Friday, September 19, 2014

The Maze Runner is a dark edge of your seat apocalyptic film with a very likeable cast

The Maze Runner movie is a lot darker than I thought it was going to be. And when I say that, I mean it's darker than The Hunger Games (which is surprising). I went last night with my friend Adam. Intrigued with the premise of mazes (and who doesn't like a good maze?); the entire time I watched it I kept thinking, "What could have possibly built this thing?" Adam must have been thinking the same thing because at one point he leaned over and said, "At least we know what Google has been doing with its money." Because would have taken resources like the kind Google commands in order to build this maze of towering, movable walls.

I really enjoyed this film. The attractive cast aside, I felt that it revealed things perfectly. Not too much, not all at once. The characters see the maze the same as you or I would see it. First comes disorientation. A bit later is wonder, awe, and terror...all the time asking "Where am I?" and "Are my eyes deceiving me? Are those really 300 foot walls? Am I contained in a box? Who would put me in a box?" It's this element that lends the film a very "Attack on Titan" feel to it as you get the immediate impression that those walls may bar you from exiting, but they also protect you from something on the other side. Something of which you should be afraid. Something sinister and evil.

And that's where a good deal of the terror in this movie comes from. The idea that you are trapped, but to break free means to risk everything. After all, life in the center of the maze isn't too bad. You've got camaraderie among a group of compassionate young men, you've seemingly got enough food, and you've got enough resources to live. I went into this thing thinking that the story (or the author) might try to do a spin on Lord of the Flies, where young people/children end up being absolutely terrible to each other. But that isn't the case at all. Each of the characters seemed to legitimately care for the welfare of the others, and because of that, there was plenty to like in these characters as you rooted for them to get through this seemingly impossible maze filled with horrific monsters.

I am intrigued by the "big reveal" and want to know more. The ending is left wide open for a sequel, and (warning) there is an "info dump" that comes with the climax. Yes, you do get some answers about the maze, but I won't share them with you here. In that aspect, The Maze Runner is no different from its company among the YA Titans of the world. I just hope it does well enough in the box office that a sequel is greenlit. If not, then I guess I'll have to read James Dashner's books. Meh, I probably will anyway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A survivor's guide to what you can expect from Marvel's Age of Ultron from a speculator's point of view

With Disney's announcement yesterday of the Avengers 2: Age of Ultron synopsis (you can read it HERE), I thought I'd talk about The Vision because he's one of three newly anticipated characters that we'll be meeting in the new movie next year (you got a taste of Quicksilver from Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past).

The Vision looks human, but wears a green cap thing that matches his green "skin-tight" one piece (do they call this a onesy?). He has a red face, wears yellow gloves and boots, and sports a yellow cape. He's going to be played by Paul Bettany who's been heard and not seen in the Iron Man movies (as the voice of the computer J.A.R.V.I.S.) as well as being in a number of high profile films (DaVinci Code, Master and Commander). It's going to be puzzling to hear him as J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man's helmet while he's also The Vision (I wonder if there's going to be a connection??). I say this last part in parenthesis because "The Vision" is an android (think Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation).
This poster for the Age of Ultron movie has way too many Ultrons.
The robot Ultron is who creates "The Vision" in the first place (keep in mind that Ultron was created by Dr. Hank Pym who is Ant-Man. The whole reason for "The Vision" was to lead the Avengers into a trap. Of course, the Avengers manage to convince The Vision to turn against their master and join their ranks.

The Vision is described as being every inch a human being except that all of his bodily organs are synthetic. The solar jewel on his forehead absorbs ambient solar energy to power his whole body, he can discharge energy as optic beams that include infrared and microwave radiation, and he can manipulate his density so that he can fly and phase with walls or the earth. This, or to gain superhuman strength, immovability, or the invulnerability of a diamond-hard substance. He could also phase a hand into your chest and then partially re-materialize it to put his hand literally around your heart. Honestly this whole "phasing" thing is as powerful as the writers want to make it. Vision can phase with other universes or other dimensions to pull in mass and essentially become as heavy or as gravity intense as he wants to be).

In the comics, Captain America teaches him unarmed combat. Aside from that, The Vision has the android mind capabilities of information processing. Nice, right? I'll take all the information available on Google for $100, Alex. So yeah, The Vision is really really smart. And from what I understand about the Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Vision may develop a thing for the Scarlet Witch (another new character). In the comics, he reproduced with her, so yeah, there is at least a precedence to my speculation. But I think Marvel loves it when we all speculate on things, hence the "broken shield" prop that was unveiled at San Diego Comic Con. What the hell does this mean?
I'm assuming that Ultron cracks it, but how Vibranium gets cracked is beyond me (it's indestructible). Now, the last time that this happened was also in an Age of Ultron comic book crossover. Here's a panel from it for you to examine: 
And then there's the image of Captain America without hope, sitting in a corner with his head down. This'll be a great scene for Chris Evans to do. I just hope Black Widow or Iron Man gets him to snap out of it. I can totally hear Robert Downey, Jr. picking up where Hudson left off in Aliens proclaiming "We're F*cked!" but meaning it in a fun way meant to drive someone who is obviously in a funk out of that hopeless funk.
What I'm hoping they DON'T do is get the Scarlet Witch to pull a "Twilight" esque vision where the Avengers see a possible future where Ultron rules everything and they see Captain America's shield all broken. That would be cheesy. But then again, stating that something is made of a material that can't be broken only to break it to demonstrate the power of something is the cheese from which all comics are made of. The thing is...we keep buying it in buttloads. Of course, we could get Thanos to pop in and destroy the shield. He's done it before:
However, if Cap's shield does get broken then there's only one place in the Marvel Universe where you can go to get it fixed and that's Wakanda, home of the Black Panther. This means (of course) that we'll finally get a black guy in a major starring role in one of the seriously white-washed Marvel films. Yay for diversity. Anyways, here's a toast to speculation in all of its wonderfulness.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Celebrating a little Raymond Scott because it's September and I like classic science fiction

September is Raymond Scott's birth month. Born Harry Warnow on September 10, 1908, many of you have probably never heard of him. However, you should especially if you consider yourself a science fiction fan. Aside from composing music that was featured in many cartoons over the years, he created the electronium, which is an instrument that combined an electronic synthesizer with algorithmic composition. It would have happened during the 1950's and is the kind of music you hear on science fiction movies of the time ("Forbidden Planet" being one example). So yeah, the next time you watch an old science fiction movie and hear those eerie sounding notes that sound like electronic blips and long drawn out whines...raise a glass to Raymond Scott, the genius behind the tune.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus and megalodon locked in battle would have been something to see

Spinosaurus size comparison with an average human. Click to EMBIGGEN.
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article about the Spinosaurus aegyptiacus and how Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist, went on a five year odyssey of diligence and serendipity that led to the unveiling on Thursday of a new skeleton for this huge and very real animal that once walked the earth.

Just to be clear, it would seem that Spinosaurus is nothing like how it was represented in Jurassic Park III (aside from it being just absolutely terrifying). It still ranks as the largest known predatory dinosaur growing to at least 50 feet in length. Ahem, please pay attention to that "at least" meaning "its minimum adult size." Holy crap. And that isn't the only surprise. Spinosaurus was apparently a very strong swimmer that spent a great deal of its life in the water.

To give you a little history, the original fossils belonging to Spinosaurus were discovered over a century ago in Egypt. In an article published online by the journal Science, Dr. Ibrahim describes a monster that had a crocodilian snout and nostrils halfway up the skull so it could stick its nose/jaw into the water and still breathe. It would have paddled like a duck and used its long flexible tail for propulsion (like a hybrid of duck and lizard).

So immediately, I started to think, what kinds of things would Spinosaurus eat? Well it'd need large fish and then I thought...omg...did this thing fight megalodon?

Just think about the kind of real life kaiju battle that would have been. Seriously. Spinosaurus vs. Megalodon. Other than the title of a great movie made for the SyFy channel, this battle may have actually happened at some point in history. Below is my favorite artist vision of megalodon eating elephants that have been swept away by a flood. The prehistoric Earth was an incredible place.
"Devourer of Giants" by Robert Nicholls. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If Anita Blake is ever adapted for the screen I hope they hire these actors

The other day, I had this conversation with three ladies about author Laurell K. Hamilton, and it basically devolved into us "fans" discussing who would be our choice to play the various characters in her books should they ever make it to film. Today, there's even more options than standard television or movie. Netflix, for example, could grab this Marvel property and invest money in it ala House of Cards and probably attract even more viewers than those who flock to Hemlock Grove. Anyway, it's probably a safe prediction that these stories are getting a second look. If not, it needs to happen. Seriously, but not before I get my say :).

So first, an admission: I have this guilty pleasure, and it's reading Anita Blake books. Admittedly, I haven't read one in a while. The character stopped growing for me after about Skin Trade, however, maybe I was just in a mood for something else. Who knows, I may go back to them or just reread the entire series from start to finish.

Anita (like Pam on True Blood) has ONLY the best lines. Or I could give credit to author Laurell K. Hamilton, and just say that the woman has a way with dialogue. Try this tidbit on for size:

   “He laughed, and it raised goose-bumps on my arms. "Oh, ma petite, ma petite, you are precious."
   Just what I wanted to hear. "So how are you getting here?"
   "My private jet."
   Of course, he had a private jet. "When can you be here?"
   "I will be there as soon as I can, my impatient flower."
   "I prefer ma petite to flower.”

The character calling Anita, ma petite, is Jean-Claude. He's the master of the Circus of the Damned and an all around nice guy if not a bit over-sexed. But then again if you look like Jean-Claude, sex is what you do because only the blind don't see you as beautiful.

Reeve Carney
My choice to play Jean-Claude is actor Reeve Carney (pictured at right). I first noticed him in the role of Dorian Grey in Showtime's Penny Dreadful (which was pretty darn amazing) series. I think he'd be perfect to play the seductive French vampire. That, and he's obviously an awesome performer, having come from Bono's Spiderman (the Broadway musical) in which he starred as Peter Parker (and he also looked really good in the suit). Plus Reeve Carney plays the guitar, and that right there should nail him for the role.

Okay, so who would I have star as Asher? That was the next question one of the ladies asked me (and for the record they totally agreed that Reeve Carney was perfect for Jean-Claude). Asher I think would best be played by actor Tom Hiddleston (with his hair dyed blond). To give you some background on Asher, he's fantastically handsome, having been selected because of his beauty by Belle Morte, the vampire that made him. Anita describes his hair as the color of metallic gold and his eyes as the pale blue of a Siberian Husky. He's also the lover of Jean-Claude (part-time because Anita is also both of these guy's lover) and it'd just be really hot to see that much beauty naked all on screen at the same time. Yeah, Anita and her partners are all polyamorous (it may have something to do with the fact that Laurell is polyamorous). If this menage ever happens, I'll probably say that "polyamory is a national treasure" in the same laughing bravado as I said, "Michael Bay is a national treasure" after I watched Transformers: Edge of Extinction and witnessed the "Daisy Dukes" that were so short you could see the pockets, the camera angles from between the thighs of the main female eye-candy, and the priceless dialogue: "My warrant is mah face!!!" Michael Bay film school never ceases to entertain.

Michelle Rodriguez
And then there's the case for Anita herself. Anita is the story here. She's a heroine that totes a coffee cup that says "Piss me off and face the consequences" and when she lived in her apartment, had a gun packed with glazer rounds so that when she shot at vampires, the bullets wouldn't go through the drywall to kill her neighbors. Who would be a perfect Anita Blake? I think Michelle Rodriguez would make a great Anita Blake. Most famous for action movies like the Fast and the Furious storyline, I think she'd be great as an ass-kicking necromancer that raises the dead and screws both vampires and werewolves.

So here's a question for you fans of Anita out there: Who would you cast as Jean-Claude, Anita Blake, and Asher? And what the hell...let's go ahead and cast the minor characters like Jason, Nathaniel, Edward, and Richard. Hopefully some of you have read Hamilton and can quid pro quo with me on this topic.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lisa Bonet asks Is Eating Organic Food Actually Better for You?

Author Lisa Bonet got in touch with me about an article I wrote a little while ago that she read on my own personal corner of the internet here at my blog of all places! (squee...I have readers). The title of my piece was "Natural organic food is filled with chemicals you can't pronounce," and it can be found HERE if you really want to read it (please don't confuse it with my other healthy article entitled "A perfect rationale for eating cake on a Friday."). Well, Lisa came across my article in a random Google search, and asked me if I could share her article with my audience (and of course I immediately answered "Yes!") because it seeks to answer the question, "Is Eating Organic Food Actually Better for You?" And if you are a price conscious consumer, you've asked this question. I know you have.

Lisa's original article can be found HERE. Lisa's also given me permission to cut and paste it on my blog so that you can read it without changing websites. However, please keep in mind that the below article is not written by me. Personally, Lisa's information comes at a time in my own life when I weigh pro's and con's of taking extra money from my budget to apply to organic food. So without further ado, here is Lisa's article:
Is Eating Organic Food Actually Better for You? by Lisa Bonet

There are various reasons why you may choose organic produce, from protecting your health and the health of those who work in agriculture to preserving the environment. However, with organic food costing significantly more than standard produce, if you are most interested in its potential health benefits, you will want to know whether the extra cost is really worth it. It’s no surprise you may wonder this, as with conflicting reports on the nutritional value of organic crops, you want to make sure that your money is well spent, as on a tight budget organic produce is a luxury.

Higher Content of Key Nutrients

A piece of research by scientists at Stanford University, which reviewed the evidence for the health benefits of organic food, was widely publicized in 2012, though, unfortunately, their findings didn’t support the theory that organic produce is richer in micronutrients. However, what you may not have heard about was a similar research paper published the previous year by a team from the UK. While the researchers at Newcastle University acknowledged that organic fruit and vegetables are not nutritionally superior for many nutrients, they discovered this fresh produce offers significantly more vitamin C and polyphenols, in total offering a 12% higher intake of nutrients. Both have antioxidant activity and their consumptions may help to lower your risk of developing cancer, heart disease and other chronic health problems that impact on both quality of life and lifespan. Based on their findings, they estimated that for each day you eat organic fruit and vegetables rather than standard items, without increasing your overall intake women gain an extra 17 days and men an extra 25 days. So for some nutrients organic items are a better bet and this may in turn offer health benefits.

Reduces Exposure to Pesticides

Pesticides are used routinely in non-organic farming to control weeds, insects, fungi and other microbes, though use of pesticides is greatly limited when organic practices are used and even then these pesticides are produced from natural substances rather than chemicals. As the goal of pesticides is to destroy or repel other living things, pesticides have the potential to harm human health. The most common health problems associated with pesticides are irritation to the skin and eyes, damage to the nervous system, altered hormone levels and the development of cancer. Farm workers who come into contact with pesticides are at greatest risk, but the food we eat has traces of pesticide residues and these pose a particular risk to certain groups of the population. For instance, due to young children’s small body size and the fact their organ systems are still developing, it is essential to keep their pesticide exposure to a minimum. For similar reasons, pregnant women should avoid pesticides as much as possible to protect their developing baby’s brain and nervous system. Seniors also seem to be at increased risk of pesticide exposure, as the body becomes less efficient at processing chemicals with age.

The Stanford study confirmed that pesticide residue intake was lower when consuming organic foods, but if you can’t afford to buy all organic fruit and vegetables, how can you lower your intake of pesticide residues? Although washing and peeling fresh produce well helps to remove some traces of pesticides, another step is to focus on only buying organic versions of fruit and vegetables that otherwise contain most pesticide. To help you out with this, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of items yearly that highlights the ‘clean fifteen’ which contain minimal levels of pesticides and the 'dirty dozen' that contain much higher levels of residues. It is especially important to use this list if you or your family belong to one of the at risk groups from pesticide exposure.

Avoids Growth Hormones

While there isn’t as yet any strong evidence to confirm a link between the use of growth hormones in non-organic cattle and adverse health effects from eating beef or dairy produce, there is a potential mechanism through which these artificial hormones may cause harm, which is why some people choose to buy organic milk and meat. For instance, use of recombinant bovine growth hormone may increase production of insulin-like growth factor, which is possibly linked to an increased risk of cancer. There is also a concern that these artificial hormones may lower sperm counts, as research indicates that women eating meat while pregnant have sons with reduced sperm counts. The FDA argues that hormone residues in meat and milk are tiny compared to those that occur naturally, but until there is more evidence for either side of the debate, some people would rather not take the risk.

Avoids Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Although antibiotics are commonly added to standard animal feed in the US, the use of antibiotics in this manner is not permitted in organic farming and even if antibiotics are used to treat disease, the meat then cannot be sold as organic. This is because antibiotics are an artificial way to enhance growth and organic producers recognize the risk that overuse of antibiotics poses to human health. Using antibiotics irresponsibly in farming fuels the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as the bacteria that develop resistance are spread into the wider environment, increasing the likelihood that people will not respond to antibiotics for potentially dangerous infections. This is a particular issue, as most antibiotics used in farming are very similar to those used to treat our infections, including first-line treatment fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins that are used to manage hospital acquired infections. While the FDA is encouraging more cautious use of antibiotics in farming, if more people choose to buy organic this sends a message to other farmers to change their practices.

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your article with us. So what do you think, folks? Organic or non-organic? Are you a buyer?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Today author Brandon Engel reminds you of why Arthur C. Clarke is considered one of the Deans of Science Fiction

"Fiction is more than non-fiction in some can stretch people's
minds, alerting them to the possibilities of the future, which is very important
in an age where things are changing rapidly."
Please welcome Brandon Engel who is doing a guest post for me today regarding Arthur C. Clarke and his amazing ability to predict future technologies. to give just a little introduction to Clarke, he is considered one of the "Big Three" that forged the genre of science fiction (the other two being Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein). Heinlein is kind of my personal favorite of the three because he was such a colorful character (hanging out with L.Ron Hubbard masturbating on a manuscript in Aleister Crowley's mansion while plotting to steal the fortune of the guy that made jet fuel is one reason). Another is that Heinlein simply wrote interesting books like Stranger in a Strange Land. "Grok" anyone?

Anyway, Clarke's career and life are equally extraordinary. I'll let Brandon explain it to you though because he's just awesome at it. However, I'm going to pick out illustrations from series of books that Mr. Engel talks about below because they are done by my favorite cover artist, Michael Whelan. AND IF YOU FOLLOW MY BLOG, you know Michael Whelan is my "Picasso." Seriously. *bows down before Michael Whelan...
If memory serves correctly, this is a piece called
"Star Child." Artist Michael Whelan wanted to
capture the mysteriousness of the monolith,
what was going on with the Discovery
spaceship as it orbited Jupiter, and give a hint
that the monolith, the spaceship, and Jupiter
would become a new cradle of life to an
intelligent species. I think it's rather well done.
Whelan accomplished the effect using an
airbrush on masonite.

The Phenomenal Foresight of Arthur C. Clarke by Brandon Engel

Arthur C. Clarke was an author who predicted many future events dating back to the mid-1900's. One of the most popular pieces of literature written by Clarke includes the script from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" film, and the novelization of the script that was written concurrent with the script. In addition to the popularity of his books and literature throughout his career, Arthur C. Clarke is also known for predicting future technologies with amazing accuracy.

Popular Writings by Arthur C. Clarke

Among his most popular works are the titles from the 2001 series: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (written concurrently with his screenplay for the film directed by Stanley Kubrick), along with "2010: Odyssey Two", "2061: Odyssey Three" and "3001: The Final Odyssey", released in 1997. The Odyssey books highlight evolution and change throughout society and humanity, specifically dating 50 years back and predicting the future as it is now. They deal with humanity’s propulsion to grow and develop technologically, and the ethical issues that arise as humans becomes increasingly powerful in shaping the world around them.

“The Fountains Of Paradise” is another novel by Arthur C. Clarke that explores the possibility of humans finally finding their path into space with ease. Disregard the typical rocket ships, and instead, build an elevator to space. Following the drama and character development in this novel makes it one of Clarke's most enjoyable reads.

As Mr. Engel talks about in his article,
this book takes place when our sun is
dying. This cover by Michael Whelan
is meant to evoke a feeling of forlorn
-ness as young people stare
 into the distance at the only sun
humanity has ever known,
and watch it die.
After the sun has gone nova, “The Songs Of Distant Earth” follows humanity into its depths and basic emotions and survival tactics. Although this novel by Clarke also highlights and features plenty of tech and future-based material, it is also considered a romance sci-fi novel for those who are seeking a bit of a different genre from previous books.

Predictions Made by Clarke in the Past

Arthur C. Clarke has made numerous predictions involving science fiction and future technologies that are currently in use today. Clarke predicted everything from the very first human clone, sampling items from the planet Mars, launching space probes and even predicting nuclear weapon wars and destruction in the future years off from the debut of his writings. By 2003, Clarke predicted there would be a need for an alternative fuel source to help reduce the overall impact fuels were having on the planet's overall environment and atmosphere.

Clarke also had the wild idea that electronic tracking and monitoring would one day help to reduce and eliminate the amount of criminal activity in all areas of the world, regardless of country or region. Today, satellites, drones and intelligent computers have the ability to locate and access individuals within minutes and in some cases, within seconds of conducting a search. If not for the imagination of someone like Clarke, the world would not have satellites, or any of the modern luxuries which are a by-product of satellite technology like GPS, satellite tv broadcasts, internet plans, or cellular phones.

Towards the end of his life, Clarke made predictions about a myriad of other topics, including the first manned trip to Mars, and actual dinosaur clones. Clarke also mused about when artificial intelligence (AI) would likely meet the same level as humanity. Taking a deeper look into the world of Arthur C. Clarke, his writings and his predictions is a jaw-dropping experience, especially with the predictions involving technology include communication methods and abilities. With Arthur C. Clarke's predictions becoming more true each day, it begs the question: Is there another author out there trying to do the same for us now? We may never know, until 50 years into the future that is.

If you liked this article, please follow Brandon on his twitter: @BrandonEngel2