Friday, July 31, 2015

Movie Review: Antman is a mega fun

I watched Ant-Man on the day it came out, but it is only now that I have time to review it. This is a heist movie taking place after Avengers: Age of Ultron concerning the Pym Particle technology for shrinking things. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

First of all, I want to dispel any misconception that this movie is a re-tread of Ironman. While it looks similar due to both the hero and his evil counterpart wearing powered armor and the conflict is over the armor's proper use there are numerous differences. The most important of which is that this movie is a heist movie. It revolves around a plan to steal the prototype Yellow Jacket armor from Daren Cross and delete all the data on it so another cannot be built. The second is that Daren Cross is a legitimate creator of the Yellow Jacket; Hank Pym refused to tell him the formula or even confirm that it was a real thing and not just a hoax, so he reinvented it. The roles of Iron Man and Iron Monger are then, in part, the opposite in this film. A third point is the difference in cast but that will be in the CHARACTERS section.

I like the plot because I think it is has a sound foundation and built up. The Evil Plan is established, Scott is recruited, trained to stop it, the plan develops and then the heist is carried out.
Personal conflicts and arcs are wrapped around this basic structure to flesh it out and give it meat. It can be both silly ("Baskin Robins Always Finds Out")  and profound (The speech about second chances).

The ending is satisfying. It closes the conflict of this movie while pointing to new adventures for Ant-Man in future MCU projects. 

CHARACTERS

Scott Lang is about as far away from Tony Stark as one can get. He's much closer to Average Joe than the "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" in both his everyday demeanor and the world that he inhabits, which includes roommates and annoying retail jobs. The only reason he's included in Hank Pym's plan, is because he is both trustworthy and expendable. In fact, I'd say he has more in common with Steve Rogers.

This is what made him so engaging and interesting as a character. Scott Lang is truly a hero for the little guy. He's not a famous war hero, a (demi) god, enormous green rage monster, a super spy, etc. He's just a guy in a suit and he didn't even make the suit.  What he is underneath the suit is just as heroic as anyone else in the MCU.  Enough comparisons with other heroes; Scott stands on his own without them.
He is quite the devoted father. It's clear that his daughter Cassie means the world to him. All of their scenes are adorable. He has a streak of self-depreciating humor that is shown most prominently during his scene with Falcon. For a third point, he's a modern day Robin Hood.


Hank Pym is a grouchy old man but it's easy to see the rusted heroism inside of him. He plays a Big Good role in this film directing and training Scott. His dynamic with his two apprentices has Star Wars overtones (the bad original one and the good new one), which is cool.

Luis, Kurt, and Dave, A.K.A. "The Three Woombats", are great for comedy, but they are also more than just funny guys. They're skilled at what they do and, aside from their (off-screen) petty crimes, heroic in and of themselves.

Darren Cross makes for a great mix of hamminess and villainy while also distinct from other MCU villains. He has this Well Done Son Guy complex with Hank, but at the same time, it's more of a Surpassed The Teacher sort of thing. His offhand comment about "morning meditations" also sticks out.

Hope Van Dyke is an interesting character because, as she points out, she is far better suited to be The Hero of this story than Scott. She works at the place, she knows the technology, she has Cross's trust, and she knows "how to punch".  This leads to a More Hero Than Thou with her father for the first half of the film. Scott takes the role not because he's better qualified, as would be the case in another film, but because he is expendable.
She's not a love interest. The make out with Scott at the end occurs off screen and so quickly that it's more a joke than honest romance or ship tease. Her reconciliation with her father is by far the more important relationship in terms of emotional content (just like how Scott's relationship with his own daughter is more important to him).  However, if there's an Ant-Man II, I imagine that this will change because there's a Generational Xerox thing going on with Ant-Man and Wasp.

POLISH

As has become standard with Marvel Studios, this movie looks fantastic. It has smooth pacing, it has great special effects, and hilarious jokes.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Ant-Man an A+


The next movie review is X-men Apocalypse

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Read for Fun: Deadpool Classics #1

I've seen Deadpool in a lot of media but I've never read a genuine comic about him before, so I bought the last part of Dracula's Gauntlet and then an issue of the AXIS series from Marvel NOW. I like them both so I decided to delve into Deadpool's history and buy Deadpool Classics Number 1. This includes his first appearance in New Mutants #98, Circle Chase 1-4, Deadpool(1994) 1-4 and Deadpool 1997 #1 As usual there will be plot, character and then polish.


PLOT

For being a mercenary, Deadpool doesn't do much mercenary work in the middle two stories. They're plenty interesting but it seems strange. The Pirates That Don't Do Anything. This is resolved in the final story of the collection which sees three cases of mercenary work; one for In Media Res, one for the main story, and a final one as a sequel hook.

The middle two stories have Deadpool being pursued by someone. It's a case of neither hero nor villain; just protagonist.  They lack a driving arc that is present in the fourth and final one. Perhaps this is due to it being Deadpool's first monthly series instead of a limited series but they don't feel as thick in terms of story telling.

They're enjoyable but not memorable is what I would say.


CHARACTERS

 In the third story Deadpool calls himself "The merc with a mop" and this is indicative. This collection doesn't have the silly Deadpool munching on chimegangas but a serious Deadpool given to moping. In these stories he's pretty depressing in how he talks about ugly he is, and how unfair the world is and stuff like that. I'd say the first genuine bits of comedy don't come until the last story, which is the only one to include Blind Al.


Deadpool is solidly a jerk with a heart of gold in these stories (save the first where he's basically a villain of the week).  He's rude, selfish and egotistical but he does the right thing in the end.

Juggernaut is in two of these stories, which is fun. Both of them involve him working with Black Tom and both times fighting for a macguffin with Deadpool. The second time Deadpool is the Macguffin.

Blind Al is great. She provides both a comedic and personal role that is missing in the other stories. He doesn't have anyone to engage in Snark to Snark Combat in those stories and she's also the only one that he doesn't involve violence as either as ally or enemy. (A threat of a box trip is defeated by a counter threat to his happy meal toy collection.)


POLISH
There are a bunch of different writers and painters here, but it all looks good as far as I can tell.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Deadpool Classics #1  a C+

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Answering Review Request: SHIAM Conspiracy

Joesph Heck asked me to read his novel "SHIAM Conspiracy". It starts off being about investigating the theft of a prototype android and then develops into something bigger. I will examine Plot, Characters, and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT
My favorite thing about this book is the blending of genres and tropes. This is story set in the future and features sci-fi tropes such as virtual reality, laser guns and space travel. This is also a story where elves and orcs and goblins share the world with humans and everybody is practicing magic. In fact, magic is so common there's an automatic spell to dry people off as they enter a building after a rain storm. It's a fine grained blending; no big deal sort of thing. This is reality. 
It also adds for some comedy when Zak demands "scientific answers" when, as far as I can tell, magic is science.
A third point in Mr.Heck's skill in blending genre is how the genres interweave. First we have investigating how high technology was stolen (sci-fi), then how magic could be used both to steal and then to track the thieves (fantasy), then flying cars driven by elves to a crime scene (sci-fi), then investigating a portal that contains a monster which could have been used to bypass security (fantasy) then the use of virtual reality to further investigate (sci-fi).


There's a lot of talk about "instincts" and "bad feelings" that lead to plot points and keep the story moving but this is NOT a narrative weakness; not a contrived coincidence or plot device or anything like that. It could have been but Mr.Heck builds a justification into the setting of his fictional universe.  The people who talk about this sort of things are an elf and a half elf, and all elves have a natural connection to T'eh which is like Fate and or the Collective Unconscious. These "instincts" and "bad feelings" can then be described as passive psychic powers. There is a whole paragraph where Zak describes what it is like to really tune into this T'eh, this "One Mind", and how he used to use to detect threats back when he was in the military.

 
Even Zak's Eleventh Hour Superpower is subtly set up for explanation instead of Deus Ex Machina. There is just enough hinting in the first act about him leaving this elfish spiritual warrior order under mysterious circumstances, and how he admits to himself that he isn't honest with himself about where the power comes from, that it could be explained in the next book and make sense. As it is, it is easy to argue that it comes out of nowhere.
 
 
The ending on this story is complicated. The initial conflict, that of the stolen SHIAM prototype, is resolved well and good but the SHIAM was a side note starting in the second place. The main conflict, that of the portals to an alternate universe causing trouble, is also resolved.  The demonic invasion that turns up, is resolved as well. However, the root conflict, that which was behind all three, is brought up at the ending. In other words, the climax starts off a new conflict which makes the book feel cliffhanger-y, except it has been developed in the background and instead becomes a sequel hook. It's even mentioned in the foretelling about a third danger to the world with the portal and the invasion being only two of them.


CHARACTERS

Zak is the protagonist. I don't like him. I find him an annoying and hypocritical jerk scarcely more sympathetic than his Evil Counterpart, Vennhim.  He's racist to elves for a mysterious reason that's likely tied to his Daddy Issues, he's racist to SHIAM because they're artificial life forms, he's racist against orcs because his mom was killed by orc extremists, and while he's not explicitly racist towards humans, his only praise of them is basically "they're not elves". I feel like he has a pet dog simply to prove that he's not racist to everything.

His racism towards elves is baffling. While against orcs is understandable and his elfish senses can explain his feelings about SHIAM, there is nothing about elves. There is some vague stuff about how he's estranged from his father, a full elf, but nothing more than that. This is particularly head scratching because if he didn't hate elves than his life would be much better. He would use magic which would make his job safer and his missions easier, he would not have dropped elfish spiritual practices which would enable him to better control his emotions so he's not perpetually angry, his relationship with Megan would go smoother, and he wouldn't look like a child for constantly trying to demean elves. 

Furthermore, while he calls elves in general arrogant and stubborn (and they are) he himself is no better. It takes until the final act before he stops saying "humans are better than elves", automatically to Megan in response to her saying "elves are better than humans". In addition, he turns his apartment into a forest with his gardening and gives his dog an elfish name. "Twice Unresolved" indeed.

I like Vennhim because while he is a nasty and ruthless piece of work, he doesn't make excuses for it. Unlike Zak's "I'm not racist, I just hate elves for being elves" stance,  Vennhim is upfront about how he feels and what he does. When Megan scathingly calls him a nasty name, he just shrugs and says he has been called worse. While he has an extremist goal, the fact that he has a goal and is passionate about this goal makes him a more admirable character than Mr. Twice Unresolved and emotionally constipated.

I like Megan. When she was introduced, I was afraid she was just in the story for fanservice because Zak's narration wouldn't stop about her attractiveness and magic abilities didn't accomplish anything but keep her and Zack dry during a storm. Then she demonstrates greater depth of character than "rebellious and attractive rich girl". For one, she does a better job about being professional than Zak, despite being younger than him. She doesn't have a problem with him being half-elf (or half human) while he refuses to work with her for being an elf before he knows anything else about her. For two, she can both "repel" against her culture and her father while at the same taking pride in them, in contrast to Zak who makes clear his hate of anything and everything elfish at every opportunity. She also demonstrates some more effective magic.

I like Jonas. He's a Nice Guy in that he is friendly (not just polite but friendly) to everyone. He's also adorkable. It shows in his scholarly interest in elfish culture and the fact that his favorite pastime is a Dungeons and Dragons style MMORPG.
 
Due to the mystery nature of the story, there is no bad guy; no Big Bad. That one demon had a delightfully contrasting personality  but he is a small presence

POLISH

There are  couple grammar problems such as missing words. There's also word cruft in that events often "seem" to happen when the scene is describing something literal. On the other hand, there is no purple prose, the romance is kept tasteful but not prudish, and scenes are plenty descriptive.  

Trickster Eric Novels gives "SHIAM Conspiracy" a C-

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What is going on off-screen?

As an author, one of the hardest and most frustrating things about writing is keeping track of what happens off-screen. Characters do not disappear into a void when they are not on-screen, and plot events do not cease when they are not the focus of attention. Keeping track of all of them is necessary to keep the story's integrity in tact. There are three reasons for this:

1. Real World Effect
The story must be made to seem real. It has to have that illusion that the story world has the same effect and solid presence as the real world. Otherwise, the reader can lose respect for the world and its characters, like they don't matter. The immersion effect is ruined if anything that is not on the page disappears into ether. There are naturally exceptions to this.


I once read a book (Unreliable Histories) where this hermit said that anyone that was not "here" (i.e. on the page) did not exist and was therefore not important. This tied into the plot and the story's physics and so it acknowledged this Narrative Void while adding to the immersion. It was a great story and I have the sequel in my queue. 
Another example here would be Order of the Stick web comic; Roy once disregarded an NPC because his purpose had been fulfilled and he was no longer relevant. The NPC had a few choice words to say about this, but like Roy said, he was longer important to the story and disappeared from it (he might have had one more scene after this; it's been a while). However, both of these examples incorporate the Narrative Void into their status quo and thus uphold and maintain immersion. Thus they are not really exceptions after all.
2. Advantage and Disadvantages
In various situations and confrontations there may be factors that benefit or hinder characters that are not immediately apparent on their person or, in other words, permanent. These advantages or disadvantages can be people or environments or simple items.  In my fantasy author way of thinking, I see this as Geo Effects or monster statuses or conditions.

If, for instance, my character became friends with a sapient and wise owl in this certain forest, then if my character needs some sage advice then wouldn't it make sense for him to return to this forest? If my character picks up a curse at some point that only activates in certain conditions, then it should activate when those conditions come up, even if they are far apart.
There's also the question of what is going on outside the character's knowledge that can affect them in positive or negative ways. What are characters friendly to him doing outside of his view and off the page? What are his enemies doing? What are neutral characters doing? How do all of these events, occurring outside reader perception effect the main events If I could make a 4D book then I could portray all this these things colliding into the main-line stream of events. Otherwise, it all goes on in my head and many notes. 

There is a trope called The Hero of Another Story, which is all about this. A character that has adventures off-screen and could, if the author so chose, be the hero of the story that the reader is reading. They are not but they could be. That stuff is happening in the story's world, and can affect the main hero because they are in the same world.

3. Historical Continuity
You can only fit so much of the story’s history into the current page. Much of it will have to be in the background. This means that it exists in a latent form. Potential narrative energy, you could say. This energy has to go somewhere. Otherwise, you violate the Law of Conservation of Energy, and the universe could crash. By that I mean cease to make sense. If you ignore it, then your story will not make sense anymore but causality will have broken down.  It can also disappoint fans who now believe their favorite story arcs are no longer canon.

 I’ve read about comic book writers of long runners doing a lot of creative things with this narrative energy, including when they’re trying to get rid of it so they’re not tangled by it.  They incorporate that into the story in order to justify why it happen within the context of the story. Whether or not these stories themselves make sense or have value in and of themselves is a debate for fans (and fan haters).

I've written scenes for the books of my Journey to Chaos series that I felt were great scenes, but then I re-read the series or books and I find something that throws a wrench into that. While these things are annoying, by building on them, I can create a more coherent universe with a richer mythos.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Status Report for Journey to Chaos book 3: Mana Mutation Menace

This is a more extensive writing update then what I put on facebook, twitter or google +. I'm going to use this time to talk about the progression of Journey to Chaos book 3: Mana Mutation Menance as well Journey to Chaos book 4 which hasn't been named yet.
 
Two out of three beta readers have finished their critique and feedback for Mana Muation Menace. The third is having some real life problems so I don't know when or if I'll receive anything formal. She has provided useful feedback so if it would be too much to do more, what she sent already will be enough.

After that, it will be time for a book long rewrite. After putting a couple months distance between myself and the manuscript and recieivng feedback I will be ready to spot plot weaknesses and areas of improvement. That will take a month or so depending on how much change is needed. Then I'll pass it on to my editor and that will take another month or so.  An early release date would be sometime in August.

 
As for Journey to Chaos book 4, I'm writing ch 13 as of this post. This is the first draft so it will be awhile before the beta readers see it, much less everyone else.  I will have to re-read it, revise it, take a break to write book 5, and then go back for a second revision. After that, I may feel comfortable sending it to beta readers.