Those That Get It

EDIT: Apparently the meme below isn’t actually a quote from Rickman. Too soon, Snopes, too soon.

There are actors out there that for whom acting is just a job and, really, I don’t think it matters that much to them. These are the actors who don’t really care about the roles they get or whether or not they are liked or make any kind of impact. Acting, for them, is just a profession, a way to earn a paycheck, and that’s not bad.

Then there are the actors who get it, that what they do actually impacts the lives of other people. I’m not talking about the pretentious gits in your college theater classes who pronounce “actor” like “actooooor”, I mean people who genuinely see that what they do matters to others and respect that, even if it doesn’t necessarily matter to them.

Finally, there’s the third group, those actors who understand how their roles influence others and, for themselves, see how those roles also impact them in turn.

Case in point, Mandy Patinkin.

Mandy played a role that was very important to many people in my generation, Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. It’s a movie that’s meaningful for a lot of reasons, the pure brilliance of the movie, the various themes, its quotability, and it made a great impact on those who grew up with it.

Among all of that is Mandy’s role of the revenge-seeking, sword-wielding Inigo. His quest to find and kill Count Rugen, the six-fingered man who murdered his father, is a story of love and loss that we can all understand but was personal for Mandy in that shortly before he began filming the movie he lost his own father to cancer and so he was struggling with his own grief during that movie. In the final confrontation between Inigo and Rugen, as Inigo is advancing on Rugen, saying over and over again his famous lines of “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”, his voice building like a waves ever higher to crash down on the shore, Mandy was putting all of his own grief into every shout, turning Rugen into the cancer that killed his own father.

And in that last moment, just after Rugen offers Inigo anything he wants in order to spare Rugen’s life and before Inigo runs him through, when Inigo says “I want my father back, you son of a bitch!” that’s Mandy in that moment, raw, open, and hurting for us all to see, wanting nothing more in the world to have his father back.

Unlike other actors who get annoyed when people ask them about roles long since past and ignoring more recent work (as I’ve heard some get, like Tim Curry if you bring up Frank-N-Furter), Mandy will still quote that line with a genuine smile if a fan asks him. Even though it’s been over twenty-five years since he filmed that movie, that line is important to people and important to him and he gets, and I think cherishes, that.

I think Alan Rickman was the same.

The first time I saw Alan Rickman on screen was as Sheriff George of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves opposite Kevin Costner and he was bloody brilliant as a villain in that. There is no one in my friends group who doesn’t know that the answering line to “Get me a spoon so I can cut out his heart.” is “Because it’s dull, you twit, it’ll hurt more!” His Hans Gruber in Die Hard, with the dry “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”, was also fantastic and I know there is a vast horde of people for whom it’s not really Christmas unless they see Alan Rickman fall off the top of Nakatomi Plaza.

But for so many others he’ll always be Severus Snape. Rickman was entrusted with the whole plot of Harry Potter by Rowling before the series was finished so that he could accurately portray Snape and the act that Snape had to put on, which is an incredible honor for anyone to have, and he did it wonderfully. He played that perfect villain so completely, and yet made the pivot at the end when we learn it was all just a ruse and the Snape was a good guy feel so genuine, that it’s no wonder his character is one of people’s favorites from the film series.

And it’s clear to us that him playing that part impacted him as well. I’ve been seeing this quote all over the internet today and it cuts the bottom out from under me because he didn’t get his wish.

But about us, the fans, he got it, he understood. He knew what Snape meant to us because that role meant something to him too. I have to wonder if that’s partially why he was able to make his role in GalaxyQuest as funny, and touching, as it was.

So thank you, Alan, for everything.

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Under Pressure

In my early twenties there was a period of time called The Suck, a year and a half to two-year period where my life basically turned inside out, mostly because of my own fault. It was, until December ’09, one of the worst periods of my life and while it was difficult, and sometimes I’m surprised I made it through, I knew I needed to just keep going and things, eventually, would get better.

Three things helped me through that time (other than friends):
1. My motto and philosophy, just keep walking, the idea that if you continue on your life will get better if not, at least, just even out;
2. The ocean and the sound of the waves beating against the cliffs in Santa Cruz;
3. The song “Under Pressure” as song by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. It pretty much existed on all of the playlists I made to get me through it.

If this doesn’t chill you right to your soul then you never had one to begin with.

Thank you, Mr. Bowie, for everything.

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Geek Grief

Hey, long time no write. Life’s been…well, kind of crappy lately. House broken into and burgled, house maintenance issues, car maintenance issues, December 2015 has decided to not just go out with a bang but a kick to the stones of me and several people dear to me. Beyond that I got a new job back in September that has been keeping me very, very busy. Anyway, enough about me.

Before we begin with the topic at hand, let me first warn you that this post is going to contain some pretty explicit spoilers of the recently released Star Wars film. I’m trying to pad the front of this post as much as I can before getting into the topic so that you can bail out now if you want to, but, please keep in mind, if you continue on from here on out you’ve been properly warned and any complaints about spoiled scenes can be kindly sent to nofucksgiven@yourownfault.com.

With that out of the way, on with the show.

Growing up I didn’t have a lot of friends that I went to school with. Most of my early school friendships went away when I changed schools in the second grade and I didn’t bond with any of the kids at the public school I went to for two years. When I moved into the private school I went to for the remainder of my grade and middle schooling I did manage to make a few friends, but the experience of going to school was a lonely, and sometimes abusive, one for me. That’s not to say that I was friendless, because I wasn’t; like I said, I did have some people who I’m still friends with today from that time, it’s just that most of them went to a totally different school, so I mostly saw them on special weekend occasions or during the summer when we were all on the same swim team together. Things got better in high school, but, whether from normal teenage angst or reality, I still felt lonely.

As I’m sure it is for many people who are or were in the same sort of state I was, books became my refuge. They were my escape, I could put myself into a book and read during recess periods and ignore when kids were being shitty to me. Through books I got to experience so much more than the life I was having at the moment. Books were and are important to me, the stories and characters meaning something to me. And it’s from that importance springs something that any fan will know: geek grief.

Geek grief stems from that importance, the weight we put on the characters who become meaningful to us. Through books we experience them as people; we see inside their heads and know their thoughts, through the prose we feel their emotions. We celebrate their success and mourn with them their losses and, when they sometimes do, we grieve when they die. I know more than a few people who mourned Tara’s murder in BtVS, especially as she was one of the first openly homosexual characters for kids my age at the time. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen the movie but Spock slowly dying in the reactor chamber, his final words, fucking get to me every single time. Hell, when my brother read about Jon Snow’s death at the end of Dance with Dragons he threw his book across the room.

And don’t even get me talking about Atreyu and Artax from The Neverending Story. Holy shit. The scene in the Swamp of Sadness scarred a generation of children and if you didn’t watch that scene and feel anything the first time you saw it then I’m pretty sure you’re either a sociopath or a robot.

It’s that sadness we feel as fans when the characters we love leave us, whether they die or sail off into the West, and so it is today for me because, and I’m going to just say it, they killed Han.

Han Solo, scoundrel, smuggler, scruffy-looking nerf-herder. He was one of the first lovable bastards I ever experienced, the sort of person you didn’t know if you wanted to laugh at or punch in the mouth (and often wanting to do both at the same time). This is the type of guy who, when told for the first time by the women he loves that she loves him, responds with, “I know.” I’m pretty sure if she hadn’t been worried sick about what was going to come next for Han Leia would’ve screamed and thrown something at him.

I read a LOT of the extended Star Wars universe, following up on so many of the novels and comics that came after the original trilogy. About his difficult relationships with the people he loved, his two kids who we’ll never see on screen. He had so many adventures, so many crazy things he and Chewie did, like the time he gave a planet full of rancor and Force witches to Leia as an engagement present, and I got to be a part of that. I always enjoyed reading about him because of his sense of humor, his confidence, and because even though he was often obstinate, difficult, and distant, he really did love the people in his life an incredible amount, he just couldn’t say it. He was a character who became important to me, someone who, in a way only fans understand, was a friend.

And today he died.

I’m still processing the movie. Overall I liked it and I’ll do a better review later, but I don’t know if I’m completely satisfied with the lead up to his death. I think the writers did a good job of showing us who he’d become, that he was still very much Han but it was noticeable he wasn’t as quick as he used to be, that the years and experience weighed on him. His dialog was pure Han and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer’s reunion scene was well done; I could feel the weight of the passed time between them, the things they hadn’t said and wouldn’t ever say. And that final scene, just after they wheel Finn away, when it’s just Rey and Leia looking at each other from across the distance, where they don’t say a word, they just meet and embrace and mourn a man who’d been important to them both? Where we get the long shot of them on one side with their grief, even as the other half of the screen is celebrating their victory?

Like getting punched right in my nerdy little heart.

I don’t know how the next SW film will go without Han. During the opening text the movie said Leia had sent her “best pilot” to find the piece of the map to Luke’s location, a pilot Michelle and I thought would be Han but turned out to be Poe Dameron, a new character who is also a brash, exceptional pilot. I don’t know if they intend Poe to be the new Han, or if he’ll settle into his own space, but for me there will never be anyone who could fill Han’s boots and no matter how good the future movies might be, I’ll go to them and feel that absence.

As I said on Facebook as I walked out of the theater, goodbye, old friend.

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Convolution 2015

TL;DR – This past weekend was Convolution 2015 and I had a very good time.

Convolution 2015 started on Friday morning for me with a panel on the Legacy of Lovecraft. It was run by a woman named Carrie who was on my panel about myths last year and was a great panelist then and she was a good moderator this time. The other panelist with us, Chuck, was also fun to have on the panel and the conversation between the three of us and the audience flowed really well. No one panel-hogged, the conversation was collaborative, it was good.

Friday night was the Your Book is Why Daddy Drinks panel and it went mostly well. It was a bit of a struggle to keep people on track, it was the same way our second year when we were doing a single book rather than an anthology, but I heard from people they had fun and that’s all that matters.

Oh, that and the panel was all wearing fur bikinis. No, you don’t get pictures.

The second panel I was on was kind of…meh. The “secret” panel, the discussion topic we were given was basically how to murder the other panelists as a kind of creative exercise. The panel got super dark super quick and each subsequent round of the discussion (all about death) got a little uncomfortable. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the “how to murder your fellow panelists” had been one round of the panel but the overwhelming darkness of it was a bit much, even if it was creative and did have parts of it that were funny.

The other “bad” thing about the panel was another one of the panelists. While I won’t mention him by name, he was on my panel last year about Fifty Shades of Gray and kink. At that time, despite it being a panel about a specific book, he proudly admitted he refused to read it and instead spent most of the panel basically saying “This book sucks, buy my kinky books instead.” I get that authors, editors, and publishers go to cons, at least in part, to self-promote through participation but to actively take part in a panel to discuss a specific book, ignore that book (and essentially the whole reason of the panel), and try to hijack the thread for your own purposes? Bad form.

He was on the panel this time and, joy of joys, ended up being my partner. He’d set up his table-tent with his name, his little book stand to showcase his latest book, and had a stack of other books in front of him. As it became quickly obvious that this was not going to be a panel where he could talk about himself and his books, he looked more and more unhappy and ended up playing with his phone, packing up, and basically told me he had a call had to take and bailed before the panel even really got started. Meh.

The last panel I was on was the one I was moderating and one of the topics I came up with, Modern Boogeymen. I wanted to have a discussion about the concept of boogeymen, where they came from and what they were used for, and how they have changed over the years and why. On the panel I had Tyler Hayes and my friend Kendra Pecan, two people who I have known for years and are also very knowledgeable about the topic.

What came from it was a great conversation with the audience participating a fair amount, asking questions and offering their own opinions. The only “bad” part of it was an older gentleman who I don’t think was neurotypical, judging by the vocal and physical tics. He kept interjecting at random points and while the topics were about “boogeymen”, they were more about the political concepts of turning people into boogeymen (Jews and blood libel, Red Scare, etc.) and conspiracy theories. So it was on topic…kind of, but the way he interrupted the conversation was jarring but I think the three of us managed to minimize the hijacking, touching on what he said a little bit and then moving on.

The con itself seemed like it was well-run, the schedule was managed by an mobile app so it can be updated on the fly which was nice. The dealers’ room and the art show were in the same space which helped get foot traffic to the dealers. I didn’t get to see much of the other events but I heard the masquerade was a full room (good show to Radar for organizing it).

Can’t wait for Convolution 2016.

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A Good Dog

I’m warning you, if you cry easily you may want to skip this one. I’ve been writing this post in my heart all week, putting it down in fits and starts. The screen keeps blurring, you see, and I have to stop typing to wipe my tears.

Jack 01

This is Jack. Jack died today. Before we get to Jack, and we will, I would like to take a moment and talk about this dog.

Sophie

This was Sophie.

Sophie was my family’s dog for a good chunk of my later childhood. We got her as a puppy from our neighbor down the street as soon as she was weaned. He had a female Shepherd and bred her, no idea really why, and my sister fell in love with the idea of having a dog when she saw the litter of squirming puppies and picked one who’d become ours.

My father? He wasn’t so sure and expressed his point of view with “If we get a dog, I’m moving out!”

But like water flowing over a stone my father was worn down and in a surprisingly short amount of time we had a dog (and my dad did not move out). I’m pretty sure it didn’t help that Sophie was your typical, super-adorable German Shepherd puppy with the humongously over-sized feet, floppy ears, and a happy, bright personality. She was also very smart, learning commands quickly so that my mother house trained her fast. My father, eventually, fell in love with her too and still speaks well of her. They still have her favorite bone in their backyard even though she’s been gone almost ten years.

And while she might’ve been the family’s dog, really I’ve always seen her as mine. It was my room she’d come racing up to after getting back inside from her morning potty break, to jump on my bed to make sure I was awake, and out of my siblings I think I walked her the most. She was an incredible dog and I missed her when I went to college.

As is usual with large dogs, Sophie developed problems. Thanks to a surgery early in her life she didn’t get the hip dysplasia that most Shepherds do but she did get arthritis very severely. She went deaf and was going blind among other more serious issues and, unfortunately, I learned after the fact when my parents had her put down. I try not to live my life with any regrets but not being there when they did that is one of the very few I have. My mother insists that it was something they had to do that day when the vet saw her, that she was in pain, but I would’ve left work and done the drive to Sacramento, breaking all manner of traffic laws, in a heartbeat if I’d known. I hate that I wasn’t there for her in her final moments.

So that’s why there wasn’t anything that was going to keep me from being there when it was Jack’s time.

Jack 02Jack 03

I got Jack, along with his sister Maggie, when Michelle came into my life. Jack’s not “breed typical”. First off, as you can see, he was forty pounds of dog (even though we didn’t over feed him) when Bichons typically weigh less than half that. He had skin conditions, a lazy eye, his nose wasn’t uniformly black, skin tags, and was starting to go blind in the last year or two. But he was so full of love. I’ve never, even with Sophie, had a more good-natured, gentle, simply happy dog. He’d do this hopping thing whenever it was time for dinner, his tongue flopping out of the side of his mouth, and it always reminded of me when Chris Farley would get excited about something. When he wanted pets, which was often, he’d just come up to you, burrow his face into your thigh, and flop his fat body down next to you and demand them. And he bonded with me after a short time, probably out of some kind of male solidarity.

Back at the end of February we noticed he was peeing more in the house and we thought it was just that he was being lazy since it was intermittent, but soon it was becoming more frequent and, in March, I noticed blood in his urine. I took him in to the vet and they ran tests, kidney function was good, no sign of bladder stones on x-rays, no bladder infection, and the doctor thought that it might be Cushing’s Disease (which would explain his size) but the cost to test it was high and the treatment for it was kind of terrible for dogs. The vet kind of shrugged and said that if things got worse, bring him in, but without a clear idea of why he was having these symptoms there wasn’t much they could do, so they put him on a general antibiotic and that was it.

Things continued, we moved into our new house, and then there was a day in late June when I came back into the rest of the house from having a shower and found that he’d had an accident and there was more blood than urine, a lot more. Back to the vet we went, more tests were run, and while the mix of urine to blood returned to “normal”, all the tests came back inconclusive, so they referred us to another vet for an ultrasound in July.

It was bladder cancer. If a pregnant woman had shown you the ultrasound you might’ve been tempted to congratulate her on the size of her child but for Jack most of his bladder was filled with a tumor, which meant that while he still had the water needs of an older adult, forty pound dog, his bladder didn’t have the capacity to hold that much urine, which was why he was peeing all the time. The blood in his urine was from the tumor. The type of cancer it was, the doctor was sure, was not any kind that was ever going to get better. On the ultrasound I was looking at the death of my dog.

Jack, however, did get lucky in one thing at least. The tumor was located pretty much in the middle of his bladder, which meant that his kidneys could still do their thing and his ability to urinate wasn’t blocked. The doctor said he maybe had six months, probably less, and gave me some treatment options that might give us more time which Michelle and I decided to pass on; they wouldn’t have made him better, they would’ve just given us more time that would’ve been miserable for him, which meant we would’ve been prolonging his suffering simply for our benefit.

Which, to be blunt, would’ve been fucked up.

So we decided to take him home and simply love him as much as we could, agreeing that when we saw that he was starting to get worse or was noticeably in pain that we’d take the final step. That point was reached two weeks ago and we made the call, scheduling an appointment with a traveling vet. Last Sunday, to celebrate our fat boy, we had Jack Day.

Jack 07Jack 06

Jack Day was where we took our dogs to spend most of the day in the park. We invited some friends who knew Jack and loved him so he could get all the pets he wanted, eat all the people food he could gulp down, played fetch a little (though running and walking much wasn’t his thing). We wanted to spend one last, perfect day with our boy before the end and, thankfully, the summer played along and gave us a gently warm day with a nice, cool breeze. It was all we could’ve asked for.

Today we said goodbye to our fat Jacker dog. The vet has come, done her thing, I carried him out to her car, and she took him away. For only being a small dog, our house feels so much more empty for his absence. I know we made the right decision, there’s no doubt at all, but that’s not a balm to my heart.

Jack 04Jack 07

Dogs break our hearts. They enter our lives and they bring such joy and happiness to us, even when at times they pee on the rug or do something else to annoy you. We love them, care for them, and for a few short years they’re family and then they are gone, leaving us with our memories and our grief.

Dogs break our hearts and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Good bye, Jacker, you were a very good dog.

Jack 08

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Another Boatride Around the Sun and a Movie Review: Ant-Man

Yesterday marked the thirty-fifth anniversary since I was unceremoniously sucked into this world by a doctor with a vacuum (no, really, after fifty-four hours of labor the doctor had had enough and used one of those old, and now thankfully no longer used, baby vacuums for removing stubborn little shits like me). I gloriously spent it having breakfast with my guys, playing video games, reading good books, eating sushi with my wife (after dropping my son off with a friend for the night), and watching Ant-Man.

2014-2015 was not an easy year. It was full of of challenges. We lost friends, loved ones, and people we admired to cancer. There were definitely some learning experiences, a few that were the “You done screwed up MAJORLY, do not do this again” variety. I also lost a job I had literally dreamed about and desired for years due to a layoff.

But, still, there were many more good things if you care to look at it from a balance-sheet sort of perspective. I met some awesome people I’m happy to have in my life, relationships have grown and broadened, I love my wife and kid more than I can express, I’m a home-owner now, I got a new car, and, for the most part, I’ve been healthy (though there was a period in November when I was knocked on my ass). If it weren’t for losing my job and the pain in the neck it’s been working to get a new one then I’d say life is pretty much perfect.

Today will finish up my “birthday” stuff. Michelle’s wrapping up some work and in a bit we’ll be heading out to grab lunch before seeing Jurassic World and, later, playing Cthulhu Wars and picking up the kid. In the next year we’ll be going back to Kauai, going camping with friends, and, hopefully, there will be a new job.

But now Ant-Man.

Ant-Man is the story of Scott Lang, a good man who has a tendency toward being a criminal when down on his luck. He gets out of San Quentin after pulling a Robin Hood-esque heist from his former employer (who had been funneling money from their clients to their own pockets, he returned that money and exposed it to the media but was charged with hacking and corporate espionage) and, more than anything else, wants to be able to connect to his daughter whose life he’s largely missed due to his incarceration. Life isn’t cooperating, it’s hard for a con to get a job, and so he agrees to do a heist with some criminal (but likeable) friends of his. Only what he doesn’t know is that the heist is, in fact, a test by one Frank Pym who used to be the Anti-Man, a super hero that fought alongside SHIELD in the ’70’s and ’80’s and had the power to change his size at will, thanks to the hand-wavy Pym Particle, and communicate with/control ants.

Pym wants Scott to do a heist because Pym’s former protege, a man named Darren Cross, is very close to discovering the process to make the Pym Particle in a desire to essentially weaponize and mass-produce the Ant-Man suit. This would allow any government in the world to own an army of minute, nearly-invisible assassins to bring chaos to the world over. Working alongside Scott and Pym is Hope, Pym’s somewhat estranged daughter. That’s all of the plot I’m going to give you because anything more would be spoilers.

So, honestly, I’m of two-minds with this movie.

I certainly enjoyed myself and, from the standpoint of a comic book movie, it’s not a bad adaptation; there have certainly been worse. The action scenes were well done, especially the work with the ants, the use of the suit was cool to see, Scott is a funny and easy to like character. There are some genuine shots of great humor in this film, though I think Guardians was a funnier film overall. There are hints that he’ll do more in future MCU films (made more evident by the “ANT-MAN WILL RETURN” splash we get after the after-credits scene).

But I do think I’m having to agree with another review that, in the sense of the MCU as a whole, I’m finding this to be kind of a pointless film. While introducing two more characters to the MCU (that’s part of the spoilers I mentioned), really this movie could’ve not been done as it does nothing to really lead up to CA3:Civil War or push the current MCU, Infinity Stone plot line. Are there ways that Scott, Pym, and Hope could be used more in the MCU? Sure, but we’re going to have Black Panther (and I’m sure other, secondary characters in that), Inhumans, and Captain Marvel soon (not to mention Spider-Man, what with the Sony-Marvel deal having been reached). I worry that we’re going to have Spider-Man 3’s “too many villains” problem, but with main characters.

Additionally, Hope is, yet again, a wasted female character to add to the list of so many others like Marian in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2, someone who is introduced as both competent and kind of a bad ass in her own right but who does almost nothing of consequence in this film except get the hero ready to be a hero. This point is driven home over and over again in Ant-Man by her stated desire to do more, to be more of an active hand in the scheme, and her father’s seemingly reasonless refusal. Scott does puzzle out a reason of why Pym doesn’t want her to wear the suit and do more, and it makes sense in a way when Pym reveals some details about other spoiler-iffic stuff, but, still, Hope feels like a wasted opportunity.

Do I recommend seeing this film? Yes, but, unlike the other MCU films, I think this one could wait for home viewing.

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Something that is simply good.

If you are having a bad day, watch this video and feel better.

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