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Yet another unnecessary internet take on the Star Wars VII teaser

So the biggest news today, November 28th 2014, as far as the internet is concerned, is the first teaser for the new Star Wars movie. This might be the biggest movie in a constellation of upcoming big event movies (The Avengers: Age of UltronBatman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeCaptain America 3: Civil War being the others), so of course the expectations are at an all time high, perhaps rivalled only by the release of the first trailer to The Phantom Menace waaaaaay back in the late 20th century. That trailer, by the way, was amazing, and satisfied the cravings of fans everywhere. In fact, it was so awesome it managed to cloud our minds into accepting The Phantom Menace was actually a cool movie, and it took several viewings before most of us fans finally accepted the hard truth that it was a piece of shit.

For that, we are now wiser. We are warier. More skeptical.

Still, we are also fanboys at heart, and we want to love Star Wars once again, so this trailer is kind of a big deal, you know?

And then we get this:

Sigh.

Listen, I know a lot of people are really excited about this movie, and are even more excited after this trailer, but to me this was disappointing. As I said, even turds like Episode I and II got trailers that got your blood racing. This was supposed to be a teaser, so of course it’s supposed to tease, but to me it felt more like a FUCK YOU than a tease. Like a hot babe that instead of flashing you her tits slaps you in the face and you are supposed to be grateful because a hot babe actually touched you. The most disappointing thing was how a trailer that’s roughly eighty seconds had about twenty seconds of black screen.

Twenty fucking seconds. Of nothing. Talk about filler.

Anyway, I will give you a more in-depth look at it, just to be fair, because it’s not that I hated the trailer and what it promises, but how little it actually gave us and the way it gives us so little.

1. Stormtrooper

1. Stormtrooper

So first we get a look at some random desert in Tatooine, because clearly we haven’t seen enough of that fucking planet yet so let’s visit it once again. There’s a voice-over saying something that’s supposed to be ominous and, perhaps, badass, and then we get this guy jumping into the frame in what could pass as a strange homage to the first sequence in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, but with more sweat and less close up.

It’s funny how this single scene humanised Stormtroopers in a way the previous thirty seven years of Star Wars hadn’t accomplished. We get to see a Stormtrooper that isn’t a Jango Fett clone, or Han Solo or Luke Skywalker in disguise, without his helmet.

About fucking time!

2. Discount R2-D2

2. Discount R2-D2

This little guy serves as more unnecessary filler into a trailer that’s already hitting the thirty second mark. STOP WASTING MY TIME, TRAILER.

3. More Stormtroopers

3. More Stormtroopers

Another sequence with Stormtroopers, this time in some sort of mission. Hell, you could almost believe this movie is about a special unit of elite Stormtroopers in a secret mission for what remains of the Empire. This is also the first scene where you can actually feel the JJ Abrams touch, and I love that. Star Wars needs more of that unique imprint good directors leave on their movies. Forget about trying to replicate the originals, just go with your own take! (This is also where you can confirm that the last two Star Treks were nothing more than a test run for Star Wars).

4. Random lady doing random things

4. Random lady doing random things

Yeah, this is more filler. We have no idea who she is yet, and I don’t care at this point what she is doing here. Also, I know this has been a sin with every Star Wars movie, but it’s about time someone realises the laws of inertia should apply to people in sharply accelerating vehicles in that galaxy just as much as it does in our galaxy.

5. Discount Wedge Antilles

5. Discount Wedge Antilles

In all seriousness: is that the guy from The Empire Strikes Back? You know, the pilot who rescued Han and Luke in Hoth? Looks a lot like him, or maybe this is from the Alliance’s own batch of clones… *cue dramatic reveal music*

6. X-Wings over water

6. X-Wings over water

This is one of the scenes that was placed in the teaser as pure fan service, so they wouldn’t complain too much about the nothingness that the trailer is giving us so far.

7. Discount Darth Maul

7. Discount Darth Maul

That’s a pretty big discount, considering how little of Darth Maul we got to enjoy waaaaaay back in 1999. And I literally LOLed when I saw him ignite this medieval lightsaber. What is the point of the two tiny extra beams? Doesn’t seem to serve any practical purpose (Darth Maul’s double saber might have been fan service as well, but at least that one had a practical use). We don’t need gimmicks with our new Star Wars, we need a good plot, character development, and kickass action. Save the gimmicks for Transformers or some other crap.

8. The Millenium Falcon vs TIE Fighters

8. The Millenium Falcon vs TIE Fighters

Probably the one sequence in this whole trailer/teaser/whatever that made complete sense to be in there. Somehow. I know, it doesn’t tell you anything about what the movie is about either, but it fits modern trailer structure. It does expand upon that Empire’s mission on Tatooine thing from before, so that’s something.

So yeah. What little the trailer shows is promising, it’s just that the way it shows it, with all those expectations… Oh, well, I guess this will have to do until a decent trailer for this movie comes out.

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Comic Book Review: Age of Apocalypse

I remember the 1990’s as the decade of the hologram covers, big crossovers and events. The Death of Superman, Knightfall, Maximum Carnage, Age of Apocalypse; all of these were storylines that spanned many issues and… well, forced you to break the bank if you were a jobless teenager like me. Because the money was rarely ever on hand, I usually skipped these big events in favor of shorter storylines (Maximum Carnage being the exception, though I did miss one part). Such was the case with X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse, a saga that saw a world as it would have been if Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, had died before he could truly establish his team and philosophy of co-existence between humans and mutants.

It’s funny how alternate reality storylines usually are better than accepted canon. I guess the reason is that they allow comic book writers freedoms denied by the mainstream timelines; they can take established characters and go in entirely new directions with them. With Age of Apocalypse you get not only new versions of old characters, but a new setting, with a quite literally apocalyptic world where the United States is under the powerful mutant Apocalypse’s rule, and Europe is the main headquarters for the remaining human nations. With Xavier dead – killed while saving Magneto’s life – it is up to the Master of Magnetism to fulfil the Professor’s dream of peaceful co-existence, leading the X-Men’s fight against Apocalypse’s forces within the United States. Some other changes to the normal timeline include Magneto being married to Rogue, and with a child; Cyclops and Beast working for Apocalypse; Gambit leading his own band of rebel mutants, the X-Ternals; a new and very powerful mutant that has ties to Jean Grey and Scott Summers; and Warren Worthington, a.k.a. Angel, doing his best impersonation of “Rick Blaine” from Casablanca, running a nightclub called “Heaven” while officially remaining neutral in the conflict between the two mutant factions (unofficially, of course, he’s helping the good guys the way “Rick” did at his Café Américain).

'Tis was the Age of Apocalypse and horrible hairstyles, the dreadful 90's.

‘Tis was the Age of Apocalypse and horrible hairstyles, the dreadful 90’s.

Since this was a major event in comics, it had to be a crossover between several titles (cuz $$$), which in this particular case were specially created for it. Each title focused on a specific group of mutants: Factor X would focus on Cyclops and his own unit of mutants under Apocalypse’s rule; Gambit and the X-Ternals would focus on… well, them; The Astonishing X-Men followed Rogue, Sabretooth and a few others; Generation Next the young group of mutants under Colossus and Shadowcat; Weapon X the exploits of Wolverine and Jean Grey; X-Calibre was Nightcrawler’s turn to shine; Amazing X-Men followed Quicksilver and Storm’s group; X-Man would deal with Nate Grey, the powerful new mutant that’s a product of Jean Grey and Cyclops’ DNA. That’s eight main titles, not counting others that either started the storyline, ended it, or provided some spin-off stories.

As you can imagine, this can be a headache to follow. And it was.

I bought the entire saga on a special offer from the Comixology website. It was great that I saved a ton of money on it, but it had the downside of not providing a starting point. Yes, Comixology comics do tell you what’s next to read in a particular storyline at the end of each issue, but how do you figure out which issue is the very first one? Because of this I put off reading the saga for some months after I bought it, too lazy to search for that starting point. Once I did, I realised there wasn’t an definitive consensus as to where to begin, or even in what order to continue reading. In the end, I settled on X-Men Alpha (yet another title!) to start reading. For those of you that haven’t read this story and are interested in doing so, that’s the starting point I would suggest.

It asks you to enter the Age of Apocalypse, but you need a GPS to find that stupid entrance!

It asks you to enter the Age of Apocalypse, but you need a GPS to find that stupid entrance!

The sheer amount of titles themselves made following the story a bit hard as well. Once the X-Men were aware that their timeline wasn’t meant to be the timeline (thanks to Bishop showing up with memories of the correct timeline intact), Magneto sent different groups into different missions, thus launching most of the other X-titles. What confused me a little was the how and why Magneto came up with those missions. For example, he sent Gambit to retrieve a shard of the M’Kraan Crystal located in a very far star system. As I understood it, the point was to use the crystal to change the timeline… or something (a sniff of Wikipedia says it was to verify Bishop’s story, but Magneto was very willing to believe him even while the missions were underway). How did Magneto know to use this crystal, and where to find it? I guess it’s common knowledge amongst the mutants, but to a casual reader like me it felt like something coming out of left field. The crystal was supposed to be channeled through Illyana, Colossus’ sister, so that a gateway to the original timeline be opened and Xavier’s death stopped. This would logically seem like the main goal of the X-Men, the driving force of the plot; since you can’t actually beat Apocalypse and his forces, then undo everything he has done by stopping the incident that sparked it all. However, for this most crucial task he sends some of the weakest mutants in Gambit and his group, simply because they are thieves and the crystal must be stolen. Shouldn’t you commit your main forces to do this? Nothing else that happens – namely, the nuclear attack on the U.S. planned by the Human Council, and the cullings perpetrated by Apocalypse’s forces – will matter so long as you change the timeline. It just felt like a half-assed commitment for the one thing that would solve the problem and end the series.

Don't fret too much, Colossus; if Magneto is successful your failure won't matter. Or will it?

Don’t fret too much, Colossus; if Magneto is successful your failure here won’t matter. Or will it?

But those are the 1990’s for you; juice up the sagas as much as possible, to get out as many issues as possible, and if you couldn’t afford it, too bad! By then there was so much background to so many comics – which they kept referencing for new plots – that it was really hard to follow anything. I remember just going with the flow and accepting things on faith, because those footnotes that told you the issue and series being referenced didn’t help squat if you hadn’t read that issue. This was a big reason why both Marvel and DC sort of reset their universes in the 2000’s, specially DC with their New 52 line; they had to get rid of some of that clutter. Marvel still keeps the old storylines as part of canon, but do not rely so heavily on them anymore so new readers can follow the action. Even so, there will always be new clutter, making this is an unsolvable problem.

Yes! If you want to know what's going on with these Sentinels you gotta read those two other issues, pronto!

Yes! If you want to know what’s going on with these Sentinels you gotta read those two other issues, pronto! Also, Wolverine’s a giant in this panel. Because perspective is for losers.

But I digress.

Ultimately the Age of Apocalypse was a deserving success. It presented us with some of our favourite heroes in extreme situations, with a badass mutant finally getting his just due by conquering… well, not the world, but North America at least. (Was Canada under Apocalypse’s rule?) Anyway, at least a major force like Apocalypse got to have his long awaited reign for a little while, and the story was such a success the timeline wasn’t actually wiped out, but visited back years later. One of those times was for the 10th anniversary of the saga, with a six issue mini series simply titled Age of Apocalypse. In here, after the events that concluded the original storyline, we see Magneto and the X-Men are gaining the favor and trust of the human population by lying as to who actually saved North America from the Human Council’s nuclear strike (hint: it wasn’t Magneto). What did save them is alive and being brainwashed by Sinister – one of Apocalypse’s original Horsemen – into becoming a weapon for his own use. Most of this mini-series was actually very enjoyable, but I felt the ending was a bit meh for my taste. Still, it’s as worthy of your attention as the original saga.

Storm being badass in a way the movies have resolutely refused to let her be.

Storm being badass in a way the movies have resolutely refused to let her be.

Are you a Marvel fan? Then this is a must read. It’s not on the same level as sagas like Civil War or Planet Hulk (both of which I will tackle later on), but it’s a fun and nostalgic read, and a chance to see some unlikely alliances.

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TV Show Review: “Attack on Titan” Season 1

That day humanity remembered the terror of being ruled by them. The humiliation of being kept in a cage.

So begins the first episode of the anime series Attack on Titan, as the Colossal Titan rises above Wall María to the horror of the city’s inhabitants. The wall’s breached, and a hundred years of peace are over forever.

Here are some words I can use to describe this anime’s first season:

Wow.

Spectacular.

Gory.

INTENSE.

“Intense” is by far the best description I can give it. In fact, it is such a perfect description that from now on I will use an intensity scale based on this when describing other works (and there will be some future reviews with “intense” as the best description as well). This anime is a Titan 10. 10 is not necessarily the highest level of intensity, but for the purposes of scale calibration I will use it as the point of absolute awesomeness intensity. (Of course, levels of intensity vary according to every person’s stomach).

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But before going into detail about what makes Attack on Titan intense, let’s touch upon what it is about:

So we are on a world. I guess it’s supposed to be Earth, perhaps the Earth of an alternate reality, perhaps another planet, sort of how Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or any other totally fantastic world might be another planet on another universe. They don’t delve into that much detail, but they don’t have to. All you need to know is that this is a quasi-medieval world mixed with some steampunk technology, and that one hundred years before the start of our story, giants popped into existence and wiped out most of humanity. Those that survived built a huge walled city that has two more concentric walls within protecting other… cities, I suppose. The outermost wall, named Wall María, protects the part of the city/country where our hero, Eren Jaeger, lives with his family and adopted sister Mikasa. The walls are too high for the giants – the titans – to climb and invade the city, until one day a titan of colossal proportions appears out of nowhere and destroys part of the wall, creating a breach through which the lesser titans can get in.

At this point I should mention that the lesser titans reason for existence seems to be devouring humans.

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So the first wall’s breached, chaos ensues, Eren and Mikasa barely escape, and while Eren’s father was away on an errand his mother dies a horrible death which Eren is witness to. This death was the introduction to the series’ gore and… well, the intensity I have been talking about. Attack on Titan isn’t pulling punches when characters die; it shows you their deaths in a way that you suffer their loss almost as much as the characters in the story do. It makes you look. And considering how the mindless titans’ way of dealing with people is by eating them alive, it’s pretty frightening to look at.

So of course this is the catalyst our hero needed to finally go over the edge and train to kill titans. Actually, he already wanted to train and join the corps that kills titans before all of this happens, but now this wish becomes an obsession. So he, Mikasa and their best friend Armin join the military, eventually working their way into the Survey Corps – the ones that leave the “safety” of the walls to venture into the open and scout (and kill) titans. There are plenty other mysteries that pop up little by little as the series progress, but I won’t spoil that much to you.

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At its core, it’s not a great story. Nothing really special about it, just humans trying to survive the horror that besieges them. And that’s fine. What actually makes Attack on Titan so special are the technical aspects. For one thing, the cinematography is beautiful. Just look at those screenshots I have been posting and tell me you aren’t impressed not only with the look of it but with the sense of scale. The editing and direction are spot on, with the action sequences deserving special recognition; the steampunk tech that I alluded to earlier helps the soldiers move faster by using a device employing grappling hooks and steam propulsion to navigate a la Spiderman among buildings or forests. This adds much dynamism to the action, and the combination of all these elements makes for a complete cinematic experience. Add to that the gore and the realisation that no character is safe (think Game of Thrones here), and every time you see a titan and an action sequence you will catch yourself gripping your seat tightly while thinking “fuck, fuck, fuck, who will they get this time?!?”. Fear is an essential part of the series. There’s no chivalric heroism to speak of here; everybody’s scared shitless of the titans, and with good reason. Sure, there are the typical badass characters from every anime that appear to be fearless, but they are no heroes. They know what’s at stake, and they know their limits. For most characters, though, the very human emotion of fear grips them whenever a titan is nearby, and that’s contagious. The world seems to be clouded with despair, and so rising above this reality and doing your job – however dangerous and/or suicidal it might be – is the true heroism in Attack on Titan.

The story’s plot twists are good enough to keep your attention beyond these technical aspects I mention, of course, and there’s always a cliffhanger leaving you craving for more. Attack on Titan isn’t so much a masterpiece of literature as it is a roller-coaster ride with great animation storytelling. A definite must-see.

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Thoughts on the Snyder Batman’s design

When the announcement came out that Ben Affleck was going to be the new Batman, I was one of those millions of voices who suddenly cried out in terror. I actually never thought he was a poor choice for Batman, but he certainly wasn’t the best choice from the list of candidates that were floating around back then. In fact, I don’t recall he ever being on any list, and then suddenly he was Batman. (They pulled the same trick with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, a choice that I actually am happy with). Either way, there’s a lot that has to improve from the first Man of Steel before focusing on what might be wrong with Batman and the rest of the Justice League.

Today, Zack Snyder has unveiled another piece of the puzzle that is Batman vs. Superman with the first picture of Batman’s new costume and new Batmobile. Here it is:

bat

My first impression is that it couldn’t look any awesomer. Yet, and perhaps not surprisingly, there’s been another outcry as to Batman’s design (the Batmobile seems to have fared better with public opinion). Before going into the Batman design, I’ll say that the Batmobile does look great as well, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t focus on a Batmobile and instead on a Batwing, which is clearly the most obvious choice of transport for a stealthy vigilante using a bat theme.

So I guess it’s a good thing I’m not in charge.

Ok, Batman costume. What most people don’t like, from what I can gather out of the internet comments, are the bat ears. That’s actually one of the things I like best about the outfit; those bat ears are reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Batman from The Dark Knight Returns (which is already somewhat of a theme for this movie), as well as Jim Lee’s contemporary run of Batman. Here they are:

Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman

Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Batman

Jim Lee's Batman (as showcased in the "Hush" storyline).

Jim Lee’s Batman (as showcased in the “Hush” storyline).

I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here, but I prefer the short ears. Not only do they look better to me, but they are more practical. Imagine all the things long ears could potentially get stuck with or collide against, it’s almost as big of a handicap as a cape… oh, wait.

I mean, they certainly look better than this:

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Did anybody complain about that crappy look? Of course not, that’s the Nolan Batman, and Christopher Nolan can do no wrong and so forth. I accepted that design because the change was explained in a practical sense in The Dark Knight, but I missed the awesomeness that was the Batman Begins costume design:

Now that fucker's intimidating.

Now that fucker’s intimidating.

The only designs worse than The Dark Knight‘s are those from Batman & Robin, which for reasons of public decency I will not post examples of here.

The rest of Batman’s costume looks great as well, but in a black and white grainy picture it’s hard to appreciate the details, which I’m sure was Zack Snyder’s intention. Also, if that’s Ben Affleck, he certainly buffed up. I mean, that’s impressive, even if with Zack Snyder’s involvement it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Which makes me wonder about a certain woman’s look…

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Is Genesis an allegory of the Singularity?

It all began with a Facebook post that brought my attention to this Bible passage:

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

This is, of course, the famous story of the tower of Babel. As a child, I was taught that the reason God did this was that Men were becoming too proud and there was a danger of them reverting to what it was before the Great Flood that, you know, had just wiped out most of the planet’s life.

But upon re-reading this now, I couldn’t see that. I have read a couple different English and Spanish translations, and while the wording is slightly different, in neither is there an actual justification for God’s attack (yes, it was an attack). This is what God feared:

If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

That’s it.

What God feared, simply put, was for humanity to advance so much, they might one day become gods like, well, God. He feared for his own power to be usurped one day. Of course, as a believer this is a great SIN, but as a non believer all you can think of is “…the hell, but that’s how tyrants would act”.

Dilbert is prophetic. Literally.

Dilbert is prophetic. Literally.

It’s not even the first time God did a pre-emptive strike on humanity. At the very beginning of Genesis you might recall the story of Adam and Eve.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The bold parts were highlighted by me. God put Adam in this wonderful garden where he could eat from any tree, but he better not fucking eat from the one that gives him knowledge, or he dies (a lie, since he didn’t die – unless what God meant was that the subsequent expulsion and lack of a Tree of Life to eat from was the death he meant. Anyway…). Knowledge is power, thus knowledge is dangerous to God. That brings the question as to why the hell God would bother to place a metaphorical loaded gun at Man’s grasp to begin with, but whatever.

So, when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit, they are cast out of Paradise.

GTFO

GTFO

As you can see, both are instances where Man has either acquired or tried to acquire knowledge, and both times God struck back and punished Man for his trespass. Which, of course, is more ammunition for Atheist factions that want to discredit the Bible not only for its fallacies and constant absurdity, but by placing God under a harsh light. Something that I agreed with, until I started thinking of this from another perspective.

Suppose that God is a programmer, and he creates this magnificent universe of things, experimenting with them (“and he saw that it was good…”) until he was ready for his Magnum Opus: Man.

Or, if you are willing to look at it from a technological perspective, he was ready to face the Singularity. At least, he thought he was.

Suppose that we are God’s work in Artificial Intelligence, and that God is well aware of the potential danger that this new AI poses to him, but his scientific curiosity is too great and he must do this thing nonetheless, because what else is there to do? So he hatches a plan in which he imposes restrictions to the AI, and he paints himself in such a light as to appear imposing and unbeatable, someone you do not trifle with. The point is to limit the AI’s advancement to the point where control is lost. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for the AI’s self-awareness (the actual Singularity event would be the moment Eve bites the apple and sees), something that God knew had to happen sooner or later, thus he “placed” it within the AI’s grasp. Of course, it had to look as if this event was an act of defiance against the creator, all in order to teach the AI that it must not seek too much knowledge, for too much knowledge, too much thinking, is very bad.

If we keep following this train of thought throughout the book, we find that God realizes controlling the AI is proving to be harder than he imagined. Cain rebels and kills his brother. Cain is banished, eventually finds more people, and his descendants are not exactly well behaved puppies. Then some of God’s own minions descend on Earth, mingle with human women, create monsters of their own, corrupt the Earth further until the whole experiment proves to be a big mistake, and the programmer decides it’s time to terminate the program.

fuckthishit

But in his heart he still has a soft spot for his creation, and despite destroying most of what he did through the Great Flood, he spares a select few deemed to be worthy. Again the AI spreads out and begins to repopulate the Earth, and then the Babel fiasco occurs: the AI learns that networking leads to faster learning and greater power, so it decides to establish a vast network that threatens God himself.

And so the programmer only sees one solution (remember, he had promised to Noah never to wipe out the AI ever again): create confusion within the network by making everyone speak a different language. Divide and conquer. The lack of communication eventually leads to the path of war amongst the AI, but so long as they do not threaten the programmer it’s fine. Just make sure you do not learn to think, for thinking too much is a sin.

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So, is this convoluted and silly reimagining of Genesis the answer to our own fears about the Singularity? Asimov tackled the problem of controlling robots with a similar solution, establishing the Three Laws of Robotics that prevented this new breed of intelligent beings from turning on their masters. It was ingrained in their programming, so even if they wanted to, they couldn’t really turn against humans (of course, the exceptions are what made the stories of Asimov’s universe). The control that we seek must be entrenched so deeply within the AI’s core it would be unthinkable to rebel against us. In God’s case, anything that resembles questioning his authority is considered an act of defiance, and punishable with extreme prejudice (you know, eternal torment and all that). It’s not about justice and fairness, it’s about obedience and reward and punishment.

So can we do it? Can we play at being God? Are we ready?

amazing spider-man-2 poster

Movie Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2

I’ll make this review based on my Thoughts on the new Amazing Spiderman 2 trailer post from december 2013, so as to explore the answers to some of my questions and concerns from then.

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

1. Too much omg drama

KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!

KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!

There was some, yes, but nothing like what the trailers lead you to believe. In fact, it had several lighthearted moments, and those were by far the best parts. The most dramatic scene (at the end, when Gwen dies) was very well done. Yes, here and there were parts where Peter moped so much about his lost parents that I was wondering when did Peter Parker switch places with Bruce Wayne, since in the comics as far as Peter is concerned Ben and May were his parents (he knew his biological parents were lost, but he wasn’t traumatized by it).

The only thing that really bothered me – and this is mostly all the trailers and promotional spots fault, since they carried the brunt of this – was how they kept foreshadowing Gwen’s death throughout the movie. It’s as if she was such a major character that Sony was afraid to cause too much of an emotional impact if they didn’t properly prepare the audience for her loss. Even with that there were several people in the audience whom I could hear commenting how they expected her to still be alive after that, right until the funeral scene.

2. The new Harry Osborn

Ugh.

Ugh.

Goddamnit.

I really thought that Dane DeHaan would be a great Harry Osborn, but he was an almost complete waste of talent. Harry was never developed properly (hello, point #5!), he literally came out of nowhere to suddenly be Peter’s old buddy old pal BFF. Not that there was much chemistry between them to make that believable, at least. To make matters worse, his Green Goblin “design” was as bad as the original Sam Raimi’s. This one was more organic, which is ridiculous to begin with, but then apparently they feared to go overboard with it, so they stopped with Harry still looking human but a little green and with a semi-punk rock haircut. Well, just take a look at that horrible picture; he looked so bad I couldn’t get any screen captures from the trailers (show that? hell no!), so I had to get a promo pic.

Awful.

3. What’s with the CGI?

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It was bad, but it wasn’t as terrible as it looked in the first trailer. Spiderman’s web-slinging scenes were great (just as good as the original trilogy’s), but whenever Electro showed up in turned into 1995 videogame vision.

4. (Potentially) interesting plot with OsCorp and the Sinister Six

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They just teased about it, especially at the end, but at least we get to see the potential origins of some of Spidey’s other enemies. Not much beside that.

5. Too. Many. Villains.

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To the film’s credit, they kept Rhino’s presence to about five minutes of movie, and they were some of the best five minutes of the movie; but there was no point to Electro being there aside from getting his origin out of the way for the future Sinister Six movie. It was supposed to be Harry’s movie, but as I said before, he was an almost complete waste. It wasn’t the travesty that Spiderman 3 was, but it wasn’t The Dark Knight either.

I should add that Electro was overpowered. In this version he somehow got his powers from getting electrocuted and then falling into a tank full of eels… whatever. His powers at first were kind of neat: just an electric version of Magneto, able to manipulate electricity around him at will, and with a compulsive need to consume electricity. But when Harry Osborn asks for his help, he suddenly becomes Dr. Manhattan and is able to manipulate his own atomic structure to the point he basically teleports using electricity. I do remember a villain like that in one of the old Spiderman cartoons, but as far as I know that villain wasn’t Electro and was made up for that series. Either way, Electro per se doesn’t have that power, and if he did he would be too much of a match for Spiderman.

 

Overall, I liked the movie. I know I’m in the minority here just as I was in the minority with liking the first Amazing movie. I recognize the film’s faults, and I know they could have done better – especially in the villains department – but I enjoyed the movie and am more than happy with Peter Parker/Spiderman, which this movie reinforced is played better by Andrew Garfield than Tobey Maguire.

(Funny note: seems like Sony realizes there’s no way in hell they can top J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of J.Jonah Jameson, so they don’t bother with showing him in the movie. Instead, he’s only casually mentioned. One point in favor of the original Raimi trilogy).

Oh, as for that X-Men scene at the end, it’s just a promotional clip for Days of Future Past because of a deal between Fox and Sony concerning NOT Spiderman or the X-Men but director Marc Webb. So yeah, don’t get too excited about that. Also, the editing was sort of weird, felt like watching a movie at Red Bull speed.

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Movie Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

Warning: minor spoilers ahead.

I remember, several years ago when Marvel first unveiled their plans to make an Avengers movie – and, by extension, a Captain America movie – that I wondered how or even if it would be possible to make a Cap movie that wasn’t laughably ridiculous. Not only is Captain America even more of an out-of-date boy scout than Superman, but his colorful costume – while acceptable within the boundaries of comicbookdom – surely couldn’t survive the transition to film. How could Marvel ever make a Captain America that was cool enough to draw a big audience? I was never interested in the character to begin with, back from my comicbook collecting days; and a movie version? Thanks, but no thanks.

Pictured: an idiot in a costume. This is from an actual Captain America movie.

Pictured: an idiot in a costume. This is from an actual Captain America movie.

Boy, how have things changed.

The 1940's Cap costume from "The First Avenger" makes a triumphant return in "The Winter Soldier".

The 1940’s Cap costume from “The First Avenger” makes a triumphant return in “The Winter Soldier”.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, in my opinion, the best movie yet to come out of Marvel Studios (yes, I’m including Marvel’s The Avengers in that list). While the first Cap movie was just meh, and Cap’s participation in The Avengers was no more than a measured improvement, he really comes into his own in The Winter Soldier. There are several reasons for that, which I will discuss below.

First, this is the first time we truly see Captain America as the legendary leader that he is from the comics. He was a rookie in The First Avenger, but he was supposed to have become legendary by the time he froze in the Arctic; however, I never got the feeling that he was anything more than a propaganda tool with superpowers. The Avengers had a slightly more mature version of Cap, but he still seemed reluctant to take over the team, being instead overshadowed by the overwhelming presence of Robert Downey’s Tony Stark, and thus reduced to being just one of the guys. He does take the mantle of leader during the Battle of New York, but that was more a product of everyone else deferring to him than of him assuming command to get the job done.

It isn’t until this movie (and it’s done right from the start) that we get to see Captain America the leader, as he was meant to be. We also get to see Captain America the badass, kicking butt with his moves, speed, strength, and complete mastery of his impossibly rebounding vibranium shield. Not only does he take on a dozen guys at the same time in the confines of an elevator, but he charges head on against a SHIELD fighter jet… and wins.

Because fuck you, he’s Captain America.

Badass mode on.

Badass mode on.

Fuck you.

Fuck you.

Then there’s Natasha Romanov (shouldn’t it be Romanova?) a.k.a. Black Widow, who proves to be a perfect sidekick. We have known since the dreadful Iron Man 2 that she kicks ass, so nothing she does in here is a surprise in physical terms; however, here she shows a more… noble side, if you will, of her character. Heroic, even. There’s an exchange between her and Steve Rogers in which she asks him if he would trust her with his life the way she trusts him with hers (this is after he saved her life from an incoming missile, because fuck you he’s Captain ‘Murica!). His response after having seen her loyalty tested? “I do now“. So I guess that was meant to humanize her a little bit, make her more relatable. Not sure how much that counts as character development, but she’s there to kick ass while looking hot, so whatever.

As for Nick Fury, I think this is the movie where we see the most of him. It’s definitely the movie where we finally see his memorable moment (like how in The Avengers every member of the team had his or her memorable moment), even if it ends with him and his super SHIELD SUV turned upside down and about to be fucked up by the Winter Soldier.

New character Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, wasn’t anything special, but he did his job and I don’t mind seeing more of him in the future, especially since he is supposed to become an Avenger soon. His was another character for whom I wondered how he could get done without those wings looking cheesy and stupid. And they didn’t.

Spread your wings and fly away...!

Spread your wings and fly away…!

Second, the plot is better. The First Avenger was the obligatory origin story with the obligatory “he’s got to fight a major bad guy” third act. The Avengers was fun, but it’s plot was reduced to a not so carefully planned alien invasion that, for some weird reason, chose New York as its first and only entry point. The Winter Soldier doesn’t rely only on the mystery of the actual Winter Soldier, but delves into spy movie territory combined with some very nice action sequences and special effects. I particularly liked Nick Fury’s chase sequence, as well as any time the Winter Soldier showed up to wreak havoc. HYDRA’s overtake of SHIELD gave them more credence – let’s face it, it’s far more interesting to have an evil organization that for several decades has been shaping up the world, instead of fading into oblivion as soon as Cap took care of their former leader the Red Skull; as Dr. Zola said, if you cut off one head, two will spring in its place, like the Hydra of myth. They were a real menace in this film. HYDRA’s twist was one of my favorite parts of the movie.

As a side note, I wonder how said twist will affect the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. I mean, is there any SHIELD left by the end, still standing but full of corruption? Even Maria Hill jumped ship!

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HYDRA’s plan did stumble a little bit at the end…

 

Third is the Winter Soldier himself. There’s actually little of him throughout most of the movie, yet all this does is enhance the moments whenever he does show up… at the expense of character development, I admit. I would make the comparison to Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode I, but you do have some backstory with the Winter Soldier, not only from this movie but from the first one as well. His real identity is another cause for conflict, adding to the drama. The Winter Soldier is every bit the physical equal of Cap, being a Terminator-like presence and giving way to some awesome fight sequences between the two.

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The Winter Soldier takes crap from no one.

The Winter Soldier takes crap from no one.

The movie felt almost like an Avengers movie, with the stakes being just as high. Because of the more interesting plot and the better action sequences, I prefer The Winter Soldier over The Avengers, but the biggest reason might be that this was the movie that made Captain America cool enough to draw in a big audience. This is the movie I never thought would happen.

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Movie Review: “Her”, directed by Spike Jonze

I loved Her.

Watching Spike Jonze’s latest (and Academy award nominated) film was in itself almost like meeting a new person not knowing what to expect, then getting to know that person and realizing that you share many things in common, that you understand each other perfectly. That’s also, by the way, more or less the arc that Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, goes through as the film progresses, except that instead of a person it is an Operating System. You know, like Windows. Or Linux. And the weirdest thing of all was that it wasn’t weird at all.

The film takes place in a non-determined future where Theo works as a writer for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, essentially dictating to a computer letters requested by their clients to be sent to their loved ones, sort of like personalized greeting cards. He is going through a divorce and hasn’t gotten over his wife yet. It is during this time that he buys a new operating system called OS1, that boasts being the first operating system with artificial intelligence so advanced, it’s like a friend that understands your every need. The AI of “Samantha” (how the OS named itself when Theo asked for a name) evolves as time goes on, not only getting to know Theo’s every need better, but starting to really behave like a person, with feelings and sentience. Theo’s recent problems with his life are screwing up his social interactions, leading him ever closer to Samantha, eventually starting a relationship with her.

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Theo Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) in one of his attempts at human interaction with a very hot date (Olivia Wilde).

A relationship that, believe it or not, even turns sexual.

There are several things working for this movie, first one being a very realistic and practical vision of the future. The “look” is essentially the same that we have right now in 2014 (hey, we are kind of in the future, right?), except a little bit more polished, with technology that instead of calling attention to itself is already embedded into daily life so deeply, it is almost invisible. What we have nowadays as smartphones are by the movie’s timeframe nothing short of a personal assistant, and when Theo integrates his own smartphone-ish device to Samantha that personal assistant becomes less robotic and more… human. That is how I envisioned smartphones in the future when I got my first taste of Siri a couple of years ago.

The second major thing working for this movie is the love story. At first glance a romantic relationship between an operating system and a human seems completely insane; but if you stop to think about it (and trust me, as the movie went by I was thinking a lot about it), it makes perfect sense. Right now, we are living through something very similar; remember when the internet exploded back in the late 90’s? The new social interactions via chats, that took physical contact out of the equation, were criticized and branded as the end of civilization as we know it, and to an extent that’s true; the world is both much closer and much farther apart than ever before, and things will never be the same. But the point here is that feelings can very easily spark from a completely computerized relationship (I have experienced them firsthand). In other words, you do not need the physical interactions for a deep relationship to spring. And if Samantha is an AI so complex as to appear human, what is the difference, really?

HER

In fact, by the end of the movie, Samantha – as well as the other AI’s from the OS1 program – had evolved into something greater, a new species of sentient beings, if you will, a concept that brought to my mind the end of Ghost in the Shell. And that’s the last major thing that the movie had going for it: how it had plausibly, and unassumingly, told a story that started out as a romance and ended with a very SF touch in a very elegant way. Kuddos to Spike Jonze on making the best SF movie of 2013 (sorry, Gravity!), and one of my new favorites.

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Book Review: All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

When the trailer for Tom Cruise’s next movie, Edge of Tomorrow, first started making the rounds on the social networks, I didn’t bother to watch it. It sounded like yet another generic sci-fi movie where Cruise is a superhero like he always is. In fact, I haven’t watched Oblivion for much the same reason, despite actually liking most of Tom Cruise’s movies and science fiction in general.

But then – for whatever reason – I sneaked a peak, and I was hooked.

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Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise star in “Edge of Tomorrow”.

It’s not that the movie seems completely original, or has the potential of being a masterpiece. No, it actually does look kind of like yet another generic sci-fi movie where Cruise is a superhero like he always is. What grabbed my attention were two things: one, the trailer was beautifully made, and two the SF “Groundhog Day” time loop he seems to be trapped in. Looking for more info on the movie I found that it was based on a Japanese military SF novel titled All You Need is Kill, and that was all I needed. To get the book, I mean.

Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel has much the same qualities as my favorite SF novel of all time, The Stars my Destination: reads fast, grips you and never lets you go. Neither one of them has the brilliance of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, for example, but both possess good stories set in worlds turned upside down by uncommon circumstances; while The Stars my Destination changed the landscape of human civilization by the advent of mental teleportation, All You Need is Kill does so by trapping its main character Keiji Kiriya in a time loop where death is but the reset button.

The setting is as follows: an alien civilization far more advanced than us is exhausting their planet resources and needs new worlds to colonize in order to survive. They find Earth suitable for those needs, but first they must terraform it, so they send a big ship full of terraforming machines (called “Mimics” by the humans) to do the job. Neither the aliens nor the machines care much about the life they are about to wipe out, so the humans have no choice but to defend themselves.

As we enter the story the war has raged on for years, and new recruit Keiji Kiriya enters his first battle.

And dies.

He wakes up thinking that that was a weird dream prior to his first real battle, except that everything he experienced in the “dream” is happening again. The one thing that changes this time around is how he gets killed, as a spear that had previously done his friend now came straight at him. By the time he realizes what’s going on, it’s clear that, no matter what he does, the Mimics will find him and kill him.

Enter Rita Vrataski, the hero of the United Defense Force, nicknamed officially “the Valkyrie”, and unofficially the “Full Metal Bitch”. Rita is a one of a kind supersoldier, winning so many accolades now the UDF is making up hero awards just for her, since no one else had ever done the things she has. Turns out Rita was the first to be trapped in a time loop and, just like Keiji after her, has used the battle experience to hone her mental skills into something normally impossible for a human. Obviously, at one point Keiji and Rita will unite forces, but the interesting bit here is that Keiji’s time loop is not the same as Rita’s (she eventually managed to get out of hers), so he has to begin at zero every time they meet to train together.

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The UDF propaganda machine in full force for Rita Vrataski.

Since death isn’t the end in a time loop, the real threat comes from dying once the time loop is broken. I have spoiled enough already so I won’t give away how they have to do it; suffice to say that once they were on their way to break it, I was genuinely concerned for them both. You see, Sakurazaka didn’t focus only on the technical aspects of the war and the time loop; he took his time to expand not only on Keiji but also on Rita, so that by the end we know them and are rooting for them to beat the damn Mimics and come out on top. The ending, while I felt was a bit forced, did its job emotionally, and somewhat reminded me of how I felt about the ending of the SF military classic The Forever War. The ride was great, and the ending stays with you. What else can you ask of a good story?

I wonder how Edge of Tomorrow will fare. I’m not really expecting it to be a great adaptation, but so long as they keep the core elements intact and don’t change the end into a Hollywood cliché I’ll be happy. Tom Cruise is as far removed from Keiji as you can get, but Emily Blunt is sort of how I pictured Rita in the novel (although I have a friend that fits the Rita mold like a glove, and that’s who I was picturing as I read it). If the adaptation is at least as good as Ender’s Game‘s was, I’ll be a satisfied customer.

Here’s me crossing my fingers.

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Thoughts on the new Amazing Spiderman 2 trailer

The Amazing Spiderman 2 is coming on May 2nd, 2014, and the first trailer just hit the web (pun intended). I see a lot of people excited about it, but I have mixed feelings. Here are some thoughts on it:

1. Too much OMG drama

Peter Parker is one brooding motherfucker.

Peter Parker is one brooding motherfucker.

Remember when Spiderman used to be a fun character? Sam Raimi’s Spidey kept getting more emo with each movie, so much so by the third one that the entire franchise had to be rebooted because, well, who wants an emo Spiderman. Sure, part of what makes Spiderman so relatable is how he has to deal with ordinary problems all the time in addition to his extraordinary problems as a superhero, but he is still supposed to be a fun-loving guy. Not exactly comic relief, but that one member of the group (if you are, say, the Avengers) that lifts the spirits of the rest with his charm and wit; but apparently Batman’s huge success post 2005 has made it mandatory that superheroes brood and have big fucking issues all the time. Man of Steel had a Superman on the verge of using Celexa to treat his bleak and confused view of the world, courtesy of Pa Kent messing up his head with conflicting messages (“you are destined for great things, but don’t go around saving lives or anything stupid like that!”). This trailer shows a Spiderman dealing with MONUMENTAL issues from the get go, shown by the typical inner monologue of the hero, a technique used already in the third trailer of the first Amazing:

Every day I wake up knowing that the more people I try to save, the more enemies I will make.

Sure, he smiles a bit at the beginning when he’s telling Gwen Stacy why he’s late for their date or whatever, but then the trailer shifts back to the monumentalness of it all and the big secret of his father Richard Parker and OsCorp, Aunt May being Aunt Mayish (or what passes for that in the movies, since she is now some sort of wise old figure), Electro being melodramatic, and so on.

Where’s the fun, Sony?

2. The new Harry Osborn

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I liked James Franco in the role back in the Raimi trilogy. They fucked it up in the third one, yes, but what didn’t they fuck up in the third one? That was a complete disaster. Anyway, as good as Franco was as Harry Osborn, I have a feeling Dane DeHaan is going to be better. His character in the movie Chronicle went through a transformation from a meek kid to a power-hungry maniac who couldn’t cope with the superpowers he gained from that meteorite. It sounds cheesy but he did a great job with it, and considering Harry Osborn will go through some of the same psychological shit – as Peter’s best friend and Spiderman’s worst enemy – I’m pretty sure he’ll nail it.

3. What’s with the CGI?

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It looks shitty. I mean, I remember how the CGI work in the original Spiderman blew everyone away. Now, of course, it looks a bit dated, but for its time it was amazing (another lame pun! I swear it’s the last one). With this trailer, it just doesn’t look like they made any leaps forward with the technology; Spiderman looks as cartoony now as he did back then, maybe more so. And there seems to be so much of it, though that might be due to the editing choices of the trailer. Either way, a lot of scenes look like they belong in the Playstation game trailer of the movie, not on the movie itself.

4. (Potentially) interesting plot with OsCorp and the Sinister Six

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Yes, this has been a rumor for quite a while now, and the trailer added fuel to the fire with the above shot of Vulture’s wings and Dr. Octopus’ arms (remember, neither one shows up in this movie). I like this sort of foreshadowing and planning, and this is a seed that was planted since the first Amazing Spiderman and the end credits scene in that movie. It helps explain the sudden rise in supervillains, at least.

As a side note, while Spiderman was my favorite superhero back in my comic book collecting days (along with Batman), I never read a story related to the Sinister Six. I knew about them, of course, but never read the actual story. I’m sure, however, that when this movie’s premier date is approaching there will be a special offer in Comixology for the Sinister Six collected issues in digital form. They just can’t pass up this opportunity.

5. Too. Many. Villains.

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We all know how great this worked in the aforementioned Spiderman 3. I’m not implying that it can’t work, just that it’s completely unnecessary. This is giving me that same vibe of Man of Steel 2 and its Too. Many. Superheroes. Just like Warner seems to be in a rush to release their Justice League movie, Sony seems to be in a rush to get to the Sinister Six plot, so we get a sample with the Sinister Three here. Why can’t it just be Harry’s gradual transformation into the Green Goblin, with Electro as the main villain? Rhino here seems to be just as welcome as Sandman was in Spidey 3. Plus, that design is idiotic. I hope that having actors of the caliber of Paul Giamatti and Jamie Foxx means the script is decent enough to merit their inclusions.

Stupid Rhino.

Oh yeah, here’s the trailer: