31 Oct 2014

In Another Universe, All Of This Is Still True, But I'm Slightly Taller

Since 1957, the concept of parallel universes has existed within the theory of quantum mechanics. This "Many Worlds Theory," which is really more of an untestable concept than a theory, states that whether or not someone is directly observing a particular event, the outcome conforms to all possible interpretations along a splintered selection of newly created universes, in which the outcome of said event can play out to it's fullest potential. The greatest effect this has had on the scientific community is providing science fiction writers with a treasure trove of plot devices to use over the past twenty years.

A key component to the Many Worlds Theory has been that, once these universes separate from one another, they cease all interaction with one another. Now, in a paper published in Physical Review X, Professor Howard Wiseman and Dr Michael Hall from Griffith's Centre for Quantum Dynamics, and Dr Dirk-Andre Deckert from the University of California, have proposed a new interpretation, which they've deemed the "Many-Interacting Worlds" theory. The major change they've made to the interpretation is that, to explain some of the more troublesome and physics-violating observations that scientists have made over the years, that parallel universes influence each other via "a subtle force of repulsion."

Wiseman and Hall's interpretation boils down to three key points:

  • The universe we experience is just one of a gigantic number of worlds. Some are almost identical to ours while most are very different;
  • All of these worlds are equally real, exist continuously through time, and possess precisely defined properties;
  • All quantum phenomena arise from a universal force of repulsion between 'nearby' (i.e. similar) worlds which tends to make them more dissimilar.

Says Dr. Hall, "We... believe that, in providing a new mental picture of quantum effects, it will be useful in planning experiments to test and exploit quantum phenomena." He goes on to say that, because the Many Worlds theory describes universes that are entirely unknowable because of their disconnectedness, if this new Many-Interacting Worlds is correct, it may become possible to test for their existence based on how they influence our own universe. Which is both exciting, and a terrible first step towards making the Anti-Monitor's plans to collapse all realities a frightening reality.

Via Phys Org.

A Bit Of Hiddleston And Laurie

Hugh Laurie is returning to TV, and he's bringing Tom Hiddleston with him. AMC has signed a deal to enter into a co-production with the BBC in adapting John Le Carre's novel The Night Manager as a six or eight episode mini-series. The 1993 espionage thriller follows a familiar Le Carre pattern, with former British soldier Jonathan Pine becoming embroiled with an exotic woman, Sophie, and English weapons black marketeer Richard Onslow Rope. British intelligence eventually becomes involved as Pine's situation worsens.

There is no word on which role the actors will take, or on any additional casting. The series will be overseen by Royal Shakespeare Company associate director and Spooks writer David Farr, so he's at least got the credentials to pull off the spy stuff. And Hiddleston and Laurie both have the proof in their CV's that they'll be able to deftly handle the high drama and tension of Le Carre's material. I imagine that which ever role Laurie ends up playing, it'll be a form of wish-fulfillment for him, as he has previously stated that his career goal was to play a spy, but he got sidetracked into comedy. He even wrote a spy novel in the mid-nineties, which he's been trying to get adapted pretty much since it hit the shelves. Maybe, if the Night Manager works out for him, the Gun Seller might be in his future.

Via Uproxx.

[Analysis] - Marvel Phase 3, Part 3: How Did I Do?

I realized that last week, after writing far too many words in a (personally) shockingly small amount of time about DC's announced lineup of films, I forgot to mention one thing, and it's kind of a big deal: I'm not excited about any of the films. Reading that list, I feel like I should be really looking forward to finally seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen, or seeing the Justice League come together in live action. But I'm not. No more excited then I am about any other film announced for release six years from now. And why is that? To be perfectly frank, it's because DC and Warner Bros. haven't earned it. They haven't done the leg work, which is establishing a track record of film making worth being excited about.

It has nothing to do with how uninteresting Aquaman is, or how unknown Cyborg is (and, as an aside - that is what DC is doing right with their shared universe; they are introducing the team first, and hoping that the audience finds the members interesting enough to follow them to solo films later, rather than taking the risk on a complete unknown character and having it back fire on them hard. They learned that lesson from Green Lantern). And it isn't about being new to the shared universe concept. It's about not having a catalogue of films behind them that makes people stand up and take notice when they say their going to make something else. Catwoman, Johan Hex, Green Lantern, Dark Knight Rises, and Man of Steel is not a lineage that demands blind respect. If a baker baked forty loaves of bread (that's as many as four tens, by the way) and half were flat, stale and spoiled, you'd be apprehensive about going back and buying another slice.

Marvel has earned their right to put on a show, because like Pixar in the nineties, they put in the work, produce a worthwhile product, and are reaping the success of that effort. So, while DC blandly lets their lineup leak via a share-holder conference call, Marvel gets everyone together, pumps them up, and lets the cumulative joy of the creators and the audience feed the feeling of excitement. It was like a thirty minute rock concert, but when you actually sit down and look at what was accomplished, it was a trade show presentation. It was a board meeting, complete with the Executives (Fiege, Brian Michael Bendis), the Partners (Joss Whedon, the Russo Brothers) and the Associates (Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans) in attendance. But they did it with child-like excitement. Looking at Kevin Feige, you could see how awful gosh-darn happy he was standing on that stage Tuesday afternoon, telling the world about the really cool toys he just got to play with.

So, Tuesday afternoon, Marvel got the world together, outside of a Con environment and divorced from the corporate system of the D23, and very intimately presented their complete Phase 3. A couple times now, as information has appeared, I've used logic, deduction and reason to try to discern the shape of things to come. Now that the unknowns have become known, I want to take this moment to look back and see what I got right, what I got wrong, and what we know now (and there is still a lot we don't).

Hit the jump to really dive into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3.

29 Oct 2014

Clap for Koalas

If there are three things that everyone should know about the Koala (which isn't, and never has been, a bear - so, I guess four things everyone should know) it's these facts:

1) Koalas have the smallest brain to body ratio of any marsupial, which also makes them one of the stupidest marsupials going. Which could go a ways towards explaining why they eat exclusively poison. A reasonable animal would have noticed a correlation between eating a nutrient-bereft plant that contains powerful toxins, and the inability to stay awake for more than 4 hours at a time.

2) Koala fingerprints are indistinguishable from a human's fingerprints. So, if you are going to commit a crime, train a koala to do it for you. Of course, you can't train a koala to do anything because of their exceeding stupidity.

3) They have chlamydia. A lot of chlamydia. In some areas of Australia, the infection rate is up to 90%. And considering that there are only an estimated 43,000 wild koalas left, that is a lot of clap-happy koalas. Except they aren't happy, they're blind and sick. But they don't know that, because they are either asleep, or just oblivious. Because of their tiny tiny brains.

It is to this last fact that there may be good news on the horizon. Microbiologists from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland have successfully completed a trial of vaccinating koalas against the STD. After five years of development, 60 animals north of Brisbane were entered into the programme, which saw 30 koalas given the treatment. The results saw an 87% rate at limiting, preventing or reducing the effects of the diseases, which is most easily diagnosed by the appearance of an eye infection. When left untreated, the disease progresses to blindness, infertility and death. The researchers hope to increase the scope of the treatment, giving the animal a chance to bounce back in their natural habitats.

Though, maybe the researchers could try to convince them to eat kale, or really anything else, that might help too.

Via PhysOrg.

[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 6, "A Fractured House"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
Before we begin, yesterday saw a massive and very exciting announcement by Marvel concerning the future of the MCU. I will be covering this in greater detail this Friday. Taking my time might not get me a lot of page hits, but I'd rather do something right than do something quick. Rest assured however that I will be giving this announcement the attention it deserves (and it deserves).

Now, back to the matter at hand, Agents of SHIELD is in dance mode at this point, in that for every step it takes forward, it takes a step back, then does a little jig in place. This week's episode, for instance, actually forwarded what I've considered the biggest weakness of this season, in establishing Hydra as a legitimate threat. I don't necessarily agree with the how they did it, but it got it done at least. However, it did it through a fractured episode, where some elements worked well and some failed to come together, and then the writers gave me more evidence that they aren't exactly on top of putting this thing together just right.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that never used those words exactly.

That Is One Funky Looking Biped

I love a good story about science marching forward, and this story contains a great story about not making assumptions before having a larger pool of data. In 1965, a pair of 8 foot long forearms, each tipped with three massive claws was discovered in the Ömnögovi Province in Mongolia. They were believed to belong to a large carnivore, and classed the animal in the Megalosauridae family of super predators.

However, thanks to the recent discoveries of two complete skeletons, Yuong-Nam Lee, from South Korea's Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (Kigam) and co-published by the University of Alberta, has been able to describe the complete animal, and it's a weird one. Deinocheirus mirificus (which means "unusual, horrible hands") was 36 feet long and weighed six tonnes, and looked like the sort of dinosaurs a three year old would draw with a crayon. Now officially classed as a ornithomimosaur theropod, whose diet consisted of slashed undergrowth - hence the claws - and fish, based on bones found in the fossils of the animals, the animal possessed the gait of a hadrosaur, the body of an obese hunchback, and the face of a Muppet.

Via the BBC.

27 Oct 2014

[Review] - Constantine, Season 1 Premiere, Episode 1, "Non Est Asylum"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I hate reviewing pilot episodes. A pilot is really just a marketing tool, an episode made to sell a premise to a network, in the hopes that the money-men will see something profitable in the concept, green-light the thing, and then let the storytellers get to work making something artistically worthy of our attention. It is rare that a pilot is artistically worthy of anything. Every so often, you'll get a pilot that really works; this is usually an indication of a writer having a precise vision of how the show is going to precede. Usually though, a pilot is like watching a new born horse walk; it's clumsy, trips over itself despite it's best intentions and is covered in goo.

True to form is the premiere episode of Constantine, the third of the new DC super heroes TV series to premiere this season. This pilot really should have been thrown away. However, because of the size of TV budgets these days (even modest budgets on network television), that doesn't happen. So, we're left with a half cooked burrito of an episode, alternatively chewy and well seasoned; or raw, unappetizing and potentially harmful. Considering that the executive producers (showrunner Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer) have already announced that they've retooled the show from episode two on, citing a new creative direction, I suppose well have to wait until next week to fully understand how vestigial this first episode really is.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that you should put down before they put you down.

They Dug Coal Together

Some time ago, I can't remember exactly when, Graham Yost said he envisioned Justified as six season, with each two representing an act in a traditional three act structure. Or, as each two season as a novel in a trilogy, in keeping with Raylan's literary origins. And looking back, you can see how Yost has struck to that notion. In each of the three main protagonists, Raylan, Boyd and Ava, they've each followed the same path over the course of the series. Season one and two were about salvation. Each of the characters confronted their past deeds and personal character, and took steps to progress beyond the limitations of the expectations of others (to varying degrees of success). Season three and four were about rising to new places of personal and professional glory, and establishing power over those that sought to undermine them. Season five was about that power being taken away, about their sense of self worth crumbling into non-existence, and each of the characters coming to terms with the notion that events are beyond their control.

What does this mean for season six, the final season, only two months away at this point and teased for the first time above with a reminder that it ultimately comes down to Raylan and Boyd, two sides of the same coin, on either side of a line that gets worn away more and more every day? Well, if Elmore Leonard's novels are any indication, it's that the bad guy usually dies, and the hero walks away with less than he thought he would (though they usually get the girl, if only for a while). In the case of Raylan's own novels, we gets the girl in two of three, he shoots a man dead in one (and Boyd in the short story), while in the other two he's the only man left standing while deceit and greed cause everyone else to take care of themselves.

Which is a lot of words meaning I haven't a clue how things are going to shake down in Harlan this season. Except, I suspect someone is taking a bullet. When and who, I don't care to guess at this point.

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 10, "In The Forest Of The Night"

Courtesy of the BBC

I sympathize entirely with Mr. Pink on this one. Having overseen my share of field trips, in extreme circumstances the children are absolutely the priority. If even one of those students had gotten eaten by a tiger, the amount of paperwork he would have had to fill out would have been demoralizing.

This was an episode that would not have felt out-of-home back in the fairy story heavy series 5. Back then, when there was a air of mysticism hanging over the Doctor's adventures; when there were morals and archetypes and feel good endings were felt like they were earned. This episode doesn't feel entirely out of place in this series, except for two rather glaring differences: first, it wasn't very good. And second, there wasn't much of a point to it. So far this year, every episode has had to do with defining either the Doctor or Clara as a person, under the examination of the situation they found themselves in. This episode didn't introduce anything new. It just confirmed what has been established already. It felt, for the first time this year, and right on the cusp of the finale, like wheel spin.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that aren't really gifted and talented; we just tell them that to make them feel better.

24 Oct 2014

At Last, At Last The 1948 Show

When discussing the shortsighted tragedy that was the Thames Television policy to record over original tapes of programmes during the 1960s, it is usually Doctor Who that takes centre stage. However, it is important to remember that many other programmes were debilitatingly affected by this horrible act of cinematic homicide. Shows like ITV's At Last the 1948 Show, the comedy sketch show that first united John Cleese and Graham Chapman, as well as introduced Marty Feldman to the world.

Of 13 episodes produced of At Last, only seven existed at the start of the week, and as of today that number rises to nine. The first and last episodes were discovered by the British Film Institute's Dick Fiddy in the private collection of Sir David Frost, who was the executive producer of At Last. The episodes will be presented by Cleese at the BFI's annual Missing Believed Wiped event this December, where discoveries of previously thought missing episodes from this transformative era are celebrated and screened.

Via the BBC.

Hulkbustin' Makes Me Feel Good

On Wednesday, Marvel announced that, as a transparent attempt to bolster Agents of SHIELD's increasingly sinking ratings, they would premiere the first teaser trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron during next Tuesday's episode. The internet, being what it is, ruined their plans by leaking that trailer mere hours later. Marvel, in turn, had little choice but to release the trailer officially online, thus undercutting their last-ditch effort to make something positive happen on Tuesday nights. The good news in all of this is that we now have some footage from Ultron to look at.

In structure, it reminds me a lot of the first Avengers trailer we got. A lot of buzz-positive images, a lot of the team in various states of crisis, and some shots that are obviously still waiting to have their CGI inserted. Low on story, high on destruction and action. Giving us a brief look at the hulk and an Iron Hulkbuster going at it is equivalent to Tony "bringing the party to us" back in 2011. that all said, there is a lot to get properly worked up about. The effects that are ready look great (as we've come to expect form Marvel), and James Spader's narration makes me really excited about his performance as Ultron. the smartest thing you can do as a director is cast Spader in a role that requires him to speak a lot, and it certainly looks like he'll be doing that.

We've got more than half a year to wait until the film arrives, giving Marvel plenty of opportunities to excite us with a slow leak of additional footage. So don't go deriding tone or substance just yet: we know nothing except what this footage shows us, and that isn't much.

[Analysis] - DC Comics Movies, And What Will Come Of All This

As requested by a faithful reader, here is my take on the recent announcement by Warner Bros concerning their upcoming slew of DC property films: I'll believe it when I see it.

You want more? Considering that I gave the other guys 10,000 words, in the interest of being fair and balanced, I suppose I should give the guys across the street (and 3000 miles down the road) the same treatment. Though, I have to warn you, it won't be as much fun. Why not? Well, rather than having a rabid and willing fan base they can tease for the next half decade, WB and DC want to make money, and want to took like they aren't playing the chump. So, rather than shroud the next seven years in mystery like the House of Ideas, the House of... er, Reboots (I suppose) put all their cards on the table. So, we know exactly what they plan to do, and exactly when they plan to do it. So, in place of speculation and data analysis, DC gets... something else entirely.

Hit the jump for the meat and potatoes of The Plan.

22 Oct 2014

That's The Hot Zone

Jenny Slate's had a run of good fortune lately. Her appearances on Parks and Rec brought her to the attention of a larger audience, she's currently a star of FX's Married, her film Obvious Child was well received, and (this one might just be me) she's been distanced from Warner Bros' intended Looney Tunes film, for which she wrote a draft.

And now she's returns to the world of comedy shorts with a third installment of her Marcel The Shell With Shoes On series. Just in time, I'm sure purely by coincidence, to promote the new Marcel The Shell book, The Most Surprised I've Ever Been. Which, if it's anything like these shorts, I'm sure is equally innocently hilarious and unwittingly heart breaking.

Via the Mary Sue.

[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 5, "A Hen in the Wolf House"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions
With the addition of Bobbi Morse to the series, I wonder if the new impetus for character clearances for Agents of SHIELD will be the spin-off characters of other, more A-List characters. The John Cougar Mellencamps to the Avenger's Bruce Springsteen. After all, last year we had an episode where Sif chased down Lorelei, the discount bargain basement version of Enchantress. And here, we see the addition of the comic's Mockingbird, the also-ran of the Hawkeye family. Does this mean the likelihood of SHIELD running into Rick Jones just increased sharply? That a potential Iron Lad appearance isn't off the table?

This episode, I think, meant to give us a better look at this season's adversaries, and give us the best look we've seen so far of Skye's Anger Issues Daddy. Unfortunately, along with some quality material concerning moving events forward, as a side effect it also highlighted the weakest elements of building this plot thread: the enemies aren't that threatening.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are having a hell of a day.

Gerard Parkes Has Died

Fraggle Rock was designed to be universal. The issues and challenges that the Fraggles encountered, with the Doozers, with the Gorgs, or with one another were those that everyone faces, and did not depend on any specific cultural understanding, just a shared humanity. However, knowing that jurisdictions would be put more at ease with a familiar framework in place, the "real world" segments were individualized for broadcast. This meant that, for millions of fans, the human face of Fraggle Rock was the inventor Doc, played by Gerry Parkes.

The Irish Canadian actor died Sunday of natural causes; he had recently turned 90. His filmography is the eclectic assortment often seen of the working Canadian actor, but it was his time as part of the Henson Company magic of the 1980s that made him a household name. His role in the American and Canadian versions of Fraggle Rock was so iconic that he (and Sprocket) reprised the role in A Muppet Family Christmas, thus making him the only person to ever meet all three branches of the Muppet family. His delivery of the line "cold enough to freeze your Winnebago" clearly made an impression on me, considering that it is a regular part of my winter-time vocabulary.

Parkes is a prime example of how a single role can have a huge influence. His name might not have been ready on the lips of those that remember him, but the kindness, the humour and the gentility that he made a part of Doc made the rest of us love him.

20 Oct 2014

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 9, "Flatline"

Courtesy of the BBC
First, a note to Steven Moffat: any time you want to let Jamie Mathieson write another episode of Doctor Who, you go right ahead. That's fine by us.

Mathieson, in his second (and consecutive) script, managed to do something entirely new, and almost unheard of in the 50 year history of the series: wrote an episode where the TARDIS herself was an integral element. And not just in the passive sort of way, like last years' Journey to the Inside of the TARDIS. It was as much a part of the proceedings as the sonic occasionally is. Like time travel itself, the TARDIS is usually just a plot device used to allow the show access to the myriad of genres and story potentials that has allowed it to survive this long. It is rare that the Big Blue Box features as an element itself. On top of that, Mathieson gave us a truly terrifying episode, and once again put Clara front and centre, and moved her closer to becoming more like the man she so recently abhorred.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't think that statement's ever been truer.

You're Not In The Book!

The biggest complaint about the Hobbit films is their length, which is both valid and considerable. The second biggest complaint is the plethora of additional and original material, or changes, Peter Jackson has made to the film in order to pad out the length, resulting in problem number one. Personally, I believe that the film requires many of those elaborations, in order to make the story more complete (while I love the book, it is a children's novel, and transcribing it verbatim to the screen would have resulted in a much worse product). I don't, however, believe that things needed to be taken to such an extent as they have been, and that a trilogy of two hours films would have resulted in a far superior product.

Kevin Ulrich and the Brotherhood Workshop have taken things to the opposing extreme, recreating only the content of the novel in under two minutes, and in Lego. And really, that's all that needs to be said in order to sell me a ticket. Oh, and I probably should have mentioned at the start, do not watch this if you've never read the book, and don't want Battle of the Five Armies utterly spoiled for you.

Also, is it strange that I've only just noticed that the title of the film is Battle of the Five Armies, and that additional article makes it sound clunky as Hell?

Via The Mary Sue.

[Review] - The Judge

Courtesy of Village Roadshow Pictures 
A wise man once said, "Never half ass two things. Whole ass one thing." These are words that writers Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque should have paid more attention to when putting together The Judge, a film long championed as Robert Downey Jr's return to original drama after the better side of a decade in franchise contract badminton. In a time when far too many films are sequels, reboots, franchise installments and bio-pics, I champion a wholly original film. But by the time the credits role, the thing I'm thinking most about is how good Downey will be as Perry Mason.

The problem is, there are two distinct movies battling it out for run time supremacy, a run time straining reasonability because of the conflicting genres playing out. On one hand, there is a "prodigal son returns" story, involving lost loves and long held grudges while family dynamics shift under the weight of years of emotional repression. On the other hand is a Grisham-standard legal drama about a cocky defense attorney forced to defend a client he can't stand. Neither of these alone would have been overly original, but either of these alone might have seemed a more complete film. As it stands, The Judge is about a dozen cliches and half as many subplots too far over the line to be considered a great film. However, it is saved by fantastic performances from it's impressive and extended cast, especially from the veteran Duvall.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which shouldn't be so morose.

17 Oct 2014

Time Is A Slinky. And Everyone Loves A Slinky

Full scale PDF version is available here.
I cannot imagine that the US Geological Survey store is a place that overburdens the federal government with supplemental income. However, the above poster, as designed by  Joseph Graham, William Newman, and John Stacey, might be reason enough to rack up a little more credit card debt. The image condenses the entire geological history of the Earth, from the moment of the coalescion 4.5 billion years ago to the modern era, seen at the fore of the image.

And it provides us yet another tool in our belts helping to illustrate the concept of Deep Time. For while the spiral above may not be to scale, the fact that life doesn't really begin to show up until the second rung down, and that truly complex land life is less than one revelation away should hammer home the notion that there are vast, unimaginable gulfs of time where there was nothing but rock on this fair planet of ours, alternating between very cold and very hot. That the millions of years that separate us from the dinosaurs, and the millions of years that separate dinosaurs from the trilobites are pond hops compared to the eons that passed between formation and anything else. And we, and all we think we are, are a hangnail on the raggedy edge of an even deeper gulf.

Gee, that got kind of dark and pessimistically philosophical there at the end. Sorry about that.

Via The Mary Sue.

Immerse Yourself In The 'Verse

I've gone on record in my belief that Firefly is practically perfect exactly as it is, and that adding to it, whether it be through comic books, a movie sequel or any alternate medium elaboration is a bad idea. That being said, part of me is more than a little excited about the MMO Firefly: The Game, which had a soft unveiling at the recent New York Comic-con. I say soft, as there was no live demo available, and only select footage, most of which included interviews with the actors. And yes, the entire cast is returning, in character (and Alan Tudyk is playing double duty as a baddie).

The footage released thus far amounts to the above, which does give a hint at what the game will look like technically, but it has to be about the blandest footage they could have chosen. I mean, if it's anywhere near complete, there has to be footage rendered of something other than a slow turn in an empty corridor. I'm not and never have been an online gamer, but I could see myself spending time in this particular bit of black, if the finished product, whose release date is still in the wilds of the unknown, lives up to expectation.

Via The Mary Sue.

[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 4, "Face My Enemy"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
First off, I'll apologize to regular readers (hi, Craig!) for the lateness of this review and the general lack of content this week. Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving (motto: like the American one, but earlier and pointless) and that through me off my schedule big time smiley. Then, I spent a not insignificant part of the week without internet. Rather than double up next week, I thought I get this one in under the wire.

I can count the number of episodes of SHIELD that are honestly, objectively great on one hand. And yes, that is using the augmented SHIELD scale of quality, where a 10 equates to a six at best on a conventional scale. But my point, on one hand. This episode is one of them. Yes, it was bogged firmly down in every subplot the show has going for it. It had Whitehall and Hydra. It had Raina and whatever crazy she's involved with. It had Talbot, it had Fitz' broken brain, it had both Coulson's resurrection and crazy alien writing. In any other episode, on any other series, a throw everything against the wall and watch it all stick approach usually ends in a muddled disaster. But against all odds, here it worked. It was good, it was right, and no one had to get nailed to anything.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that get's their satisfaction elsewhere.

13 Oct 2014

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 8, "Mummy On The Orient Express"

Courtesy of the BBC
Here I was the other day, thinking that what this series of Doctor Who needs is a completely insane episode. One that is just sputtering madness from side to side. And then we were delivered Mummy on the Orient Express by Jamie Matheson. And it had all the dressing of a completely mad hour of television, but revealed itself very early on to be a distressingly emotional and character focused episode, that was only mostly mad. It also gave Peter Capaldi his best chance yet to step out of Jenna Coleman's shadow and really show us what this Doctor is going to be like, and especially what he's going to be like when she's not around.

It also featured John Sessions as an insane computer named Gus, as well as a jazz version of Don''t Stop Me Now by Foxes, so I'm just about confident enough to say this is the best series of the programme since series 5, and one of the best since the revival, period.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which is practically their job description.

An Adventure 65 Million Pieces In The Building

I put this together in 87 seconds. Does it show?
Lego has done dinosaurs a few times. There was the Dino Island sets in 2000 (part of the Adventurers line), Dino Attack sets in 2005, which were... odd. Then there were the better Dino sets in 2012. My personal favourites were the Dinosaurs line in 2001, which were sold in canisters and allowed you to build four different dinosaurs out of the pieces included. In my homemade Batcave set, it's the Dinosaurs T-rex that looms over the Batmobile.

Next summer, they're going to try their hand at the prehistoric animals once again, this time in partnership with Universal, as Lego has officially acquired the licence for Jurassic World. They had held the licence for Jurassic Park III back in 2001, but the two sets were just part of the Studios line, and didn't include any minifigs based on the film's characters. With the release of Jurassic World sets, it'll mean that Chris Pratt will have gotten three entirely different minifigs based on him within a year and a half, which sets a record (he'll tie Alfred Molina with most minifigs based on a single actor, but Molina's figures were released between 2004 and 2010).

Said Universal Partnerships & Licensing President Stephanie Sperber, "Jurassic Park defined dinosaurs for an entire generation 20 years ago, and Jurassic World will do the same in 2015. Working with LEGO Group to bring this classic into the present in dynamic and exciting ways is truly thrilling." Added VP of global licensing for Lego Jill Wilfert, "We are thrilled to be a part of the groundbreaking Jurassic Park series. The film's imagery and branding are iconic, with a rich array of landscapes, vehicles and dinosaurs that are perfect for inspiring a line of building sets that will encourage hours of creative play."

Personally, I'm hoping that this will be Lego's major summer line, something akin to the range of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings sets, both in scope of the line across all price ranges, but also in the depth of the adaptation. Lego doesn't usually drop the ball on their licensed materials, though I'm sure if they had known that Guardians was going to be as big as it was, they would have released more than just three sets. And next year, the Superhero lines will be jammed up with Age of Ultron and Batman v. Slenderman: Rise of the Spanx. Thank to the previously released Dino line, Lego already has the molds for the major animals the film sets will require, the T-rex and the raptors, so it shouldn't cost them too much extra to put together some fantastic pieces.

Via Brickset.

[Review] - Gone Girl

Courtesy of Regency Enterprises
In film buff circles, Fincher's name is spoken with the same reverence and respect that Coppola, that Scorsese, that Burgman and Kubrick are spoken of. And I understand that reverence and respect. And, when watching films like Seven, or Fight Club, or Gone Girl, I can certainly see the aspects and talents that he possesses that earn him those adulations. He has a surprisingly small and eclectic filmography in which there is a lot to be excited about. Fincher is one of those directors that understands that storytelling is about telling a story, not about just putting something on the screen. He understands that in a visual medium, every movement of the camera and the length of a shot is as important as word choice and sentence structure is in a written work.

Gone Girl is an prime example of Fincher under control. It's an excellent film, anchored by strong performances in front of the screen, a solid script moving things along, and a patient and detailed eye behind the camera. While I was in the theatre, I was engrossed entirely, driven by the tension not of the mystery but of the characters, a tension that will be lessened but not completely absent from later viewings (a rarity in the "twist" movie subgenre). Fincher's is a detail oriented, exact and somehow invisible hand. He's so good at making himself not be obvious that I often forget he's there at all. But if he wasn't, and someone else was, this would be an entirely different story.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are only like that when they're with you.

10 Oct 2014

She'll Hoard Our Hearts And Fall Into The Power-lines Of Our Affections

So, back a few weeks ago, when Marvel applied for various Squirrel Girl copyrights, I jumped to the assumption that it was a sign she would be joining the MCU in some capacity, possibly in the yet-to-have-anything-done-about-it Jessica Jones Netflix series. The truth, now known, is not that yet equally exciting: the Avengers resident babysitter will be getting her own ongoing series. Marvel has space in their monthly rotation, off the back of the news that they will be cancelling Fantastic Four due to the fact that Fantastic Four sucks (there are technical, business and vindictive reasons for the cancellation, but it essentially boils down to the fact that Marvel's first family is a dull as pea soup).

The new Squirrel Girl series will be written by Dinosaur Comics creator Ryan North, with art and covers by Erica Henderson (whose past work includes Atomic Robo). No word just yet on when the series, which will see Doreen Green enter college, will appear on stands. But I'm a big believer in what I call "relief titles." Between Big Events and high drama titles, companies like Marvel and DC need smaller, more fun titles like this (or Slott's She Hulk, or Palmiotti's Power Girl) as a palette cleanser.

Hit the jump for a variant cover, and a better look at Squirrel Girl's new design.

The Cost Of Calvin

I would like to think that part of the reason Calvin and Hobbes was/is so popular is because, at it's heart, it is one of the more realistic comic strips. There are no penguins writing personal ads or hyper-intelligent dogs enacting war fantasies. Just a mischievous six year old who occasionally spouts an incredibly observant truth about human nature, as anyone who has spent time with six yer olds knows, they are apt to do. The majority of the "action" of the strip took place in Calvin's fertile imagination, and what few times his actions had real world effect, there were consequences.

The above chart was created by the Proceedings of the Natural Institute of Science (which, despite it's acronym, is a real thing), who painstakingly (I assume) catalogued all of Calvin's actions throughout the original run of the comic strip, researched the cost of those actions (it seems like the dollar figure is in modern terms rather an unadjusted 1980's money values) and calculated approximately how much more Calvin's parents had to spend to raise their delinquent child through just his sixth year (and over the life of the 10 year history strip). Which they say is $15,955.50, or $1850.55 per year.

Please note, this chart does not take into account the emotional cost of the time they thought he jumped in the tiger pit at the zoo.

Via Uproxx.

[Review] - Firefly Clue

This really exists!
If you've happened to glimpse at the actual content of this site whilst using it to discretely hide the Korean pornography you are viewing at a public library computer terminal, as I assume most of you are, then you are likely familiar with my fondness for the board game Clue. Well, more than a fondness, really. It's an affection. Well, perhaps more of an obsession. Fine, an insatiable desire. I've come to terms with that. I am similarly passionate about Joss Whedon's magnificent, and as far as I'm concerned, complete and not-needing-of-further-elaboration, series Firefly. So, when I heard the rumour that the two were coming together, my heart did a thing that my doctor said we should keep an eye on.

But I've been burned before with licensed versions of my beloved Cluedo. Deep, stinging burns that make me hesitant to invest my affections. Happily, Clue Firefly exceeds my expectations of what a licensed property can be. The work that has went into this essentially novelty item is that what some might have come to expect from Browncoats. And I assure you, it was Browncoats behind this game. The attention to detail, the obvious love that went into construction every aspect of this game, adapting the classic Clue formula just perfectly to fit the Firefly framework, is both staggering and comforting.

Or maybe USAopoly was just afraid what the combined forces of cheesed off Firefly fans might do to their offices if the product sucked. Which, I'm fine with. Fear is an excellent motivator, and whatever the reason, I got a hell of a game out of it, so I'm happy.

Hit the jump for the review

8 Oct 2014

Off The Pot

There was someone a few years ago, I can't remember if it was Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe or Cate Blanchett, when asked why there are so many Australian actors who find success in England or America, and they said it's because there is virtually no film industry in Australia, so the actors have no choice but to export their talents.

I have long been a fan of what little film industry there is down under. The films tend to be more experimental and tone-blind then some national film cultures. And they tend to have a dark sense of humour. Case in point, the bizarre, likely funny, likely bleak film The Mule. Based on actual events, the film is basically the story of the Federal Police waiting a week until a man they believe is a drug mule to go to the bathroom, so they can prove he is. The film stars Hugo Weaving, Georgina Haig and John Noble.

[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 3, "Making Friends and Influencing People"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
As I sat down to watch this week's episode of SHIELD, I was startled to realize that in virtually no time at all, half of the episode had passed. Sadly, it wasn't because of such engrossing action or development that I lost all relative sense of time. It was because of a growing disconnect I'm feeling towards the series. My enthusiasm has had very little to sustain it, but I've stuck with the series in the blind hope that it'll be worth it in the end. But I fear that my resolve is weakening. The vast majority of the audience realized this a year ago, and left quietly. I guess I'm just stubborn like that.

This week was a baseline episode. It had some solid scenes, and focused a lot on relationships between characters, while also giving us a better look inside Hydra's day-to-day operations (turns out, not that undifferent from SHIELD's). But there was also a lot that didn't really do a lot other than make the minutes tick by, and reminded us yet again that Clark Gregg is 100% this show's best asset, and when it doesn't use him, it suffers.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are happy to comply.

Not Exactly Twopenny

It's more than six months, at least, until the second season of Penny Dreadful airs, but that doesn't mean Showtime isn't interested in rustling up some early anticipation for the sophomore season, currently filming with a bumper crop of new characters. So, they've released a taster of a tease hinting at the direction the new season will take, namely focusing on the repercussions of the past on the present.

Since last year focused so highly on Vanessa and her literal demons, and that she is the focus of this tease, I think it's safe to say that will remain constant. Though it's equally likely that Vanessa's past will take more of a back seat to Chandler, who had the least amount of elaboration last year, and had a fairly large revelation drop on us right at the very end. Everyone else, I suspect will be busy with mopping up their messes form the finale.

No matter the direction John Logan takes us, I'm looking forward to it.

Via Collider.

6 Oct 2014

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 7, "Kill The Moon"

Courtesy of the BBC
A question before I start, and this isn't so much a critique about this episode, but just in general: how hard is it to google how old the moon is? There, I just did it. Took about five seconds to type, and 0.41 seconds to find out it's 4.527 billion years old. I knew that before, but if I hadn't, I would now, and it took less time then it does to say the word "moon" aloud. So, why is it then, that no one seems able to put this readily available information to use? Especially the writers on Doctor Who, who seem to have this fetish about not aging the moon properly.

The Silurians, who are either from the Silurian era or the Eocene era (neither of which had dinosaurs, by the way), apparently went underground because of the moon coming into orbit (which isn't how we got the moon, but anyway), and that's rubbish because either era is still a solid 4 billion years off the mark. In this episode, twice, the Doctor dates the moon at having been around for only 100 million years. The implication in that figure, which was not a figure of speech because it was used verbatim twice, is that the dinosaurs woke up one day moonless, and went to bed with a new friend in the sky.

This was a solid episode, with a lot of old school flourishes and a whiz-bang of an ending, but through it all it's piddly little shit like this that gets in my way. Because it's little shit like this that is easy to fact check, and having the Doctor say 4.527 billion instead of 100 million changes the episode in no way, other than the fact that one way its right and the other way its stupid.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers whose Gran used to post things to Tumblr.

Bean There...

You have to respect a creator such as Rowan Atkinson, who despite the worldwide success and popularity of Mr. Bean, has never considered running the character into the ground. Aside from the initial run and the second greatest Christmas special ever, he has been remarkably restrained when it has come to rolling the character back out, usually after a considerable number of years have passed.

So, 24 years since Bean first appeared and 7 years since his last appearance (not counting his cameo during the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies), and here, really rather unexpectedly, he reappears in a Snickers commercial. And it doesn't feel forced, or callous or exploitative at all. It's just good to see him bumbling again.

Via Uproxx.

[Review] - The Boxtrolls

Courtesy of Laika
Animation used to be hard. Not that I'm saying that computer animation is by any stretch of the imagination easy, but it was an entirely different beast when every single frame of a film had to be created by hand. To put that much exhaustive and excruciating effort into a work, the creators behind the scenes have to be in love with what they are creating. They have to be willing to bleed for it. Because if they spend years building something with that care and attention, what they produce is going to be imbued with that care and devotion. The same is literally true of everything, and a great many of our modern ills might be sorted out if folk did things for themselves, by hand. But especially animation.

I rarely see animated films anymore, which is a shame because it is my absolutely favourite medium. I spent my childhood wanting to draw for a living, and was handicapped only in a complete lack of artistic talent. But animation remains my first and truest love. And more often then not, when I see animated films today, I get no sense of love from them. Especially the garbage being spewed from the frothing maw of Sony. It's all just empty chatter and flashing colours. It's a strobe light above a crib, meant to draw the eye and quiet the child. Animation rarely lives anymore on screen.

Except when it comes from the literal hands of Laika. When I see one of their films, I feel the love behind the screen bleeding through every frame. I feel the world they've painstakingly made and manipulated and give to us. It was true of Coraline, it was true of ParaNorman, and it remains true of the Boxtrolls, which is probably their best work yet. It askews the tepid, uninspired norms of the modern medium in favour of vigor and guile, and an almost Victorian sense of maturity from it's audience. It's beautiful to watch and easy to fall in love with, and on top of all that, it's a damned good story too.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that regret so much.

3 Oct 2014

[Review] - Hector And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Courtesy of Egoli Tossell Films
I'm not big on happiness. Not the emotion - everyone likes being happy, even Eeyore - but the philosophical concept of happiness. A boogeyman of spiritual enlightenment and personal fulfillment, something to be endlessly strived for and eternally out of reach. And in the modern day, something that can be used to sell desperate people lots of books and videos and tickets to wellness retreats that promise secrets that are never delivered. All in the name of the pursuit of happiness. Personally, I think being happy all the time would be akin to being depressed all the time. It's still an overwhelming and unhealthy amount of emotion, and like finally being able to eat nothing but desert for every single meal, soon enough you'd be begging for some broccoli.

I'd like to say that Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness found a new way to explore these old and tired themes, but it hasn't. It's the same old nonsense that gets trotted out, which is a clear an indicator as there being no secret, when the only things we can come up with as being secrety sound like they've come from the inside of a fortune cookie. The film should be called Hector and His First World Problems, because that's all that this, and most of the business of "discovering happiness" really is. It's people who are over saturated with so much buzz that they feel that downsizing, or observing those with less yet are somehow happier will provide them with great insight into their own moral quagmire. Really, this is just arrogant, delusional self aggrandizing tosh. And it's tosh that Hector swims in.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which know this review is as bad as they think it is.

Pixar Introduces Us To New Emotions

Remember when there was a rumour that Sony and Dreamworks were considering suing Pixar, because the idea that a company could have so many consecutive successes without some kind of shenanigans going on was too ludicrous. That because they relied on depth of characters, structure of story, and beauty of humanity to make truly affecting films.

Then they got bought by Disney, and that pretty much stopped. Nothing that has come out since Up, with the exception of Toy Story 3, has felt like what came before it. Some of their films have been completely empty of meaning, and other have felt like something hugely important is missing. Like, removing the muffler from a car: it'll still run, but it won't be very enjoyable.

My first instinct with this first teaser for Inside Out was that spending most of the minute and a half playing clips from old Pixar films was a cheap way to play on our emotions. Because, even without context, many of these scenes make me feel hard emotions. But that's the point. That's entirely the point, and it makes me think that there might be some hope for Pete Docter's new film, which explores the life of Riley, an eleven year old girl undergoing a move to a new city, and experiencing that move through the emotions in her head: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness, performed by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Phyllis Smith respectively. Given that Docter has previously delivered Monster's Inc and Up, two of Pixar's most emotional films, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

For now.

[Review] - Stephen Fry Live! More Fool Me

I hadn't a clue what it was about when I bout the ticket. It didn't matter. I assumed that it would involve Stephen Fry talking, and perhaps Stephen Fry reading. For all that it matter, it could have been Stephen Fry standing and sweating (and it was a good bit of that too). But I operated entirely on the assumption that whatever it was that Stephen Fry was going, it would be Stephen Fry doing it, and that was worth the price of admission.

Turns out, I was right. Part of his More Foll Me book tour, Fry was broadcast worldwide from the Royal Festival Hall, and entertained in the way that we've come to expect from Fry these last ten or fifteen years. The comedy is there, to be certain, but this is no stand-up gig. Fry, with his national treasure status and nearly infinite depths of arcane and obscure knowledge (in multiple languages) is a raconteur in the strictest of definable ways. To listen to him babble on with only the slimmest of margins of intent, he still manages to hold your attention and make you laugh. Even if he does take his time getting there, and in the course of the journey, prove that a thought out word is worth twice the one off the top of your head.

Hit the jump for the review.

1 Oct 2014

That's 90% Less Than Everyone Else!

I didn't see Lucy, and the reason can be traced directly to the first trailer I saw for the film, which proudly announced that humans only use 10% of their brain's capacity. This then went on to be the tag line for the film, and prominently placed in ever piece of advertising for the film. But after that first trailer, it wouldn't have matter if it was the greatest film ever made, I was completely incapable of moving beyond that bit of foolish pseudo-science gobbledy-goop.

Worse yet is the fact that, despite being completely false, and frustratingly easy to discover to be false, it is used with an almost pathological rate in science fiction. I loose all faith in the creative energies of a film or series once they trudge out that turd blossom of a plot device. It has gotten to a point where, I don't just dislike it when it's used, I actively and aggressively hate it. This Sci Show episode points out why this is such a terrible urban legend, with entirely obvious examples.

And for the record, I love pointing out when others are wrong.

Via The Mary Sue.

[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 2, "Heavy Is The Head"

Courtesy of Marvel
While I am far from ready to call SHIELD a "good show," and find myself still having to frame my reactions to the series within it's own spectrum, this episode was a definite improvement over last week's premiere, and it had everything to do with how well the writers and actors were able to use character moments to cover up from plot failings. In fact, despite being the Lance Hunter introductory hour, the episode was won by the man still meant to be the star: Clark Gregg. If it weren't for Gregg, this show really wouldn't be worth anything.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that just re-tiled the bathrooms.

That Helps Explain The Fin

I cannot claim that Jurassic Park 3 is my favourite of the JP films, and anyone who can probably isn't thinking straight. But I did applaud their choice in a new front line species for the franchise, even if in doing so they disregarded all accepted scientific knowledge about Spinosaurus aegyptiacus in favour of blind sensationalism (which, for the record, is my major beef with #3: it's all spectacle, no substance).

As it turns out, one of the most sensationalistic scenes in the film might not have been far from the truth. The Spinosaurus was a massive animal, much larger than T-rex, but the distinctive crocodilian skull had experts believing that it was a pescatarian, using the narrow snout to sift for fish along river beds. These theories were based mostly on a single complete skeleton discovered in 1912 and destroyed during a British bombing raid during the Second World War. Since then, only fragments of the holotype species have been discovered, meaning that most theories about aegyptiacus are actually inferences made based on other members of the family, such as the smaller Irritator, Baryonyx, and Suchomimus.

A new study has been published by Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist from the University of Chicago, who had the opportunity to study an apparently complete skeleton discovered by a private collector in the Kem Kem fossil beds in eastern Morocco. While some doubt remains about the authenticity of the find, the skeleton was genuine. And the ability to study an apparently complete skeleton gave the researchers a refreshed and modern chance to examine the animal. According to the study, the hind limbs were short and ill equipped to running that is found in most predatory dinosaurs. Additionally, the feet appear to have a paddle like design. The bones in generally have a higher density, something common to animals which spend a majority of their time in the water.

While the belief at the start and for most of the twentieth century was that the large, cumbersome dinosaurs would have had to spend their lives wading in water to support their weight, these new discoveries might prove that notion true for this single species. If so, then  Spinosaurus is the first aquatic dinosaur species ever identified, because (of course) aquatic reptiles like Plesiosaurs were not dinosaurs.

Via the BBC.
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