Review: Catching Fire

I know I'm a little late to the party but I finally got the chance to take my wife to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. She is a huge fan of the books and of the first movie so she was excited when this was released. However, the fear of having to deal with an overcrowded theater full of annoying teenagers kept us away for a couple weeks. But we managed to get around that by going to the first showing on Thanksgiving day when the place was mostly empty.

Catching Fire picks up six months after the events of The Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta have gone back to District 12 to try and regain some sort of semblance of normalcy in their lives but everything is different. Their homes. Their pastimes. Try as they might, nothing will be the same. The film does a good job off the bat of establishing the trouble Katniss is having adjusting after taking part in the Games. She is not the same after what she went through, the emotional scars of being forced to murder someone are evident. She sees the face of her victim as she's out hunting in the woods, reliving his final moments she lets loose an arrow on some unsuspecting turkeys.

This reaction to the Games also sheds light onto Haymitch and his lifestyle. The first film didn't go into his past to show viewers why he's a degenerate alcoholic. And even though he's not much a role model in the second movie, seeing how different Katniss is after her ordeal, you can't help but forgive Haymitch. He's trying to bury the events that he's dealt with, having to murder who knows how many children in order to survive. Films of this nature don't ever bother to shed a light on this type of aftermath so it's a good change of pace to finally see a movie that does.

The driving force behind Catching Fire is the defiant act Katniss commits at the end of the Hunger Games, with her willingness to eat the poison berries along with Peeta and thus invalidating the Games themselves. This act spurs the people of the other districts to see that the Capitol, the place where the rule makers live, are infallible, despite the fact that Katniss had no intentions of sending such a message. This makes the president unhappy and he begins to view Katniss as an enemy that needs to be silenced.

What I love most about this movie is the tone; that permeating feeling of hope. The way it's portrayed and how it spreads throughout the countryside. A few people side with her from the start, accepting her as a voice of freedom through the oppression but quite a few others are not convinced. However, their change comes easily as seemingly each action Katniss makes shines a brighter light on the dictatorial regime in which they all live. And it works out wonderfully; Katniss is far too fearful for the safety of her family that she doesn't intentionally try to stir the pot, but everything she does sparks more hope in people. They already view her as a beacon of change and whatever the Capitol wants her to do barely changes that.

I haven't even touched on the entire second half of the movie; the Hunger Games themselves. It plays out mostly the same as the first film: the entrance parade, public introduction of the contenders, the judgement of skills. It's sped up for brevity's sake but then again, the Games are only half of the movie's focus. They spend a bit of time showing the Games themselves but the brutality of the event takes a backseat to friendships that are forged in the heat of the fires. Katniss and Peeta makes alliances, using the help of others to stay alive.

Jennifer Lawrence was amazing in this movie. She exuded emotion at every moment, able to easily switch between frightened, angry, and stoic at a twist. Being the driving force behind the film, Katniss is a necessary character to get right and Lawrence hits every note the way she needed to. She didn't play the role over the top or too close to her chest; every moment you watch her, you admire her for her strength and courage but also understand the pain and fear she's going through.

Unfortunately, being Katniss's story, everyone else takes a back seat to her so no one else really gets a chance to shine. Gale, Katniss's real love interest, gets a little more screen time than in the first movie, allowing Liam Hemsworth to flesh him out a bit. He does well enough, I have to say; he's overly protective of Katniss and the people in his district but we get a good sense as to why.

Woody Harrelson's Haymitch is fun to watch. As I said before, pre-Games, he's a degenerate, but he manages to sober up long enough to show off a shred of integrity. I like Haymitch, despite all of his flaws, and most of that is because of Harrelson.

Peeta, however, I like less so. His love-lorn, puppy dog act got old during the first movie and is really just done with here. Josh Hutcherson is OK with the character but overall he's fairly forgettable. If he wasn't the second main character of the series, I would be rooting for his demise. Yeah, I know that's pretty harsh, but I just don't think the character is strong enough to really matter in a book like this.

I did enjoy the secondary cast, though. Catching Fire introduces a new set of characters (understandably since much of the cast of the first film were murdered), most of whom add an entirely new level to the film. Sam Claflin plays Finnick, the District 4 tribute and the first to join an alliance with Katniss and Peeta. Claflin exudes charisma the entire time he's fighting for his life in the Games. he's cocky and self-sure, traits that Claflin brings to life believably, but he's not a dick, which is important. He offers his compassion and energy to Katniss and brings a lot to a supporting role.

Along the same lines we have Johanna from District 7, played by Jena Malone. Johanna is characterized by her anger over the Games and toward the Capitol and Malone plays this anger to a T. At all times she has a chip on her shoulder about being forced to fight for her life for a second time and is willing to do what it takes to get back at the people who put her in that position, even if it means making unwanted alliances.

I never read The Hunger Games before seeing the movie, nor did I read Catching Fire. However, even though I wasn't a fan going into the movie, I was amazed with it. I loved the emotional tone of the film and was blown away by the pacing and the characterizations. Everything. Though I wasn't thrilled with how the movie ended, I am able to accept it as it made sense in the long run. After all, there's another entire book shouldn't have expected the story to resolve so easily.

And I will go on record as saying, against the popular vote, that I much prefer the films to the books. Hunger Games the novel just didn't quite live up the the way the story was portrayed on film. Since seeing Catching Fire, I have begun the book and I feel much the same toward that. I'm not saying the books are bad but I think the scripts and direction of the movies are a lot tighter and more focused than Suzanne Collins's writing. Regardless of that, movies or books, The Hunger Games series is proving to be a unique experience which I am glad to undertake.


What I'm Thankful For

It's difficult for me to write a post like this. Not because I have a hard time finding things that I'm thankful for; quite the opposite, actually. I have a loving family, a roof over my head and a job that pays my bills and leaves me with a little left over each month. No, the hard part is to write about what what I'm thankful for in great detail because there are so many things that I can say.

To start off, I am thankful for my family. My mother, step-father, grandfather, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins... The whole nine yards. They are amazing people whose influence have allowed me to develop into the person that I am today. Without my family, I wouldn't know how to live, how to love, or how to be myself.

I'm thankful to have had an amazing father that worked to make sure my sister and I didn't want for anything. Even though he couldn't give us everything, he gave us enough. He taught us the value of hard work and instilled in us how great a sense of accomplishment feels. Unfortunately, my father is no longer with us so I'm not able to express my gratitude to him but I hope that if he were still here, he'd be proud.

Lastly, I'm thankful for my wonderful wife, Lauren. Our relationship hasn't always been peaches and cream but she's stuck by my side through all of it for the last eight years. When I left one job to chase down one of those "Be your own boss in five weeks" scams, she didn't call me an idiot; she held my hand, told me "If you believe you can do it, then do it" and didn't say "I told you so" when I quit after three weeks. She was there for me when I lost my father, giving me a shoulder to cry on throughout the entire ordeal. When my financial trouble got so overwhelming that my only option left was bankruptcy, she didn't judge me. She had plenty of opportunities to leave and find someone that could support her but she didn't.

And because of that, I could never give thanks enough.

She's also cute as a button.
This year is an important one for us as it's our first Thanksgiving being married. My wife is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. She's my happiness and my relaxation and the reason I do what I do.

So, to my wife, Lauren... I love you, pumpkin, and I'm excited to face our life together.


Why does "Agents of SHIELD" Suck So Badly?

They should subtitle the show "Marvel's First Massive Faiure"
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was my most anticipated new show of 2013. The first episode of the series blew me away, seemingly hitting every note it needed to to go toe-to-toe with Marvel's cinematic forays, which have been nothing but stellar so far. But after that initial experience, the quality of the show dropped rapidly to the point that it's just flat out terrible by now.

It pains me to say that but it's true; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a massive disappointment to Marvel fans like me. For a moment, it looked like the show was going to turn around and get itself on the right track but after last's night's horrific episode "Repairs", I've completely lost faith. 

"I'm an uninteresting, lifeless douche
who gets way too much screen time."
One of the biggest let-downs of the show so far is a complete lack of recognizable characters. The Marvel films have done a fantastic job of dangling guest characters in front of their audience. Nick Fury in Iron Man. Hawkeye in Thor. Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Given that track record, fans rightfully expected more of the same from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I know I personally did. I figured there wouldn't be any of the cash-cow heroes dropping in, Captain America or Iron Man, but given that it focuses on S.H.I.E.L.D., I expected a few established S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to show up. Like Dum Dum Dugan, for example. But, no. The only existing properties we've gotten were Dr. Franklin Hall, who, in the comics, becomes the villain Graviton, Victoria Hand and Jasper Sitwell. Jasper fucking Sitwell. This is what the show thinks of its audience. (No, I'm not counting the early appearances of Maria Hill and Nick Fury. That was just ridiculous sleight-of-hand used to make the audience think they gave a shit.)

Where are the characters people want to see? Bobbi Morse is a full-fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. She's also an Avenger. Marvel can easily springboard her into the cinematic universe through the show.

"I'm also uninteresting and lifeless but
I'm a woman so people care about me."
Fans everywhere are clamoring for a Ms. Marvel film, hoping that Marvel has the gall to make a movie with a leading-lady instead of the boys club that they've given us to date. AoS is a way to test audience reaction to a character like Ms. Marvel by bringing her into the show as Carol Danvers. Again, she's a military woman so she'll fit right in. She doesn't even need to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent; she can be an Air Force liaison to S.H.I.E.L.D.

But no. We get Jasper Sitwell.

Is the lack of strong supporting characters enough for me to say the show sucks? No. It fails majorly on another level as well.

Comic books are steeped in continuity, with 50 plus years of history affecting the stories of today. Yet AoS completely lacks continuity, with each episode practically standing apart from the others. In the comic book world, the stories are written as if each comic book is someone's first. What this means is that they take the time to reintroduce characters so that a new fan can get to know who they are and what they can do. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to have taken this mantra to an extreme, discarding all connection to itself and throwing away any concept of continuity and subplot.

"I died and came back from the dead but no one
will tell me 'how'. Oh, yeah. Trust the system."
Think about it. Has there been a single subplot through the season to date that has ever come to fruition? The first episode featured a link to Iron Man 3, blatantly referencing the Extremis project and hinting at a connection to A.I.M., the Advanced Idea Mechanics and the developers of Extremis. This subplot came into play four episodes later, in "Girl With The Flower Dress". It has not been touched since. There has been no additional hints at A.I.M. Or Hydra. Or any villainous organization out to dominate the world, which is what S.H.I.E.L.D. needs. They need a foil, a yin to their yang. They need Cobra Command, some sort of global organization out to enact a devious plot on the world only to get thwarted by S.H.I.E.L.D. every time. That's what S.H.I.E.L.D. is all about. Not the county-hopping shenanigans of Coulson and Co, taking down a new threat in each exotic locale they come to. This isn't S.H.I.E.L.D. It's a higher budget A-Team.

If AoS aired in the 80s, alongside the likes of The A-Team and Knight Rider, its episodic nature would fit right in. But television audiences are much more sophisticated now and want more out of their shows. They want the long-running subplots that crop up every now and then to add depth to the show and the characters. They are looking for that over-arching evil that shadows the deeds of the hero at every turn. AoS has absolutely none of that. Every hint of a possible subplot that's ever cropped up has been unceremoniously dropped in favor of the next uninteresting bad guy chase, from the threat of Extremis to Coulson looking into the events of his death and recovery.

This looks like it makes sense but it really doesn't.
Yes, I understand that the season is only 8 episodes in but audiences shouldn't have to wait this long for something of interest to occur. I've seen all of the arguments about having to "wait for the payoff" and "this is how Joss Whedon works". No, it's not. The first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was 12 episodes long and that had the threat of The Master running through it. And besides, none but the first of the episodes had Joss's hand in it so this cannot be attributed to him. In all honesty, I hold his brother, Jed, responsible. Joss Whedon is hailed as a god among geeks for his ability to write good characters, making them funny and interesting before unceremoniously killing them off. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the perfect example of the half-assed efforts that happen when you allow nepotism to run rampant in the workplace.

To top it off AoS also revels in its "National Security, FUCK YEAH!" attitude, a notion that doesn't sit quite right in a political environment where our country's own national security is frequently overstepping their bounds into breaching the freedoms of citizens. They've kind of scaled that back a little in more recent episodes but when it happens, it's kind of frightening.

This isn't all that's wrong with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but this is all that I can talk about before falling into a deep depression. I had high hopes for the show before it aired. Even when the quality started to wane I remained hopeful that it will hit the right stride and just barrel into awesomeness. But after the first eight-episode run with hald of that being utter garbage, that hope is pretty much gone. It whight be time for me to just pull the plug and walk away but I have to admit that it's hard. Like walking away from an abusive relationship; it's done me wrong so many times but I just can't seem to say "Enough".

Oh well. I can always fall back on Arrow. At least that's still kicking ass.


Boycott Thanksgiving Shopping: A Worthy Campaign or Ridiculous Overreaction?

Thanksgiving: The Expectation
Black Friday is out of control; there's no denying that. Retailers offer crazier and crazier deals to entice people into stores and have begun opening earlier and earlier to get people through their doors first. After all, a store that opens at 1 AM is bound to get more shoppers than a store that opens at 3 AM. It's gotten to the point where the department stores have just done away with the "Friday" part of Black Friday and started opening the night before...on Thanksgiving. While it seems like a shitty thing to do, it's starting to become more prevalent.

Retailers are well aware of their actions when opting to open on Thanksgiving; that's why a majority of them offer their employees additional perks for choosing to work the holiday. These perks come in the form of overtime pay for the day or an extra check for the week, as well as trifling things like company-paid meals and the option to wear jeans and sneakers (which, when working retail, is a huge perk). It's not much but at least it's something to keep their employees happy while they have to be away from their families.

Thanksgiving: The Reality
Despite this, many people are calling for a boycott of shopping at stores that are choosing to open on Thanksgiving. There's even a Facebook group organizing the boycott (complete with a Naughty/Nice list) and a failed Change.org petition to the CEOs of those businesses. And even though their message is a good one, wanting to have the employees of these businesses spend times with their families instead of having to be at work, they just don't realize how hypocritical they are. Through all of the talk about working on Thanksgiving, I have yet to see anyone talk about one industry in particular.

Movie theaters.

Movie theaters are open every day, year round. Short of some sort of state of emergency or act of God, movie theaters do not close. And it's been this way for years. My point is that movie theater employees have had to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and many other holidays that most of America has off yet none of these "Boycott" groups have bothered to think about movie theater employees when they planned their temper tantrum against retailers.

Let's face it; this has nothing to do with someone's desire to have perfect strangers spend time with their families and loved ones and everything to do with a complete distaste for Wal-Mart. Otherwise, these groups would have organized years ago against K-Mart, who has been open on Thanksgiving for the last 22 years, as well as AMC, Regal Theaters, Cinemark and all of the other movie theater chains in the United States. But there hasn't been a peep about this; retailer boycotts didn't start until Wal-Mart and Toys R Us started opening on Thanksgiving. Again...hypocritical.

Fuck family. These people just wanted
to be the first to see Frozen.
When I was 16, I worked in a movie theater. Despite articles like this, it was probably the best job I ever had. And there were times that I had to work Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And New Years. Yeah, it sucked, but it was the job. I knew going in that I would have to work those days and so I did. I got the chance to see my family in the morning if I was working the late shift, or at night if I had to work early. There was no one calling for boycotts of my employer because I had to work. I went in, did my job and went home. 

I'm not saying that these boycotters are wrong; I have no plans to shop on Thanksgiving day so in essence I'm joining the movement by proxy. But they are putting so much energy into a half-hearted movement with complete disregard for the 30,000 or so movie theater employees in the United States. So, yeah, while their intentions or good, they are also half-assed at best.


Happy 50th to The Doctor: My Thoughts on Day Of The Doctor

For the longest time, I tried to avoid Doctor Who despite hearing nothing but good things about it. It wasn't because of some sort of ignorant refusal to watch the show. I really just didn't want to have something else on my plate. But then my wife started watching it and she got hooked. After a while, I started watching a few episodes here and there and before I knew it, I was looking forward to Saturday nights and revisiting the Chris Eccleston episodes. While I wouldn't consider myself a "Whovian" I do think of myself as a fan. With that in mind, I was very much anticipating the 50th Anniversary special, "Day of the Doctor" to see how the showrunner, Stephen Moffat, would celebrate the occasion

The true face of a Whovian.
Watching the pre-show for the anniversary episode almost ruined the entire mood for me, mostly because it was so awkward and hard to watch. It was hosted by a woman named Veronica Belmont. No, I have no idea who she is or why I should care about her opinion of Doctor Who. They should have gotten someone like Chris Hardwick to host this thing; he at least has a personality. Or better yet, Alan Kistler; he literally wrote the book on Doctor Who. But whatever. Thankfully, it was only 20 minutes long and I managed to get through it unscathed.

It's hard to write about an episode of Doctor Who mostly because of how much actually happens. "Day of the Doctor" is no exception to this. I'm not even going to try to remain vague about my thoughts because to do so would make me sound like a rambling madman. So if you go forward, be careful. In the words of River Song... Spoilers.

Firstly, let me say that I loved the chemistry between David Tennant and Matt Smith. A lot of Who fans were turned off by Smith's portrayal when he was first introduced, seeing him as too over-the-top in the role but I've always enjoyed Eleven. I like the energy and humor he brings to the show but seeing him on screen with David Tennant was just amazing. The two men play off each other well, with both of them being so completely in touch with the character of the Doctor. Granted, both of them have defined the Doctor in their own way, giving him unique personalities in their times in the role. And even though, for the most part, Ten and Eleven are so completely different, they share a lot of the same characteristics. And this really shows during this episode.

"Day of the Doctor" brings John Hurt's Doctor to the forefront. Introduced to audiences at the end of the Season Seven finale, there have been questions surrounding where Hurt's Doctor fits into the timeline. In that episode, Eleven tells Clara that he's the face of a broken promise. While dramatic, it didn't really shine any light on who he is. But "Day of the Doctor" changed all that.

Hurt played the role amazingly, so very much different from the jovial, light-hearted Doctors of Tennant and Smith. He is run down, tired, ready to do the unthinkable for a moments peace. In essence, given where he fits into the time-line, Hurt's portrayal was spot on.

The way they attacked the plot was...inventive, to say the least. Moffat took a defining moment in the life of the Doctor and basically negated it, without changing a thing. Given the change, the Doctor would still develop the way he was meant to, becoming the man that has appeared throughout the show these last 50 years. You would expect not absolutely nothing different, even though the history of the Doctor is completely different. It was clever and ridiculously entertaining.

But what does change is the numbering. Knowing that Hurt was the face of the Doctor before the death of Gallifrey would mean that everyone ascends. William Hartnell would technically be the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton the third, with Matt Smith being number Twelve."Day of the Doctor" also recognizes this, making a reference to thirteen total Doctors, which would include Matt Smith's replacement, Peter Capaldi, who will make his debut in next month's Christmas special. So is the change in numbering going to be agreed upon? Given the voracious nature of Doctor Who fans, I doubt it will be accepted lightly.

Really, the only thing that bother me about the episode was the use of Billie Piper. Rose Tyler is arguably the best Doctor's companion of the series so to hear that Piper would be included in the anniversary special was great news. But, technically, Rose Tyler didn't appear in the episode; Piper plays an interpretation of Rose that tries to convince the Doctor of a major mistake he will make. The episode is essentially an interpretation of A Christmas Carol with Piper acting as the Ghost of Christmas Future. It was by no means a detriment to the episode, but I was hoping for the real Rose.

It was also great to see Tom Baker again.

I tend to get worried when an event receives as much hype as "Day of the Doctor" has. Not because it's not warranted but usually it doesn't live up to the hype.I have to say, though, that "Day of the Doctor" was pretty amazing. It was a great special in the middle of a fantastic show and a wonderful way to let a new actor shine in the role of the Doctor. I would love to see more of the Doctor in his days on Gallifrey, days before the penance he pays after destroying his entire race. Luckily, fans will be able to relive the episode over and over as it's already been announced to be released on Blu-Ray on December 10, just in time for Christmas. I know my wife has already put it on her list to Santa.


How Do You Foster The Next Generation Of Comics Readers?

Last night I was going through my emails, cleaning out my inbox like everyone needs to do every so often when I stumbled upon something from Lulu.com. If you're not familiar with Lulu, it's a print-on-demand company that allows independent writers to get physical copies of their books to readers without having to purchase 500 paperbacks from a printer. Anyway, I breezed through the email without really reading it when it caught my attention that it was promoting a contest for kids. The prize of the contest?

To have a Marvel Comics artist draw the character created by one lucky child.

The impetus behind the contest is My Comic Book, a kit that allows kids to create their own comic book. The kit, designed by Creations By You, comes with pages, pens, markers, pencils and erasers, and an instruction booklet to help them through the comic creation process. However, that's not all. The kit also comes with a pre-paid envelope which can be used to send the comic book out to have it professional printed and assembled and sent back to the child, crediting them as the creator in an "About the Author" feature.

I cannot express how excited I am that something like this exists. The fact that I fall outside their demographic age-wise notwithstanding, I love the idea of fostering an appreciation of the arts in children, giving them an outlet for their creativity. And in the form of comic books to boot.

Comic book properties are particularly hot lately...in many other media such as movies, television and toys. But all of that attention doesn't necessarily translate into new comic sales, meaning the characters are getting so much attention but the comic book industry is missing out. However if a child can get the joy of seeing their name in print on something they created, it may draw them into the wonderful world of comic books, creating a new generation of readers and enhancing the depths of comics in general. It may even entice kids to look at becoming artists or writers in the industry as their future profession.
Bat Family by Ryan Benjamin, from his DeviantArt page

But let's go back to the prize of the contest, getting the chance to have their characters drawn by Ryan Benjamin. Benjamin has an amazing body of work, including Batman Beyond and Teen Titans for DC Comics and Iron Man for Marvel and well as a number of other projects. So to have an artist of that caliber interpret a kid's creation would be an exciting prospect.

If you have or know a child that loves to make art, the My Comic Book kit would be a great gift for them, especially with Christmas right around the corner. If you want to check out the official rules for the contest, head over to My Kid's Comic. You have until January 15th to create something for the chance to have it drawn by Ryan Benjamin so if you want your kid to be in the running, they better get started!


Impressions of the Geek Creation Show

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a link on Facebook to a weekend event called the Geek Creation Show. Checking out the website I realized that the show was to be held in a hotel not far from where I live. I talked to my wife and, after looking over the vendor and panel lists, we both figured it would be worth checking out. So I bought us a pair of tickets and we waited for the day to arrive.

As I expected, the show was small. Like, really small. There were about ten vendors occupying the main conference room and about four or five more lining the hallways. The decision to put vendors in the hallways was an odd one to me seeing as how the conference room was nearly half empty. Maybe it had something to do with paying for hallway placement, however, as there tended to be more people hanging around those tables than inside the conference room but it created an awkward flow to the show and made the whole thing feel even smaller.

With such a small amount of vendors, the ticket cost of $15 really didn't seem all that reasonable. In actuality, the real draw to this show was the panels that it offered. The day was booked with panels in a few of the smaller conference rooms, covering a wide range of topics. When we arrived on Saturday, the first panel we checked out was called Chocolat and covered a history of chocolate, enlightenment on a few of its medicinal properties, and even a live demonstration of making chocolate similar to the way the Aztecs did, using a wide variety of spices and peppers in molten chocolate to make a thin, frothy drink. The presenter gave each of the attendees a taste of the chocolate drink. It was...not good. Thinning it out with honey made it tolerable but I'll happily take my chocolate wrapped around peanut butter patties over the homemade, spiced peppery chocolate beverage any day. Despite that, the panel was very interesting

Following the chocolate panel, we stuck around in the same room for something called "Story Telling: Leveled Up". As a novel writer, I was looking forward to this one. I am always looking for ways to improve my fiction and make it more interesting and from the description on the website, this panel was perfect for me: "Using techniques from the Western storytelling and theatrical traditions, will teach you how to tell stories which will fascinate, enthrall, and entertain." However, it was nothing like what I expected.

There wasn't much theory or technique given by the presenter. His entire thesis was based on one way to make a story interesting: lie. Most of the examples he gave were just different types of lying. Or embellishing. Or misdirection. The presenter, a gentleman with a name tag that recognized him as "The Original Tom", then asked the audience to tell stories. Most of the panel's time was occupied by the attendees. You would think, given this, the presenter would at least provide feedback on how each person related their tales, pointing out their weaknesses and giving them tips on how to improve their ability to captivate audiences. But none of that happened; I felt that Tom used everyone else as a way to eat up time so that he would have to talk less. Granted, the panel was funny but I didn't come away with anything, making it a major disappointment.

After the storytelling panel, my wife and I took to the vendor area. We passed an author named C.J. Henderson and stopped to chat a bit. He was a very animated person, happy to talk, and interested in interacting with people. Intrigued by the premises of a few of his novels, I purchased a couple of books from him: Brooklyn Knight, the first in a new series starring a museum curator searching for a mystical object, and The Spider: Shadow of Evil, a pulp fiction novel about, clearly, The Spider, a masked crimefighter that debuted in the 1930s. Henderson was telling me that Shadow of Evil is the first new Spider novel in over 60 years, which was pretty cool. I'd never read anything by Henderson before but I'm looking forward to checking these out.

After that, we found a booth by a company called FotoPlex. The talked to the proprietor, Scott, and he showed us a bit of what they do. They take photos of people and place them in a variety of backgrounds, like a zombie apocalypse, outside of the Bates Motel, or even a few settings in the world of Doctor Who, using a wide range of props to make their photos as realistic as possible. Lauren and I snapped a picture of us stepping out of the TARDIS which I think came out pretty cool.

We really didn't spend much more time at the con after that as there wasn't a lot of other stuff that interested us. There were a bunch of other panels scheduled for that day, like an open debate of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Easy Applique Quilting, and Using Math to Dominate Risk. All in all, the show would have been worthwhile if there was more that was geared to my interests. But as we don't play trading card games, have no interest in steampunk and don't make my own jewelry, this wasn't the best way for my wife and I to spend our Saturday. I give the Geek Creation Show credit for not trying to be a mini comic con; at least it's doing something different to appeal to the geek culture and give them more besides the standard "Breaking Into Comics" and "Best TCG Strategies To Win Any Type Of Match Up" types of panels. I am glad that we went, however, if for no other reason than to get the chance to do something different.


Review: Almost Human

Historically, science fiction shows don't last on television. Sure, there have been a few exceptions throughout the years, like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who, but for the most part, the best a sci-fi series can hope to accomplish is garner a strong cult following. Luckily, that doesn't stop the networks from taking risks on new sci-fi based shows. Even though most of them aren't worth the time to watch them, every now and then there's one with a little bit of promise.

Last night, Fox premiered its newest foray into science fiction with Almost Human, a buddy-cop drama with a premise similar to Small Wonder. In the future, the police force is spread so thin that human officers need to be team up with android partners called "Synthetics". The show focuses on John Kennex, an officer with a lot of baggage, both physical and emotional. Kennex holds a grudge against the idea of synthetic partners, blaming one for the loss of his last human partner in a raid gone bad and as a result, opposes being partnered with one. But his commanding officer, Maldonado, chooses an out-dated model of synthetic as his partner, one that was decommissioned due to a known issue with emotional responses.

Almost Human opens fantastically in the middle of the raid that screws up Kennex, showing us how he became the person he is in the show. The production values of a full scale shoot out were simply amazing, proving that the show makers are sparing no expense to pull off their vision. Karl Urban, best known for his role as Bones in the latest Star Trek films as well as the titular role of 2012's Dredd, plays Kennex. He brings a natural, tough-guy air to the role, showing audiences how much of a hard-ass he can be. In the first scene, we see Kennex refuse to leave his partner despite the protestations of the synthetic he is with. This shows us that Kennex values human bonds over logical thinking, an idea that is alien to androids. The pilot's director also gave a humorous nod to one of Urban's other roles, showing a shot from a first-person view, a la Doom. It was quick and almost imperceptible but hilarious none the less.

Michael Ealy plays DRN, pronounced "Dorian", the defunct synthetic that gets paired up with Kennex. Unlike the other androids in the show, Dorian does have the ability to feel and think critically, giving Ealy the opportunity to actually act, which he does pretty well. As an android, Dorian is self-aware, knowing what is required of him in certain situations but he also gives off that "fish out of water" vibe when faced with something new, such as when Kennex tries to turn him off with a synthetic command. It makes for a light-hearted moment in an otherwise heavy drama.

The rest of the cast does well enough. Lili Taylor is Maldonado, the police captain who cares for and trusts Kennex. In all honesty, I'm not sure she is the "captain" as I don't think it's explicitly stated in the pilot but whatever. Maldonado is the reason Kennex is still on the force; after the trauma that he goes through it's hard to understand how any psychiatrist would clear Kennex for active duty a mere 17 months after losing his partner and his leg. It would only be through the actions of a high ranking police official that Kennex get his gun and shield back, and that's Maldonado. Taylor manages to carry her own weight in the show and I can see her being a driving force in future episodes. Honestly, I like her character more than I do Orlando Jones' in Sleepy Hollow, so I'm good with this.

The other female character is Minka Kelly's Valerie Stahl, a detective that works alongside Kennex. It's clear that she admires Kennex but why is never made clear. What is clear is that the show runners are setting up some sort of romantic interest between these two.

I was really impressed with the depths of the science fiction the show portrayed, setting up the city in amazing ways. They managed to maintain a feeling of familiarity. Buildings, highways and even a few models of cars all look like they do in present day. But what I really liked is the way the sprinkled in some of the fantastic, like the idea of fully synthetic limbs and hoop-shaped vehicles. By not imagining the world was completely transformed in the span of 35 years, it made the science fiction seem less hokey. When it comes to sci-fi, it's really easy to go overboard with the idea of what could happen, which could turn the show into an ongoing Demolition Man. But by not being so liberal with the "fiction" part of the sci-fi, it makes the show easier to relate to.

I've watched a lot of new shows this season and have been impressed by many more than I expected. Almost Human is one of those shows. I really liked the character of John Kennex and look forward to seeing more of his relationship with Dorian. They set up a great scenario for the first episode, cleverly introducing a secret conspiracy and, in essence, an underlying enemy for the show's protagonist. Even though it looks like the show will devolve into a standard police procedural, I was thoroughly impressed with the pilot and look forward to seeing episode two tonight.


Justice League: War

When it comes to comic books, I tend to lean more towards Marvel. The X-Men got me started reading comics and I count Spider-Man as one of my favorite characters. This love for Marvel bleeds over into other media as well, like the movies and television shows. But even though I consider myself a Marvel zombie, there are a lot of projects from DC Comics that I enjoy, such as the new live-action series, Arrow. With that said, I just saw the trailer for the upcoming DC Animated movie, Justice League: War, and I have to say I'm pretty excited for it.

I was pleasantly surprised when DC relaunched their line and started the New 52; it enticed me to begin buying some of their books again without getting lost in decades of continuity that I didn't have the time or money to catch up on. And one of the titles that really caught my eye was Justice League. Justice League: War is based on the first story arc of the comic series and shows how the Justice League came to be.

As I said, I'm pretty excited for the movie. I like the art direction even though it's a far cry from Jim Lee's epic pencils in the comic book. They gave it a look similar to the Young Justice series which, in all honesty, was a good decision. Young Justice was instantly recognizable without being overly stylized. The adaptation of the story also looks pretty loyal to the comic.

There are a few things I don't like, like a lot of the voice casting. Darkseid just sounds ridiculous. When I see Darkseid in the comics, I hear a deep, resonant voice, tinged with the screams of millions of dying souls. Basically something completely beyond anything human. So to hear him sound like a prime-time newscaster is very disappointing. Seeing that Darkseid is played by veteran voice actor Steve Blum, the same guy who played Wolverine in Wolverine and the X-Men (and almost every Wolverine appearance since), the fact that he sounds so completely unintimidating is doubly disappointing.

I have the same feelings about how Batman is portrayed. In nearly all of his animated appearances, Batman has been carefully cast, with the actor chosen to supply a deep, aggressive voice. But in this, he sounds just as cheery and ol' Darkseid, which is pretty ridiculous. The rest of the voice casting seems pretty on point. Superman, Green Lantern, Flash; you would expect all of them to sound pretty mellow and serene. But Batman? That needs intensity, not soap opera.

I'm not crazy about Wonder Woman's new look, either. It seems like every time we turn around, Wonder Woman looks different. It's like DC is trying to get rid of the iconic look and find something new. In a few cases it works, like her last redesign with the long pants and leather jacket (well, I thought it worked). But this one is just too close to the classic look without enough to differentiate it. It just seems pointless to go with this when her outfit was just redesigned for the launch of the New 52, and done better at that.

The most irritating thing about Justice League: War is the lack of Aquaman. The New 52 Justice League line-up consisted of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. But here, Aquaman is replaced by Shazam. Given the surprise hit the Geoff Johns-penned Aquaman series was post-relaunch, it doesn't make much sense for them to remove him from the team. Granted, Johns also wrote the relaunch of Shazam for the New 52, but that wasn't even given its own series; the origin was told as back-up stories in Justice League. And, in my humble opinion, they were weak as hell. But Johns was able to take Aquaman, a character that many people consider a joke, and make him interesting. He even played off the fact that most people consider Aquaman a joke and used it humorously in the book. Maybe DC has plans for a future Aquaman animated film? If that's true, I'm not sure it's the best idea, but whatever they do better be good for them to give him the finger like this.

I know I said I was interested in Justice League: War then proceeded to list three pretty heavy strikes against it, but I really do want to see it. Despite its obvious flaws and poor decisions, it looks like it will be decent. I like what DC has been doing with their animated movies so hopefully this will live up to their streak.


Tiny Death Star

I'm not the kind of person that could be described as a "gamer". I have a PS3, a Nintendo Wii and a library of games but I never seem to play either of them. It tends to break down to my extreme lack of time to play anything. When I do play, I tend to feel guilty because there's much more that I could be doing with my time. There are a bunch of games that I'd like to play but don't bother buying because I know I'll never get the chance to play. But that may have something to do with why I play games on my phone so often.

Wait. Scratch that. I don't play different games on my phone. I play one kind. Tiny Tower. A game that had me addicted to the point that after my game crashed and I lost my data, I emailed the developers and begged them to find a way to get it back. I was able to kick my habit when I got my new phone by not installing it for the first few months. But I've now learned that a new version of Tiny Tower was just released. A Star Wars themed version.

Tiny Death Star.

I'm weak. There's no way I could resist that. I downloaded it on Friday and played almost non-stop since then.

The game is basically the same as Tiny Tower with a Star Wars paint job. Essentially, the Empire is running low on money to fund their fight against the Rebellion. To counteract this, the Emperor proclaims that they will start running the Death Star as a business, collecting rent from citizens (or "Bitizens" as the game calls them) and making them get jobs. You start out with a small, two story duplex and add floors of differing types to your construction. Most of the floors are of a different industry type, such as Retail or Recreational, and each floor has its own theme, like the Holochess Hall or the Droid Store. Bitizens move into Residential floors of the Death Star and get jobs, which produces income and allowing the player to expand.

Tiny Death Star does differ from its predecessor slightly. One of those differences is the addition of missions assigned to you by the Emperor. These are simple things that would be fulfilled as you play the game regardless, such as "Build an Imperial Floor" or "Have 30 Bitizens move in". You would find yourself fulfilling these missions as you progress through the game but at least it's another way you can make money.

Another difference is the Imperial Floor. In Tiny Tower, these were five industry types that generated income: Retail, Food, Recreation, Service, and Creative. Tiny Death Star does away with Creative and replaces it with Imperial. When you build an Imperial floor, it gets placed beneath the Arrivals floor, away from all of the others. Using Supply officers, the Imperial floors craft items the Empire would use in battle. The use of these items is limited to other, more significant items and giving the player a monetary reward for it. If these items have any other use, I haven't found it yet.

But probably what I find the most fun is finding the classic characters from the movies. Every now and then, you'll be visited by a Star Wars character, like Lando Calrissian or Princess Leia, all in different costumes. The player collects these characters and can view them in an album later on. So far, it serves nothing to the game besides being something to strive for.

As always, players can speed up their progress by purchasing credits that allow them to unlock features, such as specific levels or characters for the album. This just seems to defeat the purpose as the game, like Tiny Tower, has no specific end so speeding up the progress does nothing besides making you grow jaded with the game once you've collected everything.

If you're a fan of Tiny Tower, then Tiny Death Star is up your alley. If you like Star Wars but have never played Tiny Tower, I'd say give it a shot. it's a pointless little game but it would at least give you something to do while you're waiting for an oil change at Pep Boys. Tiny Death Star is available for iPhone and Android for the low, low price of free.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutagen Man Unleashed

It would seem that I can't get enough of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon on Nickelodeon. Every time I turn around, they seem to hit a home run with a new episode. Just a few weeks back, the second season premiered and it turned out to be pretty damn awesome, setting up the season to be chock full of new mutant characters. The episode after that was an amazing homage to the classic sci fi movie Alien in which the turtles had to subdue a pair of mutant squirrels that gestated inside the abdomens of people. And turtles. All set to the backdrop of Michelangelo's narration of a comic book he once read. This past Saturday's episode marked a new benchmark, introducing a fan-favorite character into the new series.

Enter Casey Jones.

Or, at least, a smug, pre-hero version of Casey Jones
When I heard that Casey Jones was coming to the series, I got really excited. Ever since the original cartoon series, Casey has been a staple for the Ninja Turtles. It was pretty strange that it took almost a season and a half for him to come to the show. But whatever. I was happy to see he was finally going to be a part of this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

With that said, I was a little disappointed with the episode. It didn't focus on Casey even though he did have a pretty big role in the story. Given the title of the episode, "Mutagen Man Unleashed", the antagonist was the true focus. Clearly the writers just wanted to keep the theme going by introducing a new mutant into the show, which I was cool with, but it wasn't the most interesting episode of the new season.

The story breaks down with Donatello being jealous after finding April and Casey in the park. He thinks their on a date but April is tutoring Casey in trigonometry. Donnie goes back to the lair and begins to pour his heart out to Pulverizer/Timothy, the floating mess of organs he has in a jar in his lab. Hearing Donnie's story, and seeing the mutagen that turned him into what he is, Pulverizer drinks the mutagen behind Donnie's back and his jar grows arms and legs. With his new mobility, he goes after April in an attempt to make friends, forcing the turtles to use their new techniques in stealth to take him down.

The reason I was so disappointed with this episode is because Casey Jones wasn't what I expected. I first heard about Casey through the TMNTMaster Tumblr site. They sent me an email showing the new Playmates action figure, where Casey looks like a total badass in his hoodie, pads, and hockey mask that looks like a skull. But that's not what the episode showed. Instead of the hardcore vigilante that Casey is presented in his other incarnations, we get a pompous high school jerk with two missing teeth who is totally in love with himself. I get that, instead of coming out of the gate and establishing Casey as a fighter allows them to write more development into the show, but that doesn't mean I wasn't disappointed by the presentation.

There were a lot of things that I liked about the episode, like the Voltron homage that bookended the true story. I am also excited to see Casey Jones in the series, so even though I didn't like his debut, he'll should be a great asset to future episodes. This slight disappointment isn't enough for me to turn my back on TMNT, either. it's still a remarkable show and I look forward to watching it each week.


Thor: The Dark World Review

Marvel continues their push to dominate the box office with their newest release, Thor: The Dark World. Their first venture into Asgard led them to introduce Thor and give them the opportunity to assemble The Avengers, one of the ballsiest marketing movies ever done in the film industry. But the move worked out and The Avengers grossed a butt-load of money so we can expect The Dark World to lead up to something similar. Having enjoyed Thor and The Avengers as much as I did, I was looking forward to seeing The Dark World.

The wife and I made a trip to the theaters Sunday morning for the first IMAX 3D showing of the day. We've been making a habit of early Sunday shows since they tend to be a less annoying experience than the opening nights that we're used to. Two trailers into the movie, though, a manager came in to say that a bulb broke in the projector and as a result, they couldn't show the movie in 3D. To make up for it, we got free passes for a future movie. So even though I was disappointed at not seeing Thor: The Dark World in 3D, we basically got to see it for free so it's pretty much a wash. None of that has any bearing on my enjoyment of the film, mind you. I just wanted to tell my little anecdote.

The movie opens with Odin sentencing Loki to the dungeons of Asgard for his role in the Invasion of New York shown in The Avengers. Things quickly turn to Thor, deep in battle in the land of Vanaheim trying to quell an uprising. It's a quick scene that reminds audiences of the power Thor possesses. It also reintroduces most of Thor's entourage, the Warriors Three and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander). Despite Thor's show of force, he remains the level-headed hero that he became by the end of the first movie. Just like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth remains the perfect choice for Thor. Not only does he have the right physicality for the part but his deep and resonant voice is what you would expect to hear from the God of Thunder. Hemsworth proves himself to be competent with his emotion, showing his wild-eyed wonder at the life of Midgardians while able to switch to warrior mode in a beat.

One of the best things about the movie is that the supporting characters finally get some time in the spotlight. Thor's purpose was to introduce Thor, the main character and the guy Marvel was to add to The Avengers so it made sense that he would be that film's focus. But with that said and done, Thor: The Dark World allowed the filmmakers to get some play out of the background cast. We finally get the chance to see Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in action, not sleeping through nearly the entire film (as he literally did in the first). Thor's mother, Frigga (Rene Russo), gets to prove how much of a bad-ass she is and why Odin chose her as his wife. Not only that, but audiences learn that she has a name, a point that was sadly overlooked in Thor. Each of the Warriors Three, Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun, all play pivotal roles in Thor's plans, as does Sif, who also adds a bit of discarded relationship drama. Even Heimdall (Idriss Elba) gets in on the action in a scene that was probably one of my favorites of the movie.

But it's more than just the Asgardians that get their fifteen minutes; Kat Dennings' Darcy plays a much larger role in the film than she did in the first. As a non-super powered character, though, she doesn't add all that much to the plot, but her role as the comic relief is much expanded and she does appear onscreen quite a bit more.

Thankfully, though, the biggest change was in the treatment of Jane Foster. I love Natalie Portman and feel she is a stellar actress but in Thor, she was stilted and two-dimensional. I don't blame that on Portman; her character was terribly written and seemed to be added only as a love interest for Thor, which is sad because Portman never came off as the star-struck, doe-eyed, fall-in-love-with-the-hunk kind of girl to me so seeing that in Thor was disappointing. However, Thor: The Dark World portrays Jane as a much more integral part of the story. More than integral, really. Necessary. Even with that, Jane manages to hold her own in a world full with hammer-wielding gods and immortal dark elves. She uses the powers that she has at her disposal, the knowledge of science, to help the hero in his time of need.

Thor's enemies this go-around are an ancient race of beings known as dark elves and their leader, Malekith. The concept designs of the dark elves was great and I loved the expressionless masks they wore in battle, which added the right amount of creepy. (Seriously, I hope those masks become commercially available by next Halloween.) Malekith proved to be an extraordinary villain. Played by the ninth Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston, I was really looking forward to seeing him in action and Eccleston did a great job with the character. But as far as the bad guys go, Kurse was amazing. Kurse was spectacularly designed, shown as a large, imposing beast. I'm glad the filmmakers chose to use practical makeup effects for him and not CGI as it added a lot to his presence onscreen. It made the danger feel more real and probably helped to get the right emotion from the other actors.

Probably the best part of the film was the interaction between Thor and and his half-brother, Loki. Tom Hiddleston has done wonders as Loki, capturing the hearts of millions of women worldwide, which is great as it only helps to increase the box office draw. The adoration is well deserved as Hiddleston does bring a lot of gravitas to the character. He and Hemsworth play well off each other, such as their bickering while trying to pilot an enemy ship. But more than that, Hiddleston brings out the smarmy, duplicitous nature of Loki, playing the two-faced son of a bitch that you just can't help but to like. I wouldn't say that Hiddleston was the highest point of Thor: The Dark World, but he was damn close.

A standard of the Marvel films, The Dark World's mid-credits scene helped set up a future film. Given the content of this scene, though, I really can't tell which movie it's setting up. The next Marvel film is Captain America: The Winter Soldier but based on what I know of that story, I don't think it ties to what happened in Thor: The Dark World. It may be that Marvel is thinking more than one move ahead and is setting up something even further down the line. But regardless of when the payoff hits, it's going to be frigging epic.

When people say they were disappointed by Iron Man 2 or Iron Man 3, I really find it hard to argue with them. I liked both movies but I can definitely see their flaws. However, I would have to question someone's tastes if they came away from Thor: The Dark World and said that it didn't compare to the first. Thor was a good movie; not quite the best of the Marvel: Phase 1 films but definitely a great introduction to the character and world of Thor. The Dark World, on the other hand, has a lot of what the first film was missing and I would say that it easily surpasses its predecessor.


Four Marvel Series Coming To Netflix

The news hit yesterday and it's pretty big: four Marvel Comics' properties are being developed for live-action shows to air on Netflix.

Marvel is constantly looking for new projects to take from the comic pages and bring to the live-action world. After the success of Iron Man and the way they rolled all of their biggest characters into The Avengers, it's no surprise that they are looking to duplicate that success. So with their movies continuing to kick ass in theaters, they decided to narrow their focus to the small screen. This particular project is a big one, developing four individual shows at once, all leading up to a culmination in a final team up mini-series. So they are basically just emulating the formula of The Avengers, just with lower profile characters.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix has committed to four series, each containing a minimum of 13 episodes. From what it sounds like, each series would focus on one character and are likely to play off each other from time to time, with characters crossing into each series. The heroes that are slated to appear?

Daredevil. Jessica Jones. Iron Fist. Luke Cage.

It's an odd line up, indeed. Clearly, Daredevil would be the most popular character in that list, having already been translated onto the big screen by Ben Affleck back in 2003. While the movie was mostly panned by fans, it still managed to bring some attention to the character. It makes sense that they chose Daredevil to kick-off the initiative, grabbing fans of the movie (do they exist?) and leading them into the other characters.

Jessica Jones seems like a strange character to choose for her own series were it not for the fact that this is the only one Marvel revealed they had plans for. Given what Jeph Loeb talked about at San Diego Comic Con back in 2011, it sounds like Marvel intend to adapt Brian Michael Bendis' series Alias, which focuses on Jones' life as a private detective over her super hero life. I read the first few issues of the series and it was pretty well written. if they do go this route, it could be a really good, gritty detective series. Her involved also opens up the move to include Luke Cage, given their relationship status in the Marvel Universe.

Luke Cage and Iron Fist make sense. They are very popular characters with comics fans. So popular, in fact, that most fans were expecting J. August Richards' character in the premiere episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to turn out to be Luke Cage. While the disappointment of the reveal that it wasn't could be heard around the world, this move will definitely satisfy those fans. And even though it won't be an actual Heroes For Hire team up (supposedly), it will be awesome to see the duo on screen together.

But the climax of all four of these series is a mini-series featuring all of the characters. Marvel and Netflix have already revealed that the final mini-series will be called The Defenders, which makes it sound very much like Avengers-Lite. Despite that, though, it sounds like a cool idea, especially given that The Defenders is still a marketable property more than 40 years after the super hero team was conceived.

Marvel came out of the gates swinging when they debuted Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in September. Even though the ratings for S.H.I.E.L.D. have floundered lately, I still have hope that their television division can create big things. No one has attempted the kind of cross-platform development that Marvel is undertaking, with their movies and television shows intermingling, so it makes sense that they may make some mistakes along the way. But once the initial kinks get worked out, I have no doubt that they can make some great things of their live-action division.

The shows are set to debut in 2015. While I'm still annoyed that we haven't seen the Cloak & Dagger series that Marvel spoke about at SDCC 2011, I'm happy that things are moving forward with their television plans. I'm also happy that I will finally get some use out of my Netflix account besides catching up on old seasons of How I Met Your Mother.
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