.)  He then has his loyal aide Doug Stamper confess to murdering a reporter, a crime Frank actually committed.  Meanwhile, Claire poisons a writer she was sleeping with because he was going to publish a book on the Underwoods.  And they have a former campaign manager (Neve Campbell) murdered as well.

And at the end of it, Frank goes to Congress and says he's going to resign.  So then Claire becomes president and after a gas attack in Syria sends troops in there.  The question remains whether she will pardon her husband and Doug Stamper or not.

I was really interested in finding out who would win the election, but after that my interest in the season began to wane.  I'm a little dismayed by what happened in the last episode.  It might sound sexist but I'm really not happy about Claire taking over the show.  It was supposed to be about Francis, not Claire.  To sound like a whiny comic book fan, if you go to the source material, Francis's wife doesn't even have any lines in the British novel by Michael Dobbs.   And when Claire does Frank's thing of breaking the fourth wall it really irritates me.  It's stealing his gimmick.  It'd be like if in Deadpool 2 all of the sudden his girlfriend Vanessa starts talking to the camera.  That's his thing, not yours!

To sound like a conspiracy theorist, this is what the showrunners wanted to happen since Season 2.  The first season they kept her busy with a bullshit foundation.  In Season 2 they had to throw a rape and abortion scandal in to give her something to do.  Once Frank became president they had to engineer for her to be UN ambassador to have her character be relevant.  Because Robin Wright won an Emmy and probably got a big pay raise they've been trying to keep her character relevant in each season and what better way to do that than make her the star of the show?  It just doesn't work for me.  She's evil but she's more of a wishy-washy evil than Frank.  It's just not the same.

Last season I wasn't really happy about Claire being the VP in the first place.  It's something that would never happen in the real world.  Not even Trump is stupid enough to nominate Ivanka for VP.  So then having her not only become VP but then President just amps it all up a few notches.

If they were just going to blow the core concept of the show up, why didn't they just have Conway win?   Honestly if they wanted to make the whole series about Claire and sideline Frank they could have just killed him in Season 4 when he was suffering from liver failure.  Or he could have stepped down and Claire could have run for president and been elected.  That at least would have made it a little more sensible.

Season 1 is still one of my favorite seasons of a series ever but the following seasons haven't been quite as good.  And now with Frank sidelined and Claire in charge, I'm not sure how much longer this can really continue.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stuff I Watched 6/14/17

More stuff I watched...

I've watched a bunch of Rifftrax movies lately.  Why Rifftrax and not MST3K on Netflix?  As a practical matter, these are on Amazon Prime for only a limited time whereas a Netflix series will be on Netflix forever.  Also there's the nostalgia value as you have original MST3K Tom Servo Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson who was a writer on the original MST3K before becoming the human on the ship and replacement Crow T Robot Bill Corbett.  So you have people who have been doing this for over 25 years.  Plus to be honest the intros and intermissions on MST3K are usually lame so not having those means you can have the full movie without interruptions.

Hillbillys in a Haunted House:  This cheesy "horror" movie features three "hillbillys" who are really two country singers and their goofy business manager.  After they run across a gunfight on their way to Nashville they decide to spend the night in an abandoned house.  (Because if there's no motel handy just break into a house.)  Little do they realize the house is occupied by a middle-aged Chinese woman, a cheap gorilla suit, and three horror legends in Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, and Lon Cheney Jr.  The bad guys have some kind of plan to steal some formula for some reason.  Let's not dig too deep into this.  It's one of those that barely needs Rifftrax to be hilariously bad. (1/5) (Fun Fact:  The spelling of Hillbillies is what's on the movie poster and such on IMDB.)

Fever Lake:  This was a "horror" movie lacking in horror or tension of any sort.  It features the moldy old stable of six college kids go up to the eponymous lake for a weekend.  This is the point where some masked killer or evil spirits would beset them but mostly they just hang out, getting up to nothing, until finally the thin excuse for a plot gets out of neutral and into first gear.  It's kind of funny this came out around the same time as Scream, making it even more pathetic by comparison.  Naturally it was a Rifftrax movie. (1/5)  (Fun Fact:  Scream starred big TV stars of the time Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox while this starred former child stars Cory Haim and Mario Lopez.  Just saying.)

Samurai Cop:  In this early 90s cheesefest, a buff guy with Fabio hair and his black partner who's not too old for this shit take on some kind of Asian Mafia.  The Fabio hair guy is called "Samurai Cop" though he doesn't do anything to make you think of a samurai until a brief sword fight at the end and he's not Asian either.  A lot of mumbling dialog, terrible fight choreography, and nonsensical plot turns.  Do I even need to say this was a Rifftrax movie?  Yeah.  (Fun Fact:  25 years later someone made a sequel to this.  Why?  It's probably destined to be on Rifftrax too.)

The Boy In the Plastic Bubble:  This is the movie that launched John Travolta's career...or not.  As indicated by the title, he's a teenage boy who lives in more of a plastic-wrapped roomed than an actual bubble.  The girl next door is goaded into inviting him to her 4th of July party and then on a whole $2 dare talks to him and holds his hand. ($2 was a lot of money in 1975, right?)  But eventually she starts to come around and treat him like a human being.  He finally gets a sort of spacesuit so he can go to school with the girl.  It's pretty corny, though probably better than Battlefield Earth.  Yes this was another Rifftrax movie too. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  Travolta's father in the movie is Mr. Brady from The Brady Bunch.

Yambao:  In 1850s Cuba the eponymous girl is a "witch" who makes the master of a sugar plantation fall in love with her, ostensibly to kill him for revenge for something that happened to her grandma, who lives in a cave.  There's a lot of lame chanting and singing and weird rituals.  And really when the master of the plantation is sick, why don't the slaves give him a little push?  There's apparently no overseer except another slave, so it would seem pretty easy to rebel at that point. (1/5)

Zindy the Swamp Boy:  You might think this is a monster movie but really it's about a boy and his grandpa who live in the Everglades because the grandpa killed someone or something.  Then the grandpa suffocates in quicksand and the boy is alone with his pet chimpanzee and tarantula, both creatures that are totally native of the swamps, right?  Yeah, not really. (1/5)

Guy From Harlem:  This is a blaxploitation movie from the early 70s that would have been better with editing, multiple takes, and better actors.  The first part of the story has a detective from Harlem (who works in Miami now) protect an "African" princess who speaks with an American accent, which he does by screwing her in a friend's apartment.  This really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, where he has to rescue some reverend's daughter from...bad people who took her for...reasons. (1/5)

Manos the Hands of Fate:  This was previously on MST3K (I own a copy) but in a live version the Rifftrax crew did their take on it.  I'm not sure how many of the jokes were the same, but maybe some.  Anyway, this horrendous movie is about a couple who get lost in Texas and end up at a weird house run by an even weirder guy named Torgo who in the back of the house has his "master" waiting on a slab with his "wives" chained to pillars around him.  Instead of just leaving the creepy house, the idiots stick around and get taken captive.  The plot makes little sense.  I guess the star wrote, directed, produced, and financed it, though it ended up having a lot in common with his previous line of work in selling fertilizer. (1/5)

The Hideous Sun Demon:  In one of the most boring "horror" movies ever made a guy gets exposed to radiation and when the sun shines on him he turns into a lizard creature.  Half the movie is just the guy driving up and down the southern California coast at night and hanging out with some female lounge singer.  Honestly, I fell asleep for the end of it. (1/5)

Cat-Women From the Moon:  In this lame 50s sci-fi movie a crew takes a rocket to the moon and find "cat women" there.  The women don't have whiskers or tails or anything so they're really not all that cat-like.  The climax isn't even shown on screen; one of the astronauts just basically yells to the other, "Hey, we killed them."  The End.  A hilarious thing noted by the Rifftrax team was when the crew buckles up on the rocket they're sitting on wheeled office chairs.  So unless those have magnets aren't they going to go rolling all over the ship?  Duh. (1/5)  (Fun Fact:  This featured guest Riffers Bridget Nelson and Mary Jo Piehl who I think were both on MST3K at one point or another.  Maybe with a movie about women they wanted a woman's perspective?)

Jack the Giant Killer:  This 60s movie is like a forerunner to Clash of the Titans with its heroes, wizards, and terrible claymation.  An evil wizard tries to abduct a princess but a villager named Jack inadvertently kills the giant and then like Star Wars Episode II he and the princess go off on a boat to hide and fall in love--at least until she's kidnapped and turned into a witch.  Oh and there's a leprechaun in a bottle.  You know, instead of a genie.  Makes as much sense as the rest of the movie.  Still probably better than that Bryan Singer version from about 2 years ago. (1/5)

Ghosthouse:  Like Hillbillys in a Haunted House, much of the plot revolves around idiots who decide to break into a vacated house when they stop for the night to rest.  In this case one of the idiots sets up a HAM radio in the attic and it somehow sends a spooky message that a dork in Boston tracks down with his Apple IIe computer to the house.  At this point all the people have to do is leave, but nah they'll just stick around and get killed by a little girl and her creepy clown doll.  Pro Tip:  Never buy your kid a creepy clown doll.  Also, don't break into abandoned houses and set up HAM radios.  Oh and if a really slow creep is chasing you through a graveyard, just keep running instead of slowly backing up and then locking yourself into a crypt.  Honestly this 80s horror movie features so many WTF moments even the Rifftrax team has their work cut out for them. (1/5)

Night of the Living Dead:  This was a live Halloween special featuring the original zombie movie.  At least the modern version of zombies.  This is a classic and yet it was pretty low budget so there's still plenty to mock. (3/5)

Laserblast:  This was actually an MST3K episode with two of the Rifftrax people, Kevin Murphy, and Mike Nelson.  This cheesy late 70s sci-fi movie is about a kid who finds an alien weapon.  When he tries it out it starts to take over his mind and make him kill people--or something.  It's pretty boring, focusing more on the kid's dull small town life than the alien weapon.  The claymation aliens were even cheesier than the monsters in Jack the Giant Killer that predated it by probably 15 years or more.  At one point the kid shoots a sign that says "Star Wars."  Ooh, take that!  Yeah, I'm sure George Lucas was real worried. (1/5) (Fun Fact:  Noted film critic Leonard Maltin gave this 2 1/2 stars; during the end credits Mike and the robots go through all the movies Maltin rating as high or or lower than this, including movies like Unforgiven and My Dinner With Andre.)

Space Mutiny:  This is another MST3K episode but it has all three of the Rifftrax people so except for the intermissions it's pretty much the same thing.  The movie is an extremely cheesy 80s sci-fi movie about a ship that is a refuge for people from an overpopulated Earth.  Some of the people on board want to take over and go to another system.  Or I think that's what it's about; it's hard to tell with the actual lame movie.  The bridge uses computers that look like Commodore 64s and Tandys--and the graphics on the monitors are equal to that.  The engine room where a lot of the "action" takes place looks like one of those old factories in Detroit and inside people drive around things that look like bumper cars.  The space battles literally use footage from Battlestar Galactica--the 70s version of course.  There are literally no redeeming qualities. (1/5)

Future War:  A would-be nun, a human slave from another planet, and a couple of chubby guys do battle with dinosaur puppets and one guy who looks like he's part of KISS Army and a couple more who look like lame Borg cosplayers.  The plot is supposed to be kinda like Planet of the Apes in that humans are enslaved by dinosaurs on another planet.  One guy escapes and dinosaurs and weirdos pursue him to Earth where really cheesy mayhem ensues.  You'd think even in the late 80s they could do a little better with the dinosaur puppets; Jim Henson would be rolling in his grave.  Also, this doesn't take place in the future and there's not really a war, so the title makes no sense. (1/5)

Time Chasers:  There have been a lot of time travel movies with lots of different modes of travel, but probably none as stupid as a Cessna using a Commodore computer with 5 1/4" disks.  And this was filmed in 1991!  Even by 1991 standards that tech was horribly outdated.  How the hell do you manage time travel with that?  Anyway, a dorky college professor with a mullet uses his stupid time machine to impress a local reporter and then sells it to a big corporation whose CEO has his office at the top of a stairwell and then the CEO somehow destroys the future--maybe he suggested Trump run for president.  Anyway, some really stupid, cheesy mayhem ensues in Vermont.  Bet Einstein wishes he'd thought of using a Commodore on a crummy prop plane to achieve time travel. (1/5)

OK, I watched other stuff too.

Keeping Up With the Joneses:  In a suburban cul-du-sac, a new couple (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) moves in.  They start to make friends with another couple, Zach Galifinakis and Isla Fisher.  The former is an HR guy at a defense firm and soon it becomes apparent that the new couple are very interested in his work.  Eventually it comes out the new couple are spies and they reluctantly have to recruit their neighbors to help find an arms dealer played by Patton Oswalt.  There were some pretty fun parts; it was like a less serious, more tongue-in-cheek True Lies and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  (3/5)

Sleepless:  This is like a combination of The Departed and Taken, though much worse than either.  Jamie Foxx is a supposedly bad cop who with his partner rip off a drug deal.  The drug dealer then kidnaps Foxx's son and he has to run around a fictitious Las Vegas casino called the "Luxus" trying to get the drugs back from two IA cops, the one played by the sheriff in Stranger Things you just know from the start is dirty, and rescue his son.  And then it turns out he's not really a dirty cop, he's just been undercover all this time like Leo DiCaprio in The Departed, which at least helps it make sense why the hell I'd want to root for a dirty cop even if his kid was kidnapped.  Overall a pretty blah action movie that probably should have gone straight to Redbox.  (2/5) (Fun Fact:  Jamie Foxx won an Oscar.  Remember that?)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows:  The first Michael Bay-produced Turtles movie was surprisingly competent and watchable.  Sadly the sequel decided to turn the campiness up to 11 and break off the knob.  They also try to jam in the entire Turtles mythos into the film by adding Baxter Stockman, Krang, Beepop, and Rocksteady to the mix.  The latter three are so painfully cheesy while the former is like an evil Neil deGraase Tyson.  Arrow star Stephen Amell is also included as Casey Jones, whose main accomplishment is terrorizing the Allstate Mayhem guy and hitting some Foot Clan goons with hockey pucks.  The Turtles are still OK, but the plot is just too bananas and the surrounding cast too lame to give them any help.  If you're under 12 it's probably still watchable, but otherwise it's pretty corny. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  It would have seemed obvious to have a cookie scene where Baxter Stockman turns into a fly creature, but nah.  Then again why bother since the movie flopped and is unlikely to have a sequel?)

Dog Eat Dog:  Three lowlife criminals take a job to kidnap a baby but inadvertently kill the guy they were supposed to get a ransom from.  And it just keeps unraveling from there.  BTW, this isn't a comedy.  It's more sad that they roped in Nic Cage and Willem Dafoe, who used to be respected actors and director Paul Schrader who once upon a time wrote Taxi Driver. (1/5)

The Samaritan:  Sam Jackson gets out of prison for murdering his former grifting partner but as he tries to stay out of trouble, the dead partner's kid tries to rope Sam Jackson into a new grift.  Meanwhile he saves a girl from being raped but it all takes a creepy Oldboy turn when he finds out that she's his daughter.  It was an otherwise serviceable thriller, but why'd they have to go and make it weird? (2/5)

Blood in the Water:  I thought from the title this was a shark movie or something but actually it's like a Bret Easton Ellis book.  A young couple is housesitting in the Hollywood Hills when a drug dealer they used to hang out with pays them a visit.  And then mayhem ensues, albeit very slowly.  I didn't really follow it all that much.  At the end it goes into The Usual Suspects, trying to make you think the couple were unreliable narrators to the guy they were telling their story to. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  The female half of the couple is played by Willa Holland of Arrow, who probably could have used her bow and martial arts training in this.)

War Machine:  Brad Pitt, looking like Hannibal from the A-Team, is the latest general to take over in Afghanistan in 2009.  After having some success in Iraq, he figures he can bring Afghanistan under his control.  But of course it doesn't work.  He's pretty out of touch with the Afghan theater, trying to win the hearts and minds of people who are far more concerned about the Taliban coming back than they are about the Americans.  And the Afghan leader (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) is far more concerned about enjoying the fruits of the Western world--like DVDs--than trying to unite his people.  When the general tries to go on the offensive, it fails miserably and he gets fired only for the next swaggering general (uncredited Russell Crowe) to stomp in and fail.  Pitt's tough guy voice is kind of annoying after about 2 hours, but otherwise it's a decent movie to remind you why Trump isn't going to do any better than Obama or W.  Honestly we went through Vietnam and we still seem to have no clue what we're doing.  Those who don't learn from history and all that. (3/5)

War on Everyone:  This is basically like Lethal Weapon if the two cops were super-duper corrupt and it took place in Albuquerque instead of LA.  It's a buddy cop action-comedy where Michael Pena (Ant-Man) and Alexander Skarsgaard (Legend of Tarzan) are partners who rampage around hitting a mime with their car, driving drunk, ripping off drug dealers, and beating up lots of people.  They take on an English lord who's running drugs (or something) to steal $800,000 from him and avenge a boy who was forced into doing some gross stuff.  For the most part it's a fun ride that parodies the buddy cop genre. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  Paul Reiser is almost unrecognizable as their lieutenant.  Makes me feel old to see how old he is now.)

Betting on Zero:  Typically we think of Wall Street people as greedy assholes, but in this one case there was someone trying to do good--and make money.  A hedge fund manager with deep pockets decided to "short" a company, which means to bet on the company failing.  The company?  Herbalife.  Maybe you've heard of them?  They're a company that recruits people to sell nutritional supplements.  The company is widely believed to be a pyramid scheme because it mostly relies on recruiting other people to make money rather than through actual sales.  The Wall Street guy promised that if Herbalife went out of business, the money he made from the "short" would go to charity.  The problem is of course Herbalife when they found out about this started fighting it tooth and nail.  The documentary provides a lot of info on Herbalife with some shocking facts, like they basically lose 80% of their workers per year.  Latino communities have been the hardest hit as the poor people there get suckered into thinking Herbalife will make them rich, but about 75% of their reps will make less than $1000 a year.  The "clubs" Herbalife started having its members create were pretty ludicrous:  the owners couldn't advertise or sell directly to people; they were only supposed to sign people up for memberships.  Needless to say a lot of the clubs failed; one guy in Oklahoma managed to turn his into a vapor lounge in order to recoup his money.  The problem with this film is that there's no resolution.  Herbalife was investigated by the FTC but only got a slap on the wrist.  Herbalife also settled a class action suit where the recipients got a measly $10 apiece.  At this point Herbalife stock is still at $69/share, so it's pretty far from $0.  I'd love all these pyramid schemes to get put out of business, but it ain't going to happen.  (3/5)  (Fun Fact:  Carl Ichan, a billionaire backer of Herbalife is an advisor to Trump, so I wouldn't expect Herbalife to go under anytime soon.)

Arlington Road:  This movie from about 2000 concerns terrorism--domestic terrorism.  Jeff Bridges is a widower whose FBI agent wife died in a Ruby Ridge-type event.  Since then he's started teaching a class on domestic terrorists at George Washington University in the DC area.  Then one day he sees a kid walking down his street, bleeding from a fireworks injury though it's March.  He finds out the kid actually lives next door with Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack.  Soon he starts to worry that his neighbors might be plotting a terrorist attack.  The movie isn't all that subtle about this either so you really never doubt that these seemingly normal people are terrorists.  But there is a good twist at the end that helps to redeem the movie. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  Hey remember when those Oklahoma City bombers blew up that building and we didn't go to war, strip personal liberties, or try to enact "travel bans?"  Maybe because they were white Christians?  Hurm...)

In Like Flint:  This is a campy, anti-feminist secret agent-type spoof.  I was expecting something funny like Austin Powers but instead it was just lame and sad like Goldmember.  James Coburn is Derek Flint, a guy who knows how to talk to dolphins...and ladies.  He has to thwart a plot by a group of scantily-clad women to replace the president and take over the world.  The moral of the story was that women would always be outsmarted by men and are really good for nothing but using their feminine wiles to distract horny guys.  It's probably Mike Pence's favorite movie.  This really should be on Rifftrax. (1/5) (Fun Fact:  Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl in the campy Batman TV show, plays a Russian ballerina/spy.)

Deja Vu:  Denzel Washington is an ATF agent in New Orleans tasked with solving a ferry bombing.  He gets some help from Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, and a time machine.  The time machine only lets them see back about 100 hours and once a moment is past, they can't go back to it.  Denzel sees a woman in the past who washed up on shore and starts to fall in love with her in the past, enough that he goes back to try to save her.  As far as time travel movies it reminds me of a show on UPN about 20 years ago called 7 Days where they could only send the guy back in time a week and he had to try to stop whatever.  But obviously this has a lot better effects and actors. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  This was one of Tony Scott's last pictures before he died.)

Trust Me:  Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) wrote, produced, directed, and stars in this as a former child star turned low-rent agent.  When he finally gets a decent client, a 14-year-old girl up for a Twilight-ish role, he sees it as his chance to finally get out of the shadow of bigger agents like the one played by Sam Rockwell.  Then he starts to think the girl's father (Paul Sparks, lately of House of Cards) is abusing her.  The father claims it was the girl's former manager, but when the girl threatens to testify against him in court, he slinks away to let her be emancipated.  But all is not as it seems.  I thought this would be more of a comedy, but it really takes some dark turns in the end there.  Still, it was pretty decent. (3/5)  (Fun Fact:  Besides this movie, Gregg and Rockwell have also appeared together on Iron Man 2 and Choke, another movie Gregg wrote and directed--and you thought he was just that dorky SHIELD guy, right?)

Watching the Detectives:  A video store owner with a thing for noir movies (Cillian Murphy of Batman Begins/Inception) meets a quirky woman (Lucy Liu of Charlie's Angels) and she leads him into vandalizing a rival video store, swimming in a stranger's pool, and unwittingly robbing the casino where she works.  At first he thinks it's great, then he gets fed up, and then he decides to go with her and terrorize the rest of the country.  It's a quirky, frothy romantic comedy. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  The Elvis Costello song used for the title is never used in the film.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Banking Interest: When a Catch-22 Isn't

Since I got booted from, I was hanging around a similar website.  Anyway, in the "Intellectual Table" forum, this one moron likes to post questions that he thinks are real brain teasers but aren't.  Here was one on banking interest:

If a bank charges interest as they inherit the risk, does not the charging of interest increase the risk of the person not being able to pay back the loan. Thus the interest has to increase based on the interest charged. As a result the risk will increase, which should therefore increase the interest etc etc

Technically interest should increase to infinity.

The first thing is, this dude hasn't the slightest fucking clue how banks or interest work.  Since I have a degree in Accounting (and have spent 20 years in various accounting-related roles) I tried to educate him on this, but he was just not having it.  He was determined to think this question of his was a Catch-22.

On the surface it is.  If you charge a poor person a high interest rate, it would in theory make it more likely they'll default.  What dipshit doesn't realize, though, is that the game is rigged in the bank's favor, so while there might be more risk of a default, the bank isn't necessarily going to take a bath on it.  If someone defaults on a mortgage, the bank takes the house and auctions it off to recoup their investment.  If someone defaults on a car loan, the bank takes the car and auctions it off.  On an episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver about a year ago, they bought a 2003 Kia Optima that had been sold, repossessed, and resold like 8 times!

And the way dipshit phrases this is pretty dumb.  Most loans are fixed, so the bank isn't constantly increasing the interest rate.  Thus the interest rate would not "increase to infinity."  There are also usury laws that are supposed to cap interest, though naturally Republicans have weakened those, which is why your credit card company can charge you 35% interest and payday loan places even higher.

I'm no fan of Big Banks, but this guy had me actually defending them.  In his universe, all banks do is "type numbers in a database" and should get a flat fee of $50 for that.  I'm not sure where he thinks the money for a loan actually comes from.  As Jimmy Stewart explains in It's A Wonderful Life:  It's in Bob's house and Fred's house...and so on.  The money loaned from a bank comes from the bank's reserves generated by deposits, investments, and interest from loans it makes.  Where Big Banks got into trouble was making too many bad loans that they packaged and sold as "derivatives" which no one really understands but eventually turned toxic and caused the banks to tank.  This was more because they weren't really paying attention to who they were loaning money to, not because of the interest they charged.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Amazon Finally Provides All Time Sales Data...And a Wake-up Call

Wednesday night I checked my Amazon sales and saw Amazon had changed their graphs from line graphs to bar graphs.  That's not much of a big deal, but what was far more interesting was they finally after 8 years let you see sales data since the inception of your account, which in my case was 2009.  This was something I had been yearning for so I could get a better idea of what was selling and what wasn't.  I suppose I could have kept track myself but to do that I'd have had to start within the first 3 months and then keep track of it each month ever since.  This was certainly a lot easier.

It was a wake-up call to finally see the sales data from 2009 to April 2017.  Here are some interesting statistics:

I have 211 books on Amazon.  Eric Filler has 146, P.T./Patrick Dilloway has 47, and Ivana Johnson has 18.

The bestselling book:  Transformed Omnibus, Volume 1 by Eric Filler

Bestselling Book (P. Dilloway):  Where You Belong (yay!)
Bestselling Book (I. Johnson):  Time & Space

Top 5 Bestselling Books:
  1. Transformed Omnibus, Volume 1 by Eric Filler
  2. My Wife Changed Me Into a Pinup Girl by Eric Filler
  3. Regressions Age Regression Omnibus by Eric Filler
  4. Where You Belong by Patrick Dilloway
  5. Transformed Into a Pregnant Girl by Eric Filler
Top 5 Underperforming Books:

  1. Mortal Sins
  2. Virgin Territory
  3. When You Were Young
  4. Last Dance
  5. Chet Finley vs Machines of Fate

All by P.T. Dilloway (yay?)

But the Wake-Up call came when I broke the Eric Filler stories into two categories:  Erotica and Age Regression.  There are 91 erotica stories and 41 age regression stories and yet on average the age regression stories make about $50 more.  Though 3 of the top 4 Eric Filler books there are erotica titles, on the whole they don't make as much as the age regression ones, which is pretty much the opposite of what I had been thinking.  So maybe now I should focus more on those and less on the erotica books.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

DC Finally Connects With Wonder Woman

The DC Cinematic Universe inadvertently began with Man of Steel back in 2013 and it was an OK movie with some flaws.  Then last year came Batman v Superman which had even bigger flaws that I've gotten into many times already.  Finally there was Suicide Squad, which seemed dumb in the extreme:  a witch is trying to destroy the world so let's put together a team of an assassin, a psycho chick with a baseball bat, a guy who throws boomerangs, a weird crocodile guy, and one guy who actually has superpowers because that's what you'd do, right? (Ugh.)  While all of those movies made money, none of them garnered the kind of critical support that most Marvel movies have.  It sadly looked as if DC's universe were going the way of the Transformers universe:  horribly stupid and yet somehow making enough money to keep pumping them out.

Then along comes Wonder Woman, taking the best part of BvS and putting her into a solo movie.  And not only is it a financial success (so far) it's also a critical success.  Finally after three tries DC/WB get it right--more or less.

In BvS there was a picture of Wonder Woman and some dudes in World War I that she was desperately trying to get back.  This provides the framing device for the movie as it starts in Paris, where Diana Prince is working and receives the original picture from Bruce Wayne.  And then she thinks back to 1918 to before the picture was taken.

Her origin combines the 80s George Perez "made of clay" and the more recent "daughter of Zeus" origin.  Diana grows up on Themyscara or Paradise Island, where she's the only child amongst a bunch of warrior women.  Like Luke Skywalker or many a movie hero, she wants to be a hero and see the world, but of course none of that is going to happen until a plane falls out of the sky and into the ocean.  She rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor (played by new Captain Kirk Chris Pine) but some Germans are on his trail and storm the beach, leading to a fight with the Amazons who have literally taken bows and swords to a gunfight.  Despite that the Amazons destroy the invaders, though at the cost of their greatest warrior, Robin Wright who gets third billing though she and her vague European accent are only around for the first 20 minutes or so.

(Plot Hole #1:  So this island is sitting in the Mediterranean or Atlantic for thousands of years and to this point no one has wandered into their space?  I mean other than some fog there didn't seem to be anything keeping people out so wouldn't at some point a ship have gone through there?)

Using a magic lasso, the Amazons get Trevor to confess that he stole some information on a new German gas weapon that he needs to get back to England.  So Diana defies her mother, arms up, and sneaks Trevor onto a boat.

(Plot Hole #2:  The Amazons know English?  When Tevor asks Diana dismisses it as "we know hundreds of languages."  Yet they've had no contact with outsiders for thousands of years, right?  Long before English was even invented!  Because everyone still spoke Greek and Latin when they left, right?  Which going back to Plot Hole #1, did someone who spoke English turn up before?  Or did a Webster's dictionary just wash up on shore?  Some kind of magic babelfish thing would have made more sense.)

They get to England incredibly fast, like in the span of half a night it seems like, which is a hell of a thing for an ancient sailboat; the Vikings wish it were that easy.  Then the movie gets to have a little fun with the fish-out-of-water angle of Diana being in "man's world" for the first time.  She tries on clothes and tries to figure out a revolving door and has to not punch out a lot of stupid, sexist men.

Eventually though Trevor enlists some companions to take her to the frontlines in France so they can track down "Dr. Poison" and a German general.  Soon enough Diana uses her powers to break the siege of trench warfare and save a village--temporarily.  That's where the picture is taken from BvS/the beginning of the movie.

(Plot Hole #3:  A villager takes the picture but then the next night the village is wiped out with poison gas.  They didn't exactly have one hour photo processing in 1918.  Sure he probably could have gotten the photo developed, but who would have found it and kept it for almost 100 years?  And how did Luthor get a hold of it?)

There's a ball where Trevor keeps Diana from killing the general and Dr. Poison; instead they go to a German base for the final throwdown.

For the most part I did really like it.  You can probably make the case it's the best DC-related movie since The Dark Knight (though I'd say since Watchmen) though this of course does not quite have the realism since there are gods and people throwing tanks like hand grenades.  The acting was mostly fine though I think Gal Gadot is still a little wooden at times.  She has decent chemistry with Pine, though that won't matter going forward, will it?  Like a Marvel movie the villains aren't all that much here.  They do a good job of keeping Ares a mystery, but when it's revealed he looks kind of disappointing for a God of War--at least until a little later.

(Plot Hole #4:  So why exactly did Diana decide to go home after the war?  And when exactly did she come back?  Are we ever really going to address this, like in a sequel maybe?)

(Plot Hole #5:  No mid-credits scene?  Come on, you've got Justice League coming up in 5 months!)

Mostly though it's a relief to see someone finally realized what I've known for a long time now:  the key to making a female superhero movie is to make a female superhero movie.  As in:  just make it the way you'd make a male superhero movie.  It's no different.  I hope studios (including Marvel) will take notice of that.  And since Patty Jenkins did a good job, maybe they'll take notice that women can direct a blockbuster movie just as well as men.

For those who've always been more on the DC side than Marvel, it's good to see DC score some major points here and if Justice League doesn't suck (which maybe is more likely now that Joss Whedon is stepping in for reshoots) the DC universe might finally get on solid ground.  They've definitely stolen some of Marvel's thunder by having the first big female superhero movie.  Of course they could have done it sooner if they'd just listened to me 4 1/2 years ago!  The first half of my version is pretty close too, though mine was set in present day.  Still, why is no one calling me?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Talk Is Cheap, Book Promotion Isn't

Recently I got a newsletter from some site talking about book promotions and it says:

Book promotion, when it is done effectively, isn’t cheap. And a question we hear all the time is “is it worth me spending the money?”  If you have to ask the question whether it’s worth spending money to get your book into the hands of readers then the answer is no. Effective promotion gets your book noticed by new readers, the more the better, but if you don’t have the confidence in what you have written that it will then be embraced, and that those readers will go on and recommend your book to their friends and so-on, perhaps it’s time to think again about your future as an author.

This is one of those salesperson tricks of challenging someone's pride.  It's like you go to a car dealer and say you want the sensible sedan instead of the convertible and the salesperson says, "Well if you think that's too much car for you..."  Thus challenging my pride so I'll get the convertible to avoid looking like a wimp.

In this case, I ask if it's worth spending the money because if I'm spending $100-$500 I don't want it to go for a banner ad that will be ignored or blocked.  Or an ad on a site that only gets 50 views a day--and all from robots.  Or a professional "review" that will be published on the back page of some rag no one will ever read.

It's not because I don't have confidence in what I wrote.  Acting like this is what people typically mean is a salesperson's trick.  "Oh, well, if you don't think your book is good enough..."  It's horseshit.  Only someone really dumb or really insecure (or both) is going to be baited into parting with hundreds of dollars on such passive-aggressive taunting.

Early on I was stupid enough to pay for ads.  I bought a Goodreads ad and I have no idea if anyone ever saw it or not.  It was a complete waste of $100.  Because of that I've never bothered with Amazon ads or Facebook ads.

Recently too some crummy website mentioned they were promoting Eric Filler's Transformed for St. Patrick's Day.  And then suggested I should pay them to promote other books.  I checked and I sold 0 copies of that book in that time frame.  So I asked why I would want to pay considering I hadn't sold any books?  They gave me some BS answer.  Finally I told them to unsubscribe me.  Seriously, if your site doesn't sell any of my books, what good is it?

The thing is the Internet is a big, almost infinite place so anyone can start a website to promote books.  That doesn't mean anyone will actually GO there except the people suckered into buying ads.

My philosophy on ads is pretty simple:  when was the last time you bought a book because of an ad?  Maybe if it's a sale; most of the books on my Kindle came from Amazon's Daily Deals or sales from Open Road Media or some other publisher.  Otherwise I don't click on ads.  I doubt most people click on ads, just as if given the chance people won't watch commercials on TV; that's why people like Netflix.  That's why Hulu allows people to pay more to NOT watch ads.  Except during the Super Bowl people don't like ads.  And yet advertisers keep plugging away, so I guess on some level they might work.

Notable idiot Guy Kawasaki said you should spend a minimum of $15,000 on promoting your book.  Maybe if you throw around that kind of cash you can generate some sales, but probably not enough to make back your money.  Unless you can afford to buy prime time TV ad time or billboards in a well-traveled area or get a stadium or bowl game named for your book, it's not going to do much good.  Not because your book is bad, but because people aren't going to take notice in enough numbers for it to be profitable. 

People who say "you have to spend money to make money" are either people who have money to waste or the ones wanting to take your money.  There are plenty of shysters out there; it's up to the author to be careful.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...