I’m super-excited to announce the relaunch of the short-lived but popular Two Towers Talk Show, a YouTube program co-hosted by “Tower 1” colleague John F. Allen and me, Tower 2 R.J. Sullivan. In it, we talk about the array of geeky movies, TV, books, and more, with favorite nostalgia moments and interviews with creatives in the industry.
Another July, another InConJunction!!
This will be my… I don’t know…. several-eth year at InConJunction SF Convention as an author, and nearly thirty years since I attended the con (my first ever) on an early date with the future Mrs. RJ! For all these reasons, and more, the con holds a special place in my heart. If it’s not the biggest, or fanciest, it is the WARMEST con of the year, and I’m not talking about July weather. This convention is run by the sweetest bunch of awesome nerds in the galaxy, and I say that from the bottom of my heart. So without any further ado, let’s get to the details.
InConJunction is on the east side of Indianapolis at the Marriott off Shadeland Avenue Fri, July 5-Sun July 7. Here is the website with all the details.
I’m a proud author with Seventh Star Press, and Imaginarium is, in great part, the brainchild of SSP Editor-In-Chief Stephen Zimmer. And so, I was there for Imaginarium’s first and second year and saw the convention grow from a great idea to an expanding community where readers and writers meet, joke, party, and exchange ideas in a nurturing environment all weekend long. Imaginarium 2016, year three, looks to be the best year yet, and you can be sure I’m not missing out on this one.
I’ll be attached to the Seventh Star cluster of tables, with my Speculative Fiction Guild buddies John F. Allen and E. Chris Garrison. I’ll be selling my full array of titles, including my brand-new collection of science fiction novellas Commanding the Red Lotus all at a price that meets or beats all other options. Autographs are, as always, free and worth every penny you pay. Cash and credit card options (via Square) available.
When I’m not at my table or wandering around trying to catch up with the many people I only see at this con, you can find me at panels with my author peeps, colleagues, and betters.
Here’s my complete panel schedule:
Imaginarium is the weekend of Oct 7-9 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Louisville, KY (near the airport). It’s about a two hour drive from Indianapolis, perfect for a day trip or for staying the weekend. The programming requires a membership badge, but the vending room is free and open to the public. Genres include but are not limited to science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, and graphic novels.
If seeing me isn’t enough reason to go (and that’s fine, just don’t tell me to my face, we writers have tender egos), there’s a film festival, masquerade ball, panels, and workshops for readers and writers of all levels and interests.
So click here to see the convention website, check out the details, and consider paying us a visit. I hope to see many of you there!
Okay, so if you have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and want to know my full, unedited spoiler-filled thoughts, this is the blog you want to read. If you don’t want to have anything spoiled, I give the movie a B. It’s good, it’s very good, and well worth seeing in the theater. IMO it is not great, or what I think of as great filmmaking, for reasons I will get into below.
This is your absolute last chance to go see the film and come back to read the rest after you’ve seen it. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Okay, good, let’s skip the prelims and get right to it, bullet point style.
What I loved, as it comes to mind:
Dangerous troopers! This is the first time that storm troopers have come off as trained, intimidating soldiers to be taken seriously since….ever. Their shots counted, they fought well. The mostly incompetent lunkheads of the original trilogy (and the even more pathetic roger-roger bots of the prequels) are gone. These troopers mean business.
No clones! I loved that they established and confirmed that troopers were conscripted citizens of conquered planets, which everyone assumed was the case in the original trilogy until the….you get the idea.
BB8. A new droid for a new generation, it could have been a lame R2 ripoff, but this little guy does his own thing, his own way, and I found his personality as distinct and different as “Chopper” from the SW Rebels series.
Kylo Ren. It took a few scenes for me to get his “vibe” but I really dug the less cool, more emotional not-quite-fully-baked Darth wannabe who still feels the “pull of the light side” calling to him. I liked that his costume is an affectation, a marketing ploy if you will, to scare people rather than part of a necessary life support.
Rey and Finn. And Poe, too. The “new hotness” characters are perfectly cast to move the series forward. I’m intrigued to learn more about the both of them and look forward to long series of adventures. I wished they’d done more with Poe, but I guess we can’t have everything.
Han, Chewie, Leia. And Luke, too. Great to see them back. Most of their scenes worked for me, even “that” scene.
Kylo’s light saber. I didn’t think I’d care much about the lightsaber when I saw it in the previews, but when I saw it in action…remember how I said Kylo was a half-baked wanna-be? Is it me, or did this messed up not-quite-in-focus lightsaber kind of reflect the hot mess of Kylo himself? So the dopiness with the stupid wrist guard thing ended up working for me.
The light saber battles. I loved seeing Fin the untrained guy trying to use the lightsaber and getting whupped, then watching Rey try to use it. And the fights are back to focusing on the emotional gravitas. Thank you to whomever for realizing that the dancy hoppy ballet acrobat nonsense was a big PROBLEM in the prequels and for returning to having the fights reflect the conflicts of the characters.
What didn’t work for me:
Captain Phasma. All the talk of Gwendolyn Christie from Game of Thrones and we get two tiny moments? Really? I mean, neat costume and all, but you had a terrific actress at your disposal and you wasted her. I hope we’ll get more next time.
Han and the bowcaster. Really? A friendship going back about four decades and he never shot Chewie’s weapon before? It’s a little thing, but they did it at least twice and my eyes couldn’t roll back in my head far enough each time.
Han and Chewie’s Chthulhu Monster business. I had no problem with this as a concept; I just thought the obvious CGI looked like….well, obvious CGI. In a movie where the effects seemed geared to look as solid and model-like as possible, I found the rubbery video game monsters a distracting anachronism.
C3PO now with new red arm. Buy yours at a toy store near you. All I want to do with the red arm is rip it off and beat JJ Abrams with it.
And R2-D2. Really, what was the point?
The chess board. Turned on. Even does the same chess move even though no one is playing. If this were written into a manuscript, we’d call it a “darling” as in “kill your darlings.” As my critique group buddy Judith Bastin would say, this darling needed to be taken out behind the barn and shot.
I know we’re keeping some of the same beats, but did it have to be a droid smuggling the maguffin to a desert planet and stumbling upon our orphaned protagonist? Would it have killed ya to bring it to a jungle or something just a little less on the nose?
The giant planet killing thingie with the ridiculous weakness, take three. It’s bigger and boomier-er-er and kablooier, and it still has a glaring obvious weakness that tiny ships can exploit. And gosh, we had the plans all along, we just didn’t get around to it. Too bad about them billions of dead people. Oops. Our bad Also, wedging the destruction of the new giant weapon right after the death of one of SW’s most beloved characters was a tonal misstep for me. I felt nothing when the thing blew up. Certainly not the elation I felt from the first film. It was just a thing happening while other things were going on, and while I commend the moviemakers to some extent for not trying to re-create the same scenario, it makes me wonder why they even bothered to bring in this new threat just to blow it up again in such a perfunctory way.
The tone shift at the end. Am I the only one who felt like the tone of the movie jumped from the middle of A New Hope to the end of Empire Strikes Back in the last ten minutes? I’m not usually one to suggest playing it safe, but since it’s been 30 years since the last good SW movie, I would have preferred a euphoric finish to what had been a mostly euphoric movie. The shoehorned shift to a darker tone left me feeling like I was finishing this awesome meal and then someone yanked dessert away from me before I could finish.
As you can see, most of my problems are quibbles. I have been hard on JJ Abrams through the years but suspected that he was the man for the job when it comes to Star Wars even though I openly and unapologetically despise what he did to Star Trek. That’s because Trek is thinking person’s SF, while I enjoy Star Wars for the emotional payoffs. I like how Star Wars makes me feel and how Star Trek engages my mind. I am not one of those prudes that loves one and hates the other; there’s always been room in my geeky heart for both. But they are not the same. JJ succeeds here for the exact same reason he fails at Trek. There are those who will grok me on this point and those who will not.
I give SW:TFA a B. It is good, it is not great. Story-wise, it is better than the prequels (which is not saying much) and over time I may even prefer it to Return. Then again, I only enjoyed one of the three plot elements of Return (I am old enough to remember when Return was considered the crappy SW film of the three). The film pushed the series forward in terms of character and set the stage for future movies. It will not and could not eclipse the greatness of the original or of Empire.
As I said before, I remember when the first two movies came out. They both, in their own way, pushed movie making forward to a new standard (and even Episode I was a technical achievement if nothing else). I may sound like a grumpy old man, but this fact, I think, is lost on later generations. Star Wars changed movies forever, and Empire took what they’d started and made the ILM resources accessible to other filmmakers. SW:TFA did not achieve anything new in visual FX, or in pushing the storytelling bar forward. Heck, I can name two films released earlier this year that I would consider more groundbreaking SF: Mad Max and The Martian (and no, having a black and a woman in major roles is not groundbreaking, it’s a long overdue internal adjustment to catch SW up with the rest of SF; that doesn’t make it groundbreaking).
It didn’t push the genre forward because it didn’t have to. George Lucas did that for us 40 years ago, and whatever we may think of him, nothing will take that achievement away from him. I don’t imagine we’ll see a SW break any new ground again.
And that’s okay. I’m good with good.
Comments are open. Play nice.
Marilyn Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh, the last of three parts.
Finishing up with the rest of the almost-good and the almost-bad, also known as the “Meh.”
Popular Consensus: Marilyn shows off her comedic chops in this madcap comedy about three women trying to get their hooks into various rich guys.
How I see it: Whatever. And when I say “whatever” to a film co-starring Lauren Bacall, you know something’s wrong. This movie almost fell under “bad” but I’m in a good mood today. Maybe it was edgy at one time, but it’s eye-rolling today. How to you make a knockout blonde like Marilyn look “nerdy” and intelligent? Put a pair of large goofy glasses on her face, of course. Ho. Ho. Ho. Look at the image to the left. Is that hysterical to you? Right. That’s my point. Add to that, some near-sighted jokes that make Mr.MaGoo look sophisticated, and it all adds up to a movie you can take or leave, and you’re probably better off leaving.
“Known for” Marilyn Moments: None that I’m aware of.
Jane Russell and Marilyn as two odd couple show girl best friends who keep getting into silly trouble.
Popular Consensus: A sex-comedy musical with Marilyn at her best.
How I see it: Okay, this one *almost* ended up in the good column. To be fair, there’s much to like here. The comedy is snappy, Jane Russell is also quite easy on the eyes, and there are at least two landmark musical numbers. The great moments are draped around a plot that barely exists, making the movie as a whole pretty generic, and as a result, one that doesn’t get a lot of replay in my collection. But that’s just me, you may feel otherwise. Even as I get ready to post this, I wonder if I’m judging too harshly. You decide and send me a nasty-gram. I may even admit I deserve it.
“Known For” Marilyn Moments: The hot-pink dress dance number to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” Madonna paid homage to in “Material Girl”. (Also note the human chandelier in the number that would make Lady Gaga jealous).
Popular Consensus: Marilyn delivers a riveting performance as a femme fatale.
How I see it: Here’s another one that almost ended up in the “good” category. This film doesn’t work for me, and I think it’s because the plot is a 1940s film noir. You have Joseph Cotton (!) as the troubled husband, Marilyn as the no-good wife plotting to do him wrong, the Naïve Young Couple as innocent as driven snow, the “other man” waiting in the wings to do in the husband. There are no characters here, only archetypes. Once you know the types, the movie proceeds exactly as you expect, including the “plot twist” you see coming a mile away.
Add to that, film noir should be that–dark. Black and white, lots of shadows. We need Humphrey Bogart in here somewhere. Instead, this plays in lavish Technicolor. It’s a disconnect.
But that’s just me. Again, there’s a lot to like here, just not enough for me to recommend it.
“Known for” Marilyn Moments: Posing under the covers with the shadow of vertical blinds across her face. She gives great strut in one party scene–seriously, the movie is “known” for these things.
Cowboy and son and Marilyn on a raft escaping Indians.
Popular Consensus: A troubled production and missed opportunities resulted in an overall disappointment, then and now.
How I see it: I concur. The movie wants to be liked, and lays on the sweetness a bit thick. Rancher Robert Mitchum and his son end up taking Marilyn, playing yet-another showgirl, across the river to escape rampaging Indians after Marilyn’s no-good boyfriend causes trouble for everyone. Suffers from too many western clichés. One particular eye-roller is when Marilyn breaks out into song in the middle of the woods with a hidden band accompanying her. The blue screen rafting scenes that make up the last 20 minutes of the film do not hold up. It all plays out predictably and overall underwhelmingly.
“Known for” Marilyn Moments: None that I am aware of.
Marilyn turns psycho-babysitter in a low budget black and white thriller. Seriously.
Popular Consensus: For the most part, overlooked.
How I see it: A black and white thriller early in Marilyn’s career in which she plays a babysitter hired to watch a young girl in a swank hotel room while the parents attend a party downstairs. It’s clear early on that Marilyn’s character has mental problems and suffers from some post traumatic stress, and that the night may lead to some Very Bad Things. Though the credits say otherwise, this movie plays very “B picture”, and that’s not a bad thing, given the mood.
It’s a surprising film, and another movie I almost moved to the “good” category. I give Marilyn credit for tackling this role, and even more surprising since she landed it fairly early in her career. She has some chilling moments, but putting my fanboy perspective aside, the role gets away from her. She just doesn’t have the acting chops to hold this one together, though as a curiosity piece, I find myself watching it fairly often.
On the other hand, she also has a tiny part in Clash by Night, a fairly wretched film noir wanna-be with some of the most painful dialog ever delivered by any actress (in this case, Barbara Stanwyck). (And directed by Metropolis fame Fritz Lang! WTH?) The best that can be said here is it’s not Marilyn’s fault.
So there you have it., Feel free to comment and tell me if my ratings were good, bad, or meh.