checkUp twenty17: Junly

Yeah. So there’s that. I haven’t updated since June 18th with my Wonder Woman review. In my own defense, I have been busy, but I’ve thought a time or two “I should write” and I’ve not, so I don’t get completely off the hook here. I mean, it’s taken for it to be 0404 on a Friday morning with insomnia to get me writing. How bad is that? Or maybe good? I dunno. Anyway. Here goes…something….

Every month I try to do some or all of the following: #1: Writing, #2: Reading, #3: Building, #4: Art and #5: Activities. This is a check up for June and July.

#1. Writing. I did write an update in June, and a review of WW. But I didn’t write at all in July. Combined score: 5-10.

#2. Reading. I finished St. Francis: In His Own Words, a compilation of writings by the monk St. Francis of Assisi. I am also working through another book. I’ll get most credit, but not all: 7.5-10.

#3. Building. I didn’t build anything, but I did spend the months organizing my LEGO minifigures and accessories. Now that I write that it sounds so grown up! but fuck you, little voice in my head. Anyway, it will help further endeavors, so again, partial credit? but it is also what kept me from building. So, one step back, two forward? Sounds good to me: 7.5-10.

#4. Art. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nunca. No excuse here. I’ve had opportunity. 0-10.

#5. Activities. I’ve not missed a day of work, continued meeting with my friend, and even had a friend over for dinner So, that gets me full credit. I know the idea is to get out of the house and do new stuff, but that’s hard with two jobs and little extra time. Full credit on this one: 10-10.

Hmm. It’s been an interesting summer, but so far, so good, I guess. Crunching the crunchables I get: 30/50. 60% for the months, and I think 74% for the year. Still not terrible. August is already looking better because I’m writing! and I have a commission for a LEGO portrait that I can work on, a book to finish, and probably an activity or two, plus some art this weekend? We shall see.

Excelsior!

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Wonderous

This past week I took an evening for myself and watched Wonder Woman. Spoiler: it was a good movie and an excellent representation of what female superheroes should be.

WW3

Beautiful. And I don’t just mean Gal Gadot, the Woman herself, but the entire movie. It was moving, fun, action-y, and thought provoking. While the DCU has been very lackluster and straight-out bad, they went where Marvel has yet to venture with all it’s success: a female directed, female led movie about a female superhero. From little girl Diana shadow boxing while Amazonian warriors spar to adult Diana deflecting bullets with shield and bracers above the trenches of World War One, this film delivered on almost all of it’s promises.

Without going into a bunch of detail, or long plot discussion, I will say this movie was excellently written, with witty dialogue, good themes, foreshadow, callbacks, delightful fight choreography, and great casting. As I write, I am listening to the score, and that is fantastic as well. From start to finish, this film was well constructed. However, it isn’t perfect.

I felt that a few moments were unearned, and that lessened my opinion, but not enjoyment of, the movie. First unearned moment, and perhaps a big one: when Wonder Woman and her love interest (I loved typing that phrase just now! finally not a hero and his love interest!) supposedly have sex. Earlier in the film, Steve and Diana discussed sex and reproduction, and Diana (having grown up on an island entirely populated with women) admits that men are necessary for reproduction but unnecessary for sexual pleasure (!) but seems uninterested in trying heterosexual relations for herself. But then, in what a few days, or weeks, maximum, she is inviting Steve into her bed and arms (again, supposedly, the movie suddenly cuts to the outside and shows nothing but gently falling snow and only implies the union). I do like that Steve was about to leave in the scene, having escorted Diana to her room, but then Diana herself invited him in and initiated the first kiss between them. It was nice to see Diana not only taking the lead on the battlefield, but also in the bedroom. Too often the man imposes himself in near sexual assault, so it was nice to see a reversal here. Still, though, the love story had barely developed by that point and I thought that it was unearned. Small quibble.

Secondly, it was a little ham-fisted setting up General Ludendorff to be the big bad, Ares God of War. I knew from the beginning it wouldn’t be him, as he was just a little too evil and intent on conquering the world, which no one really was in World War I. As I understand history, the war to end all wars was more about protecting self-identity and honoring alliances. Anyway, without a mustache to twirl, Ludendorff was too twirly for me to believe him as Ares. Interestingly, the guy with the mustache I missed completely as Ares until he showed up to reveal himself. I was thinking there was no Ares in this film, as the story was developing, and indeed didn’t need him to be for the story it was telling. (But what is a superhero movie without a big boss battle? A better superhero movie, in my opinion, but then, this is DC.) Anyway, the reveal of Ares I thought was pointless except to give Diana a boss to battle at the end while Steve was actually, you know, fighting for something.

Now, to the real Big Bad: World War I. In the comics, and history of comic-book Wonder Woman, she saves Trevor who I believe was originally a World War II pilot (and then every conflict thereafter? in updates) but never a WWI pilot. Setting the film in World War 1 was a brilliant move for the story they were telling, which was that Diana believed she could end war, and bad men, by killing Ares the God of War who was supposedly the machinator behind the scenes. If you have this set in World War 2, there is a clear Ares: Adolf Hitler. And killing him would have almost definitely ended the war then and there, thus proving Diana right without her learning anything about mankind or conflict. However, WW1 is a war without sense, purpose, big bad, or natural end. It was simply a meat grinder. Without a big bad to kill, even if you mistake Ludendorff for Ares, you must come to grips with the reality that mankind carries within each person the capacity for depthless evil and insurmountable good and it is a personal choice for each one of us which path we follow, God of War or no. This is a lesson that Wonder Woman learns the hard way when she does kill Ludendorff and nothing changes. It was, for me, the climax of the film.

Lastly, the final unearned moment of the film: Steve sacrifices himself to stop the Germans from gassing a bunch of people, and Diana goes ballistic, enabling her to defeat Ares, whom she is battling thus far without success, because she loves Steve and is devastated by his death. Like I said when I was discussing their maybe-sex scene, it didn’t really seem like she had loved him that deeply. Obviously he did her, but not her him, yet. Minutes ago she even thinking Steve was as evil as everyone else on the planet. And then he dies and she is all “but I love you!”. I just didn’t buy it. That and the unnecessary battle with Ares ruined the end of the movie for me, but not enough for me to not enjoy the movie as a whole. Bigger nit.

Wonder Woman, despite it’s flaws, is a good film, and a better one for what it is, the first film in which a female leads, and leads well, and where the men around her are equals or content to follow her obvious expertise. I enjoyed it, and will probably own it. I cannot say the same of any other DCU movies to date, or even in the future as I can foresee it.

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checkUp twenty17: May

Wow. It’s been a busy time lately, which is why I am writing my checkUp for May in the middle of June.

I’m seeking to accomplish the following each month: #1: Writing, #2: Reading, #3: Building, #4: Art and #5: Activities. So how did I do in May? Pretty good, I think. To sum up:

#1. Writing. I wrote my update, a review of the latest Guardians’ and Pirates’ films and I wrote a review of a book over at nerdspan.com. 6-5

#2. Reading. I finished the book I was reading for Life Group and I finished the book I reviewed, Off Rock by Kieran Shea. 6-5.

#3. Building. I built two Stargates in LEGO. I have yet to decide exactly what to do with them. But I built them. I haven’t yet photographed them. But I still get credit. 5-5.

#4. Art. I have been working on painting two stormtrooper helmets while my dad works on his model of a vintage Mustang. I have a few pics of the in progress paintings, but will wait to post any until the helmets are finished. 5-5.

#5. Activities. I met with my friend, back from Africa, once or twice, and I started a new job! so that counts extra. Incidentally, the new job is what is keeping me so busy. Way to bury the lede, Phil. 6-5.

I did extraordinarily well this month: 28/25, or 112%. That brings up my yearly average, last seen at 79%, to a robust 85.6%. Very nice.

So far June has been busy with work, but not much else, but we shall see what comes of it.

Thanks for following along, and look out, I do have some more writing to do!

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Guardians of the Caribbean

Many movies are either sequels, prequels, remakes, or reboots these days, and I saw two of the former this month, and here we have a double review. I don’t have a whole lot to say about each film, but I did want to give my thoughts on both.

To start, in the heavens above, with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2:

landscape-1468945290-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2

I really, really love the first volume of Guardians. It is unexpected, raucous, hilarious, offbeat, and just plain fun. I was really hoping for more of the same from Guardians 2. What I got was mostly that. It went in different directions, while keeping the same elements in place. What I also got was a tale of fathers and daughters and sons.

Ahem: spoilers.

Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, meets his father who seems nice but then turns out to be a philandering, posturing, jack-ass who (I did say spoilers, right?) killed Peter’s mother. Gamorra’s adopted sister, Nebula, returns with a massive girl-on for Gamorra, who in her mind always seemed to steal their adopted father’s, “Mad Titan” Thanos, love and affection. When Peter finds out the truth about his dad, he turns on him, with help from the Guardians, and kills him, in the process realizing that the man who raised him, Yondu, was his real daddy. Finally, during the battle, Gamorra and Nebula realize that they both were fighting for the same thing: survival, and neither cared at all about their “father” and have more in common than they thought.

What I loved was the father/son/daughter storylines. I am a sucker for good family stories, and this one delivered the emotional goods. When (look, ye be warned) Yondu dies saving Peter from his father, I got genuinely choked up. When Gamorra hugged Nebula, I got choked up. Good stories do that. I also love the wacky Drax who might finally be healing from the loss of his family, and the odd-couple of Rocket and Baby Groot. When I wanted them, they were there, doing their shtick, but doing it well. The soundtrack was awesome, as in the first film, and I love getting more of the Ravagers and the crazy denizens of the galaxy.

For my money, Guardians Vol. 2 was exactly what I wanted. I look forward to what happens with the Guardians after they meet the Avengers and how Vol. 3 plays out.

Now to the seas below and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales:

bf5e1d2159266359fa64ae92663932ec-pirates-of-the-caribbean-dead-men-tell-no-tales

I also really, really, love the Pirates franchise. Ever have. Always will. Perpetually. Well, if I am honest, I don’t love On Stranger Tides as much, but I’m totally drunk with rum on Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. But this is about Dead Men…, and this film introduces a new element into the supernatural Caribbean which is ghosts. And zombie sharks. I shivered just typing that. No thanks. But I egress, or digress, either.

Anyway, Jack, who isn’t quite the same pirate he was without the Black Pearl, is reduced to robbing banks with Gibbs and other various miscreants. Enter (yup: spoilers here, too, matey) Will and Elizabeth Turner’s son Henry who is looking, like father like son, for a way to free his father from the Flying Dutchman. He, like most people in the Caribbean it seems, need Jack’s magical compass to find the Trident of Poseidon to do that. Jack, Barbossa, and a host of new and old faces race to find the Trident while being pursued by the aforementioned ghosts of a Spanish warship led by a ghostly and vengeful Capitan Salazar who has a score to settle, like most people in the Caribbean it seems, with Cap’n Jack.

Barbossa’s (still) daughter and Will’s son find the trident and save everybody. Except Salazar. He dies. And Barbossa, the elder and less hygienic. He sacrifices himself to save his daughter from Salazar. How touching.

I loved the call-backs to previous films in the franchise, and the epically beautiful fight scene at the bottom of the ocean over the Trident. I loved down-on-his-luck Jack and Barbossa’s not-a-witch daughter. I loved that the Pearl finally gets out of the bottle.

What I didn’t like is that David Wenham had so little to do as the British Navy’s representative at sea. I think his character just wasn’t needed at all and he was a waste of a good actor, sadly. The climatic final battle was too short. Also, and this was just bad luck, not enough of the pirates made returns, in cameo form or otherwise. And Jack’s compass, didn’t Tia Dalma give him that?

Despite the flaws, I loved this film more than the last one, but not as much as Curse of the Black Pearl. I cannot wait to go sailing with Jack, the curse-free(?) Will and the rest of the blaggards and see if Barbossa can outwit death a second, or is it third? time.

Yo ho and all that.

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checkUp twenty17: April

Tempest fuget! I think that’s Latin for “time flies” but at the moment I’m too lazy to look it up*. Anyway, time does fly, and here it is already April. time-flies That means it is time for another check up into how I am doing with my goals in twenty17. For them what need a reminder (like me) I am pledged to perform the following each month: #1: Writing, #2: Reading, #3: Building, #4: Art and #5: Activities. I have achieved these to varying degrees in January, February, and March. But how now April? Let us have a reckoning.

#1. Writing. I haven’t written at all. 0-5

#2. Reading. I did not read this month, except from the book I am reading for my Life Group that meets on Tuesdays, so I guess I will give half credit for that. It isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I have done it consistently. 2.5-5.

#3. Building. I built a futuristic hover truck in LEGO, which I immediately surmised must be from the Star Wars universe and had been a hover truck that the Rebels used to scout planets or guard perimeters or something. Anyway, I think it’s cool. 5-5.

#4. Art. I took a LEGO Portrait of the futuristic hover truck and posted it to Flickr. Check it out. 5-5.

#5. Activities. I have continued to meet at my local church with a group talking about how to have multiethnic conversations and relationships. It has been a rewarding and enlightening discussion every Tuesday and has even built a few relationships. I get decreasing credit for this, because I started this in March and haven’t done anything new, however, a member of the group invited me to a Texas Rangers’ game last Sunday, and I was only prevented of going by work, and that would have been a countable activity, so I will get bonus credit for good intentions. 5-5.

In summation, that is 17.5 out of 25. 70%. Ouch. I really need to get reading and writing. That gives me a total of 79% for the year as I slide further into the dark abyss of doing nothing with my free time. Looking back, I was excited for April, though I can’t figure out now exactly why, but I had plans I evidently didn’t get to.

I hope to do better in May, but I am not sanguine, as I will have other challenges ahead that I can foresee.

 

*well, I misspelled it, but yes, it is Latin and does mean the intended. Tempus fugit!

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Check-up twenty17: March

It is now officially the 1st of April, so I can evaluate my progress through March twenty17. If you’ve been following my writings this year, you know I am challenging myself to do a few things every month: #1: Writing, #2: Reading, #3: Building, #4: Art and #5: Activities. In January, I hadn’t yet decided on the last three of those, so that month I had an easy 5/5. February brought me a little lower with 2.5/5 due to not writing and not doing art. Now…March.

#1. Writing. I wrote twice, about the film Logan and about the passing of Carrie Fisher (click on March 2017 to the right of this post and you should see both posts listed for you). 5-5

#2. Reading. I did not finish a book this month, but I did make progress in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tales from the Perilous Realm. 0-5.

#3. Building. I rebuilt my LEGO Landspeeder and put together a MOC of the Anchorhead market on Tatooine. Both were formed from self-existing sets, so I don’t get full credit. 3.5-5.

#4. Art. I took an artistic picture of the second MOC, actually a recreation of a pic I saw on Instagram, so not completely original. But I did take a new LEGO portrait, so I’ll actually get bonus credit for this one. 8-5.

#5. Activities. I started attending a meeting at a local church about multi-ethnic conversations. This will be ongoing through April and May so I will get decreasing credit in those months for attendance, but for March I get full credit. 5-5.

So, all total, that is a final score of 24-25, grading on a curve with a retroactive 2.5-5 for #2 for actually reading some. 96% for March. For the year I get a total of 82%. Man, not writing in February and not finishing a book in March is killing my average. I need to get on both consistently. Still, I am doing fairly well at staying active and doing things and not just sleeping or playing on my iPhone.

I am excited for April as I have some things planned, but not much that satisfies my personal challenges. Therefore, the excitement of getting to create is high, but the anxiety of having no specifics is also high.

Finally, catch my Art pics on Flickr here and here and stay tuned for more from me, the Redbeard.

A preview:IMG_1269 - Pizza Aboard the Jolly Ole DS

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Princess, Sister, General

I could never figure it out, and it isn’t really stated anywhere, so as a kid I never knew. Was Leia the elder Skywalker, or was Luke? I know they were retconned to twins sometime after Star Wars and before Return of the Jedi, but still, logically, one is older. Who was it? I was one of three boys in my family, complete and whole, until my sister came along six years later to upset the established order and complete us all. It wasn’t really until I was six or seven that I began to religiously watch the Star Wars saga, so in my mind I became Luke Skywalker and my new baby sister was Princess Leia.

leia-suggested

My sister and I never played that way, that is, never acted out the Star Wars story together, but in my head I saw Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia as the twin sister I never had until I had a little sister, and then as my sister grew up to be a fierce, independent, wise, take-no-bullshit young woman she became Leia to my Luke.

We were raised differently, like Luke and Leia, as my parents doted on the only daughter, gave her her own room (where I had to share space with one or both of my brothers as conditions allowed), and in general lavished the favoritism upon her. I mean, of course my parents said they had no favorites, but really, three boys didn’t hold a candle my to parent’s little princess.

I never had my mind on where I was, or what I was doing, and was always craving excitement and adventure, like a certain young sand-locked farm boy, and my sister always knew what she wanted and how she wanted it and seemed to be driven in ways I wasn’t, like a certain young Senator from Alderaan.

I could stretch the metaphor and say that I like to wear black, and her white and interesting hair-dos but that would be stretching the truth as well. Suffice to say, we met late* in life and became a duo that learned to appreciate and love each other.

Now, as adults, past our “growing up” years, she is, as ever, driven, and I am wandering the galaxy in search of my own Force to guide me. She is the General: moving forward; I am the Jedi: mystically engaged with life’s triumphs and failures.

Given such a personal connection to the character of Leia Organa-Skywalker-Solo, I was deeply affected by the tragic death of Carrie Fisher last year. I had watched her all my life as she “grew up” as a character on Star Wars and I had followed her later life on social media. I always dreamed of going to a Star Wars celebration or ComicCon to meet her, and regret that I will now not have the chance to tell her what she meant to me. Like my sister, Fisher was feisty, funny, and familial. I am not the only one in the Star Wars community to view her as a surrogate-sister, and that was a role she embraced after a certain time. Certainly she was honest about her struggles with mental illness, substance abuse, and a dysfunctional family in a way that made me ok with my own depression and personal struggles.

I grew up knowing that women could be strong, resilient, heroic, steadfast, worthy, sexy, beautiful leaders and sisters and women all at the same time and that was because Carrie Fisher embodied that so well on screen and on the internet, and my sister was all those things and more in what I saw as a little mirror of Fisher.

It seemed at first a strange thing to be so sad at the death of a celebrity I had never met and who inhabited my star-struck fascination with Star Wars, but having come to this realization of what Carrie Fisher truly meant to me in such personal terms, it doesn’t seem strange at all anymore.

As I enter a world now robbed of Fisher, I embrace my sister all the more tightly and thank the Force that I was given such a wonderful gift and example of womanhood at such a young age, that despite not being twins, we grew to be very close, a closeness we share today.

Fisher is now one with the Force, and I have my sister to guide me always. I look forward to the next chapter in our Saga…

 

*If by being introduced when I was just 6 can be called “late” in life.

 

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