Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Go to hell, "R" key. Go to hell and die.

It's a poor craftsman that blames his tools.

That's how the saying goes, at least, but you know what?

"It" being the conspicuous lack of a goddamn "R" in every other goddamn word I type from my goddamn laptop.

I may or may not have mentioned it before, but I don't write on my desktop. Too many distractions. I have to get away from my desk and get someplace with as few bright and shinys as possible. That means grabbing the laptop and doing all my writing at the kitchen table or out on the back deck. I'm too prone to slacking off otherwise.

This has worked out well for me over the years. Since 2009, eight books have my name on them, either solo or with others, and a gazillion or so articles have spilled out of my little fingers and caused tiny little checks to appear in the mail.

So that's good.


A few weeks back, my laptop spacebar started to go. No big deal, I guess. But two days ago, the "R" key decided to play hard to get. Two or three presses just to get a letter to appear? You bet. It has doubled the time it takes me to write something. That sucks. Sometimes I feel like a cat chasing a red pointer light thingee, except unlike the cat, I know I'm being screwed with.

It also means that when I put time into a post like this one only to discover that "breweries" is spelled "beweries" in the headline AFTER it has already been blasted out to social media, I get to enjoy a few mortified moments of seeing my goof rightly mocked.

It's not my fault. Lando's people told me they fixed the keyboard. It's not my fault!

A bit of good-natured Facebook mockery is one thing, though. Letting a similar blunder go out to one of my clients? That's quite another. Totally unacceptable. I (try to) pay my bills with a delicate balancing act I call "not screwing up too badly," and submitting an article with only 25 letters in it would work against that goal.

That means I need to either fix this somehow or invest in a new laptop ASAP, because I can't run the risk of delivering bad copy. Not even if it costs me a chunk of change I do not have.

All over a stupid damn "R" key.

This is the worst ever thing that's ever happened to me ever, including that time I was gored by a bull.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mad Men's Jon Hamm may finally get his due

Jon Hamm as Don Draper
Since 2007, Jon Hamm had been putting on an acting clinic with his subdued, measured performance as Don Draper, the dashing ad man with a past he can't run away from. The Mad Men actor drew raves and a slew of award nominations, including eight straight nominations for the Best Actor in a Drama Series Emmy (including this year's nod).

Unfortunately for Hamm, he ran into a wall called Bryan Cranston.

See, while Hamm was busy being awesome, Cranston was out there being just as awesome. Cranston won Best Actor four out of the first seven years Hamm was nominated, with Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Damian Lewis (Homeland), and Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) slipping in the other years. With Cranston stealing the show year in and year out, Hamm seemingly never had a chance.

This year, his eighth consecutive nomination, Newsweek is saying he's the favorite. They wrote:

Since we first met Donald Draper, fittingly, sitting alone in a crowd of people (which, not uncoincidentally, is also how the series ended), Mad Men has won four Emmys for Outstanding Dramatic Series. It will win a record-breaking fifth on Sunday night ... The problem here is that Mad Men, even though it was an outstanding ensemble piece (it’s funny how far down the roster you must travel before you find a character that is only two-dimensional—even Mrs. Blankenship had some wit), does not win five Emmys in eight years without Hamm, the soul of the show.

And they couldn't be more on target.

Mind you, it's not like I can complain about Cranston winning all those Emmys. No one should. He's earned them. It's thanks to his remarkably deep performance that Breaking Bad is a show worth examining. Even the legendary Anthony Hopkins called it "the best acting I have ever seen - ever."

Celebrating Mad Men
I can't quibble with that ... and besides, who am I to argue with Anthony frickin' Hopkins?

Hamm deserves his due, too, though, and I sure as hell hope he gets it. The layers of pain, inner torment, arrogance, insecurity, and childishness he manages to get across with little more than his eyes is somewhat impressive on your first viewing, and damn near mind-blowing on subsequent viewings. Draper is a complex character, and that's thanks to Hamm's work.

It's too bad Mad Men never got good ratings. Perhaps if it did, Hamm's seven-season, eight-year long performance would be more widely seen as the tour de force it was.

Crossing my fingers and hoping to see him go home with an Emmy on Sunday.

In the meantime, I have a lot more to say about Hamm, Don Draper, and Mad Men in general in Celebrating Mad Men, which is available in paperback and for Kindle. It's available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. You should get it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The 5 Most Powerful Geeks of All Time

Let's jump back a few years. Shortly after the release of Geek Wisdom, a book I was honored to contribute to, I was contacted by Men's Health magazine to write a piece about the most powerful geeks of all time. It sounded like a fun assignment. I wrote the piece. It was supposedly filled with "awesome stuff" and "everyone at the office [loved]" it.

But they never used it, and I never heard from that editor again. Rather than let it languish on a memory stick, I figured I'd yank it from the archives and post it here. So here you go:

The 5 Most Powerful Geeks of All Time

Geeks. Hear the word and the usual stereotypes spring to mind. They’re small. Have bad eyesight. Are way too into their strange little hobbies and pastimes. But the truth is, throughout history geeks have been some of the most powerful people in the world. Take a gander at this list and you’ll realize that yes, the geek shall inherit the Earth.

5. Thomas Jefferson

That’s right, Thomas Jefferson was a geek. The man snubbed the nose of a king, helped start a revolution that shook the entire globe, and doubled the size of the United States. But he was also an unabashed nerd who invented gadgets as one of his many hobbies, learned Gaelic just so he could translate some rip-roaring Irish mythology, created his own secret codes, and even sliced up the Bible to create his own personal, miracle-free version. In other words, if Jefferson were alive today he’d be a character on Big Bang Theory.

TAKEAWAY: No matter how busy his life became, Jefferson made time to indulge his intellectual curiosity. Do the same and like him you'll be a more capable, well-rounded person.

4. Barack Obama

The most powerful man in the world is not merely president of the most powerful country in the world, he’s also a shameless comic book fan who likes to sip on honey-tinged homebrew made in the White House, knows that Gwen Stacy is the blonde and Mary Jane Watson is the redhead, and lugged his Conan the Barbarian comic book collection to the White House when he took office. Oh yeah, and he also has his finger on The Button.

TAKEAWAY: Obama shows us that no matter how high you climb on life's ladder, it's important to remember the things that made you who you are today.

3. Bill Gates

The late Steve Jobs gets all the press these days, but Bill Gates not only helped pave the way for a million and one technical advances you probably take for granted – chances are you use several devices a day that rely on or were influenced by the juggernaut that is Microsoft– he’s actively saving lives all across the world. That’s right, Bill Gates is a superhero. He has given billions (with a “b”) to charity, is working to eradicate tuberculosis, has helped to get every library in America connected to the Internet, and is improving agriculture in the Third World … all before you finish your first cup of coffee in the morning.

TAKEAWAY: Gates teaches us all that the geek axiom "with great power comes great responsibility" should be taken to heart, even more so as we become successful in life.

2. Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton was the runt of his family, as a teenager secretly kept a list reasons of why he didn’t like his stepfather, and was so into doing his schoolwork that he broke off a marital engagement just so he could keep studying. Can you say dork? But he also changed the world by revolutionizing mathematics, science, and our very understanding of the universe. Almost every facet of modern life and technology owes a debt to Newton. Now that’s power.

TAKEAWAY: Newton is proof positive that no matter our size, ability, or wealth, our greatest legacy is the thoughts and ideas we leave behind.

1. Mark Zuckerberg

Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The guy who created Facebook isn’t one of history’s most powerful geeks yet, but give him time. Once this counterculture programming nerd has a wealth of deep personal data on every man, woman and child on the planet, he’ll be in a position to be the world’s next super hero … or super villain. That comic book that has yet to be written, but with a userbase approaching one billion people Zuckerberg arguably already wields more power than most heads of state.

TAKEAWAY: Zuckerberg may be controversial, but he's also a clear lesson that good ideas are meaningless if you don't pursue them.

Eric San Juan is a freelance writer living at the Jersey Shore. He is the coauthor of Geek Wisdom: The SacredTeachings of Nerd Culture (Quirk Books 2011), among others. He is also a proud geek.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sandra Bullock has a cool (but flawed) approach to closing Hollywood's gender gap

It's no great secret that aside from a small handful of silver screen legends, Hollywood is not a place where older women thrive. There have been a slew of complaints about a lack of roles for older actresses -- and in Hollywood, "older" often means "not in your 20s," even for actresses like Anne Hathaway -- a battle cry that has been growing in recent years.

While some (like Russell Crowe) say the fault is with the actresses, not the scripts, studies show that in Hollywood, men talk and women show skin. Vulture also took a look at some films and found that in general, men age but their love interests do not.

Sandra Bullock has developed a pretty good tactic for getting good roles even if they're not being written for her, though. It's a flawed tactic, but it's a start.

Basically, she looks for good roles written for men and tries to get them. From Entertainment Weekly, talking about the upcoming film Our Brand is Crisis:

Referencing how Sandra Bullock’s leading role was originally written for a man, [George Clooney] said, “There’s a lot more [roles] out there if people just started thinking.” 
The film sees Bullock as political strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who enlists with a foreign campaign. After reaching out to Clooney to express interest in the project, those involved decided to gender-swap the role. 
“About two-and-a-half years ago I put out feelers saying, ‘I’m not reading anything I’m excited about,’ ” Bullock told EW of the film. “‘Are there any male roles out there that [the filmmakers] don’t mind switching to female?’ ”

It's a solid tactic, and one George Clooney encourages. Just gender swap some roles, and boom, you have some strong female roles that wouldn't otherwise have existed.

It's also a flawed tactic, though, because if all screenwriters are doing is scratching out "Christopher" and replacing it with "Christine," we'll still be getting characters that were written with the perspective of a male. They'll be portrayed by women, sure, but the things that make them tick will be decidedly male.

This isn't always a problem. There are many roles where it just doesn't matter whether they are portrayed by a man or a woman, maybe gender swaps quick and easy.

But if you want real, honest, substantive roles for women in Hollywood, those roles must be written for women. That means writing them for women from the very start.

Bullock's tactic is a start, though, and if it gets screenwriters (and more importantly, Hollywood bean counters) to realize that women of any age can carry a film without needing to play second fiddle to a leading man, they'll start writing better roles for women, especially older women.

And hey, as much as I enjoy looking at gorgeous young starlets, it's nice for movies to do a better job of reflecting society at large and to give us characters who represent a much broader array of experiences, isn't it?

I sure think so.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Preacher is coming to AMC, and I'm ecstatic

Preacher, the darkly irreverent and hilariously blasphemous comic series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, is coming to AMC next year.

I couldn't be happier.

AMC is on a ridiculous roll in recent years. They used to be focused on classic movies, then slowly started introducing original programming. In 2007, Mad Men debuted, and it marked the dawn of a new era. The channel would never be the same after that. (I wrote a book about Mad Men. You should check it out.)

For me, the big breakout show was Breaking Bad, a show that grabbed me good and never let go. I've watched it four or five times over at this point. The Walking Dead didn't start out so great, but even that has turned into an excellent show. And that's only three of them. They've got a number of other strong shows, too.

And now we're getting Preacher?

For those who don't know, Preacher is about a small town preacher who is accidentally given godlike power when he is possessed by the supernatural offspring of an angel and demon. He sets off on a journey to find God -- like to actually, literally find him -- and all sorts of sacrilegious hijinks ensue. If the show stays faithful to the comic, ardent Christians will likely be very offended.

The comic series was amazing, and if AMC's recent track record is any indication, the show will be amazing, too.

It's being produced by Seth Rogan and some other guy with a beard, and they like Preacher lots. From Deadline:

“We started reading the comic when it first came out in the ’90s,” said Rogen & Goldberg. “In many ways Garth’s sense of drama and comedy and Steve Dillon’s visual aesthetic helped form our style, and the idea that we are actually bringingPreacher to life is a dream come true. This is the craziest thing ever and we can’t wait to move forward and work our asses off to make it the best it can be.”

Sounds good. Whatever. Just bring it on!

Saturday, June 06, 2015

X-Men: Days of Future Past is super great

This is. The last one, and my marathon is over. Happily, we're ending with a good 'en:

X-Men: Days of Future Past

What do you get when you mix a nonsensical script, high school level acting, dodgy made-for-TV special effects, and a ridiculously sluggish, sleep-inducing pace?

Not Days of Future Past, which is neck and neck with X2 as the best of the seven-film X saga.

Fassbender OWNS
I mean, what DOESN'T this thing get right? It opens with a bang, showcasing a grim dystopian future and wickedly creative use of mutie powers, plus gruesome mutie death. Logan is quickly sent back in time and the plot is instantly surging along. Unlike flicks like X-Men, Origins and The Wolverine, Days of Future Past knows where it's going and wastes no time getting there.

BOOM, we catch up with Professor X. BOOM, now we've met Quicksilver. BOOM, Magneto is rescued in the most awesome scene of the series (only Nightcrawler in the White House comes close). BOOM, we're in Paris watching Mystique's badassery. PAUSE for a brief lull before the last act, then BOOM, we're seeing two climatic showdowns at once, both packed with eye candy on a scale bigger than the series has ever done.

Sure, sure, we have no damn idea how Kitty Pryde is sending people back in time (seriously, how does she do that?), and the magically overpowered Quicksilver had to go be a teenage boy otherwise the movie's problems could have been solved in three minutes (which is lazy writing), and Magneto's plan at the end is kind of not-very-smart for a dude who is usually pretty smart (what did he hope to accomplish, exactly?), and how the hell does Mystique know where Wolverine sank into the river and how'd she manage to replace Stryker so quickly (and why is she even going after Wolvie in the first place?), and why does Logan have metal claws in the future again (and grey hair; he didn't age for 150 years, then in the next 20 he goes grey?), and Hank's serum makes Charles able to walk but suppresses his powers? How are these things even related? Oh, and Magneto can lift entire stadiums now? For real?

But whatever. Who cares?

And God said "Let there be awesome," and it was awesome
The movie is way too awesome to care about ANY of that. It's got the best, most creative, most "wow!" use of powers in the whole series, the acting is great, the pace is impeccable, the story is excellent. The whole thing is just really well put together. You start to watch and zooooom, you're off to the races and it doesn't let up until the end.

Plus, it miraculously manages to be a sequel to First Class AND the original trilogy at the same time, which is a neat trick and throws in a reboot for good measure without that reboot feeling like a total cheat.

What's not to like?

Excellent stuff. Arguably the best, or at least tied with X2 for that honor. Hell, let's take it a step further: it's not just one of the best X movies, it's one of the best superhero movies overall, period.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Wolverine: The one that doesn't suck (as much)

Another day, another X-movie. By now you should know the drill, so let's go:

The Wolverine (unrated extended edition)

Poor wittle Wulberine's heart is broken because he stabbed his crush to death, then a Quirky Asian Girl shows up and brings him to Japan, where he fights ninjas and sleeps with gorgeous women.

This second Wolverine movie is a huge upgrade from the first insomuch as it's not a colossal pile of excrement. In fact, there is a lot to like here.

This is what we wanted
Exploring the thread's of Jean's death was a good choice. Gettin into Logan's adventures in Japan was a great choice. The tone is somber and moody and pretty much on point. Great acting by Jackman. Ninjas! Suppressing his powers was a total plot contrivance -- "oh, look, he's in real danger now!" wink wink -- but it worked. All good pieces to add to your LEGO creation, if your LEGO creation is a movie about a guy with claws fighting ninjas and exploring more of his mysterious (not largely uninteresting) past.

But there is also lots to dislike.

It moves along at a glacial pace. The story doesn't make a damn bit of sense. (Seriously, old guy asks for Wolvie's power, Wolvie says no, Wolvie gets poisoned and his power suppressed ... and they then let him go? Really? Why not just frickin' capture him and take his power right then and there? HE WAS SLEEPING IN YOUR HOME FERCHRISTAKE!!) Old man in a big giant samurai suit is totally incongruous with the rest of the movie. Lady Viper is ... why is she here again? What is her motivation? Because it's not at all clear why this mega bitch has a hard-on for being evil and for doing bad shit to Logan. The hell? And so on.

The extended edition adds about 10 more minutes that you really don't need to see, a few additional F bombs, and blood. The latter bit is the best addition. For the first time on film, Wolverine's claws do actual damage to the human body. It's not full-on gore, but there are a few subtle limb removals, tiny bits of blink-and-you-miss-it splatter, and at the end of battles his claws are actually covered in blood.

So there is that.

Instead we got Lost in Translation With Claws
But my second viewing left me pretty unimpressed. Watching the extended edition was probably a bad choice, because even the theatrical cut needs about 20 minutes cut from it. This version needs a solid 30 or more. Tighten this bitch up and it'll be solid but not great.

As it stands, the fantastic tone and awesome setting only barely manage to balance out the nonsensical story and sludgy pacing. Hell, you're more than an hour into the flick and it's STILL not clear what is happening aside from the fact that people want to kill Mariko and Wolverine's powers are on the fritz.

The Wolverine was heaped with praise by many when it was first release, cited as the movie that finally got Wolverine right. In retrospect, eh. 'Tis okay, but that's about it.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

X-Men: The Last Stand is way better than you think

I'm re-watching all the X movies in chronological order, but all you need to know is that I am going to talk about this movie:

X-Men: The Last Stand

lol wut
Sometimes when you revisit a bunch of stuff you haven't seen in a while in a "re-examination" kind of way, your eyes are opened to things you hadn't seen before and your opinion changes. Other times, your existing views end up being reinforced with even greater strength.

When it comes to X-Men: The Last Stand, it's the latter -- and that seems to put me in the minority

The movie is often trashed, but I feel like it's trashed for the wrong reasons. Ardent fans hate it because it didn't do Dark Phoenix right, because of how Scott was killed, and because of Prof. X dying, among other reasons.

But you know what? That's just a lot of comic book baggage. I think those are only legitimate complaints if you're judging this on how good an adaptation it was. Taken on its own terms, the above issues are just fine and are right in line with the other two movies.

Who the hell ARE the assholes?
Jean's story is a solid culmination to a story that had been building for three movies (in the first, she talks about how the Prof is helping her control her power). The way it plays out isn't classic Dark Phoenix, sure, but judged on its own merits it plays just fine with a suitably tragic end.

Scott's death is flawed, but not for the reasons people say. Storywise, it was an effective and well-placed way to show that Jean's return is something that will go very very wrong very very quickly; it showed that she has so little control she couldn't even stop herself from killing the man she loves. The flaw isn't that Scott was killed, it's that the audience doesn't much care for him. By making Logan the focal point of the previous movies, we don't really get close to many other X-Men. Scott is just a guy who was kind of an ass to Logan (and vice versa), so his death didn't resonate. But shortchanging his character is a flaw in PREVIOUS movies, too, not just this one. As a story beat, it works.

The biggest flaw with The Last Stand is in the writing, specifically the dialogue. It's clunky and obvious and filled with questionable one-liners and We Don't Trust The Audience To Get Nuance So We're Going To Make This As Obvious As Possible conversations and cliches. That aspect of the movie is genuinely pretty bad. Worse than pretty bad: it's often awful. Easily the worst dialogue of the trilogy. At times it was almost distracting. I felt the urge to roll my eyes more than once.

So, legit flaw there. The writing can be kind of dopey.

But the story is tight as hell. They successfully marry two core storylines -- the mutant cure and Jean's decay -- without things feeling crowded. They pack in a TON of mutants, and Ratner & Co. actually manage to give a good deal of them some time in the spotlight. The first movie didn't manage to give this many people solid character moments, and it had far less characters overall. The Last Stand gives almost EVERYONE time to shine.

Plus, Halle Berry's hair looks really good in this one. :)

Fan Wank
And like X2, it has a bunch of memorable sequences. Not as many as X2, sure, but it has its fair share. Magneto's awesome rescue of Mystique. Xavier and Magneto visiting young Jean. Magneto lifting the Golden Gate Bridge (which was admittedly completely unnecessary). The battle at Jean's house. And of course, the super mega mutant battle at the end, which is the massive mutie conflict we dreamed of seeing in the first two but never got. It's huge, it's full of action and cool powers, and it holds up very well.

Plus, the whole thing slides by at a brisk 104 minutes. That's amazing considering how dense it is!

It had been a few years, but this viewing confirmed what I've long thought: The Last Stand haters are nuts. They're bringing comic book baggage to the movie instead of judging it on its own terms. It ain't perfect -- the dialogue really is atrocious, and it's not nearly as emotionally resonant as X2 -- but it's FAR from the series-killing disaster some make it out to be. It's especially satisfying viewing if watched right after the previous two.

X-Men: The Last Stand. You're wrong about it.