Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming


Sooner or later, Marvel has to screw up. In recent years even their bad movies have been good (depending on who you ask), and that just can't last forever—at some point one of their big budget superhero movies has got to be an Ishtar-level bust.

But not Spider-Man: Homecoming.



Just to remind us how great these movies can be, we open right after the events of The Avengers, when Peter Parker would have been—what—in kindergarten? Michael Keaton is New York businessman Adrian Toomes, who’s just landed the contract to clean up the mess made during the Battle of New York. He’s invested a lot of money into the venture, but to his shock the cleanup is taken over by a government initiative led by Tony Stark. Toomes, looking at financial ruin, is ordered to turn in any alien technology or scrap he’s collected, shutter his operation, and go home.

He does none of those thing. Do you get the feeling we’ll be seeing both Toomes and that alien tech again? Me, too.

We then get a fun look at the events of Captain America: Civil War as seen through the eyes of teenager Peter Parker, who’s having the time of his life as Spider-Man. When the battle ends he’s sent back home, with the assurances that the Avengers will call when he’s needed.

So Peter waits. And waits, putting off his personal life, convinced he’ll be called back into action at any moment. Meanwhile, someone seems to be selling weapons made with alien tech around Peter’s neighborhood. Even more frightening, he has to survive being a high school sophomore.

One of the smart things Spider-Man: Homecoming does is send Peter back to high school, as an overeager fifteen year old who means well, but tends toward rash actions and under-thought decisions. In other words, he’s a typical teenager, except for being a scientific genius and, you know, sneaking into his house by crawling across the ceilings. It’s the typical superhero challenge of keeping two lives separate, done with spirit and a fresh face in young Tom Holland.



Michael Keaton is, of course, great as Toomes, maintaining his intensity but staying away from being too Batman. He acts with a casual normalcy, making the audience like him even as he, like Peter, makes wrong decisions.

The rest of the cast tends to be overshadowed by a handful of small appearances, especially Robert Downy Jr. as father figure Tony Stark, in turn exasperated and proud of his web-slinging protégé. He hands babysitting duties over to his former driver Happy Hogan, and Jon Favreau is fun to watch as his frustration builds. As usual, the adults just don’t quite understand the kids, not even Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, loving but concerned as May always is). Speaking of kids, the rest of the high school students (who I assume are all older than they play) do a serviceable job on that side of Peter’s life.

Overall the movie is just … fun. And spectacular, often at the same time, although Peter's private life shares equal time with the fight scenes. There’s one huge twist that I should have seen coming. It was pretty obvious in retrospect, and it's been done before ... but it puts a lot of what’s going on in a new perspective. The effects and action sequences are exactly as top notch as you’d expect from a Marvel movie, and the plot’s straight forward and not too terribly full of holes. Then there’s the end of credits scene, which contains no huge twists or plot details—but if you have the patience to wait for it, it’s one of the best after-credits scenes I’ve ever … seen.

My score:

Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&Ms, the good brown ones. With an extra helping, and some stored away for later.
Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&Ms, although still the brown ones. If there was an Oscar for best action movie, we’d have a nominee here.

We're still at Barnes & Noble ... brick and mortar

We stopped at the Glenbrook Square Barnes & Noble on the north side of Fort Wayne last week, and I was very surprised to find they still have our book in stock:

 I say "book" singular, because it's the only one of our nine that we've managed to get into a chain bookstore--the others are either through small publishers, or independently published, and it's not easy to find shelf space for those. In any case it was a suprise, because I've always heard that major book stores won't keep a book for longer than a couple of months before they return the unsold copies, to make room for new releases.

But that's not the only Noble County related book they had in their history section:



Yay for local history books! For those of you who don't know, Ligonier is indeed within Noble County. The author of that book, Daniel L. Replogle, was my high school science teacher, far enough back that we'd probably both rather not discuss how far back it was. As for the other author, John Martin Smith, I got a look at his vast historical photo collection while we were researching for Albion and Noble County.

Of course, it goes without saying that you can get all of our publications at Barnes and Noble online, as well as all your better online bookstores ... and some of the worst ones.

Doctor ... Who is a Woman?

Doctor Who fans are aghast, or deliriously happy, that the show's main character is having a sex change. Non Doctor Who fans are saying the same thing they always say when they hear details about the show: "Huh?"

We'll get to the good Doctor--whose name is not Who--in a moment. This is set against the bigger question of whether it's okay to change the race or gender of an established character, always (so far) to a person of color and/or womanliness. In general, if it's another case of political correctness gone rampant (I call it Political Over-Correctness) I'm not a fan.

"The next James Bond needs to be black!"
"Why?"
"So we can have a black James Bond!"
"Okay. Or, you could just create a black secret agent from scratch."
"Yeah, but ... then he wouldn't be James Bond!"

Honestly, it's not something I care enough about to argue over, which sets me apart from most people who care at all. If the TV and movie industry disappeared from the face of the earth right now--which isn't the worst idea ever--I'd just go back to reading books for entertainment. Interestingly, if the race of a character in a book isn't specifically mentioned, most people either don't think about it at all or put their own skin color on the character. It never occurred to me, until I saw the wildly entertaining TV version, that Shadow Moon from American Gods was black. You can call that racism or you can call it being color blind, whatever. People will color anything I say here with their own views anyway.

James Bond is an interesting case when it comes to gender and race swapping, because the franchise has already done it--just not with 007. Bond's CIA buddy Felix Leiter has already turned from white to black--twice, if you include 1983's Never Say Never Again. The famous Moneypenny had a similar transformation, while Bond's boss M became a female ... although it should be noted that M is a title, rather than an individual.

You can complain about it all you want, but for me when it does work, it works spectacularly. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica was just as much fun and kick-ass as a woman in the reboot, for instance. From the time I was old enough to read comics I knew Nick Fury as a white guy, fighting his way across Europe in World War II. Now I can't imagine him looking like anyone but Samuel L. Jackson.

Which brings us back to Doctor Who, who Samuel L. Jackson could totally play if he wanted to. Are you going to tell him no?

On the question of changing a character's looks just for the sake of changing them, the Doctor is a special case. Sometimes the actor playing a character is changed without explanation, as with the James Bond series. (Wait--who's this new Darrin on Bewitched?) Sometimes it's a reboot, as with Battlestar Galactica, and thus not really the same character. But Doctor Who ...

Okay, in case you don't know, I'd better offer a brief explanation.

The original Doctor Who, back in 1963, was an old guy. He was a grandfatherly type, on a show designed as a fun way to teach kids history. (He's a Time Lord, you see.) But the actor began to have health problems, and it was soon apparent he couldn't continue in the roll. It seemed Doctor Who was doomed to retirement.

But wait, the writers said. We've already established that he's an alien. Suppose this particular species of aliens, when facing death, could cheat their way out by transforming into a new body? Regenerate into, say ... another actor's body?

Yeah, they're all the Doctor


That was twelve Doctor's ago. More, really, but we don't have time to go into that complication. In fact, the Doctor has already been a woman, played (very briefly) by Joanna Lumley in a 1999 charity episode.

So there's no story reason why the Doctor can't be female. In fact, one of his main antagonists, also a Time Lord, already regenerated from male to female. The show has had many strong female and minority characters in the past, and the Doctor's most recent companion was a black lesbian. (Is lesbian still a permitted word? I don't care.)

That's Bill, on the left. Black, prefers women, young, smart, and most importantly fun.
So that's where we are in the Doctor's complicated half century. In the Christmas episode the current Doctor is going to meet the first Doctor--that kind of thing happens, from time to time--and then presumably regenerate into someone who looks a lot like the actress Jodie Whittaker. If they did it to freshen up the show and keep things interesting ... well, why not? I'm not sure it's any more of a shock to me than when uber-young looking Matt Smith regenerated into still another grandfatherly type.

I wasn't thrilled back then ("my" Doctor is David Tennant), but I came to like Peter Capaldi's version. That's why I don't understand the so-called fans who are closing the doors of the TARDIS and going home. I know it's not just mysogeny, as some narrow minded people claim. Not always, anyway.

Honestly, I suspect it's just resistance to change in general, and I get that. Contrary to what some will tell you, sometimes change is bad. But you won't even give the new Doctor a chance? Why not? With that attitude, the show would never have made it out of the sixties.

And we'd have missed a lot of fun.

There's a new Doctor in the TARDIS

Birthday and the Grand-Twins

I can't say I had the perfect birthday: Emily worked part of the day and I ran some errands, including getting some maintenance done on the car. However, we had fried chicken and chocolate ice cream, and if that doesn't make for a good day, what does? Also, I introduced Emily to Smoky and The Bandit ... and since she liked it, I guess I'll keep her.

We also had the grand-twins over during my days off, watched Lego Batman, cooked hotdogs over a fire, and slept. The only way it could have been better would be if I'd gotten some writing time in, but sometimes the days are just full.

Thanks for all your birthday wishes! I'm of an age where birthdays are a mixed blessing: You don't really want to admit to getting older, but it's nice to be thought of.

Oh, and the twins got to go swimming. I supervised with the camera.

Will I be a grandfather or a grandmother?

Yeah, life. It's a thing, ain't it? You're rolling along, way too busy, doing too much of what you don't really want to do and not enough of what you do.

Then, one day, you find out you're going to be a grandparent, for the third time.

Well, that's the way it happened to me, anyway.

In the great tradition of our family birthdays being either in mid-summer or in December, my daughter Jillian is due to give birth around December 11th (Jill--it's Jill now, not Jillian--was born on the 27th). I've known for awhile, although shockingly not as long as Jill did. She posted the news on Facebook in June, but I think a lot of people missed that.

I assume that if it's a boy, the first name will be Mark, and if it's a girl the first name will be the feminine version, which is Marka. But I suppose I should actually talk that over with Jill and Doug, and be satisfied if they merely gave him/her the middle name of Mark or, um, Markma. Or, okay, they could use my middle name Richard, which has the feminine version of Ricarda. Or she could name him Hunter, but then he'd have a cousin also named Hunter, and I'd have two grandkids named Hunter, and you'd never know for sure who's being yelled at. Probably me.

So anyway, Jill's life is essentially over--and she's started a new one. Way different, but in its own way just as fun, more exciting, and crazy expensive. The next generation is well on its way.

Jill practices her baby cuddling skills with the closest nephew, who survived and just turned nine.

Book Review: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

  I'm not saying I'm behind on book reviews, but Emily and I listened to American Gods while driving to and from Missouri—in 2015. So, I am saying I’m behind on book reviews, and since this one’s easy I thought I’d knock it out.
Not that Neil Gaiman needs any help from me, especially with American Gods on its way to becoming a TV series. (Wait, the show's first season is over; I'm behind on posting blogs, too.) Better that than a movie—I can’t imagine how they’d fit this story into a two hour or so time frame.
Main character Shadow is released from prison early, on the news that his wife has been killed in an accident. He’s flying home for the funeral when Mr. Wednesday appears next to him during a violent storm, and offers him a job. What’s the job, and how does Wednesday know so much about Shadow? That’s just the beginning of the mystery, and as close to normal as this book ever gets.
The grieving Shadow just wants to be left alone, but soon finds himself in a war pitting old gods against new gods as he wanders across the American Midwest, meeting every sort of odd character, human and otherwise. And that’s about as close as I can come to describing this mind-twisting novel in ten thousand words or less.
Although I like listening to podcasts and audio non-fiction, I haven’t had good experiences with fiction on audiobook. That changed with American Gods, which is narrated (performed?) by George Guidall. At least, my version was; I've since learned that there's at least on other audio version. Thanks to Guidall I can’t imagine Wednesday being played by anyone but Anthony Hopkins (well, I can now), but he does a great job with all the voices, as well as Gaiman’s wonderful narration.
This audio addition of American Gods is, I assume, unabridged, and so seemed to take forever. That’s a compliment. It was like an endless bowl of ice cream that you never get tired of. In fact, this novel is the reason why I usually give books I really like a four out of five rating. That way there’s room when the occasional perfect reading—well, listening—experience arrives. This is it: Five out of five.
https://www.amazon.com/American-Gods-Low-Price-MP3/dp/0062314297

(By the way, the series is just as mind blowing. Instead of trying to shove all this story and characters into one movie, there's actually room to expand it a bit. I couldn't imagine how they could turn American Gods into a TV series either, but they did it, and it's a work of surreal genius.)




50 Authors from 50 States: A Rare Side of Nevada and Las Vegas with Author, K...

50 Authors from 50 States: A Rare Side of Nevada and Las Vegas with Author, K...: Tony Bennett serenaded me as a child.   I saw Siegfried and Roy before they were mega-famous, and now I see them at the gas station bec...

Head, Hands, Heart, Health

It was a busy week, but I was able to get the 4H Creative Writing projects in just under the wire. Don't let anyone tell you judging is easy, especially in an area that can be so subjective. If I was a sports judge, I suppose I'd rather be in track and field rather than figure skating, for instance.

What makes it harder is that there are three categories: beginner, intermediate, and why the heck wasn't I that good in high school? You can't judge them by the same standards; it would be like failing a fourth grader because he couldn't do advanced trigonometry, which is maybe a bad example because I never could do advanced trigonometry. I don't even know what it is. I'm still trying to figure out what x equals.

My problem is that I tend to go too easy, out of empathy for how I might have reacted to a harsh comment at that age. (Hint: I had very low self esteem.) But in trying to balance that, I worry about being too hard on the writers. They need to know if they have weak areas to be worked on, but they don't need me turning into that jerk chef on those cooking shows. So I try to be--I don't know--gentle, but guiding. All this stressing myself out is also why I struggle to do book reviews.

In any case, I've never seen a single 4H entry that didn't show potential for great works to come. That's exactly the kind of thing the world needs: imagination, industry, interest, and literacy. Which comes awfully close to the 4H motto of head, hands, heart, and health.


States I've visited

<a href="http://m.maploco.com/visited-states/mine.php?states=AR-DC-GA-IL-IN-KS-KY-MD-MI-MO-NJ-NY-OH-OK-PA-TN-VA-WV"><img src="http://map1.maploco.com/visited-states/ml/AR-DC-GA-IL-IN-KS-KY-MD-MI-MO-NJ-NY-OH-OK-PA-TN-VA-WV.png" border=0><br>Create Your Own Visited States Map</a>

Hope this works ...

50 Authors from 50 States: Here’s What’s Happening in Nebraska: An Author Tr...

50 Authors from 50 States: Here’s What’s Happening in Nebraska: An Author Tr...:                                                    Annette Snyder Shares:   _______________________ Garage sale season is on!   It’s ...

4H and ... Writing

I'm taking a little break from the internet for a week or so (well, to an extent), because I've got 4H entries to judge. To many people I suppose that means judging animals, but 4H also has a creative writing challenge; it turns out they needed an experienced, knowledgeable, creative writer to judge the entries. But they couldn't find one, so for the last few years they've used me.

These are young writers in different categories, ranging from elementary to high school. Some of them are much better than I was at their age ... and some are as good as I am now, which is fine except I have decades of experience over them. It's nice to know there are still young people who take writing seriously!


Newspaper Interview Up With Bonus Ugly Sweater

Hey, the interview with me is up at KPC News!

This is from the Albion New Era. KPC owns many of the newspapers in the area, but I don't know how many others this will be in, if any. However, the link to the interview online is here:

http://kpcnews.com/news/latest/new_era/article_f2535b22-10e0-5e29-bec7-79fbc7441c10.html

There you can see a color version of the sweater that Emily hates so much, which means I hate it too and does anyone want a free sweater?