Avengers: Infinity War – Movie Review

Avengers Infinity War.jpg

Seems as good a time as any to feel like a drop in the ocean, so I’m going to throw my opinions about the latest Marvel film at the internet.

Although the first Infinity War is less of a standalone, and packs less of an emotional punch than other Marvel films, it’s still entertaining. I’ll explain:

*SPOILER WARNING* – If you are caught up on the films or simply don’t care about spoilers, please read on.

Standalone or stepping stone

Obviously, every Marvel film is part of a greater, ongoing universe so they should naturally feed into one another to keep the momentum for the “series.” They aren’t supposed to be single-shots. However, I believe all of the earlier movies have strong “standalone” qualities; the films individually carry their own story arcs, resolving them before the credits roll.

Even the prior Avengers crossovers provide full story arcs. The characters have internal and external problems at the start, we’re given time to see the problems and potential solutions come to a boil, and then there’s a climax and resolution where most problems are solved and the characters are shown to have grown.

With Avengers: Infinity War, the character development is lacking, relying more on the viewers’ knowledge of past films than ever, and the movie ends in the middle of the rising action. Obviously, this was intentional, since Disney and the Russo brothers plan to spread the story arc over two Infinity War films (with an Ant-Man sequel and Captain Marvel debut in-between). So, with Infinity War, they wrap up Part One by crushing our heroes with major setbacks.

Side Note: This is essentially what was famously done by The Empire Strikes Back, but unlike Empire, I doubt Infinity War will be ever be referred to as being the best of the series.

Ultimately, Infinity War is unique as being the only MCU film to lack a full story arc. It probably also has the largest proportion of movie-goers thinking “WTF?” at the end (I haven’t seen such a response since watching The Fellowship of the Ring in a theater where some folks didn’t know they were only watching the first in a trilogy).

Personally, I’m fine that the movie is more a part of a series than it is a standalone. I’ve been trained since the days Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to be okay with waiting a year or so for the next film. The folks at Disney are becoming experts at intermittently releasing films to build and maintain interest. So, although there are many unresolved threads, I’m still fine with waiting for the wrap-up, especially since we’ll have two other MCU films in the interim.

Death everywhere, but not a tear to drop

Okay, I don’t think I’ve actually shed a tear while watching a Marvel movie, but I’ll admit I’ve come close. With Black Panther, I’m driven to near-tears every time I see Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan; Seth Carr) going up to the apartment to find what happened to his father. Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2. also got me pretty good when Peter Quill learns the details of his mother’s death. Going back to Phase One movies, I’m also moved when the scrawny Steve Rogers dives on the grenade in The First Avenger.

With Infinity War, we’re treated to a high death count. Try as I might to delve into some sympathy and empathy, I wasn’t quite as affected as I would’ve liked.

In the opening scene, we see slaughtered Asgardians and the fan-beloved Loki choked to death. I felt almost nothing. I was busy thinking, “Dude, we just saw these guys get saved at the end of Thor: Ragnarok. And where the hell is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and that rock guy (Taika Waititi)? Are they all just dead now after Bones/Eomer (Karl Urban) sacrificed himself for them?”

Well, I also thought “Nooooo!” when Heimdall (Idris Elba) was stabbed in the heart, but that was about it. I’d already seen Loki die before, so–yeah.

Perhaps the lack of emotion also has to do with the rushed pacing of the movie. There’s so much to get through, the scenes fly by, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doesn’t get a fair chance to relay his pain to the audience.

I’m going to take a risk and say the lack of tears is, perhaps, partially because of the men at the helm. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s work on Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War (it’s probably largely because of their success with Winter Soldier that Captain America didn’t shrink into more of a background character). They do great with the cloak-and-dagger stories, evoking certain emotions featuring the brotherhood between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and certain types of comedy. However, they don’t seem as proficient with the use of pathos in their work.

Then again, getting people to cry probably isn’t the main objective in these movies.

Awkward woman VS woman combat

The movie seems to go out of its way to force the only female villain, Proxima (Carrie Coon), to fight the female heroes. I’ll concede there are instances where they mix it up a bit, most notably in Scotland. However, the film quickly establishes an awkward C-story between Proxima and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson).

This seems to be the result of using a dated mechanic: forcing female characters to fight each other, insulated from the males in rather contrived manners. This issue is most noticeable when Proxima faces off against Black Widow, Okoye, and Scarlet Witch at the same time. The Winter Soldier and Cap aren’t that far away at the moment, so why don’t they go after Proxima? I’m pretty sure the answer is, “All-girl Fight,” preceded by a shrug.

Fan Theory Zone

I generally don’t like to go too much into fan theorizing, but I feel compelled to make a few comments:

  1. Cheating with a bit of meta knowledge, the fact that certain movies have already been announced and certain actors are contracted for more films, a lot of the characters who “die” in the movie aren’t really dead forever (e.g., there are supposed to be more Spider-man and Guardians movies, and I don’t think those would work very well without Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as Spider-man and Star-Lord).
  2. I assume, with Chris Evans’ apparent insistence not to contract for more movies, the only character who is more guaranteed to be “truly” killed off by the end of the Infinity War is Captain America. Many other folks will likely be brought back.
  3. Dr. Strange saw all the possible futures, including one in which the good guys won; he probably had a very specific reason to make sure Tony Stark, of all the folks present, is left alive. So, it’s probably a future where Stark somehow makes it so the characters wiped out at the end of this movie aren’t quite gone.
  4. Thanos’ goal is to get rid of half the population of all civilizations so that the civilizations can continue to exist and not overuse their resources. Maybe what he does by snapping his fingers isn’t to kill everyone, but to separate them into two alternate realities. That would halve the population, like he wants. Or maybe he sends half the population into a state of limbo. Why wouldn’t he just use his all-powerful gauntlet to create infinite resources and make everyone happy? He’s called the Mad Titan for a reason; he has to accomplish his goal (halving the population), but he doesn’t have to do it in the way people expect. At any rate, I think all the people who turned to ash at the end of Infinity War weren’t really killed in the normal sense.

Despite all the critiques I might have, I still found Avengers: Infinity War to be entertaining and I will continue to give all my money to Disney. The only problem is when I re-watch this movie, I’ll feel like I have to immediately go on to the next one because this movie offers no closure whatsoever.

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Too Busy/Lazy

So, this is more of a personal post and update on my life than anything else.

I haven’t posted anything for quite a while. I was in South Korea (with the girlfriend) for a year, teaching English. Didn’t write as much as I wanted to, and I didn’t do as much remote legal work as intended, either. However, I am making steady progress with UCLA Extension classes and will probably end up with a certificate in fiction writing by the end of the year.

Now that I’m back in the States, I want to become more established in my careers as an attorney and as a writer. However, I’m also learning to code (java).

I probably need to learn how to focus on one thing at a time.

Without further ado, here’s a picture I took of a dog in China:

doginbeijing

Dog we saw while looking for an ATM during an overnight layover in Beijing.

A.D.M. Was Here: Cambodia

Aside from me, there were four men in the bus from Bangkok to the Thai-Cambodian border. I think we were all in mid or late twenties. As prudent humans tend to do, we spread out to give each other space. I wound up resting my eyes most of the ride, and didn’t talk to the other guys until we disembarked.

We made some introductions and small talk while the folks at the border took our passports, presumably to make copies. Three of the men on the bus were English. Two had set out from Norfolk together: J was tall and outgoing, and F was not so tall and soft spoken. Both of them were friendly. The third Englishman coincidentally came from the same town as the others, but had only just met them in the bus station in Bangkok.

The third Englishman, D, wasn’t as friendly as the others, but he was civil enough. D came from a bit of money. According to J and F, D’s father owned a nightclub or some such back in England (maybe several nightclubs).

Despite D’s caustic demeanor, he shared a long story about how he wound up in Bangkok with the rest of us. D was afraid of flying, but managed to make the journey from England to Australia via commercial jet. His original plan was to take a cruise ship from Australia up East Asia, then take trains all the way back to Europe. However, there was a bit of an incident on the cruise.

The ship, apparently, had a casino on board. He was playing one game or another when he noticed an Australian man looking at him in a way D didn’t particularly care for. D asked the Aussie if there was a reason for the stink-eye. They exchanged some unfriendly words.

Annoyed but not wanting to escalate, D picked up his chips and moved to another table. The Australian followed him. Rather than flinch or waste any more words, D took a preemptive swing and knocked the Aussie on his ass.

The cruise ship sided with the Australian and kicked D off at the next port in Malaysia. Still afraid of flying, D decided to try to make it on time for his train rides by getting through Southeast Asia by land. So, he took a number of buses until he met the rest of us in the station in Bangkok.

That was D. Aside from sharing this story with the group, he didn’t speak all that much. He generally sat there with a beer and a scowl, and sometimes burst out with a hearty laugh.

The other English guys, J and F, were different. They smiled more often and were fond of conversation. This was particularly true in the case of J. For the short time I spent with him, I thought of J as the type of guy who jumped in first and thought about it later. He had a t-shirt wrapped around his foot that told a similar story:

Earlier in his travels, J had the opportunity to try his luck with a flaming jump rope. A jump rope was lit on fire, and drunk tourists took turns skipping. J not only tripped on the rope, but the thing caught on him and swung around the entirety of his ankle and left a significant burn. Nothing a t-shirt couldn’t fix, apparently.  Despite the constant pain he must have been in, J smiled almost all the damn time.

J’s buddy F was quieter but still friendly, and he and I had a shared interest: the Uncharted video game series by Naughty Dog (an exclusive to Playstation consoles).

So, those were the three Englishmen: Friendly J, quiet F, and afraid-of-flying D. The fourth guy was an American expat who’d been living in Phnom Penh for quite a while. The American served as a sort of guide as we made our way from the border to the capitol, starting by figuring out which bus to take. In retrospect, we may have been better off doing our own research.

J and the American Expat

J and the American Expat

The bus we got on was, quite possibly, the worst form of transportation I’ve ever experienced. Apparently, we’d gotten to Cambodia in the middle of some sort of holiday—a holiday in which the entire country migrated back to their hometowns. The bus was packed, so the aisle was filled with stools for additional seating.

You could say I was lucky to be in a regular seat. However, the air conditioning was blasting the entire time and the vent over my head was broken. There was no way to shut it off or redirect it. I stuffed it partially with some paper, but it didn’t do much. My attempts at sleep over the next several hours were fruitless. The cold air rushing over me made sure of it.

Still, I didn’t have the worst seat out of the five of us. D was sitting across the aisle from me and, after a while, he noticed a slow stream of fluid creeping toward his shoes from in front of him. He pointed it out to us but left the most important detail unsaid until we got off the bus at the rest stop: it smelled like piss.

The rest stop was essentially a hybrid of a restaurant and would-be convenience store. Since it was the middle of the night, I think the kitchen was closed. So, our only options were bags of chips, canned drinks, and the like. While the rest of us were stretching our legs and buying some junk food, D got to work.

He approached the driver of a shuttle van—a much nicer vehicle. D asked if there was space and, as if it were written by a lazy author who didn’t care about events being too convenient, there were exactly five open seats.

So we grabbed our junk from the bus and jumped ship to the shuttle van. Leaning back in a comfortable reclining chair, with the vehicle’s A/C set to an appropriate temperature, I finally got some sleep. The contrast was tremendous.

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the day and the first thing we did was eat. The American expat brought us to a restaurant where he knew the manager—the manager also being the tuk-tuk driver that brought us there. I ordered the Shaking Beef and we all had our morning beer.

After the meal, we parted ways with the American expat. The English guys and I went to the Vietnamese embassy so we could get our visas for Vietnam. D was in a hurry to get there, and the rest of us went with him since we weren’t sure how long it might take to process. It took about twenty minutes.

Still trying to get back on his original itinerary, D said goodbye and left us as there. Since I had no solid plans, I went with J and F to Siem Reap. We took yet another bus, leaving the capitol to see Cambodia’s iconic temples.

We arrived in Siem Reap in the middle of the night and in heavy rain. Having not done any research about where to stay, we asked a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a hotel. When I woke the next morning, the power was out. That didn’t stop me from showering in the dark before going downstairs for breakfast. With no power, I was a little worried the kitchen might be out of commission, but I was treated to a nice breakfast (though I don’t recall any of its contents—I think, maybe, it was eggs with something).

J and F hadn’t come down by the time I finished eating, so I had a tuk-tuk driver take me to buy a cheap rain poncho, in case the weather turned bad again (it didn’t). After that I had to wait a few minutes for the Englishmen to be ready. We had another tuk-tuk take us to see the temples.

We saw a few different wats, but I didn’t take note as to which was which. Angkor Wat is easily distinguishable, of course. Then there was also Ta Prohm, the temple overgrown with trees where they filmed parts of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life starring Angelina Jolie. However, there were definitely other temples. In between our wat-hopping, we had lunch in an outdoor food court: a bunch of tarps, tables and chairs serviced by a number of different “restaurants.” I had some fried rice which, like most of the food I had in Cambodia, was good.

The front of Angkor Wat’s main complex was having some work done, so there was scaffolding and a faux facade. The same thing had happened when I visited Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, so I wasn’t too disappointed. To make up for the construction, the universe treated me to a show: A fruit stealing monkey. The monkey watched a woman with a plastic bag full of fruits for a moment, then ran by and snatched it from her. Rather than going off to some secluded place to assess his spoils, he started eating the fruits right in the middle of the walkway.

Angkor Wat Undergoing Maintenance

Angkor Wat Undergoing Maintenance

Monkey Thief of Angkor Wat Planning

The Monkey Thief putting together his plans.

The Monkey Thief Enjoying Fruits

The Monkey Thief enjoying his spoils.

Ta Prohm 01

Ta Prohm after some rain.

Ta Prohm 02

Another shot in Ta Prohm.

After a long day of tourism, we had dinner at some grill restaurant which essentially sold exotic meats to foreigners. We ordered a set which included kangaroo, crocodile, ostrich, and snake. I don’t recall any of it tasting amazing, but we grilled our own meat and it’s more than likely that I overcooked everything.

Kangaroo Crocodile Ostrich Snake

Kangaroo, Ostrich, Crocodile, Snake. I’m really not sure which is which anymore.

With our appetites satiated to some extent, we gave the Siem Reap nightlife a try. I think we went to two or three different places before I eventually stumbled back into my room. Soon after that, I left J and F in Siem Reap and returned to Phnom Penh on my own. I was planning to go straight to Vietnam from there, but I missed the last bus. So I checked into a hostel and spent a night wasting more money on alcohol before returning to Saigon.

Angkor Wat at Sunset

What Am I Doing?

Not that you asked, but I’ve been taking courses with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and am currently teaching English in Seoul. No, I haven’t abandoned my license to practice law—as usual, the legal career is in the backseat while writing drives (life-experiences called shotgun). Before leaving California to go to Korea, I made a few visits to Disneyland.

Disneyland - California Adventure

Okay, this is technically California Adventure, but I didn’t take any photos on the other side.

UCLA Extension

I’ve been taking the Novel Writing series of courses with UCLA Extension. I started with the on-campus class (going back to the old campus is always nice), but switched over to the online version when I decided to go to Korea. Overall, I think it’s been rather helpful.

In terms of craft, the lecture and workshops haven’t taught me anything “new.” I’d already learned much of it via the internet, the Southern California Writers’ Conference, and writing groups. However, the lecture material and workshops have helped me to hone my craft, solidify certain theories (so I can actually apply them more consistently), and develop my ability to read with a writer’s eye.

The instructors at UCLA Extension seem to echo the sentiment I’d read when researching MFA programs: you can’t really teach art, you can only facilitate the growth of artists. So, that’s how the classes have been going. The instructor and other students offer valuable insights and feedback but, for the most part, each writer needs to put in the work to further their own craft.

Teaching English in Korea

The process to get the job in Seoul was a long one. Securing documentation and flinging paperwork back and forth was a bit of a hassle. After months of that, I finally flew to Seoul and was subjected to a highly stressful week of training. The bottome line: if you fail the training, you’re sent back home. Honestly, I did not expect the training to be so taxing.

I’m glad to say, however, it’s been a considerable while since training and I’m feeling fairly comfortable here now. I’m more at ease in front of the classroom, have been referred to as Handsome Teacher a number of times (the girlfriend says this has been inflating my ego), and am slowly swapping out American fast food out of my diet in favor of kimchi jjigae. So, yeah, I’m getting settled and finally feel like I have the time to start posting here again. Hopefully, I’ll also get to write a lot more and have something to report on that end.

Take it easy, folks.

Namsan Seoul Tower

Namsan Tower (AKA Seoul Tower)

A.D.M. Was Here: Bangkok

After making my way up the length of Vietnam via bus I booked a last-minute—and surprisingly cheap—flight to Bangkok. I arrived at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Aiport in the middle of the night. From there, a taxi brought me from a wide, empty highway to the lively streets of the infamous backpacker hotspot: Khaosan Road.

Bangkok01

The setting for the beginning of The Beach (2000) starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The place isn’t as crazy as the movie makes it seem (though, to be fair, the movie was made over ten years ago). 

The taxi driver couldn’t actually drive onto Khaosan Road as it was blocked off for pedestrians and street vendors selling everything from pad thai and clothes to scorpion-on-a-stick (side note: the scorpion is more to exploit tourists seeking the exotic; it’s not food locals normally eat, so I hear). When I got out of the cab, I wasn’t quite sure where I was in relation to my hostel and asked one of the clothing vendors to help me out. I wound up with an awesome hand drawn map on the back of a scrap of cardboard. Continue reading

Yallwest 2016 Impressions

yallwest2016.jpg

After weeks of covert activities in April, I capped off the month by volunteering at Yallwest 2016 in Santa Monica. Though I put in more hours of work than any sane volunteer, and didn’t spend much time as an attendee, there was a lot of good extracted from the experience: I had the chance to be awkward next to authors who are living my dream, got a glimpse into how the event is organized, and observed the YA fandom in the wild.

First Author Sightings

When I arrived at Santa Monica High School, one of the event organizers brought me to a classroom in tucked-away corner of campus. There was a group of women seated around pushed-together desks doing what I assumed was some kind of crafting. I smiled and gave a cursory wave to them as the organizer led me to a pile of boxes where I exchanged a medium-sized volunteer shirt for a large—I should’ve known a unisex medium at a YA festival would be too small.

The organizer then gave me my first assignment: stuffing festival wristbands into envelopes for attendees. There was one free chair at the far end of the circle of women. One of the women said I could take that chair because Veronica abandoned them to do some other work. I glanced at this Veronica, who had only recently vacated the seat, and realized it was the author of the Divergent series. Rather than steal Veronica Roth’s chair, I grabbed another from the center of the room. When I sat down, I realized the woman beside me was Marie Lu, author of the Legend and The Young Elites series.

The table was surrounded with established authors.

I was one of the few unpublished people at the table (on my left was Adele Walsh, an organizer of big YA stuff in Australia and New Zealand). Not wanting to seem like a pushy fan or a desperate-to-network author, I limited my words to business matters: envelope-stuffing business.

“Can I get some more orange [wristbands]?” Thanks, Sarah Enni.

“I need some more golds.” Thanks, Veronica Roth.

Well, I did mutter a single joke under my breath at some point. Only Marie Lu heard and quietly laughed. I don’t remember what the joke was, though. For the most part, I stuffed envelopes and listened. Veronica Roth shared about how, one month after she’d gotten her pixie haircut, her mother copied her hairdo and now they walk around looking alike. Someone also brought up the supposed fact that Australian authors showed they liked you by saying mean things to you (I believe Amie Kaufman confirmed this). After Ms. Lu left to do something else (chalking?), another volunteer showed up and I someone less intimidating to chat with.

FYI, if you were an attendee and your wristbands weren’t already separated at the perforation when you got them, it’s because Veronica Roth voiced idea that you should do it yourself.

Fans (and Having Fans)

The lines for signings at Yallwest ranged from hundreds of fans to handfuls. No matter the size of the line, however, the enthusiasm people had to get their books signed was inspiring.

While I was floating around the signing area, two women (perhaps, a mother and her teen daughter) asked me for Barnabas Miller who, I admit, I’d never heard of. However, I had noticed two men sitting at a signing table get up and leave a few minutes earlier. I told the women as much and added that the men might be back.

The women left and, sure enough, one of the men returned a minute later. He wasn’t Barnabas Miller, but he was Miller’s editor and author-friend, Daniel Ehrenhaft. It was a single fan missed and disappointed, but Ehrenhaft was visibly upset. He, I assume, hit Miller up on his phone and got him to hustle back to the signing table. After ten minutes or so, while I continued my volunteer duties, Miller and his fan returned. The girl had brought a friend (and ditched her mom). They had their books signed and looked damn happy about it. It was the feel good moment of the festival (with no witnesses).

The festival attendee I spoke to most wasn’t a YA fan, but the father of one. While his daughter was in line to get Veronica Roth’s signatures, he stood in the Sabaa Tahir line in his daughter’s place. I was put at the end of the line to give people the unfortunate news that the line had reached capacity, so I spent over half an hour talking to this guy—a father who built bridges for a living and accompanied his daughter to YA festivals. Coolest dad ever.

Now, Some Crappy Pictures

I didn’t take many photos at Yallfest because I was trying too hard to not be a geek. During the few panels I got into, however, I took some photos of horrible quality. Here you go:

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Happy Dyngus Day

happy dyngus day 2Like my crazy uncle used to say, there’s no better time than Dyngus Day to start posting again.

Dyngus Day is a Polish holiday celebrated on the Monday after Easter. I had no idea this holiday existed until a few days ago. If I recall my Wikipedia-research correctly, Dyngus Day is celebrated by boys throwing water at girls they like and proceeding to spank said girls with a pussy willow branch (girls do the same to the boys on Tuesday).  This sounds a lot like assault and battery to me, though, so you might want to consult a lawyer before you decide to become a Dyngus-participant.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty busy recently. Doing more attorney work, researching potential career paths, and spending time with the significant other and family—my schedule hasn’t been so packed since 2013. It’s been tough setting aside time for writing, and depending on where my career(s) take me, I might have to learn to better finagle my schedule to get some writing in (and more time to read other people’s blogs).

Despite being busy and whatnot, I’ve been slowly rewriting the horror/supernatural novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015. I want to rewrite this entire supernatural project before I start another rewrite of my YA Sci-Fi (which may no longer be a YA by the time I’m done with it).

Wish me luck, and Happy Dyngus Day.