Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Thoughts on “Bumblebee”

March 21, 2023

I had pretty much given up on the modern “Transformers” movies.  I think I watched the first three — at least the last of those because I got it in a cheap pack somewhere — but was never all that impressed by them, mostly because it couldn’t capture the aesthetics and themes of the original cartoon.  Sure, a non-animated feature film was going to try to be a bit more adult than a cartoon, but I didn’t find the shift one that made them more mature as opposed to make them, well, more explodey.  Since I actually liked Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, that was a pretty good indication that the “Transformers” ones were not up to snuff.  So I abandoned the entire series and didn’t look back.

Well, until this past weekend.  So why, if I had abandoned the series, was I willing to sit down and watch a prequel to them?  As it turns out, I ended up talking about this with a friend of mine — I think it was because of the trailer being released for the new film adding in the Beast Wars — and he said that “Bumblebee” was actually a good movie.  Now, his recommending it did not really mean that it was something that I was going to like.  Sure, this friend recommended “Doctor Who” to me, which I liked, and “Doom Patrol”, which I liked for most of the first season, but he also recommended “Farscape” to me, which I didn’t care much for, and “Star Trek:  Discovery” to me, which I hated.  So the best I can say here is that while we often do like the same things, it tends to be for different reasons, so if one of us likes it the other might well like it, but if there’s nothing in that thing for that person to like then we won’t like it.

What that means here is that his agreeing with me about the original movies (mostly) but commenting that “Bumblebee” was actually good piqued my interest, and so I made a mental note to look out for it if I could get it cheap or get access to it cheap.  And I managed to get it relatively cheap, and so decided to watch it.  And what I’ll say about it is that it is better than I thought it’d be, but still has a huge flaw that ends up hurting it.

This is, as noted above, a prequel to the original movies, tracing Bumblebee’s time on Earth and how he lost his speech synthesizer and how he preserved the Earth for the Autobots to land on.  It starts in the middle of a fight scene on Cybertron, with the Autobots being forced to flee the planet.  Bumblebee is sent to Earth to prepare it to be a base for the Autobots, but soon after landing he is attacked by a Decepticon that followed him there, I guess, who destroys his speech synthesizer — deliberately, since Bumblebee refuses to tell him where the rest of the Autobots are — and while the Deception is destroyed Bumblebee is gravely damaged and transforms into the classic VW Beetle, and loses consciousness and his memory.  Later, a young woman is living with her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend after the death of her father, which she is still broken up about.  She is trying to finish restoring a Corvette and goes to her uncle’s junkyard and finds Bumblebee.  After getting frustrated with not being able to fix the Corvette, she goes back to her uncle and appeals to get it, and he gives it to her as a birthday present.  She fixes it up and then Bumblebee transforms, and they start to develop a friendship.  Meanwhile, a pair of Decepticons are torturing Cliffjumper for information when Bumblebee’s beacon — reactivated when she was fixing him up — pings them revealing where he is, and so they destroy Cliffjumper and head to Earth.  There, they meet some military officers led by an agent who was attacking Bumblebee during the first attack and arrange to trade technology with them if they will help them find Bumblebee.  Meanwhile, Charlie — the young woman — teaches Bumblebee about music and gives him a new radio (which he soon learns to use to communicate like he did in the movies), and then a guy who has been crushing on her bursts in and sees Bumblebee, but she convinces him to to tell, and they eventually head off to a cliff where her fear of diving is revealed — she had thrown away her diving trophies before — and she is bullied a bit.  Then she leaves Bumblebee at home and tells him to stay in the garage but he gets into the house and trashes it in a slapstick sequence, but as he does so he plugs himself into a wall socket which causes an Energon surge that the Decepticons trace.  This causes a sequence where the military and Decepticons try to capture Bumblebee, and they manage to do so while Charlie is shocked into unconsciousness while the military guy spins a story that she stole government property, but she decides to break Bumblebee out with the help of her crush.  Meanwhile, the Decepticons learn that the Autobots are coming to Earth and prepare to destroy the Earth to prevent that and destroy them, and head off to send a message to Cybertron revealing that fact.  Charlie shocks Bumblebee back to life, and the two of them head off to stop the Decepticons, pursued by the military.  Her mother’s boyfriend and the family come to help them and distract and head off the military, and then Bumblebee tries to stop the Decepticons, while Charlie sees a way to stop the transmission and heads out to do that.  Bumblebee destroys one Decepticon and the other tries to stop Charlie, but the military guy attacks that Decepticon and Bumblebee engages her as well when the military helicopter is shot down — after saving the military guy’s life — and Charlie is able to disable the transmitter.  Bumblebee triggers a flood that would kill both him and the Decepticon, but Charlie dives into the water and swims down to him and this somehow revives him.  The military guy lets them go, Charlie is reconciled with her family and seems to be starting a relationship with her crush, and Bumblebee has to leave on his own, and picks up the Camaro as his alt-form, and drives off past a truck that resembled the alt-form of Optimus from the cartoon.

As you might have guess from reading the summary, this movie is a bit overstuffed, and I haven’t even fully described all the threads here (for example, Charlie gets the Corvette running at the end after giving up on it earlier).  Obviously with so many threads it was going to be difficult to develop them all properly, even in a movie that’s almost two hours.  And the movie doesn’t develop them all that well.  For example, Charlie’s fear of diving itself at the end comes mostly out of nowhere and the reason she didn’t want to dive earlier in the movie makes more sense as her being overwhelmed by the emotions — the last time she saw her father was when he cheered her on at a dive meet — but at the end she seems afraid to dive into the water for … some reason.  She had a crush on a boy earlier that only provided a small bit of angst for the guy who was crushing on her.  Even worse, there’s an interesting undercurrent where her reminiscing about her father triggers a memory in Bumblebee about Optimus trying to fight off a horde of Decepticons and being surrounded at the end, which provided a very interesting parallel between the two of them, but it’s never mentioned or brought up again.  There are lots of these elements in the movie, so much so that it seems like they wanted to keep every idea that they came up with in the movie no matter how they conflicted or whether they’d have time to play them all out.

Making all of this worse is the fact that they try to intersperse all of these threads together, which leads to some huge shifts in tone and hurts the development of the threads that they do try to develop.  Bumblebee’s getting used to Earth and restoring his memory shifts to the Decepticons killing Cliffjumper and coming to Earth, and even earlier we don’t even get him landing on Earth for more than a few minutes before he’s attacked again, after we just had a huge battle scene to start the movie.  And that fight was unnecessary because all it really does is show how he lost his memory and speech synthesizer, and that could have been caused by the pod crashing, which would have freed up some time to develop the other threads and created a more consistent tone.  I would have minimized the Deception threads until the end because we didn’t really need it and it really breaks the tone of the movie.  I would have also dropped the military guy’s plot because it is totally disconnected from Charlie’s plots until the end and didn’t add much.

Because where the movie is good, really good, is with the interaction between Charlie and Bumblebee, as he learns about Earth and her and they become friends.  These were some of the best scenes in the first movie as well, but they seemed to get more play and more focus than they do here.  All of this leads to an odd impression of the movie for me, because when Charlie and Bumblebee are interacting the movie is great, and some of the other scenes are good, but when it breaks the tone and fails to develop certain plots the movie isn’t very good.  Building off of that relationship and adding the other elements in later — and limiting them — would have made this a far better movie.

One final note is that the movie really does work to push the nostalgia button, constantly making references with music and TV shows to the 80s.  However, especially early on most of these references seem really forced, there just to make that reference and not as an organic part of the movie itself.  I can compare it to “Scream Queens” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” where the references seem natural and yet really do work as references.  This does get better later in the movie, especially when Bumblebee starts using the radio to communicate.

So it has its good points and bad points, and so for now I think it’s going into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point.  I like Charlie and Bumblebee, and some of the other elements work, but it’s just way too overstuffed for me to want to rewatch it on a regular basis.

Playing Dragon Age Origins on PC

March 7, 2023

I made it a goal to play Dragon Age Origins on PC, for one reason:  I got the version from GOG and it includes pretty much all of the DLC.  Now, I’ve played DAO a few times on console because it was more convenient for me to do that, and I came in a bit worried about the interface and the combat.  I had played a little bit earlier and didn’t find it to be that bad, but I was still a bit worried about it.  I played a couple of weeks in my normal time, but for the past couple of weeks I was on vacation and so managed to play it pretty much every day, so let me outline how that’s all worked out.

The first thing is that this time through I started to struggle with the interface.  I actually am not having much difficulty triggering abilities as the ability bar is pretty usable, but what I’m struggling with is the mouse pointer.  In order to change which enemy you’re targeting, you need to select it with the mouse and right-click on it, but in combat I am having a lot of trouble seeing the mouse pointer to do that, and the auto-selection doesn’t always work all that well.  Since you need to be fighting something for an ability to automatically target it, if that hasn’t kicked in or you haven’t properly selected an enemy yet you would need to click on them with the mouse … which means that I’d need to be able to see the mouse pointer.  So I often spend a lot of time with my main character not doing anything while I try to figure out how it’s all going to work, which is very frustrating.

I’m also finding the combat more difficult than the console versions were.  I’m playing as a two-handed warrior using greatswords, but previously I played as a two-handed dwarf warrior using axes and don’t recall things being as difficult as they are here.  I really had a difficult time in the ancient ruins with the Ashes of Andraste, although a big part of that was because at least in this version the game loves to spring enemies from behind on you, which means that they targeted Wynne who was my main healer, and once she went down things tended to go poorly, especially since I really hate flipping between characters and so like to play only on my main character.  I have the others set up to use healing poutices as part of their tactics, but sometimes they don’t use them quickly enough and I don’t use them quickly enough either.  Which meant that with the drakes I had to reload a few times to finally beat those fights, which also happened when the enemies were primarily mages.  I had to learn in this game to seek them out because otherwise they’d pretty much devastate the part.

Which reminds me of something that I thought of while reading “Dungeons & Desktops”, which talked about how many CRPG makers really disliked the ability to save anywhere.  Yes, you can use that to save scum and avoid all negative outcomes — and I can’t say that I didn’t do that on occasion — but one reason to have that is to avoid having a player having to make up too much time if they happened to get something wrong or make a mistake.  I was doing pretty well in the ancient ruins until the drakes appeared, and if I hadn’t been saving after every fight I would have had to fight them all over again when the drakes suddenly appeared and I had to learn a new strategy for them.  That would have made that surprise far, far more annoying and frustrating than it was.  If a game is suddenly going to spring sudden potentially fatal surprises like new enemies or an increase in difficulty they had better let you save before they do that in case the surprise causes you to die and have to replay a significant amount of the game just to get back to where you were.  This is the sort of thing that really frustrated Shamus Young about “Dark Souls”, and in fact a sudden increase in difficulty added to the fact that you could only save a long time before hitting that point is actually responsible for my not being able to finish the original “Persona” game.  So while the save systems do mean that people might be able to save scum, the alternative is far worse.

Anyway, back to the combat.  After leveling up and getting better equipment, I’m doing better, or at least can usually take on darkspawn without too much trouble if I pay attention.  But my party has my main character, another warrior (Alistair or Shale usually), Lelianna because I need a Rogue for locks, and Wynne for magic and healing, and in some really, really big fights Lelianna has saved my bacon.  In the fight against the elf Keeper, I had cleared out all the enemies but the spellcasting Keeper killed off everyone else, so after recasting Lelianna as an archer early on — which I never did on the console — I had her stand away and pick him off with arrows, using a health poultice as required.  I expected to have to reload and try again, but she managed to win.  The same thing happened against Flemeth, but I only won that one because Flemeth wouldn’t move from the one spot and as long as I kept out of melee range I could plink her to death with arrows.  Against the dragon at the ancient ruins only the main character went down, and that was probably only because I was out of Wynne’s range behind the dragon and not paying attention.

At any rate, I’m not really enjoying the combat but it’s not incredibly frustrating either, so it shouldn’t stop me from finishing this run.  I just am not finding it as easy as it was on the console for some reason.

The main reason to pick this up was to get Shale, but I found that Shale was less hostile than I figured she’d be from watching Chuck Sonnenberg’s Dragon Age Origins playthrough.  She also had some hilarious lines when I explored the fact that she calls the main character “it” all the time.  When I asked if she was going to call me that all the time she gave the simple answer of “Most likely”, and when I commented that she didn’t talk about her previous owner that way she said basically that it was a quirk of hers.  I’m running with her in the party now but will need Alistair at some point, and will need Oghren for the Deep Roads, which is where I’m at now.

Overall, I’ve kinda liked the DLC but didn’t find anything that I would have really missed, other than Shale.  I’m looking forward to trying some of the separate DLC, such as Awakenings and “The Dark Spawn Chronicles”, both of which I will try.  I don’t know if I’ll do “Lelianna’s Song” or not.  I’m also thinking that I have to take Morrigan’s deal despite the fact that my female Warden is going to marry Alistair because I don’t know if getting him killed will still let her be queen, which is what I’m going for here.

Ultimately, I’m having fun when it isn’t frustrating me, and it doesn’t frustrate me all that much.  Hopefully I can get through the rest of it without too many issues.

The Strange Failure of the DCCU

February 14, 2023

So, I’ve started watching “The Critical Drinker” on a fairly regular basis.  I think I came across it as a suggestion after one of Chuck Sonnenberg’s posts and found it interesting.  At any rate, he made a recent video talking about the issues with what he calls the DCEU but that I’m going to call the DCCU in line with the MCU, so basically a DC Cinematic Universe to align with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Essentially, this starts from when Zack Snyder was given the job of creating a connected universe in the same vein of the one Marvel had had so much success with.  As he notes, Snyder was an odd choice to write a Superman movie — which is what they started with — instead of a Batman movie which would have fit Snyder’s style better.  Shamus Young noted when talking about Batman v Superman:

So it’s kind of darkly hilarious that Zack Snyder was chosen to adapt modern-day Superman for the big screen. I can’t imagine anyone more ill-suited for the material. You can see the fumbling Hollywood thinking at work behind the decision. “This Snyder guy is really good at making movies about the funnybooks. He directed one a few years ago, so let’s give him this one!” It’s like saying, “This guy who made Snowpiercer did a great job, so let’s give him The Polar Express. I mean, both movies have trains in the snow! He’s a natural fit!”

Anyone capable of successfully adapting Watchmen shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Superman[2]. The two works are opposed on a philosophical level. Superman is profoundly idealistic, and Watchmen has cynicism oozing out of its pores. Watchmen isn’t just a deconstruction of the idealized superhero myth, it’s a controlled demolition. It takes the entire premise of superbeings and says, “Actually, having nearly-indestructible godlings running around would be horrible for the world, because they would still be people and People Are Awful.”

Now, given that they were outside of Snyder’s DCCU, I think that the “Dark Knight” movies might have played a large role in this mistake.  They were dark even for Batman movies — especially compared to the earlier Tim Burton versions — and yet were quite successful and well-received.  So this would have led DC executives to feel that their audience was ready for and/or open to darker works.  They also might have noted that the Marvel movies didn’t go that dark, and so it would have given them a way to distinguish themselves from Marvel and provide something those movies didn’t.  On top of that, it would have encouraged them to not start with a Batman movie in order to avoid the audience feeling burned out on Batman.  So if they were going darker, Snyder seemed like a good fit to provide that, and they wanted to start with Superman in order to use the other DC superhero who’d had huge cinematic success to avoid overusing Batman.  All of this combined, then, would lead to starting the universe with a darker Superman that, as it turned out, most Superman fans didn’t like.

But what puzzles me about what happened here is something that struck me while watching some DC animated movies that I picked up cheap and am starting to work my way through.  See, while Marvel beat them hands down in the cinematic battle, DC beat them hands down when it came to animated series and to TV, and have been doing that for quite a while.  These movies, although not well-known, only prove that DC has been able to put out pretty good quality animated works that make at least enough money to make them worthwhile given how ubiquitous they are.  And those are the ones that I, at least, don’t have any direct reactions to talk about.  When it comes to the animated series, we know that they were both well-received and did better than Marvel did.  While Marvel did animated series at the same time, they were not in any way as well-received as their DC equivalents, even after “Justice League Unlimited” was cancelled.  Some Spider-man and Avengers animated series were well-liked, and some of the most recent series weren’t as well-received, but overall DC’s animation worked better than Marvel’s.

The same thing applies to the TV shows.  While I haven’t watched a lot of them, I did watch “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Stargirl” and while I liked the latter more than the former I only got into the former because of a friend who said that it was good.  The same thing applies to “Doom Patrol”, although I’ve bailed on it as of Season 4.  “Supergirl”, “The Flash” and “Green Arrow” were fairly well-received and ran for a number of seasons.  Meanwhile, Marvel had “Agents of SHIELD” and a number of relatively poorly received Netflix shows, moving to poorly received Disney+ shows.  Clearly, DC was beating Marvel in animation and live-action television at the same time as they were mounting a failed offensive on Marvel’s movie dominance.

What’s even more puzzling about this is that when we look at the animation and the live-action TV shows they did precisely what DC needed to do to build a proper cinematic universe, and so should have served as a good example of how to do that.  The DCAU started with a Batman series, added a Superman series, and then brought them together in a Justice League series, with a disconnected Teen Titans series running at the same time and a futuristic “Batman Beyond” (that ended in a Justice League episode).  While the “Bat-Embargo” meant that they couldn’t really follow up on events that happened in the Batman series, things that happened in the Superman series were used to provide interesting arcs in “Justice League”.  In the same vein, the live-action TV shows started with a couple of shows that led ultimately into a number of crossover events, and they were even able to focus on some less well-known characters like “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Stargirl”, and integrated the former into the crossovers and even brought characters that were introduced in the other series into the new one to give it a running start.

So not only were these areas quite successful and more successful than their Marvel counterparts, they were successful in the precise way that DC need the DCCU to succeed in order to compete with the MCU.  And yet DC never looked to see how they succeeded to use as a model for their universe.  They didn’t take advantage of their areas of strength to fast-track their creation of a DCCU.  Instead, they gave the job to someone who wasn’t a good fit for one of their flagship characters and didn’t get him to look at how to make a darker Superman who still managed to be Superman like we saw in the animated series.  While it isn’t surprising that they would do that, it’s probably this fact that’s the most responsible for their failure to create a proper DCCU.

Final Thoughts on “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”

February 8, 2023

So I’ve finished reading the complete works of Shakespeare.  I started reading it way back in about April of 2022 with “King Henry the Sixth” and so it’s taken me about nine months to get through.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of the classic dramas, was hit and miss on the comedies, and in general didn’t care much for the historicals … with some exceptions.  So, after all of that, a question that was raised a bit earlier turns out to still be relevant here:  why did I bother?

The first reason ties back into the reason why I read the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft before delving into this one:  I had somehow got a hankering to read some of these and found some incredibly nice versions of them from Amazon (I think) … and then never read them.  Seeing those nice volumes in my bookcase knowing that I had never finished Lovecraft and hadn’t even started  reading Shakespeare hit my new “Accomplishments” mindset and made me decide that I wanted to get through them and have those books actually fulfill their original intent and not just be something that looks impressive on that bookshelf that no one ever sees except me anyway.  And thus it was a success, and I’ve finished another accomplishment.

The second reason ties into my reading a lot of other classic works and deciding to comment on them, like “War and Peace”.  There were two reasons for me to start doing that.  The first was that these were classic works in those genres that I have never read and, given that, I figured I should probably try to read them (this is also what got me to watch “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”).  The other was a genuine curiosity of see if I would actually enjoy reading them not as classics to be studied but instead as things to be read simply for enjoyment.  I obviously wasn’t going to have the trouble with language that others might, nor with heavy or long works, and so it seemed like an interesting experiment to consume the works and talk about what I thought worked and didn’t work, even stepping outside of my normal comfort zone with “The Divine Comedy”.  And I think that worked here, as well, given that I can pretty much identify which ones I really liked and which ones I didn’t, although sadly there weren’t really any surprises on that score other than not really liking most of the comedies and actively disliking “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

But there’s a final reason to have done this, and this is what I want to talk about here, which is that over the past number of years there’s been a big push to diversify the works studied in English classes, and one point that is usually made implicitly but is often made explicitly is that the classics like Shakespeare are studied because they are the ones that were spawned from Western culture and so are the ones that we just automatically consider worthy of study, but without that they don’t have anything to offer us or teach us anymore.  We can turn to modern works or works from other areas or other culture or whatever and get just as much from the study of those, and studying those are more inclusive and less problematic than the Western classics that we study today.  A version of this sort of culture clash is what got me to both read all the Hugo Award winners when that kerfuffle was going on and also to read all of the Ben Bova works I owned as well as a number of Robert Sheckley works  to see if the modern works were as good as some were saying and comparing them to the older works to see what the quality difference was.  So this does raise the question:  is Shakespeare still relevant, even uniquely so?  Are there things that we can learn about playcraft, at least, that we can best learn from him?

What I learned while simply reading these works is that Shakespeare is indeed a master of his craft.  While I was only reading them and not watching them being performed I can confirm that for even the plays that I didn’t like the structuring of the events and the dialogue was generally top-notch, even when I found it flawed.  But it would be easy to argue that perhaps other playwrights could rise to that level as well, and I don’t have enough experience with plays to gainsay them.  But there are two other facets where Shakespeare is supreme where I can make a better assessment.  One of them is with banter.  Shakespeare is an absolute master of banter, to a degree that I haven’t seen in any modern work.  The closest I’ve ever seen is from Aaron Allston (mostly from his Star Wars Legends works) and it’s still no comparison.  No one that I’ve read or watched, classic or modern, can even approach him when it comes to banter, which is one of the things that makes his comedies really pop.  If you want to learn how to write good banter, he’s the ur-example of how to do it well.

The other area is in his speeches.  Shakespeare is a master of speeches, which is most strongly evidenced by his soliloquies.  An inspiring speech is one thing, but an inspiring speech where all we have is one character talking out loud about their inner thoughts is quite another.  It would be easy for such speeches to seem self-indulgent or boring and meaningless, but he imbues them with meaning and with emotion so that we don’t mind sitting there watching — or reading — that character just talking about themselves for all that time.  For plays, it becomes an ingenious way for him to get those inner thoughts out in the open so that we can understand them and their dilemmas, to expound on some philosophical points, and to provide needed exposition in a way that’s not overly artificial and not boring.  Again, I have not seen anyone, classic or modern, who does that anywhere near as well.

(And in fact, the worst parts of Shakespeare’s plays are when he mixes the two by using speeches as banter, as he loses the pithy nature of his banter and the meaningfulness of his speeches.)

So, yes, I think we can learn things from Shakespeare yet, and reading everything he had written has simply driven that home for me.

So, that nine month project is now complete.  What am I moving onto next?  Well, observant readers will have noted that these posts always came out on Wednesdays, and something needs to fill that gap.  Something also needs to fill that gap for me of finding something to read while doing laundry.  For the latter, that’s going to be a bunch of King Arthur books, as well as a bunch of philosophy books.  Yes, Shakespeare can only be reasonably replaced by two different genres, not just one (also, I end up needing another hour to do laundry now so there’s room to fit in those two categories that I desperately want to make progress on).  But the philosophy stuff will generally end up on Fridays, and neither of them are things that I’ll get through quickly enough to talk about every week, so those posts will not fill the Wednesday slot.  I’ll slot the King Arthur stuff in on Tuesdays as I get far enough along (generally, when I finish a book).  In the place of the Shakespeare will be … a Comprehensive review of the episodes of the original “The Twilight Zone” show inspired by when I did the same for “Tales from the Darkside”, mostly because I want to examine how much the format itself was responsible for the failings of that series by seeing if “The Twilight Zone” will work out better for me.  Watch for those posts starting next week (yes, I have some disks watched and some posts written already, but I’m trying not to give any hints about what I think of them yet).

I am glad to have finished the Shakespeare and enjoyed reading them, but in line with my normal commentary I cannot see myself ever taking the nine months to read them all again … although some of them I certainly would.

Thoughts on “Hot in Cleveland”

February 7, 2023

I had picked up the first season of this show quite some time ago and liked it, and so kept looking around to see if I could find the entire series, and finally managed to do so.  So unlike a lot of the other things I’ve watched there wasn’t really much of a risk here when I picked it up.  I had watched it fairly recently and so there was no risk of my only being interested in it because of childhood nostalgia, and I had indeed actually watched it and so wasn’t relying on word of mouth or a minor exposure to it to drive my interest in it.  Now, of course, for all of these cases some of them have worked and some of them haven’t, but in this case I was pretty sure that I’d like at least the first part of it, and so the only real risk was that it would have a really bad season or two that would ruin what was otherwise a fun series for me, like “Cheers” or “The Nanny”.

The premise here is that three friends who lived in LA and worked around the movie/entertainment industry are heading off for a vacation in Paris when their plane is forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland.  With some time to kill before they can fly out, they head to a bar and discover that the attitude in Cleveland is strikingly different to that in LA.  As they are older women, they tend to be overlooked in that youth-obsessed area, but in Cleveland they are considered quite attractive and get a lot of male attention, and when they decide to throw caution to the wind and eat heavily the men they are with comment on how little they eat.  This gets one of them — Melanie, played by Valerie Bertinelli — to decide to move to Cleveland, and she ends up buying a house that comes with a caretaker, Elka, played by Betty White, who starts out snarky and irascible and calls them all prostitutes, especially Joy, played by Jane Leeves from Frasier.  They end up constantly snarking at each other.  Filling out the group is Wendie Malick’s Victoria Chase, a soap opera actress whose soap opera has just been cancelled.  So the three of them all decide to move to Cleveland and live together there in the city where they are indeed still “hot”.

The nice thing about the casting is that each of the three women are definitely still attractive but have traits so that we can see that they aren’t really hot young things anymore.  Valerie Bertinelli might be a bit heavy for some.  Wendie Malick is a bit skinny and shows her age more than the others.  And Jane Leeves … well, I’m sure that someone would find something about her that’s less than her youthful ideal (the constant joke made about her is that she’s flat-chested, but I don’t think her breast size went down after “Frasier” and no one really noticed it there), and she is definitely not young anymore.  Thus, they fit neatly into the premise of the show:  still attractive so we can indeed understand why the men in Cleveland consider them hot, but “losing their looks” in such a way that compared to other actresses and to the standards of LA by comparison they’d get less attention which would bother them.

Another nice thing is that Melanie is probably the primary character — in that she drives a lot of the action and gets a lot of the focus, especially early on — and her character is naive and klutzy, causing all sorts of issues by making mistakes and stumbling all over herself in trying to fix them, and while it would be very tempting to make her antics the entire focus of the show it cleverly builds the humour around the foibles of all three of them, with Victoria’s self-centeredness and desire to reclaim her glory, and Joy’s relationship woes.  As things go along and Elka gains more popularity, they delve into her past as well and give her some storylines.  This means that they can use these traits as side plots or as main plots and it all seems in-character but not the same-old-same-old thing that we see every episode.  They also use this as a way to provide what would be arcs as relationships and things progress from episode to episode.  However, unlike “That 70s Show” they save actual arcs for certain really important things and instead seem to rely more on continuity:  the events come up again because they happened earlier and fit here, but aren’t really arcs until they need to be.  This avoids the issue with “That 70s Show” where they had too many arcs running at a time and had to resolve them, sometimes too quickly.  Bringing things up again instead of running a specific arc gives them more room to properly develop them and drop the ones that aren’t working, although in the last season this goes wrong with them giving Melanie two different potential boyfriends, dropping one without comment and then dropping another one later for no real reason.

I have some issues with Elka’s character.  The starting point where she was the Cleveland contrast to their LA attitudes worked pretty well, but as the show went on she became far more promiscuous and unscrupulous which lost that, even though it was still funny.  In addition, she makes a lot of snarky comments at the others and especially Joy, which wouldn’t be a bad thing given that Joy is pretty snarky herself.  But ultimately I tired of Elka’s constant insults against Joy.  First, a lot of her insults were about Joy’s looks and inability to get a man, which didn’t work because the entire premise is that they get more male attention in Cleveland and so by that premise it wouldn’t be true and Joy would certainly get enough attention to not be so bothered by those sorts of comments.  This leads to the other issue, because despite the fact that Joy and Elka snark at each other a lot Joy seemed far more bothered by the insults than Elka was, which made it seem like Elka was simply picking on Joy instead of it being a war of snark between them.  This was not helped by the fact that I think I liked Joy the best, although her later relationship issues and paranoia wore thin as well (and could have seemed like character derailment).

Season 4 was, for me, a disappointing season.  They introduced a new character in Mamie Sue — played by an actress that I’m pretty sure was on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” since they did a reunion of the actresses from that show and she was part of it — but her main trait — as evidenced by the reunion where they all constantly give that label to her — is that of “The Ditz”, but one of the best things about this show was that it didn’t need a ditz character, as each of them could act idiotically in a way to drive the plots when needed.  Melanie is sweet and naive and a klutz, Victoria is self-absorbed, and Joy sometimes jumps to conclusions and is a willing participant in crazy plans.  All adding a ditz character did was make it abundantly clear that it didn’t need one.  I also didn’t care for Melanie’s boyfriend and that entire plot, and Joy ended up going back to college and sharing that with Elka which didn’t go anywhere.  However, unlike “Cheers” and “The Nanny” the season is disappointing, but not bad; it was still funny and still enjoyable that way, so I could definitely get through it without any trepidation.

I also didn’t care for Bob, the detective who she started working for and who ended chasing her for a number of seasons.  The biggest problem with him is that the show keeps talking about how sweet and nice he is but he is constantly pursuing her from the beginning when she is clearly uninterested, and it’s not that he’s a dogged nice guy but instead that he’s arrogantly insisting that she does like him and constantly pestering her for sex and again declaring that she just wants him despite her insistence that she doesn’t.  This is the jerk archetype, not the nice guy archetype.  He’s also entirely willing to lie and cheat to get her, including at one point locking her first love into a closet and lying about it.  He’s not at all a nice guy, and while at times he is sweet to her he’s not really much sweeter than at least some of her other love interests and the love interests of the others, so all of them talking about how sweet he is in general really grates.

However, all of these are minor complaints, as the show is pretty funny and even with their foibles the three leads, at least, are interesting and sympathetic.  The show also managed to bring in some big names for guest spots, likely because it was created by TV Land which was running a lot of their old shows, which did add a little to the show since it was nice to be able to see those stars again adding some nostalgia, and I actually ended up with a link to the Jennifer Love Hewitt shows I had watched just a bit before watching this one because she plays one of Victoria’s children in some guest spots.  The show as also good at creating some running gags that worked, such as Victoria never remembering how many children she had or her feud with Susan Lucci, which end up being things that get referenced but don’t wear out their welcome.  Given all of this, it should be pretty clear at this point that this is a show that I would watch again, so it’s going into my closet of shows that I will watch again at some point.

Up next is another show that ended up having a link back to this one, as it is “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”.  And I had decided to watch that one before watching this show, so it wasn’t influenced by the episode where all the actresses got back together.

Thoughts on “The Poems”

February 1, 2023

So the last forty pages or so of my complete collection of Shakespeare are the poems that he’d written, including his sonnets and two of his more epic — at least in length — poems.  Now, coming into this I knew that this would be a bit of a slog for me, which is why I made it a goal to finish it in one shot.  The first reason is that I’m not a fan of poetry at all, so just on that basis it was unlikely to impress me.  The second reason is that I’m also not a fan of romantic works — in the sense of primarily focusing on romantic liaisons — and obviously the Sonnets fit into that category … but so do the poems, for the most part.  So, yeah, I probably wasn’t going to be that fond of the poems and was definitely going to be unlikely to return to them again and again in the future to experience them.

One big thing that stood out to me here, though, works as a general comment on Shakespeare:  he can be a little … wordy is perhaps the best way to put it.  He will quite often say things in a much longer way than necessary, and often will repeat the same points again in slightly different ways.  The reason that this works for Shakespeare, however, is that he’s very good with those words and so even when he repeats points or lingers a bit too long we can enjoy the creative way he expresses those points.  Ultimately, we can get lost in his use of language which helps us forget that he isn’t saying anything new and is expressing what he wanted to get across using far more words than he needed to.

This really comes across here in the poems, especially in the two longer poems “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece”.  For the plays, he is limited in how much he can indulge in this by needing to do far more in a play and having less room than he would in a longer poem because of that.  The sonnets often repeat on a theme, but they benefit from the fact that you were probably never intended to read them all as a completely cohesive whole and so can be forgiven for circling back to previous themes.  But it is clear in the longer poems that he’s repeating his ideas and simply expressing them in different ways and so taking a lot longer to get through the story than he needed to.  And yet, I can easily imagine that if you were invested in the story or were a fan of romances that his expressing these things differently would simply add to the emotional heft of the story and help to build the atmosphere and emotion that that sort of reader would be looking for.  I wasn’t invested in the stories and didn’t care for romance, so I was more hoping for the poem to advance instead of doing that, which meant that I preferred the two shorter poems to those epics … despite the fact that epic ballads are about the only sort of poetry I actually enjoy.

Ultimately, I came in expecting to not care for the poetry and that’s pretty much what happened, but that’s not a criticism of Shakespeare’s abilities as a poet and more a reflection of the fact that if you don’t care for the stories or genres or poetry itself Shakespeare’s abilities with language will not save them for you … and, in fact, will only hurt as his style drags the poems out even more forcing you to experience that which you don’t care for even longer.  Shakespeare is clever with language and if you are engaged with his poetry that will carry you through, but if you aren’t then it won’t and will only drag it out.

The last post on this collection will talk about the collection as a whole.

Thoughts on “King Henry the Eighth”

January 25, 2023

So this is the last of the plays in my collection, which means that it’s the last of the official plays and is arguably the last one written.  Of course, it’s a historical, and aside from “Julius Caesar” I haven’t cared that much for the historicals.  At least part of that is because the historicals really are a dramatic rendition of the historical events, and as such there’s not really any kind of direct plot.  The plot is really a bare bones outline of the events, and so these plays move from event to event as we follow through the history, but the plays tend to end hinting at events to come and there’s no real overall theme to these plays.  This means that unless you know and care about the history is can be easy to get lost and even easier to not feel any emotional connection to the events or the characters and so have nothing to grasp onto to make us want to see what happens next (or how those events are portrayed).

The play focuses on Henry the Eighth as he ends up concerned about not having a son as heir and so divorces his first wife Katherine and marries Anne Boleyn.  It also includes a number of machinations from an ambitious bishop and then later a challenge against the new Archbishop of Canterbury at the end that is preempted by the king himself, and it ends with the birth of Elizabeth.  So as you might guess, there isn’t really much of a plot joining these events together, other than history itself.  So I’m not going to be able to use the plot to form a connection to the play.

However, the play works because it does a really good job of connecting use to the characters.  “Julius Caesar” escaped the bubble of being an uninteresting historical because it focused on and developed the character of Brutus, but here the play gives pretty much all the characters the same treatment.  As is par for the course for the historicals, Henry and even Anne get less of this that we see for other characters, but they are prominent enough and we are privy to enough of their internal thoughts that we can understand why they do what they do.  Henry’s first wife gets quite a bit of characterization, enough that we feel sad at her being put aside and sad at her death.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is given enough characterization that we can feel happy at the end when he is exonerated but it is ambiguous enough that we can wonder if he is as ambitious and is playing the games that he’s accused of.  And more importantly, this ambiguity carries over to the main antagonist, which is the bishop.  We can see that he is manipulating things and doing so unfairly, but he protests that it isn’t him doing which, obviously, seems hollow, but when his schemes are foiled and he is sent away from court he claims to have reformed and one of Katherine’s servants comments on his good points so that she — and thus we, since she is sympathetic and was one of his strongest opponents — can see that he is a more ambiguous character than he might have seemed.

With all of this, we have an oddity:  a historical that I actually enjoyed.  It doesn’t rise to the level of the great tragedies or even comedies, and I don’t think it is as good as “Julius Caesar”, but the connection it forms to the characters finally hits what a historical should be focusing on and creates a play that actually can indeed stand the test of time.  You don’t need to know these events in detail or have an emotional connection to them to feel for the characters and so be interested in how it all works out, which is rare for the historicals.  Henry also plays a bigger role in the play that is titled with his name which happened in “Antony and Cleopatra”, but the difference there is that the title characters aren’t sympathetic while Henry is more so and so far less annoying.  So the last play is, for me, a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable play, even more so because it is in a category that I haven’t enjoyed throughout this process.

Which leads into the last set of things to read:  the poetry.  I am not a fan of poetry, but I will read all the poems and talk about what I thought of them next time.

Thoughts on “The Tempest”

January 18, 2023

As I’ve commented on before, I reinvented the wheel in discovering that there are three broad categories of Shakespearean plays — comedy, drama and historical — and that some plays don’t seem to fit into those categories all that neatly and so are considered “problematic”.  So as I’ve gone along I’ve been following that classification scheme — as since I tend to like the dramas, find the comedies hit and miss, and dislike the historicals it’s a useful and interesting categorization to make — and have myself noted that while each category did seem to have certain traits some of the plays seem to mix traits from various categories.  I’ve been avoiding looking at what the “experts” say because I’ve wanted to just come up with it on my own and wasn’t all that interested in checking myself against them except in cases where I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing something (usually with the comedies since it having what I thought was a more dramatic theme or my not finding it all that funny doesn’t mean that it wasn’t meant to be a comedy).

“The Tempest” hit the “problematic” category for me.  For the most part, it seems to be a fairly standard drama about the former advisor of a city, Prospero, who has learned magic and creates a storm when the people who exiled him are sailing by to get his revenge on them, while also arranging for a husband for his daughter.  For the most part, the play seems to play this all straight.  However, there are a number of scenes, especially between a couple of the advisors, that fit the structure of Shakespeare’s comedies, mostly by having the characters engage in banter and in commenting on things that are going on.  When I went to look it up, it turns out that this is indeed one of the problematic plays precisely because of that mix, and experts have invented a category of “romances” for these sorts of plays, but I personally don’t think that fits because the romance is actually a minor part of the play, and so it would work, for me, as a general drama.

At least part of the reason for that is that those scenes are, for me, the worst parts of the play.  The characters aren’t particularly interesting and their plots aren’t that interesting either.  There is an interesting thing to come out of those plots which is a plot against the ruler that Prospero wants revenge on, but other than foiling that the plot doesn’t really have much of an impact on anything else.  So because the banter is neither all that funny in and of itself and doesn’t tie into the rest of the play all that well, it almost seems like comic relief that comes at a time when we didn’t need comic relief, and so it seems a bit pointless.

The main plot is better, mostly because the characters are more interesting.  While there are hints that Prospero might be a sinister character — Caliban accuses him of being a tough master and the spirit Prospero uses for most of his schemes asks him to keep his promise but there are hints that Prospero might not — we quickly learn from the asides that he is, himself, fairly honourable and even though he is seeking revenge he treats everyone else well, and notes that for Caliban he was the son of an evil witch who enslaved everyone and after defeating the witch he kept Caliban with them until Caliban attacked his daughter Miranda.  Thus, he’s a sympathetic character, and even though he treats the son of the ruler harshly he explicitly comments that he’s doing that to make the son earn his relationship with Miranda because if someone has to earn something they appreciate it more.  Ultimately, at the end he keeps his promises and frees everyone from the island, but this isn’t a twist in the story but something that we can see, given his character, that he would indeed do.  Also, Miranda and the ruler’s son are both sympathetic and nice and so we are happy to see them get together at the end and so for Prospero’s plans to succeed.  He does have to give up using a spell on the son and, as noted, his revenge, but we can see that this fits in with his character.

For me, this isn’t going to be one of the classic plays, and I did find the banter to not be very interesting, but overall the play was entertaining and worked relatively well.  It’s a breath of fresh air from the last few plays that I didn’t find to be all that good, even as it doesn’t have the character of the earlier and classic plays.

The last play in my collection is “King Henry the Eighth”, which is … a historical.  Which is a category that I haven’t cared much for.  So I’m not holding out much hope that the collection will end on a high note.

Thoughts on “The Winter’s Tale”

January 11, 2023

This one definitely seems to be a drama, which should give it a leg up in terms of my enjoying it.  However, as I proceed towards the end of the plays I’m finding that the crafting of the plays is as good as if not better than any of his most classic plays, but the plot and characters are significantly weaker.

The basic idea here is that the king of Sicilia has invited the king of Bohemia to visit for an extended time, since they were raised together and were fast friends.  When it comes time for the king of Bohemia to leave, the king of Sicilia prevails upon him to stay, but he refuses … until the queen of Sicilia convinces him to stay longer.  For some reason that might involve his son not looking enough like him, the king of Sicila then suspects that his wife and the king of Sicilia have been having a long affair, and that not only his existing son but his unborn daughter are really the children of the king of Bohemia, and ends up trying to convince one of the queen’s servants to poison the king of Bohemia.  The servant instead tells the king of Bohemia, which causes him to immediately leave, which only makes the king of Sicilia more suspicious, so he imprisons his wife and sends to the Oracle of Delphi to prove to his lords that his suspicions are correct.  The queen gives birth to a daughter, which the wife of one of the lords brings to the king in the hopes that it will soften his stance, but it only hardens it and he orders the daughter and his wife executed, but the lords convince him not to, and one lord in particular is then ordered to abandon the infant in the desert.  The men he sent to the Oracle then return and the message from the Oracle exonerates the queen and says that the king will have no heir until his daughter is found.  The son, who was sick earlier, dies, which causes the queen to faint and die, leaving the king alone.  Meanwhile, the lord sees a vision from the queen saying to leave the child near Bohemia, where a shepherd finds it.  The play then fast forwards fifteen years, and the daughter who was raised as the shepherd’s daughter is being courted by the king of Bohemia’s son, and ultimately the king of Bohemia disapproves of that idea and so the two of them run away to Sicilia.  Eventually, everyone comes together and she is revealed as the daughter of the king of Sicilia, which makes the match acceptable, and the queen comes back to life somehow, and the play ends.

The characters in general really don’t work here.  The king of Sicilia suspects his wife for no good reason, and does that very strongly in a way that’s required to lead to the rest of the plot, but this makes him entirely unsympathetic.  The king of Bohemia is more sympathetic but then throws that all away with his over-the-top reaction to the prince’s courtship of the daughter.  The daughter is talked about as being great, but doesn’t get the character development necessary for us to really like her, and the same applies to the prince.  We definitely might want the two of them to get together, but that would be because it’s romantic and not because we really like those characters.  The shepherd and his friend the clown — literally — are too often idiotic and capricious for us to care about them, and they don’t play any real role in the final outcome other than revealing where the prince and the daughter went.  The lord who wanted to save the child and his wife would be interesting characters if he hadn’t fallen out of the story due to the Oracle’s prophecy and if she wasn’t really just there to lecture the king and reveal the miracle of the queen’s survival at the end, and so they don’t really play enough of a role to focus on, and they don’t really get a happy ending.  There’s also a rogue cahracter added who is a thief and swindler who wants to return to service with the prince, but he’s not a very interesting character and adds nothing to the play itself.

The plot itself doesn’t really work either. As noted above, there’s no real reason given for the king of Sicilia to suspect that his wife and the king of Bohemia are having an affair and he jumps far too quickly to just killing off his long-time friend, which spawns the rest of the plot, but the two of them seemingly at least somewhat reconcile far too quickly to have that sort of event between them.  By taking the lord out of the picture, it leaves him with no real way to reveal who the daughter really is, so it again moves very quickly based mostly on how she looks, it seems, but given how bad the judgement of the king was earlier we have no reason to trust his opinion.  If they had kept the lord alive and he had even, perhaps, disguised himself as the clown to keep an eye on the daughter and so could reveal himself at the end and confirm it, things would have worked out a lot better and there really was no reason for him to never return home.  And, of course, the queen’s sudden revival makes no sense at all.

Similarly to “Timon of Athens”, this play has a similar plot to the previous play “Pericles” but is lacking when compared to it, especially in terms of plot and characters.  And Pericles wasn’t one of the classic Shakespeare plays to begin with.  So as I head towards the end it really is the case that the plot and the characters are not at all impressing me.  I’ll see if Shakespeare can finish strong with the last two plays:  “The Tempest” and “King Henry the Eighth”.

Thoughts on “Cymbeline”

January 4, 2023

As I proceeded with reading the complete works of Shakespeare, I roughly divided his plays into ones that I called “historicals”, and then into the comedies and the dramas/tragedies.  This, as it turns out, is pretty much how the experts divide Shakespeare’s plays as well.  It’s possible that at some point in time someone mentioned these distinctions to me, but I didn’t remember them when I started reading the plays and so to my mind I definitely ended up “reinventing” them, with my own takes on what properties each of those categories contained.  Some of them, of course, didn’t seem to neatly fit into those categories … but then the experts also have a selection of “problem plays” that, well, don’t neatly fit into each category.

The categories actually take on some extra importance for me, because as it turns out I tend to like or dislike the plays in certain categories.  The comedies, as I suppose most comedies end up being, are a bit hit-and-miss for me.  I tend to like the dramas/tragedies, although some don’t really seem to pass muster.  But the historicals are plays that I generally dislike, with only “Julius Caesar” being one that I actually really enjoyed.  The others get to the level of “tolerable” at best.

“Cymbeline” has the properties that I’ve come to associate with the historicals.  The title character is not at all the focus character and barely appears in the work, although his actions are what instigates the other plots.  There are also a number of plots that are barely interrelated but that seem to follow in some sense from the historical events.  It also seems to not really end, with lots of openings for a sequel, and while there’s drama and sometimes even tragedy the plays don’t seem to focus on them in any real way, and usually don’t resolve them.

The plot here is that Cymbeline the king is upset with his daughter because he wanted to marry her to the son of his new queen — so her stepbrother — but she, instead, went ahead and married someone of noble birth but with no money who had been raised in the king’s home.  So the king exiles the beau and imprisons his daughter until she comes to her senses.  The stepbrother is a braggart and a thoroughly disreputable person — Shakespeare in a couple of places makes hay with this with a lord mocking him behind his back over things like this — and the queen is two-faced and working against the wishes of the daughter and the king.  The beau ends up meeting another person who takes offense to the beau’s bragging about how wonderful the daughter is and bets that he can bed the daughter, offering the wealth that the beau would need to impress the king against a diamond ring that the daughter gave him.  Of course, when that person arrives he discovers that the virtue of the daughter is indeed impregnable, so he steals a bracelet and pretends that he was successful, which enrages the beau enough that he tells his servant to kill the daughter for her unfaithfulness, but the servant ends up faking her death because he can’t go through with it.  At the same time, a legate from Rome has come to collect what he claims is tribute owed to him from Julius Caesar’s time, but Cymbeline won’t pay it which will trigger hostilities.  The servant tries to arrange for the daughter to enter into his service, but she goes astray and ends up at a cave with an outlaw from Cymbeline’s time and, as it turns out, her own brothers who were abducted by that outlaw in revenge for being banished from court and have been raised from children by him.  She then takes a drug that the servant got from the queen which sends her into a stupor that looks like death, and the stepbrother shows up in the beau’s clothes and is killed by one of her brothers for, basically, being a hot-headed boor, and they lay the two bodies together so that when the daughter wakes up she thinks that her beau has died.  She does end up in the retinue of the Roman official, who ends up attacking her father, but he is saved by the beau returned to find her out of regret for what he had ordered done, the outlaw, and her two brothers.  This leads to a big final scene where everything is revealed — including the queen’s perfidy — and everything ends up being resolved, even the matter of the tribute.

It seems to me that the last few plays in the collection have the same traits, as they show Shakespeare’s ability to craft plays but don’t have engaging plots or characters.  As you can see from the above summary, the play is overstuffed with content which means that we don’t really get enough of a sense of each characters to really care about them.  About the only character that is consistently sympathetic is the daughter, and that’s only because she has to be a complete paragon of virtue for the plot to come off at all.  The stepbrother is more an ass than any kind of threat, and so is only fun at all when he’s being made fun of and is just annoying at any other time, and the queen and the purported seducer don’t get enough development to make for good antagonists, and the Roman official isn’t an antagonist in any way.  The dialogue works and the play flows, but the plot and characters just aren’t interesting enough to make it a classic work.  I’d sit through a performance of it, probably, and didn’t mind reading it, but it wasn’t going to be memorable.  Then again, for a professional playwright that might have been more the goal than creating works that truly stood the test of time, so perhaps that’s only to be expected.

Next up is “The Winter’s Tale”.