Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Star Wars
            It is my 300th entry on blogger and I am going to use this entry to talk about the biggest movie in the world “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.  It will be an early start to my annual reviews of movies from 2015, and maybe I will get some sympathetic traffic to here from people randomly googling these kinds of things.
            Since this is the kind of movie that is really big and you could go thru it scene by scene to talk about things I liked or didn’t care for I will do my usual thing of disjointedly asking questions, critiquing, and giving out compliments.  SPOILERS obviously, overall I thought the movie was a solid 8/10, with a hearty recommendation from me.
Remember, this whole franchise is built around coincidence and destiny.  And an awesome score.
            People like to point out that the plot is (in an outline) the exact same plot as “Star Wars: A New Hope”, but I would posit that it has a lot of points and scenes taken from all of the original trilogy, which is fine.  The original trilogy is 38 years old, taking that same story outline and presenting it with modern effects and dialogue, and using that basic story to kick off the new franchise is a good idea.  It is akin to saying, “This is what we are going to be doing from here on out, this is how we are going to do it.”
            However there is some grander subtext at work here too.  The main character is a scavenger who makes their living picking thru the remnants of the old franchise, and the main villain’s central personal crisis is whether he will live up to the classic iconic villain.  It is almost like the movie is picking thru the old franchise to find the best workable bits and is terrified of not living up to the legacy of the original films?  Am I reading too much into this?  Probably not, they draw attention to this all the time in the movie, I feel this was exactly what they intended.  There is a literal shrine to Darth Vader in the bad guy’s bed room.
"I feel the pull of the light"
            Let’s talk about one of the things I really liked, Kylo Ren.  Kylo is the best villain in Star Wars.  He is powerful, he has a goal, you understand his motivation, you understand his inner conflict (say what you will about Darth Vader, if Luke did not say the words, “I feel the good in you” the audience would have seen ZERO evidence of Vader turning into a good guy), and he acts like someone who is powered by rage, fear, and pain.  My favorite scene with him is the final lightsaber fight in which he pounds on his wound to work himself into greater levels of frenzy, that is some brutal violent shit right there.
            His armor is cool, his lightsaber is cool, and he kills the most beloved character in the franchise.  The only thing missing from that scene is Han saying the words, “I love you” followed by Kylo saying, “I know” and then kicking Solo’s body in the blackness.  Also, have to love Chewbacca’s reaction, he has just seen his best friend murdered by (what I imagine) is his god son, he probably baby sat Kylo, had the family over for Life Day (HA!) and now he is trying to kill the kid.  That is some emotional baggage.
Boy was my character oversold in the marketing.
And now for something I didn’t like, anybody else think that the stormtrooper Captain Phasma was a huge waste? I can't help but think some script pages got lost or something got rewritten.  For instance, when that random stormtrooper has that electro-tonfa and fights Finn... Why not make that Phasma? It would make sense that she would call him traitor, it would even make sense that she would have that kind of unique weapon on her person (working with Kylo all day I imagine she mentally preps for the day he decides to hack her to pieces and so she keeps around a weapon that could block a lightsaber long enough for a retreat).
I also did not like how easily she is captured near the end. Han, Chewie, and Finn take her hostage and demand that she lower the shields... And she does. I kind of expected a marine captain to not just roll over and lower the defenses to the single most important military asset in the galaxy. It would have been cooler had she just said, "You're going to have to kill me." Then Finn doesn't (because he knows that would be brutal and accomplish nothing), and they keep her prisoner, then they find Rey, have her try to use the force on Phasma and then just have the Captain pull a Jabba and say, "I am not so weak minded." Then have her do something clever and escape down a garbage chute.
You might be saying, "Well, then how would they get the shields down?"  To which I reply, "Just have the plot move forward the same way with the group planting charges." Dropping the shields ultimately wasn’t enough, so why not just skip that scene all together?  Having them forced to use the charges to let the Resistance attack thru would be fine, it has the exact same impact on the narrative and echoes "Return of the Jedi" even more so.
With those two changes you take a character that barely has any lines and fights no one, and instead turn them into someone who is clever, tenacious, has unique armor, an anti-lightsaber weapon, and is resistant to the force. She becomes a cunning dangerous adversary that promises to be a recurring threat in future movies. As it stands she is literally thrown in the garbage.
She is apparently returning in the future but I can’t see why they should bother, she is already a joke.  Single biggest disappointment in the new movie.

Now a positive thing, Finn is now my favorite character in the franchise, more or less summed up by his first interaction with General Leia, as she tells him how brave he is for defecting from the first order.  Turning your back on the military dictatorship that is the only life you have ever known because you see the violence and suffering they are inflicting on the galaxy is brave, and without Jedi powers he fights Kylo Ren, a fight he cannot win.  He is also a great straight man to Poe and Han’s wise cracking, a position that is always underappreciated (honestly without the straight man most comedy just falls flat).
As for Rey, Poe, and BB-8?  I love them all.  Each is fun in their own way and they do not step on each other’s toes at all.  While Finn is my favorite, any one of the human characters could have been the hero in their own movie and would have worked great.  If these are the type of hero the new era promises then I happily await more entries.
Couldn't we have just had a fleet of Star Destroyers?
Now something I dislike, The Star Killer Base is the absolute worst kind of writing in a sequel.  Upping the stakes by increasing the destructive yield of bad guy’s weapons.  It is lazy.  WE HAVE AN EVEN BIGGER DEATH STAR.  Yawn.  The conflict and drama between the characters is what I am here to see, not just more planets getting torched.
If they had to have something like this, then it should not be in the first movie.  Hint at it.  Have rumors of a new Death Star being built and the Resistance not knowing where it is, have it show up in the 3rd movie as the big thing that dwarfs all other confrontations before it.  Showing the hologram of how the base is a 100 times larger than the Death Star comes off as comical in this movie, if it had been built up to it over multiple films it would have been terrifying.
The Star Killer Base is the thing I dislike the most about the movie and it does bring it down for me.

How is Harrison Ford still so devilishly handsome?
Unattainable standards for male attractiveness in films, I am being oppressed.
 Something I like, the returning original cast members.  While Luke is barely there at all he unquestionably looms over the whole film and looks the part as the hero who completed his journey to Jedi master.  The story in which is betrayed by the knights of Ren (how cool is it that there appears to be an entire clan of Dark Side Force users?) is legitimately sad, he was supposed to have been the guy to return order to the galaxy and he just couldn’t manage it.
Han, Chewie, and Leia are all great.  I did find it strange that in the 50 years they have been working together Han never fired Chewie’s crossbow, maybe they should have had Finn fire the crossbow, and since he is a storm trooper you could have him say something like, “This thing is so much more accurate than my old blaster” to joke about how Stormtroopers never hit anything.
C-3PO is used appropriately, he pops in to ruin the moment between Leia and Han (just like he did in “Empire”) is funny, offers up some exposition, and then steps back into the back ground.
Harrison did his best performance in a decade, fully embracing and saying goodbye to the best character he ever played.  Really, when it came to the old cast they did everything right, showing how they changed and where they went since the happy ending of Jedi, and using them as launch pads for the new cast.

General Hux, I actually think he is a pretty good character.  They do not directly compare him to anyone in the original trilogy, he gives one impassioned speech, and otherwise serves as the calculating counterpoint to Kylo Ren.
 Something I did not like, the politics.  I had to look up what was happening in the movie’s political conflict.  And while it makes sense after I look it up, the fact that it made no sense in the movie hurts the film overall.  It is not necessary I suppose as the movie moves very fast and is not about Space Politics (that should be left for Star Trek), but it is the motivation of General Hux, and General Leia, and the impetus of the story, so maybe making that a little clearer to the audience should be a priority.

One last thing I do like, everything else.  The music, the effects, the costumes, the action, and the pacing.  If Disney were to put out a statement talking about how happy they were with the film and how they want to continue to be the mainstay of pop culture, I would just nod and be happy.  Much like Marvel, Star Wars is a huge franchise that will reach millions and millions of people, this film promises that the franchise will be committed to fun, adventure, and good characters that kids and adults all over the world can watch and love and serve as a common cultural touchstone for all the right reasons.
While this movie is not perfect, it didn’t have to be, we have decades to explore an entire galaxy of adventures, and a company that wants to put the people who love that universe in charge of making things people love.  Hooray.

Score: 8/10

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Marvel's "Civil War" (the comic)

This movie trailer just dropped.  It looks great.  I am going to talk about the god awful comic that inspired the movie.
I have a theory, the reason most smart people in the Marvel Universe (and comics in general) tend to be scientists rather than lawyers is simply because in comics you can make up bull shit gibberish and call it science, you can't make up law and everyone just say, “Yeah, I can see how that might pass and spike controversy”.
Unfortunately Marvel Comics back in 2006 decided to base one of the biggest events on the decade around a legal misunderstanding… and it made not a lick of sense.  After a number of incidents relating to superhero misconduct (for instance, the Hulk destroyed a good amount of Las Vegas while being mind-controlled, and Star Fox date raped a woman and fled the country) the last straw came in a very stupid way.
A group of young superheroes called The New Warriors found a group of escaped super villains hiding out in Connecticut.  What they should have done is kept their distance, formulate a plan, and call for back up if they needed it, one problem though, the team was being followed around by a camera crew because they were part of a superhero reality show akin to “Cops”.  The bad guys saw them, a fight broke out, and one of the villains, named Nitro, caused an explosion that killed hundreds of people including dozens of children.  Several of the heroes died as well.  This was the 9/11 of the Marvel universe and prompted a change in how the government interacted with the heroes.  All the superheroes now needed a license to use their powers.

Strangely the actual bad guy, Nitro.  He is barely mentioned in the rest of the event.
Captain America saw this licensing issue as unethical and took to leading a group of superheroes who did not want to register as a freelance group of heroes, he gave them all new cover identities and they continued to fight crime.  Iron Man was on the other side, since he was a former Secretary of Defense (yes, Tony Stark) Iron Man was made head of the licensed heroes and given the directive to stop vigilantes from operating, either they registered with the government (which means they would receive training, pay, benefits, and have to take orders) or they would be jailed until they registered.
As I previously mentioned writing law in comics is difficult and in this instance it was especially bad because at no point did they print the literal text of “The Registration Act”.  So no one could actually point to the law and say what it was the argument was about.  No soft language that would require review.  The registration act was unwritten not because it was complicated, but because Marvel's editors did not know how you would word a law to make such a disagreement possible.  There is an issue of She-Hulk that explains her legal justifications for why Registration is correct (there is no corresponding argument from another super-lawyer because it would require the creative staff to really hammer out a legal fiction that could illustrate the point).
I actually find this to be a sad state of affairs because Dan Slott wrote excellent super-cases for his run on She-Hulk (can a ghost testify against his murderer, can Starfox be tried for rape because his love powers can manipulate a woman's will, can a supervillain sue a hero for excessive force, what constitutes cruel-and-unusual punishment for a super-max prison?)  All of those topics were really cool to explore... And unfortunately no one else can really write that kind of stuff.  (Really, Dan Slott’s writing on that comic went into the toilet toward the end too, so maybe even he couldn’t have fixed this).
There is a massive argument going on that has no foundation on either side.  So instead we have to infer what the argument was about from each side’s behavior… AND HO-BOY everybody acted out of character
Whose side are you on?
I don't know.  What the hell is this all about?
The single biggest issue I have with the story is that both Iron Man and Captain America seem to be going against what I think they would be in that situation.

1) Captain America has had a teen sidekick die and has advocated against other teen heroes namely the Young Avengers.  Captain America is always the first hero to advocate against new people getting into the life of a superhero, and that makes sense he was frozen and lost his entire life to being a hero, why would he want someone to make that same sacrifice?  He is also critical of heroes who use too much force or use being a hero as an excuse to have fun or seek thrills.  The idea of heroes needing to receive training and licenses to operate makes a lot of sense.  But he is against it, and during the series he employs the Young Avengers (a group of teen heroes he told to stop operating) to help his cause, all of which makes him a massive hypocrite.  And then the Punisher shows up having murdered two super criminals and is immediately teamed up with by Captain America.  Hypocrite.

Also, Spider-man getting this beaten up by the two chuckle heads that Punisher killed is kind of disrespectful to Peter Parker as a character.
2) Cap's identity is known to the government, he lives in the helicarrier when he is not in Avengers tower or mansion, he gets a pay check from the government to go on missions for them and has a tremendously flexible work load that allows him to apply his skills and abilities to those missions he sees needing his abilities and his moral compass.  If anything he should be advocating that other superheroes receive the same support from the government to help them escape unfair persecution (“Spiderman, Hero or Menace” for instance).

3) Cap has used his legal status as "Champion" to form his own team of Avengers in the past so he is clearly not above using the rules.  This is more an extension of #2.  SHIELD was initially against or resistant to a new Avengers team forming because of how a previous team had ended (Scarlet Witch went crazy, killed 4 team members, and nearly destroyed all of New York), Captain America was so adamant about wanting to create a new team that he invoked his special status with the government to overrule all objections and create a new team.  Does he feel those rules are a detriment?  If so he gives no indication of such.

4) Iron Man is also acting out of character so let’s talk about him some.  Tony has been managing from behind the scenes the superhero community for years.  He formed the group called the Illuminati along with leaders from other super teams to help coordinate their efforts; Charles Xavier, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, and Iron Man have all been taking the lead without the government’s oversight.  I think that these characters ESPECIALLY TONY, would not want to relinquish this control to the government which has shown itself to be run by idiots on more than one occasion.
Poor Charles Xavier, it is hard to do an action shot when you're an 80 year old man in a wheel chair and your powers are completely imperceptible.  He looks like he is having an ice cream head ache.
5) Tony has gone to war with the Government to keep his armor technology from being misused.  The entire reason he became Secretary of Defense was to end the perceived abuse of his inventions.  So now he is going to sign up to give the government control of literal super geniuses?  Even if the government had no access to his armor, there are other super inventors whose inventions they could misuse.

6) Let’s get back to Cap.  Steve has his team give up their true identities and live under assumed names with no end to the war in sight, claiming that living under an assumed name is temporary, and the fact that these people cannot go home till their insurrection is over should be seen as a necessary and noble sacrifice.  Tony does not require that, if you register your identity doesn't have to be public and you get a paycheck, back up, training, and benefits/retirement. Cap is actively causing people to give up their lives, Tony is benefiting their lives.  Really, this aspect of the registration should be seen as a good thing by both heroes, and since Tony has been funding the Avengers and has in the past tried to set up shell corporations to fund hero retirement it would make sense for him to still create these kinds of systems but not be on the side of registration, Tony (by analogy) would be in the rich people, “let’s privatize social security” camp.

I do not think words can express how much I hate this quote.  It all at once encapsulates everything that is wrong with political discourse in this country and in the world as a whole.  You could replace Captain America with literally anyone, be it Glen Beck, Bernie Sanders, Jared Fogle, Jenny McCarthy, Bill Nye, or the Red Skull and not change a word.  It is empty rhetoric, and all Captain America does to justify his position in the entire story is say crap like this.
             7) After years of fighting super criminals and murderous mad science, the SHIELD agents sent to capture heroes are dubbed "Cape Killers" even though no heroes are killed by them.  It actually makes little sense on numerous levels.  In fact there is an incident in which a registered hero tries to take in a non-registered hero and the registered hero is killed in the ensuing fight.  (Seriously, how is training and accountability a bad thing?)

             8) To help keep unlicensed heroes (and you know BAD GUYS) jailed during the Civil War Tony Reed Richards and Hank Pym invent ultra-prison in a dimension called the Negative Zone.  Why are heroes being jailed in the negative zone? I do not understand both the moral "why" and the legal "how" that allows this to be accomplished.  This is less a character issue and more of a “why didn’t they write down the registration act” thing.

             9) Tony Stark and Mister Fantastic clone Thor in an attempt to create more heroes (kind of like the Ultron program in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”).  Unfortunately the clone is not ready and it uses lethal force to subdue a “hero” named Goliath (it should be noted that Goliath was 50ft tall and charging clone-Thor at the time and knocked several SHIELD agents off a building.  It should also be noted that Goliath is a black guy, and I think that it was SUPER AHEAD OF ITS TIME commentary on excessive force).  Regardless I don’t so much see this as out of character, but another thing that should have happened differently.

Maybe Thor should have used a TASER to take down the charging suspect?
With the above listed reasons I feel that the whole of Civil War should have been different.  I think that the Iron Man led Illuminati should have been against registration and Captain America should have favored registration.  I think that Tony should have made the clone-Thor as a way of evening out the fight with the mounting government forces and it causing the death of a hero should have prompted Iron Man to surrender.  Everything in the comic was backwards.
If they had shown the registration act and had Captain America explain the issues that caused him to react as such, and Iron Man explained why he did what he did, I would understand why this was happening, but none of it makes any sense.
Thankfully the movie is going to sidestep all of this.  Rather than arguing over the place of young heroes and training, instead it is a very different Captain America and a very different Iron Man fighting over (I think) whether Bucky Barnes needs to go to trial for all the terror and murder he was forced to take part in.
The only complaint I have with the movie universe (so far) is that Tony and Cap seem to not be friends in the movie universe.  Tony seems to see Cap as a stick in the mud who would be useless without the inventions of Howard Stark (Tony’s dad).  And Cap sees Tony as lacking morals, having only taken action to help people after suffering a personal attack (while Cap tried and failed numerous times to get into the military trying to fight and make the world better).  As to whether the argument which causes the fight will make sense… I think it will, this is the creative team behind “Winter Soldier” and that is my favorite superhero movie.

Don't even get me started on how fucking stupid Spider-man acts thru this whole thing.
(Though it is still less stupid than Black Panther)
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Saturday, November 21, 2015

"The Simpsons" Missed Opportunities

Apparently “The Simpsons”, one of the most iconic bits of American culture ever produced will finally end (maybe) after its 30th season.  This will make it one of the longest running shows ever in the same league as “Doctor Who” and “Guiding Light”.  I feel that its end is a good thing.  While the show is iconic it did not evolve nearly as much as it should have, and I feel that one of the best episodes of the series in one that explored how the show could have allowed the characters to grow up, “Lisa’ Wedding”.

Unlike other series this one still had more stories to tell after a wedding episode.
I generally think that the show had a lot of creative people on staff and created such an expansive cast of characters that there is a host of missed opportunities they could have explored and didn’t.  They even made a whole show joking about how they did not take advantage of that stable of characters, that was “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase”, and a make-shift could-have-been-a-pilot, “22 Short Films About Springfield” two more episodes I consider among the series’ best work.
The reason I wrote this blog is I wanted to point to what I consider the biggest missed opportunity for a spin off from “The Simpsons”: Hank Scorpio and the Globex Corporation, from “You Only Move Twice”.

My favorite single appearance character in the series, and maybe my favorite character overall.
Voiced by the great actor, Albert Brooks.
It is my favorite episode of "The Simpsons", and the fact that Hank never returned to the series is a crying shame.  A series starring this character, a comedy spy series (a concept that has existed for decades) but told from the position of a villain.
Each season could be another giant scheme in a new base of operations and the logistics and mishaps that comes with running them. Volcano Island, Ice Castle, Undersea lab, Oil Rig, ancient city like El Dorado, and a Moon Base. You could have parodies of the Avengers (the British ones), Get Smart, the Manchurian Candidate, and the Prisoner (something “The Simpsons” did with the episode, “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”)

If you do not know what this is, relax.  Nobody who watched the show was entirely sure what it was about either.
Hell, you could have parodies of every James Bond, sure we see the classic Sean Connery version get murdered, but what about Roger Moore?  You could also have Scorpio take down rival bad guys, like Rattle Snake (instead of Cobra), Phantom (instead of SPECTRE), Micro (instead of Quantum), and Chimera (instead of Hydra).
Have him golf with 3rd world dictators who are seen as absentminded puppets of the CIA and take stories from their real life eccentricities to develop them. The show could have actually raised people's general awareness of real life evil dictators.  I know who Omar Al-Bashir is, but having him played for comedy would let the various Cletus citizens of our country know too.
Now I feel sad and let down with the world.  Not merely because this show never got to exist, but of how many could have and didn’t, of how “The Simpsons” could have been the starting point of lots of shows like “All in the Family” had been decades prior.  Sure it still had a major impact, but it could have had more, it could have evolved and grown, and the fact that it didn’t is sad, it was kept frozen in time and now 30 years after it debuted it will end and that will be it.
If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Killing (Baby) Hitler

A few days ago, before a massive terrorist attack reminded people what real danger and tragedy were there was a really stupid question going around the internet and it was this, “If you could travel back thru time to kill Adolf Hitler when he was a child, long before his influence as a Nazi leader, would you kill this baby Hitler?”  Presidential candidate Governor Jeb Bush said THIS

Now, how did a question like this come to be part of popular parlance enough to actually prompt a response from rival presidential candidate Doctor Ben Carson?  (Seen Here)  It is important to understand the nature of these questions, this is a word problem that illustrates the conflict between Utilitarian and Deontological ethics.

Utilitarian ethics are focused on the outcome of an action, or the total utility.  They would say that killing Hitler serves such a greater good (preventing the Holocaust) that the "wrongness" of killing a baby is completely offset.

Deontological is focused on individual actions, and that doing something wrong, even for a good reason is still wrong.  They would say that committing the wrong of killing an innocent person (or at least killing someone before they have done the wrong they would become most famous for) is so unethical that doing so is evil regardless of what it is stopping.

Technically speaking Stephen Colbert gave the "right" answer.  (Seen Here)  The “correct” unstated third option is that with the power of time travel you can set things right that do not involve killing, but instead require the more difficult task of helping.  Hitler was not always evil, he was an art student that grew up in a difficult family, he liked dogs, he was funny, and suffered a host of maladies.  He was a person both before and after being a monster.  Given time and patience you could turn his life toward something positive, help him become the artist he wanted to be instead of beast he became.

Generally speaking, I feel that not taking a second to consider the implications or the inability to consider that there might be a third option, is indicative of uncreative thinking.  I feel that lack of creativity means that such an individual would be a poor negotiator, and would be a poor leader.  Or maybe he just thought it was a stupid question and gave a flippant response because it is a really stupid question.

Though the image of Adolf Hitler as a 60 year old man having retired to the United States to teach painting on PBS, talking about happy little lamp posts, that is a timeline hard to envision.
Unfortunately all of these arguments still ignore the deeper problem of the situation, that fascism, eugenics, and a policy of murdering various minorities in systemic ways (Native Americans, Africans, and Armenians) already existed.  And that the need for food and living space to be taken from “minorities” was already happening, the world was already running out of people that were different colors to abuse and eventually different gradients of white were going to be used as justification for mass murder, which is just how you forecast a pattern.  A Holocaust in Europe was inevitable.

While Hitler is the biggest advocate of the process and was undeniably evil he is kind of being scapegoated for the whole thing.  Millions of people participated in the endeavor, and since not all of them were prosecuted, and none of them want to confront the fact that they shepherded people out of homes and into ovens.  People want to blame Hitler, so they can feel better about themselves having been "tricked" into being monsters.

So I guess there is a fourth answer: It doesn’t matter if you could kill Hitler, because he was not the only one murdering.


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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

CBS Streaming "Star Trek" 2017

This is going to end up like all the rival streaming services on the internet trying to supplant youtube.

Look CBS, we get it.  You want more money.  Who doesn't?

By look at how Yahoo lost $42,000,000 on streaming content, and they are an internet based company that were producing a cult TV show, "Community".  Why are you following their example?

There are already two 500lb gorillas in the cage with you, Hulu and Netflix.  Both have hosted your content in the past, and Netflix is currently streaming all the old "Star Trek" series and several movies.  Why not just partner with one of them?  You don't have to worry about shouldering the production costs yourself, you don't have to worry about producing enough first person content to fill a streaming service.  No additional server hosting and maintenance.

You are not striking out into new territory, you are late to the party, and you are going to spend $2,000,000 a week (that is a conservative estimate) for 3 months and then realize it was all a colossal failure and end up whoring out the streaming rights to Netflix and Hulu anyway to try and recapture the lost production cost.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" was one of the first shows to cost more than $1,000,000 per episode to produce.
After this catastrophe, some idiot on your corporate board who thought of this stupid plan will blame the "Star Trek" brand name for no longer being a draw.  Ensuring that you will not get to merchandise the license to half of what you could have.  You want to create Lego sets.  You want Kirk and Spock to be in Lego Dimensions, we know you do, because the fans want that.  You want to sell play-doh dispensers shaped like the enterprise.  You want a line of micro-machines.  You want 10,000 t-shirts shipped out daily.

You want money, and this kind of streaming shit is not going to give it to you.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Political Polling is a Waste of Time

            Currently there is a presidential election going on.  Election Day is more than 1 year from now, but already millions of dollars have been raised and everything is underway.  Everyday there are new polls tracking what candidates are “favored”, “leading”, or “detested”.  I would like to explain to you why those things are completely pointless and are making you dumber.
            People only have so much room in their minds, they allow themselves to forget details all the time, phone numbers, names, dates, and even things that were deeply affecting to others or of global importance fade in people’s minds.  This is less than ideal, but also understandable.  You cannot know everything and since you have a role to play in society you must know certain things and other facts must be sacrificed for this knowledge.
            Sadly, there is a side effect to this.  People must know certain things.  And since the things they remember most clearly tend to be very important to them, say the face of a loved one, a deeply affecting story, or the launch codes, people start to make a logical fallacy.  That fallacy is:

“I remember it” = “Important”

            This has always been true of course, it is why advertising is a thing.  Using novelty and trickery to have a product stand out in the minds of people means they will conflate that product with importance.  Hence why “Just Do It” evokes Nike in the minds of anyone who watches sports regularly or who has played sports for any period of time.  Or why “Apply Directly to the Forehead” makes you think of charlatans who are trying to cure your headaches with a giant tube of Chap Stick (this is a thing).
            Why am I talking about this?
This is why.
            Donald Trump has spent his entire adult life trying to will himself into importance.  He has plastered his names onto giant buildings, casinos, golf courses, and TV shows.  He has done his damnedest to make sure you know who the hell he is.  And whether you know WHO he is… That is not important, what is important is that you remember the name.  And remember:

“I remember it” = “Important”

            Donald Trump has built his entire professional career out of this concept.  He is the loudest, therefore you listen.  He is the most known, therefore he is the most important.
            The obvious retort to this is, “What about Jeb!”  Actually that wouldn’t be much of a retort, because the Bush family (of which he is a part) is important.  They are exceptionally wealthy political carpet-baggers who have been governors and presidents, and who are friends with numerous diplomats and political king makers.  You don’t necessarily know Jeb, but your brain remembers “Bush”.  And as we have established:

“I remember it” = “Important”

            And that (along with millions and millions of dollars) is why TRUMP and BUSH were the initial front runners.  But, in more recent time others have begun jockeying for position and this is when you point to the current “frontrunner” (after TRUMP) is Doctor Ben Carson.
            Carson was previously unknown so why the hell would people remember him?  I think you already kind of know the answer but you feel bad for knowing it.  Here is a hint.  In the picture below, can you pick out who Carson is thru the blur?
Try and identify all 10.  I can't now and I am the one who blurred the photo.
            He is the only black candidate running for the Republican nomination.  That means that people will be able to google the phrase “black GOP candidate” and get him.  Only one other candidate, Carly Fiorina has that kind of advantage (andhere numbers go up significantly shortly after each debate once people have had time to digest who each of these candidates are).  But Carson is also the only medical doctor running (unless I missed someone) giving him another slight advantage when it comes to being remembered.

“I remember it” = “Important”

            Now is the time you can point to Senator Rubio and Governor Jindal and say, “Your theory doesn’t hold up because these two minority candidates are not doing well, and they are somewhat known for having given speeches in rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union addresses.  Surely they would have enough going for them.”  And then follow it up with, “And besides, BUSH, is no longer near the lead, his star fell pretty far, how do you explain that?”
            Here is how I answer that, because all three of them are now being remembered for sucking.  BUSH is not well liked, people voted for him initially because he was the only name they knew (aside from TRUMP) and so they said, “Yeah, sure, I guess I would go with him, at least I know who he is.”
This is the most memorable thing I know about him.  And I am from Florida.
Hell, I would bet most people don't even know he is a Florida Senator.
Jindal and Rubio are both known for giving rebuttals to the president, but they did a bad job of it, also they are massive hypocrites on the topic of immigration, and why they are focusing on that topic bewilders me because all the crazy jingoistic people are already voting for TRUMP, and since they are the least educated people out there they are the ones most likely to just pick the big name and stick with it because they don’t want to have to learn a bunch of other names, they have already made room in their memories for remembering Donald.

“I remember it” = “Important”

            And I know lots of people are already writing me off when I write this.  I am ignoring issues for the most part, having only mentioned when talking about Jindal and Rubio.  My points might also come off as racist and elitist because I am painting the GOP as unable to remember more than a couple names and overly fixated on race.  I am also not talking about the Democratic primary which currently only has 5 people running (I would like to point out that the dominating front runners are a woman that shares a name with a previous president, and a Jewish man who cursesin political debates, making them somewhat more memorable).  Those are all fair criticisms, but the reason I wrote this was to point out the real problem.  These polls are god awful.
            Political polls that ask you about people fall victim to this huge problem.

“I remember it” = “Important”

            No one asked, “Who do you think you will vote for?” is being asked, “What do you care about?” or “How do you feel about the economy?” and they have ZERO ability to ask for nuanced questions that require nuanced answers, “How do you feel about recent peace talks with Iran, and why do you feel that way?”
            Instead, these polls tell people, “This guy is popular” and herd mentality starts to cause a snowball effect.  “This person is popular, I should remember them.”

"I think their bias is towards sensationalism and laziness.  I wouldn't say it's towards a liberal agenda.  It's light fluff so it's absolutely within the wheel house."

“I remember it” = “Important”

            And the failings of these sorts of polls rests squarely on the news.  They want names to be important because names create a narrative, an unfolding drama that can be played out and serve as a reflection of the highly nebulous “mood of the nation”.  Rather than asking the nation about the nation’s mood, and then talking about how each of the candidates might address the concerns.
            It is the job of the media to gather information not on how people are metabolizing names, but how people are living their lives and to talk about how political parties can make people’s lives better.  To debate ideas and ask candidates to explain their ideas.  Instead they are asking people about names, and people can only remember so many names, so the people with the biggest names get remembered.

“I remember it” = “Important”

I have no idea who the guy on the bottom middle is.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

LootCrate "Summon"

            Continuing off of last month when I talked about my experience with the Villains 2 Lootcrate, this seems like a fun thing to comment on and so here I go.  This month’s theme is “Summon” and judging by the promo art and the “completely freaking obvious to nerds” logic of my brain I had thought that Magic: the Gathering would be featured, and was happy because Magic is awesome.  I was totally wrong.
The colors of this promo art even align to the color wheel of Magic the Gathering.  Black (really more dark purple here), Blue, White (more like amber here), Green, and Red
Maybe I am wrong to dislike Hearthstone just because I think of it as derivative... I don't think I am, but maybe.
             Here is the first batch of goodies.  This is the typical collection of little stuff that is supposed to revolve around the theme.  To start is the tiny hot wheels car (top left) from “Supernatural” a show I watched the 1st season of and really liked, but have not found the time to commit to further watching of the program, but since the show is mostly about BANISHING things, rather than SUMMONING things.  Am I wrong?
            Then there is two Hearthstone items, the stress ball with a spiral in the middle there, and the collectable coin at the center of that promo thing just to the left of the spiral.  The collectable coin is kind of cool as is the stress ball, but since I do not play Hearthstone the utility of the free pack of cards is a little lost on me.  This also sticks in my craw a bit because I consider Hearthstone one of the most egregious imitators of Magic the Gathering.
            On the right is a card game, which essentially boils down to Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, and is completely useless because it requires me to have a friend who also has a set… I have no such friend.  And the “this defeats that” rules are obtuse.
            I do intend to try out the mobile game on the lower left hand side, but since my phone wasn’t optimized for “Fallout Shelter” I do not hold out hope that this will even work.
There is also the monthly pin which reminds me of a Mandala, but with Pikachu and Hearthstones.
            This is my favorite item of the box, a Homer Simpson Buddha that holds prayer beads and a pretzel while sitting on a giant donut.  It is a quirky little knick-knack that I think is cute and am currently keeping it on my folding-table-which-serves-as-a-desk.  Whatever the hell this has to do with summoning?
Behold, this month's star prize.
            Lastly is the big ticket item, the Pikachu hat.  Even if I did not live in Florida, where it is far too hot to put this on, I am still a gigantic man who would look silly by any standard wearing this.  I do however feel this is the perfect sort of item for a typical anime fan, I could see my friend Sam wearing this.  More than likely I will just box this baby up and keep it on tap to use as a gift in the future to someone I think will really like it.
Alright, one picture of my big fat face framed by the ponytail-ish things to the side.

"A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything" -Wash, "Firefly"

            Overall, I do think this box was a solid fine.  The theme was a little unclear, my expectations did not line up with what they were doing, and the biggest treasure in the box was not really for me.  I still enjoy Lootcrate and look forward to the next one.


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Monday, September 21, 2015

"Fallout: Lonesome Road" Review

I finished playing "Fallout: New Vegas" the other week. It is the 2nd time I have played thru it and I played all of the DLC. I decided to play "Skyrim" a bit and it is good, but I miss playing Fallout. It is just a more interesting universe.  Fallout, for those who do not know is a dark comedy action RPG, it is set in a post-atomic war wasteland, but contains technology that is akin to a 1950’s vision of the future, personal computers that have black and green displays, robot security guards that look like Robbie the Robot of “Forbidden Planet”, an emphasis on the “Golly Gee” era of television, and Norman Rockwell like fashion.
Fallout has laser weapons straight out of sci-fi b movies of the 1950’s, and it makes lots of commentary on social engineering, forms of government, and perceptions of who people are, what they believe, and why they believe it.  While the 1950’s is key to its foundations the post-apocalypse angle is also at the forefront as ruins dot the wasteland of the old world, most of civilization is based around scraping together resources from the past, and making due with what they have (for instance, the currency of the wasteland is Bottle Caps, because they last for a long time, and are difficult to replicate).
            Until the upcoming “Fallout 4” due later this year, I guess I will just talk about the four DLC adventure packs for the last game with each of their positives and negatives, because none of them are flawless… And some of them are more slag than ore.
Let’s have some categories for evaluation: Story (which considering how this is an RPG and writing is probably the biggest draw, it is pretty important), Environment & Characters (because Fallout has always been about exploration), Enemies and Loot (who do you kill and what do you get from their corpse), and lastly any Gameplay issues (cause it is a game and that is a big deal).
"Lonesome Road": from a writing standpoint THE WORST ONE!

            A man you have never met, blaming you for something you never did, lures you to a place you’ve never been, to destroy a place you have never seen.  And the thesis statement of the antagonist is, “you are an asshole for having played thru this.”

Environment & Characters:
            I hope you liked the drowning-in-brown-fog of “Dead Money” cause this thing has so much fog and dust in the air at the start you will have a hard time seeing buildings let alone the skinless goons you are trying to fight.  Admittedly that only occupies the 2nd chapter encounters.
And chapters is the best way to describe this, as the whole DLC is a linear corridor with 5 distinct sections. 1) The initial bunker in which you fight some robots, 2) the dust bowl, in which you fight your inability to see who is shooting flares up your ass, 3) an underground area, in which you fight lizard like morlocks who are frightened of the flares and flashbangs you stole off the other guys, 4) an overpass, which you will come to know well as you are murdered multiple times and have to trek it again and again, and 5) the temple in which you have the most frustrating Sisyphean boss battle ever against the worst character in not only the DLC, but the entire game.
            Who are the characters you will encounter on this journey?  There are 2.  One is a robot who only communicates in beeps like R2-D2 and who occasionally plays audio logs.  The other is the antagonist… The worst character I encountered.  Ulysses, AKA “I do not fit the tone of these games at all”.
Why is Ulysses god awful?  All he does is phone you up from time to time via your tiny robot pal to call you an asshole, and lay blame on you for how completely fucked this whole area is.
He is the dullest and most self-serious character in the game, rambling in pseudo-intellectual musings every time you encounter his voice.  And you can tell the creators just loved him, as his entry on the Fallout wiki is nearly as long as the central villain, Caesar’s entry.  Apparently he was supposed to have been a companion at one point in the game’s development, the only one who was to support the Legion’s cause of slavery and autocratic cultural annihilation.  Yeah, go fuck yourselves.  At no point does this mopey Mary Sue jerk off even approach the coolness that you think he has, instead he is just the emo kid in the back of class who won’t shut up about how we’re all so awful.  BARF!

Apparently there is a small number of Ulysses fans out there... As I was shocked to learn this artwork is not ironic.

Enemies and Loot:
            There are some robots which you have already seen in the rest of the game, and the human-ish soldiers you fight are a group mixed from Legion and NCR troops that got stuck in this valley, there is also an obnoxious number of Deathclaws, or as they could be more accurately described: the earthly manifestation of Satan and they will wreck your shit.  The new bad guys are the aforementioned subterranean lizard men with venomous claws, who use swarm tactics to take down the Deathclaws and (in theory) my fat ass.

This guy freaking nailed it.

            Thing is, many of these bad guys are totally wrecked by the treasure, which gives you the Flare Gun and turns fighting Deathclaws into a game of red-light/green-light.  The flare gun causes all Aberration type monsters to flee when hit with it, meaning that you let your robot pal shoot at the fleeing Satan with its tiny laser pistol while you just flare the thing whenever it starts running back to attack you.  You have 500+ shots for the flare gun when you get it so you will be fine so long as you just occasionally hit with it.  For the lizard men… the flare gun also works, but you can use flash bangs to spook off even more of them at a time if you want.
            The game does have a signature weapon which shoots tiny rockets at a ludicrous speed and you get an accomplishment for fully augmenting it with 40,000 caps worth of modifications… The thing blows, I found it too frantic for my usual play style of deliberate and cautious attacks, and it adds yet another visual effect to obscure the screen when you are fighting in the dust bowl.  It ends up becoming one of the most expensive guns in the game and it does nothing for me.  Maybe it was supposed to be a parody/joke element, the name is RED GLARE, but it makes no sense as a joke.

            Let’s go back to talking about the final showdown with Ulysses.  This guy is wearing a sleeveless leather coat and he fights with a bow staff.  I am wearing power armor and unloaded 6 missiles at him (and I know a few things about explosives at this point) and it dropped him to 10% of his health, he then regenerates so quickly that I could not finish him off.  Apparently this asshole has one of the highest hit point totals in the game and one of the highest regeneration rates.  Even when I tried pinning him in a corner and grinding him with a chainsaw he just blocked me with his staff.  It is a bullshit fight.  And it caps off a long line of fights that are frequently laborious repeat uses of the same flare gun then laser gun rinse and repeat strategy over and over.
            The only exploration aspect of the Lonesome Road is blowing up nuclear warheads that litter the landscape to access new areas… which massively cheapens the role of warheads in the setting, and does a lot to rob the area of danger.  Especially when preventing a nuclear attack is the goal of the final fight, “Why bother stopping the launch?  I have been setting these things off all day, what’s one more?  The things are only powerful enough to blow up a gas station and the radiation disappears in a minute.”
"Oh No.  A snow globe, the recurring motif used to illustrate Mr. House's obsession with keeping New Vegas pristine and locked away forever as his personal possession is broken.  Further illustrating how this expansion is so out of tone with the rest of the material."  Or maybe that is just my reading.

Overall Final Verdict:
            I am going to spoil the plot of this encounter.  Apparently prior to the start of the game your character delivered a package to the town that used to be on the Lonesome Road.  Ulysses was in that town and liked it.  That package caused a warhead to go off destroying the town, so now Ulysses wants you dead.  So a guy you have never met, wants to kill you for something you as a player did not do, to a place you as a player have never been to, and even if you did do all of those things you did not mean to cause the explosion so it isn’t your fault anyway.
            THIS IS BAD WRITING FOR AN INTERACTIVE MEDIUM.  It is also an easy fix.  Just have the game’s first mission be delivering a package in the area and then you get shot in the face by Benny and end up in a coma in a vault medical facility, you wake up and get treatment by Doctor Mitch, and then you are sent on your way.  The explosion of Lonesome Road happened while you were in the coma, nothing else changes, and you get to see the before and after of the place.  That seems to be something they are doing with “Fallout 4” as your character is from the pre-nuke world and emerges in the wasteland having been frozen in the interim, so it would work here.
            This thing sucked, and between the bad guy being boring to talk to, the story being so disconnected, and the ultimate conflict being both boring to play and lacks impact because of the nature of approaching that conflict (you can’t have someone explode a dozen+ nukes and walk around in it and then expect me to give a shit about a few more going off)… I loathe this expansion, and only labored to finish it out of a sense of obligation.

This is a Deathclaw.  Do you see the "Satan" thing I mentioned earlier?  Or maybe more of a Krampus?

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