The X-Games Is Awesome

Yesterday I was looking on my TV’s guide channel, looking for something to watch when I saw a familiar event that made me smile: The X-Games. Of course, I had to tune in. If you’re unfamiliar, the X-Games is essentially the Olympics of what used to be called extreme sports. We’re talking skateboarding, BMX bike riding, motocross and formerly rollerblading. Seventeen years ago, I was 11 and somewhat obsessed with extreme sports. Airborne was–and still is–one of my favorite movies. I was always impressed with how people could do such amazing tricks on bikes, boards and blades. So, when I first heard about the X-Games, I was stoked to use the parlance of the day.

As taken as I was with the thrilling exploits, I never really tried them myself for one simple reason: my desire to not get physically hurt outweighs pretty much any other one in my head. I’m not a thrill seeker or much of a risk taker. I still kinda sorta tried to be extreme in my own way, though. I got a pair of rollerblades that had a space for rail grinds. I rarely left the ground, though I still have those skates. I also owned a BMX bike which I saved up for. I think it was a Diamondback. It was important for me to get one with a Gyro (a piece that allowed you to spin the body of the bike around the handle area without twisting up your brake lines) and also some pegs. I was a little more fearless when it came to the bike. I’d ride through the woods near my house and even hit a few jumps. I was also pretty adept at wheelies for prolonged periods of time, but without access to any really courses or whatever, my interest soon moved to driving a car and the bike has sat in my parents’ shed ever since (actually, they might have given it away to someone now that I think about it). I would actually consider picking the bike back up, but don’t really live in an area conducive to such things.

See, that was always one of the problems I had with the extreme sports. I wanted to experiment (or thought I did) but didn’t really have the freedom or the access to test myself. A lot of that might have been self imposed. I also was scared of the law. In high school I hung out with a dude who was really into skateboarding. He’d tell me all kinds of stories about going downtown and finding places to skate. It sounded amazing, but not something that I felt I could or really wanted to do.

Speaking of skating, it never seemed like an option for one simple reason: I can’t make the damn board go. I’ve got pretty good balance and all that, but I’ve just absolutely never been able to get my coordination down to stand on a skateboard and push myself forward. It’s ridiculous. I don’t get it.

I think my personal inability (and fear) is what really attracted me to the X-Games in the first place. Dudes flying through the air doing all these insane tricks and seemingly having a great time with it. That’s where it’s at. I have a lot of the same admiration watching it today, 17 years later (yes, that makes me feel OOOOOOLD). My older, possibly keener eye also notices just how amazing some of these tricks are. I’m watching the skateboarding vert ramp heats right now and am just amazed at the skill level involved (it was the same way with the street course yesterday). The ability to rocket yourself up and down a cert ramp while also rolling on a board while also keeping track of where you’re taking off and landing while also doing tricks that sometimes involve spinning the board with a flick of your toe and catching it with your hand while not breaking your neck is AMAZING. Even if you’re not into the sport, you’ve at least got to give it to these guys for being dedicated, putting their bodies on the line and recreating some seriously intricate tricks.

Because I’ve never done any of this stuff myself and I haven’t really read up on it since I was in high school–and that was mostly BMX stuff when figuring out which bike to get–I don’t really have much of a gauge for what’s impressive and what’s not. I’ve watched a few of these heats and every time I’m just like “Holy crap, he did that and didn’t die, give him a million points!” But that’s not really how it goes. That’s okay though, it’s fun to watch. Now, when are they bringing back the rollerblading competitions? Maybe I can dust the ol’ blades off…

Last Night’s Shows Today: Thundercats

Sweet merry Christmas, the premiere of the new Thundercats cartoon on Cartoon Network was amazing. I’ve been pretty jazzed about the series for a while, hoping that it would be good, but also knowing one of the dudes who put a lot of blood sweat and tears into it. He said it would be good. It was better than that. Better than I could have imagined, really.

Last weekend, Cartoon Network was trying to get people into the Thundercats spirit by playing various episodes from the original series. I caught the second episode, which is really the second half of an hour-long movie and while I enjoyed myself, I had a lot of questions. Some would be answered in later episodes and some in the half I missed, I’m sure, but from a storytelling perspective, there’s a lot of burden placed on the audience to just accept what’s happening. Why are the mutants chasing the ‘Cats? Why does Lion-O grow inside the stasis chamber while Kit and Kat don’t? Why does Mumm-Ra care about the ‘Cats? Why doesn’t Mumm run around like a badass all the time instead of an old man? (I know there’s an answer for that last one, but just can’t remember it from childhood).

My wife had seen the old episodes and seemed as excited as I was to watch the premiere last night at 8:00PM (what a great lady!). So, last night, we sat down to watch and I was absolutely blown away. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this version does for Thundercats what Batman Begins/Dark Knight did for Batman, it took the essentials and made everything make sense while also adding in plenty of action to make things fun. Sure, there’s some changes in the status quo, but I really don’t care because this is a new version and I want to see what they’ve got up their sleeves. Somehow Lion-O and Tigra are brothers and the ‘Cats are not traveling to another planet, but staying on Thundera where a war is breaking out. The planet is filled with different animal species’ at war, with the cats on top, which explains why Slythe and the lizards hate them (not just blindly or because they’re goofy henchman).

As far as I can remember from the original series (which I haven’t really watched since grade school when the series made a triumphant return to CN right after I got home from school), the new version also digs in a lot deeper into the Thunderan mentality. The cats are on the top of the food chain, but are not really evolving or learning. They have weapons, but are scared of technology, they have warrior clerics, but seemingly closed minds to everything else. Also, they’re racist, at least against the lizards. Essentially there’s a lot going on here instead of just pitting the good guys against the bad guys every week. I don’t think it’s too much for kids to enjoy, though I haven’t talked to any yet about the show. It seems like the kind of thing that would have appealed to me, but also that my dad would have liked.

To say I can’t wait to see where the series goes is a huge understatement. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new televisions show–of any kind–after the first episode in…years? Maybe since Prison Break? I was pretty blown away by that series and drawn right in. Same here. There’s so much mythology to explore and action to be had and mysteries to solve that I am completely in. The ‘Cats have been put on their back legs and now have to fight for their survival, it’s the perfect set up for a series. I’m also looking forward to seeing what they do with the elements set out in the original series. We already saw a Ro-Bear Berbil arm in one scene and blind latter-day Thundercat addition Lynx-O in another. What about Hachiman, Turmagar or The Snowman of Hook Mountain? I’ve been shown what this team can do and now I want more, more, more!

Friday Fisticuffs: The Mechanic (2010)

I was a little worried that The Mechanic starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster wouldn’t qualify for FF. I don’t really have hard and fast rules for these things, but I like for entries to make sense. If The Mechanic turned out to be more of a shoot ’em up action movie, it wouldn’t really make sense to talk about the fisticuffs involved. There’s still a lot of gun play and that type of thing, but I was pleasantly surprised with some intense and even brutal fight scenes.

I stumbled upon the original Mechanic starring Charles Bronson a few years back and had a good time watching it. He’s a hitman who winds up taking on his dead friend’s son as a protege, played by Jan-Michael Vincent. Oh, and by the way, the dad was killed by Bronson. The story’s essentially the same this time around, except the much more agile Jason Statham plays the Bronson part this time around and Foster plays the son. Being the cocky sort, Foster wants to experience what it means to be an assassin for himself, ignoring Statham’s orders and trying to take down a fellow mechanic (assassin) with his bare hands. This leads to the film’s first real fight scene and one of the more brutal ones I’ve seen in a whil.

And that’s definitely not the only fight going on. There’s one where a job goes wrong and Statham and Foster both have to fight and shoot their ways out, there’s another with Statham fighting a dude on a bus with an excellent exclamation point on the end of it and even a quick moment where a guy gets stabbed with a harpoon and THEN has his neck snapped. What I’m saying is that there’s a lot of action to go around and it’s the variety you should expect from a Statham flick–fast, brutal and awesome. Check out clips from all of the above in the following RED BAND NSFW trailer.

Beware, we’re heading into SPOILER TERRITORY for both version of this movie. I actually read my review of the first movie with about 20-30 minutes left of the remake and almost immediately regretted it. In that post, I wrote about the ending which involves the mutual destruction of both the mechanic and the trainee after the trainee is tasked with killing the mechanic. I hadn’t remembered that aspect of the plot and was bummed that it might spoil this movie’s ending. It kind of did, but not really. The original features the two men taking a trip to do a job in Italy with tensions rising the whole time. This one replaces that with a series of pretty rad action sequences. The idea is still the same, with the trainee realizing the mechanic killed his dad and wanting revenge. This time around, the trainee is driven by revenge, not a job. I thought that was an interesting difference. Once again, the mechanic has arranged for the trainee to die in the event of betrayal, but this time around, Statham gets away with his life, unlike Bronson. So it’s less bleak, but I’m glad they switched it up a little just for variety’s sake.

All in all, I had as good of a time watching this version of the Mechanic as much as I did the original but for different reasons. That one is bleak with a standoffishness that lets the proceedings play themselves out, while this one is a lot more action-packed and mixes things up to a good degree. I like remakes that retain enough from the original (what’s the point of a remake that’s completely different, you know?) but also make some changes (why watch the same movie done a slightly different way?). Also, I thought it was awesome that Statham lives in a place that looks very 70s and reminiscent of Bronson’s house in the original. Fun stuff!

The Write Stuff: Staying Focused

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a lot of trouble staying focused on any given story. Part of the problem is that I don’t plan or plot out my stories ahead of time, I just start writing, come up with things as I go and hammer it out. It’s the hammering part that can be difficult, especially as new, completely different ideas pop into my head. I’ll get a good 10, 15 or 20 pages under by belt, but then get distracted like Homer Simpson any time a dog with a poofy tail runs by.

I’m not a complete failure when it comes to these things though. I actually used my wife’s pregnancy as a kind of deadline, kind of like the ones I used to have to hit in college or the ones I make every day in my freelance career. I wanted to start and more importantly FINISH something by the time my daughter was born. I had nine months. I succeeded after a fashion. I finished my second ever horror screenplay, but that was pretty early on in the pregnancy. I wanted to finish something else, but it didn’t wind up happening. For what it’s worth I have that horror script and another one sitting in binders waiting to be read and edited. I need to attack them with a red pen and maybe some tape and glue to work it out. I wanted to give myself a breather from that material, but also wanted to move on to something else.

One of the problems I have is a fear of failure combined with a lack of knowledge of what to do once I actually do finish something. A million people have scripts sitting around, right? What makes mine stick out? How do you even get it in front of the right person? I probably have a bit more of an edge than a lot of people because I’m kind of in the geek genre business, but even with that, it seems difficult to make things happen. I have the same fear/worry when it comes to books, comics, the whole shebang. Of course, since I don’t have hardly anything finished, I can’t be judged, told I’m not good or denied.

The funny thing is that I actually love to write and don’t tend to get writers block. Given the time and a lack of distractions (many of which are self imposed), I feel like I could write something from start to finish. Maybe those are excuses. Maybe not. Maybe sitting at the computer all day writing about comics and movies makes me want to ditch the ol’ laptop and just hang out with the wife and kid. Maybe I should be writing one of those stories right now instead of doing this blog post.

In addition to having other ideas pop into my head, I also get kind of bored with stories, but in an unusual and very specific way. As I mentioned, I don’t plan my stories out in advance. I’ll write to a certain extent and then walk away. Between stopping and the next time I sit down to write that story, I usually think about what will happen next and hopefully have a few eureka moments where new story ideas or further adventures pop into my head. The problem comes when there’s a lot of time between that ideas popping in and me actually writing. If I’m sitting there, running through the scene or whatever a bunch of times, I get bored with it. It’s like it’s already been written even though I haven’t written it. By the time I sit down to pound the keys, I’m bored with that scene or sequence because I’ve already spent so much time with it. I realized this in the past year or two and have tried to avoid thinking too hard about the details of a scene when coming up with new ideas. It’s hard and I don’t always succeed, but I think it’s helped.

I’ve read a few books on writing as well as interviews and listened to just as many in podcast form. I know some people will give themselves a page or word count they need to hit every day while others give themselves a specific amount of time. I like those ideas, but have trouble sticking with them. As I mentioned, I spend all day with my computer and need something of a break (he says as he continues to write this blog post on the same computer he spent all day on). I feel like those regular work hours should be used for work, but my schedule isn’t always consistent, so I should just say something like “At 10AM every day, I’ll write for an hour.” I really should have done that before the baby was born because, as it is, depending on the day, things can go really well or really poorly.

I’ve got a lot of excuses, but what I need are pages finished. Maybe I’ll get a few in now before heading to bed (I’m writing this at 12:17AM but posting at 10AM.

The Challenge Rivals Episode 6 “Blowup”

I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an episode of Rivals as much as I did tonight’s. There was weird relationship stuff, a close challenge, an actual rivalry bubbling to the surface between teammates, a plan coming together (kinda), a big talker turning out to be useless, a Jungle victory I was happy to see and, the icing on the cake, The Miz hosting the aftershow with CT, Wes, Evan, Nehemiah, Laurel and Mandi. You know the drill, if you’re curious, hit the jump to see what’s up. Continue reading The Challenge Rivals Episode 6 “Blowup”

The Write Stuff: The Formative Years

What’s this, you might be wondering, another post about writing? How is this any different than Adventures In Freelancing? Well The Write Stuff will focus on my attempts at writing fiction and other works that I’m not getting paid for (yet). Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to create things. When I was a kid, I made up all these little superhero characters like Birdman (an actual bluejay with all the weapons of the Ninja Turtles, not the popular Hanna Barbera creation) or White Out Man. My superhero universe might have been a legal nightmare, but I had a lot of fun drawing them and coming up with their origin stories. Even before that I would stage these epic, intricate battles with my action figures. I’d continue this habit into high school (the writing, not the toy playing, though I was still collecting them), coming up with all kinds of different characters and giving them the Marvel Handbook or DC Who’s Who treatment with run-downs of their powers, abilities, weapons and whatnot.

For the longest time I focused my creative energies on characters that could be found in comics. It wasn’t until maybe high school that I realized I could write something other than comic book characters. Like a lot of kids, I wound up writing some shitty poetry that I scrawled in all manner of notebooks, with those marble composition ones being a favorite, of course. I wound up always carrying a notebook around with me and still have the majority of them. I’d like to scan them all for posterity’s sake, but who has the time? I also took a few stabs at short story writing, including a pretty fun little vampire tale which was published in my high school’s literary magazine. I was part of a group that helped restart the mag at the end of my sophomore year and wound up being a co-editor my senior year, a distinction made because four of us had been around for the same amount of time and all wanted to be editor.

I mostly wrote things as they came to me, never really sitting down with the intention of writing. If I was at home, I’d grab a pen and paper, maybe hop on the computer, but I’d also write in school a lot. I was generally a good student, but if a good idea popped into my head I’d spend most of a class writing it in the margins of the notebook or on a different page all together, flipping back and forth between notes and story. I know what you’re thinking and yes, my school notebooks looked like the kind of thing you’d find in a serial killer’s house after he’s brought to justice. Most of that stuff is laughably melodramatic. I’ve groaned a LOT while flipping through those notebooks, but some of my longest gestating ideas were born in those bored days sitting in Latin or geometry class.

With an eye towards learning more about writing–whatever that means–I focused on colleges with strong creative writing programs. I started out looking at big schools like Ohio State and Miami of Ohio, but realized those would be way too huge for me and then narrowed the search down to a trio of small liberal arts schools in Ohio: Ohio Northern, Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon. There’s a much bigger story in here, but I wound up going to OWU, where I studied both creative writing and literature as well as humanities (defined as literature originally written not in English). As such, I read a lot of books and did a fair amount of writing of all kinds.

I’m sure I don’t remember all the classes I took, many of which were in Sturges hall, but all of them involved writing of one kind or another, even the science classes. Here’s what I do remember. I took an essay writing class with the wonderful Rebecca Steinitz where I not only learned the benefits of editing (something I never bothered to do before out of sheer laziness) but also some tricks that have helped me write these very blog posts. I took a Journalism 110 (OWU’s equivalent of a 101) class and realized I hated that basic, boring kind of newspaper writing. There was a screenwriting class I took with Robert Flanagan who not only taught me the basics of the form, but also how cutthroat and by-the-rules the movie business can be. Plus, he’s from my hometown of Toledo, so that was awesome. I was far too shy and nervous to talk to him, or any of my professors really, more than was required which I regret. I took two or three creative writing classes with Robert Olmstead, another professor I wish I still talked to. I always liked the meetings I had with him, assuming I was doing alright in class. Him telling me my writing had jumped up a level one day is one of my all time academic highlights. The Roberts were very different, with Flanagan more realistic and brutal and Olmstead more dreamy at times, but both had a good deal of experience and helped us learn the craft. Having class with both really balanced me out, I think. I also became a member of the English board and wrote a few things for The OWL, our college literary magazine.

Depending on the class, there was always something creative I had to work on and, as far as I can remember, I liked it. Sure it was tough at times to balance writing a 20 page script while also reading Invisible Man and studying for an astronomy test, but I did it. I definitely miss that structure and schedule nowadays. Since graduating college, I still write, but there’s no immediacy to it. I’ll start writing something, get distracted by another idea and then move on to that one. I have a million unfinished and half-started files on my computer and even more notes written on scraps of paper and, of course, in notebooks around the house. I really do miss having the creative structure that my classes gave me. Being pushed and forced to write might not sound good to a lot of people, but that pressure kept me on top of things.

I’m going to stop here and focus the next post on my attempts to stay focused when it comes to various stories or scripts I work on and how the birth of my daughter acted as it’s own deadline.

Trade Post: Weathercraft

WEATHERCRAFT (Fantagraphics)
Written & drawn by Jim Woodring

Thanks to a pretty fantastic sale on Thwipster last weekend and some surprisingly fast shipping, I found myself reading–or more likely experiencing–my very first Jim Woodring comic yesterday. I’ve heard a lot of Woodring from friends like Sean T. Collins (check out his review of the book, which I haven’t read or any other review yet because I don’t want it to color my experience just yet).

I’m not exactly sure how to explain Weathercraft. It’s technically a Frank comic, as it says on the comic, though the real star and main character of the book is Manhog, a bumbling force of nature who finds himself in all kinds of terrible, dangerous and sometimes heroic situations. While the artwork and the character of Manhog might seem kind of cartoony, Woodring takes the somewhat familiar scenes from Loony Tunes shorts and takes them a few steps further with some squirm-inducing scenes, that had me shifting in my seat.

The art is really the key to my enjoyment of this book–and I did quite enjoy it–and Woodring does not disappoint. I had seen samples of his artwork online and was impressed, but Weatercraft impressed from the very beginning. I’m talking about the image on the cover underneath the dust jacket and then on the inside front and back covers. Holy crap, this dude can draw. You can tell he takes a lot of time and care to put his panels together. The figures might remind you of familiar characters from childhood, but there’s a few dangerous elements of reality in there that you feel more than see. And hot damn can he draw monsters, which this book is chockablock full of. While not visually similar really, he reminds me of Kevin Huizenga (who I love, mostly) with the intense details and uninhibited, freeflowing transference of ideas from the brain to paper.

I don’t usually get this deep when reviewing books, but I kind of see Manhog as a metaphor for America, or at least Americans against the backdrop of international politics and travel. Manhog bumbles through his reality, seemingly through strange places he’s unfamiliar with, sometimes screwing things up for someone, sometimes helping someone, but never asking questions and always imposing his will on the people, things and monsters around him. He doesn’t come through unscathed (his tail!) but seems pretty okay with himself by the end of the book, though someone else had to come through and save his bacon. I have absolutely no idea what Woodring’s politics are or if this was something intended, but that’s what I got to thinking about while reading through this silent comic.

As I mentioned, I’ve never read a Woordring or a Frank comic, so this was a whole new world to me, yet I had no problem understanding what was going on–as far as I think I could have understood such a surreal and fantastical story–meaning it’s pretty good for new readers. I still have no idea what the deal with Frank or his weird pets are or even if Manhog is an established character, but, really, that’s not the point. Weathercraft feels like a day-in-the-life story. It’s a weird and wild one, but you don’t have to know anything going on, you just experience it. It actually reminded me of how I felt about stories in college: the details can be interesting, even if there’s not a typical arc or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, Weathercraft has an arc and a story and all that, but it’s probably not exactly what you’d think if you’re more used to traditional comics. Still, it’s a great piece of fiction to pick up and really experience, especially if you can get a good deal on it!