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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Salem (Finally) Watches A Movie: Black Panther

Well, I finally saw it. After all the hype, the backlash, and the culture wars going on around Black Panther, I finally got to see it and make up my mind for myself.

That's all I really wanted, world. I wanted to make up my mind for myself. I didn't want to be told that Black Panther was a cultural milestone or that it was racist against me (somehow. I'm not quite white enough for the ethnostate, sorry guys). I wanted it to be a good movie.

Our story starts on Sunday, the day I'd originally planned to see the movie. I woke up reasonably early for me, just in time to catch the last matinee at 12:30. I made it with time enough to spare, taking into account missing most of the pre-show commercials and preview trailers. I pulled into the parking lot of the Winrock Theaters, and... just kept driving. And driving.

There were no parking spots. I'm not sure if the movie was sold out or not; I never even got a chance to ask. Every single spot in the Regal Winrock theaters of Albuquerque was filled. I'm not even talking about "It was too full to park my unreasonably large van because I haven't figured out how to fit in a space without two empty ones on either side" full; I'm talking "Every single spot was full and I'd have had to park at Toys R Us a mile away just to see if there were still seats open" full.

So instead, I took the day off Wednesday, slept in late, and caught the 3:45 IMAX showing, which was damn near empty. And here's where my thoughts begin:

You're all wrong.

  • Black Panther is not "alt-right." Yes, Wakanda is xenophobic. Yes, it does have barriers and walls and hides from the world. It's an ethnostate, if not on purpose. It's a bit violent, especially its ritual combat for the throne. Wakanda could have been considered "alt-right" about two generations back, but T'Chaka, late of Civil War's catalyst event, had begun outreach programs, notably in Lagos. Sure, no one had been invited to Wakanda, but it was progress. Progress that was carried forward under T'Challa. 
  • Neither is the movie about you. It's an excellent portrayal of a deeply traditional society that had a massive technological advantage, but as the villain of the piece shows, it's a society with no real connection to American culture. As a movie based around a culture, though, it works very well. To the hidden disappointment of many, it is neither documentary nor fantasy.

With that out of the way, was it good? Did it stand on its own merits? In a word, yes. It's a very good movie, and a very worthy induction into the MCU canon. Visually, it was very striking, and my only complaint was that the movie shifts very, very quickly between dark and bright scenes, and these tired old eyes don't adjust quite as quickly as they used to. Set design and art direction deserve all the applause they get in this film. The movie's story is not overly complicated or simplistic, and flows well.

The cast is mostly excellent.

  • I make no secret that I was disappointed at Chadwick Boseman's casting, as I was rooting for Chiwetel Ejiofor to be cast as T'Challa. My consolation prize of him appearing as Mordo in Doctor Strange was satisfying, at least, and Boseman has won me over. He seemed almost too confident in Civil War, but in his solo debut, he has a lot more range on display, showing youthful vigor and moments of self-doubt that perhaps Ejiofor wouldn't have delivered on as well. 
  • Of special note is his chemistry with Letitia Wright's Shuri, his little sister and Wakanda's science whiz. Their playful bickering lent for the most authentic brother/sister combo I think I've seen in this genre of movie. 
  • Andy Sirkis was hamming it up, almost like a villainous Drax (see Guardians of the Galaxy) and was having waaay more fun than anyone else on-screen... it's a shame what happened to his character. 
  • Danai Gurira is excellent as always, and has a scene-stealing moment during a fever-pitched battle near the end of the movie. 
  • And finally, the memes are right about Michael B Jordan: this is the second Human Torch that Marvel has redeemed, as his Killmonger chews the scenery maniacally, almost out-hamming Sirkis at times. I wouldn't go so far as to call him a good villain, but he's certainly on the higher end of MCU villains; better than Ronan or Stane, but not quite to the level of a Loki or Hela.
  • While Martin Freeman turned in a standard Martin Freeman-level performance, I couldn't help but wonder why he was there. Aside from the obvious ties to Civil War, there really seemed to be no purpose for his character. Even the one time he actually did take action near the end, it's something that Shuri easily could have (and basically did) done earlier. 
  • As for Forrest Whittaker, he was... well, he was Forrest Whittaker. I suppose Morgan Freeman wasn't available.
Was it perfect, though? No, it wasn't. It deserves the good reviews it's getting, but it's certainly not flawless:
  • The opening is very weak, with literal narration providing the backstory of Wakanda with some tech that you don't even realize until later in the movie is Wakandan showing a sort of sand-sculpture representation of the warring tribes that formed Wakanda and the events of the world around it. Fortunately, the movie rights itself and spends the rest of its runtime showing and not telling, even if that runtime does seem to stretch on longer than it needs to. 
  • The pace is good, but it easily could have been 20 minutes shorter or so and been even tighter.
  • Some of the effects missed the mark, and Panther does not look nearly as fluidly realistic as he did in Civil War, and the battle between he and Killmonger, both wearing panther suits, had little impact as neither of them looked very real. The CGI at times felt very unpolished and reminded me of Blade II or the Matrix movies.

The movie could be criticized for having an inconsistent message to it, but I like to chalk that up to different characters actually having different motivations. I respected greatly how, on the whole, it takes a rather moderate view. The traditionalist characters strongly believe that Wakanda should not become involved at all in the outside world, and when Killmonger comes on the scene, he's very clearly parroting activist talking points in a cartoonish manner, wanting to use the resources of Wakanda not to uplift others but to destroy the world and rebuild it to his will. Neither of these views ultimately win out, as at the end of the movie Wakanda seems to have a new goal: benevolent outreach programs, to share its tech and resources with those in need.

All in all, this was a satisfying movie. It earns its place amongst Marvel's top films. It's not going to change the world, and it doesn't really need to... unless you're one of those people with an irrational need to see yourself represented physically on-screen (a viewpoint which I don't understand how anyone who enjoys sci-fi or fantasy can hold), you'll like it. If you were a fan of Avengers-related comics, you'll like it. It respects the source material and translates it very well.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Spread It Far. Spread It Wide.

In February 2017, I made a comment that turned out to be so popular it was even quoted by Kathy "Fight Like a Cornered Cat" Jackson on her Facebook page:



I had largely forgotten about it until today, when my friend Jacob Miheve tagged me in a Facebook comment because he remembered the quote but not verbatim.

Since the subject was once again relevant, I decided it needed to be made into a picture. My own meager talents were insufficient, but the help of Jacob and Kathy turned my words into this beauty:


Spread it far, spread it wide.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Gun Control? No. People Control? No. Tragedy Control? YES.

I've been getting a lot of mileage out of this post in the past week. I can't claim credit for it; my friend Matthew House came up with the concept. I only prettied up the words and have been posting it wherever it's relevant. 


In any crime, there are three components: Means, Motive, and Opportunity. In this case, the crime we are discussing is mass murder.
  • The Means could be anything from guns to bombs to poison gas to fire to running people over with a truck.
  • The Motive is complex, mostly non-rational, and very emotional: pain, hate, fear, isolation.
  • The Opportunity is access to an undefended area full of people.

Only looking to restrict or control guns is to only pay attention to a single Means of mass murder. This isn't productive, as the number of means of killing people is only limited by the human imagination: guns, knives, poison gas, fire, running people over with a truck. The Boston Bombers used a kitchen appliance, yet we can all agree that implementing controls on pressure cookers is a terrible idea.

Motive is also a tough one. Sure, there are the usual terrorists and people out for revenge, but there are also the mentally disturbed people who don't have a real motive; the voices in their heads just told them to do it. Then there are the spree shooters, of whom we can say that most, if not all, of them suffered from a profound sense of disconnection and isolation from society. A half-dozen psych papers could be written about this and it would barely scratch the surface. The sheer variety and complexity of motives is what makes this factor difficult to account for.

So, the only component we can work on with any certainty of success is Opportunity. We need to deny the shooter the opportunity to kill his victims. In this most recent occurrence of mass murder, we need to find ways to deny murderers access to our children, and we do that by securing our schools against violence in the same way that we secure them against fire: not by declaring the school a fire-free zone, or by passing regulations against matches and gasoline, but by designing the layout to prevent tragedy.

We need to make it harder for killers to get to our children. I guarantee you every gun owner in the country will be all for that.

Now I don't have any specific suggestions on how to harden our schools*, because I'm neither an architect nor a security expert, but I know there are people out there who are these things and who can make our schools secure without turning them into prisons. We just need to stop worrying about the means and the motives of these tragedies and instead concentrate on preventing the opportunity for them to happen.


* I like the ideas of bullet-resistant windows and classroom doors which are both armored and lockable, but there may be reasons why those are not feasible for schools.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reaching My Limit

I will put up with a lot of crap on my Facebook wall. So much so, in fact, that my friend David Blackard has told me that I have "the patience of a saint" for putting up with people for as long as I do.

What's ironic about his statement is that I am inherently impatient and don't like it when people disagree with me such that my first reaction is to go "No, you're full of crap, go away"; but because I am aware of my impatient, dismissive nature, and because I do not wish to live in an echo chamber (the first rule of Dunning–Kruger Club is that no one knows they're in Dunning–Kruger club), I tend to let people disagree with me -- no matter how much I find it grind-my-molars irritating -- until they breach certain pre-defined "no go" zones. And when that happens, I take swift and decisive action, which can range from deleting the post and telling them "Don't ever do that again" to blocking them.

One of those limits is verbally attacking my friends. Names which I'd allow against me aren't allowed against my friends, because I figure it if hurts my feelings perhaps I'm just sensitive, but if it pisses me off to see my friend treated that way, you're done.

Another such limit is to go out of your way to misgender me. While it can be difficult to get my pronouns correct in person if I'm not looking my best, it is entirely another thing to look at my female name and my feminine portrait and go "You know, it would cost me absolutely nothing to be polite in this text-based conversation, but I shall make an effort to be insulting."  I've actually had people argue with me over what I actually am!

The third limit is the one which prompted today's post, and that is when someone makes a blanket "You are X and you should feel terrible for being X, you worthless person" statement. Usually these have been people telling me that I'm mentally ill because I'm transgender (I beg to differ, and prefer to think of myself as having been born with a birth defect and am trying to make a difficult life more pleasant for myself), but given the most recent tragedy there's a fair amount of name-calling and finger-pointing at responsible gun owners.

Here is what pushed me to my limit today:

Why, how dare I want the means to preserve my life against violence! How dare I kill another who wishes harm upon me! Why, if I were truly enlightened like Jd, I would offer myself up as a human sacrifice before the criminal who wanted me harmed, because my death would be moral. And if I disagree, why then I shouldn't sully the title of American by claiming it as my own; I should rather emigrate to a less-enlightened country or else exile myself to death in the outermost darkness.

Needless to say, this raised my ire to such a degree that I briefly lost my composure and indulged in some very un-ladylike f-bombs:

Any morality which requires me, a non-criminal, to die because it makes people feel better is a direct threat to my existence and I won't tolerate it. I probably could have continued to debate this... person... but the moment someone outright tells me that they prefer my death, I cease to give a shit about anything they do or say.

One of these days, people will push me until I get so upset that I will actually answer the question "How many people have to die before you will embrace gun control?", and they will be horrified at my response. But that, dear reader, is a subject for another day.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Past Two Days Have Been Terrible

I'm not just talking about the tragedy in Florida over Valentine's Day or the sadly-not-surprising revelation that the FBI had not one but two hot tops about the shooter, one five months ago and one a month ago. Those things are awful, yes, but the past two days have been terrible for me, personally.

Wednesday was bad because it was Valentine's Day, or as I like to call it, Singles Awareness Day. I have a long track record of not liking the Hallmark Holiday and being reminded that I've just spent another year romantically fallow.

But Thursday was even worse. I had an appointment with the plastic surgeon in order to see what could be done about the scarring. I was worried because he had said that the swelling would have disappeared in January, yet the wound had stopped shrinking by Christmas but still looked pretty big. Still, I went in with hope. Perhaps he could stick a needle into the puffy bits and drain them?

Instead, he was very dismissive about my feelings and my appearance, and basically told me that there's nothing he can do. It's still swollen because it's all  scar tissue, you see, and surgery would just cut into it more and create another scar, and it's so thick that a laser wouldn't do anything for it and there are no drugs which can shrink it.

The only thing that he says can be done is for me to massage it as hard as I can several times a day and just hope that it breaks down the scar tissue.

In fact, here's a quote that summarize the entire appointment:
Me: So what you're saying is that I'm stuck looking like this...

Him: Uh-huh.

Me: ... and that I'm screwed.

Him: No, not screwed! You still have full function!
In other words: Everything works, so who cares how it looks? Again, the feeling which I had from him -- and my mom agrees, because she was with me -- was that he really didn't much care, like I wasn't worth his time. Perhaps I was cutting into his lucrative face lift and boob job schedule?


And so this entire experience of being told that my face looking like a chew toy was just the way it was going to be, too bad so sad get out of my office, left me feeling like ugly, worthless crap. I pulled out my bottle of Emergency Rum and started drinking until the evil thoughts went away, and then I went to bed at like 4 am.

I got up around noon to drink some water and use the bathroom. Then I went back to bed (not because I was hung over, but because I just didn't want to deal with anyone or anything) and didn't get up until 5 pm, because I needed to get dressed and walk the remaining dog.

I still feel like ugly, rejected, spoiled meat. I don't know if I'm ever going to feel better again.


The only thing I can do at this point is to go find another plastic surgeon and fill out more paperwork and pay another first-time patient fee, just so I can get a second opinion and maybe find a doctor who gives a shit about my face, because I cannot believe there is nothing which can be done.

I think I'm going to finish off the rest of the rum and then sleep some more. At least I don't feel hideous in my dreams.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Black Panther: An Addendum

This is inevitably going to be a three-part series, as the review will be up once I've seen it. 

One has to be very careful when picking one's words when talking about something like Black Panther. What was just another high concept super-hero movie in a universe already extraordinarily well-established has, thanks in large part to the cultural critics that have been chapping my ass for the past few years, quickly become an exceedingly commercialized rally point for a puzzling social movement.

Marvel, to its credit, has very little blame in this aside from introducing an already-beloved character in a giant movie and translating him very well to the screen, putting out the requisite toy line, and picking a strategic song for the trailer.

One must be very careful, for example, these days not to imply that "collectivist identitarian" is a flattering term for someone that someone else would rather prefer to call an "asshole Nazi," regardless if both terms apply.

Inside joke, dear readers. I apologize.

But can we talk about Black Panther for a moment?

You're right, we can't. We can't, for example, bring up the fact that Wakanda is a stupendously rich nation in the middle of some very poor nations. We can't bring up the fact that Wakanda is an xenophobic ethnostate with possibly the strictest immigration laws outside of Dr. Doom's Latveria or that, in the MCU, it had no outreach to poor countries despite its wealth until Civil War. We can't talk about how Wakanda zealously defends its borders, notoriously slaughtering intruders, or how T'Challa himself is the ruler of a Patriarchal society, having literally inherited his powers, tech, and position from his own father.

But I suppose if one side can twist things in its favour, the other can do so just as well.

Did they, though? Have we asked actual
Africans how they feel on this?
That'd just be awkward, though. Not that that first side isn't finally getting around to not-good-enough-isms.

In that spirit, I'd like to make it very clear that when I review Black Panther, I intend to hold it to its own merits: Did it tell a good story? Did it fit well in the greater MCU? Did it work well on its own as a movie as well as setting up story threads for future movies, as I expect to see it represented heavily in Infinity War? Does it tie up loose ends from previous movies?

What I'm not going to do is blame any shortcomings on "Trump's America." Seriously, it makes me ashamed that 3/4 of me comes from the same place as you, Ed Power.

When I go see Black Panther, I'm going to see what I hope to be another highly-entertaining entry in the MCU saga, one that I can appreciate as a fan and as someone who has been reading books  starring that character since I was a teenager. The last thing I want is for the movie to fail, because that's going to basically be Ghostbusters 2016: Round 2, and I've had just about enough of that.

I want it to succeed. I want it to be good.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Courtier-ing Perfection


Thanks to all the wonderful feedback I've been given since last week, the "made on a dare" Courtier class is well on its way to being a polished, playable bit of gaming.

Significant changes include:
  • Shield proficiency added and use of shields does not interfere with Suave Grace. 
  • Suave Grace also provides an AC boost at certain levels, like a monk. 
  • Rapier Wit is now a swift action, inflicts precision damage, and causes the Shaken condition instead of a flat penalty. 
  • Strong Convictions now fully adds a courtier's CHA bonus to all saves. 
  • Equestrian Invocation has a greater overall duration. 
  • Chivalrous Sacrifice has been reworked in a manner that is hard to summarize. Lots of clarification has been added and (hopefully) the broken elements removed. 
  • Odor of Ardor's DC has been rewritten to make it have a chance of success. 
  • Stunning Display has had its duration modified to be more in line with other abilities. 

Big thanks to everyone who helped out. Keep them coming -- I think we're about ready to stick a fork in this one!

The Fine Print


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