Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stuff Josh Likes: WHYY Commercial

Since starting my new job, I'm listening to my old Public Radio station out of Philly in the car again. I'd probably be better off listening to my local affiliate, as I'd get traffic updates that pertain to me, but I just can't quit you, Marty Moss-Coane!

I don't know if it was a deliberate choice, or if they were short of underwriters for the slots before the show, but instead of getting something like "Hipster Table is brought to you by Archer Daniels Midland. Archer Daniels Midland, supermarket to the world!" we get a brief promo for the station itself.

We open on a young couple, with the young man meeting his girlfriend's family for the first time at Thanksgiving Dinner. Everybody's getting along, everything's delicious, they start talking about what they're thankful for. Everything is going swimmingly, until their gelatinous, offensive uncle warbles "I'm thankful that ISIS hasn't destroyed us with their Ebola bombs! They're massing at the border!"

The new boyfriend shuts him down by asking him if it's the border we share with Syria.


Uncle Racist backs off, and mumbles that he guesses that he's thankful for pumpkin pie, while boyfriend drops the mic and walks away.  The ending voiceover exhorts, "Be informed. Be the hero."

All right. I don't talk politics with my family. I can't talk politics with them, because they're proceeding from an entirely different set of assumptions, and we usually even disagree on what the facts are, so there's no point of departure to get an exchange going. If I'd offered a bon mot about "Which border?", I'm sure the answer would be "The BORDER with Mexico! ISIS has infiltrated the country! Didn't you hear about the Muslim Prayer rugs on the border?! That's why Barack HUSSEIN Obama wants to let them into our country!"

Also, I don't know about my fellow totebaggers, but I generally avoid picking fights with members of my significant other's family. I certainly wouldn't do it the first time I met them, as was the case in this commercial. I might be dumb, but I'm not that dumb.

The thing, the commercial cracks me up every time. The delivery and the statement from the uncle are both so wonderfully ridiculous.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Collector's Fever

Collector's Fever is one of those stories that never worked for me. I think it's the only one of Roger Zelazny's comedy works that I really don't enjoy. It's almost entirely dialogue, which is a bit gimmicky, but not so much that it ruins the story on its own. I think the problem is that there's not much more to the story than the joke, and I just didn't think it was funny. Remove that, and there's not much left.

It's the story of a young man who visits a plan with a sentient rock
"What are you doing there, human?"
"It's a long story."
"Good, I like long stories. Sit down and talk. No--not on me!"
"Sorry. Well, it's all because of my uncle, the fabulously wealthy--"
"Stop. What does 'wealthy' mean?"
"Well, like rich."
"And 'rich'?"
"Hm. Lots of money."
"What's money?"

I think that's another thing that I didn't like about it. The alien that speaks perfect, grammatically correct English, yet needs every other word explained to it. Our protagonist is bitter that his uncle sent him to college, rather than Space Academy. His uncle collects rocks, so he's going to bring Stone home to his uncle, knowing that it will "deeble", or undergo a type of fission, and kill his uncle.

Stone threatens to deeble on the spot, but our hero took its mass when they first met, and knows it hasn't reached point critical yet. So he crates up Stone, and takes it on board his spaceship. Unfortunately, he removed most of the shielding, and Stone absorbs a bunch of stray material, and blows up on the spot. 
He mushroomed upwards, then swept in great waves across the plains of Dunghill. Several young Stones fell from the dusty heavens wailing their birth pains across the community band.

"Gone fission," commented a distant neighbor, above the static, "and sooner than I expected. Feel that warm afterglow!"
Ugh. That was awful. And not even in a good way like the fit hit the Shan.

It's hard to say if the story doesn't "work", or if it just doesn't appeal to me. Any opinions out there from my fellow Zelaznians?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meeting Kim Possible at the Allentown Comic Con

I was just about done with the Allentown Comic Con after the debacle in July. We'd had a couple good times before. It was Lily's first con in 2012, and we returned in 2013, where we had some memorable experiences, but even a year ago, I was thinking, "This is getting way too big for its venue."

It all came to a head in July. Parking, always bad, was worse than ever before, and the Summer heat was intense. The line wasn't moving at all, and the rumor was swirling that the hall was already at capacity at 10:30 in the morning and they wouldn't let more people in the hall until other people left. I wasn't sure if that was true, but we didn't stick around to find out. We went back to our car and went home from there, and the whole experience was frustrating and disappointing, and I decided not to return until they took some steps to correct the problem.

We had gone up to Rhode Island Comic Con last year with some friends, We couldn't make it this year, and I was kind of disappointed, because Christy Romano was going to be there, and it would have been nice to meet her, as we're all huge Kim Possible fans.

As if in answer, a friend posted to my wall on Facebook that she would be at the Allentown Comic Con, this weekend, as a last minute addition. We didn't have anything planned, and I decided to suck up whatever vicissitudes the con would throw at us.

I started with Kim Possible before Lily was born.  I caught it for the first time when my niece and nephew were just little kids. We were watching it at their house a couple years back and my nephew said, "I love that backflip she does," to which I replied, "It's actually a back handspring", because, you know, kids love pedantic corrections. It had a fun, sly sense of humor.

I shared it with Lily as soon as she was old enough, and she loved it, because we're all about the girl power around here.

So, of course, we weren't about a miss a chance to meet Kim herself.  And the difference between this con and the previous one was night and day. I had seen on Facebook that they were making some changes to address the crowds (expanding the con to two days, tweaking the hours, allowing for overflow parking, and opening four lines for ticket sales/redemption) and they really paid off. We had no trouble parking despite arriving later than previously, we sailed through ticket redemption and the crowds were much more manageable.

We found Christy Carlson's table pretty easily. Lily had a sudden attack of shyness and I was trying to psyche her up when Christy called us over! She talked to Lily for a while, though I had to serve as an intermediary at first, because Lily was still feeling shy. Christy was engaged, she was attentive, she talked to Lily without talking down to her, she was everything you hope someone your kid idolizes will be if your kid gets the chance to meet them. She was, in a word, nice. She even played along and answered some Kim Possible trivia. (We gave her an easy one, Kim's middle name.)

Here's our picture with Kim:

The whole experience was great. Lily also picked up a Loki Charms t-shirt from Level-Up studios, which she really enjoyed, as well as some posters from the very talented Angela McKendrick, whose work can be found and purchased at her Deviantart page.

"So long, suckers."

We'd had a very negative experience with the Con previously, but I'm glad we gave it another chance.
 Special thanks to Frederick, for telling me about it before it was too late!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Choosing My Own Adventure

I think Choose Your Own Adventure books are as close to universally loved as anything in geek culture.  Geek Culture is notoriously contrarian, and you don't have to look hard to find those within who actively hate Harry Potter, Star Wars, and even, as hard as it is to believe, Firefly.

But I don't think I've ever met anyone who actively disliked them. I was first identified as "gifted" in the first grade, and I got to pick one of two books to read instead of doing regular classwork. My choices were some generic YA novel or the CYOA book, Your Code Name is Jonah. I picked Jonah, and that began my lifelong love affair with the books.

The creator of the series passed away earlier in the month. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. His obit said, "Montgomery, who was passionate about education all his life, felt that interactive fiction was critical to reluctant readers in achieving reading fluency, which is the final stage of achieving true literacy."

He credited the actual authors of the books in the series, rather than forcing them to use an in-house pen name, a la Lester Dent, which helped some of them launch successful careers. He continued writing books in the series himself, almost until his death. He really, genuinely believed in what he was doing. The world is poorer for his absence.

Not to conclude on a down note, two CYOA links of note.

Mapping the outcomes: Maps of the outcomes of many of the CYOA.

You Choose Wrong: A Tumblr commemorating some of the more memorable CYOA deaths.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review (Part 1 of 2): Big Hero 6: Or, Robots, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems

We saw Big Hero Six over the weekend, and we all enjoyed it a lot. I tend to divide a lot of my movie reviews into two posts. The first post is primarily an introduction, a review of the previews we saw, and a little bit of context and observation, with the first part of the first act at the bottom.  Scroll down to the section labelled "The Movie", if you read movie reviews for the review. There is one spoiler in this review, but it's a minor one.

Link to the second part of the Big Hero Six movie review.

The Source Material

I was aware of the Big Hero 6 comics, but I never read them.  I thought, "Hmmmm...A team of Asian superheroes, created by two white guys, composed of heroes who have names like Wasabi-No-Ginger, and superpowers based on Western stereotypes about Asia. That sounds like it could be anywhere from a tiny bit insensitive to AMAZINGLY RACIST."

Skimming the Wikipedia article, it seems like I made the right choice in not reading them. But that's neither here nor there.  The movie is here, and it's much better.


Paddington:  Seems mostly harmless, but entirely bland. Hugh Bonneville is wasted here, though if the movie had taken place in Downton Abbey, I'd probably watch it. Nicole Kidman plays an evil taxidermist, which is just what the Paddington franchise needed.

(Untitled Christian Rock movie): It actually has a title. I just forgot what it was. It's a documentary about Christian Rock. It looks slickly produced, but I feel I'm not the target audience.

Annie: They've been advertising this forever. We went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 over the Summer, where we first saw the trailer for Big Hero Six, and saw a trailer similar to the one we saw at this movie. A couple bigots online lost their shit on learning that Annie was going to be played by an African-American girl, but fuck them.

Sorry, bigots. It's a hard knock life.

It looks cute, the leads look engaging, and I hope it does well. Lily won some movie passes, and she planned to use them to see Annie. The only reason we used them for Big Hero 6 is that it came out first.

Spare Parts: On one hand it's a plucky underdog story, which tend to be inspiring in theory, but deathly dull in practice, and it's got what has to be the worst title imaginable. On the other, it's got George Lopez, an actor towards whom I'm always kindly disposed. (However, I see he's fourth-billed, so I'm thinking the trailers have probably exaggerated his role.) Jen will probably see this on her own with a friend, and I'll stay home playing video games.

Tomorrowland: There is no a lot of information on this one out there (compared to other blockbuster). The trailer is very intriguing, showing a girl being released from juvie, where she finds a magical token in her possession. It could be good, it could be bad, but the marketing definitely has me interested.

Penguins of Madagascar: It's hard to imagine anything worse than this trailer, except for the movie it's advertising. It was like listening to nails on a chalkboard, while chewing tin foil and watching a video of a kitten getting punched in the face.

Minions: Despicable Me is one of those series that doesn't really appeal to me, but I respect the craftsmanship employed in making it. I don't like it, but I don't hate it either. Minions is probably going to be more of the same. I was briefly excited when I saw that it was a period piece set in 1968 and Jon Hamm would be doing a voice. I thought he might be doing a cartoon version of Don Draper, but the summary suggests he's not.

Inside Out: It's Herman's Head, but animated! Pixar is almost always good, so this should be, too. I really like the design on Sadness.

Animated Short - Feast

This avalanche of previews was followed by Feast, in the vein of Paperman, from Wreck-It-Ralph. It was cute, and had a nice PSA in the end credits about adopting strays.


Aunt Cass: She was voiced by Maya Rudolph, and her expressions and mannerisms seem to mirror Rudolph's. The character really didn't work for me at all. She was frenetic and wacky and stream of consciousness and making her Maya Ruldoph face, but she just grated.

Hiro and Tadashi: I'm not a fan at all of white actors playing POC, so I think it's pretty cool that both characters were voiced by actors of mixed Asian and European ancestry, like their characters. Wikipedia claims (but does not cite references. Bad Wikipedia!) that Ryan Potter's (Hiro) first language is Japanese, which is impressive, because his English was flawless.

Alistair Krei: Ugh. This guy again. Alan Tudyk has stolen Walt Disney's frozen head and is blackmailing the company. Until he returns it, they will have no choice but to cast him in every movie they make.

Fred: I wound up liking Fred, and I didn't think I would. I gave him the benefit of the doubt due to his voice work on Gravity Falls, but he eventually grew on me on top of that.

Baymax:  Like Vin Diesel as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, Scott Adsit infuses what could have been some one-note voicework with some real emotions.

And a spoiler-ish one too, but if you were surprised by this, you weren't paying attention.

Professor Callaghan: James Cromwell has a very distinctive voice. It took me about three seconds to peg him as the villain, using this handy flowchart.

The Movie

The movie opens by panning over the skyline of "San Fransokyo", which, as the name suggests, a a futuristic amalgam of San Francisco and Toyko. We zoom across the city, before closing in on an underground Battlebots-type robot fight, which is of course a thing in San Fransokyo.

A big scary bot controlled by a big scary man demolishes another bot, and then young Hiro steps up. His adorable bot

gets crushed. He begs for a rematch, and after he antes up, he gets it, whereupon his bot shreds the other machine easily. It's the second best hustle in cinema, right after the time Huey Lewis scammed a guy by pretending not to be good at karoake in Duets.   The champion is pissed about being hustled, and sends his goons after Hiro, who is rescued by his older brother on his motorcycle. Everybody's caught, the kids are thrown in jail and bailed out shortly thereafter by their Aunt Cass.

Aunt Cass gives us the infodump on the ride home. She's excessively quirky, and her characterization is of the few things that I dislike about this movie. When How To Train Your Dragon 2 came out, I was discussing it online and I observed that the characters tended to emote excessively and banter rather than speak. A friend agree, saying, "I was reading a Kung Fu Panda review awhile back that nailed it. Basically, Dreamworks' cartoons (and the vast majority of modern animated fare) are very uncomfortable with silence in the films."  I think that's the core of my dislike. Her mannerisms strike as those of a Dreamworks character. (And, to be fair, she gets better in later appearances.)

Tadashi is a great character. More on him a little later, but he's really trying to be a good guy and a good brother. Like the other characters in the movie, he's just fundamentally decent. He tells his brother that Hiro is wasting his potential, and Hiro wants to run off to another bot fight. Seeing he can't dissuade his brother, Tadashi offers to take him there, as it's safer than letting him go alone. He just needs to stop by his lab to pick up something there.

This is just a ruse to intrigue Hiro with all his cool friends and tools at the lab. I thought this was a pretty decent way to introduce the rest of the cast too.

In order, Hiro meets

GoGo Tomago
GoGo didn't really do it for me. I like badass action girls as much as anyone, and the creators said they looked at bike messengers for her look and personality. I liked the design, and her mannerisms with the gum, but I didn't feel a lot of personality.

Wasabi was Lily's favorite character. She liked that a character could be strong and smart, and we talked about how a lot of people are like that in real life. I liked him too. He's fussy and particular, and out of all the supporting cast, he felt the most authentic.

Honey Lemon
Honey Lemon. She's enthusiastic, but not in an annoying way. Another minor gripe is that the background information suggests that she's Hispanic,  but you'd never no it by looking at her. (Yes, there certainly are light-skinned Hispanic people, but Hollywood never seems to portray the Hispanic community as anything but light-skinned, and I'm somewhat disappointed that Big Hero 6 is contributing to the problem.)

I was extremely leery of Fred when watching the previews. Did we really need a second comic relief character? However, he's a lot less grating than I had feared. All the characters move in distinct fashions, but Fred's seem especially well-mapped to his character. Below there is some footage of how each character enters a room.

Tadashi shows him Baymax, the healthcare companion robot he's building, and also introduces him to Professor Callaghan, who's so smart that he doesn't even spell his name like a normal person. (Okay, some quick googling shows it's not that terribly uncommon, but I'd never encountered it.)

Science fiction is often technophobic. It seems strange to say, but "Science run Amok!" is a common theme. It's really nice to see a positive portrayal of both scientists and technology, particularly in something aimed at kids.

Hiro decides he absolutely needs to get into the school, so he builds a nanotech swarm, here called microbots, and shows them off at the school's annual exhibition. He wins and this guarantees him entry. (I assume there are other avenues as well, otherwise they'd have a pretty small student body.) He impresses Callaghan, as well as the needlessly sinister Alistair Krei, who's all like "I'm very impressed with your robots after that two minute scripted exhibition, and would like to offer you eleventy billion dollars." He then twirls his mustache and ties a woman to some railroad tracks. Callaghan warns him that Krei is not to be trusted, and Hiro turns him down.

Everybody's happy and they're going to the cafe to celebrate, but Tadashi wants to spend a few minutes alone with Hiro first.

This is a good point to stop.  For the second part of the review, click over to this post.

Review (Part 2 of 2): Big Hero 6: Like Frozen, with less singing and more robots

This is the second part of my review of Big Hero 6. The first part of the review can be found here

This part will have unmarked SPOILERS.

Brotherly Love

I wasn't merely being glib with the title, when I compared it to Frozen. Where the heart of that movie is all about two sister who deeply love each other, this one is about two brothers. As they're concluding their heart-to-heart, they suddenly see a fire at the exhibition hall.

Holy shit, is this a great scene. They run towards it, and Tadashi realizes that the professor is still inside. There is the initial flinch of self-preservation, but he steels himself to run in. Hiro grabs his brother, but Tadashi tells him that Callaghan is still inside, and he pulls away. He hurls himself into the burning building, which EXPLODES, bowling Hiro over.The scene really conveyed the size and the danger of the fire and the explosion. They were frightening on a visceral level.

It's followed by muted scenes of the funeral, and the wake. The movie has such a fine eye for detail, like when Cass brings up a meal for Hiro, and puts it in the place of the uneaten meal she had placed there before. This part was hard to watch, in part because it was so true. Jen and Lily were crying, and I had something in my eye. Tadashi is absolutely my favorite character. He wasn't some sacred martyr, who existed only to die in to move the hero on to the next point in the Heroic Journey. He was a decent fellow, he tried to use his gifts to help other people, but he had a personality.

And Hiro's coping, or lack of it, rang true. There's such a profound depth of grief with a loss like this, and people often retreat inside themselves, away from those who can help them grieve.

Kabuki Quantum Fighter

Hiro accidentally activates Baymax, and discovers an intact microbot, which seems to be trying to rejoin the others. Baymax follows it to an abandoned factory, and Hiro follows him. They discover that somebody is manufacturing microbots. That somebody is a weirdo in a Kabuki mask, who sends the microbots after the pair.

I thought the animation here was extremely well done. The swarm simultaneously looked real and like nothing on earth.

They escape, and Hiro concludes that the masked man must be the one who killed his brother and stole his bots, so he gets to work upgrading Baymax with armor and badass karate moves. One thing I liked was that Hiro says "Unbelievable." two or three times, but not to the point where it's reduced to a catch phrase. That just seems right, as everyone has their favorite phrases that they repeat under similar circumstances.

With the newly badass Baymax, Hiro follows his lone bot to the harbor, after discovering that the warehouse has been abandoned. The masked man emerges. Hiro discovered that he was followed by Tadashi's friends. He wants to fight the masked man, but the others pull him into Wasabi's subcompact car and flee. An excellent car chase follows, ending only when the car plunges into the bay.


They walk to Fred's mansion. He mentions his parents are away on vacation on their private island, and gestures to a family portrait, where the dad looks suspiciously like Stan Lee. (I later learned that Stan Lee shows up in the post-credit scene, but my fidgety eight-year old didn't want to wait.)

Hiro upgrades Baymax again, and builds his friends some armor. A friend observed that it seemed unconvincing that a young kid was so immediately accepted into their lives, but I think he was acting as a surrogate for his brother. Tadashi was gone, they loved him, and knew he loved his brother, so they transfer that affection on to Hiro. The training montage here is great, and goes on for exactly the right length.

Baymax had scanned Kabuki-Face during their earlier tussle, and now that Hiro has upgraded his scanner, he scans the entire city and locates the subject on an island just off the coast. They arrives and find that the island has been quarantined, and on exploring they discover a former Krei Tech lab that was inventing Stargate looking teleportation gateways. Video footage shows that the test pilot entered one portal, but did not emerge from the second when the first malfunctioned.

Then the masked man shows up behind them and throws a huge chunk of concrete at them. Baymax protects them, because that's what he does. They fight, and the heroes knock his mask off, revealing not Krei, as they had expected, but Callaghan.

Quelle Surprise

He monologues briefly, explaining that he started the fire that killed Tadashi in order to cover his theft of Hiro's microbots. Hiro orders Baymax to kill Callaghan. Baymax refuses. Hiro pops out his healthcare chip, leaving him with only the combat programming. Baymax goes full-on end movie Iron Giant, and aggressively attacks Callaghan, throwing aside those team members who try to intervene. The sound here is muted and it's a wonderful addition to the impact of the scene.  It's only when Honey Lemon manages to slot the healthcare chip back in that he stops.

Hiro and Baymax fly off alone, and return to Hiro's workspace. This is a heartbreaking scene. Hiro is falling apart, and trying to get the slot back open to remove the chip. Baymax tells him that this is not what Tadashi would have wanted, and Hiro replies "Tadashi is gone!" and he finally breaks down crying when Baymax asks if killing Callaghan will make him feel better. It's all in Baymax's soft, sympathetic monotone, and it's all wonderfully delivered.

Baymax shows Hiro some footage of Tadashi running the initial tests, and Hiro's friends arrive. They review the footage from the island and discover that the test pilot was Callaghan's daughter when they see her last name on her helmet. (I think that's why they went with the less common spelling of the name, as it makes it easily to identify her as his daughter.)

A hate so big...

I love Callaghan as a villain. He reminds me of Magneto. I applied Roger Zelazny's line about a hate so big that it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty to Magneto in an earlier review and I think it applies to Callaghan as well.

His actions, at first, are not unreasonable. If someone hurt my daughter, you better believe I'd become a supervillian to get revenge. He sees the opportunity to hurt Krei like he'd been hurt, so he sets the fire as a distraction when he's sure that no one is in the building, and uses it as cover to steal the bots, which will be the instrument of his revenge. He had no way of knowing that Tadashi would be in a position to run into the building to save him, and when he angrily tells Hiro that Tadashi shouldn't have done it, this doesn't mean that he doesn't regret what he has done.

Would he have gone through with it had he known the consequences? I'd like to think not, that affection for one of his prized pupils would have convinced him to try another way. But things happened as they did, and we'll never know.

A slight digression here (yeah, I know, mark that one off on your Josh blogging bingo card. It's right between excessive use of italics and run-on sentences), that ties back into my larger point. John Byrne was tasked with rebooting Superman into the modern era in 1986, and one of the best changes he made was re-imagining Lex Luthor as corrupt businessman, which is the interpretation that dominates today.

Silver Age Lex Luthor might have built a weather control satellite and used it to blackmail the world (or more likely, to ruin Superman's vacation, Silver Age villains having no sense of perspective). Modern Age Lex Luthor would patent the satellite and license it out, making much more money than he ever could in criminal endeavors.

And that makes sense. From a strict cost-benefit analysis, super-villainy is seldom a practical solution to any problem. However, it works here. I figured out his identity as the villain from almost the first moment I saw the professor. I was thinking, "Hmmm...respected robots professor gives up job he loves to become supervillain? Unlikely." But when we consider that the only thing he's living for anymore is revenge, then it's a reasonable, or at least rational path to his goals.

However, he is a villain. It's not a reasonable response to drop fifty tons of rocks on a group of kids snooping around your lair. If it were, most episodes of Scooby Doo would end verrrrry early.

He's a great counterpoint to Hiro, as well, who is dealing with his own rage and loss, and who not incidentally, also tried to straight up murder the architect of that loss. Hiro had someone to pull him back.

"I want my daughter back!" 

Now that our heroes know that Callaghan is going to kill Krei, they intervene to stop him. Krei has bankrolled the construction of a new facility to replace the one destroyed in the fire. Callaghan arrives and uses the nanobots to assemble to defective portal over the building. The visual was very well done and the way the bots moved things into place reminded me of Doctor Octopus' arms. Krei begs for his life like Count Rugen, offering Callaghan anything he wants, and Callaghan replies the only way he can, "I want my daughter back!"

The heroes fight and win, but Baymax scans the portal and determines that Callaghan's daughter is still within, in "hypersleep".  Hiro and Baymax venture in and rescue her, though Baymax sacrifices himself so that Hiro and Abigail get get out. 

I'm a little torn about this. On one hand,  it's a bit of a cop out. On the other, I'm sick and tired of writers fridging female characters simply to give a little motivation to the (male) main characters. On reflection, it's a cheat, but one I'm happy to live with.

I love Callaghan's expression when they're putting him in the police car and he sees his daughter. It's almost unreadable, but my interpretation is that he's so happy to have her back, and despondent that she'll know him as a monster.

When setting things up in Tadashi's old lab, Hiro discovers Baymax's personality chip clutched in the rocket fist he had used to push the pod out of the portal. I figured that's where they were going, but I didn't see how it had been accomplished. I'll have to watch the home video version closely to see if we're shown it, or if it happens off-screen.

Hiro rebuilds Baymax, and the team continues as superheroes.


Outstanding. I loved almost everything, and I've already addressed the few quibbles I had, so I'm just going to summarize what I loved about it.

Mister Rogers once famously said

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

I liked that the heroes were decent without being bland. Technology is only a tool, but I like they wanted to use that tool to help people.

Tadashi was my favorite character, and I like that he built a robot to help people, and that his last act was to attempt to save someone's life.

I liked that it showed that smart people come in all shapes and sizes and colors.

I like the gender balance, and that the ladies were the first one into the fight.

I like how it addresses that grief is real, and it can be overwhelming, but in time, things will get better.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Doctor Who: Top Ten List of the Master's Worst Aliases

I never could take the Daleks seriously, but I always loved the Master, with his rubber masks, needlessly complicated plans, "Did somebody order A LARGE HAM?!" delivery* and wink-wink-nudge-nudge aliases.

Those aliases are the best. I like to think he's snickering to himself, daring some faceless UNIT soldier to inspect his ID and say (in the voice of the squeaky-voiced teen from the Simpsons "Um, Master M. McMasters, M.A., M.S., sir? You're not part of our usual cleaning crew?") so he can kill him with his ridiculously impractical combination shrink-ray/death-ray.

The excellent TARDIS Data Core has a listing of the aliases used by the Master, in the original series, the reboot, and all spin off media. I wasn't aware of how many there were, or how ridiculous they got.

Note that, with two exceptions, this list is a collection of "So Bad they're Good" Aliases.
1.) Professor Thascalos: This was in the Time Monster,  slightly later in the Third Doctor's run, after the Master had already used the pseudonyms Colonel Masters, Martin Jurgens (Anagram of Master Gunnjir, the spear of Odin), and the Reverend Magister (Latin for Master, but also close enough to set off alarm bells. Fortunately the Master brought his Clark Kent glasses for this one.) Thascalos is worthy of special note, because it's freaking Jo Grant,  who points out that it's Greek for Master. He's not even trying at this point.

2.) Estro: This is your run-of-the-mill "X of the Daleks" story, noteworthy for two things. It attempts to explain the Master's decaying form in The Deadly Assassin by telling a story of how he was overpowered and outmaneuvered by Susan (Foreman), easily one of the most feckless companions of the original run. Seems legit to me. Also, he uses the name "Estro", which is Esperanto for Master. What is this, Incubus?!

3.) Tremas: Not quite an alias, but don't they teach parents anything on Traken? Giving your child that's an anagram of "Master" is just begging for trouble. Interestingly, Geoffrey Beevers played the Melkur in this episode, and he was married to Caroline John, who played Liz Shaw opposite the Third Doctor. I always thought that the Doctor should have mimeographed a couple copies of translations and anagrams of "Master", and distributed them to UNIT's staff. I'll he tried that, but Liz Shaw intercepted them on behalf of her future husband. Diabolical!

4.) Kalid: Boy, I don't even know what was going on with this shit. The Master steals a Concorde, which hopelessly dates the episode, and dresses up in a ridiculous costume for no reason. "Aha! Doctor! You thought I was an alien asshole with needlessly complicated plan, but I'm a different asshole from the one as whom I briefly disguised myself!"

5.) Fake Names in the Credits: These were a staple of the Davison era. They ran the gamut from the rather mundanely believable James Stoker to the WTF of  Leon Ny Taiy. The Doctor inhabits a world where people name their children "Romanadvoratrelundar", and Leon Ny Taiy still doesn't sound like a name!

6.) Sir Gilles Estram: I actually kind of like this one. The makeup is less than convincing,

"They were all out of Roger Delgado, so I went as Tony Ainley instead."
and again, the Master didn't expect the Doctor to show up, so there was no reason to disguise himself. But the name has a kind of endearing goofiness, so I'll give it a pass.

7.) Mr. Seta: Big Finish's early audio plays are dirt cheap, so there was a time when I would pick up a handful without paying too much attention to what the plot was, as even their weaker outings are generally pretty good. I was listening to Dust Breeding, and just as soon as I had the thought, "This had a pretty strong beginning, but now it's beginning to drag," somebody asks Mr. Seta to identify himself and he replies, "I am the Master, and you will obey me." and just like that, my interest perked back up. I'd have to listen to it again to see how well the Master's ruse holds up. I don't know if it was because I couldn't give the story my full attention because I was at work and the anagrammatic elements were obscured because it was an audio work, and I didn't know how the name was spelled. But this is one that I didn't see coming.

8.) Mister Saxon: Ostensibly an anagram for "Master No. Six", but that's torture the English language doesn't deserve. Jon Simm is outstanding, as is Derek Jacobi. Unfortunately, I'd been spoiled for this twist ahead of time, but I really think it could have held up. Simm is so much fun to watch in his jovial evil, and his dance to the Scissor Sister (sadly cut from the Netflix version! Boo!) remains one of my favorite moments of the new series.

But the Internet remembers!

The detail that I liked most about his early appearances was his wife, Lucy. You can see what looks like a partially healed black eye in that clip. Russell Davies was not always the most subtle storyteller, but I think that visual does more to hammer home the sheer pettiness of the Master's evil than his order to kill one-tenth of the world's population.

9.) Missy: I called it. But in fairness, everybody called it.  It's hard to keep a twist like this for an entire season, particularly for a property with a focused and (I say this lovingly) obsessive fandom. Either you can go the Lost route, and make stuff up as you go along, or you can  play fair and drop hints and just be resolved to the fact that everyone in on the Internets is going to pool their collective  knowledge and puzzle out the conclusion ahead of time. Once in a while, someone pulls it off. Veronica Mars more or less did it, but that was more than ten years ago, they had a much smaller fanbase, and it was for only one season, and some people did figure things out, though, as I recall, there wasn't a consensus. My point is, it's not easy to do this, and I'm not without sympathy.

Of course, Moffat fails to live up to even the tiny amount of charity I'm willing to extend, and bungles it completely in other ways. The always excellent Whovian Feminism (Go read the whole thing) points out the problematic aspects of the character, chiefly, that Moffat writes the Master-as-a-woman just like he writes every other female villain character on the series. She just can't wait to get it on with the Doctor. This interpretation cheapens the character, because it suggests that women can't look beyond their most basic urges.

And the number one best/worst alias of the Master is:

10.) Steven Moffat: He even clumsily disguised his name

Mister Moffat, Writer


Master: Reform if Twit

It seems this incarnation of the Master has already insinuated himself into the highest echelons of the BBC, where he has ruled unchecked for years. It may well finally be this Master who brings the Doctor low.

* TVtropes has its own large ham entry just for Doctor Who.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Every movie has cool girls!"

Yesterday, I called Lily over to watch a clip from I movie that I thought she'd enjoy. I said, "Come on. This movie has a cool girl in it!" and she replied "Every movie has cool girls!"

And I thought, "Well, every movie that we show you," and I'm simultaneously happy that she thinks a movie needs to have cool girls in it, and concerned that she's going to be acutely disappointed when she discovers how sexist and regressive so much of geek culture is.