The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Fogo de Chao – Minneapolis (Review)

Minneapolis, MN, USA - July 26, 2015: Fogo de Chao Brazillian Steakhouse Restaurant wall sign on S 7th Street in Minneapolis MN

If you’re thinking of attending this restaurant, thinking it’s a “fancy place to take the little woman”, I don’t recommend it.

For my birthday, I said I wanted to go to the “meat on a sword” place, figuring it would be a “once every few years” luxury. And the time is ticking on how long I can take advantage of such things before my doctor says I can’t go anymore (“Your LCL must be this high to ride”). The novelty is responsible for its notoriety. But like Disneyland, the reality isn’t as great.

Said novelty is that it’s a form of buffet-style. The meat-men occasionally come around with skewered meat and serve it to you. There’s parmesan-crusted pork tenderloin, filet mignon, top cut sirloin, lamb, etc. And also a salad bar you partake of. For, like, nutrients and stuff. And there are sides of fried polenta, caramelized bananas, and mashed potatoes.

I admit, I was entranced by the crazy idea of it all. I loves me some meat. And a place where they come around and serve you as much as you want? And they cut it off of a sword? Sign me up. But…

For one thing, the salad bar is severely underwhelming. People were just jumping in wherever they wanted, making it super slow. For the number of people there, the setup wasn’t efficient. And despite the fact that I was saving myself for the meat, there was very little I actually wanted. Some fruit like kiwi (uncut) and pineapple, some cold pasta salads, cheeses, and deli meats. Dress it up as much as you want, a fancy potato salad is still a potato salad. Who would want cold steamed broccoli? For the price I’m paying I’m expecting a cruise ship style buffet. Loads of shrimp and seafood, custom omelets, things with fancy Italian names. It wasn’t any different from a Byerly’s salad bar.

The other big thing is that there is only so much meat you can eat. As delightful as it is to say “yes” to everyone who offers it you, being constantly interrupted is a little annoying if you’re in the middle of the conversation. Not a good place for a date (but then, buffets usually aren’t). The meat is top-notch certainly, but something about the quantity diminishes the quality. Kind of like Magic: the Gathering cards–if there are a lot of rare cards, they cease to be special.

Speaking of buffets, they’re a young man’s game. I figure I’m at the age where I shouldn’t eat so much to make myself sick. There’s no one I have to prove myself to that I can eat a lot. It’s not a contest.

The icing on the cake–and I don’t know if this is their policy or not–but our server* said he’d give us free dessert if we left a five-star review (on what platform, I don’t know). First, I feel like this is a loaded request–who’s going to take him up on his offer? The goal of a buffet is for them not to make any money off of you. No one wants dessert after that. Second, I do not appreciate being “sold” my experience like a used car salesman. Asking for a dishonest review is dishonest itself. If you have to bribe people to say they like it, that sours my experience.

*We didn’t know how much to tip because we never had a single server — there was always someone new between drinks, menus, bussing, check-ups, bill. Do they have shapeshifters working there?

In conclusion, I won’t be going back there again. The bloom is off the rose. And it’s like they know the event’s excitement diminishes so they employ cheap tricks to get better word-of-mouth. I’ve decided I would rather have one good finite meal than as much as I could eat of anything, good or bad.

The Books I Read: March – April 2022

bookshelf books
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

If you’re looking for some superhero fiction, this would be an excellent place to start. This is about a henchwoman who becomes chief assistant to a supervillain because she figures out a way to really defeat heroes–in the court of public opinion. It’s all a matter of perspective–if you account for all the collateral damage they do, they end up doing more harm than good. There’s a little bit of John Scalzi’s Redshirts in here combined with Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible.

But more to the fact, it’s “My Fair Lady”. The main woman starts at the bottom and becomes a super-villain in her own right. In the meantime, she’s wondering if this is the right thing to do–if this is just part of her own petty vengeance for being part of that collateral damage (since she was acting in a henchman capacity) or if she’s gone too far. It soon becomes a war of who can act more heinously and ends up in some disturbing zones (including a little body horror).

It’s an examination of the dark side of superheroes and the life of supervillains. If you like shows/comics like “The Boys” or “Invincible”, you’ll like this. It’s not as over-the-top violent, but it has an intriguing plot and good characters.

The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration edited by Robin Rosenberg

I thought this would be like The Law of Superheroes, but it’s actually pretty boring. There’s less about “what makes Superhero X tick” and more about generic psychological phenomena. For example, they don’t talk about the Hulk’s relationship to rage or how to treat him. They talk about rage in general, using Hulk for their case studies and examples. It’s like they took their research and replaced real names with superheroes.

They’re always talking about “positive psychology” and I don’t know what that is. At least they avoid any discussion of Freud, except in a satirical “what not to do” sense. Unless you know psychology, you won’t have a fun time with this. But if you were a doctor of psychology, you also wouldn’t learn anything new from this book. Like any collection of short stories or essays by multiple authors, the essays are going to be hit or miss.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

So imagine if you combined Agatha Christie with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (or “Groundhog’s Day” if you’re not a video game connoisseur). An unusual combination I know, but that’s definitely the best comparison I can make. The problem is that I don’t like Agatha Christie and Majora’s Mask was an overrated game. This came across my radar after a recommendation by Justin McElroy (of My Brother My Brother and Me podcasting fame)

There’s a big high society party in a mansion (imagine The Great Gatsby) where there’re lots of colorful characters and they all have their reasons to kill one another. Our main character, who has amnesia, inhabits one of these bodies throughout the day. But he gets to do it eight times. So at any given instance, there’s eight of him but they all have different levels of knowledge about the goings-on. When he dies or falls asleep, he goes into another body and repeats the day, needing to use what he’s learned from before. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to figure out who killed the daughter of the mansion’s owner.

It’s long and I got very confused throughout. I am not a guy who can figure out a book mystery. Between all the red herrings, false leads, and characters, I can barely hang on to the plot. Now add time travel into the mix. Maybe I’m an unsophisticated idiot, but it’s too challenging to keep track of who’s in what body where at what time and what that person knows. I’m sure the author spent a long time figuring out the exact timeline of all events and an even harder time making a book out of all that. Kudos for that, but a reader needs a spreadsheet to keep track of everything and get everything out of it the author intended. It’s like a very intricate clock or 80-hour video game. The other problem is all the characters are pretty despicable. If you like character-driven pieces, this is not for you. This is more like a puzzle box.

But I did finish it, so it was entertaining enough, but I could not tell you what was happening. This is a hard read, not for the beach. It’s on the level of The Magicians by Lev Grossman or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

I would call this Scalzi’s dumbest book to date. That doesn’t mean what you think it means. I mean it’s just lacking in big or methodical ideas. There’s a share of science, but not as much as I would have liked (how do you grow an organic nuclear reactor?) but its more like spitballing and hand-waving and less like some hard “what could be” you’d find from Asimov or Heinlein.

Usually Scalzi takes on some interesting “what if” subjects, like politics and trade routes, metaphysical identity issues, and so on. Kaiju is, Scalzi self-admits, a book written to try and shake off all the terribility of 2020 and beyond.

It’s so short I hadn’t had time to form an opinion on it before I was done. Honestly, it’s probably the book of his I like the least. Scalzi admits he wrote it in a four-week haze in March of 2021 after failing on another novel. But that’s fine. Scalzi’s therapeutic exhales are better than some author’s shouts.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

If you saw the movie, you don’t need to read this. There’s nearly a 1:1 event/character/setting adaptation. Which is fine, it’s a good story, but I think the movie was better. In the book, there are some aggravating scenes where characters hold the idiot ball and keep secrets just because it moves the plot forward. I think the story is excellent, but does better in the adaptation to film, especially since it’s a love letter to the medium. That loses a little bit of something in book form.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

So when I read “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” I thought “Here’s an interesting concept–a space opera without much violence or adult content. Quite peaceful. Low stakes. Dynamic characters. Like if Star Wars was a happy place.” So when I heard her next book was about robots and in a more Earth-like setting, I was delighted. But this book is a bunch of hippy-dippy shit about helping people, having an existential crisis, and not knowing the purpose of life.

cartman south park hippies dream

There aren’t fights, there aren’t high stakes, there’s no danger of failure. Just a lot of crying. I knew Chambers liked positive stories, but this is Sesame Street. I mean, granted there’s some decent philosophy talk here and there, but I feel like I need my stories to matter to someone. We’re missing a “what happens if he/she fails”.

Speaking of “he/she”, the main character is non-gender identified and I have a beef with that. Not because I’m anti-trans, but I have a problem with using the pronoun “they”. I know “they” is grammatically correct. It can be used in place of “he or she”. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I’m fine with transgender people, but you can’t change English. “They” means more than one person, so every time the narrative reads “Dex went to the fountain. They found the water clear and cool.” I feel like I skipped a sentence and it’s referring to something else now. Or that Dex suddenly grew a second head. Or has an alien parasite like Venom. My point is it’s jarring, and language exists to provide clarity to information. I don’t like it and I don’t want to get used to it. Call me a cantankerous old coot if you want. Use another pronoun. Use “xe/xer” or “hir” or “vir” or “per”, I don’t care. But “they” is an established word with meaning and you can’t bend language to your will.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

This is the book I wish Riley Sager’s Final Girls would have been. Horror fans, like me, will love this. Especially all the references, nods, and Easter eggs which alone make this worth reading. The author definitely did their research. But more than that, you can also tell he loves the material.

In this novel, the concept is that all the horror movie franchises actually happened–Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre–and that the movies we see are based on their real stories. I’d say it’s more thriller than horror, but that’s fine for me, because, as I’ve said before, horror just doesn’t seem to work in the written word. Text doesn’t deliver that visceral visual stimulation or suspenseful timing that movies or plays can deliver. (You get scared? You can just peek at the end of the chapter to see if they live through this.)

All the characters have different voices, personalities, and motivations. There’s a good sense of plot movement and pacing so I never got bored. And of dealing with trauma. I loved it so much I added Hendrix’s other most popular book (“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”) on my “to-read” list.

The Broken Blade by William Durbin

My youngest is reading this for her school, so I figured why not? It’s not too long and I’m descended from voyageurs myself. I should find out what my legacy is.

The Broken Blade is meant to be a historical fiction/educational book in the same sense of Across Five Aprils. Our lead, Pierre, feels guilty for an accident that made his father resign from the yearly “march of the voyageurs” that brought them their livelihood. So he conscripts himself into their ranks and learns what its like paddling from Montreal to west Lake Superior. The heartache, the danger, the camaraderie, the enemies and friends made.

It’s a very clear Coming of Age story–the transition of the boy to a man. As you imagine, the female parts are extremely underwritten. I feel like some of the material was sanitized for younger readers. There is drinking and fighting, but no swearing or sex talk. I probably won’t read the following books in the series, but I’m glad I read this as it gave me a better understanding of the French-Canadian explorers and pioneers.

Analyzing the Disney Villains: The Spirits (Frozen II)

THE SPIRITS OF THE ENCHANTED FOREST (a.k.a. the Elements)
Origin: Frozen II (2019)

Motivation: This movie is, in a word, messy. There are too many protagonists and each has their own motivations (Elsa has wanderlust, Anna wants things to stay the same, Kristoff wants to propose, Olaf wants to be relevant to the plot). So how can the antagonist not be equally messy?

As far as I can figure, Ahtohallan chose that particular moment in time to call out to Elsa (just in time for the second movie to start). It wants Elsa to learn the truth so that the dam can be broken and the river can flow again. But it does this in the weirdest way.

Why do the spirits keep attacking them? The little salamander sets fire to the camp, the wind spirit assaults Olaf, the water spirit horse attacks Elsa, the Earth Giants nearly kill Anna with rocks. Who are they working for? Why don’t they want to help? Don’t they want the land to be freed as well?

Character Strengths: When you’re talking spirits of nature, you’re talking about all the destructive power that goes along with it. Earth giants can throw boulders. Salamanders can scoot around and set everything ablaze. Wind spirits can whip you around in a tornado. Of course, the question is, do they hold a candle to Elsa’s power?

The answer is no. Elsa dispatches the tornado by bringing down the temperature, smacks the little fire lizard around, tames the horse and… well we don’t see her interact with the rockbiters. But if she did, I bet they’d get a walloping.

Evilness: Like nature, I don’t think the spirits are evil or good. They simply are. They do what they do. Of course, that’s a petty excuse, because once you anthropomorphize something, you’re giving it a modicum of free will. Meaning I have no idea what the spirits want. They have power, but what are they using it for, besides giving our protagonists some obstacles. They don’t gain anything by keeping Elsa from the river of Ahtohallan. Wouldn’t the spirits want to work in conjunction with Ahtohallan? Is there a jealousy thing here?

Tools: Each spirit, like the cliche expects, has its own weapons according to its specialties. Fire can set things on fire, wind can blow things over, etc. Just imagine any X-Men, but Disneyfied (wait, doesn’t Disney own X-Men now?)

Complement to the Hero: Ironically, as we find out in the ending (spoilers), Elsa is the Fifth Spirit. The one who acts as a bridge from the natural world to the human world. So they are both cut from the same cloth. (Literally, as one of the Northuldra uses a cloth to demonstrate this.) Of course, none of this explains how Elsa got cursed/blessed, what she did to deserve it, who did it, and so on. Nor does it explain why the spirits keep trying to kick her out. What are they afraid of?

Fatal Flaw: I’m not sure what to put here because the spirits are pretty mindless. I don’t understand their motivations, their evilness, so I can’t think of what their fatal flaw might be. Ignorance? Lack of understanding? This movie is a mess. I’d make a case for the movie’s writers to be the real antagonists. Do you see how many questions I’ve asked in this article?

Method of Defeat/Death: Well, they aren’t really defeated either. Anna teases the rock monsters to destroy the dam. This opens up the river, lifts the fog, and frees everyone inside. Yet the spirits are still around. One even acts as a mail carrier. Another acts as a highly merchandisable pet, but we don’t talk about Bruni.

Final Rating: One star

Previous Analyses
King Candy (Wreck-It Ralph)
Abuela (Encanto)
Prince Hans (Frozen)
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

The Problem with D&D Longplay Podcasts

I really like playing D&D but I have no one to play with. To that end, I’ve tried listening to a few D&D long play podcasts, but I’ve noticed I can’t keep my attention on any of them. They’re all just so boring and here’s the common problem: They don’t move forward fast enough.

There’s too much airtime placed on the players’ interactions in the environment or ten-minute debates on how to solve a puzzle. It’s like listening in on someone’s business meeting or a very long detailed book-on-tape. If you’re going to construct a story, you’ve got to play by one rule: keep the story moving.

But all these longplays, they’re always just dinking around, talking to the bartender, stealing a flower off a person’s headdress just because they can, having conversations with unimportant people in the back. And there’s always one guy who’s a newbie and that person never does anything bold or dramatic because they’re afraid to or don’t realize they can. They’re still in the mentality of board games. They’re thinking they’re the Sorry! piece, limited by the squares the rules say they can step on.

One episode should be like one chapter of a book. And in the first chapter of a book, I should know A) who the main character(s) is and B) the problem he/she is facing. Maybe a little bit about the stakes too, if one feels so bold. The problem with D&D is that only the game master knows what is being moved toward.

I did listen to the entirety of the My Brother, My Brother and Me‘s “Balance” arc (the first D&D podcast they did), and that was the best and really, the only one I could tolerate. That was for two reasons. One: The McElroy brothers are funny. And they’ve been podcasting for a long time so they know what works and what doesn’t in audio format. B) something about the structure — 7 plot coupons, resulting in 5-6 episode story arcs — meant there was a clear determined endpoint. The characters were dynamically different and working toward something. There was light at the end of the tunnel.

But these other longplays, no one seems to know how to measure time. Each action takes ten minutes to discuss, roll, and there’s nothing for the listener to latch onto. No snappy patter or consequence or plot revelations. It’s like a book that’s too long.

Social Media Frustrations

You know I’m trying to sign up for other social networks in anticipation of the great Twitter shake-up (I’m not leaving Twitter, but I’m not not looking at other doors). But it sucks. I tried signing up for Ello, purported to be a social network for artists. (Hey, I’m an artist!) But after I click the confirmation code, it prompts me to enter a username and password, which I haven’t registered for yet. And when I click “Discover Ello”, nothing happens.

Mastodon forces me to “choose a server”. What the hell does that mean? I don’t want to limit myself to who/what’s on a certain server. I want to follow cool people, witty people, people I admire.

Imagine if I was a capital A author and I had to sign up and market myself on all these places. Constant tweets and quotes and pictures every day, just to produce content.

As long as social media contains blocks that require any learning curve or sectionalization to sign up to, Twitter is going to keep being the king of the ring.

Analyzing the Disney Villains: King Candy (Wreck-It Ralph)

KING CANDY (a.k.a. Turbo)
Origin: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Motivation: To be played. I guess the biggest thrill in a video game character’s life is when a little boy a girl puts that quarter in, much like a toy in the Toy Story universe. I guess it’s nice to have a purpose. And terrible when that purpose goes away. All of us eventually get used up or replaced by younger, newer, fancier models that better fit the changing times. Some of us can accept that. Some of us can’t.

Character Strengths: The most diabolical thing about King Candy is his sincerity. He’s not wrong about Vanellope–a glitched character, one that allows the player to cheat, could bring down the world and condemn her to death (whatever “death” means in the video game world). This fact allows him to convince anyone who hasn’t already been corrupted (by manipulation of the game’s code helps to cement) that he is who he says he is.

Evilness: So King Candy (in his previous persona of Turbo) invaded a video game, glitched it, and got all of its characters unplugged, which I guess is like sentencing them to death. That’s pretty bad. It’s like infiltrating a gang, then getting them all arrested. But beyond that, King Candy/Turbo took over ANOTHER racing game, but learned from his mistakes. He replaced the main character’s code (Vanellope) with his own, detached her from the game, then locked everyone’s memory so no one knew the difference. Seems like the perfect crime.

Tools: King Candy was smart enough to take over a world with a little more character development than “Out Run“. That means he was able to find a racing game with a world full of minions at his command. And when you can insert yourself as the leader of those minions with a few simple button taps, what’s going to stop you? (A Donkey Kong expy, that’s who). He has what’s basically the key to Matrix-ing the world.

Also, he turns into a giant cyborg insect. That doesn’t help.

Complement to the Hero: It’s hard to know whether to compare him to Ralph, who is the more direct protagonist, or Vanellope, who is the more direct complement. After all, he’s taking Vanellope’s place as ruler of the Candy Kingdom. But in this case, I think it can be both. Both is good. He can overpower Ralph with intellect and Vanellope with charm (and minions). Both King Candy and Vanellope are confident they have a place in the game world. It’s much the story of a usurped princess and her knight in shining armor.

Fatal Flaw: King Candy’s been playing his role for so long, I think even he forgot he used to be Turbo. He looks surprised when the glitch transforms him for a second. You might call it denial, you might call it an inability to accept reality. Maybe a little bit of vanity/ego in there as well.

Method of Defeat/Death: So after King Candy is eaten by one of the cybugs he gets all their strengths and weaknesses. Like Aladdin said: “phenomenal cosmic powers, itty-bitty living space”. His new Cybug powers include an insatiable drive to go towards the pretty light that’s essentially a nuclear candy blast. I do love those ironic deaths.

Final Rating: Five stars

Abuela (Encanto)
Prince Hans (Frozen)
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Abuela (Encanto)

Oh my god, am I really doing new ones? It’s been so long since I wrote this series and times, they do a-change. I’ve seen some of the films I originally skipped, new ones have been made, and people have actually made a few requests. So let’s waste no words.

ALMA “ABUELA” MADRIGAL
Origin: Encanto (2021)

Motivation: Abuela’s actions are rooted in staying worthy of the miracle that allowed to escape the marauders that forced her from her hometown. She received a second chance when her husband sacrificed himself for his people and his family. That chance is in the form of a candle that indicates the “health” of the magic.

And she is so afraid of losing that magic, she expects perfection out of her offspring. Except for Mirabel, who has nothing to offer. Her motives are so strong they trickle down to the family, so that Luisa can’t relax, Isabela can’t grow anything but beautiful flowers, and Bruno has to exile himself when everyone perceives his prophecies as doing damage (but we don’t talk about Bruno).

Abuela has to sweep up all of Isabela’s flowers

Character Strengths: There is a certain something to be said for stubbornness. As the matriarch of her family, it gives her equal parts nurturing and respect. You don’t want to disobey Abuela, but you don’t want to disappoint her either. After all, she led you to a protected place, gave you a magic house, and provided you with a special superpower. I’d call her on her birthday if I were you.

Evilness: Not very. That’s what I like about Encanto–there is no real bad guy. The bad things people do are done with excellent reasoning behind them. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Abuela would welcome you in with a cup of coffee and a healing arepa and never harm a hair on your head. But if you’re not pulling your weight as part of your family, you’ll be scorned so bad.

Tools: These are some of the most interesting tools I’ve seen. She’s got a rockin’ candle that never goes out. As long as it stays lit, her offspring have superstrength and weather control. In fact, they’re kind of like henchmen, doing her bidding. Even if that means babysitting and fetching goats, it’s still bidding.

The magic is also the fuel for Casita, an enchanted house that seems to have consciousness, a little like Howl’s Moving Castle, except, you know, it doesn’t move. But it can reform itself (generally)–move objects by rippling the floor, change staircases, communicate non-verbally. But it seems to be beholding to the magic of the candle because it was not in control of Mirabel’s non-gift. Surely if it was, it would have offered an explanation.

Complement to the Hero: Mirabel and Abuela are reflections of each other. Abuela is hard as a rock, stiff. She’s seen some shit. Mirabel plays it looser. You can see it in their animation styles. Mirabel’s always moving her head, her shoulders, her limbs, nearly every word she says. Abuela stands stiff as a board. Unyielding. But if their positions were switched, Mirabel could easily become Abuela and vice versa.

Fatal Flaw: Fear. Maybe coupled with some paranoia. It’s not like it’s not justified. She had to run away from her hometown, saw the love of her life killed before her eyes just after giving birth to triplets. This makes her stern, firm, but also quick to see the worst side of the scenario.

However, everything has been berries and cream since then and it’s been, what, forty years? Fifty? How old does Bruno look? It’s hard to tell in a cartoon (we don’t talk about Bruno’s… social security). You can add in a little denial there too, because she doesn’t believe Mirabel that Casita is cracking (maybe because she already assumes the worst in her).

Method of Defeat/Death: First Disney villain to be defeated with hugs. Mirabel and Abuela come to an understanding at the river, where they realize they both want what’s best for the family. But she was too hard on them because she was so afraid of losing the miracle by failing to earn it. And it wasn’t fair for her to take out her fear on the family. She was burdened by the evil that men do, but her children and children’s children hadn’t. And after all, isn’t that what we all want for our families? To live a better life than we had?

Final Rating: Three stars

Prince Hans (Frozen)
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Bill and Bob… Not Quite Dead

Guess who’s back…

Back again…

Bill and Bob…

Back, my friend…

Well, sort of back. Now they aren’t as prominent as they were before. They’ve on a different billboard tucked in between a gas station and a sign shop/car storage (the outer suburbs, guys <shrug>)

But get this: Here’s the full text of the billboard

God Blessed
AMERICA
Choose Hope Over Fear
Respectfully…Bill, Bob, et al
Paid for by Duckhead Partners LLC · duckheadpartners@gmail.com

Guys, they posted an email address! They claimed who was responsible for these. They do have accountability! Super tiny “don’t look at me” accountability but nonetheless…

So what’s Duckhead? Sounds like investment bankers. LLC means “limited liability company”. Is it some kind of think group? A PAC? Well, let’s do a google search.

According to this, Duckheard Partners started at the end of 2017, founded by William Naegele. Hm, well, that’s the lable on the bottom of the first billboard.

So if I were to guess, I would say they’re billboard owners. And we can presume William O. Naegele is the “Bill” in “Bill and Bob”. No mention of who Bob is so far.

Here’s their address:

600 Market Street Suite 240
Chanhassen, MN 55317

Not even in the same city that they’re posting their propaganda. Aye-yi-yi. I Google-streeted their building and (unless the picture’s old) there isn’t even a sign above their door.

Here’s the only other information I found. They apparently invested in a property in Chanhassen in 2018. On the site, the purchaser is blurred out but A) you can pretty easily see it reads “Duckhead Partners” and B) if you examine the source, you can see what it really says. Blame the site for poor privacy, not my nosiness.

What does this mean? I have no idea. I have no problem with someone buying a house. Certainly companies have done worse.

So then what do I do about this e-mail address? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? I’m really tempted to use it. My journalistic spider-sense is tingling, and I’d like some answers to the questions I’ve been asking all this time. I wouldn’t be mean about it–I just want to know what they intend with these messages.

But another part of me is worried about tickling a tiger’s tail. I’m just a blogger. These people have billboard money. I don’t mean putting up the poster, I mean owning the billboard itself. Is this a hill I want to die on?

So what do you think? Should I try contacting these people? See what they say? See if I can learn their motivations, means, and opportunities? Leave a comment.

The Slap Heard Round the World

Let’s be clear. On Sunday night, two bad things happened. When I saw it, I knew A) it was all anyone was going to be talking about next morning (the memes must flow) and B) it was going to split the nation down the middle.

The question now is which was worse. The buzz seems to be that Will Smith was wrong and should have been escorted out. But I’m also seeing lots of women saying they liked his defense of his wife and thought he was justified. Here are the two big questions I had–Was Chris Rock’s joke worth it? Was Will Smith “White Knight“ing?

First, let’s look at Chris Rock. His exact words were “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it. All right?” At first Will Smith and Jada smile, then Jada’s face drops. Will Smith sees it. The slap occurs. Chris Rock takes it in stride, saying he just got slapped the shit out of (is that grammatically correct) by Will Smith. To defend himself, he says, in a pleading voice, “It was a G.I. Jane joke.”

Then why’d you tell it?

If you knew it was a poor joke, why’d was it on your list of shots to fire? G.I. Jane is a twenty-five-year-old movie that people only remember because Demi Moore shaved her head (because she was playing a Navy SEAL). At the time, Demi Moore was a well-known babe–equivalent to Zendaya today, if I had to guess. The movie was not good (I saw it.) It has 50% on Rotten Tomatoes and didn’t make back its budget. I’m betting there was much googling of “G.I. Jane” after the initial shock wore off. Certainly poor material to make a joke out of.

I don’t know if Chris Rock came up with that or a team of writers, but Rock’s the one who opened his mouth. He had veto power. He could have kept his mouth shut. People are demanding quality now, not quantity. That’s part of the reason we’re having the Great Resignation–it’s not that people don’t want to work, it’s that they don’t want to work crap jobs. Better opportunities are opening up. Same applies to entertainment.

We have reached a time when comedians are not underdogs getting arrested for free speech anymore. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Denis Leary are dead. More careful scrutiny is being given because there have been too many incidents of them “getting away with it” because it was “just a joke”. Too many Michael Richards, Roseanne Barr, Bill Burr, Bill Maher, Louis C.K., Dave Chapelle, and Bill Cosby.

Moreover, good comedy is not made from people’s appearances. Especially the parts you can’t control. “Four-eyes”, “lardass”, “cripple”, “pizza face”–these are schoolyard level jibes. They’re juvenile. And most times, it’s about something the targeted party can’t control. I can’t control being bald. My wife can control having freckles. You can’t tell what someone’s going through by looking at the surface. Jada could be fighting cancer in addition to alopecia and keeping it secret, you don’t know. Chris Rock certainly didn’t. It’s low-hanging fruit and it’s beneath Chris Rock’s standards.

Now onto Will Smith. Clearly this is a case of lost control. Some say that these people are in the public light — they must subject themselves to jokes at their expense. But did he do the wrong thing for the right reasons?

In “Woke Culture”, we call this “White Knighting“. It’s when a man thinks he’s defending a woman, but he’s really talking over her, when he should be standing to the side in support. I didn’t see Jada ask Will Smith to go up and serve Chris Rock some manners. So I think it’s safe to assume Smith did this without prompting. So he did wrong in that respect, pushing himself into something that was between Chris Rock and Jada.

But I also don’t think Jada would ask him to do that. In fact, I don’t see any world in which Jada goes to bat for herself against Rock. Because women have been trained to “accept it” and “take a joke”. Catcalls and sexual harassement–“oh, it was just a joke, honey, don’t get all bent out of shape.”

Which begs the question, should Will Smith have smacked Chris Rock? Will Smith kept making reference to “being a protector” in his acceptance speech for Best Oscar. Toxic masculinity can creep into that kind of mentality easily. If Chris Rock had hit back, how would the night have escalated? Thank God both of them had the wherewithal to understand they both went too far. But there also must be a line drawn somewhere. Like Chris Rock once said about O.J. Simpson, “I don’t agree with what he did. But I understand.”

So I’m on Will Smith’s side on this one. As a creative, we have to strive to be better.

The most interesting part is… Kanye West saved it. The guy who interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, who makes ridiculous stunts when releasing albums, who can’t stop calling himself a genius. The guy with the ego the size of a planet brought forth the olive branch.

Like Chris Rock once said: “There’s a reason to hit everybody, just don’t do it.”

The Books I Read: January – February 2022

bookshelf books

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

This is a short collection of beautifully written essays that don’t seem to have a point. Only about a quarter of this book is really about “writing life”. That section is nothing you haven’t heard before. It’s getting your ass in the chair and writing and looking around. Nothing about the publicity tours, the writer’s block, the interactions with an editor, with fans, the relationship changes with a family (i.e. what to say during gatherings where you just want people to buy it)

The rest is about… something else. I guess it’s the things you think about when you should be writing but you’re not. Like how cold your cabin is. Or what that lumberjack is doing over in the distance. Mostly it’s stories that don’t go anywhere, like the time I had to catch the train to Shelbyville and I had to tie an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. There’s something “metaphysical” about the book, that it’s about more life and less writing.

And the problem was I couldn’t follow it. I got the sense this is something the author wrote as an exercise in-between books. In other words, it didn’t meet my expectations. I’m not sure who this book is for but it’s not for writers.

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

This guy has such a hard-on for Casablanca and Tootsie he should have been a film critic. The book was written in 2007 but all his examples are from way in the past (we’re talking Four Weddings and a Funeral or The Godfather). These are fine stories, it may not be what you want to write. I know I don’t. You may want to write “Iron Man” or “Nightmare Alley” or some crime thriller book. You can have a story that’s fun and still affects the reader. It doesn’t have to be about social issues or dour “message-driven” plots. This book emphasizes starting with the theme and snowballing out from there. Not about what “well wouldn’t it be fun if…”

For another thing, those works are once-in-a-blue-moon-type stories. I doubt Mario Puzo and Murray Burnett (the guy who wrote the play Casablanca is based on) were thinking about morals, themes, or motifs right from the get-go. They’re what Stephen King calls “geniuses” and you can’t make a genius out of a competent writer. No writing book in the world is going to do that and that is the premise this book seems to be selling. The Godfather and Casablanca were cases of the right story, right writer, and right time & place. Stephen King and Neil Gaiman say they wait until the book is finished, then examine the story to determine the theme that came out of it.

This book was much like Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass where, if I got 10% out of what I read, that would be enough. But this book is so long, and seems so counter to current stories and best-sellers, I don’t think I can recommend it. Watch another movie besides Tootsie, John.

Swashbucklers by Dan Hanks

I got excited when I read the concept. But then the story got boring because there was no character development. It’s supposed to be like “what happened when the kids from Stranger Things or The Goonies grew up?”

I guess they get real dull is what happened. The story that happened before this would have been far more exciting to read. The author keeps telling, not showing, because the important parts all happened before.

This is like the sequel or fan fiction to a story that never happened. And the content that is there is just tedious adventuring and no character arcs. No one learns anything, they just do fighting. So there’s no way to get invested.

All These Worlds (Bobiverse #3) by Dennis E. Taylor

This is the third book in the “Bobiverse” trilogy. There are other side-spin-off books, but I don’t think I’ll read those because the story ended quite satisfactorily here for me. Far more than The Themis Files.

As with all sequels in a series, you’ll learn more about my recommendations for those if you read my previous reviews. Suffice to say, it ends delightfully and, as aforementioned, satisfactorily. I think it might be better than the second book, which is always a good thing for a trilogy. It’s got a good sense of humor, very Scalzi-esque. But as I’ve said previously, don’t wait too long between each book or you’ll forget everything.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

I think this is short enough to be called a novella, so I’d like to know how this got a publisher, because I’ve got some novellas I’d like to submit.

There’s some beautifully written prose in here, but at the cost of narrative flow. The dialogue keeps getting interrupted with some observation, facial tic, or other analysis of the narrative.

That means the story gets no chance to flow. Barry Lyga says “Small, insignificant actions like ‘looking’ or ‘blinking’ or ‘swallowing’ or ‘narrowing eyes’ distract to the reader and make the story unnecessarily longer.” This is coupled with there being too much telling about the characters, not showing, because the narrative is told through a single POV. This means I forgot who they were half the time, even though there are only five.

The more horror I read, the less I like it as a genre/medium. It gets too metafictional. Too self-aware. I guess it’s hard not to have the characters realize they’re in a horror movie when there are so many tropes. But it all comes off like a repeat of Scream. Plus you lose all the timing of the scare and the visuality of the horror.

The Law of Superheroes by James Daily and Ryan Davidson

I picked this up as research for a possible book. I guess if you were going to read any fun “accessible” book about law, this would be it. But be prepared because these guys are lawyers first and writers second. There are times even Batman’s vigilante justice can’t save all the prose (i.e. long paragraphs, high vocabulary, and plenty of adverbs). But how else are you going to find out if Superman has to pay taxes on the coal he squeezes into diamonds?

There’s quite a lot of content here, from constitutional law to criminal to privacy to property. At least everything has a tone of humor, so it’s not a dry legal document. I think if you used to watch The People’s Court (Wapner forever!) and read comic books at the same time, this is for you. It’s for a specific audience, but hey, you might be that audience!

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
(unfinished)

This was gifted to my wife, so of course, it got to my hands first. It didn’t look like my usual fare, but sometimes books find you. And you have to take those opportunities when they come. If you search for good books, understand that they may also be searching for you. Besides, I want to learn how to write a bestseller. Why not read a bestseller?

I really really tried. I made it halfway through–204 pages. But I just did not care about the characters. I did not see a world where I would have been glad I finished this all the way to the end.

First, I hate the style. Everything is written in this dark gothic prose with lots of gaps between dialogue detailing every wisp of hair, every bite of the lip, every taste in the mouth, every visual and audio detail between the lines. It’s wordy, wordy, wordy. There’s basically one thing that happens in each chapter and all the rest is window dressing and filler prose. Is overwriting a plague among bestsellers?

Second, I hate the story. It’s not Little Red Riding Hood. It’s not even close to that as an allegory. There’s not even a grandma to eat. The symbology is vague at best. If it’s close to any fairy tale, it’s Beauty and the Beast. And there is already a metric ton of those. I don’t need to read them again. Look at the facts: the little defenseless girl is forced to live in a castle with a gruff grumpy man (called The Wolf) who acts taciturn and rude to her until they spend some time together. They fall in love by proximity, yadda yadda yadda. You already know how it ends.

It’s got a distinct mood, but why do I need another “tale as old as time”? Why do I need to know every time a character wipes their eyebrow or looks at the floor?