Five Things I Am Into Right Now, August 2015

OpusThis is an odd time we live in, especially for us old-school nerds. Star Wars is back (and maybe without too much CGI), a new Ghostbusters film is being made, dinosaurs and terminators are in the movie theaters (not always a good thing, from what I hear). Beloved comic Bloom County is back and looking EXACTLY as it did during its heyday of the 1980s (even mocking Donald Trump who is probably going to win the Republican nomination). Then there is Harper Lee…

Harper Lee…

I reviewed Go Set a Watchman on WKAR (which you can read and hear here), and everyday I get more and more annoyed that it was ever published. I’ve even taken to reading reviews of people that give it good reviews to try and find some way to justify it beside the money. They all take the same tact to their argument- Well, if you consider the time she was writing and this is only an early draft and, my favorite, if you look at it as a piece of history. No, it’s not a piece of history! It was released by the publisher as a sequel (!) to To Kill a Mockingbird. And they did not push it as a “growth” piece, a chance to see the evolution of Lee as a writer. Everything they did was to present it as a follow-up, the continuing story of Scout and Atticus. Heck, even Reese Witherspoon did the audiobook! You don’t call a major actress in to do an audiobook of some kind of little historical literary oddity.

I don’t want to join the speculation on whether Harper Lee wanted this book published or not. But there are two points that always seem to come up for me. 1., If she wanted this published, why didn’t she try to find it in the 60s, the 70s, or the 80s. Why now? 2. As an author, I have many things I have worked on that I wouldn’t want published. Yes, they have a beginning, middle, and  end, but that doesn’t mean they are publishable.

Frankly, Go Set a Watchman destroyed an American classic and if I was the editor I would have burned that copy before releasing it. Yeah, I would’ve taken the bullet and gone down in history as the guy who destroyed a Lee manuscript. And I would have done it proudly. The ironic thing about this is, yes, the publisher and Lee (well, her lawyer who oversees her finances) are making truckloads of money, they have destroyed a cash cow. Mark my words, in ten years To Kill a Mockingbird will no longer be a bestseller or even taught in schools. Go Set a Watchman will destroy the yearly flow they expect from Mockingbird. It won’t happen right away, but it will happen.

Okay, that is all very doom and gloom of me. Let’s talk about happier things, because it is August and summer. Here’s one… Continue reading

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The Questions Around Arthur

ArthurI like to think of myself as a connoisseur around a few highly important topics.

Certain books and authors, sure. The Beatles, definitely. Classic jazz, I’ve taken the classes. Nerd films like Star Wars? I have three lightsabers in my house, thank you very much.

But here is the thing- over the last few years I feel like I’ve added a new one to my list.

PBS Kids.

Yes, I am now an expert on PBS Kids and I feel I have the power (nah, not just the power, but the knowledge) to back it up, to say what is working and what is not on the lineup of shows PBS gives to our little ones.

There are the shows I love (Wild Kratts [which I wrote an entire post about here], The Odd Squad, Word Girl, and Daniel Tiger [a post here]); there are shows I like (Curious George, Peep and the Big Wide World); there are shows I think that need a lot of help (Sesame Street, I’ve written a few posts about them, but I would like the writers to stop and consider this: parodies don’t work when the audience doesn’t know the reference; all you are doing is negatively impacted their future enjoyment of the work being parodied- mind blown, eh?); and finally shows I think are awful (Clifford and Caillou). I’ve seen them all. I’ve been to the mountain, climbed it and returned with my tale.

Yet, there is one show I truly cannot put my finger on. My opinion changes every time I watch it. Sometimes I feel love for it (real love), and others I shake my head wondering what the writers were thinking.

It’s like leftover night for dinner, when sometimes things taste great and other times you just wish you ordered pizza.

I’m talking about Arthur, based on the books by Marc Brown, one of the great mainstays of PBS Kids, airing now for over 20 years. A show that has grown so vast since it started—with characters, subplots, etc.—that an encyclopedia around the world would not be unheard of. That is the show Arthur, and honestly, I have no idea how I feel about the residents of Elwood City.

Yes, It is my television broccoli. Continue reading

Please, Make It Stop: A Rant About Game of Thrones

DragonAvast there, me hearties! Here thar be spoilers aplenty! (Wait! It’s not Talk Like a Pirate day? What was I thinking?)

Let’s get this out of the way first. We’ve all been holding off saying this for a while, but it’s time.

Game of Thrones is a soap opera.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better after saying it.

I’ve recently found an interview with George R.R. Martin where he argues his book series is not a soap opera, maybe it was his way of preparing an argument before it came at him from outside his circle, but it is. Both the TV series and his book series… two words… soap opera.

Look, I hate to say it as much as the next person. The idea of someone truly doing something new in a very established (and usually predictable genre) is an awesome idea. He combined the history of the middle ages and fantasy… but the result is a freaking soap opera. With history almost being used as an excuse (or as a resource) for twists that help the soap opera continue.

Consider:

  • Soap operas and A Song of Ice and Fire both has multiple POVs of good and questionable individuals.
  • Both end every moment in a cliffhanger (You can almost hear the “stay tuned” at the end of some of the chapters in the books).
  • Both have meandering plots (I feel like I should be capitalizing meandering; no seriously, all caps).
  • Time seems to have its own rules. And both have marriages that seem to last for the same amount of time (and just like in soap operas most are bad matches).
  • And both are not working towards a clean resolution. There is no Mount Doom in sight from what I can see.

Oh, and all of these points is before I even bring up the fact that George R.R. Martin used to work in television and was a writer on a popular fantasy-lite soap opera in the 1980s.

Game of Thrones is a soap opera with people in funny costumes and dragons and we have bought into it.

Heck, I didn’t just buy in, I bought the DVDs, the books, the shirts and even gave them as Birthday presents to people I love. (I was like: “Hi, I love cocaine, I want you to take it too. Here- Happy Birthday!”) Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, April 2015

kids-bike-16-inchYesterday, I got to have one of those dad moments. It is so cliche, it could be used in a TV commercial (and probably has been), but there is a reason for it. It is a great feeling.

I got to teach my son how to ride a bike.

We went to our local park that has a smooth cement trail around it. After a few falls and nervousness, he was up and going, and there I was huffing and puffing to try and keep up.

Yeah, I could go on about the symbolism of the kid finally being able to race away from the dad, leaving the early years behind, but I’m not in that frame of mind. If anything this has opened a whole new world of possibility for us. I look forward to taking him on different trails in our area, finding new bike paths to explore. In other words, my summer just got a lot more interesting.

What is also interesting is that most of what I mention below is all done while sitting down. My Fitbit would probably be disappointed by my list this month, actually. But I listen to it enough, so I think it is all fine. Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, November 2014

BoredI am suffering the case of the blahs. Oh, this is not a bad thing related to my life or anything, this is related to books. I’ve done the book reviews for my local NPR station now for over a year and half. That is over 30 books. (You can listen and read my reviews via the links on this page of my site.)

See, I’m struggling through a book review by a very popular author. Some people will love the book, I am certain; others will hate it. Me, I’m just mildly disappointed and that is what gives me the blahs.

Let me start this over… I love writing a good book review. There is nothing more fun for me as a reviewer than breaking down a good book, introducing it to a listener/reader and discussing why the high points are the high points. Talking about good books is my soapbox and I like being on it, thank you very much!

I am not Dorothy Parker. She used to take a glee in writing a bad review. Me, I find it disappointing. I can do it certainly, and they are easy to do, but they do not give me pleasure. Also, I like to say more than simply “I don’t like it.” I go out of my way to explain why something doesn’t work. Okay, this could be argued as a second soapbox, but not as big or important as the other one.

But there are no soapboxes when the book is a blah, middle-of-the road, half-a-shoulder-shrug. In a way, I see this blah around me in the environment too, as all the days are gray and getting colder. Of course, the review will be written in a week or so and my life will go on. I can’t guarantee anything regarding the weather.

Let’s move on to happier thoughts! Here are the five things I think are awesome right now. Continue reading

Ghosts, Snoopy, Haunted Mansions and Halloween

haunted-mansionA few years ago, the inventive filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was hired by Disney to write a screenplay for a new movie based on The Haunted Mansion ride.  Over the summer I read an interview with him claiming that him and his team of writers were still struggling with the story.

Seriously?

I have to admit I am a little surprised. I mean it seems to me a Haunted Mansion film writes itself. Do you want to know how I would do it if Disney asked me? Of course you do!

First off I would set it in the 1950s. That way you can tap into the cliches and stereotypes you would see in classic old black-and-white horror films. And set it in a small town (think Back to the Future).  Now on to my very brief synopsis!

  • Act 1- We meet the eccentric and comic people in the town. There are two twin teenage sisters, one is a cheerleader and popular, the other is a bookworm (our heroes). They go to a dance at their school. That night there is a huge thunderstorm and the power goes out. A bunch of teenagers ride together in car; which, of course, stalls in front of the Haunted Mansion.
  • Act 2- The group of teenagers (including our female heroes) tour the Haunted Mansion. The ghosts want to get out but are trapped in (a curse put in place by Madame Leota). One of the teenagers is tricked by the evil Hatbox Ghost (an urban legend by the way around the ride), releasing all the ghosts.
  • Act 3- The ghosts playfully attack and spook the town (like Gremlins). The teenagers are split into teams, one to collect the ghosts, the other to get the curse put back on the house and stop the Hatbox Ghost (the sisters lead the different teams)… this all has to be done by dawn.
  • Act 4- In a suspenseful last act, the curse is reinstated, the ghosts are drawn back and the sisters now are friends. The end.

Disney you can send me the check. (Okay, that was a little snippy of me, but seriously I could write this script and would love to do it… Oh, and Guillermo del Toro is awesome.)

Here are some of the posts in the past I have written about Halloween. Enjoy!

The Halloween TreeBook Review: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. Last year I reviewed this book (which should be a holiday classic) for WKAR’s Current State. You can check it out (and listen) via the link. This week I’ll be reviewing Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I hope you tune in for it, I think it turned out great.

It's The Great PumpkinWatching It’s The Great  Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I love this special. Absolutely love it. Actually, I’m kind of obsessed about it, and this post proves it. In it, I share my insight on the show and my thoughts on each of the scenes and characters. Seriously… obsessed.

CostumedIf I Could Wear a Halloween Costume… If I had the courage, I would dress up on the holiday. I’m just not that guy… but I wish I was. This comic post deals with my dreams and hopes and masks.

HalloweenHalloween, In Spirit. I wrote this post during my first year on the site, and it was one of my most popular. It is a little comic, a little philosophical, a little serious. In many ways it contains all of my thoughts on the holiday, tied up in a bow… that probably has skeletons on it.

I hope you enjoy the posts! (And Guillermo call me!)

 

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, October 2014

It's The Great PumpkinSo I have to accept the fact my kids are not going to be into the Peanuts. I truly see the generational gap there. While I can write a post dissecting the interworking genius of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (which I did do here), my kids would rather watch something else.

Actually, my son had a really good answer for not wanting to watch the show. He said they used bad language. Which is true, if you consider the word “stupid” a bad word, as we try to do in our house.

And while my son loves looking at my old comics (especially Calvin & Hobbes), he has no interest in looking at Peanuts. So while I’m busy each year collecting the complete works (thanks to the releases by Fantagraphics Books), my old paperback copies sit gathering dust on his shelves. Once I tried reading him the books and he was startled by them.

“Why are they so mean to Charlie Brown?”

“Well, it’s…”

Now how would you answer that? Is it funny to be mean to someone? Are we laughing at a child’s pain? In our age of fighting bullying, is Charlie Brown a victim? Granted, in the later years of Schulz’s writing, Charlie Brown took a back seat and much of his torture disappeared (usually everything seemed to be about Rerun), but it is there in the early years tenfold.

In the next year we’ll be getting a new Charlie Brown movie. The trailer looks beautiful, but I wonder how they will handle this stuff. It could either be a rebirth for the franchise or the final nail in the coffin. When Charles Schulz died he made it very clear he wanted everything to stop after his passing. His family seems to have done everything possible to keep it going though; yet, a part of me believes Schulz had it right. Especially now.

Now on to my October list! Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, September 2014

Doctor WhoOkay, let’s get this out of the way first. I’m not sure what I think about the new Doctor on Doctor Who.

Yes, I get why they cast Peter Capaldi, he is in an interesting choice with a vibe very different from Matt Smith and David Tennant. It’s a fresh choice. (I’m still not a fan of Clara, but really it would be hard for anyone to follow Amy, Rory, and River. It’s a pretty high bar.)

This maybe all because I thought the direction of the first two episodes felt off. A lot of people were excited to have Ben Wheatley direct the first two episodes (again a fresh choice), but there is a certain “buy in” that I didn’t feel in those two episodes. It almost (and this may seem cruel) felt like a fan’s version of Doctor Who, not truly capturing the spirit and energy of the show.

It was Doctor Who, it just didn’t feel like Doctor Who.

Oh, who knows? Maybe I am just bitter since Matt Smith is off the show and he was in many ways my Doctor. In a few episodes I might be singing a different tune (and I have no problem admitting when I am wrong).

You know, whatever happens, even if I get so out of it that I walk away from the show for a few seasons, it doesn’t mean I stop being a Doctor Who fan. I will still rewatch the seasons I love. For example, I still consider myself a Star Trek fan, even though I didn’t watch a single episode of Enterprise (did you hear that theme song?) and I thought the last film contradicted a lot of Star Trek norms (like, for example, remember when it was a big deal when Voyager could land on a planet? I guess the Enterprise could do that decades earlier.).

Let’s move on to more pleasant stuff than my possible science-fiction nerd disappointment. Here are five things for September. Continue reading

The Trials Over Sofia the First

The Dreaded PrincessMy wife and I had this all so perfectly worked out.

Our kids were allowed to watch a show in the morning (while we are making lunches for school or breakfasts) and they were stuck watching what we have classified as “morning shows.” I, at one time, had a list; yes, I made it even with cute pictures.

Technically, these are shows that are friendly, not overly exciting, and emphasize some kind of a lesson (numbers, reading, nature, etc.). Usually we draw from two stations, PBS and the Disney Channel. And each have their greats—for example, Wild Kratts (which I wrote about here) and The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse—and then okay shows (Martha Speaks, the soundtrack on this show drives me crazy and not in a good way).

I have always found that these kind of shows in the morning help get everyone warmed up for the day, the mind working. A nice little nudge towards more lessons later.

A great little parenting plan, right? And it might have even lasted well for a few more years, if it wasn’t for the doings of a certain princess.

For those that don’t know the Disney show Sofia the First, it follows the misadventures of a new Disney princess. We made the mistake of opening the door to this show as a coveted morning show because it is from the Disney Channel, but in one swoop it has left our morning show plan in rubbles. No, Sofia the First is not a morning show. There are really no lessons on the show… unless you are a princess and you are lucky enough to have the world revolve around you.

Who needs the alphabet when you are a princess? 

For someone with an adoration of Disneyland and a lot of Disney films, it isn’t easy for me to say this but, yes, I have a beef with Sofia the First. Continue reading

My Thoughts on Season Four of HBO’s Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, Season 4This post contains A LOT of spoilers for those who have not read the book… or watched the show… or listened to a podcast… or went on the internet… or opened a magazine… or merely breathed entertainment over the last three years. 

I had serious misgivings around watching season four of Game of Thrones. (I even wrote about it last year in this post.) See, for me it all came down to the Red Wedding. When I read the book, I was furious. Robb Stark was always my favorite character in the book. Part of it is because we only saw him through other characters and he would have these moments of weakness, showing the boy behind the sword.

Then the Red Wedding happened and it didn’t matter what I thought.

Jump forward a few years and we get the Red Wedding on the show, a show where they always like to take the brutality of George R.R. Martin and times it by ten. How did they do it on the show? Why kill a pregnant woman first… by stabbing her in her belly.

Damn HBO.

Anyway, I was offered free HBO for three months and decided to jump in. Honestly, the main driving force for me in watching this season (or merely starting it) is I wanted to see King Joffrey get axed.

Supposedly, the actor who plays Joffrey is really nice and is actually retiring from acting to work in nonprofits. Anyway, I still wanted to see the character die, it wasn’t personal at him. If anything he should be rewarded for making me hate him so much.

The thing that was the most shocking about this season for me—more than the deaths and abundant nudity and other stuff I will get into below— was the fact the writing was soooo much better. Continue reading