Friday, April 17, 2015

Disney stock jumped two dollars when the new Star Wars trailer got released yesterday.

Everyone is talking about the new Star Wars trailer. As I watched it for the fifth time this morning, I thought to myself that it must be pretty cool to be J.J. Abrams. This production when it comes out will make him the heir apparent for the franchise. I think I forgot how exciting it is to see the Millennium Falcon swoop through obstacle courses, and seeing it dive into the bowels of what I think is the remains of a super star destroyer is nothing less than thrilling. Luke's fleshless hand, not as thrilling, but maybe in keeping with the whole "there must be evil here" theme it's a good choice because cybernetics when not hidden by flesh always look more sinister.

I was watching Disney stock yesterday at about the time the Force Awakens trailer broke and it jumped about $2.00 per share, so obviously a ton of people out there who are now investors are also huge Star Wars fans. I think that this movie is going to be "Avengers" huge. There's just buzz about it that you don't normally see. I'd even describe it as electrifying. I just hope that it lives up to those feelings of hype.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, I strongly suggest that you look it up online.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Daredevil is one of the best live comic book adaptations that I have ever seen

Are we living in the golden age of comic book adaptations? My answer is yes. Disney (when its not out to hobble its competition) is making some pretty damn good screen gems. The clip online of Iron Man's Hulkbuster and the Hulk broke yesterday and got me even more excited for the Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I get to see in Portland by the way). The reason for my trip is going to be to see my best friend James, but I also get to have dinner with the Chubby Chatterbox himself (and his wife) at some restaurant called Decarli, which in his words "has mussels and short rib that are to die for."

Additionally, we've got the Flash and Arrow on the CW, we've got Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC, we get Fox and Sony pumping out new movies on the comic book characters that they own the rights to, and now Netflix has joined the bandwagon by adding Daredevil.

I knew nothing about Daredevil other than the terrible Ben Affleck film, but I gotta tell you, Netflix has made it "bloody fantastic." I watched eleven of the episodes just this weekend (out of 13) and I'll finish up this next weekend. I can't wait because it feels like one huge movie, with plot points bleeding into the next show to form this over-arching plot with incredible gun kata action, old blind guys who are martial arts masters, and ninjas! How could you go wrong with ninjas?!

Kingpin, a.k.a. Wilson Fisk is so well-developed. His obsession with art seems like a clever page torn from the Hannibal Lecter playbook. Hannibal revered art because it was how he kept his memory. For Fisk, the connection to art is more personal, allowing him to glimpse unsavory parts of his past that made him the man that he is today. The formation of his villainy is bad parenting which seems a bit cliche, but hey, it works. His dad was a real tool.

More than anything though, I think the Daredevil series does a fantastic job in capturing what makes a comic book so addictive, i.e., combining a soap opera with evil and with things that guys like. The violence is awesome, from bashing a guy's head so many times with a car door that it decapitates him, to the cut of people washing that same car out with a hose. It's gory, and it's filmed with real sets (no green screen) and you can tell the difference. And the writing in this show is sharp as a tack. It may just be one of the best live comic book adaptations that I have ever seen.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Game of Thrones had many opportunities to show full frontal on last night's premiere but they must be trying to be respectable now.

"Boo!" I say. I'm not necessarily complaining about last night's season premiere, but Game of Thrones had many opportunities to show full frontal on last night's premiere, but I think they've made too much money and are trying to be respectable now. As if...right? I mean we did get a nameless prostitute in the brothels of Merene. But Loras (the Knight of Flowers)? Nope. Loras' lover Olyver that used to work in the brothel's of King's Landing? Nope. What about Daenery's lover Daario? Nope. But just to be clear, I don't watch this series for the sex or the nudity. That's just icing on the cake. Oh and just in case you don't know who Olyver is, here's a picture of the actor. I think we need him as a main character.
Honestly, I'm really really excited that the season is off to a good start. I love that Tyrion is going to join Daenerys, and it's interesting that Missandei is going to be trying to figure out her relationship with Gray Worm. Both the actor and actress that play these two characters are doing a great job. Missandei has just the right awkwardness in her face when she asks Gray Worm why an unsullied (who is a eunuch) would seek out a brothel. In the role of Daenerys' advisor, she's in a powerful position and probably has the motive of seeking out reasons for why "The Unsullied" may be slipping in their discipline. But there's also sexual curiosity there behind Missandei's eyes, a curiosity that I share because I want answers too, because why wouldn't you want to know if a man that's been turned into a eunuch could still have a sex drive. I'd think it's human nature, kind of like questioning a person who's in a wheel chair about sensitive topics because you want to know how certain things work.

The beginning of the show threw me for a loop. I wasn't expecting to see a young Cersei, and I've no idea who the dark-haired girl was that went with her. Maybe that was in the books, and I've just forgotten, but the flashback to Cersei's youth was a good way to segue into the aftermath of Tywin Lannister's assassination, and how the folk of King's Landing have gathered to pay their respects, but also to circle the now defrocked Lannister family. No one fears them anymore, and that's a problem.

Oh and did I say big dragons?! Daenerys' dragons are huge, but where's Drogon? I bet he's absolutely terrifying now. It's going to be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out, especially those parts that are most definitely not in any of the published works.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Is the House of Mouse the most friendly cartel in North America?

An article on Business Insider recently pointed out that now that Disney owns Marvel, it is actively pursuing the death of franchises not associated with its very lucrative movies. A quote from the article reads as such: "Even as Marvel kept many X-comics on the shelves, comic book writers have dragged the characters through the dirt in the past decade with a decimation of the mutant population, a negative portrayal of the team in a big crossover with the Avengers, the death of Wolverine, and the retconning of two popular characters (Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver) to cut their ties to the X-Men." And as can be expected, more marketing money is allocated to merchandise for characters that Disney owns than the ones that it does not.

My own research shows that there are few mentions of the X-Men on the website (or for that matter The Fantastic Four). Take it from a fan of the X-Men, they used to be HUGE; now not so much. And it's basically confirmed that Disney has forbidden the creation of new X-Men characters. My question to you doesn't necessarily revolve around whether Disney has the right to crush its competition like this, because it obviously does or it wouldn't be doing it. My question to you is whether this kind of conduct breaks any antitrust laws, and whether or not you (like me) are crying out "foul!"

As you may know, United States antitrust law is a collection of federal and state government laws which regulate the conduct and organization of business corporations, generally to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers. It was used to break up Ma Bell on January 8, 1982 by forcing AT&T Corporation to relinquish control of the Bell Operating Companies that provided local telephone service in the United States. "Monopoly" (despite the popularity as a board game) is a dirty word in our capitalist society and for good reason. Monopolies kill competition and the public at large is the one that suffers because of it.

Admittedly, comic books are a far cry from controlling all the phone service in the United States. However, the idea behind antitrust is to prevent collusion that restrains trade. I'm not a lawyer, but it doesn't seem fair that a company like Marvel could sell its characters to different film corporations, and then get bought out by a huge film corporation which then demands that it strangle any comic characters that support its competition in the free market that is Hollywood.

Honestly, I love the Marvel movies produced by Disney. But the more I hear of its business practices, the more I'm convinced that the House of Mouse just might be the most friendly cartel in North America.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Has society and our world become too complex for the majority of people living in it?

This post emerges out of a little frustration that I've been having with my aging parents. But that frustration got me to asking how other people who have even a little cognitive decline can manage to keep everything straight? Allow me to elaborate by example. My parents recently sold a plot of land in Idaho. In order to get the deal done, dad had to furnish the water rights that were issued forty years ago, and my dad has to get the original power of attorney that he did back in 2006 for my mom (who has dementia) because a copy won't do. The title company insists, "It has to be the original." I managed to find the water rights certificate, but getting a hold of the original power of attorney is going to be some effort considering that my dad stored documents in shoe boxes for years, and he's never been good at organization even when his mind was firing at 100%.

Just trusting someone's word that good enough is good enough "used" to work for know, back in the seventies. Nowadays life is significantly more complicated. There are passwords for every single website out there, and you've got to have a different one and a different user name to give yourself better protection against hacks and fraud. I myself have about seventy passwords, and yes, they are all different. Sometimes I get confused and have to have them reset. It's driving me crazy.

What about tasks associated with daily living? When I see what it takes for my parents to get going (they don't have much energy these days) I realize that beyond getting out of bed and washing their bodies and feeding, they need to shop for their food, they need to know how to use the remote control that powers their satellite television, they need to know what time of year it is so that they can get taxes done, they need to get maintenance on their car, they need driver's licenses and picture I.D.'s renewed, they need to pay all the bills that come in, and the house needs cleaning. Of course we've hired help, but there are other duties on top of all this.

These days for the dog to get washed by a dog washer, it has to have certificates that say it is healthy and has all of its shots. This means an appointment has to be made with a veterinarian, certificates need to be collected, and they need to be stored in an area where they are readily retrievable to hand over to the damn dog washer. Whatever happened to the day when people would just wash your dog because it was dirty?

The car needs to be inspected once a year for certificates related to pollution and safety inspection. You need insurance on everything. Then there are doctor's appointments and filling out paperwork for medicare. Let's not forget that the furnace filters need to be changed, smoke detectors need new batteries, water softener needs salt, light bulbs need changing, clothes need to be washed, bedding needs to be changed, and drugs need to be picked up at the pharmacy.

Did the phone ring? Is someone trying to sell you something? Is it a robot auto-dialer asking for a survey only to bait and switch you to something else?

Honestly, I think that the world has become so complex that it is difficult to understand and many (particularly the aged) are vulnerable. Given the amount of time that all of the above tasks take to sort through, how can people take time to do any truth-seeking? How can we make intelligent decisions regarding policies, our retirements, or elect global leaders when life is already so complicated? Maybe that's why we're getting more and more people dropping out of the system either through disability or just becoming homeless. Just think for a moment of the problem-solving skills it takes to get a bank account, and you'll realize that any mental illness or cognitive decline poses huge roadblocks to becoming a productive member of society.

So I'm curious, do any of you out there think that society is unnecessarily complex? Or is it just me?

Monday, April 6, 2015

The cherry blossoms are blooming in Japan and that means spring is afoot

Heian Shrine in full bloom
I identify as Japanese because of my mother, whose maiden name is "Takano." I suppose that because of this, I spent some time this weekend just googling pictures of the 2015 cherry blossom festival. During late March and early April, the Japanese welcome thousands of tourists to Japan for the Sakura festival, which is a celebration of spring that lasts about a week from first bud until the petals fall. Here are some of the prettier pictures from this year posted from various sources online.
Himeji castle surrounded by spring blooms.
More cherry blossoms

Pictures of the Takayama Spring Festival

You can check out the cherry blooming forecast at this website if you're interested. So yeah, happy spring everyone.

Friday, April 3, 2015

How the Fast and the Furious evolved from a police crime drama into Mission: Impossible and the world rejoiced

I have always been a fan of the Fast and the Furious. The first entry into this series came in 2001, and basically centered around undercover cop Brian O'Conner (played by the late Paul Walker) who has to stop semi-truck hijackers led by Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel). The entire script was written to include as many car races as possible, and to showcase the tawdry world of racing for pink slips in tricked out rides that can drive a quarter mile in under 10 seconds (from a standstill). It was basically a police crime drama with a pretty simple plot, but it was also exciting because fast cars are awesome.

The sequels started moving the franchise further from its roots. Brian became an antihero along with Vin Diesel, more characters were added, and the films incorporated major villains with lots of money (think Bond). Fast Five was the film that I first recognized as having nothing to do with the original movie's plot formula. Allow me to elaborate.

First, Fast Five was a heist film. Second, it had essentially transformed into a Mission: Impossible-type show where a team is given a goal with a really high difficulty level and each person has to perform their role in the "mission" perfectly or risk complete failure. I was fascinated that it had morphed into this whole "spy thriller" kind of show without being associated with any kind of government agency (The Kingsmen, The Bourne movies, the James Bond movies, etc.). I guess my fifteen second pitch for it would be, "Think of Ocean's Eleven and then add cheap women, beer cans, and really fast cars while filming the whole thing in Brazil." In a word, "brilliant."

I suppose the biggest contributing factor to this transformation from cop drama to heists is Vin Diesel. Having penned a deal with Universal to take control of the franchise in 2006, Diesel knew what people wanted: a bromance with strong familial ties and plots with strong villains so that everything is good vs. evil. You've heard the saying, "The strength of the story depends on the villain," right? The Fast and the Furious franchise knows this probably as good as the Harry Potter franchise, and that's saying something.

I honestly can't wait to see Furious 7 tonight, because I love spy thrillers with high tech gear, lots of muscles, gun kata, and powerful villains. The stunts look bigger than ever, the mission looks more impossible than ever, and the villain looks really evil. I'm sure Paul Walker's death on screen will be a real tearjerker. More than that though is the awareness that this franchise has staying power in the same vein as Mission: Impossible, the Jason Bourne movies, and the Bond films. And I think that's just awesome :).