Monday, June 27, 2016

Review of Independence Day: Resurgence

This is not so much a review as an examination of flaws. Normally I would warn of spoilers, but as I stated on my post-movie Facebook post, you're better off just rewatching the original than sitting through this tripe, so I am not spoiling anything; I am saving you.

Like many people, the first Independence Day was an emotional experience for me. I was 14 and saw the movie twice n the theaters; the first time in opening weekend in San Antonio, the second at the theater in Tinker Air Force base. Both times, the audience was made of military families and veterans, which made it all the better. There was laughter, there were tears, there was raucous cheering at several points. The cheers were so loud, in fact, that my father's non-American friend actually asked him if the audience understood that the action onscreen was not real (European audiences are much more subdued). But here's the thing—in a way, Independence Day was real to us. It was real not just because of the awesome special effects or the tightly written plot, but because of the characters. So before I deconstruct what made the sequel awful, let's reflect on what made the original great.

Captain Steven Hiller — Will Smith brought Steve Hiller to life as a great pilot and a great American. He was funny, he was loyal, and he was a strong friend, father, and soon-to-be husband. He was engaged to a stripper, something heavily frowned upon by the conservative military culture, particularly for officers with NASA aspirations. But Steve didn't care. He loved Jasmine. And based on her quick thinking in the face of absolute disaster combined with her kind heart and protectiveness of total strangers, we can see why. We were rooting for the Hiller family from 'kick the tires and light the fires' to his 'fat lady sings' cigar. He promised us fireworks, and he did not disappoint.

David Levinson — Not all heroes are soldiers. David is the nerd in all of us, the good man who works hard and does right. He is smart, he is driven, and he will not allow lesser minds to bully him into silence. He is divorced from a woman he loves, and who loves him, because she simply didn't understand what was in his head. We can all relate to that moment when his ex-wife asks him, "Didn't you ever want to be a part of something special?" He slams down his bottle and quietly responds, "I was doing something special." And we, the audience, know that. We know it was David who saved the president and his daughter from death and who knows how many other people. And now his ex-wife knows it too. She finally sees what was there all along.

Russell Case – PTSD-afflicted veteran, problem drinker, and loving father who can't quit get his shit together. Russell is the guy we hope we will never be. The one who loves and feels so deeply and reacts wrongly in almost every situation. His children are sick to death of not being able to rely on him, sick of being the parent. But when it all goes to hell, when it really matters, Russell is there. He gets his drunken ass in gear and protects his children. He helps a wandering Marine get to Area 51. And then he saves the entire planet, giving his life in the process, knowing that for once... his children will be proud of him.

These characters were the heart and soul of the movie, as were the supporting characters like Judd Hirsch as David's father who rediscovers his Judaism and helps others with humor and with spiritual guidance; Harry Connick Jr. As Hiller's friend and fellow Marine with his true friendship and ridiculous levels of charm; Robert Loggia as the bad-ass General who will do what it takes to get the mission done; even the under utilized Adam Baldwin as the steady, stoic Major Mitchell who ran Area 51 like a boss. These people, some with only a few lines, made Independence Day the great movie it is.

Now let's look at what the sequel included. Before I get to the characters, let's address some other issues:

First, the special effects were great. Watching Hong Kong be ripped apart was terrifying and oddly beautiful. The science was questionable. Having a 3000-mile spaceship sitting on top of the planet like a hat... and there's no effect to our orbit or the moon's orbit? Really? I'm not Neil Degrasse Tyson or anything, but I have questions.

The plot was AWFUL. They spend a lot of the first part of the movie establishing that thanks to reverse engineering alien technology, we have great stuff now. We have a moon base. There are pilots there. We have lots of cool stuff. You would not believe how much time they devote to this. We also have a lady president played by Sela Ward. They do nothing with her, but they just want you to know we have a lady president. There are dog fights, there are half-hearted arguments, shit gets blown up, and then there is a weird, ant-climactic ending.

There was one bright spot, and frankly, I think this was the movie they should have given us. Apparently, one of the alien ships managed to land successfully in Africa after the destruction of the mother ship. Of course we know, the alien ships were the size of cities, so the ship was chock full of aliens. So for ten years, I repeat... 10 years... the people of this unidentified section of Africa lived their lives fighting aliens, seemingly without outside assistance. We hear all this when David Levinson goes to speak with Dikembe Umbutu, a warlord who has spent the last decade being an alien killing machine and setting up his own kingdom.
This guy
The fact that these Africans had to fight off these aliens alone, without benefit of the really awesome stuff shown earlier in the movie, and without the new planetary unity spoken of so many times, is very confusing to me. Also confusing to me is why I had to spend more than two hours looking into the vapid, empty stare of the less handsome Hemsworth brother instead of following Dikembe's story and that of his dead brother and crazy ass father. Seems like it would have been a better movie.

So who did we hear about instead?

 Hiller Jr. – As Will Smith had the good sense to stay away from this stinker, the powers that be decided instead to give us the worst actor in human history to fill his shoes. The characters is Steven Hiller's adopted son, the cute little boy from the first movie. He is now a hot shot pilot just like his dearly departed father. And that is literally all we know about him. Watching him recite his lines as if they were a shopping list, I envisioned the hundreds of other actors who auditioned for this role having epileptic seizures at the injustice of it all.
 Bad Ass – William Fichtner is one of America's finest actors. He has gravitas, comic timing, and a killer bod even in his 60s. I love this man. He is one of those actors who makes every movie he is in better just by being in it. He gives it his all here. He is a general, who then gets sworn in as president after our lady-president and her whole line of succession gets killed by aliens. We don't care when that happens, cuz we don't care about her. And General Bad ass doesn't either. Because after he is sworn in as president, that is the last time it's addressed. He just goes on with being a general. No one calls him Mr. President, no one asks him presidential questions. Kinda weird. But I love his face.
Hemsworth – He is a pilot who is not well liked. Why not? Who knows. It's never really addressed. But we works on the moon, he pretty much does what he wants, putting billion-dollar weapons at risk, mind you, and he gets a stern talking to here and there. And he is engaged to President Whitmore's daughter. That's pretty much all we know about him.
Patricia Whitmore – You may remember Bill Pullman's daughter from the first movie. The adorable little girl who grew up to be the delightful Mae Whitman. So why did Mae Whitman not return to her iconic role? She is a working actress, a beautiful and talented young lady with a large portfolio of work. So why not? Because apparently, the director wanted a vapid stick insect with the acting skills of a sex doll. Seriously, this wooden, blank-eyed abomination actually had a role to work with. She was given backstory and a life external to the movie's plot, unlike most of her co-stars. But what did she do with it? Nothing. Bitch watched her dad sacrifice his life (pointlessly, I'm afraid) and all she did was walk around in a tank top looking the way I do when I hit rush hour traffic. AWFUL.

All art—movies, music, even stupid paintings—are designed to evoke emotion. This movie failed at its mission, spectacularly. It did not make us feel good to be human and/or American. It did not remind us that our weird family members are actually the cornerstones of our lives. It certainly did not make us believe that, in a similar circumstance, we too could rise to the challenge, come together, and protect our lives and our way of life. Instead, it just made us wonder if we should have gone to see Central Intelligence. Because The Rock never disappoints. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Selling Books at Planet Comicon - Lessons Learned

Saturday at Comicon
On May 20-21, I participated in my very first Comicon as a vendor rather than a guest. It was an extremely valuable learning experience and I am so glad I went.

You will notice I called it a learning experience rather than "the best f-ing day of my life." There is a reason for this. I only sold three books over two days. You'll recall I sold five books when I did Books on the Bottoms. And that was for two hours. So five books in two hours at an antiques venue vs. three books in a combined 24 hours at a venue that specializes in sci-fi, fantasy, and nerd culture. So what in the world happened? Well I can break the cause down pretty easily. So for other book sellers planning on hawking your stories at an event like this, I thought I would share my wisdom.

1. Comicon is Big. Like, so big. And I don't just mean the 30,000 people who attended. I mean there were so many booths filling up Bartle Hall: Artists, Cosplayers, knick-knack vendors, graphic novels, regular novels, random weirdos, stretching farther than the human eye can see. Unless you're way up high. There is no way any person could get through all that. And even if they could...
Look at all the nerds

2. Comicon is Expensive. It costs $35 per person just to get into Comicon. So what you do with your remaining money once inside has to be targeted. Likely, you went there to get the autograph of a celebrity (costs vary depending on the celebrity). Maybe you want to take a picture with that celebrity (also varying costs, but always more expensive than the autograph). After that, you have to buy food, cuz you're starving from all that waiting in line and smiling at Kevin Smith. Enjoy paying $8 for a soda and another $10 for a hot dog. You wanted pizza, but they ran out of pizza after an hour. If you're lucky, you have about $20 left to spend. So what do you want to do with it? Buy a novel? Specifically a novel by an unknown writer that may or may not be good? Probably not. You want that Kylo Ren Lightsaber that actually lights up.

3. Introverts are Terrible at Selling. When I am a customer, I hate to be pestered by people. I want to read the back of the book and make an informed decision. I hate when book store personnel people come and talk to me. Or really when any person talks to me. Because I am a super-duper introvert. For those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, I am an ISTJ. So the idea of hollering at random passersby to come and buy my book is a thoroughly nauseating idea. How vulgar. Passivity is not exactly a great sales tactic, but it's the only one I have. There was also the problem of the many people actually saying they didn't read books. What... what do you even say to that? I can't be sure, but I probably gave those people a disgusted sneer. Also not a good selling tactic.

ISTJ: We always look confused

4. Bigger is not Better. Watching so many people walk past your booth is very disheartening. The man at the booth next to us makes his whole living off his writing, so he goes to every Con he can. He offered no words of encouragement, just that it never gets easier to feel dismissed by a perspective reader. Likewise, the joy at making a sale never gets old.

I made three sales. One was to my senior drill instructor from Parris Island (1999). Who in the world could have predicted running into her? She was so proud that one of her girls went on to write a book that of course she had to buy one. The second book sale was to a friend of a friend. And the third sale was to a young woman I did not know. She was dressed as super girl and was the most magical person I have ever met. Her love of books was palpable. She bought my book. Then she bought all five of Dennis' books. Then she bought the book of the man at the table next to us. She did this because she loved discovering new worlds, and we were all new to her. She came to Comicon for books. All the books. And her visit to our table on Sunday evening was the best way possible to end my first Con experience.

Two Marines among the civilians

I can say with some certainty I will not be selling at next year's Planet Comicon. I will instead go as a customer. Dressed as Lady Kylo Ren. But I will be selling at KC Comicon this August. It is a smaller venue that focuses on creators. The celebrities who come are not actors; they are writers and artists and behind-the-scenes creators. I have no way to predict how many sales I will make, but I think it will be more in line with my personality, and I think the people who come will be more inclined to stop to read the back cover of Sunder. Preferably without me having to actually talk to them.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Review: Into My Silhouette: Discovering the Dark

Into My Silhouette: Discovering the Dark Into My Silhouette: Discovering the Dark by Becca Noire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I was given a free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Becca lives the life a lot of us do—divorced, raising a teenager, wading through the disappointing world of online dating. But then she strikes the jackpot with John... or at least she thinks she does.

I am not a frequent reader of erotica, but when I do I end up really loving it or really hating it. If you're like me and the dumpster fire of 50 Shades of Grey turned you off of the genre, please take this as my personal invitation to dive back in—because this was outstanding. Becca is so real because you know her. Maybe you are her. Or maybe she's a wittier version of you (at least that was the case with me). There are no Mary Sues here, just a real woman falling down the rabbit hole, feeling what is happening to her, but helpless to stop herself. So many of us go through life with longing, and when we finally get what we have been dreaming of, how many of us would have the courage to run away when it got too deep? We all like to think we would, but it rarely ends up that way. The mastery of this writing is that we feel every bit of Becca's journey and we are left with the sinking feeling that if it were us in that situation, it probably would have ended up the same way. And with all the smokin hot intense sex scenes, maybe... just maybe... it was all worth it in the end. Definitely put this one on your to-read shelf.

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: UnWholly

UnWholly UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book series can be tricky; you never know if the sequels will live up to the original. Unwholly not only lived up to Unwind, it surpassed it. Shusterman gives us a wider view of the world in which our characters live and the slippery, all-too-believable slope that brought our America to the reality of tearing teenagers apart for their organs and limbs. Using multiple POV characters and the dispassionate, all-seeing eye of internet news, Shusterman shows how easily people can do the unthinkable, if only enough people agree that it's the "right" thing.

The characters arcs of Connor, Lev, and Reesa were both fascinating and true to their characters as they were established in the first book. We also met new characters: Miracleena, a steadfast tithe who has what Gretchen Rubin calls an "Upholder personality"; and Starkey, who is the most perfectly manipulative bully to ever walk the earth. These were the major players, but there are others, and even the ones with only a few lines of dialogue or exist only to move the plot forward are real, living people with inner lives and unique attributes. Not only is the ploy riveting, the people and the world make the stakes matter to you as you're reading it. I can't wait to read the next one.

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