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.