Trusting Old Friends

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Status: very good. at that part of the week where I’ve been getting enough sleep, sticking closely to my normal (eat/sleep/train) schedule and laying off the alcohol. This seems optimal for me. I’m generally in a good mood heading into the weekend. The days are getting longer and the temperature is getting better, which I’m sure is contributing to my overall positive wellbeing.

Aquaman and Writing.

Forced myself to finish the first draft yesterday. I have to admit that the second half of writing the review was like pulling teeth (almost like those dreams where you are trying to walk somewhere, but no matter how hard you try you don’t make any progress). I realise that this is all in my head and I’m the one standing in my own way, so I deferred to Fonda Lee’s advice and lowered my expectations which enabled me to finish the first draft (I was actually going for a zero draft, but ended up exceeding expectations). I’ll circle back to it later today and give it a polish which will hopefully look presentable for posting.

Career.

An old neighbour/friend reached out to me last night to ask if the rumours were true; was I returning to the island. I answered in the affirmative. She then asked me if I was going to work for (unnamed financial services company). I again answered in the affirmative, and then curiosity got the better of me: how did she know this? The island grapevine is legendary for it’s effectiveness in spreading information, and equally legendary in its ability to embellish stories into an almost unrecognisable caricature of itself. Besides, I’d only told a handful of people, mostly family, so wasn’t expecting it to spread far and wide. Turns out that she works for the same company, in the same department and it looks like she’ll be reporting to me.

This is very awkward. Or it will be awkward, I think. I’m not overly concerned that she reached out to me, we know each other well enough for her to do that, but it’s the way she did it. Basically, she buried the lead and then asked questions when she already knew the answers. People typically do that when you’re trying to bait someone. In any case, I’m going to let it go and not dwell on it too much. They’re is nothing I can do about it right now anyway; I’ll just cross that bridge when I get to it.

Date.

I ostensibly have a coffee date tomorrow. I think. She seems nice enough, but comes across as a bit conservative and a little shy. She also has a bit of a long lead time in the it looks like she is taking her time to explore the dating app. Hard to tell at this stage what I’m getting myself into, but I’ll know soon enough.

 

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Aquaman and Zero Draft

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Status: good. wide awake at 3am, but forced myself back to “sleep”. Catnapping is a better descriptor. Dragged myself out of bed when the alarm went off at 5am. Sitting here procrastinating; full of energy and unable to settle down. I should fall back on the meditation skills I’ve been developing in order to help me focus. Which in this instance means writing a journal entry for the blog as a way to organise my thoughts and prioritise my tasks for the day.

Aquaman.

I’m four hundred words into the review and apparently I have a lot to say about this movie. It’s coming together much more quickly than the Captain Marvel review, which is probably par for the course. The Captain Marvel film had a few agendas surrounding it which I didn’t want to have taint my opinion of the film, so tried to be as diplomatic as I could in my critique of it. I think it would have been a little easier if I actually liked the film, which I didn’t. Aquaman is a different animal in that it doesn’t have this baggage, was well received by audiences and I genuinely enjoyed the movie. Maybe that’s the key. In any case, I still don’t enjoy the process of writing these movie reviews, but I’d like to have a complete set of posts on the superhero genre (for what reason, I don’t know) and given I’ve completed 59 of them another 4 won’t kill me.

Writing.

Came across a post on Twitter from a writer named Fonda Lee yesterday where she described her approach to overcoming “writer’s block”. The quotations belong to her. I’m also impressed that Twitter provided something useful as I don’t have a high opinion of the platform. In any case, the thrust of the series of posts was to convey her approach to overcoming “writer’s block”, or better yet, how to overcome the fear of failing and becoming stuck in the process.

This plagues me. I’ve been stuck for about three weeks now and haven’t made any meaningful progress on the stories I’ve been writing (and ultimately want to complete).

Fonda’s approach is to lower her standards, treat whatever she’s working on as a Zero or Negative draft (which is less than a First draft), being okay with writing crap and having faith in the process. This makes sense to me and I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders just reading/knowing how a professional writer overcomes this obstacle. I’ll need to reach out to Fonda at some point and thank her for this timely piece of advice.

Career.

I need to pull the trigger on living accommodations for my first two months back on the island. My tenant’s lease doesn’t expire until the end of June, so I’ll need something to cover me between when I arrive and when they vacate the unit. until then. I’m a bit gobsmacked by the short term rental costs and unwilling to experience the pain of spending that much money on two months rent. It’s the equivalent of almost four months here, which is fkn nuts. But, this par for the course. Everything is like that down there and I’ll just have to get used to it. In any case, I need to get this sorted sooner rather than later or risk losing out on the place that I want.

Photography.

Haven’t posted anything to IG this week as I’ve been working through the photos I took last weekend. I think I’m about one third of the way through the total, and I’m okay with not posting anything (on IG or this blog) until I’m completed. I would like to experiment with increasing my follower count by indiscriminately following other accounts just to see how its affected. I don’t want to overwhelm my feed too much with BS, but I can always undo it if it doesn’t have the desired effect. This is a low priority task, so I’ll leave it for the end of the day.

 

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift (The New 52 – 2015)

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So here’s the deal with this book and why people are rating it so low. Snyder and Capullo have done the majority of their Batman run in arcs, arcs which take up a trade’s worth of material all by themself. However, inbetween these arcs are usually one-and-dones, smaller stories that only take up one or two issues. Including chronologically didn’t work so well, because it would have made the trade’s too big, and make less sense as a story. So, all the one and done Batman stories are collected here. Some of these issues are very good, some of them less so. The issues it collects are #0, 18, 19, 20, 28, 34, and Batman Annual #2.

#0 is sort of a precursor to Zero Year. It would have been nice if this was included in the first Zero Year trade, but again, that would have made the book too big, so it goes here. It’s a good story on it’s own, just a little out of place.

#18 is a Harper Row issue, detailing how she tracks Batman in the days following his son’s death. If you liked the other Harper story in City of Owls, you’ll probably dig this. I was never huge on Harper, so it didn’t do much for me, but too each’s own.

#19-20 is a short Clayface story. I really enjoyed these two. It has one or two tender moments with Bruce still dealing with Damien’s death, Clayface seems to be going through a cool process, and there’s a great easter egg to a certain DC Animated show from the 90s (and not the one you think). There’s a moment where I think Bruce plays things a little close to the chest with his secret identity, but I can forgive it. It’s important to note too that these are the only 2 issues drawn by Capullo in this volume.

Batman Annual #2 is a fun short story where Batman is trying to break out of Arkham Asylum. It also introduces the character of Eric Border, who will be important down the road (don’t look up why, it’s only 1 volume away).

#28 is definitely the worst of the bunch. It’s a story that ties into the Batman Eternal series. You may or may not be completely lost reading it, and you will never see any pay-off for what happens in this series. Read it if you plan on reading Batman Eternal, but otherwise I’d almost say just skip it.

#34 is one of my favourites. It’s a simple murder mystery story, with Batman trying to hunt down a serial killer. It’s not Capullo, but the art here is amazing. The story, other then one big “WTF, HOW” moment is really well done.

Overall, it’s nowhere near as good as the other volumes, but there’s plenty of material to enjoy. Issues 19, 20, and 34 are definitely the stand outs, with the annual being pretty good as well.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City (The New 52 – 2015)

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Batman Vol. 5 Zero Year-Dark City collects two of the final story arcs for Zero Year; Dark City (issues 25-27) and Savage City (#29-33). This is the conclusion of the three-part story arc major crossover origin event known as Zero Year. Dark City picks up after the events in the first story arc of Zero Year, Secret City, after Batman has stopped the Red Hood Gang and the Riddler shuts off all the power in Gotham City. We see the reintroduction of the classic GCPD blimps from Batman the Animated Series, which is awesome to see, as they comb the city searching for any sign of Batman. But, Batman has a new case on his hands involving a killer who uses a serum that causes uncontrolled bone growth. Batman discovers the villain, known as Dr. Death (who was Batman’s first major supervillain he fought in DC Comics, the Joker was the first villain Batman faced in his own comic book series) and both Death and the Riddler team up to seize control of Gotham during superstorm Rene which threatens to cause even more problems for the powerless and crippled Gotham City. In Dark City, more is explained about Bruce’s opinions of Lt. Gordon and why he doesn’t trust the police lieutenant. We also see more backstory involving Bruce as a child and his parents leading up to the fateful night in Crime Alley. Dr. Pamela Isley also has a cameo appearance in this arc but her research will later impact the look of Gotham in the next story arc. Savage City takes place several days after the events in Dark City. It is now, Zero Year: the new calendar year according to Edward Nygma. Using Isley’s research Riddler has turned Gotham into an overgrown barren wasteland and his demands for Gotham is quite simple: get smart, or die. Every sunset, the Riddler on a giant screen in Gotham and challenges any brave citizen to ask a riddle that he can’t solve. No one has been successful. Bruce can’t retrieve any of his suits or gadgets from the cave so he must improvise and create a torn and tattered costume and tools to help him mount a counterattack against the Riddler. Batman enlists the help of trustworthy allies who are trying to fight against the Riddler, specifically Lucius Fox and Lt. Gordon. The team is also joined by a special covert military assault force as well. But time becomes the enemy as jets threaten to bomb Gotham, doing exactly what the Riddler intended and sending Gotham crashing down all around. Batman and his team must work together to stop the Riddler and survive Zero Year. Scott Snyder’s writing is still great. The characterization of these characters is both refreshing and still honors the source material, which Snyder is very good at doing. The interaction between Bruce and Alfred is very special and very well written. Bruce’s relationship with Gordon changes drastically in these final arcs and it makes sense why Bruce finally throws off his uncertainty about Gordon and accepts him as an ally going forward. The story appeared to take a lot of inspiration from The Dark Knight Rises and the video game The Last of US (both can be seen in the Savage City story arc). The inclusion of Dr. Death as one of Batman’s first villains, just like in the original comics, was amazing. Snyder really got to show off his horror writing here with gorgeous yet very visceral character design for Dr. Death by Greg Capullo. Speaking of Greg Capullo, he hasn’t lost his touch at all. Gotham is very vibrant and well defined as well as people are all distinctively drawn. Capullo always brings his unique style to many of these characters which I enjoy, it definitely sets his work apart from other artists. We see many new vehicles a Bat-blimp, a proto-Batmobile race car, and the Bat-boat. All of them are beautiful to look at and are drawn with great detail. Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia make Capullo’s art look absolutely gorgeous and very vibrant and colorful as well. Batman Vol. 5 is a great ending to the masterpiece of an origin story retelling. To me, this will be my favorite Batman origin story, not because it’s new and I very much enjoy Snyder and Capullo’s run on the character, but because, like Year One when it was written, Zero Year speaks to us in the 21st Century. Zero Year addresses our anxieties our struggles and places Batman’s emergence in the midst of all of those things to show us how truly great a hero he is.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year-Secret City (The New 52 – 2014)

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Great new take on Bruce Wayne/Batman’s early, first year adventures upon his return to Gotham City. The story is littered with great cameos from the Batman Rouges Gallery, and sets up for a great follow up in Volume 5 – Dark City. Snyder’s writing is tight and makes for an entertaining, easy read, and Capullo’s art pops off the page. If you’re looking for a different take from the classic Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, this is a great purchase.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52 – 2014)

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I’ve read some good Joker stories over the years, most notably ‘The Killing Joke’ one-shot by Alan Moore. This arc compares very favorably to that. After DC (and Marvel) rebooted most of their lines in 2011, Scott Snyder took over Batman. The first two volumes saw Batman battle a mysterious ancient cult for the control of Gotham.

This volume sees the return of the Joker. After an inexplicable absence of a year the Joker makes a dramatic return to a life of mayhem and chaos. He raids the GCPD to steal his face from an icebox and from there lures Batman into an elaborate trap by systematically and slowly reenacting his famous crimes from the past. Joker’s tactics and Batman’s response puts a severe strain on Batman’s relationship with his extended ‘family’, hence the title.

Snyder’s Batman series is dark, constrained and tense. He likes to put the Dark Knight in the most perilous situations to test his mettle and his morals. Capullo’s art is a good complement to this style. He keeps the panels crowded and cluttered and induces a real sense of claustrophobia and fear. Snyder has written the Joker just right, and in some parts he is incredibly creepy. The extent and scope of his crimes (which provides an unwanted glimpse into his twisted psyche) is downright terrifying. The conclusion is sort of bittersweet and a bit ambiguous. Readers will be left to wonder if the Joker really succeeded in his goals or not.

Years from now we will look back at this arc as one of the more memorable Batman stories. This deserves to be in the pantheon of great comic book arcs.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Suicide Squad (2016) – Movie Review

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First: 2015’s abominable Fantastic Four. Now: Suicide Squad, the latest in a slew of big-budget train wrecks, resulting in an acrid cocktail of the wrong directors being given too much agency coupled with boneheaded, contradictory studio hand-holding. Still, it’s hard to strictly call studio interference party foul here, as the film is so inherently muddy it’s hard to imagine any iteration successfully coughing itself to life. It’s hard to resist a spectral Queen chorus of “Is this the real life?” running through your head watching the shambolic mess unspool – Suicide Squad wants desperately to strut, but stumbles on every step, before toppling into the void of being utterly forgettable.

We can excuse the embarrassingly gratuitous Justice League tie-ins (hey – at least Ben Affleck’s Batman acts somewhat more like Batman, saving villains from certain death rather than branding them in the face). We can **sort of** excuse the flagrant piggybacking plagiarism of Guardians of the Galaxy, from the hyperactive prison montage antihero character bios to the soundtrack, nonsensically cobbled together like a caffeine-high teen with a gift card to the iTunes store (and no, you’re not mistaken – that Norman Greenbaum song is yanked straight out of the Guardians trailer. The theft is that blatant). We can even try to excuse director David Ayer’s uncomfortable balance between dopey, wannabe slick humour and self-important wannabe ‘darkness’, even if it mostly manifests in the film’s indiscernible, murky lighting (grossly counterbalanced by splotches of colour, like a toddler vomiting play-doh). Still – a film full of villains-turned-antiheroes must bring SOMETHING original to the table. Right…?

And this is what we can’t excuse: Suicide Squad is not only a bird’s nest of content and tone, but also a fundamentally trashy, soulless, redundantly small-minded film. It loudly parades some of the worst nonlinear editing and pacing seen in a recent Hollywood film, to the point where its gossamer-thin plot (literally a lazy, boiled down version of The Raid – the entire conflict can be reduced to ‘climb the building’) becomes almost incomprehensible at times when really nothing is happening. There’s so much daft flashiness (yes, including Ezra Miller), sense is thrown to the wind. But, lest we get confused, Ayer is sure to slop in massive exposition dumps every 10-15 minutes, which rudely bring the film to a screeching halt every time it starts to pick up steam. The tiny blips of action are so bland, they fade from consciousness and memory before they’ve even finished feebly sputtering on. Finally, the glut of action figures-sorry-characters is so unreasonably vast, several Squad members are given no introduction, and literally dispatched within minutes with no send-off. Several are so extraneous they could be trimmed without anyone even noticing (Katana, anyone?). Initially, there’s hope for the effectively creepy uber-villains, but, after memorable introductions, they spend the majority of the film sulking in puffs of CGI, waiting for Ayer to remember they exist. Even worse: even some of the most iconic secondary players – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s iconic Killer Croc, for one – are so underused, they’re effectively there to snarl on command, and burp out unfunny “B.E.T.” punchlines. Ouch.

It’s even more of a shame, as Ayer does scatter nuggets of genuinely compelling material to grapple with. Peel aware its slathering of smarm and gloom, and Suicide Squad is a film about characters struggling with bad relationships. Smith’s Deadshot regrets his daughter being overly permissive of his career as an assassin. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo spends the rest of his life owning up to his superpowered tantrum gruesomely murdering his girlfriend and children (the sole flashback which actually works, infusing the film with tragedy, scope, and as sombre a cinematic allegory for domestic abuse as we’ve seen lately, and Hernandez is unexpectedly moving). And let’s not even start on whatever warped, emotionally abusive relationship the Joker and Harley Quinn share. These interludes may not propel the story, but when Ayer allows himself to linger in the darkness, he digs up the film’s only real illumination.

The film may have been transparently retrofitted to accommodate Will Smith, but he’s worth it. Arguably the film’s greatest asset, Smith warps his boundless, sassy charisma and badassery into the film’s uneasy moral compass, supplying (the film’s only) surprisingly compelling emotional arc. Margot Robbie, conversely, hits her marks with an unshakable sense of her performing Harley Quinn rather than getting under her skin. She’s oodles of fun, but her crazy is as wobbly and vaguely forced as her accent. Thankfully, Viola Davis is steely perfection as the Machiavellian Amanda Waller, and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is funnier and more unpredictable than he has any right to be as such a boorish bogan stereotype. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg is one of the most infuriating military grunts in recent cinematic memory (and this is a generation that survived Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Godzilla…). And then there’s Jared Leto. Hoo boy. If ‘forced’ was already a shroud ensconcing the film, his blingy Joker is its bleating fog machine of artifice. He’s loud and irritating, but embarrassingly far-removed from appropriate levels of sinister or unhinged, no matter how many rings of knives he lies in or pools of toxic waste he dives into.

There’s a bit near the end of Suicide Squad where Kinnaman’s Flagg, suffering a change of heart, offers the Squad the chance to escape, and live their lives. Cliché dictates they will instead seek redemption, and stay to fight (yawn). Instead, Courtney’s Boomerang prances up, and, without a word, jackrabbits out of the room. It’s the film’s biggest laugh, partially for its unexpectedness, but partially for being the single most sensible move in the entire production. Suicide Squad is a sinking ship, and the fact that all involved didn’t follow Boomerang’s example (and even he idiotically crawls back – boo), makes the title exquisitely apt.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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