Monday, August 31, 2015

Enter the Nunja

In a fit of boredom I babbled on Facebook for a while about a new series of films based on a nun who is also a ninja - or a Nunja. Recreated for posterity and for those readers who aren't my Facebook friends...
There should be a movie in which a nun becomes a ninja. It would be called Enter the Nunja, and she would say "Get thee to a nunnery" after smiting her foes.
In my imaginary movie Enter the Nunja, the nunja's identity will be hidden from the audience until the film's coda. Kindly Irish priest Father O'Flannery suspects one of his three top nuns, but in the end it turns out to be the newest convert, a wholesome young woman who seems mild and meek in manner, but possesses a powerfully righteous fury.
In Nunja vs. Ninjas, the first sequel to Enter the Nunja, Sister Beatrice must once more don the garb of the Nunja when the orphanage is threatened by soulless robber barons who have hired evil ninjas to intimidate the church's fundraising efforts. Meanwhile Father O'Flannery is completely baffled by his inability to discover the Nunja's secret identity.
In the third Nunja movie, Nunja III: Deadly Communion, Sister Beatrice once again goes into action as the Nunja when evil condo developers plan a devilish attack on Father O'Flannery's church, hoping to buy the land for luxury condominiums once the father and his flock are out of the way. Naturally the Nunja smites the bad guys with a divinely inspired smackdown. 
In the fourth Nunja movie, Nunja Revelations, Father O'Flannery finally discovers that Sister Beatrice is the Nunja! However, he doesn't tell Sister Beatrice that he knows, and becomes a silent but supportive ally in the Nunja's cause. This film also introduces the Antagagnostic, the Nunja's most fearsome foe!
 In the Facebook comments Sean noted that the Nunja should use - naturally - NUNchuks. I was very annoyed that I didn't think of that myself. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Shadow Brick'd

This is not an objectively good photo by any means, and yet I like the way it turned out. There's something warm about Lego cast in the sun's golden glow.

EDIT: I just noticed that I already posted this photo, or one very much like it, earlier this year. So here's a haiku to make up for the repeated content:

Lego fascinates
When sun clouds my judgement
Just another photo

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Crash Dummies Cartastrophe


Sometime during 1992 or 1993, Ron and Jeff played with a Crash Dummies set at the Bleak House of Blahs. I was around for the first few minutes, then went to bed. I dreamed of filing cabinets swordfighting, no doubt thanks to the clamour of the car crashing down the stairs over and over. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Martian Via StarTalk


Neil DeGrasse Tyson looks pretty amazing despite the passage of several decades in this fake episode of StarTalk, a very clever piece of marketing for Ridley Scott's adaptation of Andy Weir's The Martian. I'm really looking forward to this. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Does a Phalanx Destroy a Battleship?

On the far side of the world
In lush lands untamed by modern empires
My lookout spots a mighty phalanx
Armed with shield and spear
My officers and I gather on deck
To marvel at this vision of times past
We laugh as the barbarians hurl spears from the beach
Most fall short, crashing into the seas
But one, carried by an ill wind,
Plugs an exhaust port
And kaboom

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dick's Final Revelation

Over the course of the last month I've read 13 novels by Philip K. Dick. It's been a revelation, and I choose that word carefully; Dick's later work is chiefly concerned with divine revelation, and nowhere does that theme resonate more poignantly than in his last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Written from the perspective of the title character's daughter-in-law, Angel Archer, and set against the backdrop of the assassination of John Lennon, Dick explores the nature of religion (and, ultimately, the universe) via the later life of one Timothy Archer, Bishop of California, a man struggling with the implications of an archaeological find that threatens his faith. Angel inadvertently contributes to Archer's eventual fall from grace by introducing him to her friend Kirsten; she and the bishop have an affair, and to make matters worse her own husband, Timothy's son, falls in love with Kirsten and eventually commits suicide, torn between his infatuation and his father.

In Angel, Dick has created a rich, sympathetic protagonist; she's smart, compassionate, quick witted and skeptical, and she bears the burden of her losses with great strength. Angel presents her self as non-Christian (or non-whatever, given the context of the religious discussion), and her doubt is essential to understanding Timothy's path. The bishop has doubts of his own, but true to his convictions (and faults), he searches for revelation and dies, appropriately, in the desert that gave birth to the Abrahamic religions.

As in Dick's other best works, the author displays a keen sense of empathy and compassion for all of his characters; there are no villains here, just flawed individuals, each following his or her own truth to its logical conclusion.

While I myself am an atheist, I'm very glad to have read this moving and insightful novel about faith and the search for meaning. It seems clear to me that Dick was a very deep thinker with serious questions about the nature of reality, and in his later works (for example, VALIS and The Divine Invasion before Archer), he's clearly trying to come to grips with his own beliefs. I wonder what he wound up believing in the end, and I hope he found the answers he was clearly looking for. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Night of the Dark Knight

On Friday night something stirred me to semi-wakefulness. I giggled with glee and repeated the phrase "I'm Batman!" over and over in my best Christian Bale impersonation. I don't remember if I was dreaming or not, but I was certainly amusing myself; I couldn't stop laughing.

Sylvia doesn't remember this, but she protested "I'm sleeping!" while I was babbling.

I'm not Batman. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

My Go-To Book Buying List

There's a short list of authors who consistently deliver the type of reading experience I enjoy most. That list evolves over time, with authors dropping off and joining the list.

I'll buy any and all new releases from the following authors:

Catherine Asaro
Greg Bear
David Brin
Lois McMaster Bujold
Tom Dorsey
Joe Haldeman
Theodore Judson
Stephen King
George R.R. Martin
Jack McDevitt
John Scalzi
Allen Steele
Jo Walton
Andy Weir
Connie Willis
Robert Charles Wilson

Of course each of these writers delivers hits and misses relative to their own talent, but by and large I can pick up a book by any of these men and women confident I'll have a good experience. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

If George Miller Directs Man of Steel 2...

...he might call it:

Mad Man of Steel
The Sky Warrior
Beyond Thundergod
Superman: Bizarro in the City
The Watches of Jimmy Olsen

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More Event Cards for Toilet Chase: The Poop Deck Building Game

Rotten Pasta
Contrary to popular belief, pasta does not last forever simply because you've put it in a Tupperware container in the fridge. You open the container and are overwhelmed by the stench. Gain 2 Dolt Points and lose consciousness for one turn.  Negated if you're holding Ron's Reflexes. 

Day of the Triffid
The potatoes you left in the pantry six months ago have sprouted, then turned black, creating a horrible mess. Lose 1 Health. Negated if you're holding Ron's Reflexes. 

Ron's Reflexes
If you draw any Rotten Food card, ignore its effects and surrender this card. 

Placating a Hell's Angel
You intervene in a car crash in the alley, to the annoyance of the Hell's Angel at fault. But you placate him with politeness and hot chocolate. Lose a Dolt Point. 

Guilty on All Counts
You forget to renew your licence and insurance, and the authorities are not amused. Gain 1 Dolt Point and lose the use of Allan's Car. 

Crash Dummies
You step on a Crash Dummies toy left at the top of the stairs. Tumble down them and lose 1 Health. 

You Are Not a Candidate
You receive yet another job rejection in the mail. Gain 1 Dolt Point. 

You Fool - Oh No!
Jeff erases your cool answering machine message. Gain 2 Dolt Points. 

It's Time for DS9
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is on! Lose 1 Dolt Point. 

Necco Shampoo
Someone's put Necco Wafers in your shampoo. leaving your hair a sticky mess. Gain 2 Dolt Points. 



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

First Draft Event Cards for Jeff Shyluk's Toilet Chase: The Poop Deck Building Game

Jeff is working on a Toilet Chase deck building game based on our shared experiences at the Bleak House of Blahs back in the early 90s and the Toilet Chase screenplay, which concerns a toilet that comes to life and wreaks havoc in the house. In a lengthy exchange of e-mails between Jeff, me, and Bleak House survivors Ron and Allan, we inventoried every last possession we kept at the house so that Jeff could incorporate the items into the game. Jeff wrote in passing that these lists might amuse readers of this blog, but I don't want to invade the privacy or Ron or Allan. Instead, I'll share some of my early Event Card ideas, formed before Jeff had finished explaining his vision for the game. Since it's unlikely these Event Cards will appear in the finished game (at least in this initial form), I thought I'd share them here. Each card is (very loosely) based on real events that happened at the Bleak House of Blahs. 

By way of explanation, "Dummies" are the game's non-player characters, the guests who dropped by the Bleak House from time to time.  

Duck!
While racing down (or up) the stairs from/to the Loft, you crack your skull on the low-clearance overhang. 5 points damage. (Or whatever system you're using to track health.)

Shower Slime Mold
The downstairs shower hasn't been cleaned in so long that a Dummy gets exasperated and has to clean it. Maybe this card could result in an injury?

Crass Shinglers
Shinglers rain nails and scrap metal down onto the lawn. Anyone caught outside sustains an injury or has to dodge indoors, maybe?

Garage Thieves
Hoodlums break in and steal stuff, represented by cards from the inventory pile?

Fence Vandals
Vandals kick in the fence, reducing defences against the toilet and requiring repairs?

Cook It and Eat It
Jeff and Susan invite the Blahs-ians over for a Cook It and Eat It dinner. Invites free Toilet attack but replenishes Health if the attack evaded, perhaps? I guess this doesn't work if the Dummies are always inside the house. But it could still be done in-house - maybe the Dummies came over for a Cook It and Eat It in the first place.

Stupid Movie Night
Desperate for entertainment, the Blahs-ians (Bleak Housers?) make an emergency trip to the video store. Invites a free Toilet attack?

Food Poisoning
All Characters and Dummies have diarrhea, but there are only two toilets available (the third having been transformed into a monster). The two Characters and Dummies closest to the main floor and basement toilet suffer minus one to all CHASE stats. All other Characters and Dummies suffer minus three to all CHASE stats and have to change their clothes and shower!

Your Turn to Mow
Play against a Character. That Character has to go the garage and mow the lawn, risking Toilet attack and suffering a stat reduction of some kind? Or another penalty?

Your Turn to Wash the Dishes
Play against a Character. That Character is forced to wash the dishes, risking Mold and Disgust.

Unpaid Bills (This would be five separate cards: Gas or Water or Power or Cable or Phone)
Power or Water Cable are turned off, rendering certain Event or Inventory cards useless - cards that have one of the corresponding Tags. I have no idea if your cards have tags, but maybe they could! E.G. Microwave Oven card has a Power Tag, Toilets have Water tags, Stupid Movie Night would have Power and Cable tags, etc.)

How Can a Toilet Cut the Phone Lines? and How Can a Toilet Cut the Power Lines?
The Toilet cuts the phone or power lines, affecting Event or Inventory cards with the relevant tags in the same way as the Unpaid Bills cards do.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ranking the Marvels

This weekend Sylvia and I finished Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix, and we were both very impressed with the show's tone, direction, visual style and story. It definitely sets a high-water mark for Marvel's television efforts, and actually compares very favourably to the films.

Having now seen all of the Disney/Marvel shows and films thus far, here's how I'd rate them:

15. Guardians of the Galaxy
By now my friends and readers are sick of hearing about how much I hated this movie. But just in case you missed it...
Read my infamous review.
14. Iron Man 2
Unlike a lot of critics I didn't think Iron Man 2 was a bad film, but it does suffer from a silly antagonist and a too-obvious effort to lay the groundwork for future movies.
13. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I really didn't enjoy this show at all for the entire first half of the first season. It picked up in its second half, then faltered in season two. I'm enjoying it more now than I was in the beginning, but it's still hit and miss. Here are some silly S.H.I.E.L.D. acronyms I made up.
12. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is an odd duck of a film, more like a really good B-movie than a summer blockbuster. There's nothing really wrong with it, but I struggle to remember any truly standout moments.
11. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
I liked Hawkeye's B-story, the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, and I liked the way the film showed superheroes doing what they're supposed to be doing: saving people. But otherwise I thought this was a little overblown, save perhaps the opening party scene.
10. Thor: The Dark World
As you can see in my original review, I enjoyed The Dark World, but it suffers a little compared to entries that came later.
9. Agent Carter
After Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this show came as a delightful surprise. The period setting really helps, as does Hayley Atwell's take as the lead, Peggy Carter.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Just good fun. My original review.
7. Thor
Kenneth Branagh took a character I'd never been much interested in and made him and his world engaging and wondrous. Here's my review.
6. The Avengers
I gave this film an A back when it first came out, but it fell flat on my second viewing.
5. Iron Man 3
I thought this film did a great job of addressing the catastrophic consequences of The Avengers, and I liked its well-worn "final battle" climax more than most of those found in the Marvel movies.
4. Ant-Man
I found this film a refreshing change of pace from Marvel's usual sturm und drang; the cast is great and the Pym backstory provides needed depth and weight to the world of the Marvel movies.
Read my mini-review here. 
3. Iron Man
The first Marvel Studios movie is still among the best. Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire genius Tony Stark infuses his performance with so much guile and flawed humanity that you can't turn away, and it helps that the story, direction, music and effects match his
2. Daredevil
The Netflix platform gives Marvel's creators the freedom to explore a more mature take on what is, admittedly, a genre that can too easily lapse into silliness. In 13 well-crafted episodes, Daredevil takes us on a compelling journey through the seamier side of the Marvel Universe and its all-too-human denizens; it's worth watching for Wilson Fisk alone, certainly the most compelling villain (perhaps alongside Loki) the studio has yet produced.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel's most ambitious film delivers crackling adventure and solid commentary on one of the most important real-world issues of our time. Read my rave review here. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Leaky Parachute

From the skies tumble tumblers
Disintegrating on asphalt in slow motion
All that booze gone to waste
Shattered, not stirred

Saturday, August 15, 2015

July 2015 Review Roundup

I read a dozen books in July, putting me back on track to meet this year's goal. I started the month with four novels by Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik. SF critics have sung Dick's praises for quite some time, and while I read Castle and Sheep as a tween I clearly wasn't mature enough to delight in their genius at the time; I stopped reading Dick back then. But I'm glad I gave the man's work a second chance, because all four novels are deep and delightful. I was particularly struck by their humanity; Dick's characters may not know who they are, what they want or where they're going, but they often display remarkable empathy; they're almost always in pain, and they have enemies, but they don't often hate - and when they do, even the hate is tainted with love. Sheep is probably my favourite of the four; Ridley Scott's adaptation of the novel, Blade Runner, is a great work itself, but its source material examines the quality of human empathy with astounding richness. It's one of those cases where book and film stand as masterpieces in their own right, each benefiting from its differences from the other.

Two novels by Peter Cline, 14 and The Fold, can't hold a candle to Dick's style and themes, but they're entertaining diversions of pan-dimensional conspiracy and warfare.

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell made a big splash on the SF awards circuit about a decade ago, but I haven't read it until now mostly because of its intimidating size and teeny tiny print. But if you like Dickens, Austen and Victorian-era shenanigans with magic and demons, this is an entertaining ride. It's not particularly deep and perhaps a bit too twee in its efforts to ape the style of the era, but I enjoyed it well enough.

Allen Steele's V-S Day is an alternate history page-turner with an interesting premise, but its flashback structure robs that premise of much of its power. What if World War II was decided not by the A-bomb, but by the space race? Well, we never find out, other than obliquely. Maybe there'll be a sequel. (Actually, this novel serves as a loose prequel to Steele's earlier The Tranquility Alternative, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.)

In July I punished myself with the painful SF flop Jupiter Ascending and the first two films in the long-running Fast & Furious action franchise: The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Jupiter Ascending was ludicrous, but I have to admit that its Cinderella-like premise gave it a tiny bit of heart. The Fast & Furious films are curiously compelling, like the car wrecks that feature so heavily in their stories. In these films the roles of good and evil are curiously inverted; we're meant to sympathize with criminals and abhor the police, even though the protagonists are depicted as outright robbers who endanger innocent lives. Paul Walker's undercover cop character isn't fully sympathetic until he switches sides and joins the drag-racing thieves. And yet, the films are watchable thanks to over-the-top stunts, a decent amount of charisma distributed among its admittedly multicultural cast, and some laugh-out-loud dumbery.

I eased my pain with a pair of documentaries, the beautiful, heartbreaking Life Itself (about the life of critic Roger Ebert) and The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (about the death of the film The Death of Superman.) Life Itself is the far more accomplished film, difficult to watch during many segments as Ebert lives with his cancer; the Superman documentary is probably only of interests to comic book fans.

In July I also screened the surprisingly excellent SF alien invasion thriller Edge of Tomorrow; Tom Cruise pulls a Groundhog Day during a space war, and as a result only he can save the world - but not without dying a bunch of times first.

I was led to baseball film The Natural by Randy Newman's brilliant, tears-inspiring inspirational score; I wanted to hear the music in context. The film doesn't disappoint in that respect; the exuberant scenes on the ball diamond are very exhilarating. But the film as a whole left me a little cold, mostly because the eventual triumph of Robert Redford's protagonist seems a little unearned.

I rounded out the month with blaxploitation classic Cotton Comes to Harlem, nimble Korean actioner The Raid: Redemption, Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and Robert Altman's neo-noir The Long Goodbye. All very solid for their respective genres.

I also screened Ant-Man this month; you can read my positive review here

Friday, August 14, 2015

Big Wheel

In 2000, I helped Allan move down to California. This giant U-Haul was the biggest vehicle I've ever driven. It sure takes a long time to accelerate to highway speed in one of these things. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Small Selection of Singles

Apropos of nothing, on the way home from work today I considered what might be my single favourite works by my favourite musicians. Here are a few selections:

ABBA: "Waterloo"
A-Ha: "The Sun Always Shines on TV"
Marc Almond: "Tears Run Rings"
Louis Armstrong: "We Have All the Time in the World"
Asia: "Heat of the Moment"
The Association: "Windy"
The B-52s: "Deadbeat Club"
Barenaked Ladies: "I'll Be That Girl"
John Barry: "007 Takes the Lektor"
The Beatles: "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"
Pat Benetar: "Shadows of the Night"
The Box: "Closer Together"
David Bowie: "Heroes"
Sarah Brightman: "Eden"
Kate Bush: "Love and Anger"
Johnny Cash: "Ring of Fire"
Collective Soul: "Gel"
Chemical Brothers: "Galvanize"
Nat 'King' Cole: "Unforgettable"
Alice Cooper: "Hello Hooray"
Crash Test Dummies: "Superman's Song"
Daft Punk: "End of Line"
Bob Dylan: "Lay Lady Lay"
Elastica: "Connection"
Fleetwood Mac: "You Make Loving Fun"
Foreigner: "Say You Will"
The Four Tops: "Standing in the Shadows of Love"
Garbage: "I'm Only Happy When it Rains"
Jerry Goldsmith: "Leaving Drydock"
Lou Gramm: "Midnight Blue"
Amy Grant: "Lead Me On"
George Harrison: "What is Life"
James Horner: "Genesis Countdown"
The Ink Spots: "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire"
Billy Joel: "Downeaster Alexa"
Elton John: "Love Lies Bleeding"
Tom Jones: "Sex Bomb"
Chantal Kreviazuk: "Before You"
Greg Lake: "I Believe in Father Christmas"
John Lennon: "Imagine"
Madonna: "Ray of Light"
Paul McCartney: "Live and Let Die"
Bear McCreary: "The Shape of Things to Come"
Stevie Nicks: "Stand Back"
No Doubt: "Hella Good"
Pet Shop Boys: "Where the Streets Have No Name"
Elvis Presley: "Burning Love"
Queen: "One Vision"
REO Speedwagon: "Roll with the Changes"
Marty Robbins: "Ribbon of Darkness"
The Rolling Stones: "Ruby Tuesday"
Roxy Music: "More Than This"
Lalo Schifrin: "Mission: Impossible"
Spoons: "Nova Heart"
Bruce Springsteen: "Brilliant Disguise"
Ringo Starr: "Photograph"
Strange Advance: "Love Becomes Electric"
Talking Heads: "Once in a Lifetime"
Pete Townshend: "Let My Love Open the Door"
U2: "God Part 2"
Vangelis: "Heaven and Hell"
Wang Chung: "To Live and Die in L.A."
John Williams: "The Big Rescue"
The Who: "Baba O'Reilly"
Yes: "Love Will Find a Way"
Neil Young: "Philadelphia"

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pastry Crumbs

Croissant it
Rhymes with nothing how do I
Make a poem out of this 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015

Q2 and Good Shepherd

Adapted from a recent Facebook post...

On Saturday night I finally watched the last two Star Trek episodes I hadn't yet seen: "Q2" and "Good Shepherd," from Star Trek: Voyager. I'd seen part of "Q2" during its original run; a station glitch interrupted most of the broadcast. And hard as it may be to believe, I missed "Good Shepherd" entirely in its first run - I'd simply forgotten Voyager was on that night, and for some reason the VCR didn't catch it. Yeah, I was taping all the episodes back then, typically pausing the recording live to edit out the commercials.
The episodes aired fifteen and sixteen years ago, respectively. It was pretty alarming to see "Copyright MM" in the closing credits of "Good Shepherd," let me tell you...
Why did I wait so long, given that Voyager has been on DVD for years and I bought the sets back when they first came out? I honestly couldn't tell you. Maybe some part of me was saving them as a treat, even though Voyager is my least favourite of the Star Trek shows.
And you know, they were a treat. Neither episode was particularly good, even by Voyager standards, but they were familiar and warm and they espoused the values that brought me to Star Trek in the first place: the importance of working together for the common good, the idea that integrity matters, the search for scientific and ethical truth...
It was nice to take a step back into the 20th century for a couple of hours, even if it was via the 24th.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Have the Vampirestats Bots Given Up on The Earliad?

Some time ago I lamented the nefarious vampirestat robots for skewing my blog traffic results all to heck, so much so that I stopped checking my stats for months. But out of idle curiosity I looked today and discovered that the phony vampirestat url seems to have fallen off the list of my traffic sources, or at the very least I'm getting a lot fewer hits from them. Vampirestats still shows up in the "all time" list, but on this daily chart they don't appear at all.

A couple of the referring urls in the list above look as dodgy as vampirestats, but the majority of the top URLs and sites seems legit, at least to my untrained eyes. So maybe my stats are coming closer to reality, reflecting legitimate visits from humans rather than spambots.

The search keywords are amusing. Most make sense, but I have no idea why "cartoon sex appleseed xiii sex" would result in a hit on The Earliad...

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Tide of Cheerios

Years ago, when Sylvia and I first started dating, I spilled a box of Cheerios on the kitchen floor of my two-bedroom apartment in Baywood Park. Naturally I photographed the calamity. Today I used Photoshop to turn adversity into art. Presenting: A Tide of Cheerios, ready for MOMA. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Earl's On Whyte!

...and acting like a goof, for some reason. I believe Tony Longworth shot these photos sometime during the early 1990s. 

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Tiny Waikiki

Tilt-shifted Waikiki, originally shot when Sylvia and I took a helicopter tour around Oahu in 2008.