Video Review: Britannia

Short version; Silly but fun.


Set in 43 AD with the invasion of the British Isle by the Roman 9th legion the Amazon original show Britannia should not be confused with history, but rather in the words of Peter Shaffer when speaking about his play Amadeus a ‘historical fantasy.’

When the commander of the 9th Legion, Aulus, (David Morrissey) invades with 20,000 troops, minus the three he executed for desertion, he finds the land of Britannia at war with itself. Various tribes bicker and war while bending knee to the mysterious religious leaders the Druids.

Very quickly it is established that there is a reality behind the Druid’s beliefs and abilities, so that pretty much tells you we are dealing with a fantasy story and not one masquerading as historical fiction.

The series currently has one season and my sweetie-wife and I are just a little over halfway through the episodes. We have our guesses about where the program is going and the anachronisms are sometimes amusing but we still enjoy the ride and it’s paying off so far. (Though my sweetie-wife has voiced a fear that the series may still go all Fortitude on us.) My favorite anachronisms so far, when a character is performing a pagan ritual and imploring their gods to ‘turn back the hands of time.’ Really? ‘Hands of time?’ I guess the writer doesn’t understand that phrase originates with clocks.

The program is produced in stunning 4K resolution with lovely location shooting in Eastern Europe.

If you turn off your history knowledge it is possible to enjoy the show.


Streaming Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

This past weekend I finally got my new televisions set, a large 55″ 4K display with High Dynamic range. Naturally that meant I had to find some 4K content to watch on it the evening it was set up and ready. With a couple of friends over and after we had finished out board and card games for the evening we settled in for a movie.

Browsing through the selections on Netflix I suggested The Cloverfield Paradox, the next entry in the SF/Horror film anthology. I enjoyed Cloverfield, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, so I had decent hopes that this movie would not be a waste of time.

I was wrong.

Populated by decent actors who are entertaining to watch, The Cloverfield Paradox is ultimately a silly movie that more than strain disbelief it shatters its bones and grinds them into an abrasive power then flings that into your eyes.

The story set up is that in the near future Earth is running out of energy all our supplies are nearly exhausted. (That concept itself feels very 70s.) The only hope for humanity is an orbiting particle accelerator that if it works will supply limitless power to the entire plant. (Never mind such minor issue as a distribution grid and the like. All they need is for the thing to work.) The nations of the world are moving rapidly towards war of the lack of energy and time is running out for the station and her brave international crew.

Of course when the system is turned on there is the predicted catastrophe that had been ignored and now all manner of super strange stuff is going on. This is one of the SF movies where the writers feel that the phrase ‘Quantum Mechanics’ is an incantation that allows anything at all to happen, not matter how stupid or impossible.

Very quickly the crewmembers turn on one another and there are special effects driven deaths and injuries until this all leads to the principal character making their fateful decision and growing through their rather predictable arc.

Watching the film could have been more tedious had my friends and I not fallen into MST3K mode, but still this one is a miss. However, the space scenes and the visuals were beautiful so the TV works great!


Did We Get Lucky With the Election of Donald Trump?

That’s a provocative question and let me put out here at the start I think Trump is a terrible person and in the 12 months of his administration our worst President. Yes I know some of you disagree and that’s your opinion we’re not here to debate the merits of the Trump presidency.

Here is my thought: if Trump had lost would the serious threat to our democracy from Russian meddling have been so exposed?

It is a fact widely held within our intelligence community that Russia seriously meddled in out election process. The recent Mueller indictment, which is but a small piece of a much larger and on going investigation, clearly demonstrates that the Russians were engaged in a deep, sophisticated, and intricate operation within American borders to influence our elections. (Yes, I know that there are some who feel that the Russian never expected Trump to win and that the operation was to undercut the administration of Hillary Clinton. I see no evidence to support that interpretation.)

Had Clinton won the Electoral College there would ben investigations into this matter but hamstrung by a hostile congress, fights over other policies, a general sense that it was not worth the time because everyone knows Trump couldn’t have won, and without the independence of a dedicated special prosecutor. These factors, only available under Trump’s victory, have accelerated the investigation and public disclosure of the Russian Ops.

You might think of this as the Bailystock & Bloom outcome of the election. By producing a hit instead of a flop they exposed their criminality and so it would seem for the Russians.

Now, because we are aware of the dangers there is not only a serious investigation into who know what and who did what, but there are thoughtful conversation about our election processes.

I think one of the things we must do to combat this and a number of associated ills if move to a strong national identity system There are candidates proposing using variations on public key encryptions for an ID Card and this is a good place to start. It is a place we would be much further from without the disastrous Trump Presidency.


Movie Review: Black Panther

Ten years ago I went to the theater and watched Iron Man the little film derided at the time by mainstream Hollywood that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yesterday my sweetie-wife and I watched the latest release in the global phenomenon Black Panther.

Introduced into the MCU as a principal character in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther continues the storyline of T’Challa (The Black Panther) as he returned home after the death of his father to assume the mantel of King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a mythical African kingdom in the MCU that is home to a reclusive and secretive people who possess both high technology and the only access to the metal Vibranium. (The material that gives Captain America’s shield it physics defying properties.) Once home T’challa is confronted with truths that have been withheld from his entire life, the complicated relationship with his ex-love Nakia, challenges to his rule, and deep moral question of what do we owe to our fellow human beings?

These story elements while clothed in comic-book action sequences, but are propelled by character and given depth by philosophy. The writing is spot on with characters having a distinct personality illuminated by dialogue and action that makes each person pop out the moment that appear on the screen. The history or Wakanda, its cultures, and the characters give a sense of deep world-building bringing verisimilitude to the fantastic setting and story, The actors are all wonderful in their performances, shining with talent and intelligence and I have my own suspicions on who will become fan favorites.

Aside from a few minor quibbles with SFX shots that are not quite up to par for the rest of the movie and a couple of gags that broke my willing suspension of disbelief this movie has set a high bar for the rest of the MCU films to follow. Of the 18 films so far released my favorites are Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War and now Black Panther. If you want me to rank them 1 thru 3 I cannot because which one takes the top spot will always be up to my mood at that moment.

Black Panther is worth full price IMAX tickets, go see this movie. It is fun, it is emotional, and it has interestingly things to say. In our current political environment we do not deserve Black Panther but we are fortunate enough to have it just the same.


Stop Mocking ‘Duck and Cover’

If your grew up in the shadow of the cold war at some point you were exposed the civil defense that instructed the viewers that during an atomic attack that they should, the moment they see the flash, duck and cover into safety.

This advice has become roundly mocked as useless and is often referred to when someone thinks that an authority is proposing a solution that offers no benefit. This is another example of cynicism masquerading as wisdom.

It is true that if you are close to a nuclear explosion ducking and taking cover will do you little good, but if you are truly close you will have at the chance to take such action. The advice is aimed at person who is distant enough that they can see the flash but where the blast is delayed. In that event, taking cover is flipping brilliant.

A few years ago a meteor impacted the Earth over Siberia exploding with the force of hundreds of thousands of tons of TNT. Only the shallow angle of its approach kept the destruction from becoming catastrophic. However scores of people were injured in the blast, and most because they did the exact opposite of ‘duck and cover.’

They saw the flash of the meteor, they rushed to the windows and stared, and then the blast wave arrived, shattering the glass and injuring them.

Sadly with the situation in North Korea and the United States atomic anxiety is on the rise and yes if you are near ground-zero of a detonation the flash and the blast will be nearly simultaneous but if they are not you would do well to remember Duck and Cover.


Here We Are Again

Another American School another spree killing. As I write this reports are that17 are dead, teachers and students. Tragic doesn’t begin to describe yesterday’s events. Earthquakes are tragic, plagues are tragic, this is malice and evil intent, this is cowardice, and this is intolerable.

For something intolerable we tolerate quite a bit of it, but as I have argues in other postings, I do believe that a reckoning will come, that the camel’s back will break, that the damn will burst and like the transition from liquid to gas a state change will occur. Will it be after yesterday’s murders, perhaps, but I do not think so and yet I feel certain that critical mass will be reached.

The same voices are shouting after this horror. The same calls and counters are shouted with a religious conviction. It doesn’t matter which side, at this juncture the response are programmed and consumption seems more for the tribe and asserting solidarity than any hope of changing reality.

I will not delve into the gun control debate. Not because the time is not ‘right,’ that is a deflection with the purpose of postponing the discussion indefinitely. I have made my views know before and for the large part they have not changed.

There is blood and pain and death ahead of us before this will ever change. Our troubles are far deeper than any legislative fix, but that is not to say that no legislation is required.

I do not profess to have the answers. The questions are deep and complex, but answers will be found I hope that are found soon.


There Are Always Trade-Offs

When it comes to politics who you do or do not support in politics there are nearly always trade-offs. One should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good but equally one should always be aware and owe up to the causes that may have your sympathies but cannot have your support.

For example one may have sympathies for both marriage equality and for right-to-life, but finding a political entity that enthusiastically supports both is near impossible. When it comes time to cast your vote, or donate your hard earned money, one will have to support one cause and leave the other. This is the nature of the beast and one can rail but ultimately one must accept it.

What I dislike is when someone claims the mantle of supporting two positions but yet their actions always fall in support for only one. Express your sympathies but also be honest about where your support is placed.

I have sympathies for firearm rights but for more than a decade now my support has been for politicians and parties that are hostile to those rights. It’s quite simple, there are other issue that matter more to me, that carry greater moral weight, and that ultimately compel my attention.

I hope someday that this madness that has produced the current administration will soon burn itself out, but one cannot close your eyes to the reality and in the end reality is what you must deal with.


Revisiting Wonder Woman

The 2017 Superhero film Wonder Woman reached HBO and over the last two nights I have re-watched the movie. I did go out and see the movie in the theaters on its release and while the film did not wow me I did enjoy the experience, though not enough to go again or purchase the home video version. I thought it might be amusing to watch the film again and see if it still tracked to my initial reaction.

Overall the film is fun but flawed. I do not feel it was a waste of my relaxing hours to re-watch the movie but the overall effect has not changed for me.

The story is fairly basic, it is an original story dealing with the deep myth of Wonder Woman in D.C. Movie continuity. Set during the Great War, WWI for those who do not know by that title, Diana (Wonder Woman) leaves her sheltered paradise home to destroy the god of war Ares in hopes of freeing humanity his violent corruption and restoring all people to their noble versions of themselves. Along the way we are treated to truly entertaining ‘fish out of water’ sequences, a few stock characters as supports, and Diana’s love, Captain Steve Trevor. In the end Dian learns that she had not been in possession of the entire truth about humanity, war, or herself, and picks up the mantle of Wonder Woman, fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.

The script is rather simple and does not bear close scrutiny, particularly in relation to the Great War itself and the historical record. False dram is attempted by making an excursion into enemy territory as a peace-threatening event while great artillery pieces are pounded both sides. The development of a new and terrifying gas weapon provides a third act ticking clock but the mechanics of that clock are quite silly. (Really who would ever load up a bombed with a timer so you cannot leave it on the ground? Weather, often unpredictable, could doom your base and your brilliant scientist simply because you were forced to delay takeoff.

Originally Wonder Woman was a WWII set story but I can understand why they moved the period to the First World War. That war, now a hundred years in the past, is less well know by popular audiences, giving the filmmakers greater freedom in story telling, without the racists overtones and the Holocaust the morality of the war is murkier than WWII, and finally if your plot is going to revolve about a super weapon that Ares inspires humanity to create in hopes of destroying itself, well in WWII there is only one candidate for that device and that would place Diana squarely against the United States, a situation that would be untenable from a storytelling and box office position.

What makes this film enjoyable to watch is the quite skilled direction of its action scenes, hat tip to Patty Jenkins for excellent visual story telling, and the performances from its two leads, Gal Gadot as Diane and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. This film struck a powerful cord in audiences on its release and a sequel is already in the works. I do hope that Patty and Gal get a better screenplay so we can see them really shine in a manner I am fully confident that they can achieve.


New Television

So, one of the reason why I worked so man overtime hours towards the end of last year was to purchase a new television.

My current TV is ten years old, a 42″ HD sett that has worked very well for most of its life and I would have kept going with this one except for a recent fault. In the last two years or so it developed an issue with the backlight that illuminates the screen and that cause a difference in brightness near the top of the monitor. Most of the time it was scarcely noticeable but during dark scenes it became impossible to ignore. (Or at least for me anyway.)

Yesterday I went to a local electronics retailer and purchased my new set and a stand to support it. (Our current stand has begun to bow and the larger set would be too much for it.)

Delivery and set will happen on Saturday morning after that I will be in the 55″ 4K zone for my movie watching. And for a Cinephile like myself that is going to be glorious.



Breaking Clichés

I recently got some feedback on a short story from a top editor and of course the piece is going back into the shop to utilize their comments. However one of the compliments I received was on using a clichéd opening that worked in spite of the cliché. The story began with the character waking up.

If you do not write much or do not hangout with writers learning their craft you may not know just how often this opening starts off stories that fail to deliver. It has been theorized that this opening is so prevalent among novice writing because it mirrors the creative process. The writer doesn’t know how to start the story and begin at the start of the day, with their main character coming out of a slumber. This theory is further reinforced if the character awakens to a white room, the white space very reminiscent of the blank white paper in a typewriter. (And that gives you a sense of how old this cliché is.)

In art any rule can broken so when it is right to start a story with this tired trope?

I think the critical question is what woke the character up? The story I got the positive comment on had as a major theme sleeping dreams and in order to get the character as close as possible to their dreams I needed them to start asleep, but that alone would not have been enough to break the cliché. In addition to the theme, the character is awoken by bad news. In others words this was not just any random awakening, there was the commentary on the dream and an immediate obstacle that presented a dramatic need to my character.

If you are tempted to having your story start with the character coming awake my first advice would be, look for another point in the tale with greater dramatic impact, but if you cannot leap past the moment make sure it fits thematically and has dramatic stakes straight away.


Literary Saboteur

Facebook Auto Publish Powered By :