Bits and Pieces 5

The Missus cut her hand retreiving a toy from an air vent and got an infection something fierce, so I've been doing double duty of late, hence the dearth of posts. There've been a few interesting odds and ends worth pointing out this week, though ...

  1. Please let the Mayan calendar be correct and the world end in December ... according to an article in Forbes Magazine (LINK), Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion and, already, "[a] new film is already in the works and slated for 2015 with plans to release a new Star Wars film every two to three years." A new trilogy. So much for Lucas' protestations that the six films would be it. This could either be really, really, bad, or surprisingly good. My comic book geek friends all say they did a good job on the Marvel adaptations. I've only seen a few and they were decent, but I never was that big into the superhero scene. I'm thinking that best case scenario, too much of a good thing is too much, and they'll ruin the franchise. Unless maybe they hire Timothy Zahn to do the screenplays ...

  2. Some more mainstream love for Warhammer 40,000, via the Family Circus comic (not a parody, this was the real clip run in papers across North America today):

    It also highlights one of the risks of Warhammer going into computer games ... now people think that it is a computer game, and that guys "into" WH40K are gamers. NO! Warhammer was a boardgame way before it went mainstream and we're geeks, thank you very much. Have to say that Dawn of War II is a pretty solid game though.
  3. Eric Anderson, of a company called "Space Adventures" has "absolutely no doubt ...that there will be a space hotel within the next ten years, in orbit around the Earth." Seems rather overly optimistic to me. Sure, I believe him when he says studies show 40% of people would like to visit space in their lifetime. I sure would. But I just don't see the resources being there and anyone other than the richest of the rich being able to afford it. After no meaningful advances in manned space flight in 50 years, great leaps allowing affordable space tourism in 10 seems a stretch.



Awesomesauce: adjective 1.Something or someone truly amazing. Usually: more awesome than the word "awesome" can describe.

A good friend of mine who also sports a handlebar moustache (well, actually, I'm clean-shaven at the moment but this is really inspiring me to re-grow it) and in other respects shares my impeccable taste in clothing, tobacco, etc. sent me the following video. It is so mind-blowingly excellent that it must speak for itself:

Apparently this chap does this for a living, going by the stage name "Mr. B. the Gentleman Rhymer". It's almost enough to convince me to attend a concert. My faith in humanity has been buoyed in any event. His website: http://gentlemanrhymer.com/

Now if only I had $10,000 in disposable money, I could upgrade my wardrobe to meet this man's standards which are, as he rightfully admits in the video without false modesty, "entirely beyond reproach". But a father of four must make do with what he can find off the rack (I assume this gent had all his clothes custom tailored)


Shrek and Making Evil Good and Good Evil

A reader asked me for my opinion on the "Shrek" films. I only ever saw the first two, and can't say I'm a fan of the franchise. To be sure, they are a source for a fair number of cheap laughs and I enjoy Mike Meyers. Superficially, they're actually pretty enjoyable.

But I don't like the underlying themes, the primary and most blatant being that evil is portrayed as good, good as evil, ugliness as beauty, and beauty as ugliness. Now, I suppose one could argue that the whole princess's true self being a troll is good for young girls in an age when girls as young as 6 are objectifying themselves as sex objects and "want to be sexy", but I still don't like it. I think Shrek takes it too far in its quest to ridicule everything that is good and decent from basic hygiene to chivalry. Also, to any child who actually still has some innocence, this film will serve to help destroy it.

It also is a film that attempts to thoroughly demolish the sense of wonder and the marvelous in children with its cynical attacks on even basic manners and, casting the hideous evil creatures such as ogres and dragons in the role of heroes and casting normal humans and especially knights in the role of villains. It's also pretty cliché, by now, since for at least 50 years it's been in vogue to turn "conventions" on their head thus. It's to the point that, as I believe I said to Sophia's Favourite in his comments box, it would be downright EDGY to write a story these days that features a knight or even (horrors!) a prince in the protagonist role (and not as an anti-hero). Or having a princess who DOESN'T pummel everyone, for that matter, since Shrek's princess is, of course, a Xena Warrior Princess type.

The first Shrek film especially, also has a lot of "adult" humour inserted into it. I suppose the logic is that children will be too young to understand the double entendres and innuendos, but I do not like exposing them to that sort of crass humour. For example, the evil "prince" is a Lord Farquuad, which is a very thinly disguised fark-wad, which is again a very thin disguise for the vile f---wad insult heard in gutter speak today. Or when "Robin Hood" is singing a song he is interrupted by his Merry Men at a strategic point so that he is saying he gets "lots of -- head". There's a lot better stuff out there for children. I personally quite liked the Narnia adaptations and, when they're older, I am one of those rarities who likes both the Lord of the Rings novels AND Peter Jackson's film adaptations (more on that anon).

Further reading: Nourishing an Appetite for the Marvelous by Dr. Marian T. Horvath


Your Bi-Weekly Update #13

Actually posting this two weeks after the last update, so I'm reverting back to the original nomenclature since this actually is bi-weekly this time. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of progress to report; I spent most of my free time the last two weeks reading to prepare for the latest episode of Restoration Radio (which was purely Churchey stuff this time, being about the Second Vatican Council). BUT ...

1. Didn't do a ton of writing, but did get a solid 500-word effort done last night on an as-yet untitled work featuring a troubled young space miner addicted to a pleasure robot that gets thrown into a political upheaval in his colony. It's one of two stories I am manfully struggling to get done before the month's end. The other is a collision of sci-fi and fantasy featuring the trials of a group of astronauts who return to their homeworld 10,000 years after departure finding a completely changed place, complete with a dragon that interrupts their landing causing them to crash-land.

2. On the other hand, I haven't even touched anything Warhammer-related over the last two weeks. But, my "reward" for finishing-off the stories in item #1 will be a new purchase or two and investing my free time in building and painting.


Iron Sky (Movie Review)

Title: Iron Sky
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Studio: Energia Productions
Starring: Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto, Udo Kier
Excellence: 2 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A thoroughly mediocre, and thus rather disappointing, attempt at bringing the classic "Space Nazis" trope to the silver screen

From the previews, the first five minutes released on Youtube, and the various internet propaganda, this film looked like it was going to be "awesomesauce".  The final product, alas, was altogether "weak sauce". All the good stuff was jammed into the theatrical trailer, and there wasn't a whole heck of a lot put in-between to fill the remaining 90 or so minutes. It was altogether bland, and silly, but regrettable NOT in a "so bad it's good" as I was hoping. It seemed like they tried to make it a bit serious and this ruined everything. There was plenty of over-the-top stuff, but they should have gone MORE in that direction.

Iron Sky was yet another example of expectations not delivered upon (apparently a recurring theme in movies of 2012). Here's the summary that's been plastered everywhere in relation to the film:

In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers.

Yet one gets to see altogether too little of the Space Nazis themselves. You actually see MORE of them (aside from Götz Otto and Julia Dietze who, easy on the eyes as she may be, is NOT a mondsoldat). Perhaps even more depressingly, the Moon Nazis vs. Earth space battle is almost completely captured in the preview. It is that short. The "armada of flying saucers" appears, and then is gone.  Budget problems, I suppose, and I'll grant that what they included looked good, but it all made it feel very rushed and underwhelming.

The medical transformation of the African-American astronaut into a white man (which the Nazis think is a big favour to him) was a pleasantly surprising bit of politically-incorrect humour, but it rather falls flat on its face and they tired (nay, exhausted) storyline of having Julia Dietze's character discover that she'd been fooled and Nazism really isn't that great, etc. was, well, yawn-worthy. I expected something a bit more original and something that didn't fall into the well-worn trap of feelingit necessary to make a point of demonizing Nazis to the point of the ridiculous (but not in a funny way). I was expecting goofier, "bad guy" Nazis akin to those in the Indiana Jones films, rather than what we got in Iron Sky.

It wasn't the mind-blowingly horrific disaster that was Prometheus, but I was glad I only invested 90 minutes of my life in watching Iron Sky, all the same. All-in-all, worth giving a miss, unfortunately. It had such potential.


In Honour of Felix Baumgartner

It's been several months since I drew anything, but inspired by the Red Bull Stratos jump, I put the picture below together. I got the idea from Joe Kittinger's words of encouragement to Felix Baumgartner as the last gathered up the courage to jump: "Our guardian angel will take care of you."

Also thought I'd throw in as a bonus a couple pictures drawn by my 6-year-old son inspired by the occasion:


Felix Baumgartner's Historic Jump

On Sunday a little bit of history was made as Felix Baumgartner successfully completed a sky-dive from over 128,000 feet. One reader said in the comments box last week that his understanding was that Joe Kittinger had broken the sound barrier during his 1960 dive (which held most of the records broken by Baumgartner) but everywhere I look online consistently says he didn't and Baumgartner was the first one to do it yesterday. According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable, but it cites as a source "Fact Sheets : Excelsior Gondola". National Museum of the USAF.), Kittinger acheived 614 miles per hour, whereas the speed of sound is 761 miles per hour. Baumgartner maxed-out at 834 mph according to Red Bull.

I watched with my family most of his ascent live, but had to leave with the two oldest children for church about 15 minutes before the fateful jump so only my wife got to watch this momentous occasion. Some may think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but having been born in 1980, I haven't been able to "experience" a first in regards to space travel/exploration ever (the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981 doesn't count since I was too young to be aware of it). So I can't help but be excited to see that maybe, just maybe, there is a new age of space exploration on the horizon. 

I continue to be fascinated by this next wave of space exploits seems to be at the behest of corporations. Not that exploration by such is without historical precedent: much of my homeland was explored by the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, two fur trading companies (although HBC has moved on to other things). But the thing that makes the Red Bull Stratos programme different is that it was funded by the company purely for the purpose of advertising, rather than profit from the actual exploration (such as acquiring beaver pelts). All in all, the sci fi trope of companies running space may not be so far-fetched since nowadays they literally have more money than governments (is there a government that isn't insanely in debt these days?).

Final thought: I salute Felix Baumgartner's courage. I said last week I didn't know if he was brave or crazy, but he was clearly having second thoughts when he opened up his capsule 40+ km up and still made the jump. One can't help but admire the masculine courage involved there. Here's the video of his jump:


The U.S.S. Cygnus and The Black Hole

I mentioned the U.S.S. Cygnus in my post "5 Most Ridiculous Spacecraft in Film" and feel it deserves a special post of its own, along with some ruminations about the film Black Hole, in which it appears. Having acknowledged that it is, from a hard science fiction point of view, an absurd vessel, I reiterate my comment that the Cygnus is a darkly gorgeous, truly awesome spectacle of a star ship and one of my favourite space vessels ever in film.

It has a certain gothic feel to it, almost like a cathedral flying in space, yet with a touch of Victorian/Steampunk with all the glass and lights (in my view) . What makes it silly from a hard sci-fi point of view is what makes it so magnificent: it is not merely functional, but a work of art. Here area  few more pictures:

Considerations of taste aside, it's an impressive example of how much more real a model ship can look than the CGI contraptions modern audiences must endure. Although, it must be admitted, that reading about all the work involved in building/filming/maintaining the thing helps one understand why the CGI "easy way out" is invariably taken these days. From the Starship Modeler site:
Volume 9 No.3 of "Cinefantastique" magazine published when "The Black Hole" was released contains the best sources of information and pictures I have yet seen on the original models. There were two full models of the Cygnus built at a little over twelve feet long, with other sectional models built to a much larger scale for certain close up shots. The twelve foot miniatures weighed 170 pounds each and were constructed primarily of brass and completely made from scratch, with EMA tubes and domes used for detailing. Under this brass exoskeleton were sections of translucent plastic built in sections which housed about a hundred and fifty automotive light bulbs. The two models cost $100,000 and took a crew of 12 to 15 people approximately a year to build. One of the two models were completely destroyed filming the story's ending sequences. The other model went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a time after filming. It's fate since then remains a mystery.

"According to an ex-Disney employee, the model was stored in a crate in the 'Boneyard', where old props and such are stored on the Disney lot. It was rained on a great deal, and, one day, smashed to pieces by a poorly-driven forklift which accidentally backed into the crate. Pieces of the model were taken by various folks as souveniers."
Here's a shot of what the model looked like next to film crew:

 Without writing a full review of The Black Hole, it's worth mentioning that the film has generally been much maligned by critics and viewers over the years. I personally really enjoy it as a sort of sci-fi "spooky castle" film heavy with atmosphere. The big problem with it is that it attempts to be, at the same time, a kid's film with some comic elements which clash with the sense of foreboding that is steadily built up during the film and the darker aspects of the film (such as the horrible revelation that the entire crew was lobotomized and made into zombie slaves to Dr. Reinhardt). Still and all, a worthy film -- and certainly a very unique one.


Felix Baumgartner Prepping for his Jump from Space

Great picture. Not sure whether Felix Baumgartner is brave or crazy, but I salute him.

I mentioned the Red Bull's plan to have a guy jump out of a capsule hanging from a 55-storey-tall balloon from from 120,000 feet in December HERE. It was finally to come to fruition yesterday, but bad weather delayed it until today and now until Sunday. I might have to get up at 6 am to watch it.


Music to Write By

In an email exchange with a fellow writer, the use of "background noise" was brought up. My friend and colleague mentioned that he always writes with either a movie or music playing in the background. A different colleague on my writing group said she would find it to distracting.

I personally fall into the group of those writers who almost "needs" some background music while I write. I find it really helps me "get into" my writing with mood-appropriate music. As such, I listened to a LOT of Star Wars soundrack while working on Call to Arms (which, incidentally, I've received new inspiration for the rewrite of which I forgot to mention in yesterday's post).

Lacking time for any more substantive posts, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite writing music -- maybe if you're a writer you can make use of it too:


General - Snow White and the Hunstman, Gladiator, Game of Thrones soundtracks
More upbeat/heroic - Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasía para un Gentilhombre
Epic - anything Wagner, but especially the selections found in Excalibur's soundtrack

Science Fiction

Space Opera - Star Wars soundtracks, Holst's Planets
Darker/"Cyberpunk" - Blade Runner soundtrack

Obviously not exhaustive, but it's what I have loaded into iTune or which comes to mind. Looking at the list, I realise I've got more fantasy stuff going on, yet in recent years it's all been about sci fi. This is due to my days with Dargonzine when I wrote a fair bit of fantasy. Probably should make more of an effort to get back into that genre some more. No idea why I've drifted away.


Semi-regular Update #12

Another secular "holy day" (well, a Protestant one, I guess) here in Canada today, being Canadian Thanksgiving, so I'm at work getting caught-up. But since it's dead here but for me, I'm able to get a lot done and still have time for a little update.

No point in calling these things "bi-weekly" any more, since the so infrequently are. But at least things are starting to settle down sufficiently that I can write something -- although circumstances conspired against me last night such that I didn't get my planned writing done. I'd say tonight would be the night but I must get back to my exercise routine since I find letting my body fall apart makes things way worse.

  1. As you'd guess from my post a few days ago, I've been rather fried when I've actually had some free time, so I haven't done much writing at all. I've done a fair bit of reading, though, and this has given me inspiration for carrying-forward on several projects. Of special inspirational value was The Chessmen of Mars, the best of the Burroughs' Mars books after A Princess of Mars, in my view.

  2. If not reading, I resort to painting my Warhammer 40K stuff since it makes for a great relaxing hobby. I can just "zone out" and paint. Since I last posted some pics about a month ago, I've put some paint on the tanks, though they still need the stowage and crew painted, as well as battle damage plus dirt/mud/dust:

    Next up, some more Inquisitorial Storm troopers:

    And finally some conversion work, giving more of my rough riders melta guns (a sort of short-range anti-tank weapon) in place of their explosive-tipped hunting lances:

    Not a whole heck of a lot for a month's worth of work, but I must remind myself that it is proper that I spend most of my time at work and my family. So I guess in the context of a wife and four children, this is actually pretty decent progress.

  3.  Finally got to see Iron Sky. It was pretty solidly mediocre and a bit of a letdown. Full review to follow this weekend, hopefully.


Checking in ...

Yes, I'm still alive, although it feels like I'm barely keeping my head above water at the moment. Hence the total lack of posts on this blog, and a lack of any real writing or artistic endeavors. Moved my law practice to a new office two great colleagues and that has really taken the wind out of my sails, not to mention some big cases that have come my way that are keeping me hopping.

At this time I can't give any sort of E.T.A. on when I'll be back up and running. Things are very crazy right now, to the point that from the first time in my life I'm suffering from insomnia, either being unable to fall asleep or waking up at 4 a.m. with my mind too intense to shut off again (like today). Please don't abandon me, dear readers -- I encourage you to subscribe by email (by typing your address into the box just above the labels in the left sidebar) so that you'll know when something new is posted. Thanks to all of you that have taken the time to read thus far in my writing/blogging adventure.

Finally, a bit of humour, by way of a picture that illustrates the dangers of advertising your film in a public restroom ... especially with a movie name like "Looper"...

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