Monday, June 26, 2017

It's time to start humming the Game of Thrones theme song because it's just three weeks away.

Game of Thrones returns July 16th. Until then, you should check out this three minute mashup trailer that shows just how far we've come in cinematic quality of a television series. I'm so excited. Did I mention that the finale is going to be 81 minutes long? Wow.

Friday, June 23, 2017

47 Meters Down is terrifying.

Why oh why do I watch shark movies? I don't think there is anything I am more afraid of...anything that strikes within me the same chords of terror...as a great white shark. Yet, I can't take my eyes off of them. I watch shark week, print out trivia questions, and put myself through movies like "47 Meters Down."

To prepare for 47 Meters Down, I asked my friend Brad lots of shark trivia questions over dinner. He, after all, needed to be ready for the movie too. Did you know that great white sharks have deep blue eyes? Yeah, the movie Jaws would have you believe that sharks have black eyes...like those of a doll that has emotionless buttons for eyes. I think it was Quinn that described it that way. And yeah, I can rattle off names like "Quinn" the crazy captain of the ill-fated boat in Jaws because I watch it all the time. Jaws is kind of timeless.

More things to know about great whites: they are warm-blooded. Their skin is comprised of extremely tiny teeth instead of scales and in the olden days, people would use the shark skin as sandpaper. More facts: no one knows how great white sharks mate or where they give birth. It's never been observed in the wild. Additionally, great white sharks possess seven senses (two more than humans). They have tiny receptors that allow them to sense electrical impulses within living things. The other sense is a pressure gauge, giving them specific knowledge of how much pressure they are experiencing in their environment.

Going through all of these facts with my best friend was a lot of fun over dinner, but the actual movie 47 Meters Down was terrifying. The premise was pretty simple, and you actually get all of the plot from watching the trailer. Two girls on vacation go for a shark dive in a cage, the cage breaks, and they wind up 47 meters down on the bottom of the ocean surrounded by hungry great white sharks. That's pretty much when the terror starts and doesn't let up until the last minute of the movie. Let's just put it this way, I don't think I will ever put my toe even so much as an inch in the ocean.

If you like a stressful edge of your seat thriller, you owe it to yourself to see this latest shark movie. It's pretty darn good.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I'm going against popular opinion here and saying that M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender is actually not terrible.

My friend Meg has a teenaged daughter that loves a Nickelodeon series called Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'd seen the movie, which mother and daughter both despised with vitriol that is seldom-seen unless talking about the atrocities of concentration camps in World War 2. Nevertheless, she and her mom convinced me that my life just wasn't complete until I saw the series (which is way better than the movie "The Last Airbender"). So I've been slowly making my way through it via Amazon, and to be honest, although it is enjoyable it's also really childish. And when I say childish...I mean it's really not all that good. Is it still watchable? Yes. But every episode clearly has a moral of the story to it, and because its Japanese animation the eyes and exaggerated emotions get kind of silly after a while.

So out of curiosity, I watched The Last Airbender again on television. This movie by M. Night Shyamalan almost killed his career. It is not a great movie by any means...but a career killer? I fail to see why people were so outraged that they literally spit on it. Sure, they cast a bunch of white people as Asian characters. However, this happens all of the time and has been happening for years. And for what the movie disregards in the form of silliness (for me) seems to streamline the story to make it more interesting...so that more things are happening faster. In the cartoon, it takes forever for Aang to reach the water bending people. In the movie, it happens within the breadth of a couple of episodes.

I think if people could get past the liberal outrage of having white people play Asian characters, they could actually see that the effects and the work that went into the film qualify it to be an average film. Sure, it had aspirations to be this amazing blockbuster, but it made too many mistakes to ever qualify for that. This, I gladly caveat to the eviscerating critics of the movie.

I'm a little disappointed that we'll never get to see sequels to the movie. There were supposedly three that had been planned, and perhaps there would have been opportunities to include more of the things that people loved about the cartoon into those movies. But there's a part of me that wonders if anyone even understood why people went nutso over Avatar: The Last Airbender. Again, it's plot doesn't strike me as all that original in the vein of fantasy, and the incessant "smacking one over the head" with a moral was kind of annoying. Maybe kids just liked the cartoon because 1) kung fu has always been "cool," and 2) anything Japanese like "Hello Kitty" is also cool, and 3) combining kung fu with magic is somehow the most amazing thing ever.

Or maybe I'm just too jaded to see the sorcery at work here. Yeah, maybe that's it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Here are five assorted musings that I have regarding Cars 3 which is excellent by the way.

Last night's Cars 3 was a good movie in the Pixar line, easily on par with the original Cars and much better than Cars 2. I came away from the movie with several observations, and this review (of sorts) has spoilers in it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Assorted Musings:

1) The Pixar short (which is called "Lou") that runs in front of the movie is totally worth getting there early to see.

2) Cars somehow brought back Paul Newman's ghost for new lines in this movie. If you remember, Paul Newman had a HUGE role in the first movie as he was Doc Hudson, Lightning McQueen's teacher. If you haven't watched Cars in a while, I recommend watching it before you go to Cars 3, because it relies heavily on that source material. I also need to research how Pixar got the lines it used from Paul Newman (who died in 2008). So there is that mystery to solve.

3) The animation is the most spectacular I've ever seen come out of Pixar, and that's including even Finding Dory (which looked spectacular). If it weren't for the fact that the characters had a cartoony look, everything would be absolutely real down to the individual leaves on the trees.

4) I only spotted three Pixar easter eggs. The first was A113, which is on the door of the CEO of RustEze, Lightning McQueen's sponsor for the races. The second is a still for the Pixar movie CoCo which has been seen in the commercials for it (it's Pixar's next movie). Of course Dinoco was there, but Dinoco has been pretty prominent in the franchise, so I don't really count that as an Easter Egg since their CEO has plenty of speaking parts. The third easter egg that I spotted was "Lightyear," the brand name emblazoned on Lightning McQueen's tires. It's obviously a nod to "Buzz Lightyear" from Toy Story.

5) After much deliberation by my friend Brad Habegger, he has said that the homonculus theory of Cars doesn't hold up if we consider that there are no insects in this world. Rather, there are little flying cars with wings. I talked about the homonculus theory on this post. He also pointed out that the theory (if it were correct) actually makes the world less horrific. His point was that the way it stands now...that these cars are sentient beings...means that when they are getting their tires removed and other things replaced it's literally like stripping the skin and appendages off of a living thing. So I guess I agree with him. So maybe Cars (even with the Easter eggs) takes place in a universe that is separate from Toy Story and Finding Nemo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

There are many days when I wish the trope of good versus evil was a real thing.

This is called "Chess Good vs Evil" and is by the artist WhySoSerious91 on DeviantART.
 Click HERE to see MORE.
I think that good versus evil makes for the best story lines because it gives meaning to everyone's existence. It's why video games work, it's why religions work, and it's why so many people in the world grapple with a lack of meaning in their lives. The real world doesn't provide clear cut villains. In reality, there's no cackling lich living inside a tomb of horrors ready to conquer the world, devoid of any redeeming virtues, and surrounded by magical minions. Human motivations are much more complex, nuanced, and speckled with all kinds of emotions.

It's tragic really that good versus evil is a construction of man. The tale is spun over and over again from Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader, from Superman to Lex Luthor, and from the Horde to the Alliance. In a world that has no evidence of any of these things, many of us (left to our own devices) start asking the question: why am I here? And for those that don't find a soothing thought in expressions like, "to love," or "to help others," or "to bear children," might soon become prone to depression and anxieties formulated over a hot greasy grill. The person might ask themselves, "What if this is as good as it gets?" Living without the hope of something better is a pretty awful thing, and most of us are better served not even contemplating that question.

Good versus evil doesn't actually exist, but we all want it to exist. Most of us want to think of having this greater purpose that allows us to become heroes in the face of atrocious villainy that is evil for evil's sake. We want to believe in situations where evil appears skull-faced and with tentacles dripping slime, where the horrific appearance of the monster exactly matches that of the hideous things the monster will do, and that it will be apparent to everyone that the one that is evil is in fact wearing black and has the moniker, "Dr. Evil." Life would be so much simpler if we had these things as a society to unite behind, and if it was clear cut to all what was right and what was wrong. Heroes (after all) would be strong with perfect physiques, and they would always get the girl. We want to live in a world where there are no Bill Cosby's...where no man has done many great things but has done equally bad things too. Bill Cosby isn't supposed to happen. We aren't supposed to laugh at the comedic genius of the rapist. What cruel joke is this?

If there are too many people who can't figure out a purpose in life, it's bad for society. People without purpose, who are unable to ascribe meaning to their day-to-day lives are lost. Some of them end up seeking out drugs to numb the emotional pain. This in turn fuels crime to get money for drugs, and you can see where this goes. People can end up hurting other people emotionally because they want to feel something...anything...as it is all better than feeling nothing. Or people can just "give up," and that's bad too for obvious reasons, the least of which might be an invitation for mental illness to set in.

I have few friends, but among the males I'm noticing growing despair, and I'm not quite sure what I can do about it. They are in their thirties and forties (no names will be given here), but I think my small slice of life may be indicative to something that's growing in this country. In other words, I'm saying that there are a lot of embittered, lonely, and poor (having failed to reach certain monetary goals at certain stages of life) men who are staring at a future that's looking bleaker every day. A lot of them drown themselves in video games, because they'd rather live in that alternate world where work equates instant accomplishment than face down the demons in this world (which are much harder to spot and slay). Others hang out on "Red Pill" reddit or post angry messages on Facebook.

If only good versus evil was real. Then maybe some of these men would snap out of it and start contributing to society. Maybe some of them would find value in themselves.

If only.

Monday, June 12, 2017

It's not Easter but that isn't going to stop me from loading up on all the Easter eggs for Cars 3.

I'm seeing Cars 3 on Thursday. That's a given. To make it even more fun, I'm going to be hunting for all the Easter eggs that I know to look for that are famously peppered in Pixar movies. An Easter egg (if you don't know) as an intentional inside visual joke slipped into the background by the animators. The term was first used to describe a hidden message in the Atari video game "Adventure." I'm betting a few of these will be visible:

A113: This pays homage to a classroom at CalArts, the alma mater of Pixar/Disney executive John Lasseter and director Brad Bird. You can bet it will be on a license plate or somewhere else in the film at some point. I've actually heard that it is on a press sticker this time around for a "Shannon Spokes."

Pizza Planet: This is a fictional pizza restaurant that appears in Toy Story.

Dinoco: This is a fictional oil company that first appeared in Toy Story. I actually wouldn't be surprised to see a not to The Good Dinosaur or Arlo.

Plays on words like "Buzz Lightyear" or other such characters: In Cars, the tires of all the Piston Cup racers are Lightyear Buzzard tires. I expect Pixar to make some kind of reference to its other films through a play on words.

Buy N Large (BnL): This is a mega corporation that first appeared in WALL-E that controlled all economic and government services on Earth.

Friday, June 9, 2017

I'm totally buying the homonculus theory about the Cars universe.

I rewatched Cars on Thursday night with my buddy Brad. We did that after I cooked dinner, which consisted of lamb chops in an anchovy and caper sauce and paired with saffron-infused carrots and potatoes (whipped together) with butter and cream. The sauce made an excellent gravy by the way. We also had corn on the cob and the wine was a red Berringer. I didn't take any pictures but trust me, it looked awesome.

The reason we watched Cars is because Cars 3 is coming out next week and Brad said he hadn't seen Cars, so it was hard to get excited about it. Cars really piqued my curiosity when I came across a guy online that was obsessed with figuring out what exactly is going on in the Cars world. To be honest, I've kind of gotten to be a believer of the whole "homonculus theory," which you can read about HERE.

I'll just summarize it for you quickly. Basically, everything about the Cars world can be explained by one thing: the humans in this human-less world are actually installed inside the Cars, kinda similar to a H.R. Giger Biomechanics nightmare.
See, something happened to all the humans. Otherwise there's no logical explanation as to why everything is designed for humans to use them. Why have handles, doors, mirrors? Why have languages that match up to human languages? It's all because the cars actually have people inside of them. Even the windshields that are eyes make sense because it would be a visor projecting the human eyes onto the glass.

Creepy, right?

There's plenty of evidence online (and Pixar has even admitted) that all of their movies share the same universe. Cars has to take place at some point in a strange future when all of the humans have achieved a kind of immortality by being bio-engineered into machines. Anyway, knowing and accepting the theory proposed on Jalopnik in no way lessens my enjoyment of the shows. But it does give a new perspective for me to consider when talking with parents about the movie. After all, I don't think many people realize that Cars is a post-apocalyptic dystopia where humans are forced to live inside machines forever.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The June question for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is all about quitting.

Well, another month has passed, and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. If you've never heard of it, you can go HERE to sign-up.

This month's question is:

"Did you ever say 'I quit'? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?"

At first I was going to answer "no" to this question, but I realized it wouldn't be true. In high school, I wrote a novella for a creative writing class on a typewriter of all things, and it was a pretty draining project. It also ended up being pretty poor. I pressed what few friends I had (back in the day I was not a popular kid) to read it, and I could tell it wasn't good from their reactions (although they tried to find positive things to say about it). Anyway, it was an exhausting thing to produce, and I was glad it was done. I pretty much quit after that for many years.

I'm not sure what brought me back to writing, or if it was any one thing. I remember the night I started tapping away at keys. I'd bought a new computer, and I'd been playing a lot of World of Warcraft on it. It was a warm summer night and I was sipping a cool drink by an open screen door. And I just wanted to write about something. I wanted to use this computer I'd bought for something more than video games. It doesn't sound very glamorous at all. There really wasn't any big revelation or anything like that. It was just more of a "want" to use some equipment that I'd invested a thousand bucks in for more than just entertainment.

I suppose that once a writer always a writer. We probably all share that bug in us, some obviously more than others.

Monday, June 5, 2017

These are my favorite poster posse tributes to Wonder Woman which slayed at the box office this weekend.

Poster Posse celebrated the Princess of Themyscira by releasing a bunch of really cool posters that were all about Wonder Woman. Below are my favorite, but you should totally peruse the collection.
This one's done by Chris Malbon, and it just looks awesome.
This one is done by artist Daniel Nash. I love how the ruins of war spell out the Wonder Woman logo.

Not bad for the 9th largest opening weekend for a movie that isn't a sequel or a spin-off, right? For those of you who've seen the movie and now want to get into reading Wonder Woman comics, may I recommend:
Wonder Woman by George Perez volume 1 (This is Diana's post-Crisis reboot and from which the movie borrowed quite a lot). 
The Legend of Wonder Woman (a retelling of her origin set during World War II).
Wonder Woman Rebirth Volume 1: The Lies and Volume 2: Year One.
All of these can be found on Amazon :) See you Wednesday for Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman was the best comic book movie I've seen since the original Avengers

Spoiler Alert: I'm going to talk about the movie, which I saw last night with best friend Brad Habegger.

First off, if you are going to see Wonder Woman, you really should shell out the extra bucks for IMAX 3D. It's worth every penny. There's lots of zinging bullets, arrows, and incredible shows of strength that 3D is meant to carry.

Second, it was hard to pick any one scene that was good, as they were all incredibly high quality. The story by Zach Snyder was tight, and the director, Patty Jenkins, did an amazing job putting the story arc down and giving us a reason for Gal Gadot's superhero to have a bitter taste about mankind.

The story begins on the island of Themyscira, which is showcased beautifully by an island location that looks straight out of a Mediterranean paradise. Hidden from the world by magic, we are introduced slowly to the character of Diana, who (like her Roman namesake) is a goddess in her own right. But we all kind of knew that, because how else could you ever explain Wonder Woman's powers and not make her a goddess? She (rightfully) is as powerful as you'd expect any immortal being to be.

However, the origin story is not without its faults. One of the things that Brad pointed out to me was that (for DC) the Greek mythology and the gods are now canon, the same as the Norse mythology did for Marvel in Thor. This bugs him because it puts that particular religion on a pedestal and makes it more "correct." Begrudgingly, I agree with him. But, if it weren't for the strong mythological background, I'd argue that Wonder Woman wouldn't be nearly as famous as she is. People like it when superheroes have powers that can be "explained" within the framework of human knowledge. They also like it when the costume has meaning, instead of just some red spandex. With Wonder Woman, her braces are an echo of enslavement, her headband is a nod to their greatest warrior, and her belt is a nod to the belt of Hercules.

All of these things have meaning, which just serve to make her more of an icon.

ASSORTED MUSINGS:

1) I missed seeing Wonder Woman flying around in her invisible jet. I've heard that they are already planning a sequel that will take place as another "period" film (probably this time against nazi's in WWII). Maybe we'll see it then.

2) I loved that they showed Wonder Woman flying. In the comics, she's always flown around (sometimes with great magical golden wings). It's about time that they embraced that dynamic instead of just showing her jumping really far.

3) I like that they established she was a goddess. In the comics, Wonder Woman becomes the new god of war. So this seemed to be a great fit with the written material.

4) I never get tired of the lasso of truth. I love how it glows gold and seems to respond to her thoughts.

5) I was disappointed that the "god slayer" sword was just a sword, albeit a well crafted one capable of sundering pillars. I was kind of hoping for some awesome magical sword that she could cut Superman with in Justice League.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wonder Woman is finally here and I'm so excited.

This Friday, the only female superhero that has survived all the way from the golden age of comics in the 40's to the present-day gets a movie with all the Hollywood trimmings. It's the first in decades. The early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes stand at 97%, which has REALLY got me excited. But to say that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages understates her icon status, which managed to succeed in a primary audience of young boys. That's a feat of which DC comics should be proud.

Wonder Woman as a character was designed from the beginning to not just be a powerful woman, but a symbol of feminine power. It also helped that her origins were tied so closely to Greek mythology, which every kid in elementary school grows up learning to appreciate alongside works of fantasy. I love how Marv Wolfman and George Perez reinvented Wonder Woman in the eighties, and her more recent reinventions/reboots are equally impressive. Also, it can kinda be said that on the Marvel side of comics there really is no equivalent. Captain Marvel falls far short. Even 75+ years on, Wonder Woman stands alone.

Wonder Woman may (in fact) be the most famous heroine of all time. Readers please correct me, but is there someone else? No offense to the Lara Crofts, Buffy's, or Princess Leia's out there, but no one else has graced everything from lunch boxes, to wall murals, to t-shirts. I'm seriously challenging you to come up with another name that's as well known/famous as Wonder Woman.

Early reviews for the movie peg it as the best film since The Dark Knight (directed by the genius Christopher Nolan). That's high praise. And what we get in this film is not the relentlessly grim, cynical take of iconic characters that have sprinkled DC movies for the last few years, but a character played to Diana's strength. One reviewer said that she comes across as "vulnerable, optimistic," while having a "moral core." I think that's super cool.

I think the long drought of poor DC movies is over guys.




Friday, May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales was fantastic.

I am a Johnny Depp fan. That being said, last night I ate sushi and then went to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, all with my best friend in tow. "Arr matey...fish and pirates seemed like the right thing to do." You might be wondering, "How was Dead Men Tell No Tales?" So here's your spoiler alert (read no further if you want to be surprised by this amazing film). I truly loved it.

I'm actually not sure which part was the best part since it was all good. Brad pointed out that the bank robbery scene was clearly an homage to one of our favorite movies: Fast Five. The fifth installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise ended with a car chase through Rio wherein Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were driving super revved up cars pulling a bank vault down the streets like a wrecking ball. It was f'ing awesome, and one of the outstanding highlights to the entire franchise.

And then there were the zombie sharks. I'm in kind of a love/terrified relationship with sharks, and these were done really well and even scared the bejeezus out of me in one scene. After watching the show, I was pretty much convinced that zombie sharks should have been a part of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise since the very beginning. The villain was very well done too (the keeper of the zombie sharks).

I also liked how they wove the disparate story lines together. When last we saw the Black Pearl, Blackbeard had put it inside a bottle and kept it among a collection of ships on his magical vessel. Getting the Pearl out of the bottle was a key plot point, followed then by the appearance of the monkey which had been trapped inside the bottle.

The show had lots of running gags, and it has excellent pacing and special effects. The story is really tight too (trimmed down to about two hours whereas some of the others were pushing three). If you are looking for a movie to go to this weekend, I don't think you could go wrong by seeing the latest installment, which (like the others) will probably go on to make a billion dollars. Disney pretty much mints money these days, but it's not like they don't deserve it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Six things that were incredibly awesome about the Flash season three

Warning: Spoilers Ahead. If you intend to watch the third season of The Flash, you probably shouldn't read any further.  Wow. The Flash season finale (it was called "Finish Line") was pretty incredible, with lots of high and low moments, and an unexpected twist that really tore at my heart more than I thought it would. That being said, I'd like to go over six things that I thought really made this season great.
1) Cisco Ramon got a girlfriend. Gypsy (played by Jessica Camacho) was a bounty hunter pursuing H.R. Wells from universe to universe. Her vibe powers were a little more powerful than Cisco, but the chemistry was certainly there. And it was a lot of fun to see Cisco pursue a love interest with clever one liners all so that she could save him in the final episode of the season. That's a nice character arc.
2) Killer Frost and Dr. Caitlyn Snow finally reached some kind of reconciliation, and the two personalities merged to form one wholly different person that had the good and bad from both people. Her story was also very interesting, falling in love with Tom Felton's character Julian Albert, then dying only to be saved by her alter ego, and then skating around town by creating a bridge of ice that could propel her through the air between skyscrapers.
3) Kid Flash got introduced and is in perfect position to take over the series. Out goes Barry Allen who created Flash Point and in goes Wally West. As sad as that ending was, to see Barry leave Earth for permanent exile within the Speed Force, I think there is more that has yet to be written with Wally West's Flash and where that character can grow. Besides, Warner Brothers may want to concentrate on the Barry Allen that's going to be seen in movies and not the one in the t.v. show.
4) H.R. Wells became the surprise savior of the season. This was totally unexpected, and I really got to where I liked this character. The fact that he fell in love with Tracy Brand (played by Anne Dudek) just made it all the more bittersweet when he died (having traded places with Iris West in a way that left Savitar--the major villain--clueless).
5) I ended up being right about Savitar. A few weeks ago in this post I explained that I thought that Savitar was a Time Remnant. Being right just gives me that little pump of validation that makes it all worth it, ya know?
6) We saw the Flash do a gorilla punch in Gorilla City. That right there is just epic. TV has never been cooler. Whenever The Flash does a Grodd story it spares no expense, and this season we saw a two-part Gorilla City spectacular. I just can't complain about any of that. Just think about that folks: we got to see a giant telepathic evil gorilla! When was the last time you could drop that sentence in conversation to someone about what kind of tv you saw last night?

So what's in store for season four? Well it's going to be a show without Barry Allen. That does kind of suck. I wonder if they'll bring him back for anything. It's not quite a Game of Thrones exit as it does leave some doors open, but it's been a while since I watched a show that so thoroughly wrote its main character out of the story.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Alien Covenant wants to know if a creation owes its creator anything.

Alien: Covenant beat out Guardians of the Galaxy over the weekend, and that makes me happy. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Alien movies that have high production values (courtesy of Ridley Scott). This particular movie was also rated-R, which makes it even more of an accomplishment because of the significantly reduced audience size. Any Alien movie that isn't rated-R would automatically be a red flag to me. The xenomorph and everything that has to do with it is such an originally terrifying creation that getting an "R" rating in this case is pretty much a badge of honor.

So did I like the movie? Yep. But I also liked Prometheus. If you are looking for a continuation of the story that was started in Prometheus, more spectacular scenery of the Engineers including another Engineer ship and a fantastic city of Engineers, and then on top of that more symbolism...you will find those aplenty in this sequel. No explanations are handed out to you either. Rather, the director assumes you are intelligent and in watching the events unfold on the screen, you actually get quite a few answers about the Engineer civilization and the continuing story of David the android. Ridley Scott does a great job of framing the entire Alien saga as a basic struggle between a creator and the thing that was created. It's actually kind of mind-bending and fascinating.

Does a creation owe its creator anything? It's that kind of basic question that is answered in Alien: Covenant. I just hope there are more movies, because I have different questions now than the ones I was left with at the end of Prometheus.

Friday, May 19, 2017

It's Alien Covenant release day so I thought I'd set the record straight on facehuggers

Today is Alien:Covenant release day! To celebrate this special follow-up to the story which saw its "germination" in Prometheus, I thought I'd share some Alien xenomorph knowledge with you (the xenomorph is the name of the creature created by H.R. Giger and which has concentrated acid for blood). In terms of what most people know about the xenomorph, nearly everyone is familiar with the idea that it bursts out of an animal's chest after a facehugger creature (hatched from a leathery egg) deposits its load in the host's esophagus.
So here's some knowledge that's considered canon, and it's from the 1993 issue of the official Aliens magazine:

"While the term 'impregnation' and 'implantation' are liberally used to describe this process, they are not strictly accurate; studies by Lasalle Bionational have shown that no actual embryo is inserted into the host. Instead, the infant Xenomorph begins its life as a knot of specifically tailored cancers that bring about chemogenetic restructuring of the host's cells, essentially "building" the chestburster from the host's own biological material at a cellular level."

So the Facehugger deposits a tumor into a person's esophagus, which then co-opts its host's cells, and grows into the xenomorph. That they knew this all the way back in 1993 just adds validation that the Alien vs. Predator movies were indeed terrible and should in no way be considered canon. Also, for decades there has been this idea behind the original Alien that it was in fact some biological weapon created from material that could co-opt genetic material from a living host. In other words, it wasn't just something that Ridley Scott pulled out of his ass to make Prometheus.

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie tonight, and I can't wait to review it on Monday. In the meantime, if you are out and about and see an alien penis snake and are a scientist, it still wouldn't be advisable to reach out and pet it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Despacito is the first Spanish song in twenty years to hit the number one spot in America and it kinda feels good considering the climate of things.

Signs of a bright future for the United States? I've always listened to pop, so I've always kind of paid attention to the charts. The number one song in the country is mostly in Spanish (called "Despacito." I think the translation for it is "slowly/gently/softly." It debuted at number 2 on Billboard's "Hot Latin Songs," and now it's number one in 27 countries. It's the first number 1 spot on the Hot 100 sung in Spanish in twenty years (remember "Macarena"?)

The song is from Puerto Rican artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee and has some help from Justin Bieber (say what you want guys but he can sing). I dunno, coming off an election where "taco trucks on every corner" was a warning and a threat, it was just nice to hear this song. Also I kind of like how Bieber sings/says "Des...pah...seeto." Hit play and hear for yourself.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Riverdale season one had many drama-inducing and exciting moments and this makes it a pretty solid binge-watch choice for you Netflix peeps.

I just watched the Riverdale season finale, and I gotta say, it turned in a pretty solid season one. I loved seeing lots of names I recognized from my youth: Luke Perry, Skeet Ulrich, and Molly Ringwald made multiple appearances and/or got cast as interesting characters in the Archie comic adaptation. This is pretty much a "modus operandi" of the CW, as they tend to honor names of the past by casting them in relevant shows. There was lots of drama, eye candy (sweaty sleepless nights are so good), great music, and a story arc that encompassed an entire season. The story arc was pretty brilliant because it dared to blend darkness into an otherwise perfect recreation of a Normal Rockwell-inspired town. Everything is better with a touch of darkness. You just can't go overboard.

I also liked the ultimate message of Riverdale. Betty (in addressing the 75th anniversary jubilee attendees) summed it up by saying that essentially everyone was Riverdale. You can't just take the good, but the bad characters as well. Stop hiding behind lies and facades and pretending that things are greater than they actually are. This is a very relevant idea to anyone that has combed the curated pages of a normal Facebook feed. We live in a day and age where people are able to influence public perception by simply posting things on social media. It doesn't matter if we live misery-riddled lives because no one will ever see the dark underbelly. They won't ever see the truth, because (as Jack Nicholson famously yelled, "We can't handle the truth."

The thing I enjoyed most about Riverdale was that it showed us these wonderful young people and put them in terrible situations of suicide, murder, fraud, drug-trafficking, and rape. How could you go wrong with fiction like that? Bring on season 2. Oh and for those of you who haven't seen it, the entire season hits Netflix on Thursday, so you can totally binge watch all of Riverdale. You even get some extra stuff with Cole Sprouse (as Jughead Jones) eating a hamburger. I guess there was some fan outrage that Jughead wasn't pictured on screen enough wolfing down burgers.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Now that the Gifted has been picked up by Fox let's all hope it doesn't get cancelled like so many other sci-fi shows

I like Bryan Singer's X-Men movies. I think he did a better job than most, and I have a soft spot for the X-Men anyway because I've always thought they were a metaphor for gay people in society (they all share a common secret?). This essay written HERE explains it better than I could. But there are others that think along the same lines as me.

And with that said, it looks like Singer is making the leap to television this fall with "The Gifted," although (to be fair) Singer only directed the pilot. It's still exciting, and I've embedded the trailer below. I kind of wonder at this point if it will intersect with FX's Legion at all. I hope so, because Legion was really good. Another thing that's got me excited is that we'll see some sentinels, although they will look different from what has been seen before (Sentinels were the robots who raged war on mutants in X-Men: Days of Future Past). I just hope they aren't androids to save on budget. Androids are so the rage right now.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why do we like the things that we like?

This weekend, I asked myself the question: why do we like what we like? I suppose it popped into my head because my friend Sasha asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him and another friend of his on Sunday. I could tell that Sasha was delighted at the prospect of fishing. However, what ran through my head were memories of how much work it was to get a canoe into the lake (or for that matter all the hiking it took to get to a place where one could fish by a remote river). I remembered getting these migraines because the sun would beat down mercilessly on my head, and then having to dig deerflies out of my hair with my fingers. Then there were the tedious hours waiting for a fish to strike, rubbing sunscreen (which felt sticky on my fingers and skin) into my flesh and watching the glare of the sun reflect off the water. If I needed to go to the bathroom, it was in the woods, hunched over and uncomfortable. Finally getting a fish didn't end the misery. The things are covered with a kind of slime that protects their scales in the water and it gets all over your fingers. And then there's the whole unpleasantness of smacking it on the skull to kill it before you gut the thing. All of that went through my mind in a flash, and I said, "No, but thank you for inviting me. I don't like fishing."

That night, I went to bed thinking of why I'm so different. Why (as a man) don't I like fishing? What's wrong with me? So I googled, "Why do we like what we like?" And it turns out, I learned a little bit about myself and other people. The article that I seemed to identify most with appeared in July 2010 on NPR as part of Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Ira asked the author of a book called How Pleasure Works a number of questions regarding why people like some things and not others. The answers (it turns out) are fascinating.

Dr. Paul Bloom (a professor of psychology at Yale University and author of the above book) said this: "When we get pleasure from something...it's based on what we believe that thing to be." So if you (for example) are listening to some scruffy street performer, then no matter how talented he actually is, it won't sound so good to your ears. Want another example? Wine (apparently) doesn't taste as good unless you know it's expensive or special in some way. Here's a third example: in the world of art, a painting is going to look different to you, and you're going to value it differently...depending on who you think created it.

The implications of all this are pretty amazing. For one, art is never accidental. According to Dr. Bloom, the thing that distinguishes one piece of art from something that isn't art is the intent behind it. Through his research, Dr. Bloom has found plenty of evidence to suggest that how food tastes depends on what you think the food is, or how sexually arousing a person is depends on who you think that person is or how special they are.

So, if I apply this observation that Dr. Bloom has made to my revulsion of fishing, it means that (for me) I don't see the activity in the same light that everyone else sees it. In other words, during my formative years, it was impressed upon me that fishing was a great difficulty with little reward. It oftentimes meant isolation, because my father (a misanthrope) always wanted to isolate himself in a place where he would never see anyone, and where we were at the mercy of terrifying weather on enormous lakes. And because that's the only way I can see fishing as an activity, I don't like it. But others (with different experiences) probably envision good times and noodle salad.

I love thinking about stuff like this. As much as we all think that we are free to like whatever we want, our brains are wired to like things based on how special they are within social context. This goes for writers and readers too. Would you ever read a book that had twenty one star reviews? Probably not, because we are wired to like things that have value to them. It's such a mind trip, and it gives me new appreciation of the power of Facebook. The act of "liking" something on Facebook gives it true power, because it will sway the opinions of those that don't (whether or not they will ever admit to that).




Friday, May 5, 2017

It's quite possible that boredom is the root of all evil.

People being bored with their lives is probably behind a great deal of the woes our society faces as it continues to grow. Is it the root of all evil? Maybe, but I'm not quite ready to go that far. However, consider this: as just one example, psychologists have long suspected that boredom can lead to infidelity in relationships. One would think that boredom with one's life wouldn't be possible in a nation like the United States (with a powerful first-world work ethic and the crack of the whip across our backs to remind us of our capitalist overlords) but I'm starting to disagree. I think a huge component of our present society is bored, because 1) work is unfulfilling and 2) people are losing economic options that allow them to grow naturally. What is the opposite of growth? Stagnation. And stagnation is just another synonym for "boredom."

Of course, that's the rub, right? People just don't come out and say, "I'm bored" or express "this is boring." Most parents teach their children that expressing, "I'm bored" leads to all kinds of unpleasant chores. So boredom as a condition and a word has been reinvented to cope with this trauma that we all share from once being kids ourselves. In music, "Indy" is a label that means, "not mainstream." "Mainstream" is simply another label that means "boring because there is nothing unique about it because everyone likes it." I'm not kidding here. I know people who don't like "Game of Thrones" because it is too mainstream. Silly, right? That's just one example, and there are countless others.

Another label I can think of is "existential dread" which is bantered about by those who practice (to some extent) nihilism. If you don't know what existential dread is, the term is quite simple. It's the fear that your life, and by extension the lives of others, is in fact meaningless and serves no purpose. And what do people think of activities that are unnecessary? Well most people would tell you to get rid of them because no one wants to do it. Why? Because minutes would become hours that would become years...time would slow to a crawl, etc. It would be torture because of...wait for it...boredom. No one wants to live a boring life, right? Substitute "meaningless" with "boring" in that last sentence, and you start to realize what I'm getting at here.

When people are stagnating in their lives, the boredom and monotony becomes (for lack of a better word) painful. It's basically torture to some people, especially those who feel (and maybe always felt) that they are exceptional in some way. How do people deal with pain? Well drugs is one answer. If the drugs happen to get a person addicted, it can lead to crime to get money for drugs. Other side-effects of boredom are thrill-seeking behaviors like risky, unprotected sex, and aggressive attention-seeking. I call all of these things "the wheel" and it goes on and on. As I said in the first paragraph of this observation of mine, boredom is the source of a great many woes.That wheel I spoke of? Yeah, it rolls on crushing whomever dares to get in front of it, and it never loses momentum because it's being pushed by those who are bored with their lives.

Boredom is a terrible thing. Is it the most terrible of things? There's a good chance that it is. Consider this definition: Boredom is the empty feeling of having nothing one knows or wants to do and no ideas for changing this; or the trapped feeling of having to do things that are imposed, inescapable, and void of interest, mattering, or pleasure. There's a reason we have heard the phrase, "I am bored to death."

It worries me that people are so easily bored these days. The threshold for hitting rock bottom of boring seems so much lower. I think boredom is ruining long-term relationships, making it impossible for young people to commit to choices in their partners. Why? Because they get bored so easily and have a grass is greener philosophy due to over-stimulation and being spoiled for choice. I think people have unrealistic expectations for their lives, which again leads to boredom. I think that actual reality always moves at its own pace, and a lot of people get feelings of being trapped because they are not willing to wait things out. Everyone wants things right now, and some things just can't be rushed. No one wants to be the tortoise anymore...everyone wants to be the hare. And then of course there are societal problems which further exacerbate the feelings of being trapped. Ever hear of "income inequality?" If you haven't, it refers to a wealth gap emerging in the United States where those at the top (and who have access to practically infinite economic options) are few in number and separated by great distance from the rest of the population (who enjoy very limited economic options). The implication of growing income inequality is that a person born in a particular social class will never make it out of that social class for their entire lives. In other words, if you are born poor, you will live a life in poverty, and then die poor. You are in a sense, trapped. And as I established earlier, feelings of being trapped with no options to escape is just another definition of "boring," which is akin to being tortured to death.

There are very few tasks in life as odious as loving a person who is bored with their life. You watch them try to cope with this boredom through compulsive video game playing, using recreational drugs, making risky decisions, breaking the law, or committing social violence all toward one end: to escape the experience of emptiness or entrapment the emotional disease of boredom can cause.

Why does it have to be this way? Why is boredom so bad? I think I live a boring life, and I love it. But maybe my life isn't boring because I don't feel trapped. I've learned to appreciate the walls of my cage and don't really yearn to ever escape it because it's comfortable. Maybe the secret to happiness is this one simple thing: admitting to yourself that you're as boring as everyone else and learning to be comfortable with less.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This May IWSG asks what is the coolest thing you have ever researched for a story?

Half the year is almost gone, and this is the first time I've contemplated actually growing my own garden herbs and vegetables. It's kind of exciting :). Anyway, with a new month, it's time for a new Insecure Writer's Support Group post. This time out, I'm answering the question of the month, which happens to be:

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

First off, I'm a nerdy writer. So what's cool to me is not going to be as cool to some people, yet might be incredibly cool to others. And for me, communication of all kinds is inherently fascinating. We are social creatures, are we not?
So, the weirdest/coolest thing I ever did for a story was to research a bunch of British phrases and colloquialisms and what they actually meant. I definitely got carried away with it, making lots of notes and just (in general) having a lot of fun. And there was a pleasant side effect: I understood Doctor Who on a whole new level. My takeaway observation? It's really surprising how different American English is from British English. It's basically a different language with enough similarities that you aren't completely lost, if that makes any sense whatsoever. 
Anyway, it's the first time I really felt that maybe I should study other languages, because I had so much fun with it. So I plan on exploring that soon. Who knows? Maybe I'll actually learn Japanese this time around.

The illustrations in this post are courtesy of Best of British.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The theme of American Gods is that belief and faith are all powerful and all consuming.

American Gods premiered last night on Starz. Of course, millions of people tuned in. I loved the premiere, but one of the things in it stuck out as being far more interesting than I originally got from the book. So what was it? The crazy vaping kid, i.e., the Technical Boy. The reason? Context due to age and Pokemon Go.

What is this Pokemon Go you might say? It's the super popular game that is so last year. However, I still see people playing it. They walk around parks aimlessly looking at smart phones, collecting in droves to find their pokemon, etc. It looks and feels like worshiping. And that's the one lesson you need to take away from the premiere of American Gods. It's the lesson that gods are created out of worship. It's why Bilquis needed the guy she met in the bar to worship her (prior to eating him with her vagina). It's why Wednesday said that faith is what's keeping the airplane in flight (and not the physics of air flowing over wings). It's why the vikings had to do all of those mutilations to attract the attention of their god (Odin) in the beginning montage so that they could secure a breath of wind.

In a world set on fire by "alternative facts," tweets, and the power of the internet, belief seems to be able to make a god of just about anything, whether or not that particular belief is true or not. I think American Gods is remarkably prescient television for the modern age.




Friday, April 28, 2017

A true artist is someone that lives in another realm and just visits those of us that live in common reality some of the time

Alien: Covenant comes out May 19th. It's less than a month away, and I'm not ignoring all the love from Twentieth Century Fox. If you don't know, the studio's been releasing (ahead of the premiere) lots of promotional materials that include pictures and videos related to the film. One of the more serendipitous finds that came out was a walk through of the Australian set for Alien: Covenant done by former Myth Buster's engineer, Adam Savage. 
If you watch the short clip, you can see how Adam gets totally sucked in by the details of the alien ship that Dr. Shaw and David the robot (from Prometheus) use to pilot the vessel to the home-world of the Engineers (I'm guessing that's what the photos released by 20th Century Fox are showing when they give us images of the ship that Shaw's piloting, rotating in the air and docking with a much larger vessel). I've included a still of that image below so you can see what I'm talking about (fans are calling the other ship "The Scorpion" because of its tail-like appearance).
Below the ships is some kind of city, obviously not populated by humans but by Engineers (the tall muscly beings from Prometheus). I love how all of these images appear so awesome...in the true sense of the word. In other words, they inspire "awe" in me because they don't look like anything that I've ever seen before.
I think that if I were lucky enough to be in the same situation, I'd be just like Adam. That is, in a state of wonder, looking at the carefully designed set pieces in Australia and just allowing myself to drown in this world that Ridley Scott envisioned decades ago and brought to life alongside H.R. Giger. Just look at the attention to detail in the video, all the controls on the console, the pilot chair designed for the much larger Engineers, and the space suits and ribbing along the corridors. This is A-list treatment and production values applied to a fantastical science-fiction story. Below is a short that includes a lot of details from the ship, and bridges the gap of time between Prometheus and Covenant wherein we learn some of the fate of David and Noomi Rapace (Dr. Shaw). I expect that these are part of the main film, and it's a joy to watch.
I've thought about H.R. Giger quite a bit these last two weeks, not only spurred on by Covenant's impending release, but because I wanted a simple print of one of his well-known alien works (to get framed at some point) to hang on my wall in my new home. But good lord are they expensive, and it's not like I'm buying an original. This is just a photographic print, and they are definitely not in the "affordable" range unless you want one that's no bigger than a small plate. I suppose I could get something H.R. Giger-inspired, but it's not the same thing.

To clarify, nowadays there's lots of copycats for the late H.R. Giger's work. And the artists that are "Giger-inspired" definitely know how to draw as well as he did, but they don't possess any of his genius. People that have transformational ideas only come around once in a generation it seems (if we're lucky). Aside from Giger, two that I can think of that created the kind of transformations that inspired copycats galore are Kurt Cobain and Steve Jobs. These are by no means the only ones, but you can at least understand where I'm coming from and get the gist of how important I think H.R. Giger was as an individual.

Is there anything wrong with a knock-off? Of course not. But it doesn't inspire love, you know? We see this in genre writing all the time. Fantasy is replete with Tolkien and Martin knock-offs, because people develop this urge to consume more and there's only a finite amount of stuff to consume. 

It got me thinking about the nature of reality, and how I make assumptions all the time that people share my same reality. Maybe this is wrong though. I can never be sure, right? Earlier this week when I was at work, the janitor came through the door as I was watching the front desk. Where I work, there's a front desk office, and at the time, I was the only one there. When the janitor pushed his garbage can through, he stopped, looked at me, and asked, "Are you watching the front desk?" My first instinct was to think, "Why would he ask that when I'm the only one here? Isn't it obvious I'm watching the front desk." But then I thought...maybe he sees a different reality. I can't just assume that he's in the same reality as me. He could be seeing three different people here, and he may just be asking me to validate that I'm the only one here so that he could be more firmly anchored to the reality that everyone believes is the real reality.

So I answered his question, "Yes, I'm the only one watching the desk."

And I saw a little relief in his eyes as he went about his work. You know...the kind of relief that someone gets when they ask for affirmation about something, and they get it. The whole experience was kind of mind opening.

So then I started to think that maybe transformational geniuses like H.R. Giger, Kurt Cobain, and others aren't really part of the reality that you and I take for granted (if you and I even exist in the same reality to begin with). When you start to think like this, then you realize that what those people saw was probably normal for them. In a way, through their art they were just able to share that other reality with us in ways that we felt alien, but allowed us to grow creatively in an entirely new direction.

Maybe that's the whole point of art, and a true artist is someone that lives in another realm and just visits those of us that live in the most common realm some of the time because everyone's reality is just a little different from our own.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I think I know the identity of Savitar on the Flash.

The whole season 3 arc of The Flash has been either dealing with the repercussions of Flashpoint, or the cautionary story of Barry Allen deciding not to play with time anymore and live with the consequences of the reality he creates. So what if the rub of the great unanswered question of the season, i.e., Who Is Savitar, is just a version of Barry Allen whose reality was completely destroyed when Flashpoint was created. If you remember what happened in the season 2 finale of The Flash, Barry destroyed one of his own time remnants. But maybe that time remnant just got trapped in the Speed Force, not unlike Savitar, and having lost everything is destroying those things that main Barry Allen cares about, starting with Iris.

The time travel mechanics of The Flash are kind of mind-bending, and I have to hand it to the writers to weave these tales within tales, because they keep me guessing. I've pretty much loved this third season of the Flash, and at times I forget that it's an alternate timeline that shouldn't really exist. But that it does exist should have some kind of repercussion on Barry. I can't help but think how cool it might be that Barry is fighting himself, which is why he can't win.
Perhaps last night's episode of The Flash, entitled "The Once and Future Flash," is one huge Easter egg. Grant Gustin (who plays Barry Allen) said in an interview that it was one of the most challenging episodes to film in the season because it has a lot of scenes with Barry and Barry. Basically, he's his own scene partner. And the main villains of the night were Mirror Master and Top. The fact that Mirror Master is there makes me think that there's a strong hint of "look in the mirror and you'll have your answer," especially given that the only reason Barry meets Mirror Master in the first place is because he's looking for the identity of Savitar. Maybe he need look no further than himself.

I know I like to make predictions, especially when I sense that a series is building toward a season finale. So my prediction is that the big bad of the entire season, a.k.a. Savitar, is none other than a Time Remnant of Barry Allen himself.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Juicero juicer is just the latest money grab from unscrupulous people in a long list of money grabs.

This blog post is a rant. By now, you've probably heard that Juicero, the $400.00 juice machine that used to be $700.00, was based on a lie. In case you haven't heard of it, the juicer was the vision of yet another capitalist crook who wanted to reinvent something that didn't need to be reinvented, only this time, it's actually caving in on him and his start-up (which the world didn't need in the first place).

There are actually a lot of things that the world doesn't need, but because of capitalism and greed we have them anyway. We didn't need Uber or Lyft. Society had taxi drivers who were doing just fine, as hobbled as the industry was with local laws and regulations. But that's just the thing...those laws and regulations are there for a reason and when a start-up brands itself as "genius" because it smells a way to make tons of money by ignoring those aforementioned regulations to conduct business, it is not "disruption" or "brilliant." No, it's being an asshole.

More examples of things the world doesn't need? How about planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is why you have to buy a new phone every two to three years, or why you have to upgrade your computer, or why you need to change your light bulbs. Things are made to expire. Wouldn't it be great to live in a world where things didn't expire because humans programmed them to? It would certainly help people get ahead on things that matter.

And what about monthly payment plans? The monthly bill that never ends is starting to spook me. It seems like no one wants to sell you just one thing and be done with it anymore. In today's day and age, for a company to be successful, they need to deliver a bill to you on a monthly basis. I dread the day when movie theaters reinvent themselves and refuse to sell tickets. Instead, you'll need a subscription that you just pay monthly, in order to see new release movies. Or the day when your Windows operating system on the computer becomes subscription-based, and if you don't pay up, you don't get access to any of your files.

Being able to buy one thing that lasts for a long time is a cornerstone to being able to build wealth. For example, I bought a really nice saute pan with a lid this weekend, and it is guaranteed for life. I may use this thing for the next thirty years. That's a great deal. More things in life should come with that kind of longevity. It would be better for the health and well being of the nation.

I think I'm more bothered today by what I'm seeing "out there" than ever before. In my parent's day and age, it was a given that a person could expect to be treated fairly whenever business was conducted. People had a switch in their heads that made them realize it was morally wrong to cheat someone. But in today's America, you have to be extra vigilant to be able to get even a fair deal. On most business transactions, you've probably been taken advantage of and just don't know it. And more and more, business transactions are going horribly wrong. The mortgage and home building industry (as just one example) seems to be teeming with sharks ready to tear anyone to pieces that dares to dream of owning a house. I was sickened when I saw how a local home builder here in Utah out in this place called "Daybreak" had cheated a bunch of people that had bought townhouses by using the cheapest, shoddiest materials for construction and then hiding it. Only, it didn't stay hidden for very long because things started crumbling, which is now costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix, big lawsuit incoming.

Some days I feel like everyone is lying, I feel like everyone is dishonest, and I feel like facts no longer matter. I feel like there's a reason for all of this, and it's because we (as a society) overemphasize and worship the rich. I wish there was someway to make it stop. It's not that I'm against capitalism, but I am against cheating someone just to make a buck. If you have an honest invention that people need, then you should be paid a "fair" price for it. But never, in any reality, should a juicer cost $400.00 (and that's just one example).

Friday, April 21, 2017

I think Alien Covenant is a 2017 homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

I finally put into words what I've been feeling for a long time. The universe in which Alien, Prometheus, and other films take place (under the guidance of Ridley Scott and not the other directors) has a distinct Lovecraftian atmosphere to it. Though I'm no fan of Lovecraft's actual writing (which I find borish), I think that the man had excellent science fictional ideas and poor execution. That, however, could simply be because of the era in which Lovecraft lived.
For one, Alien has the same kinds of themes as Lovecraft: we aren't alone in the universe and if we could grasp the whole truth of what's really out there, it would drive us insane. That pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole xenomorph egg to chest-burster thing. The aliens themselves might not be godlike, but the ones that created them, a.k.a. the Engineers, certainly are.

Second, Lovecraft uses words like "cyclopean" and "non-Euclidean" and "primordial" to describe the Great Old Ones. In Prometheus (certainly) in the heiroglyphs left by the Engineers and in the opening montage, there is a feeling of something ancient and powerful and beyond our ability to understand going on in the worlds that are visited by the Engineers. If these aren't "cyclopean" and "non-Euclidean" I'm not sure what qualifies to fit in those descriptions.
And last, the set pieces were designed by H.R. Giger, whose work has a definite cosmic horror feel to them. Giger's most famous book after all is called The Necronomicon.

Think about it for a moment. The Alien movies (Covenant included--which is out this May) would fit quite well with the more science-fiction bent that Lovecraft explored as it developed, probably most evident in the novella, At The Mountains of Madness, where a group of explorers in Antarctica find a lost city that holds some kind of monster (I think it was an Elder Thing).

Anyway, that's my case and I'm sticking to it. It's also (probably) why I just love everything Alien. I think I just love stories that have to do with ancient unknown civilizations from another time (similar to what you get in the background of the 1930's version of King Kong). 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What is the Bottle City of Kandor?

If you watch Big Bang Theory, or read comic books, or are any kind of fan of Superman, you may be familiar with the bottle city of Kandor. It has a unique look. Imagine a city in a glass dome, and I'm including a couple illustrations of it in this post so that we can all be on the same page for the discussion of what it is exactly. Because, I'm sure you wanted to know.

Kandor is the name of the former capital city of the planet Krypton, and it is best known for being miniaturized and then stolen by the supervillain Brainiac. When Superman recovered it, he basically stored it in the Fortress of Solitude (Superman's home in the North Pole).

See...one version of Brainiac was into collecting cities. Eventually (in Superman #338 which came out in August 1979) Superman was able to restore Kandor to normal size, and they settled on another planet that revolved around a red sun. And that's about as far as my knowledge goes. I have no idea how it's been re-written since then, but I'm sure that some of that history remains somewhat the same.

So you might ask, "Why is Mike talking about Kandor?"

Well, another show that takes place in the Superman universe is headed to television, but it's a prequel to Kal-El (a.k.a. Superman). It takes place on Krypton, and the main characters are Superman's grandparents. A lot of it also takes place in Kandor. And rumors have it that the writing is going to channel the court-intrigue/melodrama that has distinguished Game of Thrones in the fantasy genre. Just imagine the pitch to this show to SyFy executives... "It's like Game of Thrones. But in Krypton." This is so unlike The Expanse, which is like Game of Thrones only in space. For what it's worth, I love The Expanse.

The audience for this show is obviously the same one that keeps Gotham running on Fox (I suppose I'm guilty). But I'm intrigued. If it looks good, I'll watch it. Especially if we get to see Brainiac steal Kandor and other such marvels from Krypton's dying days.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Star Wars Rebels is already over.

Well that's a disappointment. At Star Wars Celebration Orlando, Disney announced that the upcoming fourth season of Star Wars Rebels will be its last. I'm disappointed, only because I rather liked Star Wars Rebels. It had interesting connections with the universe at large, introduced us to the screen version of Grand Admiral Thrawn, drew connections to the movies, and allowed us to revisit beloved characters like Wedge Antilles (he's so goofy that it's pretty adorable).

The trailer (which I embedded below) for the upcoming fourth season is pretty heavy. But maybe Star Wars is at its best when the stakes are high and everything is falling apart. When Rebels first launched, I had my concerns that it would never live up to the growth I saw in Star Wars: The Clone Wars by Cartoon Network. But Rebels established itself pretty quickly as a show willing to commit to its premise and conflict especially in the back half of each season. Yeah, it was kind of goofy as a kid's show is aught to be, but it also got serious when it needed to (like in the showdown fight between Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano--a character arc that was literally seven years in the making).

The most interesting character by far has been Kanan, mostly due to the fact that he's basically a fallen Jedi, and the Jedi are very interesting plot devices. However, Sabine has really grown on me, and her Mandalorian connections and the fact that she has the darksaber is quite cool. I also like the influences from Princess Mononoke that obviously made their way into this trailer for the fourth season.

I'm also still convinced that Ezra will end up being Snoke at some point. I guess we'll see.

Maybe by ending this series in season four, it means that the last season will be spectacular. Let's hope Disney gives it the sendoff that it deserves.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is schadenfreude the most dangerous emotion?

When you derive pleasure from someone else's misfortune, you are experiencing an emotion called "schadenfreude." This may be the first time you've  heard of it, or maybe you got your introduction to it through the musical Avenue Q. But whatever you think of it, the power of schadenfreude is present everywhere in our society. I'm here to argue the point that it is more destructive than emotions most of us can relate to, i.e., joy, sadness, anger, and jealousy (just to name a few). In fact, I even think the Pixar movie, Inside Out, would have been better if it had included schadenfreude.

I started seriously thinking about schadenfreude in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. In conservative Utah, it's a given that I'm surrounded by Trump supporters all the time, and I'm used to being drowned out, talked over, condescended upon, insulted by, and being routinely micro-aggressed to as I walk the steps of my daily life. It's just how reality is for those liberals choosing to plant their roots in a blood red state where political conviction stands tall upon the shoulders of Heavenly Father. For example, the Mormons here all believe the United States constitution was divinely inspired. I'm not even sure what that means, but what I do know is that god had nothing to do with it any more than god had to do with Harry Potter. Great minds are perfectly capable of coming up with great works without any intervention of the divine.
Anyway, something changed in the atmosphere with the election of the billionaire businessman. Several of my friends have children that experienced bullying at school, "Get out of our country you ****!" talk and one of my black friends was called a "N****r!" while walking along the street (accompanied with a strongly worded suggestion for what she should do with her life). I'd never seen this kind of behavior before, and rather than react emotionally, I was intrigued. I started reading online comment boards on Breitbart news, in particular the venom from those on the right who just wanted to see liberals suffer. Yes, my analysis of this really does show that (in many cases), seeing liberals suffer was the number one reason that drove many people to support Trump. His policies, and the way he acted, etc. was all secondary. It didn't matter if they got hurt in the process...all that mattered were "tasty liberal tears." And it's just a matter of fact that when someone takes legitimate pleasure at another person's suffering, we (the German's invented the word) call that "schadenfreude."

So I started googling articles to get to the bottom of this phenomenon...to educate myself as it were on why people love to see others suffer. I for one have come to realize that I have a great deal of empathy. I don't like to see people suffer and take no pleasure from it. I've had to adopt emotional blinders to keep the awful reality of what it takes to survive every day in this world from getting to me. Until we get beyond an economy of scarcity (Star Trek anyone?) this will be the norm for our speck of a blue dot hurtling through the universe. Where does my food come from? It's best not to think about that. Are there people starving to death in Nigeria? Well, it won't emotionally cripple me if I put on blinders and watch a movie on Netflix. It sounds horrific, and to be honest, it totally is. But this world is so filled with misery and terribleness that one person cannot process it all. It would totally shut you down. So you have to cherry pick your battles in order to remain functional. Whether or not any of us will admit to this, it's a thing that most emotionally healthy people take part in every day.

But what about those people that revel in suffering? That's a different thing entirely. So why does it happen? Do they have something to gain in the misfortune of others? Does it make them feel powerful? Are more resources made available for those who don't have the misfortune? Or is it simply a way to assuage those feelings of envy and contempt usually stemming from low self-esteem? Maybe it's all of these things. I know only one thing for certain: it's been going on for a long time. For example, Romans used to feed Christians to lions in front of a crowd of people gathered to have fun at seeing such events. What about witches burned at the stake? This being god's will was a great rationalization to avoid feeling guilty about the horrific nature of the crime. Taking joy from someone else's misfortune fills some people with feelings of power and of control, because what's happening doesn't involve you. Mel Brooks said it best: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." Perhaps a lot of this has to do with deeply seated ideals revolving around justice and fairness. The fact that life isn't fair makes us all acutely aware of the transgressions that life deals us, and many of us derive pleasure when (certainly) someone that we perceive as having it too good gets their comeuppance.

The reason I think that schadenfreude may be more dangerous, more insidious than anger (or any other emotion for that matter) is because of the reward (positive feelings) one gets when another is inflicted with misfortune. In fact, I postulate that on a widespread scale, it could tear a society or civilization apart at the seams. For example, it's arguably one of the driving forces behind polarization, where one side of a debate tries to get the upper hand to achieve an agenda and then laughs at the misfortune of those on the losing side (because they obviously have something to gain in another's misfortune). But why is this destructive socially? Because you have one team in a society hoping that another side actually fails. The only thing is, everyone is in the same boat, and if one side fails, it's likely that the other side will too.

Until we can all embrace the idea that someone else's failure is a failure for us too, I doubt that we'll solve any of our world's enormous problems. Just like in that popular Billy Joel song from the early nineties, the fire will keep on burning despite the fact that we never started it in the first place (and can enjoy a good laugh at the expense of those particularly close to the flames).