May 6th, 2012

Peter G

Warning - Choking Hazard

Here's how it all shook out.

My sister went back to her husband.  Awwww, it's like a storybook romance by way of Jerry Springer.

Mom and dad insist they did not convince her to go back.  This is odd, given that, just a scant year ago, they were encouraging my sister to DTMFA as soon as they reached their ten year anniversary so she could get a cut of his retirement.  Had a lawyer picked out and everything.  Now, she's taking off from a monster, and they are perfectly cool with this.

Mom told me my BIL has never hurt my sister before.  I said bullshit, that's not how abusers operate.  How does she know he never physically attacked my sister?  He told them.  Yeah.  THAT I believe.  And it still doesn't change the fact that he still abuses her mentally and emotionally.  According to them, that you can shrug off.  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.  As if all you have to do is dismiss the thoughts and they instantly no longer affect you.

This is to illustrate to you why I don't tell my parents jack shit about anything I'm doing and when they ask me about anything, from my dating life to my regular job to whatever, I just say everything is okay and subtly change the subject.

So, to review, my ethnic make-up is apparently Polish (my mom's side), German (my dad's side), and white trash (everybody).

You gotta love a family where the guy with a thing for mermaids and watches My Little Pony is more of an outcast than Drew Peterson Jr.
Peter G

And, In Conclusion -- The Avengers

Reviewing The Avengers is difficult.  It's not because the movie isn't good, because it is.  It's not because the movie isn't fun, because it is.  It's because the movie accomplishes exactly what it is supposed to do, it is exactly what it is supposed to be -- a comic book in movie form, and that's it.  As a result, most criticism bounces off of it.  It's not supposed to make you think and it certainly hits dizzying heights with its spectacle, so what are you bitching about?

The problem is that the movie is constrained by its own raison d'etra.  There are little hints here and there that something more could have come of it and reflection on certain scenes and set-ups reveals missed opportunities.  The first Iron Man, for example, cleverly spun the notions of "Might makes right" and "Violence you could cheer for" into its narrative.  The Avengers?  It is what it is -- an extended action sequence with lots of movement but no fluidity.

This is the result of the first Iron Man becoming the surprise breakout hit of the year -- Marvel started trying to put as many marbles as it could back in the bag.  With talent demanding money for being in something guaranteed to be huge (rumor has it Favs was sacked from Iron Man 3 because his asking price became too high) and actors who, naturally, age, Marvel had to act fast to get everybody into an Avengers movie.  So Marvel started laying groundwork with Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America so that they would not only merge into one this summer, but they could do it again later in a few years.  So you have the very generic plot of the heroes uniting to face a common foe, an invading army of We Swear To God They Aren't Skrulls Because The Rights To Them Are Tied Up With Fox led by Loki.

You're probably thinking that I'm oversimplifying the plot.  Nope.  As has been said by a critic far wiser than me, good action movies are like good porn -- action action action BOOM!  Everyone has a cigarette.  The Avengers does what it is supposed to do, delivering a slam bang time, and that is all.  When you are dealing with otherworldly, bigger than life characters and situations, there are two approaches, which basically divide along the lines of, "What do you expect from your movies?"  There are people like me who watch movies expecting things to fit and make some sort of sense (the Dark Knight crowd), and there are people who watch movies to see things they've never seen before, where being caught up in the imagination of the creators and being wowwed is the important thing (the Transformers crowd).  The Avengers firmly and unrepentantly plants its flag in the latter camp.  And it's not like there isn't enough here to give everyone a good time regardless of their expectations about film.  Given that it's supposed to be the ultimate comic book movie, it has to pull out all the stops.

The director is comic book nut Joss Whedon.  Anyone expecting Whedon's previous experiences to act as a road map, forget it.  Because The Avengers is supposed to be completely over the top, Whedon has a budget and instructions that free him from any constraints.  Any special effect, any camera movement, is his.  This is Whedon given complete and utter free reign.  His approach combines Sam Raimi's kinetic directing, the Cohen Brothers' unique perspective, and Oliver Stone's sense of manliness.  When I talk about manliness, I'm not just referring to the guys' exploits and how they all look great while doing it (Hawkeye's costume change, for example), but there's something else.  Despite the fact that she is presented as an empowered, ass kicking female, there is still a casual wiff of chauvinism to Black Widow.  Her first appearance has her strapped to a chair in an outfit that had me thinking she'd start singing, "Life is a cabaret."  Later on, in the scene where Banner first turns into the Hulk, it's after they've fallen and Black Widow has her leg pinned.  The composition of the shot gives a great view of her ass.  Don't get me wrong, it's a very nice ass.  I prefer something curvier, so I give it an eight out of ten.  But it still makes you feel a little ungentlemanly to have noticed it.  (Further proof it was just there to carbonate guys' hormones comes when the chase begins, and despite the fall and being pinned like that, her leg appears to have taken no damage.)

The film has some great character informed moments to it.  Whedon really knows how to combine that with Jack Benny-style silence to milk the laughs.  During the climax, when the Hulk fights Loki, it ends with Loki just lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling like, "What the fuck just happened?" (the audience was laughing so hard, I missed Hulk saying, "Puny god," as he walked away).  The Hulk sucker punching Thor is a laugh riot, too.  This also informs the stinger, the bit that plays after the end credits, a masterpiece of comic presentation that nearly brought me to tears.  The characters are very engaging, too.  Everyone gets some sort of chance to shine here, even the cypher known as Agent Caulson -- his uncontrollable hero worship is not only funny, but anyone who has ever met their most awesome idol (like me when I met The Bruce, The Man Himself, Bruce Campbell) will know EXACTLY what he is feeling.

This, however, is ultimately where the movie gets wobbly.  It's never enough to derail things, but it has you wondering.  Remember my earlier comment that the movie was at odds with its own raison d'etra?  Permit me to illustrate.  Hawkeye's quiver (I mean his arrow holder, smart ass).  Unless SHIELD's R&D department learned to make a bag of holding, there is no way Hawkeye could have carried as many arrows as he shot in the climax.  And even if it were possible, the interchangeable tips and mechanism sure as hell aren't.  There's no way the arrows have that kind of range and speed, either.  But hey!  It's a comic book movie!  Quit thinking so hard!

There are a number of elements that have you leaving the theater with question marks buzzing like mosquitoes around your head.  It's that old B movie standby, It's In The Script (IITS), where things happen because the script demands it and not because of any reasonable action from the characters or plain happening from the environment (well, IITS and The Atomic Bomb Will Save Us All).  As soon as it is mentioned that Loki needs a big energy source to kickstart the Tesseract, I immediately thought of the arc reactor that they took great pains to establish at the start of the movie.  Why did no one think of it before then?  IITS.  Why does the path to the holding cell take them past the research lab?  IITS, otherwise we would not be thinking it was part of Loki's master plan when Banner Hulks out.  How exactly does a team of mercs and a guy with some trick arrows completely take out the hellicarrier?  IITS.  There are still actions by Loki I'm not entirely clear why he did what he did or how he could even plan them in advance.  Marvel and DC super team comics were known for the heroes bickering with each other (which became so ingrained in the super team genre that everybody, including and especially Radio Comics with The Mighty Crusaders, made sure to mimic it).  Tony Stark is an asshole, yes, but the characters still seem to needlessly argue instantly instead of just eventually getting on each others' nerves.  I kept thinking they would be more initially focused and at least TRYING to keep things in check with the threat they are facing.  Some of the scenes lose their punch, in fact, because there's never really any doubt in your mind that, say, Iron Man will escape the hellicarrier's turbine eventually.  You are aware of the cliffhanger manipulation going on here, making it more stunt spectacular than witnessing fantastic events.  I say again, they feel like missed opportunities.  On the bright side, you don't feel like the filmmakers are jerking you around (I'm looking at you, SuckerPunch).

One of the questions was how Wheedon was going to balance so many characters in the movie.  Wheedon said he was going to make Captain America the viewpoint character to help drive the ensemble piece.  Well, that didn't come out.  Granted, it couldn't work like that, because Captain America is simply a super soldier.  The plot requires someone to drive it along, and Tony Stark with his constant needling and prodding is the best to keep the momentum going.  Once again, the feeling of missed opportunities.  Loki is the ultimate Ayn Rand Objectivist, and each character has some sort of contrast that could really amp up the conflict and get the audience feeling the determination of the characters to stop the nightmare that is coming.  Captain America against Loki, for example, is Complete Altruism versus Complete Objectivism.  Nick Fury shows he is a master manipulator himself, with goals as questionable as Loki's.  This is also the thing that ultimately makes Caulson's death less tragic.  When Bucky died in Captain America, it was horrible luck for a character we saw and knew over the course of the film.  Here, Caulson has very little to define him other than being a spook and his death is literally what kickstarts the team to act like a team.  It's a plot motivation, part of the machinery.  The contrasts, however, don't really make it to the surface because the best one gets the screentime, and that's Tony Stark's.

The delineation between Stark and Loki is sharp and telling.  Both are Objectivists bordering on being Randroids.  The difference is their focus.  Loki wants to be worshiped by everyone.  Stark wants to be worshiped by himself.  Stark will leave alone anyone not impressed with him because he doesn't need them.  Loki needs every bit of validation he can get.  It's actually very easy to see Stark becoming someone like Loki if his ego changes priorities.  But the result of this is the movie is not exactly The Avengers so much as Tony And The Starkettes.  It feels very much like an Iron Man movie with the extra characters thrown in instead of an ensemble piece.

Alan Silvestri, who did such an awesome job scoring the Captain America movie, has fallen back on more generic music and cues here, although it's not his fault.  With so many voices, giving each one distinction is tough.  It can be done (My Little Pony--Friendship Is Magic does it every episode), but without giving it a chance to shine, it's not worth the effort.  Once again, we have a movie to barrel through here, so anything that detracts from that has to go to the background.  It's not that the score is bad, it's just rather workmanlike.  Once again, missed opportunities.

(Side note:  thank you for keeping Stan Lee's attention whoring cameo to the end of the film where his "Where's Waldo?"ing couldn't interrupt the movie.  Although I did start wondering if I'd see him during the attack on NYC, so not quite perfect, but high marks nonetheless.)

Ultimately, The Avengers is what it is, an adolescent male power fantasy where heroes are always heroes, evil doesn't win, and no one really gets hurt.  It's like eating a bag of Oreos -- it's great and immediate fun, but afterwards, you really would rather have something with some heft to it in your stomach.
Bleeding Cool

And The Resume Just Keeps Getting Bigger

I have successfully pitched a new article to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool.  It won't be appearing there any time soon, but will be up before the end of the year.  It's the timing -- it has to wait a while.  Sorry I can't be more specific than that, I'm keeping this one a secret for now.

This means that, by the end of 2012, I will have five articles written for and appearing on Bleeding Cool.  Two are con write-ups, two are my experiences behind the table, and one feature article.

Step by step, folks.  Step by step.
ChunLiGamer

Welcome Back To Your First Love

Video Game Trader just contacted me.  Remember the Valis series article I wrote so long ago and lamented wouldn't be seeing print, especially now that VGT changed its focus?

There's a new issue coming out.  Deadline is May 22.  And the Valis article made the cut!

So one of my favorite articles that I thought was lost in the ether will be turning up after all.  So all you Peter G completists?  I apparently have one more go-round with the mag coming.
Reflective Mermaid

How About A Nice Game Of Chess?

Gambling is evil and football is broken.  And these two terrible things are locked in a dangerous dance with each other that we will wind up paying for.

There has been another football player suicide, one who was diagnoses with a degenerative brain condition due to all the concussions suffered while playing the smash mouth game people love to watch, cheer, and bet money on.

Naturally, there's people demanding rule changes.  And footballs stars are decrying the proposed changes, saying they will sissify the game.  It's interesting that the only people objecting to the rule changes are those who are big stars with millions to live on, never have to work another day in their lives, and plenty of insurance to pay for whatever comes their way.  Oh, and they show no signs of brain injury.  Alex Karras is best known to folks like me for playing the dad on Webster.  Others know him as a great football player and a witty, insightful sports commentator.  He is presently part of a class action lawsuit against the NFL for concussions.  Karras doesn't remember any of his football or sports reporting days.  None.  There's a big hole in his memory.  Although he is set for life with the money he made, residuals from Webster, and his partnerships with his wife, he believes the NFL didn't do enough to protect him.

The ratings for the last Super Bowl were disappointing.  But the wagers made on it were still pretty high up there.  If you are looking for gambling action, football is practically engineered for it.  There are so many things to bet on (one guy won a Super Bowl wager about a safety being scored at the start of the game, the first time that happened in decades).  Remember, Chicago is where the point spread was invented.  Sports teams hesitate to put franchises in Las Vegas for fear of collusion charges.  But not only do they not do anything about all the gambling, not even running those token "Gambling problem?" messages that casinos do, but there are still point shaving scandals and refs associated with bookies.

And you know that a lot more goes on, it's just everyone knows how to keep from being noticed, from being caught.  Spirited competition is fun in theory, but it doesn't pay for high society living.

People will bet on anything, and bookies will take bets on anything they can make money on.  They took bets on the NFL draft and the length of Kim Kardashian's marriage, after all.  According to the book Money Players, NBA commissioner David Stern was in college and his flatmates didn't have enough for rent.  He set up a sports pool, and had the money by that afternoon.  People see no harm in gambling until they get a hint of just how far those tendrils extend into their favorite sport.  It's not just can you trust a sport that might have people juiced on steroids, can you trust a sport where bookies have an interest in getting as many people to bet as they can and want close competitions to make anyone think they can win?

Football was re-engineered to be loud, violent, and spectacular.  No one cares about the players who destroy their bodies and, by extension, their lives for the game.  Combine that with bounty systems which were known about before the "official" discovery of the Saints', and you are seeing something going on around the country -- people are not signing their kids up for football like they used to.  Popularity is starting to wane, and so is participation as people want their kids to actually, you know, live.  The average life expectancy for men is 79 years.  For NFL players, it's 53-59.

The reason I keep going back to the bookies is because, well, they like money, too.  And they will have to find something else to bring in bettors' money if football loses its luster with the general populous.

So what comes next?

Who will be the next to offer themselves in sacrifice to the gambling gods?

And will it happen voluntarily?  Or involuntarily?
Peter G

Why It Pays To Read Directions

I'm sitting at my workbench, playing with different combinations when I hear the knock on my door.

Who is it?

"'Who is it?'  Who do you think it is?"

Ah, yes, my head of research and development!  Come in!

"So what is it?"

I'm trying to build the component circuit, and I'm having problems getting it to work.

"What exactly is the problem?"

The purple LED lights.  They turn yellow after a split second, and then you smell the blue smoke that tells you electronics don't work anymore.

"Did you read the package of LED lights?"

No.

"It says, 3 to 3.4 volts.  You are plugging them directly into a 9 volt battery.  Fuckin' derp, dude."

Oh.

"How many of those things have you fried?"

Five.

"How many do you have left?"

Based on math of how many I ordered?  95.

"Oh.  I thought you were out."

Nope.  Bought them in bulk.  Real bargain for only five bucks.

"So.  What has your play told you?"

Well, I was hoping to power the entire circuit with only one AAA battery.

"Not working?"

Nope.  The light alone needs two AAA's to run.  And when I put the buzzer in series, it doesn't work at all.

"Tried different buzzers?"

Yup.  No dice.

"So you can have one or the other, but not both?"

Well, no.  If I put three AAA's in there, it works in series.

"Will it fit in the housing you are considering?"

Don't know yet.  I will need to see if I can find a three battery harness that will still fit.  If not, I need to come up with something else.

"You can do without the noise.  It doesn't even sound like what you are aping."

I want a light and I want a noise.  That's all there is to it.

"Okay.  Let me know what you figure out."

Wait.

"What?"

Aren't YOU supposed to be doing the research around here?