Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nerds Cannot be Satisfied: Star Wars Edition

Man oh Man, did I enjoy the new Star Wars movie!

Episode 7: A New Hope The Force Awakens was pretty brilliant, all things considered. Not only did we receive a new start to a stagnant franchise mired in controversy (those prequels still piss me off), we also got a rebuttal to this joke:

The fact that there are almost no other women in the entire first trilogy didn't occur to me for a long time. Now that I'm aware, I find it strange that most of the characters and extras are all dudes. The fact that there are more female speaking and non speaking rolls in the new Star Wars film is awesome, and helps make the franchise seem less strange.

Of course there are detractors. Fans can not be satisfied, remember? It has been pointed out that the Force Awakens follows the plot to a New Hope almost exactly. The main character tries to get off a desert planet to join a rebellion, ends up storming a castle, and ultimately blows up a superweapon. Sounds familiar?

This doesn't bother me though, as Star Wars is, above all else, an homage to classic mythology. Hero stories are often cyclical, so it makes sense that the modern version would be also.

There have been complaints about the villains. Kylo Ren is kind of a big baby. I'm okay with this. The dark side embraces hate, anger, and fear They aren't exactly characteristics of strong, intelligent individuals. It would be surprising if the next sith lord wasn't an unhinged cry baby.

someone has daddy (granddaddy?) issues
Snoke and Hurr and Phasma didn't get truly developed. I'm ok with this also. In the original trilogy, we didn't even see the emperor up close until the 3rd film, and he's the most important villain. In the prequels (shudder) we received a new villain in each film. I'm sure these bad guys will be fleshed out as the films roll out. I'm not worried.

Also, I have seen Daisy Ridley thrown under the bus as being not a good actress. Wooden acting and flat dialogue delivery are major concerns for these critics. However, if we are going to compare this new lead character to other Star Wars films, she is lightyears ahead of Hayden Christiansen. Even young Mark Hamill had similar issues in his first major roll. This complaint could be chalked up to sexism.

Personally, I think it is awesome that female fans finally have another Star Wars character they can identify with, who isn't a damsel in distress half the time. Strong female characters matter. If you don't believe me, check out the link below.
Click for Nerdist article
Despite the obvious reprisal of the original film, I think overall Force Awakens was a success. It provided everything Star Wars fans needed. We needed assurances that the franchise would be in better hands than George Lucas's. We needed good connections between the original trilogy's characters that we loved, and new ones. We needed a strong compelling story to propel us into new adventures. I feel like this is a good beginning. The nay sayers can all go to hell, nerf herders.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another TV Party!

A while ago... a looooong while ago, I wrote a post about television shows that I watch. Like the Time Hop feature from Facebook, I found it interesting to reread that post and see what exactly I was watching several years ago. Only one of those shows is still on. This post is a follow up.

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

Right away, this show is kind of suspect. The subtitle is awkward. A show about Beowulf could go either way, epically awesome, or shallow and lame. The show was made for the British network ITV, but is also broadcast on the Esquire network in the US.

The show is loosely based on the epic poem. It takes place in the fictional Shieldlands (obviously). The sets and costumes have a middle ages Germanic/Norse quality to them. The basic plot so far follows the politics of the Shieldlands following the death of their jarl, Beowulf's adoptive father, and the power struggle that ensues. Also, there are non humans called the mudborn that are feared and hated by people, but are uniting for war.

This series is clearly a response to HBO's Game of Thrones. But it is still quality. The characters are interesting and complex, there are plenty of strong multidimensional female characters (actually the best characters), and there are plenty of subplots that keep things interesting and set up future story lines.

There are connections to the actual epic poem. Beowulf is the main character, obviously. Heorot is the village he returns to, once ruled by Hrothgar. The Wulfings are a thing in the show too, and are depicted as Viking raiders. There also seems to be a monster character who may eventually be Grendel. Other than that, there are no other connections from the original poem.
Rick and Morty

Animation stopped being just for kids sometime in the early 90s. This show follows in the footsteps of Futurama and Back to the Future. This is certainly a show for science fiction dorks. Rick is a Doc Brown-esque mad scientist, and Morty is his grandson. The show follows their balance between domestic life and space/time travel. It's super clever, funny, and Ren and Stimpy disgusting. There are only 2 seasons, but each episode is totally rewatchable over and over.

Brooklyn Nine Nine

I was a huge fan of Super Troopers when it came out in college. I was excited for Reno 911 when it debuted too, because I figured it was piggybacking on the success of the Broken Lizard movie. Apparently there is a difference between funny slacker cops, and cops that are funny because they're stupid and behave like Kindergarten was yesterday. Basically Reno 911 makes the Keystone Cops look like Dragnet. It's terrible. So, when Brooklyn Nine Nine debuted I was skeptical.

While watching the first episode, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is this show hilarious, but the police officers aren't ridiculous stoners, or incredibly incompetent idiots. The captain is a gay black man who takes his job very serious. There are good detectives who do good police work. The personalities are what make the comedy. This show proves that a cop show can be funny and still be about professional policemen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Got Milk?

Here is another post in the "stuff I find at work" category. Today's fun new friend is far less terrifying than he looks. This dude is a baby lampropeltis triangulum, or eastern milk snake. Milk snakes are a species of king snake, and can look like corn snakes, fox snakes, and scarlet snakes, but are the only snake that looks like this north of New Jersey.

Young milk snakes, like my friend here, are non venomous and feast on slugs and earthworms, and insects like crickets. Adults mostly eat small lizards, frogs and rodents, but will also go after birds and their eggs and other snakes.

The snake gets it's name because they hang out in barns during the day. Apparently there is no other reason to be found in a barn unless you feed on cows milk... so because people are stupid, we created this myth that milk snakes suck on cow's udders. Idiots.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Poetry Slam: What Was is Again

The current state of things in the United States can seem overwhelming. It's election season. The country is reeling from a number of mass shootings, a water crisis in crumbling urban sprawls, protests for racial equality, and rallies for the underrepresented working class. There is an unpopular president in the White House, a tense relationship with Russia, and international terrorism. The country is wrestling with it's identity, progressing towards a more accepting diverse culture, but still attempting to cling to it's predominantly white, Christian roots.

Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem in 1975 about American involvement in nefarious acts foreign and domestic. The poem critiques capitalism, calling it's competitive nature fuel for anger. The themes of privilege, money and power, and inequality echo the present day and could just have easily been written in 2016. The Black Lives Matter, I am the 99%, Destroy IS themes fit right into the narrative. We still have drug problems. We still have a prison problem. We still have a rich banker problem. We still have a police brutality problem. After reading this, the parallels are very interesting. Those garbage cities are Detroit and Chicago. Those gangsters and goons and strong arm squads are the GOP, the militarized police, the lobbyists and SuperPacs that "got rich on wanting protection for the status quo". You could even swap out Kennedy for Obama in the line "Kennedy stretched and smiled and got double crossed by lowlife goons and agents" and it would make sense.

I've added the whole poem below. Enjoy.

Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox

It had to be flashin' like the daily double
It had to be playin' on TV
It had to be loud mouthed on the comedy hour
It had to be announced over loud speakers

The CIA and Mafia are in cahoots

It had to be said in old ladies' language
It had to be said in American headlines

Kennedy stretched and smiled and got double crossed by lowlife goons and agents

Rich bankers with criminal connections

Dope pushers in CIA working with dope pushers from Cuba working with a big time
syndicate from Tampa, Florida

And it had to be said with a big mouth

It had to be moaned over factory foghorns
It had to be chattered on car radio news broadcasts
It had to be screamed in the kitchen
It had to be yelled in the basement where uncles were fighting

It had to be howled on the streets by newsboys to bus conductors
It had to be foghorned into New York harbor
It had to echo onto hard hats
It had to turn up the volume in university ballrooms

It had to be written in library books, footnoted
It had to be in the headlines of the Times and the mind
It had to be barked on TV
It had to be heard in alleys through ballroom doors

It had to be played on wire services
It had to be bells ringing
Comedians stopped dead in the middle of a joke in Las Vegas

It had to be FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Costello syndicate
mouthpiece meeting in Central Park, New York weekends,
reported Time magazine

It had to be the Mafia and the CIA together starting war on Cuba,
Bay of Pigs and poison assassination headlines

It had to be dope cops in the Mafia
Who sold all their heroin in America

It had to be the FBI and organized crime working together
in cahoots against the commies

It had to be ringing on multinational cash registers
World-wide laundry for organized criminal money

It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI together
They were bigger than Nixon
And they were bigger than war

It had to be a large room full of murder
It had to be a mounted ass- a solid mass of rage
A red hot pen
A scream in the back of the throat

It had to be a kid that can breathe
It had to be in Rockefellers' mouth
It had to be central intelligence, the family, allofthis, the agency Mafia
It had to be organized crime

One big set of gangs working together in cahoots

Murderers everywhere

The secret
The drunk
The brutal
The dirty rich

On top of a slag heap of prisons
Industrial cancer
Plutonium smog
Garbage cities

Grandmas' bed soft from fathers' resentment

It had to be the rulers
They wanted law and order
And they got rich on wanting protection for the status quo

They wanted junkies
They wanted Attica
They wanted Kent State
They wanted war in Indochina

It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI

Multinational capitalists
Strong armed squads
Private detective agencies for the rich
And their armies and navies and their air force bombing planes

It had to be capitalism
The vortex of this rage
This competition
Man to man

The horses head in a capitalists' bed
The Cuban turf
It rumbles in hitmen
And gang wars across oceans

Bombing Cambodia settled the score when Soviet pilots
manned Egyptian fighter planes

Chiles' red democracy
Bumped off with White House pots and pans

A warning to Mediterranean governments

The secret police have been embraced for decades

The NKVD and CIA keep each other's secrets
The OGBU and DIA never hit their own
The KGB and the FBI are one mind

Brute force and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money

It had to be rich and it had to be powerful
They had to murder in Indonesia 500000
They had to murder in Indochina 2000000
They had to murder in Czechoslovakia
They had to murder in Chile
They had to murder in Russia

And they had to murder in America

New York, May 30, 1975, 3 A.M.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nerds Cannot Be Satisfied: Superman Edition

The new Warner Brothers/DC movie just came out this weekend. The reviews were much like Man of Steel reviews from 2013. No one has anything good to say about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Basically, if you believe all the reviews, this movie is an overhyped, gauche trainwreck.

To be fair, we kind of all saw this coming as the movie was being made and stuff was being leaked. My first clue that Warner Brothers was going to not be successful like their competition (Marvel Studios and Disney) was their shared universe plan. Instead of doing a few solo films which culminate in one big super team-up (like the Avengers) they were going to do the team up first and then split up into solo films.
Apparently the WB never learns lessons from past experiences. The large team-up movie always sacrifices something that makes a movie good. There are so many characters and so much going on, that either plot, character development, or dialogue (or all three) suffers. Marvel found a solution to this by developing characters in their own solo films, and then combining those characters later on. The characters continue to develop relationships in subsequent movies. Warner/DC decided they had to be different, and their film suffered.

The reviews hate on basically two fronts. The first being the pace and plot of the film, which on the surface doesn't seem to make sense. The second is how uncharacteristic the characters are.

I agree with the first point. There are basically two stories being told in this movie, the Batman story, and the Superman story. Two main plotlines are being told at the same time from two different perspectives. These perspectives then collide in the first part of the third act. The reason the plot makes no sense is because it's two stories being told at the same time, and neither has enough time to establish itself. So instead of one good well rounded plot, we have two semi-realized stories competing with each other. Both of which create their own plot holes. On top of that, there are other side plots and half plots thrown in to add to the confusion.

So, there are problems with the film and it's writing, and plot. However, how the characters are portrayed is not one of them. Comic book fans are the loudest, most difficult to please critics in the history of media. This film once again proves it. The main complaint seems to be "Superman is not Superman enough".

The Man of Steel has had a publication history of 78 years. Since his inception in 1938, Superman gained the powers of flight, xray vision, and heat vision and became bullet proof in addition to his super strength and super speed. He was joined by other super family members like Supergirl, Superwoman, Powergirl, a super dog and a super horse, a few clones, and an entire miniature Kryptonian city in a bottle. He married Lois Lane. Superman died in 1992, came back to life in 1993, and lost his powers altogether for a time in 2006. Superman evolved from an aggressive vigilante who killed, committed arson, and fought the police and national guard to a reserved, responsible protector of justice who upholds the law and works with the authorities.

My point to all this is Superman, like anyone who has been around for almost 80 years, has not been the same and deserves to be written as a more complex, multidimensional character. The fact that Superman has so many superpowers, and is essentially unflawed and indestructible has set him up for being a failure as uninteresting and unrelatable. Writing interesting Superman stories is difficult. There are really only two stories to tell. The first is Superman meets an other super man and they punch each other silly until Superman comes out on top. The second is Superman has an existential crisis about how he's the last of his kind, or wrestles with his absolute power and responsibility.

Fans of comics want to see the comic up on a big screen. But which story? There are 78 years of Batman and Superman stories, and not all of them are good. The Superman in Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice is certainly the same Superman from the comics, it may take some looking, but you'll find bits and pieces of him popping up in storylines all throughout his publication history. Personally I would rather have the Henry Cavill Superman badass than the Christopher Reeve no personality Superman, or the Superman straight outa Dragnet that was on television in the 50s.

Instead of complaining about Superman, fans ought to be excited about the awesome Wonder Woman performance. Saying she stole the show and saved the film would be an understatement. I'm kind of disappointed we have to wait until 2017 for her solo film.

The more I think about this film, the less I believe it to be a bad movie. Could the writing have been better? Probably. Could the reason Batman and Superman stop fighting and team up been more realistic? Yes. Are there parts of the film that seemed unnecessary? I can think of a couple dream sequences that could have been left out. But otherwise, the film holds up, and delivers what the obvious title promises.