Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Happy Fish and Chips Day!

The thing I have loved about these overseas trips (or across the pond as no one says over here but they said a lot in England) is the way we get to interact with the city a little bit more. When you come on vacation there’s an urgency to your trip: hit up this area, check out that area, check out that area. Make sure you do it quickly because we have to rush. But with these trips, we get to enjoy ourselves a little bit more. Take our time, and savor the fact that we are in Ireland, immersing ourselves in the local culture.

For instance, yesterday was Fish and Chips Day, which definitely wasn’t an advertising ploy to get us all out to buy Fish and Chips. Or maybe it was. I’m still not really sure. What I am sure of is that we found this tiny little Fish and Chips place right in Salthill.. (Called, interestingly enough “Salthill Fish and Chips.” Hey, I get it now.) The Ireland Creative Writing Workshop, being the intrepid explorers that we are, decided that National Fish and Chips day was to get Fish and Chips. If you are unaware what Fish and Chips are, then I’m sorry for you, and you’ve had a sad life up until now.

Problem number one: the shop that held said Fish and Chips was a wee bit small.  By “Small” I mean, “they probably didn’t expect 12 Americans to come piling into their shop at 7 O’Clock at Night.” Which is odd, because that’s the earliest we’ve eaten since we got here, and that’s still pretty early.

Oh, that’s the other part I should probably mention. You see, we don’t just have to fly East to get to Ireland, we also have to fly North. So, you know how you see all of those things in America about how Alaska gets dark for about 20 hours a day in the winter but is sunny until 2 a.m. in the Summer? It’s sunny until about 10:30 p.m. here, which is nice but really starting to throw off our sleep patterns and our eating patterns. We typically eat at dusk, which is about 9:30 here. Which is great because it means vampires can’t attack like in that one movie, but is starting to affect us a little bit. I hear the hallucinations go away after a few weeks. The Ghost of James Joyce Told Me so.

The first thing that happened after we wandered into this Fish and Chips shack… well, second after the clerk behind the counter said a silent prayer that I don’t think we were supposed to hear, was the stark realization that we did not have enough chairs inside to accommodate 12 people. Being industrious, we noted that there was a table and several chairs OUTSIDE the tiny little Fish and Chips shack, and it wouldn’t take much effort to make those items be INSIDE the tiny Fish and Chips Shack. Did I mention it was tiny? So, we all squeezed into this place, because it was way too cold outside to enjoy Fish and Chips. 

Then, we ordered. I don’t know that they’ve gotten that many orders that late in the day, and in a row, too. (But shout to the way the handled it, especially as they just took into consideration the various Fish and Chips combinations. For those of you interested, I had the fried Cod.) And it was pretty good Fish and Chips, too, with the fish being fried and the chips being fried… actually, it’s pretty difficult to mess up Fish and Chips, unless you’re an American Pub pretending to be a place that serves fish and chips, and you don’t serve them with the big, delicious fries and frying all of the healthy bits out of it. If you don’t see a bright light and hear a voice beckoning you when you’re done, then you didn’t REALLY eat Fish and Chips. 

And they were GOOD. Filled with oily goodness. 

Eventually, we did leave, after a brief struggle with keeping the door cold (we experienced our one day of summer the previous day) and the looks of people that I’m sure were just running into the Fish and Chips place for just a quick snack and wondered when it had been overrun by Americans. 

       Of Course we never did find out if it was a real holiday or not...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Writing in Galway

So far, we’ve experienced all the many different weather patterns that Ireland has to offer. From gray and rainy to sunny and all the way back to rainy again. It’s like a cycle that keeps repeating. yesterday was nothing short of incredible, particularly with how warm it got… people were actually laying out in the sun! I didn’t think they did that in Ireland so much as it was a joke that we all are supposed to just hang out in bars. 

The writing program is interesting. It’s definitely not what I expected. I mean that in the best possible way, mind, you we’re busy learning different ways to access our writing, and figure out which characters we’re writing for. It’s certainly unlocked something more in me as a writer. I’m starting to figure out more about what I’m trying to say. It’s more like when I was younger, and I used to write all the time. It’s made me a lot braver.

For instance, one of the characters in my book is a man trapped in the body of a cat who works in middle management. Well, the cat works in middle management now that he has the brain of a cat. Before, I don’t know I would have been brave enough to lead off with that character, particularly because he is such a unique character, and one of my wackier inventions. But for some reason, I felt very comfortable talking about him, naming him, and putting him on paper and announcing it to the class. I like that idea. 

We are also accessing our ideas more through different kinds of art, like drawing. When was the last time you just sat down and drew? And you’re not an artist (like my mother.) A lot is taking me back a little bit. I guess the whole thing is like that one quote I like “To be successful you must be as serious as a child at play.” Writing is a lot like play acting, you get to play pretend and create new worlds. Pretend you’re a scientist or a knight fighting evil demons or something like that. 

Other than that right now, Ireland is Ireland. It’s amazingly beautiful. As I’v said before, we’re right by the beach, so I’ve been taking full advantage of heading down there when I can to sit and write. Galway is pretty amazing, full of cute little shops that are just too much fun to walk through. 

It’s been an experience, and it’s only been three days. Looking forward to a lot more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Reflections of Galway

When I left for this trip, I was very aware that it was going to be different than my time in London. Firstly, my time in London was a very specific time and place… nothing could duplicate it. Secondly, the programs are different. Theatre is reflective, but is very much a focus on a visual narrative, and how we react to it. And it’s very clear I won’t have that guide while in Ireland, I’m going to have to find that for myself.

The place we are located is near Galway Bay, so there’s a tiny beach near our apartment. And yes, we have a whole apartment this time, which is nicer than the shoebox in London. Of course, that’s very much because this is Ireland and that was London, and while nice London is on those list of cities where it would probably be better if you paid in gold bars instead of actual cash. So, we have this nicish apartment where any of the appliances might fail at literally any minute, and none of us are still sure how to use the washing machine. But it’s there if we want it!

Galway is a nice city. It’s small, while at the same time feeling huge. Part of that may be because I haven’t quite gotten my bearings just yet, which means just one wrong turn and I don’t really know where I’m going. But that’s part of any travel experience, even the smallest cities seem huge until you are ready and adjusted. Then even someplace like London feels like home. This place is already settling in to be like home. There’s a bar that I’ve found that I really enjoy. We have a grocery store where we’ve stocked up in those products that we need, and then those that are sorta like what we have in America but aren’t quite. (Frosties, anyone? They’re GRRRRRRRRREEEEEAAATT!)

And the people here are amazing. I’ve been here three days, and all three days I’ve managed to strike up a conversation with random strangers that are quick to tell us where to go, what to do, and what we should be seeing. It’s incredible. It’s an amazing feeling. Especially in a place like this that’s not really near a big airport and only accessibly by two hours by car or bus from the major airports, it would be really easy to have a tougher time meeting people. But even yesterday when I got turned around, someone was quick to ask me if I knew where I was going and point me in the right direction. The bar I went to; the owner made me feel like a regular after only a few minutes. 

I’ve always associated Ireland with a type of magic. Maybe its just the fact that it’s an Island, or the fact that I was’t really sure I’d ever get to come here. At least not on a trip like this, where it’s not “run around and see everything.” That’s what I like about this particular trip that’s focusing on my writing, it’s allowing me to be more reflective, it’s allowing me to be able to sit back for a few minutes and think about things a little bit more. It’s a nice feeling.

Overall, so far, I love it here. There’s a feeling to the air that’s a little bit different. It’s hard to describe. It’s just something that I feel as I walk around, or that I even look outside. 

I’m really interested in seeing what else this trip has to bring. Right now we’re only starting.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Getting There was Half the Fun This time

So, i made it to Galway. Fortunately with 100% less problems than the trip to Ireland in general, but then, I wasn’t flying. I just had to take a bus. Then a taxi. Then I had to walk a little bit. 

I’m sure Shannon is a very nice area, but I really only managed to see “the Airport” and, “the hotel right next to the airport.” After being in the air for close to 24 hours (and not getting a nice, hot shower, food, or sleep) I really just wanted one thing. Well, three things, involving a shower, food, and sleep. Fortunately, the hotel could provide all three, so I went and did that. I did hit a pub because this is Ireland and it’s really easy to hit up a pub, just walk a few feet, and fortunately, the hotel had a pub right in it.

Then, I was off to Galway, where the first leg of my writing journey will take place. I started by catching the bus. I’ve taken bus trips before, so I was fully prepared to hop on board and take one, but I wasn’t prepared for something that affected me in England. The sheer terror the first time you get into a moving vehicle and realize that it is going on the other side of the road. Yes, that takes a little getting used to. 

The bus trip was nice, I got to see little parts of Ireland that I’m sure I wouldn’t see by just sticking to a hotel in Dublin. There are signs everywhere… literally everywhere… still urging people to vote for Marriage Equality in the country. There were a few half hearted signs that urged against it, but the majority (like the vote itself) was very pro-Marriage Equality. I even saw one sign right in front of a church so that was nice. But there were a lot of sheep on the trip there. Enough that I fell asleep briefly while trying to keep track.

As for getting here… did you know that there were TWO places called The Grattan House? I do now. I hung out in front of the wrong one for a little while. Not too long, mind you, because everyone here is super helpful. Like, really helpful. I’m on a first name basis with not only the cab driver, but the bartender of the pub I found. (He was the nicest. He let me sample some beer before I got a full pint.)

The place we’re staying in Galway is nice… it’s almost like an apartment. It’s a huge suite with several rooms off a main room. Of course there’s a  main room. Its a big change from London, which was nice but the room was pretty much a place to be when I wasn’t touring London or getting food. Which was just as important. But this place feels homier. I hope I don't spend too much time being "at home" and I spend time exploring. It's hard to gauge that today, because everyone is exhausted and looking forward to getting to rest.

Good adventuring so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what else this place has to offer. 

By the way, Loyal Bad Shakespearers, the wifi is spotty to non-existent at best. I’ll post as I can. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Delta Delta Delta Can I Helpya Helpya Helpya?

I realize I don’t know much about the insider business of “running a major airline.” I know a lot, mostly from being not really great at one thing but just a little decent at a lot of things, but running an airline is not something I understand. I phrase it this way because I think it’s important before you really criticize anyone; you need to understand that you are going to have certain limitations. In my case, I’m not 100% certain how to run an airline.

Pretty sure I can do better than Delta, though…

My journey started back when I first got to the airport, three hours early because somewhere someone threw out the arbitrary number “3” when deciding what to do with international flights. I’m also aware that it’s Memorial Day Weekend, which means the airport can go from “full” to “oh God why is everyone in America currently trying to fit into this one Cinnabon?” Also I was taking the D.C. Metro, which means it could take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours to get to my location since the D.C. Metro has the reliability of… well there’s no comparison. The D.C. Metro.

I stepped up to the counter confidently because this is not my first international flight this year, and… they promptly were unable to fight my flight information. As in, the flight vaguely existed, and I was supposed to be on it… somewhere. But they couldn’t confirm little things for me like a “seat” or “which gate the flight was leaving from.” No big deal, DCA isn’t as big an airport as some, it was just going to be a matter of waiting a few minutes. 

Those minutes turned out to be… one. Fortunately, in the time it took me to “check in” and “Drop off my bag” (Because those two things can’t be done together to save time); I at least had a gate. So, I was off on my journey through the airport towards my gate, thankful I could just walk to the location.

Making my way to the gate, I calmly walked over to the helplessness help desk, which was staffed by one person. That number is important later. And…. they couldn’t give me a seat. Nor could they even confirm that I was on the connecting flight TO Ireland. Essentially, they could do nothing until the magic one hour before, because computers work that way. At this point it should be noted that It was about two hours early and I heard the fateful words that would mark my night “Flight to New York Delayed.” Not my flight… yet.

Soon my flight WAS to be delayed because there was some kind of problem. Naturally, because computers don’t work until an hour beforehand, instead of it just being one person, me, checking in with the one person behind the counter, there was now a line including a woman who was hysterical screaming in another language to anyone who would listen.

Fortunately, the people at Delta Airlines opened another desk and proceeded to help everyone through. 

No, I’m kidding. They kept the line nice and long, moving as slowly as possible, with one woman walking up and down the line every so often, noting how stupid everyone was for standing in line because “there are help courtesy phones right over there” but not actually opening another register or doing anything to alleviate the line.

I’m going to skip past being told to go in three different lines - to get my seat, mind you - and move onto getting into the air and landing in JFK, without any sort of confirmation about my connecting flight, just that there will be something on one of the boards. Maybe. 

So, I eventually find what I’m guessing was my flight to Shannon, Ireland. I got up there, this is an hour and a half early, mind you… to find no one from Delta able to help me. Eventually after about fifteen minutes some “helpful” person told me in no uncertain terms that the service desk at the gate was closed, and it wasn’t going to be open until I went away. So I did. When it did open, literally two minutes later, I was told to just be assured that I had a seat, not to worry despite all evidence to the contrary.

Boy, I shouldn’t have worried. Because I had a seat. It was Mary’s seat. (Not her real name.) That’s right, because they needed to keep my seat a secret until the last possible minute, when I was actually boarding the plane, I found that I HAD BEEN DOUBLE BOOKED INTO THE SAME SEAT AS SOMEONE ELSE. And not just me, either. The plane itself hadn’t been overbooked, but because they were so reluctant to actually assign seats “before people boarded” about 40% of the flight was complaining to the flight attendants that there was someone in their seat. 


(There is a happy ending as at least only one woman refused to take her newly assigned seat, away from her boyfriend like she booked it, and no one was allowed to switch seats to be by their loved ones as assigned.)

I start with this simply because it was kind of a frustrating experience. I’ve had a good first day in Shannon so far, to be honest with you, not really “doing” anything but just sort of walking around and totally not doing the reading I was supposed to have done before I landed. Actually I’ve found that everything else has gone nice and smoothly, so here’s hoping that was just the first hiccup.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Tomorrowland

Back when I was in London and learning all of the great pearls of wisdom from Rick Davis, our mentor and guide while we traversed the Theatre world there when he said something important. He said that our opinions are controversial statements. He wasn’t trying to make us feel bad for liking say, Knight of the Burning Pestle (still the best ever) over Treasure Island (Burn the memories) but he reminded us that our opinions are subjective. We need to back them up.

Sometimes there’s a disconnect when someone says “this is the best thing ever.” Too often I think we tend to forget that the term “best” refers to personal preferences. The Big Lebowski is a movie I’d consider the best ever… out of every movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I like it for a lot of reasons. Is it the “Best of all Time, even when you put it against some so-called classics?” No. It’s a subjective thing, something that I’ve worked out my own personal metrics and decided that I enjoy the antics of Walter, The Dude, and Donny more than say, an old dude that’s a thinly veiled metaphor for another old dude and his sled. 

I’m qualifying this review with that statement because I’m going to throw out, what Rick Davis would say is a very controversial statement. 

Tomorrowland was probably my favorite movie of the summer so far. 

Oh, I won’t begin to argue that it wasn’t without many flaws. It wasn’t as “good” whatever that word really means as The Avengers: Age of Ultron or Mad Max: Fury Road. The acting was so/so until one scene at the end that proves that George Clooney may be one of the best, most charming actors of his time. The secrecy around the film was laughable… no spoilers to find out that Tomorrowland is a place where all the geniuses meet. The product placement was so blatant that I half expected some of the actors to turn to the camera and say “brought to you by Carl’s Jr.” 

But it was my favorite.

Tomorrowland tells the story of… well, a place called Tomorrowland, where all the geniuses of the world meet to invent stuff hoping to build a brighter tomorrow. George Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, says it best at the beginning, “The future used to be amazing.” It has the gee-whiz, amazing stuff you saw in comic books, with ray guns, jet packs, silvery jumpsuits that make everyone look like tin foil. After a brief introduction where a young Frank Walker is recruited by a young girl named Athena, the narrative shifts to Casey Newton (Newton… get it? I know about as subtle as a brick in the eye. She’s played by Britt Robertson) and her attempts to shut down the machines trying to take down the NASA launchpad. Her father is an engineer and since we’re not launching stuff into space anymore, none of that is needed. A few montages and a felony later, Casey finds herself in possession of a pin that invites her to Tomorrowland, and eventually the doorstep of the adult, much more jaded, Frank (as jaded as one can be when he’s George Clooney). Together they have to team up with Athena and save Tomorrowland and the world. Oh, and also there are killer robots. There wasn’t a way to fit that organically into what I just said.

Killer. Robots.

The thing I really enjoyed about Tomorrowland is the underlying theme of hope. Casey is an optimist who doesn’t really want to accept the harsh reality. One of the more disturbing scenes of the movie are where her teachers are launching into harsh realities that the world itself is collapsing and we’re all pretty much dead, and her wanting to fix it. And in the end, that’s sort of one of the problems with the world right now. We all want to complain about what the problem is, but we don’t really want to fix it. Some of us just want to fight so hard to even pretend that there’s no problem, especially when the fixes do nothing.

We live in a world where we just had to manufactured controversies around two major films just released… Age of Ultron and Mad Max. Think about for that a moment. We took dude in a robot suit wailing on a giant green rage monster and a movie that featured a blindfolded dude playing a flaming electric guitar and turned them into major controversies. And those were just movies. We’ve gotten too jaded. We tend to accept the world too much as it is, and mock those that would do something to change it. That was the underlying message of Tomorrowland. The message (which is said pretty loudly, I’ll admit) is that maybe we should try dreaming, because there’s a good chance that the planet CAN get better, we just need to try. 

Tomorrowland is an adventure. A rip roaring, unapologetic adventure. It won’t be a classic. Not to everyone, anyway. But it reminded me of a classic. It reminded me of the things that didn’t need to be jaded, that didn’t need to be dark. It just reminded me more of they type of world we live in. 

So, I’m going to give my controversial opinion, that I loved this movie. 

Oh, that scene I was telling you about. (Spoilers for the end.) So, Athena is a robot, designed to look like a 12 year old girl. Frank is recruited when he’s about 11 so… he develops a crush on her. When he’s about 15 he gets exiled from Tomorrowland. Athena is killed saving Frank’s life, and it’s the adult Frank who has to say goodbye to her. It’s odd, really, because it could have been a creepier scene, but it’s a testament to both actors that it’s pulled off so well. 

Oh, what the hell… 10 out of 10 for this movie. 

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Something Sensational to Read

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” 
                                      Oscar Wilde

By the time many of you read this, I’ll be off to the Emerald Isle as I continue my dominance of Europe, apparently. I say “apparently” because I didn’t think I’d be studying in England much less Ireland, but, well... here I am, once again brushing up on my Irish and dusting off the old Passport. That’s right... Bad Shakespeare is going on Ireland. 

Last time I did this, I had this grand notion that I would take a month off, step away from Bad Shakespeare and focus on what it meant to be living in England for a month while I studied the great theatre that was over there. You can’t swing a dead Shakespeare over there without hitting good theatre. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend it, since his bones are kind of revered over there, along with the rest of his work. I’d pick something else dead that people wouldn’t mind if you swung around, but the message is the same: you’ll hit a theatre. 

But of that “Grand notion” came this other idea that I would not focus on the regular day to day of being me and keep Bad Shakespeare, the blog, nice and dark while I was over there. I’ve had fun recapping my adventures, and will continue to do so when I get back, possibly viewed through the brand new lens of how my experiences in Ireland were different than my experiences in England. I guess for one, I won’t be expected to attend a play every night. Also, I probably won’t be asked about my opinion on Scottish independence.

So, that leaves the big question: What am I going to do with this blog and space while I’m over in Ireland?

I’ve decided to continue to post while I’m gone. I’ll be chronicling my adventures as a writer/amateur Leprechaun hunter in Ireland.

Now, the posts won’t be as regular as they usually are. (Not that that they’ve been regular over the past couple of weeks... I blame finals.) My plan is to post as things happen, and to put them up as I feel like putting them up. But I have a lot of adventures in store. I’m going to the far off coast of Salthill, Galway. I’m going to the Doolin Folk Festival. And there’s a little TV Show that sometimes films in Dublin called “Game of Thrones” and there’s a tour, and I’m going to take it. So, I have adventures galore lined up while I’m over there.

Also... the movies. Yes, Summer Movie Season 2015 may need to be a bit on hold while I’m off touring the Emerald Isles, which is understandable. I may be able to fit in one or two... I’m not going to go an entire month without seeing a movie (plus, I need to get my Irish movie ticket!) 

So there you have it, loyal Bad Shakespeare readers... you do not have to suffer for an entire month without the likes of Bad Shakespeare. I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you. Keep in mind you can also follow my adventures over on twitter by following @shakesbad, or of course there’s Facebook for those of you who are still into that kind of thing. Google Employees can also follow me on G plus. 

Here we go

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Mad Max: Fury Road Review

First a note: I’m very aware of the manufactured controversy surrounding the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, and the people that don’t want to see it for whatever reason. I don’t care; I go to the movies to escape my problems for two hours, not to pretend to get offended at things don’t exist. So... this is a review of my experience. If you believe that there was something inherently offensive snuck into a post-apocalyptic movie that featured an eyeless guy playing a flaming electric guitar, please understand that none of this is real. Thanks.

I went into Mad Max: Fury Road with pretty low expectations. Not that I didn’t hear it was the Greatest Action Movie ever (tm), but any time a movie is a remake of something that was last popular back when Mel Gibson wasn’t crazy; you’re going to be a little skeptical. I’m also going into Jurassic World with the same caution despite my natural love for all things Chris Pratt mixed with Dinosaurs.

Turns out I didn’t need to be THAT concerned. This movie blew away my every expectation. All of them. This was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. (A little behind Kingsman, that one still stands up as the best.)

The movie takes place after a global apocalypse, the cause of which is never really explained but there’s a lot of deserts and not a lot of water. Max, a former police officer haunted by his past, is just trying to survive and keep his head down in the new Environment. Our first images of him are standing next to his extremely modified car, killing a mutated lizard for a morning snack, looking out at the desert pretty much set the mood for the rest of the movie: he’s a man torn between doing the right thing and wanting to survive. He’s quickly attacked and captured by Immortan Joe, the tyrannical leader of a nearby settlement who keeps people in line by controlling the water supply. He’s quickly marked as a Universal Blood Donor, and he’s used as a “blood bag” for a young War Boy named Nux. The real plot is set in motion when one of Joe’s lieutenants, Furiousa (played by Charlize Theron, proving she’s probably one of the best actresses on this planet... Captain Marvel, anyone?) is sent to get gas and bullets. She goes off course and it’s discovered that she’s “liberated” Joe’s Five Wives, the five women he’s specially selected for breeding and all the ickiness that entails.

Obviously, Hijinks ensue. 

What follows is basically a long car chase movie as Joe ramps up his heavily armed and stylized army of “War Boys” who fanatically follow him with a religious fervor. This includes the aforementioned flaming electric guitarist, which might seem excessive in other movies, but fits in quite nicely in this one. 

As I said, I really liked this movie. After last week’s disappointing Hot Pursuit, it was nice to get back into the Summer Movie Season fold with a stylized action movie that focused on things like practical effects enhanced only slightly with CGI as opposed the latest version of look at what this computer can make us do. I’m not completely knocking CGI, but for every Hulkbuster or Ultron or even Caesar, it’s brought us a Jar Jar Binks or wondering just who we are supposed to be rooting for at the end of the latest Transformers debacle, or even a fully CGI Kevin James taking the fall at the end of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. (There have been two Paul Blarts, but still only the one Serenity. Wrap your brains around that, people.) But the movie is clear when in the beginning Max steps on the CGI lizard then hops into his very real car.

The use of practical effects is what elevates this movie to one of the better action films I’ve seen in a while. The title of “best” action film still probably falls to Shoot-em Up, a parody of action films but understands what this movie does, that action needs to be incorporated into a movie to help tell a story, not as part of a way to stall things going forward so we can see boom boom more explosions and action. When Max, early on in the movie, is tied to the front of a car in order to provide blood to Nux, it’s more than just a chance to get the star into the action, it’s showing the religious fervor, it’s to show that the violence here is going to be something happening to the main characters instead of caused by the main character, and it adds an extra element of danger to the piece. 

Speaking of Nux, I think it’s important to highlight this particular character. A lot of thinkpieces about the peace highlight the film’s practical effects (as I just did) or the use of women  but they ignore this important character. When he meet him he’s hurt and needs blood from the main character, and is so willing to sacrifice himself to Joe that he repeatedly puts himself in danger. There’s a great moment that sort of bookends his story where he sees Joe twice. The first time Joe turns his head to look at Nux, and the young boy is elated with the idea that he’s being noticed. The second time Nux has already come to his epiphany that perhaps Joe is not the great man he originally thought. His character arc is probably the most compelling moment in the movie, going from brainwashed War Boy to willing to die for another cause, to save these women. His evolution is important, and the movie is just as much about him as it is about Max and Furiosa. 

The other standout is Charlize Theron as Furiosa, who decides it’s time to save these women and deals with her own crisis of faith, trying to get them to “the Green Place” where she had been taken from as a child. She conveys a lot with her screen time, and brings a lot to her action sequences, which once again tell a story. The first time she fights Max she is clearly trying to establish dominance, but at the same time she’s clearly fighting for a cause, and that makes her a lot more fierce in her quest. Basically this is a movie about faith, and the varying degrees in which we may have to change that faith when we open the world around us. 

Like I said, enjoyed this movie. It pulls together a lot of elements to tell a real story and crafts a movie into something amazing. Give it a shot, even if you aren’t a traditional Mad Max fan. 

Nine out of Ten. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Only Major Research Paper that Used the Phrase "Boxing Glove Arrow"

           In my most recent regeneration as an English Graduate Student, I’ve had to take a wider variety of classes other than ones with the broad term of “teaching” and “how to make kids listen to you.” They were great classes, but I’ve found the ability to take a class in say, film or Shakespeare, or whatever the hell a novella is, really interesting. It’s a cool thing, really to be able to explore those things I really want to explore and write about them.

            Unfortunately, with Graduate school being Graduate school, there are required classes, and this semester I had to take one on the ever so fascinating subject: Research. How to do it. How to write it up. How to cite it. Yeah. The stuff itself is as exciting as it sounds. Fortunately, for the final project, we were able to write about anything we want, so long as we have a coherent argument and did that research thing the class was about.

            Naturally, I wrote about comic books. (I was going to something about the spiritual representations in The Big Lebowski, but I’m saving that for my Thesis.)

            More specifically, I wrote about Green Arrow, a superhero that started out as a minor character but has gained more and more popularity over the years. And the thing is… he quickly became my favorite Superhero.

            The paper I did specifically focused on his reinvention in the 1970’s from fun loving, quipping, billionaire playboy to social anarchist and hero to the common folk. Let me put it this way: If anyone had tried this Affluenza defense (the defense that some people are too rich to go to jail) they would have found themselves in the business end of an arrow from the Emerald Archer.

            I gained a newfound respect for Green Arrow. He started pretty much as a joke, a hybrid Robin Hood/Happier version of Batman that showed up when they wanted Batman but they didn’t want the darkness involved with him. He’d attack bad guys with his non-lethal array of trick arrows, the most famous being a “Boxing Glove Arrow” that would knock the bad guys out. Yes, at one point firing boxing gloves at people’s faces was deemed an acceptable means to stop crime.

            Around the 1970’s he was changed. Not given a new character with newer origins for the sophisticated 1960’s audience like Green Lantern or the Flash. He wasn’t given a bold new look or an updated background or even new powers. In fact, he was just sort of… changed. One minute he was quippy Green Arrow. The Next he was threatening to beat up Green Lantern for threatening to send a kid to jail.

            That’s interesting to think about. Out of all the comics created in the 1940’s, only a handful of characters survive as we recognize them. Mild Mannered Reporter Clark Kent. Billionaire Playboy Bruce Wayne. Both of which have had multiple TV Shows, comic books, movies, action figures, appearances in other shows, and even breakfast cereals about them. If you show a kid in Africa who doesn’t speak English a Superman “S”, chances are he’ll know what it is. We technically can’t go a few years without naming a reigning actor to play Batman. (Although we’ve depleted enough of this resource to be all the way up to “Ben Affleck.”) So, it’s these guys and Green Arrow, most of people would identify as the latest gritty reboot of Robin Hood if they ever got a real look at them.

            The thing is, this “conscience” version of Green Arrow is the prevalent version of the character. The fact that he’s the moral center of the DC Universe- fighting outside the law, openly defying it if need be to do what is morally right – has been the character presented in modern pop culture. From the TV Show Arrow (which is the best Comic Book show on television now… sorry Daredevil fans.) to his appearances on Justice League Unlimited, where he’s recruited specifically to keep the Justice League in check, he’s more of a moral crusader, doing what is right in the face of an increasingly bitter or corrupt world. I’m starting to respect that more and more as the way a hero thinks.

            I guess I’m just saying I’ve grown to respect this character even more as time has gone on. I’ve grown to really like his story, and I’ve grown to see him as more than just a superhero with a bow and arrow. I’ve even grown to respect the boxing glove a little bit. Maybe more than before, but still not back up to actually try using one. (They seem very impractical. )

            It’s nice when research can come together.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Green Lantern: The Movie, Revisited

Let's see Ant-Man do THIS.

I think sometimes we expect too much of our Superhero movies. We forget sometimes that when many of these characters were created, not a lot of thought went into how real they were, or how grounded they would be. Superman came around with not only a cousin, but almost an entire zoo including Kryptonian versions of a cat, horse, a monkey, and most famously, a dog. The Fantastic Four have had adventures with Blackbeard the pirate and a wacky, lovably robot sidekick. The Wonder Twins. And the Batman that everyone wants to see wasn’t the Batman that existed even before the 1960’s TV Series that heavily featured the Bat-toosie. 

So, when, say, for instance, you put a guy on screen who’s superpower involves a magical ring that he got from a dying purple alien, you can acknowledge that it’s a little bit silly and try to work with that, or you can do grim and gritty, which probably wouldn’t work in this case. Either way, it’s a fine tightrope to walk.

Green Lantern came out in 2011 starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, test pilot for Ferris Air and eventual Green Lantern of sector 2814. (There’s 3600 different sectors, each one guarded by a Green Lantern.) The movie bombed, getting pretty terrible reviews and setting back the DC Cinematic Universe to the point that they just said, “Screw it, when are we making another Superman? Let’s just go ahead and put everyone in a movie about Superman. That’s opposite enough from the thing that’s earning Marvel all the money ever printed on the planet.” 

I really think we’re about a year away from trading for things in Tony Stark fun bucks, cut out the middle man, in case you miss the Marvel Universe Movies that are currently being shown in Cinemas (Two this year alone), on television, on Netflix, or soon to be beamed directly into your brain. 

The thing was... it actually really wasn’t as bad as everyone thinks.

Green Lantern has always been a difficult hero to write. On the one hand, you have this guy who can form just about any creation in his mind as long as he can will it, with a ring that has some kind of basis in science but is, let’s face it, magic. The first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, was unrelated to the whole “Guardians of the Universe” thing and was able to be stopped by wood. That’s right. Bullets are fine, but come at him with a twig and you weren’t going to be able to stop him. When he was revamped, he ended up being vulnerable to.... the color yellow. Yes, the biggest threat to the Green Lantern Corps could be in the form of a villainous Big Bird. Eventually it was changed again to having a whole spectrum of colors and “yellow” just represented “fear.”

That’s where we were at when we got the movie. 

The movie follows the story of Hal Jordan has he first gets the ring and has to train to be the Green Lantern, taking risks. It follows along the lines of the early “Emerald Dawn” storyline with another big storyline thrown in, that of Parrallax, the entity of fear. The whole “entity” thing was thrown into the comic books to explain why Hal Jordan would eventually go insane, kill all of the other Green Lanterns, and eventually try to rewrite time. Here it’s just the representation of all things fear, which makes for an interesting rewrite. 

The biggest sin that the movie has is not taking advantage more of some of the future storylines. For example, one of the bigger future storylines will be the not-so-subtly named Sinestro (he has sinister IN HIS NAME... how do you not figure out he’s the bad guy?) deciding to take out the Green Lantern Corps, despite being one of the best. A “better” storyline might have been sort of like “Training Day... in Space” where Sinestro slowly tries to corrupt Hal Jordan, but ends up being defeated by him. (and you can imagine how cool that fight would be.)

So... why the hate for this movie? I’m still not sure, to be honest with you. The beginning and the middle are a little exposition heavy, but this is some pretty dense stuff they’re dealing with: essentially cramming 30 years of an obscure hero down your brain hole. Is it his superpower? Like I said, it’s about a guy with a magic ring. Essentially he’s Bilbo Baggins without the pot-smoking wizard friend. The tone of the movie? It was a little uneven, I’ll give you that. On the one hand, they wanted to embrace a hero that used to knock people out with giant boxing gloves. On the other, they tried for that grim and gritty aspect that made the Christopher Nolan Batman movies so extra dark and wonderful. So, I can see how the tone would be that off. But was it that bad? Not really. It still features what we want: a lot of cool action sequences, the hero risking his life to save as many people as possible, and Ryan Reynolds in a CGI costume. (Also the greatest line ever “You think I won’t recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?”) 

Ultimately, I think this movie deserves another look. I would have to say it’s one of the best superhero movies made in terms of sheer fun, adventure, and embracing the superpowers without a lot of emotional baggage. Fortunately that’s just limited to one scene where Hal Jordan ponders using the ring again, and let’s face it we know he is going to because he’s Hal Jordan. This movie would have benefited from the inclusion of more heroes, actually, Green Lantern has always had a good relationship with the Flash and Green Arrow. Some of his best storylines have involved that.

So, if you get a chance, you may want to re-explore this one. And hopefully they’ll bring Ryan Reynolds back to play the character one more time before they ultimately pass the ring off to someone else.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Hot Pursuit Review

Ok a few things to clarify before I move forward... I have many, many classifications of movies beyond the whole “wow it’s good” or “wow it sucks.” A lot can change my review, such as if Nicolas Cage is in it. If Nicolas Cage is in it, then I already know walking in that there’s a good chance that the production will look like it had been set on fire before any filming actually started. And by “the production” I mean everything including the scripts, sets, and actors themselves. If a movie comes out in January then I’ll assume that the writers had no idea what to do with it, and needed it to come out when no one was paying attention (I’m looking at you Mortdecai.) And I also know if a really big movie is coming out... like say, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, typically it will be counterbalanced with another type of movie: ones that don’t appeal to the people that would see a bunch of superheroes wail on a bunch of robots. Which is fair. But when you’re the second big release over the summer, and the first comedy... try to bring your A Game a little more.

Which brings us to Hot Pursuit, a “wacky” buddy comedy starring Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon. I didn’t expect it to be Comedy Gold. I’ll give you that. It’s being released the week after Age of Ultron which is expected to bring in roughly half of the money printed on the planet. I just didn’t expect it to be so bad. So. Staggeringly. Bad.

The movie is about a by the book police officer named Cooper (Witherspoon) who was born to be a police officer because we see her growing up in the backseat of her father’s cop car. She’s been relegated to working the evidence locker because she pulled a “Cooper”. Don’t worry, they won’t let that joke lay out there for too long, they let you know right away she set someone on fire accidentally using a taser because she’s apparently never heard the term “shotgun”. I know. Comedy Gold.

Anyway, so apparently this guy is going to testify against a major crime boss, and his wife is coming along, so they need a female police officer and they decide not to pick someone who hasn’t set anyone on fire, and they picked Cooper. I know. What a twist. Actually the twist is that apparently this Crime Boss is so powerful he can keep everyone in his pocket including most of the police, has the guy testifying and the agent sent to get him murdered, but can’t seem to kill that wacky pair of the straight laced police officer and the criminal’s wife, Mrs. Riva (Vergara). 

Hijinks ensue.

The thing is, I really wanted to like this movie. I like Reese Witherspoon. I like Sofia Vergara. I have no problems with either one of them. But they weren’t funny in this movie. Witherspoon’s character’s joke is pretty much that she’s straight laced, by the book, and high strung. It’s not that she’s competent at her job, either, no, she’s a screwup of such epic proportions one wonders how she got her job. And any jokes with Vergara essentially boils down to either she’s tall, she has large boobs, and she has a thick accent. 

Comedy Gold!

It’s sad that such a great start to the Summer Movie Season 2015 was followed up with not such a great comedy. Here’s hoping it can get corrected this week with Mad Max and Pitch Perfect 2. One of which involves a lot of singing and dancing the other one is a remake. I’ll let you figure out which one is which... 

Five out of 10. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Assassins!

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” The Horse replies, “Alcoholism is killing my family.”

Humor isn’t easy. It’s incredibly nuanced and relies on a contract between the person telling the joke, and the person hearing the joke. In telling the joke above, I have to assume several things: 
  1. You people reading this know what a horse, bar, bartender, and alcoholism are. 
  2. You know that horses have long faces. 
  3. You’ve heard the original joke which ends with the “Why the long face?” punchline and you’re not prepared for another punchline on top of that.

Once you’ve heard all of those, then you can laugh at the joke I stole from one of many places. 

I tell this long story so you kind of had this idea in mind when our intrepid group of London Studiers went to go see Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Quick upfront, yes, it’s a converted Chocolate Factory that isn’t really close to any bus or tube line, so we had quite a walk. And no, it’s not a Chocolate factory anymore, so no one was sung off by Oompa Loompas after suffering an ironic fate. Although I don’t remember seeing Augustus after that part of the trip, and I was asked not to talk about him.

Anyway, I bring up the whole part about humor because this was a very unique experience: We’re watching a very “American” play set very much in America. It’s about the people who have either assassinated or attempted to assassinate the American Presidents. It starts with John Wilkes Booth and goes all the way up through Lee Harvey Oswald, interplaying the whole event through the guise of being a carnival game. It’s also a musical, so they are gleefully singing about killing various Presidents, and its an interesting look at the “other side” of the story - that is no one is arguing that these weren’t bad people, but they also weren’t cartoon characters who decided to kill someone simply to sell more action figures - They had motives. What were they?

I could do the billionth review of the play itself, but why bother? The cast was awesome, the songs were catchy, and the entire production was just wonderful. The Chocolate factory is set up so rather than a traditional “stage” and an audience gazing up, we were all seated around the stage. This added to the carnival like atmosphere of the production. I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the very front row, so I got right close up to the action, including the several times they aimed guns right at the audience.

Oh, yeah... the guns. So, because guns are controlled more heavily in London, theatres that are putting on plays need special permission to actually have them on stage. So it’s a little more shocking for a London Audience to see them. Also, since their is less chance they’re real, they get pointed in the audience a LOT more. Not even a little bit more, but like, I’ve never had a gun pointed in my face quite as much as this. Not that I’ve had many guns pointed in my face. But it’s one of those interesting cultural things I was telling you about earlier. 

It’s also very interesting to view this in England, just as I mentioned with the Scotsboro Boys. There were clearly jokes that the English didn’t get, particularly one about Massachusetts. We were able to meet some of the people after the show (including Catherine Tate aka Donna Noble from Doctor Who and it was AMAZING!) and one of them Michael McShane (who’s an awesome dude), commented that “yep, I knew there were people from America as soon as that joke landed!” Or something like that. At this point it’s May, and I should have taken better notes about my time in England. But there are a lot of jokes that are based towards Americans, and there were a lot of dead spots (no pun intended) that I actually thought were pretty funny. (Ok... maybe a little pun intended.)

This was one of the final productions we saw while we were in London. I’m kind of glad that it was a bit later, this was a very “American” play. I don’t say that to categorize it in some way, just that its interesting. It’s a play that relies very heavily in American Politics. It’s sort of like if I went to see the original House of Cards and wondered why they donned all those fancy wigs before throwing reporters in front of trains. (I’d say “spoilers” but the show has been on Netflix for a billion years. If you haven’t watched it already, well, then... what are you waiting for?) I kind of wish we had spent a lot more time discussing the fact that this was a weirder experience, watching something so deeply rooted in a country I know, but the person sitting next to me may not know. (metaphorically speaking. I was right in the middle of several classmates. I don’t know how much they knew about American History, but it was presumably more than the person sitting further away that didn’t study it at all.) 

Oh, and I’ll let you know if we ever find Augustus.