#REVIEW: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

32075671One of our local radio stations does a bit called Group Therapy in the morning, which is usually airing just as I’m driving the boy to school.  The general pattern is this: they pose a problem, submitted by a listener, that should generally be easily dealt with by anyone with an average middle schooler’s level of sophistication and emotional intelligence.  They do not provide enough information about the problem to allow listeners to give useful advice, and people who like hearing their voices or names on the radio submit useless advice on Facebook or on the air so that the person involved can do whatever they were going to do anyway.

I’m going to start listening to Pandora more in the morning, is what I’m saying.

This morning’s problem was as follows: a parent’s 11-year-old has stolen their credit card, for the second time.  It wasn’t made perfectly clear, but it seems that as of the time of the advice-asking, the boy still had the card.  He had used it to buy $50 worth of drinks and snacks from a local convenience store and not to, say, order hundreds of dollars worth of electronics from somewhere, which is what you’d think most kids would do with a credit card they’d stolen.  Anyway, this parent had reported the card stolen, and apparently under the (incorrect) idea that the police would show up if the kid attempted to use the card again– which, yeah, right— was wondering if he/she should just talk to his/her kid or let the police “scare him straight.”

And all I could think of, listening to this, was that the person asking for advice and every single one of the dumb motherfuckers providing (generally approving) advice for the latter piece of advice had to be white.  Because every black parent in America knows that you do not let the police anywhere near your child unless someone is guaranteed to die if you don’t.  There are no optional encounters with the police.  Fuck, I’m white and I live in a nice neighborhood and I’m never calling the police again unless somebody is under serious immediate physical threat.  And you’re gonna call the police on your baby because of a $50 credit card bill?  Your privilege is not only showing, it’s leaking out of the dashboard of my car, and I ought to be able to charge somebody to clean that shit up.

(Leave aside the ridiculous notions that 1) the police care about a $50 fraudulent credit card charge because they have nothing else to do and 2) they have time to help you with relatively routine parenting decisions.)

Which brings me to Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, or THUG for short.  The title of the book is a Tupac reference; Pac was fond of the backronym, explaining, for example, that “nigga” stood for “Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished.”  “Thug Life,” to Tupac, meant “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and the meaning of that phrase is discussed throughout the book.

The story is told through the eyes of Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old black girl.  Starr is the sole witness when a policeman murders one of her oldest friends during a traffic stop.  Her friend, Khalil, was unarmed and unresisting when he was shot.  The rest of the book spins out from that one moment; the different sections are even dated by it: “Three Weeks After It Happens,” and such.

You can probably predict the overall story beats from the premise, right?  America knows this story pretty Goddamn well by now, and the tension here is less from what happens (anybody want to put money down on whether the cop is exonerated by the grand jury or not?) than how the people in the book react to it.  Starr herself is a fascinating character; she lives in a rough neighborhood but her parents scrape and save to send her to a private school 45 minutes away, so many of her best friends aren’t black and she thinks of herself as being two different people, one at school and one at home.    Her uncle is a police officer, her father a former gang member.  Khalil himself has a complicated backstory, and the book dives into the inevitable attempt by the media and the police to slander him and make him responsible for his own murder.  For a large portion of the story Starr’s school friends and her (white) boyfriend aren’t aware that she’s the anonymous witness the news keeps referring to, and the way she reacts to their treatment of Khalil’s death is complex and fascinating.  Her navigation through the web of relationships and identities she’s struggling with throughout the book is a pleasure to read.

I recommend books here all the time; I rarely bother to review anything I didn’t love unless I think I can hate it in an entertaining way, but it’s not terribly often that I use the word important to describe a book that I’ve read.  You need to read THUG, and you need to get THUG into the hands of as many other people as you can, particularly young people.  Angie Thomas’ writing is crisp and clear, Starr herself is a wonderful character, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more work by this author.  Go read this book.  Do it right now.

In which I waste a whole bunch of my time: a #review of IRON FIST

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I have said this before, both on this blog and elsewhere: if you are ever compelled, as a writer in any medium, to create a scenario where your characters are complaining about how dumb your plot is, it is probably time to stop and think very carefully about what you are doing.  If you are writing a show called Iron Fist, about a man whose job it is to be the Iron Fist, and the very first line a character says upon meeting him is “You are the worst Iron Fist ever,” you may be doing something wrong.  It is possible to write a good story about a hero who is terrible at being a hero.  But if you do that, then that’s what your story needs to be about.  You can’t have a hero who is terrible at being a hero and have your story be about something else.  The fact that he or she is terrible is going to take center stage and ruin everything else.

Enter Iron Fist, whose writers clearly do not read my blog.  This post is unnecessary in a whole lot of ways; it took me a while to get through all thirteen episodes– mostly because, again, the show’s awful– and everyone who binged it right away has already weighed in on how bad it is.  They’re all right.  But maybe there’s someone out there who isn’t attuned to the geek press all that much, but reads me for some reason.  Someone who might be saved.

Please don’t watch this show.

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And this doofy shit is the main reason why.  Now, let’s be clear about a few things:  there was a lot of fooferal when the show hadn’t quite come out yet about the fact that Marvel cast a white guy as Iron Fist instead of racebending the character and casting an Asian person instead.  I am sympathetic to those concerns, to say the least.  But even if you’re going to cast a white guy as Iron Fist, because the comic book character is white, Finn Jones is just about the worst possible choice to play the role.  He is awful; awful in every way, he is written to be awful, and the man himself does nothing to corral or channel(*) his character’s intrinsic awfulness.  There is nothing Finn Jones does in this show at any point that is convincing.  He cannot do kung fu, he cannot emote beyond an infantile shaking rage, he absolutely cannot spout anything even vaguely resembling Buddhist philosophy (and I choose the word “resembling” quite deliberately) without sounding like a hipster doofus, and he never once comes off as heroic.  Iron Fist is a sulky hipster doofus with PTSD and all the emotional stability of a ten-year-old.  He is awful.

So is every other white man on the show, by the way.  The show can’t have anyone keep a personality or a set of motivations straight for more than an episode at a time, and there are never ever ever any consequences for anyone’s actions, to the point where there are giant holes blown in one character’s dojo’s ceiling at one point so that machine-gun ninjas can drop through (don’t ask) and those giant holes and broken windows and such are never mentioned again.  Characters display magical powers in one episode and then forget they have them.  Characters are killed, thrown into fish tanks in someone’s home, then never mentioned again.

You could cut every white male character completely out of the show and nothing of any significance would change, at all.  They are, all of them, awful.

Let’s talk about these three:
tmg-article_default_mobileMadame_Gao.jpgI’m having a hell of a time getting the HTML to cooperate, so forgive me, but these three are the only thing that makes the show even vaguely watchable.  Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, should have been playing Dani Rand.  Or, alternatively, you could grab this drunken-master badass here– his name is Lewis Tan and he actually auditioned for the park– and have him play Danny Rand.  Between the two of them they are responsible for 100% of the interesting fight scenes in the show.  Every single one.  They are also both maxresdefault.jpgbetter actors than Finn Jones. Wai Ching Ho also returns as Madame Gao, and she’s amazing for every second she’s on screen even if her character’s motivations (and abilities) are more than a little bit of a mess.  The fact that the show had these three people in it and more or less ignored them so that Jones could whine about how tough it is to be white and immensely wealthy and oh also one of the best martial artists in the world but MY PARENTS ARE DEAAADD!!!!
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It’s terrible.  But I think I said that.  I think the only thing that could redeem it is if I watched it again, liveblogged every episode, and then turned it into a chapbook to sell on Amazon and made a million dollars.

(*) So, Iron Fist’s powers come from channeling the power of his “chi” into his fist, making it Like Unto a Thing of Iron, as the comic books used to say all the time and the TV show never does.  TV Danny can’t do that.  I have quite a few Iron Fist comic books, and even more where Iron Fist isn’t the main character but shows up, and I swear to you that Finn Jones does more wanking about his chi in this thirteen hours of show than Iron Fist has done in his entire forty-year history as a comic book character previous to the show coming up.  Comic book Danny Rand’s powers just work, basically whenever he wants them to.  TV Danny Rand’s chi must be balanced, charged, recharged, harnessed, centered, purified, unblocked, hell, every verb in the English language gets applied to Danny’s chi at some point or another; I’m surprised he never has to Smurf the fucking thing.  And hearing him talk about it never stops being ridiculous.  Mostly his powers just don’t work, and mostly his powers don’t work because, in one way or another, he’s an embarrassment to his order and to his job.  He’s the worst Iron Fist ever.  Really.

I hated this damn show.

On movies I want: I saw THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

24f6204e7a529a196605512d65a151e9.jpgLast night I reviewed a movie that I consider sort of unreviewable because the act of discussing it will make it impossible to properly enjoy it.  Tonight my wife and son and I went to a movie that doesn’t need a review: the Lego Batman movie.  You already know what you’ll think of the Lego Batman movie.  You already know whether you’re going to see it.  Chances are you know what thought of the Lego Batman movie, and could write this review for me.  And chances are you’re right about all those things.

After leaving the movie, I was thinking about what I’m always thinking about when I leave a Batman movie, which is that I will never get the Batman movie that I want.  Batman has been the star of a comic book called Detective Comics since nineteen thirty goddamn nine.  That was a really long time ago.  There have been approximately three hundred Hollywood films with the word “Batman” or some variant thereof in the title since then, and some of them actually had Batman in them.

Can we get a damn mystery Batman movie, please?  One where he has to actually solve a crime and act like a detective?  I mean, hell, they’re basically making one of these things every two or three years and seem likely to be planning to continue that until I die.  Can I get one of those to be a detective movie?  Bonus points (this will never ever happen) if it’s a noirish piece and actually set in the 1930s or 1940s.  You can still end the movie with a slam-bang action sequence, just make all the stuff before that be quieter and give me a Batman who uses his brains and not his gadgets and ninja skills.  Yes, Batman Begins, the movie about black-wearing-ninja-sword-fighting-not-Batman-angry-guy, I’m looking at you.

Don’t take this as a criticism of Lego Batman, by the way.  There’s nothing wrong with it; as I said, it’s exactly the movie I thought it would be (perhaps a bit more clever) and is probably exactly the movie you think it’ll be.  But gimme just one dark, shadowy, film-noir Batman crime movie where he has to slink around and detect some shit and doesn’t do a lot of punching.  I promise it’ll still make money.  Please?

On mostly unreviewable movies: I saw SPLIT

split_ver2.jpgSo, I’d call myself an M. Night Shyamalan fan, right?  I’ve seen most of his movies, or at least his adult thrillers (I haven’t seen The Happening or The Visit, and from what I’ve seen that’s at least 50% good news) and I’ve liked damn near all of what I’ve seen.  I will defend Signs to the death, for example, and I remember really liking Lady in the Water although if I’m being honest I can’t tell you a damn thing about it now.

(There’s gonna be some minor spoilers about a paragraph down.  Don’t panic, no big deal.  But just FYI.)

Here’s the thing about Split.  You should see this movie if you’ve ever liked anything by Shyamalan.  All of the things that he’s good at are on full display in this film, along with an incredible performance– set of performances, maybe?– by James McAvoy.

There is– brace yourself for this– not a twist ending on this one.  Sort of.  I guess.  But what’s getting frustrating about Shyamalan is that he’s done the twist ending so many times at this point that his movies have this weird metatextual thing going on that rather than watching the movie you’re trying to figure out the twist.  There is a thing at the end of this movie, and the more of a Shyamalan fan you are, the more likely you are to walk out of the theater with a huge smile on your face.  If you are not a Shyamalan fan than the ending of the film– which is more of a Marvel-style stinger than anything else– will likely leave you more than a little bit confused.  But there’s not a twist, so don’t go looking for it.  Bask in the good performances and the creepiness and enjoy the film.  Because the performances are great and the film’s excellently creepy and Shyamalan’s directing skills are used to their fullest effect.

All that said:

I feel like I ought to warn you that this film is going to be triggery as fuck for a lot of people, and there are about to be a couple more spoilers.  It’s about three high-school aged girls getting kidnapped by a maniac with MPD, right?  Which is a problem on a couple of levels: one, you spend the whole movie playing the “when are they gonna get raped?” game, which is always horrible.  The answer: there is one scene of implied molestation in this film and it will come at you sideways and not the way you expect it to be.   There is a lot of implied child abuse.  There is not actually any sexual violence between the kidnapper and his victims.  There are also a lot of angry disability advocates out there who are upset that once again dissociative identity disorder is being used as a crutch for a villain.  I’m… a little more sympathetic toward the folks who will be triggered by the film than the disability advocates, if only because McAvoy’s character’s therapist is also part of the film and she has some very interesting comic-booky theories about DID that… well, probably won’t make anything better for those bothered by the disorder being featured in the film but it certainly makes it more interesting for the rest of us.  That’s probably not entirely fair of me but it’s how I’ve reacted.

#Review: DREADNOUGHT, by April Daniels

51CxH4-aSoL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI don’t remember buying this book.  I don’t remember where I first encountered it, either, but it must have impressed me, as I must have pre-ordered it immediately.  I got a notification from Amazon that it had been shipped and actually had to look it up to figure out what it was.  And then I read the blurb and I was like, oh, right, this is definitely something I want to read.

I can’t call this the first great book I’ve read in 2017– it’s the third, actually– but one of those three was a kids’ book and the other was the third book in a trilogy.  So is it okay if I call this the first new hotness of the year?  It’s my blog, so yeah, it is.

This is one of those books where the premise will let you know right away whether you should buy the book or not: Daniel Tozer is a fifteen-year-old boy who happens to be the closest person when the world’s greatest superhero is killed, and he inherits the powers of that superhero, Dreadnought, when he dies.

And the first thing Dreadnought’s new powers do is remake Daniel’s body into the perfect body Daniel has always wanted.  Which means that Daniel becomes Danielle, and wakes up with unimaginable power and a woman’s body.

So that’s the first three pages, and there we go from there.  The broader beats of the story are sorta predictable, and you can probably imagine several of the complications that work their way into the story– friends, parents, a superteam that may not be what Danny thinks they are, and another high school friend who turns out to be a hero too.  The worldbuilding is solid (this is the first book of a series, so there’s room for not everything to be explained) and the action is solidly written– as fascinating as the premise is, you absolutely have to be able to nail action sequences to properly write a superhero novel, and Daniels excels at it.

So, whoever it was that turned me on to this book (Charlie Jane Anders blurbs it, so maybe it was her?), thank you.  I can’t wait for the next book in the series, and you should go read Dreadnought right the hell now.