Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A rant about the ice bucket challenge and how it needs to just stop

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It's a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. It's also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease." Lately a challenge designed to raise awareness of ALS and to get people to donate money has gone viral. Everyone from Andrew Ross Sorkin on CNBC to George R.R. Martin has done their version of the challenge. The thing that disturbs me though, is that people are participating in the challenge for selfish reasons that are doing more harm than good.

We have Henry Cavill in his Superman outfit doing the Ice Bucket challenge. Hoo Rah! right? I mean it's Superman, but it's also free marketing for an upcoming movie. This really puts a distaste in my mouth...the fact that Hollywood would use a challenge to raise awareness on a disease that kills people to say "Hey we're filming Batman vs. Superman and this seems like a great way to get people talking early about the film." Why couldn't Henry Cavill just have done it outside his uniform?

And what about the Scottish teen that died because of the challenge? I think it would make everyone who has ALS very sad to know that a challenge designed to raise awareness of their disease has claimed the life of Cameron Lancaster who was only 18. How the f*ck do people die by just getting ice cold water poured over their head? Well that's just the thing: they don't. Cameron died because people are making more of the ice bucket challenge than it really is. They are making it harder, adding levels of difficulty, blowing it way out of proportion, all to get a few YouTube hits.

And let's not forget the platonic form of a failed ALS ice bucket challenge involving a guy in camo cargo pants and an American flag vest, waving an even bigger confederate flag, and he sets his own hair on fire. It seems clear to me that the ice bucket challenge has lost its way. It's no longer about charity as much as its about bragging on social networks. "Everything you can do, I can do better." So the result has been everything from dumping water on someone to having some person shoot another with a stun gun so that they fall backward into ice water.

There is no reason to do this:
Or this very dangerous activity...
I just don't get it. How could something so seemingly simple...small bucket of ice water poured gently on head...turn into something so disastrous that it actually claims lives? Are people really this stupid? /end rant

Monday, August 25, 2014

Deep Breath gave us a bi-racial lesbian couple in Victorian London, a dinosaur on the Thames, and screams this is how you kick off a new Dr. Who

The eighth season premiere of Dr. Who got underway on Saturday on BBC America with the episode "Deep Breath." On the surface, it reunited us with some clockwork/steampunk robots, and as I was watching, I remarked to my friend Adam that Dr. Who seems to revisit dinosaurs a lot. Because Dr. Who is so well-known, I won't recount any of the characters backgrounds and just assume you know who they are. What I want to talk about are the things that I liked about the episode, and (I suppose) what I liked about Peter Capaldi.
Married lesbians in Victorian London: Yes, please. Madame Vastra and Jenny were wonderful. They're a lesbian married couple (Madame Vastra being a lizard from the time of the dinosaurs who just happens to eat people, but only the really bad ones). She's also quite the warrior, and it got particularly cute in one scene when Madame Vastra looked like she was painting Jenny (so Jenny was holding perfectly still), but it turned out that Vastra was just working. Jenny seemed a bit pouty when she discovered that Vastra had been working the entire time and asked, "Why didn't you tell me?" and Vastra responded "Because you brighten up the room so much." That was a really nice thing to say.
More Clara. I'm utterly fascinated with "The Impossible Girl." The conflict with Clara in "Deep Breath"all comes to a head when Clara gets a phone call from the dying Matt Smith Doctor, sent through time to his own future. He reveals how scared the Peter Capaldi Doctor is and basically begs her to help him. It's a rare turn to see Clara put in such egomaniacal light because she's been so self-sacrificing for the Doctor. Literally, she's the only person that exists in all times and in all places at once  because she dove into the Doctor's timeline in Trenzalor to save him. So here she is being asked to save him again and yet, the Twelfth Doctor has been basically accusing her of ignoring him because she was in love with the Eleventh Doctor. Mind = Blown.

The Doctor Sees Himself in the Half-Faced Man. This part was really good. The Twelfth Doctor is having a hard time with his new face (and his Scottish accent). As an aside...my friend Adam suggested that David Tennant must be pissed that Capaldi was allowed to speak with a Scottish accent as Tennant wanted to but was specifically forbidden to do so.
Sad David Tennant is sad. They made him hide his Scottish accent.
But I digress. In an important conversation, the Doctor says to the Half-faced man that he has probably forgotten who he stole his current face from. "You are a broom," the Doctor says. "At some point you replaced the handle. At another you replaced the brush. You can still clean a room, but you are not the same being as when you began." The thing is, neither is the Doctor, and I guess that's the point. He is not the same person he was. The regeneration creates a whole new Doctor and by counseling the Half-Faced Man to give up on his dreams of reaching Paradise, I think he comes to the realization that he has a lot in common with the Half-Faced Man and should give up on reaching Gallifrey (the Doctor's Promised Land).
The Half-Faced Man. "You are a broom!"
A new Big Bad? At the very end, there's a scene where a somewhat governess-ish woman greets the Half-Faced Man when he arrives in the Promised Land (after his death). She tells him that he's reached Paradise and that he need strive no longer. One thing that's interesting here: the lady refers to the Doctor as "her boyfriend." There's only two individuals that can lay that claim: River Song and the Tardis. So is this woman the Tardis? If that's true, then perhaps the Half-Faced Man didn't die but was instead imprisoned somewhere within the Tardis? But if this is just a lie, then perhaps we're meeting a New Big Bad who has powers over life and death.

Peter Capaldi will do just fine. It took some getting used to because he's much older than the previous versions of the doctor. But I like the calmer, more thoughtful Dr. Who (in contrast with Matt Smith's zaniness which at times seemed like a ball bouncing off the wall). But I suppose I'll always miss the time that Matt Smith's Doctor kissed Rory. They should have revisited that more.

Thoughts on the season opener Whovians?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Let's consider the pros and cons of Dwayne Johnson's choice between Shazam and Black Adam

In science fiction news this week, I read that action superstar (and real-life Hulk) Dwayne Johnson is trying to decide between playing either Shazam or Black Adam. So given that I have a special place in my heart for Shazam/Black Adam I thought I'd break this decision down pro/con style beginning with Shazam.

At left is an illustration of Shazam from the iconic "Kingdom Come" graphic novel (which I absolutely loved). Comic star Alex Ross painted the whole thing in glorious color--the book is literally a work of art in and of itself. But the tale revisits the DC universe with veteran superheroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, who are all in their older years. However, "older" isn't the same as it applies to humans. These "gods" get stronger with time, so Superman, Wonder Woman, and Shazam/Captain Marvel are at the peak of their game. In this particular panel, Marvel has triumphed over Superman by speaking "Shazam" which summons the lightning magic that transforms him from a mere mortal into a magical being that's just as strong as Superman. In fact, Marvel says the command word multiple times, sidestepping the lightning which rains down on Superman essentially throwing him to the ground (Superman is as vulnerable to magic as he is to kryptonite).

Now, from time to time I get asked (usually by kids) to weigh in on who the most powerful superhero is in any given universe. My "go to" answer is usually "It's really hard to beat Superman..." which usually elicits a surprise because most kids don't get that Superman is so frickin' powerful that it's kind of on its own level of ridiculous. But he is. So when I say that another superhero is as powerful as Superman, that means that character is basically a god.

So yeah, Shazam is basically a god. And its easy to be confused with Shazam because he's also known as Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel is the alter ego of Billy Batson, a boy who by speaking the magic word "Shazam" can transform himself into the being with the combined powers of 1) Solomon 2) Hercules 3) Atlas 4) Zeus 5) Achilles and 6) Mercury. That's how you get the name "Shazam!" You take the first letters of all those gods and put them together as an acronym.

Legally, there have been lawsuits alleging that Shazam is a copy of Superman (there are similarities). Also DC comics renamed the character to Shazam to avoid long-standing trademark conflicts with another character named "Captain Marvel" owned by rival Marvel Comics. So I don't blame you for being confused.

The Pro's for playing this character are plentiful. 1) Shazam has never been portrayed in a movie, so the character would be ready for Dwayne to put his personal imprint on it. 2) The character has a long and storied history rich with great tales (Crisis on the Infinite Earths, Kingdom Come) and is a gateway to the most powerful villains in the DC pantheon, e.g., Darkseid. 3) Shazam is incredibly powerful which means the movie is going to be filled with all kinds of "eye candy" that boys and men love. And Dwayne has a strong loyal following among women so that'll pack the audiences with ladies who like to look at muscular men.

The only con I see for Dwayne in playing this character is that it'll just be him playing another protagonist, which doesn't stretch his acting talent at all. Well, and then there's the fact that DC Comics just don't have the popularity that Marvel has, and Warner Brothers may screw this adaptation up the same as they screwed up Green Lantern. So yeah, there's always that.

WHO IS BLACK ADAM? On the right is another Alex Ross painting of the super villain Black Adam (yes, Shazam and Black Adam could be the Dukes of Disgusting as far as power level goes). First off, you'll note there's a similarity and that's intentional, because Shazam and Black Adam are two sides of the same coin.

Now when Black Adam was originally depicted, he was a corrupted ancient Egyptian predecessor of Captain Marvel who fought his way to modern times to challenge Shazam. But DC redefined the origin to make him an antihero trying to "clear his name."

Black Adam (if memory serves) gets his powers from Shu (stamina), Hershef (strength), Amon (power), Thoth (wisdom), Anpu (speed), and Menthu (courage). I know, it sounds like he's very feng shui but in the DC universe, all of these things translate into "power" and "magic." Of course he has just as much super strength as Superman (able to hold a Boeing 747 aloft full of passengers like it was nothing), so much stamina he doesn't need to eat, sleep, or even breath (he can easily survive in space), he can move at sub-light speeds, fly, has instant access to all languages, has magic resistance against massive amounts of spells, and enough courage to render him resistant to telepathy and mind control of any kind. So yeah, he's basically another god (hence why I use the word "disgusting").

The Pro's for playing this character are 1) anti-heroes are interesting. Vin Diesel proved that by helming the signature character of "Riddick" which was worth three fully funded Hollywood films. 2) Dwayne Johnson would get to tap into his known propensity for all things Egyptian (remember "The Rock" played to great effect the character of the Scorpion King). 3) Dwayne Johnson finally gets to expand his acting repertoire and play someone sinister.

The Cons? Well playing a villain is usually a one-shot deal. And as a bankable star with a following, that seems to be a waste of Dwayne Johnson's talent. But what is a good movie without a great villain? Arguably a mediocre movie. So by hiring talent like Dwayne to play the bad guy, the films bound to be a success.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm really not a fan of portal fiction but Starz's Outlander is a real surprise

A little over two weeks ago, Starz premiered a series called Outlander. It's adapted by Ronald D. Moore, a name you might recognize from Battlestar Galactica and Helix. I kind of fell out of love with Helix rather quickly as it just wasn't my speed. But I thought the Battlestar Galactica reboot was fabulous, and other fans of that show will be pleased to note that he tapped Bear McCreary to do the music for the intro and yes, there are lots of bagpipes playing (who doesn't love the mournful sound of bagpipes?). They did wonders to elevate the most emotionally riveting scenes in Battlestar Galactica and will no doubt serve the same purpose here. And final trivia on Ronald Moore, he's a Cornell alum, which in my geekiness makes me squee a little bit because the main character in the sci-fi series I'm writing plays hockey for Cornell. And if all that isn't enough of a geeky/nerdy connection for you, Ronald Moore did film a pilot for Dragonriders of Pern and sent it to the WB, but it got canceled before production began. Since it happened more than a decade ago, the Dragonriders will just have better special effects available to them when they get launched soon on a yet to be announced network, so Anne McCaffrey fans can rejoice!

So I saw Outlander and didn't know what to expect at all. I vaguely had this idea that it was about a time traveling woman who ends up in medieval Scotland, but I had not checked out the books or even bothered to read a synopsis. Instead, I just set it to record on my DVR and watched it.

Outlander takes some excellent risks. Borrowing a page from Carrie Bradshaw, there's voice over, and I kind of like it. Then again, I usually like voice over. I liked it in Dune, I liked it in Sex and the City, and I like it here. And Claire is a different kind of heroine. She's strong yet very feminine, and I found that instantly intriguing. She's unapologetic about her intelligence, and I can see that when she's put in dangerous situations, she is instantly analyzing her surroundings and realizing that she's in a dangerous situation. She doesn't react hysterically, she doesn't scream and whine...rather she reacts with a calculating mind despite the fact that her very life is in jeopardy and accepts her fate with acknowledgement that she will do everything in her power to get out of it as soon as possible. I don't know why, but I really like that about her.
The setting for Outlander is stunning. The post World War II environment is used quite effectively to not only serve as a jumping off point, but a source for flashbacks (flash futures?) in which Claire muses over what her husband (who in the 18th century is not even born) must be thinking about her disappearance (even though it hasn't happened yet). And having a series set in this time would be intriguing enough. But Outlander gives us a double treat by providing yet another world for us to explore in the 18th century. I think that's very ambitious for a television show.

In the post World War II setting, Claire is an accomplished nurse with vast medical knowledge. Mining this background gives her instant value in the 18th century when locals see her as a gifted healer. The show also doesn't shy away from sex with great chemistry (Claire gets cunnilingus from her husband right on a medieval table in a crumbling castle ruin they're exploring), gore (blood dripping on the floor during surgery), and the very "rated-R" nature of everyday life ("rape" pronounced as "rapine" sounds so very English).

One question you might ask: Is this show a romance? It certainly feels romantic but I don't think it is. For one, Claire and Frank (her husband in the future) are awesome together so there's really no reason for her to pine for someone else in the past (other than he's not available). But I do suppose that there's developing chemistry with her and the man that she's healing, a Scot with a great accent by the name of Jamie.

I guess fans of Outlander will probably belong to those who love portal fiction, those who love romantic fantasy, and those who love historical romance. What surprises me most is I'm not really a fan of any of these genres, yet I love the show. Will miracles never cease? So tell me, are you watching Outlander? If so, what do you think of it?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Everybody on the Strain is obsessed with making bad choices

Oh boy. Sunday night's episode of The Strain called "Occultation" featured the long awaited "Eclipse" moment that has been advertised for a year now. The build up to the solar eclipse made me think that the proverbial shit was really going to hit the fan. In my mind I was thinking swarms of vampires emerging from the sewers with blood dripping from their maws and attacking New Yorkers enmasse. What actually happened is kind of "meh." A few people got infected, but New York remains pretty much New York, only with people growing increasingly more terrified of "strange events" because there are reports and eyewitnesses of supposed crazy people attacking others "non crazy" people.

But just like most horror tropes, the Strain's strongest plot moments come at the expense of intelligence. First off, there's Dr. Ephraim Goodweather who approaches his wife Kelly by going to their home. Ephraim is "on the lam" because the FBI has footage of him dragging the dead pilot from the airplane we saw in episode one down the hallway, so yeah, he's wanted for murder. Still, Ephraim manages to duck the pursuers enough to get to his wife's home and warn her. And it's pretty stern. "Get out of New York. Take the kid. Run." She replies, "You're scaring me." And his response is, "I'm scared. There's a pestilence. You have to run." Can you be any clearer than that?

But of course, she doesn't. I mean, why would you question the word of a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control that's had a profound career as an M.D.? I tell you what. If a doctor from the CDC told me that I needed to drop everything and get out of town, I'd grab the keys and be gone within the hour.

But the disbelief doesn't stop there. We have Gus getting ramrodded into helping the Nazi vampire, Mr. Eichorst, who meets him in what appears to be a sewer of all places. First, I wouldn't go into a sewer or an abandoned subway tunnel to meet anyone. Second, when Gus meets Mr. Eichorst again, this Nazi vampire in makeup clearly demonstrates supernatural speed and power. Eichorst threatens Gus' mother and then tosses him some cash to do yet another illegal job, and it never occurs to Gus to just go home, stuff his mother in the car, take the cash and get a full tank of gas, and just leave town. I mean like drive to Mexico leave town.

And then we have poor Jim Kent (played by veteran actor Sean Astin). Jim knows what he's doing is probably endangering the world, yet he still works for Dr. Eichorst all because his wife (whose dying of cancer) is getting signed up for an experimental treatment. But to damn the whole world for love? That's a serious lack of judgement. Jim gets the IQ80 award for the first season of The Strain (and I say that because it's been renewed for a second season).

And finally we have the rat guy, Vasily Fet, who is now killing vampires. He knows that there are monsters under the streets, and no one will believe him. Vasily is like the male version of "Cassandra" from the Trojan War (brush up on your Greek mythology, and you'll know exactly to what I'm referring). He goes to his dad's house and tells his father to take mom and go on a long vacation. Of course, dad just "blah blah blah. You never visit. Now a stranger wants to tell me what to do. Blah blah blah blah." And Vasily shakes his head and mutters, "I tried..."

So yeah, things are getting very ominous on The Strain, and it frustrates me because it doesn't need to be this way. If people would just listen to "the experts" then this wouldn't be an apocalyptic story. But I guess that's the point, right? How can you have an apocalypse if everyone is listening?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Warlords of Draenor almost makes me want to play World of Warcraft again

Oh boy. On November 13th, 2014 the next World of Warcraft expansion comes out. It's called Warlords of Draenor and below is the opening cinematic for it. I used to be quite the gamer. I drove straight home after work to make my raid time at precisely 6:00 mountain time. I'd make sure to farm all the materials I would need before the raid, extra potions, and things like that. I'd have my mods all set up so they'd be ready to go. Everything needed to be perfect, because the guild I was in (yay Requiem!) always plowed through the most savage content before anyone else did (sometimes months before anyone else did, which was kind of sad if you think about it).

I don't miss my raiding days. I think I got somewhat addicted to video games for a while. However, and I mean "bar none" when I say this, there is no other video game company out there that puts out cinematic trailers quite like Blizzard. As a company, they are the "Michael Jackson" of the genre...they are perfectionists personified. And this latest trailer is no exception. Seriously, even if you aren't into video games or don't even know what World of Warcraft is, please take a moment to appreciate the programming talent that went into making this trailer look so frickin' awesome.  This little trip down memory lane makes me want to look up my old raid leader again. His paladin was Modhne, and I'm pretty sure he plays with Elitist Jerks (they have a website...you should check it out). 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shark wranglers are either insane or stupid and yet they capture some amazing footage

I've been glued to the screen this week because...Shark Week! I mean what else is there? Afterall it's the middle of the summer, and it's not like Game of Thrones is on television with new episodes. So with that out of the way, I want to talk about Air Jaws, and how I seriously question the sanity of the people involved. In the below excerpt, a guy named "Dickie" (yes his name really is Dickie and if he were to introduce himself to you at a bar he'd say "I'm a shark wrangler" as if that's a thing...). So in Air Jaws, our hero Dickie boards "Parthenope" which is basically a 14-foot female shark decoy that they created. Oh and they tow it behind the boat on what looks like a kite string. You've just got to watch the video to understand, but as I was watching it I was saying to myself, what's wrong with these people? The point of this exercise is to find "Colossus," a giant shark that's around 18-feet-long that they previously recorded two years ago breaching from below to eat seals. But as you view the video, please ask yourself the following question: "If this was in my job description, would I do this?"
In the same episode, another of the "shark wranglers" named Fallows descends in the WASP, which stands for Water Armor Shark Protection (but honestly it looks like a flimsy cage) so that he can watch a gang of HUGE great whites. Again, why would you do this? If you watch the video, you'll see him reach his arm out of the cage and actually grab hold of a big shark's nose so he can turn it aside. It's insane.
I just don't have the balls to do any of this. But I guess there's a part of me that's in awe of these guys for being so fearless. Shark wranglers are either lunatics or stupid and yet, they capture some amazing footage.