Thursday, November 16, 2017

Movie Roundup: Special MCU Edition

Don't tell anyone, but I spent a portion of last week in a secret Avengers facility located somewhere in southern Nevada. I underwent a rigorous training program that tested the limits of my endurance and skill. It was intense, but when it was over, I emerged with my official Avengers Agent certification.
As part of my initial duties, I have been directed to rank the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in order, going from my least to most favorite, and to disclose that information to you. Bear in mind that these are just my personal opinions and that they may not match up with yours (in fact, I'm pretty sure they won't). So here we go, and remember: there may be spoilers.

#17 - The Incredible Hulk

I actually haven't seen this one in a while. Maybe I should give it another chance. The thing with MCU movies, though, is that they're all decent at the very least, so the ones at the bottom of my list are still better than a lot of other stuff. I do wish they had some kind of in-universe explanation for why Ed Norton turned into Mark Ruffalo.

#16 - Thor

I found this one to be rather slow and dull, but it's actually better when viewed retrospectively through the lenses of its sequels (see below).

#15 - Iron Man 2

I didn't think this one was as bad as some people say, but hey, I had to fill this slot with something. The final battle scene was kind of anticlimactic, I'll give you that.

#14 - Doctor Strange

Awesome visual effects make up for some uneven pacing and the occasional flat joke. The climax battle was cool.

#13 - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

I can hear you all gasping from here. "How dare you rank this movie so low!" Again, it's like when you have a really awesome professional sports team whose backups are better than other team's starters.

#12 - Thor: The Dark World

Like Iron Man 2, I actually liked this one more than most people. I often find myself watching it all the way through when it comes on TV.

#11 - Iron Man

Like The Incredible Hulk, I haven't seen this one in a while either, but I do recall liking it a lot.

#10 - Avengers: Age of Ultron

A bit cluttered, this one actually gets better upon repeated viewings as I started to understand more and more about what the heck was going on (during my first viewing, I thought the Hulk's rampage was a Scarlet Witch-induced vision).

#9 - Guardians of the Galaxy

I can hear you all gasping from here. "How dare you rank this movie so low!" Again, it's like the Legend of Zelda games, where even their fifth-best iteration is still better than most other games out there.

#8 - Captain America: The First Avenger

I can do this all day.

#7 - Captain America: Civil War

This one was kind of cluttered (just like Age of Ultron), but the airport fight scene makes up for everything.

#6 - Iron Man 3

My favorite of the three Iron Men (obviously) and the only MCU theme song that I can consistently hum from memory even after not having heard it for a while.

#5 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Like The Dark World, I often watch this one all the way through when it comes on TV, even if I've already seen it not too long ago.

#4 - Thor: Ragnarok

Hilarious and colorful, this one puts an awesome bow on the Thor trilogy and actually elevates its predecessors. I'll have more thoughts on it in the next official Movie Roundup post in January.

#3 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

The best Spider-Man movie to date. Yes, even better than Spider-Man 2.

#2 - Ant-Man

Surprise! I bet you had forgotten about this one as you were reading through this list. I love this movie - it's the only MCU film that makes me tear up (as in watery eyes, not rip-tear-Hulk smash). I think I have some personal bias, though, being a single dad with a daughter.

#1 - Avengers

A pitch-perfect ensemble film, chock-full of memorable one-liners ("It seems to run on some form of electricity!" "Puny god." "Then shawarma after." And so on.)

Can't wait to see where Black Panther, Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and the fourth Avengers film end up in this list.

What does your list look like?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Band Names: A Public Service Announcement

'Ello, Marshall Byle here. I'm the lead singer and guitarist of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Biledriver. I'm sure you've heard of us. If not, go on and read these books, they'll tell you all about us. 
I'm here today to talk about band names. Names are important. Especially the name of your band. Your band's name can be the difference between stadium-level rock stardom and never getting out of your bloody basement.

The best band names:

1. Are unique combinations of short and simple words
2. Communicate your sound and/or identity
3. Have some personal meaning for the band members, so it doesn't sound like you all sat down at the corner pub and spent the night coming up with a contrived but unique combination of short and simple words

Here are some examples of band names that I consider to be among the best in all of rock 'n' roll:

- Soundgarden. A unique combination of short and simple words that reflects the band's straightforward, no-frills approach. Also, the name was inspired by a sculpture in Seattle. Perfect.

- Mudhoney. The name alone just sounds like grunge, don't it? It also has that cool assonance thing going on as well. And as the crowning touch, it actually came from a Russ Meyer film.

- Guns N' Roses. Such a rock 'n' roll name. And it was just a combination of two previous bands, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose, so it's free of pretension. Mostly.

- Radiohead. Again, two short and simple words, taken from a Talking Heads song.

- Nine Inch Nails. I don't care much for the three separate words deal, but at least each word is short, not like "Second Player Score" or whatever. And it really conveys the image of the band.

- Biledriver. Of course, the absolute best name in rock, hands down.

There are others, of course, but I think you get my meaning by now. I could also list examples of terrible band names, but I have to see most of those blokes at concert festivals and award ceremonies, so I won't go there. Not today, anyway.

So if you're starting up a new band, keep my advice in mind, and maybe one day I'll see you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NaNoWriMo, or How The Sight Was Born

It's November, which means that it's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month! For those of you who aren't familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is an annual event where people attempt to write an entire 50,000-word manuscript between November 1st and November 30th.
Now, for me, just the thought of writing 50,000 words in thirty days makes me want to tear what's left of my hair out and hide in my room until January, but every year, more and more hardy souls attempt to perform this incredible feat. Some well-known books have even emerged out of it, like Wool by Hugh Howey and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

I will admit that while I was still in the plotting stages for Volume One, I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to write it during the 2010 NaNoWriMo, so I picked up a book called Book in a Month: the Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Dr. Victoria Lynn Schmidt. It was packed full of good ideas and systems, but because of my personal idiosyncrasies, I wasn't quite able to apply it to my own project (I ended up writing the initial draft of Volume One in a little over four months, starting from Christmas Day 2010 and ending on April 30, 2011).

There was one great thing that resulted from my purchase of Dr. Schmidt's book, however. When my son first took a look at its cover, he immediately - like, within one second of glancing at the book - noticed an error that I (and the book's cover designer, apparently?) had completely glossed over. Even after he pointed it out to me, it took a few moments before it actually registered in my brain. That event was the inspiration for the Sight, which, as readers of the Joel Suzuki series know, is Joel's ability to recognize tiny details that most other people seem to miss. On Earth, it's good for things like video games, Easter egg hunts, and Where's Waldo books, but on Spectraland, it's one of the special powers that allows Joel to save the day.

Take a look at the picture above. Can you spot what I'm talking about?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lifepod Recipe

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to share my recipe for an alternative kind of treat that you might want to consider handing out in lieu of candy this year: lifepods.
As readers of the Joel Suzuki series know, lifepods are a type of fruit that is indigenous to Spectraland. Introduced in chapter five of Volume One, it's described as "a small, round blue fruit...[that has] a chewy texture and taste[s] like banana and watermelon, with a very slight minty aftertaste." Sounds delicious, right? It's also very filling - after one lifepod, you won't have to eat for the rest of the day. Felicity, in particular, seems rather fond of them.

Lifepods don't grow on Earth, and for whatever reason, Felicity and Joel have been unsuccessful at bringing one or more of them back here from Spectraland (I suspect that they eat them all before they're able to make the trip, but who knows). So, a while back I decided to use Earth-based ingredients in an effort to replicate a lifepod as closely as possible. My initial efforts were met with some skepticism, but over time I've tweaked the recipe until I arrived at what I feel is the ideal formula:

Ingredients
- Honeydew melon, cubed, 1/2 lb.
- Watermelon, cubed, 1/2 lb.
- Blue food coloring
- Banana flavoring
- Mint extract
- Tupperware or other covered, sealed container

Directions
1. Using the flat side of a spoon or similar utensil, crush the watermelon cubes, extracting as much of the juice as possible. I've tried other watermelon juice substitutes, but the real thing provides the most accurate flavor.

2. Place the honeydew melons in the Tupperware (or similar) container. The reasons I use honeydew as the base fruit rather than the watermelon itself are that it has the right texture, and it can take on the blue coloring easily (see step #5 below).

3. Add the watermelon juice to the honeydew melons. Be sure no seeds or watermelon pieces slip through.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of banana flavoring to the mixture. You can get banana flavoring from the spice department at your local grocery store - the same place where you would find the food coloring and the mint extract.

5. Add 6-7 drops of blue food coloring, sprinkling them over the melon cubes.

6. Add one drop of mint extract to the mixture. Trust me, this will be enough.

7. Close the container and shake up the mixture for 20-30 seconds or until the blue coloring has been spread out evenly to all the melon cubes.

8. Drain the liquid and transfer the cubes to a new container or dish.

9. Voila!

Felicity and Joel will now provide their testimonies as to just how close this comes to the real deal.

F: Ugh. Are you doing this lifepod recipe thing again?
B: Yup. For Halloween.
F: Well, it's certainly scary, all right.
B: Just try it and tell the readers what you think.
J: Um, will it be any better than last time?
B: Now I'm using real watermelon juice and I substituted mint extract for the mint sprinkles, so yeah.
J: I dunno...
B: Just try it. Please.
(Joel and Felicity take small, tentative bites. After chewing for a few seconds, Felicity grimaces and Joel wrinkles his nose.)
J: I guess it's...all right?
F: (to Joel) You're so polite. (to Brian) Dude. This tastes nothing like a real lifepod.
B: What? What are you talking about? Of course it does.
J: Well, it does have banana, watermelon, and mint flavors in it, but...how should I put this...it tastes...what are the words I'm looking for...
F (spitting out her bite): Terrible. Horrible. Awful.
J: I was going to say "not quite right," but those work too.
B: Aw man, are you serious? I thought I really had it this time. I was even going to hand these out on Halloween.
F: Do you want this house to get TP'd? If not, I strongly suggest you reconsider.
J: Let's go pick up some candy.
F: Good idea. I'll drive.
B: Wait! Don't you want to try my recipe for replicated stripeclaw steak?
(Car zooms off)
B: Hmm. Guess not.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Statii Update

Wow, it's been over four months since the last Statii Update! Let's get right to it.
Book Update:
Had a great time at both the Barnes and Noble B-Fest as well as the Fall 2017 Portland Home and Garden Show. Thanks again to Bjorn Sorenson for setting up the former and Roslyn McFarland for arranging the latter!
Volume Four is at 62,000 words and counting. It's kind of at that tricky stage now where the whole thing is like one of those puzzles where you have to make sure all the pieces interlock at the same time. But it is coming along nicely, and I'm still on track for having the initial draft done before the end of the year.

Band Update:
Lots happening on this front. We finished recording three songs for our upcoming third album and are now boot-camping the next three. We just wrapped up filming a video for one of those songs. We found an artist for the graphic novel/comic book that will accompany the aforementioned third album. We also wrote a story outline for the second album that will be narrated by the amazing Tryston Blyth from Neue Regel Radio and released as bonus content. Whew!

TV Update:
I am loving TV right now. The Handmaid's Tale? Excellent. The new Tick? Even better than the old one (I know, how could they find a replacement for Patrick Warburton? But they did it). The Good Doctor? Apparently a hit, and deservedly so. The Orville? Lots of fun and way better than I - and a lot of other people, apparently - thought it would be. Still need to catch up with Rick and Morty, though. And where is the new Miraculous Ladybug??

Video Game Update:
Now that Breath of the Wild is basically over, I've started on Stardew Valley, which just came out for the Switch and was reviewed on this very blog by our special guest blogger Connie Jasperson a couple of months ago.

I have to admit, I'm not very good at these "lifestyle" kind of games where the gameplay is really open-ended and there isn't a single defined goal like defeating Ganon or whatever. The first few times I tried it, I ended up working myself to exhaustion and passing out in my farm. I thought I finally got the hang of it, but then my daughter saw the plots I had dug to plant my seeds in and she laughed and said "why does that look so weird?" And so far, my meal choices have eerily resembled my real-life dietary habits (spaghetti and beer six days a week). But really, I think most of my problems come from the controls, which for some reason are so confusing to me that I had to take a picture of the screen where they show you which button does what.

At any rate, I have been having fun playing this game so far, if only for the fact that it gives my daughter enjoyment when she sees how terrible I am at it. And anyway, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is coming out soon...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Indie Author Day

This Saturday is the second annual Indie Author Day! But really, for us here in the beautiful Vancouver/Portland area, it's more like Indie Author Extended Weekend, because the Fall 2017 Portland Home & Garden Show is taking place Thursday (that's today!) through Sunday at the Portland Expo Center.
As always, the Northwest Independent Writers Association will be there in full force, thanks to my good friend and fellow local author Roslyn McFarland (seriously, check out her books. You won't be disappointed.) I will be there in person tonight from 6-8pm, Friday night from 6-8pm, and Saturday from 11am-2pm to sign books and possibly give away inside info about Volume Four to anyone who's interested (which is everyone, amirite?)

But if you can't make it during those times, come on down anyway, because Joel Suzuki will be there the whole time (in book form) as will lots of other great local authors who write awesome books in a wide variety of genres, so there'll be something for everyone. And while you're at it you might even find some cool stuff for your house or garden!

Portland Expo Center
2060 N Marine Drive
Portland, OR 97217
Thursday 11am-8pm
Friday 11am-8pm
Saturday 11am-8pm
Sunday 11am-6pm

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

You Guys Age Funny

The 21-and-over nature of last week's post - because of the beer talk - prompted Joel and Felicity to finally sign up for Facebook accounts, mainly so that they could comment on my announcement of said post where I essentially told them that they were too young to read it. Felicity offered up her usual snark ("whatever") while Joel pointed out that technically, they're both over 21 depending on what timeline you used. This caused a bit of confusion in the household known as my brain, so I decided to call the two of them in for a little family meeting.
Brian: Thanks for being here today.
Joel: Um, you're welcome.
Felicity: This better be quick. I'm teaching a karate class at four-thirty.
B: All right, so Joel - you said that you and Felicity are more than twenty-one years old?
J: Well, yes. You see, in April of 2012, I was sixteen, while Felicity was eighteen. And since my birthday is July 17, and hers is July 21, then technically, since it's now October of 2017, that would make me twenty-two years old, and her, twenty-four.
B: I guess I understand that logic, but...you're actually now only seventeen, and she's nineteen.
J: I know.
B: You know?
J: Yeah. We're seventeen and nineteen, but we're also twenty-two and twenty-four. Kind of at the same time.
B: Huh? I don't get it.
F: Does it really matter?
B: I'm just trying to understand.
J: It's a timeline issue. This is what happens when you get involved with things like alternate dimensions, multiple realities, quantum mechanics, and so forth. Time moves a lot slower on Earth than it does on Spectraland, relatively speaking. And then when you throw in time travel, it makes it even more complicated.
F (with terrible faux-English accent): "It's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."
J (with similarly terrible faux-English accent): "Timey-wimey? Do you have to talk like children?"
(Joel and Felicity laugh, exchange high-fives)
B: Okay, as much as I appreciate the Doctor Who references, I'm still not sure I'm getting it.
F (sighing): All right, I really have to run, so I'll try to make this simple for you. You know the comics you like to read, in that thing called a...a...
B: Newspaper?
F: Yeah, that. And you know how the characters in, like, say, "Sally Forth" or "Luann" seem to sort of get older, but really slowly?
B: I guess.
F: C'mon, you know what I'm talking about.
B: Well, yeah, okay, sure. Like how Luann went from being thirteen in 1999 to being eighteen in 2014.
F: Exactly.
B: But those are cartoon characters. You guys are...
F: Are what?
B: People. With actual Facebook accounts.
F (looking at Joel): We are, aren't we?
J (shrugs): I'm pretty sure we are.
B: So are you trying to tell me that two-dimensional cartoon characters have access to time travel?
F: Sure, yeah, why not. Can I go now?
J: I don't think that's really her point. She was just trying to give you an example of how some people can age slower than others.
B: Oh, like how Kyle keeps getting carded when he tries to order a beer.
J: Um...
F: Yeah, no. It's nothing like that at all. Look, can we continue this some other time? My students get really antsy when I'm late. They start breaking all the boards and stuff.
B: All right, fine. Joel, can you stick around?
J (glancing at Felicity): Well...
F: He's coming with me. He has to...iron the black belts.
B: Do people really do that?
F: Of course they do. Later!
J (waving): Bye.
B: Grrr

Will Brian ever learn the secret behind Joel and Felicity's aging process? Will Felicity make it to her karate class before her students start breaking things? Do cartoon characters really have access to time travel? Tune in next week when we present the shocking conclusion to..."You Guys Age Funny"!*

* or not