Nintendo Switch: Unavailable Near You

This is kind of a rant about Nintendo as a company and how it treats consumers. Under a different banner, it can also be an open ended question about why people still like and defend a company that treats its consumer base so poorly time and again.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a large gaming industry week long event aptly called the “Game Developers Conference”, or GDC for short. There, I was surprised to see the company Nintendo teaming up with various developer platforms, primarily Unity3D, to demonstrate some of the Indie games running on their new Nintendo Switch console. I had a great time with some of their demonstrations and wished to learn more about the Switch console, but time is limited and they had many other people to demo for.

RELATED ~ 8Bits: Talking About the Nintendo Switch

So this brings us to today. I went all around town here in Kansas City looking for, not the actual console to purchase, but a demo. A small setup with the console and a television to play for fifteen or twenty minutes just to test the waters and feel out the console more thoroughly. Not only did I find out that such demo stations did not exist (as they do for every other major console), but new shipments of Switch consoles for purchasing isn’t expected until mid-April. Which is really awkward since Nintendo’s own website states that the system is “Available now at these retailers” and every single clickable option returns “unavailable. Something odd that I saw in every single store I visited was that retail store’s shelves had tons of extra controllers and accessories in stock, collecting dust on shelves… because nobody will buy an extra controller for a system they can’t even get.

RELATED ~ Nintendo Announces Its New Console and It’s a SWITCH!

On one hand, we should always see this coming every time Nintendo does, well, anything in these modern times. They did this limited supply tactic with their game altering plastic figurines called Amiibos. They did it again with a more recent venture, the super rare NES Classic nostalgia system, and now here we are again with the Nintendo Switch.

This all runs into a theory that I like to call “Nintendo hates their customers and is allergic to money”. The availability crisis Nintendo seems to be refusing to learn from, let alone fix, isn’t a new tactic, but it seems to add to the overall outlook of the company when it comes to consumers. Even with some of the games that come out from Nintendo in the not too distant past seem to be at odds with what players want.

I’m still burned on their ruination of Star Fox, a franchise that I hold dear to my early gaming days. Not because it broke with canon, but because it featured broken and impossible controls for no reason other than a vain attempt to justify the Wii U’s awkward tablet. Or the unnecessary dumbing down of Mario Party 10 for the Wii U because competitive board games are “too spoopy” for younger audiences.  It’s hard to not wonder if the gaming company just holds its player base in contempt or is some how self loathing.

There’s just these little things Nintendo seems to do that add up to the company not actually wanting players to enjoy their games. For example, not making a new Mario Kart for the switch, but re-releasing the same version from the Wii U with an added map and a couple of extra cross-over promotional characters (Birdo is still missing, however). Even the new Zelda game has good chunks of fun buried under a mountain of uniquely non-fun experiences.

I think Jim Sterling from The Jimquisition sums up the whole ordeal quite accurately (caution strong language):

https://youtu.be/cRicuKHmjZA

There is a little bit of good news that comes from the time that we are all forced to wait for the next wave of shipments… Maybe in the next few months, Nintendo will acknowledge the controller issues, dead pixel problems, and other problems the early adopters are having… but I know those are tall orders that Nintendo may never feel the need to do anything about.

 




Could Ryan Reynolds Return to DC Films? A Theory…

OK. Before you dismiss this out of hand, let me go through the thoughts in my head and lay out a possible (but not very likely) scenario in which Ryan Reynolds could continue to play Hal Jordan in the DC Extended Universe.

Yes, yes…Green Lantern isn’t acknowledged among any of the films, but neither was The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton, until it was.

And that’s the example to which the suits at Warner Bros. — and in particular, Geoff Johns — can point as a way of bringing the obscure film back into the fold. Obscure because it didn’t perform as well as expected, but that can describe every DC film so far. No matter that Batman v Superman made a ton of money, it didn’t make what the studio thought it should make, and collected its more than fair share of detractors and heated critics. Man of Steel didn’t fare much better, nor did Suicide Squad (Oscar notwithstanding), and even though we’re just three films into this new universe, we keep getting stories and whispers and rumors that Wonder Woman isn’t going to be much better. We even heard that a lot of BvS critics were brought out to the Justice League sets in London to see first-hand what efforts were being made to adjust the tone of the DC movies.

Too little, too late? Too early to tell, because we don’t have Wonder Woman or Justice League yet, and that’s the pudding wherein we may find the proof.

But with that as a setup, let’s take a look across the block to Marvel Studios, and The Incredible Hulk, which has been the red-headed step-child of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A recasting of the lead, a cancellation of the sequel, and dismissal of rumors that we’d ever see another Hulk solo film, and we pretty much know where this film stands.

Except…

Footage was included in Iron Man 2, and references to the destruction in Harlem have crept into the Netflix shows and The Avengers. Plus, remember when Banner mentioned trying to shoot himself? That goes back to the Norton film as well (if I recall correctly). Then we get William Hurt reprising his role as Thunderbolt Ross, and we’re hearing rumors that Liv Tyler has been spotted near the Infinity War production. So it’s a logical conclusion to make: The Incredible Hulk is OK again.

Now, let’s take that and use it as a filter on Green Lantern. It’s still a lousy film, trying to do too many things at once, but look at what’s happened in the meantime. Ryan Reynolds has re-established himself as a superhero action star with Deadpool (the real one), and Warner Bros. has to be looking at that and frothing at the mouth with the knowledge that at one point, Reynolds belonged to their universe.

Remember, Green Lantern was supposed to kick off the entire DCEU. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) is one of the founding members of the Justice League, and he’s been conspicuous by his absence in anything having to do with the films so far. He’s not in Justice League (as far as we know), and while he’s been mentioned in connection with Green Lantern Corps, the focus of discussions have been on John Stewart and, to a lesser degree, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner.

OK, so let me paint this scenario with a broad brush:

In the wake of Parallax’s attack on the corps and Sinestro’s defection, Hal Jordan has been on OA rebuilding the Green Lantern Corps this whole time, leaving the protection of sector 2814 to the other humans who possess Green Lantern rings — and by this time, it could include not only Stewart, Gardner, and Rayner, but also Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. This not only plays into the rumors about Michelle Rodriguez playing Cruz and Tyrese Gibson or Common playing John Stewart, but also lines up with the news that Green Lantern Corps will feature multiple Lanterns.

Which brings me to my next point with regard to rumors: Armie Hammer. Consider this response to the direct question “Are you Hal Jordan or not?” on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/armiehammer/status/837359293011644416

Now, that “ummm” could mean:

  • Yes, I’m Hal Jordan, but I’m not allowed to say.
  • No, I’m not Hal Jordan, but I’m not allowed to say.
  • Actually, I’m not Hal Jordan; I’m Guy Gardner, but I’m not allowed to say.

Still with me?

What if Hammer is actually playing Guy Gardner (or for that matter, Kyle Rayner)? Remember, he was only rumored for BvS, and on IMDb (which is always true, right?) he was credited as “Test Pilot”, leading many to speculate the Hal Jordan casting. But what if that was just someone trolling fans on IMDb?

Hammer is young enough to play Kyle, but I think they would get someone who better reflects Kyle’s mixed heritage. I hear Tyler Posey might be available…

So, Armie Hammer has never been confirmed to have even talked with anyone about playing Green Lantern. But if he has, he doesn’t necessarily have to be discussing Hal Jordan. Which puts Hammer in as Guy, let’s say Gibson as John, Posey as Kyle, Rodriguez as Jessica, someone like Rami Malek as Simon…

… and Ryan Reynolds as a more seasoned Hal Jordan.

That way, he’s still in the movie, and he still has an impact on the overall story, but he’s the one who brings in the cavalry in the third act, after training all of the newbies. That way you can have John be your primary Green Lantern, training Kyle on Earth, while Guy is … Guy. The Green Lantern taken out by Batman with one punch…

I posit this theory with an appreciation for the irony in the fact that Hammer was set to play Batman in George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal project from 2007… a year before Iron Man‘s release in theaters.

This also allows for Warner Bros. to continue using Mark Strong as Sinestro, arguably one of the best parts of Green Lantern. Not only that, but since Geoff Johns is now in charge of … well, everything … you could tease the formation of the Yellow Lantern Corps, along with the rest of the color spectrum. Green Lantern Corps could be the beginning, where Sinestro comes out of hiding with the Yellow Lanterns, and at the end of the third act, just when it seems like Hal and Company are going to win, the Red Lanterns appear for a cliffhanger ending.

And you keep the whole movie in space on or near Oa. There’s no need to be jetting back to Earth every five minutes. Fight the fight there. In space. With Space Cops and Ray Guns. Green Lantern Corps could be the Guardians of the Galaxy for DC, if the treatment is right.

We know Reynolds loves the superhero world, and right now his track record is 2 bad treatments (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern) and 1 good treatment (Deadpool), so why not pull ahead with another — and hopefully better — treatment of Green Lantern after Deadpool 2? His performance as Hal Jordan needs a little bit of redemption, doesn’t it? Especially after Reynolds has proven that he’s not the problem? Given the right material (looking at you, Johns… get Goyer away from it), Ryan Reynolds could still be the DCEU’s Hal Jordan.

Indeed, it’s an off the wall proposal. But it allows Warner Bros. to recover a little bit of the investment in that movie, while adding another piece that’s been missing since Green Lantern became photographia non grata with the studio — a Green Lantern and all the science fiction environment that comes with him.

Thoughts? Let us know with a comment. Feel free to share…

 




Are Reports of FANGORIA’s Demise (Greatly) Exaggerated?

[Featured Image courtesy Fangoria Facebook page @Fangoria]

 

Just like Peter Parker, I have a superpower. Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s way cool “Spidey Sense” alerts him to danger; my “magazine sense” tells me “hey, it’s about time for a new issue of National Geographic History to show up in the mailbox.”

Mag-Sense even works for newsstand titles like HorrorHound – or until recently, Fangoria. Since late 2016, however, the print edition of Fango has been noticeable by its absence. After months of silence, information has begun to emerge regarding Fangoria‘s status and future. But it may not be what many horror fans want to hear.

On February 11, 2017, the last (?) Fangoria Editor-in-Chief, Ken Hanley, sent out a series of tweets that cleared up a bit of the Mystery of the Missing Magazine. The gist of the thread – Hanley was no longer involved with Fangoria and included the following bombshell:

For those wondering: there will likely never be another issue of FANGORIA, especially in print, unless there’s new ownership.

After two days of speculation and memorials for Fangoria, an official statement was released on Fangoria.com on February 13. After acknowledging “the transition of media to a mostly digital phase,” and the resulting decline in advertising revenue for the print edition, President/Owner Tom DeFeo stated that the magazine would be working to “make good on any funds owed for magazines and/or articles written.” DeFeo then addressed, in rather general terms, Fangoria‘s future:

We’ll continue trying to conquer the uphill battle to restore our print issues that our fans urgently long for. Despite the current standstill of our print issues, our website and social media will function as normal.”

Writing at BloodyDisgusting.com after Ken Hanley’s comments surfaced on Twitter, John Squires makes a good point about the difficult path for print media in the digital age. “When you can get horror news the instant it breaks … there’s just not that much incentive to drop nearly $10 on a magazine.” And Squires is right to note that “in-depth analysis” is also available online.

As a reader, I find that the amount of choice available online results in a case of “choice overload.” If you’ve read Future Shock by Alvin Toffler you know the feeling. With are so many options available, it’s almost easier choosing not to decide. As a horror fan following a crowded and ever-changing genre, spending my money on print publications like Horror Hound or Fangoria saves me time (and money spent on subpar books, movies, and television).

Magazines also don’t care if you drop them, spill soda all over them, or drop them on the floor (my NOOK doesn’t take that last one very well). For that reason along, I join my uncoordinated klutzy brethren hoping Fangoria returns to newsstands.

 




Terminal Time Travel: An Examination of the TERMINATOR Timelines

“I’ll be back.”

Three little words (four, if you break up the contraction) were never more prescient; did Arnold realize just how many times he’d “be back?”  Following the first Terminator in 1984, we saw the T-800 chassis return in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2009’s Terminator Salvation (well, his digitized face, at least) and, finally (so far), 2015’s Terminator Genisys, each movie having varying degrees of success, quality and continuity.  The one thing that the series had going for it in every installment was a screwed up idea of time travel and how going back into one’s past could alter one’s future…er, present?  Past?

**OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT FOR A 30+ YEAR-OLD FRANCHISE**

If you’re reading this (thanks!), you most likely already have at a passing knowledge of the premise of the Terminator movie universe.  For those of you who don’t know of what I’m speaking of (did you click on the wrong link?  If so, you can get to the home page here), the gist of the story is that the future is FUBAR due to robots taking over and they keep sending killer robots back into the past to take out a woman and, later, her son, the future leader of the human resistance.  Hijinks ensue.  I can’t speak to Genisys, as I haven’t seen it yet, but the four other movies range from “excellent” to “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick” (a colloquialism with which I have personal experience).

The quality of the series isn’t what I’m writing about today.  No, this little essay is about the one thing that keeps me from completely enjoying the movies; a nit that I pick every time I see any of the films; a qualm that, if I entertain the thought in the middle of the night, will keep me awake for hours.  This minor quibble is the fact that the whole “going back in time to take out your enemy (or your enemy’s mom)” doesn’t work.  Or, it doesn’t unless you jump through a few hoops in order to make it work.  Contrary to the way this sounds, I actually love talking about those hoops (and my wife loves it so much that she falls asleep if I start talking about it at bedtime).

Here’s where things might start to get a little science/sci-fi dense (if you’re already sleepy, you might want to get into a comfortable position on the couch or in bed, not so much so that you’ll already be in the right place to fall asleep while reading this article, but more so that you won’t hit your face on your keyboard if you nod off).  Time itself is a manmade construct; it doesn’t really exist outside of our day-to-day comings and goings.  Nature doesn’t run on a clock.  The sun doesn’t come up every morning around 6am because it’s 6am; it’s 6am because the sun is coming up. The moon doesn’t change phases to fit within a month on the calendar; the month is dictated by the phases of the moon.  Time is our way of making sense of the passage of life.  Because we are not omniscient, we see time as being linear, with our perceived point in time being time’s furthest point and always moving forward, with the past inaccessible, except in memory.

As of right now (and as far as we know), time travel is not possible; if you subscribe to time being linear and that we are on the only timeline there is, then it may not be possible at all.  In a linear timeline, if one could go back in time, one could wind up messing things up for us here in the present.  In a time travel related version of the Butterfly Effect, if one were to go back and change the slightest thing, even just killing a simple housefly, that could cause a ripple effect, reaching all the way to the present (this was played to comedic effect in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode, “Time and Punishment”).  This change could result in the time machine/means of time travel never being created or discovered or even with the time traveler having never been born or born in a different time or place, resulting in the traveler having never made the jump to the past.  Another hiccup that may make time travel infeasible is the oft referenced, pesky old Grandfather Paradox, wherein a person goes back in time and either intentionally or unintentionally kills their father’s father before the traveler’s father is born, resulting in the traveler not being born and, therefore, not travelling back in time to kill their grandfather.  It’s as if time will find a way to correct itself; history may, indeed, be immutable.

If time is linear, then the Terminator series fails right out of the gate.  We take it for granted that the first movie is the first time that a T-800 is sent back in time to snuff out Sarah Connor, followed by Kyle Reese to protect Sarah.  The way things (and people) are intertwined, though, it doesn’t work.  In the movie, Reese tells Sarah about the future (his present) and about her son, John, the leader of the human resistance and the man who sent Reese back to protect his mother.  We also find, later, after one of those “hey, we’re on the run from a murderous cyborg; let’s get it on!” situations, that Reese is John’s father, creating a problem; if this is the first time John sent Reese back in time, then who was John’s father beforehand?  Reese was younger than John (in the future), meaning that Reese wasn’t even born in 1984, much less old enough to have had a relationship with Sarah, pre-Skynet apocalypse.  If Reese is now John’s father, then the John Connor of the future (going from the then-present 1984) is not the same John Connor that sent Reese back, resulting in Reese never being sent back and then resulting in the ‘new’ John Connor having never been born.

I think I just sprained my brain.

All of this to say, the linear time theory doesn’t work for the Terminator series.

There is another theory, though – the Many Worlds Interpretation.  Simply put, in the MWI, it is posited that every decision that’s made results in a branching of the timeline.  Suppose a man is in Timeline A and he has the choice to ask a woman out; as soon as the opportunity is presented, the timeline branches off – in this case, if he chooses to ask her out, the timeline branches off to Timeline B; if he chooses not to, then Timeline A continues on and he’s lonely.  Because that choice was made available, though, there will now be two timelines, as both paths could’ve been taken.  Taking it further, if the woman rejects the man’s offer, Timeline B will continue on (with a very sad, lonely man); if she accepts, though, there’s a new branch, Timeline C (with, hopefully, a very happy couple).  These points, taking place not only with these two people, but with every decision made in the universe, would result in an infinite amount of parallel worlds.  For the sake of keeping this article from being even longer than it’s likely to be, we’re only going to consider the major points in the movies, not every time someone decides to eat a bowl of Froot Loops instead of a bowl of Shredded Wheat or some other mundane thing like that.

This hypothesis can make it so the premise of the franchise works.  Going back to the first movie and again assuming this is the first time the events of the story unfold, we need to go back to the future (c’mon, you knew that I’d fit that in here somewhere), most specifically, John’s present (our future).  From his vantage point, he’s on Timeline A; he knows that a T-800 has just been sent back in time (more precisely, back in Timeline A) and sends Reese back.  This John Connor’s father was not Reese; we don’t know who his father was.  All we know is that Sarah met him in 1984.  Who knows?  She may have married him and they had a happy life together until the apocalypse, when John was forced to learn to survive and become the hardened leader that he is in his relative present.  None of that makes any difference now, as, with the arrival of the T-800 in 1984, a branch in the timeline has been created – Timeline B.  Now, we have a timeline where Sarah is hunted and taken out by the Terminator.  This has no effect on Timeline A John, but Timeline B now has no John Connor.  Perhaps another leader rises up in his place; or, maybe, the Resistance never has a good leader and humanity is wiped out.  Bummer.

All is not lost, though, for the arrival of Reese to 1984 causes a new branch in the timeline, Timeline C.  This is the timeline that we see play out in the movie, where Reese becomes John’s father.  This John Connor is different from the one that sent Reese from Timeline A; what’s he like?  Is he the leader of the resistance and savior of the human race?  Well, we don’t know right now; we find out in subsequent installments, though, that he is and does.  We do know, though, that this timeline is what leads into Terminator: Judgement Day.

The beginning of T2 is set in Timeline C.  We see a rebellious tween John, who was taught a few things about how to take care of himself before his mom was locked up in an asylum.  We also find that the events of the first movie, in addition to creating a new timeline branch, have also kind of accelerated the development of Skynet, with Cyberdyne using the microchip from the arm of the demolished T-800 from Terminator to create Skynet.  This leads credence to the idea of the franchise happening in a Many Worlds universe, as Skynet couldn’t have been created using Terminator technology if time was linear.

Again, though, another timeline is created with the arrival of the T-1000, creating Timeline D, where the T-1000 finds and kills John, snuffing out any possibility of a Connor-led human resistance in that timeline.  Timeline E is created, though, with the arrival of the reprogrammed ‘protector’ T-800; this is the timeline that the movie ends with.  Timeline C continues on an unknown path, probably with John (Reese’s son) still becoming the Resistance leader (the apocalypse still happens, as Cyberdyne has the T-800 chip); Timeline D goes on with John killed by the T-1000 and, perhaps, someone else taking his place and Timeline E ends as we see unfold on the screen, leading to Terminator: Rise of the Machines.

Whew…

Before we get further into this rabbit hole, let’s recap:

Timeline A: No Terminators are sent to the past; Sarah Connor meets Mr. X and becomes pregnant with John, who becomes the human resistance leader after the eventual (and inevitable, apparently) nuclear holocaust on August 29, 1997.

Timeline B: The first T-800 is sent to 1984, finds Sarah before she meets Mr. X and kills her, resulting in a future with no John Connor as the resistance leader.

Timeline C: Reese is sent to 1984 by Timeline A John Connor.  He becomes Timeline C John Connor’s father, meeting Sarah before she meets Mr. X.

Timeline D: The T-1000 is sent back to 1995 and finds and takes out 11 year-old Timeline C John Connor, resulting in a future with no John Connor as the Resistance leader; also, Skynet is created sooner by dint of the T-800’s technology becoming available in this timeline.

Timeline E: The ‘protector’ T-800 is sent back, saving John Connor, who becomes the 19 or 20 year-old John Connor in T3; Cyberdyne is destroyed, pushing back Skynet’s development.

I just realized, after writing all this out, that there would be timeline branches in the event of, say, Reese coming back, but failing to protect Sarah, with the T-800 ultimately taking her out.  There’s no way I’m going back to change all the timelines in this thing, so, for the sake of making my life easier, consider the previously mentioned situation (and those like it) to be a sub-level of its timeline, with the John Connor of that timeline ceasing to be and not exist in the future of that timeline (i.e. Reese failing would be Timeline C-2 and the T-1000 defeating the T-800 and taking out Timeline E John would be Timeline E-2).  That should be sufficiently confusing.

I need an aspirin…

Hoookay – moving on to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  We’re now in 2003, which finds Timeline E John living off the grid in an attempt to avoid detection.  The apocalypse still hasn’t happened, being pushed back a few years by the destruction of Cyberdyne in T2.  Somehow, the world spanning, self-aware computer system Skynet didn’t have access to Google in the future and can’t find John, so it sends a new model Terminator, the T-X, a shapeshifting Terminator that stays pretty much in a female body form, to take out John’s top resistance lieutenants (before they became said lieutenants, of course).  The arrival of the T-X creates Timeline F, where she successfully takes out her targets, including John and his future wife, Kate Brewster.  Not surprisingly, another Terminator, this time a T-850, is sent back by the Resistance, creating Timeline G and takes out the T-X (Timeline G-2 would be created if the T-X had beaten the T-850).  In Timeline G, the nuclear holocaust starts on July 24, 2003 and John begins his role as a leader.  It’s also worth noting (I guess – I’m not sure I really care at this point) that the T-850 sent back was another reprogrammed model – reprogrammed after it’d killed Timeline G John in 2032.

Terminator Salvation continues on in Timeline G and stays there for most of the movie, as there’s no backward time travel occurring in this installment.  Taking place in 2018, just before the T-800 series has been released, the Resistance is in full swing, but John has not yet become the leader of the organization that the previous movies have made him out to be; he still has a pretty strong following, as we find out later.  He also is aware that Reese is his father, knowing that he will send Reese to the past at some point in the near future, having presumably been filled in on the details before his mom died (it was established in T3 that she’d died before that movie).

At any rate (geez, this has turned out more convoluted than I thought it would – if you’re still reading, thanks!), we have another major point of divergence, when John is severely wounded and about to die.  With a heart transplant provided by the cyborg protagonist Marcus Wright (long story – just go with it), John is provided with a second chance at life and the ability to go on to become the great leader he was destined to become, continuing on with Timeline G; Timeline H, naturally, branches off from the point where John dies and the Resistance is less its great leader.  This means that the Reese that is sent and creates Timeline C is Timeline G Reese.  I guess he’s Timeline G-C Reese in 1984.

I feel a nosebleed coming on…

This all leads up to Terminator Genisys.  As I said what seems to be so long ago, I’ve not seen it, so I had to read an overview of the movie and its setting.

My head nearly popped.

OK, it seems that this takes place when Timeline G John sends Timeline G Reese back to 1984, ostensibly taking us back to the setting for the first movie.  When Reese reaches 1984, though, it’s no longer Timeline C; apparently, at some point in the future, ANOTHER T-800 was sent back to 1973 to serve as a guardian for 9 year-old Sarah (what happened to her parents, I don’t know), creating Timeline I, making this version of Reese Timeline G-I Reese.  The Sarah in this new timeline has her own time machine and plans to use it to go to 1997 in order to stop Skynet from becoming self-aware.  We find, through some time travel shenanigans that are revealed later, that Reese knows that Skynet (Genisys) in this timeline won’t become active until August 28, 2017 and they travel to that year instead.  Time travelling to 2017 instead of 1997 (and just deciding to travel at all) causes a few branches now (gah – why did I decide to do this?):

Timeline I: Do nothing and everything’s hunky dory until August 2017.

Timeline J: Go to 1997 and find that Skynet’s not ready yet, so…nothing happens.

Timeline K: Go to 2017 and stop Skynet (Genisys), the timeline that the movie follows (Timeline K-2 branching off if they fail) and which, if someone makes another entry in the franchise, and if they continue on as a direct sequel to Genisys, will be the timeline that the movie will take place in.

This would make Reese Timeline G-I-K Reese.

Seriously, my head hurts.

So, there you have it; a long, convoluted walk through the Terminator movie franchise timelines (I’m not even going to touch The Sarah Connor Chronicles and how it fits in; some other masochist can take on that one).  If you’ve slogged through this whole thing, well…thank you?

Now do you understand why this topic keeps me awake at night (and puts my wife to sleep)?

 




Hope In a New Princess

BANNER_Opinions2013

A Remembrance by Chris Lewis

 

“C’mon, Chris!”

My older brother was always yelling at me. Hurry up! Get out of my room! And, of course, Don’t tell Mom!

But this was a movie day. Mom didn’t mind and Dad never cared what we saw, as long as my brother took me along. Defying logic, two kids together equaled safety.

And Ed always got to pick the movie.

Star Wars was my introduction to a new type of princess. All the other princesses in the animated world of Disney were pretty maidens waiting for a prince to save them from the poison apple, prolonged sleep, or slave labor. The whole of their talents seemed to be singing and talking to animals. Their hair was always long, faces pretty, and dresses perfect for dancing.

empire-strikes-back-carrie-fisher

Princess Leia was a warrior who led the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire. When captured, she planted a message for Obi-Wan Kenobi in R2-D2 to alert him of her fate. Throughout the original trilogy, she could pick up a weapon as easily as any of the men in the party; trade barbs with Han Solo; and coordinate the missions of evacuating the rebel base and attacking the newest version of the Death Star. Risking capture, she faced Jabba in an attempted rescue of Han Solo. And the best scene ever was Leia strangling Jabba the Hut with her own chains.

In those movies, no one suggested Princess Leia should be taken somewhere safe and away from the action. No one questioned her ability to make decisions or to take a leading role in the fight. I don’t remember her wardrobe being a topic of conversation among the characters. She seemed perfectly comfortable in her functional clothes and hairstyles.

While I opened Barbies for Christmas, Ed got plastic Lightsabers and action figures, never to be confused with dolls. While my Barbies had a bunch of different outfits and feet molded only for high heels, Ed’s toys could stage battles and fight the evil empire by using the Force. He would give me the ones from the Dark Side and would get annoyed if too many of my Stormtroopers were surviving the attack.

“But you have to lose,” Ed insisted.

“Why?” I would ask. “I want to be the Princess.”

Eventually, he would give me Princess Leia and I could be fearless and strong, too.

Back then, there were lots of battles to be fought. Everyone in the neighborhood had a water gun in summertime, the souped-up versions. Ed and his best friend Dave squared off, choosing teams. The rules were simple: Hit as many of the enemy as you can without getting hit. I ran after Ed with my own blaster, and he would yell back for me to catch up. “C’mon, Chris! Let’s go!”

We abandoned the lawns and newly planted trees for the back of the subdivision the developers had yet to reach. The muddy creek and scruffy trees made up a different planet with plenty of great hiding places. I ducked behind trees and crawled through the overgrown grass patches and fired at will. And the knees of my jeans would get soaked when I dunked the gun underwater to reload.

Eventually, the group would disband, usually without a clear winner and no one seemed to care. Ed and I would walk back into the house wet, muddy, and grass-stained. My mother’s disapproving stare was reserved for me.

But I was a warrior and a princess, just like Princess Leia.

 

Chris Lewis grew up playing Galaga and Pac Man, and can clearly remember watching Poltergeist on this new thing called “HBO”. She lives in Kansas City and spends most of her time writing fiction, ordering take-out, and corrupting her children with classic movies, TV shows and video games.

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Five Great Horror Movies of 2016 – and One (Dis) Honorable Mention

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[Images from The Purge Election Year courtesy Universal Studios; Images from The Witch, The Shallows, and Don’t Breathe courtesy Official Facebook pages; Box Office figures courtesy BoxOfficeMojo.com.]

 

Another year, another bumper crop of horror movies. While horror continues to provide truckloads of cash receipts to studios, 2016 also saw some great quality among the quantity. Here’s some that rose above their genre brethren.

 

5 – Don’t Breathe

Director – Fede Alvarez
Written by – Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Cast – Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang, and Daniel Zovatto
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) – $153,219,180.00

 

Courtesy Official Don't Breathe Facebook page
The “Super Lucrative Easy-Peasy Last Heist” plan goes arwy – again!

(Home Invasion) Don’t Breathe is the standout “home invasion” horror movie of 2016.  It followed the standard beats every fan expects from this sub-genre, and executed them to perfection. What sets Don’t Breathe above the other movies of this type? Two things.

A third act twist that can honestly be called jaw-dropping; even fans who can see every twist coming most likely did NOT guess this one. I sure didn’t.

Characters that (like the film itself) stay true to “types” we’re used to seeing – the helpless victim (Stephen Lang), the unwilling criminal (Dylan Minnette), the unrepentant scumbag (Daniel Zovatto), and the feisty Final Girl (Jane Levy), but who manage to become actual people we hate, love to hate, or hope will make it to the credits alive.

4 – The Purge Election Year

Director – James DeMonaco, from his script
Cast – Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Mykelti Williamson
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) – $118,416,945.00

Even The Purge Election Year gets a "Hero Strut Through a Hallway" shot.
Even The Purge Election Year gets a “Hero Strut Through a Hallway” shot.

(Dystopia/Survival Horror) The Purge series sure has changed. The first Purge was a smart, compact Home Invasion thriller set in a vague, non-specific American future.  Director/Writer James DeMonaco expanded The Purge universe in the second movie The Purge Anarchy to flesh out the “why” underlying the situation; in The Purge Election Year the canvas broadens to include the fate of the United States.

For me, The Purge series is like a version of Escape from New York where the main character cares about something besides himself and displays some actual character development.

 

3 – The Shallows

Director – Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by – Anthony Jaswinski
Cast – Blake Lively and Sully “Steven” Seagull
Worldwide Box Office Goss (US Dollars) $119,100,758.00

 

the-shallows2
Blake Lively proves her action/horror chops in The Shallows.

(Survival Horror) I could go on and on about all the great parts of The Shallows – the sustained atmosphere of dread and suspense, the moments that actually made me gasp in shock, an “ewwww” inducing DYI surgery scene that makes Noomi Rapace’s high tech operation in Prometheus look like a relaxing massage – but there’s one aspect of this shark attack thriller that no other movie on this list can match.

Sully “Steven” Seagull.

Yes, we all hope that Nancy (Blake Lively) survives her battle with the elements and a gigantic, very hungry shark. But at the end of the movie, I actually yelled Is the bird ok? Did Sully make it?” at the TV.

That’s great acting.

 

2 – The Invitation

Director – Karyn Kusama
Written by – Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Cast – Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, and John Carroll Lynch
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) $231,737.00

[Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) restrains Will (Logan Marshall-Green)
When awkward dinner parties turn violent. [Image courtesy Drafthouse Films]
 (Psychological Horror) The Invitation is one of the quieter horrors on this list. As I noted in my SciFi4Me review, it starts off as a strange, psychological character piece in an elegant home. But by the time the battered survivors of this deadly evening see the dawn, we suspect that there may be no place of safety left.

Director Karyn Kusama, along with scriptwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, created in The Invitation a unique inversion of the locked house mystery, and it’s worth every horror fan’s time to find it on DVD/Bluray or streaming to discover for themselves.

 

1 – The Witch

Director – Robert Eggers, from his script
Cast – Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, and Harvey Scrimshaw
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) $40,423,945.00

 

the-wtich
Black Phillip didn’t need dialogue to be the scariest thing on screen in 2016.

 

In The Witch, moviegoers got a horror film that went back to America’s beginnings to uncover truly primal horrors. The Witch uses all the elements – sight, sound, composition – to put the viewer in to the 17th century – not just in how people talked or what clothes they wore, but the beliefs and terrors of their souls and the daily struggles of survival.  Of all the movies on this list, The Witch may be the most likely to be regarded as a classic of movies in general, not just as a great horror movie.

 

And my award for last least satisfying horror movie of the year goes to … The Conjuring 2.

Director – James Wan
Written by – Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan and David Johnson
Cast – Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, and Frances O’Connor
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) $320,270,008.00

 

the Conjuring 2 Official FB page
A movie JUST about this lovely lady? Probably much scarier than awkwardly shoehorning her into The Conjuring 2.

Yes, it made endless boatloads of money. And nothing in The Conjuring 2 is intrinsically awful. My main problem with the highest grossing horror movie of the year is simple. It’s two very scary movies smashed together to make an unsatisfying, and not very scary, whole.

A movie about ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren confronting a haunted portrait of a scary nun? Great! I’d love to see that movie!

The story of the 1977 Enfield Haunting? A real (maybe) poltergeist story set in late 70’s England? Yes, please!

The actual story of the Enfield Haunting is a fantastic ghost story on its own. Track down The Enfield Haunting (2015) on Hulu (I have it my DVR queue from A&E’s airing last October) to  watch a disturbing, unsettling ghost story – without Ed & Elaine Warren and the Demonic Nun shoehorned into the story.

Both stories on their own sound amazing. I found the results of cramming them together in one movie rather disappointing.

 

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Seven Things You Need When Time Traveling

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What do you really need when you go time traveling? I asked this question of a few friends, and the most common answer was a survival kit or books about the time period. However, there are a few things that are always an issue and aren’t made a priority when they should be.

1. An Extra Navigational System

Whether your navigational system is part of your time traveling machine, or is simply a handheld device like the Omni on Voyagers, it’s at risk of being lost or destroyed. And while you might see a show where a trajectory to Earth is plotted on a slide rule, or an ocean voyage is navigated with a compass and maps, I’ve never seen a time traveler sit down and plot their course by laying out a bunch of calendars.

TIMELESS -- "Stranded" Episode 106 -- Pictured: Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin -- (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)
If only I had thought to pack some spare parts. (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)

Recently on Timeless, the bad guys planted C-4 on the outside of the time machine, which blew a hole in it. Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) managed to repair it except for the navigational system. Their home base had to catch them in time and lead them home. A circuit board, a flexible tube and a square of sheet metal and they would have been fine.

On Voyagers, many years ago, it took Thomas Edison to fix the Omni. You don’t always have Thomas Edison available to you. Why not bring a spare Omni with you? Why not two or three? They’re small.

On many shows, the lack of ability to navigate is part of the premise. In Time Tunnel, a precursor for modern shows like Timeless, Doug (Robert Colbert) and Tony (James Darren) are thrown hither and yon, always landing at some random historical event. Doctor Who relies on the TARDIS bringing the Doctor to where he needs to be, rather than where he is aiming to be. Quantum Leap is the same way. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) is sent to where he is needed. You might think that it would be better to go where fate sends you but it’s worth it to be able to control your own destination. The writers will just have to work harder to get you into trouble.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until: 03/07/2015 - Programme Name: Doctor Who - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: supply on request only from 05:00hrs 3rd July 2015 Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI), The TARDIS - (C) BBC - Photographer: Simon Ridgway
Why do we need to be in the middle of nowhere?  (BBC – Photographer: Simon Ridgway)

2. Birth Control

It is said that there are two things a woman must always have and one of them is a passport. In most eras, birth control is not easily available or effective and could be downright gross. There are reasons related to time travel that make birth control a necessity for both genders.

One is the “I am my own grandfather” paradox. It is similar to the Grandfather Paradox, which says that you create a paradox if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather. It never explains what your motivation for such a convoluted method of suicide is. But if you do go back in time and succeed in killing your own grandfather, you will then not exist to go back in time to kill your own grandfather and therefore your grandfather will be alive to beget your parent and you will then be alive to go back in time to kill your own grandfather.

You have a similar paradox if you go back in time and inadvertently sleep with your own grandmother or great-great-great-grandmother or distant ancestor. You then become your own grandfather and must have always been fated to go back in time to bring yourself into being. Packing birth control can keep that icky paradox from happening. And if it doesn’t happen, you’ll still be there because you were before and someone was your grandfather.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote a story in which the time traveler, through virtue of having an intersex condition and then a sex change, becomes their own mother and father. In fact, all of the characters in the story are the same person. To have everyone actually be the protagonist is a device he’s used in more than one story.

Birth control can also mean that you don’t give birth to a child out of time who becomes the time traveling Witness who then gives a lethal virus to the world and causes an apocalypse. Oh, and tries to kill time itself. And very probably has abilities you’ve never heard of because of his ancestry and the experimental drugs the parents were subjected to. It’s quite possible that with a long term form of birth control, like an IUD or implant, the apocalypse on 12 Monkeys would never have happened.

Time travelers are always scattering children across time that they never see. Sam Beckett had a daughter who grew up without him. The Doctor had a daughter and has had children before. The Doctor also had a granddaughter whom he left behind in our future, the 22nd century, and her fate is still unknown. It’s possible that he will have more children in the future or the past.

An exception can be made for John Connor (Edward Furlong), since he grows up to save humanity.

Please don’t let your children grow up to be older than you. Or be you. Bring birth control.

3. A Futuristic Device

There comes a time in many time traveler’s adventures in which you have to convince those around you that time travel is possible so that they will believe that you know the future. Unless you have a sporting event or a solar eclipse handy, a futuristic device can do the trick.

A sonic screwdriver is the perfect thing that says time traveler, or perhaps space alien. It’s mysterious in how it works and does things that just aren’t possible. Your futuristic device should carry its own power source. A blow dryer isn’t very impressive if it’s not plugged in. Your cell phone won’t do much if the battery is dead and won’t be able to contact the internet anyway.

***STRICTLY EMBARGOED FOR ALL USAGE IN PRINT AND ONLINE UNTIL 00.01 ON 5 DECEMBER, 2013, GMT***DOCTOR WHO XMAS
Courtesy of the BBC

Futuristic money or a driver’s license with your time’s date on it could be convincing. Just remember that you could be found out if the wrong people find those items.

Your anachronistic device could save your life. Something that you carry in your pockets, like matches, could save the day. It did in Crusade in Jeans by Thea Beckman.

It’s up to you whether to bring a book of sports history. You could make a lot of money off of betting on sure things, but if you forget and leave the book behind, the town bully could change history in his favor.

4. An Artifact

An artifact is similar to but not the same as a futuristic device. An artifact is something personal, such as a diary, watch, locket or family photograph. Or a locket containing a family photograph. An artifact can have many uses. It can be proof of identity to your younger self, especially if they still own the artifact. It can show the danger of having an item or a person next to their former selves, if it causes a temporal paradox under the rules of time travel that you are traveling under.

It can show changes in the timeline, such as Marty McFly’s siblings disappearing from a photo while the chances of his parents getting together were also disappearing. It can be used to prove that the timeline has changed and someone has disappeared who exists only in the photograph, which is the way the artifact is used in Timeless. The time travelers in that show do not remember the changed timeline and the people left behind do not remember the original one. Objects that time travel with them are also unchanged by a change in history. Obviously artifacts can’t be used for both of those purposes in the same story, since that would be contradictory.

Artifacts can be used to provide a clue as to something that will happen in future, or trigger a memory of past events from an alternate timeline. Both were plot devices used to good effect on 12 Monkeys.

Don’t forget your own personal, sentimental item, preferably inscribed with names and dates for maximum impact.

5. A Historian

It may seem like a clever idea to bring an expert with you. However, it’s not like they picture it on Timeless. Historians usually study a particular time period. Unless you are visiting their specialty, they are unlikely to be much help. They spend their time doing experiments to figure out how Native Americans used buffalo dung to make baby powder.

TIMELESS -- "The Capture of Benedict Arnold" Episode 109 -- Pictured: Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston -- (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)
But I’m prettier than a history text. (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)

Bring a solar powered Kindle and load it with all of humanity’s knowledge. It should have the ability to plug into your time machine, of course, if you have one. It should be lockable. You will have to guard it with your life. It could do a lot more damage than a list of winning lottery tickets. But your historian could also be stolen, or lost, or get killed.

A solar powered Kindle can also double as a futuristic device.

6. A Hazmat Suit

You can’t really wear a hazmat suit because then you would be mistaken for an alien and on a TV show no one would be able to see your face, which is the reason surgeons don’t wear masks on medical dramas. However, the risks of catching a disease in the past or spreading a disease from the future are greatly underestimated.

Recently, on Timeless, the female lead was worried that they were present during a smallpox epidemic in 1754. Unless they were vaccinated because they were going to the past, none of the three time travelers were old enough to have been vaccinated against smallpox. Wyatt (Matt Lanter), who was in the military, may have been vaccinated as a precaution against biological warfare.

Bringing smallpox back to the present with them would endanger everyone young enough to have remained unvaccinated since the virus was considered eradicated in 1979. Sure, the world would bring vaccinations back quickly, but many lives would be lost.

Bringing a new version of a flu virus could decimate the past. All type A influenzas are related to the deadly outbreak of Spanish flu in 1918. Carrying a relatively harmless type A flu to a time before 1918 could cause a global pandemic to those whose ancestors weren’t survivors of the Spanish flu.

There are bacteria and parasites that are rarely seen in the developed world that would be more easily found in the past. Cholera and typhoid would be concerns, since they’re found in drinking water and food that’s not sanitary. Up until the last century, people died of gastrointestinal problems far more often than they do now, many with no idea what made them ill.

Even a small cut could get infected and turn septic. It’s more likely to happen without clean water or sterile first aid supplies. Without antibiotics, that could kill you.

There are also contaminants that people were not aware were harmful in a previous age. The Roman Empire may have been brought down by lead in drinking vessels. Civil war soldiers were embalmed in arsenic. Asbestos was used as a flame retardant.

Since hazmat suits are not practical, time travelers should be vaccinated against everything that they can be, including very rare diseases. They should boil water and use chemicals to treat it, and eat all food well cooked. They should also go into quarantine when they get back, although I can’t really see anyone putting that in a story. They need to take antibiotics and a first aid kit with them. What the heck, bring your own surgeon, one who is versed in battlefield conditions. Much more useful than a historian.

7. A Survival/Time Travel Kit

Yes, all the people I talked to are right. A survival kit is necessary. From items like iodine tablets to a flashlight and fishing line and a hook, it’s good to be prepared for surviving on your own.

Because you are time traveling, you also need current and local currency. You can have some printed if you are part of a government agency. You can bring with you something that is desirable in all periods of time, like gold, and exchange it for money. On 12 Monkeys, they used jewelry that was useless after the apocalypse to finance their needs in the past. In this day and age, though, you could forge your own money. Most time periods that you would travel back to would lack the ability to detect forgeries. The same goes for identification, although psychic paper is always best if you can get it. Don’t age your identification, papers, or money, though. Remember it’s new in the time you are using it in.

Dressing for the time period is also an issue. If your time traveling machine is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, you can carry a full wardrobe closet. You can also have a costume closet at home, a la Timeless. You could purchase what you need when you get there. Not all times and places have clothes off the rack, though. You could brazen your way through with your own style, but that’s risky unless you’re a Time Lord.

If you wear very simple clothes in natural fabrics — a tunic or loose shirt with baggy pants for men, and a peasant blouse and long skirt for women — you could fit into the vast majority of time periods. However, you will never be upper class in those time periods, as clothing was much more an indication of wealth and position in most time periods than it is now. Don’t pretend to be a soldier unless you have the uniform exactly right and carry yourself like one. Like Rufus on Timeless, you will be found out as  a fraud.

TIMELESS -- "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin -- (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)
Don’t I look like a soldier?- Pictured: Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin — (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)

Don’t try to match weapons to the time period. Bring a gun that is practical, effective and that you can carry or get enough ammunition for. Just don’t lose it! It would be helpful to carry a sword and learn to use it.

Most of these suggestions are more useful for traveling to the past than the future, since it’s hard to predict what the future will be like. What else do you think is a necessity for successful time travel? What would help the time traveler succeed on his quest?

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It Isn’t Over ’til Captain Howdy Sings: 5 Reasons FOX Should Renew THE EXORCIST

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[All images courtesy Jean Whiteside/FOX]

 

As I noted in the SciFi4Me recap of The Exorcist’s 10th episode “Three Rooms,” the freshman horror drama’s chances of getting a second season are (at press time), leaning towards “No.”

I was one of those “old school” horror fans who viewed a television continuation of the 1973 “Scariest Movie Ever Made” with caution; a reaction shared by SciFi4Me’s Timothy Harvey. For every successful transplanting of a famous horror franchise to television (Bates Motel), there’s a soon-forgotten misfire (Damien).

What makes The Exorcist on FOX a successful addition to the franchise? Let us count the ways. Within each point, I’ll link to the SciFi4Me recap for episodes that were particularly good examples.

One –  The Exorcist delivers the horror goods – both Subtle and  Gross-Out varieties.

The Exorcist  featured some subtle slow burn scares – a rat strangled in midair in “And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee” and the Volcare Pulevere Selection Dinner that wrapped up “Star of the Morning.” But The Exorcist didn’t stint on gross-out shots like Tomas’s Abuela in “Three Rooms,” Angela’s vision Casey’s maggot-eaten face (also from “Star of the Morning”), or Casey viciously mauling a drunken frat boy (“Let ‘Em In“).

 

For a network horror program, The Exorcist works in some "Ewwww" moments.
For a network horror program, The Exorcist worked some major “Ewwww” moments.

Two – The Exorcist satisfies Exorcist die-hards … and newbies.

When The Exorcist was still being sold as a “new” story in the established Exorcist continuity, every episode featured a nod to the original 1973 movie – like pea soup for dinner in  “Lupus in Fabula.” But even after Episode Five “Through My Most Grievous Fault” acknowledged Angela Rance was Regan MacNeil all grown up, the visual nods continued.  In “Star of the Morning” Casey performed the (in)famous “Spider Walk” – a scene cut from The Exorcist theatrical release.

Casey does her best Regan MacNeil Spider Walk.
Casey does her best Regan MacNeil Spider Walk.

Three –  Solid acting, from Oscar Winners to “Hey – it’s THAT lady from THAT movie!”

Even in a fantastical story, we have to buy into the characters and their struggles. Oscar winner Genna Davis (Angela Rance) and veteran Alan Ruck (Henry Rance), joined by Hanna Kasulka (Casey) and Brianne Howey (Kat), made the incredible events affecting the Rance family believable.

We won’t see them in a second season, but late, lamented characters like Mother Bernadette (Deanna Dunagan) and Cherry and Lester Rego (Kiera Naughton and Ken Marks) will be missed – along with the unlamented Captain Howdy (Robert Emmet Lunney).

Mother Bernadette shows Marcus how it's done at Our Lady of Mercy.
Mother Bernadette – gone but not forgotten.

Four –  The parts of the story that didn’t work didn’t detract from the success of the overall story.

There were parts of The Exorcist that didn’t work (or make sense).

  • The tortured (and torture to watch) relationship of Father Tomas and Jessica from Evanston.
  • The Made for TV Exorcism of Father Marcus.
  • The length of time it took for the Regan MacNeil storyline and the Plot Against Pope Sebastian plot to finally merge.

Fortunately, the things that didn’t work for me as a viewer (or fan of the original Exorcist) didn’t sabotage the series as a whole.

The slaughter of nine people didn't compare with the disappearance of Casey Rance.
The slaughter of nine POC didn’t get nearly as much attention as the disappearance of Casey Rance.

Five –  The Exorcist featured contemporary issues of gender, sexuality, and class division in a horror context.

Like Science Fiction, Horror has been a mirror to reflect what society is afraid of in each generation, from race (Night of the Living Dead), gender (Bride of Frankenstein), sexuality (Dracula), and class divisions (Candyman).

The disparity in public attention paid to the nine African Americans slaughtered in Englewood is compared to the public attention paid to the disappearance of one young white woman in “Star of the Morning.” In “Three Rooms” Angela saves herself from integration with the demon Pazuzu. Throughout the series, both Kat Rance and Father Marcus were strong, interesting LGBTQ characters.

 

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR HORROR/EXORCIST NERDS

 

The Exorcist television series has (we hope) erased the so-bad-it’s-really-awful Exorcist II: The Heretic from series continuity.

 

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10 Ghost Tips I Learned from Watching PARANORMAL WITNESS

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[All photos courtesy of Syfy unless they are GIFs]

Read our prior recaps here.

If there is one thing consistently watching way too much Paranormal Witness has done for my life, it has given me an over falsity of confidence about my ability to deal with ghosts. Having never seen a ghost, I can only assume that my ghost warding powers are off the charts, and I should probably star in my own reality TV show. Since no producers have been returning my calls (seriously, Brian, CALL ME), I’ve decided to lay some ghostly knowledge on you all using the power of the written word. If spiteful spirits are one of your main problems in life, I humbly submit the following advice:

1. Ouija boards are basically ghost catnip.

As seen in: Season 1, Episode 5, “The Dangerous Game”; Season 5, Episode 3 “From H.E.L.L.”

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“Pictured: Bad news bears.” Image courtesy of Syfy.

Maybe ghosts really like spelling, or maybe they specifically like messing around with humans by spelling out improbable names. Whatever the reason, anything that calls itself “Molech” or “Beelzebub” is probably not your friend. Seriously, why aren’t there any ghosts named “Timothy” or “Jessica”? Even a “Derek” would be a nice change of pace.

2. If a grandmother seems scared of a thing, you should ALSO be scared of that thing.

As seen in: Season 2, Episode 4 “The Dybbuk Box”

Here’s the thing: if a grandmother tells you not to open a mysterious box, don’t open that box. Just don’t. Whatever is inside is bound to be horrifying.

dywtn
No. No, you don’t.

Grandmothers are tougher than nails, and they’ve dealt with a hell of a lot more crap in this life than you have. Go open a different box instead. Maybe a box of chocolates? Forrest Gump would approve of that choice. Be like Forrest Gump.

3. Don’t sign contracts in your own blood.

As seen in: Season 5, Episode 4 “The Contract”

ParanormalWitness_gallery_504Recap_06
“If this seems positive to you, I questions your choices.” Image courtesy of Syfy.

This one seems like a no-brainer, and logically, it should be. “Rachael,” you might be saying at this moment, “why are you even telling me this?” I am telling you this because ghosts are sneaky. If a dapper man approaches you and asks you to sign a contract in your own blood, he is almost definitely a ghost. That, or a really sketchy lawyer.

4. Burn all of your dolls.

As seen in: Season 4, Episode 4, “Suzy Doll” and Season 5, Episode 2, “They are Mine”

ParanormalWitness_gallery_404Recap_01
“Pictured: actually Satan. ” Image courtesy of Syfy.

Just do it. Burn them all. I don’t care if they have sentimental value. I don’t care if they’re oh so cute. I don’t care if they can fly you to the moon and back. The dead soulless eyes of all dolls are just waiting to be possessed by vengeful undead spirits bent on your destruction. Little Suzie can learn to play with a brick or something. She will thank you when she grows up not possessed by a demon.

5. Ghosts can be pretty zen, actually.

As seen in: Season 5, Episode 2 “They Are Mine” and Season 3 Episode 18 “The Harpy”

ParanormalWitness_gallery_502Recap_03
“The afterlife is all about balance.” Image courtesy of Syfy.

Ghosts love balancing things on tables. Tables, glasses, your body, doesn’t matter, they will balance that thing on a table like nobody’s business. They also love arranging things in circles or other shapes and patterns, like terrifying dolls or teddy bears (see Number 4). Channel your ghost’s zen energy (zenergy?) into more positive channels. Maybe get one of those little sand things. If nothing else, it will give you some stress relief, which I assume you need if you’re haunted and all.

6. Ghosts hate blue.

As seen in: Season 5, Episode 1 “Voodoo Preacher”

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They just do. They hate the crap out of it. Specifically, they hate “haint blue”, a soft blue green color traditionally painted on ceilings in the South to ward off ghosts. Apply a generous coating of this to your home, preferably in an ominous “Jackson Pollock HGTV Edition” kinda way to send spirits skedaddling. Bonus points if you don’t explain your decorating choices to any future tenants. They’ll figure it out…eventually.

7. Listen to your realtor.

As seen in: Season 2, Episode 8 “Fox Hollow Farm” and Season 5, Episode 5 “Zozo”

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“Never should’ve accepted this listing. Never should’ve accepted this listing.” Image courtesy of Syfy.

Listen to what your realtor and previous tenants are saying, but also carefully listen to what they’re NOT saying. For example, if your realtor informs you that your house is such a bargain because it was previously owned by one of the most prolific serial killers in the state’s history, that should probably be a deal-breaker for you. Similarly, if the previous tenant has a haunted look about his eyes and refuses to tell you why he’s leaving in such a hurry, you should potentially be concerned. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, people.

8. Invest in a good fire alarm.

As seen in: Season 1, Episode 3 “The Poltergeist”

I’ll just come right out and say it: some ghosts are just jerks. Rather than embracing a more productive afterlife, many are hell bent on your destruction and will literally try to burn your house down around you.

XUbkeFR
Also, some ghosts.

Do not make this easier for them by waving a lit cigarette over your collection of gasoline cans. Get a good smoke alarm and fire extinguisher. Smokey the Bear is a ghost’s worst nightmare. Only you can prevent ghost fires.

9. Your child’s imaginary friends will try to kill you in your sleep.

As seen in: Season 1, Episode 1 “Emily the Imaginary Friend” and Season 4, Episode 6 “The Dark Pond”

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The most dangerous thing.

If your child tells you they have an imaginary friend, immediately assume that imaginary friend will try to kill you. Just right off the bat. Sure it might sound cute to start with, but trust me, it will seem way less cute when an unseen force is trying to drown your little one. Probably encourage your kids to watch more cartoons on TV and spend more time mindlessly playing video games.

10. Ghosts have a LOT of opinions on home renovations.

As seen in: Season 1, Episode 1 “Emily the Imaginary Friend” and Season 3, Episode 12 “The House on the Lake”

Ghosts can be harsher home remodeling critics than anyone on HGTV.

cougartown
– Ghosts, probably

Instead of those nice affable  Property Brothers, you could get stuck with an angry demon who really thinks blood on your walls is a great trend for spring.

 

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“This really just opens up the whole room, don’t you think, Dave?” Image courtesy of Syfy.

Before attempting any home renovations, pause and ask yourself, “Is this hideous avocado colored shag carpeting REALLY worth risking a ghost infestation?”

No. No, it isn’t.

 

Paranormal Witness runs on Syfy on Wednesdays at 10/9 Central, and is available to view on Syfy’s website.

Be sure to check out our other coverage on Syfy programming here.

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Theatre Review: SIAMESE SEX SHOW Oddly Charming

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siamese-sex-show-poster{All photos by Ed Krieger}

Siamese Sex Show
W
ritten and music by John Papageorge

Directed by Kiff Scholl
Produced by The Lounge Theatre in Los Angeles
{This review has also been published on Angie’s website, Contents May Vary}

In a dystopian future, with the world run by an evil CEO bent on getting rid of intimacy and sex, who’s going to save society? Why, pop stars, of course!

So is the very basic bones of Siamese Sex Show, a new musical just coming off of workshops in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Written by tech expert and music producer John Papageorge, the musical blends pop and hip hop and includes lyrics from Kool Keith, Mistah Fab, and J Diggs. A long one act, running about 90 minutes, the show follows the designs of Monocorp and its CEO (Keith E. Wright), fresh off inventing the Love Light, a piece of technology that gives the wearer pleasure at a moment’s notice.

Erin Rye and Eddie Gutierrez
Erin Rye and Eddie Gutierrez

Of course, there’s more to it than that, and the CEO’s plans include blackmailing the pop stars that work for the company, murder, and the eventual ruling of the world. Meanwhile, in another part of town is the only place where intimacy is still allowed – an underground club called The Siamese Sex Show. As the CEO continues his plans, former employees gather to figure out a way to stop this dastardly plan, and become superheroes to save the day. It’s a commentary on our obsession with celebrities and technology, and how much influence marketing has on our lives.

Going into the production, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. The title and conceit as a ‘naughty pop musical’ told me I’d get something definitely R rated, and hopefully exploring erotic text and sexuality using music and superhero tropes. And this show definitely gets an adult rating, but it’s mostly for the language.

For a show about the need for sex and intimacy, the show is somewhat subdued. When it comes down to it, I was expecting more sex from a ‘sex show’. I was also little sad that there wasn’t at least a minor acknowledgement that you can have intimacy without sex and some asexual recognition.

Jillian Easton and Sean Leon
Jillian Easton and Sean Leon

The feminist in me can’t help but note that the show seems geared towards the male heterosexual gaze: the only time we got anything non-heterosexual on stage was in the tropey lesbian dancing by “The Board” (Dayna Alice Austin, Janelle Dote, Miki Holmes, and Alyssa Noto). In addition, while we get some minor eye candy on two of the men, the show is much more geared towards showing off our female performers bodies. (And don’t get me started on the continued use of the word ‘bitch’ to describe the women.)

The direction was weak in some areas, with the cast far too concerned about the audience way too many times. The character of the MC (Isaac Cruz) seems a bit superfluous at times, narrating the plot so far and telling us when to applaud (although for what he had to work with, Cruz did a fine job).

However, it ended up being one of those shows that I enjoyed despite its problems. The concept is ridiculous enough to where it ends up being oddly charming. The humor is punchy, and the music is an excellent mix of hip hop and pop, with songs that are powerful. And the choreography is delightfully erotic at times, strikingly powerful at others.

Eddie Gutierrez and Cloe Wyatt Taylor
Eddie Gutierrez and Cloie Wyatt Taylor

Special kudos to Eddie Gutierrez, who plays George O. Thornhill, a ‘cracker’ from the Midwest who had joined Monocorp as the new head of marketing, and ends up getting involved with the ones fighting the corporation. He plays the ‘fresh-faced kid from the country’ stereotype in a way that makes it work, and when he gets his song, he shines. A shout out as well to Erin Rye, who plays Cherry, a robot pop star that’s a clear mockery of Katy Perry and her ‘type’ of female pop stars, and makes this show seem like it’s a missing ‘adult’ episode of Jem and the Holograms.

There are also solid performances from Jillian Easton (Vivian, the CEO’s assistant – and more), Cloie Wyatt Taylor (Malika, one of the pop stars who first stumbles upon the Siamese Sex Show), Riccardo Berdini (Mr. Hadji, who does some minor magic – and has the best gag of the evening as a result), and Sean Leon (Jamal, the former rapper turned security and ‘enforcer’ for the CEO).

We all need to have a connection with people. Whether that connection comes from sex or from connecting virtually, Siamese Sex Show shows us the power of pop and working together to save us all. In the end, I walked away pleasantly delighted by it.

Siamese Sex Show opened in Los Angeles on October 7, and runs until November 13. You can hear the music over at their website, and learn more about the show over at their Facebook page. For a show titled Siamese Sex Show, it’s not exactly what you’d expect — and that’s what makes it work.

You can see more of Angie’s work (and her social media connections) over at her website.

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Overcoming Challenges To Mars

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We can’t stay on Terra Firma forever. The stars are calling. And it’s not just about adventure, exploration, and discovery. It’s about survival. Neil DeGrasse Tyson said it best when he said, “Asteroids are nature’s way of saying: ‘How’s that space program coming along?’ ”

But asteroids aren’t the only threat to our survival. Yellowstone National Park is a volcano and an overdue ticking time bomb. Coronal bursts from the sun aren’t exactly predictable. New and more dangerous plagues and super bugs are constantly threatening. And that’s just scratching the tip of the iceberg of the dangers humanity has to face in its constant struggle for survival. Although the human population is large and growing, it might not take much to undo that, and not in very pleasant ways. Nations have globe annihilating weapons pointed at each other and are just waiting to push the button.

Yoko Ono is still capable of releasing a new album.

We’re quite a way from traveling between star systems. Our current hope is within our own solar system. Luckily, Mars isn’t too far away. But it’s far enough away to create a plethora of problems in trying to get there. So do we currently have the solutions? A few weeks ago at Worldcon 74, I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel by NASA astronaut Stan Love about the difficulties in getting to Mars and back. And it got me thinking about possible solutions.

 

Ship and Propulsion

To start off, let’s talk about the ship. We’re not talking about some Soyuz capsule or Columbia class orbiter. It has to be a vessel made for long trips. I mean loooong trips! And there must be a brief colonization period while Earth and Mars align just right to send a ship out and back again. Using an orbital slingshot effect, which was standard practice when going to the moon, fuel for the chemical rockets can be minimized. But there’s also no margin for error. The slightest miscalculation or misexecution (which apparently wasn’t a word until just now) would result in nothing more than a lost ship and dead astronauts. In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good thing.

Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem using nuclear thermal propulsion. And like many nuclear reactors that were used in major universities and are used on a lot of ships in the U.S. Navy, the base isotopes are not dangerously radioactive, the harmful radiation occurring only once the reactor is switched on. So it’s safe to launch into space, right?

Well, not everyone understands the science. Doing so would invoke a major political backlash. Extremists on the far left have a hard time grasping that the reactor isn’t being used to poison the skies and the isotopes aren’t radioactive enough to cause any environmental problem if there is a disaster on liftoff. Extremists on the right would have the concern that the construct might be, you know, a weapon of some sort. And until the lawyers and business people who comprise the House of Representatives, being the ones who control the federal purse, are outside of such influence, the reactor propulsion system isn’t going to happen. So gravitational slingshots and even greater danger of failure it is!

But wait, what about the newly developed and state of the art Electromagnetic drives, or EM drives, that I keep hearing about in the media, the so-called “impossible drive”? Oh, you mean the one that’s only starting to be studied and nobody knows how it would perform on an actual vessel without lots of further testing? Yeah, great idea. But it needs, you know, lots of further testing. Although it shows a lot of promise, most of the rumors of progress and seemingly impossible feats (like making lasers exceed the light barrier) are just that: rumors.

Since we’re on the subject of hypothetical propulsion, let’s consider another possibility. What if a nuclear reactor was put on a vessel to power an Alcubierre drive? Although still theoretical, the math behind it has yet to be disproven. The Alcubierre drive is intended to be a real-world warp drive.

But to exceed the light barrier (if that is even possible with the drive) would require the use of antimatter. The longest antimatter has been held stable is 16 seconds, which is immensely longer than any previous record. And the amount was almost negligible. But what if a reactor was used? Sure, if it works, it would travel much less than 10% the speed of light. But it could possibly be faster than the chemical rockets used today and even more efficient. So is it practical in any way? The jury may be out on it, but it’s worth thinking about! Even more so if it can shorten a trip to and from Mars.

Warp drive, though less impressive with a nuclear reactor. (NASA)
Warp drive, though less impressive with a nuclear reactor. (NASA)

As fun as it might be to speculate as to how to get to Mars faster, the sad reality is that by current technology, it’s a bloody long trip. Being without gravity for so long can do nasty things to the human body. An artificial gravity system like those typically found in science fiction would be a wonderful thing. But coming up with such a system is difficult when so little is known about gravity.

There are three different theories (Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and M-Theory/Superstring Theory), and all of them are completely different. It’s hard to apply something without even knowing what it is! So there has to be another way. Well, there has to be two different ways, to be exact.

The first is to completely ignore gravity altogether and have astronauts exercise on a daily basis. This is the current method of keeping the body intact on the International Space Station. Perhaps a bit inconvenient. But if it works, then it’s rather hard to complain too much.

The other is to replicate the effects of gravity through centrifugal force. That means the ship’s main body remains upright while the crew’s living area spins. This is the kind of thing one would see in movies like 2010 and, appropriately, The Martian. Just don’t get dizzy from staring out the window.

 

What’s On The Menu?

Then there’s the issue of feeding the space explorers. Packing sack lunches for a full crew on a long voyage isn’t so easy. There has to be months worth of storage for all of the astronauts. After all, in space, you can order as many pizzas as you want, but they’re not going to deliver.

And it’s not like you can grow food that easily. The light needed would exceed anything that the ship’s systems or solar panels could provide. While a nuclear reactor powering the ship could solve that problem, the likelihood of that kind of power being used is slim. So what could be grown? Is all hope lost?

One would have to use the fact that there’s not enough light to one’s advantage. That means growing food that requires little to no light. As was seen in The Martian, the main character grew potatoes in the crew’s stored dung. While that might be a crap way of doing things, it can be quite effective.

Then there’s the possibility of a high protein source. Mushrooms require no light, just a damp enclosure with nutrients. That means shiitake mushrooms could make it onto the menu. When cooked right, they can have a similar taste and texture to meat, and provide a higher concentration of complete proteins than steak.

What every growing boy needs ... including Mario! (Wiki Commons)
What every growing boy needs … including Mario! (Wiki Commons)

And if there can be salt water bins (even though it might take up too much room and over-complicate setup before launch because of it), perhaps they could grow dulse. Dulse is a red algae seaweed that is said to be healthier than kale. One strain of dulse being grown at Oregon State University is supposed to even taste like bacon when fried up.

Now, with a nuclear reactor, there would be enough energy to “greenhouse” various food plants. But if one can’t be used, all hope is not lost. In fact, it might not exactly be steak and potatoes, but it would sure come close. Now that’s some good eats, at least by space standards.

 

Health and Fitness

Finally, there’s the general health and wellness of the crew to figure out. Right now, the only way to combat the negative effects of weightlessness is constant exercise. Without it, there would be muscular atrophy and osteoporosis due to the muscles and bones not having the benefit of normal use. And there’s little to no way to maintain full physical monitoring until astronauts are back on Earth. Throw in the mental psychosis, and you have an overall medical nightmare!

But then again, just as so many other solutions found by the space program, overcoming those obstacles can have much greater benefits to all of humanity than just space flights.

First of all, there’s the physical exercise issue. Electrostimulation to prevent atrophy might be good, but it’s far from ideal. Providing an artificial gravity should solve that problem, even if it’s just spinning the crew compartments. But having a gym of some sort is still a good idea, if not imperative. The difficult task is finding ways to exercise as much of the body as possible as thoroughly as possible in as little space (no pun intended) as possible. Luckily there are a lot of multi-gyms marketed for use in the home. I’ll leave it to the NASA eggheads to decide which is best.

A clean and jerk just seems a bit less sporting in zero gravity. (NASA)
A clean and jerk just seems a bit less sporting in zero gravity. (NASA)

But how does one monitor the overall health of an astronaut from such a distance? Imagine being able to conduct a physical examination on an astronaut in deep space while still on Earth. There are automated blood pressure cuffs which can be found in drugstores and even in some doctor’s offices. It can give information on both blood pressure and heart rate. There are devices for checking vision, blood saturation levels, temperature, and much more.

By using piezo microphones, one can listen to heartbeats, breathing, and gastric sounds. Small cameras can be used to look at the ears and nose and so on. So observation and auscultation can be covered. All that are lacking are palpation and percussion. Perhaps something like ultrasound can check inner organs without palpation.

So a doctor wouldn’t have to be in the same room as a patient to conduct a head-to-toe physical assessment. That means an exam could be performed on a patient in quarantine, or even with a doctor in another part of the world. By sending the data as a package, it could even be done on an astronaut with doctors on Earth. It would be a 20 minute delay using current technology. Then after review by a doctor, a further set of test requests can be sent back for needed follow-ups.

Then there’s one more health issue that must be addressed. That is the subject of mental health. Put a handful of people, even trained professionals, for an isolated trip through space, and you have the perfect setup for murder. The issue becomes dealing with potential psychosis from that isolation. Phone calls to friends and family are out of the question with nearly a half hour delay. Using Facebook or YouTube to pass the time are also a bit of an issue. So other than having a library of movies, books, and video games already on board, there isn’t much escape from the isolation. So what can be done to keep those with the “right stuff” from going lethally coo-coo?

One possibility would be to try to send communications faster than light. This is a difficult task given things like the freaking laws of physics. Luckily, quantum mechanics may hold an answer that relativity doesn’t provide. That possibility is quantum entanglement. Although the jury is still out on it, some think that entanglement could transmit information instantaneously. It is to my understanding that the Chinese plan to launch a satellite within the next couple of years to test entanglement communication between China and Tibet. We’ll see how that goes. If communication could be instantaneous, then important matters can be attended to such as mission control monitoring, real time updating of critical systems, and updating Snapchat.

Another more likely option would be better training to deal with psychological stress. Different states of mind translate to different brain frequencies. By training those frequencies with electroencephalography (EEG) much like one can exercise a muscle, one can become more relaxed and focused, and more resistant to the negative effects of isolation psychosis. And when EEG headsets cost as little as $79 (approximately $22,135 in government dollars), it’s a solution that is actually affordable and doesn’t challenge the known laws of nature.

What’s even better is that it has uses well beyond keeping astronauts sane. Mind frequency training can be used by ordinary people to learn and master skills faster. It can be used for therapy and relaxation, especially for those with issues relaxing who need guidance. It can be used by children and adults who are dealing with trauma or abuse to not only gain strength but also make it easier to open up in therapy. But for the purposes of this article, we’ll keep astronauts from going off the deep end.

It's to keep you sane, really. Not to make you look ridiculous. Trust me. (NASA)
It’s to keep you sane, really. Not to make you look ridiculous. Trust me. (NASA)

Conclusion

Getting to Mars is loaded with challenges. Overcoming those challenges won’t be easy … or cheap. But in the long run, it might just be worth it. After all, we can’t stay planted on Earth forever. Granted, there are issues not discussed here … like colonization. But we still need to get there first. One step at a time.

 

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Pokémon GO Signals New Social Media Paradigm

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Have you seen the newest craze in social media? Kids and adults, young and old, people of all races, genders, and walks of life are coming together in one of the strangest ways. The latest addition to the Pokémon franchise, Pokémon GO, has been released and is proving to be quite the phenomenon. (Read our article “WTF is Pokémon GO and Why Is it Cluttering Up Social Media?” if you’re still curious as to what it’s all about.) Players are no longer sitting at home on video game consoles dreaming of becoming Pokémon trainers. They’re getting up off the couch, going out into the world, and making it happen!

But the augmented reality app is doing more than just entertaining the masses, both players and those of us playing vicariously through them on social media news feeds. It’s doing more than fueling memes of both love and hatred for the game: it’s giving us a glimpse into the future of social media!

In order to better understand what the new paradigm means to social media, let’s look at the four previous advancements in social media.

The first was the basic message board system. It was what it all started with. The beginning was DARPANet (1969) with the U.S. military. It was designed so that in case of nuclear war, government information would survive even if there were no humans left to use it. It was what the Internet (1983) was originally based on with Usenet/Newsgroups, as well as dial-up bulletin board systems. (Later would come the “Gopher” static pages, then the hyperlinked “World Wide Web”.) The basic forum system is everywhere from standalone discussion boards to 4chan style BBS systems to comment sections (like the one below this article where you are encouraged to give us feedback).

An emulator of the World Wide Web, photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton
An emulator of the World Wide Web. Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton.

The second was the basic interest-based platform. A person could sign up based on an area of interest and interact with others (typically for a nominal fee) of similar interest. And hopefully, people signed up that one would actually want to communicate with. It’s always a gamble. Such examples include Classmates.com and most current dating sites.

The third was the most “social” of all. It was the “gathering” platform where meetings could be organized via e-mail lists. This was also the point of the original flash mobs back when they were actually flash mobs. Someone wanted to do something silly in public but didn’t want to do it alone or just wanted to be joined by others. So they would send out a notice about the event, time, and place. Then a huge group at a predestined time would start bowing to a big dinosaur statue before dispersing or dance around a park in tutus or whatever. Nowadays, the term “flash mob” is more associated with carefully planned but unannounced performance art. It’s lost all meaning.

The fourth came from the notion that a person doesn’t need to be charged to use a service if they can provide salable data. By gathering information based on shared files, location data, posts, shares, and likes, a company could target advertising and monitor trends in real time. This type of service found its footing with MySpace, then took off with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr, and so on. (You are following SciFi4Me, right?)

Illustration by Gerardo Obieta, and courtesy Rosaura Ochoa via a Creative Commons Attribution license
Illustration by Gerardo Obieta. Courtesy Rosaura Ochoa under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

There’s just one issue with the current model for social media: it’s purely virtual. The social component has been lost. That means that apart from location data and images and people becoming connected (“friended” or “followed”) or disconnected (“unfriended” or “kicked to the curb”), there’s no way of determining interactions in the real world. The difficulty has always been to integrate physical reality and virtual reality.

Enter augmented reality. Although not a new concept (it’s been used for heads-up displays (HUD) for fighter jets since the 1970s), the smartphone has given it new applications. In Korea a few years back, for example, people could hold a phone camera up and landmarks would be marked on the screen.

Then camePokémon GO.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know by know that Pokémon GO has become … um … big. Really big. No, I mean huge! And it knows no limits. Players of all ages are collecting ’em all. And they’re changing the face of social media by combining the social with the media.

Pokémon GO players congregating in a park in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo courtesy Roger Lew under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Pokémon GO players congregating in a park in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo courtesy Roger Lew under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

There are two ways that the game has, well, changed the game. The first is the reintroduction of social interaction. Not only do the catching and training of Pokémon cause interaction between players, but the competition and even the very act of searching for the virtual creatures has created peaceful gatherings that have had the feel of makeshift parties. People are meeting new people and making friends, something that was generally absent from the old flash mobs.

While one might think that getting people out into the world and interacting without the virtual component would interfere with gathering data, that’s not exactly true. In fact, the indirect data might be even more telling. Imagine a person either regularly went to a restaurant and stopped or began frequenting said restaurant without having done so before. Then there is an interaction with another user of a social media service either virtually or in marked location. After that interaction, the other person takes on the same behavior. It becomes obvious that the first user influenced the second user with a positive or negative review, and it confirms that there was such an interaction. Such data is not only still available without direct virtual involvement, it can be even more valuable.

The other way it’s changed things is the location targeting component. Players who would never have gone to church before went to church because they were Pokémon gyms. Now Niantic, the company that developed and is the distributor of the game, intends to have businesses pay to be Pokéstops in the Japanese version.

A Fuller's Brewery pub in Portsmouth, England, takes advantage of the widespread popularity of Pokémon Go. Image courtesy Cyclonebiskit under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
A Fuller’s Brewery pub in Portsmouth, England, takes advantage of the widespread popularity of Pokémon Go. Photo courtesy Cyclonebiskit under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

Use your imagination as to what this means. Imagine brick and mortar stores being able to compete with online purchasing again. Targeted coupons and points systems can get shoppers out to the stores, restaurants, theaters, and so on once more. Just scan the code on your receipt and earn points. It would be great for fundraisers. Then there’s AR games similar to Pokémon GO. Perhaps a zombie hunting game? There could be scavenger hunts, geocaching, educational field trips, and so on. There could even be … um … anything! (I said to use your imagination. Didn’t I say to use your imagination? I’m pretty sure I said to use your imagination.)

By successfully combining the physical and virtual, Pokémon GO has shown us the next step in social media. No longer are users trapped by their devices. No longer are service providers restricted to data when a user is trapped by said devices. No longer are brick and mortar, mom-and-pop stores fated to be crushed under the heel of online purchases. All it takes now is the creativity and resources to develop those social networks, or to convert the existing ones to augmented reality platforms. Then like the services we have today, it’s the users’ job to use ’em all.

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On The Real Life Horrors In Orlando

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I am writing this in the early afternoon of June 12th, 2016.

I’ve spent the morning reading and watching the news of the tragic events in Orlando, Florida over the last few days, and what seems to be a horror averted in Los Angeles, and I would just like to take a moment of your time to say a couple of things.

Horror4Me and its sister-site SciFi4Me were created with the “Me” part of those names actually meaning all of you.

You are the Me.

Fans writing and filming and recording for each other, celebrating the genres we all love, together. A community of fans. A family of fans.

Horror, as a genre, is almost always about violence and death. The monsters of horror, however, are not real. There are no zombies or demons; no Jasons, Michaels or Freddies; no Monsters in the Closet or Under the Bed. Stephen King and Clive Barker are not famous for their non-fiction. John Carpenter and Eli Roth are not documentary filmmakers.

We know that. We enjoy being frightened by things we know are not real, because the world often – too often, so terribly, terribly, too often – has horrors that make any vampire or demon or whatever look like a bad joke.

Real horrors like the events after a concert or in a nightclub in Orlando, in a Charleston church, a Colorado movie theater, the Middle-East, Europe or anywhere that real people harm other real people? Real horrors that cut down the lives of the innocent for “reasons” based on fear, zealotry, bigotry or intolerance?

Those horrors diminish us all, those horrors wound us all… that Me that is all of Us.

On behalf of the family that is this site, I extend our thoughts and prayers for the victims of those senseless, horrific acts in Orlando; for their families and friends; and for all those who face, and have faced, horrors far worse than any fictional creation can cause.

Our hearts are with you.

  • Timothy Harvey

 

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FALLOUT 4 Review: Vault-Tec Never Changes

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Game: Fallout 4
Developer: Bethesda
Platform Reviewed: PC
Disclosure: Copy purchased

The biggest thing about Fallout 4, is that it is unequivocally Fallout (post v.3, of course).  Every facet of the game, from the atomic bombed out crap-sack world’s landscapes and crumbling skyscrapers to the futuristic gun battles against raiders and radiation crazed zombies feels like that classic Fallout style first person shooter.  The major difference that surprised me with this new iteration on the Fallout series, is the vibrancy that is illustrated in the world.  

Although the overall game is rather decent, there’s some glaring missteps in the game’s design that hold it back.
Where general sci-fi dystopia style worlds usually filled with color pallets ranging from rust to dark rust.  Fallout 4‘s world is colorful. Large swaths of vivid reds, blues, and yellows dot the terrifying landscape, much like the world you’d find today.  And really, this makes sense.

 

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Just look at that detail!

If you look at pictures of real life nuclear disaster sites, none of them are completely devoid of any colors other than mud and green glows.  Life still flourishes, even amidst the most dreadful of conditions.  Hell, even Chernobyl has green forests, blue skies, and a mostly well-preserved city/township with a full fair ground.  The visuals of Fallout 4 take this to heart and it really brings the world to life in new and surprising ways.  Where Fallout 4 excels is immersion both visually and audibly.   From enemy models to even the bumbling nervous radio personality, the world feels like Fallout.  And yes, as a former student disk jockey at the University of Kansas, I kind of feel a connection to the “Diamond City Radio” host.  I’ve been there.  On the air with no guidance, just a stack of records and a microphone.  His rambling and strange antics make him more believable as a post-apocalyptic radio personality.  His lack of refinement makes him feel genuine and it gets the point across that some random person just happened to “find” a radio antenna and started broadcasting.

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Monster bears are fairly common in the wasteland.

Combat also is very Fallout.  The game allows you to choose your own style of how to approach conflict based on how you attribute points into your character.  Your options span the gambit from mighty melee attacks to computer assisted devastation through your handy smart-watch’s V.A.T.S. equipment.  A large variety of weapons assist you in your journey and the staggering amount of crafting options let you customize your arsenal and armor on the fly.  But this is where things get a little hairy for Fallout 4.  Although the overall game is rather decent, there’s some glaring missteps in the game’s design that hold it back.

Crafting:

While ambitious in its implementation, the crafting system itself has its flaws.  Nearly every gun and scrap of armor can be taken apart and refitted with what ever means of destruction you like within the confines of what is allowable within the crafting system.  There’s a harsh limit to the system.  Guns and armor can only be tinkered with so much.  Damage output can only increase so far.  Which means that as enemies get stronger and have more health as you level, guns and combat in general becomes less and less effective.  The crafting system is finite while the enemy strength is practically limitless.

This equates to a bell curve of viable combat options.  Where I am at in the game currently (around level 75 or so), most weapons in the game are trash, including the legendary weapons.  I have a no-reload “Never-Ending” fat man (a giant mini-nuke bomb launcher) that handles almost every situation (save for indoors or cramped spaces) and all other guns do next to no damage to the heavily armored sacks of meat and health that are my opponents.

Armor also has stark limitations, but whereas the weapons take time to become obsolete, armor starts out that way.  This problem is two-fold.  The first is that armor is collected piece by piece.  Two arms, a torso, a head, and two legs are all pieces whose sum creates your armor.  These pieces can be worn over other clothing, but instead of letting you choose what fun and interesting clothing to wear (out of Fallout 4‘s impressive lineup of styles and fashions) you are limited to an extremely small selection of underwear.  Most clothing forces you to unequip your armor in order to wear them, which is a shame.  I don’t know why it should be so much harder to wear metal plates over a dress than over a jump suit.  It is as if they flaunt this massive customization system in front of you saying you can wear whatever you want, but keep in mind a stray bullet catching you naked can take off a limb.  So just only wear the armor and we’ll all be happy.

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Super Style’n

The other problem is the same as the guns.  Armor crafting upgrades are static.  They don’t increase with level.  So after a time, all armor becomes obsolete in the world.  Even in power armor, if I’m not quick enough on the draw to sneak attack with my fat man nuke launcher, the claws of a death claw will tear through my power armor like tissue paper.  The game’s difficulty increases, not because of skill and challenge, but because the raw statistics on the armor and guns stops matching up to the challenges of the ever-changing world.  As I level up, the armor and weapons theoretically should be increasing in value on their statistics.

If I find a gun at level 70 it should do more damage than finding a gun at level.  This makes every piece of armor and every weapon inherently more valuable the longer I play, making me weigh my options each time I come across new items of these types.  Armor and weapons should be a source of endogenous value.  Something the player should covet as they run from loot crate to loot crate.  However, because of the hard statistics on the armor and weapons, they end up being worthless after a point.

Workshops:

I do really like the idea of workshops and home bases in Fallout 4.  It makes sense for the player to start-up settlements and it’s actually pretty fun taking the time to build them and create little dwellings and buildings for your settlers to live in.  Although the concept is nice and its execution is pretty decent, it needs a lot of quality of life improvements make it really pop.  I’ve spent a great deal of time making crazy buildings and turret traps.  Even the wiring and lighting system can cook up some pretty spectacular systems (like colored light boxes, signs, turrets, booby traps, and the much more).

For starters, having a grid on the ground that placed items could snap to would be fantastic.  Building pieces do snap to each other, but laying down the first one or lining up multiples is always awkward and strange since it is completely free form.  So when you are trying to line a building up with a sidewalk that already exists as part of the ground you want to build on, it’s really hard to get it straight on.  With this, being able to completely clear your workshop space of all foliage, debris, tires, piles of discarded metals, houses, cars, trees, and other items that a lot of times can’t even be targeted, would be nice, too.

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The colors!

It also needs a better camera view. Especially a camera that isn’t your character’s first person view.  Building things is a chore when you can’t see what you are doing… which happens often as the terrain or whatever it is you are trying to build gets in the way of your sight.  Some sort of free-flowing camera would do better than your first person view.

The settlers at your workshop are annoying and can’t do anything for themselves.  Randomly, and fairly often, you’ll get quest pop-ups that tell you when a settlement is under attack or monsters are killing villagers.  It’s up to you to save them (even though you lined the perimeter with over a hundred automated turrets equipped with high powered rocket launchers).  This would be fine if you had nothing else going on, but if you are in the middle of a major story quest or in a DLC area that is not in the same zone as your settlement, you can either choose to take the consequences of letting your settlement die or stop everything you are currently doing to go help on the pointless nearly non-rewarding side quest.   And after a while, when you get so many settlements, you start getting bombarded with requests from all of them.  Everyone needs the player’s help.  No, Roman.  I don’t want to “go play darts” every five damn seconds (Grand Theft Auto IV is a stark reminder of this awful annoying “friend activity” side quest mechanic is).

Getting side quests from your settlement workshops is fine.  But hampering the player’s agency by giving consequences for ignoring those quests is not fine.  The constant annoyances of being called into action by every settlement has worn me down.  It’s gotten to the point where I just ignore them, completely.

Game Engine:

Bethesda’s game engine is showing its age.  The same bugs that plagued Skyrim (Caution: link contains strong language) can be found in Fallout 4, although to a much lesser extent.  Rag-doll bodies fly through the air, NPCs spawn in floors.  Models bug out flailing their limbs about and get stuck on geometry.  In my game, I have a suit of power armor where the ends of the bolts (the large hex part) are floating around as I move about.  They are attached to the fore-arms instead of the shoulders where they are located on my character model.  It’s the same game engine Bethesda has been using for its previous titles and seeing the same bugs and issues game after game, it gets pretty old.

https://youtu.be/XX9Xo9EnKbA

Another, but extremely minor, complaint I have is the game’s UI.  It seems overly simplified and not stylized for a fully developed game.  It feels rushed and slapped on at the last minuet.  I mainly say this because it is missing some important channels of communication.  As a player, I have no idea how much breath I have when I go swimming underwater.  I actually though it was infinite for a while because there was no display or indication on the level of breath I had while swimming in that filthy irradiated sludge Fallout calls “water”.

AI:

Bethesda’s AI has always been an interesting and quirky system.  Having Non Player Characters worry about things such as food and sleep in addition to what actions the player is currently taking, gives a fine level of detail to a great deal of the world.  However, some combat AI actions leave for instant restarts of my game.  Specifically, if an NPC finds a fat man nuke launcher while I’m trying to fight my way through a subway tunnel.

I remember approaching my first raider encampment at level 2, only to find myself underneath a mushroom cloud and having to restart from the closest auto-save, character creation.  What had happened was that there was a fat man nuke launcher left on a shelf for the player to discover.  The enemy raider became under attack.  Decided his level 2 10mm pistol was not as good as the nuclear bomb thrower, so they picked it up, and fired it with computerized pin-point accuracy for a perfect head-shot.

Every combat with humans, and to a lesser extent super mutants, is a gamble depending on what items are scattered around the level in which they populate.  Was there a rocket launcher left on a couch? A fat man in a long forgotten bathtub? You’ll find out soon enough as you’re suddenly blown to shreds!  Where I’m at now, it’s not as big of a problem with my high tech power armor shell, but in the early game, every combat situation was a nail biter of survival.  This random chance of an NPC picking up some high explosive ordinance makes combat based not on skill, but random chance.

(caution: game trailer contains strong language and animated violence.  Rated M for Mature)

https://youtu.be/D5esyZPt5Jo?t=29m7s

Story:

The story is what ruined Fallout 4 for me.  The narration starts out out fine enough, a little drab and predictable but not terrible.  It has some interesting twists and turns for sure and some pretty good characters.  Characters have a range between being multi-faceted and single dimensional.  But the ending, or rather the near ending, is awful.  The non-spoiler version is that the game removes player agency, forcing you to make stupid single decision choices.

Even though your character’s kills and narrative situations clearly show that you should be making some sort of choice outside of the binary black and white ones presented, you are still only given the choice between option A or option B.  It’s bad narrative design and it should not exist within a title such as Fallout since previous versions have given the player different options based on the player’s stat levels.

Fallout 4 Story Spoiler

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Because of the lack of a better option than the ones that are provided, I created my own option.  I chose neither.  My Fallout 4 game will have no main story conclusion.  Although this is a testament to player created agency, it’s also short sighted design since there is no outcome or resolution.  It will forever feel “unfinished” due to the sour options presented.  And just to be clear, it’s not because the decision is hard (the choice you are forced to make is a basic “Which do you prefer.  Flavor A or flavor B”), but because I was shoehorned into making a binary choice that lacks other opportunities that have been presented previously throughout the game to my character.  Previous Fallouts (3 and New Vegas, to a lesser extent) had these options.  If your stats were high enough, you could choose new endings that were previously unavailable.  But in this Fallout, it’s completely one or the other, no middle ground, no ground at all.

Dialogue:

Tying in with the story issue above, the dialogue is another aspect of flawed game design.  Voicing lines is tough and expensive in games, and Fallout 4 has an enormous amount of voice acted lines. Bethesda even touted at E3 2015 that your robot butler would have over one thousand recorded names that he could say.  The actual list was kind of strange because things that you would expect to be in that list, like common names, would be missing.  Yet things you wouldn’t expect to be there, like odd slang words, strangely were.  Polygon magazine made a video of some test cases they came up with (caution: strong language).

https://youtu.be/TpoQgaTazmc

However, some issues arise when the voice acted dialogue is coupled with the “select what to say” menu.  The menu itself was overly simplified, but didn’t make clear what choices were what.  Generally, the bottom choice was “good” and the choice on the right was “angry/rude/bad”, but the other two choices were a wild card.  So you may not get what you want to say because what you selected through the menu wasn’t what you meant for your character to say.

For instance, the option you select says “yes” but for some reason your character threatens to shoot the friendly old lady who was just seeking help finding her lost cat.  On top of that, but many conversations are gated when all you want is more information.  Which means that once you say something, the conversation is over.  You can either say “who are you” or “why did you do this” but not both for some strange reason.

One good thing is that you can quick save mid conversation.  The sad thing is, to hear all the dialogue recorded in for the NPC interactions, you have to quick save every step through the dialogue trees so you can hear the different options play out.  To be honest, I really like that my character talks.  I like that some of the more witty and sarcastic choices are actually pretty funny and entertaining.  I just wish the dialogue option selections wasn’t so convoluted, and had more than four options per choice.  More than anything else, I want more skill based choices like in previous Fallout 4 games.

In conclusion, Fallout 4 is a pretty decent game.  Although it lacks a lot of the polish I was expecting in the areas above, it plays really well.  It’s pretty, it screams Fallout 4, it is everything we love about Fallout.  I just kind of wish it was better written, had better UI and AI elements, the leveling system was conjoined with the crafting system, and that settlements had better in game creation tools.  If you are a fan of role playing games or just love the idea of retro-sixty’s dystopian futures, this game is very much worth a play through.

Rating: 

7/10 A regular pint-sized atom bomb.

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Surprise – FOX Wants More X-Files…But Should We?

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While announcing their new and returning shows for the fall 2016 season, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, chairpeople of Fox TV Group indicated the signs look good for another “event series” run for The X-Files, as reported in Deadline Hollywood. According to Walden, “We have had conversations with Chris Carter (XF Creator) and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (series stars). I believe everyone is on board to do another installment of the show.”  Added Newman “I can tell you that all of them would like to do more of these, and certainly the network and studio want to do more.”

No doubt about that. The January 2016 return of The X-Files as six-episode “event series” was a ratings winner for FOX.  The first episode attracted 16.19 million “live” viewers, with the total number rising to 21.47 when streaming and DVR viewing were taken into account.  Although viewership fell to 11.7 (total) for the last episode’s  broadcast, FOX is getting enough eyeballs watching to more than justify bringing back XF for “Season 11”.

As a satisfying viewing experience however, another season of The X-Files is a debatable prospect.

As a longtime viewer, my reactions to the actual content of this Season 11 are mirrored in the aggregated critical reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. Episodes One and Six (“My Struggle” and “My Struggle II”) were the most “myth arc” heavy episodes, delving down the XF rabbit hole of aliens, worldwide conspiracies, and global cover-ups. Their RT ratings were 58% and 32% respectively.

The two “My Stuggles” bookended a series of episodes which relied, for the most part, more on scientific oddities and “monsters of the week”. RT reactions for these episodes of Season 10 range from 70% (“Babylon”) to 100% (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”) Fresh.

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the "Home Again" episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Feb. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX
THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the “Home Again” episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Feb. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX

Maybe I enjoyed this middle run of Season 10 because they served up a palate-cleansing selection of stories that did not rely on being able to follow the increasing arcane and universal conspiracy set up and concluded in the first and sixth installments.  I may be alone on this, but by the middle of “My Struggle II” I had lost track of how many different conspiracies existed, who was behind them, and just what purpose they served.

Another blast from the past with Monica Reyes
Another blast from the past with Monica Reyes

Unfortunately, the ending of “My Struggle II” seems to indicate that any upcoming Season 11 will be heavily weighted towards dealing with whatever the alien vaccination conspiracy unleashed on our world. And if that’s the main focus of another X-Files “event”, I may be more interested in watching a Tek War marathon.

 

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