Thor: Ragnarok – a review

My first impression of this film – the most fun Marvel movie yet. Without doubt it had the most humor of any of the films and managed to do it without becoming campy or losing the seriousness of the story of the return of Odin’s firstborn Hela.

The humor also did not diminish the action of the opening scene which was both exciting and key to the climax of the film. One of the most humorous and interesting scenes was when Thor gets back to Asgard and sees Odin being entertained. This scene had some great cameos by big stars and was unexpected.

For those of you who stay through the credits of Marvel films you got to see how the clip with Thor at the end of Dr. Strange plays out. There are so many interesting things that happen in this movie – like what has been going on with the Hulk and Loki, the buried history of Asgard and Odin, and what Thor is really capable of.

Casting was once again fabulous with Karl Urban excellent in the role of Skurge who is an Asgardian whose moral compass moves around a lot as the film progresses; Jeff Goldblum as the quirky Grandmaster of the garbage planet where a lot of action takes place; Cate Blanchett is deliciously evil as Hela; Tessa Thompson as the former (sort of) Valkyrie, and finally the stone creature Korg is wonderfully played by the director himself Taika Waititi (motion capture).

In the end the film has tons of action and is a satisfying “good overcomes evil” tale although in many ways Hela is not to blame because she is a product of her upbringing and is doing what she knows.

As with all Marvel films be sure to stay until the very end because you get not only the typical teaser of the next related marvel film after the main credits, you will get a nice easter egg at the very end of the crawl. A great start to the holiday film season.

Advertisements

Silver Dollar City Craft Festival

Today we headed for SDC to see the craft festival. Other than Christmas this is our favorite festival because we get to see all the unique (and not so unique) crafts on display and occasionally even buy something – today it was a cookbook from the folks that have the chuckwagon.

IMG_2224

The welcome sign decked out in fall colors

The only show that we wanted to see was the Wild West show in the Red Gold hall which is the same show they had last year. In addition to the rope and bullwhip artist is a Native American hoop dancer, a trick riding troupe, a trained dog act and new this year a horse riding sharpshooter. Overall entertaining but a little too schmaltzy at times.

IMG_E0576

A very nice cornucopia

After the show we rode the tea cups and then continued to wander, looking at the crafts and enjoying the day. We noticed some new framework and fixtures going up behind Main Street and figured out they are for the new light show during the Christmas festival so that will be nice. We left a little early so we could find a camera shop in Springfield since Janice wanted to get a different strap for the new camera (which she did).

IMG_2227

The cooper is one of our favorites and we have purchased a few items from him over the years.

We had a nice dinner at Olive Garden and then drove home. The cool weather was a nice change of pace but a little sun would have been nice.

The Hephaestus Plague by Thomas Page – Book Review

Janice recommended this book to me after we saw some movie that reminded her of the plot of this book. It was written in 1973 but is not dated at all and the events in the book are just as plausible today.

The premise that an earthquake would open a rift deep enough for these insects with unique qualities to emerge and wreak havoc is is interesting and so are the main plot lines – the progression of the damage to people and buildings, the search for how to stop them and the results of those attempts. But the most interesting part of the book is the evolution of the relationship between the insects and the professor who became obsessed with them. That is the core of the book and the unique story within the main story.

The writing is well-paced and it is obvious Page did a lot of entomological research before writing the book but he never bores with overly long passages about the subject. The characters are developed to different levels but that works well since the locus is the professor. The only issue I had was the very ending which was a little off the mark for me but it certainly did not ruin the book.

If you like a scientific mystery with some action and good detail and a few twists, read this book. Even though it is an older title I did see it was available on Amazon and some libraries may have a copy.

I give it 4 of 5 stars

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle – review

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Beginning writers are told to never use this line but L’Engle chose to use it as a wink and nod to her readers. Even though it was written as a children’s book it was rejected dozens of times because it deals with evil and had a female protagonist which was unheard of for science fiction in the sixties. It is also quite dark at times which would have been a hard sell for a young adult novel fifty years ago.

Despite these potential drawbacks someone did finally publish it and it is now a classic among both younger and older readers. It has spawned a TV movie and a big screen production is coming out in 2018 by Disney. It won numerous youth fiction awards but interestingly not a Hugo or Nebula.

I have wanted to read this book for a while, but sadly I was disappointed because I found it dated and an average story overall.

The tale is basically a search for the father of the protagonist Meg – a young girl who is curious and a non-conformist. Her father works for the government and has been away a long time. The quest gets interesting when she meets a group of unusual “women” named Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. They help her to travel via a tesseract which causes a “wrinkle in time” thus the title of the book. The tesseract is not the same thing as the mathematical  concept but more a wormhole.

As the book progresses Meg has to deal with the forces of evil holding her father, the revelations of what Mrs. Whatsit and company are, and eventually overcome the challenges to get back home. I couldn’t help but see some correlations to The Wizard of Oz.

The opening chapters were somewhat dull and slow paced and the characters difficult to bond with. The action and story got more interesting when they travel to another world but by then I was less interested in what happened. In the end, the story just never got me involved which is what disappointed me and left me flat.

I give it 3 of 5 stars.

Farewell Windows

About a month ago my 8 year old Windows PC finally succumbed to the nagging hardware issues of the last year. I had replace a couple of hardware components in that time but the failure this time is either the motherboard, the CPU or the RAM and based on the age of the machine, all three would have to replaced which means basically a new computer.

It was not a disaster losing that PC because these days I use my iPad and MacBook Air daily for everything. The only time I used the Windows machine was to update the financial software once a month and play a game occasionally.

Windows and I go way back – I have owned a Windows computer since 1991 when RAM was measured in kilobytes, hard drives in megabytes and CPUs had one core. I have run every version over the years except Windows 8. (No one admits they ran that version do they?) Some versions were better than others – Windows 7 was my favorite and Vista my least favorite. I even beta tested three versions in the late 1990s.

I expected I would always be a “Windows person” but that slowly changed starting in 2010 when Apple introduced the iPad. It looked interesting but I didn’t think I would use it much even though I love new tech. But someone I know had bought one and I had a chance to play with it and I was hooked. I bought one a few months later and have enjoyed it ever since (I did upgrade to the iPad Air a few years back since the first generation version was basically obsolete). I liked the Apple experience so much when it was time to buy a new laptop a year later I bought a MacBook Air. I was blown away by the how little it weighed, the great screen and outstanding battery life. Plus it interfaced with the iPad seamlessly. I found I liked the MacBook and the apps I used on it so much I preferred using it to the Windows PC. That was the beginning of the end.

There was a bit of a learning curve on the MacOS but for many things it was not much different than Windows and it is easy to get an answer for anything on the internet these days. Not like in the old beta testing days when I had to trial and error or read reams of documentation to find an answer.

So when I went to shop for a new PC – there are still things that require a larger screen and the MacBook is getting long in the tooth as an everyday machine – I ended up buying an iMac. The retina display is amazingly sharp and the performance is great and since the OS is the same as the MacBook there was no learning curve. Macs are pricier than Windows machines but I felt it was worth it. I have found that settling for something less than you want often ends up with you buying what you really wanted later after all and paying twice so to speak.

In the end the reason I like Apple is because everything just works. The apps are consistent across all the devices and they all sync through the cloud so it works smoothly. Plus the hardware and apps rarely fail, no blue screens of death or driver glitches like Windows.

Parting is such sweet sorrow Windows and I will think fondly of our years together but I have moved on and have no regrets.

Labels

Labels are part of everything we buy or use everyday – they are on groceries, clothing, boxes that contain our purchases large and small. Labels are useful because they tell us what is inside the item they are on. We even label people – both groups and individuals.

Labeling people is nothing new. Probably the first recorded case was when the Hammurabi Code was adopted around 1750 BC. It was the one of the earliest set of laws but they were different depending on your label – Property Owner, Free Man, Slave. As time has passed we have created all kinds of labels:

Political – Democrat, Republican, Independant, Libertarian

Ideology– Liberal, Conservative, Progressive

Religious – Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Jewish and subsets such as Fundamentalist, Evangelical etc.

Sexual/Gender Identity – Straight, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Queer, Bisexual

Racial – White, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American

Generational – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials

Regional – Urban, Suburban, Rural

Those are just a small sample of the labels used to categorize people (I didn’t even get into some of the other subsets or the hateful ones meant to demean). They are in the newspaper, news broadcasts, social media and everyday conversation. When used to describe groups of people these labels can be very useful. In a political discussion these labels immediately give you an idea of the core beliefs, viewpoints or life situation of the group being discussed. That is because when used as data points, these labels are pretty accurate.

The problem is when labels are used in a negative way describe THEM – someone who is different than US. Not only is it meant to degrade or somehow lessen the worth of a group or an individual, it also strips away the individuality of a person. Humans are complex creatures who have ideas and beliefs that make them unique. Very few people fit conveniently into the cubbyhole of a label.

Take politics for example – most people who identify as a Democrat or Republican believe and support some of the stance of that party but rarely do they support all of them. I might support three or four policies and reject the rest. You may support one or two. I even may support some from both parties. You can apply this principle to almost kind of grouping or label – very few things are black or white. We humans are many shades of gray when it comes to who we are and what we believe.

Nowhere is this is more abused than social media. As you scroll through your feed the labels are in post after post. Someone has a point to make or just a arrow to sling and they hang labels on people they don’t even know. It’s as if they think they know about someone based on one post or comment. Then the person responding adds a label to the other person and back and forth until all parties are soon falling into the abyss.

I am guilty of this just as I am sure most of you reading this are. It comes so naturally that we don’t even realize we are doing it. It is so easy to try to pigeonhole someone by sticking a label on them. It lets us make all these assumptions and of course we hope that everyone else in our group will use that label to make the same assumptions thereby reinforcing out belief that the label is correct.

If there is one thing that could make discussions in all kinds of forums, whether it be social media, around the water cooler at work or at your favorite after work spot better and less adversarial is if we stopped using labels and instead consider that we all have opinions, ideas and beliefs and just because you don’t agree or don’t like them that doesn’t make you right and them wrong. I welcome your comments.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – review

If you follow my book reviews on Goodreads you know I don’t read too many nonfiction books, but I picked this up based on a recommendation and found the book very interesting. Simply this book is the history of the current version of humankind – homo sapiens. It starts 100,000 years ago with the amazing rise of homo sapiens at the expense of previous humans. Chapter by chapter Harari examines how we changed everything around us everywhere we migrated to. This leads to the three major discussions of the book – The Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution.

The book examines culture, society and other behaviors that shaped our continuous evolution over time. The narrative is stylish and well written and does not read as a textbook at all. The author – who has a PhD in history from Oxford and lectures at the Hebrew University on Jerusalem – inserts his own thoughts, speculation, and feelings about some of the actions of humans especially as it pertains to the flora and fauna on Earth. I didn’t always agree with his conclusions but that was the exception rather than the rule and his historical knowledge is evident in the text. I learned a lot which is why I read nonfiction to begin with.

If you are interested in anthropology or just history in general the book is fascinating. If you want insight into why and how cultures and societies are formed, grow and sometimes die off this book is worth reading. If you want to try to understand why current cultures and people behave the way they do this book has some answers.

Overall if you are curious about where we came from and who we are and where we may be going read this book. For those of you who want to learn or study more the book is well indexed and has many footnotes and a complete bibliography.

I gave it 4 of 5 stars

23692271

Hollywood’s Summer That Wasn’t

It has been all over the news lately about how this summer has been one of the worst in terms of box office in years. This year was off to a good start in the spring with films like Beauty and the Beast – which tops the charts at a little $500MM domestically – and 5 others in the top ten that were released before Memorial Day. Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, Despicable Me 3 and Dunkirk are the four top ten films released after Memorial Day and Dunkirk was the latest which was July 21st.

Lest you think theater parking lots are empty, the popcorn going stale, the soda is going flat, and go all panicky and feel sorry for the studios because they are not making any money; note that as of this writing the overall box office for 2017 is approaching $8 Billion. Still there is concern when so many films have done less than $100MM (currently only 25 have beaten that total). Hollywood is blaming everyone but themselves: Rotten Tomatoes and other rating sites have shown poor ratings on a number of films that were expected to do good numbers is one excuse that seems to keep coming up.

There are others like the angst over the divisiveness we see every day in the news and on social media or the natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, wildfires and even the economy. But I think it boils down to changing attitudes towards seeing films in theaters overall. Let me explain.

The absolute glut of programming that is available online via streaming is overwhelming these days. Not so long ago you had major networks and a few cable channels producing new content. The vast majority of cable was news, info and reruns along with movie channels which broadcast existing content.

Now you have dozens of cable channels and streaming outlets like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu producing several new shows and movies. The great selling point to all these is they are available on every device you own – smartphone, tablets, laptops and smart televisions. When you have so much to watch anytime and anywhere why drive to a theater, wait in line, pay 10 to 15 bucks for that ticket and pay exorbitant prices for concessions to sit in a theater with a bunch of other people who are talking, or looking at their cellphones or whatever distracting behavior they are engaged in? Sure the big screen and theater quality sound are better than your device will give you (although some home systems come very close to theater quality) but for most films does that really matter?

For Star Wars, Marvel, DC and other types of visually stunning films certainly the theater experience is a plus and that is a factor in why those films do so well at the theater still. Those are also franchises with a huge audience who all want to see the movie as soon as possible – everything else not so much.

In some ways Hollywood entertainment is like the beer and soda business. The total amount of beer or soda sold each year doesn’t change much. The demand has already peaked. All the marketing power for those products is aimed at market share which means selling more of your product at the expense of another brand. That is where Hollywood and the theater industry is at right now. They fighting cable and streaming services for market share.

You might be asking why that matters, don’t these producers earn money no matter how the product is consumed? Yes they do but the theaters return the biggest buck out of the gate. This is because the distributors like Disney, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. take up to 90% of the ticket sales the first week. That leaves the theater a paltry remainder which is why concessions are so high, that is the only money they make the first week. Each week the cut gets better for the theater which is why they love movies that have legs because they do very well those later weeks.

That is also why you get so many films releasing each week in order to get the big upfront money. Distributors fight to get as many screens opening week as they can because the return is so good. After that they aren’t as concerned about the films that get pushed out.

Personally I think this trend of lesser films doing poorly at theaters will continue and theater owners will be pressed to find ways to draw more people in for these films. That is why you are seeing recliners, more large format screens and food service at your seat. The idea is to improve the experience as much as possible to make you want to see the movie at the theater rather than on your tablet or phone. Time will tell if this approach works but I think the trend will be difficult to reverse.

Killjoys/Dark Matter Update

For you fans of SYFY, two of their summer Friday night scripted dramas just ended their third seasons but with different futures:

Killjoys – The bounty hunter in space series ended season three last night with the a major cliff-hanger. Fortunately the show has been given two more seasons. Season four will have 10 episodes in 2018 and season five with 10 episodes in 2019. Season 5 will the final season.

Dark Matter – The amnesiac drama where 6 people’s past have been wiped out and they try to be better than they were before had it’s season three finale a week ago Friday which was also a cliff hanger. Unfortunately for fans of this show it was the series finale and we may never know how it was to end.

Personally I am OK with this decision as I find Killjoys more interesting because the chemistry of the characters is excellent and the Quad is an interesting and gritty location. Having 20 episodes to wrap up the various story lines is something most producers love to have but rarely get. I just hope they don’t muck it up. (Chuck fans know how this goes)

Dark Matter was interesting the first season but started losing it’s way in season two and this year between the corporation wars, the time-travel episode and the Android and Five seeing the future weirdness lost me. I would have tuned in for a fourth season had they had a chance to wrap the story but this is not the first time a serial series has let me down.

You see this is the problem with the proliferation of serial type dramas – you have to keep up each week, often the episodes are so focused on moving the arc along that there is no story that week and in the end you often don’t get the whole story because ratings. Maybe the reason the ratings drop is because the episodes get boring. Personally I liked Killjoys more early on when it was the “bounty of the week” and you had a nice complete episode each week. I don’t mind an overall story arc that runs a few episodes or is always in the background because that usually makes the characters deeper. The danger is losing the series to the arc.

Your comments are always welcome.

Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon – review

I was introduced to the Paksenarrion universe by reading the omnibus that Baen had put  together a long while back. In this fantasy world we have a somewhat feudal society with kings, dukes and the armies that serve them. Mix in magic and gods and you have an interesting place to tell a story. The main character of the original series is a woman named Paksenarrion who becomes a soldier and eventually a paladin. This book is the first in a new series that picks up right after the original but, at least in the first volume, deals with those around Paks with a supporting role by the original heroine.

The story involves the changes result from the Duke Phelan becoming king and the new roles those he commanded are now in. Some of them struggle with the changes while others not so much. The plot is suspenseful and the action is aplenty with great detail on sword fighting and horsemanship as well as military maneuvers, Moon always does an excellent job writing believable scenes of battle regardless of whether it is fantasy or space based.

The characters grow in this book especially Dorrin who was a captain but is now a duke and still learning the differences. She also has some ethnic baggage that makes things interesting as well.

I liked the book and am looking forward to reading the next books in the series.

4 of 5 stars

 

 

 

6579183