Friday, July 26, 2019

I'll be back on August 7th for the Insecure Writer's Support Group

I'm taking next week off to take care of some things. I hope it's not too hot where you are at, but if it is, I hope that you have air conditioning. One of the things I plan to do is see Hobbs and Shaw. That sounds like just what the doctor ordered to kick off August. I just love Idris Elba screaming, "I'm black Superman!" That's going straight into the box marked "memorable lines from movies."

Stay cool, friends and see you for the August 7th Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

What I learned about violent video games recently made me never want to play them again.

A fatality effect that is included with Mortal Kombat 11 (you can do this to someone you defeat). 
Probably like you, I've enjoyed a video game here and there. But just this week, I learned that video game programmers are forced to work in pressure-cooker type situations, and that the content of violent video games is actually giving computer programmers PTSD. Examples of these types of games are Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto.

In a nutshell, what is happening is that there's a team of programmers that are assigned a certain section of a video game to complete. Sometimes it's only a sequence only a few seconds long that just requires a lot of detail. If the sequences are gory, then the programmer spends a huge amount of time examining gory images and making sure that things look authentic. The article I read on Kotaku indicated that in one office, it was pretty typical to see programmers watching videos of real life hangings, people getting killed, and cows being torn apart or cut up online so that they could get blood effects and death just right. Conversations around the water coolers talk about how blood splatters, how it lands, and how meat should look if its decayed, ripped open, etc.

I never realized that this was a thing...that people are actually being forced to watch stuff like this in order to make a living wage in this country (and other countries). One programmer talked about how he had nightmares so bad from staring at bloody images of real life people that were murdered (and posted around his desk for reference material) that it gave him severe nightmares. He said that he avoided going to sleep and took drugs to stay awake. Those that weren't effected like this had grown desensitized to violent imagery and talked about it like sociopaths. Is any of this good for society?

Knowing all of this, I don't think I can ever play a video game like Mortal Kombat ever again. It's not right, despite the fact that its fun to do. That's the problem I think: the things that consumers in the United States find fun or convenient are usually made possible because someone we can't see is made to suffer. I wonder how long this trend can be sustained, and what its long-term effects are going to be on society at large.

Monday, July 22, 2019

I love the trailer for Star Trek Picard that debuted at San Diego Comic Con.

San Diego Comic Con had a bunch of surprises for me that I didn't anticipate. I guess I haven't been paying attention to entertainment as closely as I might have thought I was. One of the things that was a huge and pleasant surprise was all the Star Trek news that came out of Hall H. In particular, I loved the two minute plus sized trailer for Picard, which is slated to come out in 2020. I had previously thought it was due out in the fall, and I probably just misread that at the time. Still, 2020 isn't far away, and it's starting to look like 2019 will be the last time I can cancel my CBS All Access subscription for a few months to wait for Discovery to return. It's gonna be Star Trek all the time. Eh...there could be worse things, right? :))

In the trailer, which I'll link below, Picard has a dog, and we see some very familiar faces: namely Jeri Ryan reprising her role as 7 of 9 and Brent Spiner coming back as Commander Data. For the record, Data looks really odd (probably a combination of de-aging C.G.I. and other things--for one his cheeks are too fat for an android that doesn't age), but these things aside it's nice to see Data again. The trailer is filmed expertly. It instantly makes me want to know more, which is what a trailer is supposed to do.

At the same time though, it looks to be a much slower paced yet very thought-invoking exploration of the years following the last Next Generation movie, which are filled with tons of events like the destruction of the Romulan homeworld. If you are a fan of J.J. Abrams, you know that event in particular led to alternate timeline Trek where we have Chris Pine playing Captain Kirk three times (probably the only three times that will happen, sadly). However, Chris Pine does do television stuff...he was in a Black Dahlia mini-series filmed by the director of Wonder Woman. So there's always a chance that CBS All Access could approach Pine and say, " would you like to play Captain Kirk and do a few seasons of television for us?" Just saying...that would be exceptionally cool.

But the trailer also seems to be infused with a bit of Blade-Runner noir-esque sprinkles. In particular the scene of the woman walking by the storefronts, and it's raining like hell outside. That scene strikes of Blade Runner, and I'm wondering where else we're going to get that kind of thing. I like it a lot. The atmosphere instantly draws you in, and gets the imagination firing on all cylinders.

If you haven't seen the trailer yet, I highly recommend you indulge yourself. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Warhammer 40K television series has finally been greenlit by Games Workshop and it may be the perfect doorway for us non-players to begin exploration of their universe.

Warhammer 40K is finally getting a television series. I've never played the game, but I've been in and out of game stores pretty much all of my life, and I've had friends who have collected some really large armies, painted them to gorgeousness, and fielded them against foes sitting across from them at conventions amidst startlingly cool tabletop terrain. I was always content to be just that: a spectator. I never really wanted to play. It looked too involved, too time-consuming, and honestly too heavy to carry around from place to place. And then there was (of course) the problematic issue of storing it all once I did start collecting. So nope, I never started. But that doesn't mean I wasn't a fan.

I played a couple of the video games through the years, and I found them pretty intoxicating. Warhammer 40K takes place in a distant future where humanity is ruled by an emperor who is pretty much a god (made so through some kind of dark science) and he is served by armies of genetically enhanced humans called space marines. These guys are immensely powerful, and their power armor is extremely impressive. They go to war against all kinds of enemies. The most intriguing of these enemies (to me) were things that resembled alien xenomorphs (I think they were called tyranids) and the followers of dark gods like Slanesh and Khorne. In the Warhammer universe, these entities are very real, and they have destroyed entire worlds by remaking them into versions of nightmares Clive Barker must have on occasion (he's the creator of Hellraiser).

In fiction, Warhammer 40K is kind of inaccessible. There are stories and novels, but it's hard to find a recommended reading order or even a place to start as they are all different. I think Games Workshop has done a tremendous job in managing their intellectual property. However, I think the screws are so tight on a lot of their stuff that it has made it hard for someone like me to really explore their universe without playing the actual game (which may be their intention as the game is what makes them money). And they usually concentrate around a particular character, which you may not understand if you haven't played the game, so there's that too. But maybe with this new TV series, there's a break in the ice that's forming.

A tv series will need to appeal to more than just the fan base (although the fan base is extremely important in any endeavor). So they'll need to explain in detail about Earth, the Emperor, the roles of the Space Marines, and the enemies of the Space Marines. They'll need to give us bits of information over time regarding how the universe works, the threats the good guys are facing off against, and whether or not there are even good guys to work for (kind of like in Game of Thrones). This has got me excited, because from what I've seen, the universe of the Space Marines has always been extremely intriguing, but very daunting, to explore.

Anyway, I guess we'll all see where it goes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Here are the three panels I'm excited to read about from San Diego Comic Con this week.

I probably won't ever go to San Diego Comic Con. I don't like crowds, and from what I've heard, SDCC takes the cake as far as that goes. However, this doesn't mean my "Google Fu" isn't top notch. I play a good game when it comes to following up on things that interest me. So in case you are one of those people that likes to know what I'm interested in hearing about this week from the many panels at SDCC, I'm posting about the three I'd attend if I were there.

The Expanse. It seems like forever since season 3 ended with all of the ring gates opening up, revealing entrances to 1300 individual systems spanning an entire galaxy (and each one with either something interesting or a habitable world to explore). I saw on social media last week that season 4 has now been all wrapped up and post-film production (and editing) has begun. People who follow the industry closely believe season 4 will hit Amazon Prime sometime in September or October, and I'm super excited. In the meantime, I want to read what the panel at SDCC dares to reveal! There is most certainly going to be a trailer, and I hope that the authors who are known collectively as James S.A. Corey reveal the title to the sequel of their book, Tiamat's Wrath. I simply must know where all of this is headed. Breadcrumbs are much appreciated. The panel takes place on Saturday, July 20th, from 1:00 to 1:50 in the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

The Witcher: A Netflix Original Series. Henry Cavill is Superman no more! Now his new role is to play the lead in The Witcher (called Geralt of Rivia). My friend James played the video game, and he really loved it. And Cavill's makeup job in The Witcher has got people buzzing that he looks a lot like Legolas did in The Lord of the Rings movies. I do plan on reading The Witcher books, which are a series of short stories and novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski going back to the 1990's when fantasy was just starting to explode on the market. The saga consists of the following books: Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, The Tower of the Swallow, and The Lady of the Lake. The panel takes place on Friday, July 19th, from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m. in Hall H (good luck to anyone trying to get access to Hall H).

Terminator: Dark Fate. I've seen every Terminator movie. I've only really loved Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Both of those movies were directed by James Cameron. But this doesn't mean that I'm not a sucker for everything Terminator. I kind of like the universe, because I kind of like apocalyptic tales. There's a lot of interesting things that could come out of this movie, like answers to the questions: 1) Did Judgment Day never happen? 2) Will Judgment Day still happen? 3) Why is Sarah looking for vengeance if she won in Terminator 2? That Terminator as a franchise has moved beyond the fears that my entire generation had of World War 3 has probably never occurred to studio execs. Which means that (from my point of view) the thing is doomed to tank at the box office. However, what do I know? I mean...the fears of the new generation are all centered around climate change. However, this doesn't mean Terminator won't get my money yet again. There's something fun about watching these machines take on people in action-packed sequences that makes me want to watch with my butt glued to the chair. And I like that Arnold and Linda Hamilton are back (we haven't seen her in a long time!) It'll be interesting to see how Linda's character has grown through the years. The panel for this movie takes place on Thursday, July 18th, from 11 a.m. to noon in Hall H.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mysterio's magic act in Spider-Man Far From Home is totally believable to me.

There are some spoilers in this post for Spider-Man: Far From Home.

I've been surfing some of the discussion zones for Spider-Man: Far From Home, and some people are doubting that Mysterio could do all the things that he does, even with Stark technology. Here's one such comment:
"Need to re-watch again to see all the scenes of Mysterio pre-reveal, and see if it all lines up to the illusion tech. One scene that comes to mind is when he has his heart-to-heart with Parker on the roof--he goes from flying to sitting next to him; was that all illusion or was Beck actually there? Hidden by the drones and then seamlessly integrated, or all hologram? What if Peter had wanted a hug?"
Here's how I responded to the guy's question:
"I know that this comparison isn't quite the same thing, but I've seen David Copperfield's magic act live at the MGM Grand. Copperfield made me believe that he could teleport things, levitate cars, make things disappear, and the list goes on and on. Honestly, it looked like he'd sold his soul to the proverbial devil for real magic powers (if you believe in that kind of thing). With Mysterio using Iron Man's technology...I won't even try to figure it out. With that kind of support behind him, Beck should be able to do anything...craft any illusion. Because of my experience with Copperfield, I had no trouble believing that all of those illusions and their effects could be staged exactly as they appeared in the movie, with the end result being that everyone (including Spider-Man) is fooled."
And I'm speaking honestly and truthfully here. If you've never attended a real magic show by someone with a hell of a reputation, you should fix that in the near future. These people can craft illusions from the stage that are mind-blowing. I've seen David Copperfield and Criss Angel both in Vegas (Criss isn't quite as talented as Copperfield, but he has a different kind of show). I'm also a big fan of Penn & Teller, who seem to also be on that same level, if not at least in the same ballpark as Copperfield.

Also if none of those names are ringing a bell, then maybe check out last year's America's Got Talent winner, Shin Lim. This is one of the acts he did on America's Got Talent.

Anyway, I guess my point is that illusionists are pretty incredible people, with talent and skill that goes beyond what us mere mortals can understand. Take that a notch up with Iron Man tech? Well let's just say that all the craziness on display in Far From Home looks perfectly believable to me.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Spider-Man Far From Home was an excellent movie that managed to keep its audience on its toes.

The latest Spiderman movie called Far From Home was an excellent film. I've seen it twice now, and I may be just a bit biased because I think Tom Holland is "the bees knees"--at least that's what my good friends are telling me. However, and even ignoring Tom's deliberate talent and enthusiasm to play this role, the show and the story does a lot to keep you on your toes.

Spoilers ahead....

Mysterio seems like the perfect bad guy to introduce at this juncture, post Thanos and post Iron Man. Most of us who went into this movie assumed that Mysterio was a bad guy, right? And we assumed that he was lying about something big, but it was "never" for sure until the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist that pretty much nailed it halfway into the story. Why do you suppose that is?

It's because Marvel as a whole has done a great job in subverting the usual story-telling tropes and defying the comic material. For example, in Endgame (a movie I didn't really like, but I grant that it was still a solid film) they kill Thanos pretty much right off the bat, and it leaves you wondering what the hell the Avengers are going to do with the rest of the time in a three-hour slog of a movie.

Things that happened in Far From Home are just more echoes of this. Is M.J. "really" only interested in Spider-Man and Peter himself? Is Mysterio actually a visitor to Earth-616 (which is the official Marvel designation for the MCU for which Earth all these stories take place on) how would Mysterio know this? And even though Mysterio ends up being a pure con-job the entire time, it remains that a multi-verse probably does exist for the MCU. At least let me put it this way: I don't know why it wouldn't.

Ultimately, though, the movie does a great job of moving the story forward while acknowledging that half the people on Earth went away and came back, and that there are now dead Avengers. And it manages to do all that by telling Peter Parker's next story, which is probably the best person in the MCU through which to do this. Peter is young. He represents a hope and promise for a new generation of heroes. Whether or not he becomes a kind of Iron Man on his own...whatever happens in the next stage (and whatever villain Disney decides to go with) is going to have to keep us on our toes in order to ensure that Avengers: Endgame was not (in fact) peak Marvel. And that is the key, right? How do you top Avengers: Endgame? Well, you top it by not letting go of the ball and you keep playing. You keep going, and you give the audience things that are unpredictable. You keep the audience on their toes.

Far From Home did this, and I think it's a good sign that the next stage is gonna have some surprises that keep the whole thing fresh and exciting.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I really love this alternate Alien movie poster by the artist Gabz.

The website io9 recently talked about an art show that's happening at the Bottleneck Gallery in Brooklyn, New York for the artist Gabz (real name Grzegorz Domaradzki), who created this piece below (and others for Star Wars) that have gathered fame for their ability to fool the eye into thinking it's a photograph. I think the term for this kind of art is "photo realism," and it's super hard to do.
What do I love about it? The details are great. Not only is the centerpiece instantly recognizable as belonging to Sigourney Weaver, but the font looks like an actual print job. The details of the xenomorphs on both sides of her face are clearly an homage to Giger in that they are rendered perfectly, just as he would have done with his famous airbrush. And there are swirls within swirls. Good Alien art has always been heavy on the details. That was a thing that Giger prided himself on: detailing even the smallest corner of a massive painting so that there were objects that caught the eye that were interesting and macabre. The only thing really missing from this piece is Jones the cat.

I also think there is some foreshadowing going on with this poster. There are four xenomorph heads that are directly in contact with Ripley's space suit, possibly hinting at Alien movies 1 through 4. Additionally, I love that she seems to be transforming into a xenomorph (or has xenomorph traits) as her long association with this franchise changes her physiology permanently by the movie Alien 4. You can see what I'm talking about with the appearance of the vein-like structures that touch both cheeks.

I wonder why Alien couldn't keep the train driving firmly on the rails after Aliens. It's so frustrating, as I've seen Bond movie after Bond movie come out, and most of them are entertaining. The same goes for the Fast & Furious movies. Why did those franchises work out so well, and Alien just bombed? Maybe it was the lack of anything new to do with the story, which forced writers to revisit horror after horror to try and provide more shock value with each telling. I mean, there's only so much a person can be shocked about, especially when the first movie pretty much gives the world a glimpse of a monster and a physical gestation cycle that was never seen before in books or in film.

So maybe the search for shock value is what ultimately made the Alien franchise movies fail beyond the first two. If that is true, at least there are artists who are continually inspired by the universe established by H.R. Giger to keep moving forward with works (such as the one above) inspired by one of the greatest fictional monsters ever imagined.

Monday, July 8, 2019

In July the Insecure Writer's Support Group wants to know what personal traits I've written into my own characters.

Because I'm a day late and a dollar short this month, I am also late for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog post. This happens on the first Wednesday of every month. I think I got distracted by all the fireworks and the July 4th holiday (yeah that's it!) so I completely forgot about it. I apologize to those readers out there who visited my blog last Wednesday looking for today's belated post.

July 3 question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)? 

Hmmm. I think a number of things wiggle their way into my characters. The music I love tends to be the music that my characters also love. The books I read inevitably get mentioned in fictional conversations. I suppose I'd even say that my curiosity makes its way into characters in unexpected ways. I tend to be very curious about things that most people overlook. Just the other day while at the grocery store, I saw a plastic pipe lying by the road that had an interesting valve on it, and it intrigued me enough to walk over and look at it. I can't imagine that this kind of behavior happens a lot. Most people who go and shop for groceries are in and out as quickly as possible, and only a rare few would notice or take time to investigate a valve on a sprinkler pipe that didn't belong to them. It's that kind of weirdness that (I think) emerges in my characters.

Anyway, that's all I got for this month's post. Next month is my birthday month, so I think I'll be more on point. There's lots of things I'm balancing this month, trying to suss out how the rest of my summer (and year) is supposed to play out is interesting. I hope that all of you had an outstanding Fourth of July weekend.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

In looking for a new vehicle to drive I've questioned whether or not owning a vehicle even makes economic sense anymore.

I've started looking at car options to replace a vehicle I lost when I totaled my 20 year old Toyota Rav 4 earlier this year in a medical emergency that I suffered behind the wheel. It was a weird and surreal experience, losing consciousness briefly due to an extreme coughing fit. When I came to, there was air bag dust, a shattered windshield, and the car was on its side. No one else was hurt, and again, this was many months ago. There's this kind of strange path that all of us (I think) go on when a car is completely ruined once all medical things are taken care of. Here's a little bit of how my path has played out thus far:

1) What do you do with a car that is basically a pile of junk? The tow truck driver needed to take it somewhere, and everywhere you take it to is going to charge a daily fee to store it. There is no free land in America folks, so towing it to your house and having this pile of junk sit in your driveway to avoid storage fees is about the cheapest option you have until you can find a buyer for said pile of junk. And yes...there are buyers of said piles of junk, but you have to find them and woo them to your cause.

2) After deciding to tow the car to said free parking lot, that's where it sat for a while, attracting curious onlookers and comments on all the destruction porn that it offered to the world with its bent frame, its blown tires, and its shattered windshield and deflated airbags. It was an old-fashioned eyesore, that by virtue of its ugliness, invited all kinds of whispers and speculations.

3) I eventually got a place called Tear-A-Part here in Salt Lake City to buy the car from me for $150.00 in cash sight unseen. The hitch? It needed to have four wheels (not tires), an engine, and a transmission. That was all they cared about. Oh and I needed to have the title that I could sign over to them immediately. I told them it indeed had all of those things, and they came by with a tow truck and hauled it away and handed me the cash in an envelope. Needless to say, it cost $200 to have it towed in the first place so I was still $50 in the hole. What was interesting in talking to this place is they could care less about any story or conversation about the car. Does it have four wheels? Yes. Does it have a transmission? Me: "Do you care if it works?" Them (ignoring my question and restating their question): Sir, does it have a transmission? Yes. Does it have an engine? Yes. Them: "We'll buy it for $150. Bye." So I guess those things are all that counts. Good thing to know in the future if I ever need to scrap a car.

4) Now down to one car (I owned two), and my second car is not one I can drive in winter snow storms and it itself is 20 years old...I embarked on seeing about getting a second car for Utah winters. I of course needed to change my automobile policy to reflect only one car. That was easy and pretty much a simple phone call. Then I started examining car models and decided I wanted an SUV of some type. That's when I learned that cars are expensive. No really...they are really expensive. I haven't been paying that much attention, but it got me to does anyone afford these things? There is a robust used market, which is a lot more affordable. But cars that are in the used market were once new. Are people really making that kind of cash that they can afford to drop $40,000 on new cars only to toss them a couple years later so they are used for people like me to pick over for half that price (only I think $20,000 is still expensive). Or is this just the newest form of income inequality that I'm becoming aware of. In other words, there are people all over the place making six figures, and then there is everyone else. In just 1999 to 2000 (yes 20 years ago), spending $40,000 on a car would be unheard of, folks. That was like the best what you'd expect to pay for a Jaguar or something fancy. Nowadays, the very bottom rung of Toyota's smallest SUV (the Rav4) sets you back $40,000 once taxes and other fees are paid. In other words, I'm saying that "everyday cars" are running darn close to the halfway mark of a hundred grand when they are new. Holy crap. Wages have not increased to coincide with this in that same time period. At least not any wages I know of.

5) And then there's the question of whether a car is really useful to someone living in a city anyway. How many Uber rides could I take for say $25000? If I spent $20 a day on Uber being shuttled to and from work, it would take 1250 days for me to spend up to $25000. So that's roughly 3.5 years, and that's only if I worked every day. It'd (in all actuality) take me 7 years to recoup that cost in just taking Uber rides. And I'm not even factoring in the cost of gas, maintenance, and interest that might be accrued for a loan, not to mention the storage space it takes up. So is buying a car really something that I want anymore? Is it something that actually improves my life? I have no idea.

Owning cars is ubiquitous in our society, and I don't know if I could ever convince my brain otherwise. I'm from that generation who always "owned" a vehicle. So I most likely will just take more time and find a replacement vehicle that I can drive on snowy roads. I've got my eye on my dad's old 1997 Ford F-150 that he no longer drives, and it's likely that I'll be getting that and tooling around town in it just fine with its old gas guzzling, carbon emitting engine. However, I think that the gig economy and the sky high prices of cars has created a strange scenario wherein every transportation solution is going to be different for every single person.

I will be taking Friday off from blogging. I'll see you Monday.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Riding a wave of eighties nostalgia New Coke returns along with Stranger Things.

New Coke is back! My memories of the summer of 1985 were all about Back to the Future and how Coke felt so threatened by Pepsi that they changed their formula to one that tasted exactly like Pepsi. It bombed big time, and to compensate, they released Coca-Cola Classic, which if memory serves, basically became Coca-Cola again while New Coke slowly retreated into invisibility.

What brought it back? Supposedly it is the release of the new (third season) of Stranger Things. I've enjoyed both seasons of this weird and nostalgic throwback to the eighties. One reason: each season is a self-contained story that begins and ends like one long book that's doled out chapter by chapter as you watch each episode. If it were on cable television instead of Netflix, there'd be a chance that it wouldn't play out this way. Rather, each episode might tell a story in and of itself. Sound familiar? Think of Supernatural where each episode is a monster of the week with a few "key" episodes peppered within kinda like the "Smoking Man" episodes in the X-Files (that hinted at a much larger story line). Either that or season 1 would tease a story that (by season 3) grows into a monstrosity with half-assed explanations because writers forgot important details and don't care anymore.

From the season 3 trailer, is it fair to call this season Jaws meets An American Werewolf in London meets The Thing and The Fly? Lots of John Carpenter influences are in Stranger Things. I'm going with yes. :)

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