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I Luvz Me Some STARLET

10/01/2017

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When last we encountered writer / director Sean Baker on these pages (pixels?) it was in conjunction with Tangerine, an exceptionally well made low budget film about two street hustlers on Christmas Eve.

Starlet was his film prior to that, and like Tangerine it is a well written, flawlessly performed, ultimately upbeat and sweet-without-being-cloy film about an aspiring young actress (read: porn performer) who strikes up an unlikely relationship with an elderly woman.

As with Tangerine, there’s a marvelous multi-level look at morality and what is right and wrong, and also how conventional ideas of morality may not be what a specific situation calls for.

It ends with a “to know all is to forgive all” moment that works really well, an unexpected but wholly logical twist.

It reminds me of the very best of the golden age of live TV ala Playhouse 90 et al, stories about real people with real problems and situations.

I’m all for thunderous escapism, but we also need touchstones of reality, and frankly that’s been lacking in much of our popular entertainment, with stories focused too often on larger-than-life situations and outre’ characters.

Spending 103 minutes with Tess (Dee Hemingway[1]) and Sadie (Besedka Johnson[2]) is a refreshing and uplifting experience. I can almost recommend this movie without hesitation.

However…

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The NSFW Component

Starlet’s basic story, even though it involves porn performers, could be a Hallmark Channel movie. While the language gets salty in places, there’s some dope smoking, and references to off camera activities, by and large Starlet[3] doesn’t focus on that aspect of the characters but rather on Tess’ efforts to come to terms with her unexpected windfall and her attempt to do right by Sadie, who unknowingly is the source of said windfall.

You could honestly give this script a light edit and keep 95% of the story intact and suitable for PG-13 audiences.

But Baker includes a scene set at a porn shoot[4] that while out of focus and comprised of fast cuts sure looks like a full bore porn shoot.[5]

I’m no prude[6] and I would never tell another creator how they should tell their story, and while the point of the porn shoot scene is to make sure the audience doesn’t whitewash the character in their mind[7], I think the explicitness of the scene breaks the rhythm of the story.[8]

So I want to recommend Starlet (currently on Netflix) to you, but caution you what to expect.

And as for director Sean Baker, I want to see more of his work. He’s got my attention and I like the types of stories he tells.

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[1] Yes, related to Ernest; she’s his granddaughter through Margaux.

[2] Tragically in her first and only film role; she died less than a year after the film was completed.

[3] The name of Tess’ Chihuahua, BTW.

[4] There’s also a later scene in which some nude performers pass by the camera but there is no sexual activity seen, and a scene at an adult video convention that avoids straying into R-rated territory.

[5] Tess’ co-star is upstanding in his role if you know what I mean and I think you do.

[6] Take a look at my resume’.

[7] The way Giulietta Masina’s unabashed street walker in Le Notti Di Cabiria was cleaned up into Shirley MacLaine’s taxi dancer for Sweet Charity.

[8] Conversely, Tangerine’s equally explicit motel scene/s are part of that film’s rhythm and do not seem out of place with the rest of the story.

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A Walking Contradiction…

9/01/2017

[see “Two Sides, One Coin”]

Before delving into why it will be more important to play than work as this century progresses, let’s spend a few more moments looking at the internal contradiction of the middle class trump voter.

Mother Jones recently ran an in-depth article culled from the book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right on white Louisiana tea partiers and why they voted for trump. The author, Arlie Russell Hochschild, made an honest effort to understand the tea partiers, spending five years getting to know them and allowing them to speak for themselves.

However, as anybody who has ever watched Errol Morris at work, the way you strike gold in an interview is to just let the subject/s talk.

The more they talk, the more they reveal…

“Sharon also faced economic uncertainty. A divorced mother of two, she supported herself and two children on an ample but erratic income, all from commission on her Aflac sales [of health insurance to working class families]. ‘If you’re starting out, you might get 99 “noes” for every one “yes.” After 16 years on the job, I get 50 percent “yeses.”’ This put her at the top among Aflac salespeople; still, she added, ‘If it’s a slow month, we eat peanut butter.’
“Until a few years ago, Sharon had also collected rent from 80 tenants in a trailer court. Her ex-husband earned $40,000 as a sales manager at Pacific Sunwear, she explained, and helped with child support; altogether it allowed her to pay her children’s tuition at a parochial school and stay current on the mortgage of a tastefully furnished, spacious ranch house in suburban Moss Bluff. She lived in the anxious middle.
“And from this vantage point, the lives of renters in her trailer park, called Crestwood Community, had both appalled and unnerved her. Some of her tenants, 80 percent of whom were white, had matter-of-factly admitted to lying to get Medicaid and food stamps. When she’d asked a boy her son’s age about his plans for the future, he answered, ‘I’m just going to get a [disability] check, like my mama.’ Many renters had been, she told me, able-bodied, idle, and on disability…
“…Unable to pay an astronomical water bill, Sharon had been forced to close the trailer park, giving residents a month’s notice and provoking their resentment.
“In truth, Sharon felt relief. Her renters, she said, had been a hard-living lot. A jealous boyfriend had murdered his girlfriend. Some men drank and beat their wives. One man had married his son’s ex-wife. Beyond that, Sharon had felt unfairly envied by them. ‘I’ve been called a rich bitch. They think Miss Sharon lives the life of Riley.’ And while her home was a 25-minute drive away, the life of her renters had felt entirely too close for comfort. ‘You couldn’t talk to anyone at Crestwood whose teeth weren’t falling out, gums black, missing teeth,’ adding that she gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste one Christmas. ‘My kids make fun of me because I brush my teeth so much.’
“To her, the trailer park both did and did not feel worlds away. For one thing, a person’s standard of living, their worldview and basic identity, seemed already set on a floor of Jell-O. Who could know for sure how you would fare in the era of an expanding bottom, spiking top, and receding middle class?”

A pause before we continue:
If you want the summation of the ills of this country, indeed the ills of the Western world, look no further. The slickee boiz and the demagogues both prey on the same fundamental Achilles’ heel, the stark terror the middle class feels at the thought of slipping from their precarious position and sliding even lower.

It is how this country, particularly the southern states, managed to keep a lid on disadvantaged poor whites* by deliberately suppressing and demonizing African-Americans, shoving them down to an even lower level of cultural depravity, then telling the poor whites they were “lucky” (read: “Better behave yourself, boy”) they were white, otherwise their disgrace and degeneration would be absolute.

It is how that lid is maintained to this day, fostering resentment among an anxious middle class that “they” — whoever those unworthies are — are not just stealing from the middle class but actively threatening them by undermining their status.

And conversely, the 1% — like a slick con man shilling the rubes with 3-Card Monte — diverts the lower classes’ attention and thought away from the real owners and instead directs it towards the struggling middle class as the authors of lower class misery.

” As we drove from the trailer park to her home, Sharon reflected on human ambition: “You can just see it in some guys’ eyes; they’re aiming higher. They don’t want a handout.” This was the central point of one of Sharon’s favorite books, Barefoot to Billionaire, by oil magnate Jon Huntsman Sr. (whose son ran in the 2012 Republican presidential primary). Ambition was good. Earning money was good. The more money you earned, the more you could give to others. Giving was good. So ambition was the key to goodness, which was the basis for pride.
“If you could work, even for pennies, receiving government benefits was a source of shame. It was okay if you were one of the few who really needed it, but not otherwise. Indignation at the overuse of welfare spread, in the minds of tea party supporters I got to know, to the federal government itself, and to state and local agencies. A retired assistant fire chief in Lake Charles told me, ‘I got told we don’t need an assistant fire chief. A lot of people around here don’t like any public employees, apart from the police.’ His wife said, ‘We were making such low pay that we could have been on food stamps every month and other welfare stuff. And [an official] told our departments that if we went and got food stamps or welfare it would look bad for Lake Charles so that he would fire us.’ A public school teacher complained, ‘I’ve had people tell me, “It’s the teachers who need to pass the kids’ tests.” They have no idea what I know.’ A social worker who worked with drug addicts said, ‘I’ve been told the church should take care of addicts, not the government.’ Both receivers and givers of public services were tainted — in the eyes of nearly all I came to know — by the very touch of government.
“Sharon especially admired Albert, a middle-aged sheet metal worker who could have used help but was too proud to ask for it. ‘He’s had open-heart surgery. He’s had stomach surgery. He’s had like eight surgeries. He’s still working, though. He wants to work. He’s got a daughter in jail — her third DUI, so he’s raising her son — and this and that. But he doesn’t want anything from the government. He’s such a neat guy.’ There was no mention of the need for a good alcoholism rehab program for his daughter or after-school programs for his grandson. Until a few days before his death Albert continued working, head high, shame-free.”

There in lays the other part of the equation, the secret by which the 1% manipulates the working and middle classes: We have a society that teaches one’s value and status can only be determined by the amount of money you make working for somebody else.

[to be continued]

*  Referred to by the aristocracy who imported them for labor as “poor white trash” literally from the moment they stepped off the boat.

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A Strategy For 2017

1/01/2017

Where appropriate and possible, remind people…

Trump Is A Fake: A fraud, a phony, a proven liar, a con man who always cheats workers and employees and partners and investors, a stooge for banks and billionaires, and Putin’s puppet.

Republicans Wreck America: They vote against the best interests of the people who voted for them in order to serve their billionaire donors, cutting programs that their voters want for veterans, the sick, the elderly, and children.

The Far Right Always Lies: They accuse others of what they are guilty of, they deny real problems, they smear people who point out those problems, they promise much but deliver nothing, they protect those who rob this country.

.

.

.

That’s the short version, here’s the full explanation:
There’s a long struggle ahead of us, a generation long crisis that’s not going to be solved in a single election cycle. It needs to be resisted consistently and constantly, but in a manner that does not wear out its welcome among those who can be persuaded.

Don’t introduce these points in venues or conversations where the discussion is about something else; wait until somebody makes a statement favoring the things we oppose.

Counter that statement and that statement only. Be polite but firm. Don’t stoop to insults, but a careful measured response can be humiliating without being insulting.

Try to avoid more than two responses if on public forums. After you make your point, post something to the effect of “let’s not spoil this thread for others by continuing this further” and let them have the last word.

That makes them the jerks.

If the venue or conversation is one appropriate for lengthy discussion (say an ongoing discussion on politics), stay and keep up the fight, but again strive to remain courteous in all responses and don’t rise to their bait.

If they meltdown, let them. Be the adult and walk away.

We are not going to win back the deplorables, but we can wake up the deluded.

The three main points to keep repeating are:
Trump Is A Fake +
Republicans Wreck America +
The Far Right Always Lies
Don’t go outside those three topics; the message needs to stay clear and easily definable so everybody can grasp them.

A general observation among preachers / teachers / salesmen / public speakers is that most audiences won’t / can’t / don’t want to remember more than three points, and the more arcane or nuanced those points, the harder they are to remember.

So keep the basic message simple:
Trump Is A Fake +
Republicans Wreck America +
The Far Right Always Lies

Under each of those headings above, note the highlighted words. These are short / clear / precise / easily grasped words and phrases that reinforce each central thesis.

Do not introduce those words unless or until challenged. Don’t try to lay out a long / lengthy / nuanced / detailed case — K.I.S.S. Keep It Simply Simple.

(You’ll notice I didn’t use “Keep It Simple, Stupid” which was the original phrase. That’s because as much fun as it is to kick cripples down stairs or abuse those who aren’t as smart, it makes the person doing it look bad, and by extension undermines their argument. So stay relentlessly polite, even when taunted and insulted.)

Use those words & phrases or similar to convey the basic points in each paragraph. Always present them as undeniable facts in the initial post or conversation, don’t elaborate / equivocate / explain.

However, if challenged or asked, have data ready to back you up. If you haven’t already, start a list of news items / essays / blog posts that back up and elaborate each of the smaller points. CAUTION: Do not — repeat, not — use fake news or partisan sites that have not backed up their posts with verifiable facts.   DO YOUR RESEARCH and keep the list on your phone / tablet / desktop so you can respond quickly to a challenge or an inquiry.

I repeat, this is going to be a long struggle and we are not going to win it any time soon BUT WE WILL WIN IN THE END.

Right now there are millions of anxious people who have foolishly listened to the slickee boiz, ignoring all the bad things said and done because those voters are afraid for their families and their futures.

Those voters — even the ones who are registered as Republicans and involved in local politics — are not the deplorables (i.e., the flat out overt racists / sexists / religious bigots who flocked to trump and the GOP this election). They are basically common, decent, ordinary folks who are very realistically worried about where things are heading but who unfortunately have been badly served by those who did not get the progressive message across effectively and by slickee boiz who capitalized on their fears to rob them blind.

Those voters are not our enemy; those voters are our potential allies and when things go south for the slicksters, those voters will be the ones most susceptible to changing their minds and changing their votes —

— but only if we don’t demonize them in the process.

That is going to be a challenge for many of us, particularly those in minority or outlier groups who are being specifically targeted by the deplorables.

It is, however, a fact we are going to have to take in account for the next twenty-plus years.

(Remember Italy started WWII on the Axis side but, as they realized Mussolini was being used by Hitler and the Italian people were suffering because of it, overthrew the fascist regime and switched sides to join the Allies. So instead of having to subdue three enemies, the Allies only had to subdue two and could use their new Italian ally as a staging area for the war against the Nazis.)

I publish this strategy openly because it is based on one great weapon: The Truth.

The only way they can counter this is with lies, but their lies are of such a nature that they eventually blow up in their faces.

Three simple main points — Trump Is A Fake + Republicans Wreck America + The Far Right Always Lies — repeated long enough and straight forwardly enough will, like a constant drip of water, produce the desired result.

To mash two Mark Twain quotes together, a lie may get around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on, but the truth has the great advantage of having fewer things to remember.

And while we are not sitting in a strategically good position on this, the first day of January 2017, remember also what Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller said when he and his Marines were surrounded by ten divisions of Chinese infantry at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War:

“Great. Now we can shoot at those bastards from every direction.”

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The Funniest Comic Strip Dailies Of 2016

30/12/2016

My picks for the 10 funniest comic strips published/put on the Web in 2016.

Criteria:

#1– Must be funny. (There were a lot of touching / poignant / inspiring / awesome strips this year but only the funny ones made the cut.)

#2– Must be fresh. (Otherwise this list would consist of Peanuts re-runs.)

#3– Must be family friendly. (Anything over the edge got cut even if it made me laugh.)

#4– Must be fathomable. (i.e., punchlines that were the pay off of lengthy continuities, long-running gags, or required esoteric knowledge of the strip in question also got cut.)

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Honorable Mention: Norm Feuti’s Retail has the best consistent string of really hilarious daily strips combined with an astonishing sense of line and composition. Here he goes really meta with a gag many readers may only barely get, but which leaves professional cartoonists rolling on the floor.

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Honorable Mention: Super-Fun-Pak Comix is a side project to Reuben Bolling’s Tom The Dancing Bug that is often too arcane for its own good, but this time came up with the greatest time travel story EVER.

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Honorable Mention: Scary Gary by Mark Buford is a solid-leaning-brilliant strip in the mode of The Munsters and / or The Addams Family.

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Honorable Mention: I almost never read Heathcliff (the other orange cat comic strip) by George Gately. If he featured more oddball flights of fancy like this, I would.

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Runner Up: Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Zits is the default best teen comic strip out there now that Greg Evan’s Luann has started attending college. Here they elaborate on the tragicomic lack of communication between parents and teens.

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Runner Up: Joe Martin, the hardest working cartoonist on the funny pages, earns not one but two Runner Up nods this year, the first for his laser like focus on character in Willy ‘n’ Ethel

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Runner Up: …the second for introducing us in Mr. Boffo to a phrase we will doubtlessly be hearing a lot more of in 2017.

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Third Place: Dana Simpson’s Phoebe And Her Unicorn (nee Heavenly Nostrils) constantly and consistently delights with its brilliant observations on human / unicorn relations.

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Second Place: Another consistently brilliant strip, Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine earns second place for coming up with the best description of the Internet: Not as friendly as a prison riot.

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Grand Prize Winner: Two Guys and Guy by Rickard Jonasson starts out in pretty standard whimsical millennial observational humor territory but is shored up by flashes of screwball plotting and dark cynicism. If that sounds like one helluva blend, it is. Here Rickard takes home the (metaphorical) trophy for the single most compressed plot of all time.

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…and now the sad news:
This is my final Funniest Comic Strip Dailies. I still love the comic strip medium and have my favorites I’ll keep reading, but between increased work load, more difficulty in finding existing strips online, and the number of new web comics that come and go in the blink of an eye, I just don’t have the time to adequately look at a good representative cross selection of comics anymore.

This is a pity, because once upon a time comic strips were cultural touchstones for not just the entire nation but across borders as well. As hard as it is for us to grasp, Blondie actually spoke to people far away from the middle class American background of the strip.

No more. Calvin And Hobbes was perhaps the last comic strip to transcend all barriers and become a universal phenomenon. Today’s new strips are often quite good in terms of art and content, but media is now too fractured and too diverse, and even the most popular strips no longer speak to the planet as a whole.

So be it. Times change, and we must change with them.

There are numerous examples of comic strip finales, some poignant, some wry, some challenging, some uplifting, but none as damn final as Tony Millionaire’s Maakies which ended this year.

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Adios. See you in the funny pages.

 

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Two Sides, One Coin

30/12/2016

The Nation recently posted an article on how the great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson accurately predicted the political anger that fueled many of trump’s voters last November.

“…a belief in total retaliation for any offense or insult, is what makes the Hell’s Angels unmanageable for the police and morbidly fascinating to the general public. Their claim that they ‘don’t start trouble’ is probably true more often than not, but their idea of ‘provocation’ is dangerously broad, and their biggest problem is that nobody else seems to understand it. Even dealing with them personally, on the friendliest terms, you can sense their hair-trigger readiness to retaliate.”

”The ethics of retaliation” is a good insight on the motivation behind many — perhaps most — of trump’s supporters.

While it certainly includes many bona fide deplorables — i.e., those outright overt white racists who flocked so eagerly into trump’s camp — it also includes a lot of rank and file non-racist / non-sexist / non-bigoted people.

But here’s what The Nation overlooks:
Those engaged in the ethics of retaliation were not merely active pro-trump voters but passive aggressive Democratic voters who failed to show up for Clinton.

I’ve been paying attention to what a lot of trump voters have been saying and posting in the aftermath of the election.

Excluding those extremists who’re simply looking for validation of their malignant views, when you read the bulk of Trump voters’ posts (particularly white trump voters) and find the linking themes, you see two things:

They want security,
and they want status.

Now security covers a lot of territory, but everyone seems to be on page with living in a world where change occurs at a manageable pace, giving people time to adjust and prepare; people aren’t anxious for daily bread for themselves and their families (and this includes housing, health care, etc.); protection from random violence, be it common crime, terrorism, or enemy attack.

Status is less tangible, but it includes a sense of self-sufficiency insofar as one’s security needs are met primarily through one’s own efforts, and that one isn’t regarded as worthless by society.

Those last two thoughts are tightly linked, because the mindset behind them holds one either pulls their own weight or is a parasite.

It creates a tension with the desire for security because unless one is a hermit living in an isolated area with enough naturally growing food to survive and no humans or predators to fear, sooner or later you have to cooperate with other people for your mutual aid and protection.

To be secure, you need the cooperation of others…

To have status, you have to stand on your own…

As has been noted here and elsewhere, there were a lot of Very Unhappy People in this country, and they were unhappy for some very specific reasons.

Many of those reasons are irreversible:
We’re not bringing back the coal industry (it’s dying and has been for decades), we’re not bringing back manufacturing jobs (they’re not being shipped overseas or taken by immigrants so much as they are by machines), we’re not going to shore up cultural norms that were already starting to fade at the end of WWII.

We are on the cusp of a huge sea-change in human civilization, one that is going to alter everything for everyone around the world.

If we insist on playing the same old game, there’s going to be a lot of blood and pain and suffering for a lot of people.

If we listen to what people want, if we address those needs, we can avoid it and have a better tomorrow for everyone.

The key word is “everyone”.

Right now, today in the US of A, the two parties are mired down by ideological differences that are making it impossible to find viable real solutions to the problems facing us.

That’s got to stop.

They will not change themselves.

trump is a wake-up call — rather, trump is a big 55-gallon barrel of ice cold skunk juice dumped on the bed. The angry / upset / frightened / pissed off people who voted for him want some changes, and if those changes aren’t for the best and don’t come muy pronto we can expect some really ugly changes over the next twenty years.

If we all recognize that changes must be made, and that for anybody to survive then everybody must survive, then we can drastically shift not just this country but the rest of the world into something better.

But we are going to need to make the change together.

Otherwise nobody is going to make it at all.

The trump voters and Clinton non-voters were promised a Leave It To Beaver / Ozzie And Harriet future but that’s not happening. There are no meaningful jobs to pay them high wages and salaries so they can enjoy a faux-luxurious life.

And why should there be?

When you try talking to most economist or fans of libertarianism and / or laissez-faire, you find a shocking paucity of imagination: They cannot conceive of the world continuing to operate the way they have known it to operate all their lives.

They will argue that free markets have always existed and have always made the world a better place while conveniently overlooking the fact that for most of humanity’s history the divine right of kings and the use of armies of human slaves / peasants to get things done were the norm and only in the last three centuries have significant departures been made from that.

We are now seeing the dawning of yet another major change in the way the world will operate and that change is this: Very few humans will need to work.

No, strike that — very few humans will be needed to work.

We will have machines to do most jobs done by humans today, everything from brain surgery to replacing toilets (essentially the same basic programming when you think about it) to driving vehicles to a million and one things we can’t even think of them doing today.

The handful of humans who will be needed will fill very specialized niches, and will be rewarded quite handsomely for their efforts.

The vast majority of human beings
won’t have to do a damn thing.

Now, today’s economists — particularly those of a capitalist bent — will clutch their piles of ill-gotten wealth even closer to their bosoms and hiss ”parasites” at the thoughts of all those unemployed people, decrying them as useless.

Au contraire.

Those non-working people will be crucial to the economy of the future.

We’re going to pay them.

Not to work.
To play.

[to be continued]

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I Luvz Me Some ARRIVAL

28/12/2016

It took a month and a half to catch up with Arrival, but better late than never, no?

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Best sci-fi film I’ve seen in ages (and we’re counting Zootopia as sci-fi). It has everything I’m looking for in a sci-fi movie:

  • Good Writing
  • Good Story
  • Good Characters & Performances
  • Good Special Effects
  • Good Theme

Add to that a nice big slathering dollop o’Sense Of Wonder plus some aliens that finally look like they come from another planet and not some remote corner of this one and you’ve got about as perfect example of the high end of the genre as one could hope for.

Based on the Nebula Award winning “Story Of Your Life” by Ted Chiang from a script by Eric Heisserer. More of this and ratchet back the Star Wars / Alien / Blade Runner / superhero derived movies, please.

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Meaning it’s actually about something, and not just a series of money shots strung together to sell popcorn. I like whiz bang sci-fi as much as the next fanboy, but there’s more to the genre than action-adventure and monster movies disguised as sci-fi films.

Too often sci-fi films have A Really Cool Idea then try to tack on a romance or some pseudo-Oedipian melodrama to make the characters’ “relatable”. Arrival’s personal drama is absolutely essential to the story, and the film could not exist without either the sci-fi or the personal element. Go thou and do likewise, young sci-fi scribe…

Far too often in movies of any genre a romantic sub-plot is introduced to enable the presumably stereotypical female members of the audience to vicariously enjoy the story by identifying with the girlfriend of the real hero, or conversely to reassure the presumably stereotypical male members of the audience that the plucky heroine succeeded only because she had A Good Guy watching her butt back and allowing her Do What Needed To Be Done. Arrival has none of that and is much the better for it since it permits real drama to shine through.

Thankfully kept in balance throughout the film as director Denis Villeneuve steered clear of spaceship porn and just focused on telling the story, not dazzling us with extraneous details.

Rational beings with honorable intent will find ways of cooperating to everyone’s benefit.

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Let’s Look At How Santa Claus Is Portrayed In Other Countries

21/12/2016

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 …okay, let’s not…

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Writing Report December 21, 2016

20/12/2016

A lot of writing, but very little on my 2nd female barbarian story.

The first was rejected by the 2nd publisher I sent it to so expect to see it soon as a Kindle book(let). I’m planning on pricing it at 99-cents.

The second is still aimed at the third publisher, but I need to get back in gear on it. I’ve done no real work on it since last week other than a couple of notes to myself about what I should do.

I did write a short factoid (very short!) and rediscovered another one I’d written last month but forgot about (I tend to do that; once I’ve completed something or otherwise turned a corner, I put it down and walk away from it).

Both fall into an area I’ve been exploring more and more in my short fiction recently, the interaction of humans and AI, and the question of when and how AI will become truly sentient and self-aware and what the moral and ethical implications of that for both AIs and humans are.

When I get enough of those together,
I’ll probably put out a themed anthology.

Until then, I’m opting not to send them out
on the short-short / flash fiction circuit.

I don’t know what that market is looking for,
but based on the reactions I’ve received
on other work, this ain’t it…

mike-hinge-sci-fi-illoart by Mike Hinge

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fictoid: the fire eater and the yogi

16/12/2016

“I left you because you never made your
bed of nails,” the boardwalk fire eater said.
“Every damn night I’d come home and stick
one or two in my foot.  No thanks.”

“Those weren’t my nails,” the yogi said.
“Well, at least not the nails from my bed.”

“Then where did they come from?”

The yogi looked ashamed, cast down his eyes.
“My feet.  I’m bad about cleaning up after I clip my toenails.”

There was a long silence then the fire eater said,
“You are disgusting.”  He looked for the ice cream man
so he could wash the taste of revulsion and kerosene from his mouth.

.

.

.

text © Buzz Dixon

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Maui Wowie

7/12/2016

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Disney Animation has hit the temporarily envious position of finding their sweet spot and turning out one satisfying crowd pleasing hit after another.[1]

Moana is just such a crowd pleaser and while I still prefer Zootopia for its worldview, I had a great time with Moana as well.

I can understand why some people regard this as the best Disney animated film E.V.E.R.

The story is straight out of the Joseph Campbell playbook[2] but that’s what’s expected in this sort of a tale.

There are a few nods towards James Cameron’s
The Abyss in the form of the sentient ocean —

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— and a glowing manta —

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— and a call out to The Lion King which used
the exact same gag only with a Polynesian bent.

moana-timons-hula-in-the-lion-king

The digital world building is practically flawless and looks realistic enough to fool the average eye.

Disney has found the perfect blend of design and texture for the human characters, giving them streamlined unwrinkled faces (even Granny) with what looks onscreen to be the soft plastic texture of a doll’s skin.

moana-granny

It’s a smart choice insofar as it take the characters’ appearance right up to the edge of the infamous “uncanny valley” without actually falling in.

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Also of note — and if you haven’t been involved in animation this will probably escape you — was the film’s use of hair to help convey the characters’ mental state, with subtle changes in texture reflecting what’s going on emotionally with a character.[3]

Voice casting is pitch-perfect, with Auli’i Cravalho as Moana (age indeterminate; Maui refers to her as being eight but may have been sarcastic) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (and — yowsa! — is he ever good and not only that, he can sing!).

Disney, to their credit, took the time and made the effort to get as much authentic Polynesian input into the making / casting / recording of this film and it shows — even in areas where is doesn’t “show”.

A major sub-text of the story (and harkening back to Campbell) is how a culture defines itself.

Culture is based on the stories a society tells about itself. The stories may be told / sung / written / drawn / danced but they are expressed and reinterpreted generation to generation. Our stories reflect who we are and who we aspire to be, and in the end they are the only thing we leave behind that lasts.

Moana’s use of storytelling within the context of the story is extremely well done without becoming metatextual.[4] There are some pretty profound spiritual and theological themes present, too, which are pretty surprising for a “pagan” movie.[5]

Thoroughly enjoyed this, and on the fan boy side:

  1. I can’t wait for the inevitable Genie / Maui team-up
  2. Disney is missing a bet if they don’t try to turn the Kakamoras into their Minions.

moana-kakamora-ship

[1] I say “temporarily” because as Caesar and Patton can attest, all fame is fleeting, and the formula that makes you gold today is too precious to meddle with and tomorrow is will produce dross but you’ll keep doing it because that’s what made you gold in the past. You’re only as good as your last miracle.

[2] Quite literally so in several places, with not one but two — count ‘em, two — visits to an underworld where the hero(ine) returns with a boon.

[3] That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to most of you but holy shamolley, wotta tool for animators!

[4] Look it up. Whaddya think Google is for?

[5] In particular Moana’s moment of crisis and doubt when she feels she isn’t up to the task before her. Yeah, it’s an animated film set in ancient Polynesian myth, but it sure makes you feel what Jesus must have felt in the garden of Gethsemane.

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