Four weddings, a funeral and Supergirl: movies and TV

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994) stars Hugh Grant in his career-making role as a commitment-phobic Brit who beds Andie McDowell, a more sexually experienced American, in the aftermath of a friend’s wedding. He’s hooked, but she’s flying home; over the following three weddings and a funeral, they keep meeting, bedding and discovering reasons they can’t be together — one of the weddings is hers, for instance and not to Grant (Romantic Comedy might make a good double-bill for a couple who are similarly never available at the same time). A funny, charming rom-com with a cast that includes Rowan Atkinson as a mumble-mouthed minister and Kristin Scott-Thomas as one of Grant’s buddies. “There’s nothing more off-putting at a wedding than a priest with an enormous erection.”

I found SUPERGIRL‘s third season an exercise in frustration. The cast is great (Smallville‘s Erika Durrance didn’t add much as the new Alura) Melissa Benoist is always winning, we got a visit from the Legion of Super-Heroes. Storywise, the season’s big arc — a battle against a gen-engineered Kryptonian called Reign arriving on Earth — seemed to run out of steam well before the end. Supergirl and her team spend a lot of time worrying that more “world killers” are on the way, but when two more show up, they’re disposed of laughably quickly. The show still seems unsure what to do with Jimmy Olsen, Alex’s romance with Maggie Sawyer just flatlined and I really hope they don’t turn Lena Luthor evil — she’s much more interesting as the one good member of her clan. The one good arc involved J’Onn reuniting with, and ultimately losing his Martian father.

More generally, this is the third time we’ve had a menace tied to Krypton as the big bad, and I wish they’d stop. It feels like they’re paralyzed and unable to move beyond the Kryptonian threat of Superman II but they’ve had plenty of minor Earthborn adversaries. There’s no reason they can’t do one more formidable (just not Lena, please!). But while I’m unenthused about picking up Arrow next season, Supergirl‘s still on my list.

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I didn’t actually work this week

It was our annual trip to the Mensa national gathering, this time in Indianapolis. I’ll be blogging about it next week. However as this marks halfway through the year, I thought I’d look again at how my Plot Your Work Planner helped me accomplish goals (or didn’t). Or if you prefer, how well I did by the metrics I wrote into it.

Much to my surprise, I did pretty well. Which is a fringe benefit of writing down goals — it’s much easier to see how much I actually got done. Taking the April to June goals, one at a time:

Southern Discomfort went well. I’m actually further along in the final draft than I expected. I have a cover letter drafted (I’ll be revising it), though I didn’t finish my synopsis.

•I completed 30,000 words on the Undead Sexist Cliches book.

•I released Atlas Shagged in hard copy (it’s also available in ebook).

•I finished another draft The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I think I’ve figured out how to fix the problems — we’ll see if my reasoning holds up (I want to get at least half of the revised draft done in the next three months)

•I made some final changes to Questionable Minds, submitted it, and got turned down. I’m ready to go ahead and self-publish this one (though not right away). After all, Barbarian Books accepted it before closing their doors, so I have an outside verification it’s worth reading.

What I didn’t get done: Short stories. I wanted to have No One Can Slay Her done back in March and another story (probably Angels Hate This Man) in June. Nope. Neither done, though No One‘s pretty close — a final draft should have it done, but I have to work out the final fixes first.

Given I was also doing Screen Rant and all my Leaf articles, that’s pretty good results, I think. And the planner is definitely helping me keep track of things — I intend to order another one for 2019.

#SFWApro. All rights to journal design remain with current holder. Atlas Shagged cover is mine; painting is Atlas and the Hesperides by Singer-Sargent.

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Squirrels are the very devil

By the middle of the week, we had three almost ripe tomatoes in TYG’s container garden. We had some green tomatoes that looked like they’d be big and plump enough for fried green tomatoes this weekend (I’ve never made them but TYG’s keen on me trying).

We had one of the red ones and it was perfect.

The squirrels got the other two red ones. And the green ones. And by “got” I don’t mean ate — they yank them off the vine, and then just leave them uneaten. Apparently they don’t learn that they’re inedible, or forget, or the sheer number of squirrels means there’s always one who doesn’t know she won’t like them.

We knew this from past summers. TYG got some metal netting, but it wasn’t easy to work with so we just gave up. I tried moving the plants into the center of the deck, figuring that maybe the squirrels wouldn’t take them if they had to climb off the fence. I was wrong.

Next year, I shall start figuring how to tomato-block the squirrels well in advance of the planting. The tomatoes will be ours!

This year, not so much.

Bummer.

At least the bird feeder’s squirrel proof.

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Links on writing and sort-of related topics

John Scalzi on the difference, if any, between art and entertainment.

Doris Egan on why no amount of research will guarantee a totally accurate book. And ways you can cheat without readers objecting.

Egan again, on heroes whose problems are unsolvable.

The simmering resentment of some Star Wars fans for movies with female heroes depresses me. As Greg Hatcher points out at Atomic Junkshop, they’re on the side of the empire.

Writer Nicole Dieker discusses how self-publishing changed between her first and second novels, and why the second sold so much less.

There’s a lot of gold in dragon hoards. What would happen when the heroes bring it out?

With net neutrality over and AT&T merging with Time Warner, what will it take for Netflix to survive?

Why Pixar makes so many sequels.

Some fans argue that everything Dr. Strange does (or doesn’t do) in Infinity War ispart of his master plan. At the link, an argument on the theology of Dr. Strange and why the argument is unconvincing.

The history of politics and race in country music.

Trends in romance book covers.

And to wrap up, here’s a wild cover. Art regrettably uncredited.

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It’s July 4, and I have nothing deep to say

Given the unpleasant results that are undoubtedly in the offing from Justice Kennedy’s retirement, I don’t feel inspired to pen a soaring hymn to America. But then again, I’m not ready to declare America’s experiment in democracy over. So I’ll turn this post over to some other speakers

“Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you.”—FDR

“Opposition to tyranny is obedience to God.”—Benjamin Franklin

“Unhappy the land that has no heroes.”
“No—unhappy the land that needs heroes.”—Bertold Brecht

An African had no doubts about the meaning of the word ‘freedom.’ It meant the right to public assembly, the right to physical movement, the right to make known his views, the right to elect men of his choice to public office, and the right to recall them if they failed in their promises. At a time when the Western world grew embarrassed at the sound of the word ‘freedom,’ these people knew that it meant the right to shape their own destiny as they wished.”—Richard Wright

“You know, there’s not a single solitary example on the planet, not one, of a country that is successful because the economy has triumphed over the government and choked it off and driven the tax rates to zero, driven the regulations to nonexistent and abolished all government programs, except for defense, so people in my income group never have to pay a nickel to see a cow jump over the moon. There is no example of a successful country that looks like that.”—Bill Clinton

“We have to save the people in front of us, not murder the ones we’ve never met.”—G. Willow Wilson

“Law, when it ceases to be justice, ceases even to be law.”—G.K. Chesterton

“The American Dream is not that a few of us will get to be rich, but that all of us will have a fair portion of the good things in life. Time to be with our families. The chance for our children to get an education and the opportunity to make their own way in the world. Laws that protect us, not oppress us”—Richard Trumka

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory”—Howard Zinn.

“A nations of sheep will beget a government of wolves” – Edward R Murrow

“Evil, really, is the implicit in the narcissism of the illogical step that ‘because this is not mine, it is wrong.'”— commenter on slacktivist.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. ~ Desmond Tutu

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”—John Adams

“The powerful very often respond to a demand for respect by ignoring the content and saying ‘Shh, lower your voice!'”—Kit Whitfield

Cover images by Lou Fine — all rights remain with current holder.

 

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Character in The Thief of Baghdad

As I mentioned Saturday, I love Alex Korda’s The Thief of Baghdad. Rewatching last month, I was struck by the way the film handles several of the key characters.

Abu. Abu, the young thief played by Sabu, has absolutely no qualms about stealing food from vendors in the Baghdad markets. He’s gluttonous and selfish, although when Ahmad needs help, Abu reluctantly gives him whatever he needs (the advantage of dividing the romantic lead and the real hero is that they’re at least a little conflicted). But what I noticed was that in his first appearance, Abu watches a couple of beggars turned away by a fish vendor. He then sneaks a couple of fine grilled fish away, but rather than eat them himself, he throws them to the beggars (the owner does not see this, of course) before running off. It’s as much an act of mischief as charity (Sabu plays very mischievous) but it is charitable. It makes it clear that thief or not, we can root for Abu.

Jaffar. The thing about Veidt is that he truly loves the princess. Oh no question it’s an evil, possessive and obsessive loveut the looks of desperate longing on his face when he beholds her makes it clear his heart aches. He could magically compel her to love him, but he won’t; he wants real love, not enforced (though he’s quite willing to wipe her memory at one point so she forgets Ahmad, in hopes that’ll give him a clear field).

Happily the movie does not imply this makes him a nice character or redeemable or sympathetic. He’s a villain, willing to kill her along with Ahmad when he realizes the princess (who never actually gets a name) will never be his. But it does add some shading to his character. I don’t know if the same thing would have worked on the printed page — it’s all in Conrad Veidt’s performance.

The Sultan. As the Sultan of Basra, Miles Malleson (who wrote a lot of the dialog) initially appears to be a comical eccentric in the classic British style. He’s a lovable fuddy-duddy who collects toys and automatons of all kinds, including a prototype clock (leading to Jaffar’s warning that the people must never know about this: “Once they can tell time, they’ll wonder how time is spent.”). He seems so utterly lovable as he tells Jaffar the wonderful thing about toys is that they do exactly what he wants, exactly the same way, every single time. “My subjects,” he sighs, “don’t do what I want every time. That’s why I have to chop off so many of their heads.”

It’s delivered in the same fuddy-duddy tone as all his other lines. It’s all the creepier for that. To cement the fact he’s not one of the good guys, he then trades his daughter’s hand to Jaffar in return for Jaffar’s new, cool automaton. It’s still hard to think of him as a bad guy — I can’t help feeling a little sorry when Jaffar sends him to the arms of the prophets — but bad he is indeed.

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Never forget what they want

So a few days ago, I read an article about some well off Trump-supporting retirees in Central Florida. Much like some of their brethren in the Panhandle where I used to live, they waxed nostalgic about the old days when “there’s law and order and people take care of each other”

Slacktivist reminds us the world they’re nostalgic for was one where segregation was quiet and orderly and black people didn’t fuss too much (“Eight Negros on roster to be housed and fed in private homes, not at team headquarters at Floridian Hotel, Tampa. Both club and hotel said they never had difficulty and not rocking the boat.”).
To be fair, some of them may not actively long for Jim Crow to come back, or for blacks to sit in the back of the bus. But I have a strong feeling they’d be okay with it. Certainly preferable to all that marching and complaining black people did, or when they insisted on getting into good white schools. The world was so much nicer when black people just stayed quiet.
 
As Martin Luther King said, it’s always nice and peaceful when the Israelites are content to sit and make bricks. It’s never peaceful when they start pushing to get out of Egypt. But loss of peace is the only way to get to the Promised Land.

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Disappointing fantasies with female protagonists

Laini Taylor’s writing style on her Y/A DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE is really clunky (too much head-hopping, for instance) but it got me interested in the early chapters for the sheer amount of weird stuff, such as a nonhuman sorcerer collecting necklaces of teeth, a stalking angel and a teleporting blue-haired girl living in Prague. It got less imaginative as it went along, and switching to another POV character, Madrigal, for several chapters didn’t work at all for me. But the weird bits were memorably weird.

ROOK by Sharon Cameron is set in a post-apocalyptic world that happens to resemble France and England during the Reign of Terror (which doesn’t really make sense, but I’m willing to grant the premise), with the mysterious Red Rook — AKA impoverished English noblewoman Sophia — rescuing prisoners sentenced to die under “the Razor” (Cameron acknowledges the Scarlet Pimpernel influence). This starts off well, but runs too long to keep up the energy. A bigger problem is that while Sophia starts off daring and swashbuckling, once her fiancé gets involved Cameron gives him the leadership role and reduces Sophia to sidekick (as this is part romance, I wonder if Cameron was trying to create a romantic figure and just went over the top). Disappointing

WONDER WOMAN: Heart of the Amazon by Shea Fontana (and other writers and artists) suffers from some really poor art that doesn’t work at all (maybe a lighter, sweeter story). The story is stretched out too far, but the scheme to use Wonder Woman’s blood for sinister purposes isn’t bad, and the various writers play up her compassion, which the New 52 tends to forget about. Not a winner, but far from the worst WW I’ve read.

DEPT H. by Matt Kindt has a great concept — female protagonist investigating a murder at a deep-sea lab — but it really didn’t work for me. Too much time spent fleshing out the protagonist and establishing the set-up rather than getting going. It would work as the first couple of chapters in a mystery novel, but not as a standalone.

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A world I’d LOVE to live in: Thief of Baghdad (1940)

When I was around 10 or 11 I found a copy of The Arabian Nights in a classroom back in England. I’d often spend recess sneaking back inside and reading it. I fell in love with this strange, foreign world, and the strange stylized way people talked. It’s truly a world I’d love to live in, where even beggars and lowly laborers can stumble into wonders. So even though THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940) is orientalist and probably cultural appropriation (all the leads but Sabu are white Europeans), I honestly don’t care. I love this one.

The movie opens as the sinister Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) arrives in Baghdad where his female agent (Mary Morris) has located a blind man (John Justin) and his dog. The blind man, Ahmad, tells how he was the sultan of Baghdad until his vizier, Jaffar, usurped the throne. Fleeing Jaffar, Ahmad falls in with Abu (Sabu), a street thief. Abu’s dream is to travel the world and see its wonders, but he reluctantly accompanies his new friend to Basra to seek help from the Sultan there. Instead, Ahmad falls in love with Basra’s beautiful princess (June Duprez) — whose automaton-loving father (Miles Malleson) has agreed to give her to Jaffar in return for a new clockwork toy, a flying horse. And Jaffar does not want competition for the lady’s heart …

This movie is just a delight. Genies, flying horses and magical transformations, memorable performances by Sabu, Veidt and Malleson (I’ll be writing some about them next week) — not to mention Rex Ingram as a mocking genie — the fantasy-Arabian style of dialog (“This is no dog but the reincarnation of a debt collector!” “Where have you come from, beggars of no importance?”), cool sets and everything in lush technicolor.  It’s a spectacle (producer Michael Korda believed you go big or you don’t go at all) and some great music in the background. Justin and Duprez are less memorable actors than the rest of the cast but they’re good enough. “In the morning, unless the sun stops still and never rises, we die.”

This being the Criterion edition, Thief has two commentary tracks, both interesting, and a documentary on the special effects (this was the first film to use blue screen as a technique). It also includes THE LION HAS WINGS (1940) a less memorable WW II morale booster director Michael Powell made in the middle of Thief. The film is a documentary showing how Britain has spent the years since the Great War working to give its citizens a better life and protect their freedom, in contrast to the militaristic desire of Germany to Conquer, Conquer, Conquer (offhand references to the British Empire are now just reminders that England did its share of conquering). It also reassures viewers that having gotten past the whole appeasement thing, Britain’s industrial machine is cranked up to 11 and ready to win the air war as well as the land war. It’s good-looking, but like a lot of WW II propaganda, not terribly gripping. In fictional sections, Ralph Richardson and Merle Oberon play stiff-upper lipped Brits. “They did what they set out to do and drew first blood in a war that was none of their making.”

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This week seemed to have such promise

I was really optimistic about this week. Next round of Leaf articles hasn’t started yet, Screen Rant is done, I had time to focus on my personal projects.

But TYG was doing a lot of stuff this week that required concentration. And Plush Dog, for whatever reason, was needy. Actively needy, constantly trying to climb on her computer or barking for attention. So I wound up running interference, plus putting in a lot of extra dog walking. The time added up. Plus I was freaking out over some of the political news. It can’t be helped at times, but it’s not productive. I wound up several hours behind my quota for the week.

So what did I get done?

I finished a second draft of Only the Lonely Can Slay. Relocating the action to my old home town really sharpened the setting, and the dramatic arc improved some. However that’s a long way from saying it has a good arc. It’s trickier because I don’t want my protagonist to know exactly what she’s involved in, even when it’s all over. So we’ll see.

I thought a little about the rewrite of No One Can Slay Her but didn’t actually put any words to paper. I did make more progress on the final draft of Southern Discomfort. I’ve gone over four out of the 12 stories in the draft paperback of Atoms for Peace and edited them, though I haven’t made the corrections in the manuscript on my computer. That matters because some of the notes are just “sentence doesn’t work, fix it” when the correction is more than just a word or something concise.

I did not come anywhere near close my 1,000 words a day goal. Come July with no Screen Rant deadlines to make, it should be doable. And I will make it a priority.

I did draft a query for Space Invaders for McFarland but held off submitting it. There’s a couple of markets I’d like to look at first. Next month, one way or the other, it goes out.

Oh, and as noted this morning, I started making some upgrades to this blog. Hopefully that will prove worthwhile. It may be telling that I think of this as a blog first — but when I visit other author’s websites, I usually go to the blog first. After all, it’s the only part that’s likely to provide anything new.

And I also posted an in-depth review of The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop.

Subject to a couple of personal goals I hope to accomplish tomorrow, I got a little over 50 percent of my June goals go (the crazy schedule this week put paid to a couple of routine things I normally accomplish in the morning).

On the food front, we ate the first of the tomatoes TYG has been growing in the back, along with the herbs. Unfortunately the local squirrels pulled about twice that number off the plants — they don’t eat them, they just bite into them and leave them. Pure spite.

And we took the dogs to get groomed Wednesday. Plushie’s tail was so matted they had to shave it completely, leaving what looks like a little pig’s tail. Packs quite a wallop when he beats it on us.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals