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‘Avengers: Endgame’ faces impossible challenge after ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

The problem with “Avengers: Infinity War” is the way it ended and what we knew about the next Marvel movies. Basically, Thanos’ snap eliminated the newest half of the Marvel Universe, including most of Ant-Man’s allies, leaving the old heroes to find a way to avenge the snap, which would fit in perfectly with what Tony Stark told Loki in the first Avengers film and serve as a way to tie the franchise together.

However, the upcoming movie slate after Infinity War includes “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (eliminating the emotional impact of his demise in Infinity War), “Black Panther” (which could possibly give rise to a female Black Panther because T’challa was dusted), “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” (though James Gunn departure after a controversy left this in doubt, Kevin Feige says it’s still on; it could team Rocket with the Reavers and/or Nebula) and “Doctor Strange 2” (which at this point I don’t have an observations on, except its Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mysterio looks like he uses magic).

With all of these movies, and the stars whose contracts are expiring – Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) – as well as the apparent good byes and statements that some won’t be returning to the roles, there is no way for the Marvel Universe to continue without a complete reversal of an entire movie. This seems like it has all kinds of potential to go lame though that type of action has happened before – most notably in the last episode of “Twin Peaks” season 3.

One twist for Endgame could turn the Marvel Universe on its head. What if all the characters that died were the ones to survive, and the audience saw the dusting from the characters’ who actually died point of view? This would mean Rocket died, which would make sense because it has already been stated that he doesn’t have a long lifespan as a raccoon. It would also mean that Bruce Banner is dead, but the hulk isn’t necessarily dead. This type of reveal would make it easier to accept the Nick Fury/Spider-Man alliance. It could be interesting to see how the old characters deal with the reality of their demise while the mirror splits back to the new characters who did actually survive.

At this point though, “Avengers: Endgame,” which releases on April 26, 2019, lacks the stakes that Infinity War had during its run. The new characters are going to come back, and no one will be surprised when the old characters die. Marvel has more creative people than me working for it, and just because the general outcome of the movie is known doesn’t mean it won’t be good. But because we already know so much about it beyond the movie itself, it may not be engaging, especially if Peter Parker comes back and is threatened with death again. He’s already got a movie coming out, and it has a trailer. (Check out other movie related posts.)

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‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’; just not as far as you might think

In spite of its implications for “Avengers: Endgame,” Sony has released a “Spider-Man: Far from Home” trailer, which clearly shows that Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, is alive and well and on Earth, and so is Nick Fury. The “Far from Home” title doesn’t indicate Spider-Man is still in space. Instead, he’s in Europe. Seriously, Europe? That’s far from home after traveling to the planet Titan? Oh, I have so many questions.

The first question is: How does this school have so much money? When I was in school, we had to have permission slips, our parents had to pay, and we barely got to go on a field trip to the park across the strip in elementary school. Flash forward to high school, and I had zero field trips. Nowadays, it seems like it would be even more difficult. With schools cutting budgets for the arts and fun while focusing on the core of reading and arithmetic, how does Spider-Man’s school have enough money to take the kids to Washington, D.C. much less Europe? The cost of insurance alone would be staggering. What school district does Parker go to?

Peter Parker is supposed to be poor, right? Even if his aunt can afford to put him in an upscale school, can she afford all these trips and their associated costs? Is Stark footing the bill? Was the fundraiser at the beginning really for Spider-Man?

How do his classmates not figure out he’s Spider-Man? Kids aren’t that dumb. Spider-Man shows up in Europe at the same time as the class? He was also in D.C. and saved MJ and disappeared from a bus while there was a super fight going on outside. Maybe it’s a case of Clark Kent’s glasses.

“Peter Parker here to pick up a passport, please” tongue twister? How many times did Tom Holland have to say that before he got it right?

Are we going to get a Doctor Strange/Spider-Man crossover? Mysterio seems to be using the same kind of magic as Strange does, and we all know Doctor Strange is coming back from Thanos’ snap, just like Spider-Man and Nick Fury.

Spider-Man is facing off against the elements. All of the monsters have the same form but are made from one of the four elements – fire, earth and water. Only wind is left out. I’m not sure how to phrase that as a question, just more of an observation.

If you have answers or more questions, leave them in the comments below. Check out more of my movie-related commentary. Watch for my “Avengers: Endgame” commentary coming soon!

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Curiosity, being childlike and Questlove’s experience getting older

Being childlike is important to creativity. Children are curious; they ask questions about everyone and everything. They don’t care who is better. They don’t care about their egos. They don’t care if someone is stepping on their own creativity. They play with abandon and talk to famous people with the same irreverence as the talk to their parents and friends.

“When I was ten, I was curious with reckless abandon. There wasn’t any fear about consuming things: if they interested me, I took them in. I ranged far and wide because I wanted to see what was out there,” says Questlove. “Now that I’m older, I’m more cautious. I’ve whittled my influences down to my pantheon of drummers and singers and guitarists, and it’s hard for new people to crack the shell.”

In “Creative Quest,” Questlove calls this a “hardening.” He says that there are some artists about whom he “feels a certain way,” which he explains is “nuanced form of snark.” It allows him to slow roll “whatever envy you admit by not admitting.”

This not-quite jealousy keeps Questlove from listen to a few artists “at all.” It may be that he doesn’t want to be influenced by or learn more about the artist or he feels a certain way, and “it gets worse with age.” Questlove recognizes this as a problem, this “brittleness,” and he says that as a person ages, he or she is going to have to deal with it.

There are a million reasons why its hard to be curious as you get older. Even with the Internet, it’s harder to satisfy that curiosity. Who has time to find out and understand why solar panels work? Who wants to learn new information that could challenge old, long held beliefs? Who wants to find someone younger doing something better in the same field wherein they both work?

It’s easier to keep on living with the information that one has accrued and not to challenge that status quo in one’s own life, even when one specifically self-describes as a creative. It’s much harder for people who think they’re only a little creative or they’re not creative. However, adopting a childlike acceptance of your own limitations and taking wonder in what other people are doing in your field (like children at play) will help you become more creative and have better ideas. It’s in the challenge and the questioning of the status quo that creativity thrives. Find the space that allows you to play, to be curious and to create.

For more on creativity and Questlove, check out: “‘The Pirate Union’ and collaboration” and the links at our Creativity page.

If you liked this essay, you can get more in ‘Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.’ To improve your creativity, get ‘Disneyland Is Creativity.’

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‘The Pirate Union,’ collaboration, and Questlove’s ‘Creative Quest’

Skull wearing jester's cap with crossed swords underneath

When Edward Allen and I wrote “The Pirate Union,” we were in college. We passed the manuscript back and forth at least once a week with a reading for our friends on the weekend. Fast forward to years later, and Questlove describes the collaboration process for creativity (and “The Pirate Union”) perfectly.

“This was a collaboration,” writes Questlove in “Creative Quest” (p. 102) about working with Tariq, “We negotiated briefly, but most of the energy in the process was spent participating. He waited eagerly for my beat so that he could get going with his lyrics. I excitedly assembled my beat because I couldn’t wait to hear it with his lyrics.”

Ed and I weren’t writing music. We were writing a story, but the feel was the same. We only had one rule: We couldn’t kill the other person’s characters. This kept us from having to start over and having a book full of dead characters (though with the success of “Game of Thrones” maybe we should have killed each other’s characters).

What we did instead was try to find situations that would stump the other author. Sometimes, one of us would write just one sentence. Other times the situation would be much direr. “He leveled the gun at Chantel and pulled the trigger, firing three shots. ‘Three in the head, you know they’re dead.’ Chantel jolted back, dropping Charlie, her head cracked hard against the floor. Mr. Bigbottom smiled down at them and grotesquely blew on the end of his pistol like a cliché cowboy.”

Chantel wasn’t my character, so I couldn’t technically kill her. Ed’s jaw dropped; how could he write her out of this situation? I thought for sure, I had him. And then he smiled, he came up with a solution in seconds and took the manuscript from me. “I know exactly what I’m going to do,” he said. I was afraid and excited. How would he get her out of that situation? Chantel grew into one of my favorite characters.

“Collaborations work best this way, when there’s a mutual desire to see what the other adds,” writes QuestLove.

Like Tariq and Questlove in school, Ed and I had an audience who was also waiting for the next installment, and “The Pirate Union” is better for it.

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“Daddy’s Home 2”: Laughs and Heart

“Daddy’s Home 2” is a sequel that’s better than the original and proves that, in this case, more is better. The premise of old-school, toxic masculinity meeting new-world, kinder, gentler men uses a time-tested winning formula composed of slapstick, the absurd, and a heart-felt change in the characters that makes sense. While the writing sets the film up for success, it’s the casting and the acting that keep the film together.

Brad (Will Ferrell) and Don (John Lithgow) play to type as the uptight, over-emotional dad and granddad. Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) is the tough guy trying to change and adapt to a new reality while his father, Kurt, played by Mel Gibson, is stuck in the 1980s, womanizing and espousing the old values of masculinity that still work for him, but are, at the very least, questionable in the era of #metoo. The confrontation between the two styles of living comes into conflict as Dusty tries to conform to a life his father seemingly disapproves of.

“Daddy’s Home 2” plays to the strengths of its stars. The changes in character are believable, and even in the most absurd cases, the movie is never so far out there as to invoke disbelief, which is odd as a comedy. These qualities make “Daddy’s Home 2” a high-quality movie that isn’t just about getting belly laughs, which it does throughout the film, but it also explores the relationships between family members, especially fathers and their sons. For some, this film may seem like a guilty pleasure, but look closer and you have a film that really finds its meaning in the season. For more about the movies check out my other blog posts.

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Kendall Jenner’s acne leads to ‘moving’ and ‘raw’ announcement

When Kris Jenner announced that her daughter Kendall Jenner (Reality TV star since 2007, age: 23, net worth: $30 million) would be sharing a moving story and hashtagged it with #bethechange #finallyasolution #mydaughterinspiresme, people immediately speculated what the announcement might be. Would Kendall come out as gay? Would she be going to rehab? Would she reveal she’s pregnant? Was she abused as a child (she spent half her life on reality TV, so…)? Was she raped or sexually assaulted? It would certainly be something momentous. The rumors and speculation grew. What would she be changing or offering a solution to?

The announcement ended up being a commercial… for an acne treatment… meh. And Kendall got raked over the coals for it, though a few tweets predicted that would be the announcement.

A year ago, when walking her first red carpet event, Kendall felt amazing. Her hair, makeup and dress were perfect, and she was on top of the world. When she got back to the social media world, people had pointed out her acne, and it hurt. Then some others helped her change her view when they supported her bravery and courage for going out there with acne. “But I still want it gone.”

Having acne isn’t a world-changing announcement. It isn’t something worthy of all the drama, but there are two things worth noting in this announcement. This is the worst thing that’s happen to Kendall, and it points to a worse problem than just acne.

People who were upset that this is the worst thing that’s happen to Kendall in her life need to stop and think about their gut reaction. Does anyone really want to hear that someone’s been raped, sexually assaulted, or going to rehab? No, because that means something terrible has happened and no decent person wants that for anyone else. It’s awesome if this is the worst thing that’s happened to her. Some people bullied her about her looks, which are ingrained in who she is and what her job entails, and others came to her defense as a virtual support network that helped her keep her self-esteem intact. “But I still want it gone.”

Women have to deal with judgement about their looks all the time, particularly those in entertainment and modeling, who provide role models and expectations for those normal women who have everyday lives, children and not enough money for food or rent, much less to go to the gym and the spa. Women are told they need to spend time and money on how they look. They need make-up, moisturizers and creams and a little black dress. Things that most men don’t have to deal with.

But Kendall didn’t make it about men or societal expectations. Instead, she made it about herself. Her fans helped her turn her energy around and make her feel better about the acne. However, that doesn’t mean that she wants to have it. “But I still want it gone.” This tag says she’s doing it for herself, and if that’s true, then good for her and good for her all the way to the bank.

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Netflix’ ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is a masterpiece

Normally, I would write a review about the brilliantly conceived, written and executed Netflix series “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.” I would describe how Patrick Warburton’s deadpan and world-weary delivery sets the stage as he narrates the unfortunate events. I would espouse how Neil Patrick Harris cements his legacy as one of the most versatile and amazing actors of his generation with his portrayal of the nefarious Count Olaf, who inspires fear, loathing and dread while also creating an absurd and funny villain. I would wonder how Lucy Punch, portraying the evil Esme Squalor, gets all of these roles that downplay how beautiful she actually is. I would talk about the big-name guest stars, like Joan Cusack, Sara Rue, Nathan Fillion and Cobie Smulders. I might even say something about the social commentary, incompetent adults, wise children and more…

But, dear reader, a review of Netflix’ “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” would inevitably be spoiler-filled or unfinishable. Instead of writing about this amazing adaptation filled with laughs and tragedies, I will only say – The song’s lyrics tell you to look away, but you won’t be able to. Binge watch this masterpiece of story-telling and enjoy. (You can read a review of the first episode here.)

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Irony: ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’

In “Everything All At Once” Bill Nye uses the proverb “Good fences make good neighbors” to bring out his point that sometimes people need privacy. He isn’t advocating for a wall. A “voluntary boundary” built to keep to oneself is different than a boundary built to keep others out. People need both to have a fence and have people in their lives. It’s one of the diametrically opposed character traits that all creatives have, according to Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi: they need to be alone and they need to be with people.

However, the specific wording in this proverb comes from Robert Frost’s 1914 poem “Mending Wall” (see below). Two men walk along a rock wall putting the rocks back from where they have fallen. The narrator says, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” As he continues along the wall with his neighbor, he thinks about the fence they are mending.

What point is there in this wall? It separates apples from pines as if they would eat the fruit of the other tree. “Good fences make good neighbors,” replies the neighbor using his father’s sentiments.

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know\What I was walling in or walling out,\And to whom I was like to give offense.\Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,\That wants it down,” continues the narrator. The neighbor appears as an old-stone savage in the dark and can think of no more reply than the one he gave before. “Good fences make good neighbors.”

While the character who says the proverb believes it, even if he doesn’t think about it or maybe because he specifically doesn’t think about it, it’s clear that the narrator doesn’t believe the same. The point is that good fences DON’T make good neighbors. It’s ironic.

Nye’s reference to this proverb doesn’t harness the irony inherent in it. Considering his entire book centers on people thinking about and challenge currently held beliefs while using the scientific method to come up with better ways to do better in the world. This seems like a missed opportunity. (Unless he addresses the issue again in the last 30 pages of “Everything All At Once.”)

“Mending Wall” is in the public domain.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors”.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
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Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ powerful commentary on America today

In BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee delivers another powerful joint. Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, Colorado Springs first black police officer, and his infiltration of the KKK in 1979 with the help of his white partner Flip Zimmerman, Lee taps into the past to cast light on the present.

The writing revels in knowledge that the characters can’t possibly have, spitting it out as a foreshadowing of America today. It’s easy enough to catch the references to “America First” and making America great again. Those less steeped in politics may fail to realize that the real David Duke, played by Topher Grace, was a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and ran for president as a Democrat in 1988 and a Republican in 1992. Making (movie) Stallworth’s belief that such a thing couldn’t happen all the sadder and more naïve.

Lee’s powerful message is on point and strikes at the heart of his audience. Seamlessly edited cuts race between the KKK ritual David Duke is running and the Black Power meeting where Jerome Turner, played by Harry Belafonte, is describing in detail the torture and death of Jesse Washington, a mentally retarded black teenager in Waco, TX. The tension mounts as Stallworth’s and Zimmerman’s identities are discovered at the KKK meeting. All of the pieces are there to bring about real tragedy, including a bomb and police brutality against one of their own.

BlacKkKlansman, however, stops short of being an indictment against all white people. Instead, it points at those who espouse racist views, those who refuse to stand up to demagogues (in a brilliantly ironic speech given by Duke), those who implement budget cuts for nefarious reasons, and those who passively allow racism to continue unobstructed. If this Lee joint enrages you as being anti-white, maybe you need to take a hard, long look in the mirror and question your beliefs, values, actions and inactions.

For the viewer that isn’t able to keep up with the MAGA and America First references, the ending shows actual news clips to bring the message into focus: Not much has changed in the last 30 years; America is as racist as ever. BlacKkKlansman is clearly a cry to bring America together through the elimination of bigotry and hate. If Stallworth could do it as the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, so can we.

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The Secrets to Creativity and Success

The steps to success and becoming more creative are the same because the essence of creativity breeds the success that humankind was made for. Before the first chapter of “Everything All at Once” and just after the table of contents, Bill Nye sums up his steps for successfully changing the world with a bullet point list.

The first point he makes is that “Everyone you’ll ever meet knows something you don’t.” Teams have brought the world several innovations from the Walt Disney Company to Steve Jobs’ Apple, it’s been the teamwork that made the dreamwork. Individuals can have singular breakthroughs, but it takes a group dedicated to the same goal to make something truly extraordinary. At the very least, learning what someone else knows allows you to make more connections with what you already know.

“Constraints provide opportunities.” Creativity shines when there are rules, regulations and constraints involved. Creativity, in everyday use, is about problem-solving. The constraints provide the way that creativity is to be used.

“Question before you believe.” Brainstorming is the essence of questioning before you believe. No idea should be criticized and no suggestion is too far out there. The beginning of coming up with creative solutions is eliminate inhibitions and beliefs about projects. The idea that seems the furthest out there may be the one that sparks the best solution.

“Change your mind when you need to.” Creative endeavors lead to mistakes. They lead to dead ends. Sometimes, they are implemented before all the facts are known. It’s important to be able to change direction when a better solution presents itself.

“Be optimistic; be responsible; be persistent.” Optimism is curvilinearly related to creativity. Responsibility to yourself to use your creative talent will allow you to improve your creativity. Persistence is the key to success and creativity. You have to be able to stick to your path even when others are saying it won’t work.

Creativity is a meta-skill. Like success, it doesn’t come from just one place or affect just one aspect of a person’s life. Being creative won’t guarantee that you’ll be successful in the way that the world sees it; Van Gogh died a pauper. It does, however, mean you’ll be successful in fulfilling your own potential and finding the destiny you choose rather than the one society and industry have planned for you.

Read more about creativity. Get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve Your Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”