The Power of the Dark Side

Note: There are minor spoilers in this post. Not about plot things, but about characterization. I don’t think it will ruin the movie for you, but if you want to be extra careful, don’t read this until you see The Force Awakens

I saw The Force Awakens Thursday night, but I wanted to wait until the weekend passed until I posted about it. First, it was magnificent. I want to shake JJ Abrams’s hand for revitalizing the franchise. Second, Disney can go to hell for declaring most of the expanded universe books non-canon (though they still plan to incorporate some of it). They were great. In my mind, I’ll always consider them an alternate reality, like DC’s Earth-2. Those books are too good to be forgotten.

Now for what I really want to talk about: The Dark Side.

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Scifi/Fantasy and the Bigots that Love It

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My brilliant friend Michael wrote something on Facebook this morning. It was so insightful that I asked if I could share it here. This is not mine, but I wish that I said it. Here you go:

I will never understand how bigots of… well, any kind really, can be sci-fi-/fantasy fans.

Of course, we’ve got out Orson Scott Cards and Ayn Rands and all that, and of course their messages and styles will appeal to certain people, but I’m talking about people who glut on multiple major entries in the sci-fi/fantasy canon.

I mean, seriously. Practically every genre work of note is about liberating the oppressed. Lord of the Rings (for all its unfortunate Eurocentric implications) actually pushes for intercultural tolerance and cooperation, and the right of peoples to live freely as they will. Star Wars is all about taking down a greedy, oppressive regime that exploits its people. Harry Potter is all about respecting the dignity and sovereignty of all walks of life, regardless of how your values may clash or how weird they may seem to you. Star Trek has always (and, at points, problematically) prioritized humanity’s evolution beyond bigotry and warmongering over dramatic necessity. X-Men, even when everything else about it is stripped away, is about Civil Rights and the evils of bigotry.

And all of these stories are chock full of women who are strong either in body, mind, heart, or any combination thereof. Well, Lord of the Rings is pretty much a sausage fest, but the appendices help with that. A little.

So, how we manage get fanboys who are sexist, racist, homophobic, or whatever is just frankly COMPLETELY BEYOND ME. How does this happen? How can someone be drawn to works that are all about freedom, tolerance, and respect, and then turn around and be bigots? Like, what do they even get out of these stories then? Honestly?

Is it just that light sabers are cool? Is that really all?

He makes such a great point. Sci fi and Fantasy stories are usually progressive in theme. Unity, Peace, The power of the common person. These are not the thoughts of the bigot. Of course there are exceptions, but you are what you read. Even Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game, and if that’s not a powerful progressive statement, I don’t know what is.

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(In Just Seven Years) Rocky Horror Made Me a Man


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Some of you will get the title reference. You are my people. Thank you for existing.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show turns 40 this year. I’m not sure if this is old or young, because it’s always been an old movie for me. Even though I’ve seen it hundreds (literally) of times, it’s always seemed like something from the past, brought into the present for lonely souls like me. It was a holy relic, and we were the cult that formed around it.

For better or worse, Rocky Horror made me who I am.

I was always different, quiet, weird. I suppose the term is “socially awkward.” I was more comfortable playing alone or reading than with hanging out with friends. I had some success with sports (particularly baseball), but it never won me any friends. I was bullied in school, and no matter how many times I fought back, it never stopped (Every time someone says that if you stand up to a bully, they’ll stop, I want to laugh at them. It doesn’t stop, it escalates). I hid behind my long, greasy hair and didn’t speak to anyone. Eventually I stopped going to school and just lived my life as far from people as possible.

The doctors diagnosed me with Bipolar Syndrome. I got loaded up with Lithium (the only drug available at the time) and sent to a special school. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but that’s a different story.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but that school was the link to Rocky. Like I said, it was Rocky that transformed me from a shy, awkward kid to a semi-outgoing, but even more awkward, adult.

I was 16, and I went with a friend from the special school and some of his friends. Suddenly I was surrounded by people in half-naked costumes and makeup, yelling, joking, and…hugging! I don’t think I had ever been hugged by a stranger until that first night, definitely the first time I was ever hugged by a man in fishnets. People were actually friendly to me. I was confused, titillated, and entranced. When the movie started and people started yelling awful things in unison, it was all over for me. It became an addiction. I ended up going every Saturday night, getting home at 3 or 4 in the morning (because you have to take over the local diner afterwards, order one plate of disco fries between 10 people, and drink coffee until you vibrate).

I think it was the anonymity of it all. In the dark, no one could judge you. You shed your outer self–the mask you wear for acceptance–and just let go. The thing was, I never had a mask, so I never had acceptance. Suddenly I was in a place where everyone was like me. For two hours a week, we were all equals.

I memorized every line and every call back. I made friends with other socially awkward people, so we could be awkward together. Yelling terrible things at a movie screen brought us together (like how Cards Against Humanity is such a great party game). Rocky was a vehicle that allowed me to be social in a judgment-free area.

As I got older, I got bolder. In college, me and my friend (I had friends now) staged a bi-weekly Rocky in our dorm lounge. I played Riff Raff and sometimes Eddie (and I was freaking good at it). It empowered me. In a few short years I went from hiding in corners to dancing in a spotlight.

I really wish I had pics of me performing.

So what did going to hundreds of Rocky Horror performances teach me? It taught me to get over it. I was so busy worrying about what people thought of me that I couldn’t be myself. There will always be people that judge, and those that will never accept you. Fuck them. Be yourself, be weird, and the people you want to be around will find you.

I’m proud of my weirdness now. I used to be afraid to say that I love D&D and cartoons. Now I shout it out. I’ll sing and dance in public. I’ll wear facepaint at a football game. I’ll embarrass myself, and I don’t care what people think.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Rocky in the theater, yet it’s still latched firmly in my heart. It makes me sad that there are only a few places to see it live now. Every generation needs something like Rocky, a place where the weird can be weird without fear of judgment.

The one near me closed down a good 15 years ago. There’s one within an hour of me, but I can never get up the will to go. I have no idea why. Maybe I don’t need Rocky anymore. Maybe I used to go as social therapy, and now I’m confident enough that I don’t need it. No. It’s because I can’t stay up till 3 or 4 in the morning anymore.

I’m old, Rocky is immortal.

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The Underrated Genius of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

I’ve written before about how much I love this movie (the sequels, not so much) but it’s not for the absurd comedy and stoner jokes. There’s more to this movie than you might notice, especially if you’re high, and let’s face it, when you watched it, you were probably high.

Yes, you

Despite this, Harold and Kumar is a great absurdist comedy, with excellent story structure and character development. Yes, it has NPH, Chris Meloni covered in boils, and a cheetah going for it too, but follow this logic.

Story Structure: H&K has near-perfect story structure, a retelling of the Hero’s Journey that would make Joseph Campbell proud (and very confused). They leave their Ordinary World–one where Harold is bullied by coworkers and longs for his neighbor Maria, and Kumar resists his father’s demands and destiny to become a brilliant doctor–to search out the prize that will make their lives complete: White Castle Sliders.

Along their journey through fearsome New Jersey (brave the Parkway…if you dare) they meet Allies and Enemies (Freakshow, The Extreme Kids, Bradley the Hippie Dealer, Neil Patrick Harris on Ecstasy, overenthusiastic suburban cops, the cheetah, etc), suffer terrible ordeals (NPH steals Harold’s car, the cheetah breaks Harold’s laptop, Harold gets thrown in jail…all the bad things really happen to Harold), but come out stronger and transformed at the end, defeating their enemies, both within (Kumar and his inner fears) and without (Harold’s coworkers). They return to their home in Hoboken transformed. Kumar is ready to go to med school, and Harold finally makes a move on Maria.

The prize at the end of the Hero’s Journey: you know you want it

Good story structure is more than just the hero’s journey. H&K open several absurd side plots, but manage to close every one of them. The cheetah escape reported on the news later gives them a ride. The two guys that look like them in Newark show up at the hospital. Bradley is in jail when Harold gets arrested, Bradley’s pot is used to frame and arrest the Extreme Kids, NPH returns the car and pays for their Sliders, and so on.

But wait, there’s more. While Harold and Kumar are having their adventure, their neighbors Rosenberg and Goldstein are having a parallel adventure off screen. This is important, and adds a new level of depth to the movie.

Character Development: Both Harold and Kumar change drastically through their journey. Harold begins as timid and paranoid. He ends as–while not exactly bold–a braver human being, standing up to his rivals and claiming his heart’s desire. Kumar begins as a boorish slacker. Despite his incredible aptitude for medicine, he refuses to do anything besides get high all day. By the end, he realizes that he was resisting for the wrong reasons. He was afraid that he’d be another sterotyped Indian doctor, but to paraphrase him, there are worse things I could be than a great doctor. Plus how cool was saving that guy in the hospital?

Oh yeah, they saved a gunshot victim’s life in the hospital (where they went to get medicinal marijuana)

False Moral: There’s also a false moral in the story, a technique that you don’t often see. While Harold is in jail, he encounters a black man who casually tells him that he was arrested and beaten for being black. When Harold asks how he can be so calm about it, the man says that he’s been harassed by idiots all of his life, and it’s not worth getting upset about. The universe usually works out as it should.

It sounds like it’d be the moral of the story, but it’s a trap. If Harold was to take the man’s advice, he would still be the timid, passive man he was at the beginning. The man was a “shadow mentor” on the journey. Instead, Harold sees an opportunity to beat his enemies and takes it, stealing The Extreme Kids SUV and asserting himself against his coworkers.

Allusions: Remember when I mentioned Rosenberg and Goldstein? Here’s where they come in.

H&K is clearly an absurdist comedy, and alludes to one of the greatest absurdist comedies: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Like in H&K, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are part of a parallel story, the background to Hamlet. Rosenberg and Goldstein (note the similarity of names) play a similar role.

There’s something else. In the beginning of R&GAD, they flip a coin repeatedly, and it keeps coming up heads. That’s a signal to both the characters and the audience that something is wrong with reality. This prepares the audience for the absurdity to follow (though not nearly as absurd as H&K). Early in H&K, Kumar drops the scissors he’s using to trim his pubes. It lands point down and doesn’t fall. Similar to the coin flips, this is a signal that something very strange is about to happen.

Yes, I believe that this was intentional. No, I’m not high.

Why is all of this important (Besides reviving NPH’s Career?: It’s fairly simple to make a stoner comedy. Get a bunch of people high and send them on a misadventure. It sells. People like this stuff. Cheech and Chong made a career out of it (their movies are so freakin’ bad). Adult Swim made a phenomenon out of it (most of it good). But you can still have a stoner comedy and make it well-written. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is proof that no matter what the genre, a good story will always prevail.

Also, who doesn’t love White Castle?

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Settlers of Catan to be a Movie or TV Show?

Looks like Settlers of Catan is trading Sheep for Celluloid…Yes, that’s the best joke I have…Yes, I know that no one uses Celluloid anymore…Yes, I know I suck, work with me here.

Anyway, according to, “producer Gail Katz (Air Force One, The Perfect Storm) announced via press release that she has obtained film and television rights to Settlers of Catan.” Since Io9 is usually on the ball with this kind of thing, I’m inclined to believe them.

Can a Ticket to Ride movie be far behind?

For those that don’t know, SoC is the big board game of these times, the new Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit. You work on building a better civilization than your using specific resources. You get these resources through trade or strategic luck (I love that turn). It’s a turn-based game with a fairly short time frame, but addicting. It’s hard to play just one game of Settlers of Catan.”

The question is: what are they going to do with it? It’s a pretty straight forward game, but there’s a back story there that can (if they’re smart) be used in a bunch of different directions. Will they make an action-adventure involving pioneers trying to start a new life? They can take on a narrative similar to Lord of the Flies, where one group goes civilized while the other descends into barbarism. They can start mid-game with the wealthy forcing their will on the poorer groups, like every other Western made (think Road Barons instead of rail). Maybe a Game of Thrones style fantasy-political thriller? They could go serious or goofy, complex or simple. There’s a lot to work with here.

Board games turned into visual media does not have a good track record. Battleship stands out as the biggest bomb, or last year’s Ouija. Clue is one of my favorite movies, but that’s primary because of the great acting and clever dialogue. The plot itself is very predictable…but fun.

I’m looking forward to what becomes of one of my favorite games. I think it could be great…or it could be Battleshit.

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and What DC Doesn’t Understand

Comic-Con season is the geekiest time of the year. Every day there’s a new thing to go nuts over. This time it’s Wonder Woman’s costume in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (the worst name ever).

I like it, and Gal Gadot looks great in it (what doesn’t she look great in?). I picture Wonder Woman as more muscular, but it’s not my movie, I’m not the casting director. Gadot brings star power, if a lack of acting chops (the awful Fast and the Furious Series doesn’t count) and star power brings in the Muggles who wouldn’t normally see a comic book movie. Gal Gadot is a model, not an actress, and that concerns me with how they’re going to write and direct Wonder Woman.

Dark WW is dark

Dark WW is dark

Notice that her costume has muted colors, similar to Superman and Batman in the previous movies. Does this mean that Batman v. Superman is going to be as dark and morally ambiguous as its predecessors? Probably, and that’s the problem. It’s like Snyder played DC: Injustice and suddenly thinks he understands what’s going on.

DC keeps going for these dark movies, and that’s not true to the characters. Yes, it worked for Batman (to an extent), but that’s because Batman is meant to be dark. Most comic heroes aren’t. Superman is not dark. He’s the paragon of all that’s good in the world (next to Captain Marvel). On an aside, I always thought it poetic that an alien is the best example for humanity.

This is not 300, and this is not Watchmen. Snyder does not understand the characters that he is trying to portray.

The Trollvengers

I love Wonder Woman. Not in a pervy fanboy kind of way, but as a character. She is one of the most complex characters in fiction, a blend of divine warrior, compassionate human, uncomfortable diplomat, and lonely, stoic outsider. She is impossible to portray correctly as a supporting character in this movie. I doubt that anyone could even get her right in her own movie, which is a shame, because someone should try.

I suggest that Snyder look to the old Justice League cartoon from the early 2000s. They had a firm grasp on the characters, mostly because it was actual comic book writers doing it. Dark movies do not equate to good movies. You only have to look at what Marvel is doing right to see what DC is doing wrong.

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