Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nine Reasons Why Batman v Superman is Actually a Pretty Good Movie

(Warning: the following list is riddled with spoilers and unpopular opinions.)

Yes, the opening dream sequence is unnecessary. Yes, it has virtually none of the slapstick we normally associate with Superman movies, and very little of the sarcasm that helps make the Marvel movies so appealing. But I'm still puzzled by the resoundingly negative bandwagon haunting a movie that actually does have some good things going for it. Such as...

1) This is the first and so far the ONLY superhero movie I've seen that directly and pragmatically addresses the question of how much moral obligation superheroes actually have to help others, and furthermore, whether that help is good or bad for the human race in the long run. With Superman's abilities, he could probably hear literally every scream and call for help all around the world. So how many hours a day should he put in saving people, and how many hours can/should he spend trying to live a normal life in order to protect his sanity, the byproduct of which will be the deaths of innocents? 

2) Going along with that, the scene with Superman's scene father is a fantastic example of how this movie takes a much broader and more mature approach to superhero movies than others, including Civil War (which I genuinely liked). In that scene, the elder Kent (played flawlessly by Kevin Costner) talks about how as a kid he helped save the family farm from a flood, and felt like a hero, only to learn later that their efforts had actually rerouted the flood and drowned a neighboring farm. Kent adds that afterwards, he heard the drowning horses screaming in his dreams. He also adds that the only cure was meeting Clark's mother, which adds a subtle undercurrent of desperation: Superman doesn't just need Lois because he loves her; he needs her to keep the nightmares away. Yes, the Marvel movies are fun, and great at wisecracks, and tense when they need to be, but they have nothing anywhere near as chillingly human or morally complex as that.

3) Batman and Superman are painstakingly set up as mirrors of each other. We see that not only in the "Save Martha" scene, which is narratively cool but I admit plays out a little hammy on screen. We also see that in how Batman's and Superman's action sequences parallel each other at times (the literal manner in which Superman first saves Lois is repeated when Batman saves Martha, for example).

4) As for Batman actually killing people in this movie, not only is that realistic for a grief-obsessed vigilante with bottomless pockets, but it also creates an element of irony: Batman wants to kill Superman because he perceives him as dangerous, even though the former is one who's unapologetically cavalier about inflicting pain and taking life.

5) Wonder Woman... with a little help from Hans Zimmer. First off, Hans Zimmer is my favorite soundtrack composer because even though he occasionally phones it in and recycles his previous movie themes, when he's at the top of his game--as in The Thin Red Line--he's as good as it gets. And he's at the top of his game here, too. Superman's themes are deceptively subtle with a powerful but vulnerable undercurrent. And consider the theme he comes up with for Wonder Woman; It's not only catchy but unique and actually helps us get excited about a character that's usually only slightly more well-regarded than Aquaman. Even though she has relatively little screen time, thanks in part to Zimmer's music, she steals the show. In fact, she's so badass (on par with Cyclops in the Marvel comics) that she hardly even needs the requisite snappy one-liner. Just her assured, withering looks are enough. Also, did you catch the part where friggin' Doomsday smacks her down and she just laughs at him and hops back up?

6) In regards to Superman being a potential loose nuke, Batman kind of has a point. As shown in the Injustice: Gods Among Us storyline, and to a lesser degree in For Tomorrow, Superman can only take so much. And when he snaps, he's basically a flying indestructible man-slayer who can bend almost anyone and anything to his will.

7) Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Lex Luther has been the target of much criticism ("Why does he have hair and giggle like the Joker?!") but it basically comes down to how comfortable you are with changed in the canon. This is most definitely not Gene Hackman's Luther, fussing over his hairpiece as he launches some evil land-grabbing scheme that sheds not one drop of on-screen blood. No, this is an abused kid who grew into a brilliant, neurotic psychopath that, because he's rich, is merely viewed as eccentric. I get how that's not everybody's cup of tea, and definitely skirts cliche, but it worked well enough for me.

8) Superman movies have always tended to work in a lot of religious imagery, particularly relating Superman to Christ. That's practically a requirement for the genre. But this movie finds a slightly fresher way of doing it by showing Batman and Wonder Woman lowering Superman down from the cross--I mean, the hill where he struck down Doomsday--with a big smoking hole in his chest. Also, Superman has warts. No, I mean, he's not just flawed; he's occasionally smug, needy, and disconcertingly human. For instance, we see the people he rescues basically worshiping him, but we never see Superman trying to dissuade them, or seeming embarrassed by the attention. In sharp contrast to previous Superman movies, here, Superman obviously does have something of a hero complex, and even for a nearly omnipotent being, that's a problem. Another often overlooked scene is when he's talking to Lois Lane in the tub, and he basically says that as far as he's concerned, the American government can fuck off. That's alarming to hear from Superman of all people, and even Lois seems momentarily rattled to hear such a sentiment from someone who can kill things by looking at them.

9) Yes, Batman goes a bit too quickly from Superman's enemy to his ally (not sure why, in a long movie, they didn't even throw in an extra five seconds of him struggling to come around instead of flipping so quickly).  Yes, Aquaman looks ridiculous (though he looks better in the new trailers). But the moral questions posed in this movie, which are what make it so dark, are everywhere in the Superman and Batman comics (as well as in X-Men comics), and are really only moderately flirted wit in the Avengers movies. Especially in Superman comics like Red Son, which examines what might have happened had Superman landed in communist Russia instead of Kansas, the archetype of the caped cat-rescuer is as absent as the war era's blindly patriotic version of Captain America. In other words, this is probably the most comic book of comic book movies, which--in spite of its flaws--makes its low ratings a real puzzle. I wonder if the problem is that for all their quality, the Marvel movies are also made to appeal to those who have little or no knowledge of the actual comics, whereas this movie definitely goes in the other direction.

So yeah. Trust me, I get this this movie has problems, but nowhere near as many as other box office tripe like Star Trek Beyond. It also has ambition and originality (which most movies don't) and overall, does a pretty good job setting up a version of the Justice League that your parents wouldn't have wanted you to watch.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fourteen Glaring Plot Holes in Star Trek Beyond

Warning: the following list is more or less bristling with butthurt spoilers about the cinematic spacewreck hilariously known as Star Trek Beyond, so proceed at your own risk.

1) Why didn't the main villain (whose name is simply too stupid and derivative to type) just use his conveniently extended lifespan, extensive technology, and swarm of salvaged alien ships to, you know, to leave the planet?

2) Why was a marooned Starfleet captain blaming Starfleet for not answering a message they obviously never received?

3) Who was the race that originally found the missing piece of the super-weapon, how did they find it, and what were they doing with it before Kirk got it? Since it seems at first to be totally useless, how did they even know it was a weapon?

4) Why did the planet on which Butthurt Supervillain and his pseudo-Jem-Hadar had been marooned have all that deadly technology abandoned on it in the first place?

5) How far did Sulu's husband and daughter travel to meet him at the Yorktown starbase if the Enterprise had already been exploring for three years?

6) Why did Mannis, Butthurt Supervillain's right hand man, show some reluctance to kill Enterprise crew members but seem totally pumped about killing another innocent woman who had been marooned on the planet?

7) Speaking of Jaylah, how did she generate the power to cloak the U.S.S. Franklin for YEARS, right under the nose of a well-armed enemy who also happened to have a boatload of scanning equipment? Is the answer really just that she's awful plucky?

8) And while we're on the subject of scanning equipment, if transmissions can't pass through the nebula, how was Butthurt Supervillain spying on Starfleet? The answer can't be Unnamed Alien Technology, because the original source of his tantrum was the fact that the nebula was preventing him from calling home (presumably, even with all the new tech he'd acquired).

9) I get the red shirt cliche but is the senior bridge crew really so unfazed by the gruesome needless deaths of at least half of their shipmates, easily more than were killed on any previous mission?

10) Scotty says he pulled some strings so Jaylah can enter Starfleet now, if she wants. Never mind the absurdity of not asking her first; is entering Starfleet really as easy as all that? I seem to remember that even supergenius Wesley Crusher had some trouble getting in. (Then again, I guess Kirk didn't.)

11) Regarding Butthurt Supervillain's motivations, even if we accept that he was so stupid that he didn't understand the nature of the nebula he'd just passed through, decided Starfleet had turned its back on him, and plotted revenge... and also conveniently discovered an abandoned fleet of alien ships... why did he sit around doing nothing, decade after decade? If he didn't want to launch his attack until after he'd obtained Unspecified Alien Superweapon, was his plan really to just wait patiently until somebody brought it to him?

12) And is that actually what happened?! I mean, did Kirk really just happen to have the before-mentioned superweapon in a locker, just kinda chillin', after he botched a mission to give it away to a different race that otherwise had no bearing whatsoever on the story?

13) Okay, if Butthurt Supervillain knew said weapon was in a locker on the Enterprise, why didn't he just send someone to steal it?! How did he know Kirk wouldn't leave it behind, or return it to its previous owners, or just toss it out a damn window since it appeared to be useless? Why send an agent to lure in the whole Enterprise and set a complex and costly trap for its arrival, when he could have just told her to pick the lock and take something nobody even cared about?

14) Lastly, whose dumbass idea was it to have the whole cast join in reciting the closing "Space: the Final Frontier" monologue, which sounded like an ultra-cringe-worthy homage to the concluding voiceover in The Breakfast Club?

There are probably even more rants I could rant, but I think that's enough to prove my basic point that this spacefaring version of Fast and Furious has no business existing in a franchise known as much for creativity and philosophical storytelling as for its epic space-battles.

Put another way: Shaka, when the walls fell

Friday, July 22, 2016

Your Daily Reminder That James Patterson is Satan

If you’re a published author, an aspiring author, an avid reader, or just somebody with a brain stem and a working sense of right and wrong, this post is for you. A few hours ago, I received an obvious spam message from a group calling itself America Star Books, offering—for just $22—to bring my work to the attention of James Patterson, that guy who works with a team of “writer-assistants” to release “a new book every two weeks or less.”

For those who don’t already know, here’s how it works: Patterson employs a team of relatively talented but generally witless people who actually write his books, Patterson claims all (or most of) the credit, and the actual writers are paid off in what I imagine are shame-tokens that can only be redeemed for spoiled meat and disease-ridden blankets at Patterson’s general store.
Full message below:
James Patterson is not only the world's best-selling author. He is also the most prolific writer. Together with a team of writer-assistants Patterson releases a new book every two weeks or less.
His work covers various genres, from crime to children's to romance to scifi. His publisher, Hachette, reportedly has a team of 16 employees working for James Patterson and his books alone. He has sold more books than John Grisham, Stephen King, and Dan Brown, combined, 325 million copies.
We're making a presentation of select titles for his team to look at. You never know what doors it may open. Maybe the publisher sees something in your work that others haven't discovered yet. Perhaps your writing style stands out. Last time we checked, James Patterson was using more than 20 other authors to get his books written. Either way:
Today the James Patterson team doesn't know about your book. At least that's something we can change tomorrow.
Go to [AddressDeletedBecauseFuckPatterson] to activate for $22. I will see to it that your book gets submitted to James Patterson's publishing team at Hachette. We'll ask them to consider your work earnestly, and to bring it to the mega-selling author's attention should they feel it is something he needs to see with his own eyes. As we always point out, no success in life is ever guaranteed. But here, for only twenty-two bucks, it seems worth a shot!

Okay, ignoring the fact that serious writers generally labor anywhere from several sleepless months to a whole lifetime to complete a single book, let’s examine the other writers mentioned in this post: John Grisham, Stephen King, and Dan Brown. Regardless of how much you like or dislike the work of these authors, notice anything they have in common? I did: they’re all separate people! We’ve all heard of ghost-writers, aka the people who actually write those celebrities’ and politicians’ autobiographies. What Patterson does is similar, sure, but only if “similar” means roughly the same as “fifty thousand times worse.”

Let’s get back to the agency that actually sent the message. To be fair, said message adds a disclaimer indicating that America Star Books is in no way affiliated with James Patterson. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Patterson is to literature what Donald Trump is to universities. So I’m honestly trying to decide which is worse: James Patterson, a guy who knowingly and actively exploits other people’s creative dreams to an extent that is just barely legal; or the soulless brain-dead leeches over at America Star Books who actually think they’re going to make money off the drippings.

Then again, the worst thing is that their little scam might actually work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On Death Threats as a Tool for Proving One's Civility

I just wanted take a moment to tip my hat (well, more like my graying widow's peak) to my good buddy, Jared Yates Sexton. For those who don't already know, Jared wrote about some of the ugliness at a Trump rally he'd attended. When it went viral, some Trump supporters decided that the best way to counter his claims and improve their self-image was... you guessed it... to troll him and issue death threats. 
For the record, like Jared, I don't think that all Trump supporters are bigots and cowards. In fact, what especially impressed me was how Jared treated his critics with respect and tried to reason with them like mature adults (including the raging anti-Semite who said he should be shoved into an oven). As Jared points out in this follow-up article, that approach (which I'd say is a total 180 from what Trump himself embodies) actually allowed him to reach a middle ground with some Trump supporters, to engage in something resembling civil discourse... and civil discourse is exactly what we need (deserve?) but so rarely get in this era of soundbites and e-warriors who think freedom and manliness are four-letter words.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Jeannine Hall Gailey Poetry Feature (Atticus Review)

I know we all have things to do, what with the inevitable Zombie and/or Trump Apocalypse edging closer each day, but if you have any interest in writing that can be properly described as great, hilarious, and wildly imaginative, you need to check out these poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey.That is all.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Enduring Awesomeness that is TNG

I was just thinking about an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (“The Outcast”) that included a gender-neutral species—the J’naii—known for actively discriminating against and biochemically “reconditioning” any member of their species who identified as male or female. This was a deeply unsettling episode for me as a kid because it dealt with issues I’d never considered, and it was also unabashedly philosophical/moral in nature, with virtually no explosions or phaser battles to distract the senses. However, that turned out to be a good thing because the episode got under my skin and it got me thinking about something that most other television shows didn’t even bother to address.

During one pivotal scene toward the end of the episode (meaning you should stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers), a J’naii named Soren—who identifies as female and enters into a relationship with Commander Riker (because of course)—gives an impassioned If-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed type speech. Throughout the whole episode, Soren has been fairly restrained in her physical mannerisms, which some critics mistook for wooden acting but which I actually think was done to set up a contrast to her speech (“What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”). Given the fact that we're talking about the final few minutes of a serial sci-fi show, you might expect a fairly easy resolution, but Soren's speech falls on deaf ears and Soren is essentially led off to the gallows.

Predictably, the moral clusterfuck that is the Prime Directive gets brought up in this episode, though Picard’s attitude seems to be that he’s willing to turn a blind eye should Riker decide to intervene on Soren’s behalf. As for Worf (the ship’s fairly conservative traditional male warrior), he goes from being decidedly put off by the J’naii to risking his life in an attempt to save Soren from reconditioning. However, that seems to be done more out of loyalty and friendship to Riker; Worf doesn’t actually witness Soren’s courageous speech, though I wish he had because he, at least, might have recognized her courage for what it was--and not how Soren's judge sees it, which is simply as the sad ramblings of a pitiful deviant.

There’s also an important point buried in the episode: as an allegory for LGBTQ rights, it’s stating that of course it’s genetic, not a choice. After all, if it were just a choice, why would the J’naii even need whatever inquisitor-like machine of doom they keep waiting in the next room? That brings us to the episode’s gut-wrenching conclusion, wherein the writers make a bold and unexpected decision: Riker and Worf arrive too late; Soren has already been reconditioned to the point where her old identity has been completely [brain]washed away.

The backlash from bigots comes as no surprise, but what did surprise me when I researched this episode was a mention in a couple forums and on Wikipedia that it apparently also got some criticism from the LGBTQ community. As the story goes, some took Soren’s fate as actually advocating such reconditioning (or at least implying that gender identity is so superficial that it can be effortlessly wiped away). When I heard that accusation, I got all geared up to leap to the episode’s defense, and maybe even toss in a clever line about how its critics must also think that Blade Runner is secretly in favor of the enslavement and murder of synthetic humans. However, I looked around and… well, the only criticism I could actually find came from Star Trek fans who thought the episode was preachy and boring.

That struck me as odd, though, because the scenes that receive the most criticism—Soren’s speech, for instance—are incredibly emotional. That brings me to my next point: I wonder how many of the people criticizing the episode as “boring” actually feel that way (which is perfectly fine), and how many are just doing what far-right talking heads do when they pooh-pooh Jon Stewart’s scathing and hyper-articulate political diatribes by saying they’re “not funny.”

Also, the episode wisely shows Soren’s judge as misguided but seemingly earnest and sincere in her concern… just as, on some twisted level, those trying to “cure” away the gay probably actually think they’re doing the right thing. And in contrast to the accusation that the episode is ham fisted, one important scene shows Riker and Soren trying to save a couple other J’naii from dying in space. Needless to say, they activate the transporter without stopping to ask what the dying J’naii think about the same reconditioning process that has Soren living in constant terror. Nor does Riker or anyone else approach them later and ask how it feels to have their lives saved by a “deviant.” So in my loudmouth estimation, what seems at first like a passing and fairly meaningless action sequence could actually be taken as the whole point of the episode.

Indeed, this episode as a whole can even be seen as embodying the very ideas of the whole Star Trek franchise, which were always less about warp-chases and rogue nanites than the kind of moral quandaries that come about when a species wields near god-like technology but still can’t shake off the age-old problems of ignorance and moral ambiguity.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Submittable Tips (and Warnings)

The proliferation of journals accepting work through has unquestionably made the submissions process much easier for all involved, but it has also led to a few bad habits that can easily irk editors and give your work a higher chance of being rejected. Luckily, these habits are easily corrected.

But first, let’s talk about how to make your life easier…

It’s a good idea to keep a template for a cover letter saved somewhere on your computer. Remember, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the general consensus among editors that cover letters should be short and sweet. After all, this is a cover letter, not an interview. Still, even if you have a template, cut and pasting your cover letter can be tedious, especially if you’re the kind of writer who sends of dozens or even hundreds of submissions. Luckily, Submittable has a feature had allows you to add a template cover letter, which will then be automatically added to every submission (though you can tinker with it before you send your work). Just click “profile”. Then, in the “Bio” box (which, admittedly, should be called something else), simply type your template cover letter.
In my case, I leave certain things in CAPS so that I remember to change them before I actually send a submission. Also, underneath my template cover letter, I add an actual bio. 
Now, when I go to submit to an actual journal (Hayden’s Ferry, for instance), here’s what I see:
So all I have to do is add the name(s) of the piece(s) I’m submitting in the “Title” box, tweak the Cover Letter to include the write names, and I’m good.

A growing number of writers have figured out how to amend their profiles so that their bios are automatically included in submissions, but then they submit their work without adding a cover letter. This means that when editors (like me) get a submission, all the “cover letter” box lists is their bio. Why is that bad? Well, for starters, it’s a good way to give an editor the impression that you know zero about their journal, and you’re really just shot-gunning submissions to as many journals with as little effort as possible.
Yes, simultaneous submissions are a good idea. No, editors are not gods who need their asses kissed. But if you’re going to ask someone to consider your work and possibly publish you, this is just the wrong approach. Remember the golden rule when it comes to cover letters: do no harm. Not even including one (unless the journal specifically instructs you to, which almost no journals do) definitely counts as causing harm in the eyes of most editors.

Another Bad Habit:

Maybe this is just me, but I consider it a professional courtesy to inform editors if my submitted work is under consideration elsewhere. That isn’t just a statement of honesty; it also lets the editor know that I checked their submission guidelines to make sure that simultaneous submissions are allowed at that particular journal, meaning that I know a little bit how this process work and I respect the editor’s time and attention.

Reading Fees:

This is where things get a bit contentious. While most journals (including Atticus Review) do not charge reading fees, a small number of journals do. How small? About three bucks. This is hardly earth-shattering (I spent less at the coffee shop where I sat down to write this), but some writers oppose such fees on principle, while others (myself included) have no problem with them. After all, it’s not like journals are raking in money hand over fist. Financially speaking, most journals are barely scraping by, and most editors (myself included) work FOR FREE. Reading fees are just a small pittance to help keep the lights on. Still, if you have an ideological objection, that’s fine. Submit elsewhere.

If your work is accepted…

…email the editor and thank them. After all, this is something of a partnership and as any couples therapist will tell you, no partner likes to feel unappreciated.

If your work is rejected…

…don’t send hate mail. Seriously. Don’t send hate mail! I get that you’re upset, but no matter how justified you think you are, you aren’t. Think of it this way: remember that time you asked somebody out, they said no, and you were disappointed? Well, did you immediately call them a bitch/asshole and try to make everyone else hate them? If the answer is yes, that’s probably why you’re having trouble getting a date.

If you sent work simultaneously, one of the poems gets accepted, and you need to withdraw it from other journals’ consideration... 

...check the journal’s guidelines. Some journals want you to email them, informing them of the withdrawal. Others want you to withdraw the entire submission on Submittable, then resubmit from scratch with the accepted poem omitted. But most journals opt for an easier method: just add a note to the submission, visible to the editors, saying which poem is no longer available. To do this, click on the submission, then click “activity”, and add your note.
When in doubt, go with that final option. And remember, no matter what you do, the same rule applies: be nice, or stay lonely.