Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, December 30, 2013

Meatball Heads vs Super Saiyans

So I just watched Madoka Magica.


It was good. More than good, great. But it's also magical girl,  and I have weird feelings about magical girl. Okay I saw it because of Jesuotaku's review and yeah I agree with almost everything she said.  So I'm not going to review it.

I highly recommend it but also let me warn you despite how cute it looks this is not a show for kids. Telling you why would spoil why it's good. But yeah it gets really messed up.

It's one of those shows that made me think. Before I sat down to watch it I jokingly wrote this in my Attack on Titan review. "Every so often I will go on in my head about how the halcyon days of anime are gone. It's all moe and yaoi."

And the more I think about it the more I slightly regret what I said there. Why? Because genres that rely on those to things generally were not written for me. It's okay if I don't like them because I am not their audience.

While I go on and on about the anime "golden age" the thing I tend to forget is that a lot of the anime I had access to as a kid was designed specifically to target the brains of 13-year old boys. And I was a 13-year old boy.

And in a lot of ways magical girl is the female equivalent to shonen fight anime. And damn it they'll take away my shonen fight anime from my cold dead hands.

Let me put it like this. My evolution as a person has been tied to learning when and how to give the, "You have broken nay shattered my unwritten code of honor sir,  and I will stop you  ne'er-do-well" speech.


If I got that with muscly dudes in torn gis with ki attacks why can't girls get it with chicks in fruffy dresses with bubble attacks?

Okay let me back up and say the later seasons of Sailor Moon on Toonami were actually pretty interesting.

Nope not going on about season three of Reboot right now. Nope.

Good times. Good times. Focus Miles!

Anyway I should give magical girl more credit than I do, but I generally don't watch it because yeah I said all that already.

But Madoka Magica was smart enough to make me question all that.

I guess it's time for me to check out that Tenchi Muyo special/spinoff from the bowels of hell.

That's it. Damn it turn it back to the space samurai and pirates.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Anime Movie Review: Trigun Badlands Rumble

God I love Trigun.

The Humanoid Typhon got one hell of a ballad with that one. Humor, action, honor and regret. The only reason why it's not more widely heralded is because it aired right along side Cowboy Bebop often considered to be the greatest anime of all time.

Nope. Not now Miles. Focus. You can drool over Yoko Kanno's music some other time. We're here to talk about Trigun. Or rather the movie which is hard.

For better or for worse the movie is Trigun. I mean that in two ways. First of it doesn't feel like a decade late adoption in any way. This is Trigun. . Everybody acts the way they should, Millie, Meryl and Wolfwood are back. The only real controversy I can think of is that rather than the tone of the later episodes which are all plot and drama heavy the film feels more like the lighter and more comedic earlier ones.

On the other hand it feels like an extended episode in particularly a tonal rehash of episode 4 "Love and Peace" as well as the seven and eight  two-parter "B.D.N".  That's not to say that it's bad or unoriginal. On the contrary it expands on themes in those episodes, but it doesn't feel like a brand new epic adventure.

But hey it's been 10 years and it's been a long time since I've watched the $$60 Billion man save the day. It's entertaining as ever. For those not in the know Vash aka all the other names I called him has a tendency of making it all look like an accident and keeping up the facade of a babbling idiot because he is a strict pacifist who would rather avoid a fight and just be friends with everybody.  Even midway into the series his friends don't believe he is the guy they were sent to find, the man responsible for the desolation of the city of July who has been declared a walking disaster area.

On the flip side the point of the series has always been trying to push Vash to the breaking point where he finally decides be the sharpshooting ubermensch (the movie doesn't touch it but he's not exactly human) he pretends not to be. And here it is. Because of his pacifism Vash has a tendency to make nice with villains he really shouldn't. As long as you haven't and aren't planning on killing anybody he'll look out for you and even then. You know where this is headed. He let some folks off the hook who are causin' trouble now.

Let's go back for a second. The film has a few antagonists but the instigator of the plot is Gasback an ambitious thief. He takes pride in his thievery, determined to do it right. His defining characteristic is that he gets off on big, complicated,  flashy jobs. And this backfired because his gang were just trying to make a dishonest living. Well those mangy varmints backstabed him during a bank heist and that's the first five minutes of the movie, a flashback.

Gasback was going to kill the lead mutineer but Vash who was subtly trying to stop the robbery saves his life.

It may seem like a pointless scene but it establishes a lot of characters and several of the conflicts in the rest of the movie.  Twenty years later Gasback is back, ready to pull the job of a lifetime, looting a $$5 billion bronze statue from a town square. He's not exactly subtle about his plans so the mayor of the town opens the doors to any bounty hunter who might bring him in including, welcome addition to the cast, Amelia. I don't want to spoil her deal but I will say she is a good character.

One odd thing is that throughout the series is that it was always Wolfwood who acted as Vash's foil, the shooter of rabid dogs. Here though that role is given mostly to Amelia, Wolfwood taking on his other role as badass supreme. In combat the man is a beast.

Part of me feels that it detracts a bit from his character. Wolfwood while being Vash's reliable number 2 in a gun fight was a man filled with regret because unlike Vash he could never take third options. In his world it was always kill or be killed.  The man has a cross to bear but, a good chunk of his mid-combat banter was chewing Vash out for holding back knowing how much it could cost them when the bullets are flying.

Like the show the movie is fun. It has it's moments of drama and their good but mostly choose to keep the tone light and focused on the action and adventure.

Anime Movie Review: Summer Wars

My one of my guilty pleasures is that I actually liked and still like the Digimon movie growing up. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that the movie was a cut and paste compilation three much shorter films, and that my favorite bits mostly came from the same one. Our War Game, the plot of which is that a digimon virus "wrecks our shit up".

Notice how almost every moment in the trailer comes from the second "act" (Our War Game) of the movie.

Summer Wars made by the same director of that short serves as an updated stand alone version of that movie.

The Set Up
Before the plot gets going the first act of the movie is all about setting things up.

Family and Character Dynamics
 One of the most interesting things about the movie is that most of the main characters are related and form "the clan".  I come from a pretty huge extended family (My mental joke is that I could raise a brigade if I wanted to.)  and it was interesting seeing on film the dynamics of being in such a large family portrayed.

Everybody loves and supports each other, yet everyone also has their own personalities and interests the family being a unit comprised of yet larger than the individuals who make it up.

There a nice scene where after dinner the protagonist gets to meet some of the family members when they aren't all hanging together, when they're alone doing their own things.

Also one of the central drivers of character conflict is the individual vs the family, maintaining your own identity while still acting in the group. It's subtle and the younger members of the audience probably won't notice or appreciate it, but it's there.

Our Individuals
Summer Wars does a really good job at defining a few key players and how they are related to and deal with the more active problems in the story. I always like films and TV shows that explain how characters personalities and skill sets are likely to play out later and Summer Wars is no slouch in this department. While sure a lot of the family serve as background a good deal of the cast is given something to do pertinent to their previously established traits.

For instance the film explains early on the family matriarch has several political and economic ties so when it hits the fan she's on the phone using that influence to gain intelligence and help perform damage control. The Rolodex of ultimate power!

The family gamer uses his avatar to also hold things down in virtual reality and computer specialists try to code a solution with hardware of epicness. How did the guy get a hold of a university supercomputer! I want one.

Virtual Reality
So in Digimon the audience probably was already on board with the "virtual world" set up.  But here the movie really needs to explain it. And ultimately I like it. While technically it's kind of like Second Life it's bigger than that being more functionally analogous to Facebook or Google. See back in the days of digimon the idea of everything being networked in that way was still sort of far fetched. Sure the futurists could see where things were headed but we were still in a web 1.0 world. The sort of mass user interactivity we have today was still a few years off.  Today though because users expect that sort of convenience almost everybody, business and governments included, have some sort of account with these services and I could totally see the world being turned upside down if Antisec or Anonymous decided to take down Facebook in mass.

(For the love of god if they are reading this don't do it!)

Let me put it this way my cable company allows me to log in through Facebook. Well that's just asking for trouble.  Imagine what would happen if corporate accounts got hacked and their internet and phone service were... (stop giving hackers ideas Miles!).

What about all those companies and institutions that rely on gmail, Google ads and Google Analytics.

My point is that now days  the mass havoc that ensues when things get screwed up is much more plausible. There is a reason why Google's slogan is "Don't be Evil"

And don't get me started on Visa, Amazon, GoDaddy and Paypal. We are living in the days when the Queen of England's phone can be hacked.

It also might seem a little silly all of this stuff being represented visually but the art and animation are awesome enough to pull it off.

It's Japanese (Thank you captain obvious)
Something to keep in mind in this movie is that it is very culturally Japanese.  When I said clan earlier I was being literal. These guys are an old samurai family who talk of the glory days, and our villain is a visual reference to Raijin. At the movie's nadir Seven Samurai is quoted and the climax involves an epic hanafuda game, which is an adaptive nod to an American movie that both films are an homage to.

 Well baseball is universal at least.

The Second Act
So stuff happens. What is really amazing about the film is how many tones it has and none of them seem forced. The comical first act the somber moments in the second and the franticness of the third all seem organic and authentic. This movie has range.

Particularity there seems something very real about how the movie portrays death in a family like this.

Our Summer Game
If you've watched Digimon you've basically seen the last 40 or so minutes of this movie with the exception of a few well placed twists. I'm not going into spoilers. Digimon was more so about the giant.. oh screw it. The movie is 13 years old. The virus launches nukes and the race is on to fix things before kaboom.  And yes that is more or less the third act of Summer Wars but because the characters were so well set up everything has not just those immediate stakes but also personal ones that transcend the usual let's save the world because who else will stuff.

The core of the movie isn't about the overt conflict of nuclear obliteration, rather the nature of family.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Anime Review: Attack on Titan Season 1

So I haven't talked about this yet. The rest of the internet is. Heck Team Four Star even started a fan parody dubbed abridged series of a show that wasn't even officially dubbed yet.

Is the show that good?

Oh hell yes!

Every so often I will go on in my head about how the halcyon days of anime are gone. It's all moe and yaoi. Seriously how many protagonists are there floating around right now who can't be described as average Japanese high school students.



Crashing through the gates like ... where was I going with this?

Okay, context. In a world. I don't mean to start like that but it is unclear how the backstory happened. Anyway in a world where carnivorous humanoid monsters roam the countryside, humanity is protected by a giant wall... because those are never breached.  Guess what happens in the first 5 minutes?!

Yeah. Oh and it is horrific. Buildings and bodies and oh the humanity. And the aftermath with the refugee camps and discrimination.  The initial attack instills in our young protagonist a quest for vengeance for the sake of his mom who was killed when the wall fell.

And anything after that would involve spoilers about why now and the show is too damn good.

Apart from those though the monster fighting sequences are breath taking. What drew me to anime as a medium was action. A masterful artist has the capacity to depict the movement of the human body in ways a camera just can't, at least not without a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of harnesses, winches, dollies, fight choreographers and stunt actors and the insurance to maintain all that. And since one of the main weapons of the good guys is a harness they use to fly isn't the right word. How would Buzz put it. Falling with style, the show is rife with the sensation of movement.

Remember all of those awesome Spider-Man positions as he web slings to show the movement through his anatomy and musculature. You could teach a class with the stuff in this show. Yes partially because the titans are naked. Get you hayucks in now.  But it's mostly because the animators put so much attention to detail into how cloth, the human body, muscles, hair and bone move.  When there is a fight and, god there will be fights, you can see muscle flex before a punch.

It's sort of spoilery but later in the show there is an extended running chase sequence and I was just amazed at the form of it. I'm not an athlete but damn in that moment I wanted to take up track.

And while the science nerd is geeking out it all works towards the show's gothic horror autistic because the titans are well into uncanny valley territory.

You can catch it on Crunchy Roll and Funimation.

Anime First Impression: Log Horizon

So what put me in the frame of mind to play WoW is that I caught and liked Log Horizon a new anime you can catch on Crunchy Roll, or Hulu.

Here is the thing I have always liked the set up of virtual reality gone wrong. Hell to this day the I consider the Matrix one of the most interesting well made movies ever.

That said it's not exactly an original.

My experience with this premise, being stuck in an MMO unable to log out goes all the way back to .Hack//Sign which I really really like. But as of late it's been cropping up again with .Hack//Quantum and Sword Art Online.

And mostly I'm going to compare this to SAO since it's incredibly similar in not only the premise but the plot, both .Hacks being about the characters trying to figure out what's going on and fix it rather than merely survive and make a way for themselves in the world.

While SAO was fun after turning my brain back on I realized Kirito, the protagonist is kind of gamer Marty Stu, most of the conflict of every episode coming down to when will these boners realize just who they're messing with and pee their pants.   The action scenes were good enough that I didn't really think about that during the show... unless they were doing weird romance crap. The second arc does not exist.

The point of that show really is seeing a nigh unstoppable bad ass version of yourself being the only hope of that world and while sort of stupid most of the time it works.

Again I know about the novels, but I feel Log Horizon is SAO done smarter. Yes in a way Shiroe, Log Horizon's protagonist is a Marty Stu as well but it also seems justified because he's a hero we don't get to see a lot of. He's a different type of hero for a different type of story. See the reason why people hold Shiroe in such high regard isn't because he's the strongest player, on the contrary he plays a buffing mage class and everybody knows how squishy they are. No he's the hero because he's smart, being a player who before the apocalypse was famous for understanding and utilizing all of the rule sets in the game to max efficiency and famous after because he catches on quicker than most how those rule sets have changed.

And that's mostly what the show is about because it's not just the rule sets for the game that have changed but for life. The major difference from SAO is that players are virtually immortal and the fact that death has no meaning makes everything else have little meaning. Shiroe's goal is to basically use the rulesets of this new world to restore some of the struggle that is life and keep the player base from devolving into eloi.

Doing this requires both he and the show to not only understand the game's rules but humanity's. Why do people do what they do? What motivates us as a species. Why do all of the systems and rules we have artificially constructed around ourselves exist?  Economics? Law? Politics? Artistry?

Those are really interesting questions.  I don't know if the show is up to the task of answering them but it has my attention.

Apart from that it's also interesting that the game in the show seems to actually have well defined rule sets. There are almost more than one player of any given class. So far at least it never feels like something they just made up to vanish away the conflict of the hour.  And if you play MMORPGs these rule sets will feel familiar and make sense. They actually describe and show party dynamics and what tanks, DPS and healers actually do.

Heck the game is basically Lineage II

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Toolbox vs the Singular Path

So against my better judgement I got back into playing World of Warcraft. I've always been a casual player so take what I say next with a grain of salt. And also a lot of what I'm going to be talking about has been discussed by the Extra Credits guys better particularly their tutorial, depth vs complexity, and choice,  videos.

Also you might want to read Mark Rosewater's, head designer of Magic the Gathering, article "This Land is My Land" which explains the concept of "strictly better" which I'll get to in a second.  Why am I giving you homework?


As I was saying I got  back into WoW and I like it a lot better than I remember but my primary criticism of it is still there. There seems to be a lack of customization. And after some thought that seems like a byproduct of deliberate design. If you're this level go to this place where you'll complete these quests which tell you to go to this dungeon, and get this gear. All of which makes me feel less like a badass knight errant and more like a guy checking off his grocery list after a while. In short the game doesn't feel like this.

It feels like this.

And the weird thing about it is that I felt the exact opposite about another recent game I played. About a month or so ago Iron Brigade was part of Xbox live's "Games for Gold" program.

I was amazed at how much I felt like I was making active style choices in that game despite the fact that it was really simple. Before I returned to WoW part of me wanted to write something about that but I got lazy. Now though that agency has a new context that I think deserves a post.

A Brief History of my History With RPG's
To understand my feelings on MMORPGs you kind of have to know a little about my history regarding them. Just as I was becoming a teenager my folks bought a brand new computer "for school". My mom had a laptop that I "liberated" whenever I had a day off school, but what I had an old Windows 95 machine a long time past playing anything other than old school demos. I never had an atari but boy did I get good at Battlezone and Millipede. I remember being pissed because I bought Black and White and couldn't install it on my old heap and the frame rates for the Sims were pretty lousy as well. Anyway, a lot of stuff happened around 2000 including a new rig, that in my eyes made it a golden age of video games for me. Well a golden age of video games ...and movies...and music.

Okay nostalgia aside let me put it another way. To this day almost every major western RPG that comes out has Bioware's fingers on it. (What about Elder Scrolls? Shut up!) This is the era where they go their start. And yes this post will reference their work a lot.

When I got my new computer the thing I realized pretty quick is that some genres just did better on a PC and western RPGs were one of them. As a gamer I always gravitated towards RPGs and strategy games. For everybody who hates it now this is why Fable and Knights of the Old Republic were such big deals to me.

One of these days I need to make a list of good Star Wars games.

They ware the only western console RPGs that felt like the stuff I already had on PC. Even the JRPGs were starting to feel a little dated with almost no voice acting and a very static turn based structure. Don't get me wrong most of the golden stuff I'm talking about is still turn based but it doesn't feel like it because the turns are so quick unless you bring out a special action.

The failure of RPGs as a genre though is that they are scripted.  With a standard FPS, cut scenes aside, I always controlled my destiny. The weapons I chose and how I used them were all up to me. With RPGs on the other hand as a player I was always aware that I was a character in a pre-written story. 

I love Neverwinter Knights. It is the golden benchmark by which I judge all other RPGs. 

Its toolset helpd to allviate this problem.

But in single player a dialogue tree is still a list of stuff the game will allow you to say. You do not have unlimited options.

My History With MMORPGS
And this is the reason MMORPGS excited me.  Rather than interacting with a bunch of bots players would interact with each other in a living breathing world. God, I miss G4's Portal.

Think of it as sort of a proto MMO Grinder.

Anyway what brought me on board was the idea that particularly in my character's interations I would be more free making it feel more like I was in control rather than just a slave to the developers who had calculated my every move in advance

Because of this I never engaged with MMORPGs the way most players do. Heck in those days the rules were still being written.

Leveling, the grind, dungeons, and even loot didn't matter to me so much as seeing cool places and engaging in the world. As a result I hip hopped across a lot of these. Before settling on Everquest as my default.

That said in regards to actually providing what I was looking for I would say Shadowbane was the best allowing for user created cities and vendors. The only reason why I stopped playing it was because the game expected a broadband connection in the days before YouTube made it compulsory and was pretty buggy and laggy on my PC.

Why Was WoW Revolutionary
While I rip on WoW it was revolutionary. What people forget when thinking about the glory days of Everquest is that the internet was just starting to look like it was now. What's a wiki? Everquest didn't tell you anything and the internet was not going to save you. Playing MMOs now, even WoW you would be amazed at how many times I tab out to see where an NPC is or where is the best place to get crafting items, but back in the day you were mostly on your own. I have 4 guides for EQ.

In WoW both the interface and the mechanics were geared towards steering the player toward the information that was most pertinent to them, and making the information and by extension the mechanics that weren't impertinent.

For instance most RPGs allow players to adjust stats during character creation. WoW doesn't. And while part of me is bummed by that it's a good thing. What are "good" stats for your build are going to largely be determined by your race and class anyway and that early in the game most players wouldn't understand what all of the stats meant anyway.

Unreasonable Knowledge
One of the most infuriating things as a gamer is when game expects you to understand game mechanics before explaining them. It sucks when you lose in a way you didn't even know was possible because the game didn't tell you thing x is dangerous.

It also sucks to lose because the game didn't tell you about a mechanic you could have utilized to help you.

For a practical example of this I dare any Civ fan to watch Game Grumps let's play of Brave New World without screaming "God damn it, Ross!"

And this is the problem in the genre WoW was trying to solve.

Let's take character death. In Everquest when you died you lost not only exp but also your items. You could get them back by looting your corpse, risking doing the thing that caused you to die in the first place. This created a scenario where a player would be punished for not knowing a ledge was too high to climb or that a lake was too deep to swim, things that the player shouldn't necessarily be expected to know without trail and error or being explicitly told.

WoW says, "you know what" dying interrupts gameplay and that is punishment enough. Get back to the raid."

The Singular Path
Despite my praise though I can't help but feel something's missing. It seems WoW solves the problem of unreasonable knowledge with the singular path.

Rather than having a lot of game mechanics that the majority of players aren't going to understand let alone use the game tries to streamline things.

The thing that originally turned me off of WoW was the crafting system. Rather than trusting me to understand recipes and components it implied, "hey you, this is the armor you want here is the skill you need to make it and here is the skill you need to get that stuff, don't worry about anything else as a matter of fact after you got that covered nothing else exists."

It enforced a two crafting skill limit.

More recently what annoys me is that now only hunters can use ranged weapons. I never intend to one shot kill anything but it was nice to be able to kite stuff in order to lure it away from other Mobs that might join in so I don't have to fight 10 guys at once. (Note: I think throw is stupid. In terms of flavor I always thought crossbows were a good melee helper while my more traditional rangers went longbow.)


Because they figure ranged weapons aren't optimal for anybody other than hunters so nobody else uses them so nobody else should have the option to use them.

It ticks me off because I favor Da toolbox.

Da Toolbox
Da toolbox is basically when the game lays out multiple tools normally, gameplay mechanics, for me to reach my objective or solve the problem of the game but doesn't tell me how to use them, instead allowing me to decide for myself how I want to win or even in some games like Minecraft and Sid Meier'Pirates what is winning.

Whenever I play Total War or Civilization I'm almost never thinking about the game's victory conditions instead normally working towards my own goal. "This guy seems like an asshole so I will end him. Don't care how many troops I lose, or how bad the economy tanks."


"I will be Lord Grand Marshall of the western territories!!!!! God wills it!"

(How many times did we fail trying to invade Canada again? Shut up.)

The problem with the tool box is that it relies on multiple game mechanics and if the game doesn't explain how each mechanic effects the game as a whole you're right back with unreasonable knowledge.

Despite my eternal love of the Total War franchise I will always hold a grudge that it took me a year to figure out that I could convert castles into towns and vice versa in Medieval 2. Oh the eastern invasions I could have held off.

Or for an even better example that armor upgrades appeared visually in the field so I could tell how bad ass the enemy army was by looking at their armor. The game never explained that so it took forever for me to notice it. Or in Empire looking to see if the enemy troops are firing by rank rather than a single massed volley.  I think it's an even fight heck even better on my side because I have more guys then WTF. How many armies I could have saved through tactical withdrawal.

Welcome Back Soldier
This is what I love about Iron Brigade.  Your trench i.e. combat mech is customizable. Eh hem I can't help it.

The game does a really good job of explaining

  • What each option does.
  • What scenario is each option suited for.
  • The best way to alter your game play style for each choice
  • The opportunity cost of each option
The best part though is that it is very rare that any loadout is strictly better than the others. Used the right way a sniper wielding engineering trench can be just as good as a machine gun/artillery wielding assault trench. There is no obviously right way to play.

Furthermore it's really easy to change the loadout. If I'm not digging my choice it's a cinch to change it. 
I don't have to deal with the sunk costs fallacy keeping me from rolling a new character. 

All of this culminates in me feeling like when I make its my choice rather than the game pushing me into something. 

An Informed Choice That Matters
Iron Bridade fascinates me because there are relatively few game play mechanics compared to other "toolbox" games yet I still feel the choice. Once you get down to it you can only really change three things about your mech, but those three things have direct visible impacts on gameplay.

Not only that but because the game is so good at explaining the predictable outcomes of player decisions the player is making an informed choice. I am choosing the sniper riffle because I like being able to hit single targets well at a distance. I am choosing a machine gun because although it deals less damage and aims worse, it can fire suppressing fire against at massed enemies.  I am choosing the shot gun because although it sucks at a distance it has stopping power.

The game tells me what I can do not what I should do.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Television Review: Vikings

In my darkest night it is the tale that leads me forward to persevere on this forlorn journey that is life. I am small and I am weak, but I look to those stories and seek lions. Men and women who grasped what they wanted without hesitation, who would not waylaid by doubt or other men.

I seek the whirlwind in the hope that I shall become the tempest itself. I will earn this name! I choose it not as some coy joke but for when I die as all men must all those who mourn me will say, "that cipher of a man had the wolf in him, a fury and restlessness unbound and untamed."

Tonight I watch Vikings.

Anyway Vikings loosely tells the story of Ragnar Lodbrok, a historical figure who is said to have become king of Sweeden. I say said so called because dude it was the dark ages, so called because we now very little what happened then.

Anyway Vikings follows Ragnar in both the quest and the later fall out of the journey west to the land of the Angles.

But before I delve into that let's get this straight. These are fuckin' vikings! While I like the badassary that ensues we are talking about pillaging, looting you know viking stuff. Whenever watching historical drama you have to allow for some values dissonance. That said, I have inadequacy issues so yeah this show taps right into my empowerment fantasies. Mastering new technology, bringing untold wealth to your homeland, inciting revolutionary change, bringing forth glory to yourself and your family that will last the ages, and generally kicking huge amounts of ass.

There is no west? There is no west? THERE IS NO WEST?!

It also helps that I really like the protagonist. See Ragnar starts the tale as a farmer, loyal to his king but he has eyes, eyes that see across the sea and gaze upon glory. There is a west, a west of riches and plunder unheard of if only one has the balls and brains to tie the rigging and man the helm.

Regardless of the fate of the journey Ragnar has chosen to disobey his king, who commanded the men to sail east to the Baltic.  

But enough with plot, what really makes the show is the world. Ragnar does not exist in a vacuum. There is an alienness to this place that intrigues. Apart from historical accuracy everything is believable. These are men have all they have acquired through guile, strength, theft, cruelty and ruthlessness. Compassion is a vice here, a vice that will kill.  The mortar that builds viking sagas is not soft.  Do not pray to God for mercy for you will receive none at the hands of these men. This is no story for the weak or the dim. Though the mad may just survive it.

The supporting cast further advances the world. A captured monk, a jealous brother, a fierce wife, a clever son, a tyrannical king, a mad genius shipwright, all of these character have their own tales to tell and the actors do so impeccably.

Also the sweeping musical score adds to every victory and loss on the journey. The cinematography and costumes are also amazing.

When I complain of the laze of cop drama it is shows like these I contrast.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Review Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

I have the sense of humor of a third grader.  I find a good dick joke hilarious, and fart jokes ain't half bad either. As such I tend to like a lot of movies a lot of other people write off.  One of these days I'm going to write a Joe Dirté review.

But for now I'm going to go with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Before I get into the movie some background. Let's talk about Kevin Smith.

Who is Silent Bob?
So in the early 90's a new vanguard of indie directors took to the scene. What made these directors so unique was that they were able to make relatively successful movies at incredibly low costs. Much lower than conventional wisdom at the time said you could.

Remember these were the days before broadband. Even if you managed to finance and produce a movie independently you would still need to get it picked up by a distributor to be seen. You couldn't just post it YouTube.

The golden triumvirate of these guys were Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs

Robert Rodriguez with El Mariachi.

And Kevin Smith with Clerks

Clerks is the movie that put Smith on the map, not counting the soundtrack and marketing he produced the film for about 25 grand. Nearly unheard of. I like Clerks but I tend to cut it a lot of slack because of its low budget.

Anyway like anybody would Smith wrote himself as the protagonist but later decided he didn't want to memorize all of that dialogue. So he cast himself as a new character who didn't have to say anything. Silent Bob. Bob along with his "heterosexual lifemate" Jay have been in most of Smith's early films.

I love Kevin Smith movies but even I'll admit he's not as diverse as his contemporaries, usually doing his best work when writing down to earth slackers, or beings who have the snark of down to earth slackers.

As such Smith decided to eventually give the two perennial slackers their own movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Continuity Cavalcade
Apart from the toilet humor the movie also banks on the continuity of the view askew universe. Up until this movie most of Smith's movies were similar in tone. Okay think about it like this. Let's go to Dogma, Smith's forth movie or rather a conversation held in Dogma about John Hughes.

A lot of fans hold that most of John Hughs' movies, Bueller's Day Off, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo's Fire,  and Weird Science take place in the same universe due to their similar tone and themes. Well same thing with Smith movies, Jay and Silent Bob being the node that holds them all together.

As such the movie is abound with references to his other movies often providing a where are they now for his other characters.

The movie is designed for for people who are intimately familiar with the Smith oeuvre.

The Forth Wall
Something weird about both Jay and Silent Bob is that they are both somewhat caricatures of the personalities their actors had when Clerks was being written. Keep in mind that was like 20 years ago or 10 years from when this movie was made.  neither Jason Mewes nor Kevin Smith are exactly like that now but Jay is Jay. And the plot of the movie plays with that.

The main plot is that a comic book mentioned in one of Smith's previous movies which features caricatured versions of the pair has gotten picked up for a movie and Jay and Silent Bob are concerned about their portrayal.

The conceit also acts as a nice way for the movie to make fun of itself, as well as the fans and actors.

This  movie is littered with actors. Jamie Kennedy, John Stewart, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Mark Hamill, Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Diedrich Bader, Shannon Doherty, Jason Biggs and even the late great George Carlin. Sure most of these are cameos but it's clear most of these actors were having fun.

Visual Comedy
I always believed that Kevin Smith was great at visual comedy.

And here is no different.

But a lot of the humor are inside jokes.

This movie has always been one of my guilty pleasures.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For What It's Worth

Okay despite being a blogger I really really hate telling people what I think politically, normally doing so when I'm far enough removed from things that my opinion doesn't amount to a hill of beans, or when I hit a wall and have absolutely nothing better to write. But it's starting to trouble me how many people think I agree with them and am actively siding with them at meetings.

I am not an elected official. I am not a neighborhood association president or even officer. Hell I still live with my parents so I don't even pay property tax. I represent nobody but myself. While I might occasionally entertain mad desires to rule the world hachchchahahahaha. (Seriously I should get back to my Civ game. Eat it Bismark.) I'm just a dude and the actual pressure of having real power would probably make me have a nervous breakdown after five minutes. To quote Bill Cosby, "I've seen the boss' job and I don't want it."

But like I said it is really troubling when it's clear people I respect yet fundamentally disagree with think I'm, "on their side." Counter intuitively there is a point where claiming objectivity and trying to maintain the guise of neutrality becomes dishonest.

So against my better judgement I'm putting my chips on the table and telling people what I think of specific Southfield Council policies and decisions.

Yep this is totally going to bite me in the ass later isn't it?

Hail to the Conquering Hoplites (If I weren't apathetic about sports March Madness would be a nightmare though admittedly I'm proud of Ross Weaver, Gabe Watson and Aaron Miles)
I failed out of The University of Michigan's Engineering school went through Oakland Community for a while and eventually got my B/A at Michigan State. I don't talk about it or advertise it. I have complicated emotions and if you really want to get into my head space at the time read my short story "The Fallen Warrior" which as much as I hate to admit it ain't exactly fiction. Sometimes I write to deal with what's going on in my head.

Anyway my point is I spent some time traipsing around both Ann Arbor and East Lansing.

Instead of doing the smart thing prior to graduation and looking for a job I put all  my excess time and energy into making a short documentary for a final project, testing everything I learned and pushing myself harder than I ever had.

...And I graduated having to move back in with the folks, which I still am. I'm not bitter... much.

When I got back home I was disappointed. Partially that the world wasn't my oyster like I had hoped but also that I no longer had access to all the stuff I had taken for granted when I was back at school, both schools.

Ever since I've left I've been quietly pining for college life. Not necessarily the classes or the exams, oh god not the exams. But rather the college town vibe.

  • Walkablity
  • Pedestrian Lighting
  • Public Transportation
  • Interesting and Engaging Activities and Attractions
  • Public Art
  • Public Performance
  • Density
  • High End Efficiency Housing (Apartments and Lofts)
  • Restuarants (I miss New York Pizza Depot and Georgio's I had pizza options back then)
  • Street Activity (Merchants, Buscers, Hot Dog Venders, ect)

The Circle of Control (Application of the Serenity Prayer)
My overall opinion is that Council exercises too much control for those things to spring forth organically. For instance while now people are cool with the Face to Face and DIA Inside/Out art projects Council gave them the screws when they first came to town, so much so that I can't see somebody being able to just paint a nice mural on the side of a building and have them be cool with it even if the building owner was.

No Banksy for us.

Something like The Rock or Wave Field would never fly.

Moreover they tend to micromanage developments and projects. Part of me is cool with that because they're elected but also part of me thinks it really hampers things. They aren't experts. When an engineering firm says they took all of this stuff into account, drainage, stakeholder's meetings, money, traffic, structure, weathering, construction windows, aesthetics,  materials and then somebody on council puts their finger on a map and says I want this moved here it, kind of makes me wince.

In addition to that I think property owners should have more freedom. Unless there is a clear public hazard I should be able to build what I want on the property I paid for. Especially when what council wants is going to have economic impacts on my business. Why can't I build a taller sign or operate at hours of my choosing? There have been some meetings where I heard them complain about the color of someone's marketing logo.

Come On. It Would Be So Cool. Do it! Do it! Ah they aren't gonna. (Said in my head a hundred times)
My second general criticism of Council is the reluctance to try new things. We had a chance to build a bioswale of the first of it's type in the country. In the country. IN THE COUNTRY! How bad ass would that be.

Oh San Fran, beat you to it. Oh what was that Boston? You want to build this thing thing we did months ago? We could have been environmental architectural gods!

Nope. Didn't happen.

Sure we'll get a rain garden. Which by the way I am in support of. But god reach for the stars people! Go big or go home!

And to top it off a grant would have paid for the bulk of it.

Free-Market Development
Well I'm getting the big ones out of they way. I think council is also a little too choosy about development. Before development can happen someone has to buy the property. Even if that happens closing deals takes a while so every time council turns away a developer or even hassles one too much for my liking it kind of bugs me.

It means that the building is almost certainly going to be vacant for at least another 6 months. It just feels like all the dominoes were lined up for something cool to happen and then screeching tires. Even when a project isn't flat out denied I'm uncomfortable with all the changes developers have to implement in order to build  in the city. Like I said my instinct is unless there is a clear public hazard a person should be able to build what they want on the property they've purchased. If the market is over saturated or customers don't like the shop it will fail and something else will go there.

The Buddhist Temple
The most extreme example I can think of is when an already existing Buddhist Temple wanted to add a parking lot so guests wouldn't have to park in the street or in a nearby park.  Oh it got it's parking lot, but god sitting through that was mind numbing. Just give the monk his parking lot already. It's not a strip club. It's not a casino. It's not a bar. It's not a restaurant. It's parking lot for an already existing Buddhist temple. What's going to happen, people are going to be ahimsa'ed out of their homes?

Green Space Run Amok
I greatly respect Councilman Fracassi. He has been involved in Southfield government almost twice as long as I've been alive.  But every time he talks about how the city lacks green space my brain breaks. This is where the generational gap comes in I suppose. I can't see myself having kids for a good long while. And as a result I do not revere lawns like my parents do. They are a hassle. They cost money and time to maintain and the set back is a nightmare for pedestrians and marketing alike. When your shop is a football field away from the road it is hard to see.

There are two acceptable reasons for such heavy green space in my book.

The first is for the event the road gets widened, and honestly I think that one is on government. It shouldn't be a standard thing to keep asking businesses for set backs because the Road Commission keeps getting delayed. It ain't right dang it.

The second is public safety. I hate football fields of useless greenery but I also hate dark alleys with hookers and drug dealers, as well as fire hazards even more.

Note: I forgot to include drainage. Drainage is a good reason.

Overall though, every time I see a big swath of green space that isn't an official park and designed as such I start thinking of all the stuff that could of been put there. Sidewalks, bulletin boards, drive throughs, pedestrian walking trails, vendor carts, bus shelters, benches, pedestrian lighting, utility stations, even outparcel development.

Instead I just get grass. Speaking of which.

The Grass Distraction
This one isn't on council as much as it is on all of us. Metro Detroit has a grass problem. And whenever anyone wants to talk about about how far Detroit has fallen they always bring up the grass.  It's a distraction. Part of the reason why it's such a big problem is because as mentioned, in my book lawns are a luxury.  If it's a choice between rent, electricity, medicine, groceries, and gas for the mower guess which one I'm not choosin'. As a result I feel that suburbanites, me and mines included harping on Detroit's grass problem when there is a 17 percent unemployment rate is a bit disingenuous.

Now an argument can be made that "curb appeal" is necessary for maintaining property values and keeping the economy from sliding more but I am sick and tired of people using the grass thing as a way to somehow claim they are better and "care more".

I Thought I'd Mix Things Up A Little
I also don't think Council has faith in mixed use development. They'll go along with it...kicking and screaming... if it winds up not looking so much like mixed use development towards the end of the day.

Again in the college towns I lived in mixed use was everywhere. You might find an apartment above an Urban Outfitters or even in the same building as music club.

For my two cents it's all about connecting goods services with people and limiting the space between the two. Look I'm not a planning expert so I can't explain it well, but I just liked where I studied, shopped, and ate being close enough together that travel time became a non issue. After class I could without deviating from my route pick up medicine at the pharmacy, grab a slice, and browse at Borders all while still having time to head to the dorm and switch books between classes.

You know that thing I said about green space. Same goes for parking. Word for word.

Not as bad as you might think. You get used to them.

I've said my peace on that here. And even if you don't read it you can probably guess where I stood from everything I just said.

I legitimately think council wants walkability but they don't get two things about it.

It has to about transportation. It's not just oh people want to exercise. It's about encouraging people to use their feet and other modes to get from place to place by reallocating some of the resources traditionally solely focused on automobile transportation to making other types of transportation viable. People don't just want to walk in a circle. You have to connect them to places that have desirable goods and services.

Also I don't think they get scale. When you're walking, a quarter mile or about 1300 feet is about as far as you're willing to go out of your way. Really counting the distance to get back that's a half mile. Design for pedestrians has to keep that in mind. Otherwise there is no change in mindset. You're doing what governments have always done sacrificing other transportative modes for the sake of  automotive transportation. I mind it but as stated in the preface I'm kind of a freak. But still if you're going to shift the balance shift the balance. Call a duck a duck.

Lighting and Sound

Part of what made both Ann Arbor and East Lansing feel safe enough to walk around, especially at night was the feeling that the city was still alive after dark. A huge part of that was pedestrian lighting and night time activity. Two things I think this community just doesn't want. Again I'm kind of a freak.

Nobody is really comfortable having a place stay open past 10 or even keeping the lights on.  Every time a new development comes forth I always hear "When do you close?" and the pressure to close early.  Well don't be surprised when every business in town does.

Not only that but I also hear people complain about lights. Okay I get people may not like them but again I'm not going out when it's pitch black. Lighting is a much needed safety feature.

December 16, 2013 Regular Southfield City Council Meeting

Regular Meeting of the Southfield City Council held on December 16, 2013

Topics Include

  • The Jonna/Former St. Bede Development Particularly the Residential Portion of the Site Plan
  • A Mixed use Development of Civic Center Drive
  • A Joint Resolution Recognizing Councilman Sidney Lantz

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Special December 16, 2013 Southfield City Council Meeting

Special Meeting of the Southfield City Council Held on December 16, 2013
Topics Include

  • An Update For the Evergreen Road Project Particularly regarding Signage
  • Upgrade For Channel 15's Equipment helping in broadcasting City Council Meetings
  • Year End Fund Balance Allocations

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Southfield Police Citizen Observer Crime Bulletin December 2-8, 2013

Once Marathon: Season 1 Episode 2 The Thing You Love The Most

You know the drill let's do this.

Henry is Kind of A Douche
You know Henry is my favorite character but man can he be harsh to Regina.  Her entire thing is being desperate for love and in the early episodes Henry keeps shooting her down. Kid at least be civil.  The show explains that yes. Henry is right, but the characters don't. It makes me want to cut them some slack even Regina.

The How of The Curse
So we know right of the bat there is a curse but this episode seems to be about the how.

Maleficent The Reformed
I love retired monsters. Maleficent comes of pretty good having mellowed from her dragon on the mount days.

Unlike Regina she got over her defeat. Eh you live. You learn you get a pet. It will give you unquestioning loyalty and affection. It has to or no treat.
Anyway she serves a great foil to Regina who wants to watch the world burn.

The scene also establishes that despite her desperation for approval the Regina will betray and harm those she cares about. Then there is her daddy issues. FINISH HIM!

Lies Files and Magic Spells
I think it gets overplayed later but it's interesting how Regina's own actions bite her. She doesn't that you can't "handle" people. At some level you have to be comfortable with the zone of control and other people are outside of the zone of control. When written well it makes her somewhat interesting and nuanced. It's not so much that she's evil it's that she can't deal with the Universes's greatest X factor, people. She's not okay with other people having the choice do act against her wishes and everything else derives from that. She sees that as inherently wrong and can't deal with free will. She has to control people or else they'll have the option to betray or worse abandon her.

And So It Starts
I said the pilot was damn near perfect but in this episode I can see the seeds of everything I hate about this show. Why the hell would Archie lie to cover Regina? It flies in the face of everything we know about him. Also the petty cat fighting between Regina and Emma starts. Like I said in the first episode neither of these characters feels like the true protagonist and I mostly care about them through the lens of Henry. The tree thing just seemed juvenile.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Intro to Once Marathon Starting With A Pilot Review

There was once a boy beguiled by tales. He was fascinated by stories of far off lands. Soldiers traveling through a gate to the stars, a lord of time running across space, desert men riding magnificent beasts over the dunes, the rebuilding of a fallen empire. One year the lad became worried. There was a story. A story he took as an omen. An omen that the makers of the stories no longer thought such tales would be listened to. But he took heart for he was wrong, and he soon found more stories than he could consume. A woman who shared her face, hunters of demons, power falling into the most unlikeliest of hands. And these stories amused him all but one that left him perplexed.

Okay in English. After Legend of the Seeker,  Stargate Universe and some comments from Syfy (You know what it's Sci-Fi short for Science-Fiction deal with it damn it.)  for a hot minute there I was worried that science-fiction and fantasy shows were going to dry up. Then around 2011 I started discovering a lot of good ones. Caprica, Being Human,  Eureka, Supernatural, Orphan Black, Grimm, Lost Girl, Misfits, Game of Thrones, Haven, Legend of Korra.

Out of all of these shows I spend the most brain power thinking about Once Upon A Time. An avengers style cross over with folklore. How awesome oh wait.

The show has genuinely brilliant ideas, but a horribly flawed execution. Why can't I quit you?!

Tooling around on TV Tropes made me realize just how much good there is in the show tucked away in there. So as an experiment I am going to watch every episode and go over my thoughts. Here goes starting with the pilot.

The Open
The first five minutes are brilliant. A lot character main characters all get establishing character moments. Prince Charming charging with the horse tells you how much he cares for Snow White, when the Evil Queen crashes and does the whole Maleficent thing the party it's Snow who breaks out the sword, and Henry is reading all of this... on a bus, by himself almost like an adult but not quite. Yep that's so Henry.

The Book and The Curse
I love the narrative device of the book. In Smallville Chloe says something that I will remember for the rest of my life. You got a second chance but you made all the same choices. Particularly in the fist season it's interesting to see how the character of each of these guys manifests itself in a new context. Snow White is a teacher and Grumpy is a misanthrope locked in the drunk tank.

Visual Cues
Even before characters are straight up outed it's interesting how the series peppers visual cues. We see Archies/Jiminy's umbrella and Red's hood.

Okay I have to get this out of the way. One of my biggest problems with the show is Emma. She is the most borring character in the show.  While her early chase scene is kind of interesting in and of itself it also seems like it belongs in another show a much more conventional and boring show. This ain't 24. While the show always acts as if Emma is the protagonist I would make the argument that it's actually Henry.

On Henry 
I've said it before but the plot kind of revolves around him. He is the one who gets everyone into action you just can't say know to that smile of his.  And the boy is clever. In someways too clever. Even at the age of 10, especially within the confines of a story, Henry is the smartest character in this thing possibly only bested by Rumpy.

The Man Who Literally Tricked A Woman Into Feeding Him Her Firstborn
Oh god I love Rumpelstiltskin. And his first scene is glorious. In said scene he reveals to the audience that Emma is Snow's kid. That is interesting information. We the audience know this but Emma herself doesn't.

The Set Design
I've always thought the costumes were a little froofy, but god the sets are spectacular.

Final Confrontation
The ending is brilliant. Ultimately what makes the Evil Queen evil is here own insecurities manifesting in her decisions and how she treats people. That is a good strong characterization and it's telling that in a way Henry knows more about her than she does.

You know what? I can't find a whole lot wrong with the pilot.  Watching it I realize how much hope I had and still do have for the series.  There is so much promise in this premise. What if all the characters of your favorite faerie tales not only existed and interacted with each other, but what if they lived in modern times?

December 10, 2013 Southfield Board of Education Meeting

December 10, 2013 meeting of the Southfield Board of Education
Topics Discussed Include

  • Technology in the Classroom
  • Anti-Defamation League Student Awards
  • A student performance
  • The Formation of a Textbook Review Committee
  • Various Changes in Policy

Note: Due to copyright issues a student performance and audio from a video was edited out of the recording.

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Privacy, The Press and Special Needs Children

Okay so anybody who reads this blog is knows I record public meetings. It's what I do. And yes there are always some privacy concerns with that but I rationalize them a few ways.

  1. Open Meetings Act
  2. Most of what I record is broadcast on local cable anyway 
  3. The need for transparency in government in my mind trumps a lot of those privacy concerns. I would rather ruffle a few feathers than find out city council raised their salaries  ridiculous amounts and nobody knew.
But at a local school board meeting the board let members of a special needs class sing in front of them. It was a nice gesture. But now I am thinking what should I do with the tape. The songs were copyright so no matter what it's getting cut. Oh yeah Big Time Rush songs. Nick will be on my ass in a hot second. I already back peddled on my old AMVs, which I really liked by the way.  

Regardless I have three competing instincts.

  1. With this sort of thing the parents and students have a right to privacy. I am not a parent and I don't know a lot of people who deal with these sorts of issues but it seems difficult. And I don't want to do anything that makes their lives any harder. 
  2. On the other hand I don't want to whitewash this. A lot of these kids for whole of their lives are going to have to deal with people uncomfortably ignoring them. Do I really want to add to the problem by pretending they don't exist and excising them from my records 1984 style. 
  3. These kids being able to sing in front of the board meant a lot to the parents and the students. But I don't know if that would translate to an internet audience made of snark. 
I should have probably just talked to the parents and asked what they thought but I didn't think of it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Okay so it's official. They're in pre-production for a Tv show taking place in the aftermath of the Waynes' murder. Yes those Waynes. And my initial thoughts were..."why?"

And then I thought of it a little more and am a little on the fence but here goes.

Okay most of the major players that make Gotham City Gotham City wouldn't be around yet. No Oracle, No Catwoman, No Nightwing, No Joker.  heck even though people are talking about this being about Jim Gordon he would still be pretty young at this time. Maybe a beat cop but not so much known as the crazy awesome guy he is.

Most of the adaptations of Batman admit that a lot of the crazy is a direct reaction to the new not sheriff in town. Heck even Gotham Central a (very good) comic series created deliberately to focus on the nonsuper powered Gotham PD largely dealt with their reaction to the Dark Knight supplanting them as Gotham's protector. Here's a hint. They don't like it.

But what I will give you is that Gotham itself could be interesting. My problem with the premise is that most of the interesting stuff going on at this point in the timeline is usual organized crime stuff. And if you want to make a show about old timey gangsters, just go ahead make a show about old timey gangsters.

And then the rebuttal is Court of Owls. Haven't read it but most people agree it's one of the better stories to come out of the New 52. But even the most fan servicey mainstream show is not going to start with that kind of thing. The show is going to start out as a crime drama. Maybe a period crime drama, but a crime drama.

It took Arrow an entire season to give us Black Canary, probably the second or third most important character in the Green Arrow family literally. (C'mon Miles they gave you Huntress with both her origin...well an origin Huntress is complicated... and costume intact. What do you expect?

Grumble Grumble. Huntress hails from Gotham. Wait for it.)

Which brings me to another point.

Why Batman, er I mean Gotham? Arrow is just now starting to move out of the shadow of the Dark Knight Trilogy to become it's own thing. My major beef with at least modern Tv shows based on the DC universe (Timmverse  and DC Nation stuff excepted) Is that they all have to take place in Gotham even when they don't. It's like the writers don't know how to write any other setting. I'm not even talking about wild i.e. high production cost places like Themyscira or Oa either.  How about revisiting Dakota City, or maybe Central City, or how about Fawcett City. I'm just saying you have more choices than NewYork/Chicago expies.

Look the reliance on Gothamlike settings is part of a larger problem in television. Lack of fun. Look I like drama. I do. But one not all dramas should be the same. I'm just now getting to a point where there is more on TV than Law and Order knock offs. And part of that is the availability of shows that don't have to always be so damn grim all the time and are free to have some fun.

And yes Once Upon A Time in Wonderland is better than the original. There I said it.

Smallville Season Four Fix Ideas

So I mentioned that the season 4 finale of Smallville is where I more or less quite the show. I would still watch it from time to time. The Cyborg episode was pretty cool, but as for continuous arcs I had given up.  Why?

Well the fourth season had a lot of long term stuff going on from episode to episode and the season finale decided to throw it out the window in the first 5 minutes so we could do Superman 2.

Look I'm sorry General Zod is just not that interesting. He's not. You want a mad dictator?


You want Supes to no longer be the last Son of Krypton. Go with a Supergirl story. But Zod. Really! Zod!

Anyway here's go with my fix.

First Off Recap
I appolgize it's been a while.  But anyway, season four of Smallville revolves around the Krytonian library. Only Clarke really knows what it is, but Lana has a superpowered  evil side that wants it. She doesn't  know what it is but she know it's powerful.

Also Lex wants it. Again he doesn't really know what it is, but realizes that both Clark and Lana or rather Isobel are doing the Spy vs Spy thing over it and surmises the thing must be valuable.

Jor-El has showed up and charged Clark with protecting the thing and making sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands going so far as brainwashing him. That's very un Jor-El like, but whatever. The brainwashing creates and alternate personality in the Kent boy, with a familliar name, Kal-El. The first episode and a half of the season were all about getting the brainwashing to wear off.

What It All Set Up

Okay so all of that set up a couple of Interesting points
  • Clark, Chloe, Lois, and Lex all at some point in the season have had alternate of evil personalities. 
  • While Lana doesn't know about Clark's superpowers her alternate personality has been in conflict with him enough times to know he ain't exactly your run of the mill farm boy.
  • Also Lana's alter ego is kind of sadistic. She flat out wants Kent dead. And she wouldn't mind seeing Lex permanently out of the picture either. 
  • I forgot to mention this but yeah, this is the season Chloe found out about Clark.
  • Lex has been resisting the temptation to look into all of the weird stuff that's been going on but he's not an idiot. Clark's been pushing him a little too hard not to look into his secrets. 
  • Furthermore the hunt for the macguffin puts all of these characters into a covert conflict with one another. Nobody wants just open up and say, "Look I gotta do what I got to do, sorry" but they are all in some way shape or form acting against one another. 
  • Chloe has ties to all of these characters and all of the confide to her in some way. 
What I Was Hoping For
  • Lana has to deal with Isobel. So Lana's character arc revolved around her growing fear and paranoia of having this evil thing take over her body. She's been blacking out and loosing time. Not good in the real world but in science fiction, God help you. Even if everything was resolved she still has to emotionally cope with all the stuff that happened. 
  • Isobel's Gambit Out of our trio Isobel has been the most proactive. She knows what she wants and to her it is top priority. Sure Lex wants the library but he also wants to stay on good terms with Clark and Chloe and thinks that pursuing it would damage most of his friendships. I figured that the episode would get the ball into motion with one of her schemes which would force everybody else to respond and be pushed pass their Godzilla thresholds.   
  • Clark Goes Evil The most interesting Superman stories to me all revolve around the point where the situation is so dire that Kent throws out his normal rulebook as well how he and his compatriots deal with the collateral damage, both physical and emotional.  
    Kal-El seems like the magic bullet for that scenario. How would his friends react to that. How would they react to the fact he had that in him and that the possibility that he could choose to become that purposefully.
  • All the major player's alter egos would show up for a kick ass battle royal. Not a lot to say here other than season finale type of stuff.
  • All of the major players would learn Clark was an alien forever altering the status quo of the show When Pete found out he felt betrayed as he should have. How would Lex and Lana carry that? Again this could be the thing that actually made the two enemies. 
  • Finally Lex would be drawn into open conflict with Clark. Part of the draw of Smallville had always been the metatextual knowledge that these two wind up as enemies and this storyline seemed like a good way to go about it. Neither character fully trusted the other at this point and Lex had strong feelings about the fact that someone, unbeknownst to him Clark, had stolen part of the library from him.  
  • Clark would fly. So again one of the things that they teased early in the season was that Clark could fly but didn't know how. And the power became associated with Kal-El. It wouldn't happen until much much later, but I was expecting this to happen at the end of the season. 
  • Clark comes to terms with Jor-El and Krypton So walking toaster Tom Welling was creepy. Clark's entire arc has been about trying to balance the responsibility of the library with not being that guy.  Well Iron Giant did use superman as a metaphor. 

Chloe Should Have Been Lana (Oh God I'm Turning into a Shipper)

When I point to great disappointments in television history my finger always points to Smallville. Don't get me wrong Smallville wasn't a bad show and to be honest I only regularly watched seasons 1-4, but at least in those first four seasons I never thought the show lived up to it's potential.

I ultimately stopped watching for two reasons. First is that, in my head I wrote a better fourth season closer. But more importantly I got tired of the Lana tease. Almost every teaser would imply that this would be the episode where Lana learned Clarke's secret and they would always find a way to backpeddle it. It would be a dream, or someone would get amnesia, or it would be an alternate future. That got old really quick.

Especially since they did that plot halfway decently with Pete. Though they wrote him out eventually the change in status quo between those two characters stuck. In season 2.

By season five as a character Lana ceased being important and that's kind of a drag. In most continuities, Lana was one of the first to know about the whole glasses hair swoosh thing. Like before the ace reporter early.  And it said something about her and Clark's relationship that she would recognize Clark Kent even when he wasn't Clark Kent.

Thinking about all of that made me all the more frustrated that Chloe figured it out and just hid it for like a season and a half. And then I realized something. They just created Chloe for the Tv show yet she seemed like how I always pictured Lana and Clark.

Apart from all the angsting those two didn't seem to actually do anything together.

"I want to be in a relationship."
"I can't"
"Can't tell you."
"That sucks, you jerk."

That is basically every one of their conversations. Not exactly what you'd expect one of Kent's oldest friends and confidants.

They were writing Chloe as how I always thought of Lana in my head.

Why not just cut out the middleman and just call her Lana.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

So... What Now? And a Revisionaries Review

What Does It Mean?
Okay for months I've been trying to create some grand unifying political theory to predict how I feel about various political issues and a few weeks ago I think I cracked the code when I called myself a left leaning libertarian.  And now I think to myself, what the hell does that even mean. I can't stand objectivism, though I did think Faith of the Fallen was one of Goodkind's better books. And I support government intervention on behalf of protecting and advancing individual rights.  I don't want a gun. I want a cop trained in conflict resolution ...with a gun. What does it all mean!?

But also I do stretch "protecting and advancing individual rights" some.

Let's say we believed in a society where everybody should be able to choose the profession they want. That's not so hard to imagine. That probably won't be the case because outside factors will limit the ability of individuals to choose their profession. There may be a disparity of educational resources, or the job you want won't be available where you were born.  So the government should take reasonable action to create an environment to mitigate these problems so the most amount of people had an opportunity to choose to do what they wanted, rather than just being stuck with the status quo. Of course those reasonable actions would take taxes. Which yada yada compulsory relinquishment  of property.

Mostly the stances I'll take are weighing what rights do I feel are most sacred and what is the practical loss. Everybody being forced to chip in 2 grand  for a new school house or a bunch of kids who don't even know what an evolutionary biologist is let alone how to become one.

And while that sounds like a dig to the Christian right it isn't.  When it comes to my libertarian streak I make a huge exception for kids. Kids can not act in their rational self interest because kids, especially little kids are not rational.

Kids Don't Understand The Consequences of Their Actions Rant
You tell them if you eat the cake you'll get a stomach ache later. You look them square in the eye and ask if they understand! They nod yes! Then, they eat the cake and an hour later have no clue why they have a stomach ache!

And don't get me started on teenagers.  Look I don't like being a narc but I can't help it when you're loud enough the principal in the next wing over CAN HEAR YOU. Sound travels! If Han Solo couldn't pull it off what makes you think I can?

No when it comes to kids I rebuke my libertarianism and am an authoritarian at least until the kids have shown me I can trust their judgement a little. By that point my liberalism starts to resurge. But my rule is if I have to to tell you to stop doing something more than once in a 5 minute span it becomes a rule and when I start making rules I make rules. None of this "Just be cool." or even "Just be careful." crap. I start giving hard nos.

Stop it! Put it down! Sit!

Well I have some things I have to work out.

Parent or Guardian
Anyway I trust parents to act in their kids best interest.  I on occasion question that call. There are a lot of shitty shitty parents in the world, but millennia  of societal norms have made looking out for your kids one of those things that you just are suppose to do. It is hard creating that sort of duty without a familial bond.

"You are responsible for the fate of this child."
"Wait. What? Who is this kid? Why? Huh. Can we negotiate this?"

What was I talking about?... Right Evolution in the classroom
Evolution in the classroom freaks me out. I know how I feel on the matter. Yes teach kids science already. It's just what schools do. But in the face of everything else I believe, I have to make some huge addendums to my code. I hate exceptions. Any rule that requires a list of exceptions and a list of exceptions to the exceptions is a bad rule.

And then there is the fact that school is communal. You can't just have one parent deciding the curriculum for everybody. Which becomes even more problematic when you start taking about the behind the scenes dealings of textbook publishers. The wacky state of Texas could effect Michigan's text books.

I think I'm in the mood to watch The Revisionaries again.

Note: If you are really into this subject. Like you are a teacher or administrator I also recommend the Nova episode on the Kansas Board of Education Dover, Pennsylvania Decision. Better yet bump the politics of it and watch the PBS documentary they did a few years ago. Since I'm talking about PBS documentaries I have to admit I'm still looking for the sociological doc People Like Us: Social Class in America

I apologize for the pledge drive.

Anyway, I've been meaning to review this documentary but couldn't figure out an evenhanded non-political way to do it. Well since I'm on this "blab about my political beliefs" kick I might as well.

The documentary basically uses Don McLeroy and the Texas Board of Education as a way to discuss how politics effects curriculum particularly the theory of evolution, but also social studies.

Again, seriously if you licence holders are listening somebody make People Like Us more available it was brilliant. I've been trying to track it down it for the last five years. You might be able to find it in a university library, but otherwise you're out of luck.

Focus Miles. You've rambled enough. Revisionaries really focuses on people, and their viewpoints. Even people whose side I was ostensibly on I disagreed with a little. And that's a good thing, showing the complexity of the human animal.  I always hated it when someone asks me what I think about any given subject and I start laying out my thoughts and they rush me to a yes or a no. People are complex and I am one sir!

Don't get me wrong the doc has a clear point of view. It paints the conservatives misguided. Not evil, not stupid, but misguided. Well the ark thing is a little silly.

Anyway, what they do is having negative effects on the kids but they believe they're in the right.

Then they start attacking "secular humanism".

I am a secular humanist.  My position on God has changed so many times I don't even ask the question anymore. Do I believe in God? Ask me on the next Thor's day. Either way my behavior doesn't change. I do not base my decisions on the existence of heaven or hell, but whether or not what I am doing will hurt people. And well Mathew 7:12.

Oh Miles you are a body of contradictions. Maybe I should just convert to Jainism.  Nah I love the bacon too much. Well technically Judeo-Christian law says ... la la la I am not listening. Damn I wish they hadn't torn down the Denny's.  I could really go for a grand slam tomorrow morning.

Right. Right The Revisionaries.

It's an interesting multifaceted look at the issue.

P.S. What is the big deal. Just use BCE already. Is that hard.? It's metric all over. I can't figure out how much soda I drank in my head because of this crap. Can't we just call it a third liter can. Is that so hard? When I look up how much liquid the typical human body expends in a day it ain't in ounces.

Note: I got the information about the Nova episode wrong it was actually about Dover, Pennsylvania not Kansas.

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