The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: April 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE!

I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…

WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.

MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.

TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.

ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.

MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.

There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…

Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

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© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Is it truly a slow news day? Depends on what kind of news for which you go looking. But, for the kind that matters here in Black Lung-ed Reptile Land, amusing shit that may or may not help a fellow writer get off their ass and make words appear…Yeah, slow news day. Especially in the absence of the next writing manual or oversold crap gear to eviscerate, I need things to distract me from the film review that currently seems to have tripped down the basement stairs (I do try to mix up my worn out metaphors… occasionally). So I sit down on my tile floor and roll my story dice.

And here we go with yet another trip to Grandma’s house…if Granny could stand living two left turns from normal. Six sets of prompts from which I will hopefully choose one over the next few days and post the results in the dormant Author’s Assortment column to kick things off. Or sit back and watch as the small handful of you that read me (thanks by the way) start goofing on the prompts. Eventually, I do want to read your stuff. And why only six sets today? Tile floor, Ducky! Obviously, sit normally like a Big Boy next time.

A few assumptions and ground rules. No overt erotica…please. Play nice, while I do have a lot of tolerance for challenging I have precisely zero for intentionally being a douchebag to hurt other people. I believe I have enough reading comprehension to know the difference. If you do play along, post links to wherever you post your writing and don’t fill up comment boxes whether here, on Facebook or Twitter with text. The according to Hoyle rules that come with the dice I use says roll 9 dice and start writing. They also say I can make up rules as I go along. Therefore, I roll 12 dice and drop the lamest three results (or not). Oh, and just because I rolled lots of dice doesn’t mean that this is a completely random thing. After all my eyes are open picking the dice for each roll and my proclivities are probably apparent to those of you paying attention, so perhaps I pick dice because of whatever.

The first prompt card #43:

1) Wolf baying at the Moon

2) Cyclops

3) Satellite dish

4) Spider web

5) Acorn

6) Tree

7) Hypnosis

8) Notebook

9) Scientist

10) Geode

11) Super-speed

12) Searching

Prompt card #44:

1) Shooting star

2) Break a test tube (or an eraser)

3) Syringe

4) Jet fighter

5) Bloodstain

6) Bricklayer

7) Goose/swan

8) Barbarian helmet

9) Acting

10) Crescent Moon

11) Evil cephalopod (C’thulu?)

12) Mirrored person (Star Trek Mirror Universe?)

Prompt card #45 (see picture):

1) Anger

2) Drunken dwarf

3) Fall down

4) Chalice

5) House

6) Handcuffs (see rules above)

7) Scary shadowy entrance

8) Freezer pod (could also be a transporter)

9) Globe/Earth

10) Open/close a window

11) Open a secret door (this one really blew up my eyes)

12) Imaginary friend

Prompt card #46:

1) Soccer jersey

2) Marvin T. Martian

3) Tasmanian Devil

4) Stranded at sea

5) Bricklayer

6) Big splash

7) Bumblebee

8) Magic mushroom

9) Stethoscope

10) Team sports

11) Zombie rising

12) Police siren

Prompt card #47:

1) Stroll

2) Cyclops

3) Jet airliner

4) Eyeball

5) Cell phone

6) Bumblebee

7) Galaxy

8) Ambulance

9) Angry ghost

10) Sloth

11) Count money

12) Kaiju steps on people

Prompt card #48:

1) Drunken dwarf (again?)

2) Gremlin/goblin

3) Volcano

4) Light bulb/idea

5) Film reel

6) American football

7) Soccer net

8) Painful hit

9) Knock on door

10) Aging superhero

11) Dodge falling objects

12) Draw/animate

As a bit of commentary, many of the images are subject to interpretation and that I use reading glasses. For instance, Geode? Kind of, maybe. Same with Painful Hit. You are free to interpret any of this in the most useful way possible. Some of these are already sparking ideas that I’ll get to eventually, but I won’t go there until a little later. My words aren’t your words and shouldn’t pollute the stream until we agree to pee at the same time. Good writing to you!

There I feel a little better…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I’m such a sucker at times. After enough eyeball impressions (usually in my Facebook feed), I might just buy anything that looks like it could help a writer toiling away somewhere. The ReMarkable Tablet that you might have seen advertised in your feed was just one of those new shiny objects that I just had to have. And because of the average lead time for a product review post versus just going out and seeing a movie to get my two cents in with my Flamethrower column, I fucked myself because I’m past the return date about two weeks after purchase.

To recap this not ready for prime time [expletive deleted] device promises that it will replace all the many variations of paper married to a trusty ballpoint pen, pencil or watercolor brush (for those so inclined). The ReMarkable is a white rectangle with dimensions (in Portrait) that suggest European A4 width and American Letter length that maximizes the piezoelectric tech of your choice of finger tap keyboard, or the write on screen ability of the recent Apple Pen that comes with later iPads. I declare the promises of buying fewer spiral notebooks overblown.

When I first got the thing about four weeks ago, I toyed with it. I play with every new toy at least once as soon as I cut open the shrink-wrap. I set up the device connecting to my home WiFi so I can email files to myself for storage. I charge it up and get ready stylus poised and write.

In this early session, I tapped the button for Portrait Mode like how we’ve been taught to approach any old pad of tear off Letter sized paper (short across the top and longer vertically towards your body). And I got busy with the provided stylus making letters and words appear in a variation of a College Ruled template (blank pages induce my text to alternately go up to the right or down to the right). Everything seemingly worked more or less as advertised in that choosing Pencil made words appear that I could later retype into something else.

As you might see in the photo, this writing tablet has three buttons across the bottom when you orient it in Portrait Mode. The left button is Page Back sending you to the previous page (if it exists). The center button is the Home Button sending you back to the home screen where your note files are saved and you can choose any of your existing files or start something new in which to work. The right button is the Next Page button that will either send the user to the next page in sequence or if you’re at the end of the file it will automatically add a new page to the end of the file.

During this early session, my natural right-handed wrist on the page pen stroke style induced over decades of dealing with book reports and essays for school did me dirty. My wrist would hit this Next Page button suddenly putting me on a blank page orphaned from the rest of my notes/writing. I would have to hit the right button to find where I’d left off. I begrudge literally every second I spend fixing something that I don’t have to worry about using older technology (paper).

The second thing I noticed about writing with the tablet is that the plastic stylus is thinner than I like. If you were to mug me for the pens in my pocket you would see that while I have choices within the same brand between wide barrels and narrow barrels. The only thin barrel design I have has an iPad rubber stylus tip on it. I believe reinforced by how my pen strokes make my elbow feel that wide barrels sit easier in my fingers. Or I could’ve just convinced myself of this allowing my mind to think they fit better.

My solution, if I liked the tablet more, would be to dig out some of the leftover colored gaff tape from my film production days and wrap up the stylus for a thicker grip. It didn’t get this far, so we’ll never know. My words filled up the screen despite the screaming tendons in my elbow.

In the second session conducted more recently, I solve the Portrait problem by turning the tablet sideways to the right and picking the Landscape variation of College Ruled lines. My hand now moves away from the Next Page Button. All seems right in my writing universe as I imagine trading off between my Elfinbook notebook (see post) and the ReMarkable both allowing me to feel more progressive and pro-tree than perhaps I really am. The smaller reusable notebook that uses photographed pages to create PDFs would be good for some uses and the larger ReMarkable, I could maybe use for larger drawings because I really like belly-flopping off the 30-meter platform at the Olympics when it comes to my pictures.

Both paperless technologies are predicated on being able to create PDF files of my notes to send or cut and paste into a folder on my computer, especially wallowing in the arrogance of believing in a historically relevant literary estate. I’ve commented on the reusable notebook saving things to PDF and how easy it is to combine pages into one document. I tried the same thing with this big first draft of my review for The Death of Stalin. Tried as in – “Do or do not, there is no try!” – or the similar, “I’ll try means I’ll fail!”

Sending this handwritten text to myself using my fairly standard WiFi connection failed miserably because the file size was too large in PDF. Really, three pages of handwritten text is too large when other mobile apps can handle huge PDF files by comparison? And you have to send files from the tablet itself because there isn’t a Share Files button on the companion mobile app.

Trying to save things, when I realized I had the option of sending the file using the Photoshop originated PNG format I did that. The file went through, but then I added too many extra steps reconverting to a PDF. And the full text didn’t go through so I would have to rewrite the review or type from the tablet.

Gee, Guys! I feel so happy knowing that I paid $678 for a writing tablet that fails miserably in all of the small ways like file management that I ended buying an unusable paperweight. Maybe I bought something I could put onto a starship bridge set? Or some other flavor of movie prop? Certainly, what passes for my ethics says can’t give this [expletive deleted] away and have the gift accepted in the spirit intended. I wuzzz ROBBED!

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another movie that my inner cinema douche-snob doesn’t like that I remember so fondly…yup, that’s 80s fantasy classic Krull in a nutshell. Fortunately, after decades of yelling, slammed doors and long angry silences, my inner douche left for a Reno Divorce. I think deciding to like Last Jedi, the actual film in front of me instead of waxing craptological on any kind of hagiography about the real Luke Skywalker, finally did it.

When contemplating the story of Colwyn and Lyssa, scions of two warring kingdoms on the faraway world of Krull who must unite against the Beast, the douche isn’t far wrong. It is a silly movie for which serious analysis should be banned. And as often happens in movies like this, none of this actually matters.

I could point to the Glaive, the golden starfish-like Excalibur stand-in, that Colwyn (Ken Marshall) must wield against the Beast and his army of stormtroopers…er Slayers. In of itself, the Glaive represents interesting work on the part of the prop shop (lethal starfish shuriken? Need I say more?) and it should be just the thing for a bit of discreet wet-work on the person of the Beast.

But, like any magical super-weapon that will either destroy the Dark Lord directly or must be fried in Mount Doom in a high stakes game of Keepaway, there is much buildup about not using the Glaive lightly. However, Tolkien made sure to include moments where both Bilbo and Frodo were tempted by the call of the Ring and/or really desperate circumstances to use the Ring in a way that exposes the Ringbearer to Sauron. By contrast, we never really get to see Colwyn tempted to use his nuclear option and then go back to the longsword in his other hand.

This omission, speaking from an Edit Without Mercy mindset, works against the narrative when it should’ve acted more like a flying buttress holding up a Gothic cathedral wall. When most of the Beast’s foul plot revolves around toying with the captive Princess Lyssa (Lyssette Anthony) in his nightmare inspired Black Fortress intending to wear her down and accept his marriage proposal instead of Colwyn’s, having a moment where the good guy nearly blows the big game making a rash decision to reach for the big revolver at his belt could deepen the story.

As it is, the one thing the Beast well in his pursuit of the Princess was to aim a desperate widow at Prince Colwyn in camp with his bandit army. But, yes, 1980s fantasy movies not going there aside, the thread of aiming this woman at the Prince resolved itself with a too quick resort to the expected variation on the stalwart hero – “my heart belongs to another.” And maybe the Beast temporarily empowers this woman strong enough to force the usage of the Glaive (so we can tie these threads together)?

Speaking three decades later, another way to get more out of this scene where the woman relents from killing Prince Colwyn is to have the sex happen. Lyssa sees it as intended in the Beast’s magic mirror or crystal ball and…she forgives her future husband. The movie specifically told us that the marriage-alliance between Lyssa and Colwyn was her idea (possibly to avoid the ugly underbelly of fantasy and medieval woman used as pawns on the chessboard even in the less PC 1980s). Yes, they fall in love for reals when they briefly meet during their interrupted wedding ceremony. Tumbling the camp widow would hurt, but if Lyssa remembers that she offered herself up to save her world she can shrug and say something like – “obviously we have to talk, but he gets this one free.”

And bringing the bash-bash portion of this review back around to the not well thought out logic of the movie represented by the Glaive, I have an interesting nitpick observation. The golden starfish is an ancient weapon that represents kingship and good leadership on Krull. But, the Beast is an interstellar bad guy who lands his personal dark tower, The Black Fortress, on the planet intending the next phase in his galactic conquest. So other than the movie telling us so in a manner much like – “hey, look over there! A prophesy!” – how do we know that the Glaive will do anything remotely useful against the Beast?

I could go on bashing a movie, I’ve already said I like. But, it’s time to talk about has been continuously awesome about this movie since they made it. There are two or three major set pieces that do much to carry this movie. You tell me that the Gandalf stand-in, Ynyr (Freddie Jones), has to enter a giant spider web to confront his old tragic love, The Widow in the Web (Francesca Annis), for the location of the teleporting Black Fortress? Yeah, I’m in, especially since the stop motion white spider puppet was massively cool. And if you tell me that the adventuring party must saddle Fire Mares (super fast horses) in order to ride all night across a couple thousand miles of British and Italian exteriors doubling as the lush grasslands of Krull? Had me at hello.

But, while the fan of fantasy movies might come to expect such big moments, it is in the interactions between the party members where this movie almost breaks out from the strictures of a script that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. First off in roleplaying terms, it’s an odd party construction. There are, like, four variations of the wizard character class with Ynyr, The Green Seer (John Welsh), Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) and youthful apprentice, Titch (Graham McGrath). Rounding out the party we have an army of bandits featuring before they were famous parts for Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane and Alun Armstrong as the leader Torquil.

As you may guess from the presence of this many wizards, not many survive the movie possibly causing complaints from the Fantasy Wizard Union. In the meantime, the bandits have a lot of fun looking cool and being warmhearted even towards the budding mentor relationship between Ergo and Titch. And it is this gentility in the slow moments that does much for the experience of watching this movie.

Operating in parallel to the Ergo-Stitch relationship, we have a friendship between Ergo and Rell the Cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw). Initially, Ergo doesn’t like new things like tall one-eyed beings, but comes to see the man with the oversized shrimp fork as a friend and ally. It’s a pity that the film actually kind of left Rell on the table where he could’ve been more relevant in more scenes, but when he was there things worked better.

Director Peter Yates also gets some specific recognition for overseeing key aspects like production design and cinematography that do much to elevate the movie. Usually, a movie like this (1980s modest budget) would have highly noticeable shifts in how the brilliantly photographed grasslands, hills and mountains interact with the interior sets conducted on various Pinewood stages. Here the shifts land within the band for not so glaring, just go with it. It doesn’t matter whether Colwyn pulls the Glaive from lava or Ynyr carefully edges his way across structural support webbing going to see the Widow, great sets equal almost great scenes that just needed better writing.

That said Krull has a lot of charm and nostalgia to it that carries the day. And the real reason I won’t fully bash this movie into the realm of regretting buying the disk, is that I’ve already looted elements for my own work. In a book that doesn’t really exist anymore, a dragon attacks the city. The protagonist rides her own dragon home. The king and love interest and his retinue make use of a one time only rule that their horses will break the sound barrier to cross hundreds of miles before the dragon gets snippy. I can’t bash cool things to borrow. And now we close.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I suppose that you’re aware that I’m as susceptible to a Facebook ad for cool writer stuff as anyone (more if you figure that I get to tell you about it and write off these modest hits to my bank account on my taxes). So on my daily skimming of all things Facebook, mostly to clear the red numbers in the corner but occasionally to learn things from fellow scribblers, I come across the Elfinbook 2 notebook. A reusable notebook where you use a special pen and either spritz water on your screw-ups to erase them or you nuke the whole spiral notebook over a glass of water in the microwave to erase the whole book.

Probably because of not fully trusting Facebook retailers, I clicked over to enrich Amazon, yet again. I chose the smaller 6” x 8” size. Two days later, my book and pen arrive via special delivery (Sunday, Ducky) before going to a weekend writers group meeting at a library. I’m ready to rock and roll on the greatest of blog posts about hollow asteroid ships (Nah, hyperbole, Ducky, I left at least a couple threads on the table; fix it in post). What follows are my thoughts on whether or not I wasted $20.99 in my constant search for new toys.

I didn’t come to this purchase completely blind. A friend with whom I share time and tables in my most useful creator community has a notebook with similar capabilities. His is larger and might be from another company. I’ll ask him at some point, when both our notebooks are in the same place at the same time. At the time, I was experimenting with the Livescribe note capture pen (see post), so I recognized the layout of his reusable pages immediately. And then finding more reasons to go back to the good old-fashioned spiral notebook than to stay, I dropped the whole thing…until I saw the ad.

First off, I think I picked the wrong size. I’ve become extremely accustomed to the 6” x 9” paper spiral and I think it showed moving my writing hand across the slightly smaller writing area on each page. Sometimes my wrist bumped up against the plastic spiral in the center where this doesn’t seem to happen as much with a paper notebook. But, each new type of notebook is a bit like a new golf course, find the pin placement and hit a few lethal screamers before settling in for a good round. And these are, as they say, First World Problems.

While other notebooks that do the microwave to erase thing have pages with a plastic like you’re writing on a cheap placemat, this notebook’s sheets feel more like paper, however slightly. The literature and sales blurbs assert that the material is finely ground and milled stone. Stone? After mentally blasting out cool, my next thought is to start up with The Flintstones jokes – “so does it come with a much put upon prehistoric woodpecker breaking his beak as a dictation stylus, too?” Never mind, not much of a joke there.

The pages go with highly specific pens with water-based ink. This is how you get the ink to run freely like mascara when you’re done with a blog post, chapter or notes to self, concerning the next piece of music (still on that one). The makers thoughtfully provide you with your first Pilot FriXion pen, but say that any pen with similar ink will work for writing and drawing.

Later in the instructions that come on a cardboard insert at the front of the book, they tell you to never use oil-based ink or any of the solvents that can break down certain grades of that ink. Or in Real People Speak, dry erase pens and/or solvents like Goo-Gone basically void the warranty. Good to know.

Oh, and this is a minor classic in terms of the Peanut Butter Sandwich Exercise that teaches you to be nauseatingly precise when giving instructions, but this cardboard insert that provides you with your instructions and access code for full use of the smartphone app doesn’t actually tell you to remove the insert before your first full microwave erasure. Pretty much I assumed that the wet mascara ink would bleed all over this insert and so I took it out to store it in the plastic bag earmarked for this notebook.

Picking up the thread of each golf course needs acclimation before you score well; writing with water-based ink creates a few logistical notes. In the same vein as an artist doing watercolors needing to bring or have at hand water to clean brushes, or thin and mix pigments, you’ll need a ready cup/bowl of water if you intend to erase your mistakes as you go. I licked my fingers and rubbed out what would otherwise be cross outs. I solved this stopping off at a supermarket for the smallest kid’s sippy cup I could find, or I’ll just have to live with notes that still have cross outs. Needing to buy extra gear means this notebook isn’t a perfect solution to the intersecting problems of paper waste and having the smallest thing in your bag, but it’s a start.

There’s a minor interesting point to make about created expectation and what comes out of the box. When I read the description for this notebook on both the Facebook ad and the Amazon page, I got the impression when they said “approximately fifty sheets, half lined and half blank for sketching” that I would get a notebook that alternated between lined writing/note pages and blank rectangle pages for drawing. I was worried that this would disrupt my flow with my writing, or that I would have to take time to draw in lines on a sketching page.

The copywriter doing these ads and Amazon pages basically skipped over showing any lined pages choosing too sketch pages. One of these side-by-side sketch pages had enough text on it that it could have been a text page fostering my wrong impression. What came out of the box is approximately 25 sheets of lined paper up front and the similar number of sketch pages in the back of the notebook, so I dodged that bullet. Still, I really don’t want to hire this particular copywriter.

At this point, you’re probably hearing the part about ink runs like mascara and asking the – “How do you preserve the notes and writing that matter?” – question. Elfinbook has thoughtfully created a smartphone app where once you add a special code from that cardboard insert, you rock and roll. Unlike the Livescribe where special sensors in the paper connect with the pen to save your PDFs to the app on the phone, this app simply has you take pictures of your pages with your camera.

The Elfinbook app automatically detects the frame of your page and prompts you to crop the page accordingly. After that you choose the best way to present the text in the most readable/printable way. You could do a batch capture to make multipage documents, but I don’t recommend this. Using the batch setting, yes, I did quickly take a frame of each page of my post. However, the auto-framing crop feature gets sloppy the quicker you try to process your notes. I found it easier to take a good frame of each page individually and merge the pages into one PDF document after the fact. It takes about the same amount of time.

All files are saved as PDF, which means that any smartphone app that likes PDF potentially wants these notes. There are a lot of these apps for the phone. What Elfinbook doesn’t do is process these notes for OCR into texts, emails or, more importantly, MS Word. In one part of their site, the Elfinbook people say they’re working on this capability. In others they already say that limited OCR is already a thing. Oh, right, the OCR requires a super-premium ($18/year) account. At least, my initial opinion is that the product is better than this laughably sloppy copywriting. And don’t get me started, again, on how the Livescribe’s OCR wasn’t fully ready for prime time in my opinion.

Would I use the notebook again and not just because it’s mine now and I’ll probably fail to send it back before the return deadline? Yes, I don’t see why not. As an object for my writer bag, it’s smaller and lighter than my regular spiral notebooks. The text saved to PDF comes out readable and ready to print. Having to keep the special pen handy when I’m already maxed out with pens in my pocket is a little bit of a thing. Bringing a sippy cup for the erase water is a bit of a thing. But, the best reason is at the end of the second paragraph; at $20.99 this notebook is an easy investment. And now, why aren’t you writing?

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I didn’t know Thor was supposed to be funny. And then I saw Chris Hemsworth playing the part with a smile as he hung from chains in a hellish setting asking for a moment while his face swings around to converse/interrogate yet another threat to Asgard and Earth. “One moment…” After which, Disney, pretty much the only studio that can afford it, sets the superpower rumble to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

Thor’s return from this battle to Asgard with the monster’s horns only to see his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) pretending to be Odin (Anthony Hopkins) enjoying a play about Thor and Loki’s recent conflict depicted in The Avengers and previous installments. A play written from Loki’s point of view. Thor exposes the fraud and brings his wayward brother along to Earth to find Odin. With the help of Dr. Strange, they find him in Norway, just in time for Odin to die releasing their previously unknown sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), from prison.

Thor goes on a journey where he lands on a garbage planet. Fights the imprisoned Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in the ring. Recruits him and the last surviving Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to come home and fight for Asgard one last time. And then, because any movie that references the Norse myth of Ragnarok can’t avoid blowing up Asgard, Thor releases the Fire Giant King from the teaser to blow up Asgard taking out Hela in an act of Mutually Assured Destruction. The surviving Asgardians travel to Earth figuring that there’s got to be nice real estate in Norway that humans aren’t using at the moment.

This movie succeeds because the script intentionally plays to the qualities Chris Hemsworth has brought to Thor through four previous outings: humor and an intentionally naïve charm that allows the Norse God of Thunder to know everything will be all right. This time around he’s caught between the competing needs of one brother and two friends (if you play up the Jekyll & Hyde split of the Hulk as two personalities) he thinks of as the brothers he chose.

Thor has to navigate that Loki might not like the thought of Hela in charge of Asagard, but will still enjoy seeing Hulk beat the crap out of Thor in the ring. Similarly, Thor also has to tap dance between Hulk (the green guy) and Dr. Banner who each accuse Thor of liking the other half more than the one currently in the conversation. This leads to a wonderfully amusing four-way buddy story that also manages to inspire the disillusioned Valkyrie to clean herself up and rejoin the fight. So, actually a five-way buddy story with gladiator fights, gladiator revolts, space ships and things blowing up, the movie designed just for me.

If I were to find any fault with how this movie landed with me, I would say that what was actually on the page concerning Hela proved thin. While as a general rule good writing is required to get an actor’s best performance, every now and again a good actor just adds to the story. Cate Blanchett achieves this mugging her way through the character’s outrage and annoyance at being written out of the family history once Odin thought Asgard had conquered enough of the known Nine Realms. But, without Ms. Blanchett’s facial expressions at key moments we’d think that the filmmakers basically decided to just have Hela blow stuff up and move on.

The rest of the cast rises to the level required of a movie that needs to grow Thor into his true self. Idris Alba gets good time in as Heimdall as does Anthony Hopkins wistfully bowing out of Odin full of the regret at being unable to do more to stop Hela. But, for me director, Taika Waititi, brilliantly adds to the cast mix when he does double duty in the motion capture suit voicing and moving gladiator Korg, a rock being. This rebellious bundle of rocks speaks with a Polynesian/New Zealand accent and freely admits that his past experiences with successful revolutions is nil – “only me mum showed up.”

Technically speaking, this movie continues Marvel-Disney’s track record of effects and music that rolls up sleeves and gets to work. The most visually cool part of this spectacle has to be the fight between Hulk and Hela’s pet, Fenris the Giant Wolf. The Green Guy isn’t having any of the slobbering giant zombie dog throwing fists and generally trying to yank out the canine’s teeth. It’s the most notable battle in this movie, but there are others. Though for someone that’s actually read the overview books of Norse Mythology, it was a little odd for Heimdall to be absent from the Fenris fight. Perhaps Asgard’s gatekeeper took credit for the win after the fact. A setup for completely unnecessary fan fiction…

All of these pieces add up to a charming buddy road picture humorously touching the same bases as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, if you can actually think of Thor as George (the lines get blurred with Thor’s almost as equally considerable super-strength). The friends have a few scenes together where I’m surprised they didn’t share beer; it’s not like the never-ending beer teased in the mid-credit sequence for Doctor Strange didn’t make its appearance. Perhaps they were showing restraint because their friend, Valkyrie, has a trauma-induced drinking problem? A story element for the mythical not so Disney version of the movie.

So anyway the movie races to a conclusion of the embrace your fate variety of the type where Thor has Loki resurrect the Fire Giant King tossing his horned crown into a magic fire. Hulk, of course, didn’t get the memo leading to a funny moment and quite a few social media back and forths concerning imaginary dialogue cut from the first draft of the script. Basically, Thor promises Hulk there will be other “Big Monsters” to smash and that no, Asgard doesn’t need saving because they’re redecorating. Or not, it is a lot of extra words.

You can’t go wrong with fun movies like Thor: Ragnarok.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“Of course not, we’re family” – Drax the Destroyer.

And with that, we’re back with the dysfunctional family led by Peter Quill the Starlord (Chris Pratt) just a few months after saving the galaxy the first time. Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the amp and air guitars while the rest wipe out an inter-dimensional whatever intent on stealing The Sovereign’s batteries. And this must simply be Tuesday.

We travel with the Guardians across the dark places of the galaxy searching for the pieces to a greater understanding of family. Starlord confronts his father Ego (Kurt Russell). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) makes peace with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), intent on murder because she could never beat Gamora. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) pushes members of the family away. Yondu (Michael Rooker) acknowledges that he raised Starlord and bonds with Rocket. Lastly, Drax (Dave Bautista) develops a friendship with Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Family in all of its fractious variations.

I liked the movie. There a simple caveman statement that says how fun this movie has been over the several times seeing it, including finally ripping open the shrink wrap on the disk. I liked seeing a pack of warm and engaging interstellar misfits save the galaxy one more time and that Starlord met his godlike father and, like Captain Kirk, ultimately just wasn’t that impressed. I suppose it helps that they pretty much broke every ship they flew.

If I had to pick out highlights, I’d go with the slow moments between Starlord and Gamora as he emotionally sneaks up on her what with sharing the earbuds to his Walkman with her. Prodded by Drax, Peter convinces her to dance amid the popped out dreamlike explosion of color on Ego’s planetary surface. And of course Thanos’ first daughter doesn’t dance thank you very much and will resort to violence if this leaks. Still, it was a nice dance, a date even, a promise for the sequel.

The rest of the movie is a massively fun blur of action, one liners and exploding ships. This all leads to Yondu, exiled from the Ravagers for his past misdeeds concerning Ego’s children, accepting his fatherhood of Starlord – “I’m Mary Poppins, Ya’ll!” He risks his ship and crew because he has always cared about the boy who started out “small and skinny and could fit in places for thieving.”

This time around the songs on Starlord’s Mommy Mix Tape Vol. 2, while they do the emotional job required of each scene, went a little deeper into the catalogue from the era when Starlord was snatched from Earth. For someone who started paying attention to music released just a few years afterwards, it was similar to hearing Quentin Tarantino’s original use of Hooked on a Feeling (also a feature of the first Guardians), where a song had already been blasted off the radio and didn’t resurface in my hearing until the movies brought them back. So, yes, I have some song archeology ahead of me.

Films like this live or die with the villains. Kurt Russell simply let his entire career do the heavy lifting as Ego the Living Planet. The father figure that pretty much just elbowed Darth Vader in the ribs for the Worst Father Ever Award smiles and is almost convincing playing catch with Starlord using an energy ball that might blow up whole cities if care isn’t taken. And maybe he shouldn’t have told his son that he inflicted Meredith Quill with a brain tumor precisely because he loved her and he wouldn’t continue with his plan to remake the galaxy in his image, if she lived.

And then I just had an interesting thought that perhaps goes to an underlying hilarity of not only the MCU but the comics that inspired them. The galaxy seems overrun with two kinds of villains, the ones that match up against the more human superheroes and those that threaten reality, as we know it. Yet, few of these nefarious plots ever get underfoot with the next villain’s plan. So as we watch Ego try to inflict himself everywhere there is life with his smug demeanor, what does Thanos have to say about it? It’s important because we’re building up to Thanos’s turn on stage in Avengers: Infinity War. “Hey, Asshole, my galaxy to conquer and enslave!” Never mind, just the uber geek that needs restraining from his usual fan fiction impulses.

Anyway, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is just a really fun movie.