Movies: Avengers: Infinity War

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and just a whole bunch of people, I mean really, was this necessary?
Directed by: Anthony & Joe Russo
Written by: Like, 12 Guys and Not a Single Woman, So F*** Off
Marvel, 2018
PG-13; 149 minutes
2.0 stars (out of 5)



People are going to like this movie, so I know I'm swimming upstream. And it's not because I want to be "different" or "contrary." I just really didn't enjoy it.

I mean, there were a couple moments I enjoyed, and a couple times I actually laughed, but overall this felt like it was trying way too hard.

And then I heard—as we were driving to the cinema—that there's going to be another one, so this isn't even, you know, the entire story. It's just a really long movie that gets you, what? Halfway there?


I'm no longer impressed by all the spectacle. And I've read fan fiction that's better and more engaging than this script.

The story, which we've sort of known for a while now, is that Thanos is trying to collect the six Infinity Stones and put them in his gauntlet. His goal is to save the universe by eliminating half the population in it. Similar to culling seals or whatever, I guess, the idea being that we don't have enough resources and therefore must cut down the burdens on those resources.

The one thing I can say for the movie is that Thanos is actually an interesting villain. He has depth and feeling, so that's a nice change.

The attempts to play up emotions in the protagonists, however, fell flat. These characters no longer have personalities.


Yes, there are deaths. We lose people who I call JIEs: "just important enough" (without being the headliners). Anyway, there's a Time Stone, so we know that eventually all these people are coming back. That's the problem with Marvel movies; there never really are any stakes.

A villain who basically has all the power actually makes things less interesting, too. I said above that Thanos is an interesting villain, and he is interesting—as a character. But his having all this power makes every fight feel feeble and unnecessary. Oh, he can change reality? Well, then, if reality can change at whim, then there is no longer any such thing as reality, is there? Whee! Nothing matters anymore!

Such stupid decisions, too. Why try to pull the gauntlet off Thanos? Why not just destroy the Stones, or take them, or cut Thanos' arm off or something? (Do not give me a lecture about how the Stones can't be removed, or the gauntlet is impervious, or anything like that. At the very least, Thanos' arm is certainly not indestructible.)

Meanwhile, I think they were trying to have Dr. Strange and Tony Stark out-ego one another, but it just didn't scan. Why didn't Strange use the Time Stone to, I dunno, stop time or something? Do another infinite loop until they won the fight? Like, anything useful?

On the plus side, Thor kept calling Rocket a rabbit, and that was amusing. For a while. But the writers leaned into what they thought was an emotional core to this movie—namely the relationships between characters—and therefore went light on the levity, which I found sorely lacking, and somewhat forced in the places it did occur. The funny is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok some of the best movies in the series. And while this one is certainly tackling a more sober story line, they could have used more laughs, if only to break up the monotony.

That said, two dramatic moments gave me chills: Cap stepping out of the shadows in Scotland, and Thor arriving in Wakanda.

Bottom line: I was underwhelmed. Not that it matters what I think; this movie will make its money and people will be in line for the next one, too. Those same people who overeat at buffets because they insist on getting their money's worth and figure it's worth the bellyache.


Ask an Author

If you've ever wanted to watch/hear me ramble about writing, here's your chance:


Wee Gloat

Look, I'm not some big-time author, so when something amazing happens, I like to celebrate because it's not an everyday occurrence for me. In this particular case, my novel Brynnde got a writeup in PW Select:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Now go eat some cake to help me make merry!


Ethereal Visions Tarot

It took me almost two years to get this deck. I paid for it in November 2016 and received it today. Which means I'm primed to like it. Why? Because humans are wired to not want to believe that we've wasted our time or money on something. The longer the time and/or the higher the cost, the more we want to love whatever it is that took so long or cost so much.

What I'm saying is, I'm probably biased.

Here's the story in a nutshell: this deck was a Kickstarter, and there were printing issues, and it just kept getting pushed back again and again. Many people asked for and received refunds, but I stuck it out. Because I love Art Deco, and I'd really loved the early sketches I'd seen of this deck.

Now that I'm finally holding it in my hands, I do still love it. Take a look:

Click for larger view.

The photo doesn't really do it justice. I believe it was all the gilding that caused printing problems.

The cards are large and sturdy, but not so stiff as to be difficult to shuffle. The artwork is indeed lovely, though I think I would have liked slightly more saturation in the colors. Some of the cards (see the Eight of Wands above) are fairly traditional in design, others not as much, though all evince the spirit of the most well-known decks. You'll see, too, that there are a couple non-standard cards depicted: The Well and The Artist. Think: Muse and Visionary and you've pretty well got those figured out.

There is a gentleness to this deck that makes it soothing to use. It's a bit coy, though, and so may take a while to get to know. It's flirty. But also sedate. If you don't have patience for that, if you want a deck that speaks more directly or unequivocally, this one isn't it.

So, yes, I like it. And I hope it likes me. But it's going to take time to build a relationship with it. Some decks I feel like I've known forever even if I've only just picked them up. This one, not so much. We're feeling each other out. I hope we can find a connection, particularly after waiting so long to meet.


Indie Beginning Podcast

Hey! So I'm featured on the Indie Beginning podcast today where I talk about Brynnde, and Regency romance, and writing in various genres. Hope you'll give it a listen!


Movies: The Post

It's interesting to watch something like Ready Player One and then The Post. On the surface they are tonally very different. But both adhere to traditional filmmaking structure, and both are, at the core, stories of fighting the big bads who appear to hold all the power. They're both about using whatever kind of power you may have to defeat those who would strangle democracy.

I tried, while watching, to decide whether I'd know that the same director made both films. But all I could say is that I'd probably guess Spielberg made both films. If it were any other director, I might not have cottoned on. But Spielberg has a definite style (or definite styles, depending on the type of movie—I know a Spielberg popcorn film when I see one, and I know a Spielberg drama when I see one, too).

As for The Post, well, I can't say I was engrossed. I think it must be difficult to make people reading papers and trying to decide whether to publish them very interesting to watch. The end result being I didn't pay as much attention as I should have. In fact, I had a glorious moment of stupidity at the end when I asked, "Wait. Why is The Washington Post in New York?" My husband just stared at me. "You weren't really watching, were you?" he asked finally. Busted.

I think Meryl Streep's character of Kay Graham is meant to be the dramatic focus of the film—the protagonist, the sympathetic character. She has inherited The Post by what most of the people around her seem to consider a terrible accident, and so she has a bunch of men advising her and making her doubt herself. We're used to seeing Streep play a dynamo, and there's probably a reason for that; her as wishy-washy and subdued does not make for very exciting viewing. Spoilers: she eventually makes the big decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, despite all the advice not to, and despite knowing it means going to trial and possibly losing and going to jail. But the stakes here just don't feel very high, and by the time Graham grows a backbone, we've already lost interest.

There are a lot of characters here, too, a lot to keep track of. The surfeit of familiar faces is somewhat distracting. And it seems that no one character received enough time to really become established and interesting.

That said, The Post is timely in its reminder that the free press is key to democracy. In fact, it hits viewers over the head with this point repeatedly. And ends with the door open for viewers to go watch All the President's Men after. The message seeming to be that any administration that tries to squash the flow of information is usually trying to hide something much bigger and much worse. I can't say I necessarily disagree, and there's something cathartic about having all this encapsulated in a movie. Too bad the movie isn't more entertaining as a whole. We all know I love Spielberg, but this wasn't one of my favorites.


Books: F You Very Much by Danny Wallace

(subtitle: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness—and What We Can Do About It)

I am, I realize, what some call “a stickler.” Maybe it’s the way I was raised. I don’t know. But I suffer from a sensitivity to rudeness, and I’ve noticed an increase in said rudeness as well. So when I saw this book on the library shelf, I had to read it.

Author Danny Wallace is best known for his humor, and his writing style here imbues the topic with comedy so that the book itself is a very quick and pleasant read. But don’t let that lead you to believe the book is inconsequential. Wallace speaks with experts and even funded his own poll in order to get a better grip on the subject.

Are we getting ruder? It seems so. Why? Possibly the rise of self-centered narcissism. When we only think of ourselves, we have no reason to be polite to others because others don’t matter.

I consider the rude teens in my neighborhood who ride loud motorbikes up and down the street, even though there is a space designated for riding within, well, riding distance. I think about the kids who think it’s fun for some reason to ring our doorbell and run away—literally, their entire idea of entertainment being to annoy people. And when we tried to confront them about their behavior, a parent assaulted my husband and I received threatening emails. Because these parents don’t want to discipline their kids, but they don’t want anyone else to do it either.

This is a big part of the problem, I think.

When I was a child, any adult in the neighborhood was free to reprimand us. You had respect for them.

But this post is meant to be about the book. Sufficient to say I identify with the subject matter and found the book very interesting. For instance, consider Dunbar’s number, which says there is a limit to the number of social relationships we can have. In terms of rudeness, we tend not to be rude to our in-crowd. Anyone else, however, may be fair game because (again) they do not matter to us. Particularly if they are someone we’re not likely to see again—a server at a restaurant we don’t frequent, for example, or someone on the other end of a tech support phone line. We see no social drawbacks to being rude to such people; there are no lasting consequences for misbehaving where they are concerned. If we were to act in such a way with people we do see regularly, there certainly would be backlash. Our social standing would be affected.

I’ll give another example from personal experience. I walk my kids to school, and many other kids bike to school. There is a bike lane. However, one boy persistently rides on the pavement. I’ve talked to him about it many times, but he refuses to use the bike lane, saying “My parents never taught me that.” (The parents again! And before you say that the bike lane may be too dangerous, this boy is 10, and ever other biker uses the lane without trouble. I would also argue that, if one thinks the bike lane is too dangerous, one should not be biking to school.) Even after a bike rules and safety program at the school, this boy refuses to use the bike lane. And I’ve seen him nearly get hit a number of times because he also does not stop to look before biking across the street.

And then one day I did see him get hit.

Lucky for him and the driver both that it was not serious. The boy was fine; the bike was not. I spoke to the driver and got his information. I walked the boy to school, carrying his bike and talking to him the whole way. I took him to the school office and was witness to the police report.

But do you know what? My feelings about that boy have changed. He still rides on the pavement, but now he’ll say, “Excuse me,” if he comes up behind us while we're walking. And I’ll greet him by name and ask him how he’s doing. My ire at him being on the pavement has dissipated. He’s become part of my social circle. I give him allowances I wouldn’t give others, people I don’t know.

Isn’t that interesting? That we can have different sets of rules for different people? We hold people to different standards based on how much authority we perceive them to have or whether or not we know them well.

It’s that kind of thing that makes F You Very Much a thought-provoking read. One I highly recommend to anyone worried about the direction our world is going, at least in terms of civility.


Movies: Ready Player One

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline (screenplay), from the novel by Ernest Cline
Warner Bros., 2018
PG-13; 140 minutes
5.0 stars (out of 5)


Yeah, I gave it five stars.

Let me be clear: I didn't even finish the book. It bored me. It clearly wasn't written for the likes of me. Despite having grown up in the 80s and being passingly familiar with gaming culture . . . While I could appreciate the references made in the book, I couldn't like the main character. And since the entire story is told from that character's POV, I bailed.

Ready Player One is also told from this character's POV, and yes, there's even (*groan*) voice over. But they've managed to make him likable. And the story more interesting.

It's not just for fanboys any more.

Quick summary: Wade Watts lives in a near future Cleveland (2045). Most people in this future spend their time plugged in to the VR world known as the Oasis. When the creator of the Oasis (Rylance, doing a version of Garth from Wayne's World?) dies, he leaves behind a contest: find three keys and win the easter egg that will give you control of the Oasis.

At first Wade wants to win just for the sake of the money. He's poor, he's downtrodden and misunderstood, etc. But after meeting Artemis in the Oasis, he has a bigger purpose: stop big business IOI from winning and ruining the Oasis—and by extension, the world—forever.

It's a white-boy nerd savior fantasy if ever there was one, and that's been seen as problematic in this day and age. I get that, and I even agree with it to a point. Remember that I felt excluded when reading the book. But I had faith in my longtime love of Mr. Spielberg, and that faith proved sound. The changes made from the book to the movie tell a very different story, at least as much as I can tell from only having read half the book.

Some of the changes are a simple matter of visual interest. Watching someone watch WarGames over and over would not be entertaining. So the contests have been upped, and I'll admit to pumping a fist and hissing, "Yes!" when Wade (or, per his avatar name, Parzival) figured out the first one. A marked difference from the book: I felt like I could cheer for this guy.

Beyond those surface changes was the sense that this was not just Wade's story. Though told from his POV,  the movie had a more classic Spielberg feel of a group of misfits coming together to beat the big bad. Wade may be Chief Misfit, but there's never a hint that he could have done it alone. He's not a sole savior; he gets saved by others plenty of times. And that's a very important difference.

In short, you don't have to be a fanboy to enjoy this movie. You don't even have to be a gamer (I'm not). It might help if you're of a particular generation that's primed to enjoy the nostalgia factor. And it definitely helps if you love classic Spielberg. Because by the end of Ready Player One, that's what I was left thinking: "This is the Spielberg of my childhood, the one I love." There's nostalgia for you.

(P.S. The PG-13 rating is key; my 8- and 9-year-olds struggled with the scene set in The Shining. Consider yourselves warned.)