The Avengers – A Study In Character Development

I’ve seen this movie twice already, on Thursday date night with Nicole and again yesterday with my nephew. I wholeheartedly agree with my friend Josh’s statement over on Fantasy Book Review that this is the best comic book movie ever.

While Josh talks about the movie as a whole, what I want to touch on a bit is the characters and the acting, because I think every single person has lifted their game for this movie, and they were allowed to do so because their characters were written so well. When you look back on this movie you will remember those epic action sequences, but when you watch it a second time you realise it is the interactions between the characters that make you laugh, that make you smile, that make you anxious, that even make you sad. I’m going to come out and say it, Joss Whedon is a freaking genius and watching this movie you can just tell that everyone had a lot more fun.

Definitely lives up to the hype!

We have gotten to know Tony Stark as Ironman over a couple of movies now, and while the second movie had a great story, the characterisation was poor. In this movie, Whedon lets Stark play the billionaire playboy philanthropist, lets him be the arrogant smart ass. Unlike Ironman 2 where Stark is forced to grow up and stop being a dick, Whedon says go ahead Tony, be a dick, because I am going to put you into situations that make you choose whether or not you become a hero, and whatever you choose, you might want to hang onto something comfortable. Downey Jr. looks a lot more comfortable doing this, he is given free rein to be himself, and it works.

Thor has been given a small personality makeover in this movie, he has been given a dry wit which combines well with his archaic way of speaking, he makes well reasoned decisions, and he just acts like a god. He is just there to bring his brother to justice, he laughs at the petty leadership squabbles between the other heroes, but over time he comes to appreciate his new companions and readily accepts his place in the team. The big change is in his dialogue – it makes much more sense, it shows that there are multiple dimensions to his character, and because of this is delivered much more fluently by Hemsworth.

Ok I'll put my hammer down, on your face!

Captain America is so noble it hurts, and Evans plays him exactly the same way as he did in the Captain America movie. He is a natural leader and it is this side that Whedon decides to grow. On my second viewing I started to notice all these little moments where it was Captain America who would take charge to stop the squabbling between heroes. So when it comes time for the final battle, it comes as no surprise when Captain America steps up and starts directing all the heroes around the battlefield.

Renner and Johansson are awesome as Hawkeye and Black Widow. You can tell that there is a lot of history between these two characters, and Whedon uses that to his advantage, putting one in danger to evoke a response from the other, and vice versa. It could have been very easy for them to become completely overshadowed by the empowered heroes, but they are given tasks designed specifically for their skill sets that make sense within the context of the movie, and in the end you cheering just as much for them as you are for all the big names.

Hey Hawkeye, you know the Black Widow kills her mate after sex right?

But not everyone can be an avenger, and the support cast does get outshone a little by the big personalities. That said, Samuel L. Jackson owns the screen as Nick Fury for the few brief moments that he gets it, Clark Gregg gives his best performance yet as the very likeable Agent Coulson and I would have loved to see him get more screen time, and Cobie Smulders is a great addition as Agent Hill always there prodding and prying at the motives and actions of her boss Nick Fury while also showing some kickass driving and flying skills.

Hey, we're important too!

Tom Hiddleston gives a much better performance as Loki this time around, and I think that has a lot to do with the writing and directing. Loki just oozes super villain this time around, from the very first scene where he effortlessly wipes out a bunch of SHIELD agents, he is mean, he is powerful, he is charming, he is funny, and he is desperate for vengeance. From the snivelling coward he was in Thor, Loki has truly grown in stature and ability, his well formed motivations are a complex reflection of a mind that he is trying to rebuild after it was shattered in the Thor movie, and I think all this makes him the best villain I have seen in any comic book movie.

Kneel humans, it is more becoming of you.

But it is Mark Ruffalo who steals the show here, who with the assistance of Whedon has brought The Hulk back from that dark and gritty place he was taken to in the previous two Hulk movies. Not to say that Ruffalo’s portrayal does not have dark and gritty, just that in this movie Bruce Banner is allowed to show more emotions than just depression. We get to see the resilience and good nature of Dr Banner, and these two emotions contrast brilliantly against the raw destructive nature of The Hulk.

And somehow Whedon manages to weave all these big personalities together, not into a cohesive team but into a cohesive movie. Whedon doesn’t try to force them into a mould, he just puts them all together on a flying aircraft carrier and lets them work out their own mould. They are allowed to argue, they are allowed to fight, they are allowed to tear each other apart, and that is what grounds this movie in reality, and that is why people will go back again and again to see this movie. Because these characters act as if they are part of their own special family, and you can draw parallels between watching that family grow and watching your own family grow.

HULK SMASH!!!

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Unlucky

Jerry clenched his whole body, wincing as each line propagated along the glass. The piercing sound turned him inside out, the slow growing cracks emitting sharp crunchs and crackles as they snaked their way towards the edges. He opened his eyes. A thousand faces stared back at him from a thousand different shards. Angular, misshapen, his own.

Jerry no longer knew what to believe. When he tripped on the bath mat this morning and went tumbling into the vanity mirror, he cursed his clumsy feet. When he shattered the ceiling mirror with a flying fork after Tabetha pounced on him from atop the fridge, he blamed coincidence. But this time, having just fastened his seatbelt, a single glance into his rear vision mirror was all it took. His luck wasn’t even trying anymore.

He shifted into reverse, released the clutch, gunned the accelerator, and crashed into the paint stand he had only erected last night. Today was going to be a bad day.

 

Geek

I have a confession – I am obsessed with figuring out how stuff works. Ok so maybe that’s not much of a confession for anyone who knows me, and perhaps even those people who have had brief associations with me, but for those who didn’t know, surprise!

When I look back on my life I was always going to be an engineer, and I can attribute that to parental influences, grandparental influences, and being given the encouragement to keep doing what I love. When most kids were given books about Blinky Bill, I was given books on the Fabulous Facts About Transport. I was fascinated by how stuff worked, and I would become fixated on something until I figured out how it worked and could reproduce the result myself. Most people called me Nerd, but I always thought of myself as a Geek.

Recently, one of my good friends put me onto an article about how Geek culture is becoming cool. Huzzah, not that I was looking for a particular breed of acceptance but the constant negativity towards Geekdom has always been a bit of a downer. Then I kept reading the article and discovered the crux of the argument, that it is cool to look like a Geek and embrace Geek culture, but nobody wants to actually be a real geek. Specifically, the article targets the faux Geek and tells them they are not welcome.

This article is a tad elitist. Actually a lot elitist. It proposes criteria for being a Geek, and that if you dont meet the criteria then you dont deserve to be called a Geek. Wow, I didn’t realise we were running such an exclusive club where you had to earn the right to sit back on an Iron Throne, drinking our Princess Peach Schnapps while discussing in lofty tones what we loved about the latest episode of The Guild. For me, Geeks have always embraced the love of anything and everything, and that should definitely be inclusive of the “faux Geek”.

There is no need to throw up walls, there is no need to fear the loss of identity. Being a Geek is something you define personally, something that nobody can take away from you, something you can and should be proud of. I am thankful to have found so many like minded people to share my interests with, and hopefully with “Geek culture” becoming “cool”, I can find a bunch more like minded people.

Is Michael Bay Really Destroying Your Childhood?

He is the director who polarises audiences one explosion at a time. He is the director who gave us the awesomeness that is Transformers, the nonsensical Transformers 2, and the diabolical Transformers 3. He is the director who gave us the most amazing scenes ever with Megan Fox pretending to know stuff about cars and bikes.

It squirts the fuel in so you can go faster.

I think I broke the drive shaft.

So today it was announced that Michael Bay will be taking his turn at bringing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen. Spoiler Alert – The turtles turn out to be aliens. This has incensed a lot of people from every corner of the globe, with one former voice actor for the cartoon series saying that Michael Bay is “sodomizing” the TMNT legacy.

Time to get over it guys. It’s probably going to hurt a little bit inside but modern kids just don’t get the old school TMNT cartoons that our childhood was blessed with. Take off those rose-tinted glasses, appreciate the past for all it’s worth, and be a true fan by helping as many kids as you can to experience the awesomeness of TMNT with this new movie. Nobody is going to take your childhood away, the personal experiences you had with this great show have helped to define who you are and will stay with you forever.

This notion of reboots and adaptations destroying childhoods is a tired one,  one for people who are so caught up by that favourite TV show or book they loved that they refuse to acknowledge any reimagination of that TV show or book that does not match the lingering memories in their head. Oh no they left out Tom Bombadil out of Lord of the Rings – whoop-dee-doo. Harry and Hermione never shared an intimate dance in the books – no but it was a nice touch that showed how deep their relationship had become better than any dialogue could have done.

I can understand why people get upset when the movie version leaves out their favourite part or adds in new material that never existed in the original works, but not including that one scene that meant something deeply personal to you does not mean that the movie sucks. It’s time to appreciate that the original material is just that, material, and the writers / director are going to use that material as the basis for their own story that makes sense as a film. The book / TV show movie adaptations that fail are the ones that try to stick exactly to the book and make no effort to turn the material into their own story ie Eragon. If you want some good examples of film makers making the material their own, look no further than the Harry Potter films directed by David Yates, or the new 21 Jump Street movie written by Jonah Hill. Awesome movies that stay true to the essence of the source material but with their own style and flare.

Michael Bay is not destroying your childhood, he is just using certain aspects of it as a setting for his explosions. And I am comfortable with that, TMNT is a cartoon show that could have used more explosions.

Vale Mike McKay

Today I learned that one of my online friends Mike McKay passed away over the weekend. I never met Mike in the twelve months we chatted online, but I can certainly attribute a lot my current enthusiasm for writing to his incessant nagging emails asking for more chapters. Michael just wanted me, and the entire Defence Writing community for that matter, to just keep writing. He was a wonderfully positive and optimistic sci-fi and fantasy geek, and I will miss him greatly.

This year he traded in his smoke breaks for writing breaks, and would often entertain us with 150 word bursts of raw unedited stories, and then berate us for not doing the same. Here is an example of one of his “Afternoon 150’s”:

The Captain hadn’t agreed that it was a life form.  The doctor was angry.

 “It’s Carbon Chauvinism.”

 “Huh?”  Cam looked at the Doc.

“Nicolas Chauvin.”  The lights in Cam’s eyes went out.  The Doc frowned.  “Nicolas Chauvin?”

“He fought alongside Napoleon.  He was a French patriot”.  Doc sighed.  “He dismissed all things that weren’t French; said they were wasteful nonsense.  He couldn’t see the big picture. His name is synonymous with a loathing of foreign things.  Come on.” 

“I mean…why does it have to be carbon-based?” 

 He pointed.  “There’s no reason!  This is just Carbon Chauvinism.”

They were standing over a thing.  An ugly thing.  A dormant thing. It wasn’t composed of carbon.  It was a thing of silicon.  It was made of a tetravalent metalloid, not unlike carbon…but unlike any life on Earth.

“Well?” 

“Well what?”, the Doc responded.

 “How do we tell?  Is it alive?  Is it dead?”

To honour my friend, I decided to write my own “Afternoon 150”. This is for you Mike, for pushing me to keep on writing and writing and writing when I should have been working. RIP buddy, may you have plenty of Stargate episodes to watch in sci-fi heaven.

I cheered with the utmost delight as I flew through the air, my hands grasping at the invisible reins while my feet pushed against invisible stirrups. I rode the wind with an easy confidence, soaring over mountain tops at exhilarating speeds before plunging down the other side like a bird of prey. I flew just inches from the ground, bending blades of grass and stripping seeds from dandelions as I displaced the air around me. It was incredible.

I closed my eyes, stood in the stirrups, and pulled back on the reins, my knees gripping against the buffeting air as I climbed and climbed. I opened my eyes and beheld the most beautiful of sights, the curvature of the Earth spread out before me as if I belonged in one of those sci-fi stories. With a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I let go.

The Art Of Reviewing, Oh And Some Flash Fiction

I feel like I haven’t had a good rant in a while, so when I came across the following review of Theft of Swords on Strange Horizons and skimmed all of the comments in response to that review, I felt like I needed to get my rant on.

To review is to provide an opinion, an appraisal based on a set of criteria that is personal to the reviewer. I like books that are fun, set in strange places, and full of colourful characters. If you want to call a book garbage, you should provide evidence based on the criteria by which you judge a book. Similarly if you want to provide lavish praise of you new favourite book, tell me why you think it is deserving of your lavish praise.

In the Strange Horizons review, reviewer Liz Bourke says the book is rubbish and one of the worst books she has ever read. She then goes on to provide evidence of why she thinks it is one of the worst books she has ever read. And that should be fine with everyone, because if you apply her criteria for what makes a good book then you will see that Theft of Swords does not perform so well. If you apply my criteria for what makes a good book then you will see that Theft of Swords performs quite admirably. We are different people, we have different tastes, and it is differences like this that make us unique individuals, a quality that should be celebrated.

For reviewers like myself and Liz, writing a scathing review of a very popular book makes the fans of that book very angry. They take it as a personal affront, a well publicised article that calls them stupid for liking a book that they shouldn’t, and they come together from all corners of the internet to vent their fury via the comments section. Rarely do they try and understand the reviewer’s criteria or point of view, more often they accuse the reviewer of bias,  accuse them of a failure to understand what the book is all about, or assert that because the reviewer does not like the given genre they are not qualified to have an opinion on the genre. They do not want to engage with the reviewer on the content of the review, they want the reviewer to change their core values so that they align with their own values.

For me the choice is easy, find a reviewer whose values you can relate to, and appreciate that other people have different values. Liz is well within her right to review the book, and for those share her values (ie. the regular readers of Strange Horizons) the review will act as a handy guide not to bother with that book. This is not a bad thing, and for the author Michael Sullivan, he now knows if he wants to appeal to the target audience that Liz is a member of, he will have to fix all the issues she identified with the book.

In the end I had a couple of problems with the review, not that she disagreed with me, but because of her not so subtle attack on a group of people based on their personal choice, and her lack of consistency. It can be hard for people to see past the emotion when they see something like “I want to hunt down every single soul associated with the decision to give this series the imprimatur of a major publishing house and rub their noses in it like a bad puppy”. In this case Liz has gone away from critiquing the book based on her own person criteria and has decided to take aim at a group of people because they dared to have a different opinion to her.

As for her lack of consistency, it appears that after reading a few of her previous reviews the criteria Liz used to judge Theft of Swords is not the same as what she has used to judge similar books in the past. Consistency is a very important part of being a reviewer as it demonstrates a level of competency and integrity, instilling a measure of worth in your reviews. If you are the sort of person who will change your criteria to give a book a bad review because you disliked it that much, how are people supposed to take stock in the words you write? You will find people quickly losing respect for your reviews, and to be honest how could you ever feel satisfied providing an opinion on something when absolutely nobody is willing to respect it?

Anyway enough of my rant, who wants some flash fiction? I call this one Travel Bug. Feel free to review it 🙂

Travel Bug

White knuckles gripping the arm rests, toes curling up inside his boots, Strub closed his eyes and tried to relax his breathing. It didn’t help. He could feel the momentum shift as they started forward, hear the increase in pitch as more power was applied to the engines, smell the sour odour of sweat that his nervous body had been producing ever since he climbed aboard this death trap.

Turning his head to the side he instantly regretted opening his eyes, buildings and trees rushed past the window in a blur as they picked up speed. The tenuous control over his breathing evaporated in a flash and he started to hyperventilate, his panicked terror visible for all to see.

The aircraft gently pitched upwards and left the ground, Strub letting out a sharp yelp as his stomach churned.

“Easy there Strub,” came a smooth calming voice from beside him. “Relax.”

Strub felt the word of power envelop his body, immediately releasing the tension in his muscles and slowing his heart rate to a more manageable level. As his body sank further into the chair his mind sank into unconsciousness, his fear and anxiety drifting away as the power continued to cleanse his spirit. He heard snippets of bickering from somewhere far away, but he was too comfortable to even bother processing the words. He was at peace.

***

“Damn it Jed you went too far again” snapped a voice laced with frustrastion. “I am not bringing him out this time.”

“Aww come on Leon, he was starting to upset the other passengers. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Dont make excuses with me, boy. You put him there, you can go and bring him back.”

“Stupid Strub,” Jed muttered under his breath. “I hate flying.”

Still No Internet…

Ok so Optus managed to give me a convoluted answer as to why my internet no worky on Friday… that was after being passed around amongst the customer service reps like I had just been let out of the sluthouse. The iPhone wireless hotspot is doing the job at the moment, but gee it would be nice to download something sizeable at a reasonable speed right about now.

Anyway on the topic of fails, here are a bunch of pictures I found on http://weknowmemes.com creating laughs at the expense of Mr T. Rex. Enjoy.

Australia Day – Are You Proud?

The 26th of January 1788 saw the First Fleet land at Sydney Cove to begin the European colonisation of Australia. We mark that date with a public holiday every year – it is a chance to celebrate with our friends and family what we think it means to be Australian. BBQ’s in the backyard, pool parties, alcohol, cricket, and JJJ’s Hottest 100 are recurring elements from almost every one of my Australia Day celebrations, but unfortunately I didn’t have any lamb this year…

I’m not sure what it is but for some reason, Australia Day seems to bring out both the best and worst in people. From the Kalgoorlie race riots in 1938 through to yesterdays semi-violent protests, Australia Day seems to be used as an excuse to incite violence against those who are deemed “unaustralian”. It is disappointing that we continue to see this race issue crop up year after year, and pictures like this give an impression to the world of what it’s really like to live here:

This from a high profile media personality

An attack on the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader

The Australian flag cape is a nice touch...

And if you look closely at his boxer shorts...

It is actions like this that tarnish Australia Day for everyone. When we look at them we question whether or not we are proud to be Australian because people act like this in the name of Australia.

Am I proud to be Australian? Of course I am. We do so much good as a nation and it is those actions we should acknowledge and be proud of. Our professionals are leading the world in a bunch of different fields, are economic strength has allowed us to provide generous support to struggling nations in this time of financial crisis, and for the most part we are just a bunch of people lucky enough to live in a country where we can take a day off to BBQ some lamb and listen to some music.

Not all images from Australia day are bad, and I will leave you with one of my favourites – my nephew gearing up to celebrate what it means to be an Aussie.

Proud to be Australian