Writing Beginnings That Don’t Suck (Writing Workshop)

Every great journey begins with a single step forward. Where your story is concerned, that first step is absolutely, without question, the most important one. Doesn’t matter how fantastic the rest of the book is, if the first few sentences don’t compel the reader into the next paragraph, and that paragraph doesn’t force them to finish the first chapter, then you’re sunk right out the gate.

Your opening line is the front line. It’s your readers first interaction with the story and everything, and I do mean everything, depends on those first few lines doing their job.

But it’s not just a matter of starting the story with whizz-bang-boom in the first few sentences and then resting on your laurels. That next paragraph has to latch onto your reader by the scruff of the neck like a rabid Daschund. The paragraph after that must add another meanie-weenie dog. The one after that? You guessed it. Another ferocious ankle biting fur-ball.

daschund

Ferocious and Delicious.

The first chapter of your story needs to heap puppy after puppy on the reader until they are crushed beneath the dog pile and couldn’t walk away even if they wanted to.

When it comes to opening your story, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we’re playing for keeps. By the way, what’s up with all these dog metaphors? Hm… we’ll get to the bottom of that later, for now, let’s focus on what really matters: Writing a Stellar Opening! Or, barring a stellar opening, let’s write something that doesn’t completely suck.

Onwards and upwards as they say!

Okay, so now we grasp the importance of a great opening, but what does that even mean? What does a great opening look like?

When done properly, we barely notice a great opening. You know why? Because we are so enthralled that we don’t even stop to consider the fact that we’ve fallen headfirst into this majestic world of centaurs and jello fueled jetpacks until we come up for our first huge mouthful of air which, depending on how strong your opening is, could be hours later.

So what does a good opening need? I’m glad you asked, please refer to the handy-dandy list I’ve compiled down below:

What Every Good Beginning Needs

1) Hook the Reader

Hooking the reader can be done in all sorts of ways. Maybe there’s something really compelling about your character. Does he/she have a unique voice? A weird perspective on the world that immediately clashes with our own? If you’re from a more literary bent, then the language itself could be the hook. Read some Patrick Rothfuss and right off the bat you’re hooked by the sheer beauty of language.

Quick note: Not everybody can pull off this sort of opening. Nine times out of ten I’d say people fail because they come off as flowery and pompous. You don’t want to be that guy, so tread carefully.
Inevitably, whether you have a compelling character or beautiful language, the beginning comes down to the hook. The reason why the reader should invest their time in your story.

Most books do this with a question. Will Mary figure out who put the Butcher’s head in her freezer? Will she figure out whether or not she thinks it’s kind of sweet and romantic or a little too forward and a bit creepy?

Most books get put down because the reader is bored. They aren’t compelled forward; they aren’t hooked. If that happens, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

2) Establish Bond With Lead Character

Right off the bat we want to know who’s skin we’re going to be living inside for the next couple hundred pages. Introduce us to your lead character and then make us feel something for her. Do it quick, you’ve only got a hundred or so words to really grab me and yank me in. Don’t waste time.

Refer to the post Cheating Your Way to Likable Characters for ways to establish this bond. Here’s a quick list for you lazy SOB’s out there.

Jeopardy

Hardship

Underdog

Vulnerability

Likability

Inner Conflict

Don’t know what any of that means? Too bad, go read that other post.

3) Present the Story-world

This doesn’t mean info-dump or take a paragraph to describe the skyline and the underlying political system governing your little world. In the beginning every word counts double, so figure out ways to introduce the story-wono dumpingrld without taking a step sideways to draw attention to the fact that you’re introducing us to the story-world.

I’ve done other post on exposition and infodumping (CLICK HERE and I’ll prove it), but here’s the nitty gritty to help you navigate the treacherous waters of your beginning.

Exposition

Act First, Explain Later: I’m not going to stop and explain why Daryl is about to shoot Wesley in the kneecap. I’m gonna do it, and you’re gonna trust that it’ll all make sense in the near future.

Comprende? Bueno. Now get over here Wes, Daryl’s got something for you.

Iceberg Explanation: Give us only 20 percent of what you think we need. Leave the rest underwater.
Information Inside Confrontation: Whenever possible use confrontation, or interaction with another human, to sprinkle information and propel the story forward.

Example:

/scene/

The gun bucked in Daryl’s hand harder than he expected. “That’s for fucking my wife.”

Wesley whimpered on the blistering plasticene sidewalk, clutching his gut. “I didn’t—”

Daryl didn’t have time for more lies. He took aim at the space between Wesley’s eyes and fired a second time.

/scene/

Notice a couple things. We jump straight into the action without introductions or back-story. Daryl thinks Wes slept with his wife, so there’s his motivation conveniently dispensed in the form of dialogue rather than some kind of internal monologue.

Is Daryl justified in his actions or is he a jealous asshole? Don’t know. Is he even our point-of-view character? Maybe. Maybe not.

For instance, perhaps he has his wife tied up in the back of the car and he’s gonna kill her next. Maybe she’s our main character and has to get away from her insane husband. Then again, maybe we find out she’s been cheating on him for decades and Daryl just learned none of his three children are actually his. Now we can at least sympathize with his anger.

Either way, at this point, we don’t know, but hopefully we’re intrigued enough to find out.

What’s a plasticene sidewalk by the way? Shrug. Not a clue. That’s just a bit of world building to give you an idea that this storyworld isn’t exactly like our own world.

Also, that very first sentence “the gun bucked harder than expected” gives us some idea that Daryl probably hasn’t fired very many guns in his lifetime. So where did he get this weapon? Did he buy it from a crack addict on the corner of 28th and MLK? Possibly.

I guess we’ll just have to read on to find out, huh?

4) Establish Tone

The above example is sort of morbid, huh? It has the sort of grit that would play well in a detective noir or mystery/thriller piece. Which is going to be awfully disappointing if the story you’re telling is supposed to be humorous or a romantic comedy. You need to set the mood immediately, give the readers no doubt as to what sort of story they are reading.

Seriously, don’t get cute and write a super-gnarly murder scene only to undo it at the end of the chapter with the old:

“Joe and Beth sat on the couch as the movie ended, wide eyed and traumatized. Nobody said a word. Perhaps Die Hardest: Oblivion Now wasn’t a good first date movie choice, Joe reflected.”

morgan

Now, the example from above is gritty, but we could easily tone it down into something more lighthearted with a bit of work.

Example:

/scene/

The gun bucked clean out of Daryl’s hand and landed in a puddle of rain water. Daryl stooped over to retrieve the weapon. “That’s for sleeping with my wife, douche-nozzel.”

“What the he–?” Wesley whimpered.

Daryl took aim at the space between Wesley’s eyes, compensated for the anticipated recoil, and fired a second time.

The bean-bag round glanced off Wesley’s kneecap.

/scene/

Is this funny? Probably not. I’m not good at comedy, but the take-away is that it sets an entirely different tone from the first example. The action is pretty much the same but instead of murdering Wesley, Daryl has resolved to use a bean-bag gun. A weapon he is clearly not familiar with.
The important thing is that right out of the gate, with both of the examples, you more or less know the sort of story you’re in for.

5) Compel The Reader To Move Forward

Never give the reader a reason to put your story down. Make it difficult for them to say, “That’s enough for tonight”, by always compelling them to move forward. This means asking a variety of big questions and little questions.

In the examples with Wesley and Daryl we have a couple questions revolving around what brought the two men to that place in their lives, and what’s going to happen next. But you can only string action along for so long before it becomes wearisome. Daryl can’t just sit there shooting Wes in the kneecaps all day long.

No matter how beautifully it’s written, eventually we’ll get bored.

That’s when you as the writer need to…

6) Introduce Opposition

Oh, would you look at that, what a conveniently placed talking point.

The beginning of your story needs to set the stage for the larger conflicts to play out.

How do we do that?

Well, start putting the protagonist in situations beyond his/her control. Introducing us to their nemesis might be a bit premature, because we haven’t really gotten to sympathize with our Lead yet, but we can start making their life suck.

For instance, in that first example we don’t really know what happened in the moments leading up to Daryl shooting Wes. Perhaps Wes was actually the one who tracked down Daryl with the intent of killing him so Wes could marry his wife? There was a struggle for the gun and Daryl came out on top and took revenge. Now, let’s say a patrolling robo-cop-dog has heard the gunshots and is going to arrest Daryl.

robodog

Seriously, what’s up with all the dog references in this post?

What does Daryl do? Run or stay?

Questions have been asked, and now our MC has some decisions to make.

On the other hand, if this is the lighthearted comedic romp with bean-bag guns and the like then perhaps Wes is actually Daryl’s boss and while he isn’t going to press charges (mostly on account of the fact that he’s planning on marrying Daryl’s wife following their soon-to-be divorce), he is most definitely going to fire Daryl.

Now Daryl’s losing his wife and job, but he got to shoot his asshole boss with a bean-bag gun, so that’s cool. What’s he going to do now?

Questions and decisions.

This is getting on the long side, so let’s wrap it up with a quick list of things not to do in your beginning.

NO:
-excessive description
-backwards glancing: ie: flashbacks or navel gazing.
-lack of threat. <—No lack of threat? That’s a weird sentence, but you’re a smart person, I’m sure you’ll figure out. Right? Right.

And those, folks, in a really wordy nutshell, are the key elements to a really good beginning. In the future we’ll talk more about this because it’s just so damn important, but for now I want ya’ll to boogie on down to the comments and tell me what some of your favorite opening lines/chapters are, and why.

Go on, butt-scoot on out of here.

Dog Reference Quota: Exceeded

Dog Reference Quota: Exceeded

Girls Rule and Boys Drool…for now!

Whew, the last couple days have been busy, busy, busy. I finished up the first draft of the novella I’m tentatively calling Nemesis and now I’m about elbows deep in the second draft. Coupled on top of that are the ongoing edits and redrafts of Infinity Lost and Mind Breach (books 1.5 and 2 in the Firstborn Saga respectively), so needless to say, this and last week have been very busy. By the way, that’s not a bad thing, and should by no means be taken as a complaint. I just wanted to lay the groundwork for why this post is technically a day behind schedule.

So for those of you with short term memory problems I’ll remind you that the other day I wrote about gender norms in the toy aisle, and since you have memory problems I’ll also remind you that you absolutely loved everything I said and agreed to give me a hundred dollar. Not sure why, precisely, but hey, they were your words not mine, so pay up already!

*quickly stuffs your money into my g-string* No take-backsies! Muahaha.

Oh, god… I tried finding a funny gstring picture for you all. Oh, jesus, I should of defined my search parameters more specifically than “guy in g-string”.

seen shit

Anyways, that post brought up some really good discussion points that I wanted to fondle a bit before moving onto the main topic.

– Boys had to sit in the backseat on the last post, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from advertising/toy companies shoddy gender stereotypes. As pointed out by a very astute commentator, we still live in a culture that perceives “masculine” as good and “feminine” as bad. Case in point, it’s okay for girls to dress as “boys” and play with “boy” toys, but the reverse is not true. Boys are ostracized for liking the color pink, or wanting to play with dolls, or glitter, or anything that has become part of our cultural lexicon as “feminine”.

Regardless, these terms are outdated in their scope and need to die quick, horrible deaths at the hands of a wood-chipper ala Fargo.

– My friend Zach pointed out that it’s lame the only two modalities seem to be either “pink princess” or “squinty eyed, scowling tomboy”. I think in particular he was calling me out for using the phrase “she kicks ass on her own terms and doesn’t take shit from noone.”

And rightly so. But I want to clarify what I meant.

There are a ton of ways to write your character whether it be male or female. The ones we typically get behind, however, are the ones that have strong agency. That is, they exert their will on the story rather than letting the story act on them. When I say, “she kicks ass”, I didn’t necessarily mean that literally (though in the case of this particular character–Black Widow–it was in reference to her beating some people up.

More so what I meant was simply that she has agency. She is doing stuff and making decisions that alter the course of the story. I use the phrase “kicks ass” because I’m lazy and rely on cliches to do a lot of my literary heavy lifting, so sue me.

Okay, moving on from that, as I promised in that last post, here are a couple of my favorite strong female leads. Not all of them physically kick ass, but for one reason or another, they all kick “figurative ass” much like little Riley in those videos I posted.

So here’s my top ten list in no particular order:

Lagartha Lothbrok – Vikings

lagertha

Vikings is pretty much the only show that the History channel has ever gotten right. Seasons one and two were amazing. Season three has been a bit of a let down for me, but hey, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, right Meatloaf? (Any 80’s children out there?)

vikings

Lagertha exerts her will constantly in one of the most patriarchal societies imaginable. She’s not afraid to mix it up with the boys, but she doesn’t act like one of the boys. And that’s amazing. With a character like this, it would be so easy to simply make her into a male with boobs. Thankfully the show creators haven’t done that and the end result is my second favorite character in the entire show.

Hermione Granger – Harry Potter Series

hermione granger

Hermoine kept popping into my head as I thought about this topic because she is the quintessential strong female character. Harry and Ron, like a couple nimkapoops, keep getting their heads stuck places they don’t belong (ya know, like between a railing or something).

If not for Hermione the Harry Potter franchise would’ve been one book long and a dud–mostly on account of the fact that Harry would’ve died within the first half of the first book. What I love about Hermione is the fact that she isn’t simply a scowly faced tomboy. She has her own lists of wants and desires and she enacts her will throughout the story to achieve those wants. Even more amazing is the fact that she does all this while effectively being a support character for the first five or so books.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Harry, our main character, is really lame when it comes to agency and having wants/wishes. He does very little throughout the story, it seems. Rather, a lot is happening to him, to which he reacts, but he’s not initiating much.

Shai – The Emperor’s Soul – Brandon Sanderson

shai

Brandon Sanderson takes a step away from writing the epic fantasy with this novella, for which he won a Hugo no less. If you haven’t read anything from Sanderson this might be a good starting point. It’s short and very accessible. Though, I’d argue all his stuff is accessible, they are rarely short. So there ya go.

Shai is an amazing character. Deep and insightful with twisted motivations that constantly keep you guessing. Whenever it seems as though she’s falling into a single category, she defies your expectations and changes in a subtle way.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Emperor’s Soul, Shai is a Forger who goes around using a complex magic system to create forgeries of priceless masterpieces. We pick up with her after she gets nipped by the boys in blue and we spend the rest of the story with her as she is given an impossible task to achieve, otherwise they’re gonna kill her. The way she works through her situation, and ultimately saves herself, are fantastic.

Miriam Black – Blackbirds – Chuck Wendig

blackbirds

Miriam Black is such an awesome character, but you don’t have to take my word for it, she’ll soon be coming to a television. I love this character because she is dark and gritty. Her past is troubling to say the least, but she doesn’t let that keep her down. She’s by no means an optimist, but she’s also not a fatalist. At no point does Miriam ever lay down and give up. The story tries to push her in one direction, and she shoves it right back, kicks it in the shin, and spits in its eye for good measure.

She kicks literal ass, but only ’cause she’s a scrapper. There is no high end special op’s training that allows her to twirly-bird her way through the bad guys. Instead, she gets in the muck and gets dirty, when she has too. Which is kind of a lot because she runs her mouth at a prodigious clip. But that’s who she is and she’s unapologetic about that to the extreme.

Miriam Black is a polarizing character, for sure, but nobody can ever accuse her of being weak-willed.

Alright Kiddos, that’s enough from me. Now it’s your turn. Get down to the comments and share your favorite female leads, or hey, if you want to be contrarian, tell us your least favorite female leads. That could be just as, if not more, entertaining!

Lego Back to the Future!!

I’m not gonna put too much effort into this blogpost seeing as how it’s a lazy Sunday morning and I’m still wearing sweatpants. But that’s okay, ’cause Back to the Future in Lego form pretty much takes care of itself. Sit back and relax.

Jupiter Ascending Review!

Jupiter Ascending, the latest from the Wachowski brothers (the guys that brought you such classics as The Matrix and Cloud Atlas), had me really psyched after seeing the trailer a couple months back. So psyched, in fact, that I made a little blog post about how psyched I was.

Stunning visual effects plus an all-star cast featuring Channing ‘the tater tot’ Tatum and Mila ‘too cool for school’ Kunis meant that this movie had potential right out the gate. A question lingered in the back of my mind though.. an insidious dark thing that sprang into a fully formed fear: what would the story be like?

From the onset, the premise is intriguing. Humans are much older than we know, having originated on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. Earth, therefore, is a colony held in trust by a large inter-galactic corporation that farms humans. Think Soylent Green in space. There ya go, now you’re getting the picture.

soylent green

All the pieces were there, or so it seemed, for a fantastic movie. But still I worried that Jupiter Ascending would suffer the same fate as a Michael Bay movie, flashy lights, big explosions, no substance. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that sort of movie as much as the next red-blooded, emotionally stunted, American male, so I was prepared to enjoy this movie one way or the other.

Did I? Did I enjoy it?

Nope.

It was painful.

First, there is a lot of action. I’m guilty of committing the same sin in my debut novel, Time Heist, so I won’t fling too many stones. At its root, this is an sci-fi action adventure, and so there should be a fair amount of action.

So, what’s the problem? Well, halfway through the movie, the storytellers try forcing a love angle down our throats. Mila starts throwing herself at Channing like a starry eyed teenager.

starry eyed

Channing doesn’t immediately reciprocate which gives Mila more awkward opportunities to seduce him. But the relationship doesn’t work, at all, because up to this point the two characters have exchanged less than a dozen lines on screen. Channing rescues the hell out of Mila, but that’s not a firm footing for any relationship.

Okay, I understand there’s probably a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on here, but still, for the audience watching from the outside in it is simply painful. Like watching two middle-schoolers trying to tell the world how their love is special and different and nobody understands them!

spider man love

*insert appropriate amount of adolescent angst*

I expect this sort of awkward relationship building in Tween movies like Twilight or Divergent, but Jupiter Ascending was billed as an adult movie, and therefore this sort of quasi-love story implodes upon itself like a Flan in the cupboard. <— obligatory Eddie reference for the day.

Forget the love story for a second and let’s deal with a few other gripes. Channing Tatum is supposed to be the heart-throb, right? And what’s more heart-throbby than having him run around shirtless for half the movie?

Seriously, it was gratuitious, and perhaps forgivable, if not for the fact that Tatum is sporting a bit of a gut throughout. Not sure if this is an attempt to buck the Hollywood notion of “normal body type”, but I can’t take him seriously as an intergalactic badass mercenary for hire while packing all that extra insulation.

Does that make me a dick with unrealistic expectations of body type? Sure. I have a blog scheduled for later this week which will talk, in great length, about body image in the media, so let’s wait until then to get knee deep in the muck.

Next, let’s talk about anti-gravity boots, which Tatum uses to ‘ice skate’ through the air. The concept is neat, they allow him to fly and dance through the air like an ice princess. This technology alone lets him defeat countless bad guys but the problem is it looked really lame on screen.

channing tatum

An awkward amount of piggy back riding.

And that’s a bad problem where cool new technologies are concerned. You want your audience saying, “Neato, I want those.” Not, “Oh, weird. That looks awkward.”

Unfortunately, Tatum spends a large portion of the movie utilizing these grav-boots, so you get more than your daily recommended dose of awkwardness. Bummer.

Alright, let’s stop ripping Tatum, who actually does a fine job throughout the movie, and let’s talk about Mila Kunis. Mila is the heart-throb of Hollywood right now. She’s funny and pretty, but god she is not cut out for action movies. Pay attention to Mila when things start blowing up and you’ll notice how she runs from point A to point B, spins in a dramatic circle searching for an exit, runs to point C where she stumbles whilst flailing her arms wildly, catches herself on a railing, and then runs to point D.

The problem? Well, its like somebody wrote out the instructions for her, like I just did, and then said, “Here, act this out.” It was painful, like watching a B-list Horror movie where the big breasted blonde runs awkwardly through the woods, fleeing the chainsaw wielding bad guy.

Also, they cast the big bad guy of the flick as this soft spoken, effeminate aristocrat. He whispers all his lines with the exception of three high pitched squeaks he emits to show just how cranky he really is.

eddie-redmayne-jupiter-ascending-1-700x350

Great actor, horrible bad guy.

Him and Mila get into it, they have a knock down, slug out fight, but it just doesn’t work. It’s like watching kindergartners have a slap-fight whilst trying to pull each others hair.

Not exactly the big-boss battle you want to see.

Oh well, it’s over. It’s behind me with only minimal psychological scarring to show for it. If you’re on the fence about seeing Jupiter Ascending, do yourself a favor and pass. If you really want to see it, like I did, then go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you never wanted to see Jupiter Ascending, but read this review anyhow, well… jeepers, there might be something wrong with you, but you’re my kind of broken. Here’s a cat video to make it all better!

*Edit* I totally forgot the cat video! Thanks Ron for the reminder!*

Anthony

Agent Carter

agent carter

Agent Carter, if you don’t know, follows Peggy Carter, Captain America’s Best Girl (when did we stop referring to people as the best girl? I like the ranking system this label implies), as she works for SSR which is some branch of the United States Intelligence community, maybe similar to the CIA?

The show itself is pretty intriguing for a number of reasons so let’s go through them in alphabetical order (beware: I take it as my duty as a writer to break the alphabet atleast once a day, so I hope you aren’t expecting anything other than a random assortment of pros and cons.

1) Agent Carter tackles the topic of gender equality in the 1940’s/50’s which, if you didn’t know, weren’t so good. Take for instance the fact that in the office Peggy works in there is a fella named Sousa who got shot in the leg (actually I don’t know if he got shot, fell down stairs, or just has a really bad muscle cramp, but he does perambulate with a crutch so deduce from that what you will).

sousa

But anyways, there is what everybody refers to as a handicapped individual in the ranks of SSR and the general thought process during that time period was he was intrinsically less valuable than a fully-able bodied individual. That carries it’s own questions of normative perspective for the time but lets focus on Peggy, because poor Peggy, in the eyes of the others, is worth less than even Sousa.

She’s good for getting sandwiches and coffee, but not much beyond that. It’s almost painfully offensive at times, but I think that’s a good thing. As a society we shouldn’t be able to forget our close-mindedness so quickly (it’s only been 60 years after all). There are still many groups out there who are treated as women were in the ’40’s and I imagine in 60 years our grandkids will be watching shows that don’t cast us in entirely pleasant light.

Eh, we’ll call that generational drift.

Anyways, what’s so great about Peggy Carter is that she doesn’t complain about being treated differently, doesn’t throw a fit and say “this isn’t fair” even when those open-minded males in her life adamentally point out that the men in her office will never take her seriously.

Peggy’s inevitable response is, “Well then it’s my job to change that.” As a character, Peggy is oozing “agentcy” (<–eh, that’s really bad wordplay and I apologize. I will self-administer fifty lashings now). Even in situations where Peggy has been stripped of power and control, somehow she wrestles it back without a word of complaint.

equality

I love this type of character and I love this type of mindset. So, things aren’t going your way, bitching will change nothing, do something about it. Even if you fail atleast you gave the effort, and in many cases, that is enough.

2) I love the 1940’s authentic feel of the show. They take much liberty with technologies (which we’ll get into later) but as a whole, from costuming to props, the show just has this stylized vibe I’ve really been enjoying, which is unique because typically I’m not terribly fond of anything pre-1980’s stylistically speaking. But hey, that’s a reflection of when I was born more so than anything else.

3) Why am I numbering things again? I thought we were alphabetizing?

C) One of the things that this show wasn’t doing for me, however, was hitting me on an emotional level. They killed off a fairly prominent character after a couple episodes in and truth be told I had zero emotional reaction to it. He died in the line of duty which is usually enough to get me teary-eyed (what can I say, I’m a sucker for people suffering when they’re just doing their jobs), but this time? Nothing, zero, zilch.

And this isn’t an isolated incident, unfortunately. Throughout the show I’ve had a hard time connecting emotionally with any of the characters, Peggy Carter included. They allude to the fact that she misses Captain America and, what with being a strong willed woman in a male dominated profession, she can’t afford to let any emotion show lest she be labeled an “overly emotional woman”. I sympathize with that plight, but ultimately I have a hard time caring about most of the characters.

Now, let me do the old switcheroo and say this: Jarvis, the butler (who is from an acting standpoint the star of the show I think) has succeeded in getting me to care about his character, so there’s that.

Oof, that man makes a mean sandwich.

Oof, that man makes a mean sandwich.

Also, Agent Thompson who up until the last episode was the biggest bigot of bigots has confessed some things, and done some things in the last episode, that make him entirely sympathetic and relatable. That they’ve taken the biggest jerk and done this is both interesting, and impressive. I’m excited to see how they develop this dynamic in the future.

Okay, I lied, Agent Sousa, the guy with a really bad leg cramp, also tugs on my heartstrings a bit, so maybe I was being a bit disingenuous when I said I was having a hard time connecting with any characters. I’m wishy-washy, leave me alone!

Please, don’t leave me! I need you!

Um…*cough cough*, okay forget that blatant display of male emotional fragility and lets move on.

My big complaint about this show, if there is one, is the technology. I like fantastical technology as much as the next guy, but some of these things are downright ludicrous. Now, to explain for those who have not watched the show, this is because Howard Stark, Tony Stark aka Iron Man’s dad, has had his cache of super-top-secret technological gizmos stolen. Every episode, therefore, deals with the quest to return this devices before they can usher in the next cold age or whatever.

Okay, fine, I’ll let this slide because it add to the drama, gives a sense of story and purpose, and who doesn’t like shiny, new toys.

So, what do you think? Have you watched Agent Carter and, if so, what are your thoughts? Get down to the comments and whisper some sweet-digital nothings into my cyber-ear.

Anthony

Interstellar Review

There’s been a lot of hullaballoo about Interstellar in the past few months. The hard science fiction aficionados of the world (read: guys who like their science to be accurate) have had a collective boner/lady boner for this movie for quite sometime. We’ll get to why that is in just a few short paragraphs.

Interstellar starts at some undetermined point in the future after the blight has come through, wiped out all our food supplies, and brought dust storms of epic proportions.

Two things real quick.

First, I love the word blight. Something about it gives me chills. Is it too late to rename Time Heist? Maybe Time Blight? Stop the presses! Interesting aside, while I love the word blight, it is so rarely used, unless you’re reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (which I am) and you watch Interstellar (which I did), in which case you’ve probably had your fill of that damn word.

Second, apocalyptic dust storms = totally not a sexy Armageddon. I pray as a species we find a more interesting way to annihilate ourselves.

Back on topic, go!

Interstellar, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Think The Dark Knight), has a killer cast. Matthew McCanaienah…uh.. I’m gonna need a spellchecker over here.

Mmm. Dreamy.

Mmm. Dreamy.

Screw that. This guy———>

Ya also got that Anne Hathaway lady, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, the kid from That ’70’s Show who’s name I won’t even bother looking up because it might as well be Eric Foreman. I care that little.

So, A-list actors? Check.

Enormous Budget? Probably also a check.

The movie starts off strong. Gets you into the world and does a great job establishing a relationship between the father (Matty Mac-C), Cooper, and his daughter, Murph, which pretty much defines the entire movie, so it’s kind of important. They do a pretty good job with it, too.

Cooper gets called up to make a pizza run across the universe, ya know, cause he’s the only one with the unique skill set for such a job. He reluctantly takes it and peaces out, saying sayonara Gramps, watch my kiddo’s. And don’t let Murph get into the oreos cause you know how she gets when she’s hopped up on cancer cookies.

I’m starting to diverge from the actual movie plot, but you can keep up, right?

Anyways, this part of the movie is intriguing because it asks some interesting questions. Such as, do parents stop having dreams and ambitions when their children come along? Do they lose the right to those dreams and ambitions? Now, Cooper surely loves his children, but he raises the valid point that he needs to go and be him, to be the thing he was born to be.

I don’t have kids so I won’t weigh in on that particular topic, but I’d love to hear your guys’ thoughts. What responsibilities to parents have to their children? Does it come at the cost of their own individuality, their own existence, their own lives?

So, Cooper bounces, waves goodbye to planet Earth in the rear-view mirror, and heads off to a wormhole that will take them to a different galaxy where hopefully they can find a new planet the plague known as humanity can set up shop.

Here’s where the sci-fi nerds start busting out the lube. In the process of making Interstellar, Nolan and the other writers wanted to be as scientifically accurate as possible. As such they hired a bunch of scientists to figure what things like a wormhole or blackhole or stinky star would look like. They put their heads together, made some doodles, and surprise, surprise, actually made a scientific discovery.

What?!?!?

Yeah, they actually figured out what a black hole would look like. Think about that and then go ahead and do the unthinkable, give Hollywood the old tip o’ the cap.

And here’s more or less what it would look like.

Puurdy

Puurdy

Awesome. And this is one of those times you really got appreciate what Nolan did. He made a science fiction movie where the science was actually legit and engaging. Granted around the 90% mark of the movie, things start getting pretty wonky, but hey, that’s theoretical physics for you. Those guys are nutters.

Final thoughts? I actually liked the movie. It could have been about 30 minutes shorter, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad problem. Interestingly enough, while the movie was visually stunning, with awesome science, and cool new worlds to explore, it was that human dynamic between Cooper and Murph that really stuck with me. Which is all you can ever ask for from a story. Based on that alone I think the movie is worth seeing.

If you need a second reason, hell… do it ’cause you’ll learn something really nifty about wormholes that made me feel slightly stupid for never having thought of before.

Have you seen Interstellar? What’d you think? What was your favorite character? How badly did you want to kick Matt Damon in the nuts? Leave a comment and let me know.

Anthony

Pacific Rim

Couple summers back I saw previews for Pacific Rim which coincided a bit too closely with the release of Transformers, which was definitely too close to Transmorphers (don’t know what that is? Netflix that shit. Pure cinematic gold) for my tastes. Enormous human driven mech’s fighting gargantuan monsters from a different dimension in the ocean? It seemed like a pretty dubious starting point. Add to the mix that I’ve never really gone in for the Godzilla/King Kong massive monster destroying uber-city of your choice plot line, and I was skeptical enough to stay away for quite a while.

Transmorphers! Yeah, Buddy!

Transmorphers! Yeah, Buddy!

Now, recently, somebody who shall remain nameless, but who’s taste in sci-fi is one I respect, kept telling me how awesome Pacific Rim is. Honestly, I thought they were dicking with me. It didn’t seem so far fetched that next they would try selling me on some cheap beach-side real estate in Florida.
‘Cause swamps totally count as beach-side, right?
Well, after seeing Pacific Rim, I’m not so sure I want to be anywhere near the ocean ever again.
So, I bit the bullet, made some delicious home-made pizza that totally didn’t give me food poisoning which is only slightly more surprising than the fact that I actually enjoyed Pacific Rim.
I know, I hate myself for it.
Anyways, I love pretty much everything else Guillermo Del Toro has directed, so I figured it couldn’t be a complete waste.
First thing you’ll really notice about Pacific Rim is that they didn’t skimp on the CGI budget. The kaiju’s (read: big beasts) are each unique, bad-ass, and scary-as-hell. The jaegers—what the movie refers to their mechs’—are nothing special, but they are a step up from Megazord in the Power Rangers, so I consider that a win.
Second thing you’ll notice is that the science in this movie hasn’t been thought through very well. They introduce some awesome concepts, but then intentionally water them down with really arbitrary caveats. Such as, it takes two pilots to “mind drift”—effectively they link minds—to move these hulking bits of metal around.

God we look good when we're synchronized!

God we look good when we’re synchronized!

Each pilot is in charge of one “hemisphere” of the machines supposed brain, so one guy is in control of the right arm and leg, the other guy man’s the left.

 

This is downright silly. Ok, you suspend your disbelief long enough to accept the fact that they have the technology to link minds and manufacture jaegers the size of skyscrapers, but somehow they can’t come up with a better way to pilot these damn things? I mean, shit, give one guy the legs, the other guy the arms.
Have you ever done the three legged walk with a buddy at your dad’s company picnic? Yeah, well imagine that, but trying to fight a roid-raging monster from a different dimension, and you’re gonna be clumsy as fuck.
Anyhow, let’s look past that. We’ll even look past the part where one of the kaiju’s releases an EMP which shuts down all the other jaegers except our heros because, get this, their analog. They’re engine is nuclear.
Never-mind all the electronics we see on a near constant basis in the cockpit. I’m sure those are all analog, too.
But seriously, whoever came up with that should be publicly shamed. Just lazy writing.
Ok, let’s look past that, too. Surprisingly for all the plot holes and lazy writing throughout the story, the part that had me pulling my hair was when at the end of the movie one of our main character jumps into the ocean with her full-metal suit that must way a metric-shit-ton, and swims to her partner.
Have you ever tried swimming with shoes on? That’s hard enough. Ever done it with metal shoes? And shoulder pads? And the equivalent of a large child actively trying to drown you?
Well, if you haven’t, allow me to inform you how impossible that simple act most assuredly was.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably getting the impression that I really disliked the movie, which if you read the beginning of this rant, you’ll realize is not the case.
Despite the movie’s really liberal use of science and physics, it was actually a really fun movie. The action was fun, the fight scenes great, and ya know, all things told, the acting could have been worse. If you like mindless action with really pretty things going boom, (pretty much I’m saying if you like any Michael Bay movie) then you’ll probably get a kick out of this. I mean, come on, Godzilla isn’t exactly sound science, and that’s entertaining as hell.
Just don’t look too deep, otherwise the gaping plot holes will suck you in.

Let me leave you with something pretty awesome. If you’re into kaiju, which I’m assuming you are if you’ve bothered to read this far. There was a great anthology that came out a little ways back called Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters that a buddy of my Peter Stenson wrote a hilarious story for. If you’re looking for a bunch of awesome, diverse stories, you should definitely check it out.

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Anthony Vicino