state of the week

August 24, 2021

Guess who finally had to get a Covid test after avoiding it for 18 months? That’s right, it’s me! Bit of a scare, but the test came back negative and it turns out I’ve got something going on with my sinuses instead. But that was a really not fun couple of days there. Whew.

Mask up, folks. Get the vax if you’re able.

In happier news, I’ve got some stuff coming up! On August 31, I’ll be having a virtual chat with author Brian Naslund, and we’ll be talking books and writing and all that good stuff.

Sign up at this Eventbrite link.

Bubonicon!

August 18, 2021

I don’t think I had this on any of my schedules because I’m still really out of practice with this whole self-promotion thing, but I’m participating in Virtual Bubonicon this weekend. We’ll be doing some panels and other events on Facebook and YouTube on Friday and Saturday, so check it out!

And in just a couple of weeks is in-person Marcon.

I’ll get back into the swing of things at some point…maybe…

Snake Eyes

August 16, 2021

I did it, I went to another movie in the theater! This go-around, we timed it right and had the theater to ourselves–probably because no one else wants to see this one. Which is too bad, because it was great.

Please be advised that by “great” I don’t mean “this was a good movie,” because it’s kind of not. But I did enjoy it a lot, and while it followed G.I. Joe canon about as well as the previous two live-action movies did, which is to say, not at all, it still captured a lot of the tone and spirit of G.I. Joe — depending on which iteration of G.I. Joe you’re talking about, of course. (It’s all far too complicated, really.)

In this, the iteration is that stretch in the early ’90’s where the comics became obsessed with ninja and suddenly everything was all ninja and Cobra Commander’s son was a ninja and Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are friends but then they’re not but then they are again and —

This is the stretch where I stopped reading the comics, BTW. I actually kind of hate ninjas.

So how does the movie pull it off? By replicating the aesthetic of all those crazy ninja movies from the 80’s. I’m not sure people now realize just how many ninja movies there were in the 80’s. There were a lot. A lot. And this film lovingly recreates a bunch of those tropes with modern visual sensibilities, including way too much shaky cam, but I’ve pretty much given up the shaky cam fight. Sigh.

My big worry going into this is it would try to pretend like it wasn’t a G.I. Joe movie at all. I shouldn’t have, because about halfway through, Scarlett and the Baroness show up, and so do snake head logos stenciled on crates of illegal guns, and it’s definitely a G.I. Joe movie as well as being a recreation of an 80’s ninja movie and seriously, what’s not to love? This film is what it is, knows what it is, and gets the job done.

And I now ship Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow so hard, and I challenge anyone who sees this not to do the same. The nice thing about having the theater to ourselves is I could basically shout “Just kiss him already!” at the screen several times without bothering anyone but my long-suffering friends. (So, I just looked up Henry Golding, the actor who plays Snake Eyes, because I’d never seen him in anything and it turns out he’s primarily done romcoms? This explains much.)

I also sort of ship Scarlett and the Baroness now too? So weird.

Other things to know: This film pretends like the previous two live-action G.I. Joe movies don’t exist, which is probably for the best, and I guess we’re just going to keep rebooting these until one of them hits, but I’m suspecting the fandom just isn’t big enough to make one of these hit. I’m thinking now live-action G.I. Joe should be a TV series that can develop multiple characters at once and play with storylines that aren’t McGuffin-driven.

This film passes the Bechdel Test. I know, right?!

Ninja Grandma. Just sayin’.

state of the desk

August 12, 2021

This week:

I went on a glorious hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Almost got above the wildfire haze, but not quite. But I got to work a little bit on my mini-project of sketching wildflowers. That’s right, I’m trying to learn drawing. At least a little.

I wrote a lot.

I hosted taco night for my friends and managed to dirty nearly every single dish in my kitchen, which always seems like either an epic cooking acomplishment or epic failure, I can never tell which.

My Nomi Sunrider cosplay is coming along nicely.

And I’m waiting. This part really sucks. I had one of my manic phases where I finished a bunch of stories and things and sent them all out at once and now I’m waiting to hear back.

And waiting.

Argh.

Nothing for it but to start on the next thing as a distraction.

The Green Knight

August 9, 2021

Seventeen months, almost to the day, since my last time in a movie theater, I finally made it back. How was it? Well, I rented out a whole theater along with 15 friends, all vaxxed, which made it economical and relatively safe and a whole lot of fun.

And I’m very, very glad this is the film I went back for. It’s gorgeous, haunting, strange, arresting, with an immersive soundtrack that’s half traditional song and half weird ambient. All great. If you have a chance to safely see this on the big screen, it’s worth it.

This is based on the 14th century English poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” which is my very favorite piece of medieval literature. I spent a whole semester in grad school on this poem, so I wasn’t going to miss the movie. So, how was it?

I have to tell you, this is a really great adaptation, faithful to both the plot, content, and tone of the original. Whoever would have thought?

The best medieval literature hits this intersection of pagan folklore, Christian theology, and classical aesthetic. The world of the medieval story is full of signs and wonders that must be taken for what they are, but also represent much more:  God and truth and faith and love and sex and honor. I think “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” hits that intersection better than just about anything, and the film does too.

The film gets all the iconic moments just right. The Green Knight’s entry into Arthur’s hall, the beheading and aftermath—absolutely perfect. The arrival at the castle by the Green Chapel and the dubious shenanigans there—also just about perfect. This is one of those cases where I’m sitting in the theater thinking, are they actually doing this? Are they going to go there? Please don’t pull the punch, don’t pull the punch…. The film goes there and does not pull the punch. It’s spooky and weird and uncomfortable—just like the poem! It’s great!

One of the things I love about the poem is it’s a little bit subversive—it pushes back against a lot of Arthurian lore about chivalry and honor and larger-than-life everything. It’s a smaller story. A Christmas story. And its basic message is:  Look, kid, it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to make mistakes. Maybe these chivalric ideals that are driving you aren’t realistic and don’t actually work all that well in the real world. Maybe step back and let yourself be human.

The movie gets most of that, giving us a flawed hero who gets in way over his head, but at the end he’s learned the lessons he was meant to and comes away understanding that heart and honesty are more important than external ideas about honor. The poem (I think, anyway) is affirming and uplifting. The film doesn’t quite get there but it gets close.

There’s a bit at the end where I almost checked out, where it took a turn into grimdark and tragedy and despair—but then I realized, this isn’t real. Gawain has been moving through liminal worlds full of signs and lessons, and this is one too. And we come back from that brink, ending with a Gawain who’s come out the other side a better person.

I also love that the movie doesn’t explain itself. I’ve gotten so used to movies where the characters all stand around explaining things to each other, and here’s a movie where nothing is explained, it all just happens, yet is clear and enthralling, and yes, more like this, please.

Almost from the start, this reminded me of The Seventh Seal, which is one of my favorite movies. Antonius and Gawain both move through haunted landscapes and encounter scenes that shock them, that they are helpless to influence. Or their influence seems so small they have to wonder if it’s even worthwhile. There’s little they can do but move on. These are films that use their modern artistic cinematic languages and sensibilities to immerse us in the strange dream worlds of their medieval milieus.

Watching both these movies feels like reading a medieval text, full of beauty and oddness and symbolism and meaning. They reward your attention.

MarCon – IN PERSON

August 5, 2021

Big step, y’all: I’ve got an in-person convention scheduled for September 3-5.

MarCon, near Columbus Ohio. This is the convention where I was scheduled to be Guest of Honor last spring. We’ve rolled that into September, so now I really get to be Guest of Honor!

Not gonna lie, it feels little like ripping off the band-aid. Getting there will be my first time on an airplane in almost two years, for my first in-person con in almost two years. I can do it, it’ll be fine. I spoke to an author friend who’s already done several small conventions this summer, and he said that they’ve been going well, people are being careful, and he’s felt good about it. So let’s do this.

I’m excited and also daunted. And yes, I’ll be wearing a mask. The con is requiring them, for which I’m grateful.

I’m also really looking forward to seeing people. I think I’m ready.

horses

August 2, 2021

Happiness is turning on the TV just to see what they’re actually showing on the Olympics and catching the show jumping phase of the Three-Day Eventing competition. True story: I used to do that back in high school. Well, no, not exactly that. At my level they call it Combined-Training Eventing and we did it all in one day and the jumps were only 2’9″.

Basically the equivalent of your local 5k fun run versus Olympic marathon.

But still.

Anyway.

The horse I’m taking dressage lessons on now competes at the same skill level as the Olympic dressage horses. I’m learning a ton. I’m not anywhere near there as a rider myself.

But I do get a bit frustrated that the one category of sports I know ANYTHING about hardly gets any mainstream coverage.

Olympics and Loki

July 26, 2021

I mean, not the Olympics and Loki together, though I would pay good money to see that.

I had meant to post something last week and totally didn’t. I’m going through a bit of a phase shift, mood wise and functionality wise, and it’s been kind of marvelous and I’m still assessing it. I’m not totally sure it’s pandemic related — life creeping a little back toward normal. Rather, I cleared a couple of big things off my plate and my mind and it’s felt great. As a result, productivity has ramped up — I weeded my yard for the first time all summer, plus gotten a bunch of other stuff done.

I felt so good about my productivity that I spent all weekend in my pj’s watching the Olympics and didn’t even feel guilty about it.

Longtime blog readers will know how much I love the Olympics, even knowing how much of a political and logistical trashfire they can be. I love the spirit and multiculturalism of it all.

But I gotta tell you, it’s weird this year. There’s a vague sense of impending disaster that might be misplaced but is still there. The lack of cheering crowds is surreal. The coverage is including stories of horrifically difficult training situations, given the lockdowns of the last year. Everybody looks just a little bit extra tired. Or maybe that’s me, projecting.

Anyway. I just want everyone to stay healthy.

Current TV: “Loki” and “The Bad Batch,” which continues “The Clone Wars'” tradition of giving us a kids’ show about incipient fascism. Timely, I suppose. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for two whole episodes about kid Hera, though. Oof, right in the feels, as they say.

Of course I really enjoyed “Loki,” for the most part. Weird and crazy and complicated and different. I loved every single actor and watching them play off each other. Right up until the last episode, in which the characters literally sat in chairs and explained the plot to each other. That…wasn’t good. It was like having a good run and then crashing into a wall, and I’m not knowledgable enough about the comics to be excited about Kang. My friend played me this to get me up to speed, so now I pass it along to you.

But I’ll forgive them because they gave us Alligator Loki, the hero we truly deserve in these trying times.

Black Widow

July 19, 2021

Okay, so, I didn’t actually make it to a movie theater for this. Long story. So my friends and I broke down and watched it at the home of the friend who has the 65″ TV. With White Russian cocktails on hand, naturally.

Now, on to the film.

The Short Review:  So wait, is this like Mirror Universe Incredibles?

Yes, the best parts of the movie were very much like a Mirror Universe Incredibles, with this weird dysfunctional superfamily that somehow still manages to come together. I’m really glad nobody got killed off because it would be nice to see the family again at some point.

Other than that, and I hate to say it, but the movie is kind of a mess. A series of McGuffins stringing together a series of action set pieces, which is fine. But you know, we’re going to roll a car in this scene, so a couple of scenes later we’re going to roll a car and have it plunge down the steps of a subway. Action scene inflation.

And the climactic confrontation was so, so very dumb, it just pissed me off.

Spoilers Ahoy!

When Natasha confronts the big bad, Dreykov, the sadistic mastermind behind the Red Room training regime that produces unstoppable women assassins, she discovers she is physically unable to kill him – because of a “pheromone trigger.” The women are all conditioned so that smelling his pheromones makes them incapable of harming him.

Like…that isn’t how that works? That’s not how any of that works? But okay, I’ll give it to you if it goes someplace interesting.

Where it goes:  Turns out Natasha knew about this ahead of time and was told she needs to sever the nasal nerve so she can no longer smell him. So Natasha breaks her own nose, to sever the nerve I guess?

And I’m thinking…you could have just, like, shoved kleenex up your nostrils? Or, I don’t know, you’ve got these super high tech face masks that completely change your face, and tiny ear comms, and amazing weapons, and…maybe someone could have rigged up some kind of pheromone filter that fits in your nostrils? Or picked up high-grade filter breathers from Home Depot? Or shot Dreykov from the doorway before smelling him? But no. Natasha smashes her face into a desk to break her nose. And then fixes it herself later, which I guess unsevers the nerve? I dunno.

This is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. I’m embarrassed for whoever came up with this. It’s like the filmmakers went with their first idea and just didn’t think it through. At all.

And now, my deconstruction of this film’s take on kick-ass women.

Every single woman character in this film is a brainwashed/conditioned from childhood assassin. All of them. (With the possible exception of the post-credits scene, which I’m not actually counting, because I mean really.)

One of my least favorite tropes is the one that says that in order to be kick-ass and physically aggressive, a woman has to be traumatized. Every single woman in this film has been traumatized. There’s no alternative.

I mean, sure, it’s about empowerment. Natasha wants to destroy the Red Room to free all the abused women, her sisters-in-spirit. She wants them all to be able to make their own choices, to live the lives they want to live. She says this all the way through the movie.

So what do both Natasha and Yelena do with their freedom, what choices do they make once they’re free of the Red Room? They continue being murderous assassins.

Natasha’s distinctive black fighting togs, and her red Black Widow symbol that has been her own personal trademark as part of the Avengers, for the last decade? Turns out all the Red Room assassins wear similar black fighting suits, they’re all called widows, and they all use that symbol.

Natasha has been wearing the uniform and symbol of her oppressors all this time. Everything we thought was distinctly Natasha’s actually isn’t, it turns out.

I kept thinking about Wonder Woman, which also features a special cadre of amazing kick-ass women, but the difference in tones is…breathtaking. The Amazons of Wonder Woman are joyously empowered, celebrating their strength and abilities, in service to their own cause. And this film shows us other ways women can be brilliant and empowered, through Etta Candy and Dr. Poison.

In Black Widow, the cadre of kick-ass women is tragic, victimized, controlled, oppressed. And as much as I dearly love Natasha, her own tragic character arc raises the question of whether their liberation is even possible.

I wish someone behind this movie had thought some of these things through.

baby steps

July 16, 2021

This week, I’m reminded again that baby steps are important. Some is better than none.

15 minutes of yoga is better than no yoga.

“Weed the yard” is too big, but “weed just this section” is doable. (I haven’t weeded all summer. It’s a problem. So instead of “weed the yard” I’m now working on “spend half an hour weeding this section” and that seems to be the trick.)

500 crappy words written is better than no words.

So annoying that I seem to have to relearn this lesson every couple years or so.