Thursday, August 22, 2019

Movie Roundup: MCU Update Edition

Almost two years ago, I fulfilled a mission to list the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in order from my least to most favorite. With the recent release of Avengers: Endgame on home video and the official close of the MCU's Phase 3, it now seems an appropriate time to update said list.
(Besides, the only movies I've had time to see in the theaters recently have been the aforementioned Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, so, yeah.)

Several points to keep in mind as you read: (1) opinions are subjective, (2) to be honest, I actually like all of the movies on this list to some degree, even the lowest-ranked ones, and (3) there may be spoilers. Also, some of the rankings from the previous post may have moved around as time has changed my perceptions of those particular films.

Here we go!

#23 - The Incredible Hulk

No change here. Kinda wish they'd give Mark Ruffalo his own thing, but it doesn't look like that's gonna happen.

#22 - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Down from #13. I didn't enjoy it as much upon repeated viewings.

#21 - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Started out low, went up as high as #10, and now is back down here.

#20 - Thor

I love that Joe Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, Sense8, and tons of other stuff (including a run as the writer on the Thor comic), has a cameo in this movie. I did not know this until I read his recent autobiography Becoming Superman (highly recommended reading, by the way).

#19 - Iron Man 2

R.I.P., Tony Stark (MCU version).

#18 - Thor: The Dark World

Can't wait for the Jane Foster Thor!

#17 - Doctor Strange

Love the scene with Doctor Strange and Thor where Doctor Strange offers Thor some tea and...wait, no, that was a post-credits scene from Thor: Ragnarok. Sometimes it's hard to keep track.

#16 - Iron Man

Funny how the comics version of Tony started looking so much more like Robert Downey, Jr. after this.

#15 - Guardians of the Galaxy

Down from #9, but that's 'cause it's getting crowded at the top.

#14 - Ant-Man and The Wasp

While I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first Ant-Man, it was still fun, especially coming after what happened in Infinity War.

#13 - Captain America: The First Avenger

The first Avenger, the third-best Cap movie. Still good, though.

#12 - Captain America: Civil War

I could watch the airport scene all day.

#11 - Iron Man 3

I still watch this when it comes on TV.

#10 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I still watch this when it comes on TV.

#9 - Thor: Ragnarok

Can't wait for the Jane Foster Thor! Wait, did I say that already?

#8 - Captain Marvel

I don't care what anyone says, I actually kind of like overpowered superheroes. It's fun to watch them kick everyone's butt.

#7 - Spider-Man: Far From Home

While I didn't enjoy this as much as Homecoming, it was still still fun, especially coming after what happened in Endgame. It took me a little while to figure out all the post-Blip timey-wimey shenanigans.

Oh, and hey, Sony and Disney - please kiss and make up. Thank you.

#6 - Black Panther

As I've said before, I really want to go to Wakanda.

#5 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

I can't believe that this one is already on regular cable TV.

#4 - Ant-Man

Yes, still one of my top favorites. Seriously.

#3 - Avengers: Endgame

Time travel, yay!

#2 - Avengers

Still so, so, good.

#1 - Avengers: Infinity War

Call me a sucker for unhappy endings, I guess.

Okay, Disney/Marvel, bring on Phase 4!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Albums Four And Five Status Update

Yep, you heard right. My band, Second Player Score, is currently in the process of writing our fourth and fifth albums at the same time. I'll tell you how that came to be.
For a while now, even as our third album Glorified was being recorded, we'd been working on songs for the follow-up, which was to be titled 200BPM, named after the tempo that a lot of Second Player Score songs seem to be played at.

But somewhere along the way, especially after hearing how "More Than I Can Give" - an uptempo punk rock track off of Glorified - turned out, we decided that we needed a whole album full of short, speedy, simple tunes that evoked images of spiky hairdos and sweaty mosh pits. And, being the nerdy fans of numerology that we are, we decided that said album would have to be our fourth album, since it would contain nothing but four-chord songs a la Face to Face's "Disconnected."

On top of that, since - as you know - all we write are concept albums, we came up with a related storyline that would be sort of a mashup of Pokemon and Battle Royale that would involve elemental guardians, parallel threads of reality, and the ability to see into - naturally - the fourth dimension.

And thus, Four-D was born. It might well be our most ambitious project to date, because not only is there the album, but, like Glorified, there are plans for a related comic book and another product that I'll go into more detail on in a future Album Four Status Update post.

But what about 200BPM? Well, we certainly didn't want to abandon that project, especially since we had already written the music for a lot of it and even recorded one of its songs in the studio. So, it was decided that it would not only become our fifth album, but that we would have to work on it simultaneously with Four-D in order to keep the songs fresh in our minds and not waste all the time we had put into practicing them up until that point.

And so, that's the story of how we got ourselves into this particular predicament. But, hey, challenge accepted, right? At the moment, we have the music written for all 16 (four times four, of course) songs on Four-D, and 9 of the 13 planned songs on 200BPM. Next up are the lyrics, then vocal harmonies, then boot camp.

Oh, and what is the concept behind 200BPM, you ask? Well, the original idea was sort of a psychological horror anthology in the vein of Black Mirror, but then after I realized that no one can really out-Black Mirror Black Mirror, it morphed into the story of a female serial killer who considers her murders to be, essentially, performance art. It's kind of a cross between Killing Eve and Dexter, two of our favorite shows.

Anyway, stay tuned!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On This Day In History

Today we'll take a look back at what I was doing on this date in history (well, not this exact date, but close to it) over the last seven years via the blog posts that I'd written at the time:

Can you believe I've been writing Anime Roundup posts for well over a year now? When I wrote this particular post, I'd just finished watching Sword Art Online, Soul Eater, and One Punch Man, three of my all-time favorites.


Ah, it was not so long ago that I actually had time to go the movies. This was, of course, before the Muse of Screenwriting visited me in June of 2018, chained me to my desk, and commanded me to write, write, and write some more until my fingers bled and my eyes popped out of their sockets.

Thursday, August 11, 2016 - Pokemon Go - Um, I Mean, Wilsonville Fun In The Park & Ash Street Saloon Recap

Man, this was a busy day! Or a recap of a busy day, anyway. Apparently I spent all morning and afternoon in the sun catching Pokemon - I mean, selling books - and then all night playing a show with my band (and catching more Pokemon). I'm amused by the fact that at this time, our second album hadn't even been released yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 - Quickie Status Updates

Wow. When I wrote this particular post, Book Two and Album Two were both still in the development phase, and Gravity Falls was still putting out new episodes. Ah, nostalgia...

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - Random Thoughts: Doctor Who & Video Game Update

Peter Capaldi had just started his run as the Doctor, and Hyrule Warriors hadn't even come out yet.

Thursday, August 8, 2013 - Greetings From Spectraland: Day Four

At this time, I was on summer vacation in Spectraland. Or, actually, deep in writing mode, which is kind of the same thing. Following several days of nonstop writing, the first draft of Book Two stood at 26,000 words.

Monday, August 6, 2012 - My Weekend

I had spent the weekend prior to this at the always-awesome Willamette Writers Conference, which - we've come full circle here - I attended this past weekend as well!

And thus ends our look back in time. Funny how so much has changed while so much has remained the same. Wonder what next August will have in store? Anyone have a time machine I can borrow?*

* yes, I will keep asking that question until I finally get an affirmative response

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-Ghetti

In this food-related post from last month, I mentioned that I can make three large servings of pasta in only a few minutes with just a few dollars' worth of ingredients. Well, today, by popular demand*,  I will share with you my recipe for what I call Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-Ghetti.
Now, understand, this is not fine dining. This is total bachelor chow pub food. That said, it really is quite tasty, believe it or not.

Ingredients:

- One box angel hair pasta (the store-brand kind costs about one dollar and is more than sufficient for our purposes)
- One gallon of water
- Spaghetti sauce (I use the store-brand red sauce with the mushroom and onion flavoring, but just about anything will work)
- Spam (because I'm from Hawaii, where Spam is a staple food)
- Minced garlic (I use the squeeze bottle kind)
- Tabasco
- Soy sauce
- Black pepper
- Turmeric
- Dash of salt, optional

Directions:

1. Bring the gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add a dash of salt.
2. Boil the pasta in accordance with the directions on the box (usually 5-7 minutes, until the pasta is reasonably soft)
3. Cut four slices of Spam, dice, and fry on medium-high heat (no oil) until lightly brown.
4. Add the spam to the pasta.
5. Add the sauce (no need to preheat) to the pasta.
6. Add minced garlic, Tabasco, soy sauce, black pepper, and turmeric to taste.
7. Say "itadakimasu" (optional, but it makes the food taste better for some strange reason) and dig in.

That's it! Man, now I'm hungry...

* Actually no one demanded it

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Volume Five Status Update: Draft One Is Done

Note: this post was originally published on November 30, 2017, except then I was talking about Volume Four, so some relevant details have been changed.
Yup, you heard right. The first draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five is officially complete. At the moment it's clocking in at a robust 78,000+ words, which - based on past experience - should grow to be around 81,000 (i.e., about 324 pages) by the time it's finalized. Woohoo!

So right now I'm just going to let it cool off for a little while before I come back to it in a few days. After that I'll do some more revisions and cleanups, and then once I have a "Draft 1-A" prepared (probably in a couple of months or so) I'll send that off to my editor for her to savagely rip apart - um, I mean, offer some gentle feedback after lots of careful and sensitive deliberation (Hi Susan!).

Once that part of the process is complete, I'll settle into full-on rewriting mode, which should take somewhere around 6-8 months. Or maybe less. Or maybe more! Either way, the target launch date for Volume Five is early-to-mid 2020, so I'm still right on schedule.

And what, exactly, is Volume Five about, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Or not! Suffice it to say that most of the action takes place not in Spectraland, but back on good old Earth, and a lot of characters who were just bit players in previous volumes will have much larger roles this time around. To say any more would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read Volume Four yet, so I'll stop there.

Anyway, I'll be disclosing more details in the weeks and months to come, so keep tuning in to this space for the latest updates. And if you haven't starting reading the Joel Suzuki series yet (gasp!), you can catch up right here:

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone
Joel Suzuki, Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Anime Roundup: No Opening Theme?! Edition

One of my favorite things about anime shows is the theme song. Or theme songs, I should say, as there's usually an opening theme as well as an ending one. As I believe I've mentioned before, Netflix will automatically assume that I want to skip the songs, which oftentimes will make me yell "No, play the song!" at the TV, which startles my cats. I don't know why most anime theme songs are so good. Actually, I do have a theory, but it's top secret for now because I'm integrating said theory into the plot for Joel Suzuki, Volume Five (seriously, I am).

I bring this up again because it seems like a lot of the recent crop of anime shows I've been watching don't have an opening theme song. Or either that, some of the episodes do have one while others don't. Or it takes a long time to actually get to the song. What is happening here, showrunners? Don't you know that not only does an epic opening theme song make your series that much better, but that it also offers an opportunity for bands - some of whom might be signed to the same company that is producing your show - to get their music out to a larger audience? I mean, epic anime theme songs are how I discovered a lot of my current favorite J-Rock artists, especially since a few long-running shows change up their themes each season or mid-season.

Anyway, let's get on with the Roundup, shall we? (Beware, for there may be spoilers.)

Ultraman
Having grown up in Hawaii, I was always more a fan of Ultra Seven than of his predecessor, Ultraman. Nevertheless, I was still very interested in checking this show out. And I'm ultra-glad I did (insert well-deserved groans here). So far, through the first season the show has established itself as a darker, grimmer take on the original that explores some of the real-world ramifications of being Ultraman; not only the collateral damage aspect, but also the moral dilemma involved with killing aliens, even if they're bad guys. It balances that darker tone well with some humor and lighter moments (I loved the Rena's hat-and-glasses disguise joke), something that I really appreciate.

I also appreciated all the easter eggs that called back to some of the original tokusatsu shows, like Dan as a sort-of-Ultra Seven and Seiji as a sort-of-Ultraman Ace. Oh, and also the fact that the statue of the original Ultraman in the SSSP museum has the little eyeholes that the actor used to see through.

The CG art and animation is very video-gamey, which is not a criticism. I suspected, based on the movements of the characters, that they were using motion capture, and sure enough, when the ending credits rolled, I was able to use my rudimentary knowledge of katakana to see that there were "motion capture actors" and "motion capture animators." The show is rated TV-14, but it pushes right up to the border of that rating and sometimes, in my opinion, crosses over into TV-MA territory with its somewhat gratuitous use of blood, violence, and profanity (not a problem with me, but just in case you're thinking this might be a good show for young kids).

Note: this show has no opening theme song. Nevertheless, can't wait for season two!

Gunslinger Girl
This show was definitely not what I expected. Based on the description, I thought it was going to be some sort of Sailor Moon-meets-Hit Girl kind of deal, where an ensemble of young women with extraordinary fighting skills routinely take on and wipe out cadres of bad guys before going home and having tea and cake. And, granted, while there is a fair bit of that happening in this show, it goes a lot deeper than that, exploring - like the new Ultraman does - a lot of complex moral issues. The slow, quiet moments actually outnumber the violent ones, and (spoiler alert) there isn't really a story arc to speak of, which makes the proceedings feel very realistic - or as realistic as a show about preteen cyborg assassins can get.

Note: this show has no opening theme song.

Fate/Extra Last Encore
In the last Anime Roundup post, I said I'd probably check out more Fate titles after having watched Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works). And, well, I'm a man of my word. This show was interesting to me because it basically took a bunch of the more familiar characters from the other series and gave them entirely new personalities. There was really no continuity with the other shows aside from a few similar worldbuilding elements, and the storyline somehow managed to be very simple but also extremely complicated at the same time. But guess what? None of that means that I didn't enjoy the show - in fact, I liked it a lot. I also loved Saber's catch phrase (or catch word, I suppose): "Umu!"

Note: the first episode had no opening theme, which prompted me to say "Really? Another show like that?" Yes, I talk to my television a lot. But then, starting with the second episode, the show introduced a pretty rockin' opening song, so, whew.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Bizarre adventure, indeed! This show, while embodying all the stereotypical over-the-top attributes normally associated with anime, was so, so watchable. I guess that explains why there's an entire franchise built around it that I haven't even started to scratch the surface of yet. I love how some of the characters are named after classic Western rock bands (REO Speedwagon, AC/DC, The Cars, Dio, etc.), and the ending - which wasn't actually an ending, as there are lot more episodes that aren't available to me at the moment - was pitch-perfect.

Note: the first episode had no opening theme.

Ingress: The Animation
This was a fun show. Very Matrix-y. Each episode went by really quickly. I did not know that it was based on an actual existing augmented reality game until afterwards. The concept of "XM" (exotic matter) was very cool, as was the idea of "Sensitives" (people with XM-powered abilities). I kind of wished that Sarah had played a bigger role instead of being a standard damsel-in-distress for most of the season, but oh well. Everything kind of wrapped up neatly at the end (despite the cliffhanger) so I'm not sure where, exactly, they would go with this for a second season assuming there is one, but if there is, I'll be there.

Note: it took a while to get to the opening theme in the first episode, nearly prompting me to talk to my TV yet again, but it got there eventually.

Revisions
In keeping with this recent trend of "darker and grittier" (see Ultraman, above), it seemed to me that this show sort of wants to be to the isekai (portal fantasy) and mecha (giant robot) genres what Madoka Magica is to the "magical girl" genre, with unexpected twists, realistic characters (or as realistic as these things can get), and sometimes shocking moments. Despite plot developments that left me confused at certain points (I thought Milo was going to return to 2010 much earlier than she did) and a supposed main protagonist who was thoroughly annoying and unlikable for most of the season (there were a couple of fun meta moments when the writers themselves seemed to be aware of this), I found this show to be incredibly watchable; when the end credits for each episode started to roll, I always thought "wow, that went by fast." I also liked how the season wrapped things up nicely but still left plenty of room for more. Bring it on, I say!

Note: this show had a cool opening theme song from the get-go.

In This Corner of the World
To fulfill my one-feature-length-anime-per-Roundup requirement, I chose this one, which isn't a classic (yet) along the lines of Akira or Battle Angel Alita but is nevertheless highly acclaimed, having won a boatload of awards since its release in 2016. A fictionalized account of a woman's life as she grows up in Japan pre- and during-WWII, it's slow and gentle in tone while still being unflinching in its depiction of the horrors of war. The fact that you, the viewer, knows what's coming - namely, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - lends an undercurrent of somber uneasiness to the whole proceedings, which are otherwise basically slice-of-life vignettes that follow the main character as she grows up, gets married, and tries to live a simple and honest life. At two hours and nine minutes, it's on the long side, but very well worth it. Strongly recommended.

In the next roundup, probably: Hunter x Hunter, March Comes in Like a Lion, Fairy Tail, A Silent Voice, and more!