Monday, March 27, 2017

Enough, Already

Last week, a lot of mediocre plot lines and sketchy character motivations were moved around so that The Flash and Supergirl could have a musical crossover. Like most of these CW things do nowadays, the last 30 seconds of Supergirl bled into the entire episode of The Flash, interrupting at least one fairly interesting storyline so that the very charming Grant Gustin and likewise charming Melissa Benoist could sing and dance and make the Internet explode.

It's not their fault the show was bad. They were great,
for what it's worth. It should never have been done
in the first place. That was the problem from the start.
It was a terrible episode, and not even the admittedly cute song about "Super Friends" in the middle could save it. Not Jesse L. Martin, a Broadway song and dance man, nor Victor Garber, on loan from the terrible Legends of Tomorrow show, could save it. It was a wasted hour of television. And I blame fandom for it.

Yes, you. Don't look at me like that. This is all your fault. Enough with the singing, already. We DO NOT need a musical episode of every single one of your favorite shows. You might think you do, but you don't, and I can prove it.

This whole thing started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another show I never really liked to begin with. I know it was popular, and I tried to like it, really I did. But it never grabbed me. I got why you liked it, though, and so I never, ever trashed it.

But then, "Once More, With Feeling," aired, and suddenly, it's all any of you could talk about. How cool it was; how the songs all were part of the story; you know, like a real musical. Personally, I avoided it for years, because, you see, I'm not fan of musicals to begin with. I do not care for the conceit, nor the artifice, that goes with accepting a musical as a storytelling medium I wish to participate in. There are some musicals that I like, despite the way the story is told. Usually it's the subject matter I like more than the singing, but not always. The point is, I'm very particular about what musicals I like and why. And, I figured, since I didn't like Buffy to begin with, I would not like the musical.

Xander. What a clod-hopper.  
I watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, and I loved it. Mostly because it was a story that interested me. On the strength of that outing, I watched "Once More, With Feeling." And I got it.

It's a great episode, truly. It's completely rooted in the ongoing story, and in fact, uses the trope of singing inner feelings out loud to actually affect and change the ongoing subplots. That's good writing. That's inspired storytelling.

And you loved it (oh GOD, did you love it). Many of you loved it because you got to see these actors you admire singing and dancing. And they were good at it, too (well, most of them were). But that's not the real reason why you were so taken with it.

You liked it because it was a complete and total surprise. You didn't see it coming, and even after you got used to the format of the episode, it threw you a couple of curve balls. Remember, this was deep into the Buffy seasons, and you were already along for the ride. But this one episode caught you off guard. And it deserves all the praise it gets, because it got there first and squatted down. Not first in Television History, mind you; many other shows did a similar gag. It's just that it was the first time since, what? Moonlighting, in the late 1980's?  Plus, Buffy was Geeky/Sci-Fi TV, which normally is too busy taking itself seriously to bother with singing and dancing.

The problem with a musical episode of Buffy is that it's so brilliant, so good, you can't ever really use it again, not for a long time. It's too original, too wacky. Whedon did something so novel that he kind of owns that idea, at least for a little while. And trying to shoehorn it into every other show you love only cheapens the real work that Whedon did.

You loved the surprise, but you mis-identified the reason. The change-up, the unexpected, the curve ball: That's what you loved. That the curve ball was a musical episode has only led tens of thousands of you to start asking, no, begging, other shows to "have a musical episode," regardless of whether or not it wanted one, or even needed one.

And this is why we can't have nice things. If you want to be surprised more often, insist on better writing. Ask for what you really want.

I will now take questions from the audience:

Dream Sequences Get a Pass. Also, they are mercifully brief.
1. But Mark, you loved the Musical Sequence from Agent Carter, you big hypocrite, what gives?
I'm glad you brought that up. Let's clarify.  The musical sequence you speak of was actually a dream sequence. Specifically, it was the opener to a show after Carter had been knocked unconscious. It wasn't the whole show. It was, maybe, five minutes, at best. And it didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. It was literally an "Opening Suite" style recap of the previous 5 episodes. So, the producers were able to get a little residual mileage out of the "musical" idea without stepping on Buffy's toes.

2. You don't know what you're talking about. I actually LIKE musicals, okay? And I want to see more of them. 
Good. Go watch all you can find. Just please stop asking that they be inserted into shows that have no business doing them. Do you have all of the episodes of Glee? How about Galavant? Crazy Ex-Girfriend? No? Then get cracking, sister, and then hit YouTube up when you're done. There's stuff out there for you to consume, and I'll make you a promise here and now: I won't jump into every Crazy Ex-Girlfriend discussion and say, "You know what the show really needs? Overly-emotional DC Super heroes! That would be SO COOL!"

3. But I'm a fan of [Name of Actor With a Good Singing Voice Goes Here]. I used to watch them on [Name of show on Netflix Goes Here] all the time. Why can't I have have them singing in THESE shows, too? 
Don't be selfish. Also: ask for what you really want, what you really, really want. If you want to hear Jesse L. Martin singing American Standards with a piano accompanying him, then ask for that. If you want to hear all of the Broadway actors from these CW shows singing together, then encourage another writer's strike, so that everyone will have room in their schedule to do something original, that doesn't use these characters or situations. I'm confident that "Super Friends" is already on the Internet for .99 cents or less.

In closing, let me say this: we all watch a lot of this stuff. And we get really good at sniffing out the regular beats in the story, the formulas, the over-used plot points. You don't have to watch things that bore you, no matter how much you've already watched. Likewise, you can ask for things that will surprise and delight you. That's your right as a consumer. But when you keep asking for the same old thing, you run the risk of diluting the coolness of the very thing you love.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

10 Things You Probably Don't Know About the Vernon Plaza Theater (#3 Will Shock Your Face Off!)

A lot of people have heard about the Plaza Theater a Vernon Institution for sixty-four years, but just as many have heard the wrong information, or worse, no information at all! Here's the facts about the place that was voted Best Movie Theater in Vernon for 9 years in a row!

10.  The Vernon Plaza Theater is open seven days a week! That means you can see movies on Tuesday night, or Thursday night. As long as you have one day off a week, you’ll never miss a movie.

9. The Vernon Plaza weekly movie schedule is available in the following places: In the Vernon Daily Record, on Facebook, on Twitter, on the Vernon Plaza website, hanging on the Ticket Window, recorded on the Movie Line message, in email to group members, and hanging at select locations like Tyson’s Foods. If you don't know what movies are playing at your local movie theater, that's something only you can fix.

8. The Vernon Plaza Theater shows first-run movies, all the latest and greatest films, and over two-thirds of the first-run movies they get show up within the first two weeks. Big summer movies and holiday releases are our specialty! See the latest and greatest Marvel, Disney, Star Wars, and Pixar movies without having to become a Tourist in Wichita Falls, Texas.

7. You can rent the Vernon Plaza Theater for birthday parties and special events. It’s super easy! Simply come by during normal business hours (after 5 PM on weekdays) and pick up a Party Schedule form and talk to Mark or Cathy. The Vernon Plaza Theater is also available for schools and churches for field trips and other special screenings.

6. The Plaza Theater hosts several special events every year that are tied to movies, advance screenings, and community engagement. They give away posters, comics, door prizes, and donate proceeds to various charities throughout the year. Did you miss Dino-Week? The Speed Racer Hot Wheels Race? 13 Days of Halloween? Dinner and a Movie nights? Free movie nights sponsored by the Vernon Daily Record? They do things like this all year long.

5. The Vernon Plaza Theater recently upgraded to fully digital projection and 5.1 Dolby stereo surround sound. The picture is gorgeous! The sound is amazing! You won’t believe the difference.

4. Movies in 3D! The Vernon Plaza Theater was the first 3D movie theater in Texas. And now, thanks to the new digital projectors, 3D movies are back! And not the kind of 3D movies that give you a headache, either (thanks, Altus!). This is the best 3D system in the area. If you get a headache watching a 3D movie at the Vernon Plaza, we will give you a ticket for the same movie in 2D, no extra charge. It's our guarantee that you'll love our awesome 3D system once you try it for yourself!

3. The Vernon Plaza Theater costs half as much money to see the same movie in Wichita Falls or Altus. Tickets are cheaper, concessions are cheaper (and better), and there’s no extra gas, extra shopping or other side trips. You get the same digital movie going experience for half as much money.

2. And speaking of money, the Vernon Plaza Theater now takes credit cards. You can pay for tickets, concessions, gift certificates, and more with a single swipe.

1. The Vernon Plaza Theater has been operating under its current owners for TEN YEARS!  If that alone doesn’t earn them your trust, then I don’t know what will.

And this doesn't even cover the extras: Mark's ever-changing action figure display, Cathy's hot cocoa in the wintertime, the Plaza's Internationally-renowned Movie Popcorn with real butter, or any of the other little touches that make the Plaza a unique place to visit.

Forget what you've heard. Forget what you thought you knew. This is the New Vernon Plaza Theater. Going Strong and getting better for Ten Years and Counting.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Handicapping the President’s Inaugural Speech

President Trump delivers his inaugural address.
Not pictured: Mitch McConnell looking like a
Cheshire Cat, and Michelle Obama trying to
shoot laser beams out of her eyes. 
I didn’t want to watch it, but knew that if I didn’t, I would only see the cut-up pieces of the speech that didn’t sit well with whatever website or news organization chose to report on it, along with some form of sensationalistic headline to grab the eye. Because, you know, these days, it’s all about the clicks.

So I watched it, from start to finish. And I had a few thoughts along the way. If you’re interested, you can keep reading, and we’ll pretend like we’re sitting next to one another at a bar and I’m muttering this stuff out the side of my mouth as we stress-drink.

Fair warning: I didn’t vote for Trump. I’ve never liked him as a person, a personality, and especially as a Presidential candidate. He said some interesting things on the campaign trail—things I don’t disagree with—but I have zero confidence in his ability to affect the kind of changes he’s proposing.

Still, I’ve grown up with this horse-sense aphorism my entire life, that “what we need is a businessman in the White House. You know, someone that knows how to balance a budget.” These were, by the way, the exact same people who, prior to 2003, always said “What we need to do is just go over to the Middle East and take it over and install a Democracy. That’ll fix everything over there.” Well, hotshots, here we are. A businessmen (well, a real estate developer) in the White House. You got your wish. Can’t wait to see how that all plays out.

My comments in a different color below:

"Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.
Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come. We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.
Every four years we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.
And we are grateful to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition.
They have been magnificent.
Thank you.
Not much to say here. This is boilerplate inaugural platitude 101.
Today's ceremony, however, has a very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.
For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
 Bernie? Is that you?
That all changes starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment.
It belongs to you.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.
This is your day.
This is your celebration.
And this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.
January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
I am sorry, but I just don’t buy it. This is the worst kind of rhetoric, and it’s rhetoric that no one, on either side of the party line, believes in. See also: Mitch McConnell.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.
Well, THAT much is certainly true. But at what cost, I wonder?
At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves.
These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists.
Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.
Whoa? Was that a simile? Okay, it’s official: I’m offering this sentence up as proof that Trump had help writing his speech. A lot of help.
An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.
Um...what? I don’t know how to parse that thought. But hey, he’s talking about the high cost of college tuition, so maybe...nah. Still, it sure feels like another plank from Bernie's platform. Carry on.
And the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation, and their pain is our pain.
Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home and one glorious destiny.
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
More empty campaign rhetoric, I think.
For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.
The single biggest line-item in the budget is for defense. What we have seen is a shift in priorities away from buying planes and tanks to drone warfare and special ops teams. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But it’s not a depletion. It’s a reduction of men and women on the front lines, something I happen to agree with.
We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own.
Sigh. Yeah, our nation's citrus crops are at risk from foreign fruit pickers. Pfft.
And we've spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
Okay, now this I can get on board with.
We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. But that is the past, and now we are looking only to the future.
This has needed to happen for two decades. It may be too little, too late, but I don’t disagree with this.
We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.
I don’t disagree with this, either. Our biggest asset as a world power is our strong economy. It was a costly mistake to move manufacturing out of the country.
Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.
Ever? Too late, he said, in a Tweet.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.
What are we, Charlie Sheen? This isn’t Texas Hold ‘Em. What a nonsense statement.
We will bring back our jobs.
We will bring back our borders.
We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation.
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
Hey, that sounds a lot like the New Deal! Rebuild infrastructure? Whaaaat? You know, that thing President Obama tried to do...but didn’t...because he couldn’t...because of a massive influx of Obstructionists who are still in place, by the way? You remember that?
Ah, well, as long as it gets done. That’s what’s really important. We’ll see how this plays out.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.
Cool beans.
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.
We will shine for everyone to follow.
Provided that this includes not going into places we have no business being in, passing out Hershey bars and Cell phones, and handing the leaders a copy of the Constitution and saying, “It’s all in there. Just do that,” and then leaving. Because that hasn’t worked for the past seventy five years, and we need to stop that shit.
We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.
I wish you well. You aren’t the first, and sadly, I suspect you won’t be the last. Not so long as we continue to depend on oil, and the boomtown mentality that comes with it.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
How much you want to bet that THAT statement gets totally glossed over by the guys on the far right end of the spectrum? Still, I guess it’s nice that he thought to include something along these lines.
There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.
Greeeeeeeeeeat. Just great. So, when another hurricane slams into the Southern Coast, will it be because God has turned his back on us? If something happens to another military outpost in the Middle East, is that a punishment from God, who has taken His protection away?

This is the worst kind of dangerous thinking, this idea that it’s all out of our hands and we are at the mercy of a higher power. But l don’t think Trump really believes this for a second. I think it’s a bone he tossed to the far-right religious nutjobs, the ones who don’t believe in Science. It’s a dog-whistle to them, considering he just made it tacitly okay to be a minority in America in the previous statement.
Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.
The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.
Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
Well, for at least two years, you’ve more or less got Congress and the Senate on your side. Let’s see how that works out for you.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
I love the sound of that. Provided it’s not more empty rhetoric.
A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.
We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.
Cool. Another bone thrown to the People of Color in America. But will the jackwagons in Trumpistan hear that? Time will tell.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.
Weird. That’s the second time he’s talked about “The Other People” in America, and then followed it up with something about God. It’s almost as if he’s trying to have his cake and eat it, too.
So to all Americans in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
To quote Lisa Simpson: “I’d like to believe that. Really, I would.”
Together we will make America strong again, we will make America wealthy again, we will make America proud again, we will make America safe again.
And, yes, together we will make America great again.
You knew that was coming, right?
Thank you.
God bless you.
And God bless America."

Well, it wasn’t the declaration of Martial Law that some folks were fearing. In truth, there were some things laid out in the speech that, if he can actually pull it off, might—MIGHT—be a good thing. The problem remains this: I don’t trust Trump as a solver of problems. I don’t trust him as a good leader. I don’t like the vast majority of his cabinet appointee picks. I don’t think he’s surrounded himself with the best people. And I don’t think the Republican Party learned anything from all of this. Mitch McConnell was grinning like a Piranha all throughout Trump’s speech. I think the Republican party is going to try doing business as usual. If Trump does what he says he’ll do—what he ran on—he’ll have to clean house, clash with Republican leaders, and in general be the Outsider Champion he ran on.

But I don’t believe him. I never did, not for one second.

If you believed him, that’s great. We’ll see how it all plays out in the next four years. But know this: If you decide that you were duped; if you feel that you were sold a bill of goods; if at the end of four years, you’re mad as hell because X,Y, and Z didn’t happen like he said it would; or even if you don’t like the way it all went down and nothing was as good as the President promised, I want you to know, it’s okay. I won’t say, I told you so. I won’t make fun of you. But I will expect you to make a change for yourself, and not be so easily fooled the next time around.

Politicians are not infallible. I know a few. They tend to be nice, genuine people who really want to help people out. I think that, the closer you get to your own home, the better the politicians tend to be, and the more stuff they can change. The farther away you move, the less stuff gets handled. Most presidents only get one or two really big things done in their term. If President Trump can beat that record by even one more big thing, he’ll have done the impossible.

The problem is, I just don’t believe him.

Cross your fingers. And strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy four years.