Some Media Reviews


If you’re going to discuss spoilers, please put it at the end of your post with a *SPOILER* tag. Though I think we should avoid them, if possible.

I’ve been catching up on some of my shows and movies.

* Westworld tv series. I thought the first season was pretty decent. It was based off of a movie by the same name written and directed by Michael Crichton. I had read a lot of Crichton, who was a titan of books when I was younger. He had a serious interest in technology and medicine and didn’t dumb things down but also didn’t make a physics dissertation which many hard science fiction writers fall into. The guy died at a relatively young age but he had a lot of very interesting works. Most famous is likely Jurassic Park. I find it amusing that Jurassic Park is about humans playing godlike with biology and creating an amusement park that goes out of control and Westworld is about humans playing godlike with AI and biology and creating an amusement park that goes out of control.

Sometimes, pieces of writing or information about how the world works hits you and stays with you–even if the writing wasn’t very important. I read an interview with Michael Crichton which was one of the first hatchet jobs I ever encountered. Basically a journalist trying to tear him apart. Not sure how old I was at the time, but tv news anchors were stone-faced men who were subject to the FCC Fairness Doctrine. As such, it didn’t even occur to me that news I could be consuming might be untrue or biased. I had read the interview with Crichton and it directly contradicted some of the things I had previously learned and there were several quotes which were butchered to make them sound worse than they were. I went back and forth and back and forth and mulled it over for a long time until I finally realized it was a hatchet job. A journalist had gone out of his/her way to try and smear him. That was decades ago and that concept stuck with me.

Anyway, back to the tv show. I felt the first season was pretty profound. It was very Matrix-like in ideas. Then again, when you’re talking AI, you’ll see a lot of familiar concepts with other works. Isaac Asimov’s great robotic series being one of the great forerunners who created all the tropes everyone else gloms onto. A fantastic acting cast made even clunky parts have gravitas and meaning. Some concepts were a bit silly and convoluted and I’m not sure how much they planned out ahead of time. But it felt fairly well-connected other than a few hiccups.

However, the whole idea of an amusement park being this insane cash cow is a bit far-fetched. You can do that with roller coasters and actors in cheap felt costumes because a roller coaster is a fixed cost with a bit of ongoing maintenance. You make a line and shove people through and tighten some bolts and replace some boards here and there and have some surly teenagers to mumble off safety instructions and keep the line moving. If we ever get to the point where wealthy can finance bio-engineered dinosaurs or sentient AI that they blast or screw to pieces, wealth inequality will be about a jillion times worse than it is now. And yeah, they had other financial reasons for the existence of Westworld, but they were kind of meh. It was at this point in the series I felt the knowledge of how corporations work and how economies work was pretty lacking. How you can have a QA department with the resources and training of the US Marines.

Season 1 was an entire movie. A long ass movie with decent ups and downs. A great binge show to enjoy while eating. Season 2 took the first season, which ended at a nearly perfect place, and tried to get blood from the stone. It’s just not nearly as good. The big secrets are uncovered. The Matrix is known. The tension and mystery and emotional issues of the first season are almost completely gone in the second season. And part of it is because they simply made too tight a first movie. You built your great story, unspooled it, and completed it. Now pick it up and run with it for an entire season. It’s just not the same show. You can’t do the same things. I mean, maybe you could, but they didn’t.

So I haven’t enjoyed the second season nearly as much and I find myself stopping episodes so I can do other things and I’m not compelled or excited to get back to them. Not sure if I’ll give Season 3 a chance. Season 1, however, was very well done.

Evaluating it. Westworld is one of those pieces of fiction that I enjoy watching (or reading or hearing) but would hate writing. This doesn’t interest me from a writing standpoint. Maybe I could do it. I could be in a writing room with 6 other writers kicking around storylines and such, but to do it 100% on my own, I think I’d be miserable.

I’ll see reviews of writers and there is often a mistake to draw too many conclusions about the writer him or herself. Like, this writer of cheap melodrama must be a shallow and vapid person. No. It’s just what they like writing, what they are good at writing, and/or what they found they could make money writing. Pornography writers still like Shakespeare. They just don’t, perhaps, like writing Shakespeare. There’s all kinds of media I enjoy consuming, but couldn’t fathom producing.

* Game of Thrones Season 50 I’m not sure if anyone has been in the situation before where a series or movie or podcast or comic book got ahead of the actual source material. What a terrible situation to be in. I mean, it’s great to have that 23823598259823 million dollars and intergalactic fame that Mr. Martin has received, but what a drag to actually be behind the curve in producing material. How do you get motivated to write something that has already been televised and maybe not televised in a way that you planned on writing?

I don’t care how well you outline or brainstorm, writing is going to change once you start punching out those chapters and paragraphs and sentences. And then you’ll go through drafts and editing. I can’t imagine. I don’t even like to talk about what I’m planning because it can kind of cheapen it. You don’t want to get tired of your story before you actually begin it. What if he was planning on making the Night King a Night Transvestite and making a zombie Kraken that took Broadway by storm?

It’s clear to me that this is a rushed season. The slowness of Game of Thrones was a big part of its charm. You felt like you were living in Westeros. Some stuff was happening this season and I was like, “Wait. What? Did a year just pass or something?” You can kind of see where everything is going and it’s rushing toward it at a breakneck pace.

I like to say that GRR Martin is in my writing organization, SFWA. Probably because he’s the biggest, recognizable name, and it makes me feel cool. Though I’ve never seen him at a SFWA event, or heard him, or seen a post from him.

Martin is coming out with another series, I believe. His very cool Wild Cards anthology. I was big into that long ago and it’s cool to hear he started it very much like how I started writing. He played a superhero game called Superworld. I played a superhero game called Champions. In fact, the character Delovoa is loosely based off my Champions character I created when I was 19ish years old named Toolbox.

I had no idea Wild Cards was edited and collected by Martin. But if you read it, you will see the characters he created, particularly the Great and Powerful Turtle, has a lot of similarities to Tyrion Lannister. And you will see they both have a lot of similarities to George R.R. Martin.

I stopped reading the books about midway through the latest book (as of now). I just felt he was on autopilot and following the show. Once you had actors step into those characters, they are no longer 100% yours. They don’t just reside in your brain and you have god power over them. Now you had them behaving in ways you never anticipated or intended. And that’s great and fine. The same thing happens with my audiobooks or artwork about my writing. That’s another creative putting their spin on my work. Cool. However, to try and run with that once someone else has picked it up and changed it, must be difficult. Not only that, they’ve run out ahead of you. By a long way.

I must be the only person on earth who doesn’t like Jon Snow. I feel he is 2D and mopey. The idea that all these hard ass northerners are going to be obscenely loyal to this emo kid is just absurd to me. But the actor had such star power and was so popular, you could see the series and books bend to that.

I mentioned the Turtle from Wild Cards and Tyrion from GoT. Having read Wild Cards, I was pretty certain early on that Tyrion was always going to be around and a Big Deal. People are unbelievably brutal in the books, and even the show, but this foul-mouthed asshole of a dwarf gets away with everything. Maybe he got slapped once or twice. But even when he’s like running through the wilderness and has no family power, and this is a fictional world where guys can cut warhorses in half with a sword(!), he manages to kick some ass now and then against seasoned fighters. Don’t put yourself in stories, writers. This isn’t about you. Maybe Tyrion will die on the last sentence of the last page of the last book. But I bet a million spacebucks he won’t. And I knew it at like book 2 or whatever. And for a series with so many surprises and brutality, you can’t have that kind of reassurance.

The current season of the show is very meh. It’s a lot of big set pieces and senior year, “have a good life, keep in touch,” handshakes and hugs. It was a fantastic series and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. But once it firmly reached mega success, I felt it took some boring turns. The current season is far too rushed.

Oh, if Jon shows he is immune to fire like Daeny (danny? danneee? dan-e?), I’m going to punch my tv. You can’t grow up not knowing you’re immune to fire. That’s not something you learn about in your late twenties. I almost walked out of the movie theater when I watched Unbreakable. The first of the Shyamalan trilogy. There is a point when the Bruce Willis character asks his boss how many sick days he’s had and the boss is like, okay, I get it, you want a raise because you’ve never been sick. Dude, you know if you’ve never been sick. That’s something you mention all the time to people. There is no way you’re 40 years old and suddenly learn you’ve never had a cold or flu before. You’re surrounded by sick people hacking into tissues and high on Nyquil. Think for a minute. Anyway, let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

* Avengers Endgame Took me a while to see this. I tried to avoid all the spoilers and reviews and such. I think it got 105% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I was pretty excited.

I’ve been a comic book geek for a long time, though I can’t say I read much any longer. I still have Dr. Strange #1-5 from the 1970s. Technically, that would be volume 2. And my first ever comics subscription was to The Mighty Thor, back when they shipped them in super cheap brown paper sleeves and they’d get beat to hell in the mail.

I’ve really enjoyed nearly all of the Marvel universe. There was a lot of angst and drama around Marvel when I was growing up. Stan Lee was both a hero and villain. Because he took the copyrights from fellow creators and they got zero royalties. Steve Ditko just passed away in 2018. But Stan Lee along with Jack “King” Kirby and Steve Ditko created damn near all those early Marvel characters. And only Stan Lee really got to cash in.

But I’ve since taken a more nuanced view of things. And I was pleased to see the obituary in The Comics Journal, who had for decades been the main haters of Stan Lee and Marvel, point out what a tremendous body of work Lee had and how he had influenced a lot of modern popular culture.

The movie was…okay. I was very surprised that it wasn’t better. I watched it last night and I’ve already forgotten most of it. It has made approximately 73 billion dollars in the first five minutes it was released, so I’m apparently alone in my lukewarm sentiments. The human interest stories and ZOMG my kids moments and ZOMG my wife and kids moments and ZOMG my young dad moments and ZOMG my goddess mom moments apparently pulled in the non-superhero audience. But I’m a superhero guy. A comic guy. It reminds me of when I was working in an office, a woman who was like an HR lady or something, told me she absolutely loved Superman Returns. I thought it was lousy. But that’s the difference between appealing to people who don’t normally like those kinds of movies and trying to appeal to me.

I’m not going to spoiler it, but I don’t think it was worth spoilering. I had heard one spoiler that someone had trolled at people when I was surfing online. And it stuck in my head, unfortunately. And I wasn’t worried, because when I’m sucked into a story, I’m not trying to outthink the story or contemplating spoilers I heard. But I wasn’t sucked in and I actually thought of the spoiler before it came and it didn’t matter.

* Ian Fleming James Bond I was only vaguely aware of Ian Fleming when the Bond movies were being cranked out. I was only vaguely aware of the earlier Bond actors. It’s been around for a long ass time. If I can create a Sherlock Holmes or James Bond and people are trying to milk that horrible franchise 100 years later, I’ll consider myself blessed.

On a lark I bought a bunch of the early books and have been going through them. Fleming worked in Intelligence, more or less, during WWII. So he’s not some debutante (like me) playing at things he had no understanding of. The early Bond books are remarkably grounded in the real life bureaucracy of real life governments.

The books are incredibly dated in terms of sensibilities and chauvinism, but that was the time and that’s who Ian Fleming was. Some of the writing is remarkably good and some of it is very clunky. If you get a chance, read the first dozen pages of Casino Royale if you never have. There’s a number of pretty great concepts that stick out.

That’s another series that went in a very different direction than the movies. And I had never known it. It was a lot sillier than the books. Especially the later movies.

Fleming had gone through WWII and was living with a real Cold War and a real Soviet Union. Yeah, he was an upper class posh rich kid who lived like a playboy, but that helped him write the bad guys 🙂

They’re fun novels. Sometimes a bit tough to get through and could use some serious editing, but overall a good time capsule if nothing else.

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