Sunday, May 29, 2011

Today was the day I couldn't even throw a proper tantrum

I'm a cusser. It's how I vent.

Not when it's wholly inappropriate, mind you. But I do use invectives to let off steam bit by bit, so that I can avoid a big blowup later.

During those rare blowups, it helps to break something. Nothing old two by four, a brick, even something as simple as snapping a branch over my knee gets it out and then it's back to business.

You may or may not remember my War of the Rose Bushes from a few weeks ago. Today, I finally got around to hauling the roughly thirty billion cuttings so that I could give the lawn a full cut.

Let me tell you something about rose bushes (even dead ones)...

...they remember. And they can mobilize in a hurry.

It doesn't matter what you do or how carefully you do it. They. Will. Hurt. Your. Epidermis. 

When I was nearly done, one of them got me in the face. And by "got me in the face" I mean "ripped across my cheek from back to front." Hoping to keep the blowup at bay, I yelled out, "Goddammit motherfuck assbutt!!! Doggone it!" and tried to pull away.

My headphones had a different idea, wrapped around a branch and e-braked my head.

That didn't help my mood.

I had to stand there and seethe while I carefully untangled the headphones. When they were free, I stormed off, and another branch gashed me across the ankle.

I deliberately dropped my mp3 player and my sunglasses on the ground, grabbed a thick birch branch and prepared to smite it against a tree. I hauled back with everything I had, and...

...the branch broke off in my back swing and hit me in the kidney. Naturally.

I was so dumbfounded by this turn of events that I just stared at the now six-inch piece in my hand. For like a minute. And threw the stump at the tree. And missed.

At that point, I actually gave up on my tantrum, calmly geared up, and went back to work.

There really is a first time for everything.

Monday, May 09, 2011

"Thor" review, because thou may or may not care

I went on a man-date this Saturday and caught an afternoon showing of "Thor." First, it's important for me to note that I'm both a comic and a mythology geek. Thor blurs those lines more than any other character I can think of off the top of my head. But I knew this going in, so I checked mythology-Dan at the door, because Marvel Thor routinely, shall we say, departs from the myth.

We chose to see the 3D show. To be honest, I don't think you'd miss anything of substance by seeing the regular version, outside of a few, "That looks pretty cool!" moments.*

I really had only one major complaint, and that's how Asgard itself was portrayed. It was far too sci-fi, and this was most evident at Bifrost (the rainbow bridge). The bridge itself looked very cool (if a little "Billie Jean"'ll know what I mean), and then it was completely smacked in the face by this spinning, whirling, teleportation device. But it also had Heimdall, who was completely hardcore, so it's kind of a wash.

Another minor gripe I had is that Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins perfectly portraying, uh, Sir Anthony Hopkins) was this hybrid warrior/pacifist/philosopher/loving Dad. Odin, like pretty much every god in every world religion ever, was kind of a douche. But I'm getting all mythology-y again, so I'll stop.

Plotwise, there's nothing groundbreaking here. Exiled hero attempts to find himself whilst another's evil machinations run unchecked, blahblahblah. You're not watching "Thor" for plot intricacies...'re watching it for fights! The film does these very well (and often), with a nice variety ranging from large-scale battles to a little mano a mano. The CGI, which had to be everywhere, blended nicely with the human elements. I can't think of an instance where the CGI was noticeable in a negative way. Like baseball umpires, not getting noticed means you're doing it right. Each battle seemed to be just the right length, as well. A special shout-out goes to The Destroyer, which was terribly awesome.

The non-battle parts were a nice mix of humor and the mandatory budding romance between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane (Natalie Portman). Not that I have a hidden talent for noticing these things, but they appeared to have some genuine chemistry. It doesn't sound like much, but anyone who had to suffer through the painful lack of chemistry between Padme and Anakin in the Star Wars prequels knows how bad chemistry can take you out of the fantasy.

Speaking of Hemsworth, I thought he did a superb job as the thunder god. That was my biggest concern as the movie started: "How can anyone really play that big stiff well?" But he did a great job playing the arrogant Thor with increasing humor, charm...and, most importantly, excess badassitude.

The acting in general was sound across the board. Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore, Kat Dennings, and the rest (including the underutilized Warriors Three) did commendable jobs. Tom Hiddleston deserves special recognition for playing Loki so well that I didn't realize how well he was playing the role until better than halfway through the movie, if that makes any sense.

The movie had the requisite Stan Lee cameo, a few callbacks to other characters, and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye), in an uncredited cameo for nerds like me. And you should know by now to stay in your seat until the credits are done rolling.

Overall, I thought "Thor" was exactly the movie I hoped it would be, and it's yet another sign that "The Avengers" will kick unheard-of amounts of arse in 2012.


* What the hell is it with 3D movies that the coolest things are the little ones? "Thor," as "Avatar" before it, had shots designed just to showcase the 3D tech ("Hey, look, arrow coming right at your face! That'll be $5 extra!"), but the sweetest 3D effect was falling snow.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sorry, traditional publishing: I'm breaking up with you.

It's not you, it's me.

No wait, it's you. It's definitely you.

For as long as I've known me, I've always been a staunch (read: militant) paper and ink book guy. The sensation of flipping through a physical book is just another book-related taste that I'd wager I inherited from my mother. As a reader, I fought the so-called electronic revolution...then I used a Nook for the first time. Love at first sight, I tell ya.

More importantly, as a writer, I was determined to make it the traditional way: query my ass off, wallpaper my writing space with the rejection letters, and query my ass off some more until I was finally lucky enough to get through the rest of the slush and find an agent who'd be worth their 15%. Then my book would sit on the shelf for a month-and-a-half until it was pushed out by the newer stuff.

Not exactly a dream come true.

That process officially started in October, and it officially ended a few weeks ago, when I first started reading articles like this: Ebook sales whupping up on print.

Even if the reported numbers aren't wholly accurate, the message that they send is clear: Can't fight the future.

As a reader, I kind of mourn the imminent demise of print. As a writer, I'm !@#$%^& psyched.

When I started weighing the lists of pros and cons, I was certain that, when all was said and done, I'd still be torn over my decision. Let me tell you: ain't happening.

Self-publishing offers: ease of initial publishing (and the ability to make instant changes to the finished product); setting your own price (and changing it instantly); a much higher percentage of profit for the author; 24-hour reader access and reviewing.

Lastly, and, what I think is the most valuable asset: permanence. Once you put it out there, it's available for as long as you want it to be. A motivated, prolific, and patient author (which is what I'm trying to mold myself into) can gradually build up his readership over time. Only a lucky few traditionally-published authors can claim that. They either make a big splash or they disappear.

John Locke (not the guy from Lost) occupied seven spots on the Amazon Top 50 and made over $126,000 of profit in March alone: Holy Crap. As an aside, I read his debut novel, intending to review it. Lethal People was so phenomenally ridiculous that I couldn't bring myself to actually write a review, but his success illustrates my point well enough. Slow and steady wins the race.
The only true advantage I can see print having over ebooks is the fact that a self-publisher is 100% responsible for their own marketing, but this is offset by a) the knowledge that very few books actually get any type of marketing blitz, and b) the permanence of ebooks which we just discussed.

So that's where we're at.

See you in the e-trenches.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Let's put the "dead" back in "undead!"

Because I believe in being prepared, I'm putting my Zombie Survival Team together before it's too late. The positions of need are:

Trusted Lieutenant: Must be comfortable questioning leader's decisions while always having his back.

Tank: Must have cool nickname (e.g. Tex, Cannibal, Big Sexy) and be able to dual-wield anything.

Hot Chick: Must be willing (read: eager) to sleep with leader when shit looks hopeless, have faux regret, then do it again after survival is assured. Must work well with Slightly Less Hot Chick.

Slightly Less Hot Chick: Must provide competition for leader's affections. Glasses and latent bisexuality a plus.

Nerd: You're bait. The sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be. Ability to throw together a semi-palatable meal is preferred, but not required.

Black Guy: Must have large repertoire of wisecracks about being the only black guy.

Coward: Must skin out at the worst possible time and die horribly. Your unintentional sacrifice must enable the rest of the group to get away.

Hidden Badass: Must rise up and lay waste to the undead when all seems lost. Being aware of your badassness will automatically disqualify you. Therefore, this is the most difficult position to fill.

Old Guy: Ability to repeat same three stories about non-specific “The War” with minimal rest and produce cigars seemingly out of nowhere. Bad knee/back/hip must not slow you; constantly bitching about it is acceptable.

Saturday, March 05, 2011 For all of your royalty-free music needs.

Just a quick post to set you hip on something I found. If you have a project (film, podcast, etc.) and you need some free musical scores, check out Incompetech. I just started recording a web serial that I wrote some time ago. I think background music will add a little something, and a search brought me there. You can search by genre or, get this, "feel." I searched under the "eerie" feel, sampled some of the tracks, and they were quite good. All of the guy's work is free, though donations are appreciated.

Have fun.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

"...or should we be a little more sophisticated here?"

I saw President Bill Clinton speak at SUNY-Albany last night. I knew I missed him, but I'd forgotten how much. As much promise as I believe President Obama has, I'd take Clinton back in a heartbeat. I had a mini-fantasy about a ticket in which Obama would be able to learn directly from The Man (specifically on how to get out of his own way), much like a promising assistant coach studying for years under a genius head coach. Eh.

To the speech:

The SEFCU Arena seats just over 4500, and it was predictably packed. He came out to a rousing ovation, chilled the crowd out, and got down to business. As a whole, it was a very engaged and respectful crowd, with one glaring exception.*

I heard two primary themes being referenced time and again: 1) that the current state of the world is too unequal, too unstable, and too unsustainable, and, 2) "Who are you, where do you want to go, and how are you going to get there?"

He spoke for a little over an hour (about thirty minutes longer than he was supposed to, I was told on good authority, not that anyone minded). He gave some numbers about graduation rates (the U.S. has dropped from #1 in graduation % to #12), the impact of expansive alternative energy programs, and how the American taxpayers could save billions with a health care model similar to other countries'.

He spoke at length about Obama's perceived "failed" stimulus program and explained how it wasn't meant to fix everything, just "put the brakes on." Once again, he used numbers to prove his point.

The use of facts in place of rhetoric was obvious, as was his clear disdain for the current state of political "fact-free" dialogue. The one thing he said that struck me the most (and caused me to start taking a few notes on my phone) came at about the midway point. He spoke of a dialogue of extremes, e.g. all tax cuts are good vs. all tax increases are bad, or all government regulation is bad vs. anything unfettered is good. His response to this? Does that help solve our problems, or "should we be a little more sophisticated here?"

The speech itself was decidedly non-partisan, with him taking a few lighthearted, but relevant, jabs at both parties, and also speaking in glowing anecdotal terms of his friends in both parties.

After the speech proper, he sat down for a brief (mostly fluff) Q & A, where he surprised the crowd by saying he "kinda likes" Sarah Palin, even though he disagrees with her on everything.

All in all, it was as informative, entertaining, and inspiring a monologue as any other I can recall at the moment.

Lastly, he was at his most animated when he answered a question about the importance of humor in humanizing a politician. He related another anecdote which, in my opinion, nicely summed everything up: During his term, NASA presented him with a moon rock that had been carbon-dated at 3.6 billion years. He placed this rock on one of the tables in the Oval Office. Whenever the debate got too heated, he pointed and said: "Hey, see that rock there? It's 3.6 billion years old. We're all just passing through here. Relax."

* Until we heard the announcement of the last question of the night, that is. At that point, hundreds of people in the crowd embarrassed themselves and the school in general by heading for the exits as Clinton was answering, as if the home team was down twenty with three minutes to go. I remarked to my wife, "I don't care if he's the janitor, that's disrespectful." Way to make an impression, folks.