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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Perils of Twitter


This is a review of a book brought to my attention on Twitter. I am not going to name it. Saying this is a review, that's not quite right. It's a review of how that book got into my hands and how the author got my attention and how it made me feel. This is a tale of the perils of Twitter. In other words, you wanted my attention, and now, you have it. Be careful what you wish for.

Many authors and writers use Twitter for self-promotion. Many sometimes go a little overboard. I do it myself sometimes. I forget to balance promotion with interaction, conversation, entertainment, and humor. I understand, sometimes you can get carried away.

This author, who will remain unnamed, got carried away. There were times I suspected his Twitter was a bot. It began to post the same message over and over again, minute after minute, promoting the above named book. The only difference in the messages were the hashtags. Sometimes it was #Avengers, sometimes #HarryPotter, or #Stargate, #StarTrek, #LordoftheRings, or simple things like #Scifi or #Fantasy. Really? This book was comparable to all of those things? Or do you not know how to properly use hashtags? And every minute??

I replied to one of the constant Tweets, was it really like Avengers and Harry Potter? And would I need to read Parts 1-3 to understand Part 4? My Tweets went unanswered. Hmmm... not unheard of but kinda rude, especially when I was considering buying his book. Readers pay you when you're an author, remember. When the constant Tweets continued through the next day, I unFollowed him, sending an additional Tweet to him saying that perhaps his account had been hacked and he should check it out. Again, no answer.

But still, for good or ill, I got the book. I wish I hadn't. It begins with chapter twenty-three, with no sense of place, time, or explanation of who any of the characters are. Zero effort is spent giving the reader any backstory whatsoever. Pages drag by explaining the concept of a holographic ship's doctor, just like on "Star Trek Voyager." Well, okay, now I get the #StarTrek hashtag, where's #HarryPotter and the #Avengers?

There are numerous typos, contradictory details (how many different home planets does this captain have anyway?), more than a page spent ordering coffee, and absolutely nothing that resembles the #Avengers at all. This was a hard read, and because the author never tells us anything about the more than half-dozen characters inhabiting these pages, it's even harder to care about them.

I would hope that there might be some backstory in parts 1-3, but I'll never know. I won't buy them or read them. Had the author had the courtesy to tell me I was coming into it in the middle of the story, or not annoyed me with his Twitter, I might have had a different perspective. Now aren't you glad you got my attention?

Maybe I didn't get it. Maybe this "thought provoking fantasy scifi for enquiring minds" is just too intellectual for me. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to get it. I don't think that's it though. I know what this is, it's a couple hours of my life I'm never going to get back, and it most certainly is not #Avengers...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gotham


Folks who are regular listeners to The GAR! Podcast already know some of my feelings on Fox's new pre-Batman series "Gotham," or at least the first episode, and if you haven't heard, you check it out here. I hate to say it, but after viewing the second episode, my feelings haven't changed much.

"Gotham" tells the tale of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) joining the Gotham City police force and finding every bit of the department, as well as the city, completely corrupt. Partnered with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), he weaves his way through early versions of Batman's rogues gallery as he tries to solve the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents. So it's a lofty goal we know our hero will never obtain. Batman finds the Waynes' killer, every comics fan knows this, so we know from the get-go that the hero of this piece can not even win.

The worst part of "Gotham" is the part that one might think all of the fanboys and fangirls want - the winks and nudges from the comics. Oh, look, it's Catwoman, and Penguin, and Riddler, oh and that must be the Joker. The problem is they beat these references like a dead horse and they take away from the parts of the show that actually are good. "Gotham" is a pretty good police drama, and I said it on the podcast, and I'll say it again here, it would be a great police drama without all the Batman stuff.

This is a new production, and yes, I should look at it as completely new, but it's hard when I already know all the players. The creators of "Gotham" have played with the timelines so that chronology is off. Montoya and Allen, as well as Bullock, are contemporaries of Gordon as opposed to younger employees of the older Gordon. And then of course there's the concept that all of Batman's enemies are at least a decade older than he is. It's a hard concept to get one's head around after reading thousands of comics.

The casting is wonderful. I love Donal Logue, no matter what he's in, and the casting of the various Bat-villains is inspired. Robin Lord Taylor is a perfect Penguin, if not in shape, in performance, mannerisms, and behavior. Camren Bicondova is almost a young Michelle Pfeiffer stunt and face double. Cory Michael Smith is the perfect Riddler in the same way Taylor is to Penguin.

Standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast is Jada Pinkett-Smith as Fish Mooney, the one character who has no counterpart in the comics. Every other character when you meet them, as a comics reader, you already now what to expect. You have some idea of what they are like before they open their mouth or do anything. Fish Mooney is the wild card, the unpredictable element that makes "Gotham" fun. The show needs more of those, and less of the Batman stuff.

I may hang in for a few more episodes, but I can't see myself, or the series itself, holding on much longer.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story


Full disclosure first. I have never seen more than a few fleeting moments of any episode of "Saved by the Bell." I know it was a sitcom about high school, I could probably pick the guy who played Screech out if a line up, and I know one of the girls from the show eventually starred in Showgirls, but that's about it. I am virtually a "Saved by the Bell" virgin.

So why am I watching this Lifetime drama about the show? You could say I'm a masochist, or a glutton for punishment, or, like testing weird potato chip flavors over at French Fry Diary, I do it so you won't have to.

"Saved by the Bell" was a sitcom, sort of, on Saturday mornings. It began on the Disney Channel as a show about a teacher played by Hayley Mills, when it turned out viewers were watching more for the kids, it was turned into "Saved by the Bell" on NBC on Saturday mornings. The kids were basically templates of the Archie kids, with an African-American girl added for diversity.

This all seems very cookie cutter and formulaic on the surface, but it worked. Today, we're up to two spin-off sequels, two TV movies, at least two unauthorized musicals, and this movie, based on the book "Behind the Bell" by Dustin Diamond, the actor who played Screech. Later, Diamond would recant much of the blaming his ghost writer for making up some of the juicier bits. With Diamond as an executive producer, I wonder how much of the juicy stuff made it into this flick?

For me, with no real background in the show, I actually kinda enjoyed it. Perhaps unencumbered by facts this was a good movie, and that's about as left handed as I can get about it. I liked the breaking the fourth wall storytelling of the young Dustin Diamond character, and being a child of the eighties, I liked the soundtrack, even though none of the songs matched the years.

Again, I can't say whether it's true or not, but it was fairly entertaining, even if there were a lot of subplots left unresolved. A pleasant pass of two hours, even if I had to sit through ads for the new Brittany Murphy movie fifty times.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Houdini on History


The big new television event this last Labor Day weekend was the two-part Houdini mini-series on The History Channel. I love Houdini. I love movies and documentaries and books about Houdini. I even love the surviving fragments of his movie serials. The man was awesome. This mini-series was... a great illusion.

Adrien Brody is in the title role and it's one that fits him well. Not only does he look like Harry Houdini both facially and in body type, he has that mysterious air about him. Despite his miscasting in Peter Jackson's King Kong, he's perfect here. Kristen Connolly is pretty fair in the role of Bess, and even though it's a cameo, it is always good to see Barry from "EastEnders."

The soundtrack, a lively rocking score by John Debney, is one of the best I've heard in some time. I'm looking forward to finding it somewhere soon. This score fits the quick cut flashy MTV way this was filmed. It's not a complaint, but a compliment. Stylistically this is an amazing piece of work, style it has, it's the other areas where it lacks.

The mini-series takes us from the magician's childhood to Harry and Bess Houdini's days on the road before he became famous to his death on stage in 1926. There is both truth and fiction here as with all Houdini stories. This version even takes into account Houdini's supposed service to the US government as a spy. And then there's a lot more iffy stuff here for a program that aired on The History Channel.

History's Houdini was keen on showing us how many stunts and tricks were done, but what it wasn't good at was telling the truth. The facts elude the movie event like the real Houdini escaping chains and cages. The Wild About Harry website had a lot to say about how far from the truth this mini-series strayed, and it's not pretty.

Now the 1960s Tony Curtis film and the 1970s Paul Michael Glaser telemovie weren't that great on the facts either, and I loved them. And I admit to liking this one as well, but in its four hours it lacks the heart the other two had in half the time. Recommended for those who aren't depending on facts or looking for more than a story that barely touches the surface.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Castle in the Sky


Castle in the Sky ~ When I first saw this movie way back in the late 1980s at Philadelphia's Roxy Screening Room, It was called Laputa: Castle in the Sky. As it's been passed around from different distribution companies with vaious translations and dubs, it's also been known as Island in the Sky, City in the Sky, and Laputa: The Flying Island. I know that I searched for a copy for decades, and was thrilled when Disney finally released it as part of their Studio Ghibli line in 1998. It is my favorite of those films, and my favorite by Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote, directed, and produced it.

The film focuses on a young girl and her new friend running from fascist government spies and military, as well as air pirates, as all pursue a mythical city in the sky called Laputa. As it turns out, she is the long lost princess of Laputa and only her pendant can find the city and release its secrets, which include, not only a treasure, but also a weapon of mass destruction. The legends are pulled from not only Jonathan Swift's book "Gulliver's Travels" but also the Hindu epic "The Ramayana" as well with its Indra's arrow.

The characters are wonderfully Miyazaki originals, coming across like a weird hybrid of both Max Fleisher and "Speed Racer." There is some terrific design work that both conjures a Welsh mining town that Miyazaki once visited, his love of airplanes (as evidenced in The Wind Rises), and a firm foundation in all things steampink. The Goliath and Tiger Moth airships, and the amazing flaptors of Dola's air pirates are excellent examples of that.

I love the chase sequences, and the battling airships. This is a steampunk pulp fan's wet dream, high adventure at its finest. The characters are fun, you can love them, you can hate them, and most of all root for them and fear for them. There are characters in live action 'real' movies that are not as three dimensional as these folks. The Disney dub boasts a voice cast that includes Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Mandy Patinkin, Andy Dick, and absolutely stellar performances by Cloris Leachman as Dola and Mark Hamill as the evil Muska.

I love this film, and it's easily in my top ten or twenty favorite films of all time. If you like anime, or adventure, or steampunk - this is absolutely must see, but really I think everyone will enjoy Castle in the Sky.