New Sci-Fi Trailers

You know me, I like movies, and I like sci-fi. Oldest and I just got tickets for his taking me to see The Force Awakens, an obscure sci-fi film that’s coming up. A couple of nights ago, I saw a trailer for what presumably will be a summer blockbuster, a sequel to a movie that became a benchmark in film. And this morning, a trailer was released for some other franchise movie called “Beyond”.

Independence Day. The alien ships’ attacks on significant building and monuments caught the imaginations of moviegoers everywhere. And the cast – Will Smith, before Men In Black. Jeff Goldblum, after Jurassic Park. Bunch of other people you know, in major roles. Bunch of other people you know, in minor roles. Not sure where you’d place Brent Spiner, between those two categories. Adam Baldwin, before Firefly. Tim Kelleher (might not be really famous, but I like him).

And the effects (watch the special features, man) were really a breakthrough at the time. The lines may have been corny and catchy (“All right, you alien assholes!”), but it had more of a sense of fun than many other disaster movies, there’s good reason it’s popular.

So it’s actually pretty surprising it’s taken them so long to make a sequel. the Resurgence trailer has some images that echo scenes from the first movie. The UN convoy at the beginning is a bit reminiscent of all the cars and caravans turning up at Area 51. The swaggering pilots. The planes (wanna bet upgrading them with alien tech was a bad idea?). A scene reminiscent of the lab breakout in the original. The fire cloud surrounding the ship entering the atmosphere, of course. The wake of the alien ship destroying a satellite dish on what looks like the moon, as opposed to Armstrong’s footsteps being obliterated. Goldblum looking worried. Some people standing around looking to see what happens next (reminded me of the newsroom from the original).

So there’s a similar visual style, with the slight upgrade to a more recent camera style. Not enough dialogue to be able to tell if it’s as fun as the original. The original set a benchmark for so much action in a movie, and subsequent advances in CG made it possible for movies to do even more, it’s going to be hard for Resurgence to really set itself apart, in that area.

But it seems like a 20-year gap between movies would have given the makers a lot of time to think about how to follow up on the original. One hopes they spent the time well.

The other trailer, the one I caught this morning, was for a little movie called Star Trek: Beyond.

Beyond what? Well, the last movie was Into Darkness, so presumably this would be Beyond Darkness.

The writers were told not to make the movie too Star Trek-y, which seems like a dumbass direction to take for a Star Trek movie. I feel like I ought to have reservations about the director, known for some of the Fast & Furious movies. Having not seen any movies in that series, I don’t think I’m really qualified to pass judgment. He directed three episodes in the first season of Community, so we’ll say that’s a mark in his favour…

I really like the shot of someone getting out of the upright escape pod. Would suggest Kirk, it looks like he’s next to a pod int he next shot, but I’m not sure that one is upright. I like the “This is where the frontier pushes back” line. The shot at 1:11 of the Enterprise crew in a big, long, serpentine line, watched over by some armed guards.

you can’t judge a movie by its trailer, so the saying goes. The trailer tells you a bit about the idea of the movie (they go without the ship for a bunch of the movie, and there are bad guys), but not much at all about the “why”s. Bit of a “wait and see”. And I will wait, and I will see, just… a bit early to get excited about it.

Start Of Christmas Decorating

We started Christmas decorating this evening. I think it’s later than we have done it in the past, but a bunch of things needed worked out, some hardware for the room needed to arrive and be put up, and everybody’s had plenty on their plates.

The sideboard we had the tree and presents on last year, this year has the CD players and record player sprawled out over it. This got a little reorganised and condensed a few days ago, then Oldest did dusting round there. Today I brought the tree and decorations up, and we managed to put it in the space it occupied last year. My wife put the lights on it, and helped the kids pick out decorations that wouldn’t smash if they fell off.

For some reason, the tree that was, for the most part, decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old, looks like it was decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old. Hopefully, Youngest can be convinced to not keep playing with the decorations, or to try and redecorate the tree.

Need to find some creative new space for presents. Big family, and the sideboard was full of them last year. Think they’ll be all over a bunch of surfaces this year. Which will have the benefit of not leaving space for all the clutter that tends to find its way onto those surfaces.

We recently got some curtain rods for the living room, with the aim of replacing the blinds. The blinds don’t seem to clean very well, and Youngest destroyed a small section of one set, a few months ago. We put the rods up a night or two ago, and while I’m not sure any final decision has been made, I hear that curtains could be arriving this week. Anyway, I heard that decoration could happen once the curtain rods were up, and they are, and one window now has lights in. And we should be able to get the curtains on, the lights being tucked behind.

The piano and the mantelpiece usually get decorated, and probably still will, more of a gradual cleaning-and-decorating process this year.

Now I have more of an urge to get the presents wrapped.

Thoughts On British Candy #1: Some Favourites

Sometimes the differences between similar cultures, can be observed in the different foodstuffs that one country has, that the other doesn’t. I thought I’d write a little about that in this entry, and my mind turned, as it is rather fond of doing, to chocolate. And then on to other sweets/candy. I haven’t bought a lot since I moved to America, but I have observed some that have bridged the gap. Milky Way, Snickers.

Some have similar equivalents: Almond Joy is suspiciously like Bounty, but with an almond stuck to the top. Whoppers are similar to Maltesers, but Maltesers are obviously far superior.

Here are some sweets/candy I like, that are less accessible in the USA.

I don’t recall seeing any tins of Roses or Quality Street around here. Around Christmas time, if you see a big tin wrapped, or a smaller box of a certain shape, you knew it would be one or the other. I think that Quality Street had the edge, because they had the toffees, and Roses had Strawberry Cremes and Orange Cremes, that tended to be a lot less popular than other varieties in the pack.

Smarties. Something similar to Refreshers has the name Smarties in the US. Smarties are like M&Ms, only bigger. Often come in a cardboard tube, the lid of which is plastic, and has a molded letter on it. Collect enough, and you can spell out words. I’m not sure anyone I know ever had enough collected at one time to spell much, but there you go.

After Eights. Dark chocolate flat squares, with soft mint in the middle. Each one comes in a kind of open envelope, and a box has a bunch of them in a line. Also yummy is the white chocolate version. I couldn’t quite eat a whole box in one go…

Wine Gums. No alcohol used in the making of them. Stick with Maynard’s variety (tried store-brand, didn’t like them so much), one of my favourites. Flavourful, and can last a long time and retain their flavour if you can manage not to chew them.

Jelly Babies. Not quite a gummy, these soft sweets have a nice gentle fruity flavour. Again, Bassett’s beats store brand. A favourite of the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who.

Kilogram slabs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. If they even do them anymore, in our diet-mad society.

Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. They’re not Terry’s, they’re mine. I tended to prefer the milk chocolate ones to the dark chocolate, though I am less fussy nowadays. And the Chocolate Mint variety they did (same shape, different flavour) was really good, too. I mention them even though we have found them over here (don’t think they’re widespread, but we have encountered them), because of something I noticed. When I first encountered them, they said “Tap and unwrap”, which was a traditional British understatement, meaning “hit it with a baseball bat, and the pieces might come apart”. Sport may not be my thing, and American sport even less so, but British schoolchildren are familiar with the concept of a baseball bat. Not necessarily in the context of the sport, but definitely in the context of hitting things. The chocolate orange I had from over here said “Whack and unwrap”.

fisherman’s Friends. Like mint, only so strong you can’t tell if it’s mint, or some other ingredient. Gives you a similar reaction to an extra-strong mint, if you try to drink a cold water afterwards. Serving suggestion: Fill a cup with ice cubes. Fill the rest with water. Have a Fisherman’s Friend or two (no chewing, that’s cheating). Drink some of the water.

Well, those are a few of my favourite things, and I’m sure I can revisit the topic in time. I can still think of some that were more staples than some that were on today’s list, and I can think of some that the recommendation would be to avoid, and some that just fall in the middle.

Let me know if there’s anything you want to hear about, any sweets/candies you think I missed here, that sort of thing. More fuel for future writings.

Psychopathic Quiz

I have a long-standing distaste of personality tests, the unfondness coming from questions like “Are you more like A or B?”, when I don’t think either sounds particularly like me. So, for your reading pleasure, I am going to subject myself to an “Are you a psychopath?” test that my wife sent me.

Question 1:
“You rarely catch me making plans, I’m far too spontaneous.”
You rarely catch me making plans. Plans lead to stress, pain, and disappointment.
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly spontaneous, either.
4 options on the scale from “disagree” to “agree”.
No middle spot for “you got it half right”.
Agree because they got the “making plans” part right?
Disagree because the suggested motive is wrong?
Strongly disagree because the misascribed motive invalidates the whole thing?
Question 1, and I’m already questioning the intelligence of the Oxford professor who devised this test. Agreeing or disagreeing gives the test fuel to make a value judgement about you, but dumbass questions like this don’t take into account the “why” behind the answer. The question tries to give you a “why”, which might work for some people, but really it muddies the waters.

I’m just grateful that it’s only 11 questions in this test. Though that one should have been 2.

Slightly disagree.

Question 2:
“I’d have no problem cheating on my partner if I knew I could get away with it.”
Well, that question’s easier. Strongly disagree.

Question 3:
“If I got a better offer, I wouldn’t mind cancelling long-standing plans.”
I think I’m getting better at remembering, but I’m not very good at remembering when things are going to be. Were I more in charge of social arrangements, and we did more social things, I’m sure we’d be double-booked a whole bunch.
I don’t think I can picture being quite in that situation. It keeps morphing into the new thing is some thing that I HAVE to do, not something strictly “better”. Or a balancing act between things that can be rescheduled and things that can’t.
As reorganising things and cancelling things is rather un-fun, I’m going to lean towards “disagree”. Think I’d mind doing the cancelling.

Question 4:
“I don’t get bothered by seeing animals injured or in pain.”
Disagree. A friend’s dog got shot, and had its leg amputated, and I wasn’t blase about that. A stray dog somehow got attached to us once, and I spent a bunch of the time outside with it, until it got claimed. I mourned over the loss of my pet hamsters. Saved a frog from being attacked by a cat, once.
I was less affected by a dead dog I found in the road. I was sorry it died and all, but I wasn’t overcome with grief. The thing liked escaping the fence, and running straight at the front wheel of approaching cars. Which was particularly scary one winter, when the road was all icy there. So I suppose that it wasn’t entirely surprising. Took the time to find the owner and let them know.
I suppose the question is more about actively suffering animals, rather than deceased ones, so that might not even count as consideration for the question.

Question 5:
“It would be fun to drive fast cars, ride rollercoasters and go skydiving.”
Skydiving, not a chance. Rollercoasters and I have a mixed history, sometimes I’m fine going on them, and sometimes I really don’t want to. Fast cars, I might enjoy having a go on a race track a time or two, and like accelerating to get up to the speed limit when I’m driving.
Two out of three?
I guess that I’m not really quite the type of thrill-seeker that they seem to be asking about, so I’ll err on the side of caution and say “disagree”.

Question 6:
“I think it’s OK to step over other people to achieve my own ambitions.”
Well, it rather depends on your definition of “step over”, doesn’t it? I would have no objection to skipping over a rung or two in a company’s hierarchy, if I happened to be suited to the job, applied, and beat out other applicants from the in-between rungs. I wouldn’t sabotage their applications, falsify my own, and bribe/blackmail the hiring panel.
I hope that that sense of fairness is common, but of course there would be people who think that Joe should have got the job instead, and indeed one could understand Joe himself being miffed.
That kind of office politics is not something I particularly want to get back into. In working towards running my own show, so to speak, I’d want to do better than anyone who would compete with me (or who I would be competing against), and I’d want to take opportunities, even create them, but I’d want to do my best to maintain good relationships with everyone. I just suspect that that’s not always entirely possible.
I’m going to call that one a “disagree”.

Question 7:
“I’m very persuasive, and getting people to do what I want is a real talent of mine.”
If I were, then I wouldn’t have trouble with planning things (see Question 1). I’m going to step out and go with “strongly disagree”.

Question 8:
“My ability to make quick decisions means I would suit a dangerous job.”
If I were good at quick decisions, I’d be done with this questionnaire ages ago.

Question 9:
“When the people around me are crumbling under pressure, I’m usually the one with a cool head.”
I think I freak out at different things to those around me. So sometimes I’m the cool head one, and sometimes I’m the freaking out one. Inconsistent? Not sure what I should put.
I’ll lean slightly on the “disagree” side.

Question 10:
“If someone gets conned who cares? They’re asking for it.”
Umm, no. People expect, and are right to expect, to be given (or to have available) enough information to make informed decisions. So, on the contrary, con men rather deserve whatever repercussions they get from their actions (and quite possibly more).
Strongly disagree.

Question 11:
“I’m rarely to blame for things going wrong; it’s usually the fault of the people around me.”
Well, there does sometimes seem to be an abundance of people being stupid. I try to acknowledge it when the stupid person is me. I think there may be times when the quote feels true, but I like to think I’m smart enough to realise that yours truly has an impact on things.
As my saying goes, “I may be stupid, but I’m not stupid”.

The results say I am 24% psychopathic.
I say  that sometimes it’s the dominant 24%, especially when confronted with stupid questions in quizzes like this. However, this quiz didn’t fare too badly: for one, it was quite short; and for another, only one question (the first) was actively stupid.

“You like to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of a situation before you act”, the summary says. That may be why it’s hard answering questions that have no accurate answer.

Star Trek: Excelsior – Into Season 3

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a producer of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. James is a friend from a different context, so while I’d heard of his show, I didn’t insert it into my listening schedule until just recently, when he announced the show’s intention to get two stars from Trek’s Original Series for a Trek 50th Anniversary Special episode.

When I started the interview, I’d only listened to a couple of episodes, and when I finished, I’d only heard a couple more. Now, I’ve worked my way through Seasons 1 and 2, and have started Season 3. James recommends new listeners start with Season 4, and if you enjoy that, then to work backwards: the quality of the production improves over time, and if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you might as well point out which foot that is.

So, if you’re interested, go start sometime in Season 4, you’ll be ahead of me. Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve heard so far.

The first thing to note, is I’m more forgiving of a story’s flaws, if I’m enjoying the story. And also, being aware that they don’t recommend starting at the beginning, ignoring that recommendation means I’m more obliged to give the benefit of the doubt, or be more forgiving in general.

Starting with the less-than-stellar: Mr Heaney mentioned the script for the pilot episode, “…There You Are”, is terrible. The briefing room scene certainly is a bit awkward, making very unsubtle introductions to a bunch of characters, and the show’s general concept. Once the story got going, and as it progressed into Season 1, there was less of that sort of awkwardness.

I remember noticing at points in The Next Generation, sometimes a character would introduce themselves, pronouncing their name one way, and then other actors would pronounce the name differently – like the actors interpreted the pronunciation from the script separately, rather than the characters being in the same conversation. Early Excelsior has moments like this, and it feels worst when a non-regular character does it to a regular character, like they really should have listened to some of the show. When Season 3 hits, we have a character mispronouncing the captain’s name, but pretty soon we find out he’s doing it on purpose. Hopefully, this signals the start of a more concerted effort towards consistency in this area.

Have you ever come across a story where someone has a long, formal, needlessly complicated name, and people are obliged to use the whole thing all the time? I can think of a couple of examples, but one acknowledges the concept and the other one outright takes the mickey. In Angel, some characters travel to recurring character Lorne’s home dimension, and he repeatedly gets called (and it’s far too late to fact-check this) “Kreblorne-swath of the Deathwalk clan”. After a few times, one is begging the TV to knock it off. The other example is Veggie Tales’ Lord Of The Rings parody The Lord Of The Beans. Gandalf-equivalent is talking to the Ent-equivalents, and it’s all “Randalf, son of Mandalf, keeper of the flame of” I don’t remember, and the other guy is “Lord Falaminion Tereglith, Son of Therabil Elithimon”. They say each a few times. While not as bad as these, there are points in the first season when the Valandrian leaders get dangerously close to this territory.

Small tangent into Red Dwarf. I read the novels, I had the script books, I watched the TV show. Sometimes lines would get said in the show, not quite in line with how they were written. In the books especially, “Zero Gee” was established as a sport in that universe. In a script, there’s a list of VR sports programs Lister played, and Zero Gee was listed before kick-boxing. Comma between them in the script. In the show, Lister says “Zero-G kick-boxing”. In Psirens, Lister lost his memory, and on being prompted suggests that Rimmer is his best mate. Kryten, acting as his medic, suggests that Lister might not be well. Reading the script implies the line was supposed to be “you are sick”. In the show, it’s delivered more, “you are sick“. There have been moments like this, not very often but occasionally, in my listening to Excelsior, so far. I think that the main part of the problem is that the actors aren’t really bouncing off each other, each reads the lines separately, then sends them to the editor.

Moving on from the negative, I must say I’ve been enjoying the story. I think Season 2 was an improvement on Season 1, and the plus side of listening in this order is that there’s definitely progression: the Season 2 arc definitely follows from the Season 1 arc, and the Season 3 arc (so far, I’m in episode 5) follows on from both 1 and 2.

There’s lots of humour. The title for the Season 3 opener, “All Good Captains Have Admiral Problems”, serves as a good example. And the humour goes hand-in-hand with continuity. A good Trek geek has looked at the Star Trek Encyclopedia, and seen examples of signage on the Enterprise-D, which aren’t in focus in the show. so the set designers put silly things on them. “Wherever you go, there you are” is one, and in the Excelsior show, it’s on the ship’s dedication plaque. It’s referred to in the pilot’s title, “…There You Are”. And then it’s used to humorous effect somewhere in Season 1.

There are also strict continuity references: the Iconian Gateway being technology introduced in TNG, and brought back much later in DS9, and now Excelsior uses one. Many more, of course. Does feel like they’re playing in the same universe.

But there are also sly references as treats for a broader geekdom. Using a sonic screwdriver here, and the Sub-Etha waveband there. If I wasn’t enjoying the story, I think these things would be likely to bug me, but as I’m enjoying the story, my reaction is more Captain America “I get that reference!”.

I think that subtlety can be a hard thing to pull off in audio drama. This is due to a couple of factors: one has to compensate for the loss of nuances one might notice in a visual medium, and so naturally extra emphasis has to creep in. Also, audio is a format where listeners can do other things while imbibing your content. Someone listening while driving is more likely than someone listening and not doing anything else. In short, Malcolm Reynold wouldn’t work in audio drama, because he mumbles way too much (much as I love Firefly). So I might understand someone using the word “overacting”, but I don’t think it’s happening here, I think extra-acting has too happen because of the nature of the beast.

Casual listening was tricky in Season 2, because some voices were entirely in one ear or the other. Made it difficult listening with only one ear in. Haven’t noticed that being a problem in Season 3.

In Season 3, I’m noticing some British phrases being used by non-British characters. I had some “Did they really say that?” that’s gone to “yes, it’s still there”. It’s not spoiling the story, it’s more of an oddity I’m noticing. One could explain it as colloquialisms becoming popular in cultures other than the one in which they originated, an evolution of language (which there would be over nearly 400 years). Or, I suppose, one could let it bug one, or one could ignore it and enjoy the ride.

I look forward to see how the show continues to improve into Season 4.

I think from all that typing, I’m better in a position to conclude.

I like the show.
Because it cares about the source material. Because the stories are interesting and enjoyable, and really fit the universe in which they’re being played out. Because the show has a lot of character.

I said at the beginning of this post, that there are certain things that make up for shortcomings and rough edges. Excelsior is not without rough edges, but it has more than enough of the good stuff, that I’m glad I interrupted my horrendously long podcast queue to fit this show in now.

The Kickstarter is getting pretty close to $10,000, and if it gets to $11,000 by/on Sunday, then an existing backer has promised to up their pledge by 1,500 to get Chekov on the show (they’ve already reached the threshold to get Uhura on). They stand a good chance of doing it. I jumped into pledging still listening to Season 1. Give a Season 4 episode a bit of a listen, and see if you like it, too.

‘Tis The Season For Some Irreverence

Christmas songs. It’s that time of year, and yule hear them more and more as the rest of the month slips by. And, of course, the more one hears them, the more one starts playing with the lyrics. I think it’s called “coping strategy”. Even when you’re browsing in a store where the music is turned down low, you’re guaranteed to here FIVE GOLD RINGS a bunch of times if that song is on, even if you can’t really hear the rest of it.

My name being Mark (Shh! don’t tell anybody!), “Mark, The Herald-Angels Sing” (and why wouldn’t they? Don’t answer that) has long been a favourite.

Another one that kids often enjoy messing with, is:
“While shepherds washed their socks by night
all seated round the tub
The angel of the Lord came down,
And gave them all a scrub.”

Incidentally, I visited Israel a few years ago, and visited the site called The Shepherds’ Fields. There was kind of a dirty little pool in the ground, looked like it had drainage. I suggested that that was where the shepherds washed their socks.

There was a commercial on Sky one Christmas, for Wrestlemania. Back when it was WWF, not WWE. Had it on VHS when I taped off the TNG 2-parter The Best Of Both Worlds. The voice-over on the advert was singing to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. I’m sure the anecdote would be more amusing if I could remember the whole thing, but the “For Jesus Christ our saviour was born upon this day” line was (something) “Wrestlemania, it’s live on Boxing Day”. And then the good tidings of comfort and joy turned into “With good hidings, discomfort and pain, plenty of pain”, with a very gloating tone of voice on the “plenty”.

Anyone else think that line in “Once In Royal David’s City”, where “Christian children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as He.” was a big guilt-trip?

Tomorrow, the last Christmas present I plan on ordering for over here, will arrive. When boxes and packages have arrived from Amazon containing presents, I’ve been singing “Christmastime is here”, from the Charlie Brown Christmas.

I remember Have I Got News For You mocking some politician wanting to rename Christmas as Winterval. Well, actually, I remember Winterval, the circumstances behind it are a lot more vague. But there are definitely songs where “Winterval” fits a lot better timing-wise, than “Christmas”.

“Winterval is here”
“Simply, having, a wonderful Winterval”.

In America, there is this cereal that I haven’t tried, called Grape Nuts. There was an amusing advertising campaign that I was exposed to, that I actually enjoyed (quite a feat given how much I’ve come to not-enjoy advertising). Goes on about how they’re not really grapes, and they’re not really nuts.

I mention them because it’s just fun to sing, “Grape-Nuts roasting on an open fire…”

“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches”. A song we often mutilate, in so many ways. Singing to Youngest, “O youngest child, O youngest child, it’s time to change your nappy” (only with his name instead of “youngest child”). Sometimes I sing to a kid and change the “how lovely are your branches”, sometimes I retain it, depending on what seems funnier, or most expected, at the time.

So a few months ago, Middlest was shown a Christmas cactus at her great-grandma’s place. She spontaneously came out with,
“O Christmas cactus, o Christmas cactus,
How lovely are your prickles!”

Funny girl.

When I was a kid, I knew a bunch of other kids who had toys in the Manta Force range. There was a big space ship, which could carry rather a lot of other vehicles on the inside, I don’t think many people had many of the smaller pieces. Being rather more familiar with Father Christmas as a term for the popular notion of St Nicholas, a certain Christmas song became “Manta Force is coming to town”.

I like joking that “White Christmas” is racist. There’s nothing on Wikipedia to suggest that it really is.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” so very easily becomes “It’s the most wonderful time for a beer”. Which it is, go have one.

And once you’ve had more than your fair share of alcohol, try singing some of the old classics. Like “Good King what’s-his-face”.

Here, have one of those Christmas songs that I don’t think outstays its welcome on radio at this time of year:

And may all your Wintervals be white.

I’m A Published Author, I Am

A bunch of years ago, I frequented a rather busy message board. The site proper was billed as “The magazine of Christian unrest”, and would feature articles on the front page. But far more of the content was in the message board. The site is called Ship Of Fools, and the message board attracted discussion from many different varieties of Christianity, and so there were some quite varying beliefs on there. Very interesting, and very time-consuming.

There are different boards which invite different styles of discussion, and some of the content would invoke the infamous reaction, “But I thought this was a Christian website!”

Once upon a time, the site had a contest, inviting readers to contribute Bible passages condensed to text-message length. Some entries would be chosen to be in a book.

The resulting book was “R Father N Hvn”, and the site owner is listed as the author, on the cover. All the contributors from the contest, are credited next to their submissions

Two of my submissions made it into the book. And thus I stake my claim to being a published author.

On Amazon UK // on

The Great Cinema Binge Of Yesteryear

There was a time in the early to mid-2000s, when I regularly went to the cinema. I’m not sure that I’ve ever mentioned this on the blog, but it’s one of those anecdotes that does tend to come up if I talk about going to the cinema for any length of time.

The cinema happened to be not-very-far-away as the train flies, and I had the afternoon free from work on Tuesday, the cheap day. Saw a bunch of Orange Film Board commercials during that time, probably the most interesting promos about how mobile phones can ruin the movie-watching experience.

I would tend to watch 3 movies in a row. I’d have to plan start times and end times, and have to factor in running time. It was fun.

There were, if I recall correctly, a little more than 20 screens in the cinema. Some were straightforwardly small, with an aisle dividing the two sets of seats. Some screens were pretty huge, with a bunch of seats in front of a railing, and the seats behind the railing tiering upwards.

It was in one of these huge screens that I watched Star Wars Episode III, I was towards the front of the cluster in front of the railing, which was far too close to the screen to comfortably see the action. It was an evening screening, fairly close to release day, and was one of the only seats left. Also in one of these giant screens, I saw The Aviator. Afternoon, not evening, that showing was not very full. I sat just behind the railing, which tended to be a good distance for watching movies. It was perfect for that movie, I was grabbing the railing when the plane was crashing down into that house.

In the smaller screens, I developed a sense of about how far back in the cinema I wanted to be (action movie, there was no point in sitting in the front half). There did tend to be a spot just off-center of the screen that tended to be a bit extra reflective, that could just be the angle of the projector and my angle of viewing, meeting in an unfortunate manner.

There were times when there were a bunch of things I wanted to watch, and I didn’t quite catch them all, and some points where less looked immediately interesting, but I’d give some a chance. And there was an interesting mix, some I was less sure about I ended up enjoying (White Noise springs to mind), some that I was more interested in seeing turned out to be a lot less good (Alexander, Troy, King Arthur).

In addition to the movies themselves, for a large chunk of this time there tended to be a bunch of promotional materials given away. My wall at one point was covered in movie posters, and I had a stack of postcards. These materials had all kind of dried up by the time I stopped. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the cinema the other day, to find a stack of posters for the film I was watching, in two designs. If it stops raining tomorrow, I can take the two Mockingjay Part 2 posters to the garage, and put them in the box with all the other film posters.

The chain did a nice promotion when Star Trek Nemesis came out: you could get preview tickets for that film, and you could also get tickets for The Wrath Of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country, and First Contact (the even-numbered films, AKA “the good ones”), all shown back-to-back on a Sunday.

Too right I took advantage of that one. Just a shame Nemesis sucked.

So anyway, that was a fun experience for a couple of years. And don’t tell anyone, but I think I still have the ticket stubs in a box somewhere, I could find out what I actually saw then.

The Man In The High Castle, Season 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the first couple of episodes of The Man In The High Castle, currently exclusive to Amazon Video. I wrote about that, at the time.

So we’ve just finished watching the whole series.

The show does not wrap up all the threads that it sets up, so there’s potential for a second season. Just did a search to see if I could find any information on a second season. IMDB trivia says that the showrunner got confirmation from Amazon that there would be a second season, before writing the finale, so he wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger if the show weren’t returning.

Some observations:

The season ends on the word “twist”. Literally.

Rufus Sewell’s character is introduced as a ruthless villain. Later on, we meet some people who are even worse. Prediction: his character will become less hard-line about certain things next season, which has the potential to make him more brutal in others. I don’t see him doing a complete about-face. If I’m wrong on that, he’ll stay as hard-line on the point I expect him to soften on, then that’ll make him intolerable in everything, then he’ll slowly crack.

Juliana. Her deferential mannerisms seem appropriate to the context which she’s grown up in. I’m not sure we see the same from any other significant character in the Pacific territory. She knows she doesn’t have the complete picture, and I think that this leads to indecisiveness and mind-changing, rather than setting a course and keeping to it.

After the first couple of episodes, I thought the show would be mostly Juliana and Joe in Canon City, was surprised it didn’t work out like that.

I really enjoyed the character of Trade Minister Tagomi. Looking the actor up on IMDB, it was interesting seeing that he was in Star Trek TNG (Mandarin Bailiff! Wooo!), Babylon 5, Alien Nation, and Stargate SG1. And a bunch of other things I’ve either seen or heard of. Getting towards the end of the series, I was still waiting for more explanation of his motivations. We get some, but I think Season 2 will shed a lot more light on this.

As this is my Sunday post, I’ll say that I looked at the Wikipedia page of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the guy who played the Trade Minister. There’s a paragraph towards the end of the Career section, which talks about his religious belief, which I found interesting.

The eponymous Man In The High Castle is mentioned a bunch at the beginning of the series, and Juliana and Joe seem to come close to meeting him in episode 4. The thought occurs, though, as I write this post, that we do happen to see a castle that’s geographically altitudinous, in which a male lives, who seems to be a bit of a film collector.

Rats, now I’m going to have to read the book, to see if it’s actually him, or if the title character is a…. mirror? counterpoint? reflection? Something along those lines.

A lot of what most of the characters do is reactionary, rather than being proactive. This leads to a bit of a settling-down somewhere in the second half, before things get a bit shook up again. I think even towards the end, when a bunch of characters get more active, there’s still a bunch of doing what they’re told, rather than forging their own path.

The creepy Edelweiss theme, kind of delicate over the dark brooding images of the credits, was given an interesting explanation by someone far smarter than I am (my wife): the song is associated with Germany (or, rather, Austria, though in our universe, the song was written for the film The Sound Of Music, rather than being traditional). But the arrangement here may be intended to suggest a Japanese musical style (America being divided between Germany and Japan in the show). The singer in real life is Swedish, that does not necessarily discount the idea.

In my previous post on The Man In The High Castle, I linked to an article that Wikipedia referenced, which was an examination of the Japanese-ness of the Japanese portion of America in the pilot. One of the things it pointed out was Hirohito Airport, where naming an airport after someone was not a Japanese thing to do. When Joe flies into an airport in the Pacific States later in the series, I noticed that it wasn’t named after anybody. Different airport? Retcon? I don’t know. And though, in the scenario, Japanese culture would become dominant in the areas they control, who’s to say there wouldn’t be any cultural bleed the other way? Perhaps using Americisms in some places, but with a Japanese edge, as a secondary, softer method of establishing cultural dominance.

Interesting show. I look forward to Season 2, and hope that the continuation feels organic. Obviously, with certain developments, it’s not going to be the same as Season 1, but it might be a bit of a balance to feel like the same show.

Zero Day by David Baldacci

John Puller is a top-notch criminal investigator for the military. He has combat experience under his belt, and resists transfer and promotion to stay in his preferred line of work. He’s assigned to a case, investigating the brutal murder of a Defense Intelligence Agency worker, and his family.

Normally, investigating the suspicious death of someone who deals with sensitive material, would call for a team, but Puller’s sent in solo, with a lot of eyes from higher-up, keeping tabs on his work. He soon finds that those murders were the tip of a rather substantial iceberg.

Zero Day is Baldacci’s first John Puller novel, followed by The Forgotten and The Escape.

I finished reading this one today. Funny story: I ended up with two copies of it. Both looked well-read, one had a slightly ripped cover, I read half of that one. Then I offered it to a couple of people, and finished up the book with the other copy. Which turned out to have been visited by water at some point, but no pages were stuck together or unreadable.

I tend to choose to read books I think I’ll like (SHOCKER!), and I’ve enjoyed other books by Baldacci, so it ought not to be a surprise that I enjoyed this one. I don’t think I really thought that the semi-romantic thread in the story was a good idea, but it didn’t bug me enough to spoil anything.

Baldacci does use some pretty vivid imagery, and there were some particularly notable moments in this book. Speaking as vaguely as I can, the building in an egg, a motorcycle incident.

It’s never made explicitly clear why the book is called “Zero Day”. It’s nothing to do with patches to software released the same day as the software it patches. This is probably a bit spoiler-y, but the nearest I can make out, is it has to do with the term Ground Zero, in its traditional, pre-9/11 meaning. and didn’t that term being applied to the Twin Towers site, help fuel part of the conspiracy mill.

Anyway, thumbs up for this one.