What Elmore Leonard Taught Us

Dutch

Elmore Leonard was one of those great pulp writers who helped create modern fiction and along the way taught many writers how to write. Like the best in any “genre,” he proved that genre doesn’t matter, only quality. Whether you’re writing about cowboys or bank robbers or astronauts or superheroes or ennui-laden academics fucking around on their wives and feeling really really uncertain and depressed while they wash the dishes, the content isn’t what’s important, it’s the skill and insight and art that the writer brings to the tale.

Rest easy, Dutch.

Tim Vs. Superman ( MAN OF STEEL Review, No Spoilage)

Superior Super

Better than the movie.

Saw Man of Steel yesterday.

Didn’t love it. Sorta liked it.

If I let myself, though, I think I could hate it.

There are some movies that are deeply flawed but I come out of them loving them anyway because what I remember about them is the good stuff.  The Dark Knight Rises was like that. It fails in some major ways, but it is audacious in what it attempts and gets so much right and is just so thrilling that I loved it (though not with the same passion as I love its immediate predecessor) .

Man of Steel flips that dynamic on its head. It gets quite a few things right, but what lingers in memory are its failures.

The casting is excellent (though Amy Adams, who I generally adore, isn’t as good a Lois Lane as I’d imagined she would be). Henry Cavil is a fantastic Superman. The villains are pretty great (especially Antje Traue as Faora-Ul, who seriously upstages central baddy Zod).

Faora

The action is all very good to excellent, if at times too frenetic and unclear.  The story is smart and restructures the story we all know all too well by now in interesting ways. Largely, the creator’s approach to making a Superman for our time is admirable and successful.

Except…

There is no heart here. There’s a virtual geometry of a heart, pumping away in predictable throbs, but there’s no blood in that geometry, no heat. No humanity. The only truly human moment in the film is when Jenny Olsen (Jimmy’s much hotter contemporary iteration) panics while trapped in a terrible situation…and Jenny is barely even a character in this movie. And it’s the actress who brings the humanity, not the script or the direction. Suddenly, in that moment, I cared for one of the characters on a visceral, rather than an intellectual, level.

The film has absolutely no sense of humor. None. Zilch. I don’t want comedy, I don’t want camp, and I hated those elements in the old Christopher Reeve movies. But I do want wit, I do want humor, I do want irony, I do want to fucking smile every once in a while.

And please. Please please please. Please spare us the Space Jesus crap. Sure, it’s easy to find all sorts of subtext in a Superman story  if you want to (he’s basically more Space Moses than Jesus anyway, and was created by a couple of Jewish kids to boot), but when you start making the subtext hamfisted text it’s just embarrassing. Bryan Singer was guilty of this in Superman Returns too. Don’t bash us over the fucking head with the allegory: having Superman spread his arms as if he’s on a cross isn’t clever, it’s just stupid and obvious, especially when paired with a line of dialogue like “You can save them all…”

Also, spare us the jingoistic military recruitment video before the film that uses heroic imagery of Superman to inspire more kids to enlist to die pointlessly in far off lands. How frigging manipulative and cynical can you get?

There have been a lot of complaints that the movie makers went too dark and gritty with the film, and for the most part I disagree. There could certainly be a bit more color on their palette visually, but it’s fine, and I don’t think the story or characters are too thematically dark. I like the uncertainty and humanity they bring to Superman, and I prefer a noble person struggling to do the right thing to a two-dimensional symbol of heroism who is unfailingly perfect. I don’t mind Superman killing occasionally if he sees the need, though the need has to be overwhelming and clear and earned by the storytellers (there’s at least one big failure on this point in the film).

Overall, I’d give Man of Steel a very shaky B-. I’m glad they’ve done well with it, because I mostly like the elements in the mix and am glad they’re getting to continue with those elements. I just hope that next time they address some of their failures and make a movie I’ll actually want to watch a second time.

Does A GAME OF THRONES Hate Women?

The Women of Game of Thrones

I’m a fan of George R.R. Martin, and I’m a fan of A Game of Thrones, both in its original literary and its more recent filmic iterations. And not only do I consider Martin’s epic work to be some of the best fiction I’ve ever read, I’ve been on board longer than most because, through unlikely fortune, I got an early copy of the first book in hardback, signed, well before it went on sale…

signed copy

And yeah, I’m showing off my library…forgive me.

Of course, I’m not alone in my love for this series. But such love is far from universal, and some folks downright hate it. Some hate it because it’s brutal and dark and filled with not-happy endings. Some hate it because it’s loaded with sex and nakedness, and if you’re uncomfortable with the human body and the things people choose to do with it, that can be a turnoff. (If I seem dismissive of people’s discomfort with nudity and sex, that’s only because I am; there is plenty of entertainment available for more chaste tastes, and not everything needs to be appropriate for eleven year olds.) I will say this: the series should show more naked men, both because it would be more fair and because it would head off some of the arguments of misogyny.

Some people’s hatred of this series, though, is starkly political, pardon the pun. Continue reading

“Batman: Arkham Origins” Looks Badass

Batman

Ladies and gentlemen, I am STOKED.

This series is not only some of the best Batman ever, it’s some of the greatest gaming ever. My love for it is already a matter of record.

And yet again a CGI game trailer shows that they really shouldn’t need to be waiting for Hollywood to get its head out of its ass to give us good flicks of Halo, God of War, or other great games, not to mention the possibilities for animated comic book fare.

Crazy Restaurateurs And The Writing Life

Batshit Crazy

You’ve probably heard about, or seen, the batshit crazy Arizona couple who went on Gordon Ramsay’s show Kitchen Nightmares and were so relentlessly, hopelessly, stupidly terrible, both as restaurateurs and as human beings, that Ramsay, for the first time, wound up simply throwing in the towel and walking away. This was followed by an epic psychotic meltdown by the couple on Facebook.

000

I’ve never seen this show, as I usually ignore reality shows of any sort, but curiosity got the better of me today and I watched the segment on YouTube. And folks, this is some juicy viewing, I tell ya. Being around people like this in real life would be horrendous; I wouldn’t be surprised if you got ulcers inside of fifteen minutes. I can’t believe Ramsay put up with them as long as he did. But watching them on this show, knowing that they are completely ruining their own business once and for all and reaping what they sow, is schadenfreude of the most delicious sort.

So what does this have to do with the writing life? Two things.

First, if you want to be a writer (or artist of any sort, really), you need to be able to take criticism. It can be tough to put aside your ego and listen to someone saying nit-picky or even awful things about the wonderful work you struggled so hard to birth into the world out of your very essence…but if you can’t do that, you can’t grow, and likely you’ll start shitty and stay shitty. Even if you disagree with the person offering criticism, you should honor their opinion and take it with grace. And unless their points are completely, patently stupid, you owe it to yourself to actually consider them before disregarding them. Nobody is perfect, and armoring yourself in ego or defensiveness will stunt your growth as an artist and a human being, just as we see in the video above.

Second, this video is a perfect example of just one of the many reasons why it’s a bad idea for authors to agree to read unpublished material by folks they don’t know. I’ve written about this before, rather colorfully and more comprehensively, and these folks are just some bloody kitchen knives short of the worst case scenario for this sort of thing. People you don’t know may be good writers or bad writers (odds tilt dramatically toward the latter), but they may also be neurotic, obsessive, crazy, or even violent. You just don’t know. And, as I wrote in the blog post linked above, when a lot of folks ask for you to critique them, what they’re really doing is asking for your praise. They don’t want actual critique. And they may react badly if you give it to them.

That was exactly what happened with Gordon Ramsay and these assholes. They had already damaged their reputation and business, and they invited him not to let him help them fix their restaurant  but to come in and use his show to give them praise so that they could be vindicated by an authority on TV. Then, blindly evil fucks that they are, they reacted horribly to his critique and dug themselves even deeper.

Good for them. Nobody deserves such a fate more than they do, except perhaps current GOP leadership.

For more on this, please do read “Why I Will NOT Read Your Stuff“. I’m pretty pleased with that post, but I’m open to criticism on it.

Comics and Me

Comics

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day. It got me thinking about my relationship to comics.

The comic above,  The Amazing Spider-Man # 119, is the first comic I remember buying. I know I had others before it, but perhaps I didn’t actually choose them myself, but had them given to me. Whatever the case, I remember going into the 7-11 and choosing this comic and reading it. The result was an obsession that lasted for years, and a strong love of the medium that I still retain today.

That said, I can’t recall the last single issue of a comic I bought. I still read bound collections here and there, like the recent “Court of Owls” storyline in the Batman comics. There are some things I buy for my library as soon as they appear, like the incredible cloth-bound library editions of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, or the “Absolute” edition of Warren Ellis’s Planetary. But mostly, I just don’t bother with comics these days.

I still love them. But they’re like old friends who’ve drifted away. I keep up with them via gossip. “Oh, Superman is seeing Wonder Woman? Good for him.” “Oh no, Damian Wayne died? That’s terrible, Bruce must be in agony.” “Peter Parker’s dead? Oh my god, that’s…actually really fucking humdrum at this point, unfortunately. Tell me when he’s back.”

It’s not that I’m not interested in reading them, because I am. But the reasons not to are so compelling. They’re too damned expensive, for one thing; for ten bucks, I can get two or three comic books I’ll read in under fifteen minutes. But that same ten bucks will get me two hours of entertainment at the cinema, buy me a book or ten that will give me many hours of enjoyment, get me ten songs I’ll be able to listen to forever, or even pay for a month of Netflix. Comics just don’t offer much bang for the buck when they cost so much.

It’s also a chore to keep up with them. The big companies love crossovers, and to be honest, so do I. But I’m too busy and distracted to have to follow all related series, and read the issues every month in proper order, in order to keep up with a storyline. The latest Batman mega-arc may be incredible, but if I have to hop spastically from title to title, and research the fucking reading order online, to keep up, it’s too much work for too little joy. You can’t just buy a single title, in individual issues or trade collections, and get a coherent storyline.

So, these days, though I miss them, I’m fine following the lives of my favorite comic book characters through hearsay. And, of course, through other media. I’m re-watching The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon at present, and it’s exceptional. Of course, it lasted just two seasons, and now we have Ultimate Spider-Man, which isn’t. DC’s animated efforts tend to be incredible; we watched the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns a few weeks ago, and it was great. And, of course, there are the movies. That’s where most people get their comics fix these days, and there, for the most part, the companies are getting it right.

Speaking of which, today we’re going to see the new Iron Man flick. Can. Not. Wait.