Review: Tomorrowland

There’re spoilers in this post, because it’s as much an impression as it is a review.

This’s a movie for kids, which means a few familiar children’s movie tropes are there that bug me: the super-strong robot that looks like a child, the boy-genius, the 20-something actress who is supposed to pass as a teenager.

They didn’t have teenagers like this when I was growing up.

I don’t even necessarily mean her physical appearance; growing up, my school was full of dullards, and as a living definition of “late bloomer” myself, I only ever met one or two prodigal-type kids.

They were mostly pompous dickheads.

Whenever I see movies, particularly those by mega-companies like Disney, I find myself always looking for the agenda. It’s not to say having one is bad, but I’m always curious what it might be. Usually the basic agenda is to entertain you; to tell you a fun and exciting story long enough to keep you from walking out of the theater. Possibly so you can tell your friends it was worth paying the money go and see. But sometimes there’re are deeper things, particularly in children’s movies, which is one reason I’m rather fond of the messages that are found in all of Pixar’s animations.

Monsters, Inc. was about the importance of alternative energy sources.

WALL-E talks about our increasingly corporate-master-dependent society as well as neglect for the environment. However you might recall a group of “malfunctioning” robots who, I have no doubt, represent the artists and creatives of a society.

Bug’s Life retells the Seven Samurai like a boss.

If you haven’t, you must see this movie.

But Tomorrowland isn’t a Pixar production, it’s just plain-old Disney, a movie-rendition of one if it’s theme park rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.

Gods, they are really scrounging for ideas. The cynic would argue that there’s the agenda right there: endorsement of theme park rides, packaged into an entertaining adventure complete with tropes and warm fuzzy familiar family fun.

And yet I’m not saying I disliked the movie.

There was an interesting premise that I found to be an interesting choice of ideas to explore: the whole “the world is what you make it,” thing, which smacks a little bit of the The Secret. Optimism really does make a difference in your life, even if that difference is as subtle as noticing the good things instead of focusing on the bad, but this goes a step further.

Latching onto a cool-sounding science term (tachyons, hypothetical particles that travel faster than light) and playing with a question of “What if?” This is actually the foundation of true science fiction – taking a scientific concept and running with it to explore what might happen within the context of a fictional story. In Tomorrowland, a device is invented that can see the future and the future is bleak. We see imagery of the end of the world, gleaned from the future, by monitoring tachyon particles and apparently glimpsing what will happen, is revealed to the audience.

As one might come to expect, at the end of the film the inevitable apocalypse is averted by shutting down the Doomsday (predicting) Device, which has been apparently broadcasting this negative imagery of a dystopian future into the brains of the modern populace. As a result, since everyone feels like the world is ending, on account of having the future-imagery beamed into everyone’s heads, a loop is formed and the world is destined to end (via environmental collapse, unstable governments, nuclear war, etc., all at once).

In other words, the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Destroying the device ends the broadcast, and the movie concludes with an air of extreme optimism. The the world is going to end if you believe it will, but not if you give up. The people who do not give up on their dreams – the artists, the inventors, the curious — the dreamers — will eventually be discovered and shown to Tomorrowland, a pocket dimension existing for the sole purpose of allowing one’s ideas to flourish without the restrictions of politics, regulations, laws…

Sounds great.

So remember kids, if you never give up on your dreams, one day you’ll come across a magical pin that serves as a gateway that’ll whisk you off to a fantasy realm where, essentially, the only limit is your imagination.

Again, sounds great.

Where the hell is my pin?

Anyway, I linger on that concept of focusing on the negative, of humanity’s fascination with the end of the world. Turns out it’s psychological tendency that we have bred into us as mammals. There’s some talk of it in this article, how so-called advanced knowledge both absolves us of responsibility and gives us a sense of comfort in a chaotic, entropic universe (“If there’s an end, then that means there’s an order to things, a plan!”). They touch on this in the film, how the populace embraces this negativity, because it asks nothing of you, as an individual. “If everything’s going to end, then why bother trying?”

One needn’t look far to see all the failed doomsday predictions from religions the world over. Our brains are wired to think, to feel, like the world will end tomorrow. It is a survival mechanism that serves us well, at least those peoples who evolved in cyclical climates like the northern hemisphere.

I couldn’t say whether this idea applies to all cultures and peoples closer to the equator, but the populations of tropical countries – such as Viet Nam, where I have increasingly direct experience with the minds and tendencies of the people – tend to live in a manner that baffles me.

They seem to operate in a manner of near-total disregard for distant future plans; those who actually plan ahead, or think beyond tomorrow, are the ones who get ahead.

So I see this movie as playing on the fears of viewers in the 1st World today, because let me tell you, the other 85% percent of the world’s population is seriously unconcerned with climate change or plastic bottles and bags littering their forests and beaches.

So was this movie made to inspire kids? Or was it made to assure a panicking populace, through the power of fiction, to not worry about real shit?

Perhaps there is some clandestine group of people out there working to make big change. So does that give us, as viewers, the right to dismiss the film as a “movie for children”? To become or remain cynical about real-world problems happening around us?

Or do we change our minds, even just the slightest bit, to think that the world isn’t on the edge of collapse?

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Writing Progress: Minotaurs and Rings

Anyone whose advice is remotely worth following will tell you that you can only benefit from meeting other people with similar interests and goals. Writing not least of which.

Get a group if you don’t have one already, and I don’t necessarily mean over-sized groups like the NaNoWriMo Facebook Group (though that certainly has its uses and I recommend joining anyway, with it’s near-22,000 members), I highly recommend more closely-knit group(s) of friends, a closed group that doesn’t accept just anyone.

For one of my online writing circles, known as the Sky Writers — small group comprised of a handful of members from around the world with varying degrees of publication success — we regularly hold Skype meetings to critique each other’s work. Turns out I’m one of the “tough love” types, a trait I carry from my desire for tough love to be shown to me, that has been developed over the course of my career as a freelance editor.

I’ll, from time to time, refer to this group as my Order, or if I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I’ll call it my Guild.

Anyway.

Someone came up with the idea of putting together a compilation piece. Each of us is to write a short story — nothing exceeding around 5,000 words or so, by the end of May 2015. A common theme was agreed upon early on: each story must have something to do with a ring.

What kind of ring? Naturally a band of precious metal to be adorn a finger might come to mind, but in truth there are many things from which to choose. Asking others both within and without the guild, I heard suggestions for cloud rings, criminal rings, planetary rings as might be viewed around Saturn. Then there are rings of light, as might be found in a certain cunningly entitled horror film I touched on in the past, but you’ll have no doubt heard of on your own.

 

As for me, went for at least three weeks of procrastinating and pining before settling upon an idea I liked enough to explore: a fighting ring, an arena.

A coliseum.

Slight Tangent: I’ve often held something of an affinity for cows and all things bovine. Having encountered minotaurs in countless fantasies — from Narnia to Azeroth to, of course, ye olde schoole Greek Mythology — I thought it was time to take up my proverbial pen (keyboard?) and make my own attempt at it.

After having devoted so many years to WoW, I, like any psuedo-ex-gamer, would be ashamed to admit any unfamiliarity with their take on the minotaur, the Tauren. As such it’s something of a challenge to clear one’s imaginative palette and endeavor to write up something new, especially when it comes to something taken from classic mythology.

In any case, my goal wasn’t to reinvent the minotaur, although I do favor a more classical take on the classical monster – that is, the hoof-less variety depicted in ancient Greek art.

Note how it’s essentially a man with a bull’s head. Such a thing I find more creepy, more frightening, than an otherwise “upright walking bull” we see as depicted by Blizzard or Wizards of the Coast. Whether they are Proud Warrior Race Guys or just your run-of-the-mill boss monster is actually irevelant to the story I have cooking up, the sharing of which is the purpose of this post.

Unlike my novel project, which I’ll mention from time to time in cryptic tones and coded messages for no reason other than an obsession with secrecy for projects that aren’t finished, I have significantly less inhibition when it comes to talking about and sharing my short stories. That was a long-ass sentence. Anywa, perhaps less is at stake – so here’re some details.

The setting takes place in a post-war area of an expanding human empire. Not long ago, a nation of minotaurs suffered overwhelming defeat, and refugees fled into northern mountains while those left behind were put into slavery. Minotaurs are given a rudimentary choice in life: live under the lash as a laborer, or under the lash as a gladiator. They call themselves taurfolk, though I’ll refer to them as minotaurs (or even just ‘minos’) in the prose.

Very few of them persist while under the reign of the human empire, as the gladiators are used until they’re killed off (except for the valuable ones), or the laborers are quite simply worked to death. It’s a systematic extinction as breeding is discouraged — in fact most minotaurs are rendered into oxen, many of whom live life with the knowledge that they are essentially the final generation of minos.

Alistar, from League of Legends. Copyright Riot Games. You can’t see it here, but he’s actually depicted with FEET, not hooves.

The story follows the perspective of one such minotaur, currently named “Gunn,” (I like monosyllabic names) a rather accomplished gladiator in the employ of a human owner named Master Soares. The “Ring Theme” is to be doubled — not only are gladiators put into a ring-shaped coliseum to square off against each other, but as a symbol of their slavery, every minotaur is fitted with a heavy nose-ring of bronze.

As of this writing, I haven’t arrived at a satisfying conclusion for the story, and the manuscript so far (about 3,800 words) awaits some critique, editing and trimming. Currently, I’m toying with elements of betrayal, escape, political intrigue, and no small amount of foreshadowing for a possible continuation, whether in the form of short stories or perhaps a full-length novel.

This is one of the first depictions of a minotaur I’ve ever seen. It’s from the Children’s Brittanica, World of Science and Mystery: Monsters. Notice the hooflessness of the guy.

I tend to have a habit of creating a fantasy story and in some way or another, making a connection to the Main Novel Project, usually in the form of referencing a country or event that happens in that story’s timeline. The Novel takes place in a universe of three relatively fleshed-out worlds, and simply transplanting this minotaur story into some remote corner of any of several maps I’ve already drawn up would not be difficult.

The question is, should this be a sort of supplemental reading for worlds already crafted, or should this be a stand-alone story?

We shall see.

~~~

Here’s a bit of music I’ve been listening to a lot lately. It’s a chiptune-styled piece that lasts for over 30 minutes. Made by none other than my all-time favorite VideoGame Music composer, Hiroki Kikuta. You’d know his name from an old school SNES classic JRPG known as the Secret of Mana.

 

Fixing My Sandals

A 12-Minute Read.

~~~

So I went to Cambodia again.

I saw Angkor Wat again.

And again I ate of the delightful mangoes that country has to offer.

20150503_160037

How many kinds of fruits you see here is directly proportional to the number of reasons why I enjoy living in this part of the world.

 

While passing through Phnom Penh – that mad city of tuk-tuk drivers, charlatan monks and sparrow-catchers – I decided I would get myself a pair of sandals of higher quality than your standard flip-flop variety. More often than not, I frequent markets in an attempt to simply look and browse, and am pretty much the opposite of an impulse buyer.

As I always like to explain to my Vietnamese students, “I am the kind of person who likes to keep the money.” This translates into haggling more than the av-er-age bear, much to the chagrin of merchants and sellers who would otherwise see me as an easy target to price-hike.

Obscure reference is obscure.

In any case, I found a decent pair and talked the stubborn seller down to $12. The label said “Made in Viet Nam,” much to pride of my travel companion – a Vietnamese – and the seller of course assured me of its quality. Off I went, wearing awesome high-quality footwear.

The next day, as I emerged from an overnight bus-ride to Siem Reap, one of the straps broke. With an exasperated sigh, and a sense of stubborn pride, I came to the resolution that I would have the things repaired, rather than simply replaced.

I sought someone to do said work, and while I am no stranger to stitching, often enough I see cobblers on street corners or people in the markets in the process of mending someone’s sole.  Using body language as well as English, I asked on the outer periphery of the Siem Reap Central Market.

“Inside,” one of the sellers told me. I went in, asking another shoe-seller. They shook their head.

“Outside,” someone else told me. I emerged out the other end, asking various people, and following the pointing fingers of a number of sellers – as well as a friendly tuk-tuk driver or two – I made my way to a street just off to the side of the Central Market.

“Down street,” another person said with a gesture. “Unda da trees.”

We continued, until at last finding some lads sitting on tiny, plastic chairs. Their workstation included a coffee can full of various small tools and a key-copying machine.

I demonstrated through hand gestures that the sandal strap was in need of repair, and it took them all but half a second to understand my need. My companion soon discovered that the two boys could apparently speak Vietnamese fluently and, as they began to work, we sat with them. Chatting ensured, though I was, as is the norm, part of possibly 6% of the total conversation.

Turns out the boys’ mother is Vietnamese and their father is Cambodian, and apart from their parents’ mother tongues, they boasted of speaking fluent Burmese as well. Being trilingual is a valuable skill in any crossroads cities, as one might imagine, though their English was extremely limited.

I watched them work, and had bits and pieces of the conversation sporadically translated to me. They were aged fifteen and sixteen, two brothers, though by all appearances (whether a result of genetics, malnutrition, or simply my own lack of ability to guess, I could not say), I would’ve estimated them to be around ten or eleven.

But it was only in outward appearance that these two resembled adolescents. I watched the way they spoke not only to my companion, but to other people – adults or otherwise – who rolled up on bicycles, motorbikes, or sedans to do some form of business or other. Turns out the two kids were quite well-known, able to perform repairs not only for shoes, but the mechanics of motorbikes as well. I saw a multitude of people seeking them out for various purposes.

Through translation and simple observation, I learned that the two young men knew how to do many things, and many other people knew this as well. These were the guys to whom most people seemed to go when they needed something done, and much like how I arrived at their “shop without a sign” they were probably known simply by word-of-mouth.

SAM_2419

The older of the two brothers, sitting and chatting it up as I sat quietly in the shade wearing my tourist-pants.

 

I found the experience rather eye-opening, as well as simply interesting. I saw them hand a pair of shoes that looked noticeably more expensive than my multi-strapped sandals to a car-driving businessman; I watched the older brother pay off a patrolling street guard (common practice for anyone operating a small entrepreneurial — illegal — business like this), and through my companion I asked a few questions.

“Do you go to school?”

“No,” was the translated answer. They said they quit school to work. And I soon found out why: according to them, they made as much as $50 a day doing their various work. Even if these are the hyperbolic words of an emerging teenager, and in fact they made an average of about 20% of that, this is still nothing to sniff at for Cambodia. Indeed, I found myself struggling to reason why anyone in their position would continue going to school when they had a business to run that — proportionately — brought in more cash than jobs I’d done back in America earned.

Hell, if you know where to eat, $50 can feed you for a month in Siem Reap.

They seemed savvy and street-smart, not the type of children you see advertised on television commercials stating “If you send us just $1, you can feed this child for a day.” They played mobile games on a new-looking 5-ish-inch Samsung Galaxy (the exact model of course I could not know), though they wore shoes and clothes tattered and dusty.

“Do you have plans for the future?” I asked them.

“No,” was the simple reply, though the younger of the two brothers said that maybe one day he would try to go to America, where he would do the same work of cobbling shoes. They were quick to jump on the prospect of work, and even quicker to laugh and smile. If there’s one thing that continues to intrigue me about Cambodia, it is the attitude of the people living there. People will over-charge you without a second thought – it is expected and customary, especially in the tourist areas – but there are just as many who’ll gladly give directions or recommendations for “the best” place to go, like where to buy mangoes or get a decent exchange rate for converting money.

“Are Vietnamese shoes good quality?”

“No,” was the laughing reply with a vigorous head-shake.

In any case, meeting the two Cobbler Boys whose names I couldn’t possibly write here with any accuracy, I reached a minor realization while watching these “adults in the bodies of young people.”

Whenever reading a YA novel or watching a movie based off one, or even simply a film written for the Young Adult audience, I always had difficulty swallowing the premise of characters who spoke and acted like adults. I always felt like novelists wrote such characters more because they were, themselves, adults, and the best they could do was write child-characters as “small adults.”

Perhaps I found my suspension of disbelief strained on account of bad acting, or perhaps indeed due to inept writing, but I will also unabashedly admit that my experience with children (or teenagers who, gods be good, are half my age) is probably limited. Perhaps I simply haven’t met a lot of street-smart young adults to which to compare to characters of which I read in books.

The two Cobbler Brothers had a sense of independence and responsibility about them that I am quite unaccustomed to feeling from people so young. Living in a country as famous for it’s abject poverty as it’s nasty, bloody, recent history, it would appear that these guys are doing pretty well for themselves given the obstacles that a foreigner such as myself might otherwise find discouraging and overwhelming.

In fiction, a few immediate examples come to mind. One being Locke from one of my all-time favorite fantasy books The Lies of Locke Lamora. Another being Liesel, from the The Book Thief. Last, for the purposes of this list, is one of my least favorite characters (at least initially) from A Game of Thrones, Arya Stark. She got awesome later, don’t worry, I ain’t hatin’.

Each of these characters were thrust into situations where they were forced to leave behind their childhood faster than most people reading the books would ever encounter. People who got street smart – fast, and for different reasons – or they would have died early (like many of their peers who simply didn’t grow up fast enough). At various points in their respective stories, I sometimes found myself thinking “Would a child really be talking like that?” They each have their supports, of course.

Locke has an origin making him a bit more than an average human (as revealed in the third book).

Liesel had one of the most wonderful and encouraging adopted fathers in a story I’ve ever ‘met.’

And Arya had the outrage of a murdered family to fuel her will – which in and of itself isn’t unique as stories go, but she seems to stand apart from all the other vengeful young people we see in fiction all the time.

My encounter in Cambodia gave me first-hand experience with street-smart young adults that made me rethink my earlier ideas, and my future perceptions, of such characters. Perhaps such people may even appear in my own fiction-to-come as a result.

The Three Borders

Similarly in line with my earlier essay about my preference for the number three, I have another philosophical concept I posit before you.

I call it The Three Borders, and in fact these borders are difficult to perceive.

These are not lines between states – well, not political states anyway, but rather states of mind. The world and our perception of it is nothing if not subjective, and I have no doubt that someone else has thought of and written about my idea before more. Often enough, I see reference to at least one of the Borders, but never all three at once.

So let’s dive in.

  • Madness and Brilliance

Simply put, we always ascribe the term ‘mad genius’ to a person or character with an obviously uncommonly high intellect, but equipped with some eccentricities as well. Such individuals can just as easily be of such an elevated level of creativity that they see themselves above the normal conventions of law, morality, and social conduct – making clearly unusual people to observe or to interact with – as they can be completely unaware of such things anyway, so focused are they on whatever endeavor into which they poor themselves.

madness brilliance jacksparrow

The concept that creativity and mental illness are connected is not a new one. Modern science has continually shown that painters, writers, inventors, performers – creatives all – tend to be more prone to developing various psychoses; but there are plenty of people who exhibit a “normal” level of creativity and appear “normal” to their peers.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s the normal ones who scare me.

In any case, I’ve still yet to read any findings in regards to whether one causes the other, or which comes first. But, one could suggest that the divergent thinking of eccentric minds would lead to creative (or at least alternative) solutions to any given problem. A spark of madness, though, might be what it takes to ignite a flame of creativity.

As for me, I’ve yet been unable to really determine the exact border between the two. Perhaps the difference is that, while both do not adhere to convention, the reason behind such lack of adherence is the determining factor. Is convention, normalcy, purposefully shunned or simply unimportant enough to be noticed?

 

  • Cowardice and Intelligence

We see this in fantasy fiction a lot. Any setting where a battle is on the horizon, or a duel about to erupt. Even (especially?) in political intrigue – fantasy or otherwise – we see a veritable rat’s nest of people exhibiting of high amounts of intelligence, cowardice, or both.

It’s almost always in reference to the idea of retreat. Retreating from the face of the enemy on the proverbial battlefield is often enough considered an act of cowardice by the pursuer, or an act of tactical intelligence on part of the one running away.

Run and live to fight another day. This phrase, and similar variants, is oft repeated by the hero – or more often, the hero’s loyal friend, close at hand and restraining said hero – when it would a good time to leave.

13th warrior

Kind of like how in any fight you’ve seen on T.V. where your protagonist, whether evenly matched or in fact smaller than his larger, much more powerfully-built opponent, strikes the adversary in a tender area. When the bad guy delivers a knee to the groin or a hit to the pre-existing gunshot wound, the audience jeers. When the hero produces a knife and slashes the enemy’s leg in a moment of bring held prone, or the time-tested favorite of, yes, punching the big guy in the dick, the audience cheers.

Are so-called ‘cheap shots’ acts of intelligence or cowardice?

I suppose it depends on who you’re routing for. Especially if it’s the good guy, or yourself.

Honor has a problem discerning the two. Or, conversely, discerns the two too hastily. To flee and show your back to the enemy – most dishonorable and cowardly. Unless, of course, your plan is to lead them astray and ambush them later. Then it’s smart. Though, even an honorable opponent would label such ‘dirty tricks’ as cowardly.

I’ll never forget a moment while playing Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos many years ago with a friend (as an ally, with us playing against computer opponents), and while we were engaging the enemy, I ordered my army in for the attack. When the battle went from unfavorable to grim, my friend pulled his forces out while mine continued fighting. I remember calling him a coward, and his reply was “No, smart.”

To this day I’m certain that had he remained, I wouldn’t have lost my army and we would’ve taken them down.

I’m pretty sure we lost that match because with my forces depleted, the enemy was able to move in and surround his base with an army twice as big. It would have been equal had we stood together.

Was my friend’s flight a tactical retreat? Undoubtedly. But in that circumstance, like many we see in fiction, the real act of cowardice isn’t necessarily about the flight itself, but the intention – and repercussions. It’s leaving others behind for the sake of self-preservation.

This border also takes some thought to really distinguish. What I’ve come to understand, as a general idea in helping tell the difference, is essentially this: if the act is born of selfishness and without regard for (or worse, at the direct expense of) others, then it is cowardly. If the act is born of a cool head and a desire to minimize loss, then it is intelligence.

cowardpedal

 

  • Stupidity and Bravery

The third and last of the Three Borders is that to be found between these two. It most often comes up when trying to describe a hero, or supposedly heroic act. How do you tell whether a person charging head-long into a dangerous situation is either fearless or an idiot?

One of my earliest memories came about when I was no older than five or six. On a dual-family day-trip to a swampy-lake place we called Wilson State Park, where my father would bring his canoes and kayaks, I was off with a friend some distance away from the group. I remember not how I found it, but I can distinctly remember holding a small snake; having been catching ringnecks, garders and red-bellies since a very young age, this came natural.

But thinking back, it might have been a copperhead, which is notoriously lethal. In any case, I wasn’t bitten, but I remember seeing it threaten to bite me as I held it.

My friend, a girl a few years older than me, remarked that I was very brave. We likely had no idea of the snake’s toxicity if any, but like many people she probably regarded the snake with revulsion. As such, my handling the writhing thing may come off as brave to anyone, except that to me I was just playing with a cool-looking animal I had found.

I have no doubt that I was stupid, not brave. I don’t have a fear of snakes these day, but I do have what I call a very healthy fear of poisonous things.

The difference between being brave and being stupid is that when one is foolish, they simply aren’t aware of the danger.

BeBrave

A brave person is at least partially aware of the danger, but carries on anyway, and often enough with some regard (if not a complete dedication) toward others.

Which individual comes off as possessing more bravery to you?

The one who says: There’s nothing to worry about;

Or the one who says that they themselves are in fact scared, but do whatever they do  in spite of the danger?

Firefighters make a great example. Most people would not dare run into a burning building. It’s kind of a stupid thing to do. But, of course, firefighters are trained professionals; they are aware of the risks and are prepared in more ways than the average self-described street hero. No one would describe the firefighter profession as stupid.

But it arguably takes a certain degree of ‘lack of thinking’ in order to perform acts of bravery, wouldn’t you say? After all, thinking too much is paralyzing, and that’s certainly something you don’t want. Particularly in a situation where not only yourself, but others, are at risk.

Much like the other Borders, it’s not necessarily the act itself, but the reasoning behind said act that would label it as either that of foolishness or valiance.

~~~

What do you think?