Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Magic Tree House: Lamey, Lamey, Lamey

Lily skipped second grade, and went directly from first into third. This is unusual for the school district, and the decision wasn't finalized until the end of the school year. Consequently, there were some issues. One was that she got the summer reading list for kids heading into the second grade. It wasn't until Jen managed to find the principal at a community function that we learned what books she needed. (He got them to us very promptly, too, because he's a great guy.)

Unfortunately, that encounter came late in the summer, and Lily had to read a number of Magic Tree House books in a short period of time. Whoever selects the curriculum must really love the Magic Tree House series. That's unfortunate, because Lily fucking hates the Magic Tree House series.

I don't blame her. They're bland, boring, insipid, and the worst kind of edutainment.Yoona Park over at yoonanimous said it best in this post, worth reading in its entirety: "Those books are so bad that they will make you start hating things you used to think were cool, like time travel, Morgan Le Fay, and trees."

Cyborg from the Teen Titans hates them too.



When Jack and Annie went to the moon, I wanted them to explosively decompress, with their heads exploding, like that dude in Scanners.

Magic Treehouse: 'Sploding in Space
When they visited dinosaurs, I wanted to see them eaten by a T-Rex.

Magic Treehouse: Dined on by Dinosaurs
When they visted cowboys, I wanted them shot dead

Magic Treehouse: Killed by Cowboys

I wanted them to be neutralized by Ninjas, but I couldn't find a gif for that.

I really, really hope that the Magic Treehouse is not going to be a big part of this curriculum.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 1: Deep Breath

Um, Clara, what exactly are you looking at?

I was cautiously optimistic about this episode. The episodes Moffat wrote under Davies' tenure  ("The Empty Child", "The Doctor Dances", "The Girl in the Fireplace", "Blink") are almost universally considered highlights of the era, and I loved them all, though, I personally consider Paul Cornell's "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" to be the the absolute best of that run.

Moffat was great as a writer in the early days of the revival, but that was because he had someone to rein him in, not despite it. As a writer, he tends to swing for the fences, for scenes with a big emotional or conceptual payoff. Even as one of his detractors, I think he tends to write these pieces well. Unfortunately, he seems to work backwards from such scenes, and doesn't much care how the story gets there, as long as it gets there as quickly as possible. Time after time, we're left with stories that have a great concept, but which fall apart when the details are examined. This isn't a huge problem in standalone media, but it leads to problems when "Hurry up and get the filler out of the way so we can get to the WOW moment!" is consistently employed in a property with a large number of detail-conscious geeks. The mistakes pile up and when you reply to questions with a MST3K "Don't think about my continuity errors too hard! It's a kid's show!"

well, I've been a fan of Doctor Who for more than thirty years.  I think it should be something more than "Turn off your brain entertainment".

I didn't like the direction Moffat took as a showrunner. I've covered it at some length before, so I won't go into details. The short version, the show he was making was not a show I cared to watch, will suffice.

So, why was I optimistic? Because I had heard rumors that Peter Capaldi, the new Doctor, was pushing back against the worst excesses of Moffat's writing, simply refusing to perform material he found offensive. Of course, since initial reports came from Does Steven Moffat Still Suck?, and they just maaayyyyybe have a touch of bias.

Still, I thought I'd give it a shot.

We open with a dinosaur stomping around London. The police summon the Paternoster Gang, and the dinosaur spits out the TARDIS, causing the police inspector to proclaim, "What? It's just laid an egg!" and Vastra to reply, "It's dropped a blue box marked 'Police' out of its mouth. Your grasp of biology troubles me." Um, yeah. I really don't think that's a mistake that anyone was likely to make.

Vastra gives the inspector some dinosaur invisible fence device to keep it corralled, and heads on down to check on the TARDIS. A confused Doctor emerges, follows by a disheveled and wide-eyed Clara.

The Doctor collapses, and we transition into the new title sequence. I thought it was kind of busy and over-stylized, but not terrible.  It wasn't to my taste, but I wouldn't call it "bad", based on that alone.

We return to the action in a bedroom in Vastra's house. The Doctor is rambling about speaking dinosaur and the strangeness bedrooms, but Vastra gets him to sleep with a comedy sound effect. This is followed by a nice bit. When Clara is fussing over him, the Doctor starts translating the dinosaur's roars into its fear of this new world.

We cut to a scene where a robot with half a face rips out some dude's eyes. I was like, "Woah! Finest Doctor Who episode of Clockwork Robots harvesting human organs since The Girl in the Fireplace!"

Then we return to Vastra tediously lecturing Clara. This was an extremely off-putting sequence, because Vastra is so clearly an author-insert, instructing the audience on the right way to feel. It did have a line I really liked,  that the Doctor was "Lost in the room of himself", but mostly it was so bad that it was offensive.

The Doctor breaks out of his room, there are a bunch of gags and slapstick, few of which were funny. There were a lot of jokes. but very little humor.

The rest of the group finds the Doctor, just in time to see the dinosaur spontaneously combust. He disappears, the gang returns home, reasoning that the Doctor will cross paths with them if they're working on the same mystery.

The Doctor has a nicely performed scene with a homeless man, we return to Vastra and the rest. They conclude that the cases of spontaneous combustion were induced to hide evidence of a crime. Clara finds a message the Doctor has left for her in the paper.  They meet up at the restaurant he suggested, and bicker a little.

Clara: An ordinary person wants to meet someone that they know very well for lunch?
The Doctor: Well, they probably get in touch, and suggest lunch?
Clara: Okay, so what sort of person would put a cryptic note in a newspaper advert?
The Doctor: Well, I wouldn't like to say.
Clara: Oh, go on, do, say.
The Doctor: Well, I would say that person would be an egomaniac, needy, game-player sort of person.
And it turns out they each thought the other placed the ad ("I saw your advert, I figured it out - happy to play your game"), and they realize that the place is a trap.

I thought this entire scene was just outstanding. If every episode has something this good, I'm definitely coming back. It was also about this time that I figured out that it actually tied back to Fireplace, and not just Moffat feeding us the same plot and hoping we didn't notice.

The Doctor tells Clara to hold her breath and drops some hair to ground. It falls straight down, and he realizes that the other patrons are robots. I thought this was the only part of the scene that didn't work. They're not breathing, as he just illustrated, but they're still moving around quite a bit, which would presumably create air currents.

They get up to leave, but the other patrons rise to bar their passage.

They're trapped in their seats, but the booth drops down into a basement. They escape from their bindings, find many more robots. The robots start coming to life, and the Doctor escapes, but Clara is trapped. She gets away briefly by holding her breath, and that is apparently how the robots see things (but it doesn't explain how the head robot saw the dinosaur all the way across town). I like the idea as a concept, it's worked well in some HK horror movies where the Jiangshi (hopping vampire) can't find the hero for as long he holds his breath, but it felt gimmicky and confusing here.

The head robot questions her, but it starts by threatening to kill her, and she's all like, "Oh, but if you kill me, I can't answer your questions", and the robot is like, "Oh, you got me there."  Doctor Who seems to regularly engage in the fallacy of the excluded middle. It was particularly egregious in Prisoner of the Daleks, probably the worst book I ever completed, but the series does it a lot too. Meaning, that there is a whole lot of middle ground between killing Clara and doing exactly what she says.

Anyways, Clara's spurious logic baffles the robot, and it tells her that they harvested the dinosaur's eyes for material for its computer. Did they harvest the eyeballs from a living super-sized dinosaur, or did they grab it after they torched it and the body was presumably swarming with a bunch of Victorian era first responders? Neither one makes much sense.

The robot is hassling Clara, but the Doctor unmasks himself from his disguise as one of the killer robots. This part is really well done, with the music and the direction and Capaldi's performance, marred only by some of Moffat's characteristic ugliness.

"Never try to control a control freak."
"I am not a control freak!"
"Yes, ma'am."

Women, amirite?

The robots come to life, but the Paternosters leap down from above, and oh, Jesus, am I sick of them.  The head robot escapes in a hot air balloon made out of human skin, but the Doctor comes along with him. He pours them each a drink, and this is a great scene. Unfortunately, it's intercut with some of the worst choreographed fighting I've ever seen from the bottom of the restaurant.

The Doctor argues that the robot has become something fundamentally different by repairing itself.

"Question: you take a broom, you replace the handle, and then later you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer: no, of course it isn't, but you can still sweep the floor."

That reminded me of a bit of case law. The United States Supreme Court came to the exact opposite decision in Aro Manufacturing Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co.

The Doctor shows the robot its reflection in a tray, and tell it that it probably can't remember where it got that face from. The Doctor's own face is reflected on the opposite side, and I thought this was very well-lensed. It's also probably building up to something. The Doctor talked about his face with the hobo, and Capaldi had played another role earlier in the series, so that's probably going to be meaningful.

The Doctor tells the robot that it's going to kill it to protect the humans below. Actually, the word they use is "murder", which, as long as I'm talking about statuary language, has a specific meaning, usually given as something like "The unlawful killing of one human being by another", and, as neither party involved is human, it doesn't really seem to apply. We've got an alien killing a robot.

I know, I know. It's a quibble, and the word is defined like that because humans are the only sentient species we know, and should we discover another, either they will be defined as humans for the purpose of the law, or the law would be rewritten to recognize this. Still, words mean things.

They struggle. The robot observes that the Doctor is stronger than he looks, and the Doctor says that he hopes the same is true of the robot, and hopes the machine can overcome its prohibition against self-destruction now that it realizes that its goal is pointless.  They seem to be at an impasse, with the Doctor unwilling to murder kill the machine, and the machine unwilling to jump, but the Doctor says "You realize of course, one of us is lying about his basic programming." "Yes." "And I think we both know who that is."

And, cut to the robot impaled on the spike on top of Elizabeth tower, and we don't know if he jumped or was pushed. I love that resolution! More scenes like this, please!

A bit later, the Doctor, all cleaned up and dapper, comes to get Clara, but she doesn't want to hang out with him until Matt Smith callsand vouches for him. Ugh. Fewer scenes like this, please!

And after this, the half-face robot awakens in a peaceful garden, where a woman in a black dress comforts him and asks if her boyfriend was too mean to him. She also asks if he jumped or was pushed, because she couldn't tell. ("Did Jet just...die?" "You know, it was really unclear.") She comforts him, as much as one can comfort a 65 million year old half-faced clockwork robot.

She says her name is "Missy". My first guess would be that she's the Master, regenerated into a woman, Missy being short for "Mistress", rather than "Melissa". This is bolstered by all the columns in her garden. As I recall, the Master had disguised his TARDIS as a column near the end of the Fourth Doctor's run. On the other hand, it could be a fakeout. God knows Moffat loves showing how clever he is.  We'll have to wait and see.

Final Thoughts

Not as bad as I had feared, not as good as I had hoped.

Capaldi and Coleman were both excellent. If Capaldi is indeed pushing back against the worst of the Moffatisms, that's great, but it can only go so far. The biggest problem with this episode is what I mentioned at the very beginning of the review. It's structured as a series of set pieces, some of them bad, some of them very good. But they're not a unified whole, and even if Capaldi chew the scenery like he did in this outing, it's not going to help with the structure of the show, where the action lurches haphazardly from one spectacle to the next.

Finally, Vastra or Jenny mention that they're married about fifty times over the course of the episode. I'm married too. I generally don't bring it up unless it pertains to the matter at hand. And, Moffat, scripting two hot women making out isn't going to insulate you from charges of sexism.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Crossover Combat: World's Best Dad: Stark versus Atreides

I like Frank Herbert's Dune Universe. Not to the extent that I like Roger Zelazny's work, but I return to the original books (I even like Heretics and Chapterhouse!) every year or two. (However, I share Penny Arcade's opinion on Brian Herbert's unnecessary prequels.)

Likewise, I enjoy A Game of Thrones/ASOIAF, as my posts on the topic will show.

Two Houses, both alike in dignity...

Two Houses enter, one House leaves!

This started out as a Father's Day post, but I didn't have it completed on time, and felt no particular rush to finish it once I had missed that deadline.

There are a number of similarities between Ned Stark and Leto Atreides.

They each find themselves in very similar situations in the beginning of their respective stories, being pressured to accept an ostensible boon that is also clearly a danger (rulership of Arrakis/the position of the King's Hand), underestimating their opposition, dying relatively early in their respective sagas, but survived by their wife and children. Heck, they each even apprenticed their kids to dancing masters. (Paul gave the short bow his dancing master had taught—the one used “when in doubt of another's station.”) and after death, their heads wind up taking on special significance.

 How did each man comport himself?

1.) The Call to Adventure:

This one is a gimmee. Have you ever played a Choose Your Own Adventure book? I have the vague recollection of a few that give you a choice like

If you want to serve as King's Hand, turn to page 81.
If you choose to stay in the North, turn to page 17.

And page 17 wasn't even necessarily a bad end. Sure, in the early CYOA stories, they were more likely to kill you arbitrarily for making the reasonable but wrong choice.

Page 17

You stay in the North, and rule there happily and well for the next two weeks, until you slip on a wet cobblestone and crack your head open.

Later books in the series might be

Page 17

You stay in the North, and rule there happily and well for the next seventy years. Occasionally, you wonder what would have happened had you relocated to King's Landing, but these thoughts trouble you less and less as you age into your dottage. You die at home in your bed at the age of 107, surrounded by a great brood of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
 but still end the story right there, which is, of course, unsatisfying.

Verdict: Tie. There is some discussions of rejecting the call by allies of each man, but none of it serious. Each of them made the choice that was best for his kids. 

 2.) Judging the Threat: 

 The circumstances are somewhat different here. Arrakis was, specifically a trap, whereas the position of the Hand, while containing its own dangers, was not. Each recognizes that he will be taking his family into danger, but underestimates the magnitude of this danger.


Verdict: Advantage to Leto. He has a clearer understanding of the forces opposing him, whereas Ned tends to judge things in the context of their relationship to the Lannisters. Leto is crushed by the overwhelming legions of Imperial Sardaukar. It's the equivalent of your GM saying, "Rocks fall. Everybody dies." Ned could have survived, but he bungled three judgment calls in quick succession (Telling Cersei, rebuffing Renly, trusting Littlefinger) and basically doomed himself.

 3.) The Betrayal:

Each man was betrayed from with, Leto by his doctor, Wellington Yueh,

"My liege, I'm not sure if I trust this guy! Look at his porn star, mustache!" "Relax, Thufir. He's Al from Quantum Leap!"
and Ned by Petyr Baelish.

Littlefinger is often held up in geek circles as a good example of long term planning, and I think he deserves a lot of that credit. He plays to his strengths, keeps things as simple as possible, and he's there to take personal involvement to shepherd his plans to the next stage or react to unanticipated events.

Yueh would have been the obvious subject, save that he was conditioned with a pyretic conscience, the specifics of which were vague, but presumably prevented him from betraying a patient rather than merely preventing physical harm, as a betrayal of secrets would be equally devastating for someone in the Duke's position.

Verdict: Yueh was the first and only Suk doctor whose conditioning was compromised, in a galactic civilization containing trillions of people. Littlefinger is the most weaselly character imaginable, he practically humps Catelyn's leg whenever they're in a scene together, and repeatedly cautions Ned not to trust him. Advantage: Leto.

 4.) Rulership:

I think it's pretty much settled fact that Robert was not an especially good king. I don't think Ned would have been, either. The position requires too much compromise. I do think, however, that Ned was suited for the Lordship at Winterfell, where beheading petty criminals is a skill one places prominently on one's resume. His common sense solutions work for moderating disputes between semi-autonomous vassals, but once there are more than two degrees of separation, loyalty and charisma only go so far.

Leto had all of Ned's personal charisma, plus he understood what made for good spectacle, and good politics. I was thinking of Leto during the Rains of Castamere episode. Leto never married Jessica, only took her as his ducal consort, because that allowed the possibility of an alliance through marriage. Being a good ruler means sometimes having to do something that contradicts your personal wants, needs, or values.

Verdict: Leto

5.) Training of the Children:

Ned loved his kids, certainly, but he did a shitty job of teaching them the skills that would keep them alive. Paul and Arya each had a dancing master. Well, presumably, Paul had a dancing master and Arya had "dancing master". Syrio Forel was pretty awesome in the series.

Pall had a shitty childhood in a lot of ways. He was trained by a Mentat-assasssin, and in modern and ancient combat, and in all manner of Bene Gesserit skullduggery by his mom.  He was taught anything that would keep him alive.

That's the kind of childhood the Starks should have had. You put them all together, and they actually have a half decent education, but damn, if Winter really is coming, Ned dropped the ball. Again.

Verdict: Leto

6.) Disposition of the head:

This is a tough one to quantify.  Ned's head is stuck on a pike in the keep, and it gives rise to a Joffrey really is a bastard moment. ("How long to I have to look?" "As long as it pleases me.") Leto's skull is in some weird shrine on Dune, and essentially becomes a symbol of Paul's jihad.

Verdict: Ned. Nobody committed interstellar genocide after praying to his head.

Bottom Line: Tom Hardy used the phrase "destructive integrity" in a recent interview, and I think it applies to Ned. It's possible to be a good loving parent and still mess up your kid. His parenting left his children unprepared to deal with the challenges they would face.

Go, ahead, Leto. You've earned it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Josh and Lily take New Hamster

Lily returns to school on Monday the 25th, so I wanted to do something nice for her before the summer ended. She's incredibly fond of my friend Tim (as am I), so we accepted his standing invitation and drove up to New Hampshire to stay with him for the weekend.

Tim's been my best friend since I was, yikes, Lily's age. Lily was good company on the trip. She had a bunch of library books to read, and she absolutely devours them, but she was afraid of getting carsick, so we talked for a good portion of the trip.

Lily: Do you believe me when I say that mommy looks like she's 20?
Me: Well, I think you're sincere, and that you intend it as a compliment, but I don't think you have a good conception of what people look like when they're 20.
Lily: Yeah. Mommy probably had an afro when she was 20.
She also thanked me for having so many cool friends that liked to hang out with her and she went on to name them, which felt very nice.

The trip was fine. We ran into two traffic jams, and I-91 is always laid out for construction, with the flashing arrows and orange barrels, but never in the 20 years of driving this route, have I ever seen anyone working on it. It was like a scene from the Langoliers.

We got into town at about 3:00, and Tim was working until 5:00. We stopped at the local Wal-Mart first. Lily, gifted child that she is, had sucked on a shot glass we had lying around the day before, and broke a bunch of blood vessels around her mouth. She was very self conscious, so we looked for some makeup to cover it up. One of the associates helped us, but the end result wasn't satisfactory, so we went to Party City for a mask, which should put an end to any awkward questions.

Nailed it!

After that, we killed some time in the Colony Mill, a 170-year old mill converted into a mall. It did decent business when we lived up in Keene fifteen yeas ago, but it's been absolutely gutted since then, with only about ten stores remaining. The book store (!!) was still busy, and Lily ran into a girl playing Minecraft on a handheld and became best friends with her in moments. Lily talked to her for a good twenty minutes. It's funny, because she's usually so shy. 

We each bought a magazine to read while we waited. Lily got Disney Girls' Life Magazine. It had a surprising amount of content, which helped take some of the sting out of knowing that I just paid five bucks for a Disney Channel press kit.

I bought Amish Survivalist, because, holy shit, it's Amish Survivalist. I could hear Jen's voice faintly in the distance, "This is why we don't have any money..."

These kind of things really interest me, though. I'm always really interested in seeing a culture of which I'm not a part, and this was the double whammy. It's ostensibly Survivalist's guide to looking at Amish Culture, and seeing what can be borrowed for living off the grid, but mostly it's just cheese recipes and horse and buggy tips. I believe my friend Phil, who is himself Amish, contributed a short piece. The ads were pretty great, too, and this one was the best!

We hooked up with Tim and got one of his kitties from the vet, and then we went out for pizza. We had this conversation.
Lily: I've only had two cavities!
Tim: I've only ever had one.
Long pause.
Me: So, are you pleased you won that dick measuring contest with my daughter?
The next morning, we set out for Chunky's and saw TMNT. I reviewed the movie and the experience here. After that, we went right next door to Pinball Wizard. There aren't many arcades like this any more. Most arcades are pay X dollars for X time, but Pinball Wizard still uses tokens.  It was outstanding. When i was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, who serviced video games. When I went to the back room and saw the broken games awaiting repairs, I felt nostalgic in a way that I've never felt before.

I took a bunch of pictures, but I was using a cell phone, and I'm kind of a shitty photographer besides, so you're probably better off looking at the gallery at Pinball Wizard's website. Here are a few that aren't terrible, though.

It's a really great place. I really can't think of any changes they could implement to make it friendlier to guests. Tim and I took turns playing air hockey against Lily. She would score a point and we'd swap out. I used to let her win when she was a little kid, but these days I tend to give her a little challenge, and I won't give her a victory unless she works for it. (Curb stomping a little kid is no fun for anybody involved.) We did let her win this time around, because I didn't want to sour the experience.

Look at her go!
After Pinball Wizard, we hit a local mall because Tim was using a safety pin he had stolen from a dog to keep his pants together, and he needed a replacement. He got his pants and we went to Newbury Comics, because I was under the impression that they were a comics retailer and not a douchier Hot Topic.

After that, we went home. We played Heads Up, watched some Adventure Time, and did a bunch of mad libs.

"When we met up the following week, we sounded much more morose."
"So...we're the Smiths, then?"

It was a wonderful weekend. I always love seeing Tim, and Lily probably loves it even more. When we were driving home, she said what I was thinking. "I wish Mister Tim lived closer, so we could see him more."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Dudebros at Chunky's Cinema Restaurant

On Saturday morning, I saw something most people will never get to experience: Someone unironically enjoying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Granted, it was a seven-year-girl, and granted, she soured on the movie a little over halfway through, but there was one brief, shining moment where someone, other than the producers counting their huge piles of cash, derived some kind of enjoyment from this movie.

We saw the movie at Chunky's Cinema Restaurant. I'll have some notes on Chunky's at the end of the review.

Nerds wear glasses, right?
I'll open with some good things about the movie. I liked the design of the Shredder's armor. I thought the design of the turtles was surprisingly decent, with the exception of Donatello. (Jesus, dudes. Self identified nerds make up a substantial percentage of your audience. Are you sure you want to keep laughing at us?) Will Arnett was entertaining. The fight scenes had good choreography and pacing, and the camera work was okay.

Okay, done saying nice things.

I was a little too old to be swept up in the TMNT phenomenon of the late 80s/early 90s. That's not to say that I didn't watch the cartoons; I had younger siblings and they were into it, and I'll generally pay some attention to a cartoon if it's on in front of me. So I absorbed some turtle knowledge simply by virtue of being around it. (Also, I loved Erick Wujcik's TMNT RPG, though that was based on the comics, and then, only loosely.)

 Back in the 80s, Ninjas were everywhere. It was a legitimate cultural phenomenon. This was a thing.
(Pvt. Joe Armstrong chooses to enlist in the US army rather than go to prison and finds himself fighting off ninjas on a base in the Philippines. When he saves Patricia, the base colonel's daughter, from kidnapping but loses everyone else in the platoon, Joe's popularity with his colleagues drops precipitously and he becomes the target of revenge of the lead ninja.)

Ninjas had conquered pop culture. The TMNT, originally created as a one-off parody of popular elements in comic books, reflected that. Another review pointed out that the original TMNT movie was done in the fashion of an 80s Ninja movie I think that's the reason that it worked as well is it did.

Now, ninjas have waned, becoming one of many elements awkwardly spliced on to other properties (see also: Steampunk, zombies, Nikola Tesla), but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remain a media juggernaut in their own right. It has its own mythology now, and several competing and incompatible continuities.  Arguably, TMNT has taken the place in the cultural consciousness once occupied by ninjas.

With all that in mind, I have to ask,"Who is this movie for?" It teases us for a long time, obscuring the nature and appearance of the turtles, but anyone sitting down for a movie titled "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" has a pretty good guess at what to expect. So, it's for the fans? But then we get an entirely new origin story, like TMNT mythology needs another one of those, and that just seems pointless.

I liked the original version, where Splinter was originally a rat who emulated his master's movements. Kind of corny and unrealistic, but in the same way everything else in the book was. But, in this version, Splinter finds a book on Ninjitsu and uses that to teach the turtles, and it says something that "Rat mimicking his master" is the more realistic explanation. Ugh. Jesus.

I think the biggest problem with this movie is Megan Fox. She's attractive, certainly. She's not a great actor, but she's not completely lacking in technical proficiency, either. But she utterly lacks screen presence. I thought the little girl who played young April in the flashbacks had twice the charisma. I look at Megan Fox, and feel nothing.

And like Megan Fox, this movie is pretty, but empty. There's no joy to it. I know, that's vague, and impossible to quantify, but, well, went I was watching it with Tim and Lily, Lily's reaction went from laughing out loud and squealing, "THIS IS AWESOME" to to "People don't smile much in this movie, do they?" to "Can we leave now?"

The movie is essentially a bunch of keywords mashed together, but the plot is basically that the Foot Clan (no longer ninjas, but generic paramilitary jerks) are being evil. April O'Neil, up and coming reporter, is on to them.  She goes down to "the docks" where this kind of bullshit always takes place, and sees the turtles thwarting an attempted robbery of chemicals used in biomedical research. Of course, since the villain owns a large biomedical research company, you'd think he could acquire this kind of stuff more easily through legitimate channels, but nope, he sends in a bunch of goons in balaclavas to steal it.

The turtles lack the depth of the characters from the original cartoon series, which was created to justify a toy line. Leonardo is an absolute blank slate, Donatello is the kind of nebbishy nerd that exists in the mind of people who have never talked to a smart person  (Leonardo: Donnie, what are the odds of surviving this? Donatello: 0.00003%!), Raphael is an angry thug, and Michelangelo really, really wants to fuck April.
"Imagine this is a used condom, brah!"

April follows the turtles back to a roof and snaps a picture. She faints when they take off their masks and they erase her phone while she's unconscious. As an aside, I know the ACLU has an app that automatically uploads videos to a secure server, and which can't be erased through the phone. I'd assume a good reporter would use something like this, but April O'Neil is a shitty reporter. When she barges into the newsroom with claims of Ninja Mutant Turtle Teenagers, and her editor humors her and asks her for some "Who, What, Where, Why and When?", April is like "Herp Derp. I don't know any of that. But you're totes being mean for not running with this story!"

William Fichtner is the scientist turned corporate mogul and the secondary antagonist. He's needlessly sinister and delivers the worst line in the film, "Drain every drop of their blood, even if it kills them." He also recounts a story about a warlord poisoning Japan's water supply. I suppose such a thing is possible, but Japan is an archipelago, an island chain. Wikipedia says there are 6,852 islands composing Japan, and I imagine that their water supply is somewhat...decentralized. It's not like everyone draws water from a communal well, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, predictable plot, needlessly complicated scheme from the cartoonishly evil villains, same shit you see in every terrible movie. Somebody (Fichtner's character, I think?) calls the turtles "freaks". Jesus. Is that a word that really exists outside of the "Sworn to Protect a World that Hates and Fears them" genre of movie? The only time I ever hear "freak" in real life is when somebody substitutes it for "fuck" if they don't want to swear in front of a kid.

Minae Noji as Karai was especially poorly cast. She's called by name once, and you could be forgiven for not knowing who she's supposed to be, as Karai has previously been portrayed as a teenager or a young adult. Noji is forty-one and looks every minute of it. Stockard Channing in Grease was a more convincing teenager. (Or a I suppose that in this continuity, Karai is not a badass ninja warrior, but a bored Japanese hausfrau.)

The only good part about the movie was that we saw it at Chunky's. The leather seats come from a Lincoln Town Car, the ticket prices are reasonable (a good dollar or two cheaper than most places), and the price and quality of the food compare favorably to the chain restaurant of your choice. I really enjoyed that part of the experience, at least.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stuff Josh Likes: His daughter

I talk about Lily quite a bit here.

Before she was born, I knew that I would love her, but I didn't know if I would like her. What if she, despite our best efforts, turned out as a bully, or vain, or shallow, or mean?

She hasn't yet, and I don't think she will. Sometimes, she's bratty, or sulky, or way too smart for her own good.

But she's kind more often than she's not. She wrote this essay for school, after her teachers recommended that she skip second grade and go directly to third, and it was a significant factor in their decision to let her move forward.

I think it's extremely well structured, better than a lot of writing I see from adults. It tells a story in a meaningful way, and the end calls back to the beginning. I'm very proud of her.

One nice August day

One nice August day, a long time ago, a miracle came wandering to our house. My parents and I were sitting in the backyard, just relaxing when…BAM! We heard a huge crash against the shed.

My dad walked over with a broom in his hand, then a beautiful little cat peeked out from behind the shed. She was very skinny and I instantly fell in love with that cat.

We shooed her out, but she casually walked back in to our backyard again. My mom walked over and picked the cat up by the fur on her neck and carried her all the way up the street! The cat ran under someone’s garage and came bounding back again!

After a few days, I finally asked my mom: “Can we name that cat Losey?”

My mom said maybe, and I answered, “Please, please, please, please, pllleeeaaase?”

And my answer was still maybe.

The cat tried and tried to get in the next day. She kept trying until she succeeded, then got kicked out of the house.

By that point, she was eating cat food and drinking fresh water from us. She was getting fatter, but not all from the food.

The neighbor’s knew and my mom didn’t want to believe it, but that cat was pregnant.

About a week later, I was about to leave for school, and we were looking for Losey. My mom looked in a box, and Losey was not the only one in there. Five tiny tails were wiggling around. Losey had kittens!

One was a girl. That was the first we named Losey Junior. Then there is Flash, Blackbeard. Patch and Champ. Bleardbeard was given away first, then Flash, and Patch and Champ went together. Losey Junior and her mom are now free inside and outside of the house.

My dad used to be allergic to cats, but his body figured out that cats are not bad for you. They are great! Now you know about the miracle that came to our house one nice August day.

Search Results, Part 7

The latest in the series of disturbing searches that lead to this website:

  1. a guy fucking a chick with a wolf (At first I assumed that he was using a wolf to fuck a chick, but it's more likely that the wolf belongs to the chick in question.)
  2. doctor adventure shanish girl ass hurt (What is this, I don't even?)
  3. awesomegregkilled game (That shit!)
  4. wrinkly golem milf
  5. horny nude bullfighter (The Naked Matador?)
  6. penis people  (...)
  7. wallpapers kida feet
  8. Arya needs to lose her virginity and there's no one around but Sandor 
  9. animated girls hiding in a dumpster (Whatever floats your boat, buddy.)
  10. zombie auditions ben franklin school Dunno what they were looking for because this post on my site was the number one hit, but it sounds awesome

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stuff Josh Likes: Leverage


I first heard about Leverage shortly after it started airing in 2008. I happened upon the blog of one of the writers, and the show sounded kind of stupid. The main character is an insurance investigator whose company denied his son life-saving treatment. The son dies, and the hero vows revenge on the Bernie Madoffs of the world. He assembles a team of experts, and they pull con jobs on the wealthy and corrupt. It just sounded outstandingly lame.

Too nuanced a villain for Leverage
I tend to really dislike revenge porn to begin with, and it seemed like they were going the cheap and lazy route by making their adversaries such caricatures. I mean, everybody in America hates someone who would deny a kid medical treatment/knowingly market toxic drugs/skin dalmatians to make a coat.

So, I had no interest, and an overall negative impression when I found it while flipping through the channels one night. I stopped because I recognized Christian Kane from Angel, the spin off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I usually like his stuff. (He was also great in Secondhand Lions).  So we watched an episode and we really enjoyed it. Here's why:

The Crew 


It's no coincidence that John Rogers, one of the principle creators and writers of the show, has worked in Role Playing Games. (He wrote some 4th edition stuff, and he writes the ongoing D&D comic now.)

The team functions like a group of adventurers, though far more competent (I've heard the series described as "Competence Porn", which is a turn of phrase that I like) than any group of which I've been a part.

We have Timothy Hutton as Nate Ford, the Brains: I actually prefer "Mastermind", the term used in the RPG, and earlier episodes to "Brains", which makes him seem like he's a zombie hungry for Brains. I understand that they did it for symmetry  in the titles, but it's still a pretty weak substitute.

 Before the show begin, he's a big shot investigator for an insurance company. They deny life-saving treatment to his son, who dies. Nate implodes and descends into alcoholism, which costs him his marriage and his career.

He's the one who recruits the team and plans their missions. I really like Nate, in large part because of his flaws. (Lily always tells me that I only like people who make mistakes.) Something inside him is broken in a fundamental way, but he's still trying to help other people, even though he believes he's beyond help. ("The muscle I hustle is real for my friends/but the muscle I keep for myself is pretend.") He begins the series as a functioning alcoholic, a type of character almost invisible in entertainment.

Gina Bellman is Sophie Devereaux, the Grifter: 

I read once that actors who are only familiar with theater work are prone to broad gestures when acting, because they've been taught to make those exaggerated gestures so that the people in the rear of the audience can see what they're doing.

I think something similar applies to actors on a television show. They were brought on board to play characters, but now they're just playing caricatures, with one or two broad and extremely simplified character traits.

This is a really meaty role. In essence, Gina Bellman gets to play a new character every episode. She's playing Sophie playing an heiress, or a southern belle or a record exec or world class athlete. I love the interplay between Sophie and Nate, where Nate feeds her some generic instructions and Sophie transmogrifies then into the perfect words to move the mark. She's an extremely talented performer, and it's very cool to see a woman older than 22 in such a substantial role.

Aldis Hodge is Alec Hardison, "The Hacker":
"Are there other black nerds, or is it just you and Urkel?" I love Hardison. He's like the platonic ideal of the nerd. "I'm going to show you how smart I the stupidest way possible."

Hardison is a lot of fun, and as close to the point of view character as we get on the show.He's this unapologetic giant geek, and the show lets him give a bunch of winking acknowledgements to the audience.

Also, at the end of the pilot, he made everyone millionaires. I like that everyone on the team is doing what they do not in anticipation of some big score, but because they want to help people who can't help themselves.

Christian Kane is Eliot Spencer, "The Hitter"

Elliot has a trait in the RPG, "Smarter than he looks". Elliot really is my friend Frederick. He never starts a fight. He doesn't say more than he has to. He sticks up for the little guy.  I remember an episode where their cover is blown early on, and they try to bluff their way out and evade security, instead of just sending Elliot out to shoot everyone in the face. Like everyone else in the show, there's a profound decency about the man, and more than anyone else, he's the team's moral center.

Beth Riesgraf is Parker, "The Thief" She's really attractive, but so is Gina Bellman. And so is almost every mainstream actress, really. Physical attractiveness is not exactly raretonium in Hollywood.  But I really like her...vitality. I remember an old post of Kungfu Monkey, where John Rogers gave everyone D&D stats. He assigned a lower than average charisma to Parker, who is amazingly super hot, but who is also distanced from normal people that she makes them uneasy.

Star Trek


Jeri Ryan filled in when Gina Bellman was pregnant, Wil Wheaton was a rival hacker, Johnathan Frakes directed several episodes, including one involving a court case with Quark as an expert witness. It was like watching an episode of Gargoyles!





I'm pretty aggressively Anti-Libertarian. I don't think that every person is bad, but enough are that society requires a strong, neutral arbiter to prevent the strong from preying on the weak. I remember something a professor said in college. Part of the agreement of living in a civilized society is that you give up the right to personally settle grievances with those who have wronged you. Society does this on your behalf.

Those who punish the wrongdoers are not the Leverage team, nor those who have been victimized. Almost every time, the civil authorities are the ones who take custody of , and punish the wrongdoers. Bad people did bad things. They got away with their crimes for a little while, but now they're being punished for it.

Did I call it "Competence Porn"? Maybe I meant "Populist Porn" instead.

The Theme of the Show


I'm not talking about the musical theme, though I think it's extremely distinctive and very well done, but the ideals involved.I think it comes down to one word: Empathy

When I expressed interest in Leverage during its original run, a friend told me to watch Burn Notice instead, which he said told the same stories, but better. I don't think it did, though.

And I do realize  that, to a large extent, the human interest stories that serve to move the plot are only framing mechanisms for a one hour heist movie, but I don't think you can dismiss them entirely.  Leverage wanted to be perceived as a show about finding justice for the weak and the powerless, and it was.

Justice is a human concept.

"Justice?You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law."

"The universe did not invent justice. Man did. Unfortunately, man must reside in the universe."

I may have a dim view of humanity, but I think that when most people say they want justice, they mean they want vengeance. I've been wronged, and now the person who wronged me is going to pay. Leverage is one of those rare shows that attempts to rise above this.

That's as perfect a summary as Leverage as you're likely to find.