Friday, January 20, 2017

Dameon Strykes Issue #1 Page 11

New page has been added ( ), and we’re finally going to meet Detective Thomas Hones.

It was suggested to me I start a blog about the pages. I don’t intend on adding anymore to the story in this blog as I feel it would distract from the actual pages themselves. I want them to tell the story; if I wanted this to be entirely written word I would have tried writing a novelization of Dameon Strykes.  No, the intent of these blogs is to talk about how the page was made.  Where I took the photographs, changes I made, and what not. Very few of the pages are staged, and some of them having interesting stories behind them. Hopefully this area further enlightens as well as entertains any of my readers.
Often times I find myself looking for things that one would think it would be easy to find; until you hunt for it. Police vehicles might always be lurking around that corner you’re speeding around, but finding one parked (and not currently conducting business) is a bit more difficult. Add in the number of times I found one without my camera, ran home, only to return to the vehicle gone and this one took quite some time. While I could use my phone, I find myself having to do a lot more post-work to get a lesser quality image. There’s also a lot of things I do while taking the picture that my Canon Rebel can do that my phone simply cannot. I found this vehicle just waiting for me while  I was hunting down next week’s page.  I took my time getting this from various angles without appearing too suspect. Sometimes I go weeks without finding an adequate picture, but this day I shot two of them. The other will be next week’s page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2016: A year in review

2015 ended with the death of Lemmy Kilminster, and 2016 decided to greatly increase the number of famous artists I love dying. Starting with David Bowie and ending with Carrie Fisher, people who were influential to my life passed on.

While the world is a poorer place for having so many amazing people no longer in it, their deaths impacted my life minimally. Their deaths might have changed the conversations I had with my friends, but it didn’t change who my friends were, who my family was, nor what job I held.

Over-all for me, as an individual, 2016 was a good year. Early in the year I received a promotion at UPS. I went from a loader to supervisor. While the stress increased, I’m infinitely happier with this job than I was with Enterprise. I have new challenges every day, and I can see the impact I have on the work place. Lorena and I grew closer this year. So much so that we decided to move in together. There have been plenty of new friends, and I don’t feel like I lost contact with any of my old friends.

Only thing I’ve really lost this year was the house I grew up in. My parents decided to move closer to my brother, who lives in Vegas. I got a chance to visit the home of my youth one last time, and I was surprised how much emotion it caused me to say goodbye to that place. But it’s also a place I only saw occasionally. Saying goodbye was hard due to its symbolic nature, but its impact on my actual life is minimal. It gave me a good reason to visit my brother and family in Vegas, and hopefully something I’ll do more of in the upcoming years as well.

I also suffered a knee injury. Out of nowhere, I found myself limping one day. I learned I had microfractures in one of my kneecaps. I had to start going to physical therapy to work on it. Losing the ability to run, at least temporarily, was outright heartbreaking. One of my resolutions for 2016 was to run more, and the injury simply squashed my ability to do that.

Two of my resolutions for this year were about writing. I definitely continued writing, spending much of the year editing the novel I’m hoping to find a publisher for. I also worked on other projects, including continuing Dameon Strykes #1 and a fantasy book. I, unfortunately, did not find an agent. This wasn’t due to my lack of effort, and as such I won’t count it as me failing. I am just going to need to approach this goal in a new manner.

Another goal of mine was to do something for myself. I feel like I accomplished that with things like letting myself have some frivolous pleasures, like Everquest, as well as taking one of my vacation weeks to just do the bare minimum.

Outside of my injury, artists that I enjoyed dying, and election results I don’t even want to talk about, 2016 was a great year for me. I’m hoping I can continue to grow in 2017, and some ways I plan on doing that are:

1. I need to find a professional editor for my book. The major problem I ran into with trying to find an agent was my lack of having it professionally edited. I tried to cut corners and find others to help me edit, but that wasn’t enough. So, after my tax returns, I plan on investing in myself and my dreams.

2. Work on my physical health, specifically my knee. I want to get running again. I want to be active again. I need to watch what I do and do it in moderation, but it's something I can, and will, overcome.

3. Reconnect with friends. This is really something I need to do early on in the year, but every job I’ve had, come mid-November work becomes busier and I close up. There’s a bunch of people out there that I love that I haven’t gotten to see for awhile because of that. I’m already starting to make plans to reconnect.

4. I’d like to find a new place to live. I’d like to find a place I want to call home, even if just temporarily. I moved twice last year, and I’m ready to feel at least a little settled.

5. Be a force of good in the world. With the recent election results, a lot of bad shit is going to happen. While I might not be able to stop the potential nuclear devastation this world may suffer, I can at least stand up for fellow Americans against hate and bigoted laws that, while they may not impact my directly, impact friends, family members, and just other human beings who deserve respect.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015, a Year in Review

For this to be fair, I honestly should have done a mid year change. 2015 had a huge change for me, and how my year was.

2014 ended horribly for me. The stress of work nearly crushed me, I was temporarily homeless due to move in / move out dates not lining up, I personally received negative medical updates, there was family drama, and so much more. 2015 started in the middle of all that still going on. To survive, I kind of went numb for a bit there. Luckily, alcohol is a readily available anesthetic.

But there was good that came from those low points. I remember a moment where I was talking to a friend who was making a big life change, and me saying “I’d rather be broke doing what I love than rich and hating my job.” I said it, I meant it, but I was doing the opposite. I kept trying to make working at Enterprise be a good thing for me by focusing on the money I was earning. But it was making me miserable. That conversation, along with many others, made me realize that as long as I was working for Enterprise, I was not going to be happy.
I was trying to do other things to cover up the void that work left. Reading the past few years of resolutions / reviews, I kept wanting a pet in hopes that it would make me happy. I filled my life with so many activities that I was constantly stressed about not ever having time for myself. I’ve been writing my comic book for awhile, and while it pleased me, it wasn’t enough. Writing D&D adventures for my group was fun as well. So writing was helping.

I restarted an old writing project. It was supposed to be a graphic novel, but that path wasn’t panning out for me. So I decided to write it as a novel. This was making me happy; but, it was draining. It’s a very emotional story, and I was finding it very hard for me to go from getting abused all day at work to writing an emotionally exhaustive story. I wanted to write, but just found myself incapable of doing it after work.

So I quit. With no real plan or stability, I quit my job. I decided it was time for me to be a starving artist. I took two months off and the first time in a very long time, I had an enjoyable summer. I sun bathed, I floated down rivers, I went out running, I saw my friends frequently, and I wrote. I wrote a lot. Tons of writing. Like, I finished my novel tons of writing.

I did get another job, this time with UPS. It’s a part time job that’ll pay my rent and bills but not enough for food or entertainment. I had money saved up from all my years with Enterprise. A part time job still gives me plenty of time to focus on my writing, and having it be a physical job means I won’t atrophy. It’s a job that makes me happy simply because it’s a guarantee work out for 20-30 hours a week.

December was a hard month, but more because my hours doubled. It wasn’t like when I worked with Enterprise where everything got stressful and I was getting screamed at on a daily basis where I just curled into a ball of wanted to die. In this job,  I wanted to see my friends, I wanted to be around people, I just wanted to sleep more. I was exhausted. Twelve hour shifts do that to a person.

I generally also review my year based on my resolutions for the year. I only had 4 resolutions last year, Have a vacation about me, enjoy halloween more, get a dog, find a way to enjoy my job. Taking two months off is definitely a vacation about myself, I did a bunch of costumes and spent the entire month making a Nightmare Before Christmas group costume, and I found a way to enjoy my job...I quit it. I didn’t get a dog, but as discussed earlier, that was me trying to put a carpet over a broken floor. It wasn’t fixing the problem, but trying to cover it up. So, I’d say my resolutions were pretty solidly made.

All in all, 2015 was an amazing year. There was plenty left out that made it good, such as attending one of my good friends weddings on the east coast, my brother’s wedding to his amazing wife, me meeting a wonderful woman in September, being recognized as employee of the month through my new job and getting a raise within just 3 months of being there, and my mom finally getting disability paychecks after fighting for them for well over a year. From the ashes of 2014 rose a great year for me, 2015.

So what are my resolutions for 2016?

First and foremost, I want to find an agent. I’ve had multiple friends read and review my novel, and all have given me outstanding feedback. With some minor fixes, I have been convinced that my manuscript is worth trying to sell. To do that though, I need an agent. I’ve never done this before, so I can’t assume a timeline, but my goal is to have found at least an agent by the time 2017 rolls around.

With that, I want to make sure I still focus on seriously writing. Dungeons and Dragons adventures might entertain me and my muse, and I’ll surely continue running my group, but I want to either finish one of my ongoing projects, or start a new one. I’d like to have more examples of my writing that I would consider worthy of publication. The entire reason I chose a part time job as opposed to another full time position is so I’d have the energy and time to focus on my writing, so this year I will take full advantage of that.

When I started my job at UPS, it was frequently physically exhausting me. I stopped running. Once I was used to the job, December was beginning and it again raised the bar. Now that the hours are reduced, I need to get back to working out. My body is good, but I’d like to get it stronger, specifically running. I’m a little worried that upper body workouts might hurt my shoulder, which would put me out of work for a bit… but it’d be nice to get back to running.

And last resolution… again focus on making sure I do something I enjoy. Whether that be focussing on my love for Halloween again, or taking time off for a road trip with a friend, or something. I want to make sure I do something for myself.

My only major concern for 2016 is money. I’m now making less than half of what I did the years before. This will need to be factored into how I proceed. I’m good with my money though, and I should be able to make it work. And hey, who knows, 2016 might be the year I finally get published and my writing starts bringing in some money!

So I start 2016 hopeful that it’ll be a great year, and feeling like I have a lot of options ahead of me.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A review of Star Wars, specifically The Force Awakens

I haven’t written a review in a while, but I knew when the most talked about movie this year was coming out I’d be writing one. Those who know me personally know I’m not a lover of Star Wars, and after the prequels I was surprised anyone would ever want to try for more Star Wars movies. But, when I heard that George Lucas was no longer involved, and that one (or some?) of the original writers were back on, without George Lucas’ meddling, I was hopeful. I went in wanting to watch the movie. I was ready to suspend my disbelief, love some Space Fantasy and be happy.

That’s not what happened. I found myself doing everything I could to hold back groans and head shakes, especially in the last half of the film.

For those who are already done with this review, and cannot take my heresy any further, I’ll say this: I do not regret the money I spent on this movie. I thought it was worth it. But it was not enough to make me want to see the next 2 films, either. If anyone asks me if they should see it, my answer will probably be along the lines of “Well, everyone else and their grandmother has, so it’ll at least be a conversation piece.”

But, if you are curious as to why someone wouldn’t like the movie, you can read below. Note, I’m unabashedly posting SPOILERS from here on out. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s joy of this movie, so if you hate spoilers, stop now.

Let’s start with the good things, which is a much shorter and much less ranty list. First, I liked the new cast. I thought they were good actors who displayed a good range of emotions, and were consistent to their characters. I also, over-all, liked their characters. A Stormtrooper who isn’t sure if he wants to get tangled up in all of this, a girl with a huge destiny before her, and a cocky pilot who knows he’s the best god damn pilot out there. It’s very reminiscent of the first, and yet they play with it and I liked that. I even liked Kylo Ren and his temper tantrums. I thought they worked well for a character who is battling himself internally, and also shows why, despite him having a tendency towards the light, why he would be on the dark side (fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side).

With the characters, I’m also glad it was much more diverse. In the originals, wasn’t Leia the only female with a speaking part? and Lando Calrissian the only non-white human male? I’m glad this movie made that change away from blatant white-male superiority without being INCREDIBLY racially insensitive like the prequels were.

Film wise, I thought the editing and music was very reminiscent of the original, without being overdone or in our face like the prequels. A few edits made me grind my teeth, but as an editor that’s something I say about nearly every movie (but the most perfect movie, Fury Road). It kept me in the movie, and I never felt lost, despite the fact that I was sitting in the front row. Also, the long roving shots over the desert, or in the middle of a battle, were most definitely excellent and really made everything feel huge. Which is odd, since apparently the entire Star Wars Universe can be traversed in a matter of hours! … we’ll get to that in a moment. We’re still in happy land, for two more minor points.

I also loved that they reduced the CGI, and went back to more costumes and muppets. It really gave a variety to the alien life forms and made them feel much more alive than the animated Gungans from the prequels. I still want to know why humans significantly outnumber all the other races out there, but I was still happy to see so many interesting and unique creatures existing in this space drama.

There was also some good comedic events, such as BB-8 giving a lighter thumbs up. It added good, cute touches to the movie. Those comedic moments were well timed, too. They weren’t distracting, nor appallingly racist, they gave good, needed breaks.

That’s it. That’s the good about the movie. Decent acting, enjoyable characters, well produced, and some enjoyable graphics. And that’s why I don’t understand why Star Wars fans are so fanatical that I’ve read people impotently threatening to kill Neil DeGrasse Tyson because he jokingly criticized the science of the movie. I don’t understand how this C+, maybe B-, film has enraptured such a large portion of the population into a frenzy that it has jokingly been compared to more unifying than 9/11 was for Americans.

Star Wars is a Space Fantasy, or a Space Drama, yet many people call it Science Fiction. There is no science in this movie. The science is so bad in this movie that I’d believe that the entire movie was just a joke to see how much they could piss scientists off. If it was just small things, like BB-8 being shown as a sphere with no treads able to travel across sand, that’d be perfectly fine. But half the movie is dedicated to something that is absolutely ridiculous. I am expected to believe that 30 years after the defeat of The Empire, only two factions sprung up from the power vacuum left (I say only two because apparently no-one else in the entire universe gives a shit or can do anything about the First Order other than the Resistance funded by the Republic), and that the First Order has managed to build a new super weapon that is significantly larger (the Deathstar was compared to the size of a moon, and Starkiller is the size of a planet. The Earth is approximately 4x larger than the moon, so the Starkiller is probably around that much larger, too). The Starkiller is a habitable planet on the surface that is able to EAT STARS. The process of eating a star is just sucking it in through some port a la Space Balls technology and takes, apparently, a matter of hours (if that). The only negative effect this is shown having on the planet is that it goes from day to a cloudy, maybe duskish day, to a full moon night with a clear sky. If our sun was to randomly vanish, all life would immediately cease to exist. Some minor things would just be an unbearable change of temperature to the point no life could exist, a massive change of weather which would kill all life, add in that the magnetic poles would probably change which would just destroy any electronics, oh yeah, also absolute complete darkness… yeah, everything is dead. But hey, those are minor, and despite that there is a specific scene showing them turning off all the shields and protective stuff around the planet, maybe the Starkiller has technology that allows it to create its own source of heat and weather control, and controls its own magnetic poles. So next is the planet is no longer orbiting its star, which now means it’s wildly whirling through space, so everyone would die from that. Okay, maybe, despite never once being shown on screen, even with multiple shots showing how massive the planet is and showing no obvious sign of thrusters, it has thrusters strong enough to keep it in order despite the disappearance of its star. Fine, maybe I can believe all of that. I haven’t gotten to the bad thing yet. The planet just absorbed the entire mass of a star. Everyone on the planet has now been crushed by the massive change of gravity. The gravitational strength of the sun is 24 times that of Earth, and saying these are similar sized… yes, everything on that planet is flat. This is also all assuming that this is the only planet in this star system, and that there are no other celestial bodies floating around that also have a new center of gravity.  I will, for a moment, suspend my disbelief to all of that for a moment. We now have a planet wildly hurtling through space and everyone on the planet is flat, but the Starkiller still fires its ultimate weapon. It’s shooting a laser across multiple galaxies and hitting, compared to the vastness of space, miniscule targets with pinpoint accuracy. To describe this, imagine you are driving a car through LA. A semi runs through the red light, and plows through your car. While you are wildly spinning, you poke your head out of the moon roof, and throw four darts all at the exact same time. Your dart flies across the entire United States, and hits your arch rival and his three friends who live in New York city. My comparison is probably also wildly inaccurate (I an art degree, not a science degree), and it should probably be something like the dart circles the world a few times before hitting its target...but whatever, it’s impossible. I’m sorry, there is no level of suspension of disbelief that allows me to believe that. Or that, as soon as the Starkiller blows up (which was never the plan, they only wanted to cripple the cannon), it just reforms as a completely new star. If this was some minor thing, I’d ignore all of it… but the Starkiller was a big part of the movie. It WAS the movie. It would be like if I watched Battlestar Galactica, but I thought the concept of the Cylons was unbelievable. If I did that, I’d hate Battlestar Galactica. It’d be unwatchable.

All of this was easy to fix, too. All those shots of the Starkiller? Show it sucking up the star so that it doesn’t just take a couple of hours, but possibly weeks and months to do. Show it having some boosters. Maybe not have it suck up the ENTIRE star, but still harvesting its raw energy. There’s so many ways to have fixed this that still let me suspend my disbelief for a moment. But instead, it eats an entire star with no ill effects.

But this movie is a Space Fantasy. As a friend told me, I should hold it to the same standard that I hold other Fantasy movies. Well, for one, I’m not going to freak out that there was a 10 minute count down until the laser fired, and Han Solo and Chewie were able to put bombs on multiple levels while wandering a space station they’ve never been on while the base is on high alert. I’m letting that go because I love action movies, and that shit happens all the time. I’m not complaining about ridiculous battle scenes, because they were enjoyable.  But, when I compare Star Wars to a world that openly admits there is magic, Lord of the Rings, I find the world filled with magic more believable. First off, I don’t remember any scenes of Aragon just stopping arrows from hitting him with his sword, let alone constant hails of beams of light (note: An arrow travels at 184mph, a bullet at 1,840mph, and a beam of light at travels at 186,000 miles per SECOND). I actually let that go, because it’s cool. Seeing Kylo Ren stop that phaser blast mid air was actually really cool. I’ll accept the argument “because of the force” occasionally. Problem is, it feels like so many things in this world are only explained by the words “Because of the force.” There’s very few times in Lord of the Rings that there are impossible actions that can only be explained by “Because of Magic.” The most unbelievable thing in LoTR (outside of the Ghost army, which I counter with Star Wars has a race of apparently immobile giant slug people who are also, randomly and without reason, revered through the galaxy) is probably the Eye of Sauron. Sauron would most accurately be compared to a character that is so stupid I’m only going to mention him once, the Supreme Being. Sauron and that other stupid character are omniscient beings who are able to wield untold power over others, but themselves are impotent (at least in their current form). The Starkiller base is leaps and bounds beyond that on the unbelievable scale. Starkiller base be like if Orodruin (that’s the Volcano in Mordor of LotR) could instantaneously cause Gondor, Rohan, and the Shire all turn into lava.

But there’s something else that Lord of the Rings does amazingly well that Star Wars just fucks up entirely: Travel Time. Lord of the Rings takes a lot of care with travel time, and the fact that it takes time to get places is a very important aspect of the movies (and books, obviously, but I think it would be unfair to compare the LotR books to the Star Wars movies). It helps make the world feel massive. The Lord of the Rings world, to me, which only takes part on a portion of a single continent, feels larger to me than the entirety of the Star Wars universe. Things take time to do. Yes, sometimes the armies of good appeared at the last second to save the day against the forces of Sauron, but for these to occur, Gandalf or other characters vanished for weeks or months on end preparing.  The Millenium Falcon lands on Takadona. The crew enters Maz’s castle, and by the end of the day both the First Order and the Rebel army are there, and within maybe an hour of each other. Repeatedly the movie mentions they are going Lightspeed. So we all know, the closest Solar System to us is 4.37 light years away, so at the speed of light that would take 4.37 years to get there, saying that both armies are 1 solar system away, and that the solar systems are equidistant away. According to the wookiepedia though, in the Star Wars universe, entering Lightspeed puts you into Hyperspace, which allows quicker travel. I’m not going to argue that, that is the rules of this universe, and it doesn’t completely break all physics. I’m okay with that….

...But the Star Wars universe is internally inconsistent. For a moment, we’re going to pretend I can ignore the obscene disregard of science that goes to such a degree that a world that openly uses “magic” feels more scientifically accurate to me (I can’t, but we’re going down make believe land)… the world of Star Wars is inconsistent with its own rules. So there was The Empire, which was defeated. In its wake, The First Order came about. They have developed a super weapon unlike ever before seen, despite being a newly formed government. In 30 years, the only other empire to rise is The Republic, and they have created no technology greater than X-Wings during that time. If the Starkiller’s lasers can enter Hyperspace and completely annihilate planets, and it only takes a matter of hours to charge, The First Order has just won. I mean, honestly, they won just by killing The Republic planets, but if there are any other empires… The First Order has them dead before they even know about the end of The Republic. By the time an effective defense can be mounted, the Starkiller has destroyed 5 more planets. If the Starkiller laser cannot enter Hyperspace, which would make more sense (but, obviously, logic wasn’t part of this movie), and the Starkiller base is in a solar system SUPER close to all the other solar systems it’s going to attack, then it’s still going to take at least a year for that laser to hit a planet. Are we to believe, that despite they have developed hyperspace technology and star guzzling planet killers, that no society has developed the technology to just move an asteroid into the way of the laser and just block the attack? That with at least a year of warning, nothing could’ve been done to save the Republic?

Let’s back away from the Starkiller. I’ve focussed on it so much because it’s a HUGE aspect of the movie, and really killed the movie for me. But let’s look at another inconsistency: stormtroopers. It is a well known joke that stormtroopers are horrible aim. Despite frequently outnumbering our heroes and having firefights in long corridors, the only hit they’ve ever managed on the heroes in any of the movies that I can recall is in The Force Awakens, and it's to Chewie’s right bicep. Meanwhile, the various crews have dispatched untold hordes of these people in white. Despite the fact that the Stormtroopers are trained from a super early age for their entire life to be the ultimate soldiers, Rey is able to fire a weapon twice that she’s never used before (and actually misfires it, fixes it, then fires) and hits her target in the time it takes the Stormtrooper to shoot once. Okay, fine, the ultimate soldiers of the galaxy are bested by an untrained girl. Enter Finn. Finn is a stormtrooper who works in Sanitation. Finn is a garbage man. For some reason, Finn is just now becoming a soldier, and it’s mentioned this is one of his first missions. Finn is a great fucking shot. The ex-garbage man, newbie soldier, is a better shot than the elite veterans. Apparently The First Order is able to develop a weapon that can shoot a laser with incredible accuracy across potentially multiple solar systems, but are unable to develop a helmet for Stormtroopers that helps with aiming. Hell, they don’t even install technology that was standard in WWII (air filters that filter out toxins) into Stormtrooper helmets, despite Stormtroopers frequently entering alien planets and shuttles.

It’s hard to get this rant to flow together. Every paragraph I want to go into a hundred different little mini rants. But hey, the flow of The Force Awakens was also pretty bad, and so many people think the movie is amazing, so maybe they’ll love this, too. The first part of the movie was slow. I’m not going to say painfully slow, or dreadfully slow, or other adverbedly slow. It was just slow. It was like “Hey, we’re on Jarku, now we’re not, now we are again, now there’s a girl, now here’s Finn, oh shit, we’re going back to Jarku, oh look, we’re on Jarku again and it takes forever to travel across, and hey characters are finally meeting each other, and no Stormtroopers are finally there, but yay Rey got away, and now there are in space and Han Solo is there! That’s cool. But oh god, here’s space pirates. Now there’s aliens eating everything. Now we’re on Takadona. OhgodthefirstorderiscomingandReyishavingaflashbackandTheRepublicjustgotblownup-andwhizbangboom- Han Solo is dead, Starkiller blows up, Rey is with her father (oh shit, did I just spoil that for you?) WTF. Seriously, half the movie takes place on the desert planet of Jarkuu, and the second half just zips through everything else. It was so rushed, I don’t even know why The Starkiller was preparing to fire their laser after destroying the entirety of The Republic.

And no-one gave a shit about The Republic. There were no tears, there was no sadness, everything just moved on. Four massively populated planets just blew up. Untold billions of lives just vanished, and there was more concern over Chewie’s arm. Independence Day elicited more of an emotional reaction from me than this movie. I mentioned all the science and internal consistency and travel first because it made everything feel rushed. It made the story, especially the second half, feel sloppily put together. It took me out of the movie, emotionally. I felt nothing from the point of The Republic blowing up and on.

Yes, even Han Solo’s death. That was an extremely predictable outcome. No, I don’t mean from the moment I saw Kylo Ren walking across catwalk being similar to the shot of Luke confronting Darth Vader. No, from the moment Kylo Ren said he was fighting with himself and needed to purge the light and learning that Kylo Ren was Han Solo and Leia’s son, it was obvious one of the two parents would die. This movie tried so hard to be the original three and following the same dynamics, that it was clear. Chewie barely even showed any emotion to that, other than killing a few Stormtroopers. Everything kind of gets wrapped up after that. There’s a fight with Kylo Ren, the Starkiller blows up, and everyone cheers the death of Han Solo and The Republic, oh wait… i mean the death of the Starkiller, which I’m sure the First Order will just bounce back from like nothing even happened. Then Rey flies off with the totally okay Chewie, who just saw his best friend of what, like 50 years, just die.

So let’s talk about Rey. I liked her character, as in her emotions and goals and all that. But that doesn’t mean I like her storyline. Her storyline was that of a “Supernatural High School Movie / Show.” A Supernatural Highschool Movie / Show is one in which someone who is in Highschool just has the worst life. Probably relatively abandoned from their parents, they have no friends, they are barely making ends meet. Then one day they find some super awesome secret. They now have a destiny they must fulfill, and because they have a goal in life, all those “quirky” traits they had are now amazingly useful talents. There are plenty of movies that follow this pattern that are absolutely great, like Harry Potter or the X-men, but there are plenty of awful ones, like Twilight. The good ones don’t constantly fall back on the character being great because of their destiny, but focuses on them training and learning how to use the power. Harry Potter’s “destiny” really only explains why he survived Voldemorte, and why he can speak Parseltongue. After that, the explanation for things is because either he trains for it, or because he has people looking out for him (although they may be doing it in the background and letting him think it’s because he’s destined). The X-men’s and other mutants suffer from their abilities just as much as they benefit. Things don’t just get done for them, they don’t have incredible knowledge of all things because they are gifted. They still have to train. For Rey though, it feels like when I ask specific questions on how she did anything, it falls back to “it was the force.” Like, how since Rey used to scavenge shit from a long dead Star Destroyer, she has amazing knowledge on how to navigate any and all other spacecrafts in the universe, including the Starkiller, which is on a scale beyond anything that universe has ever before seen. Or since she knows how to pilot what I heard called a “Flying USB drive,” she is able to out pilot two well trained tie fighter pilots in a ship that she’s never flown before (that was described as a piece of trash in movie, and I believe has been described as hard to handle in other movies). She knows more galactic and alien languages than I can even conceive. I’m totally okay with her beating Kylo Ren, he was wounded and is a conflicted villain, but I still don’t understand how she had unsure footing, was bent backwards, and using all her strength pushing up, she was able to basically teleport behind Kylo Ren. I don’t get how she manages to be a better shot than Stormtroopers. You can only use the excuse “it’s the force” so many times before it sounds exactly like “it was just shitty writing.”

Real quick before I wrap this up… Rey’s lived her entire life, that she can remember, on a desert planet. The movie even mentions while she has dreams of islands, she doesn’t remember ever seeing an ocean. How is she able to run around in her desert outfit through snow perfectly fine. I’m not actually going to use this against the movie, but why isn’t she at least surprised to see snow for the first time, or shivers, or at least notices that she is somewhere completely new.

I got why the original three were great movies. Much like The Force Awakens, the originals, to me, were C+, B- films. They had decent acting, fun action, and entertaining characters sloshed into a world of piss poor science and mediocre storytelling. But the originals provided something new; they’re recognized (whether this is accurate or not) as the first movies of this scale. Galactic War, unique and varied alien life forms, and a not yet overplayed villainous theme of the Nazis. It brought a lot of new things to the screen that people never saw before, and I get why people jumped all over it.  But The Force Awakens wasn’t the first. In fact, other movies, shows, and games have dramatically improved on what the original Star Wars did, but Force Awakens just follows. And the Nazis as villains (First Order = Third Reich) is so overplayed that it’s really relegated to parodies, such as Kung Fury. The movie didn’t feel relevant nor new. It felt like it really REALLY really wanted to capture the magic of the original three. And, when I talk to people, they all just seem like they really REALLY want that magic again, to the point that even if they admit “Okay, the Starkiller was dumb, and the second half of the movie was rushed, and the storyline was predictable, and there were some serious problems with remaining internally consistent, and yeah, they constantly rely on ‘its the force’ to explain anything and everything, but it wasn’t the prequel trilogy, so I loved it.”

The Star Wars Franchise, to me, is like loving the bible. It’s a wildly scientifically inaccurate, internally inconsistent, mediocre story with some interesting characters that live in a very black and white world. But like the bible, Star Wars has enraptured untold throngs of fans who just eat it up and are willing to resort to violence to protect their fandom. I don’t get it.

Fuck it, I’m going to go and watch the LotR trilogy (extended cut, because duh) for like the 5th time.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 in review / 2015 resolutions

It will be hard to be non-bias on this one, because 2014 ended in a shit storm. So to try to remove bias, let’s look at my resolutions for this year.

The big resolution was to re-examine my life and where I want to go.  I did lots of questioning at the beginning of the year. I tried to apply to film jobs outside of the state.  To get anything in that field I had to show I had current experience, aka recent film jobs, which I had already been trying for for years, or I need to go back to college. And so came the question...did I want to try going to college while working full time? Unfortunately, nothing interested me enough to stress myself out to go to college, work full time, just to acquire more debt to get into jobs that wouldn’t pay much more and have no guarantee of being any less stressful. Film, writing, video… all jobs I would prefer, but I’ve gone down that road before, there is no promise it will work out, and experience has taught me that additional college experience isn’t really going to help. Programming or medical professions don’t really interest me. They might pay a bit more, but it’s not going to have an over-all positive net value in my life.

There are promising job opportunities opening within my job, and in Portland, in the future. I have, for better or worse, resigned myself to holding my breath until those come to fruition. It is hopeful that I start seeing that type of movement early in 2015.

My other major resolutions was to make a great, permanent change in my life. As discussed above, I still have my same job. I am still single. I am still petless. I am still not a serial killer (not that I’d admit that either). On the 31st, I was sitting in the same apartment. As of the 3rd of January, I did change residence and got new roommates, so it could be counted as a delayed success. But even that is minor, as I will be living only about 5 minutes away from my current location. Not really a scenery change. So my 2 major goals, figure out where to go in life and create a change in my life are both counted as fails in my books.

The rest of the goals were various forms of fails. Fitness was a big fail, but understandably so. And I didn’t even really do much more yoga outside of a month or two. My writing was focussed on D&D or my comic book, so enjoyable, but not career pursuing. I read more than the year before… which is saying like 3 books. Due to scheduling, I only went on a few other hashes. I did join a pay for dating website, so I got that experience under my belt… and it was regrettable. Definitely a loss of money. I apparently spent close to $1500 on alcohol last year (I didn’t count New Orleans, but I didn’t do much drinking then), most of it during the summer. I have no positive nor negative feelings towards that amount, I just wanted to know. While the fitness part is disappointing, the rest are all kind of “eh.”

Really, the only thing I did well was my goal #5, be more active for Halloween. While technically Halloween itself I did minimal, I did do the Great Horror Campout, and also had my New Orleans Halloween trip. I saw a ton of haunted houses, got lots of great scares, and a few mementos that will last. I passed this one with flying colors.

From the perspective of how many goals did I accomplish...this year was a disgrace. I really only accomplished one of my goals, two more that were gimmes, and neither had positive effects on my life. So much for trying the unbiased approach to 2014.

I don’t feel it was totally bad though. Again, goal #5 was very important to me. In fact, from the month of August through the majority of November, I was doing really well.  Great Horror Campout, New Orleans trip, I had an awesome partner in crime, and I felt in those months I really knew who my friends were and I was spending lots of time with them. I felt truly loved and happy during that time. It definitely helped that work was only minorly stressful during that period as well. I think the memories I made during August through November will outlast the negative memories of the year.

Another great thing is I changed my comic books formatting, and so far am getting very positive feedback. The followers of the page have grown immensely, and I feel like I’m getting good work done. I am looking forward to seeing it grow over the next year.

But since the middle of November until the end of year, life got really bad. Had to search for a new apartment which turned into a nightmare, work got extremely busy and filled with screamers and hate while while the hunt for new jobs became depressing, my health deteriorated, my partner and I split, and of course the normally expected stress caused by the Holidays. Due to all the stress, I became (and still am) very reclusive and introverted, so I’ve been seeing my friends a lot less. Christmas Eve 2014 has been put in the annals of time as one of the top 5 worst days of my life (I believe its #4, possibly #5), largely impart to work stress.

This year I am going to try to limit my resolutions and focus more on what did work. Of my resolutions, I only really cared about less than half of them. I’m going to focus my resolutions on things that will make me happier with life. I’m not depressed, but I’m not happy either. The past few years I haven’t had a “Happy” year. I’ve had happy moments throughout the past few years, but I wouldn’t say any of the recent ones have been over-all happy.

Resolution #1: Make another vacation that’s about me. One of my best times of 2014 was the New Orleans trip. While I have a few “vacations” planned for 2015, they are marriages, or large group gatherings. They will be fun, I will enjoy them, but they are about other people. They aren’t for me. The New Orleans trip was on a whole different level. With the extra vacation time I have now, I will want to make sure I do this again. While probably not New Orleans, we’ll look at other places I have never visited.

Resolution #2: A separate resolution dedicated just to Halloween. Maybe it can be mixed with Resolution #1, maybe not. Either way, focussing a lot on Halloween or other scares / haunts made me super happy. It is definitely a reason for my happiness from August through part of November. If I can salvage those months, than I’ll at least be able to smile on that period of time.

Resolution #3: This one might be a bit harder, but I’d like to move somewhere that will allow me to own a dog. I have always had a dog in my life, and not having one now just feels wrong. I would focus on my health running the dog, I’d have a buddy around me to keep me happy, and overall I think it would be a wise investment in my life. Unfortunately, this resolution may be partially out of my hands. It depends on my living situation, it depends on what opens up, and life may change for me financially as well.

Resolution #4: Find a way to be happy with my job. Switch jobs, change companies, go to therapy. Something. I have had this resolution multiple times. It’s important. I’ve been working on it for years, and so far nothing has really changed. I’m really hoping if I can accomplish the above three, then while this one won’t pass...I’ll at least feel better over-all. And that’s the goal. To feel happier about the year.

Fitness, reading, writing,art, and tattoos are all things important to me. But they are things that don’t need resolutions. When I suffer illness, or bad asthma, or whatever else that takes me away from doing them, having a resolution to do it just makes me feel like I’m further failing, and it doesn’t make me feel any better when I succeed. It’s a lose-whatever situation, and I don’t need to put myself into that.

So despite the stressful start, I’m hoping if I focus on these resolutions, I can make 2015 better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Great Horror Campout Review

I just got back from the Great Horror Campout Portland Oregon, 2014, event. This was the 2nd year the events been held at all, and the first time in Portland. Let’s start off with saying: I absolutely loved this event. I am already planning on going again next year. Every single dollar I spent on this was 100% worth it, and I would definitely rate it 5 stars. It was also the second year this event has gone down, and I look forward to them improving many things (and reading the reviews, it sounds like even during this year, they took advice and greatly improved).

I was unsure what I was getting into when I signed up. Some of the things I heard they wanted to do sounded like borderline torture, an “extreme” horror event that would potentially leave me emotionally scarred, while some reviews made it sound like a subpar snoozefest that would leave with me regret. Nonetheless, I went in with high hopes.

This event should be advertised as an all night, horror themed scavenger hunt. This is a game. At times its a competition, other times its cooperative, and other times its a test of your own skills. And its all horror themed. There is an area to watch horror movies, to listen to scary stories told by a fire, there are monsters prowling the tents pulling you out if you try to rest, there are forested areas filled with creatures, there’s a “Voodoo” magic ritual, a haunted-house, a labyrinth filled with monsters, and lots and lots of things you have to reach into to pull something out.

I think its important to note here there are many types of horror. Hostel and Rosemary’s Baby are NOTHING alike, but both are categorized as horror movies. What scares certain people is laughable to others.  “Screamer” horror, where something jumps out at you is very common at haunted houses, but it generally makes me laugh.  There’s gross out horror, such as reaching into gunk or seeing gore. There is the fear of waiting for something or the sense of being hunted. Sensory Deprivation is a type of horror that can actually really get me jumping. There’s torture and humiliation horror, where you actually have to experience it. There’s lots of other types of horror, and I felt that this event had a little bit of everything. Screamer and gross out humor are the easiest to employ and there was plenty of it. The only thing lacking is anything that would be classified as “Extreme,” but I’m sure its hard to get too many people to sign up for true torture. Many of my friends didn’t sign up because they were worried about how bad it could possibly be, so my reinsurance that its not that extreme will definitely bring them in.

A day or two before the event, you receive a printable Dossier, which includes what various events there are, what “SCAG” items you are looking for, and hints / riddles. An example is that one hint is “The Penitent Man knows to ask for Agony.” During one event, you are asked “What do you desire,” answering “Agony” gets them painting blood on you, as well as a piece of scag that you might need to be crowned a “Hellmaster” (aka winning). This just tickled my fancy, and made it a mind game. My focus was now split between reading the dossier, figuring out what to do, and worrying about what was sneaking up on me.

So we get there, start pulling in, and someone runs right in front of my car. He’s one of the “Mutated hillbillies,” and starts yelling at me “What the fuck! Get through that fucking gate!” And just like that, this shit is on. This isn’t going to be child friendly, this has hollywood level make up, and this shit is going to involve both harassment and shit jumping out at you.

While standing in line for check in, you get harassed by the mutated hillbillies. Everyone did a great job, and really kept to a character. Some of them would steal your items and run off with them, and others just stood way too close while talking at you. A less murderous version of the Hills Have Eyes. While going through security, we talked to a cute a couple and we eventually formed a “Group” to help each other out and join the events. After checking in, you go through security, get to your tent, and can set up. During the process, there are prowlers who jump into people’s tents or do the infamous rev-a-chainsaw right behind you trick, there are mutants “kidnapping” people and making them publicly grovel, and a few monsters who just want to hug you with their big goo covered bodies.  At a set time, there is orientation, where they basically go over the rules of the games, an idea of what’s about to happen and things to expect.  And then you’re off, for the next X hours, you are released to enjoy the area they’ve created.

We started by going to the “Dumpsters.” A bunch of satyrs, who looked fucking amazing (I’m going to stop that. EVERYONE at this event looked fucking amazing. There was not a costume that didn’t make me say “Wow, thats well done.”) guard some dumpsters.  You have to jump into the dumps-

Nope. I was kidnapped. Hood thrown over my head, dragged off, and forced to my knees. I then hear someone shouting for volunteers. “Whose going to join this bitch in the woods! Don’t make me bag all of you fucks!” I hear some roughing up, then told to stand, and put my hands forward. My hands are guided to someones shoulders, and then we march. The ground is uneven, and I have TO “watch” where I step while blindfolded as the ground is uneven. The people around me are freaking out, “Oh god, did you just see that.” “Oh shit, there’s something following us.” No, I have a bag over my head, I can’t see shit!  But, I am seeing movement. A scream, some laughter. Eventually we come to an end. Our guide removes my hood, and tells us to go over there, in the dark forest, and we’ll find some scag.

As described earlier, some things scare me, others don’t. Being bagged didn’t scare me itself, but it set me in the mood. The group I was with was scared for me, and one was already freaked out. While none in our group got kidnapped again, plenty of others did.  There was a van going around grabbing people. Other people were thrown into cages, which looked terrifying, “hunters” who would catch you and “feed” you to a monster, and while I never witnessed it, there were apparently zombies throwing people into coffins. To get all the scag, you had to be exploring areas while being ever vigilant of monsters coming at you.

I’m not going to detail everything, because there was a lot. So much so, I didn’t actually participate in all of it (I missed an event or two). The area we were guided to had human corpses that you had to reach into, through gore, to find scag items. Some were large, like ribs, others were small pentagram coins. There were events that were physical competitions of you against others. There were very hidden things to find. There was a labyrinth with monsters in it that if they saw you moving, you were dragged out and had to start over. There was a “haunted” house area with the strobe lights and things jumping at you (it was a decently done haunted house; better than some haunted houses I’ve paid $20 to go through just once). A pool that you floated through while a creature tried to flip you. There were mandatory events, one being just tug of war, another being a game called “Blood tag.” I’ll let you imagine that one. Basically, outside of people who wanted to literally be tortured (which I give, some of the advertisements made it sound like you might get taken to a dungeon and literally get waterboarded or given electroshock therapy), it had a little bit of everything for everyone. It wasn’t “extreme,” but I felt there was something to get everyone. Again though, the event is first and most of all a Scavenger Hunt, with a horror theme. It was far from the scariest thing I’ve done in my life, but it is easily one of the most fun times I had with a horror theme.

The event got even better later. Around 1 AM it got completely dark and many people had decided to clock in for the night and take their chances in their tent. I spent little time in the actual camp area,  Now, it was very dark and there weren’t people screaming warnings of when something was coming. There were no lines for any of the events either. I wandered into “Creature Country,” and actually got scared. This is an area where creatures could, and would, actually capture you. With no back up, I was digging trying to find an item, and then I hear a twig snap behind me to my left. Then another to my right. I stand slowly, and look over my left shoulder.  A monster is breathing down my neck. To my right, another. I take a breath, and then I scatter. I scatter the wrong way too, and I think I lose them. I have a freaking flashlight, and they know the area...I can’t lose them. They play with me for a bit, eventually decide they are done, and guide me to the item. I grab it and start heading BOO! Another monster jumps out at me shrieking. I fall to my knees, take a deep breath in, and just start laughing. They fucking got me.

At the very beginning people were spread out, but it quickly got clumped up. I loved the rush of having a group that was watching out for your back while you were reaching into gunk, but when there are a dozen other groups nearby screaming and alerting you when somethings coming… gets rid of some of it. Not to mention, there was a ton of light pollution. By the end of the night, when I was alone or with just another or two, we could see nothing but that spooky glowing cabin in the far distance and the exact area my flashlight shown on.   Unfortunately, outside of either “Get a bigger venue,” which has lots of difficulties which may or may not be out of the hosts hands, or “Have less people a night,” which goes against the concept of profitability, I can’t think of a fix for these. The camp did have plenty of Mandatory events throughout which took large portions of people off the field at a time to do some other awesome events. The scavenger hunt ended at 2:30am, and I do wish it was open a bit later because, for me, the best time was after 12:30 or 1ish when people were crashing for the night.

Another problem was that there was a lot of passing of information. Clues being answered and many people learning it, or hidden areas being talked about and next thing you know there is a line. This isn’t something I can blame on the hosts though. As discussed earlier, I formed a small group of 4, and when we figured something out we tried to discreetly share it with each other. Still, sometimes what we said in whisper was overheard by another group. And we were trying to be discreet. While the camp counselors could discourage it, there was actually fun in bartering information with others. This is another unavoidable problem.

The third problem is really the complaint of a loser. I did not earn the title of “Hellmaster” by the end of the night, and I really tried. To become Hellmaster, you had to collect a certain # of items from certain areas. The hardest items were either through competition or limited in #. For the competitions, I often found myself competing against tons of different people, and they were long events. The smallest competition was 7 people, and the largest was somewhere around 40, and they often took somewhere of over 10 minutes each. Of everyone who signed up, only 16 people had a chance to take the Hellmaster challenge. I would have aced the Hellmaster test, which was horror movie trivia, but I couldn’t get those items. Simply put, I didn’t do what I needed. The competition made it a ton of fun for me. Some people thrive on competition, other people thrive on competition but only if they win. I’m a little sore I didn’t become hellmaster, but it’s really just fueling me into being better next year.

Let’s conclude this shit. I loved this, and am strongly recommending all my friends join me next year (and then stealing their stuff so I can be Hellmaster! Bwahaha!). The monsters were amazing, both in make-up as well as acting. All the games were enjoyable, and the concept is solid. It wasn’t the scariest thing I’ve been to, but easily one of the most fun. The faults I found in it could simply be the faults of reality. A huge thing to me though is I’ve read the reviews from last year, and the ones from earlier this year, and I see a lot of improvement. They are taking the feedback to heart. If they keep doing that, I can see this being an event I never miss again until it becomes Burning Man huge.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

True Detective and The King in Yellow

True Detective (2014) and The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers (1895)

After watching the HBO series, True Detective, I felt deprived of some secret knowledge. I understand many of the references from the show, such as the Green Man, I grasped the Male vs. Female power and City vs. Nature, but what eluded me was the references to Carcosa and The King in Yellow. The answer came from Robert W. Chambers 1895 collection of short stories, The King in Yellow. My interest in this book was solidified when it came to my attention that this was one of the influences on H.P. Lovecraft. There will eventually be spoilers, for both The King in Yellow as well as for True Detective.

The book is comprised of ten short stories. The first four all have a horror feeling to them while referencing the King in Yellow. The following two felt like sci-fi / fantasy love stories. The last four all felt like they were about living in Paris during World War I. Due to how the book was comprised, starting with horror moving to science fiction / fantasy and then ending in stories that were, more or less, about love during a time of war, it gave the last four a very surreal feeling. I am sure if I read those four without the context of the first six, they would have had an entirely different tone.
Chambers’ writing style definitely focussed on what he knew. His stories generally focus on an American in his prime studying abroad, specifically Paris. The protagonist is wealthy and pursues art in some fashion, such as sculpting or painting. Not surprisingly, this coincides with events in his own real life.

As a lover of horror and seeing the development of Cosmic Horror, I really enjoyed the first four stories. While far from the cosmic-horror that HP Lovecraft would write, it definitely laid the groundwork for developing mythos. There is a lot happening in the background of the stories, specifically with The King in Yellow, a play that is never fully written, but anyone who seems to read the full thing goes mad. Not necessarily stark-raving-mad shipped to an asylum mad (although, definitely not out of the question), but more of an obsessive mad. It’s not necessarily supernatural, but has the intonation that more is at play than our normal comprehension. Chambers’ horror would be that a door always opens, even if you fully latch it, it swings open again. Maybe there is something more to it, but maybe its a shoddy built house. In comparison, Lovecraft would have that swinging door potentially be something natural, but by the end of the story we have traveled into a new plane of existence.

In terms of True Detective, the biggest thing is their meeting The King in Yellow. The two protagonists meet the villain, a man who lives in “Carcosa.” After their encounter with him, the two go a little bit mad. Their current selves vs. their past selves are incredibly different, but one can see where either would be tipped in that direction. The villain of True Detective feels like he could have fit into the short story “The Repairer of Reputations,” being specifically an ugly individual with odd appetites, but a potentially incredibly intelligent character who has used his position to influence others and remain himself invisible. There is a madness and dream of grandeur about the character.

While reading the short stories didn’t further illuminate anything for me in either True Detective nor Lovecraft’s works, the stories were still interesting. The first four definitely painted a fowl world, while the last four tried to paint a world during war for me that is equally beyond my concept. They were entertaining and quickly read. As a horror and fantasy fan, I can see the groundwork for a lot of future works laid here. None of the stories were specifically that great, but I can see where many great authors used these stories to develop much greater concepts and even genres.