Friday, June 28, 2013

Book report: Ocean at the End of the Lane

It’s been a very long time since I finished a book, put it down, and said, “wow.” 

My relationship with Ocean at the End of the Lane started last September when I was able to go see Neil Gaiman speak at George Mason University’s “Fall for the Book.” I got to hear him read a chapter, and was almost instantly sucked into the story of this unnamed 7 year old and the strange things going on around his house. And that was just one chapter, so when I picked up the book the only thing I could hope for was that it would live up to my expectations. It managed to exceed each one.

Neil Gaiman is known for his... let’s just say “weird” writing. I mean, I love the man, but go back and look at some of what he’s written. There’s the end of the world, the personification of dreams, talking cats, evil women with button eyes, talking stars (the shiny ones, not the Brad Pitt ones), talking televisions that impersonate Lucille Ball, and two very memorable episodes of Dr. Who. And that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. So going into the book, I knew that I’d be up for some strange things, but I wasn’t expecting the emotional punch to the gut that this book would hold. That’s not to say that I wasn’t affected emotionally by his other books, just that I wasn’t expecting the way this book would affect me.

Oh, right, the plot. I should probably get to that. There’s this unnamed, lonely 7 year old who lives down the lane from this family named the Hempstocks, a group of very strange women who may or may not be magical. He befriends the 11 year old Lettie Hempstock who may or may not be older than 11 and claims that the duck pond was in fact, an ocean. Strange things start happening after a boarder who lives in the house kills himself, and the Hempstock women may be the only people who can stop it.

What I loved about this book was how much it reminded me of pure, unadulterated childhood. I threw in a reminder about how strange Neil Gaiman can be simply because I felt important to point out that he works in the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Let’s face it, we’ve all put on capes or pretended we’re space heroes saving the day when we were kids. But this book, especially the way it plays with memory... it’s something that could have happened but it’s also entirely possible that it all existed in the mind of this child, friendless and just looking for an outlet. 

I may be reading too much into it. But that’s sort of the way things are with books that we love, sometimes we find more meaning than we originally think when we start really digging. In this case, I found a unique meaning that I loved, that whether or not it’s true or not it holds a truth for me. And that’s part of the book, finding truth. It’s about the sheer belief that being a child holds. It’s about faith. And it’s possibly about evil magic.

I’m not making any sense. I could go back and sense that last paragraph up a little bit, but it’s my blog, and I think that was important little working of things out for me. I wanted to try to capture how much reading this book reminded me of childhood. It reminded me of the time when anything was possible, and you accepted it because at that time you didn't realize it wasn't possible for good witches to battle evil things. You didn't "know better." It's back when life was a better, simpler time.

You know, I could write eight pages on how I felt about this book. This is one of those books that I could analyze and it and break it apart. But I can’t do that. What I can do is say this: Go read the book. You’re going to enjoy it. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So... How We Doin'?

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Non-Dr. Who fans, I bid you welcome to the final week of June. What does the final week of June mean to those of us here at Bad Shakespeare, Inc. (Right now “us” at Bad Shakespeare, Inc is just me writing the blog. The Christmas parties are fun, but the Secret Santa exchange is ultimately disappointing.) For us, it means we are about halfway through our Holiest time of the year: Summer Movie Season.
                It has been a fruitful and an interesting one. Somehow a superhero with PTSD from stopping a nuclear bomb from destroying New York City was deemed less dark than an alien who crashed into a few buildings while saving the world. Jesse Eisenberg became a bigger star than Will Smith for one, brief shining moment. The twist that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan managed to fool three people who promptly got into trouble because they managed to stumble into a movie from their Amish commune somewhere.  Maybe the third time and a flying giraffe head was over the limit for a group of heavy drinking, hard partying friends. We got to see cars go zoom-zoom in the prequel to Fast and the Furious 7.  Leonardo DiCaprio proved that he’s unlucky in love and in not dying in yet another movie. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and a bunch of others screened some home movies for everyone. (At least I believe that’s what it was. Who knows.) And we get to complain that there were a million remakes and sequels, but somehow pretend that Much Ado About Nothing wasn’t actually a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake based on a play written well before Madonna put out her first single.
                But me being the friend to the reader that I am, I went out and saw as many of these movies as I possibly could. I say as your friend, but we’ve already established that I actually love this time of year, and I went out and saw them because I wanted to… in the case of Man of Steel and Star Trek, I loved them twice. (Possibly a third time. My love is deep. I’m a carer.) And while I have reviewed or referenced few of these movies in past blog posts, I’m rounding up my thoughts here, mostly because I’m not done with that new Neil Gaiman book like I thought I’d be so I’m short a post for the week. Enjoy, everybody!
                Iron Man 3: Tony Stark is back in his Iron Maniest adventure yet, dealing with the PTSD involved with stopping aliens in Avengers, a ruthless Asian terrorist that speaks with a Midwestern accent for some reason, and guys that can breathe fire! It’s ok, he befriends a little kid and builds like, 900 suits to jump into. Decent movie, tried way to hard to reference The Avengers without actually saying “Avengers”. (Except once. And a cute “Superfriends” reference, thus giving more movie screen time to a Justice League movie than DC Comics ever will.)
                The Great Gatsby: Your English class comes alive in this 3-D spectacle focusing on rich and famous people doing horrible things to each other in the name of being rich and famous. Baz Lurhman directs in the best Baz Lurhmany style, ever. If only there was a way to make the material relatable, English Teachers! Easily one of the best movies of the summer
                Star Trek Into Darkness: Seriously, people? Seriously do you not know what it’s about at this point? It’s Star Trek. I did like a whole week on it. The bad guy is Khan. Someone yells it. Go see the movie.
                The Hangover, Part 3: Can you believe it’s been a full three hangovers since we first met the Wolfpack and their wacky adventures of piecing together of their even zanier adventures of the night before? Can you believe that maybe they should have stopped at one?
                Now You See Me: Like Ocean’s 11, but with only four people, and with more MAGIC! Also Jesse Eisenberg. And Woody Harrelson. It’s like the Zombieland reunion without the humor, and without the other two characters and surprise cameo from Bill Murray. Morgan Freeman is in it, and he gets some exposition, and listening to him talk is always exciting. Yay, Morgan Freeman!
                Man of Steel: I actually reviewed this one. Great story. Great action. Not as depressing as everyone seems to think it is. I kind of think this is the sort of thing where everyone was like “Hey it’s David Goyer, so it’s going to be sad” and looked for the sad and depressing, like we look for the twist in one of M. Night’s movies, but the twist never actually comes and we’re just getting sadder because he even managed to make Zooey Deschanel seem not cute for an entire movie. What was my point? Oh, yeah, great movie.
                This is the End: One of the funniest movies about the end of days starring celebrities as themselves who do horrible things to each other that I’ve ever seen.
                Much Ado About Nothing: I reviewed this one on Monday. You should go back and read it. Twice maybe, my view count for this month is kind of low.
                So, that’s the wrap up of what I’ve seen and done for this particular Summer Movie Season. I missed a few I wanted to check out, like After Earth and Monsters University, but the summer movie season is young, there will be plenty of chances to check them out. And there’s still many, many other movies to look forward to as the movie season moves forward! I just wish the weather was worse. It’s so much easier to justify spending more time in the theater when the weather sucks. Oh, well we all have our burdens to bear. Here’s hoping for another two good months!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Inept Cops. Fake Deaths. Deceit. Plotting. Hilarity Ensues in Much Ado About Nothing!

It may come as a shock to everyone, but I don’t think we should force kids to read Shakespeare. I don’t think we should make anyone read Shakespeare. Mainly because Shakespeare didn’t write things that were meant to be read, he wrote things that were meant to be performed. I think everyone should have to study Shakespeare, and I think everyone should watch one of his plays be performed. Joss Whedon succeeds in putting together a Much Ado About Nothing that’s not just funny, but also easily accessible, and should be watched by all.

Sorry, kids, I did my best for you there.

Movie versions of Shakespeare plays are difficult. Do you go for the classic Elizabethan style? Do you update it and force some of the language have to be updated? Do you set it in a mushroom kingdom and do a parody of Super Mario Brothers? (Movie idea: The Merry Wives of the Mario Brothers.) Setting it modern day, keeping most of the language, and putting it all in black and white really translated well. Granted, if you’re going to set something in modern day, this is the play to do it. (That and Macbeth. Let’s face it, witches and beheadings never really go out of style.)

Much Ado About Nothing is the natural fit for Joss Whedon’s style. Had Joss Whedon been born back in Shakespeare times, he’d probably be a small, unsuccessful landowner who wrote something similar to Much Ado About Nothing, then was later re-written by William Shakespeare. The rapid jokes, the sniping, the battle of the sexes... all part of Joss Whedon’s work. It’s what makes him Joss Whedon. 

I’ve always liked Much Ado About Nothing. To me it really plays like a parody of William Shakespeare’s works. The stakes are pretty low. (Will Beatrice and Benedick get married? Will Hero and Claudio work through their problems?) There’s some plotting, but all the plotting is to get people to fall in love. The bad guy isn’t really a bad guy as he is a devious, scheming guy with no real motivation other than, “Hey... I’m going to mess with all these people in a horrible, horrible way.” And the whole thing takes place post-war, so while it’s briefly mentioned, it’s not really hanging over the proceedings. No, this is a bright, breezy affair. This is crowd pleasin’, Rom-Com Shakespeare.  Basically, it’s what Hamlet would have been if it was intentionally funny. 

Side note: Hamlet is probably other good fit for Joss Whedon, because there’s a ghost and everyone dies. In fact, two of the funniest characters are killed off screen. A young Joss probably watched that and said, “I’m going to make everyone fall in love with a guest star, put her in the credits, then kill her and never show her ever, ever again. (You were Willow’s real love, Tara.)

Oh, you probably want to know about the plot. Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick and his ne’er do well (I can say that... Shakespeare) bastard brother Don John, end up at Leonato’s house to spend the month. In that time, Claudio falls in love with Hero and decide to get married, and Don Pedro decides to spend the week scheming to get Benedick and Beatrice together. Don John gets his men together to besmirch Hero’s name and cause general mayhem. 

If it’s not obvious by now (and the preview I wrote a few weeks ago) I loved this movie. Yes, I was a bit pre-disposed to absolutely love it... It’s one of my favorite modern writer/directors taking on one of my favorite old-timey writer/directors, and I absolutely love all the actors involved in making this. So at this point it was really Joss Whedon and the actor’s game to lose. And they didn’t. I loved it. I loved every last second of watching this movie.

The actors seemed at home performing this play. Amy Acker did a great job as Beatrice, and had great will they or won’t they chemistry with Alexis Denisof as her Benedick. (Like a Sam and Diane. Or Ross and Rachel. Or Jim and Pam. Or... you know, that’s how far forward my pop culture goes. If you don’t understand those, kids as your parents.) Fran Kranz (Who played Claudio and we can pretend that we’re not going to call him “Topher”) did a great job as an insecure young soldier. I loved Clark “Agent Coulson” Gregg as Leonato... dude melted into the role. Really, I had to throw in a joke about Agent Coulson, but about two minutes after he opened his mouth, I felt bad for saying “Agent Coulson lives!” when he walked on the screen, because he inhabited the role.

The big standout for me was that of Nathan Fillion in the role of Dogberry. Even though this is a smaller part, it’s one of the more important parts in Shakespeare, period. Remember how earlier I mentioned that this plays out as a parody of a Shakespeare play? Dogberry is this play’s fool. Normally, Shakespeare liked to make his fools the smartest characters, Dogberry is a character that THINKs he’s the smartest guy in the room, and also the one who figures out Don John’s evil (ish) plot and saves the day, all completely on accident. This is the easiest character to screw up, but Fillion really managed to pull it off in a way that I didn’t think was possible. 

Speaking of the actors and the directing, I love love love the fact that they didn’t go the whole “high British accent” route. We’ve discussed in the past that theater in Shakespeare’s day was considered low-class, so it was performed closer to an American accent. (Some say closer to a Chicago Accent, which explains why Antigonus exits, pursued by Da Bears in another play. Not all these jokes are winners, folks.) Particularly since we know that Alexis Denisof can do an English Accent (unlike some other mystical father figures...) as he did it for 6 years for Joss in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel

Yes, I’ll be the first one to admit that I was looking forward to this, more than Man of Steel. (No one tell Superman, my first love...) So yes, unless they came out and butchered the text, I was more apt to love it. There are some not great moments. The whole “Claudio is easily fooled” part is still difficult to watch, no matter how great the actors. The dramatic scenes weren’t the strongest. And they really pushed the “love is great, sex is bad” theme by switching the gender of one of Don John’s hench... um.... persons... which makes for a rather interesting moment as Don John and her make out for a little bit. (It still works, don’t get me wrong, and it ties into the idea of love vs. sex, but it’s just a bit obvious at some moments.)

But I would urge everyone to go see it. If you want to see a version of a Shakespearean play that you will understand, laugh at, and is relatable today, I would highly recommend watching this movie. Hey, it manages to be funnier than Hangover 3.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Book Report: Reached by Ally Condie

Whelp, I’ve Reached the end of the Matched Trilogy.

Ok, I got that out of my system.

I honestly have to say that I don’ think I’ve enjoyed the wrap-up to a trilogy so much in anything I’ve ever read. For those who haven’t read it, The Matched Trilogy is about a “near-perfect” society (named “Society”... one of the things outlawed was creativity... it’s a nice little touch that runs through the books) where just about everything is planned out for you. The book series starts in Matched, when our protagonist Cassia is matched first with Ky, an Anomaly who shouldn’t be in the matching pool, then with Xander, her lifelong friend. (and I reviewed it here, and the writer, Ally Condie, said nice things about me.) Then it continues in Crossed, (that I didn’t review) where Cassia is searching for Ky who’s been sent away, and then as they search for the rebellion known as the Rising. (Again... creativity itself has been outlawed.) 

Reached finishes out the trilogy, as Ky, Xander, and Cassia work within the Rising to bring down Society with a Plague. Of course, then the plague mutates, then the Rising and the Society are both screwed. During all of this, Cassia attempts to bring back creativity itself, Xander deals with his love for Cassia, and Ky... well, Ky spends most of his time trying not to die from the mutation in the plague. He sort of gets the short end of the stick on this one. I feel a little bad for him, but we’ll get to him in a minute.

I will admit that these books do use a technique I’m not fond of, and that’s first person switching narrator. One chapter is told by Cassia, another by Xander, and another by Ky, alternating to tell us different points of the Rising, the Society, and the new world that Cassia is trying to build with poems, art, songs... again, important stuff. So it should say something that this book is still amazing, and managed to blow me away, not with just the writing but the revelations, keep managing to be thrown at you like darts at a cow. One chapter, late in the book, when Ky has really started to be affected by the plague, is just his heading and a blank page, and it nearly broke my heart. 

There’s a great underlying theme here, too about immortality. The Society is constantly trying to beat death (Raging against the dying of the light, if it were...) through science, trying to find ways to bring people back to life. Cassia manages to start a Gallery with different types of art. This theme keeps coming back around... what is our legacy? How can we live forever? Cassia seems to understand early on that we do want to hang onto our loved ones (she carries around a tube with her Grandfather’s DNA in it for a bit, later to give it a proper burial) but it’s not the physical act of being brought back to life, but we can exist for a long time through our actions. That’s quite on the nose, yes, but you have to understand how excited I was when my brain finally grasped it. 

The characters, as usual, are amazing. I really like the renewed focus on Xander, who it turns out was part of the Rising the whole time. He wasn’t around much in the last book, as Ally Condie chose to focus more on the Cassia/Ky romance. Too often in young adult novels there’s a clear divide of who should be together by making one of the characters weaker... the writer doesn’t do that. Xander is a powerful, conflicted character who clearly loves Cassia. He loves her enough to let her go away. I also really liked the fact that Ky clearly didn’t trust the Rising, but only joined it as an outlet to allow him to end up with Cassia. (Oh, it’s not that big of a spoiler, you big babies. It’s telegraphed in the first book.)

There were only a few things I didn’t really enjoy. I felt the mythic Pilot, the leader of the Rising was a little underdeveloped, and a bit of a jerk. I didn’t really get a “Hey let’s follow this guy in defying the Society” vibe from him. Also, I didn’t like how Cassia’s Gallery quickly disappeared from the story. I get why it had to happen, doesn’t mean I have to like it. There’s also one character that disappears after affecting the plot so much in the second book, and I don’t like the way she was just unceremoniously dumped from the book.

These are minor quibbles, though, and not to take away from a book series that was extremely enjoyable. The twists are incredible... and the writing is amazing. These books are overlooked for the flashier Hunger Games, but in a way I enjoyed them a lot more. They’re subtler. They take more time to build, and the symbolism is just incredible. Once again, we do have an incredible focus on color. You should be reading this book. 

One final thing before I wrap up... the central mystery of the books, “How did Ky get into the matching pool in the first book” is wrapped up incredibly. It’s the first time I read or saw a twist that I didn’t see coming, but made complete sense in retrospect. It’s discussed repeatedly, and I can’t believe I didn’t realize it earlier. I really want to go back and re-read a few things, just so I can pick up on the clues.

And I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Dystopian Utopia

As you can tell from the indicator to your right, I am reading Reached, the last book of the Matched trilogy. (Or have finished, depending on when you’re reading this. If you’re reading this in the future, trust me, I was reading it like, forever.) It’s a fantastic read, and I’m looking forward to wrapping it up soon. For those of who don’t know, it features one of my favorite subjects, a dystopian society. 

Dystopian Societies are interesting subjects. Things aren’t quite post-apocalyptic, so people aren’t necessarily wearing leather. Chances are there’s a ruling class that’s all dressed alike, and everyone else is sort of hanging out in tattered rags or whatever they can find. And there’s a chosen one. Ooh, yeah. There’s a chosen one, and probably a rebellion lurking about, looking for said chosen one. 

But whether you’re lording over a horrific game where you make kids kill each other, you’re burning all the books, banning emotion, making people take funky tables, or just finding some way to subjugate the masses, one thing is certain. Being the overlord (whatever you’ve called yourself... more on that in a moment) of a dystopian society tends to suck. Being the connoisseur of dystopian fiction, I’ve decided to help future leaders of dystopian societies by compiling a list of how to run the perfect dystopian society.

-As I previously mentioned, don’t pick a title for yourself that’s too megalomaniacal. Remember, you’re subjugating a large group of people here, and resources probably suck. There’s an entire ruling class. You’re not an “Overlord” or in some cases, even a “President.” Think small. Mayor? Local Dog Catcher? Something you make up? Just remember that keeping things small will keep you in touch with the common man that’s working in your underground mine.

-The ruling class in these stories are typically wearing white. Do you know what that probably costs in bleach alone? You can’t run a society that’s on it’s last legs by sinking all your money on cleaning your Officials or Peacekeepers uniforms clean. I mean, by now your resources have stopped you from having a ton of food, but one little spill and you’re out.

-Look, you’re going to have a rebellion. It’s a fact of life. You can either work with it, or you can strike against it, hoping each time that “this is it! I’ve crushed them under my mighty force.” No. No you haven’t. Chances are about half of the people that work in your mines are currently working for the rebellion, or spreading rumors about them. What I recommend is catering each meeting for the rebellion. Then you know they’re well fed, and probably too busy complimenting the spread to really focus on fighting against you.

-Ban whatever you want, but don’t ban dancing. John Lithgow was defeated by Kevin Bacon through the power of dance. Seriously.

-There’s going to be a chosen one. Whether it’s by magic, science, or someone who’s got a special skill with a bow and arrow, there’s going to be a chosen one. You can’t fight them. You just can’t. Don’t threaten their family, and for the love of God, don’t monologue. If you get a chance, take them out. And don’t do something to elevate them. That dude in the Hunger Games did everything he could to put that chick right back in the spotlight then wondered why everyone followed her. He deserved the fate that he got at the end of that book that I won’t spoil.

Paying attention to just these few rules can help you run the near-perfect dystopian society.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Review of Man of Steel by Someone Who Actually Saw the Movie.

    After reading the reviews of Man of Steel and then finally going to see Man of Steel (my superpower is not letting mediocre reviews keep me away from movies) I really have to wonder if the people who reviewed the movie professionally actually watched the movie or if they knew anything about this “Super-man” that was featured in it. (My personal favorite “jab” was the one saying that there were “no glasses” in this movie, the iconic disguise, when, yep... they were in there.)

    You all know the plot by know, strange visitor sent from a dying planet realizes he’s got powers. This version does a unique thing of actually showing Kal-El/Superman/Clark using his superpowers within the first half an hour of the movie, rather than waiting for Tony Stark to build the damn suit, the spider to bite someone, or Batman’s parents die already. (which is pretty dark when you think about it.)

    This adds another layer by making Kal-El/Clark a bit of an outcast because of his powers, rather than the typical, all-American boy that everyone knows and loves. I liked the change. I like the narrative hopping back and forth so we weren’t just getting a straight out origin story of how he discovered his powers, but the complicated origin story of why he decided to help people. Of course, a giant space ship coming down and the megalomaniac alien on board saying he’s going to destroy the planet if you don’t come forward is a pretty good reason to come forward.

    Other reviews talk about how dark this film is... it actually kind of isn’t. Despite the overwhelming odds against him, including his own people shooting at him, Superman does the right thing and still believes in helping people. There’s a great message about wanting to save the day and using your powers for good.

    The actor are incredible, Henry Cavill embodies what Superman should be, and Amy Adams will make you wonder why there was ever another Lois Lane cast. She’s the perfect Lois Lane, and makes the movie as much about her as it is about Superman. And of course Michael Shannon is an excellent General Zod by way of Michael Shannon. 30 Odd Foot Grunts Frontman Russell Crowe IS Jor-El, playing him with a bit more of a an action role, which is pretty freaking awesome. The one stand-out not really mentioned in a lot of reviews is Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. While this is a minor role, there’s one scene at the end that really embodies what it means to be this character as the soul of the city. He does it.

    Also, for spoilers, there’s one major change at the end to the Superman mythos, but it corrects a long-standing joke. You’ll know it when you see it, but I liked it. A lot. I don’t think it changes anything about Superman or the story itself.

    So, should see it? Absolutely. This is one of the best movies of the summer (Along with Star Trek Into Darkness and the Great Gatsby), and in general is a great Superman movie. Take it from a real Superman fan who’s researched Superman and actually sat through the movie.

    Man of Steel
: Five Shakespeare Mustaches out of Five.

Monday, June 17, 2013

He Looks Good for a 75 Year Old Alien

   Man of Steel opened this weekend. It’s the story about an alien named “Kal-El” from a planet called “Krypton.” I recap mostly as a joke, I think knowing about Superman and his origin is probably knowledge we’re all born with, along with the Giligan’s Isand theme song and the fact that there will never be a TV cop as great as Erik Estrada.

    However, I was having a conversation with one of my professors/academic advisor/all around cool guy and he asked an interesting question. “Not counting comic books, what version of Superman is this that you’ve seen?” So, we counted, when we were probably supposed to be discussing something more important. Here’s what we came up with:

-1950’s George Reeves black and white show.
-Smallville, the dreamy Superboy but not really Superboy because of litigation at the time version.
-the Christopher Reeves/Richard Donner version.
-The old Max Fleischer cartoons
-The animated show that came out a few years ago
-Reluctantly we counted the Brandon Routh Superman Returns.
-The various DC Comic animated movies
-And a few more we’re sure we’re forgetting about.

    That doesn’t begin to count the billions of different Superman interpretations in comic books, including Earth 1 which features Superman at his emo-est, Secret Identity which is a young kid realizing he’s Superman, or even the electro-powered version of Superman that someone thought was a good idea clearly after a night of bad clams. There have been a million attempts to re-define the Man of Steel, the Last Son of Krypton.

    So... why?

    It’s safe to say that long after people beam old versions of this blog into their brains to find out what life was like back before cloning made it possible for everyone to make out with their own version of Scarlett Johanssen (it was a dark time, people of the future) there will continue to be new versions of Superman. Why do we try to understand him? Why do we keep thinking of new ways to interpret and dissect the Man of Steel?

    Superman is an icon. If you took the “S” (or “Hope”) symbol anywhere in the WORLD people would know exactly what it means. Superman stands for something greater than us. He stands for ideals we’d hope we could achieve. Think about it Superman isn’t just more powerful than other humans, he’s more powerful than the Superhumans in the comics. What does he choose to do with all that power? Save people. Help people. Not take over the world. (Although there’s that version out there, too...)
    There will always be a Superman. As reviewers and hipsters try to pretend that Superman has lost his relevance (I’m looking at you, Slate and your moronic story about a hero that actually likes being a superhero not being cool anymore) he’s more relevant than ever. Maybe because we need that hope. Maybe because we want to believe that things aren’t as bad as we think they are. Maybe because it’s just really cool to see a guy flying around.

    So, what did I think of the movie itself? Like I’ve said before, I write these a week in advance, and I’ve not yet seen the movie. I’ll be doing a special movie review tomorrow. See you then!
So, a little movie called

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's a Nice Day for a Red Wedding...

                          (spoiler alert: don't let the fact that this guy is featured on all the ads fool you.)
               Last week, the TV series Game of Thrones, killed off several of it’s regular characters in an extremely bloody wedding reception. This surprised people who didn’t follow the book series it was based on, A Song of Ice and Fire. (Or who quickly forgot the first season, which killed off the guy who was on every single poster promoting the show, thus proving that there may be some death in this epic about wars, dragons, and dwarves with killer wit.) However, what followed was the great reader vs. watcher war of 2013, whereupon readers were happy because they knew it was going to happen, some of the people watching the show were going to swear it off forever because of the shocking deaths (they kill a puppy in the third episode. I'm not so sure "brutal" describes it), and some people tried to lord their knowledge of the books over those that just watched the show.
                Meanwhile, I remembered back to a simpler time when watching TV Shows like this or reading books like this got you wedgied. Being a nerd used to be hard.
                What bothered me was the debate afterward. (You’d think it would be the people dying at a wedding reception. Hmm.) Yes, people are mad when their favorite character is killed off… I may worship Joss Whedon but I’ll never really forgive him for what he did with Tara in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer… but there was almost a condescending air from some of the long-time readers that were waiting for this moment to come.
                Caveat: not EVERYONE. Some of my favorite people are Song of Ice and Fire fans first, Game of Thrones fans second. You are all awesome people, and if I could give you all a hug right now I certainly would. I even plan on reading the books, so this isn’t directed at you awesome people who have helped me get into it. It’s about the really strange reaction long time readers had to those people who were discovering the “Red Wedding” for the first time. It was just hard to watch, to be honest with you. Not the many people dying, the book fans attacking the television only fans.
                Look, it’s a big scene. And it’s surprising. But i wouldn’t have seen it coming. Actually I was kind of glad I didn’t, TV-Wise. And I sort of treat the two like they’re separate entities. The book will always be better than a movie (or epic TV show.)
                A lot of this debate made me think back to The Hunger Games. I had read the books, and I was looking forward to the movie. And as a movie, it’s pretty good. A decent adaptation,  the actors all played their parts well… but it lacked some of the emotional punch. The Hunger Games is very much Katniss’ story. By putting it up on the screen, and taking us out of her head (not sure a voice over would do us any good) an element of the book was forever removed. That, too, caused controversy because of the casting of Rue, then by those that weren’t prepared for her death.
                Maybe all I’m discovering here is just that people like to complain….
                 “The Red Wedding” is a huge game changer in the book and in the TV Show. And it’s a big shock, whether you’re watching the show, or whether you’re reading the books. One isn’t better than the other. No, you shouldn’t swear off the show because it kills off several of it’s characters (Damn you, Joss Whedon) nor were you put into some secret club because you read the book. If anything, the book club should be LESS secret, and you should be getting people to read the books you love more and more. Reading is something that needs to be shared, something that needs to be cultivated and loved. Not something that should be lorded over people who didn’t read the book, and then decided they didn’t like an outcome.
                Of course, I could go on. This is a fascinating area, book vs. film/tv, particularly as some of these adaptations become more popular, and as the readers have to see more of what they love about the books being adapted to a wider audience. it's an interesting balance.  But it's important to remember that you don't need to read a book to enjoy a movie, and vice versa. Also, reading one doesn't suddenly make you a better person. This goes way back to the idea of defining literature by whether or not it's in a an old book, or if it's on a TV Show. One isn't instantly better than the other because it came first.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Limited Release Much Ado About Nothing??

  Whelp, today is June 7th. Which means today is the day that our High Commander, our Leader, High Lord Joss Whedon told us to go expand our literary palate by going to see his adaption of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s just a little film he threw together starring some of his buddies after his last little art flick, The Avengers. (You may not have seen it, it was a movie about a group of outcasts who learn to overcome their differences to strive towards a common good. Also, Hulk smashed.)

    And I was looking forward to watching it, and then reviewing it. I really couldn’t wait. Of course, then I was sucker punched in the throat with those magic words, “limited release.” The nearest place this movie that I’ve been looking forward to for over a year is playing is in New York City, over 200 miles away from me. It make seeing a midnight version of this very difficult.

    But I’m not going to let a little thing like “not seeing the movie” really stop me from writing this post.

    The first paragraph, of course, would be the one you just read that would talk about the epic story behind this black and white, modern day set version of Much Ado About Nothing, filmed by the High Master Whedon. He did so with some of his regulars... Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan “Captain Mal” Fillion... and added that guy who played Agent Coulson in The Avengers and a few other movies. But, of course, it’s limited release, so I can’t really talk too much about that.

    Then I’d talk about how much I’ve always liked Much Ado About Nothing. It’s one of my favorite plays. Even though it was written centuries ago, it’s still laugh out loud funny today, and still has a lot to say about the interaction between men and women. (Particularly with the idea of not listening to your heart, despite the fact that you really, really should.) Of course, being on limited release...

    I’m sure at some point I’d want to write something about the fact that it was done in black and white, and it would add to the fact that it’s modern, but it’s also got that timeless quality. I’m sure the black and white will look fantastic when I finally get to see it in two weeks, when it’s no longer on a limited release.

    Let’s not forget the acting. I can only imagine how this wonderful stable of Whedon regulars and a few new faces bring to life some of the more known Shakespearean characters. I’m certain that a standout will including Fillion, Captain Hammering it up as Dogberry, the inept lawman who manages to crack the case wide open and save the day. (Although with no idea that he’s done it.) I’m sure Amy Acker would knock it out of the park as Beatrice, while Agent Coulson would fit right in as Leonato in joining this group.

    Yes, I am quite looking forward to talking about how much I may enjoy this movie when it’s finally released to everyone, not just a few select cities tomorrow.  This blog is called Bad Shakespeare, and nerd talk is our life. It’s not like I’m going to miss watching one of the funniest Shakespearean movies directed by the Nerd-King that is Joss Whedon. Sadly, I have to wait two weeks, until June 21st, for this to finally happen.

    Or maybe I’ll take a trip up to New York City.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

All About My Mother.

On Monday, I gave my sage wisdom about how it was never really too late to do anything. And it isn’t. You also know that I will shill anything for any reason. But this is a great reason, because it's about an art show.  Being put on by my mother, Maria Bennett Hock. You can find her website at: Go to it. Now. Seriously, if she doesn’t get like, 20 views from this, I’m grounded. But I can say with extreme bias that her art is amazing.

    My mother graduated from college much later in life. One of my earliest memories is being left with a babysitter so my mom could attend night classes, but she still never could get the hang of graduating from college. Then, a few years ago, she decided to go to my alma mater, George Mason University. In the process she also ended up stealing my old email address from Mason, but that’s neither here nor there. You should hear her tell stories about some of her freshman classes, it's hilarious. But, my very practical mother, while studying communications (those that watch the Simpsons will get the joke “I know! It’s a fake major.” Those that don’t either get offended, or move on.) decided to focus more on her artwork. She always was pretty good at art, even when I was growing up, but focused on raising her kids instead of her artwork. But while, at Mason, she realized that she was pretty decent at communications, but was freakin’ excellent as an artist.

    Can I say freakin’ excellent about my mother? I’m going to. This is still my blog, and I’m a man! A grown man! Writing this while wearing a “Flash” T-Shirt. It makes me type faster.

    Anyway, I’m writing this because I’m proud of my mother, who could have thrown in the towel years ago and still called it a great life. I mean, her sons are pretty amazing. Well, one is amazing, the other one is writing his blog in a Flash T-shirt, so he’s something else entirely. But I’m proud of her, and I know despite the fact that she doesn’t always understand what I write about and my borderline offensive jokes, she’s still very proud of me, despite the fact that lesser mothers might have given up on me years ago.

    However, she has continued to work on her art, even after her college degree in communications. (Of course, those of with English BA's shouldn't throw stones.) Now she actually has an entire show dedicated to her artwork this weekend at the Lorton Workhouse in well... Lorton, VA. It’s all wedding themed art, and it’s all also awesome-themed art. Even if you don’t go for the art, go for the fact that the Workhouse used to be a prison, and you can re-enact your favorite scenes from Oz in various locations.  I don't really care, but while you're there you should probably sign the guest book and say you were there for the art show, please. You should totally go see it, because it’s amazing, even if I’m extremely biased because it’s my mother. And because if I don’t say it’s wonderful, I’m grounded.

    Seriously, though, I’m extremely proud of what my mother is doing. I’m extremely proud that she’s managed to find something that she’s not only good at, but that she enjoys. And I’m proud of the fact that she’s putting her work out there to be viewed by the public, when really the best way to kill your confidence in something you’re proud of is to allow the public to view it. (WELL DONE IS NOT AN OPTION FOR A PROPERLY PREPARED STEAK, LADY! Sorry. I went to a bad place.)

    I hope to see you all at Lorton Workhouse on Saturday, June 8th at 6:00 pm to check out this excellent art, and so you can come tell me how proud you are of me that I wrote an entire article on my mother with absolutely no Norman Bates jokes.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Congratulations, Various Classes of 2013. May Nic Cage Be With You.

It’s the time of year. The time of the year when a certain group of people gets to put on robes and participate in ceremonies that celebrate several years’ worth of achievement, whether it be High School, College, Grad School, or Lebowskifest, it is an important right of passage. Recently, I read a commencement address from a man I respect, and it was everything I hoped it would be: Joss Whedon. It made me realize that I had some advice to give to the younger crowd. Now, while I did some of it last year, I have some new advice given my year of growing and changing. And it’s unlikely I’ll be giving the commencement anytime soon, except to my cats whom I’ve gathered and put in little caps and gowns. So here we have it: Bad Shakespeare’s advice for the various classes of 2013.

    Do something stupid. I don’t mean stupid like repeatedly ram your head into a block of ice to see what happens. I mean... Do something that seems stupid at the time. Right now, you’re at the precipice of life. Literally, anything you want is in front of you, even the stupid dreams. ESPECIALLY the stupid dreams. Look, life is easy when you’re even younger than you are now... you want to be a ballerina or actor or dinosaur or writer or the guy that tells Natalie Portman she looks good in that dress... and then someone says, “hey. Be responsible. Get a real job!” Then you do it. And you end up languishing in a cubical for 10 years because hey... you got a real job! You’re miserable every single day, but you got that real job! Too quickly the backup jobs we take just while we try to do our own things become our “real jobs.” Don’t fall for that trap. Remember what you want to do. Remember who you want to be. I took a “real job” because someone told me that teaching wasn’t a real job. How’s that working out for me? (Spoiler: Not well.)

    Understand that Life is an entity separate from your wants and needs, and Life is going to do what it damn well pleases with you. Call it Life, Fate, Karma, God, Zeus, Nic Cage... it doesn’t matter. Life decides it needs you somewhere, and Life is going to put you there, no matter what your plan is. Funny thing, “planning.” Normally while you are making that list and checking it twice to ensure that you have finished all the classes you need, or you’re on that path to be the youngest CEO of a company, Life has decided that you need to be somewhere else.. Life doesn’t care that you’ve managed to get your degree and on paper you’re the best damn door to door vacuum cleaner salesman in the upper northwest region. Life has decided you need to go down a different path, and that path involves you becoming a chef. Don’t fight it. Which brings me to...

    Don’t ignore the big glowing signs in front of you. I know we’re not all religious or superstitious people. We don’t always look for signs, but they’re around. Sometimes it’s telling you that the person you’re with isn’t the person you’re supposed to be with. Sometimes it’s telling you not to take a job, just because it’s an easy path. Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that at the end of the day, life is pretty easy, actually, if you pay close attention to what it is trying to tell you. Hey, you like to work with microbes? Despite the fact that extra Grad School is difficult, maybe it’s saying you should be a scientist. Like bossing people around? Get a volcano and a cape and get to work on that death ray. (I’m sorry... Particle realignment weapon.) Sometimes it’s as easy as that. Sometimes it’s a raccoon dipping a piece of bacon in peanut butter that won’t let you get to your car. (If anyone figures the last one out, please let me know.)

    Get rid of negative people. Humans are social creatures. And you want to cling to those people who you’ve known the longest, either out of loyalty or fear of losing a part of your past that you wish you could cling to. But as you evolve and change, they’re not always good for you. Sometimes they never were, and you just needed a quick jolt to realize that they’re way to selfish, or they’re taking your energy. It may mean a few times when you feel lonely, even if you aren’t. The important thing to remember is that just because you had those great moments with them (always cherish those great moments) understand and accept that you may not be able to repeat them. And sometimes that means saying goodbye to people, ending what you thought was a friendship to help you down your path. I’m not saying be mean, I’m not saying you have to get rid of your past, I’m just saying because Suzy was a great friend in college and you have a million great stories, doesn’t mean you have a million more with Suzy. Enjoy those memories. But time to move on.

    Don’t make life difficult for other people. This one is important. Don’t be that guy who actively makes life difficult for someone else. If it means holding the door open, letting someone merge in front of you in heavy traffic (a cardinal sin here in Washington, DC) or just not espousing your negativity around people who don’t need it (no one wants to hear why you hate something they’ve done, or how you’re managing to one-up them), just don’t make life difficult for someone else. We’re all on ball of dirt and water floating through the vastness of space, billions of miles an hour with no way to stop or steer... we really don’t need to make it more difficult.

    My last bit of advice, it’s never really too late. One of my favorite stories is about the last words of Voltaire, a particularly... we’ll just say “eccentric” writer. On is deathbed he was being given the last rights when someone asked him, “Do you renounce Satan?”  To which he looked at the Priest and said, “I really don’t think now is the time to be making any enemies.” He ended things with a joke. It’s never too late to do what you want. Yeah, you may not be able to dance professionally. But you can still dance. You may not have anything published, but you can start a blog and at least get your writing out to your friends and a few random people. You can always go to the store and buy a few legos, put them together, and re-enact moments in Star Wars and end the prequel trilogy the way it should have ended. Just don’t wait too long.

    So, various classes of 2013, go forth. Do great things. Even if that thing is great to only yourself or another person.