Saturday, June 27, 2015

Paramount's Transformers: Age of Extinction

Once upon a time, when I just a wee little Jimbo I loved a toy line/cartoon named Transformers. They were brand new and transformable robots were a new craze. That's right. I'm so old, I remember Transformers, G1. Optimus Prime was the big tough good guy. Megatron was his arch-nemesis and actually transformed into >GASP< a gun!. Ironhide, Starscream, Soundwave (when he was still a boombox), Bumblebee, Scout, I could go on for hours. This was before such newfangled craziness as the introduction of Rodimus Prime or Ultra Magnus. Nobody knew who Blur was because he hadn't been invented yet. Ironhide was simultaneously the best character on the cartoon and the dumbest toy ever made. Seriously, whoever heard of a humanoid robot with no FREAKING HEAD?!?!?!?!? But eventually time went on. I got involved with other geekish pursuits (Star Trek, Star Wars, RPGs and books. Lots and lots of books.) Some of the iterations of the toys/cartoons just got weird. Then awhile later, they started releasing live action Transformers movies, the latest being Transformers: Age of Extinction.

I went into the movie knowing what to expect,. I mean, this is Michael Bay and Transformers right? I got what I was looking for too. Say what you want about Michael Bay and his story telling ability (I'll get to that later)  but nobody does explosions as well as he does. Yes, I've seen and loved every Star Wars and Star Trek movie (Yes, even number one. I was the only person in the theater opening night that liked Jar Jar Binks and was over the age of twelve.) but Michael Bay can do a fight scene better than anyone who has directed in either series of movies. Things go boom. They go hack and slice. Someone lives. Someone dies. It all starts over.

I don't want to spoil too much, but I kind of have to here. If you don't want to see it skip the rest of this paragraph. The new, human made, Transformers and their method of transforming on screen is just awesome. The new "transformium" alloy that scientist Joshua Joyce discovers makes some really cool looking things possible. Watching a Transformer transform not just by moving one part over this way and one part over but by basically disappearing into a cloud and reforming out of nothing was down right awesome. I won't say that it seemed all that plausible, but let's face it. This is Transformers; When you're dealing with a Mack truck that can turn into a thirty foot robot and talk you're not starting from a very plausible place to begin with.  That much being said, I'm going to take this someplace a lot of younger folk may not like.

I have, since the 2007 movie Transformers had an intense dislike of the look of these robots in these movies. Talking about this in public makes me feel like I should tell a bunch of kids to get off my lawn and then drink a Geritol but I remember when the robots looked like robots. I am not at all a fan of the new "organic" look. They're not organic, they're freaking metal. I could see something more contoured. Cars don't look as boxy as they did in 1984 anymore. I'm not good with this whole wires hanging everywhere thing. I'm organic. Do you see veins hanging out of my arms? The spaceship has the same kind of look to it and it's not even a living thing. I could see an organic look if it was necessary to the story. The Invid Clamships from Robotech: New Generation come to mind. For <i>Transformers</i> though? Not so much.

The story here is only kind of okay-ish. I will give Michael Bay this much though; At least he doesn't treat his audience as if they're too stupid to realize that Megan Fox is attractive this time. I wonder if they gave him a high school aged character this time specifically to prevent him from doing that again. The whole father versus boyfriend angle is one that I can kind of feel from both sides being a father of three girls and having not spent my entire life devoid of female companionship. The eventual friendship between father and boyfriend was pretty much inevitable given the plot and the characters do develop a bit over time but it's just too disjointed. We're here we're there we're everywhere. The US government is trying to destroy the Autobots to get a seed and the president doesn't know about it? Umm, no. I get scientists and obsession but there is such a thing as going too far. I can't buy that. And where did the Dinobots get involved?

As far as the Dinobots go, I've been a fan for as long as they existed. Grimlock was an utter badass back in the day.  Swoop provided the air cover, etc. But, unless there was something important that I missed somehow, there was no connection between them and the Autobots/Optimus Prime until Prime showed up like "Follow me or we all die." That sounds like good advice but what reason did they have to believe him? There was no prior relationship established. I get that the movie was almost three hours long but come on. If you can't fit in it, don't put it in. The writers and Bay could have found another way for the good guys to win.

That much being said, this was what I expected. If you want to have fun and not put too much thought into what you're watching, Transformers is a good franchise. It makes no attempt at imitating actual scientific principles or advancing anything that may someday be possible. It's not always all that internally consistent. But things blow up. Chase scenes happen. There is a surprise or two along the way. Explosions happen and the bad guys always get their tails whipped. The quality of this one depends on what you're looking for in your story telling.

Bottom Line: 3.75 out of 5 Hanging wires

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Paramount, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction can be purchased here:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Daniella Bova's Tears of Paradox

I should wait until tomorrow to write this review but I'm going to write it now to try to get some of this out of my system. Daniella Bova has managed, in her book Tears of Paradox to write what amounts to pretty much my worst nightmare. The book is entertaining, gripping and relentless. Bova reminds her audience of the need to protect our rights from our government. Tears of Paradox is the first in the series. I have not read the second one yet. I won't spoil the ending, except to say that it's a cliffhanger. I will say that this tome creeps me out worse than any horror flick I've ever seen and I've seen a metric crap-load of them.

Bova's work is the story of Jason Wallace and his girlfriend, eventually wife, Michelle. It follows them from when they first started dating and through their marriage. The two have their trials. They go through good times and bad times. They deal with issues with their extended family. They worship God the same way. They're there for each other when they need to be. And oh my Lord do they need to be. Not only do they have problems beyond what most married couples do in a very important part of their marriage (I won't spoil what) but they are dealing with the descent of the United States into a Marxist abyss. Things start out bad and get worse.

Bova does a phenomenal job of presenting every Conservatives fears in story form and making it entertaining. We see the loss of personal liberty, the persecution of Christians, the slide into moral decadence and the loss of freedom. She details the fall of the Second Amendment and the rise of "doctors" who quite frankly don't give a rat's ass about what happens to their patients as long as the paperwork is right. The effects of Marxist polices on everything from health care to the economy are exposed and found wanting. Every Rightist who knows a Leftist that has been asked what we're afraid of needs to buy them this book. Every Leftist who would ask the question needs to read this book. Note that Bova doesn't do much with race. That makes sense. Race is not a primary concern for the Right in this country and she did well to leave it out.

There is a strong Catholic theme to this book. It reminds me that I never finished my RCIA and I need to get off my duff and do it, but it's more than that. Bova does an excellent job of portraying Catholics and, by association, Christians in a totally different light than a typical Leftist would. Her Christians are good people with a belief system that they draw strength from. Unlike a lot of authors in the hear and now, Bova portrays her Christians as  warm, loving, caring people who know they're not perfect and simply strive to be the best they can be. They don't agree with much of what's going on around them but they have their reasons and they don't back down. It's not about hatred. It's about their beliefs and a lack of willingness to violate them simply because someone else disagrees with their stance.

Having said that much, you can consider this your trigger warning. If you find a realistic portrayal of religious people offensive you're better off reading something else. If you tend to be the whiny type, unable to read something you disagree with or to be tolerant of someone who disagrees with your point of view maybe you should try something else. I hear there are good vegan cookbooks out there. That's not offensive to you, right?  Have fun with those.

The author's portrayal of the media as a bunch of Leftist propagandists spouting approved doctrine hits home with me. With a few exceptions, it fits the real-world media to a "T". While outlets like Fox News hold the line to a certain point, even most hometown news that I'm aware (and certainly here in Detroit) has a strong Leftist slant to it.

Bova seems to have a good sense of the history of Socialism and the existence of informers. In any truly Leftist society they will be everywhere. Family members, co-workers, it's all been documented, especially with opening of the East Germany archives. Bova impresses me with her ability to make everything uncomfortable. The characters in this book know that someone out there is willing to inform on them. Whether it's the doctor, a co-worker at the pharmacy or the idiot nephew they know where the threats are.

As much as I'd like to say otherwise, this book is not perfectly crafted. Even for someone who agrees with the politics of the book, it comes across as a bit on the heavy-handed side. Message oozes from this book like lava boiling out of the top of a volcano. I mean, I get the fact that this is a political book and I agree with its moral but I do wonder if perhaps a bit more subtlety would not be in order. The characters in Tears are not politicians by any stretch of the imagination but they do talks politics a lot. They agonize about politics regularly. It affects everything they do. It's not that it's an inaccurate portrayal. It's more the ham-fisted approach to making her point that is the problem.

This is also certainly not a book for the faint of heart regardless of religious and/or political persuasion. There is a lot of loss in this book. There is one scene that is bloody to the point of being slightly nauseating. (It needs to be but that's not the point I'm making here.) This thing has the potential of giving me nightmares. It starts about five minutes from now and that is part of the problem. Even with something like The Hunger Games you can kind of blow it off as being nightmarish but ultimately unrealistic. Tears of Paradox is too realistic to be simply shrugged at. Bova brings us face to face with something that could really happen. Indeed, her scenario is one that could already be in motion. It's enough to make you nervous.

That much being said this is still a good book. Bova ends her work with an afterword about why she wrote the book but I don't think it's really necessary. It exists, it reads well and it makes a definite point. I will read this again and I plan on acquiring the second book in the series, The Notice in the near future. I like to think and Bova has my brain working.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 Rolls of Toilet Paper (read the book, you'll get it)

Tears of Paradox
Daniella Bova
Self Published, 2014

Tears of Paradox can be purchased here:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

FilmRise Studio's Atari: Game Over

Long, long ago (in the 1980s) in a galaxy far, far away (or maybe right here in the United States, I get confused sometimes) there was a video game company named Atari and they owned the world. Well, not really, but close enough. It came from nowhere, built a HUGE following (Seriously, if you're around my age you played Atari. If you didn't own one then someone you knew did.) and then it flamed out like a meteor upon re-entry. This meteor, rumor had it, had buried itself and a game named E.T. The Extraterrestrial in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico in an effort to hide the existence of the biggest flop in video game history. The story is told by Zak Penn in his movie Atari: Game Over in cooperating with FilmRise.

 The death of Atari was something that shook the world of one James Ricky McCoy Jr in the mid-80s. The vast majority of my friends had Ataris. I had an Intellivision (I didn't get my Atari until the late 90s, oddly enough) but when Atari fell it took everyone else with it. For awhile there it was assumed that video games had been a fad and would never be seen again. Looking back on it now, we all obviously know the story of the rise of Nintendo and its role in saving the industry. At the time though, no one knew that was coming. I was kind of ticked. I really like video games and I wanted one to play at home.

The story of the rise of the video game industry (in both its coin operated and home versions) is one that has been retold ad infinitum, but what makes Atari: Game Over special is its hook (the search for the lost E.T. games) and the fact that it includes information from so many of the game designers that worked for Atari. Also, the one thing that I don't remember ever seeing mentioned previously is the emphasis on the rise of story-based video gaming after the fall of Atari.  Video gaming underwent a change to the basis of its formulation that could only be fixed by the rise of story and the then-next generation consoles that allowed it. To be fair though, that's not the focus.

The story begins with the story of the E.T. game. It wasn't JUST a flop, it was a floptastic flop. I remember one of my friends buying this game back in the day. We hated it. If we hadn't turned it off at one point, our little E.T. character would probably still be falling now, thirty years later. That game was brutal. What I didn't know until watching this movie (although I'm sure lots of other people knew) was that it had been rushed to market after five weeks in development. That's insane. Game design times were shorter then because the games were simpler but nowhere near THAT short.

There is a brief interlude in the movie where Penn makes his case that E.T. was not a failed game and that Howard Scott Warshaw, the designer of the game,  has been unfairly blamed for the fall of the company. He makes it well. Warshaw was the only designer to have made multiple games for Atari and not work on one that sold less than a million copies. At the end of the day, he has me convinced. 

The story is so much bigger than just the game though. Atari HQ was apparently a party place unmatched even by my first bachelor pad. Things were live there. Details of marijuana use and keggers flow freely at the beginning of the movie. These guys were not the way I pictured them at all. I've always figured that game designers would be like my buddy who makes his living programming: Very intelligent, but kind of uptight. I'll say this much for myself: I appear to have at least gotten the intelligent part right. These guys were party animals. I'd love to work in that type of an environment.

Atari: Game Over is a documentary but it's a very well done one. The host has personality, the people he interviews are entertaining and personable. The gaming enthusiasts (I'm not going to say "nerds.") who appear and can't wait to find out if the games really are buried in the desert are just like me. Hearing the history was cool, but watching these people waiting made me jealous. I'll obviously never get a chance to show up at the actual dig, but I don't think I'll ever stop wishing I was either.

The director of the piece, Zak Penn, got the length of this movie just about perfect at just over an hour. Is there more he could have included? Probably. Are there things he could have left out? Well, probably that too. I don't think he could have cut anything without losing something. Nor do I believe that he left out anything I really had to know. This is one documentary that moves well, bouncing from person to person and subject to subject yet remaining coherent in its narrative. I took a writing class in college where the prof told us that "A paper should be like a woman's skirt: Long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting." Granted this is a movie and not a "paper" per se, but Penn has done exactly that here. Kudos to him.

I won't spoil half of the ending. (The other half being that Atari does indeed fail.) I will tell you that there is a dig in the desert. What, if anything they find (other than sand which they do indeed find in abundance) is something best discovered by watching the movie.  Will our heroes discover what they have set out to find or will they go down in ignominius defeat searching for something that never existed? Will they find the Holy Grail of gaming or be laughed at for the rest of their natural lives? Go find out.  I'm sure glad I did.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Joysticks

Atari: Game Over
Filmrise, 2015

Atari: Game Over can be purchased here:

or here:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Truth About the Anti-Puppies and Leftists in General

I've lived and learned for close to four decades now. I've talked politics with Liberals and Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats and people from parliamentary democracies who think Americans are all nutjobs and wonder why we don't have a real range of choices in our candidates. (For the record, I'd love a chance to chuck the two party system, but it's going to take an environment we just don't have). I've read books in the SF/F genre sure, but also in history in which I hold a degree. (Oakland University, 2010) Something I've noticed in far too many instances is that the Irene Gallos of the world are just too common. It took a psychologist to figure out why.

Jonathan Haidt did the research far better than I could have. He has a Ph.D. in Psychology and I don't. Put bluntly, that makes him much more qualified to offer explanations for human behavior than I am. He also has scientific evidence that is actually falsifiable by anyone who wishes to test them. It's all explained in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. He has actually proven two things:

1.) Liberals in the US are not capable of articulating the arguments of their conservative countrymen.


2.) Conservatives in the US are capable of articulating the arguments of their liberal countrymen.

The reasons he presents are wrapped in psych-babble (he _is_ a psychologist after all) but have to do with a couple of important things: One, he argues that ideology is based on emotion. This rings true to me. Human beings are not rational actors. Every human being thinks that they act in a rational manner. We're all capable of coming up with perfectly logical rationalizations afterward. If you don't believe me, study sales technique. You don't sell something to someone by offering them rational reasons as to why it will be good for them. You sell them something by making them want it. Wanting something is an emotional response. Wanting leads to buying, leads to the salesman getting the money he wants to buy the thing that he wants. Bottom line, every time. If you want it, you'll buy it. This is the reason why so many people smoke, drink, weigh too much, have promiscuous sex, etc. People know that all of his is bad for them but they do it anyway because it's what they want  to do. (Yes I am aware of the effects of addiction. Any addict in existence had experience with their drug before  they were addicted to it though. It's that usage which led to their addiction.) There is a lot of sense here.

The other has to do with how liberals evaluate things versus how conservatives evaluate things. This has to do with a set of sliding moral scales: Conservatives have five, liberals have two. Conservatives are therefore able to understand liberals because conservatives use both of the liberal criteria plus some. Liberals, so says the book, are unable to understand conservative belief because they only understand things based on their two criteria and are leaving out much of the context that a conservative uses. (Read the book if you want the details. It's his thesis and it's too long to go over in detail here.) This is very elegant but, I think, wrong.

I'm not drawing on scientific study or the understanding of the human mind possessed by Mr Haidt. I am drawing solely on my experience as a human being and a student of history. It should be mentioned though that my experience includes living in a blue state. If further includes taking graduate level history courses at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan; a school known for having an annual Labor History conference and a Labor History archive both on campus. My undergraduate mentor was also a labor historian. (And if you speak badly of Dan Clark in my presence we're fighting. Physically.) I've taken seminars with these people, I've seen how they think and I know what they're like. There is no other way to state things: Leftists do not understand rightist thinking because they refuse to listen to it. They keep themselves deliberately ignorant.

Maybe this is not something you can understand until you've experienced it. Seriously, when you sit in a classroom full of people who look at you like you grew a second head when you spit out a fact (and yes, my point of view is biased as well) because they've never heard one. Seriously. Listen to a room full of leftists talk and they'll mention the evils of Capitalism (never what they are, just that they exist) the evils of gun ownership (while ignoring real life statistics on the effects of gun possession on crime in general and violent crime -including rape- in particular. Oddly enough, the fact that gun control laws in the US started in the Jim Crow era for the specific purpose of preventing black men from firing back when people showed up to lynch them gets left out too.) the horrors of rape culture (in the West, where rapists are punished, but not in places like the Middle East where women are executed for the crime of being raped) etc., etc.

The bottom line is that anyone who opposes the liberal narrative is seen as going beyond the pale. It's a weird sort of dynamic when viewed from the inside from an outsiders perspective. I think an example might just be in order. (And yes, I understand that anecdote does NOT equal data, but work with me here.)

One night while in one of my seminar classes (a class in modern US history) the subject of Europe and its quickly increasing Muslim population came up. The professor asked a question.

"What are all of these white people afraid of?"  (For the record, the prof was as white as the new-fallen snow.)

I perked up. "That's a long story. Literally. If you're really interested check out a novel by Tom Kratman called Caliphate. He makes his case through fiction, but you're not going to find a nonfiction history of something that hasn't happened yet. Actually, a lot of you would probably find it offensive. Kratman doesn't exactly go out of his way to make the Muslims look like the good guys."

A guy named Sam looked up. He was very visibly confused. "Why would you read something that's offensive?"

I looked back at him. "I didn't say I thought it was offensive. I said you would. Honestly though, if you want to know what someone who disagrees with you thinks, you have to be willing to listen to what they're saying."

The shock in that classroom was palpable. It went dead silent. I've never been stared at by so many people with their jaws so low to the ground in my life. The prof ended up calling for a break.

All of this brings me back to the Sad Puppy controversy in a roundabout way. Some people are shocked by the comments of one Irena Gallo. I'm not. It's about what I expected. This is what happens when Leftists won't listen. Yes, I get the fact that the argument that the Pups nominated women and minorities. Yes, I get the fact that it is demonstrably true. What all of you people who are shocked are missing is that the arguments don't matter. The other side has no interest in reading them or evaluating them. The Sad Puppies are offensive in their eyes. We didn't follow the narrative. We must be repudiated. I get why the Pups were pissed. I don't blame them. The fact remains that this was predictable.

The principle of not feeding the trolls is an old one in internet terms and it's one worth remembering. You're not going to win the argument with them because they're not listening. When they reject the information you're giving them without evaluating it you're wasting your time. Concentrate on the elebenty bajillion people out there who are not truly the enemy. There are millions of people in this country who read/watch/play SF/F. They're the people you need to recruit. They're the ones who can help us beat Noah Ward in the Hugo Voting. The hardcore Anti-Puppies are haters and haters gonna hate.  And remind me sometime and I'll tell you all about how no rightist could ever truly be a neo-Nazi because the Nazi party (actually the  Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei  or National Socialist German Worker's Party) was a Leftist party. Yeah, it has nothing to do with us nor do we have anything to do with it. Don't ask them to believe that either.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
Jonathan Haidt
Pantheon, 2012

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion can be purchased here:

Saturday, June 6, 2015

ABC's The Quest

Who out there has ever played Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft? Have you read The Dragonlance Chronicles or the Lightbringer series? Have you ever dreamed of being Frodo or Aragon, Sturm or Caramon? Who here has watched The Dragonslayer or The Princess Bride and wished that they could be there, if only for a second to feel the triumph over evil and see justice done? How does that dream about reforging Narsil to defeat the evil demon go again? Have you defeated Lassic or watched Garrosh Hellscream fall dead at your feet? If you get some of these references, you'll love The Quest by ABC. If you get most of them you may have seen it already. If you get all of them and you haven't see it already you obviously don't watch much television.

The Quest is the story of the Twelve Paladins: Reality show contestants who have signed up to fight for the honor of becoming the One True Hero. They battle each other and the enemy. The Quest comes with a twist though: It is not just a reality show. It is also a story about the Kingdom of Everealm and it's fight against Verlox the Darkness. The Twelve Paladins are warriors in the service of the kingdom and competitors for the title of the One True Hero; the person who gets to rebuild the Sunspear and use it to defeat Verlox and free the Kingdom.

The storyline is constantly front and center of the show. The challenges (similar in concept to something you would see on Survivor) follow along with the story of the show, beginning with the training of the neophyte Paladins and continuing through the fight: In later episodes the remaining Paladins (once of each is eliminated in each episode) are actually tested on different aspects of the war itself. Each challenge produces a winner who is awarded with a Mark of a given heroic attribute, sponsored by one of the local kingdoms. It also produces a losing team, or sometimes just collection of people who came in last, of three people who then go to another challenge for immunity. After the immunity challenge, which the contestants refer to as a Fates' Challenge, the two remaining contestants go before the fates to be judged by the other contestants. The final voting is my favorite part of the process.

In most reality shows, the voting is done behind closed doors and whisper campaigns are the rule and voting is done in secret, with the results revealed by the host. Not in Everealm. The Quest has it's own system. Once the two candidates are eliminated, the remaining Paladins are sent out to debate their merits around a table, in the open. After the debate (only a couple of minutes on screen, I'm not sure how long in actuality) the Paladins are led back in front of the fates where the two candidates wait to learn their fate, then line up behind them. When the candidates turn around they see everyone who voted for them, and everyone who did not. This works because the final winner is chosen in a competition and not by vote. It also helps, along with the storyline itself, to get rid of a lot of the backstabbing and intrigue that goes on in games like Survivoror Big Brother. Throughout the show the Paladins are searching for people who exemplify the virtues that the One True Hero should possess.

The fantasy elements of this show are pervasive. The contestants begin the season living and training in a castle. There are fights between sword and spear equipped armies and smaller scale combats between our heroes and Ogres. When Verlox the Darkness is revealed he is shown to be something other than human. There is a crone and a dragon. Potions and orbs abound. Scorpions (Roman-era ballista) are used in quite a few episodes as are swords, shields, bows and of course the Sunspear. At the end of every episode the eliminated Paladin is shown as disappearing magically in a puff of smoke. This seriously is like reading a good fantasy novel (Honestly, if someone from ABC happens across this review I would recommend commissioning a novelization. If it were well done it would sell a ton of copies. I'd buy the first one.) while watching an awesome reality show.

The cast of the show, outside of the Paladins, is also a huge attraction. The heroes are welcomed and guided by Crio, the Steward f the Queen, who is important to the plot in her own right. They are trained by Sir Ansgar the Fierce, a knight with a bit of a temper at times. The Royal Vizier is a regular sight and not the most popular person among the Paladins. Other Non Player Characters are best left as a surprise, but all are entertaining.

My only real complaint about the first season is that it wasn't long enough. The series started with the Twelve Paladins and given that the last challenge is fought by all three remaining contestants, that only leaves us with ten episodes. The storyline does manage to complete over the course of the season but I feel like it could have been extended and enriched. Maybe I'm just complaining because I watched it all in a day and I wanted it to last longer, but I can't help but shake the feeling that a few more Paladins and a few more episodes would have make the show that much more rewarding for viewers and players alike.

I won't spoil the ending except to say that I really enjoyed it. The competition part didn't turn out quite the way I wanted it to, neither my first or second choice won, but the ending to the storyline was pretty epic. There were obviously some special effects employed, thus lowering the "reality" of the reality show, but it's a fantasy storyline so it was necessary. Seeing all of the  Twelve Paladins back in action was both rewarding and fun as well. As for the Sunspear and the final battle with Verlox the Darkness? Watch the show and you'll find out.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Marks of Appreciation

The Quest 
ABC, 2014

The Quest is available for streaming or digital download here: